THE PROFESSOR AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE
by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
PREFACE TO REVISED EDITION.
The reader of to-day will not forget, I trust, that it is nearly a
quarter of a century since these papers were written. Statements which
were true then are not necessarily true now. Thus, the speed of the
trotting horse has been so much developed that the record of the year
when the fastest time to that date was given must be very considerably
altered, as may be seen by referring to a note on page 49 of the
"Autocrat." No doubt many other statements and opinions might be more or
less modified if I were writing today instead of having written before
the war, when the world and I were both more than a score of years
These papers followed close upon the track of the "Autocrat." They had
to endure the trial to which all second comers are subjected, which is a
formidable ordeal for the least as well as the greatest. Paradise
Regained and the Second Part of Faust are examples which are enough to
warn every one who has made a jingle fair hit with his arrow of the
danger of missing when he looses "his fellow of the selfsame flight."
There is good reason why it should be so. The first juice that runs of
itself from the grapes comes from the heart of the fruit, and tastes of
the pulp only; when the grapes are squeezed in the press the flow betrays
the flavor of the skin. If there is any freshness in the original idea
of the work, if there is any individuality in the method or style of a
new author, or of an old author on a new track, it will have lost much of
its first effect when repeated. Still, there have not been wanting
readers who have preferred this second series of papers to the first.
The new papers were more aggressive than the earlier ones, and for that
reason found a heartier welcome in some quarters, and met with a sharper
antagonism in others. It amuses me to look back on some of the attacks
they called forth. Opinions which do not excite the faintest show of
temper at this time from those who do not accept them were treated as if
they were the utterances of a nihilist incendiary. It required the
exercise of some forbearance not to recriminate.
How a stray sentence, a popular saying, the maxim of some wise man, a
line accidentally fallen upon and remembered, will sometimes help one
when he is all ready to be vexed or indignant! One day, in the time when
I was young or youngish, I happened to open a small copy of "Tom Jones,"
and glance at the title-page. There was one of those little engravings
opposite, which bore the familiar name of "T. Uwins," as I remember it,
and under it the words "Mr. Partridge bore all this patiently." How many
times, when, after rough usage from ill-mannered critics, my own
vocabulary of vituperation was simmering in such a lively way that it
threatened to boil and lift its lid and so boil over, those words have
calmed the small internal effervescence! There is very little in them
and very little of them; and so there is not much in a linchpin
considered by itself, but it often keeps a wheel from coming off and
prevents what might be a catastrophe. The chief trouble in offering such
papers as these to the readers of to-day is that their heresies have
become so familiar among intelligent people that they have too
commonplace an aspect. All the lighthouses and land-marks of belief bear
so differently from the way in which they presented themselves when these
papers were written that it is hard to recognize that we and our
fellow-passengers are still in the same old vessel sailing the same
unfathomable sea and bound to the same as yet unseen harbor.
But after all, there is not enough theology, good or bad, in these papers
to cause them to be inscribed on the Protestant Index Expurgatorius; and
if they are medicated with a few questionable dogmas or antidogmas, the
public has become used to so much rougher treatments, that what was once
an irritant may now act as an anodyne, and the reader may nod over pages
which, when they were first written, would have waked him into a paroxysm
of protest and denunciation.
PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION
This book is one of those which, if it lives for a number of decades, and
if it requires any Preface at all, wants a new one every ten years. The
first Preface to a book is apt to be explanatory, perhaps apologetic, in
the expectation of attacks from various quarters. If the book is in some
points in advance of public opinion, it is natural that the writer should
try to smooth the way to the reception of his more or less aggressive
ideas. He wishes to convince, not to offend,—to obtain a hearing for
his thought, not to stir up angry opposition in those who do not accept
it. There is commonly an anxious look about a first Preface. The author
thinks he shall be misapprehended about this or that matter, that his
well-meant expressions will probably be invidiously interpreted by those
whom he looks upon as prejudiced critics, and if he deals with living
questions that he will be attacked as a destructive by the conservatives
and reproached for his timidity by the noisier radicals. The first
Preface, therefore, is likely to be the weakest part of a work containing
the thoughts of an honest writer.
After a time the writer has cooled down from his excitement,—has got
over his apprehensions, is pleased to find that his book is still read,
and that he must write a new Preface. He comes smiling to his task. How
many things have explained themselves in the ten or twenty or thirty
years since he came before his untried public in those almost plaintive
paragraphs in which he introduced himself to his readers,—for the
Preface writer, no matter how fierce a combatant he may prove, comes on
to the stage with his shield on his right arm and his sword in his left
The Professor at the Breakfast-Table came out in the "Atlantic Monthly"
and introduced itself without any formal Preface. A quarter of a century
later the Preface of 1882, which the reader has just had laid before him,
was written. There is no mark of worry, I think, in that. Old opponents
had come up and shaken hands with the author they had attacked or
denounced. Newspapers which had warned their subscribers against him
were glad to get him as a contributor to their columns. A great change
had come over the community with reference to their beliefs. Christian
believers were united as never before in the feeling that, after all,
their common object was to elevate the moral and religious standard of
humanity. But within the special compartments of the great Christian
fold the marks of division have pronounced themselves in the most
unmistakable manner. As an example we may take the lines of cleavage
which have shown themselves in the two great churches, the Congregational
and the Presbyterian, and the very distinct fissure which is manifest in
the transplanted Anglican church of this country. Recent circumstances
have brought out the fact of the great change in the dogmatic communities
which has been going on silently but surely. The licensing of a
missionary, the transfer of a Professor from one department to another,
the election of a Bishop,—each of these movements furnishes evidence
that there is no such thing as an air-tight reservoir of doctrinal
The folding-doors are wide open to every Protestant to enter all the
privileged precincts and private apartments of the various exclusive
religious organizations. We may demand the credentials of every creed
and catechise all the catechisms. So we may discuss the gravest
questions unblamed over our morning coffee-cups or our evening tea-cups.
There is no rest for the Protestant until he gives up his legendary
anthropology and all its dogmatic dependencies.
It is only incidentally, however, that the Professor at the
Breakfast-Table handles matters which are the subjects of religious
controversy. The reader who is sensitive about having his fixed beliefs
dealt with as if they were open to question had better skip the pages
which look as if they would disturb his complacency. "Faith" is the most
precious of possessions, and it dislikes being meddled with. It means,
of course, self-trust,—that is, a belief in the value of our, own
opinion of a doctrine, of a church, of a religion, of a Being, a belief
quite independent of any evidence that we can bring to convince a jury of
our fellow beings. Its roots are thus inextricably entangled with those
of self-love and bleed as mandrakes were said to, when pulled up as
weeds. Some persons may even at this late day take offence at a few
opinions expressed in the following pages, but most of these passages
will be read without loss of temper by those who disagree with them, and
by-and-by they may be found too timid and conservative for intelligent
readers, if they are still read by any.
BEVERLY FARM, MASS., June 18, 1891.
O. W. H.
What he said, what he heard, and what he saw.
I intended to have signalized my first appearance by a certain large
statement, which I flatter myself is the nearest approach to a universal
formula, of life yet promulgated at this breakfast-table. It would have
had a grand effect. For this purpose I fixed my eyes on a certain
divinity-student, with the intention of exchanging a few phrases, and
then forcing my court-card, namely, The great end of being.—I will thank
you for the sugar,—I said.—Man is a dependent creature.
It is a small favor to ask,—said the divinity-student,—and passed the
sugar to me.
—Life is a great bundle of little things,—I said.
The divinity-student smiled, as if that were the concluding epigram of
the sugar question.
You smile,—I said.—Perhaps life seems to you a little bundle of great
The divinity-student started a laugh, but suddenly reined it back with a
pull, as one throws a horse on his haunches.—Life is a great bundle of
great things,—he said.
(NOW, THEN!) The great end of being, after all, is….
Hold on!—said my neighbor, a young fellow whose name seems to be John,
and nothing else,—for that is what they all call him,—hold on! the
Sculpin is go'n' to say somethin'.
Now the Sculpin (Cottus Virginianus) is a little water-beast which
pretends to consider itself a fish, and, under that pretext, hangs about
the piles upon which West-Boston Bridge is built, swallowing the bait and
hook intended for flounders. On being drawn from the water, it exposes
an immense head, a diminutive bony carcass, and a surface so full of
spines, ridges, ruffles, and frills, that the naturalists have not been
able to count them without quarrelling about the number, and that the
colored youth, whose sport they spoil, do not like to touch them, and
especially to tread on them, unless they happen to have shoes on, to
cover the thick white soles of their broad black feet.
When, therefore, I heard the young fellow's exclamation, I looked round
the table with curiosity to see what it meant. At the further end of it
I saw a head, and a—a small portion of a little deformed body, mounted
on a high chair, which brought the occupant up to a fair level enough for
him to get at his food. His whole appearance was so grotesque, I felt
for a minute as if there was a showman behind him who would pull him down
presently and put up Judy, or the hangman, or the Devil, or some other
wooden personage of the famous spectacle. I contrived to lose the first
of his sentence, but what I heard began so:
—by the Frog-Pond, when there were frogs in and the folks used to come
down from the tents on section and Independence days with their pails to
get water to make egg-pop with. Born in Boston; went to school in Boston
as long as the boys would let me.—The little man groaned, turned, as if
to look around, and went on.—Ran away from school one day to see
Phillips hung for killing Denegri with a logger-head. That was in flip
days, when there were always two three loggerheads in the fire. I'm a
Boston boy, I tell you,—born at North End, and mean to be buried on
Copp's Hill, with the good old underground people,—the Worthylakes, and
the rest of 'em. Yes,—up on the old hill, where they buried Captain
Daniel Malcolm in a stone grave, ten feet deep, to keep him safe from the
red-coats, in those old times when the world was frozen up tight and
there was n't but one spot open, and that was right over Faneuil
all,—and black enough it looked, I tell you! There 's where my bones
shall lie, Sir, and rattle away when the big guns go off at the Navy Yard
opposite! You can't make me ashamed of the old place! Full crooked
little streets;—I was born and used to run round in one of 'em—
—I should think so,—said that young man whom I hear them call
"John,"—softly, not meaning to be heard, nor to be cruel, but thinking
in a half-whisper, evidently.—I should think so; and got kinked up,
turnin' so many corners.—The little man did not hear what was said, but
—full of crooked little streets; but I tell you Boston has opened, and
kept open, more turnpikes that lead straight to free thought and free
speech and free deeds than any other city of live men or dead men,—I
don't care how broad their streets are, nor how high their steeples!
—How high is Bosting meet'n'-house?—said a person with black whiskers
and imperial, a velvet waistcoat, a guard-chain rather too massive, and a
diamond pin so very large that the most trusting nature might confess an
inward suggestion,—of course, nothing amounting to a suspicion. For
this is a gentleman from a great city, and sits next to the landlady's
daughter, who evidently believes in him, and is the object of his
How high?—said the little man.—As high as the first step of the stairs
that lead to the New Jerusalem. Is n't that high enough?
It is,—I said.—The great end of being is to harmonize man with the
order of things, and the church has been a good pitch-pipe, and may be so
still. But who shall tune the pitch-pipe? Quis cus-(On the whole, as
this quotation was not entirely new, and, being in a foreign language,
might not be familiar to all the boarders, I thought I would not finish
—Go to the Bible!—said a sharp voice from a sharp-faced, sharp-eyed,
sharp-elbowed, strenuous-looking woman in a black dress, appearing as if
it began as a piece of mourning and perpetuated itself as a bit of
You speak well, Madam,—I said;—yet there is room for a gloss or
commentary on what you say. "He who would bring back the wealth of the
Indies must carry out the wealth of the Indies." What you bring away
from the Bible depends to some extent on what you carry to it.—Benjamin
Franklin! Be so good as to step up to my chamber and bring me down the
small uncovered pamphlet of twenty pages which you will find lying under
the "Cruden's Concordance." [The boy took a large bite, which left a very
perfect crescent in the slice of bread-and-butter he held, and departed
on his errand, with the portable fraction of his breakfast to sustain him
on the way.]
—Here it is. "Go to the Bible. A Dissertation, etc., etc. By J. J.
Flournoy. Athens, Georgia, 1858."
Mr. Flournoy, Madam, has obeyed the precept which you have judiciously
delivered. You may be interested, Madam, to know what are the
conclusions at which Mr. J. J. Flournoy of Athens, Georgia, has arrived.
You shall hear, Madam. He has gone to the Bible, and he has come back
from the Bible, bringing a remedy for existing social evils, which, if it
is the real specific, as it professes to be, is of great interest to
humanity, and to the female part of humanity in particular. It is what
he calls TRIGAMY, Madam, or the marrying of three wives, so that "good
old men" may be solaced at once by the companionship of the wisdom of
maturity, and of those less perfected but hardly less engaging qualities
which are found at an earlier period of life. He has followed your
precept, Madam; I hope you accept his conclusions.
The female boarder in black attire looked so puzzled, and, in fact, "all
abroad," after the delivery of this "counter" of mine, that I left her to
recover her wits, and went on with the conversation, which I was
beginning to get pretty well in hand.
But in the mean time I kept my eye on the female boarder to see what
effect I had produced. First, she was a little stunned at having her
argument knocked over. Secondly, she was a little shocked at the
tremendous character of the triple matrimonial suggestion. Thirdly.—I
don't like to say what I thought. Something seemed to have pleased her
fancy. Whether it was, that, if trigamy should come into fashion, there
would be three times as many chances to enjoy the luxury of saying, "No!"
is more than I, can tell you. I may as well mention that B. F. came to
me after breakfast to borrow the pamphlet for "a lady,"—one of the
boarders, he said,—looking as if he had a secret he wished to be
—I continued.—If a human soul is necessarily to be trained up in the
faith of those from whom it inherits its body, why, there is the end of
all reason. If, sooner or later, every soul is to look for truth with
its own eyes, the first thing is to recognize that no presumption in
favor of any particular belief arises from the fact of our inheriting it.
Otherwise you would not give the Mahometan a fair chance to become a
convert to a better religion.
The second thing would be to depolarize every fixed religious idea in the
mind by changing the word which stands for it.
—I don't know what you mean by "depolarizing" an idea,—said the
I will tell you,—I said.—-When a given symbol which represents a
thought has lain for a certain length of time in the mind, it undergoes a
change like that which rest in a certain position gives to iron. It
becomes magnetic in its relations,—it is traversed by strange forces
which did not belong to it. The word, and consequently the idea it
represents, is polarized.
The religious currency of mankind, in thought, in speech, and in print,
consists entirely of polarized words. Borrow one of these from another
language and religion, and you will find it leaves all its magnetism
behind it. Take that famous word, O'm, of the Hindoo mythology. Even a
priest cannot pronounce it without sin; and a holy Pundit would shut his
ears and run away from you in horror, if you should say it aloud. What
do you care for O'm? If you wanted to get the Pundit to look at his
religion fairly, you must first depolarize this and all similar words for
him. The argument for and against new translations of the Bible really
turns on this. Skepticism is afraid to trust its truths in depolarized
words, and so cries out against a new translation. I think, myself, if
every idea our Book contains could be shelled out of its old symbol and
put into a new, clean, unmagnetic word, we should have some chance of
reading it as philosophers, or wisdom-lovers, ought to read it,—which we
do not and cannot now any more than a Hindoo can read the "Gayatri" as a
fair man and lover of truth should do. When society has once fairly
dissolved the New Testament, which it never has done yet, it will perhaps
crystallize it over again in new forms of language.
I did n't know you was a settled minister over this parish,—said the
young fellow near me.
A sermon by a lay-preacher may be worth listening—I replied, calmly.
—It gives the parallax of thought and feeling as they appear to the
observers from two very different points of view. If you wish to get the
distance of a heavenly body, you know that you must take two observations
from remote points of the earth's orbit,—in midsummer and midwinter, for
instance. To get the parallax of heavenly truths, you must take an
observation from the position of the laity as well as of the clergy.
Teachers and students of theology get a certain look, certain
conventional tones of voice, a clerical gait, a professional neckcloth,
and habits of mind as professional as their externals. They are
scholarly men and read Bacon, and know well enough what the "idols of the
tribe" are. Of course they have their false gods, as all men that follow
one exclusive calling are prone to do.—The clergy have played the part
of the flywheel in our modern civilization. They have never suffered it
to stop. They have often carried on its movement, when other moving
powers failed, by the momentum stored in their vast body. Sometimes,
too, they have kept it back by their vis inertia, when its wheels were
like to grind the bones of some old canonized error into fertilizers for
the soil that yields the bread of life. But the mainspring of the
world's onward religious movement is not in them, nor in any one body of
men, let me tell you. It is the people that makes the clergy, and not
the clergy that makes the people. Of course, the profession reacts on
its source with variable energy.—But there never was a guild of dealers
or a company of craftsmen that did not need sharp looking after.
Our old friend, Dr. Holyoke, whom we gave the dinner to some time since,
must have known many people that saw the great bonfire in Harvard College
—Bonfire?—shrieked the little man.—The bonfire when Robert Calef's
book was burned?
The same,—I said,—when Robert Calef the Boston merchant's book was
burned in the yard of Harvard College, by order of Increase Mather,
President of the College and Minister of the Gospel. You remember the
old witchcraft revival of '92, and how stout Master Robert Calef, trader
of Boston, had the pluck to tell the ministers and judges what a set of
fools and worse than fools they were—
Remember it?—said the little man.—I don't think I shall forget it, as
long as I can stretch this forefinger to point with, and see what it
wears. There was a ring on it.
May I look at it?—I said.
Where it is,—said the little man;—it will never come off, till it falls
off from the bone in the darkness and in the dust.
He pushed the high chair on which he sat slightly back from the table,
and dropped himself, standing, to the floor,—his head being only a
little above the level of the table, as he stood. With pain and labor,
lifting one foot over the other, as a drummer handles his sticks, he took
a few steps from his place,—his motions and the deadbeat of the
misshapen boots announcing to my practised eye and ear the malformation
which is called in learned language talipes varus, or inverted club-foot.
Stop! stop!—I said,—let me come to you.
The little man hobbled back, and lifted himself by the left arm, with an
ease approaching to grace which surprised me, into his high chair. I
walked to his side, and he stretched out the forefinger of his right
hand, with the ring upon it. The ring had been put on long ago, and
could not pass the misshapen joint. It was one of those funeral rings
which used to be given to relatives and friends after the decease of
persons of any note or importance. Beneath a round fit of glass was a
death's head. Engraved on one side of this, "L. B. AEt. 22,"—on the
other, "Ob. 1692"
My grandmother's grandmother,—said the little man.—Hanged for a witch.
It does n't seem a great while ago. I knew my grandmother, and loved
her. Her mother was daughter to the witch that Chief Justice Sewall
hanged and Cotton Mather delivered over to the Devil.—That was Salem,
though, and not Boston. No, not Boston. Robert Calef, the Boston
merchant, it was that blew them all to—
Never mind where he blew them to,—I said; for the little man was getting
red in the face, and I did n't know what might come next.
This episode broke me up, as the jockeys say, out of my square
conversational trot; but I settled down to it again.
—A man that knows men, in the street, at their work, human nature in its
shirt-sleeves, who makes bargains with deacons, instead of talking over
texts with them, a man who has found out that there are plenty of praying
rogues and swearing saints in the world,—above all, who has found out,
by living into the pith and core of life, that all of the Deity which can
be folded up between the sheets of any human book is to the Deity of the
firmament, of the strata, of the hot aortic flood of throbbing human
life, of this infinite, instantaneous consciousness in which the soul's
being consists,—an incandescent point in the filament connecting the
negative pole of a past eternity with the positive pole of an eternity
that is to come,—that all of the Deity which any human book can hold is
to this larger Deity of the working battery of the universe only as the
films in a book of gold-leaf are to the broad seams and curdled lumps of
ore that lie in unsunned mines and virgin placers,—Oh!—I was saying
that a man who lives out-of-doors, among live people, gets some things
into his head he might not find in the index of his "Body of Divinity."
I tell you what,—the idea of the professions' digging a moat round their
close corporations, like that Japanese one at Jeddo, on the bottom of
which, if travellers do not lie, you could put Park Street Church and
look over the vane from its side, and try to stretch another such spire
across it without spanning the chasm,—that idea, I say, is pretty nearly
worn out. Now when a civilization or a civilized custom falls into
senile dementia, there is commonly a judgment ripe for it, and it comes
as plagues come, from a breath,—as fires come, from a spark.
Here, look at medicine. Big wigs, gold-headed canes, Latin
prescriptions, shops full of abominations, recipes a yard long, "curing"
patients by drugging as sailors bring a wind by whistling, selling lies
at a guinea apiece,—a routine, in short, of giving unfortunate sick
people a mess of things either too odious to swallow or too acrid to
hold, or, if that were possible, both at once.
—You don't know what I mean, indignant and not unintelligent
country-practitioner? Then you don't know the history of medicine,—and
that is not my fault. But don't expose yourself in any outbreak of
eloquence; for, by the mortar in which Anaxarchus was pounded! I did not
bring home Schenckius and Forestus and Hildanus, and all the old folios
in calf and vellum I will show you, to be bullied by the proprietor, of a
"Wood and Bache," and a shelf of peppered sheepskin reprints by
Philadelphia Editors. Besides, many of the profession and I know a
little something of each other, and you don't think I am such a simpleton
as to lose their good opinion by saying what the better heads among them
would condemn as unfair and untrue? Now mark how the great plague came
on the generation of drugging doctors, and in what form it fell.
A scheming drug-vender, (inventive genius,) an utterly untrustworthy and
incompetent observer, (profound searcher of Nature,) a shallow dabbler in
erudition, (sagacious scholar,) started the monstrous fiction (founded
the immortal system) of Homoeopathy. I am very fair, you see,—-you can
help yourself to either of these sets of phrases.
All the reason in the world would not have had so rapid and general an
effect on the public mind to disabuse it of the idea that a drug is a
good thing in itself, instead of being, as it is, a bad thing, as was
produced by the trick (system) of this German charlatan (theorist). Not
that the wiser part of the profession needed him to teach them; but the
routinists and their employers, the "general practitioners," who lived by
selling pills and mixtures, and their drug-consuming customers, had to
recognize that people could get well, unpoisoned. These dumb cattle
would not learn it of themselves, and so the murrain of Homoeopathy fell
—You don't know what plague has fallen on the practitioners of theology?
I will tell you, then. It is Spiritualism. While some are crying out
against it as a delusion of the Devil, and some are laughing at it as an
hysteric folly, and some are getting angry with it as a mere trick of
interested or mischievous persons, Spiritualism is quietly undermining
the traditional ideas of the future state which have been and are still
accepted,—not merely in those who believe in it, but in the general
sentiment of the community, to a larger extent than most good people seem
to be aware of. It need n't be true, to do this, any more than
Homoeopathy need, to do its work. The Spiritualists have some pretty
strong instincts to pry over, which no doubt have been roughly handled by
theologians at different times. And the Nemesis of the pulpit comes, in
a shape it little thought of, beginning with the snap of a toe-joint, and
ending with such a crack of old beliefs that the roar of it is heard in
all the ministers' studies of Christendom? Sir, you cannot have people
of cultivation, of pure character, sensible enough in common things,
large-hearted women, grave judges, shrewd business-men, men of science,
professing to be in communication with the spiritual world and keeping up
constant intercourse with it, without its gradually reacting on the whole
conception of that other life. It is the folly of the world, constantly,
which confounds its wisdom. Not only out of the mouths of babes and
sucklings, but out of the mouths of fools and cheats, we may often get
our truest lessons. For the fool's judgment is a dog-vane that turns
with a breath, and the cheat watches the clouds and sets his weathercock
by them,—so that one shall often see by their pointing which way the
winds of heaven are blowing, when the slow-wheeling arrows and feathers
of what we call the Temples of Wisdom are turning to all points of the
—Amen!—said the young fellow called John—Ten minutes by the watch.
Those that are unanimous will please to signify by holding up their left
I looked this young man steadily in the face for about thirty seconds.
His countenance was as calm as that of a reposing infant. I think it was
simplicity, rather than mischief, with perhaps a youthful playfulness,
that led him to this outbreak. I have often noticed that even quiet
horses, on a sharp November morning, when their coats are beginning to
get the winter roughness, will give little sportive demi-kicks, with
slight sudden elevation of the subsequent region of the body, and a sharp
short whinny,—by no means intending to put their heels through the
dasher, or to address the driver rudely, but feeling, to use a familiar
word, frisky. This, I think, is the physiological condition of the young
person, John. I noticed, however, what I should call a palpebral spasm,
affecting the eyelid and muscles of one side, which, if it were intended
for the facial gesture called a wink, might lead me to suspect a
disposition to be satirical on his part.
—Resuming the conversation, I remarked,—I am, ex officio, as a
Professor, a conservative. For I don't know any fruit that clings to its
tree so faithfully, not even a "froze-'n'-thaw" winter-apple, as a
Professor to the bough of which his chair is made. You can't shake him
off, and it is as much as you can do to pull him off. Hence, by a chain
of induction I need not unwind, he tends to conservatism generally.
But then, you know, if you are sailing the Atlantic, and all at once find
yourself in a current, and the sea covered with weeds, and drop your
Fahrenheit over the side and find it eight or ten degrees higher than in
the ocean generally, there is no use in flying in the face of facts and
swearing there is no such thing as a Gulf-Stream, when you are in it.
You can't keep gas in a bladder, and you can't keep knowledge tight in a
profession. Hydrogen will leak out, and air will leak in, through
India-rubber; and special knowledge will leak out, and general knowledge
will leak in, though a profession were covered with twenty thicknesses of
By Jove, Sir, till common sense is well mixed up with medicine, and
common manhood with theology, and common honesty with law, We the people,
Sir, some of us with nut-crackers, and some of us with trip-hammers, and
some of us with pile-drivers, and some of us coming with a whish! like
air-stones out of a lunar volcano, will crash down on the lumps of
nonsense in all of them till we have made powder of them—like Aaron's
If to be a conservative is to let all the drains of thought choke up and
keep all the soul's windows down,—to shut out the sun from the east and
the wind from the west,—to let the rats run free in the cellar, and the
moths feed their fill in the chambers, and the spiders weave their lace
before the mirrors, till the soul's typhus is bred out of our neglect,
and we begin to snore in its coma or rave in its delirium,—I, Sir, am a
bonnet-rouge, a red cap of the barricades, my friends, rather than a
—Were you born in Boston, Sir?—said the little man,—looking eager and
I was not,—I replied.
It's a pity,—it's a pity,—said the little man;—it 's the place to be
born in. But if you can't fix it so as to be born here, you can come and
live here. Old Ben Franklin, the father of American science and the
American Union, was n't ashamed to be born here. Jim Otis, the father of
American Independence, bothered about in the Cape Cod marshes awhile, but
he came to Boston as soon as he got big enough. Joe Warren, the first
bloody ruffed-shirt of the Revolution, was as good as born here. Parson
Charming strolled along this way from Newport, and stayed here. Pity old
Sam Hopkins hadn't come, too;—we'd have made a man of him,—poor, dear,
good old Christian heathen! There he lies, as peaceful as a young baby,
in the old burying-ground! I've stood on the slab many a time. Meant
well,—meant well. Juggernaut. Parson Charming put a little oil on one
linchpin, and slipped it out so softly, the first thing they knew about
it was the wheel of that side was down. T' other fellow's at work now,
but he makes more noise about it. When the linchpin comes out on his
side, there'll be a jerk, I tell you! Some think it will spoil the old
cart, and they pretend to say that there are valuable things in it which
may get hurt. Hope not,—hope not. But this is the great Macadamizing
place,—always cracking up something.
Cracking up Boston folks,—said the gentleman with the diamond-pin, whom,
for convenience' sake, I shall hereafter call the Koh-i-noor.
The little man turned round mechanically towards him, as Maelzel's Turk
used to turn, carrying his head slowly and horizontally, as if it went by
cogwheels.—Cracking up all sorts of things,—native and foreign vermin
included,—said the little man.
This remark was thought by some of us to have a hidden personal
application, and to afford a fair opening for a lively rejoinder, if the
Koh-i-noor had been so disposed. The little man uttered it with the
distinct wooden calmness with which the ingenious Turk used to exclaim,
E-chec! so that it must have been heard. The party supposed to be
interested in the remark was, however, carrying a large knife-bladeful of
something to his mouth just then, which, no doubt, interfered with the
reply he would have made.
—My friend who used to board here was accustomed sometimes, in a
pleasant way, to call himself the Autocrat of the table,—meaning, I
suppose, that he had it all his own way among the boarders. I think our
small boarder here is like to prove a refractory subject, if I undertake
to use the sceptre my friend meant to bequeath me, too magisterially. I
won't deny that sometimes, on rare occasions, when I have been in company
with gentlemen who preferred listening, I have been guilty of the same
kind of usurpation which my friend openly justified. But I maintain,
that I, the Professor, am a good listener. If a man can tell me a fact
which subtends an appreciable angle in the horizon of thought, I am as
receptive as the contribution-box in a congregation of colored brethren.
If, when I am exposing my intellectual dry-goods, a man will begin a good
story, I will have them all in, and my shutters up, before he has got to
the fifth "says he," and listen like a three-years' child, as the author
of the "Old Sailor" says. I had rather hear one of those grand elemental
laughs from either of our two Georges, (fictitious names, Sir or Madam,)
glisten to one of those old playbills of our College days, in which "Tom
and Jerry" ("Thomas and Jeremiah," as the old Greek Professor was said to
call it) was announced to be brought on the stage with whole force of the
Faculty, read by our Frederick, (no such person, of course,) than say the
best things I might by any chance find myself capable of saying. Of
course, if I come across a real thinker, a suggestive, acute,
illuminating, informing talker, I enjoy the luxury of sitting still for a
while as much as another.
Nobody talks much that does n't say unwise things,—things he did not
mean to say; as no person plays much without striking a false note
sometimes. Talk, to me, is only spading up the ground for crops of
thought. I can't answer for what will turn up. If I could, it would n't
be talking, but "speaking my piece." Better, I think, the hearty
abandonment of one's self to the suggestions of the moment at the risk of
an occasional slip of the tongue, perceived the instant it escapes, but
just one syllable too late, than the royal reputation of never saying a
—What shall I do with this little man?—There is only one thing to
do,—and that is to let him talk when he will. The day of the
"Autocrat's" monologues is over.
—My friend,—said I to the young fellow whom, as I have said, the
boarders call "John,"—My friend,—I said, one morning, after
breakfast,—can you give me any information respecting the deformed
person who sits at the other end of the table?
What! the Sculpin?—said the young fellow.
The diminutive person, with angular curvature of the spine,—I said,
—and double talipes varus,—I beg your pardon,—with two club-feet.
Is that long word what you call it when a fellah walks so?—said the
young man, making his fists revolve round an imaginary axis, as you may
have seen youth of tender age and limited pugilistic knowledge, when they
show how they would punish an adversary, themselves protected by this
rotating guard,—the middle knuckle, meantime, thumb-supported, fiercely
It is,—said I.—But would you have the kindness to tell me if you know
anything about this deformed person?
About the Sculpin?—said the young fellow.
My good friend,—said I,—I am sure, by your countenance, you would not
hurt the feelings of one who has been hardly enough treated by Nature to
be spared by his fellows. Even in speaking of him to others, I could
wish that you might not employ a term which implies contempt for what
should inspire only pity.
A fellah 's no business to be so crooked,—said the young man called
Yes, yes,—I said, thoughtfully,—the strong hate the weak. It's all
right. The arrangement has reference to the race, and not to the
individual. Infirmity must be kicked out, or the stock run down.
Wholesale moral arrangements are so different from retail!—I understand
the instinct, my friend,—it is cosmic,—it is planetary,—it is a
conservative principle in creation.
The young fellow's face gradually lost its expression as I was speaking,
until it became as blank of vivid significance as the countenance of a
gingerbread rabbit with two currants in the place of eyes. He had not
taken my meaning.
Presently the intelligence came back with a snap that made him wink, as
he answered,—Jest so. All right. A 1. Put her through. That's the
way to talk. Did you speak to me, Sir?—Here the young man struck up
that well-known song which I think they used to sing at Masonic
festivals, beginning, "Aldiborontiphoscophornio, Where left you
I beg your pardon,—I said;—all I meant was, that men, as temporary
occupants of a permanent abode called human life, which is improved or
injured by occupancy, according to the style of tenant, have a natural
dislike to those who, if they live the life of the race as well as of the
individual, will leave lasting injurious effects upon the abode spoken
of, which is to be occupied by countless future generations. This is the
final cause of the underlying brute instinct which we have in common with
—The gingerbread-rabbit expression was coming on so fast, that I thought
I must try again.—It's a pity that families are kept up, where there are
such hereditary infirmities. Still, let us treat this poor man fairly,
and not call him names. Do you know what his name is?
I know what the rest of 'em call him,—said the young fellow.—They call
him Little Boston. There's no harm in that, is there?
It is an honorable term,—I replied.—But why Little Boston, in a place
where most are Bostonians?
Because nobody else is quite so Boston all over as he is,—said the young
"L. B. Ob. 1692."—Little Boston let him be, when we talk about him. The
ring he wears labels him well enough. There is stuff in the little man,
or he would n't stick so manfully by this crooked, crotchety old town.
Give him a chance.—You will drop the Sculpin, won't you?—I said to the
Drop him?—he answered,—I ha'n't took him up yet.
No, no,—the term,—I said,—the term. Don't call him so any more, if
you please. Call him Little Boston, if you like.
All right,—said the young fellow.—I would n't be hard on the poor
The word he used was objectionable in point of significance and of
grammar. It was a frequent termination of certain adjectives among the
Romans,—as of those designating a person following the sea, or given to
rural pursuits. It is classed by custom among the profane words; why, it
is hard to say,—but it is largely used in the street by those who speak
of their fellows in pity or in wrath.
I never heard the young fellow apply the name of the odious pretended
fish to the little man from that day forward.
—Here we are, then, at our boarding—house. First, myself, the
Professor, a little way from the head of the table, on the right, looking
down, where the "Autocrat" used to sit. At the further end sits the
Landlady. At the head of the table, just now, the Koh-i-noor, or the
gentleman with the diamond. Opposite me is a Venerable Gentleman with a
bland countenance, who as yet has spoken little. The Divinity Student is
my neighbor on the right,—and further down, that Young Fellow of whom I
have repeatedly spoken. The Landlady's Daughter sits near the
Koh-i-noor, as I said. The Poor Relation near the Landlady. At the
right upper corner is a fresh-looking youth of whose name and history I
have as yet learned nothing. Next the further left-hand corner, near the
lower end of the table, sits the deformed person. The chair at his side,
occupying that corner, is empty. I need not specially mention the other
boarders, with the exception of Benjamin Franklin, the landlady's son,
who sits near his mother. We are a tolerably assorted set,—difference
enough and likeness enough; but still it seems to me there is something
wanting. The Landlady's Daughter is the prima donna in the way of
feminine attractions. I am not quite satisfied with this young lady.
She wears more "jewelry," as certain young ladies call their trinkets,
than I care to see on a person in her position. Her voice is strident,
her laugh too much like a giggle, and she has that foolish way of dancing
and bobbing like a quill-float with a "minnum" biting the hook below it,
which one sees and weeps over sometimes in persons of more pretensions.
I can't help hoping we shall put something into that empty chair yet
which will add the missing string to our social harp. I hear talk of a
rare Miss who is expected. Something in the schoolgirl way, I believe.
We shall see.
—My friend who calls himself The Autocrat has given me a caution which I
am going to repeat, with my comment upon it, for the benefit of all
Professor,—said he, one day,—don't you think your brain will run dry
before a year's out, if you don't get the pump to help the cow? Let me
tell you what happened to me once. I put a little money into a bank, and
bought a check-book, so that I might draw it as I wanted, in sums to
suit. Things went on nicely for a time; scratching with a pen was as
easy as rubbing Aladdin's Lamp; and my blank check-book seemed to be a
dictionary of possibilities, in which I could find all the synonymes of
happiness, and realize any one of them on the spot. A check came back to
me at last with these two words on it,—NO FUNDS. My check-book was a
volume of waste-paper.
Now, Professor,—said he,—I have drawn something out of your bank, you
know; and just so sure as you keep drawing out your soul's currency
without making new deposits, the next thing will be, NO FUNDS,—and then
where will you be, my boy? These little bits of paper mean your gold and
your silver and your copper, Professor; and you will certainly break up
and go to pieces, if you don't hold on to your metallic basis.
There is something in that,—said I.—Only I rather think life can coin
thought somewhat faster than I can count it off in words. What if one
shall go round and dry up with soft napkins all the dew that falls of a
June evening on the leaves of his garden? Shall there be no more dew on
those leaves thereafter? Marry, yea,—many drops, large and round and
full of moonlight as those thou shalt have absterged!
Here am I, the Professor,—a man who has lived long enough to have
plucked the flowers of life and come to the berries,—which are not
always sad-colored, but sometimes golden-hued as the crocus of April, or
rosy-cheeked as the damask of June; a man who staggered against books as
a baby, and will totter against them, if he lives to decrepitude; with a
brain full of tingling thoughts, such as they are, as a limb which we
call "asleep," because it is so particularly awake, is of pricking points;
presenting a key-board of nerve-pulps, not as yet tanned or ossified, to
finger-touch of all outward agencies; knowing nothing of the filmy
threads of this web of life in which we insects buzz awhile, waiting for
the gray old spider to come along; contented enough with daily realities,
but twirling on his finger the key of a private Bedlam of ideals; in
knowledge feeding with the fox oftener than with the stork,—loving
better the breadth of a fertilizing inundation than the depth of narrow
artesian well; finding nothing too small for his contemplation in the
markings of the grammatophora subtilissima, and nothing too large in the
movement of the solar system towards the star Lambda of the constellation
Hercules;—and the question is, whether there is anything left for me,
the Professor, to suck out of creation, after my lively friend has had
his straw in the bung-hole of the Universe!
A man's mental reactions with the atmosphere of life must go on, whether
he will or no, as between his blood and the air he breathes. As to
catching the residuum of the process, or what we call thought,—the
gaseous ashes of burned-out thinking,—the excretion of mental
respiration,—that will depend on many things, as, on having a favorable
intellectual temperature about one, and a fitting receptacle.—I sow more
thought-seeds in twenty-four hours' travel over the desert-sand along
which my lonely consciousness paces day and night, than I shall throw
into soil where it will germinate, in a year. All sorts of bodily and
mental perturbations come between us and the due projection of our
thought. The pulse-like "fits of easy and difficult transmission" seem
to reach even the transparent medium through which our souls are seen.
We know our humanity by its often intercepted rays, as we tell a
revolving light from a star or meteor by its constantly recurring
An illustrious scholar once told me, that, in the first lecture he ever
delivered, he spoke but half his allotted time, and felt as if he had
told all he knew. Braham came forward once to sing one of his most
famous and familiar songs, and for his life could not recall the first
line of it;—he told his mishap to the audience, and they screamed it at
him in a chorus of a thousand voices. Milton could not write to suit
himself, except from the autumnal to the vernal equinox. One in the
clothing-business, who, there is reason to suspect, may have inherited,
by descent, the great poet's impressible temperament, let a customer slip
through his fingers one day without fitting him with a new garment.
"Ah!" said he to a friend of mine, who was standing by, "if it hadn't
been for that confounded headache of mine this morning, I'd have had a
coat on that man, in spite of himself, before he left-the store." A
passing throb, only,—but it deranged the nice mechanism required to
persuade the accidental human being, X, into a given piece of broadcloth,
We must take care not to confound this frequent difficulty of
transmission of our ideas with want of ideas. I suppose that a man's
mind does in time form a neutral salt with the elements in the universe
for which it has special elective affinities. In fact, I look upon a
library as a kind of mental chemist's shop filled with the crystals of
all forms and hues which have come from the union of individual thought
with local circumstances or universal principles.
When a man has worked out his special affinities in this way, there is an
end of his genius as a real solvent. No more effervescence and hissing
tumult—as he pours his sharp thought on the world's biting alkaline
unbeliefs! No more corrosion of the old monumental tablets covered with
lies! No more taking up of dull earths, and turning them, first into
clear solutions, and then into lustrous prisms!
I, the Professor, am very much like other men: I shall not find out when
I have used up my affinities. What a blessed thing it is, that Nature,
when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to
make critics out of the chips that were left! Painful as the task is,
they never fail to warn the author, in the most impressive manner, of the
probabilities of failure in what he has undertaken. Sad as the necessity
is to their delicate sensibilities, they never hesitate to advertise him
of the decline of his powers, and to press upon him the propriety of
retiring before he sinks into imbecility. Trusting to their kind
offices, I shall endeavor to fulfil—
—Bridget enters and begins clearing the table.
—The following poem is my (The Professor's) only contribution to the
great department of Ocean-Cable literature. As all the poets of this
country will be engaged for the next six weeks in writing for the premium
offered by the Crystal-Palace Company for the Burns Centenary, (so
called, according to our Benjamin Franklin, because there will be nary a
cent for any of us,) poetry will be very scarce and dear. Consumers may,
consequently, be glad to take the present article, which, by the aid of a
Latin tutor—and a Professor of Chemistry, will be found intelligible to
the educated classes.
AN ELECTRO-CHEMICAL ECLOGUE.
Tell me, O Provincial! speak, Ceruleo-Nasal!
Lives there one De Sauty extant now among you,
Whispering Boanerges, son of silent thunder,
Holding talk with nations?
Is there a De Sauty, ambulant on Tellus,
Bifid-cleft like mortals, dormient in night-cap,
Having sight, smell, hearing, food-receiving feature
Three times daily patent?
Breathes there such a being, O Ceruleo-Nasal?
Or is he a mythus,—ancient word for "humbug,"
—Such as Livy told about the wolf that wet-nursed
Romulus and Remus?
Was he born of woman, this alleged De Sauty?
Or a living product of galvanic action,
Like the status bred in Crosses flint-solution?
Speak, thou Cyano-Rhinal!
Many things thou askest, jackknife-bearing stranger,
Much-conjecturing mortal, pork-and-treacle-waster!
Pretermit thy whittling, wheel thine ear-flap toward me,
Thou shalt hear them answered.
When the charge galvanic tingled through the cable,
At the polar focus of the wire electric
Suddenly appeared a white-faced man among us
Called himself "DE SAUTY."
As the small opossum held in pouch maternal
Grasps the nutrient organ whence the term mammalia,
So the unknown stranger held the wire electric,
Sucking in the current.
When the current strengthened, bloomed the pale-faced stranger,
Took no drink nor victual, yet grew fat and rosy,
And from time to time, in sharp articulation,
Said, "All right! DE SAUTY."
From the lonely station passed the utterance, spreading
Through the pines and hemlocks to the groves of steeples
Till the land was filled with loud reverberations
Of "All right! DE SAUTY."
When the current slackened, drooped the mystic stranger,
Faded, faded, faded, as the stream grew weaker,
Wasted to a shadow, with a hartshorn odor
Drops of deliquescence glistened on his forehead,
Whitened round his feet the dust of efflorescence,
Till one Monday morning, when the flow suspended,
There was no De Sauty.
Nothing but a cloud of elements organic,
C. O. H. N. Ferrum, Chor. Flu. Sil. Potassa,
Calc. Sod. Phosph. Mag. Sulphur, Mang.(?) Alumin.(?) Cuprum,(?)
Such as man is made of.
Born of stream galvanic, with it he had perished!
There is no De Sauty now there is no current!
Give us a new cable, then again we'll hear him
Cry, "All right! DE SAUTY."
Back again!—A turtle—which means a tortoise—is fond of his shell; but
if you put a live coal on his back, he crawls out of it. So the boys
It is a libel on the turtle. He grows to his shell, and his shell is in
his body as much as his body is in his shell.—I don't think there is one
of our boarders quite so testudineous as I am. Nothing but a combination
of motives, more peremptory than the coal on the turtle's back, could
have got me to leave the shelter of my carapace; and after memorable
interviews, and kindest hospitalities, and grand sights, and huge influx
of patriotic pride,—for every American owns all America,—
"Creation's heir,—the world, the world is"
his, if anybody's,—I come back with the feeling which a boned turkey
might experience, if, retaining his consciousness, he were allowed to
resume his skeleton.
Welcome, O Fighting Gladiator, and Recumbent Cleopatra, and Dying
Warrior, whose classic outlines (reproduced in the calcined mineral of
Lutetia) crown my loaded shelves! Welcome, ye triumphs of pictorial art
(repeated by the magic graver) that look down upon me from the walls of
my sacred cell! Vesalius, as Titian drew him, high-fronted, still-eyed,
thick-bearded, with signet-ring, as beseems a gentleman, with book and
carelessly-held eyeglass, marking him a scholar; thou, too, Jan Kuyper,
commonly called Jan Praktiseer, old man of a century and seven years
besides, father of twenty sons and two daughters, cut in copper by
Houbraken, bought from a portfolio on one of the Paris quais; and ye
Three Trees of Rembrandt, black in shadow against the blaze of light; and
thou Rosy Cottager of Sir Joshua, roses hinted by the peppery burin of
Bartolozzi; ye, too, of lower grades in nature, yet not unlovely for
unrenowned, Young Bull of Paulus Potter, and sleeping Cat of Cornelius
Visscher; welcome once more to my eyes! The old books look out from the
shelves, and I seem to read on their backs something asides their
titles,—a kind of solemn greeting. The crimson carpet flushes warm
under my feet. The arm-chair hugs me; the swivel-chair spins round with
me, as if it were giddy with pleasure; the vast recumbent fauteuil
stretches itself out under my weight, as one joyous with food and wine
stretches in after-dinner laughter.
The boarders were pleased to say that they were glad to get me back. One
of them ventured a compliment, namely,—that I talked as if I believed
what I said.—This was apparently considered something unusual, by its
One who means to talk with entire sincerity,—I said,—always feels
himself in danger of two things, namely,—an affectation of bluntness,
like that of which Cornwall accuses Kent in "Lear," and actual rudeness.
What a man wants to do, in talking with a stranger, is to get and to give
as much of the best and most real life that belongs to the two talkers as
the time will let him. Life is short, and conversation apt to run to
mere words. Mr. Hue I think it is, who tells us some very good stories
about the way in which two Chinese gentlemen contrive to keep up a long
talk without saying a word which has any meaning in it. Something like
this is occasionally heard on this side of the Great Wall. The best
Chinese talkers I know are some pretty women whom I meet from time to
time. Pleasant, airy, complimentary, the little flakes of flattery
glimmering in their talk like the bits of gold-leaf in eau-de-vie de
Dantzic; their accents flowing on in a soft ripple,—never a wave, and
never a calm; words nicely fitted, but never a colored phrase or a
highly-flavored epithet; they turn air into syllables so gracefully, that
we find meaning for the music they make as we find faces in the coals and
fairy palaces in the clouds. There is something very odd, though, about
this mechanical talk.
You have sometimes been in a train on the railroad when the engine was
detached a long way from the station you were approaching? Well, you
have noticed how quietly and rapidly the cars kept on, just as if the
locomotive were drawing them? Indeed, you would not have suspected that
you were travelling on the strength of a dead fact, if you had not seen
the engine running away from you on a side-track. Upon my conscience, I
believe some of these pretty women detach their minds entirely,
sometimes, from their talk,—and, what is more, that we never know the
difference. Their lips let off the fluty syllables just as their fingers
would sprinkle the music-drops from their pianos; unconscious habit turns
the phrase of thought into words just as it does that of music into
notes.—Well, they govern the world for all that, these sweet-lipped
women,—because beauty is the index of a larger fact than wisdom.
—The Bombazine wanted an explanation.
Madam,—said I,—wisdom is the abstract of the past, but beauty is the
promise of the future.
—All this, however, is not what I was going to say. Here am I, suppose,
seated—we will say at a dinner-table—alongside of an intelligent
Englishman. We look in each other's faces,—we exchange a dozen words.
One thing is settled: we mean not to offend each other,—to be perfectly
courteous,—more than courteous; for we are the entertainer and the
entertained, and cherish particularly amiable feelings, to each other.
The claret is good; and if our blood reddens a little with its warm
crimson, we are none the less kind for it.
I don't think people that talk over their victuals are like to say
anything very great, especially if they get their heads muddled with
strong drink before they begin jabberin'.
The Bombazine uttered this with a sugary sourness, as if the words had
been steeped in a solution of acetate of lead.—The boys of my time used
to call a hit like this a "side-winder."
—I must finish this woman.—
Madam,—I said,—the Great Teacher seems to have been fond of talking as
he sat at meat. Because this was a good while ago, in a far-off place,
you forget what the true fact of it was,—that those were real dinners,
where people were hungry and thirsty, and where you met a very
miscellaneous company. Probably there was a great deal of loose talk
among the guests; at any rate, there was always wine, we may believe.
Whatever may be the hygienic advantages or disadvantages of wine,—and I
for one, except for certain particular ends, believe in water, and, I
blush to say it, in black tea,—there is no doubt about its being the
grand specific against dull dinners. A score of people come together in
all moods of mind and body. The problem is, in the space of one hour,
more or less, to bring them all into the same condition of slightly
exalted life. Food alone is enough for one person, perhaps,—talk,
alone, for another; but the grand equalizer and fraternizer, which works
up the radiators to their maximum radiation, and the absorbents to their
maximum receptivity, is now just where it was when
The conscious water saw its Lord and blushed,
—when six great vessels containing water, the whole amounting to more
than a hogshead-full, were changed into the best of wine. I once wrote a
song about wine, in which I spoke so warmly of it, that I was afraid some
would think it was written inter pocula; whereas it was composed in the
bosom of my family, under the most tranquillizing domestic influences.
—The divinity-student turned towards me, looking mischievous.—Can you
tell me,—he said,—who wrote a song for a temperance celebration once,
of which the following is a verse?
Alas for the loved one, too gentle and fair
The joys of the banquet to chasten and share!
Her eye lost its light that his goblet might shine,
And the rose of her cheek was dissolved in his wine!
I did,—I answered.—What are you going to do about it?—I will tell you
another line I wrote long ago:—
Don't be "consistent,"—but be simply true.
The longer I live, the more I am satisfied of two things: first, that the
truest lives are those that are cut rose-diamond-fashion, with many
facets answering to the many-planed aspects of the world about them;
secondly, that society is always trying in some way or other to grind us
down to a single flat surface. It is hard work to resist this
grinding-down action.—Now give me a chance. Better eternal and
universal abstinence than the brutalities of those days that made wives
and mothers and daughters and sisters blush for those whom they should
have honored, as they came reeling home from their debauches! Yet better
even excess than lying and hypocrisy; and if wine is upon all our tables,
let us praise it for its color and fragrance and social tendency, so far
as it deserves, and not hug a bottle in the closet and pretend not to
know the use of a wine-glass at a public dinner! I think you will find
that people who honestly mean to be true really contradict themselves
much more rarely than those who try to be "consistent." But a great many
things we say can be made to appear contradictory, simply because they
are partial views of a truth, and may often look unlike at first, as a
front view of a face and its profile often do.
Here is a distinguished divine, for whom I have great respect, for I owe
him a charming hour at one of our literary anniversaries, and he has
often spoken noble words; but he holds up a remark of my friend the
"Autocrat,"—which I grieve to say he twice misquotes, by omitting the
very word which gives it its significance,—the word fluid, intended to
typify the mobility of the restricted will,—holds it up, I say, as if it
attacked the reality of the self-determining principle, instead of
illustrating its limitations by an image. Now I will not explain any
farther, still less defend, and least of all attack, but simply quote a
few lines from one of my friend's poems, printed more than ten years ago,
and ask the distinguished gentleman where he has ever asserted more
strongly or absolutely the independent will of the "subcreative centre,"
as my heretical friend has elsewhere called man.
—Thought, conscience, will, to make them all thy own
He rent a pillar from the eternal throne!
—Made in His image, thou must nobly dare
The thorny crown of sovereignty to share.
—Think not too meanly of thy low estate;
Thou hast a choice; to choose is to create!
If he will look a little closely, he will see that the profile and the
full-face views of the will are both true and perfectly consistent!
Now let us come back, after this long digression, to the conversation
with the intelligent Englishman. We begin skirmishing with a few light
ideas,—testing for thoughts,—as our electro-chemical friend, De Sauty,
if there were such a person, would test for his current; trying a little
litmus-paper for acids, and then a slip of turmeric-paper for alkalies,
as chemists do with unknown compounds; flinging the lead, and looking at
the shells and sands it brings up to find out whether we are like to keep
in shallow water, or shall have to drop the deep-sea line;—in short,
seeing what we have to deal with. If the Englishman gets his H's pretty
well placed, he comes from one of the higher grades of the British social
order, and we shall find him a good companion.
But, after all, here is a great fact between us. We belong to two
different civilizations, and, until we recognize what separates us, we
are talking like Pyramus and Thisbe, without any hole in the wall to talk
through. Therefore, on the whole, if he were a superior fellow,
incapable of mistaking it for personal conceit, I think I would let out
the fact of the real American feeling about Old-World folks. They are
children to us in certain points of view. They are playing with toys we
have done with for whole-generations.
The more I have observed and reflected, the more limited seems to me the
field of action of the human will. Every act of choice involves a special
relation between the ego and the conditions before it. But no man knows
what forces are at work in the determination of his ego. The bias which
decides his choice between two or more motives may come from some
unsuspected ancestral source, of which he knows nothing at all. He is
automatic in virtue of that hidden spring of reflex action, all the time
having the feeling that he is self-determining. The Story of Elsie
Yenner, written-soon after this book was published, illustrates the
direction in which my thought was moving. 'The imaginary subject of the
story obeyed her will, but her will Obeyed the mysterious antenatal
That silly little drum they are always beating on, and the trumpet and
the feather they make so much noise and cut such a figure with, we have
not quite outgrown, but play with much less seriously and constantly than
they do. Then there is a whole museum of wigs, and masks, and
lace-coats, and gold-sticks, and grimaces, and phrases, which we laugh at
honestly, without affectation, that are still used in the Old-World
puppet-shows. I don't think we on our part ever understand the
Englishman's concentrated loyalty and specialized reverence. But then we
do think more of a man, as such, (barring some little difficulties about
race and complexion which the Englishman will touch us on presently,)
than any people that ever lived did think of him. Our reverence is a
great deal wider, if it is less intense. We have caste among us, to some
extent; it is true; but there is never a collar on the American wolf-dog
such as you often see on the English mastiff, notwithstanding his robust,
This confronting of two civilizations is always a grand sensation to me;
it is like cutting through the isthmus and letting the two oceans swim
into each other's laps. The trouble is, it is so difficult to let out
the whole American nature without its self-assertion seeming to take a
personal character. But I never enjoy the Englishman so much as when he
talks of church and king like Manco Capac among the Peruvians. Then you
get the real British flavor, which the cosmopolite Englishman loses.
How much better this thorough interpenetration of ideas than a barren
interchange of courtesies, or a bush-fighting argument, in which each man
tries to cover as much of himself and expose as much of his opponent as
the tangled thicket of the disputed ground will let him!
—-My thoughts flow in layers or strata, at least three deep. I follow a
slow person's talk, and keep a perfectly clear under-current of my own
beneath it. Under both runs obscurely a consciousness belonging to a
third train of reflections, independent of the two others. I will try to
write out a Mental movement in three parts.
A.—-First voice, or Mental Soprano,—thought follows a woman talking.
B.—Second voice, or Mental Barytone,—my running accompaniment.
C.—Third voice, or Mental Basso,—low grumble of importunate
A.—White lace, three skirts, looped with flowers, wreath of
apple-blossoms, gold bracelets, diamond pin and ear-rings, the most
delicious berthe you ever saw, white satin slippers—
B.—Deuse take her! What a fool she is! Hear her chatter! (Look out of
window just here.—Two pages and a half of description, if it were all
written out, in one tenth of a second.)—Go ahead, old lady! (Eye catches
picture over fireplace.) There's that infernal family nose! Came over in
the "Mayflower" on the first old fool's face. Why don't they wear a ring
C.—You 'll be late at lecture,—late at lecture,—late,—late—
I observe that a deep layer of thought sometimes makes itself felt
through the superincumbent strata, thus:—The usual single or double
currents shall flow on, but there shall be an influence blending with
them, disturbing them in an obscure way, until all at once I say,—Oh,
there! I knew there was something troubling me,—and the thought which
had been working through comes up to the surface clear, definite, and
articulates itself,—a disagreeable duty, perhaps, or an unpleasant
The inner world of thought and the outer world of events are alike in
this, that they are both brimful. There is no space between consecutive
thoughts, or between the never-ending series of actions. All pack tight,
and mould their surfaces against each other, so that in the long run
there is a wonderful average uniformity in the forms of both thoughts and
actions, just as you find that cylinders crowded all become hexagonal
prisms, and spheres pressed together are formed into regular polyhedra.
Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no
man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped by him. So,
to carry out, with another comparison, my remark about the layers of
thought, we may consider the mind as it moves among thoughts or events,
like a circus-rider whirling round with a great troop of horses. He can
mount a fact or an idea, and guide it more or less completely, but he
cannot stop it. So, as I said in another way at the beginning, he can
stride two or three thoughts at once, but not break their steady walk,
trot, or gallop. He can only take his foot from the saddle of one
thought and put it on that of another.
—What is the saddle of a thought? Why, a word, of course.—Twenty years
after you have dismissed a thought, it suddenly wedges up to you through
the press, as if it had been steadily galloping round and round all that
time without a rider.
The will does not act in the interspaces of thought, for there are no
such interspaces, but simply steps from the back of one moving thought
upon that of another.
—I should like to ask,—said the divinity-student,—since we are getting
into metaphysics, how you can admit space, if all things are in contact,
and how you can admit time, if it is always now to something?
—I thought it best not to hear this question.
—I wonder if you know this class of philosophers in books or elsewhere.
One of them makes his bow to the public, and exhibits an unfortunate
truth bandaged up so that it cannot stir hand or foot,—as helpless,
apparently, and unable to take care of itself, as an Egyptian mummy. He
then proceeds, with the air and method of a master, to take off the
bandages. Nothing can be neater than the way in which he does it. But
as he takes off layer after layer, the truth seems to grow smaller and
smaller, and some of its outlines begin to look like something we have
seen before. At last, when he has got them all off, and the truth struts
out naked, we recognize it as a diminutive and familiar acquaintance whom
we have known in the streets all our lives. The fact is, the philosopher
has coaxed the truth into his study and put all those bandages on; or
course it is not very hard for him to take them off. Still, a great many
people like to watch the process,—he does it so neatly!
Dear! dear! I am ashamed to write and talk, sometimes, when I see how
those functions of the large-brained, thumb-opposing plantigrade are
abused by my fellow-vertebrates,—perhaps by myself. How they spar for
wind, instead of hitting from the shoulder!
—The young fellow called John arose and placed himself in a neat
fighting attitude.—Fetch on the fellah that makes them long words!—he
said,—and planted a straight hit with the right fist in the concave palm
of the left hand with a click like a cup and ball.—You small boy there,
hurry up that "Webster's Unabridged!"
The little gentleman with the malformation, before described, shocked the
propriety of the breakfast-table by a loud utterance of three words, of
which the two last were "Webster's Unabridged," and the first was an
emphatic monosyllable.—Beg pardon,—he added,—forgot myself. But let
us have an English dictionary, if we are to have any. I don't believe in
clipping the coin of the realm, Sir! If I put a weathercock on my house,
Sir, I want it to tell which way the wind blows up aloft,—off from the
prairies to the ocean, or off from the ocean to the prairies, or any way
it wants to blow! I don't want a weathercock with a winch in an old
gentleman's study that he can take hold of and turn, so that the vane
shall point west when the great wind overhead is blowing east with all
its might, Sir! Wait till we give you a dictionary; Sir! It takes
Boston to do that thing, Sir!
—Some folks think water can't run down-hill anywhere out of Boston,
—remarked the Koh-i-noor.
I don't know what some folks think so well as I know what some fools
say,—rejoined the Little Gentleman.—If importing most dry goods made
the best scholars, I dare say you would know where to look for 'em.—Mr.
Webster could n't spell, Sir, or would n't spell, Sir,—at any rate, he
did n't spell; and the end of it was a fight between the owners of some
copyrights and the dignity of this noble language which we have inherited
from our English fathers. Language!—the blood of the soul, Sir! into
which our thoughts run and out of which they grow! We know what a word
is worth here in Boston. Young Sam Adams got up on the stage at
Commencement, out at Cambridge there, with his gown on, the Governor and
Council looking on in the name of his Majesty, King George the Second,
and the girls looking down out of the galleries, and taught people how to
spell a word that was n't in the Colonial dictionaries! R-e, re, s-i-s,
sis, t-a-n-c-e, tance, Resistance! That was in '43, and it was a good
many years before the Boston boys began spelling it with their
muskets;—but when they did begin, they spelt it so loud that the old
bedridden women in the English almshouses heard every syllable! Yes,
yes, yes,—it was a good while before those other two Boston boys got the
class so far along that it could spell those two hard words, Independence
and Union! I tell you what, Sir, there are a thousand lives, aye,
sometimes a million, go to get a new word into a language that is worth
speaking. We know what language means too well here in Boston to play
tricks with it. We never make a new word til we have made a new thing or
a new thought, Sir! then we shaped the new mould of this continent, we
had to make a few. When, by God's permission, we abrogated the primal
curse of maternity, we had to make a word or two. The cutwater of this
great Leviathan clipper, the OCCIDENTAL,—this thirty-wasted
wind-and-steam wave-crusher,—must throw a little spray over the human
vocabulary as it splits the waters of a new world's destiny!
He rose as he spoke, until his stature seemed to swell into the fair
human proportions. His feet must have been on the upper round of his
high chair; that was the only way I could account for it.
Puts her through fast-rate,—said the young fellow whom the boarders call
The venerable and kind-looking old gentleman who sits opposite said he
remembered Sam Adams as Governor. An old man in a brown coat. Saw him
take the Chair on Boston Common. Was a boy then, and remembers sitting
on the fence in front of the old Hancock house. Recollects he had a
glazed 'lectionbun, and sat eating it and looking down on to the Common.
Lalocks flowered late that year, and he got a great bunch off from the
bushes in the Hancock front-yard.
Them 'lection-buns are no go,—said the young man John, so called.—I
know the trick. Give a fellah a fo'penny bun in the mornin', an' he
downs the whole of it. In about an hour it swells up in his stomach as
big as a football, and his feedin' 's spilt for that day. That's the way
to stop off a young one from eatin' up all the 'lection dinner.
Salem! Salem! not Boston,—shouted the little man.
But the Koh-i-noor laughed a great rasping laugh, and the boy Benjamin
Franklin looked sharp at his mother, as if he remembered the
bun-experiment as a part of his past personal history.
The Little Gentleman was holding a fork in his left hand. He stabbed a
boulder of home-made bread with it, mechanically, and looked at it as if
it ought to shriek. It did not,—but he sat as if watching it.
—Language is a solemn thing,—I said.—It grows out of life,—out of its
agonies and ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a
temple, in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined. Because
time softens its outlines and rounds the sharp angles of its cornices,
shall a fellow take a pickaxe to help time? Let me tell you what comes of
meddling with things that can take care of themselves.—A friend of mine
had a watch given him, when he was a boy,—a "bull's eye," with a loose
silver case that came off like an oyster-shell from its contents; you
know them,—the cases that you hang on your thumb, while the core, or the
real watch, lies in your hand as naked as a peeled apple. Well, he began
with taking off the case, and so on from one liberty to another, until he
got it fairly open, and there were the works, as good as if they were
alive,—crown-wheel, balance-wheel, and all the rest. All right except
one thing,—there was a confounded little hair had got tangled round the
balance-wheel. So my young Solomon got a pair of tweezers, and caught
hold of the hair very nicely, and pulled it right out, without touching
any of the wheels,—when,—buzzzZZZ! and the watch had done up
twenty-four hours in double magnetic-telegraph time!—The English
language was wound up to run some thousands of years, I trust; but if
everybody is to be pulling at everything he thinks is a hair, our
grandchildren will have to make the discovery that it is a hair-spring,
and the old Anglo-Norman soul's-timekeeper will run down, as so many
other dialects have done before it. I can't stand this meddling any
better than you, Sir. But we have a great deal to be proud of in the
lifelong labors of that old lexicographer, and we must n't be ungrateful.
Besides, don't let us deceive ourselves,—the war of the dictionaries is
only a disguised rivalry of cities, colleges, and especially of
publishers. After all, it is likely that the language will shape itself
by larger forces than phonography and dictionary-making. You may spade
up the ocean as much as you like, and harrow it afterwards, if you
can,—but the moon will still lead the tides, and the winds will form
—Do you know Richardson's Dictionary?—I said to my neighbor the
Haow?—said the divinity-student.—He colored, as he noticed on my face a
twitch in one of the muscles which tuck up the corner of the mouth,
(zygomaticus major,) and which I could not hold back from making a little
movement on its own account.
It was too late.—A country-boy, lassoed when he was a half-grown colt.
Just as good as a city-boy, and in some ways, perhaps, better,—but
caught a little too old not to carry some marks of his earlier ways of
life. Foreigners, who have talked a strange tongue half their lives,
return to the language of their childhood in their dying hours.
Gentlemen in fine linen, and scholars in large libraries, taken by
surprise, or in a careless moment, will sometimes let slip a word they
knew as boys in homespun and have not spoken since that time,—but it lay
there under all their culture. That is one way you may know the
country-boys after they have grown rich or celebrated; another is by the
odd old family names, particularly those of the Hebrew prophets, which
the good old people have saddled them with.
—Boston has enough of England about it to make a good English
dictionary,—said that fresh-looking youth whom I have mentioned as
sitting at the right upper corner of the table.
I turned and looked him full in the face,—for the pure, manly
intonations arrested me. The voice was youthful, but full of
character.—I suppose some persons have a peculiar susceptibility in the
matter of voice.—Hear this.
Not long after the American Revolution, a young lady was sitting in her
father's chaise in a street of this town of Boston. She overheard a
little girl talking or singing, and was mightily taken with the tones of
her voice. Nothing would satisfy her but she must have that little girl
come and live in her father's house. So the child came, being then nine
years old. Until her marriage she remained under the same roof with the
young lady. Her children became successively inmates of the lady's
dwelling; and now, seventy years, or thereabouts, since the young lady
heard the child singing, one of that child's children and one of her
grandchildren are with her in that home, where she, no longer young,
except in heart, passes her peaceful days.—Three generations linked
together by so light a breath of accident!
I liked—the sound of this youth's voice, I said, and his look when I
came to observe him a little more closely. His complexion had something
better than the bloom and freshness which had first attracted me;—it had
that diffused tone which is a sure index of wholesome, lusty life. A
fine liberal style of nature seemed to be: hair crisped, moustache
springing thick and dark, head firmly planted, lips finished, as is
commonly sees them in gentlemen's families, a pupil well contracted, and
a mouth that opened frankly with a white flash of teeth that looked as if
they could serve him as they say Ethan Allen's used to serve their
owner,—to draw nails with. This is the kind of fellow to walk a
frigate's deck and bowl his broadsides into the "Gadlant Thudnder-bomb,"
or any forty-port-holed adventurer who would like to exchange a few tons
of iron compliments.—I don't know what put this into my head, for it was
not till some time afterward I learned the young fellow had been in the
naval school at Annapolis. Something had happened to change his plan of
life, and he was now studying engineering and architecture in Boston.
When the youth made the short remark which drew my attention to him, the
little deformed gentleman turned round and took a long look at him.
Good for the Boston boy!—he said.
I am not a Boston boy,—said the youth, smiling,—I am a Marylander.
I don't care where you come from,—we'll make a Boston man of you,—said
the little gentleman. Pray, what part of Maryland did you come from, and
how shall I call you?
The poor youth had to speak pretty loud, as he was at the right upper
corner of the table, and the little gentleman next the lower left-hand
corner. His face flushed a little, but he answered pleasantly, telling
who he was, as if the little man's infirmity gave him a right to ask any
questions he wanted to.
Here is the place for you to sit,—said the little gentleman, pointing to
the vacant chair next his own, at the corner.
You're go'n' to have a young lady next you, if you wait till
to-morrow,—said the landlady to him.
He did not reply, but I had a fancy that he changed color. It can't be
that he has susceptibilities with reference to a contingent young lady!
It can't be that he has had experiences which make him sensitive! Nature
could not be quite so cruel as to set a heart throbbing in that poor
little cage of ribs! There is no use in wasting notes of admiration. I
must ask the landlady about him.
These are some of the facts she furnished.—Has not been long with her.
Brought a sight of furniture,—could n't hardly get some of it upstairs.
Has n't seemed particularly attentive to the ladies. The Bombazine (whom
she calls Cousin something or other) has tried to enter into conversation
with him, but retired with the impression that he was indifferent to
ladies' society. Paid his bill the other day without saying a word about
it. Paid it in gold,—had a great heap of twenty-dollar pieces. Hires
her best room. Thinks he is a very nice little man, but lives dreadful
lonely up in his chamber. Wants the care of some capable nuss. Never
pitied anybody more in her life—never see a more interestin' person.
—My intention was, when I began making these notes, to let them consist
principally of conversations between myself and the other boarders. So
they will, very probably; but my curiosity is excited about this little
boarder of ours, and my reader must not be disappointed, if I sometimes
interrupt a discussion to give an account of whatever fact or traits I
may discover about him. It so happens that his room is next to mine, and
I have the opportunity of observing many of his ways without any active
movements of curiosity. That his room contains heavy furniture, that he
is a restless little body and is apt to be up late, that he talks to
himself, and keeps mainly to himself, is nearly all I have yet found out.
One curious circumstance happened lately which I mention without drawing
an absolute inference. Being at the studio of a sculptor with whom I am
acquainted, the other day, I saw a remarkable cast of a left arm. On my
asking where the model came from, he said it was taken direct from the
arm of a deformed person, who had employed one of the Italian moulders to
make the cast. It was a curious case, it should seem, of one beautiful
limb upon a frame otherwise singularly imperfect—I have repeatedly
noticed this little gentleman's use of his left arm. Can he have
furnished the model I saw at the sculptor's?
—So we are to have a new boarder to-morrow. I hope there will be
something pretty and pleasing about her. A woman with a creamy voice,
and finished in alto rilievo, would be a variety in the
boarding-house,—a little more marrow and a little less sinew than our
landlady and her daughter and the bombazine-clad female, all of whom are
of the turkey-drumstick style of organization. I don't mean that these
are our only female companions; but the rest being conversational
non-combatants, mostly still, sad feeders, who take in their food as
locomotives take in wood and water, and then wither away from the table
like blossoms that never came to fruit, I have not yet referred to them
I wonder what kind of young person we shall see in that empty chair
—I read this song to the boarders after breakfast the other morning. It
was written for our fellows;—you know who they are, of course.
Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?
If there has, take him out, without making a noise!
Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite!
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!
We're twenty! We're twenty! Who says we are more?
He's tipsy,—young jackanapes!—show him the door!
—"Gray temples at twenty?"—Yes! white, if we please;
Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!
Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake!
Look close,—you will see not a sign of a flake;
We want some new garlands for those we have shed,
And these are white roses in place of the red!
We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told.
Of talking (in public) as if we were old;
That boy we call Doctor, (1) and this we call Judge (2)
—It's a neat little fiction,—of course it's all fudge.
That fellow's the Speaker, (3)—the one on the right;
Mr. Mayor, (4) my young one, how are you to-night?
That's our "Member of Congress,"(5) we say when we chaff;
There's the "Reverend" (6) What's his name?—don't make me laugh!
That boy with the grave mathematical look(7)
Made believe he had written a wonderful book,
And the ROYAL SOCIETY thought it was true!
So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too.
There's a boy,—we pretend,—with a three-decker-brain
That could harness a team with a logical chain:
When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire,
We called him "The Justice,"—but now he's "The Squire."(1)
And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,(2)
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith,
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
—Just read on his medal,—"My country,—of thee!"
You hear that boy laughing?—you think he's all fun,
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!(3)
Yes, we're boys,—always playing with tongue or with pen,
—And I sometimes have asked,—Shall we ever be men?
Shall we always be youthful and laughing and gay,
Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?
Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
The stars of its Winter, the dews of its May!
And when we have done with our life-lasting toys,
Dear Father, take care of thy children, the Boys!
1 Francis Thomas.
2 George Tyler Bigelow.
3 Francis Boardman Crowninshield.
4 G. W. Richardson.
5 George Thomas Davis.
6 James Freeman Clarke.
7 Benjamin Peirce.
[The Professor talks with the Reader. He tells a Young Girl's Story.]
When the elements that went to the making of the first man, father of
mankind, had been withdrawn from the world of unconscious matter, the
balance of creation was disturbed. The materials that go to the making
of one woman were set free by the abstraction from inanimate nature of
one man's-worth of masculine constituents. These combined to make our
first mother, by a logical necessity involved in the previous creation of
our common father. All this, mythically, illustratively, and by no means
doctrinally or polemically.
The man implies the woman, you will understand. The excellent gentleman
whom I had the pleasure of setting right in a trifling matter a few weeks
ago believes in the frequent occurrence of miracles at the present day.
So do I. I believe, if you could find an uninhabited coral-reef island,
in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with plenty of cocoa-palms and
bread-fruit on it, and put a handsome young fellow, like our Marylander,
ashore upon it, if you touched there a year afterwards, you would find
him walking under the palm-trees arm in arm with a pretty woman.
Where would she come from?
Oh, that 's the miracle!
—I was just as certain, when I saw that fine, high-colored youth at the
upper right-hand corner of our table, that there would appear some
fitting feminine counterpart to him, as if I had been a clairvoyant,
seeing it all beforehand.
—I have a fancy that those Marylanders are just about near enough to the
sun to ripen well.—How some of us fellows remember Joe and Harry,
Baltimoreans, both! Joe, with his cheeks like lady-apples, and his eyes
like black-heart cherries, and his teeth like the whiteness of the flesh
of cocoanuts, and his laugh that set the chandelier-drops rattling
overhead, as we sat at our sparkling banquets in those gay times! Harry,
champion, by acclamation, of the college heavy-weights, broad-shouldered,
bull-necked, square-jawed, six feet and trimmings, a little science, lots
of pluck, good-natured as a steer in peace, formidable as a red-eyed
bison in the crack of hand-to-hand battle! Who forgets the great
muster-day, and the collision of the classic with the democratic forces?
The huge butcher, fifteen stone,—two hundred and ten pounds,—good
weight,—steps out like Telamonian Ajax, defiant. No words from Harry,
the Baltimorean,—one of the quiet sort, who strike first; and do the
talking, if there is any, afterwards. No words, but, in the place
thereof, a clean, straight, hard hit, which took effect with a spank like
the explosion of a percussion-cap, knocking the slayer of beeves down a
sand-bank,—followed, alas! by the too impetuous youth, so that both
rolled down together, and the conflict terminated in one of those
inglorious and inevitable Yankee clinches, followed by a general melee,
which make our native fistic encounters so different from such
admirably-ordered contests as that which I once saw at an English fair,
where everything was done decently and in order; and the fight began and
ended with such grave propriety, that a sporting parson need hardly have
hesitated to open it with a devout petition, and, after it was over,
dismiss the ring with a benediction.
I can't help telling one more story about this great field-day, though it
is the most wanton and irrelevant digression. But all of us have a
little speck of fight underneath our peace and good-will to men, just a
speck, for revolutions and great emergencies, you know,—so that we
should not submit to be trodden quite flat by the first heavy-heeled
aggressor that came along. You can tell a portrait from an ideal head, I
suppose, and a true story from one spun out of the writer's invention.
See whether this sounds true or not.
Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin sent out two fine blood-horses, Barefoot and
Serab by name, to Massachusetts, something before the time I am talking
of. With them came a Yorkshire groom, a stocky little fellow, in velvet
breeches, who made that mysterious hissing noise, traditionary in English
stables, when he rubbed down the silken-skinned racers, in great
perfection. After the soldiers had come from the muster-field, and some
of the companies were on the village-common, there was still some
skirmishing between a few individuals who had not had the fight taken out
of them. The little Yorkshire groom thought he must serve out somebody.
So he threw himself into an approved scientific attitude, and, in brief,
emphatic language, expressed his urgent anxiety to accommodate any
classical young gentleman who chose to consider himself a candidate for
his attentions. I don't suppose there were many of the college boys that
would have been a match for him in the art which Englishmen know so much
more of than Americans, for the most part. However, one of the
Sophomores, a very quiet, peaceable fellow, just stepped out of the
crowd, and, running straight at the groom, as he stood there, sparring
away, struck him with the sole of his foot, a straight blow, as if it had
been with his fist, and knocked him heels over head and senseless, so
that he had to be carried off from the field. This ugly way of hitting
is the great trick of the French gavate, which is not commonly thought
able to stand its ground against English pugilistic science. These are
old recollections, with not much to recommend them, except, perhaps, a
dash of life, which may be worth a little something.
The young Marylander brought them all up, you may remember. He recalled
to my mind those two splendid pieces of vitality I told you of. Both
have been long dead. How often we see these great red-flaring flambeaux
of life blown out, as it were, by a puff of wind,—and the little,
single-wicked night-lamp of being, which some white-faced and attenuated
invalid shades with trembling fingers, flickering on while they go out
one after another, until its glimmer is all that is left to us of the
generation to which it belonged!
I told you that I was perfectly sure, beforehand, we should find some
pleasing girlish or womanly shape to fill the blank at our table and
match the dark-haired youth at the upper corner.
There she sits, at the very opposite corner, just as far off as accident
could put her from this handsome fellow, by whose side she ought, of
course, to be sitting. One of the "positive" blondes, as my friend, you
may remember, used to call them. Tawny-haired, amber-eyed,
full-throated, skin as white as a blanched almond. Looks dreamy to me,
not self-conscious, though a black ribbon round her neck sets it off as a
Marie-Antoinette's diamond-necklace could not do. So in her dress, there
is a harmony of tints that looks as if an artist had run his eye over her
and given a hint or two like the finishing touch to a picture. I can't
help being struck with her, for she is at once rounded and fine in
feature, looks calm, as blondes are apt to, and as if she might run wild,
if she were trifled with. It is just as I knew it would be,—and anybody
can see that our young Marylander will be dead in love with her in a
Then if that little man would only turn out immensely rich and have the
good-nature to die and leave them all his money, it would be as nice as a
The Little Gentleman is in a flurry, I suspect, with the excitement of
having such a charming neighbor next him. I judge so mainly by his
silence and by a certain rapt and serious look on his face, as if he were
thinking of something that had happened, or that might happen, or that
ought to happen,—or how beautiful her young life looked, or how hardly
Nature had dealt with him, or something which struck him silent, at any
rate. I made several conversational openings for him, but he did not
fire up as he often does. I even went so far as to indulge in, a fling
at the State House, which, as we all know, is in truth a very imposing
structure, covering less ground than St. Peter's, but of similar general
effect. The little man looked up, but did not reply to my taunt. He
said to the young lady, however, that the State House was the Parthenon
of our Acropolis, which seemed to please her, for she smiled, and he
reddened a little,—so I thought. I don't think it right to watch
persons who are the subjects of special infirmity,—but we all do it.
I see that they have crowded the chairs a little at that end of the
table, to make room for another newcomer of the lady sort. A
well-mounted, middle-aged preparation, wearing her hair without a cap,
—pretty wide in the parting, though,—contours vaguely hinted,
—features very quiet,—says little as yet, but seems to keep her eye on
the young lady, as if having some responsibility for her My record is a
blank for some days after this. In the mean time I have contrived to
make out the person and the story of our young lady, who, according to
appearances, ought to furnish us a heroine for a boarding-house romance
before a year is out. It is very curious that she should prove connected
with a person many of us have heard of. Yet, curious as it is, I have
been a hundred times struck with the circumstance that the most remote
facts are constantly striking each other; just as vessels starting from
ports thousands of miles apart pass close to each other in the naked
breadth of the ocean, nay, sometimes even touch, in the dark, with a
crack of timbers, a gurgling of water, a cry of startled sleepers,—a cry
mysteriously echoed in warning dreams, as the wife of some Gloucester
fisherman, some coasting skipper, wakes with a shriek, calls the name of
her husband, and sinks back to uneasy slumbers upon her lonely pillow,—a
Oh, these mysterious meetings! Leaving all the vague, waste, endless
spaces of the washing desert, the ocean-steamer and the fishing-smack
sail straight towards each other as if they ran in grooves ploughed for
them in the waters from the beginning of creation! Not only things and
events, but our own thoughts, are so full of these surprises, that, if
there were a reader in my parish who did not recognize the familiar
occurrence of what I am now going to mention, I should think it a case
for the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of Intelligence
among the Comfortable Classes. There are about as many twins in the
births of thought as of children. For the first time in your lives you
learn some fact or come across some idea. Within an hour, a day, a week,
that same fact or idea strikes you from another quarter. It seems as if
it had passed into space and bounded back upon you as an echo from the
blank wall that shuts in the world of thought. Yet no possible
connection exists between the two channels by which the thought or the
fact arrived. Let me give an infinitesimal illustration.
One of the Boys mentioned, the other evening, in the course of a very
pleasant poem he read us, a little trick of the Commons-table boarders,
which I, nourished at the parental board, had never heard of. Young
fellows being always hungry—Allow me to stop dead-short, in order to
utter an aphorism which has been forming itself in one of the blank
interior spaces of my intelligence, like a crystal in the cavity of a
Aphorism by the Professor.
In order to know whether a human being is young or old, offer it food of
different kinds at short intervals. If young, it will eat anything at
any hour of the day or night. If old, it observes stated periods, and
you might as well attempt to regulate the time of highwater to suit a
fishing-party as to change these periods. The crucial experiment is this.
Offer a bulky and boggy bun to the suspected individual just ten minutes
before dinner. If this is eagerly accepted and devoured, the fact of
youth is established. If the subject of the question starts back and
expresses surprise and incredulity, as if you could not possibly be in
earnest, the fact of maturity is no less clear.
—Excuse me,—I return to my story of the Commons-table.—Young fellows
being always hungry, and tea and dry toast being the meagre fare of the
evening meal, it was a trick of some of the Boys to impale a slice of
meat upon a fork, at dinner-time, and stick the fork holding it beneath
the table, so that they could get it at tea-time. The dragons that
guarded this table of the Hesperides found out the trick at last, and
kept a sharp look-out for missing forks;—they knew where to find one,
if it was not in its place.—Now the odd thing was, that, after waiting
so many years to hear of this college trick, I should hear it mentioned a
second time within the same twenty-four hours by a college youth of the
present generation. Strange, but true. And so it has happened to me and
to every person, often and often, to be hit in rapid succession by these
twinned facts or thoughts, as if they were linked like chain-shot.
I was going to leave the simple reader to wonder over this, taking it as
an unexplained marvel. I think, however, I will turn over a furrow of
subsoil in it.—The explanation is, of course, that in a great many
thoughts there must be a few coincidences, and these instantly arrest our
attention. Now we shall probably never have the least idea of the
enormous number of impressions which pass through our consciousness,
until in some future life we see the photographic record of our thoughts
and the stereoscopic picture of our actions. There go more pieces to make
up a conscious life or a living body than you think for. Why, some of
you were surprised when a friend of mine told you there were fifty-eight
separate pieces in a fiddle. How many "swimming glands"—solid,
organized, regularly formed, rounded disks taking an active part in all
your vital processes, part and parcel, each one of them, of your
corporeal being—do you suppose are whirled along, like pebbles in a
stream, with the blood which warms your frame and colors your cheeks?—A
noted German physiologist spread out a minute drop of blood, under the
microscope, in narrow streaks, and counted the globules, and then made a
calculation. The counting by the micrometer took him a week.—You have,
my full-grown friend, of these little couriers in crimson or scarlet
livery, running on your vital errands day and night as long as you live,
sixty-five billions, five hundred and seventy thousand millions. Errors
excepted.—Did I hear some gentleman say, "Doubted? "—I am the
Professor. I sit in my chair with a petard under it that will blow me
through the skylight of my lecture-room, if I do not know what I am
talking about and whom I am quoting.
Now, my dear friends, who are putting your hands to your foreheads, and
saying to yourselves that you feel a little confused, as if you had been
waltzing until things began to whirl slightly round you, is it possible
that you do not clearly apprehend the exact connection of all that I have
been saying, and its bearing on what is now to come? Listen, then. The
number of these living elements in our bodies illustrates the
incalculable multitude of our thoughts; the number of our thoughts
accounts for those frequent coincidences spoken of; these coincidences in
the world of thought illustrate those which we constantly observe in the
world of outward events, of which the presence of the young girl now at
our table, and proving to be the daughter of an old acquaintance some of
us may remember, is the special example which led me through this
labyrinth of reflections, and finally lands me at the commencement of
this young girl's story, which, as I said, I have found the time and felt
the interest to learn something of, and which I think I can tell without
wronging the unconscious subject of my brief delineation.
You remember, perhaps, in some papers published awhile ago, an odd poem
written by an old Latin tutor? He brought up at the verb amo, I love, as
all of us do, and by and by Nature opened her great living dictionary for
him at the word filia, a daughter. The poor man was greatly perplexed in
choosing a name for her. Lucretia and Virginia were the first that he
thought of; but then came up those pictured stories of Titus Livius,
which he could never read without crying, though he had read them a
—Lucretia sending for her husband and her father, each to bring one
friend with him, and awaiting them in her chamber. To them her wrongs
briefly. Let them see to the wretch,—she will take care of herself.
Then the hidden knife flashes out and sinks into her heart. She slides
from her seat, and falls dying. "Her husband and her father cry
aloud."—No, not Lucretia.
-Virginius,—a brown old soldier, father of a nice girl. She engaged to
a very promising young man. Decemvir Appius takes a violent fancy to
her,—must have her at any rate. Hires a lawyer to present the arguments
in favor of the view that she was another man's daughter. There used to
be lawyers in Rome that would do such things.—All right. There are two
sides to everything. Audi alteram partem. The legal gentleman has no
opinion,—he only states the evidence.—A doubtful case. Let the young
lady be under the protection of the Honorable Decemvir until it can be
looked up thoroughly.—Father thinks it best, on the whole, to give in.
Will explain the matter, if the young lady and her maid will step this
way. That is the explanation,—a stab with a butcher's knife, snatched
from a stall, meant for other lambs than this poor bleeding Virginia.
The old man thought over the story. Then he must have one look at the
original. So he took down the first volume and read it over. When he
came to that part where it tells how the young gentleman she was engaged
to and a friend of his took up the poor girl's bloodless shape and
carried it through the street, and how all the women followed, wailing,
and asking if that was what their daughters were coming to,—if that was
what they were to get for being good girls,—he melted down into his
accustomed tears of pity and grief, and, through them all, of delight at
the charming Latin of the narrative. But it was impossible to call his
child Virginia. He could never look at her without thinking she had a
knife sticking in her bosom.
Dido would be a good name, and a fresh one. She was a queen, and the
founder of a great city. Her story had been immortalized by the greatest
of poets,—for the old Latin tutor clove to "Virgilius Maro," as he
called him, as closely as ever Dante did in his memorable journey. So he
took down his Virgil, it was the smooth-leafed, open-lettered quarto of
Baskerville,—and began reading the loves and mishaps of Dido. It would
n't do. A lady who had not learned discretion by experience, and came to
an evil end. He shook his head, as he sadly repeated,
"—-misera ante diem, subitoque accensa furore;"
but when he came to the lines,
"Ergo Iris croceis per coelum roscida pennis
Mille trahens varios adverso Sole colores,"
he jumped up with a great exclamation, which the particular recording
angel who heard it pretended not to understand, or it might have gone
hard with the Latin tutor some time or other.
"Iris shall be her name!"—he said. So her name was Iris.
—The natural end of a tutor is to perish by starvation. It is only a
question of time, just as with the burning of college libraries. These
all burn up sooner or later, provided they are not housed in brick or
stone and iron. I don't mean that you will see in the registry of deaths
that this or that particular tutor died of well-marked, uncomplicated
starvation. They may, even, in extreme cases, be carried off by a thin,
watery kind of apoplexy, which sounds very well in the returns, but means
little to those who know that it is only debility settling on the head.
Generally, however, they fade and waste away under various
pretexts,—calling it dyspepsia, consumption, and so on, to put a decent
appearance upon the case and keep up the credit of the family and the
institution where they have passed through the successive stages of
In some cases it takes a great many years to kill a tutor by the process
in question. You see they do get food and clothes and fuel, in
appreciable quantities, such as they are. You will even notice rows of
books in their rooms, and a picture or two,—things that look as if they
had surplus money; but these superfluities are the water of
crystallization to scholars, and you can never get them away till the
poor fellows effloresce into dust. Do not be deceived. The tutor
breakfasts on coffee made of beans, edulcorated with milk watered to the
verge of transparency; his mutton is tough and elastic, up to the moment
when it becomes tired out and tasteless; his coal is a sullen, sulphurous
anthracite, which rusts into ashes, rather than burns, in the shallow
grate; his flimsy broadcloth is too thin for winter and too thick for
summer. The greedy lungs of fifty hot-blooded boys suck the oxygen from
the air he breathes in his recitation-room. In short, he undergoes a
process of gentle and gradual starvation.
—The mother of little Iris was not called Electra, like hers of the old
story, neither was her grandfather Oceanus. Her blood-name, which she
gave away with her heart to the Latin tutor, was a plain old English one,
and her water-name was Hannah, beautiful as recalling the mother of
Samuel, and admirable as reading equally well from the initial letter
forwards and from the terminal letter backwards. The poor lady, seated
with her companion at the chessboard of matrimony, had but just pushed
forward her one little white pawn upon an empty square, when the Black
Knight, that cares nothing for castles or kings or queens, swooped down
upon her and swept her from the larger board of life.
The old Latin tutor put a modest blue stone at the head of his late
companion, with her name and age and Eheu! upon it,—a smaller one at her
feet, with initials; and left her by herself, to be rained and snowed
on,—which is a hard thing to do for those whom we have cherished
About the time that the lichens, falling on the stone, like drops of
water, had spread into fair, round rosettes, the tutor had starved into a
slight cough. Then he began to draw the buckle of his black trousers a
little tighter, and took in another reef in his never-ample waistcoat.
His temples got a little hollow, and the contrasts of color in his cheeks
more vivid than of old. After a while his walks fatigued him, and he was
tired, and breathed hard after going up a flight or two of stairs. Then
came on other marks of inward trouble and general waste, which he spoke
of to his physician as peculiar, and doubtless owing to accidental
causes; to all which the doctor listened with deference, as if it had not
been the old story that one in five or six of mankind in temperate
climates tells, or has told for him, as if it were something new. As the
doctor went out, he said to himself,—"On the rail at last.
Accommodation train. A good many stops, but will get to the station by
and by." So the doctor wrote a recipe with the astrological sign of
Jupiter before it, (just as your own physician does, inestimable reader,
as you will see, if you look at his next prescription,) and departed,
saying he would look in occasionally. After this, the Latin tutor began
the usual course of "getting better," until he got so much better that
his face was very sharp, and when he smiled, three crescent lines showed
at each side of his lips, and when he spoke; it was in a muffled whisper,
and the white of his eye glistened as pearly as the purest porcelain,
—so much better, that he hoped—by spring—he—might be
able—to—attend———to his class again.—But he was recommended not to
expose himself, and so kept his chamber, and occasionally, not having
anything to do, his bed. The unmarried sister with whom he lived took
care of him; and the child, now old enough to be manageable and even
useful in trifling offices, sat in the chamber, or played, about.
Things could not go on so forever, of course. One morning his face was
sunken and his hands were very, very cold. He was "better," he
whispered, but sadly and faintly. After a while he grew restless and
seemed a little wandering. His mind ran on his classics, and fell back
on the Latin grammar.
"Iris!" he said,—"filiola mea!"—The child knew this meant my dear
little daughter as well as if it had been English.—"Rainbow!" for he
would translate her name at times,—"come to me,—veni"—and his lips
went on automatically, and murmured, "vel venito!"—The child came and
sat by his bedside and took his hand, which she could not warm, but which
shot its rays of cold all through her slender frame. But there she sat,
looking steadily at him. Presently he opened his lips feebly, and
whispered, "Moribundus." She did not know what that meant, but she saw
that there was something new and sad. So she began to cry; but presently
remembering an old book that seemed to comfort him at times, got up and
brought a Bible in the Latin version, called the Vulgate. "Open it," he
said,—"I will read, segnius irritant,—don't put the light out,—ah!
hoeret lateri,—I am going,—vale, vale, vale, goodbye, good-bye,—the
Lord take care of my child! Domine, audi—vel audito!" His face whitened
suddenly, and he lay still, with open eyes and mouth. He had taken his
—Little Miss Iris could not be said to begin life with a very brilliant
rainbow over her, in a worldly point of view. A limited wardrobe of
man's attire, such as poor tutors wear,—a few good books, principally
classics,—a print or two, and a plaster model of the Pantheon, with some
pieces of furniture which had seen service,—these, and a child's heart
full of tearful recollections and strange doubts and questions,
alternating with the cheap pleasures which are the anodynes of childish
grief; such were the treasures she inherited.—No,—I forgot. With that
kindly sentiment which all of us feel for old men's first
children,—frost-flowers of the early winter season, the old tutor's
students had remembered him at a time when he was laughing and crying
with his new parental emotions, and running to the side of the plain crib
in which his alter egg, as he used to say, was swinging, to hang over the
little heap of stirring clothes, from which looked the minute, red,
downy, still, round face, with unfixed eyes and working lips,—in that
unearthly gravity which has never yet been broken by a smile, and which
gives to the earliest moon-year or two of an infant's life the character
of a first old age, to counterpoise that second childhood which there is
one chance in a dozen it may reach by and by. The boys had remembered
the old man and young father at that tender period of his hard, dry life.
There came to him a fair, silver goblet, embossed with classical figures,
and bearing on a shield the graver words, Ex dono pupillorum. The handle
on its side showed what use the boys had meant it for; and a kind letter
in it, written with the best of feeling, in the worst of Latin, pointed
delicately to its destination. Out of this silver vessel, after a long,
desperate, strangling cry, which marked her first great lesson in the
realities of life, the child took the blue milk, such as poor tutors and
their children get, tempered with water, and sweetened a little, so as to
bring it nearer the standard established by the touching indulgence and
partiality of Nature,—who had mingled an extra allowance of sugar in the
blameless food of the child at its mother's breast, as compared with that
of its infant brothers and sisters of the bovine race.
But a willow will grow in baked sand wet with rainwater. An air-plant
will grow by feeding on the winds. Nay, those huge forests that
overspread great continents have built themselves up mainly from the
air-currents with which they are always battling. The oak is but a
foliated atmospheric crystal deposited from the aerial ocean that holds
the future vegetable world in solution. The storm that tears its leaves
has paid tribute to its strength, and it breasts the tornado clad in the
spoils of a hundred hurricanes.
Poor little Iris! What had she in common with the great oak in the
shadow of which we are losing sight of her?—She lived and grew like
that,—this was all. The blue milk ran into her veins and filled them
with thin, pure blood. Her skin was fair, with a faint tinge, such as
the white rosebud shows before it opens. The doctor who had attended
her father was afraid her aunt would hardly be able to "raise"
her,—"delicate child,"—hoped she was not consumptive,—thought
there was a fair chance she would take after her father.
A very forlorn-looking person, dressed in black, with a white neckcloth,
sent her a memoir of a child who died at the age of two years and eleven
months, after having fully indorsed all the doctrines of the particular
persuasion to which he not only belonged himself, but thought it very
shameful that everybody else did not belong. What with foreboding looks
and dreary death-bed stories, it was a wonder the child made out to live
through it. It saddened her early years, of course,—it distressed her
tender soul with thoughts which, as they cannot be fully taken in, should
be sparingly used as instruments of torture to break down the natural
cheerfulness of a healthy child, or, what is infinitely worse, to cheat a
dying one out of the kind illusions with which the Father of All has
strewed its downward path.
The child would have died, no doubt, and, if properly managed, might have
added another to the long catalogue of wasting children who have been as
cruelly played upon by spiritual physiologists, often with the best
intentions, as ever the subject of a rare disease by the curious students
Fortunately for her, however, a wise instinct had guided the late Latin
tutor in the selection of the partner of his life, and the future mother
of his child. The deceased tutoress was a tranquil, smooth woman, easily
nourished, as such people are,—a quality which is inestimable in a
tutor's wife,—and so it happened that the daughter inherited enough
vitality from the mother to live through childhood and infancy and fight
her way towards womanhood, in spite of the tendencies she derived from
her other parent.
—Two and two do not always make four, in this matter of hereditary
descent of qualities. Sometimes they make three, and sometimes five. It
seems as if the parental traits at one time showed separate, at another
blended,—that occasionally, the force of two natures is represented in
the derivative one by a diagonal of greater value than either original
line of living movement,—that sometimes there is a loss of vitality
hardly to be accounted for, and again a forward impulse of variable
intensity in some new and unforeseen direction.
So it was with this child. She had glanced off from her parental
probabilities at an unexpected angle. Instead of taking to classical
learning like her father, or sliding quietly into household duties like
her mother, she broke out early in efforts that pointed in the direction
of Art. As soon as she could hold a pencil she began to sketch outlines
of objects round her with a certain air and spirit. Very extraordinary
horses, but their legs looked as if they could move. Birds unknown to
Audubon, yet flying, as it were, with a rush. Men with impossible legs,
which did yet seem to have a vital connection with their most improbable
bodies. By-and-by the doctor, on his beast,—an old man with a face
looking as if Time had kneaded it like dough with his knuckles, with a
rhubarb tint and flavor pervading himself and his sorrel horse and all
their appurtenances. A dreadful old man! Be sure she did not forget
those saddle-bags that held the detestable bottles out of which he used
to shake those loathsome powders which, to virgin childish palates that
find heaven in strawberries and peaches, are—Well, I suppose I had
better stop. Only she wished she was dead sometimes when she heard him
coming. On the next leaf would figure the gentleman with the black coat
and white cravat, as he looked when he came and entertained her with
stories concerning the death of various little children about her age, to
encourage her, as that wicked Mr. Arouet said about shooting Admiral
Byng. Then she would take her pencil, and with a few scratches there
would be the outline of a child, in which you might notice how one sudden
sweep gave the chubby cheek, and two dots darted at the paper looked like
By-and-by she went to school, and caricatured the schoolmaster on the
leaves of her grammars and geographies, and drew the faces of her
companions, and, from time to time, heads and figures from her fancy,
with large eyes, far apart, like those of Raffaelle's mothers and
children, sometimes with wild floating hair, and then with wings and
heads thrown back in ecstasy. This was at about twelve years old, as the
dates of these drawings show, and, therefore, three or four years before
she came among us. Soon after this time, the ideal figures began to take
the place of portraits and caricatures, and a new feature appeared in her
drawing-books in the form of fragments of verse and short poems.
It was dull work, of course, for such a young girl to live with an old
spinster and go to a village school. Her books bore testimony to this;
for there was a look of sadness in the faces she drew, and a sense of
weariness and longing for some imaginary conditions of blessedness or
other, which began to be painful. She might have gone through this
flowering of the soul, and, casting her petals, subsided into a sober,
human berry, but for the intervention of friendly assistance and counsel.
In the town where she lived was a lady of honorable condition, somewhat
past middle age, who was possessed of pretty ample means, of cultivated
tastes, of excellent principles, of exemplary character, and of more than
common accomplishments. The gentleman in black broadcloth and white
neckerchief only echoed the common voice about her, when he called her,
after enjoying, beneath her hospitable roof, an excellent cup of tea,
with certain elegancies and luxuries he was unaccustomed to, "The Model
of all the Virtues."
She deserved this title as well as almost any woman. She did really
bristle with moral excellences. Mention any good thing she had not done;
I should like to see you try! There was no handle of weakness to take
hold of her by; she was as unseizable, except in her totality, as a
billiard-ball; and on the broad, green, terrestrial table, where she had
been knocked about, like all of us, by the cue of Fortune, she glanced
from every human contact, and "caromed" from one relation to another, and
rebounded from the stuffed cushion of temptation, with such exact and
perfect angular movements, that the Enemy's corps of Reporters had long
given up taking notes of her conduct, as there was no chance for their
What an admirable person for the patroness and directress of a slightly
self-willed child, with the lightning zigzag line of genius running like
a glittering vein through the marble whiteness of her virgin nature! One
of the lady-patroness's peculiar virtues was calmness. She was resolute
and strenuous, but still. You could depend on her for every duty; she
was as true as steel. She was kind-hearted and serviceable in all the
relations of life. She had more sense, more knowledge, more
conversation, as well as more goodness, than all the partners you have
waltzed with this winter put together.
Yet no man was known to have loved her, or even to have offered himself
to her in marriage. It was a great wonder. I am very anxious to
vindicate my character as a philosopher and an observer of Nature by
accounting for this apparently extraordinary fact.
You may remember certain persons who have the misfortune of presenting to
the friends whom they meet a cold, damp hand. There are states of mind
in which a contact of this kind has a depressing effect on the vital
powers that makes us insensible to all the virtues and graces of the
proprietor of one of these life-absorbing organs. When they touch us,
virtue passes out of us, and we feel as if our electricity had been
drained by a powerful negative battery, carried about by an overgrown
"The Model of all the Virtues" had a pair of searching eyes as clear as
Wenham ice; but they were slower to melt than that fickle jewelry. Her
features disordered themselves slightly at times in a surface-smile, but
never broke loose from their corners and indulged in the riotous tumult
of a laugh,—which, I take it, is the mob-law of the features;—and
propriety the magistrate who reads the riot-act. She carried the
brimming cup of her inestimable virtues with a cautious, steady hand, and
an eye always on them, to see that they did not spill. Then she was an
admirable judge of character. Her mind was a perfect laboratory of tests
and reagents; every syllable you put into breath went into her
intellectual eudiometer, and all your thoughts were recorded on
litmus-paper. I think there has rarely been a more admirable woman.
Of course, Miss Iris was immensely and passionately attached
to her.—Well,—these are two highly oxygenated adverbs,
—grateful,—suppose we say,—yes,—grateful, dutiful, obedient to her
wishes for the most part,—perhaps not quite up to the concert pitch of
such a perfect orchestra of the virtues.
We must have a weak spot or two in a character before we can love it
much. People that do not laugh or cry, or take more of anything than is
good for them, or use anything but dictionary-words, are admirable
subjects for biographies. But we don't always care most for those
flat-pattern flowers that press best in the herbarium.
This immaculate woman,—why could n't she have a fault or two? Is n't
there any old whisper which will tarnish that wearisome aureole of
saintly perfection? Does n't she carry a lump of opium in her pocket?
Is n't her cologne-bottle replenished oftener than its legitimate use
would require? It would be such a comfort!
Not for the world would a young creature like Iris have let such words
escape her, or such thoughts pass through her mind. Whether at the
bottom of her soul lies any uneasy consciousness of an oppressive
presence, it is hard to say, until we know more about her. Iris sits
between the Little Gentleman and the "Model of all the Virtues," as the
black-coated personage called her.—I will watch them all.
—Here I stop for the present. What the Professor said has had to make
way this time for what he saw and heard.
-And now you may read these lines, which were written for gentle souls
who love music, and read in even tones, and, perhaps, with something like
a smile upon the reader's lips, at a meeting where these musical friends
had gathered. Whether they were written with smiles or not, you can
guess better after you have read them.
THE OPENING OF THE PIANO.
In the little southern parlor of the house you may have seen
With the gambrel-roof, and the gable looking westward to the green,
At the side toward the sunset, with the window on its right,
Stood the London-made piano I am dreaming of to-night.
Ah me! how I remember the evening when it came!
What a cry of eager voices, what a group of cheeks in flame,
When the wondrous boa was opened that had come from over seas,
With its smell of mastic-varnish and its flash of ivory keys!
Then the children all grew fretful in the restlessness of joy,
For the boy would push his sister, and the sister crowd the boy,
Till the father asked for quiet in his grave paternal way,
But the mother hushed the tumult with the words, "Now, Mary, play."
For the dear soul knew that music was a very sovereign balm;
She had sprinkled it over Sorrow and seen its brow grow calm,
In the days of slender harpsichords with tapping tinkling quills,
Or caroling to her spinet with its thin metallic thrills.
So Mary, the household minstrel, who always loved to please,
Sat down to the new "Clementi," and struck the glittering keys.
Hushed were the children's voices, and every eye grew dim,
As, floating from lip and finger, arose the "Vesper Hymn."
—Catharine, child of a neighbor, curly and rosy-red,
(Wedded since, and a widow,—something like ten years dead,)
Hearing a gush of music such as none before,
Steals from her mother's chamber and peeps at the open door.
Just as the "Jubilate" in threaded whisper dies,
—"Open it! open it, lady!" the little maiden cries,
(For she thought 't was a singing creature caged in a box she heard,)
"Open it! open it, lady! and let me see the bird!"
I don't know whether our literary or professional people are more amiable
than they are in other places, but certainly quarrelling is out of
fashion among them. This could never be, if they were in the habit of
secret anonymous puffing of each other. That is the kind of underground
machinery which manufactures false reputations and genuine hatreds. On
the other hand, I should like to know if we are not at liberty to have a
good time together, and say the pleasantest things we can think of to
each other, when any of us reaches his thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth
or eightieth birthday.
We don't have "scenes," I warrant you, on these occasions. No "surprise"
parties! You understand these, of course. In the rural districts, where
scenic tragedy and melodrama cannot be had, as in the city, at the
expense of a quarter and a white pocket-handkerchief, emotional
excitement has to be sought in the dramas of real life. Christenings,
weddings, and funerals, especially the latter, are the main dependence;
but babies, brides, and deceased citizens cannot be had at a day's
notice. Now, then, for a surprise-party!
A bag of flour, a barrel of potatoes, some strings of onions, a basket of
apples, a big cake and many little cakes, a jug of lemonade, a purse
stuffed with bills of the more modest denominations, may, perhaps, do
well enough for the properties in one of these private theatrical
exhibitions. The minister of the parish, a tender-hearted, quiet,
hard-working man, living on a small salary, with many children, sometimes
pinched to feed and clothe them, praying fervently every day to be blest
in his "basket and store," but sometimes fearing he asks amiss, to judge
by the small returns, has the first role,—not, however, by his own
choice, but forced upon him. The minister's wife, a sharp-eyed,
unsentimental body, is first lady; the remaining parts by the rest of the
family. If they only had a playbill, it would run thus:
ON TUESDAY NEXT
WILL BE PRESENTED
THE AFFECTING SCENE
THE OVERCOME FAMILY;
WITH THE FOLLOWING STRONG CAST OF CHARACTERS.
The Rev. Mr. Overcome, by the Clergyman of this Parish.
Mrs. Overcome, by his estimable lady.
Masters Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Overcome,
Misses Dorcas, Tabitha, Rachel, and Hannah, Overcome, by their
Peggy, by the female help.
The poor man is really grateful;—it is a most welcome and unexpected
relief. He tries to express his thanks,—his voice falters,—he
chokes,—and bursts into tears. That is the great effect of the evening.
The sharp-sighted lady cries a little with one eye, and counts the
strings of onions, and the rest of the things, with the other. The
children stand ready for a spring at the apples. The female help weeps
after the noisy fashion of untutored handmaids.
Now this is all very well as charity, but do let the kind visitors
remember they get their money's worth. If you pay a quarter for dry
crying, done by a second-rate actor, how much ought you to pay for real
hot, wet tears, out of the honest eyes of a gentleman who is not acting,
but sobbing in earnest?
All I meant to say, when I began, was, that this was not a surprise-party
where I read these few lines that follow:
We will not speak of years to-night;
For what have years to bring,
But larger floods of love and light
And sweeter songs to sing?
We will not drown in wordy praise
The kindly thoughts that rise;
If friendship owns one tender phrase,
He reads it in our eyes.
We need not waste our schoolboy art
To gild this notch of time;
Forgive me, if my wayward heart
Has throbbed in artless rhyme.
Enough for him the silent grasp
That knits us hand in hand,
And he the bracelet's radiant clasp
That locks our circling band.
Strength to his hours of manly toil!
Peace to his starlit dreams!
Who loves alike the furrowed soil,
The music-haunted streams!
Sweet smiles to keep forever bright
The sunshine on his lips,
And faith, that sees the ring of light
Round Nature's last eclipse!
—One of our boarders has been talking in such strong language that I am
almost afraid to report it. However, as he seems to be really honest and
is so very sincere in his local prejudices, I don't believe anybody will
be very angry with him.
It is here, Sir! right here!—said the little deformed gentleman,—in
this old new city of Boston,—this remote provincial corner of a
provincial nation, that the Battle of the Standard is fighting, and was
fighting before we were born, and will be fighting when we are dead and
gone,—please God! The battle goes on everywhere throughout
civilization; but here, here, here is the broad white flag flying which
proclaims, first of all, peace and good-will to men, and, next to that,
the absolute, unconditional spiritual liberty of each individual immortal
soul! The three-hilled city against the seven-hilled city! That is it,
Sir,—nothing less than that; and if you know what that means, I don't
think you'll ask for anything more. I swear to you, Sir, I believe that
these two centres of civilization are just exactly the two points that
close the circuit in the battery of our planetary intelligence! And I
believe there are spiritual eyes looking out from Uranus and unseen
Neptune,—ay, Sir, from the systems of Sirius and Arcturus and Aldebaran,
and as far as that faint stain of sprinkled worlds confluent in the
distance that we call the nebula of Orion,—looking on, Sir, with what
organs I know not, to see which are going to melt in that fiery fusion,
the accidents and hindrances of humanity or man himself, Sir,—the
stupendous abortion, the illustrious failure that he is, if the
three-hilled city does not ride down and trample out the seven-hilled
—Steam 's up!—said the young man John, so called, in a low tone.
—Three hundred and sixty-five tons to the square inch. Let him blow her
off, or he'll bu'st his b'iler.
The divinity-student took it calmly, only whispering that he thought
there was a little confusion of images between a galvanic battery and a
charge of cavalry.
But the Koh-i-noor—the gentleman, you remember, with a very large
diamond in his shirt-front laughed his scornful laugh, and made as if to
Sail in, Metropolis!—said that same young man John, by name. And then,
in a lower lane, not meaning to be heard,—Now, then, Ma'am Allen!
But he was heard,—and the Koh-i-noor's face turned so white with rage,
that his blue-black moustache and beard looked fearful, seen against it.
He grinned with wrath, and caught at a tumbler, as if he would have
thrown it or its contents at the speaker. The young Marylander fixed his
clear, steady eye upon him, and laid his hand on his arm, carelessly
almost, but the Jewel found it was held so that he could not move it. It
was of no use. The youth was his master in muscle, and in that deadly
Indian hug in which men wrestle with their eyes;—over in five seconds,
but breaks one of their two backs, and is good for threescore years and
ten;—one trial enough,—settles the whole matter,—just as when two
feathered songsters of the barnyard, game and dunghill, come
together,-after a jump or two at each other, and a few sharp kicks, there
is the end of it; and it is, Apres vous, Monsieur, with the beaten party
in all the social relations for all the rest of his days.
I cannot philosophically account for the Koh-i-noor's wrath. For though
a cosmetic is sold, bearing the name of the lady to whom reference was
made by the young person John, yet, as it is publicly asserted in
respectable prints that this cosmetic is not a dye, I see no reason why
he should have felt offended by any suggestion that he was indebted to it
or its authoress.
I have no doubt that there are certain exceptional complexions to which
the purple tinge, above alluded to, is natural. Nature is fertile in
variety. I saw an albiness in London once, for sixpence, (including the
inspection of a stuffed boa-constrictor,) who looked as if she had been
boiled in milk. A young Hottentot of my acquaintance had his hair all in
little pellets of the size of marrow-fat peas. One of my own classmates
has undergone a singular change of late years,—his hair losing its
original tint, and getting a remarkable discolored look; and another has
ceased to cultivate any hair at all over the vertex or crown of the head.
So I am perfectly willing to believe that the purple-black of the
Koh-i-noor's moustache and whiskers is constitutional and not pigmentary.
But I can't think why he got so angry.
The intelligent reader will understand that all this pantomime of the
threatened onslaught and its suppression passed so quickly that it was
all over by the time the other end of the table found out there was a
disturbance; just as a man chopping wood half a mile off may be seen
resting on his axe at the instant you hear the last blow he struck. So
you will please to observe that the Little Gentleman was not, interrupted
during the time implied by these ex-post-facto remarks of mine, but for
some ten or fifteen seconds only.
He did not seem to mind the interruption at all, for he started again.
The "Sir" of his harangue was no doubt addressed to myself more than
anybody else, but he often uses it in discourse as if he were talking
with some imaginary opponent.
—America, Sir,—he exclaimed,—is the only place where man is
He straightened himself up, as he spoke, standing on the top round of his
high chair, I suppose, and so presented the larger part of his little
figure to the view of the boarders.
It was next to impossible to keep from laughing. The commentary was so
strange an illustration of the text! I thought it was time to put in a
word; for I have lived in foreign parts, and am more or less
I doubt if we have more practical freedom in America than they have in
England,—-I said.—An Englishman thinks as he likes in religion and
politics. Mr. Martineau speculates as freely as ever Dr. Channing did,
and Mr. Bright is as independent as Mr. Seward.
Sir,—said he,—it is n't what a man thinks or says; but when and where
and to whom he thinks and says it. A man with a flint and steel striking
sparks over a wet blanket is one thing, and striking them over a
tinder-box is another. The free Englishman is born under protest; he
lives and dies under protest,—a tolerated, but not a welcome fact. Is
not freethinker a term of reproach in England? The same idea in the soul
of an Englishman who struggled up to it and still holds it
antagonistically, and in the soul of an American to whom it is congenital
and spontaneous, and often unrecognized, except as an element blended
with all his thoughts, a natural movement, like the drawing of his breath
or the beating of his heart, is a very different thing. You may teach a
quadruped to walk on his hind legs, but he is always wanting to be on all
fours. Nothing that can be taught a growing youth is like the
atmospheric knowledge he breathes from his infancy upwards. The American
baby sucks in freedom with the milk of the breast at which he hangs.
—That's a good joke,—said the young fellow John,—considerin' it
commonly belongs to a female Paddy.
I thought—I will not be certain—that the Little Gentleman winked, as if
he had been hit somewhere—as I have no doubt Dr. Darwin did when the
wooden-spoon suggestion upset his theory about why, etc. If he winked,
however, he did not dodge.
A lively comment!—he said.—But Rome, in her great founder, sucked the
blood of empire out of the dugs of a brute, Sir! The Milesian wet-nurse
is only a convenient vessel through which the American infant gets the
life-blood of this virgin soil, Sir, that is making man over again, on
the sunset pattern! You don't think what we are doing and going to do
here. Why, Sir, while commentators are bothering themselves with
interpretation of prophecies, we have got the new heavens and the new
earth over us and under us! Was there ever anything in Italy, I should
like to know, like a Boston sunset?
—This time there was a laugh, and the little man himself almost smiled.
Yes,—Boston sunsets;—perhaps they're as good in some other places, but
I know 'em best here. Anyhow, the American skies are different from
anything they see in the Old World. Yes, and the rocks are different,
and the soil is different, and everything that comes out of the soil,
from grass up to Indians, is different. And now that the provisional
races are dying out—
—What do you mean by the provisional races, Sir?—said the
divinity-student, interrupting him.
Why, the aboriginal bipeds, to be sure,—he answered,—the red-crayon
sketch of humanity laid on the canvas before the colors for the real
manhood were ready.
I hope they will come to something yet,—said the divinity-student.
Irreclaimable, Sir,—irreclaimable!—said the Little Gentleman.—Cheaper
to breed white men than domesticate a nation of red ones. When you can
get the bitter out of the partridge's thigh, you can make an enlightened
commonwealth of Indians. A provisional race, Sir,—nothing more.
Exhaled carbonic acid for the use of vegetation, kept down the bears and
catamounts, enjoyed themselves in scalping and being scalped, and then
passed away or are passing away, according to the programme.
Well, Sir, these races dying out, the white man has to acclimate himself.
It takes him a good while; but he will come all right by-and-by, Sir,—as
sound as a woodchuck,—as sound as a musquash!
A new nursery, Sir, with Lake Superior and Huron and all the rest of 'em
for wash-basins! A new race, and a whole new world for the new-born
human soul to work in! And Boston is the brain of it, and has been any
time these hundred years! That's all I claim for Boston,—that it is
the thinking centre of the continent, and therefore of the planet.
—And the grand emporium of modesty,—said the divinity-student, a little
Oh, don't talk to me of modesty!—answered the Little Gentleman,—I 'm
past that! There is n't a thing that was ever said or done in Boston,
from pitching the tea overboard to the last ecclesiastical lie it tore
into tatters and flung into the dock, that was n't thought very
indelicate by some fool or tyrant or bigot, and all the entrails of
commercial and spiritual conservatism are twisted into colics as often as
this revolutionary brain of ours has a fit of thinking come over it.—No,
Sir,—show me any other place that is, or was since the megalosaurus has
died out, where wealth and social influence are so fairly divided between
the stationary and the progressive classes! Show me any other place
where every other drawing-room is not a chamber of the Inquisition, with
papas and mammas for inquisitors,—and the cold shoulder, instead of the
"dry pan and the gradual fire," the punishment of "heresy"!
—We think Baltimore is a pretty civilized kind of a village,—said the
young Marylander, good-naturedly.—But I suppose you can't forgive it for
always keeping a little ahead of Boston in point of numbers,—tell the
truth now. Are we not the centre of something?
Ah, indeed, to be sure you are. You are the gastronomic metropolis of
the Union. Why don't you put a canvas-back-duck on the top of the
Washington column? Why don't you get that lady off from Battle Monument
and plant a terrapin in her place? Why will you ask for other glories
when you have soft crabs? No, Sir,—you live too well to think as hard
as we do in Boston. Logic comes to us with the salt-fish of Cape Ann;
rhetoric is born of the beans of Beverly; but you—if you open your
mouths to speak, Nature stops them with a fat oyster, or offers a slice
of the breast of your divine bird, and silences all your aspirations.
And what of Philadelphia?—said the Marylander.
Oh, Philadelphia?—Waterworks,—killed by the Croton and Cochituate;
—Ben Franklin,—borrowed from Boston;—David Rittenhouse,—made an
orrery;—Benjamin Rush,—made a medical system;—both interesting to
antiquarians;—great Red-river raft of medical students,—spontaneous
generation of professors to match;—more widely known through the
Moyamensing hose-company, and the Wistar parties;-for geological section
of social strata, go to The Club.—Good place to live in,—first-rate
market,—tip-top peaches.—What do we know about Philadelphia, except
that the engine-companies are always shooting each other?
And what do you say to New York?—asked the Koh-i-noor.
A great city, Sir,—replied the Little Gentleman,—a very opulent,
splendid city. A point of transit of much that is remarkable, and of
permanence for much that is respectable. A great money-centre. San
Francisco with the mines above-ground,—and some of 'em under the
sidewalks. I have seen next to nothing grandiose, out of New York, in
all our cities. It makes 'em all look paltry and petty. Has many
elements of civilization. May stop where Venice did, though, for aught
we know.—The order of its development is just this:—Wealth;
architecture; upholstery; painting; sculpture. Printing, as a mechanical
art,—just as Nicholas Jepson and the Aldi, who were scholars too, made
Venice renowned for it. Journalism, which is the accident of business
and crowded populations, in great perfection. Venice got as far as Titian
and Paul Veronese and Tintoretto,—great colorists, mark you, magnificent
on the flesh-and-blood side of Art,—but look over to Florence and see
who lie in Santa Crocea, and ask out of whose loins Dante sprung!
Oh, yes, to be sure, Venice built her Ducal Palace, and her Church of St.
Mark, and her Casa d' Or, and the rest of her golden houses; and Venice
had great pictures and good music; and Venice had a Golden Book, in which
all the large tax-payers had their names written;—but all that did not
make Venice the brain of Italy.
I tell you what, Sir,—with all these magnificent appliances of
civilization, it is time we began to hear something from the djinnis
donee whose names are on the Golden Book of our sumptuous, splendid,
marble-placed Venice,—something in the higher walks of literature,
—something in the councils of the nation. Plenty of Art, I grant you,
Sir; now, then, for vast libraries, and for mighty scholars and thinkers
and statesmen,—five for every Boston one, as the population is to
ours,—ten to one more properly, in virtue of centralizing attraction as
the alleged metropolis, and not call our people provincials, and have to
come begging to us to write the lives of Hendrik Hudson and Gouverneur
—The Little Gentleman was on his hobby, exalting his own city at the
expense of every other place. I have my doubts if he had been in either
of the cities he had been talking about. I was just going to say
something to sober him down, if I could, when the young Marylander spoke
Come, now,—he said,—what's the use of these comparisons? Did n't I
hear this gentleman saying, the other day, that every American owns all
America? If you have really got more brains in Boston than other folks,
as you seem to think, who hates you for it, except a pack of scribbling
fools? If I like Broadway better than Washington Street, what then? I
own them both, as much as anybody owns either. I am an American,—and
wherever I look up and see the stars and stripes overhead, that is home
He spoke, and looked up as if he heard the emblazoned folds crackling
over him in the breeze. We all looked up involuntarily, as if we should
see the national flag by so doing. The sight of the dingy ceiling and
the gas-fixture depending therefrom dispelled the illusion.
Bravo! bravo!—said the venerable gentleman on the other side of the
table.—Those are the sentiments of Washington's Farewell Address.
Nothing better than that since the last chapter in Revelations.
Five-and-forty years ago there used to be Washington societies, and
little boys used to walk in processions, each little boy having a copy of
the Address, bound in red, hung round his neck by a ribbon. Why don't
they now? Why don't they now? I saw enough of hating each other in the
old Federal times; now let's love each other, I say,—let's love each
other, and not try to make it out that there is n't any place fit to live
in except the one we happen to be born in.
It dwarfs the mind, I think,—said I,—to feed it on any localism. The
full stature of manhood is shrivelled—
The color burst up into my cheeks. What was I saying,—I, who would not
for the world have pained our unfortunate little boarder by an allusion?
I will go,—he said,—and made a movement with his left arm to let
himself down from his high chair.
No,—no,—he does n't mean it,—you must not go,—said a kind voice next
him; and a soft, white hand was laid upon his arm.
Iris, my dear!—exclaimed another voice, as of a female, in accents that
might be considered a strong atmospheric solution of duty with very
little flavor of grace.
She did not move for this address, and there was a tableau that lasted
some seconds. For the young girl, in the glory of half-blown womanhood,
and the dwarf, the cripple, the misshapen little creature covered with
Nature's insults, looked straight into each other's eyes.
Perhaps no handsome young woman had ever looked at him so in his life.
Certainly the young girl never had looked into eyes that reached into her
soul as these did. It was not that they were in themselves
supernaturally bright,—but there was the sad fire in them that flames up
from the soul of one who looks on the beauty of woman without hope, but,
alas! not without emotion. To him it seemed as if those amber gates had
been translucent as the brown water of a mountain brook, and through them
he had seen dimly into a virgin wilderness, only waiting for the sunrise
of a great passion for all its buds to blow and all its bowers to ring
That is my image, of course,—not his. It was not a simile that was in
his mind, or is in anybody's at such a moment,—it was a pang of wordless
passion, and then a silent, inward moan.
A lady's wish,—he said, with a certain gallantry of manner,—makes
slaves of us all.—And Nature, who is kind to all her children, and never
leaves the smallest and saddest of all her human failures without one
little comfit of self-love at the bottom of his poor ragged
pocket,—Nature suggested to him that he had turned his sentence well;
and he fell into a reverie, in which the old thoughts that were always
hovering dust outside the doors guarded by Common Sense, and watching for
a chance to squeeze in, knowing perfectly well they would be
ignominiously kicked out again as soon as Common Sense saw them, flocked
in pell-mell,—misty, fragmentary, vague, half-ashamed of themselves, but
still shouldering up against his inner consciousness till it warmed with
their contact:—John Wilkes's—the ugliest man's in England—saying, that
with half-an-hour's start he would cut out the handsomest man in all the
land in any woman's good graces; Cadenus—old and savage—leading captive
Stella and Vanessa; and then the stray line of a ballad, "And a winning
tongue had he,"—as much as to say, it is n't looks, after all, but
cunning words, that win our Eves over,—just as of old when it was the
worst-looking brute of the lot that got our grandmother to listen to his
stuff and so did the mischief.
Ah, dear me! We rehearse the part of Hercules with his club, subjugating
man and woman in our fancy, the first by the weight of it, and the second
by our handling of it,—we rehearse it, I say, by our own hearth-stones,
with the cold poker as our club, and the exercise is easy. But when we
come to real life, the poker is in the fore, and, ten to one, if we would
grasp it, we find it too hot to hold;—lucky for us, if it is not
white-hot, and we do not have to leave the skin of our hands sticking to
it when we fling it down or drop it with a loud or silent cry!
—I am frightened when I find into what a labyrinth of human character
and feeling I am winding. I meant to tell my thoughts, and to throw in a
few studies of manner and costume as they pictured themselves for me from
day to day. Chance has thrown together at the table with me a number of
persons who are worth studying, and I mean not only to look on them, but,
if I can, through them. You can get any man's or woman's secret, whose
sphere is circumscribed by your own, if you will only look patiently on
them long enough. Nature is always applying her reagents to character,
if you will take the pains to watch her. Our studies of character, to
change the image, are very much like the surveyor's triangulation of a
geographical province. We get a base-line in organization, always; then
we get an angle by sighting some distant object to which the passions or
aspirations of the subject of our observation are tending; then
another;—and so we construct our first triangle. Once fix a man's
ideals, and for the most part the rest is easy. A wants to die worth
half a million. Good. B (female) wants to catch him,—and outlive him.
All right. Minor details at our leisure.
What is it, of all your experiences, of all your thoughts, of all your
misdoings, that lies at the very bottom of the great heap of acts of
consciousness which make up your past life? What should you most dislike
to tell your nearest friend?—Be so good as to pause for a brief space,
and shut the volume you hold with your finger between the pages.—Oh,
that is it!
What a confessional I have been sitting at, with the inward ear of my
soul open, as the multitudinous whisper of my involuntary confidants came
back to me like the reduplicated echo of a cry among the craggy bills!
At the house of a friend where I once passed the night was one of those
stately upright cabinet desks and cases of drawers which were not rare in
prosperous families during the last century. It had held the clothes and
the books and the papers of generation after generation. The hands that
opened its drawers had grown withered, shrivelled, and at last been
folded in death. The children that played with the lower handles had got
tall enough to open the desk, to reach the upper shelves behind the
folding-doors,—grown bent after a while,—and then followed those who
had gone before, and left the old cabinet to be ransacked by a new
A boy of ten or twelve was looking at it a few years ago, and, being a
quick-witted fellow, saw that all the space was not accounted for by the
smaller drawers in the part beneath the lid of the desk. Prying about
with busy eyes and fingers, he at length came upon a spring, on pressing
which, a secret drawer flew from its hiding-place. It had never been
opened but by the maker. The mahogany shavings and dust were lying in it
as when the artisan closed it,—and when I saw it, it was as fresh as if
that day finished.
Is there not one little drawer in your soul, my sweet reader, which no
hand but yours has ever opened, and which none that have known you seem
to have suspected? What does it hold?—A sin?—I hope not. What a
strange thing an old dead sin laid away in a secret drawer of the soul
is! Must it some time or other be moistened with tears, until it comes
to life again and begins to stir in our consciousness,—as the dry
wheel-animalcule, looking like a grain of dust, becomes alive, if it is
wet with a drop of water?
Or is it a passion? There are plenty of withered men and women walking
about the streets who have the secret drawer in their hearts, which, if
it were opened, would show as fresh as it was when they were in the flush
of youth and its first trembling emotions.
What it held will, perhaps, never be known, until they are dead and gone,
and same curious eye lights on an old yellow letter with the fossil
footprints of the extinct passion trodden thick all over it.
There is not a boarder at our table, I firmly believe, excepting the
young girl, who has not a story of the heart to tell, if one could only
get the secret drawer open. Even this arid female, whose armor of black
bombazine looks stronger against the shafts of love than any cuirass of
triple brass, has had her sentimental history, if I am not mistaken. I
will tell you my reason for suspecting it.
Like many other old women, she shows a great nervousness and restlessness
whenever I venture to express any opinion upon a class of subjects which
can hardly be said to belong to any man or set of men as their strictly
private property,—not even to the clergy, or the newspapers commonly
called "religious." Now, although it would be a great luxury to me to
obtain my opinions by contract, ready-made, from a professional man, and
although I have a constitutional kindly feeling to all sorts of good
people which would make me happy to agree with all their beliefs, if that
were possible, still I must have an idea, now and then, as to the meaning
of life; and though the only condition of peace in this world is to have
no ideas, or, at least, not to express them, with reference to such
subjects, I can't afford to pay quite so much as that even for peace.
I find that there is a very prevalent opinion among the dwellers on the
shores of Sir Isaac Newton's Ocean of Truth, that salt, fish, which have
been taken from it a good while ago, split open, cured and dried, are the
only proper and allowable food for reasonable people. I maintain, on the
other hand, that there are a number of live fish still swimming in it,
and that every one of us has a right to see if he cannot catch some of
them. Sometimes I please myself with the idea that I have landed an
actual living fish, small, perhaps, but with rosy gills and silvery
scales. Then I find the consumers of nothing but the salted and dried
article insist that it is poisonous, simply because it is alive, and cry
out to people not to touch it. I have not found, however, that people
mind them much.
The poor boarder in bombazine is my dynamometer. I try every
questionable proposition on her. If she winces, I must be prepared for
an outcry from the other old women. I frightened her, the other day, by
saying that faith, as an intellectual state, was self-reliance, which, if
you have a metaphysical turn, you will find is not so much of a paradox
as it sounds at first. So she sent me a book to read which was to cure
me of that error. It was an old book, and looked as if it had not been
opened for a long time. What should drop out of it, one day, but a small
heart-shaped paper, containing a lock of that straight, coarse, brown
hair which sets off the sharp faces of so many thin-flanked, large-handed
bumpkins! I read upon the paper the name "Hiram."—Love! love!
love!—everywhere! everywhere!—under diamonds and housemaids'
"jewelry,"—lifting the marrowy camel's-hair, and rustling even the black
bombazine!—No, no,—I think she never was pretty, but she was young
once, and wore bright ginghams, and, perhaps, gay merinos. We shall find
that the poor little crooked man has been in love, or is in love, or will
be in love before we have done with him, for aught that I know!
Romance! Was there ever a boarding-house in the world where the
seemingly prosaic table had not a living fresco for its background, where
you could see, if you had eyes, the smoke and fire of some upheaving
sentiment, or the dreary craters of smouldering or burnt-out passions?
You look on the black bombazine and high-necked decorum of your neighbor,
and no more think of the real life that underlies this despoiled and
dismantled womanhood than you think of a stone trilobite as having once
been full of the juices and the nervous thrills of throbbing and
self-conscious being. There is a wild creature under that long yellow
pin which serves as brooch for the bombazine cuirass,—a wild creature,
which I venture to say would leap in his cage, if I should stir him,
quiet as you think him. A heart which has been domesticated by matrimony
and maternity is as tranquil as a tame bullfinch; but a wild heart which
has never been fairly broken in flutters fiercely long after you think
time has tamed it down,—like that purple finch I had the other day,
which could not be approached without such palpitations and frantic
flings against the bars of his cage, that I had to send him back and get
a little orthodox canary which had learned to be quiet and never mind the
wires or his keeper's handling. I will tell you my wicked, but half
involuntary experiment on the wild heart under the faded bombazine.
Was there ever a person in the room with you, marked by any special
weakness or peculiarity, with whom you could be two hours and not touch
the infirm spot? I confess the most frightful tendency to do just this
thing. If a man has a brogue, I am sure to catch myself imitating it.
If another is lame, I follow him, or, worse than that, go before him,
I could never meet an Irish gentleman—if it had been the Duke of
Wellington himself—without stumbling upon the word "Paddy,"—which I use
rarely in my common talk.
I have been worried to know whether this was owing to some innate
depravity of disposition on my part, some malignant torturing instinct,
which, under different circumstances, might have made a Fijian
anthropophagus of me, or to some law of thought for which I was not
answerable. It is, I am convinced, a kind of physical fact like
endosmosis, with which some of you are acquainted. A thin film of
politeness separates the unspoken and unspeakable current of thought from
the stream of conversation. After a time one begins to soak through and
mingle with the other.
We were talking about names, one day.—Was there ever anything,—I
said,—like the Yankee for inventing the most uncouth, pretentious,
detestable appellations,—inventing or finding them,—since the time of
Praise-God Barebones? I heard a country-boy once talking of another whom
he called Elpit, as I understood him. Elbridge is common enough, but
this sounded oddly. It seems the boy was christened Lord Pitt,—and
called for convenience, as above. I have heard a charming little girl,
belonging to an intelligent family in the country, called Anges
invariably; doubtless intended for Agnes. Names are cheap. How can a man
name an innocent new-born child, that never did him any harm, Hiram?—The
poor relation, or whatever she is, in bombazine, turned toward me, but I
was stupid, and went on.—To think of a man going through life saddled
with such an abominable name as that!—The poor relation grew very
uneasy.—I continued; for I never thought of all this till afterwards.—I
knew one young fellow, a good many years ago, by the name of
Hiram—What's got into you, Cousin,—said our landlady,—to look
so?—There! you 've upset your teacup!
It suddenly occurred to me what I had been doing, and I saw the poor
woman had her hand at her throat; she was half-choking with the "hysteric
ball,"—a very odd symptom, as you know, which nervous women often
complain of. What business had I to be trying experiments on this
forlorn old soul? I had a great deal better be watching that young girl.
Ah, the young girl! I am sure that she can hide nothing from me. Her
skin is so transparent that one can almost count her heart-beats by the
flushes they send into her cheeks. She does not seem to be shy, either.
I think she does not know enough of danger to be timid. She seems to me
like one of those birds that travellers tell of, found in remote,
uninhabited islands, who, having never received any wrong at the hand of
man, show no alarm at and hardly any particular consciousness of his
The first thing will be to see how she and our little deformed gentleman
get along together; for, as I have told you, they sit side by side. The
next thing will be to keep an eye on the duenna,—the "Model" and so
forth, as the white-neck-cloth called her. The intention of that
estimable lady is, I understand, to launch her and leave her. I suppose
there is no help for it, and I don't doubt this young lady knows how to
take care of herself, but I do not like to see young girls turned loose
in boarding-houses. Look here now! There is that jewel of his race, whom
I have called for convenience the Koh-i-noor, (you understand it is quite
out of the question for me to use the family names of our boarders,
unless I want to get into trouble,)—I say, the gentleman with the
diamond is looking very often and very intently, it seems to me, down
toward the farther corner of the table, where sits our amber-eyed blonde.
The landlady's daughter does not look pleased, it seems to me, at this,
nor at those other attentions which the gentleman referred to has, as I
have learned, pressed upon the newly-arrived young person. The landlady
made a communication to me, within a few days after the arrival of Miss
Iris, which I will repeat to the best of my remembrance.
He, (the person I have been speaking of,)—she said,—seemed to be kinder
hankerin' round after that young woman. It had hurt her daughter's
feelin's a good deal, that the gentleman she was a-keepin' company with
should be offerin' tickets and tryin' to send presents to them that he'd
never know'd till jest a little spell ago,—and he as good as merried, so
fur as solemn promises went, to as respectable a young lady, if she did
say so, as any there was round, whosomever they might be.
Tickets! presents!—said I.—What tickets, what presents has he had the
impertinence to be offering to that young lady?
Tickets to the Museum,—said the landlady. There is them that's glad
enough to go to the Museum, when tickets is given 'em; but some of 'em
ha'n't had a ticket sence Cenderilla was played,—and now he must be
offerin' 'em to this ridiculous young paintress, or whatever she is,
that's come to make more mischief than her board's worth. But it a'n't
her fault,—said the landlady, relenting;—and that aunt of hers, or
whatever she is, served him right enough.
Why, what did she do?
Do? Why, she took it up in the tongs and dropped it out o' winder.
Dropped? dropped what?—I said.
Why, the soap,—said the landlady.
It appeared that the Koh-i-noor, to ingratiate himself, had sent an
elegant package of perfumed soap, directed to Miss Iris, as a delicate
expression of a lively sentiment of admiration, and that, after having
met with the unfortunate treatment referred to, it was picked up by
Master Benjamin Franklin, who appropriated it, rejoicing, and indulged in
most unheard-of and inordinate ablutions in consequence, so that his
hands were a frequent subject of maternal congratulation, and he smelt
like a civet-cat for weeks after his great acquisition.
After watching daily for a time, I think I can see clearly into the
relation which is growing up between the little gentleman and the young
lady. She shows a tenderness to him that I can't help being interested
in. If he was her crippled child, instead of being more than old enough
to be her father, she could not treat him more kindly. The landlady's
daughter said, the other day, she believed that girl was settin' her cap
for the Little Gentleman.
Some of them young folks is very artful,—said her mother,—and there is
them that would merry Lazarus, if he'd only picked up crumbs enough. I
don't think, though, this is one of that sort; she's kinder
childlike,—said the landlady,—and maybe never had any dolls to play
with; for they say her folks was poor before Ma'am undertook to see to
her teachin' and board her and clothe her.
I could not help overhearing this conversation. "Board her and clothe
her!"—speaking of such a young creature! Oh, dear!—Yes,—she must be
fed,—just like Bridget, maid-of-all-work at this establishment.
Somebody must pay for it. Somebody has a right to watch her and see how
much it takes to "keep" her, and growl at her, if she has too good an
appetite. Somebody has a right to keep an eye on her and take care that
she does not dress too prettily. No mother to see her own youth over
again in these fresh features and rising reliefs of half-sculptured
womanhood, and, seeing its loveliness, forget her lessons of
neutral-tinted propriety, and open the cases that hold her own ornaments
to find for her a necklace or a bracelet or a pair of ear-rings,—those
golden lamps that light up the deep, shadowy dimples on the cheeks of
young beauties,—swinging in a semi-barbaric splendor that carries the
wild fancy to Abyssinian queens and musky Odalisques! I don't believe
any woman has utterly given up the great firm of Mundus & Co., so long as
she wears ear-rings.
I think Iris loves to hear the Little Gentleman talk. She smiles
sometimes at his vehement statements, but never laughs at him. When he
speaks to her, she keeps her eye always steadily upon him. This may be
only natural good-breeding, so to speak, but it is worth noticing. I
have often observed that vulgar persons, and public audiences of inferior
collective intelligence, have this in common: the least thing draws off
their minds, when you are speaking to them. I love this young creature's
rapt attention to her diminutive neighbor while he is speaking.
He is evidently pleased with it. For a day or two after she came, he was
silent and seemed nervous and excited. Now he is fond of getting the
talk into his own hands, and is obviously conscious that he has at least
one interested listener. Once or twice I have seen marks of special
attention to personal adornment, a ruffled shirt-bosom, one day, and a
diamond pin in it,—not so very large as the Koh-i-noor's, but more
lustrous. I mentioned the death's-head ring he wears on his right hand.
I was attracted by a very handsome red stone, a ruby or carbuncle or
something of the sort, to notice his left hand, the other day. It is a
handsome hand, and confirms my suspicion that the cast mentioned was
taken from his arm. After all, this is just what I should expect. It is
not very uncommon to see the upper limbs, or one of them, running away
with the whole strength, and, therefore, with the whole beauty, which we
should never have noticed, if it had been divided equally between all
four extremities. If it is so, of course he is proud of his one strong
and beautiful arm; that is human nature. I am afraid he can hardly help
betraying his favoritism, as people who have any one showy point are apt
to do,—especially dentists with handsome teeth, who always smile back to
their last molars.
Sitting, as he does, next to the young girl, and next but one to the calm
lady who has her in charge, he cannot help seeing their relations to each
That is an admirable woman, Sir,—he said to me one day, as we sat alone
at the table after breakfast,—an admirable woman, Sir,—and I hate her.
Of course, I begged an explanation.
An admirable woman, Sir, because she does good things, and even kind
things,—takes care of this—this—young lady—we have here, talks like a
sensible person, and always looks as if she was doing her duty with all
her might. I hate her because her voice sounds as if it never trembled
and her eyes look as if she never knew what it was to cry. Besides, she
looks at me, Sir, stares at me, as if she wanted to get an image of me
for some gallery in her brain,—and we don't love to be looked at in this
way, we that have—I hate her,—I hate her,—her eyes kill me,—it is
like being stabbed with icicles to be looked at so,—the sooner she goes
home, the better. I don't want a woman to weigh me in a balance; there
are men enough for that sort of work. The judicial character is n't
captivating in females, Sir. A woman fascinates a man quite as often by
what she overlooks as by what she sees. Love prefers twilight to
daylight; and a man doesn't think much of, nor care much for, a woman
outside of his household, unless he can couple the idea of love, past,
present, or future, with her. I don't believe the Devil would give half
as much for the services of a sinner as he would for those of one of
these folks that are always doing virtuous acts in a way to make them
unpleasing.—That young girl wants a tender nature to cherish her and
give her a chance to put out her leaves,—sunshine, and not east winds.
He was silent,—and sat looking at his handsome left hand with the red
stone ring upon it.—Is he going to fall in love with Iris?
Here are some lines I read to the boarders the other day:—
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH
Ah, here it is! the sliding rail
That marks the old remembered spot,
—The gap that struck our schoolboy trail,
—The crooked path across the lot.
It left the road by school and church,
A pencilled shadow, nothing more,
That parted from the silver birch
And ended at the farmhouse door.
No line or compass traced its plan;
With frequent bends to left or right,
In aimless, wayward curves it ran,
But always kept the door in sight.
The gabled porch, with woodbine green,
—The broken millstone at the sill,
—Though many a rood might stretch between,
The truant child could see them still.
No rocks, across the pathway lie,
—No fallen trunk is o'er it thrown,
—And yet it winds, we know not why,
And turns as if for tree or stone.
Perhaps some lover trod the way
With shaking knees and leaping heart,
—And so it often runs astray
With sinuous sweep or sudden start.
Or one, perchance, with clouded brain
From some unholy banquet reeled,
—And since, our devious steps maintain
His track across the trodden field.
Nay, deem not thus,—no earthborn will
Could ever trace a faultless line;
Our truest steps are human still,
—To walk unswerving were divine!
Truants from love, we dream of wrath;
—Oh, rather let us trust the more!
Through all the wanderings of the path,
We still can see our Father's door!
The Professor finds a Fly in his Teacup.
I have a long theological talk to relate, which must be dull reading to
some of my young and vivacious friends. I don't know, however, that any
of them have entered into a contract to read all that I write, or that I
have promised always to write to please them. What if I should sometimes
write to please myself?
Now you must know that there are a great many things which interest me,
to some of which this or that particular class of readers may be totally
indifferent. I love Nature, and human nature, its thoughts, affections,
dreams, aspirations, delusions,—Art in all its forms,—virtu in all its
eccentricities,—old stories from black-letter volumes and yellow
manuscripts, and new projects out of hot brains not yet imbedded in the
snows of age. I love the generous impulses of the reformer; but not less
does my imagination feed itself upon the old litanies, so often warmed by
the human breath upon which they were wafted to Heaven that they glow
through our frames like our own heart's blood. I hope I love good men
and women; I know that they never speak a word to me, even if it be of
question or blame, that I do not take pleasantly, if it is expressed with
a reasonable amount of human kindness.
I have before me at this time a beautiful and affecting letter, which I
have hesitated to answer, though the postmark upon it gave its direction,
and the name is one which is known to all, in some of its
representatives. It contains no reproach, only a delicately-hinted fear.
Speak gently, as this dear lady has spoken, and there is no heart so
insensible that it does not answer to the appeal, no intellect so virile
that it does not own a certain deference to the claims of age, of
childhood, of sensitive and timid natures, when they plead with it not to
look at those sacred things by the broad daylight which they see in
mystic shadow. How grateful would it be to make perpetual peace with
these pleading saints and their confessors, by the simple act that
silences all complainings! Sleep, sleep, sleep! says the
Arch-Enchantress of them all,—and pours her dark and potent anodyne,
distilled over the fires that consumed her foes,—its large, round drops
changing, as we look, into the beads of her convert's rosary! Silence!
the pride of reason! cries another, whose whole life is spent in
reasoning down reason.
I hope I love good people, not for their sake, but for my own. And most
assuredly, if any deed of wrong or word of bitterness led me into an act
of disrespect towards that enlightened and excellent class of men who
make it their calling to teach goodness and their duty to practise it, I
should feel that I had done myself an injury rather than them. Go and
talk with any professional man holding any of the medieval creeds,
choosing one who wears upon his features the mark of inward and outward
health, who looks cheerful, intelligent, and kindly, and see how all your
prejudices melt away in his presence! It is impossible to come into
intimate relations with a large, sweet nature, such as you may often find
in this class, without longing to be at one with it in all its modes of
being and believing. But does it not occur to you that one may love
truth as he sees it, and his race as he views it, better than even the
sympathy and approbation of many good men whom he honors,—better than
sleeping to the sound of the Miserere or listening to the repetition of
an effete Confession of Faith?
The three learned professions have but recently emerged from a state of
quasi-barbarism. None of them like too well to be told of it, but it
must be sounded in their ears whenever they put on airs. When a man has
taken an overdose of laudanum, the doctors tell us to place him between
two persons who shall make him walk up and down incessantly; and if he
still cannot be kept from going to sleep, they say that a lash or two
over his back is of great assistance.
So we must keep the doctors awake by telling them that they have not yet
shaken off astrology and the doctrine of signatures, as is shown by the
form of their prescriptions, and their use of nitrate of silver, which
turns epileptics into Ethiopians. If that is not enough, they must be
given over to the scourgers, who like their task and get good fees for
it. A few score years ago, sick people were made to swallow burnt toads
and powdered earthworms and the expressed juice of wood-lice. The
physician of Charles I. and II. prescribed abominations not to be named.
Barbarism, as bad as that of Congo or Ashantee. Traces of this barbarism
linger even in the greatly improved medical science of our century. So
while the solemn farce of over-drugging is going on, the world over, the
harlequin pseudo-science jumps on to the stage, whip in hand, with
half-a-dozen somersets, and begins laying about him.
In 1817, perhaps you remember, the law of wager by battle was unrepealed,
and the rascally murderous, and worse than murderous, clown, Abraham
Thornton, put on his gauntlet in open court and defied the appellant to
lift the other which he threw down. It was not until the reign of George
II. that the statutes against witchcraft were repealed. As for the
English Court of Chancery, we know that its antiquated abuses form one of
the staples of common proverbs and popular literature. So the laws and
the lawyers have to be watched perpetually by public opinion as much as
the doctors do.
I don't think the other profession is an exception. When the Reverend
Mr. Cauvin and his associates burned my distinguished scientific
brother,—he was burned with green fagots, which made it rather slow and
painful,—it appears to me they were in a state of religious barbarism.
The dogmas of such people about the Father of Mankind and his creatures
are of no more account in my opinion than those of a council of Aztecs.
If a man picks your pocket, do you not consider him thereby disqualified
to pronounce any authoritative opinion on matters of ethics? If a man
hangs my ancient female relatives for sorcery, as they did in this
neighborhood a little while ago, or burns my instructor for not believing
as he does, I care no more for his religious edicts than I should for
those of any other barbarian.
Of course, a barbarian may hold many true opinions; but when the ideas of
the healing art, of the administration of justice, of Christian love,
could not exclude systematic poisoning, judicial duelling, and murder for
opinion's sake, I do not see how we can trust the verdict of that time
relating to any subject which involves the primal instincts violated in
these abominations and absurdities.—What if we are even now in a state
[This physician believes we "are even now in a state of semi-barbarism":
invasive procedures for the prolongation of death rather than
prolongation of life; "faith",as slimly based as medieval faith in minute
differences between control and treated groups; statistical manipulation
to prove a prejudice. Medicine has a good deal to answer for! D.W.]
Perhaps some think we ought not to talk at table about such things.—I
am not so sure of that. Religion and government appear to me the two
subjects which of all others should belong to the common talk of people
who enjoy the blessings of freedom. Think, one moment. The earth is a
great factory-wheel, which, at every revolution on its axis, receives
fifty thousand raw souls and turns off nearly the same number worked up
more or less completely. There must be somewhere a population of two
hundred thousand million, perhaps ten or a hundred times as many,
earth-born intelligences. Life, as we call it, is nothing but the edge
of the boundless ocean of existence where it comes on soundings. In this
view, I do not see anything so fit to talk about, or half so interesting,
as that which relates to the innumerable majority of our
fellow-creatures, the dead-living, who are hundreds of thousands to one
of the live-living, and with whom we all potentially belong, though we
have got tangled for the present in some parcels of fibrine, albumen, and
phosphates, that keep us on the minority side of the house. In point of
fact, it is one of the many results of Spiritualism to make the permanent
destiny of the race a matter of common reflection and discourse, and a
vehicle for the prevailing disbelief of the Middle-Age doctrines on the
subject. I cannot help thinking, when I remember how many conversations
my friend and myself have sported, that it would be very extraordinary,
if there were no mention of that class of subjects which involves all
that we have and all that we hope, not merely for ourselves, but for the
dear people whom we love best,—noble men, pure and lovely women,
ingenuous children, about the destiny of nine tenths of whom you know the
opinions that would have been taught by those old man-roasting,
woman-strangling dogmatists.—However, I fought this matter with one of
our boarders the other day, and I am going to report the conversation.
The divinity-student came down, one morning, looking rather more serious
than usual. He said little at breakfast-time, but lingered after the
others, so that I, who am apt to be long at the table, found myself alone
When the rest were all gone, he turned his chair round towards mine, and
I am afraid,—he said,—you express yourself a little too freely on a
most important class of subjects. Is there not danger in introducing
discussions or allusions relating to matters of religion into common
Danger to what?—I asked.
Danger to truth,—he replied, after a slight pause.
I didn't know Truth was such an invalid,' I said.—How long is it since
she could only take the air in a close carriage, with a gentleman in a
black coat on the box? Let me tell you a story, adapted to young
persons, but which won't hurt older ones.
—There was a very little boy who had one of those balloons you may have
seen, which are filled with light gas, and are held by a string to keep
them from running off in aeronautic voyages on their own account. This
little boy had a naughty brother, who said to him, one day,—Brother,
pull down your balloon, so that I can look at it and take hold of it.
Then the little boy pulled it down. Now the naughty brother had a sharp
pin in his hand, and he thrust it into the balloon, and all the gas oozed
out, so that there was nothing left but a shrivelled skin.
One evening, the little boy's father called him to the window to see the
moon, which pleased him very much; but presently he said,—Father, do
not pull the string and bring down the moon, for my naughty brother will
prick it, and then it will all shrivel up and we shall not see it any
Then his father laughed, and told him how the moon had been shining a
good while, and would shine a good while longer, and that all we could do
was to keep our windows clean, never letting the dust get too thick on
them, and especially to keep our eyes open, but that we could not pull
the moon down with a string, nor prick it with a pin.—Mind you this,
too, the moon is no man's private property, but is seen from a good many
—Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay, you
may kick it about all day, like a football, and it will be round and full
at evening. Does not Mr. Bryant say, that Truth gets well if she is run
over by a locomotive, while Error dies of lockjaw if she scratches her
finger? [Would that this was so:—error, superstition, mysticism,
authoritarianism, pseudo-science all have a tenacity that survives
inexplicably. D.W.] I never heard that a mathematician was alarmed for
the safety of a demonstrated proposition. I think, generally, that fear
of open discussion implies feebleness of inward conviction, and great
sensitiveness to the expression of individual opinion is a mark of
—I am not so much afraid for truth,—said the divinity-student,—as for
the conceptions of truth in the minds of persons not accustomed to judge
wisely the opinions uttered before them.
Would you, then, banish all allusions to matters of this nature from the
society of people who come together habitually?
I would be very careful in introducing them,—said the divinity-student.
Yes, but friends of yours leave pamphlets in people's entries, to be
picked up by nervous misses and hysteric housemaids, full of doctrines
these people do not approve. Some of your friends stop little children
in the street, and give them books, which their parents, who have had
them baptized into the Christian fold and give them what they consider
proper religious instruction, do not think fit for them. One would say
it was fair enough to talk about matters thus forced upon people's
The divinity-student could not deny that this was what might be called
opening the subject to the discussion of intelligent people.
But,—he said,—the greatest objection is this, that persons who have not
made a professional study of theology are not competent to speak on such
subjects. Suppose a minister were to undertake to express opinions on
medical subjects, for instance, would you not think he was going beyond
I laughed,—for I remembered John Wesley's "sulphur and supplication,"
and so many other cases where ministers had meddled with
medicine,—sometimes well and sometimes ill, but, as a general rule, with
a tremendous lurch to quackery, owing to their very loose way of
admitting evidence,—that I could not help being amused.
I beg your pardon,—I said,—I do not wish to be impolite, but I was
thinking of their certificates to patent medicines. Let us look at this
If a minister had attended lectures on the theory and practice of
medicine, delivered by those who had studied it most deeply, for thirty
or forty years, at the rate of from fifty to one hundred a year,—if he
had been constantly reading and hearing read the most approved text-books
on the subject,—if he had seen medicine actually practised according to
different methods, daily, for the same length of time,—I should think,
that if a person of average understanding, he was entitled to express an
opinion on the subject of medicine, or else that his instructors were a
set of ignorant and incompetent charlatans.
If, before a medical practitioner would allow me to enjoy the full
privileges of the healing art, he expected me to affirm my belief in a
considerable number of medical doctrines, drugs, and formulae, I should
think that he thereby implied my right to discuss the same, and my
ability to do so, if I knew how to express myself in English.
Suppose, for instance, the Medical Society should refuse to give us an
opiate, or to set a broken limb, until we had signed our belief in a
certain number of propositions,—of which we will say this is the first:
I. All men's teeth are naturally in a state of total decay or caries,
and, therefore, no man can bite until every one of them is extracted and
a new set is inserted according to the principles of dentistry adopted by
I, for one, should want to discuss that before signing my name to it, and
I should say this:—Why, no, that is n't true. There are a good many bad
teeth, we all know, but a great many more good ones. You must n't trust
the dentists; they are all the time looking at the people who have bad
teeth, and such as are suffering from toothache. The idea that you must
pull out every one of every nice young man and young woman's natural
teeth! Poh, poh! Nobody believes that. This tooth must be
straightened, that must be filled with gold, and this other perhaps
extracted, but it must be a very rare case, if they are all so bad as to
require extraction; and if they are, don't blame the poor soul for it!
Don't tell us, as some old dentists used to, that everybody not only
always has every tooth in his head good for nothing, but that he ought to
have his head cut off as a punishment for that misfortune! No, I can't
sign Number One. Give us Number Two.
II. We hold that no man can be well who does not agree with our views of
the efficacy of calomel, and who does not take the doses of it prescribed
in our tables, as there directed.
To which I demur, questioning why it should be so, and get for answer the
III. Every man who does not take our prepared calomel, as prescribed by
us in our Constitution and By-Laws, is and must be a mass of disease from
head to foot; it being self-evident that he is simultaneously affected
with Apoplexy, Arthritis, Ascites, Asphyxia, and Atrophy; with
Borborygmus, Bronchitis, and Bulimia; with Cachexia, Carcinoma, and
Cretinismus; and so on through the alphabet, to Xerophthahnia and Zona,
with all possible and incompatible diseases which are necessary to make
up a totally morbid state; and he will certainly die, if he does not take
freely of our prepared calomel, to be obtained only of one of our
IV. No man shall be allowed to take our prepared calomel who does not
give in his solemn adhesion to each and all of the above-named and the
following propositions (from ten to a hundred) and show his mouth to
certain of our apothecaries, who have not studied dentistry, to examine
whether all his teeth have been extracted and a new set inserted
according to our regulations.
Of course, the doctors have a right to say we sha'n't have any rhubarb,
if we don't sign their articles, and that, if, after signing them, we
express doubts (in public), about any of them, they will cut us off from
our jalap and squills,—but then to ask a fellow not to discuss the
propositions before he signs them is what I should call boiling it down a
little too strong!
If we understand them, why can't we discuss them? If we can't understand
them, because we have n't taken a medical degree, what the Father of Lies
do they ask us to sign them for?
Just so with the graver profession. Every now and then some of its
members seem to lose common sense and common humanity. The laymen have
to keep setting the divines right constantly. Science, for instance,—in
other words, knowledge,—is not the enemy of religion; for, if so, then
religion would mean ignorance: But it is often the antagonist of
Everybody knows the story of early astronomy and the school-divines. Come
down a little later, Archbishop Usher, a very learned Protestant prelate,
tells us that the world was created on Sunday, the twenty-third of
October, four thousand and four years before the birth of Christ.
Deluge, December 7th, two thousand three hundred and forty-eight years B.
C. Yes, and the earth stands on an elephant, and the elephant on a
tortoise. One statement is as near the truth as the other.
Again, there is nothing so brutalizing to some natures as moral surgery.
I have often wondered that Hogarth did not add one more picture to his
four stages of Cruelty. Those wretched fools, reverend divines and
others, who were strangling men and women for imaginary crimes a little
more than a century ago among us, were set right by a layman, and very
angry it made them to have him meddle.
The good people of Northampton had a very remarkable man for their
clergyman,—a man with a brain as nicely adjusted for certain mechanical
processes as Babbage's calculating machine. The commentary of the laymen
on the preaching and practising of Jonathan Edwards was, that, after
twenty-three years of endurance, they turned him out by a vote of twenty
to one, and passed a resolve that he should never preach for them again.
A man's logical and analytical adjustments are of little consequence,
compared to his primary relations with Nature and truth: and people have
sense enough to find it out in the long ran; they know what "logic" is
In that miserable delusion referred to above, the reverend Aztecs and
Fijians argued rightly enough from their premises, no doubt, for many men
can do this. But common sense and common humanity were unfortunately
left out from their premises, and a layman had to supply them. A hundred
more years and many of the barbarisms still lingering among us will, of
course, have disappeared like witch-hanging. But people are sensitive
now, as they were then. You will see by this extract that the Rev.
Cotton Mather did not like intermeddling with his business very well.
"Let the Levites of the Lord keep close to their Instructions," he says,
"and God will smite thro' the loins of those that rise up against them.
I will report unto you a Thing which many Hundreds among us know to be
true. The Godly Minister of a certain Town in Connecticut, when he had
occasion to be absent on a Lord's Day from his Flock, employ'd an honest
Neighbour of some small Talents for a Mechanick, to read a Sermon out of
some good Book unto 'em. This Honest, whom they ever counted also a
Pious Man, had so much conceit of his Talents, that instead of Reading a
Sermon appointed, he to the Surprize of the People, fell to preaching one
of his own. For his Text he took these Words, 'Despise not
Prophecyings'; and in his Preachment he betook himself to bewail the Envy
of the Clergy in the Land, in that they did not wish all the Lord's
People to be Prophets, and call forth Private Brethren publickly to
prophesie. While he was thus in the midst of his Exercise, God smote him
with horrible Madness; he was taken ravingly distracted; the People were
forc'd with violent Hands to carry him home. I will not mention his
Name: He was reputed a Pious Man."—This is one of Cotton Mather's
"Remarkable Judgments of God, on Several Sorts of Offenders,"—and the
next cases referred to are the Judgments on the "Abominable Sacrilege" of
not paying the Ministers' Salaries.
This sort of thing does n't do here and now, you see, my young friend!
We talk about our free institutions;—they are nothing but a coarse
outside machinery to secure the freedom of individual thought. The
President of the United States is only the engine driver of our
broad-gauge mail-train; and every honest, independent thinker has a seat
in the first-class cars behind him.
—There is something in what you say,—replied the divinity-student;
—and yet it seems to me there are places and times where disputed
doctrines of religion should not be introduced. You would not attack a
church dogma—say Total Depravity—in a lyceum-lecture, for instance?
Certainly not; I should choose another place,—I answered.—But, mind
you, at this table I think it is very different. I shall express my
ideas on any subject I like. The laws of the lecture-room, to which my
friends and myself are always amenable, do not hold here. I shall not
often give arguments, but frequently opinions,—I trust with courtesy and
propriety, but, at any rate, with such natural forms of expression as it
has pleased the Almighty to bestow upon me.
A man's opinions, look you, are generally of much more value than his
arguments. These last are made by his brain, and perhaps he does not
believe the proposition they tend to prove,—as is often the case with
paid lawyers; but opinions are formed by our whole nature,—brain,
heart, instinct, brute life, everything all our experience has shaped for
us by contact with the whole circle of our being.
—There is one thing more,—said the divinity-student,—that I wished to
speak of; I mean that idea of yours, expressed some time since, of
depolarizing the text of sacred books in order to judge them fairly. May
I ask why you do not try the experiment yourself?
Certainly,—I replied,—if it gives you any pleasure to ask foolish
questions. I think the ocean telegraph-wire ought to be laid and will be
laid, but I don't know that you have any right to ask me to go and lay
it. But, for that matter, I have heard a good deal of Scripture
depolarized in and out of the pulpit. I heard the Rev. Mr. F. once
depolarize the story of the Prodigal Son in Park-Street Church. Many
years afterwards, I heard him repeat the same or a similar depolarized
version in Rome, New York. I heard an admirable depolarization of the
story of the young man who "had great possessions" from the Rev. Mr. H.
in another pulpit, and felt that I had never half understood it before.
All paraphrases are more or less perfect depolarizations. But I tell you
this: the faith of our Christian community is not robust enough to bear
the turning of our most sacred language into its depolarized equivalents.
You have only to look back to Dr. Channing's famous Baltimore discourse
and remember the shrieks of blasphemy with which it was greeted, to
satisfy yourself on this point. Time, time only, can gradually wean us
from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the
thing signified. Man is an idolater or symbol-worshipper by nature,
which, of course, is no fault of his; but sooner or later all his local
and temporary symbols must be ground to powder, like the golden
calf,—word-images as well as metal and wooden ones. Rough work,
iconoclasm,—but the only way to get at truth. It is, indeed, as that
quaint and rare old discourse, "A Summons for Sleepers," hath it, "no
doubt a thankless office, and a verie unthriftie occupation; veritas
odium parit, truth never goeth without a scratcht face; he that will be
busie with voe vobis, let him looke shortly for coram nobas."
The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think
what we like and say what we think.
—Think what we like!—said the divinity-student;—think what we like!
What! against all human and divine authority?
Against all human versions of its own or any other authority. At our own
peril always, if we do not like the right,—but not at the risk of being
hanged and quartered for political heresy, or broiled on green fagots for
ecclesiastical treason! Nay, we have got so far, that the very word
heresy has fallen into comparative disuse among us.
And now, my young friend, let-us shake hands and stop our discussion,
which we will not make a quarrel. I trust you know, or will learn, a
great many things in your profession which we common scholars do not
know; but mark this: when the common people of New England stop talking
politics and theology, it will be because they have got an Emperor to
teach them the one, and a Pope to teach them the other!
That was the end of my long conference with the divinity-student. The
next morning we got talking a little on the same subject, very
good-naturedly, as people return to a matter they have talked out.
You must look to yourself,—said the divinity-student,—if your
democratic notions get into print. You will be fired into from all
If it were only a bullet, with the marksman's name on it!—I said.—I
can't stop to pick out the peep-shot of the anonymous scribblers.
Right, Sir! right!—said the Little Gentleman. The scamps! I know the
fellows. They can't give fifty cents to one of the Antipodes, but they
must have it jingled along through everybody's palms all the way, till it
reaches him,—and forty cents of it gets spilt, like the water out of the
fire-buckets passed along a "lane" at a fire;—but when it comes to
anonymous defamation, putting lies into people's mouths, and then
advertising those people through the country as the authors of them,—oh,
then it is that they let not their left hand know what their right hand
I don't like Ehud's style of doing business, Sir. He comes along with a
very sanctimonious look, Sir, with his "secret errand unto thee," and his
"message from God unto thee," and then pulls out his hidden knife with
that unsuspected hand of his,—-(the Little Gentleman lifted his clenched
left hand with the blood-red jewel on the ring-finger,)—and runs it,
blade and haft, into a man's stomach! Don't meddle with these fellows,
Sir. They are read mostly by persons whom you would not reach, if you
were to write ever so much. Let 'em alone. A man whose opinions are not
attacked is beneath contempt.
I hope so,—I said.—I got three pamphlets and innumerable squibs flung
at my head for attacking one of the pseudo-sciences, in former years.
When, by the permission of Providence, I held up to the professional
public the damnable facts connected with the conveyance of poison from
one young mother's chamber to another's,—for doing which humble office I
desire to be thankful that I have lived, though nothing else good should
ever come of my life,—I had to bear the sneers of those whose position I
had assailed, and, as I believe, have at last demolished, so that nothing
but the ghosts of dead women stir among the ruins.—What would you do, if
the folks without names kept at you, trying to get a San Benito on to
your shoulders that would fit you?—Would you stand still in fly-time, or
would you give a kick now and then?
Let 'em bite!—said the Little Gentleman,—let 'em bite! It makes 'em
hungry to shake 'em off, and they settle down again as thick as ever and
twice as savage. Do you know what meddling with the folks without names,
as you call 'em, is like?—It is like riding at the quintaan. You run
full tilt at the board, but the board is on a pivot, with a bag of sand
on an arm that balances it. The board gives way as soon as you touch it;
and before you have got by, the bag of sand comes round whack on the back
of your neck. "Ananias," for instance, pitches into your lecture, we
will say, in some paper taken by the people in your kitchen. Your
servants get saucy and negligent. If their newspaper calls you names,
they need not be so particular about shutting doors softly or boiling
potatoes. So you lose your temper, and come out in an article which you
think is going to finish "Ananias," proving him a booby who doesn't know
enough to understand even a lyceum-lecture, or else a person that tells
lies. Now you think you 've got him! Not so fast. "Ananias" keeps still
and winks to "Shimei," and "Shimei" comes out in the paper which they
take in your neighbor's kitchen, ten times worse than t'other fellow. If
you meddle with "Shimei," he steps out, and next week appears
"Rab-shakeh," an unsavory wretch; and now, at any rate, you find out what
good sense there was in Hezekiah's "Answer him not."—No, no,—keep your
temper.—So saying, the Little Gentleman doubled his left fist and looked
at it as if he should like to hit something or somebody a most pernicious
punch with it.
Good!—said I.—Now let me give you some axioms I have arrived at, after
seeing something of a great many kinds of good folks.
—Of a hundred people of each of the different leading religious sects,
about the same proportion will be safe and pleasant persons to deal and
to live with.
—There are, at least, three real saints among the women to one among the
men, in every denomination.
—The spiritual standard of different classes I would reckon thus:
1. The comfortably rich.
2. The decently comfortable.
3. The very rich, who are apt to be irreligious.
4. The very poor, who are apt to be immoral.
—The cut nails of machine-divinity may be driven in, but they won't
—The arguments which the greatest of our schoolmen could not refute were
two: the blood in men's veins, and the milk in women's breasts.
—Humility is the first of the virtues—for other people.
—Faith always implies the disbelief of a lesser fact in favor of a
greater. A little mind often sees the unbelief, without seeing the
belief of a large one.
The Poor Relation had been fidgeting about and working her mouth while
all this was going on. She broke out in speech at this point.
I hate to hear folks talk so. I don't see that you are any better than a
I wish I were half as good as many heathens have been,—I said.—Dying
for a principle seems to me a higher degree of virtue than scolding for
it; and the history of heathen races is full of instances where men have
laid down their lives for the love of their kind, of their country, of
truth, nay, even for simple manhood's sake, or to show their obedience or
fidelity. What would not such beings have done for the souls of men, for
the Christian commonwealth, for the King of Kings, if they had lived in
days of larger light? Which seems to you nearest heaven, Socrates
drinking his hemlock, Regulus going back to the enemy's camp, or that old
New England divine sitting comfortably in his study and chuckling over
his conceit of certain poor women, who had been burned to death in his
own town, going "roaring out of one fire into another"?
I don't believe he said any such thing,—replied the Poor Relation.
It is hard to believe,—said I,—but it is true for all that. In another
hundred years it will be as incredible that men talked as we sometimes
hear them now.
Pectus est quod facit theologum. The heart makes the theologian. Every
race, every civilization, either has a new revelation of its own or a new
interpretation of an old one. Democratic America, has a different
humanity from feudal Europe, and so must have a new divinity. See, for
one moment, how intelligence reacts on our faiths. The Bible was a
divining-book to our ancestors, and is so still in the hands of some of
the vulgar. The Puritans went to the Old Testament for their laws; the
Mormons go to it for their patriarchal institution. Every generation
dissolves something new and precipitates something once held in solution
from that great storehouse of temporary and permanent truths.
You may observe this: that the conversation of intelligent men of the
stricter sects is strangely in advance of the formula that belong to
their organizations. So true is this, that I have doubts whether a large
proportion of them would not have been rather pleased than offended, if
they could have overheard our, talk. For, look you, I think there is
hardly a professional teacher who will not in private conversation allow
a large part of what we have said, though it may frighten him in print;
and I know well what an under-current of secret sympathy gives vitality
to those poor words of mine which sometimes get a hearing.
I don't mind the exclamation of any old stager who drinks Madeira worth
from two to six Bibles a bottle, and burns, according to his own
premises, a dozen souls a year in the cigars with which he muddles his
brains. But as for the good and true and intelligent men whom we see all
around us, laborious, self-denying, hopeful, helpful,—men who know that
the active mind of the century is tending more and more to the two poles,
Rome and Reason, the sovereign church or the free soul, authority or
personality, God in us or God in our masters, and that, though a man may
by accident stand half-way between these two points, he must look one way
or the other,—I don't believe they would take offence at anything I have
reported of our late conversation.
But supposing any one do take offence at first sight, let him look over
these notes again, and see whether he is quite sure he does not agree
with most of these things that were said amongst us. If he agrees with
most of them, let him be patient with an opinion he does not accept, or
an expression or illustration a little too vivacious. I don't know that I
shall report any more conversations on these topics; but I do insist on
the right to express a civil opinion on this class of subjects without
giving offence, just when and where I please,—-unless, as in the
lecture-room, there is an implied contract to keep clear of doubtful
matters. You did n't think a man could sit at a breakfast-table doing
nothing but making puns every morning for a year or two, and never give a
thought to the two thousand of his fellow-creatures who are passing into
another state during every hour that he sits talking and laughing. Of
course, the one matter that a real human being cares for is what is going
to become of them and of him. And the plain truth is, that a good many
people are saying one thing about it and believing another.
—How do I know that? Why, I have known and loved to talk with good
people, all the way from Rome to Geneva in doctrine, as long as I can
remember. Besides, the real religion of the world comes from women much
more than from men,—from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our
souls in their bosoms. It is in their hearts that the "sentimental"
religion some people are so fond of sneering at has its source. The
sentiment of love, the sentiment of maternity, the sentiment of the
paramount obligation of the parent to the child as having called it into
existence, enhanced just in proportion to the power and knowledge of the
one and the weakness and ignorance of the other,—these are the
"sentiments" that have kept our soulless systems from driving men off to
die in holes like those that riddle the sides of the hill opposite the
Monastery of St. Saba, where the miserable victims of a
falsely-interpreted religion starved and withered in their delusion.
I have looked on the face of a saintly woman this very day, whose creed
many dread and hate, but whose life is lovely and noble beyond all
praise. When I remember the bitter words I have heard spoken against her
faith, by men who have an Inquisition which excommunicates those who ask
to leave their communion in peace, and an Index Expurgatorius on which
this article may possibly have the honor of figuring,—and, far worse
than these, the reluctant, pharisaical confession, that it might perhaps
be possible that one who so believed should be accepted of the
Creator,—and then recall the sweet peace and love that show through all
her looks, the price of untold sacrifices and labors, and again recollect
how thousands of women, filled with the same spirit, die, without a
murmur, to earthly life, die to their own names even, that they may know
nothing but their holy duties,—while men are torturing and denouncing
their fellows, and while we can hear day and night the clinking of the
hammers that are trying, like the brute forces in the "Prometheus," to
rivet their adamantine wedges right through the breast of human
nature,—I have been ready to believe that we have even now a new
revelation, and the name of its Messiah is WOMAN!
—I should be sorry,—I remarked, a day or two afterwards, to the
divinity-student,—if anything I said tended in any way to foster any
jealousy between the professions, or to throw disrespect upon that one on
whose counsel and sympathies almost all of us lean in our moments of
trial. But we are false to our new conditions of life, if we do not
resolutely maintain our religious as well as our political freedom, in
the face of any and all supposed monopolies. Certain men will, of
course, say two things, if we do not take their views: first, that we
don't know anything about these matters; and, secondly, that we are not
so good as they are. They have a polarized phraseology for saying these
things, but it comes to precisely that. To which it may be answered, in
the first place, that we have good authority for saying that even babes
and sucklings know something; and, in the second, that, if there is a
mote or so to be removed from our premises, the courts and councils of
the last few years have found beams enough in some other quarters to
build a church that would hold all the good people in Boston and have
sticks enough left to make a bonfire for all the heretics.
As to that terrible depolarizing process of mine, of which we were
talking the other day, I will give you a specimen of one way of managing
it, if you like. I don't believe it will hurt you or anybody. Besides,
I had a great deal rather finish our talk with pleasant images and gentle
words than with sharp sayings, which will only afford a text, if anybody
repeats them, for endless relays of attacks from Messrs. Ananias,
Shimei, and Rabshakeh.
[I must leave such gentry, if any of them show themselves, in the hands
of my clerical friends, many of whom are ready to stand up for the rights
of the laity,—and to those blessed souls, the good women, to whom this
version of the story of a mother's hidden hopes and tender anxieties is
dedicated by their peaceful and loving servant.]
A MOTHER'S SECRET.
How sweet the sacred legend—if unblamed
In my slight verse such holy things are named
—Of Mary's secret hours of hidden joy,
Silent, but pondering on her wondrous boy!
Ave, Maria! Pardon, if I wrong
Those heavenly words that shame my earthly song!
The choral host had closed the angel's strain
Sung to the midnight watch on Bethlehem's plain;
And now the shepherds, hastening on their way,
Sought the still hamlet where the Infant lay.
They passed the fields that gleaning Ruth toiled O'er,
They saw afar the ruined threshing-floor
Where Moab's daughter, homeless and forlorn,
Found Boaz slumbering by his heaps of corn;
And some remembered how the holy scribe,
Skilled in the lore of every jealous tribe,
Traced the warm blood of Jesse's royal son
To that fair alien, bravely wooed and won.
So fared they on to seek the promised sign
That marked the anointed heir of David's line.
At last, by forms of earthly semblance led,
They found the crowded inn, the oxen's shed.
No pomp was there, no glory shone around
On the coarse straw that strewed the reeking ground;
One dim retreat a flickering torch betrayed,
In that poor cell the Lord of Life was laid!
The wondering shepherds told their breathless tale
Of the bright choir that woke the sleeping vale;
Told how the skies with sudden glory flamed;
Told how the shining multitude proclaimed
"Joy, joy to earth! Behold the hallowed morn!
In David's city Christ the Lord is born!
'Glory to God!' let angels shout on high,
'Good-will to men!' the listening Earth reply!"
They spoke with hurried words and accents wild;
Calm in his cradle slept the heavenly child.
No trembling word the mother's joy revealed,
One sigh of rapture, and her lips were sealed;
Unmoved she saw the rustic train depart,
But kept their words to ponder in her heart.
Twelve years had passed; the boy was fair and tall,
Growing in wisdom, finding grace with all.
The maids of Nazareth, as they trooped to fill
Their balanced urns beside the mountain-rill,
The gathered matrons, as they sat and spun,
Spoke in soft words of Joseph's quiet son.
No voice had reached the Galilean vale
Of star-led kings or awe-struck shepherds' tale;
In the meek, studious child they only saw
The future Rabbi, learned in Israel's law.
So grew the boy; and now the feast was near,
When at the holy place the tribes appear.
Scarce had the home-bred child of Nazareth seen
Beyond the hills that girt the village-green,
Save when at midnight, o'er the star-lit sands,
Snatched from the steel of Herod's murdering bands,
A babe, close-folded to his mother's breast,
Through Edom's wilds he sought the sheltering West.
Then Joseph spake: "Thy boy hath largely grown;
Weave him fine raiment, fitting to be shown;
Fair robes beseem the pilgrim, as the priest
Goes he not with us to the holy feast?"
And Mary culled the flaxen fibres white;
Till eve she spun; she spun till morning light.
The thread was twined; its parting meshes through
From hand to hand her restless shuttle flew,
Till the full web was wound upon the beam,
Love's curious toil,—a vest without a seam!
They reach the holy place, fulfil the days
To solemn feasting given, and grateful praise.
At last they turn, and far Moriah's height
Melts in the southern sky and fades from sight.
All day the dusky caravan has flowed
In devious trails along the winding road,
(For many a step their homeward path attends,
And all the sons of Abraham are as friends.)
Evening has come,—the hour of rest and joy;
Hush! hush!—that whisper,-"Where is Mary's boy?"
O weary hour! O aching days that passed
Filled with strange fears, each wilder than the last:
The soldier's lance,—the fierce centurion's sword,
The crushing wheels that whirl some Roman lord,
The midnight crypt that suck's the captive's breath,
The blistering sun on Hinnom's vale of death!
Thrice on his cheek had rained the morning light,
Thrice on his lips the mildewed kiss of night,
Crouched by some porphyry column's shining plinth,
Or stretched beneath the odorous terebinth.
At last, in desperate mood, they sought once more
The Temple's porches, searched in vain before;
They found him seated with the ancient men,
The grim old rufflers of the tongue and pen,
Their bald heads glistening as they clustered near;
Their gray beards slanting as they turned to hear,
Lost in half-envious wonder and surprise
That lips so fresh should utter words so wise.
And Mary said,—as one who, tried too long,
Tells all her grief and half her sense of wrong,
"What is this thoughtless thing which thou hast done?
Lo, we have sought thee sorrowing, O my son!"
Few words he spake, and scarce of filial tone,
Strange words, their sense a mystery yet unknown;
Then turned with them and left the holy hill,
To all their mild commands obedient still.
The tale was told to Nazareth's sober men,
And Nazareth's matrons told it oft again;
The maids retold it at the fountain's side;
The youthful shepherds doubted or denied;
It passed around among the listening friends,
With all that fancy adds and fiction fends,
Till newer marvels dimmed the young renown
Of Joseph's son, who talked the Rabbis down.
But Mary, faithful to its lightest word,
Kept in her heart the sayings she had heard,
Till the dread morning rent the Temple's veil,
And shuddering Earth confirmed the wondrous tale.
Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall;
A mother's secret hope outlives them all.
You don't look so dreadful poor in the face as you did a while back.
Bloated some, I expect.
This was the cheerful and encouraging and elegant remark with which the
Poor Relation greeted the divinity-student one morning.
Of course every good man considers it a great sacrifice on his part to
continue living in this transitory, unsatisfactory, and particularly
unpleasant world. This is so much a matter of course, that I was
surprised to see the divinity-student change color. He took a look at a
small and uncertain-minded glass which hung slanting forward over the
chapped sideboard. The image it returned to him had the color of a very
young pea somewhat overboiled. The scenery of a long tragic drama
flashed through his mind as the lightning-express-train whishes by a
station: the gradual dismantling process of disease; friends looking on,
sympathetic, but secretly chuckling over their own stomachs of iron and
lungs of caoutchouc; nurses attentive, but calculating their crop, and
thinking how soon it will be ripe, so that they can go to your neighbor,
who is good for a year or so longer; doctors assiduous, but giving
themselves a mental shake, as they go out of your door, which throws off
your particular grief as a duck sheds a raindrop from his oily feathers;
undertakers solemn, but happy; then the great subsoil cultivator, who
plants, but never looks for fruit in his garden; then the stone-cutter,
who puts your name on the slab which has been waiting for you ever since
the birds or beasts made their tracks on the new red sandstone; then the
grass and the dandelions and the buttercups,——Earth saying to the
mortal body, with her sweet symbolism, "You have scarred my bosom, but
you are forgiven"; then a glimpse of the soul as a floating consciousness
without very definite form or place, but dimly conceived of as an upright
column of vapor or mist several times larger than life-size, so far as it
could be said to have any size at all, wandering about and living a thin
and half-awake life for want of good old-fashioned solid matter to come
down upon with foot and fist,—in fact, having neither foot nor fist, nor
conveniences for taking the sitting posture.
And yet the divinity-student was a good Christian, and those heathen
images which remind one of the childlike fancies of the dying Adrian were
only the efforts of his imagination to give shape to the formless and
position to the placeless. Neither did his thoughts spread themselves
out and link themselves as I have displayed them. They came confusedly
into his mind like a heap of broken mosaics,—sometimes a part of the
picture complete in itself, sometimes connected fragments, and sometimes
only single severed stones.
They did not diffuse a light of celestial joy over his countenance. On
the contrary, the Poor Relation's remark turned him pale, as I have said;
and when the terrible wrinkled and jaundiced looking-glass turned him
green in addition, and he saw himself in it, it seemed to him as if it
were all settled, and his book of life were to be shut not yet half-read,
and go back to the dust of the under-ground archives. He coughed a mild
short cough, as if to point the direction in which his downward path was
tending. It was an honest little cough enough, so far as appearances
went. But coughs are ungrateful things. You find one out in the cold,
take it up and nurse it and make everything of it, dress it up warm, give
it all sorts of balsams and other food it likes, and carry it round in
your bosom as if it were a miniature lapdog. And by-and-by its little
bark grows sharp and savage, and—confound the thing!—you find it is a
wolf's whelp that you have got there, and he is gnawing in the breast
where he has been nestling so long.—The Poor Relation said that
somebody's surrup was good for folks that were gettin' into a bad
way.—The landlady had heard of desperate cases cured by
Whiskey's the fellah,—said the young man John.—Make it into punch, cold
at dinner-time 'n' hot at bed-time. I'll come up 'n' show you how to mix
it. Have n't any of you seen the wonderful fat man exhibitin' down in
Master Benjamin Franklin rushed into the dialogue with a breezy
exclamation, that he had seen a great picter outside of the place where
the fat man was exhibitin'. Tried to get in at half-price, but the man
at the door looked at his teeth and said he was more'n ten year old.
It is n't two years,—said the young man John, since that fat fellah was
exhibitin' here as the Livin' Skeleton. Whiskey—that's what did
it,—real Burbon's the stuff. Hot water, sugar, 'n' jest a little
shavin' of lemon-skin in it,—skin, mind you, none o' your juice; take it
off thin,—shape of one of them flat curls the factory-girls wear on the
sides of their foreheads.
But I am a teetotaller,—said the divinity-student in a subdued
tone;—not noticing the enormous length of the bow-string the young
fellow had just drawn.
He took up his hat and went out.
I think you have worried that young man more than you meant,—I said.—I
don't believe he will jump off one of the bridges, for he has too much
principle; but I mean to follow him and see where he goes, for he looks
as if his mind were made up to something.
I followed him at a reasonable distance. He walked doggedly along,
looking neither to the right nor the left, turned into State Street, and
made for a well-known Life-Insurance Office. Luckily, the doctor was
there and overhauled him on the spot. There was nothing the matter with
him, he said, and he could have his life insured as a sound one. He came
out in good spirits, and told me this soon after.
This led me to make some remarks the next morning on the manners of
well-bred and ill-bred people.
I began,—The whole essence of true gentle-breeding (one does not like to
say gentility) lies in the wish and the art to be agreeable.
Good-breeding is surface-Christianity. Every look, movement, tone,
expression, subject of discourse, that may give pain to another is
habitually excluded from conversational intercourse. This is the reason
why rich people are apt to be so much more agreeable than others.
—I thought you were a great champion of equality,—said the discreet and
severe lady who had accompanied our young friend, the Latin Tutor's
I go politically for equality,—I said,—and socially for the quality.
Who are the "quality,"—said the Model, etc., in a community like ours?
I confess I find this question a little difficult to answer,—I said.
—Nothing is better known than the distinction of social ranks which
exists in every community, and nothing is harder to define. The great
gentlemen and ladies of a place are its real lords and masters and
mistresses; they are the quality, whether in a monarchy or a republic;
mayors and governors and generals and senators and ex-presidents are
nothing to them. How well we know this, and how seldom it finds a
distinct expression! Now I tell you truly, I believe in man as man, and
I disbelieve in all distinctions except such as follow the natural lines
of cleavage in a society which has crystallized according to its own true
laws. But the essence of equality is to be able to say the truth; and
there is nothing more curious than these truths relating to the
stratification of society.
Of all the facts in this world that do not take hold of immortality,
there is not one so intensely real, permanent, and engrossing as this of
social position,—as you see by the circumstances that the core of all
the great social orders the world has seen has been, and is still, for
the most part, a privileged class of gentlemen and ladies arranged in a
regular scale of precedence among themselves, but superior as a body to
Nothing but an ideal Christian equality, which we have been getting
farther away from since the days of the Primitive Church, can prevent
this subdivision of society into classes from taking place
everywhere,—in the great centres of our republic as much as in old
European monarchies. Only there position is more absolutely
hereditary,—here it is more completely elective.
—Where is the election held? and what are the qualifications? and who
are the electors?—said the Model.
Nobody ever sees when the vote is taken; there never is a formal vote.
The women settle it mostly; and they know wonderfully well what is
presentable, and what can't stand the blaze of the chandeliers and the
critical eye and ear of people trained to know a staring shade in a
ribbon, a false light in a jewel, an ill-bred tone, an angular movement,
everything that betrays a coarse fibre and cheap training. As a general
thing, you do not get elegance short of two or three removes from the
soil, out of which our best blood doubtless comes,—quite as good, no
doubt, as if it came from those old prize-fighters with iron pots on
their heads, to whom some great people are so fond of tracing their
descent through a line of small artisans and petty shopkeepers whose
veins have held "base" fluid enough to fill the Cloaca Maxima!
Does not money go everywhere?—said the Model.
Almost. And with good reason. For though there are numerous exceptions,
rich people are, as I said, commonly altogether the most agreeable
companions. The influence of a fine house, graceful furniture, good
libraries, well-ordered tables, trim servants, and, above all, a position
so secure that one becomes unconscious of it, gives a harmony and
refinement to the character and manners which we feel, if we cannot
explain their charm. Yet we can get at the reason of it by thinking a
All these appliances are to shield the sensibility from disagreeable
contacts, and to soothe it by varied natural and artificial influences.
In this way the mind, the taste, the feelings, grow delicate, just as the
hands grow white and soft when saved from toil and incased in soft
gloves. The whole nature becomes subdued into suavity. I confess I like
the quality ladies better than the common kind even of literary ones.
They have n't read the last book, perhaps, but they attend better to you
when you are talking to them. If they are never learned, they make up for
it in tact and elegance. Besides, I think, on the whole, there is less
self-assertion in diamonds than in dogmas. I don't know where you will
find a sweeter portrait of humility than in Esther, the poor play-girl of
King Ahasuerus; yet Esther put on her royal apparel when she went before
her lord. I have no doubt she was a more gracious and agreeable person
than Deborah, who judged the people and wrote the story of Sisera. The
wisest woman you talk with is ignorant of something that you know, but an
elegant woman never forgets her elegance.
Dowdyism is clearly an expression of imperfect vitality. The highest
fashion is intensely alive,—not alive necessarily to the truest and best
things, but with its blood tingling, as it were, in all its extremities
and to the farthest point of its surface, so that the feather in its
bonnet is as fresh as the crest of a fighting-cock, and the rosette on
its slipper as clean-cut and pimpant (pronounce it English fashion,—it
is a good word) as a dahlia. As a general rule, that society where
flattery is acted is much more agreeable than that where it is spoken.
Don't you see why? Attention and deference don't require you to make
fine speeches expressing your sense of unworthiness (lies) and returning
all the compliments paid you. This is one reason.
—A woman of sense ought to be above flattering any man,—said the Model.
[My reflection. Oh! oh! no wonder you did n't get married. Served you
right.] My remark. Surely, Madam,—if you mean by flattery telling
people boldly to their faces that they are this or that, which they are
not. But a woman who does not carry about with her wherever she goes a
halo of good feeling and desire to make everybody contented,—an
atmosphere of grace, mercy, and peace, of at least six feet radius, which
wraps every human being upon whom she voluntarily bestows her presence,
and so flatters him with the comfortable thought that she is rather glad
he is alive than otherwise, isn't worth the trouble of talking to, as a
woman; she may do well enough to hold discussions with.
—I don't think the Model exactly liked this. She said,—a little
spitefully, I thought,—that a sensible man might stand a little praise,
but would of course soon get sick of it, if he were in the habit of
Oh, yes,—I replied,—just as men get sick of tobacco. It is notorious
how apt they are to get tired of that vegetable.
—That 's so!—said the young fellow John,—I've got tired of my cigars
and burnt 'em all up.
I am heartily glad to hear it,—said the Model,—I wish they were all
disposed of in the same way.
So do I,—said the young fellow John.
Can't you get your friends to unite with you in committing those odious
instruments of debauchery to the flames in which you have consumed your
I wish I could,—said the young fellow John.
It would be a noble sacrifice,—said the Model, and every American woman
would be grateful to you. Let us burn them all in a heap out in the
That a'n't my way,—said the young fellow John;—I burn 'em one 't'
time,—little end in my mouth and big end outside.
—I watched for the effect of this sudden change of programme, when it
should reach the calm stillness of the Model's interior apprehension, as
a boy watches for the splash of a stone which he has dropped into a well.
But before it had fairly reached the water, poor Iris, who had followed
the conversation with a certain interest until it turned this sharp
corner, (for she seems rather to fancy the young fellow John,) laughed
out such a clear, loud laugh, that it started us all off, as the
locust-cry of some full-throated soprano drags a multitudinous chorus
after it. It was plain that some dam or other had broken in the soul of
this young girl, and she was squaring up old scores of laughter, out of
which she had been cheated, with a grand flood of merriment that swept
all before it. So we had a great laugh all round, in which the
Model—who, if she had as many virtues as there are spokes to a wheel,
all compacted with a personality as round and complete as its tire, yet
wanted that one little addition of grace, which seems so small, and is as
important as the linchpin in trundling over the rough ways of life—had
not the tact to join. She seemed to be "stuffy" about it, as the young
fellow John said. In fact, I was afraid the joke would have cost us both
our new lady-boarders. It had no effect, however, except, perhaps, to
hasten the departure of the elder of the two, who could, on the whole, be
—I had meant to make this note of our conversation a text for a few
axioms on the matter of breeding. But it so happened, that, exactly at
this point of my record, a very distinguished philosopher, whom several
of our boarders and myself go to hear, and whom no doubt many of my
readers follow habitually, treated this matter of manners. Up to this
point, if I have been so fortunate as to coincide with him in opinion,
and so unfortunate as to try to express what he has more felicitously
said, nobody is to blame; for what has been given thus far was all
written before the lecture was delivered. But what shall I do now? He
told us it was childish to lay down rules for deportment,—but he could
not help laying down a few.
Thus,—Nothing so vulgar as to be in a hurry. True, but hard of
application. People with short legs step quickly, because legs are
pendulums, and swing more times in a minute the shorter they are.
Generally a natural rhythm runs through the whole organization: quick
pulse, fast breathing, hasty speech, rapid trains of thought, excitable
temper. Stillness of person and steadiness of features are signal marks
of good-breeding. Vulgar persons can't sit still, or, at least, they
must work their limbs or features.
Talking of one's own ails and grievances.—Bad enough, but not so bad as
insulting the person you talk with by remarking on his ill-looks, or
appealing to notice any of his personal peculiarities.
Apologizing.—A very desperate habit,—one that is rarely cured. Apology
is only egotism wrong side out. Nine times out of ten, the first thing a
man's companion knows of his shortcoming is from his apology. It is
mighty presumptuous on your part to suppose your small failures of so
much consequence that you must make a talk about them.
Good dressing, quiet ways, low tones of voice, lips that can wait, and
eyes that do not wander,—shyness of personalities, except in certain
intimate communions,—to be light in hand in conversation, to have ideas,
but to be able to make talk, if necessary, without them,—to belong to
the company you are in, and not to yourself,—to have nothing in your
dress or furniture so fine that you cannot afford to spoil it and get
another like it, yet to preserve the harmonies, throughout your person
and—dwelling: I should say that this was a fair capital of manners to
Under bad manners, as under graver faults, lies very commonly an
overestimate of our special individuality, as distinguished from our
generic humanity. It is just here that the very highest society asserts
its superior breeding. Among truly elegant people of the highest ton,
you will find more real equality in social intercourse than in a country
village. As nuns drop their birth-names and become Sister Margaret and
Sister Mary, so high-bred people drop their personal distinctions and
become brothers and sisters of conversational charity. Nor are
fashionable people without their heroism. I believe there are men who
have shown as much self-devotion in carrying a lone wall-flower down to
the supper-table as ever saint or martyr in the act that has canonized
his name. There are Florence Nightingales of the ballroom, whom nothing
can hold back from their errands of mercy. They find out the red-handed,
gloveless undergraduate of bucolic antecedents, as he squirms in his
corner, and distill their soft words upon him like dew upon the green
herb. They reach even the poor relation, whose dreary apparition saddens
the perfumed atmosphere of the sumptuous drawing-room. I have known one
of these angels ask, of her own accord, that a desolate middle-aged man,
whom nobody seemed to know, should be presented to her by the hostess.
He wore no shirt-collar,—he had on black gloves,—and was flourishing a
red bandanna handkerchief! Match me this, ye proud children of poverty,
who boast of your paltry sacrifices for each other! Virtue in humble
life! What is that to the glorious self-renunciation of a martyr in
pearls and diamonds? As I saw this noble woman bending gracefully before
the social mendicant,—the white billows of her beauty heaving under the
foam of the traitorous laces that half revealed them,—I should have wept
with sympathetic emotion, but that tears, except as a private
demonstration, are an ill-disguised expression of self-consciousness and
vanity, which is inadmissible in good society.
I have sometimes thought, with a pang, of the position in which political
chance or contrivance might hereafter place some one of our
fellow-citizens. It has happened hitherto, so far as my limited
knowledge goes, that the President of the United States has always been
what might be called in general terms a gentleman. But what if at some
future time the choice of the people should fall upon one on whom that
lofty title could not, by any stretch of charity, be bestowed? This may
happen,—how soon the future only knows. Think of this miserable man of
coming political possibilities,—an unpresentable boor sucked into office
by one of those eddies in the flow of popular sentiment which carry
straws and chips into the public harbor, while the prostrate trunks of
the monarchs of the forest hurry down on the senseless stream to the gulf
of political oblivion! Think of him, I say, and of the concentrated gaze
of good society through its thousand eyes, all confluent, as it were, in
one great burning-glass of ice that shrivels its wretched object in fiery
torture, itself cold as the glacier of an unsunned cavern! No,—there
will be angels of good-breeding then as now, to shield the victim of free
institutions from himself and from his torturers. I can fancy a lovely
woman playfully withdrawing the knife which he would abuse by making it
an instrument for the conveyance of food,—or, failing in this kind
artifice, sacrificing herself by imitating his use of that implement; how
much harder than to plunge it into her bosom, like Lucretia! I can see
her studying in his provincial dialect until she becomes the Champollion
of New England or Western or Southern barbarisms. She has learned that
haow means what; that think-in' is the same thing as thinking, or she has
found out the meaning of that extraordinary mono syllable, which no
single-tongued phonographer can make legible, prevailing on the banks of
the Hudson and at its embouchure, and elsewhere,—what they say when they
think they say first, (fe-eest,—fe as in the French le),—or that cheer
means chair,—or that urritation means irritation,—and so of other
enormities. Nothing surprises her. The highest breeding, you know,
comes round to the Indian standard,—to take everything coolly,—nil
admirari,—if you happen to be learned and like the Roman phrase for the
If you like the company of people that stare at you from head to foot to
see if there is a hole in your coat, or if you have not grown a little
older, or if your eyes are not yellow with jaundice, or if your
complexion is not a little faded, and so on, and then convey the fact to
you, in the style in which the Poor Relation addressed the
divinity-student,—go with them as much as you like. I hate the sight of
the wretches. Don't for mercy's sake think I hate them; the distinction
is one my friend or I drew long ago. No matter where you find such
people; they are clowns.
The rich woman who looks and talks in this way is not half so much a lady
as her Irish servant, whose pretty "saving your presence," when she has
to say something which offends her natural sense of good manners, has a
hint in it of the breeding of courts, and the blood of old Milesian
kings, which very likely runs in her veins,—thinned by two hundred years
of potato, which, being an underground fruit, tends to drag down the
generations that are made of it to the earth from which it came, and,
filling their veins with starch, turn them into a kind of human
I say, if you like such people, go with them. But I am going to make a
practical application of the example at the beginning of this particular
record, which some young people who are going to choose professional
advisers by-and-by may remember and thank me for. If you are making
choice of a physician, be sure you get one, if possible, with a cheerful
and serene countenance. A physician is not—at least, ought not to
be—an executioner; and a sentence of death on his face is as bad as a
warrant for execution signed by the Governor. As a general rule, no man
has a right to tell another by word or look that he is going to die. It
may be necessary in some extreme cases; but as a rule, it is the last
extreme of impertinence which one human being can offer to another. "You
have killed me," said a patient once to a physician who had rashly told
him he was incurable. He ought to have lived six months, but he was dead
in six' weeks. If we will only let Nature and the God of Nature alone,
persons will commonly learn their condition as early as they ought to
know it, and not be cheated out of their natural birthright of hope of
recovery, which is intended to accompany sick people as long as life is
comfortable, and is graciously replaced by the hope of heaven, or at
least of rest, when life has become a burden which the bearer is ready to
Underbred people tease their sick and dying friends to death. The chance
of a gentleman or lady with a given mortal ailment to live a certain time
is as good again as that of the common sort of coarse people. As you go
down the social scale, you reach a point at length where the common talk
in sick rooms is of churchyards and sepulchres, and a kind of perpetual
vivisection is forever carried on, upon the person of the miserable
And so, in choosing your clergyman, other things being equal, prefer the
one of a wholesome and cheerful habit of mind and body. If you can get
along with people who carry a certificate in their faces that their
goodness is so great as to make them very miserable, your children
cannot. And whatever offends one of these little ones cannot be right in
the eyes of Him who loved them so well.
After all, as you are a gentleman or a lady, you will probably select
gentlemen for your bodily and spiritual advisers, and then all will be
This repetition of the above words,—gentleman and lady,—which could not
be conveniently avoided, reminds me what strange uses are made of them by
those who ought to know what they mean. Thus, at a marriage ceremony,
once, of two very excellent persons who had been at service, instead of,
Do you take this man, etc.? and, Do you take this woman? how do you think
the officiating clergyman put the questions? It was, Do you, Miss So and
So, take this GENTLEMAN? and, Do you, Mr. This or That, take this LADY?!
What would any English duchess, ay, or the Queen of England herself, have
thought, if the Archbishop of Canterbury had called her and her
bridegroom anything but plain woman and man at such a time?
I don't doubt the Poor Relation thought it was all very fine, if she
happened to be in the church; but if the worthy man who uttered these
monstrous words—monstrous in such a connection—had known the ludicrous
surprise, the convulsion of inward disgust and contempt, that seized upon
many of the persons who were present,—had guessed what a sudden flash of
light it threw on the Dutch gilding, the pinchbeck, the shabby, perking
pretension belonging to certain social layers,—so inherent in their
whole mode of being, that the holiest offices of religion cannot exclude
its impertinences,—the good man would have given his marriage-fee twice
over to recall that superb and full-blown vulgarism. Any persons whom it
could please could have no better notion of what the words referred to
signify than of the meaning of apsides and asymptotes.
MAN! Sir! WOMAN! Sir! Gentility is a fine thing, not to be
undervalued, as I have been trying to explain; but humanity comes before
"When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"
The beauty of that plainness of speech and manners which comes from the
finest training is not to be understood by those whose habitat is below a
certain level. Just as the exquisite sea-anemones and all the graceful
ocean-flowers die out at some fathoms below the surface, the elegances
and suavities of life die out one by one as we sink through the social
scale. Fortunately, the virtues are more tenacious of life, and last
pretty well until we get down to the mud of absolute pauperism, where
they do not flourish greatly.
—I had almost forgotten about our boarders. As the Model of all the
Virtues is about to leave us, I find myself wondering what is the reason
we are not all very sorry. Surely we all like good persons. She is a
good person. Therefore we like her.—Only we don't.
This brief syllogism, and its briefer negative, involving the principle
which some English conveyancer borrowed from a French wit and embodied in
the lines by which Dr. Fell is made unamiably immortal, this syllogism, I
say, is one that most persons have had occasion to construct and
demolish, respecting somebody or other, as I have done for the Model.
"Pious and painefull." Why has that excellent old phrase gone out of
use? Simply because these good painefull or painstaking persons proved
to be such nuisances in the long run, that the word "painefull" came,
before people thought of it, to mean pain-giving instead of painstaking.
—So, the old fellah's off to-morrah,—said the young man John.
Old fellow?—said I,—whom do you mean?
Why, the one that came with our little beauty, the old fellah in
—Now that means something,—said I to myself.—These rough young rascals
very often hit the nail on the head, if they do strike with their eyes
shut. A real woman does a great many things without knowing why she does
them; but these pattern machines mix up their intellects with everything
they do, just like men. They can't help it, no doubt; but we can't help
getting sick of them, either. Intellect is to a woman's nature what her
watch-spring skirt is to her dress; it ought to underlie her silks and
embroideries, but not to show itself too staringly on the outside.—-You
don't know, perhaps, but I will tell you; the brain is the palest of all
the internal organs, and the heart the reddest. Whatever comes from the
brain carries the hue of the place it came from, and whatever comes from
the heart carries the heat and color of its birthplace.
The young man John did not hear my soliloquy, of course, but sent up one
more bubble from our sinking conversation, in the form of a statement,
that she was at liberty to go to a personage who receives no visits, as
is commonly supposed, from virtuous people.
Why, I ask again, (of my reader,) should a person who never did anybody
any wrong, but, on the contrary, is an estimable and intelligent, nay, a
particularly enlightened and exemplary member of society, fail to inspire
interest, love, and devotion? Because of the reversed current in the
flow of thought and emotion. The red heart sends all its instincts up to
the white brain to be analyzed, chilled, blanched, and so become pure
reason, which is just exactly what we do not want of woman as woman. The
current should run the other-way. The nice, calm, cold thought, which in
women shapes itself so rapidly that they hardly know it as thought,
should always travel to the lips via the heart. It does so in those
women whom all love and admire. It travels the wrong way in the Model.
That is the reason why the Little Gentleman said "I hate her, I hate
her." That is the reason why the young man John called her the "old
fellah," and banished her to the company of the great Unpresentable. That
is the reason why I, the Professor, am picking her to pieces with scalpel
and forceps. That is the reason why the young girl whom she has
befriended repays her kindness with gratitude and respect, rather than
with the devotion and passionate fondness which lie sleeping beneath the
calmness of her amber eyes. I can see her, as she sits between this
estimable and most correct of personages and the misshapen, crotchety,
often violent and explosive little man on the other side of her, leaning
and swaying towards him as she speaks, and looking into his sad eyes as
if she found some fountain in them at which her soul could quiet its
Women like the Model are a natural product of a chilly climate and high
culture. It is not
"The frolic wind that breathes the spring,
Zephyr with Aurora playing,"
when the two meet
"—-on beds of violets blue,
And fresh-blown roses washed in dew,"
that claim such women as their offspring. It is rather the east wind, as
it blows out of the fogs of Newfoundland, and clasps a clear-eyed wintry
noon on the chill bridal couch of a New England ice-quarry.—Don't throw
up your cap now, and hurrah as if this were giving up everything, and
turning against the best growth of our latitudes,—the daughters of the
soil. The brain-women never interest us like the heart women; white
roses please less than red. But our Northern seasons have a narrow green
streak of spring, as well as a broad white zone of winter,—they have a
glowing band of summer and a golden stripe of autumn in their
many-colored wardrobe; and women are born to us that wear all these hues
of earth and heaven in their souls. Our ice-eyed brain-women are really
admirable, if we only ask of them just what they can give, and no more.
Only compare them, talking or writing, with one of those babbling,
chattering dolls, of warmer latitudes, who do not know enough even to
keep out of print, and who are interesting to us only as specimens of
arrest of development for our psychological cabinets.
Good-bye, Model of all the Virtues! We can spare you now. A little
clear perfection, undiluted with human weakness, goes a great way. Go! be
useful, be honorable and honored, be just, be charitable, talk pure
reason, and help to disenchant the world by the light of an achromatic
understanding. Goodbye! Where is my Beranger? I must read a verse or
two of "Fretillon."
Fair play for all. But don't claim incompatible qualities for anybody.
Justice is a very rare virtue in our community. Everything that public
sentiment cares about is put into a Papin's digester, and boiled under
high pressure till all is turned into one homogeneous pulp, and the very
bones give up their jelly. What are all the strongest epithets of our
dictionary to us now? The critics and politicians, and especially the
philanthropists, have chewed them, till they are mere wads of
syllable-fibre, without a suggestion of their old pungency and power.
Justice! A good man respects the rights even of brute matter and
arbitrary symbols. If he writes the same word twice in succession, by
accident, he always erases the one that stands second; has not the
first-comer the prior right? This act of abstract justice, which I trust
many of my readers, like myself, have often performed, is a curious
anti-illustration, by the way, of the absolute wickedness of human
dispositions. Why doesn't a man always strike out the first of the two
words, to gratify his diabolical love of injustice?
So, I say, we owe a genuine, substantial tribute of respect to these
filtered intellects which have left their womanhood on the strainer. They
are so clear that it is a pleasure at times to look at the world of
thought through them. But the rose and purple tints of richer natures
they cannot give us, and it is not just to them to ask it.
Fashionable society gets at these rich natures very often in a way one
would hardly at first think of. It loves vitality above all things,
sometimes disguised by affected languor, always well kept under by the
laws of good-breeding,—but still it loves abundant life, opulent and
showy organizations,—the spherical rather than the plane trigonometry of
female architecture,—plenty of red blood, flashing eyes, tropical
voices, and forms that bear the splendors of dress without growing pale
beneath their lustre. Among these you will find the most delicious women
you will ever meet,—women whom dress and flattery and the round of city
gayeties cannot spoil,—talking with whom, you forget their diamonds and
laces,—and around whom all the nice details of elegance, which the
cold-blooded beauty next them is scanning so nicely, blend in one
harmonious whole, too perfect to be disturbed by the petulant sparkle of
a jewel, or the yellow glare of a bangle, or the gay toss of a feather.
There are many things that I, personally, love better than fashion or
wealth. Not to speak of those highest objects of our love and loyalty, I
think I love ease and independence better than the golden slavery of
perpetual matinees and soirees, or the pleasures of accumulation.
But fashion and wealth are two very solemn realities, which the frivolous
class of moralists have talked a great deal of silly stuff about.
Fashion is only the attempt to realize Art in living forms and social
intercourse. What business has a man who knows nothing about the
beautiful, and cannot pronounce the word view, to talk about fashion to a
set of people who, if one of the quality left a card at their doors,
would contrive to keep it on the very top of their heap of the names of
their two-story acquaintances, till it was as yellow as the Codex
Wealth, too,—what an endless repetition of the same foolish trivialities
about it! Take the single fact of its alleged uncertain tenure and
transitory character. In old times, when men were all the time fighting
and robbing each other,—in those tropical countries where the Sabeans
and the Chaldeans stole all a man's cattle and camels, and there were
frightful tornadoes and rains of fire from heaven, it was true enough
that riches took wings to themselves not unfrequently in a very
unexpected way. But, with common prudence in investments, it is not so
now. In fact, there is nothing earthly that lasts so well, on the whole,
as money. A man's learning dies with him; even his virtues fade out of
remembrance, but the dividends on the stocks he bequeaths to his children
live and keep his memory green.
I do not think there is much courage or originality in giving utterance
to truths that everybody knows, but which get overlaid by conventional
trumpery. The only distinction which it is necessary to point out to
feeble-minded folk is this: that, in asserting the breadth and depth of
that significance which gives to fashion and fortune their tremendous
power, we do not indorse the extravagances which often disgrace the one,
nor the meanness which often degrades the other.
A remark which seems to contradict a universally current opinion is not
generally to be taken "neat," but watered with the ideas of common-sense
and commonplace people. So, if any of my young friends should be tempted
to waste their substance on white kids and "all-rounds," or to insist on
becoming millionaires at once, by anything I have said, I will give them
references to some of the class referred to, well known to the public as
providers of literary diluents, who will weaken any truth so that there
is not an old woman in the land who cannot take it with perfect impunity.
I am afraid some of the blessed saints in diamonds will think I mean to
flatter them. I hope not;—if I do, set it down as a weakness. But there
is so much foolish talk about wealth and fashion, (which, of course, draw
a good many heartless and essentially vulgar people into the glare of
their candelabra, but which have a real respectability and meaning, if we
will only look at them stereoscopically, with both eyes instead of one,)
that I thought it a duty to speak a few words for them. Why can't
somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says,
and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks?
Lest my parish should suppose we have forgotten graver matters in
these lesser topics, I beg them to drop these trifles and read the
following lesson for the day.
THE TWO STREAMS.
Behold the rocky wall
That down its sloping sides
Pours the swift rain-drops, blending, as they fall,
In rushing river-tides!
Yon stream, whose sources run
Turned by a pebble's edge,
Is Athabasca, rolling toward the sun
Through the cleft mountain-ledge.
The slender rill had strayed,
But for the slanting stone,
To evening's ocean, with the tangled braid
Of foam-flecked Oregon.
So from the heights of Will
Life's parting stream descends,
And, as a moment turns its slender rill,
Each widening torrent bends,
From the same cradle's side,
From the same mother's knee,
—One to long darkness and the frozen tide,
One to the Peaceful Sea!
Our landlady's daughter is a young lady of some pretensions to gentility.
She wears her bonnet well back on her head, which is known by all to be a
mark of high breeding. She wears her trains very long, as the great
ladies do in Europe. To be sure, their dresses are so made only to sweep
the tapestried floors of chateaux and palaces; as those odious
aristocrats of the other side do not go draggling through the mud in
silks and satins, but, forsooth, must ride in coaches when they are in
full dress. It is true, that, considering various habits of the American
people, also the little accidents which the best-kept sidewalks are
liable to, a lady who has swept a mile of them is not exactly in such a
condition that one would care to be her neighbor. But then there is no
need of being so hard on these slight weaknesses of the poor, dear women
as our little deformed gentleman was the other day.
—There are no such women as the Boston women, Sir,—he said. Forty-two
degrees, north latitude, Rome, Sir, Boston, Sir! They had grand women in
old Rome, Sir,—and the women bore such men—children as never the world
saw before. And so it was here, Sir. I tell you, the revolution the
Boston boys started had to run in woman's milk before it ran in man's
But confound the make-believe women we have turned loose in our
streets!—where do they come from? Not out of Boston parlors, I trust.
Why, there is n't a beast or a bird that would drag its tail through the
dirt in the way these creatures do their dresses. Because a queen or a
duchess wears long robes on great occasions, a maid-of-all-work or a
factory-girl thinks she must make herself a nuisance by trailing through
the street, picking up and carrying about with her pah!—that's what I
call getting vulgarity into your bones and marrow. Making believe be
what you are not is the essence of vulgarity. Show over dirt is the one
attribute of vulgar people. If any man can walk behind one of these women
and see what she rakes up as she goes, and not feel squeamish, he has got
a tough stomach. I wouldn't let one of 'em into my room without serving
'em as David served Saul at the cave in the wilderness,—cut off his
skirts, Sir! cut off his skirts!
I suggested, that I had seen some pretty stylish ladies who offended in
the way he condemned.
Stylish women, I don't doubt,—said the Little Gentleman.—Don't tell me
that a true lady ever sacrifices the duty of keeping all about her sweet
and clean to the wish of making a vulgar show. I won't believe it of a
lady. There are some things that no fashion has any right to touch, and
cleanliness is one of those things. If a woman wishes to show that her
husband or her father has got money, which she wants and means to spend,
but doesn't know how, let her buy a yard or two of silk and pin it to her
dress when she goes out to walk, but let her unpin it before she goes
into the house;—there may be poor women that will think it worth
disinfecting. It is an insult to a respectable laundress to carry such
things into a house for her to deal with. I don't like the Bloomers any
too well,—in fact, I never saw but one, and she—or he, or it—had a mob
of boys after her, or whatever you call the creature, as if she had been
The Little Gentleman stopped short,—flushed somewhat, and looked round
with that involuntary, suspicious glance which the subjects of any bodily
misfortune are very apt to cast round them. His eye wandered over the
company, none of whom, excepting myself and one other, had, probably,
noticed the movement. They fell at last on Iris,—his next neighbor, you
—We know in a moment, on looking suddenly at a person, if that person's
eyes have been fixed on us.
Sometimes we are conscious of it before we turn so as to see the person.
Strange secrets of curiosity, of impertinence, of malice, of love, leak
out in this way. There is no need of Mrs. Felix Lorraine's reflection in
the mirror, to tell us that she is plotting evil for us behind our backs.
We know it, as we know by the ominous stillness of a child that some
mischief or other is going-on. A young girl betrays, in a moment, that
her eyes have been feeding on the face where you find them fixed, and
not merely brushing over it with their pencils of blue or brown light.
A certain involuntary adjustment assimilates us, you may also observe, to
that upon which we look. Roses redden the cheeks of her who stoops to
gather them, and buttercups turn little people's chins yellow. When we
look at a vast landscape, our chests expand as if we would enlarge to
fill it. When we examine a minute object, we naturally contract, not
only our foreheads, but all our dimensions. If I see two men wrestling, I
wrestle too, with my limbs and features. When a country-fellow comes
upon the stage, you will see twenty faces in the boxes putting on the
bumpkin expression. There is no need of multiplying instances to reach
this generalization; every person and thing we look upon puts its special
mark upon us. If this is repeated often enough, we get a permanent
resemblance to it, or, at least, a fixed aspect which we took from it.
Husband and wife come to look alike at last, as has often been noticed.
It is a common saying of a jockey, that he is "all horse"; and I have
often fancied that milkmen get a stiff, upright carriage, and an angular
movement of the arm, that remind one of a pump and the working of its
All this came in by accident, just because I happened to mention that the
Little Gentleman found that Iris had been looking at him with her soul in
her eyes, when his glance rested on her after wandering round the
company. What he thought, it is hard to say; but the shadow of suspicion
faded off from his face, and he looked calmly into the amber eyes,
resting his cheek upon the hand that wore the red jewel.
—If it were a possible thing,—women are such strange creatures! Is
there any trick that love and their own fancies do not play them? Just
see how they marry! A woman that gets hold of a bit of manhood is like
one of those Chinese wood-carvers who work on any odd, fantastic root
that comes to hand, and, if it is only bulbous above and bifurcated
below, will always contrive to make a man—such as he is—out of it. I
should like to see any kind of a man, distinguishable from a Gorilla,
that some good and even pretty woman could not shape a husband out of.
—A child,—yes, if you choose to call her so, but such a child! Do you
know how Art brings all ages together? There is no age to the angels and
ideal human forms among which the artist lives, and he shares their youth
until his hand trembles and his eye grows dim. The youthful painter talks
of white-bearded Leonardo as if he were a brother, and the veteran
forgets that Raphael died at an age to which his own is of patriarchal
But why this lover of the beautiful should be so drawn to one whom Nature
has wronged so deeply seems hard to explain. Pity, I suppose. They say
that leads to love.
—I thought this matter over until I became excited and curious, and
determined to set myself more seriously at work to find out what was
going on in these wild hearts and where their passionate lives were
drifting. I say wild hearts and passionate lives, because I think I can
look through this seeming calmness of youth and this apparent feebleness
of organization, and see that Nature, whom it is very hard to cheat, is
only waiting as the sapper waits in his mine, knowing that all is in
readiness and the slow-match burning quietly down to the powder. He will
leave it by-and-by, and then it will take care of itself.
One need not wait to see the smoke coming through the roof of a house and
the flames breaking out of the windows to know that the building is on
fire. Hark! There is a quiet, steady, unobtrusive, crisp, not loud, but
very knowing little creeping crackle that is tolerably intelligible.
There is a whiff of something floating about, suggestive of toasting
shingles. Also a sharp pyroligneous-acid pungency in the air that stings
one's eyes. Let us get up and see what is going on.—Oh,—oh,—oh! do
you know what has got hold of you? It is the great red dragon that is
born of the little red eggs we call sparks, with his hundred blowing red
manes, and his thousand lashing red tails, and his multitudinous red eyes
glaring at every crack and key-hole, and his countless red tongues
lapping the beams he is going to crunch presently, and his hot breath
warping the panels and cracking the glass and making old timber sweat
that had forgotten it was ever alive with sap. Run for your life! leap!
or you will be a cinder in five minutes, that nothing but a coroner would
take for the wreck of a human being!
If any gentleman will have the kindness to stop this run-away comparison,
I shall be much obliged to him. All I intended to say was, that we need
not wait for hearts to break out in flames to know that they are full of
combustibles and that a spark has got among them. I don't pretend to say
or know what it is that brings these two persons together;—and when I
say together, I only mean that there is an evident affinity of some kind
or other which makes their commonest intercourse strangely significant,
as that each seems to understand a look or a word of the other. When the
young girl laid her hand on the Little Gentleman's arm,—which so greatly
shocked the Model, you may remember,—I saw that she had learned the
lion-tamer's secret. She masters him, and yet I can see she has a kind
of awe of him, as the man who goes into the cage has of the monster that
he makes a baby of.
One of two things must happen. The first is love, downright love, on the
part of this young girl, for the poor little misshapen man. You may
laugh, if you like. But women are apt to love the men who they think
have the largest capacity of loving;—and who can love like one that has
thirsted all his life long for the smile of youth and beauty, and seen it
fly his presence as the wave ebbed from the parched lips of him whose
fabled punishment is the perpetual type of human longing and
disappointment? What would become of him, if this fresh soul should
stoop upon him in her first young passion, as the flamingo drops out of
the sky upon some lonely and dark lagoon in the marshes of Cagliari, with
a flutter of scarlet feathers and a kindling of strange fires in the
shadowy waters that hold her burning image?
—Marry her, of course?—Why, no, not of course. I should think the
chance less, on the whole, that he would be willing to marry her than she
to marry him.
There is one other thing that might happen. If the interest he awakes in
her gets to be a deep one, and yet has nothing of love in it, she will
glance off from him into some great passion or other. All excitements run
to love in women of a certain—let us not say age, but youth. An
electrical current passing through a coil of wire makes a magnet of a bar
of iron lying within it, but not touching it. So a woman is turned into
a love-magnet by a tingling current of life running round her. I should
like to see one of them balanced on a pivot properly adjusted, and watch
if she did not turn so as to point north and south,—as she would, if the
love-currents are like those of the earth our mother.
Pray, do you happen to remember Wordsworth's "Boy of Windermere"? This
boy used to put his hands to his mouth, and shout aloud, mimicking the
hooting of the owls, who would answer him
"with quivering peals,
And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled."
When they failed to answer him, and he hung listening intently for their
voices, he would sometimes catch the faint sound of far distant
waterfalls, or the whole scene around him would imprint itself with new
force upon his perceptions.—Read the sonnet, if you please;—it is
Wordsworth all over,—trivial in subject, solemn in style, vivid in
description, prolix in detail, true metaphysically, but immensely
suggestive of "imagination," to use a mild term, when related as an
actual fact of a sprightly youngster. All I want of it is to enforce the
principle, that, when the door of the soul is once opened to a guest,
there is no knowing who will come in next.
—Our young girl keeps up her early habit of sketching heads and
characters. Nobody is, I should think, more faithful and exact in the
drawing of the academical figures given her as lessons, but there is a
perpetual arabesque of fancies that runs round the margin of her
drawings, and there is one book which I know she keeps to run riot in,
where, if anywhere, a shrewd eye would be most likely to read her
thoughts. This book of hers I mean to see, if I can get at it honorably.
I have never yet crossed the threshold of the Little Gentleman's chamber.
How he lives, when he once gets within it, I can only guess. His hours
are late, as I have said; often, on waking late in the night, I see the
light through cracks in his window-shutters on the wall of the house
opposite. If the times of witchcraft were not over, I should be afraid
to be so close a neighbor to a place from which there come such strange
noises. Sometimes it is the dragging of something heavy over the floor,
that makes me shiver to hear it,—it sounds so like what people that
kill other people have to do now and then. Occasionally I hear very
sweet strains of music,—whether of a wind or stringed instrument, or a
human voice, strange as it may seem, I have often tried to find out, but
through the partition I could not be quite sure. If I have not heard a
woman cry and moan, and then again laugh as though she would die
laughing, I have heard sounds so like them that—I am a fool to confess
it—I have covered my head with the bedclothes; for I have had a fancy in
my dreams, that I could hardly shake off when I woke up, about that
so-called witch that was his great-grandmother, or whatever it was,—a
sort of fancy that she visited the Little Gentleman,—a young woman in
old-fashioned dress, with a red ring round her white neck,—not a
neck-lace, but a dull-stain.
Of course you don't suppose that I have any foolish superstitions about
the matter,—I, the Professor, who have seen enough to take all that
nonsense out of any man's head! It is not our beliefs that frighten us
half so much as our fancies. A man not only believes, but knows he runs
a risk, whenever he steps into a railroad car; but it does n't worry him
much. On the other hand, carry that man across a pasture a little way
from some dreary country-village, and show him an old house where there
were strange deaths a good many years ago, and there are rumors of ugly
spots on the walls,—the old man hung himself in the garret, that is
certain, and ever since the country-people have called it "the haunted
house,"—the owners have n't been able to let it since the last tenants
left on account of the noises,—so it has fallen into sad decay, and the
moss grows on the rotten shingles of the roof, and the clapboards have
turned black, and the windows rattle like teeth that chatter with fear,
and the walls of the house begin to lean as if its knees were shaking,
—take the man who did n't mind the real risk of the cars to that old
house, on some dreary November evening, and ask him to sleep there
alone,—how do you think he will like it? He doesn't believe one word of
ghosts,—but then he knows, that, whether waking or sleeping, his
imagination will people the haunted chambers with ghostly images. It is
not what we believe, as I said before, that frightens us commonly, but
what we conceive. A principle that reaches a good way if I am not
mistaken. I say, then, that, if these odd sounds coming from the Little
Gentleman's chamber sometimes make me nervous, so that I cannot get to
sleep, it is not because I suppose he is engaged in any unlawful or
mysterious way. The only wicked suggestion that ever came into my head
was one that was founded on the landlady's story of his having a pile of
gold; it was a ridiculous fancy; besides, I suspect the story of sweating
gold was only one of the many fables got up to make the Jews odious and
afford a pretext for plundering them. As for the sound like a woman
laughing and crying, I never said it was a woman's voice; for, in the
first place, I could only hear indistinctly; and, secondly, he may have
an organ, or some queer instrument or other, with what they call the vox
humana stop. If he moves his bed round to get away from the window, or
for any such reason, there is nothing very frightful in that simple
operation. Most of our foolish conceits explain themselves in some such
simple way. And, yet, for all that, I confess, that, when I woke up the
other evening, and heard, first a sweet complaining cry, and then
footsteps, and then the dragging sound,—nothing but his bed, I am quite
sure,—I felt a stirring in the roots of my hair as the feasters did in
Keats's terrible poem of "Lamia."
There is nothing very odd in my feeling nervous when I happen to lie
awake and get listening for sounds. Just keep your ears open any time
after midnight, when you are lying in bed in a lone attic of a dark
night. What horrid, strange, suggestive, unaccountable noises you will
hear! The stillness of night is a vulgar error. All the dead things
seem to be alive. Crack! That is the old chest of drawers; you never
hear it crack in the daytime. Creak! There's a door ajar; you know you
shut them all.
Where can that latch be that rattles so? Is anybody trying it softly?
or, worse than any body, is——? (Cold shiver.) Then a sudden gust that
jars all the windows;—very strange!—there does not seem to be any wind
about that it belongs to. When it stops, you hear the worms boring in
the powdery beams overhead. Then steps outside,—a stray animal, no
doubt. All right,—but a gentle moisture breaks out all over you; and
then something like a whistle or a cry,—another gust of wind, perhaps;
that accounts for the rustling that just made your heart roll over and
tumble about, so that it felt more like a live rat under your ribs than a
part of your own body; then a crash of something that has fallen,—blown
over, very likely——Pater noster, qui es in coelis! for you are damp and
cold, and sitting bolt upright, and the bed trembling so that the
death-watch is frightened and has stopped ticking!
No,—night is an awful time for strange noises and secret doings. Who
ever dreamed, till one of our sleepless neighbors told us of it, of that
Walpurgis gathering of birds and beasts of prey,—foxes, and owls, and
crows, and eagles, that come from all the country round on moonshiny
nights to crunch the clams and muscles, and pick out the eyes of dead
fishes that the storm has thrown on Chelsea Beach? Our old mother Nature
has pleasant and cheery tones enough for us when she comes in her dress
of blue and gold over the eastern hill-tops; but when she follows us
up-stairs to our beds in her suit of black velvet and diamonds, every
creak of her sandals and every whisper of her lips is full of mystery and
You understand, then, distinctly, that I do not believe there is anything
about this singular little neighbor of mine which is as it should not be.
Probably a visit to his room would clear up all that has puzzled me, and
make me laugh at the notions which began, I suppose, in nightmares, and
ended by keeping my imagination at work so as almost to make me
uncomfortable at times. But it is not so easy to visit him as some of
our other boarders, for various reasons which I will not stop to mention.
I think some of them are rather pleased to get "the Professor" under
The young man John, for instance, asked me to come up one day and try
some "old Burbon," which he said was A 1. On asking him what was the
number of his room, he answered, that it was forty-'leven, sky-parlor
floor, but that I shouldn't find it, if he did n't go ahead to show me
the way. I followed him to his habitat, being very willing to see in
what kind of warren he burrowed, and thinking I might pick up something
about the boarders who had excited my curiosity.
Mighty close quarters they were where the young man John bestowed himself
and his furniture; this last consisting of a bed, a chair, a bureau, a
trunk, and numerous pegs with coats and "pants" and "vests,"—as he was
in the habit of calling waist-coats and pantaloons or trousers,—hanging
up as if the owner had melted out of them. Several prints were pinned up
unframed,—among them that grand national portrait-piece, "Barnum
presenting Ossian E. Dodge to Jenny Lind," and a picture of a famous
trot, in which I admired anew the cabalistic air of that imposing array
of expressions, and especially the Italicized word, "Dan Mace names b. h.
Major Slocum," and "Hiram Woodruff names g. m. Lady Smith." "Best three
in five. Time: 2.40, 2.46, 2.50."
That set me thinking how very odd this matter of trotting horses is, as
an index of the mathematical exactness of the laws of living mechanism.
I saw Lady Suffolk trot a mile in 2.26. Flora Temple has trotted close
down to 2.20; and Ethan Allen in 2.25, or less. Many horses have trotted
their mile under 2.30; none that I remember in public as low down as
2.20. From five to ten seconds, then, in about a hundred and sixty is
the whole range of the maxima of the present race of trotting horses.
The same thing is seen in the running of men. Many can run a mile in
five minutes; but when one comes to the fractions below, they taper down
until somewhere about 4.30 the maximum is reached. Averages of masses
have been studied more than averages of maxima and minima. We know from
the Registrar-General's Reports, that a certain number of children—say
from one to two dozen—die every year in England from drinking hot water
out of spouts of teakettles. We know, that, among suicides, women and
men past a certain age almost never use fire-arms. A woman who has made
up her mind to die is still afraid of a pistol or a gun. Or is it that
the explosion would derange her costume?
I say, averages of masses we have, but our tables of maxima we owe to the
sporting men more than to the philosophers. The lesson their experience
teaches is, that Nature makes no leaps,—does nothing per saltum. The
greatest brain that ever lived, no doubt, was only a small fraction of an
idea ahead of the second best. Just look at the chess-players. Leaving
out the phenomenal exceptions, the nice shades that separate the skilful
ones show how closely their brains approximate,—almost as closely as
chronometers. Such a person is a "knight-player,"—he must have that
piece given him. Another must have two pawns. Another, "pawn and two,"
or one pawn and two moves. Then we find one who claims "pawn and move,"
holding himself, with this fractional advantage, a match for one who
would be pretty sure to beat him playing even.—So much are minds alike;
and you and I think we are "peculiar,"—that Nature broke her jelly-mould
after shaping our cerebral convolutions. So I reflected, standing and
looking at the picture.
—I say, Governor,—broke in the young man John,—them bosses '11 stay
jest as well, if you'll only set down. I've had 'em this year, and they
haven't stirred.—He spoke, and handed the chair towards me,—seating
himself, at the same time, on the end of the bed.
You have lived in this house some time?—I said,—with a note of
interrogation at the end of the statement.
Do I look as if I'd lost much flesh—said he, answering my question by
No,—said I;—for that matter, I think you do credit to "the bountifully
furnished table of the excellent lady who provides so liberally for the
company that meets around her hospitable board."
[The sentence in quotation-marks was from one of those disinterested
editorials in small type, which I suspect to have been furnished by a
friend of the landlady's, and paid for as an advertisement. This
impartial testimony to the superior qualities of the establishment and
its head attracted a number of applicants for admission, and a couple of
new boarders made a brief appearance at the table. One of them was of
the class of people who grumble if they don't get canvas-backs and
woodcocks every day, for three-fifty per week. The other was subject to
somnambulism, or walking in the night, when he ought to have been asleep
in his bed. In this state he walked into several of the boarders'
chambers, his eyes wide open, as is usual with somnambulists, and, from
some odd instinct or other, wishing to know what the hour was, got
together a number of their watches, for the purpose of comparing them, as
it would seem. Among them was a repeater, belonging to our young
Marylander. He happened to wake up while the somnambulist was in his
chamber, and, not knowing his infirmity, caught hold of him and gave him
a dreadful shaking, after which he tied his hands and feet, and so left
him till morning, when he introduced him to a gentleman used to taking
care of such cases of somnambulism.]
If you, my reader, will please to skip backward, over this parenthesis,
you will come to our conversation, which it has interrupted.
It a'n't the feed,—said the young man John,—it's the old woman's looks
when a fellah lays it in too strong. The feed's well enough. After geese
have got tough, 'n' turkeys have got strong, 'n' lamb's got old, 'n'
veal's pretty nigh beef, 'n' sparragrass 's growin' tall 'n' slim 'n'
scattery about the head, 'n' green peas are gettin' so big 'n' hard
they'd be dangerous if you fired 'em out of a revolver, we get hold of
all them delicacies of the season. But it's too much like feedin' on
live folks and devourin' widdah's substance, to lay yourself out in the
eatin' way, when a fellah 's as hungry as the chap that said a turkey was
too much for one 'n' not enough for two. I can't help lookin' at the old
woman. Corned-beef-days she's tolerable calm. Roastin'-days she worries
some, 'n' keeps a sharp eye on the chap that carves. But when there's
anything in the poultry line, it seems to hurt her feelin's so to see the
knife goin' into the breast and joints comin' to pieces, that there's no
comfort in eatin'. When I cut up an old fowl and help the boarders, I
always feel as if I ought to say, Won't you have a slice of
widdah?—instead of chicken.
The young man John fell into a train of reflections which ended in his
producing a Bologna sausage, a plate of "crackers," as we Boston folks
call certain biscuits, and the bottle of whiskey described as being A 1.
Under the influence of the crackers and sausage, he grew cordial and
It was time, I thought, to sound him as to those of our boarders who had
excited my curiosity.
What do you think of our young Iris?—I began.
Fust-rate little filly;-he said.—Pootiest and nicest little chap I've
seen since the schoolma'am left. Schoolma'am was a brown-haired
one,—eyes coffee-color. This one has got wine-colored eyes,—'n' that
's the reason they turn a fellah's head, I suppose.
This is a splendid blonde,—I said,—the other was a brunette. Which
style do you like best?
Which do I like best, boiled mutton or roast mutton?—said the young man
John. Like 'em both,—it a'n't the color of 'em makes the goodness. I
've been kind of lonely since schoolma'am went away. Used to like to look
at her. I never said anything particular to her, that I remember, but—
I don't know whether it was the cracker and sausage, or that the young
fellow's feet were treading on the hot ashes of some longing that had not
had time to cool, but his eye glistened as he stopped.
I suppose she wouldn't have looked at a fellah like me,—he said,—but I
come pretty near tryin'. If she had said, Yes, though, I shouldn't have
known what to have done with her. Can't marry a woman now-a-days till
you're so deaf you have to cock your head like a parrot to hear what she
says, and so longsighted you can't see what she looks like nearer than
Here is another chance for you,—I said.—What do you want nicer than
such a young lady as Iris?
It's no use,—he answered.—I look at them girls and feel as the fellah
did when he missed catchin' the trout.—'To'od 'a' cost more butter to
cook him 'n' he's worth,—says the fellah.—Takes a whole piece o' goods
to cover a girl up now-a-days. I'd as lief undertake to keep a span of
elephants,—and take an ostrich to board, too,—as to marry one of 'em.
What's the use? Clerks and counter-jumpers ain't anything. Sparragrass
and green peas a'n't for them,—not while they're young and tender.
Hossback-ridin' a'n't for them,—except once a year, on Fast-day. And
marryin' a'n't for them. Sometimes a fellah feels lonely, and would like
to have a nice young woman, to tell her how lonely he feels. And
sometimes a fellah,—here the young man John looked very confidential,
and, perhaps, as if a little ashamed of his weakness,—sometimes a fellah
would like to have one o' them small young ones to trot on his knee and
push about in a little wagon,—a kind of a little Johnny, you know;—it's
odd enough, but, it seems to me, nobody can afford them little articles,
except the folks that are so rich they can buy everything, and the folks
that are so poor they don't want anything. It makes nice boys of us
young fellahs, no doubt! And it's pleasant to see fine young girls
sittin', like shopkeepers behind their goods, waitin', and waitin', and
waitin', 'n' no customers,—and the men lingerin' round and lookin' at
the goods, like folks that want to be customers, but have n't the money!
Do you think the deformed gentleman means to make love to Iris?—I said.
What! Little Boston ask that girl to marry him! Well, now, that's
cumin' of it a little too strong. Yes, I guess she will marry him and
carry him round in a basket, like a lame bantam: Look here!—he said,
mysteriously;—one of the boarders swears there's a woman comes to see
him, and that he has heard her singin' and screechin'. I should like to
know what he's about in that den of his. He lays low 'n' keeps
dark,—and, I tell you, there's a good many of the boarders would like to
get into his chamber, but he don't seem to want 'em. Biddy could tell
somethin' about what she's seen when she 's been to put his room to
rights. She's a Paddy 'n' a fool, but she knows enough to keep her
tongue still. All I know is, I saw her crossin' herself one day when she
came out of that room. She looked pale enough, 'n' I heard her mutterin'
somethin' or other about the Blessed Virgin. If it had n't been for the
double doors to that chamber of his, I'd have had a squint inside before
this; but, somehow or other, it never seems to happen that they're both
open at once.
What do you think he employs himself about? said I.
The young man John winked.
I waited patiently for the thought, of which this wink was the blossom,
to come to fruit in words.
I don't believe in witches,—said the young man John.
We were both silent for a few minutes.
—Did you ever see the young girl's drawing-books,—I said, presently.
All but one,—he answered;—she keeps a lock on that, and won't show it.
Ma'am Allen, (the young rogue sticks to that name, in speaking of the
gentleman with the diamond,) Ma'am Allen tried to peek into it one day
when she left it on the sideboard. "If you please," says she,—'n' took
it from him, 'n' gave him a look that made him curl up like a caterpillar
on a hot shovel. I only wished he had n't, and had jest given her a
little sass, for I've been takin' boxin'-lessons, 'n' I 've got a new way
of counterin' I want to try on to somebody.
—The end of all this was, that I came away from the young fellow's room,
feeling that there were two principal things that I had to live for, for
the next six weeks or six months, if it should take so long. These were,
to get a sight of the young girl's drawing-book, which I suspected had
her heart shut up in it, and to get a look into the Little Gentleman's
I don't doubt you think it rather absurd that I should trouble myself
about these matters. You tell me, with some show of reason, that all I
shall find in the young girl's—book will be some outlines of angels with
immense eyes, traceries of flowers, rural sketches, and caricatures,
among which I shall probably have the pleasure of seeing my own features
figuring. Very likely. But I'll tell you what I think I shall find. If
this child has idealized the strange little bit of humanity over which
she seems to have spread her wings like a brooding dove,—if, in one of
those wild vagaries that passionate natures are so liable to, she has
fairly sprung upon him with her clasping nature, as the sea-flowers fold
about the first stray shell-fish that brushes their outspread tentacles,
depend upon it, I shall find the marks of it in this drawing-book of
hers,—if I can ever get a look at it,—fairly, of course, for I would
not play tricks to satisfy my curiosity.
Then, if I can get into this Little Gentleman's room under any fair
pretext, I shall, no doubt, satisfy myself in five minutes that he is
just like other people, and that there is no particular mystery about
The night after my visit to the young man John, I made all these and many
more reflections. It was about two o'clock in the morning,—bright
starlight,—so light that I could make out the time on my
alarm-clock,—when I woke up trembling and very moist. It was the heavy
dragging sound, as I had often heard it before that waked me. Presently a
window was softly closed. I had just begun to get over the agitation
with which we always awake from nightmare dreams, when I heard the sound
which seemed to me as of a woman's voice,—the clearest, purest soprano
which one could well conceive of. It was not loud, and I could not
distinguish a word, if it was a woman's voice; but there were recurring
phrases of sound and snatches of rhythm that reached me, which suggested
the idea of complaint, and sometimes, I thought, of passionate grief and
despair. It died away at last,—and then I heard the opening of a door,
followed by a low, monotonous sound, as of one talking,—and then the
closing of a door,—and presently the light on the opposite wall
disappeared and all was still for the night.
By George! this gets interesting,—I said, as I got out of bed for a
change of night-clothes.
I had this in my pocket the other day, but thought I would n't read
it at our celebration. So I read it to the boarders instead, and
print it to finish off this record with.
ROBINSON OF LEYDEN.
He sleeps not here; in hope and prayer
His wandering flock had gone before,
But he, the shepherd, might not share
Their sorrows on the wintry shore.
Before the Speedwell's anchor swung,
Ere yet the Mayflower's sail was spread,
While round his feet the Pilgrims clung,
The pastor spake, and thus he said:—
"Men, brethren, sisters, children dear!
God calls you hence from over sea;
Ye may not build by Haerlem Meer,
Nor yet along the Zuyder-Zee.
"Ye go to bear the saving word
To tribes unnamed and shores untrod:
Heed well the lessons ye have heard
From those old teachers taught of God.
"Yet think not unto them was lent
All light for all the coming days,
And Heaven's eternal wisdom spent
In making straight the ancient ways.
"The living fountain overflows
For every flock, for every lamb,
Nor heeds, though angry creeds oppose
With Luther's dike or Calvin's dam."
He spake; with lingering, long embrace,
With tears of love and partings fond,
They floated down the creeping Maas,
Along the isle of Ysselmond.
They passed the frowning towers of Briel,
The "Hook of Holland's" shelf of sand,
And grated soon with lifting keel
The sullen shores of Fatherland.
No home for these!—too well they knew
The mitred king behind the throne;
The sails were set, the pennons flew,
And westward ho! for worlds unknown.
—And these were they who gave us birth,
The Pilgrims of the sunset wave,
Who won for us this virgin earth,
And freedom with the soil they gave.
The pastor slumbers by the Rhine,
—In alien earth the exiles lie,
—Their nameless graves our holiest shrine,
His words our noblest battle-cry!
Still cry them, and the world shall hear,
Ye dwellers by the storm-swept sea!
Ye have not built by Haerlem Meer,
Nor on the land-locked Zuyder-Zee!
There has been a sort of stillness in the atmosphere of our
boarding-house since my last record, as if something or other were going
on. There is no particular change that I can think of in the aspect of
things; yet I have a feeling as if some game of life were quietly playing
and strange forces were at work, underneath this smooth surface of
every-day boardinghouse life, which would show themselves some fine
morning or other in events, if not in catastrophes. I have been
watchful, as I said I should be, but have little to tell as yet. You may
laugh at me, and very likely think me foolishly fanciful to trouble
myself about what is going on in a middling-class household like ours.
Do as you like. But here is that terrible fact to begin with,—a
beautiful young girl, with the blood and the nerve-fibre that belong to
Nature's women, turned loose among live men.
Very terrible. Nothing more so. Do you forget the angels who lost
heaven for the daughters of men? Do you forget Helen, and the fair women
who made mischief and set nations by the ears before Helen was born? If
jealousies that gnaw men's hearts out of their bodies,—if pangs that
waste men to shadows and drive them into raving madness or moping
melancholy,—if assassination and suicide are dreadful possibilities,
then there is always something frightful about a lovely young woman.—I
love to look at this "Rainbow," as her father used sometimes to call her,
of ours. Handsome creature that she is in forms and colors,—the very
picture, as it seems to me, of that "golden blonde" my friend whose book
you read last year fell in love with when he was a boy, (as you remember,
no doubt,)—handsome as she is, fit for a sea-king's bride, it is not her
beauty alone that holds my eyes upon her. Let me tell you one of my
fancies, and then you will understand the strange sort of fascination she
has for me.
It is in the hearts of many men and women—let me add children—that
there is a Great Secret waiting for them,—a secret of which they get
hints now and then, perhaps oftener in early than in later years. These
hints come sometimes in dreams, sometimes in sudden startling
flashes,—second wakings, as it were,—a waking out of the waking state,
which last is very apt to be a half-sleep. I have many times stopped
short and held my breath, and felt the blood leaving my cheeks, in one of
these sudden clairvoyant flashes. Of course I cannot tell what kind of a
secret this is, but I think of it as a disclosure of certain relations of
our personal being to time and space, to other intelligences, to the
procession of events, and to their First Great Cause. This secret seems
to be broken up, as it were, into fragments, so that we find here a word
and there a syllable, and then again only a letter of it; but it never is
written out for most of us as a complete sentence, in this life. I do
not think it could be; for I am disposed to consider our beliefs about
such a possible disclosure rather as a kind of premonition of an
enlargement of our faculties in some future state than as an expectation
to be fulfilled for most of us in this life. Persons, however, have
fallen into trances,—as did the Reverend William Tennent, among many
others,—and learned some things which they could not tell in our human
Now among the visible objects which hint to us fragments of this infinite
secret for which our souls are waiting, the faces of women are those that
carry the most legible hieroglyphics of the great mystery. There are
women's faces, some real, some ideal, which contain something in them
that becomes a positive element in our creed, so direct and palpable a
revelation is it of the infinite purity and love. I remember two faces
of women with wings, such as they call angels, of Fra Angelico,—and I
just now came across a print of Raphael's Santa Apollina, with something
of the same quality,—which I was sure had their prototypes in the world
above ours. No wonder the Catholics pay their vows to the Queen of
Heaven! The unpoetical side of Protestantism is, that it has no women to
But mind you, it is not every beautiful face that hints the Great Secret
to us, nor is it only in beautiful faces that we find traces of it.
Sometimes it looks out from a sweet sad eye, the only beauty of a plain
countenance; sometimes there is so much meaning in the lips of a woman,
not otherwise fascinating, that we know they have a message for us, and
wait almost with awe to hear their accents. But this young girl has at
once the beauty of feature and the unspoken mystery of expression. Can
she tell me anything?
Is her life a complement of mine, with the missing element in it which I
have been groping after through so many friendships that I have tired of,
and through—Hush! Is the door fast? Talking loud is a bad trick in
these curious boarding-houses.
You must have sometimes noted this fact that I am going to remind you of
and to use for a special illustration. Riding along over a rocky road,
suddenly the slow monotonous grinding of the crushing gravel changes to a
deep heavy rumble. There is a great hollow under your feet,—a huge
unsunned cavern. Deep, deep beneath you in the core of the living rock,
it arches its awful vault, and far away it stretches its winding
galleries, their roofs dripping into streams where fishes have been
swimming and spawning in the dark until their scales are white as milk
and their eyes have withered out, obsolete and useless.
So it is in life. We jog quietly along, meeting the same faces, grinding
over the same thoughts, the gravel of the soul's highway,—now and then
jarred against an obstacle we cannot crush, but must ride over or round
as we best may, sometimes bringing short up against a disappointment, but
still working along with the creaking and rattling and grating and
jerking that belong to the journey of life, even in the smoothest-rolling
vehicle. Suddenly we hear the deep underground reverberation that
reveals the unsuspected depth of some abyss of thought or passion beneath
I wish the girl would go. I don't like to look at her so much, and yet I
cannot help it. Always that same expression of something that I ought to
know,—something that she was made to tell and I to hear,—lying there
ready to fall off from her lips, ready to leap out of her eyes and make a
saint of me, or a devil or a lunatic, or perhaps a prophet to tell the
truth and be hated of men, or a poet whose words shall flash upon the dry
stubble-field of worn-out thoughts and burn over an age of lies in an
hour of passion.
It suddenly occurs to me that I may have put you on the wrong track. The
Great Secret that I refer to has nothing to do with the Three Words. Set
your mind at ease about that,—there are reasons I could give you which
settle all that matter. I don't wonder, however, that you confounded the
Great Secret with the Three Words.
I LOVE YOU is all the secret that many, nay, most women have to tell.
When that is said, they are like China-crackers on the morning of the
fifth of July. And just as that little patriotic implement is made with
a slender train which leads to the magazine in its interior, so a sharp
eye can almost always see the train leading from a young girl's eye or
lip to the "I love you" in her heart. But the Three Words are not the
Great Secret I mean. No, women's faces are only one of the tablets on
which that is written in its partial, fragmentary symbols. It lies
deeper than Love, though very probably Love is a part of it. Some, I
think,—Wordsworth might be one of them,—spell out a portion of it from
certain beautiful natural objects, landscapes, flowers, and others. I can
mention several poems of his that have shadowy hints which seem to me to
come near the region where I think it lies. I have known two persons who
pursued it with the passion of the old alchemists,—all wrong evidently,
but infatuated, and never giving up the daily search for it until they
got tremulous and feeble, and their dreams changed to visions of things
that ran and crawled about their floor and ceilings, and so they died.
The vulgar called them drunkards.
I told you that I would let you know the mystery of the effect this young
girl's face produces on me. It is akin to those influences a friend of
mine has described, you may remember, as coming from certain voices. I
cannot translate it into words,—only into feelings; and these I have
attempted to shadow by showing that her face hinted that revelation of
something we are close to knowing, which all imaginative persons are
looking for either in this world or on the very threshold of the next.
You shake your head at the vagueness and fanciful incomprehensibleness of
my description of the expression in a young girl's face. You forget what
a miserable surface-matter this language is in which we try to reproduce
our interior state of being. Articulation is a shallow trick. From the
light Poh! which we toss off from our lips as we fling a nameless
scribbler's impertinence into our waste-baskets, to the gravest
utterances which comes from our throats in our moments of deepest need,
is only a space of some three or four inches. Words, which are a set of
clickings, hissings, lispings, and so on, mean very little, compared to
tones and expression of the features. I give it up; I thought I could
shadow forth in some feeble way, by their aid, the effect this young
girl's face produces on my imagination; but it is of no use. No doubt
your head aches, trying to make something of my description. If there is
here and there one that can make anything intelligible out of my talk
about the Great Secret, and who has spelt out a syllable or two of it on
some woman's face, dead or living, that is all I can expect. One should
see the person with whom he converses about such matters. There are
dreamy-eyed people to whom I should say all these things with a certainty
of being understood;—
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me
To him my tale I teach.
—I am afraid some of them have not got a spare quarter of a dollar for
this August number, so that they will never see it.
—Let us start again, just as if we had not made this ambitious attempt,
which may go for nothing, and you can have your money refunded, if you
will make the change.
This young girl, about whom I have talked so unintelligibly, is the
unconscious centre of attraction to the whole solar system of our
breakfast-table. The Little Gentleman leans towards her, and she again
seems to be swayed as by some invisible gentle force towards him. That
slight inclination of two persons with a strong affinity towards each
other, throwing them a little out of plumb when they sit side by side, is
a physical fact I have often noticed. Then there is a tendency in all
the men's eyes to converge on her; and I do firmly believe, that, if all
their chairs were examined, they would be found a little obliquely
placed, so as to favor the direction in which their occupants love to
That bland, quiet old gentleman, of whom I have spoken as sitting
opposite to me, is no exception to the rule. She brought down some
mignonette one morning, which she had grown in her chamber. She gave a
sprig to her little neighbor, and one to the landlady, and sent another
by the hand of Bridget to this old gentleman.
—Sarvant, Ma'am I Much obleeged,—he said, and put it gallantly in his
button-hole.—After breakfast he must see some of her drawings. Very fine
performances,—very fine!—truly elegant productions, truly elegant!—Had
seen Miss Linwood's needlework in London, in the year (eighteen hundred
and little or nothing, I think he said,)—patronized by the nobility and
gentry, and Her Majesty,—elegant, truly elegant productions, very fine
performances; these drawings reminded him of them;—wonderful resemblance
to Nature; an extraordinary art, painting; Mr. Copley made some very fine
pictures that he remembered seeing when he was a boy. Used to remember
some lines about a portrait Written by Mr. Cowper, beginning,
"Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
With me but roughly since I heard thee last."
And with this the old gentleman fell to thinking about a dead mother of
his that he remembered ever so much younger than he now was, and looking,
not as his mother, but as his daughter should look. The dead young
mother was looking at the old man, her child, as she used to look at him
so many, many years ago. He stood still as if in a waking dream, his
eyes fixed on the drawings till their outlines grew indistinct and they
ran into each other, and a pale, sweet face shaped itself out of the
glimmering light through which he saw them.—What is there quite so
profoundly human as an old man's memory of a mother who died in his
earlier years? Mother she remains till manhood, and by-and-by she grows
to be as a sister; and at last, when, wrinkled and bowed and broken, he
looks back upon her in her fair youth, he sees in the sweet image he
caresses, not his parent, but, as it were, his child.
If I had not seen all this in the old gentleman's face, the words with
which he broke his silence would have betrayed his train of thought.
—If they had only taken pictures then as they do now!—he said.—All
gone! all gone! nothing but her face as she leaned on the arms of her
great chair; and I would give a hundred pound for the poorest little
picture of her, such as you can buy for a shilling of anybody that you
don't want to see.—The old gentleman put his hand to his forehead so as
to shade his eyes. I saw he was looking at the dim photograph of memory,
and turned from him to Iris.
How many drawing-books have you filled,—I said,—since you began to take
lessons?—This was the first,—she answered,—since she was here; and it
was not full, but there were many separate sheets of large size she had
covered with drawings.
I turned over the leaves of the book before us. Academic studies,
principally of the human figure. Heads of sibyls, prophets, and so
forth. Limbs from statues. Hands and feet from Nature. What a superb
drawing of an arm! I don't remember it among the figures from Michel
Angelo, which seem to have been her patterns mainly. From Nature, I
think, or after a cast from Nature.—Oh!
—Your smaller studies are in this, I suppose,—I said, taking up the
drawing-book with a lock on it,—Yes,—she said.—I should like to see
her style of working on a small scale.—There was nothing in it worth
showing,—she said; and presently I saw her try the lock, which proved to
be fast. We are all caricatured in it, I haven't the least doubt. I
think, though, I could tell by her way of dealing with us what her
fancies were about us boarders. Some of them act as if they were
bewitched with her, but she does not seem to notice it much. Her
thoughts seem to be on her little neighbor more than on anybody else.
The young fellow John appears to stand second in her good graces. I
think he has once or twice sent her what the landlady's daughter calls
bo-kays of flowers,—somebody has, at any rate.—I saw a book she had,
which must have come from the divinity-student. It had a dreary
title-page, which she had enlivened with a fancy portrait of the
author,—a face from memory, apparently,—one of those faces that small
children loathe without knowing why, and which give them that inward
disgust for heaven so many of the little wretches betray, when they hear
that these are "good men," and that heaven is full of such.—The
gentleman with the diamond—the Koh-i-noor, so called by us—was not
encouraged, I think, by the reception of his packet of perfumed soap. He
pulls his purple moustache and looks appreciatingly at Iris, who never
sees him, as it should seem. The young Marylander, who I thought would
have been in love with her before this time, sometimes looks from his
corner across the long diagonal of the table, as much as to say, I wish
you were up here by me, or I were down there by you,—which would,
perhaps, be a more natural arrangement than the present one. But nothing
comes of all this,—and nothing has come of my sagacious idea of finding
out the girl's fancies by looking into her locked drawing-book.
Not to give up all the questions I was determined to solve, I made an
attempt also to work into the Little Gentleman's chamber. For this
purpose, I kept him in conversation, one morning, until he was just ready
to go up-stairs, and then, as if to continue the talk, followed him as he
toiled back to his room. He rested on the landing and faced round toward
me. There was something in his eye which said, Stop there! So we
finished our conversation on the landing. The next day, I mustered
assurance enough to knock at his door, having a pretext ready.—No
answer.—Knock again. A door, as if of a cabinet, was shut softly and
locked, and presently I heard the peculiar dead beat of his thick-soled,
misshapen boots. The bolts and the lock of the inner door were
unfastened,—with unnecessary noise, I thought,—and he came into the
passage. He pulled the inner door after him and opened the outer one at
which I stood. He had on a flowered silk dressing-gown, such as "Mr.
Copley" used to paint his old-fashioned merchant-princes in; and a
quaint-looking key in his hand. Our conversation was short, but long
enough to convince me that the Little Gentleman did not want my company
in his chamber, and did not mean to have it.
I have been making a great fuss about what is no mystery at all,—a
schoolgirl's secrets and a whimsical man's habits. I mean to give up
such nonsense and mind my own business.—Hark! What the deuse is that
odd noise in his chamber?
—I think I am a little superstitious. There were two things, when I was
a boy, that diabolized my imagination,—I mean, that gave me a distinct
apprehension of a formidable bodily shape which prowled round the
neighborhood where I was born and bred. The first was a series of marks
called the "Devil's footsteps." These were patches of sand in the
pastures, where no grass grew, where the low-bush blackberry, the
"dewberry," as our Southern neighbors call it, in prettier and more
Shakspearian language, did not spread its clinging creepers,—where even
the pale, dry, sadly-sweet "everlasting" could not grow, but all was bare
and blasted. The second was a mark in one of the public buildings near
my home,—the college dormitory named after a Colonial Governor. I do
not think many persons are aware of the existence of this mark,—little
having been said about the story in print, as it was considered very
desirable, for the sake of the Institution, to hush it up. In the
northwest corner, and on the level of the third or fourth story, there
are signs of a breach in the walls, mended pretty well, but not to be
mistaken. A considerable portion of that corner must have been carried
away, from within outward. It was an unpleasant affair; and I do not
care to repeat the particulars; but some young men had been using sacred
things in a profane and unlawful way, when the occurrence, which was
variously explained, took place. The story of the Appearance in the
chamber was, I suppose, invented afterwards; but of the injury to the
building there could be no question; and the zig-zag line, where the
mortar is a little thicker than before, is still distinctly visible. The
queer burnt spots, called the "Devil's footsteps," had never attracted
attention before this time, though there is no evidence that they had not
existed previously, except that of the late Miss M., a "Goody," so
called, or sweeper, who was positive on the subject, but had a strange
horror of referring to an affair of which she was thought to know
something.—I tell you it was not so pleasant for a little boy of
impressible nature to go up to bed in an old gambrel-roofed house, with
untenanted, locked upper-chambers, and a most ghostly garret,—with the
"Devil's footsteps" in the fields behind the house and in front of it the
patched dormitory where the unexplained occurrence had taken place which
startled those godless youths at their mock devotions, so that one of
them was epileptic from that day forward, and another, after a dreadful
season of mental conflict, took holy orders and became renowned for his
There were other circumstances that kept up the impression produced by
these two singular facts I have just mentioned. There was a dark
storeroom, on looking through the key-hole of which, I could dimly see a
heap of chairs and tables, and other four-footed things, which seemed to
me to have rushed in there, frightened, and in their fright to have
huddled together and climbed up on each other's backs,—as the people did
in that awful crush where so many were killed, at the execution of
Holloway and Haggerty. Then the Lady's portrait, up-stairs, with the
sword-thrusts through it,—marks of the British officers' rapiers,—and
the tall mirror in which they used to look at their red coats,—confound
them for smashing its mate?—and the deep, cunningly wrought arm-chair in
which Lord Percy used to sit while his hair was dressing;—he was a
gentleman, and always had it covered with a large peignoir, to save the
silk covering my grandmother embroidered. Then the little room
downstairs from which went the orders to throw up a bank of earth on the
hill yonder, where you may now observe a granite obelisk,—"the study" in
my father's time, but in those days the council-chamber of armed
men,—sometimes filled with soldiers; come with me, and I will show you
the "dents" left by the butts of their muskets all over the floor. With
all these suggestive objects round me, aided by the wild stories those
awful country-boys that came to live in our service brought with
them;—of contracts written in blood and left out over night, not to be
found the next morning, (removed by the Evil One, who takes his nightly
round among our dwellings, and filed away for future use,)—of dreams
coming true,—of death-signs,—of apparitions, no wonder that my
imagination got excited, and I was liable to superstitious fancies.
Jeremy Bentham's logic, by which he proved that he couldn't possibly see
a ghost is all very well-in the day-time. All the reason in the world
will never get those impressions of childhood, created by just such
circumstances as I have been telling, out of a man's head. That is the
only excuse I have to give for the nervous kind of curiosity with which I
watch my little neighbor, and the obstinacy with which I lie awake
whenever I hear anything going on in his chamber after midnight.
But whatever further observations I may have made must be deferred for
the present. You will see in what way it happened that my thoughts were
turned from spiritual matters to bodily ones, and how I got my fancy full
of material images,—faces, heads, figures, muscles, and so forth,—in
such a way that I should have no chance in this number to gratify any
curiosity you may feel, if I had the means of so doing.
Indeed, I have come pretty near omitting my periodical record this time.
It was all the work of a friend of mine, who would have it that I should
sit to him for my portrait. When a soul draws a body in the great
lottery of life, where every one is sure of a prize, such as it is, the
said soul inspects the said body with the same curious interest with
which one who has ventured into a "gift enterprise" examines the "massive
silver pencil-case" with the coppery smell and impressible tube, or the
"splendid gold ring" with the questionable specific gravity, which it has
been his fortune to obtain in addition to his purchase.
The soul, having studied the article of which it finds itself proprietor,
thinks, after a time, it knows it pretty well. But there is this
difference between its view and that of a person looking at us:—we look
from within, and see nothing but the mould formed by the elements in
which we are incased; other observers look from without, and see us as
living statues. To be sure, by the aid of mirrors, we get a few glimpses
of our outside aspect; but this occasional impression is always modified
by that look of the soul from within outward which none but ourselves can
take. A portrait is apt, therefore, to be a surprise to us. The artist
looks only from without. He sees us, too, with a hundred aspects on our
faces we are never likely to see. No genuine expression can be studied
by the subject of it in the looking-glass.
More than this; he sees us in a way in which many of our friends or
acquaintances never see us. Without wearing any mask we are conscious
of, we have a special face for each friend. For, in the first place,
each puts a special reflection of himself upon us, on the principle of
assimilation you found referred to in my last record, if you happened to
read that document. And secondly, each of our friends is capable of
seeing just so far, and no farther, into our face, and each sees in it
the particular thing that he looks for. Now the artist, if he is truly
an artist, does not take any one of these special views. Suppose he
should copy you as you appear to the man who wants your name to a
subscription-list, you could hardly expect a friend who entertains you to
recognize the likeness to the smiling face which sheds its radiance at
his board. Even within your own family, I am afraid there is a face which
the rich uncle knows, that is not so familiar to the poor relation. The
artist must take one or the other, or something compounded of the two, or
something different from either. What the daguerreotype and photograph
do is to give the features and one particular look, the very look which
kills all expression, that of self-consciousness. The artist throws you
off your guard, watches you in movement and in repose, puts your face
through its exercises, observes its transitions, and so gets the whole
range of its expression. Out of all this he forms an ideal portrait,
which is not a copy of your exact look at any one time or to any
particular person. Such a portrait cannot be to everybody what the
ungloved call "as nat'ral as life." Every good picture, therefore, must
be considered wanting in resemblance by many persons.
There is one strange revelation which comes out, as the artist shapes
your features from his outline. It is that you resemble so many
relatives to whom you yourself never had noticed any particular likeness
in your countenance.
He is at work at me now, when I catch some of these resemblances, thus:
There! that is just the look my father used to have sometimes; I never
thought I had a sign of it. The mother's eyebrow and grayish-blue eye,
those I knew I had. But there is a something which recalls a smile that
faded away from my sister's lips—how many years ago! I thought it so
pleasant in her, that I love myself better for having a trace of it.
Are we not young? Are we not fresh and blooming? Wait, a bit. The
artist takes a mean little brush and draws three fine lines, diverging
outwards from the eye over the temple. Five years.—The artist draws one
tolerably distinct and two faint lines, perpendicularly between the
eyebrows. Ten years.—The artist breaks up the contours round the mouth,
so that they look a little as a hat does that has been sat upon and
recovered itself, ready, as one would say, to crumple up again in the
same creases, on smiling or other change of feature.—Hold on! Stop
that! Give a young fellow a chance! Are we not whole years short of
that interesting period of life when Mr. Balzac says that a man, etc.,
There now! That is ourself, as we look after finishing an article,
getting a three-mile pull with the ten-foot sculls, redressing the wrongs
of the toilet, and standing with the light of hope in our eye and the
reflection of a red curtain on our cheek. Is he not a POET that painted
"Blest be the art that can immortalize!"
—Young folks look on a face as a unit; children who go to school with
any given little John Smith see in his name a distinctive appellation,
and in his features as special and definite an expression of his sole
individuality as if he were the first created of his race: As soon as we
are old enough to get the range of three or four generations well in
hand, and to take in large family histories, we never see an individual
in a face of any stock we know, but a mosaic copy of a pattern, with
fragmentary tints from this and that ancestor. The analysis of a face
into its ancestral elements requires that it should be examined in the
very earliest infancy, before it has lost that ancient and solemn look it
brings with it out of the past eternity; and again in that brief space
when Life, the mighty sculptor, has done his work, and Death, his silent
servant, lifts the veil and lets us look at the marble lines he has
wrought so faithfully; and lastly, while a painter who can seize all the
traits of a countenance is building it up, feature after feature, from
the slight outline to the finished portrait.
—I am satisfied, that, as we grow older, we learn to look upon our
bodies more and more as a temporary possession and less and less as
identified with ourselves. In early years, while the child "feels its
life in every limb," it lives in the body and for the body to a very
great extent. It ought to be so. There have been many very interesting
children who have shown a wonderful indifference to the things of earth
and an extraordinary development of the spiritual nature. There is a
perfect literature of their biographies, all alike in their essentials;
the same "disinclination to the usual amusements of childhood "; the same
remarkable sensibility; the same docility; the same conscientiousness; in
short, an almost uniform character, marked by beautiful traits, which we
look at with a painful admiration. It will be found that most of these
children are the subjects of some constitutional unfitness for living,
the most frequent of which I need not mention. They are like the
beautiful, blushing, half-grown fruit that falls before its time because
its core is gnawed out. They have their meaning,—they do not-live in
vain,—but they are windfalls. I am convinced that many healthy children
are injured morally by being forced to read too much about these little
meek sufferers and their spiritual exercises. Here is a boy that loves
to run, swim, kick football, turn somersets, make faces, whittle, fish,
tear his clothes, coast, skate, fire crackers, blow squash "tooters," cut
his name on fences, read about Robinson Crusoe and Sinbad the Sailor, eat
the widest-angled slices of pie and untold cakes and candies, crack nuts
with his back teeth and bite out the better part of another boy's apple
with his front ones, turn up coppers, "stick" knives, call names, throw
stones, knock off hats, set mousetraps, chalk doorsteps, "cut behind"
anything on wheels or runners, whistle through his teeth, "holler" Fire!
on slight evidence, run after soldiers, patronize an engine-company, or,
in his own words, "blow for tub No. 11," or whatever it may be;—isn't
that a pretty nice sort of a boy, though he has not got anything the
matter with him that takes the taste of this world out? Now, when you
put into such a hot-blooded, hard-fisted, round-cheeked little rogue's
hand a sad-looking volume or pamphlet, with the portrait of a thin,
white-faced child, whose life is really as much a training for death as
the last month of a condemned criminal's existence, what does he find in
common between his own overflowing and exulting sense of vitality and the
experiences of the doomed offspring of invalid parents? The time comes
when we have learned to understand the music of sorrow, the beauty of
resigned suffering, the holy light that plays over the pillow of those
who die before their time, in humble hope and trust. But it is not until
he has worked his way through the period of honest hearty animal
existence, which every robust child should make the most of,—not until
he has learned the use of his various faculties, which is his first
duty,—that a boy of courage and animal vigor is in a proper state to
read these tearful records of premature decay. I have no doubt that
disgust is implanted in the minds of many healthy children by early
surfeits of pathological piety. I do verily believe that He who took
children in His arms and blessed them loved the healthiest and most
playful of them just as well as those who were richest in the tuberculous
virtues. I know what I am talking about, and there are more parents in
this country who will be willing to listen to what I say than there are
fools to pick a quarrel with me. In the sensibility and the sanctity
which often accompany premature decay I see one of the most beautiful
instances of the principle of compensation which marks the Divine
benevolence. But to get the spiritual hygiene of robust natures out of
the exceptional regimen of invalids is just simply what we Professors
call "bad practice"; and I know by experience that there are worthy
people who not only try it on their own children, but actually force it
on those of their neighbors.
—Having been photographed, and stereographed, and chromatographed, or
done in colors, it only remained to be phrenologized. A polite note from
Messrs. Bumpus and Crane, requesting our attendance at their
Physiological Emporium, was too tempting to be resisted. We repaired to
that scientific Golgotha.
Messrs. Bumpus and Crane are arranged on the plan of the man and the
woman in the toy called a "weather-house," both on the same wooden arm
suspended on a pivot,—so that when one comes to the door, the other
retires backwards, and vice versa. The more particular speciality of one
is to lubricate your entrance and exit,—that of the other to polish you
off phrenologically in the recesses of the establishment. Suppose
yourself in a room full of casts and pictures, before a counterful of
books with taking titles. I wonder if the picture of the brain is there,
"approved" by a noted Phrenologist, which was copied from my, the
Professor's, folio plate, in the work of Gall and Spurzheim. An extra
convolution, No. 9, Destructiveness, according to the list beneath, which
was not to be seen in the plate, itself a copy of Nature, was very
liberally supplied by the artist, to meet the wants of the catalogue of
"organs." Professor Bumpus is seated in front of a row of women,
—horn-combers and gold-beaders, or somewhere about that range of
life,—looking so credulous, that, if any Second-Advent Miller or Joe
Smith should come along, he could string the whole lot of them on his
cheapest lie, as a boy strings a dozen "shiners" on a stripped twig of
The Professor (meaning ourselves) is in a hurry, as usual; let the
horn-combers wait,—he shall be bumped without inspecting the
Tape round the head,—22 inches. (Come on, old 23 inches, if you think
you are the better man!)
Feels thorax and arm, and nuzzles round among muscles as those horrid old
women poke their fingers into the salt-meat on the provision-stalls at
the Quincy Market. Vitality, No. 5 or 6, or something or other.
Victuality, (organ at epigastrium,) some other number equally
Mild champooing of head now commences. 'Extraordinary revelations!
Cupidiphilous, 6! Hymeniphilous, 6 +! Paediphilous, 5! Deipniphilous,
6! Gelasmiphilous, 6! Musikiphilous, 5! Uraniphilous, 5!
Glossiphilous, 8!! and so on. Meant for a linguist.—Invaluable
information. Will invest in grammars and dictionaries immediately.—I
have nothing against the grand total of my phrenological endowments.
I never set great store by my head, and did not think Messrs. Bumpus and
Crane would give me so good a lot of organs as they did, especially
considering that I was a dead-head on that occasion. Much obliged to them
for their politeness. They have been useful in their way by calling
attention to important physiological facts. (This concession is due to
our immense bump of Candor.)
A short Lecture on Phrenology, read to the Boarders at our
I shall begin, my friends, with the definition of a Pseudo-science. A
Pseudo-science consists of a nomenclature, with a self-adjusting
arrangement, by which all positive evidence, or such as favors its
doctrines, is admitted, and all negative evidence, or such as tells
against it, is excluded. It is invariably connected with some lucrative
practical application. Its professors and practitioners are usually
shrewd people; they are very serious with the public, but wink and laugh
a good deal among themselves. The believing multitude consists of women
of both sexes, feeble minded inquirers, poetical optimists, people who
always get cheated in buying horses, philanthropists who insist on
hurrying up the millennium, and others of this class, with here and there
a clergyman, less frequently a lawyer, very rarely a physician, and
almost never a horse-jockey or a member of the detective police.—I do
not say that Phrenology was one of the Pseudo-sciences.
A Pseudo-science does not necessarily consist wholly of lies. It may
contain many truths, and even valuable ones. The rottenest bank starts
with a little specie. It puts out a thousand promises to pay on the
strength of a single dollar, but the dollar is very commonly a good one.
The practitioners of the Pseudo-sciences know that common minds, after
they have been baited with a real fact or two, will jump at the merest
rag of a lie, or even at the bare hook. When we have one fact found us,
we are very apt to supply the next out of our own imagination. (How many
persons can read Judges xv. 16 correctly the first time?) The
Pseudo-sciences take advantage of this.—I did not say that it was so
I have rarely met a sensible man who would not allow that there was
something in Phrenology. A broad, high forehead, it is commonly agreed,
promises intellect; one that is "villanous low" and has a huge hind-head
back of it, is wont to mark an animal nature. I have as rarely met an
unbiassed and sensible man who really believed in the bumps. It is
observed, however, that persons with what the Phrenologists call "good
heads" are more prone than others toward plenary belief in the doctrine.
It is so hard to prove a negative, that, if a man should assert that the
moon was in truth a green cheese, formed by the coagulable substance of
the Milky Way, and challenge me to prove the contrary, I might be
puzzled. But if he offer to sell me a ton of this lunar cheese, I call
on him to prove the truth of the Gaseous nature of our satellite, before
It is not necessary to prove the falsity of the phrenological statement.
It is only necessary to show that its truth is not proved, and cannot be,
by the common course of argument. The walls of the head are double, with
a great air-chamber between them, over the smallest and most closely
crowded "organs." Can you tell how much money there is in a safe, which
also has thick double walls, by kneading its knobs with your fingers? So
when a man fumbles about my forehead, and talks about the organs of
Individuality, Size, etc., I trust him as much as I should if he felt of
the outside of my strong-box and told me that there was a five-dollar or
a ten-dollar-bill under this or that particular rivet. Perhaps there is;
only he does n't know anything about at. But this is a point that I, the
Professor, understand, my friends, or ought to, certainly, better than
you do. The next argument you will all appreciate.
I proceed, therefore, to explain the self-adjusting mechanism of
Phrenology, which is very similar to that of the Pseudo-sciences. An
example will show it most conveniently.
A. is a notorious thief. Messrs. Bumpus and Crane examine him and find a
good-sized organ of Acquisitiveness. Positive fact for Phrenology.
Casts and drawings of A. are multiplied, and the bump does not lose in
the act of copying.—I did not say it gained.—What do you look so for?
(to the boarders.)
Presently B. turns up, a bigger thief than A. But B. has no bump at all
over Acquisitiveness. Negative fact; goes against Phrenology.—Not a
bit of it. Don't you see how small Conscientiousness is? That's the
reason B. stole.
And then comes C., ten times as much a thief as either A. or B.,—used
to steal before he was weaned, and would pick one of his own pockets and
put its contents in another, if he could find no other way of committing
petty larceny. Unfortunately, C. has a hollow, instead of a bump, over
Acquisitiveness. Ah, but just look and see what a bump of
Alimentiveness! Did not C. buy nuts and gingerbread, when a boy, with
the money he stole? Of course you see why he is a thief, and how his
example confirms our noble science.
At last comes along a case which is apparently a settler, for there is a
little brain with vast and varied powers,—a case like that of Byron, for
instance. Then comes out the grand reserve-reason which covers
everything and renders it simply impossible ever to corner a
Phrenologist. "It is not the size alone, but the quality of an organ,
which determines its degree of power."
Oh! oh! I see.—The argument may be briefly stated thus by the
Phrenologist: "Heads I win, tails you lose." Well, that's convenient.
It must be confessed that Phrenology has a certain resemblance to the
Pseudo-sciences. I did not say it was a Pseudo-science.
I have often met persons who have been altogether struck up and amazed at
the accuracy with which some wandering Professor of Phrenology had read
their characters written upon their skulls. Of course the Professor
acquires his information solely through his cranial inspections and
manipulations.—What are you laughing at? (to the boarders.)—But let us
just suppose, for a moment, that a tolerably cunning fellow, who did not
know or care anything about Phrenology, should open a shop and undertake
to read off people's characters at fifty cents or a dollar apiece. Let
us see how well he could get along without the "organs."
I will suppose myself to set up such a shop. I would invest one hundred
dollars, more or less, in casts of brains, skulls, charts, and other
matters that would make the most show for the money. That would do to
begin with. I would then advertise myself as the celebrated Professor
Brainey, or whatever name I might choose, and wait for my first customer.
My first customer is a middle-aged man. I look at him,—ask him a
question or two, so as to hear him talk. When I have got the hang of him,
I ask him to sit down, and proceed to fumble his skull, dictating as
follows: SCALE FROM 1 TO 10.
LIST OF FACULTIES FOR PRIVATE NOTES FOR MY PUPIL.
Each to be accompanied with a wink.
Amativeness, 7. Most men love the conflicting sex, and all
men love to be told they do.
Alimentiveness, 8. Don't you see that he has burst off his
lowest waistcoat-button with feeding,—hey
Acquisitiveness, 8. Of course. A middle-aged Yankee.
Approbativeness 7+. Hat well brushed. Hair ditto. Mark the
effect of that plus sign.
Self-Esteem 6. His face shows that.
Benevolence 9. That'll please him.
Conscientiousness 8 1/2 That fraction looks first-rate.
Mirthfulness 7 Has laughed twice since he came in.
Ideality 9 That sounds well.
Form, Size, Weight, 4 to 6. Average everything that Color, Locality,
cannot be guessed. Eventuality, etc. etc.
And so of the other faculties.
Of course, you know, that isn't the way the Phrenologists do. They go
only by the bumps.—What do you keep laughing so for? (to the boarders.)
I only said that is the way I should practise "Phrenology" for a living.
End of my Lecture.
—The Reformers have good heads, generally. Their faces are commonly
serene enough, and they are lambs in private intercourse, even though
their voices may be like
The wolf's long howl from Oonalaska's shore,
when heard from the platform. Their greatest spiritual danger is from
the perpetual flattery of abuse to which they are exposed. These lines
are meant to caution them.
SAINT ANTHONY THE REFORMER.
No fear lest praise should make us proud!
We know how cheaply that is won;
The idle homage of the crowd
Is proof of tasks as idly done.
A surface-smile may pay the toil
That follows still the conquering Right,
With soft, white hands to dress the spoil
That sunbrowned valor clutched in fight.
Sing the sweet song of other days,
Serenely placid, safely true,
And o'er the present's parching ways
Thy verse distils like evening dew.
But speak in words of living power,
—They fall like drops of scalding rain
That plashed before the burning shower
Swept o'er the cities of the plain!
Then scowling Hate turns deadly pale,
—Then Passion's half-coiled adders spring,
And, smitten through their leprous mail,
Strike right and left in hope to sting.
If thou, unmoved by poisoning wrath,
Thy feet on earth, thy heart above,
Canst walk in peace thy kingly path,
Unchanged in trust, unchilled in love,—
Too kind for bitter words to grieve,
Too firm for clamor to dismay,
When Faith forbids thee to believe,
And Meekness calls to disobey,—
Ah, then beware of mortal pride!
The smiling pride that calmly scorns
Those foolish fingers, crimson dyed
In laboring on thy crown of thorns!
One of our boarders—perhaps more than one was concerned in it—sent in
some questions to me, the other day, which, trivial as some of them are,
I felt bound to answer.
1.—Whether a lady was ever known to write a letter covering only a
To this I answered, that there was a case on record where a lady had but
half a sheet of paper and no envelope; and being obliged to send through
the post-office, she covered only one side of the paper (crosswise,
lengthwise, and diagonally).
2.—What constitutes a man a gentleman?
To this I gave several answers, adapted to particular classes of
a. Not trying to be a gentleman.
b. Self-respect underlying courtesy.
c. Knowledge and observance of the fitness of things in social
d. f. s. d. (as many suppose.)
3.—Whether face or figure is most attractive in the female sex?
Answered in the following epigram, by a young man about town:
Quoth Tom, "Though fair her features be,
It is her figure pleases me."
"What may her figure be?" I cried.
"One hundred thousand!" he replied.
When this was read to the boarders, the young man John said he should
like a chance to "step up" to a figger of that kind, if the girl was one
of the right sort.
The landlady said them that merried for money didn't deserve the blessin'
of a good wife. Money was a great thing when them that had it made a
good use of it. She had seen better days herself, and knew what it was
never to want for anything. One of her cousins merried a very rich old
gentleman, and she had heerd that he said he lived ten year longer than
if he'd staid by himself without anybody to take care of him. There was
nothin' like a wife for nussin' sick folks and them that couldn't take
care of themselves.
The young man John got off a little wink, and pointed slyly with his
thumb in the direction of our diminutive friend, for whom he seemed to
think this speech was intended.
If it was meant for him, he did n't appear to know that it was. Indeed,
he seems somewhat listless of late, except when the conversation falls
upon one of those larger topics that specially interest him, and then he
grows excited, speaks loud and fast, sometimes almost savagely,—and, I
have noticed once or twice, presses his left hand to his right side, as
if there were something that ached, or weighed, or throbbed in that
While he speaks in this way, the general conversation is interrupted, and
we all listen to him. Iris looks steadily in his face, and then he will
turn as if magnetized and meet the amber eyes with his own melancholy
gaze. I do believe that they have some kind of understanding together,
that they meet elsewhere than at our table, and that there is a mystery,
which is going to break upon us all of a sudden, involving the relations
of these two persons. From the very first, they have taken to each
other. The one thing they have in common is the heroic will. In him, it
shows itself in thinking his way straightforward, in doing battle for
"free trade and no right of search" on the high seas of religious
controversy, and especially in fighting the battles of his crooked old
city. In her, it is standing up for her little friend with the most
queenly disregard of the code of boarding-house etiquette. People may
say or look what they like,—she will have her way about this sentiment
The Poor Relation is in a dreadful fidget whenever the Little Gentleman
says anything that interferes with her own infallibility. She seems to
think Faith must go with her face tied up, as if she had the
toothache,—and that if she opens her mouth to the quarter the wind blows
from, she will catch her "death o' cold."
The landlady herself came to him one day, as I have found out, and tried
to persuade him to hold his tongue.—The boarders was gettin'
uneasy,—she said,—and some of 'em would go, she mistrusted, if he
talked any more about things that belonged to the ministers to settle.
She was a poor woman, that had known better days, but all her livin'
depended on her boarders, and she was sure there was n't any of 'em she
set so much by as she did by him; but there was them that never liked to
hear about sech things, except on Sundays.
The Little Gentleman looked very smiling at the landlady, who smiled even
more cordially in return, and adjusted her cap-ribbon with an unconscious
movement,—a reminiscence of the long-past pairing-time, when she had
smoothed her locks and softened her voice, and won her mate by these and
other bird-like graces.—My dear Madam,—he said,—I will remember your
interests, and speak only of matters to which I am totally
indifferent.—I don't doubt he meant this; but a day or two after,
something stirred him up, and I heard his voice uttering itself aloud,
-It must be done, Sir!—he was saying,—it must be done! Our religion
has been Judaized, it has been Romanized, it has been Orientalized, it
has been Anglicized, and the time is at hand when it must be
AMERICANIZED! Now, Sir, you see what Americanizing is in politics;—it
means that a man shall have a vote because he is a man,—and shall vote
for whom he pleases, without his neighbor's interference. If he chooses
to vote for the Devil, that is his lookout;—perhaps he thinks the Devil
is better than the other candidates; and I don't doubt he's often right,
Sir. Just so a man's soul has a vote in the spiritual community; and it
doesn't do, Sir, or it won't do long, to call him "schismatic" and
"heretic" and those other wicked names that the old murderous Inquisitors
have left us to help along "peace and goodwill to men"!
As long as you could catch a man and drop him into an oubliette, or pull
him out a few inches longer by machinery, or put a hot iron through his
tongue, or make him climb up a ladder and sit on a board at the top of a
stake so that he should be slowly broiled by the fire kindled round it,
there was some sense in these words; they led to something. But since we
have done with those tools, we had better give up those words. I should
like to see a Yankee advertisement like this!—(the Little Gentleman
laughed fiercely as he uttered the words,—)
—Patent thumb-screws,—will crush the bone in three turns.
—The cast-iron boot, with wedge and mallet, only five dollars!
—The celebrated extension-rack, warranted to stretch a man six inches in
twenty minutes,—money returned, if it proves unsatisfactory.
I should like to see such an advertisement, I say, Sir! Now, what's the
use of using the words that belonged with the thumb-screws, and the
Blessed Virgin with the knives under her petticoats and sleeves and
bodice, and the dry pan and gradual fire, if we can't have the things
themselves, Sir? What's the use of painting the fire round a poor
fellow, when you think it won't do to kindle one under him,—as they did
at Valencia or Valladolid, or wherever it was?
—What story is that?—I said.
Why,—he answered,—at the last auto-da-fe, in 1824 or '5, or somewhere
there,—it's a traveller's story, but a mighty knowing traveller he
is,—they had a "heretic" to use up according to the statutes provided
for the crime of private opinion. They could n't quite make up their
minds to burn him, so they only hung him in a hogshead painted all over
No, Sir! when a man calls you names because you go to the ballot-box and
vote for your candidate, or because you say this or that is your opinion,
he forgets in which half of the world he was born, Sir! It won't be
long, Sir, before we have Americanized religion as we have Americanized
government; and then, Sir, every soul God sends into the world will be
good in the face of all men for just so much of His "inspiration" as
"giveth him understanding"!—None of my words, Sir! none of my words!
—If Iris does not love this Little Gentleman, what does love look like
when one sees it? She follows him with her eyes, she leans over toward
him when he speaks, her face changes with the changes of his speech, so
that one might think it was with her as with Christabel,—
That all her features were resigned
To this sole image in her mind.
But she never looks at him with such intensity of devotion as when he
says anything about the soul and the soul's atmosphere, religion.
Women are twice as religious as men;—all the world knows that. Whether
they are any better, in the eyes of Absolute Justice, might be
questioned; for the additional religious element supplied by sex hardly
seems to be a matter of praise or blame. But in all common aspects they
are so much above us that we get most of our religion from them,—from
their teachings, from their example,—above all, from their pure
Now this poor little Iris had been talked to strangely in her childhood.
Especially she had been told that she hated all good things,—which every
sensible parent knows well enough is not true of a great many children,
to say the least. I have sometimes questioned whether many libels on
human nature had not been a natural consequence of the celibacy of the
clergy, which was enforced for so long a period.
The child had met this and some other equally encouraging statements as
to her spiritual conditions, early in life, and fought the battle of
spiritual independence prematurely, as many children do. If all she did
was hateful to God, what was the meaning of the approving or else the
disapproving conscience, when she had done "right" or "wrong"? No
"shoulder-striker" hits out straighter than a child with its logic. Why,
I can remember lying in my bed in the nursery and settling questions
which all that I have heard since and got out of books has never been
able to raise again. If a child does not assert itself in this way in
good season, it becomes just what its parents or teachers were, and is no
better than a plastic image.—How old was I at the time?—I suppose
about 5823 years old,—that is, counting from Archbishop Usher's date of
the Creation, and adding the life of the race, whose accumulated
intelligence is a part of my inheritance, to my own. A good deal older
than Plato, you see, and much more experienced than my Lord Bacon and
most of the world's teachers.—Old books, as you well know, are books of
the world's youth, and new books are fruits of its age. How many of all
these ancient folios round me are like so many old cupels! The gold has
passed out of them long ago, but their pores are full of the dross with
which it was mingled.
And so Iris—having thrown off that first lasso which not only fetters,
but chokes those whom it can hold, so that they give themselves up
trembling and breathless to the great soul-subduer, who has them by the
windpipe had settled a brief creed for herself, in which love of the
neighbor, whom we have seen, was the first article, and love of the
Creator, whom we have not seen, grew out of this as its natural
development, being necessarily second in order of time to the first
unselfish emotions which we feel for the fellow-creatures who surround us
in our early years.
The child must have some place of worship. What would a young girl be
who never mingled her voice with the songs and prayers that rose all
around her with every returning day of rest? And Iris was free to
choose. Sometimes one and sometimes another would offer to carry her to
this or that place of worship; and when the doors were hospitably opened,
she would often go meekly in by herself. It was a curious fact, that two
churches as remote from each other in doctrine as could well be divided
The Church of Saint Polycarp had very much the look of a Roman Catholic
chapel. I do not wish to run the risk of giving names to the
ecclesiastical furniture which gave it such a Romish aspect; but there
were pictures, and inscriptions in antiquated characters, and there were
reading-stands, and flowers on the altar, and other elegant arrangements.
Then there were boys to sing alternately in choirs responsive to each
other, and there was much bowing, with very loud responding, and a long
service and a short sermon, and a bag, such as Judas used to hold in the
old pictures, was carried round to receive contributions. Everything was
done not only "decently and in order," but, perhaps one might say, with a
certain air of magnifying their office on the part of the dignified
clergymen, often two or three in number. The music and the free welcome
were grateful to Iris, and she forgot her prejudices at the door of the
chapel. For this was a church with open doors, with seats for all
classes and all colors alike,—a church of zealous worshippers after
their faith, of charitable and serviceable men and women, one that took
care of its children and never forgot its poor, and whose people were
much more occupied in looking out for their own souls than in attacking
the faith of their neighbors. In its mode of worship there was a union
of two qualities,—the taste and refinement, which the educated require
just as much in their churches as elsewhere, and the air of stateliness,
almost of pomp, which impresses the common worshipper, and is often not
without its effect upon those who think they hold outward forms as of
little value. Under the half-Romish aspect of the Church of Saint
Polycarp, the young girl found a devout and loving and singularly
cheerful religious spirit. The artistic sense, which betrayed itself in
the dramatic proprieties of its ritual, harmonized with her taste. The
mingled murmur of the loud responses, in those rhythmic phrases, so
simple, yet so fervent, almost as if every tenth heart-beat, instead of
its dull tic-tac, articulated itself as "Good Lord, deliver us! "—the
sweet alternation of the two choirs, as their holy song floated from side
to side, the keen young voices rising like a flight of singing-birds that
passes from one grove to another, carrying its music with it back and
forward,—why should she not love these gracious outward signs of those
inner harmonies which none could deny made beautiful the lives of many of
her fellow-worshippers in the humble, yet not inelegant Chapel of Saint
The young Marylander, who was born and bred to that mode of worship, had
introduced her to the chapel, for which he did the honors for such of our
boarders as were not otherwise provided for. I saw them looking over the
same prayer-book one Sunday, and I could not help thinking that two such
young and handsome persons could hardly worship together in safety for a
great while. But they seemed to mind nothing but their prayer-book.
By-and-by the silken bag was handed round.—I don't believe she will; so
awkward, you know;—besides, she only came by invitation. There she is,
with her hand in her pocket, though,—and sure enough, her little bit of
silver tinkled as it struck the coin beneath. God bless her! she has n't
much to give; but her eye glistens when she gives it, and that is all
Heaven asks.—That was the first time I noticed these young people
together, and I am sure they behaved with the most charming
propriety,—in fact, there was one of our silent lady-boarders with them,
whose eyes would have kept Cupid and Psyche to their good behavior. A
day or two after this I noticed that the young gentleman had left his
seat, which you may remember was at the corner diagonal to that of Iris,
so that they have been as far removed from each other as they could be at
the table. His new seat is three or four places farther down the table.
Of course I made a romance out of this, at once. So stupid not to see
it! How could it be otherwise?—Did you speak, Madam? I beg your
pardon. (To my lady-reader.)
I never saw anything like the tenderness with which this young girl
treats her little deformed neighbor. If he were in the way of going to
church, I know she would follow him. But his worship, if any, is not
with the throng of men and women and staring children.
I, the Professor, on the other hand, am a regular church-goer. I should
go for various reasons if I did not love it; but I am happy enough to
find great pleasure in the midst of devout multitudes, whether I can
accept all their creeds or not. One place of worship comes nearer than
the rest to my ideal standard, and to this it was that I carried our
The Church of the Galileans, as it is called, is even humbler in outside
pretensions than the Church of Saint Polycarp. Like that, it is open to
all comers. The stranger who approaches it looks down a quiet street and
sees the plainest of chapels,—a kind of wooden tent, that owes whatever
grace it has to its pointed windows and the high, sharp roofs—traces,
both, of that upward movement of ecclesiastical architecture which soared
aloft in cathedral-spires, shooting into the sky as the spike of a
flowering aloe from the cluster of broad, sharp-wedged leaves below.
This suggestion of medieval symbolism, aided by a minute turret in which
a hand-bell might have hung and found just room enough to turn over, was
all of outward show the small edifice could boast. Within there was very
little that pretended to be attractive. A small organ at one side, and a
plain pulpit, showed that the building was a church; but it was a church
reduced to its simplest expression:
Yet when the great and wise monarch of the East sat upon his throne, in
all the golden blaze of the spoils of Ophir and the freights of the navy
of Tarshish, his glory was not like that of this simple chapel in its
Sunday garniture. For the lilies of the field, in their season, and the
fairest flowers of the year, in due succession, were clustered every
Sunday morning over the preacher's desk. Slight, thin-tissued blossoms
of pink and blue and virgin white in early spring, then the full-breasted
and deep-hearted roses of summer, then the velvet-robed crimson and
yellow flowers of autumn, and in the winter delicate exotics that grew
under skies of glass in the false summers of our crystal palaces without
knowing that it was the dreadful winter of New England which was rattling
the doors and frosting the panes,—in their language the whole year told
its history of life and growth and beauty from that simple desk. There
was always at least one good sermon,—this floral homily. There was at
least one good prayer,—that brief space when all were silent, after the
manner of the Friends at their devotions.
Here, too, Iris found an atmosphere of peace and love. The same gentle,
thoughtful faces, the same cheerful but reverential spirit, the same
quiet, the same life of active benevolence. But in all else how
different from the Church of Saint Polycarp! No clerical costume, no
ceremonial forms, no carefully trained choirs. A liturgy they have, to
be sure, which does not scruple to borrow from the time-honored manuals
of devotion, but also does not hesitate to change its expressions to its
Perhaps the good people seem a little easy with each other;—they are apt
to nod familiarly, and have even been known to whisper before the
minister came in. But it is a relief to get rid of that old
Sunday—no,—Sabbath face, which suggests the idea that the first day of
the week is commemorative of some most mournful event. The truth is,
these brethren and sisters meet very much as a family does for its
devotions, not putting off their humanity in the least, considering it on
the whole quite a delightful matter to come together for prayer and song
and good counsel from kind and wise lips. And if they are freer in their
demeanor than some very precise congregations, they have not the air of a
worldly set of people. Clearly they have not come to advertise their
tailors and milliners, nor for the sake of exchanging criticisms on the
literary character of the sermon they may hear. There is no
restlessness and no restraint among these quiet, cheerful worshippers.
One thing that keeps them calm and happy during the season so evidently
trying to many congregations is, that they join very generally in the
singing. In this way they get rid of that accumulated nervous force
which escapes in all sorts of fidgety movements, so that a minister
trying to keep his congregation still reminds one of a boy with his hand
over the nose of a pump which another boy is working,—this spirting
impatience of the people is so like the jets that find their way through
his fingers, and the grand rush out at the final Amen! has such a
wonderful likeness to the gush that takes place when the boy pulls his
hand away, with immense relief, as it seems, to both the pump and the
How sweet is this blending of all voices and all hearts in one common
song of praise! Some will sing a little loud, perhaps,—and now and then
an impatient chorister will get a syllable or two in advance, or an
enchanted singer so lose all thought of time and place in the luxury of a
closing cadence that he holds on to the last semi-breve upon his private
responsibility; but how much more of the spirit of the old Psalmist in
the music of these imperfectly trained voices than in the academic
niceties of the paid performers who take our musical worship out of our
I am of the opinion that the creed of the Church of the Galileans is not
laid down in as many details as that of the Church of Saint Polycarp.
Yet I suspect, if one of the good people from each of those churches had
met over the bed of a suffering fellow-creature, or for the promotion of
any charitable object, they would have found they had more in common than
all the special beliefs or want of beliefs that separated them would
amount to. There are always many who believe that the fruits of a tree
afford a better test of its condition than a statement of the composts
with which it is dressed, though the last has its meaning and importance,
Between these two churches, then, our young Iris divides her affections.
But I doubt if she listens to the preacher at either with more devotion
than she does to her little neighbor when he talks of these matters.
What does he believe? In the first place, there is some deep-rooted
disquiet lying at the bottom of his soul, which makes him very bitter
against all kinds of usurpation over the right of private judgment. Over
this seems to lie a certain tenderness for humanity in general, bred out
of life-long trial, I should say, but sharply streaked with fiery lines
of wrath at various individual acts of wrong, especially if they come in
an ecclesiastical shape, and recall to him the days when his mother's
great-grandmother was strangled on Witch Hill, with a text from the Old
Testament for her halter. With all this, he has a boundless belief in
the future of this experimental hemisphere, and especially in the destiny
of the free thought of its northeastern metropolis.
—A man can see further, Sir,—he said one day,—from the top of Boston
State House, and see more that is worth seeing, than from all the
pyramids and turrets and steeples in all the places in the world! No
smoke, Sir; no fog, Sir; and a clean sweep from the Outer Light and the
sea beyond it to the New Hampshire mountains! Yes, Sir,—and there are
great truths that are higher than mountains and broader than seas, that
people are looking for from the tops of these hills of ours;—such as the
world never saw, though it might have seen them at Jerusalem, if its eyes
had been open!—Where do they have most crazy people? Tell me that, Sir!
I answered, that I had heard it said there were more in New England than
in most countries, perhaps more than in any part of the world.
Very good, Sir,—he answered.—When have there been most people killed
and wounded in the course of this century?
During the wars of the French Empire, no doubt,—I said.
That's it! that's it!—said the Little Gentleman;—where the battle of
intelligence is fought, there are most minds bruised and broken! We're
battling for a faith here, Sir.
The divinity-student remarked, that it was rather late in the world's
history for men to be looking out for a new faith.
I did n't say a new faith,—said the Little Gentleman;—old or new, it
can't help being different here in this American mind of ours from
anything that ever was before; the people are new, Sir, and that makes
the difference. One load of corn goes to the sty, and makes the fat of
swine,—another goes to the farm-house, and becomes the muscle that
clothes the right arms of heroes. It is n't where a pawn stands on the
board that makes the difference, but what the game round it is when it is
on this or that square.
Can any man look round and see what Christian countries are now doing,
and how they are governed, and what is the general condition of society,
without seeing that Christianity is the flag under which the world sails,
and not the rudder that steers its course? No, Sir! There was a great
raft built about two thousand years ago,—call it an ark, rather,—the
world's great ark! big enough to hold all mankind, and made to be
launched right out into the open waves of life,—and here it has been
lying, one end on the shore and one end bobbing up and down in the water,
men fighting all the time as to who should be captain and who should have
the state-rooms, and throwing each other over the side because they could
not agree about the points of compass, but the great vessel never getting
afloat with its freight of nations and their rulers;—and now, Sir, there
is and has been for this long time a fleet of "heretic" lighters sailing
out of Boston Bay, and they have been saying, and they say now, and they
mean to keep saying, "Pump out your bilge-water, shovel over your loads
of idle ballast, get out your old rotten cargo, and we will carry it out
into deep waters and sink it where it will never be seen again; so shall
the ark of the world's hope float on the ocean, instead of sticking in
the dock-mud where it is lying!"
It's a slow business, this of getting the ark launched. The Jordan was
n't deep enough, and the Tiber was n't deep enough, and the Rhone was n't
deep enough, and the Thames was n't deep enough, and perhaps the Charles
is n't deep enough; but I don't feel sure of that, Sir, and I love to
hear the workmen knocking at the old blocks of tradition and making the
ways smooth with the oil of the Good Samaritan. I don't know, Sir,—but
I do think she stirs a little,—I do believe she slides;—and when I
think of what a work that is for the dear old three-breasted mother of
American liberty, I would not take all the glory of all the greatest
cities in the world for my birthright in the soil of little Boston!
—Some of us could not help smiling at this burst of local patriotism,
especially when it finished with the last two words.
And Iris smiled, too. But it was the radiant smile of pleasure which
always lights up her face when her little neighbor gets excited on the
great topics of progress in freedom and religion, and especially on the
part which, as he pleases himself with believing, his own city is to take
in that consummation of human development to which he looks forward.
Presently she looked into his face with a changed expression,—the
anxiety of a mother that sees her child suffering.
You are not well,—she said.
I am never well,—he answered.—His eyes fell mechanically on the
death's-head ring he wore on his right hand. She took his hand as if it
had been a baby's, and turned the grim device so that it should be out of
sight. One slight, sad, slow movement of the head seemed to say, "The
death-symbol is still there!"
A very odd personage, to be sure! Seems to know what is going on,
—reads books, old and new,—has many recent publications sent him, they
tell me, but, what is more curious, keeps up with the everyday affairs of
the world, too. Whether he hears everything that is said with
preternatural acuteness, or whether some confidential friend visits him
in a quiet way, is more than I can tell. I can make nothing more of the
noises I hear in his room than my old conjectures. The movements I
mention are less frequent, but I often hear the plaintive cry,—I observe
that it is rarely laughing of late;—I never have detected one articulate
word, but I never heard such tones from anything but a human voice.
There has been, of late, a deference approaching to tenderness, on the
part of the boarders generally so far as he is concerned. This is
doubtless owing to the air of suffering which seems to have saddened his
look of late. Either some passion is gnawing at him inwardly, or some
hidden disease is at work upon him.
—What 's the matter with Little Boston?—said the young man John to me
one day.—There a'n't much of him, anyhow; but 't seems to me he looks
peakeder than ever. The old woman says he's in a bad way, 'n' wants a
puss to take care of him. Them pusses that take care of old rich folks
marry 'em sometimes,—'n' they don't commonly live a great while after
that. No, Sir! I don't see what he wants to die for, after he's taken
so much trouble to live in such poor accommodations as that crooked body
of his. I should like to know how his soul crawled into it, 'n' how it's
goin' to get out. What business has he to die, I should like to know?
Let Ma'am Allen (the gentleman with the diamond) die, if he likes, and be
(this is a family-magazine); but we a'n't goin' to have him dyin'. Not
by a great sight. Can't do without him anyhow. A'n't it fun to hear him
blow off his steam?
I believe the young fellow would take it as a personal insult, if the
Little Gentleman should show any symptoms of quitting our table for a
—In the mean time, what with going to church in company with our young
lady, and taking every chance I could get to talk with her, I have found
myself becoming, I will not say intimate, but well acquainted with Miss
Iris. There is a certain frankness and directness about her that perhaps
belong to her artist nature. For, you see, the one thing that marks the
true artist is a clear perception and a firm, bold hand, in distinction
from that imperfect mental vision and uncertain touch which give us the
feeble pictures and the lumpy statues of the mere artisans on canvas or
in stone. A true artist, therefore, can hardly fail to have a sharp,
well-defined mental physiognomy. Besides this, many young girls have a
strange audacity blended with their instinctive delicacy. Even in
physical daring many of them are a match for boys; whereas you will find
few among mature women, and especially if they are mothers, who do not
confess, and not unfrequently proclaim, their timidity. One of these
young girls, as many of us hereabouts remember, climbed to the top of a
jagged, slippery rock lying out in the waves,—an ugly height to get up,
and a worse one to get down, even for a bold young fellow of sixteen.
Another was in the way of climbing tall trees for crows' nests,—and
crows generally know about how far boys can "shin up," and set their
household establishments above that high-water mark. Still another of
these young ladies I saw for the first time in an open boat, tossing on
the ocean ground-swell, a mile or two from shore, off a lonely island.
She lost all her daring, after she had some girls of her own to look out
Many blondes are very gentle, yielding in character, impressible,
unelastic. But the positive blondes, with the golden tint running
through them, are often full of character. They come, probably enough,
from those deep-bosomed German women that Tacitus portrayed in such
strong colors. The negative blondes, or those women whose tints have
faded out as their line of descent has become impoverished, are of
various blood, and in them the soul has often become pale with that
blanching of the hair and loss of color in the eyes which makes them
approach the character of Albinesses.
I see in this young girl that union of strength and sensibility which,
when directed and impelled by the strong instinct so apt to accompany
this combination of active and passive capacity, we call genius. She is
not an accomplished artist, certainly, as yet; but there is always an air
in every careless figure she draws, as it were of upward aspiration,—the
elan of John of Bologna's Mercury,—a lift to them, as if they had on
winged sandals, like the herald of the Gods. I hear her singing
sometimes; and though she evidently is not trained, yet is there a wild
sweetness in her fitful and sometimes fantastic melodies,—such as can
come only from the inspiration of the moment,—strangely enough,
reminding me of those long passages I have heard from my little
neighbor's room, yet of different tone, and by no means to be mistaken
for those weird harmonies.
I cannot pretend to deny that I am interested in the girl. Alone,
unprotected, as I have seen so many young girls left in boarding-houses,
the centre of all the men's eyes that surround the table, watched with
jealous sharpness by every woman, most of all by that poor relation of
our landlady, who belongs to the class of women that like to catch others
in mischief when they themselves are too mature for indiscretions, (as
one sees old rogues turn to thief-catchers,) one of Nature's gendarmerie,
clad in a complete suit of wrinkles, the cheapest coat-of-mail against
the shafts of the great little enemy,—so surrounded, Iris spans this
commonplace household-life of ours with her arch of beauty, as the
rainbow, whose name she borrows, looks down on a dreary pasture with its
feeding flocks and herds of indifferent animals.
These young girls that live in boarding-houses can do pretty much as they
will. The female gendarmes are off guard occasionally. The sitting-room
has its solitary moments, when any two boarders who wish to meet may come
together accidentally, (accidentally, I said, Madam, and I had not the
slightest intention of Italicizing the word,) and discuss the social or
political questions of the day, or any other subject that may prove
interesting. Many charming conversations take place at the foot of the
stairs, or while one of the parties is holding the latch of a door,—in
the shadow of porticoes, and especially on those outside balconies which
some of our Southern neighbors call "stoops," the most charming places in
the world when the moon is just right and the roses and honeysuckles are
in full blow,—as we used to think in eighteen hundred and never mention
On such a balcony or "stoop," one evening, I walked with Iris. We were
on pretty good terms now, and I had coaxed her arm under mine,—my left
arm, of course. That leaves one's right arm free to defend the lovely
creature, if the rival—odious wretch! attempt, to ravish her from your
side. Likewise if one's heart should happen to beat a little, its mute
language will not be without its meaning, as you will perceive when the
arm you hold begins to tremble, a circumstance like to occur, if you
happen to be a good-looking young fellow, and you two have the "stoop" to
We had it to ourselves that evening. The Koh-inoor, as we called him,
was in a corner with our landlady's daughter. The young fellow John was
smoking out in the yard. The gendarme was afraid of the evening air, and
kept inside, The young Marylander came to the door, looked out and saw us
walking together, gave his hat a pull over his forehead and stalked off.
I felt a slight spasm, as it were, in the arm I held, and saw the girl's
head turn over her shoulder for a second. What a kind creature this is!
She has no special interest in this youth, but she does not like to see a
young fellow going off because he feels as if he were not wanted.
She had her locked drawing-book under her arm.—Let me take it,—I said.
She gave it to me to carry.
This is full of caricatures of all of us, I am sure,—said I.
She laughed, and said,—No,—not all of you.
I was there, of course?
Why, no,—she had never taken so much pains with me.
Then she would let me see the inside of it?
She would think of it.
Just as we parted, she took a little key from her pocket and handed it to
me. This unlocks my naughty book,—she said,—you shall see it. I am
not afraid of you.
I don't know whether the last words exactly pleased me. At any rate, I
took the book and hurried with it to my room. I opened it, and saw, in a
few glances, that I held the heart of Iris in my hand.
—I have no verses for you this month, except these few lines suggested
by the season.
Here! sweep these foolish leaves away,
I will not crush my brains to-day!
Look! are the southern curtains drawn?
Fetch me a fan, and so begone!
Not that,—the palm-tree's rustling leaf
Brought from a parching coral-reef!
Its breath is heated;—I would swing
The broad gray plumes,—the eagle's wing.
I hate these roses' feverish blood!
Pluck me a half-blown lily-bud,
A long-stemmed lily from the lake,
Cold as a coiling water-snake.
Rain me sweet odors on the air,
And wheel me up my Indian chair,
And spread some book not overwise
Flat out before my sleepy eyes.
—Who knows it not,—this dead recoil
Of weary fibres stretched with toil,
The pulse that flutters faint and low
When Summer's seething breezes blow?
O Nature! bare thy loving breast
And give thy child one hour of rest,
One little hour to lie unseen
Beneath thy scarf of leafy green!
So, curtained by a singing pine,
Its murmuring voice shall blend with mine,
Till, lost in dreams, my faltering lay
In sweeter music dies away.
IRIS, HER BOOK
I pray thee by the soul of her that bore thee,
By thine own sister's spirit I implore thee,
Deal gently with the leaves that lie before thee!
For Iris had no mother to infold her,
Nor ever leaned upon a sister's shoulder,
Telling the twilight thoughts that Nature told her.
She had not learned the mystery of awaking
Those chorded keys that soothe a sorrow's aching,
Giving the dumb heart voice, that else were breaking.
Yet lived, wrought, suffered. Lo, the pictured token!
Why should her fleeting day-dreams fade unspoken,
Like daffodils that die with sheaths unbroken?
She knew not love, yet lived in maiden fancies,
Walked simply clad, a queen of high romances,
And talked strange tongues with angels in her trances.
Twin-souled she seemed, a twofold nature wearing,
Sometimes a flashing falcon in her daring,
Then a poor mateless dove that droops despairing.
Questioning all things: Why her Lord had sent her?
What were these torturing gifts, and wherefore lent her?
Scornful as spirit fallen, its own tormentor.
And then all tears and anguish: Queen of Heaven,
Sweet Saints, and Thou by mortal sorrows riven,
Save me! oh, save me! Shall I die forgiven?
And then—Ah, God! But nay, it little matters
Look at the wasted seeds that autumn scatters,
The myriad germs that Nature shapes and shatters!
If she had—Well! She longed, and knew not wherefore
Had the world nothing she might live to care for?
No second self to say her evening prayer for?
She knew the marble shapes that set men dreaming,
Yet with her shoulders bare and tresses streaming
Showed not unlovely to her simple seeming.
Vain? Let it be so! Nature was her teacher.
What if a lonely and unsistered creature
Loved her own harmless gift of pleasing feature,
Saying, unsaddened,—This shall soon be faded,
And double-hued the shining tresses braided,
And all the sunlight of the morning shaded?
—This her poor book is full of saddest follies,
Of tearful smiles and laughing melancholies,
With summer roses twined and wintry hollies.
In the strange crossing of uncertain chances,
Somewhere, beneath some maiden's tear-dimmed glances
May fall her little book of dreams and fancies.
Sweet sister! Iris, who shall never name thee,
Trembling for fear her open heart may shame thee,
Speaks from this vision-haunted page to claim thee.
Spare her, I pray thee! If the maid is sleeping,
Peace with her! she has had her hour of weeping.
No more! She leaves her memory in thy keeping.
These verses were written in the first leaves of the locked volume. As I
turned the pages, I hesitated for a moment. Is it quite fair to take
advantage of a generous, trusting impulse to read the unsunned depths of
a young girl's nature, which I can look through, as the balloon-voyagers
tell us they see from their hanging-baskets through the translucent
waters which the keenest eye of such as sail over them in ships might
strive to pierce in vain? Why has the child trusted me with such artless
confessions,—self-revelations, which might be whispered by trembling
lips, under the veil of twilight, in sacred confessionals, but which I
cannot look at in the light of day without a feeling of wronging a sacred
To all this the answer seemed plain enough after a little thought. She
did not know how fearfully she had disclosed herself; she was too
profoundly innocent. Her soul was no more ashamed than the fair shapes
that walked in Eden without a thought of over-liberal loveliness. Having
nobody to tell her story to,—having, as she said in her verses, no
musical instrument to laugh and cry with her,—nothing, in short, but the
language of pen and pencil,—all the veinings of her nature were
impressed on these pages as those of a fresh leaf are transferred to the
blank sheets which inclose it. It was the same thing which I remember
seeing beautifully shown in a child of some four or five years we had one
day at our boarding-house. The child was a deaf mute. But its soul had
the inner sense that answers to hearing, and the shaping capacity which
through natural organs realizes itself in words. Only it had to talk
with its face alone; and such speaking eyes, such rapid alternations of
feeling and shifting expressions of thought as flitted over its face, I
have never seen in any other human countenance.
I wonder if something of spiritual transparency is not typified in the
golden-blonde organization. There are a great many little
creatures,—many small fishes, for instance,—which are literally
transparent, with the exception of some of the internal organs. The
heart can be seen beating as if in a case of clouded crystal. The
central nervous column with its sheath runs as a dark stripe through the
whole length of the diaphanous muscles of the body. Other little
creatures are so darkened with pigment that we can see only their
surface. Conspirators and poisoners are painted with black, beady-eyes
and swarthy hue; Judas, in Leonardo's picture, is the model of them all.
However this may be, I should say there never had been a book like this
of Iris,—so full of the heart's silent language, so transparent that the
heart itself could be seen beating through it. I should say there never
could have been such a book, but for one recollection, which is not
peculiar to myself, but is shared by a certain number of my former
townsmen. If you think I over-color this matter of the young girl's
book, hear this, which there are others, as I just said, besides myself,
will tell you is strictly true.
THE BOOK OF THE THREE MAIDEN SISTERS.
In the town called Cantabridge, now a city, water-veined and gas
windpiped, in the street running down to the Bridge, beyond which dwelt
Sally, told of in a book of a friend of mine, was of old a house
inhabited by three maidens. They left no near kinsfolk, I believe;
whether they did or not, I have no ill to speak of them; for they lived
and died in all good report and maidenly credit. The house they lived in
was of the small, gambrel-roofed cottage pattern, after the shape of
Esquires' houses, but after the size of the dwellings of handicraftsmen.
The lower story was fitted up as a shop. Specially was it provided with
one of those half-doors now so rarely met with, which are to whole doors
as spencers worn by old folk are to coats. They speak of limited
commerce united with a social or observing disposition—on the part of
the shopkeeper,—allowing, as they do, talk with passers-by, yet keeping
off such as have not the excuse of business to cross the threshold. On
the door-posts, at either side, above the half-door, hung certain
perennial articles of merchandise, of which my memory still has hanging
among its faded photographs a kind of netted scarf and some pairs of
thick woollen stockings. More articles, but not very many, were stored
inside; and there was one drawer, containing children's books, out of
which I once was treated to a minute quarto ornamented with handsome
cuts. This was the only purchase I ever knew to be made at the shop kept
by the three maiden ladies, though it is probable there were others. So
long as I remember the shop, the same scarf and, I should say, the same
stockings hung on the door-posts.—You think I am exaggerating again, and
that shopkeepers would not keep the same article exposed for years. Come
to me, the Professor, and I will take you in five minutes to a shop in
this city where I will show you an article hanging now in the very place
where more than thirty years ago I myself inquired the price of it of the
present head of the establishment. [ This was a glass alembic, which hung
up in Daniel Henchman's apothecary shop, corner of Cambridge and Chambers
The three maidens were of comely presence, and one of them had had claims
to be considered a Beauty. When I saw them in the old meeting-house on
Sundays, as they rustled in through the aisles in silks and satins, not
gay, but more than decent, as I remember them, I thought of My Lady
Bountiful in the history of "Little King Pippin," and of the Madam Blaize
of Goldsmith (who, by the way, must have taken the hint of it from a
pleasant poem, "Monsieur de la Palisse," attributed to De la Monnoye, in
the collection of French songs before me). There was some story of an
old romance in which the Beauty had played her part. Perhaps they all
had had lovers; for, as I said, they were shapely and seemly personages,
as I remember them; but their lives were out of the flower and in the
berry at the time of my first recollections.
One after another they all three dropped away, objects of kindly
attention to the good people round, leaving little or almost nothing, and
nobody to inherit it. Not absolutely nothing, of course. There must
have been a few old dresses—perhaps some bits of furniture, a Bible, and
the spectacles the good old souls read it through, and little keepsakes,
such as make us cry to look at, when we find them in old drawers;—such
relics there must have been. But there was more. There was a manuscript
of some hundred pages, closely written, in which the poor things had
chronicled for many years the incidents of their daily life. After their
death it was passed round somewhat freely, and fell into my hands. How I
have cried and laughed and colored over it! There was nothing in it to
be ashamed of, perhaps there was nothing in it to laugh at, but such a
picture of the mode of being of poor simple good old women I do believe
was never drawn before. And there were all the smallest incidents
recorded, such as do really make up humble life, but which die out of all
mere literary memoirs, as the houses where the Egyptians or the Athenians
lived crumble and leave only their temples standing. I know, for
instance, that on a given day of a certain year, a kindly woman, herself
a poor widow, now, I trust, not without special mercies in heaven for her
good deeds,—for I read her name on a proper tablet in the churchyard a
week ago,—sent a fractional pudding from her own table to the Maiden
Sisters, who, I fear, from the warmth and detail of their description,
were fasting, or at least on short allowance, about that time. I know
who sent them the segment of melon, which in her riotous fancy one of
them compared to those huge barges to which we give the ungracious name
of mudscows. But why should I illustrate further what it seems almost a
breach of confidence to speak of? Some kind friend, who could challenge
a nearer interest than the curious strangers into whose hands the book
might fall, at last claimed it, and I was glad that it should be
henceforth sealed to common eyes. I learned from it that every good and,
alas! every evil act we do may slumber unforgotten even in some earthly
record. I got a new lesson in that humanity which our sharp race finds
it so hard to learn. The poor widow, fighting hard to feed and clothe
and educate her children, had not forgotten the poorer ancient maidens. I
remembered it the other day, as I stood by her place of rest, and I felt
sure that it was remembered elsewhere. I know there are prettier words
than pudding, but I can't help it,—the pudding went upon the record, I
feel sure, with the mite which was cast into the treasury by that other
poor widow whose deed the world shall remember forever, and with the
coats and garments which the good women cried over, when Tabitha, called
by interpretation Dorcas, lay dead in the upper chamber, with her
charitable needlework strewed around her.
—Such was the Book of the Maiden Sisters. You will believe me more
readily now when I tell you that I found the soul of Iris in the one that
lay open before me. Sometimes it was a poem that held it, sometimes a
drawing, angel, arabesque, caricature, or a mere hieroglyphic symbol of
which I could make nothing. A rag of cloud on one page, as I remember,
with a streak of red zigzagging out of it across the paper as naturally
as a crack runs through a China bowl. On the next page a dead
bird,—some little favorite, I suppose; for it was worked out with a
special love, and I saw on the leaf that sign with which once or twice in
my life I have had a letter sealed,—a round spot where the paper is
slightly corrugated, and, if there is writing there, the letters are
somewhat faint and blurred. Most of the pages were surrounded with
emblematic traceries. It was strange to me at first to see how often she
introduced those homelier wild-flowers which we call weeds,—for it
seemed there was none of them too humble for her to love, and none too
little cared for by Nature to be without its beauty for her artist eye
and pencil. By the side of the garden-flowers,—of Spring's curled
darlings, the hyacinths, of rosebuds, dear to sketching maidens, of
flower-de-luces and morning-glories, nay, oftener than these, and more
tenderly caressed by the colored brush that rendered them,—were those
common growths which fling themselves to be crushed under our feet and
our wheels, making themselves so cheap in this perpetual martyrdom that
we forget each of them is a ray of the Divine beauty.
Yellow japanned buttercups and star-disked dandelions,—just as we see
them lying in the grass, like sparks that have leaped from the kindling
sun of summer; the profuse daisy-like flower which whitens the fields, to
the great disgust of liberal shepherds, yet seems fair to loving eyes,
with its button-like mound of gold set round with milk-white rays; the
tall-stemmed succory, setting its pale blue flowers aflame, one after
another, sparingly, as the lights are kindled in the candelabra of
decaying palaces where the heirs of dethroned monarchs are dying out; the
red and white clovers, the broad, flat leaves of the plantain,—"the
white man's foot," as the Indians called it,—the wiry, jointed stems of
that iron creeping plant which we call "knot-grass," and which loves its
life so dearly that it is next to impossible to murder it with a hoe, as
it clings to the cracks of the pavement;—all these plants, and many
more, she wove into her fanciful garlands and borders.—On one of the
pages were some musical notes. I touched them from curiosity on a piano
belonging to one of our boarders. Strange! There are passages that I
have heard before, plaintive, full of some hidden meaning, as if they
were gasping for words to interpret them. She must have heard the
strains that have so excited my curiosity, coming from my neighbor's
chamber. The illuminated border she had traced round the page that held
these notes took the place of the words they seemed to be aching for.
Above, a long monotonous sweep of waves, leaden-hued, anxious and jaded
and sullen, if you can imagine such an expression in water. On one side
an Alpine needle, as it were, of black basalt, girdled with snow. On the
other a threaded waterfall. The red morning-tint that shone in the drops
had a strange look,—one would say the cliff was bleeding;—perhaps she
did not mean it. Below, a stretch of sand, and a solitary bird of prey,
with his wings spread over some unseen object.—And on the very next page
a procession wound along, after the fashion of that on the title-page of
Fuller's "Holy War," in which I recognized without difficulty every
boarder at our table in all the glory of the most resplendent
caricature—three only excepted,—the Little Gentleman, myself, and one
I confess I did expect to see something that would remind me of the
girl's little deformed neighbor, if not portraits of him.—There is a
left arm again, though;—no,—that is from the "Fighting Gladiator," the
"Jeune Heros combattant" of the Louvre;—there is the broad ring of the
shield. From a cast, doubtless. [The separate casts of the
"Gladiator's" arm look immense; but in its place the limb looks light,
almost slender,—such is the perfection of that miraculous marble. I
never felt as if I touched the life of the old Greeks until I looked on
that statue.]—Here is something very odd, to be sure. An Eden of all
the humped and crooked creatures! What could have been in her head when
she worked out such a fantasy? She has contrived to give them all beauty
or dignity or melancholy grace. A Bactrian camel lying under a palm. A
dromedary flashing up the sands,—spray of the dry ocean sailed by the
"ship of the desert." A herd of buffaloes, uncouth, shaggy-maned, heavy
in the forehand, light in the hind-quarter. [The buffalo is the lion of
the ruminants.] And there is a Norman horse, with his huge, rough collar,
echoing, as it were, the natural form of the other beast. And here are
twisted serpents; and stately swans, with answering curves in their bowed
necks, as if they had snake's blood under their white feathers; and
grave, high-shouldered herons standing on one foot like cripples, and
looking at life round them with the cold stare of monumental effigies.—A
very odd page indeed! Not a creature in it without a curve or a twist,
and not one of them a mean figure to look at. You can make your own
comment; I am fanciful, you know. I believe she is trying to idealize
what we vulgarly call deformity, which she strives to look at in the
light of one of Nature's eccentric curves, belonging to her system of
beauty, as the hyperbola, and parabola belong to the conic sections,
though we cannot see them as symmetrical and entire figures, like the
circle and ellipse. At any rate, I cannot help referring this paradise
of twisted spines to some idea floating in her head connected with her
friend whom Nature has warped in the moulding.—That is nothing to
another transcendental fancy of mine. I believe her soul thinks itself
in his little crooked body at times,—if it does not really get freed or
half freed from her own. Did you ever see a case of catalepsy? You know
what I mean,—transient loss of sense, will, and motion; body and limbs
taking any position in which they are put, as if they belonged to a
lay-figure. She had been talking with him and listening to him one day
when the boarders moved from the table nearly all at once. But she sat
as before, her cheek resting on her hand, her amber eyes wide open and
still. I went to her, she was breathing as usual, and her heart was
beating naturally enough,—but she did not answer. I bent her arm; it
was as plastic as softened wax, and kept the place I gave it.—This will
never do, though, and I sprinkled a few drops of water on her forehead.
She started and looked round.—I have been in a dream,—she said;—I
feel as if all my strength were in this arm;—give me your hand!—She
took my right hand in her left, which looked soft and white enough,
but—Good Heaven! I believe she will crack my bones! All the nervous
power in her body must have flashed through those muscles; as when a
crazy lady snaps her iron window-bars,—she who could hardly glove
herself when in her common health. Iris turned pale, and the tears came
to her eyes;—she saw she had given pain. Then she trembled, and might
have fallen but for me;—the poor little soul had been in one of those
trances that belong to the spiritual pathology of higher natures, mostly
those of women.
To come back to this wondrous book of Iris. Two pages faced each other
which I took for symbolical expressions of two states of mind. On the
left hand, a bright blue sky washed over the page, specked with a single
bird. No trace of earth, but still the winged creature seemed to be
soaring upward and upward. Facing it, one of those black dungeons such
as Piranesi alone of all men has pictured. I am sure she must have seen
those awful prisons of his, out of which the Opium-Eater got his
nightmare vision, described by another as "cemeteries of departed
greatness, where monstrous and forbidden things are crawling and twining
their slimy convolutions among mouldering bones, broken sculpture, and
mutilated inscriptions." Such a black dungeon faced the page that held
the blue sky and the single bird; at the bottom of it something was
coiled,—what, and whether meant for dead or alive, my eyes could not
I told you the young girl's soul was in this book. As I turned over the
last leaves I could not help starting. There were all sorts of faces
among the arabesques which laughed and scowled in the borders that ran
round the pages. They had mostly the outline of childish or womanly or
manly beauty, without very distinct individuality. But at last it seemed
to me that some of them were taking on a look not wholly unfamiliar to
me; there were features that did not seem new.—Can it be so? Was there
ever such innocence in a creature so full of life? She tells her heart's
secrets as a three-years-old child betrays itself without need of being
questioned! This was no common miss, such as are turned out in scores
from the young-lady-factories, with parchments warranting them
accomplished and virtuous,—in case anybody should question the fact. I
began to understand her;—and what is so charming as to read the secret
of a real femme incomprise?—for such there are, though they are not the
ones who think themselves uncomprehended women.
Poets are never young, in one sense. Their delicate ear hears the
far-off whispers of eternity, which coarser souls must travel towards for
scores of years before their dull sense is touched by them. A moment's
insight is sometimes worth a life's experience. I have frequently seen
children, long exercised by pain and exhaustion, whose features had a
strange look of advanced age. Too often one meets such in our charitable
institutions. Their faces are saddened and wrinkled, as if their few
summers were threescore years and ten.
And so, many youthful poets have written as if their hearts were old
before their time; their pensive morning twilight has been as cool and
saddening as that of evening in more common lives. The profound
melancholy of those lines of Shelley,
"I could lie down like a tired child
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear."
came from a heart, as he says, "too soon grown old,"—at twenty-six
years, as dull people count time, even when they talk of poets.
I know enough to be prepared for an exceptional nature,—only this gift
of the hand in rendering every thought in form and color, as well as in
words, gives a richness to this young girl's alphabet of feeling and
imagery that takes me by surprise. And then besides, and most of all, I
am puzzled at her sudden and seemingly easy confidence in me. Perhaps I
owe it to my—Well, no matter! How one must love the editor who first
calls him the venerable So-and-So!
—I locked the book and sighed as I laid it down. The world is always
ready to receive talent with open arms. Very often it does not know what
to do with genius. Talent is a docile creature. It bows its head meekly
while the world slips the collar over it. It backs into the shafts like
a lamb. It draws its load cheerfully, and is patient of the bit and of
the whip. But genius is always impatient of its harness; its wild blood
makes it hard to train.
Talent seems, at first, in one sense, higher than genius,—namely, that
it is more uniformly and absolutely submitted to the will, and therefore
more distinctly human in its character. Genius, on the other hand, is
much more like those instincts which govern the admirable movements of
the lower creatures, and therefore seems to have something of the lower
or animal character. A goose flies by a chart which the Royal
Geographical Society could not mend. A poet, like the goose, sails
without visible landmarks to unexplored regions of truth, which
philosophy has yet to lay down on its atlas. The philosopher gets his
track by observation; the poet trusts to his inner sense, and makes the
straighter and swifter line.
And yet, to look at it in another light, is not even the lowest instinct
more truly divine than any voluntary human act done by the suggestion of
reason? What is a bee's architecture but an unobstructed divine
thought?—what is a builder's approximative rule but an obstructed
thought of the Creator, a mutilated and imperfect copy of some absolute
rule Divine Wisdom has established, transmitted through a human soul as
an image through clouded glass?
Talent is a very common family-trait; genius belongs rather to
individuals;—just as you find one giant or one dwarf in a family, but
rarely a whole brood of either. Talent is often to be envied, and genius
very commonly to be pitied. It stands twice the chance of the other of
dying in hospital, in jail, in debt, in bad repute. It is a perpetual
insult to mediocrity; its every word is a trespass against somebody's
vested ideas,—blasphemy against somebody's O'm, or intangible private
—What is the use of my weighing out antitheses in this way, like a
rhetorical grocer?—You know twenty men of talent, who are making their
way in the world; you may, perhaps, know one man of genius, and very
likely do not want to know any more. For a divine instinct, such as
drives the goose southward and the poet heavenward, is a hard thing to
manage, and proves too strong for many whom it possesses. It must have
been a terrible thing to have a friend like Chatterton or Burns. And
here is a being who certainly has more than talent, at once poet and
artist in tendency, if not yet fairly developed,—a woman, too;—and
genius grafted on womanhood is like to overgrow it and break its stem, as
you may see a grafted fruit-tree spreading over the stock which cannot
keep pace with its evolution.
I think now you know something of this young person. She wants nothing
but an atmosphere to expand in. Now and then one meets with a nature for
which our hard, practical New England life is obviously utterly
incompetent. It comes up, as a Southern seed, dropped by accident in one
of our gardens, finds itself trying to grow and blow into flower among
the homely roots and the hardy shrubs that surround it. There is no
question that certain persons who are born among us find themselves many
degrees too far north. Tropical by organization, they cannot fight for
life with our eastern and northwestern breezes without losing the color
and fragrance into which their lives would have blossomed in the latitude
of myrtles and oranges. Strange effects are produced by suffering any
living thing to be developed under conditions such as Nature had not
intended for it. A French physiologist confined some tadpoles under
water in the dark. Removed from the natural stimulus of light, they did
not develop legs and arms at the proper period of their growth, and so
become frogs; they swelled and spread into gigantic tadpoles. I have seen
a hundred colossal human tadpoles, overgrown Zarvce or embryos; nay, I am
afraid we Protestants should look on a considerable proportion of the
Holy Father's one hundred and thirty-nine millions as spiritual larvae,
sculling about in the dark by the aid of their caudal extremities,
instead of standing on their legs, and breathing by gills, instead of
taking the free air of heaven into the lungs made to receive it. Of
course we never try to keep young souls in the tadpole state, for fear
they should get a pair or two of legs by-and-by and jump out of the pool
where they have been bred and fed! Never! Never. Never?
Now to go back to our plant. You may know, that, for the earlier stages
of development of almost any vegetable, you only want air, water, light,
and warmth. But by-and-by, if it is to have special complex principles
as a part of its organization, they must be supplied by the soil;—your
pears will crack, if the root of the tree gets no iron,—your
asparagus-bed wants salt as much as you do. Just at the period of
adolescence, the mind often suddenly begins to come into flower and to
set its fruit. Then it is that many young natures, having exhausted the
spiritual soil round them of all it contains of the elements they demand,
wither away, undeveloped and uncolored, unless they are transplanted.
Pray for these dear young souls! This is the second natural birth;—for
I do not speak of those peculiar religious experiences which form the
point of transition in many lives between the consciousness of a general
relation to the Divine nature and a special personal relation. The
litany should count a prayer for them in the list of its supplications;
masses should be said for them as for souls in purgatory; all good
Christians should remember them as they remember those in peril through
travel or sickness or in warfare.
I would transport this child to Rome at once, if I had my will. She
should ripen under an Italian sun. She should walk under the frescoed
vaults of palaces, until her colors deepened to those of Venetian
beauties, and her forms were perfected into rivalry with the Greek
marbles, and the east wind was out of her soil. Has she not exhausted
this lean soil of the elements her growing nature requires?
I do not know. The magnolia grows and comes into full flower on Cape
Ann, many degrees out of its proper region. I was riding once along that
delicious road between the hills and the sea, when we passed a thicket
where there seemed to be a chance of finding it. In five minutes I had
fallen on the trees in full blossom, and filled my arms with the sweet,
resplendent flowers. I could not believe I was in our cold, northern
Essex, which, in the dreary season when I pass its slate-colored,
unpainted farm-houses, and huge, square, windy, 'squire-built "mansions,"
looks as brown and unvegetating as an old rug with its patterns all
trodden out and the colored fringe worn from all its border.
If the magnolia can bloom in northern New England, why should not a poet
or a painter come to his full growth here just as well? Yes, but if the
gorgeous tree-flower is rare, and only as if by a freak of Nature springs
up in a single spot among the beeches and alders, is there not as much
reason to think the perfumed flower of imaginative genius will find it
hard to be born and harder to spread its leaves in the clear, cold
atmosphere of our ultra-temperate zone of humanity?
Take the poet. On the one hand, I believe that a person with the
poetical faculty finds material everywhere. The grandest objects of
sense and thought are common to all climates and civilizations. The sky,
the woods, the waters, the storms, life, death love, the hope and vision
of eternity,—these are images that write themselves in poetry in every
soul which has anything of the divine gift.
On the other hand, there is such a thing as a lean, impoverished life, in
distinction from a rich and suggestive one. Which our common New England
life might be considered, I will not decide. But there are some things I
think the poet misses in our western Eden. I trust it is not unpatriotic
to mention them in this point of view as they come before us in so many
There is no sufficient flavor of humanity in the soil out of which we
grow. At Cantabridge, near the sea, I have once or twice picked up an
Indian arrowhead in a fresh furrow. At Canoe Meadow, in the Berkshire
Mountains, I have found Indian arrowheads. So everywhere Indian
arrowheads. Whether a hundred or a thousand years old, who knows? who
cares? There is no history to the red race,—there is hardly an
individual in it;—a few instincts on legs and holding a tomahawk—there
is the Indian of all time. The story of one red ant is the story of all
red ants. So, the poet, in trying to wing his way back through the life
that has kindled, flitted, and faded along our watercourses and on our
southern hillsides for unknown generations, finds nothing to breathe or
fly in; he meets
"A vast vacuity! all unawares,
Fluttering his pennons vain, plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fathom deep."
But think of the Old World,—that part of it which is the seat of ancient
civilization! The stakes of the Britons' stockades are still standing in
the bed of the Thames. The ploughman turns up an old Saxon's bones, and
beneath them is a tessellated pavement of the time of the Caesars. In
Italy, the works of mediaeval Art seem to be of yesterday,—Rome, under
her kings, is but an intruding newcomer, as we contemplate her in the
shadow of the Cyclopean walls of Fiesole or Volterra. It makes a man
human to live on these old humanized soils. He cannot help marching in
step with his kind in the rear of such a procession. They say a dead
man's hand cures swellings, if laid on them. There is nothing like the
dead cold hand of the Past to take down our tumid egotism and lead us
into the solemn flow of the life of our race. Rousseau came out of one
of his sad self-torturing fits, as he cast his eye on the arches of the
old Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard.
I am far from denying that there is an attraction in a thriving railroad
village. The new "depot," the smartly-painted pine houses, the spacious
brick hotel, the white meeting-house, and the row of youthful and leggy
trees before it, are exhilarating. They speak of progress, and the time
when there shall be a city, with a His Honor the Mayor, in the place of
their trim but transient architectural growths. Pardon me, if I prefer
the pyramids. They seem to me crystals formed from a stronger solution
of humanity than the steeple of the new meeting-house. I may be wrong,
but the Tiber has a voice for me, as it whispers to the piers of the Pons
Alius, even more full of meaning than my well-beloved Charles eddying
round the piles of West Boston Bridge.
Then, again, we Yankees are a kind of gypsies,—a mechanical and
migratory race. A poet wants a home. He can dispense with an
apple-parer and a reaping-machine. I feel this more for others than for
myself, for the home of my birth and childhood has been as yet exempted
from the change which has invaded almost everything around it.
—Pardon me a short digression. To what small things our memory and our
affections attach themselves! I remember, when I was a child, that one
of the girls planted some Star-of-Bethlehem bulbs in the southwest corner
of our front-yard. Well, I left the paternal roof and wandered in other
lands, and learned to think in the words of strange people. But after
many years, as I looked on the little front-yard again, it occurred to me
that there used to be some Star-of-Bethlehems in the southwest corner.
The grass was tall there, and the blade of the plant is very much like
grass, only thicker and glossier. Even as Tully parted the briers and
brambles when he hunted for the sphere-containing cylinder that marked
the grave of Archimedes, so did I comb the grass with my fingers for my
monumental memorial-flower. Nature had stored my keepsake tenderly in
her bosom; the glossy, faintly streaked blades were there; they are there
still, though they never flower, darkened as they are by the shade of the
elms and rooted in the matted turf.
Our hearts are held down to our homes by innumerable fibres, trivial as
that I have just recalled; but Gulliver was fixed to the soil, you
remember, by pinning his head a hair at a time. Even a stone with a
whitish band crossing it, belonging to the pavement of the back-yard,
insisted on becoming one of the talismans of memory. This intussusception
of the ideas of inanimate objects, and their faithful storing away among
the sentiments, are curiously prefigured in the material structure of the
thinking centre itself. In the very core of the brain, in the part where
Des Cartes placed the soul, is a small mineral deposit, consisting, as I
have seen it in the microscope, of grape-like masses of crystalline
But the plants that come up every year in the same place, like the
Star-of-Bethlehems, of all the lesser objects, give me the liveliest
home-feeling. Close to our ancient gambrel-roofed house is the dwelling
of pleasant old Neighbor Walrus. I remember the sweet honeysuckle that I
saw in flower against the wall of his house a few months ago, as long as
I remember the sky and stars. That clump of peonies, butting their
purple heads through the soil every spring in just the same circle, and
by-and-by unpacking their hard balls of buds in flowers big enough to
make a double handful of leaves, has come up in just that place, Neighbor
Walrus tells me, for more years than I have passed on this planet. It is
a rare privilege in our nomadic state to find the home of one's childhood
and its immediate neighborhood thus unchanged. Many born poets, I am
afraid, flower poorly in song, or not at all, because they have been too
Then a good many of our race are very hard and unimaginative;—their
voices have nothing caressing; their movements are as of machinery
without elasticity or oil. I wish it were fair to print a letter a young
girl, about the age of our Iris, wrote a short time since. "I am *** ***
***," she says, and tells her whole name outright. Ah!—said I, when I
read that first frank declaration,—you are one of the right sort!—She
was. A winged creature among close-clipped barn door fowl. How tired
the poor girl was of the dull life about her,—the old woman's "skeleton
hand" at the window opposite, drawing her curtains,—"Ma'am shooing away
the hens,"—the vacuous country eyes staring at her as only country eyes
can stare,—a routine of mechanical duties, and the soul's
half-articulated cry for sympathy, without an answer! Yes,—pray for
her, and for all such! Faith often cures their longings; but it is so
hard to give a soul to heaven that has not first been trained in the
fullest and sweetest human affections! Too often they fling their hearts
away on unworthy objects. Too often they pine in a secret discontent,
which spreads its leaden cloud over the morning of their youth. The
immeasurable distance between one of these delicate natures and the
average youths among whom is like to be her only choice makes one's heart
ache. How many women are born too finely organized in sense and soul for
the highway they must walk with feet unshod! Life is adjusted to the
wants of the stronger sex. There are plenty of torrents to be crossed in
its journey; but their stepping-stones are measured by the stride of man,
and not of woman.
Women are more subject than men to atrophy of the heart. So says the
great medical authority, Laennec. Incurable cases of this kind used to
find their hospitals in convents. We have the disease in New
England,—but not the hospitals. I don't like to think of it. I will not
believe our young Iris is going to die out in this way. Providence will
find her some great happiness, or affliction, or duty,—and which would
be best for her, I cannot tell. One thing is sure: the interest she
takes in her little neighbor is getting to be more engrossing than ever.
Something is the matter with him, and she knows it, and I think worries
herself about it.
I wonder sometimes how so fragile and distorted a frame has kept the
fiery spirit that inhabits it so long its tenant. He accounts for it in
his own way.
The air of the Old World is good for nothing, he said, one day.—Used
up, Sir,—breathed over and over again. You must come to this side, Sir,
for an atmosphere fit to breathe nowadays. Did not worthy Mr. Higginson
say that a breath of New England's air is better than a sup of Old
England's ale? I ought to have died when I was a boy, Sir; but I could
n't die in this Boston air,—and I think I shall have to go to New York
one of these days, when it's time for me to drop this bundle,—or to New
Orleans, where they have the yellow fever,—or to Philadelphia, where
they have so many doctors.
This was some time ago; but of late he has seemed, as I have before said,
to be ailing. An experienced eye, such as I think I may call mine, can
tell commonly whether a man is going to die, or not, long before he or
his friends are alarmed about him. I don't like it.
Iris has told me that the Scottish gift of second-sight runs in her
family, and that she is afraid she has it. Those who are so endowed look
upon a well man and see a shroud wrapt about him. According to the
degree to which it covers him, his death will be near or more remote. It
is an awful faculty; but science gives one too much like it. Luckily for
our friends, most of us who have the scientific second-sight school
ourselves not to betray our knowledge by word or look.
Day by day, as the Little Gentleman comes to the table, it seems to me
that the shadow of some approaching change falls darker and darker over
his countenance. Nature is struggling with something, and I am afraid
she is under in the wrestling-match. You do not care much, perhaps, for
my particular conjectures as to the nature of his difficulty. I should
say, however, from the sudden flushes to which he is subject, and certain
other marks which, as an expert, I know how to interpret, that his heart
was in trouble; but then he presses his hand to the right side, as if
there were the centre of his uneasiness.
When I say difficulty about the heart, I do not mean any of those
sentimental maladies of that organ which figure more largely in romances
than on the returns which furnish our Bills of Mortality. I mean some
actual change in the organ itself, which may carry him off by slow and
painful degrees, or strike him down with one huge pang and only time for
a single shriek,—as when the shot broke through the brave Captain
Nolan's breast, at the head of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, and with a
loud cry he dropped dead from his saddle.
I thought it only fair to say something of what I apprehended to some who
were entitled to be warned. The landlady's face fell when I mentioned my
Poor man!—she said.—And will leave the best room empty! Has n't he got
any sisters or nieces or anybody to see to his things, if he should be
took away? Such a sight of cases, full of everything! Never thought of
his failin' so suddin. A complication of diseases, she expected.
Liver-complaint one of 'em?
After this first involuntary expression of the too natural selfish
feelings, (which we must not judge very harshly, unless we happen to be
poor widows ourselves, with children to keep filled, covered, and
taught,—rents high,—beef eighteen to twenty cents per pound,)—after
this first squeak of selfishness, followed by a brief movement of
curiosity, so invariable in mature females, as to the nature of the
complaint which threatens the life of a friend or any person who may
happen to be mentioned as ill,—the worthy soul's better feelings
struggled up to the surface, and she grieved for the doomed invalid,
until a tear or two came forth and found their way down a channel worn
for them since the early days of her widowhood.
Oh, this dreadful, dreadful business of being the prophet of evil! Of all
the trials which those who take charge of others' health and lives have
to undergo, this is the most painful. It is all so plain to the
practised eye!—and there is the poor wife, the doting mother, who has
never suspected anything, or at least has clung always to the hope which
you are just going to wrench away from her!—I must tell Iris that I
think her poor friend is in a precarious state. She seems nearer to him
I did tell her. Whatever emotion it produced, she kept a still face,
except, perhaps, a little trembling of the lip.—Could I be certain that
there was any mortal complaint?—Why, no, I could not be certain; but it
looked alarming to me.—He shall have some of my life,—she said.
I suppose this to have been a fancy of hers, or a kind of magnetic power
she could give out;—at any rate, I cannot help thinking she wills her
strength away from herself, for she has lost vigor and color from that
day. I have sometimes thought he gained the force she lost; but this may
have been a whim, very probably.
One day she came suddenly to me, looking deadly pale. Her lips moved, as
if she were speaking; but I could not at first hear a word. Her hair
looked strangely, as if lifting itself, and her eyes were full of wild
light. She sunk upon a chair, and I thought was falling into one of her
trances. Something had frozen her blood with fear; I thought, from what
she said, half audibly, that she believed she had seen a shrouded figure.
That night, at about eleven o'clock, I was sent for to see the Little
Gentleman, who was taken suddenly ill. Bridget, the servant, went before
me with a light. The doors were both unfastened, and I found myself
ushered, without hindrance, into the dim light of the mysterious
apartment I had so longed to enter.
I found these stanzas in the young girl's book among many others. I give
them as characterizing the tone of her sadder moments.
UNDER THE VIOLETS.
Her hands are cold; her face is white;
No more her pulses come and go;
Her eyes are shut to life and light;
Fold the white vesture, snow on snow,
And lay her where the violets blow.
But not beneath a graven stone,
To plead for tears with alien eyes;
A slender cross of wood alone
Shall say, that here a maiden lies
In peace beneath the peaceful skies.
And gray old trees of hugest limb
Shall wheel their circling shadows round
To make the scorching sunlight dim
That drinks the greenness from the ground,
And drop their dead leaves on her mound.
When o'er their boughs the squirrels run,
And through their leaves the robins call,
And, ripening in the autumn sun,
The acorns and the chestnuts fall,
Doubt not that she will heed them all.
For her the morning choir shall sing
Its matins from the branches high,
And every minstrel voice of spring,
That trills beneath the April sky,
Shall greet her with its earliest cry.
When, turning round their dial-track,
Eastward the lengthening shadows pass,
Her little mourners, clad in black,
The crickets, sliding through the grass,
Shall pipe for her an evening mass.
At last the rootlets of the trees
Shall find the prison where she lies,
And bear the buried dust they seize
In leaves and blossoms to the skies.
So may the soul that warmed it rise!
If any, born of kindlier blood,
Should ask, What maiden lies below?
Say only this: A tender bud,
That tried to blossom in the snow,
Lies withered where the violets blow.
You will know, perhaps, in the course of half an hour's reading, what has
been haunting my hours of sleep and waking for months. I cannot tell, of
course, whether you are a nervous person or not. If, however, you are
such a person,—if it is late at night,—if all the rest of the household
have gone off to bed,—if the wind is shaking your windows as if a human
hand were rattling the sashes,—if your candle or lamp is low and will
soon burn out,—let me advise you to take up some good quiet sleepy
volume, or attack the "Critical Notices" of the last Quarterly and leave
this to be read by daylight, with cheerful voices round, and people near
by who would hear you, if you slid from your chair and came down in a
lump on the floor.
I do not say that your heart will beat as mine did, I am willing to
confess, when I entered the dim chamber. Did I not tell you that I was
sensitive and imaginative, and that I had lain awake with thinking what
were the strange movements and sounds which I heard late at night in my
little neighbor's apartment? It had come to that pass that I was truly
unable to separate what I had really heard from what I had dreamed in
those nightmares to which I have been subject, as before mentioned. So,
when I walked into the room, and Bridget, turning back, closed the door
and left me alone with its tenant, I do believe you could have grated a
nutmeg on my skin, such a "goose-flesh" shiver ran over it. It was not
fear, but what I call nervousness,—unreasoning, but irresistible; as
when, for instance, one looking at the sun going down says, "I will count
fifty before it disappears"; and as he goes on and it becomes doubtful
whether he will reach the number, he gets strangely flurried, and his
imagination pictures life and death and heaven and hell as the issues
depending on the completion or non-completion of the fifty he is
counting. Extreme curiosity will excite some people as much as fear, or
what resembles fear, acts on some other less impressible natures.
I may find myself in the midst of strange facts in this little conjurer's
room. Or, again, there may be nothing in this poor invalid's chamber but
some old furniture, such as they say came over in the Mayflower. All
this is just what I mean to, find out while I am looking at the Little
Gentleman, who has suddenly become my patient. The simplest things turn
out to be unfathomable mysteries; the most mysterious appearances prove
to be the most commonplace objects in disguise.
I wonder whether the boys who live in Roxbury and Dorchester are ever
moved to tears or filled with silent awe as they look upon the rocks and
fragments of "puddingstone" abounding in those localities. I have my
suspicions that those boys "heave a stone" or "fire a brickbat," composed
of the conglomerate just mentioned, without any more tearful or
philosophical contemplations than boys of less favored regions expend on
the same performance. Yet a lump of puddingstone is a thing to look at,
to think about, to study over, to dream upon, to go crazy with, to beat
one's brains out against. Look at that pebble in it. From what cliff was
it broken? On what beach rolled by the waves of what ocean? How and
when imbedded in soft ooze, which itself became stone, and by-and-by was
lifted into bald summits and steep cliffs, such as you may see on
Meetinghouse-Hill any day—yes, and mark the scratches on their faces
left when the boulder-carrying glaciers planed the surface of the
continent with such rough tools that the storms have not worn the marks
out of it with all the polishing of ever so many thousand years?
Or as you pass a roadside ditch or pool in springtime, take from it any
bit of stick or straw which has lain undisturbed for a time. Some little
worm-shaped masses of clear jelly containing specks are fastened to the
stick: eggs of a small snail-like shell-fish. One of these specks
magnified proves to be a crystalline sphere with an opaque mass in its
centre. And while you are looking, the opaque mass begins to stir, and
by-and-by slowly to turn upon its axis like a forming planet,—life
beginning in the microcosm, as in the great worlds of the firmament, with
the revolution that turns the surface in ceaseless round to the source of
life and light.
A pebble and the spawn of a mollusk! Before you have solved their
mysteries, this earth where you first saw them may be a vitrified slag,
or a vapor diffused through the planetary spaces. Mysteries are common
enough, at any rate, whatever the boys in Roxbury and Dorchester think of
"brickbats" and the spawn of creatures that live in roadside puddles.
But then a great many seeming mysteries are relatively perfectly plain,
when we can get at them so as to turn them over. How many ghosts that
"thick men's blood with cold" prove to be shirts hung out to dry! How
many mermaids have been made out of seals! How many times have
horse-mackerels been taken for the sea-serpent!
—Let me take the whole matter coolly, while I see what is the matter
with the patient. That is what I say to myself, as I draw a chair to the
bedside. The bed is an old-fashioned, dark mahogany four-poster. It was
never that which made the noise of something moving. It is too heavy to
be pushed about the room.—The Little Gentleman was sitting, bolstered up
by pillows, with his hands clasped and their united palms resting on the
back of the head, one of the three or four positions specially affected
by persons whose breathing is difficult from disease of the heart or
Sit down, Sir,—he said,—sit down! I have come to the hill Difficulty,
Sir, and am fighting my way up.—His speech was laborious and
Don't talk,—I said,—except to answer my questions.—And I proceeded to
"prospect" for the marks of some local mischief, which you know is at the
bottom of all these attacks, though we do not always find it. I suppose
I go to work pretty much like other professional folks of my temperament.
Wrist, if you please.—I was on his right side, but he presented his left
wrist, crossing it over the other.—I begin to count, holding watch in
left hand. One, two, three, four,—What a handsome hand! wonder if that
splendid stone is a carbuncle.—One, two, three, four, five, six,
seven,—Can't see much, it is so dark, except one white object.—One,
two, three, four,—Hang it! eighty or ninety in the minute, I
guess.—Tongue, if you please.—Tongue is put out. Forget to look at it,
or, rather, to take any particular notice of it;—but what is that white
object, with the long arm stretching up as if pointing to the sky, just
as Vesalius and Spigelius and those old fellows used to put their
skeletons? I don't think anything of such objects, you know; but what
should he have it in his chamber for? As I had found his pulse irregular
and intermittent, I took out a stethoscope, which is a pocket-spyglass
for looking into people's chests with your ears, and laid it over the
place where the heart beats. I missed the usual beat of the organ.—How
is this?—I said,—where is your heart gone to?—He took the stethoscope
and shifted it across to the right side; there was a displacement of the
organ.—I am ill-packed,—he said;—there was no room for my heart in its
place as it is with other men.—God help him!
It is hard to draw the line between scientific curiosity and the desire
for the patient's sake to learn all the details of his condition. I must
look at this patient's chest, and thump it and listen to it. For this is
a case of ectopia cordis, my boy,—displacement of the heart; and it is
n't every day you get a chance to overhaul such an interesting
malformation. And so I managed to do my duty and satisfy my curiosity at
the same time. The torso was slight and deformed; the right arm
attenuated,—the left full, round, and of perfect symmetry. It had run
away with the life of the other limbs,—a common trick enough of
Nature's, as I told you before. If you see a man with legs withered from
childhood, keep out of the way of his arms, if you have a quarrel with
him. He has the strength of four limbs in two; and if he strikes you, it
is an arm-blow plus a kick administered from the shoulder instead of the
haunch, where it should have started from.
Still examining him as a patient, I kept my eyes about me to search all
parts of the chamber and went on with the double process, as
before.—Heart hits as hard as a fist,—bellows-sound over mitral valves
(professional terms you need not attend to).—What the deuse is that long
case for? Got his witch grandmother mummied in it? And three big
mahogany presses,—hey?—A diabolical suspicion came over me which I had
had once before,—that he might be one of our modern alchemists,—you
understand, make gold, you know, or what looks like it, sometimes with
the head of a king or queen or of Liberty to embellish one side of the
piece.—Don't I remember hearing him shut a door and lock it once? What
do you think was kept under that lock? Let's have another look at his
hand, to see if there are any calluses.
One can tell a man's business, if it is a handicraft, very often by just
taking a look at his open hand. Ah! Four calluses at the end of the
fingers of the right hand. None on those of the left. Ah, ha! What do
All this seems longer in the telling, of course, than it was in fact.
While I was making these observations of the objects around me, I was
also forming my opinion as to the kind of case with which I had to deal.
There are three wicks, you know, to the lamp of a man's life: brain,
blood, and breath. Press the brain a little, its light goes out,
followed by both the others. Stop the heart a minute and out go all
three of the wicks. Choke the air out of the lungs, and presently the
fluid ceases to supply the other centres of flame, and all is soon
stagnation, cold, and darkness. The "tripod of life" a French
physiologist called these three organs. It is all clear enough which leg
of the tripod is going to break down here. I could tell you exactly what
the difficulty is;—which would be as intelligible and amusing as a
watchmaker's description of a diseased timekeeper to a ploughman. It is
enough to say, that I found just what I expected to, and that I think
this attack is only the prelude of more serious consequences,—which
expression means you very well know what.
And now the secrets of this life hanging on a thread must surely come
out. If I have made a mystery where there was none, my suspicions will
be shamed, as they have often been before. If there is anything strange,
my visits will clear it up.
I sat an hour or two by the side of the Little Gentleman's bed, after
giving him some henbane to quiet his brain, and some foxglove, which an
imaginative French professor has called the "Opium of the Heart." Under
their influence he gradually fell into an uneasy, half-waking slumber,
the body fighting hard for every breath, and the mind wandering off in
strange fancies and old recollections, which escaped from his lips in
—The last of 'em,—he said,—the last of 'em all,—thank God! And the
grave he lies in will look just as well as if he had been straight. Dig
it deep, old Martin, dig it deep,—and let it be as long as other folks'
graves. And mind you get the sods flat, old man,—flat as ever a
straight-backed young fellow was laid under. And then, with a good tall
slab at the head, and a foot-stone six foot away from it, it'll look just
as if there was a man underneath.
A man! Who said he was a man? No more men of that pattern to bear his
name!—Used to be a good-looking set enough.—Where 's all the manhood
and womanhood gone to since his great-grandfather was the strongest man
that sailed out of the town of Boston, and poor Leah there the handsomest
woman in Essex, if she was a witch?
—Give me some light,—he said,—more light. I want to see the picture.
He had started either from a dream or a wandering reverie. I was not
unwilling to have more light in the apartment, and presently had lighted
an astral lamp that stood on a table.—He pointed to a portrait hanging
against the wall.—Look at her,—he said,—look at her! Wasn't that a
pretty neck to slip a hangman's noose over?
The portrait was of a young woman, something more than twenty years old,
perhaps. There were few pictures of any merit painted in New England
before the time of Smibert, and I am at a loss to know what artist could
have taken this half-length, which was evidently from life. It was
somewhat stiff and flat, but the grace of the figure and the sweetness of
the expression reminded me of the angels of the early Florentine
painters. She must have been of some consideration, for she was dressed
in paduasoy and lace with hanging sleeves, and the old carved frame
showed how the picture had been prized by its former owners. A proud eye
she had, with all her sweetness.—I think it was that which hanged her,
as his strong arm hanged Minister George Burroughs;—but it may have been
a little mole on one cheek, which the artist had just hinted as a beauty
rather than a deformity. You know, I suppose, that nursling imps addict
themselves, after the fashion of young opossums, to these little
excrescences. "Witch-marks" were good evidence that a young woman was
one of the Devil's wet-nurses;—I should like to have seen you make fun
of them in those days!—Then she had a brooch in her bodice, that might
have been taken for some devilish amulet or other; and she wore a ring
upon one of her fingers, with a red stone in it, that flamed as if the
painter had dipped his pencil in fire;—who knows but that it was given
her by a midnight suitor fresh from that fierce element, and licensed for
a season to leave his couch of flame to tempt the unsanctified hearts of
earthly maidens and brand their cheeks with the print of his scorching
She and I,—he said, as he looked steadfastly at the canvas,—she and I
are the last of 'em.—She will stay, and I shall go. They never painted
me,—except when the boys used to make pictures of me with chalk on the
board-fences. They said the doctors would want my skeleton when I was
dead.—You are my friend, if you are a doctor,—a'n't you?
I just gave him my hand. I had not the heart to speak.
I want to lie still,—he said,—after I am put to bed upon the hill
yonder. Can't you have a great stone laid over me, as they did over the
first settlers in the old burying-ground at Dorchester, so as to keep the
wolves from digging them up? I never slept easy over the sod;—I should
like to lie quiet under it. And besides,—he said, in a kind of scared
whisper,—I don't want to have my bones stared at, as my body has been.
I don't doubt I was a remarkable case; but, for God's sake, oh, for God's
sake, don't let 'em make a show of the cage I have been shut up in and
looked through the bars of for so many years.
I have heard it said that the art of healing makes men hard-hearted and
indifferent to human suffering. I am willing to own that there is often
a professional hardness in surgeons, just as there is in
theologians,—only much less in degree than in these last. It does not
commonly improve the sympathies of a man to be in the habit of thrusting
knives into his fellow-creatures and burning them with red-hot irons, any
more than it improves them to hold the blinding-white cantery of Gehenna
by its cool handle and score and crisp young souls with it until they are
scorched into the belief of—Transubstantiation or the Immaculate
Conception. And, to say the plain truth, I think there are a good many
coarse people in both callings. A delicate nature will not commonly
choose a pursuit which implies the habitual infliction of suffering, so
readily as some gentler office. Yet, while I am writing this paragraph,
there passes by my window, on his daily errand of duty, not seeing me,
though I catch a glimpse of his manly features through the oval glass of
his chaise, as he drives by, a surgeon of skill and standing, so
friendly, so modest, so tenderhearted in all his ways, that, if he had
not approved himself at once adroit and firm, one would have said he was
of too kindly a mould to be the minister of pain, even if he were saving
You may be sure that some men, even among those who have chosen the task
of pruning their fellow-creatures, grow more and more thoughtful and
truly compassionate in the midst of their cruel experience. They become
less nervous, but more sympathetic. They have a truer sensibility for
others' pain, the more they study pain and disease in the light of
science. I have said this without claiming any special growth in
humanity for myself, though I do hope I grow tenderer in my feelings as I
grow older. At any rate, this was not a time in which professional
habits could keep down certain instincts of older date than these.
This poor little man's appeal to my humanity against the supposed
rapacity of Science, which he feared would have her "specimen," if his
ghost should walk restlessly a thousand years, waiting for his bones to
be laid in the dust, touched my heart. But I felt bound to speak
—We won't die yet awhile, if we can help it,—I said,—and I trust we
can help it. But don't be afraid; if I live longest, I will see that
your resting place is kept sacred till the dandelions and buttercups blow
He seemed to have got his wits together by this time, and to have a vague
consciousness that he might have been saying more than he meant for
anybody's ears.—I have been talking a little wild, Sir, eh? he
said.—There is a great buzzing in my head with those drops of yours, and
I doubt if my tongue has not been a little looser than I would have it,
Sir. But I don't much want to live, Sir; that's the truth of the matter,
and it does rather please me to think that fifty years from now nobody
will know that the place where I lie does n't hold as stout and straight
a man as the best of 'em that stretch out as if they were proud of the
room they take. You may get me well, if you can, Sir, if you think it
worth while to try; but I tell you there has been no time for this many a
year when the smell of fresh earth was not sweeter to me than all the
flowers that grow out of it. There's no anodyne like your good clean
gravel, Sir. But if you can keep me about awhile, and it amuses you to
try, you may show your skill upon me, if you like. There is a pleasure
or two that I love the daylight for, and I think the night is not far
off, at best.—I believe I shall sleep now; you may leave me, and come,
if you like, in the morning.
Before I passed out, I took one more glance round the apartment. The
beautiful face of the portrait looked at me, as portraits often do, with
a frightful kind of intelligence in its eyes. The drapery fluttered on
the still outstretched arm of the tall object near the window;—a crack
of this was open, no doubt, and some breath of wind stirred the hanging
folds. In my excited state, I seemed to see something ominous in that
arm pointing to the heavens. I thought of the figures in the Dance of
Death at Basle, and that other on the panels of the covered Bridge at
Lucerne, and it seemed to me that the grim mask who mingles with every
crowd and glides over every threshold was pointing the sick man to his
far home, and would soon stretch out his bony hand and lead him or drag
him on the unmeasured journey towards it.
The fancy had possession of me, and I shivered again as when I first
entered the chamber. The picture and the shrouded shape; I saw only
these two objects. They were enough. The house was deadly still, and
the night-wind, blowing through an open window, struck me as from a field
of ice, at the moment I passed into the creaking corridor. As I turned
into the common passage, a white figure, holding a lamp, stood full
before me. I thought at first it was one of those images made to stand
in niches and hold a light in their hands. But the illusion was
momentary, and my eyes speedily recovered from the shock of the bright
flame and snowy drapery to see that the figure was a breathing one. It
was Iris, in one of her statue-trances. She had come down, whether
sleeping or waking, I knew not at first, led by an instinct that told her
she was wanted,—or, possibly, having overheard and interpreted the
sound of our movements,—or, it may be, having learned from the servant
that there was trouble which might ask for a woman's hand. I sometimes
think women have a sixth sense, which tells them that others, whom they
cannot see or hear, are in suffering. How surely we find them at the
bedside of the dying! How strongly does Nature plead for them, that we
should draw our first breath in their arms, as we sigh away our last upon
their faithful breasts!
With white, bare feet, her hair loosely knotted, clad as the starlight
knew her, and the morning when she rose from slumber, save that she had
twisted a scarf round her long dress, she stood still as a stone before
me, holding in one hand a lighted coil of waxtaper, and in the other a
silver goblet. I held my own lamp close to her, as if she had been a
figure of marble, and she did not stir. There was no breach of propriety
then, to scare the Poor Relation with and breed scandal out of. She had
been "warned in a dream," doubtless suggested by her waking knowledge and
the sounds which had reached her exalted sense. There was nothing more
natural than that she should have risen and girdled her waist, and
lighted her taper, and found the silver goblet with "Ex dono pupillorum"
on it, from which she had taken her milk and possets through all her
childish years, and so gone blindly out to find her place at the
bedside,—a Sister of Charity without the cap and rosary; nay, unknowing
whither her feet were leading her, and with wide blank eyes seeing
nothing but the vision that beckoned her along.—Well, I must wake her
from her slumber or trance.—I called her name, but she did not heed my
The Devil put it into my head that I would kiss one handsome young girl
before I died, and now was my chance. She never would know it, and I
should carry the remembrance of it with me into the grave, and a rose
perhaps grow out of my dust, as a brier did out of Lord Lovers, in memory
of that immortal moment! Would it wake her from her trance? and would
she see me in the flush of my stolen triumph, and hate and despise me
ever after? Or should I carry off my trophy undetected, and always from
that time say to myself, when I looked upon her in the glory of youth and
the splendor of beauty, "My lips have touched those roses and made their
sweetness mine forever"? You think my cheek was flushed, perhaps, and my
eyes were glittering with this midnight flash of opportunity. On the
contrary, I believe I was pale, very pale, and I know that I trembled.
Ah, it is the pale passions that are the fiercest,—it is the violence of
the chill that gives the measure of the fever! The fighting-boy of our
school always turned white when he went out to a pitched battle with the
bully of some neighboring village; but we knew what his bloodless cheeks
meant,—the blood was all in his stout heart,—he was a slight boy, and
there was not enough to redden his face and fill his heart both at once.
Perhaps it is making a good deal of a slight matter, to tell the internal
conflicts in the heart of a quiet person something more than juvenile and
something less than senile, as to whether he should be guilty of an
impropriety, and, if he were, whether he would get caught in his
indiscretion. And yet the memory of the kiss that Margaret of Scotland
gave to Alain Chartier has lasted four hundred years, and put it into the
head of many an ill-favored poet, whether Victoria, or Eugenie, would do
as much by him, if she happened to pass him when he was asleep. And have
we ever forgotten that the fresh cheek of the young John Milton tingled
under the lips of some high-born Italian beauty, who, I believe, did not
think to leave her card by the side of the slumbering youth, but has
bequeathed the memory of her pretty deed to all coming time? The sound
of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a deal
There is one disadvantage which the man of philosophical habits of mind
suffers, as compared with the man of action. While he is taking an
enlarged and rational view of the matter before him, he lets his chance
slip through his fingers. Iris woke up, of her own accord, before I had
made up my mind what I was going to do about it.
When I remember how charmingly she looked, I don't blame myself at all
for being tempted; but if I had been fool enough to yield to the impulse,
I should certainly have been ashamed to tell of it. She did not know
what to make of it, finding herself there alone, in such guise, and me
staring at her. She looked down at her white robe and bare feet, and
colored,—then at the goblet she held in her hand, then at the taper; and
at last her thoughts seemed to clear up.
I know it all,—she said.—He is going to die, and I must go and sit by
him. Nobody will care for him as I shall, and I have nobody else to care
I assured her that nothing was needed for him that night but rest, and
persuaded her that the excitement of her presence could only do harm.
Let him sleep, and he would very probably awake better in the morning.
There was nothing to be said, for I spoke with authority; and the young
girl glided away with noiseless step and sought her own chamber.
The tremor passed away from my limbs, and the blood began to burn in my
cheeks. The beautiful image which had so bewitched me faded gradually
from my imagination, and I returned to the still perplexing mysteries of
my little neighbor's chamber.
All was still there now. No plaintive sounds, no monotonous murmurs, no
shutting of windows and doors at strange hours, as if something or
somebody were coming in or going out, or there was something to be hidden
in those dark mahogany presses. Is there an inner apartment that I have
not seen? The way in which the house is built might admit of it. As I
thought it over, I at once imagined a Bluebeard's chamber. Suppose, for
instance, that the narrow bookshelves to the right are really only a
masked door, such as we remember leading to the private study of one of
our most distinguished townsmen, who loved to steal away from his stately
library to that little silent cell. If this were lighted from above, a
person or persons might pass their days there without attracting
attention from the household, and wander where they pleased at night,—to
Copp's-Hill burial-ground, if they liked,—I said to myself, laughing,
and pulling the bed-clothes over my head. There is no logic in
superstitious-fancies any more than in dreams. A she-ghost wouldn't want
an inner chamber to herself. A live woman, with a valuable soprano
voice, wouldn't start off at night to sprain her ankles over the old
graves of the North-End cemetery.
It is all very easy for you, middle-aged reader, sitting over this page
in the broad daylight, to call me by all manner of asinine and anserine
unchristian names, because I had these fancies running through my head.
I don't care much for your abuse. The question is not, what it is
reasonable for a man to think about, but what he actually does think
about, in the dark, and when he is alone, and his whole body seems but
one great nerve of hearing, and he sees the phosphorescent flashes of his
own eyeballs as they turn suddenly in the direction of the last strange
noise,—what he actually does think about, as he lies and recalls all the
wild stories his head is full of, his fancy hinting the most alarming
conjectures to account for the simplest facts about him, his common-sense
laughing them to scorn the next minute, but his mind still returning to
them, under one shape or another, until he gets very nervous and foolish,
and remembers how pleasant it used to be to have his mother come and tuck
him up and go and sit within call, so that she could hear him at any
minute, if he got very much scared and wanted her. Old babies that we
Daylight will clear up all that lamp-light has left doubtful. I longed
for the morning to come, for I was more curious than ever. So, between my
fancies and anticipations, I had but a poor night of it, and came down
tired to the breakfast-table. My visit was not to be made until after
this morning hour; there was nothing urgent, so the servant was ordered
to tell me.
It was the first breakfast at which the high chair at the side of Iris
had been unoccupied.—You might jest as well take away that chair,—said
our landlady,—he'll never want it again. He acts like a man that 's
struck with death, 'n' I don't believe he 'll ever come out of his
chamber till he 's laid out and brought down a corpse.—These good women
do put things so plainly! There were two or three words in her short
remark that always sober people, and suggest silence or brief moral
—Life is dreadful uncerting,—said the Poor Relation,—and pulled in her
social tentacles to concentrate her thoughts on this fact of human
—If there was anything a fellah could do,—said the young man John, so
called,—a fellah 'd like the chance o' helpin' a little cripple like
that. He looks as if he couldn't turn over any handier than a turtle
that's laid on his back; and I guess there a'n't many people that know
how to lift better than I do. Ask him if he don't want any watchers. I
don't mind settin' up any more 'n a cat-owl. I was up all night twice
[My private opinion is, that there was no small amount of punch absorbed
on those two occasions, which I think I heard of at the time];—but the
offer is a kind one, and it is n't fair to question how he would like
sitting up without the punch and the company and the songs and smoking.
He means what he says, and it would be a more considerable achievement
for him to sit quietly all night by a sick man than for a good many other
people. I tell you this odd thing: there are a good many persons, who,
through the habit of making other folks uncomfortable, by finding fault
with all their cheerful enjoyments, at last get up a kind of hostility to
comfort in general, even in their own persons. The correlative to loving
our neighbors as ourselves is hating ourselves as we hate our neighbors.
Look at old misers; first they starve their dependants, and then
themselves. So I think it more for a lively young fellow to be ready to
play nurse than for one of those useful but forlorn martyrs who have
taken a spite against themselves and love to gratify it by fasting and
—The time came at last for me to make my visit. I found Iris sitting by
the Little Gentleman's pillow. To my disappointment, the room was
darkened. He did not like the light, and would have the shutters kept
nearly closed. It was good enough for me; what business had I to be
indulging my curiosity, when I had nothing to do but to exercise such
skill as I possessed for the benefit of my patient? There was not much
to be said or done in such a case; but I spoke as encouragingly as I
could, as I think we are always bound to do. He did not seem to pay any
very anxious attention, but the poor girl listened as if her own life and
more than her own life were depending on the words I uttered. She
followed me out of the room, when I had got through my visit.
How long?—she said.
Uncertain. Any time; to-day,—next week, next month,—I answered.—One
of those cases where the issue is not doubtful, but may be sudden or
The women of the house were kind, as women always are in trouble. But
Iris pretended that nobody could spare the time as well as she, and kept
her place, hour after hour, until the landlady insisted that she'd be
killin' herself, if she begun at that rate, 'n' haf to give up, if she
didn't want to be clean beat out in less 'n a week.
At the table we were graver than common. The high chair was set back
against the wall, and a gap left between that of the young girl and her
nearest neighbor's on the right. But the next morning, to our great
surprise, that good-looking young Marylander had very quietly moved his
own chair to the vacant place. I thought he was creeping down that way,
but I was not prepared for a leap spanning such a tremendous parenthesis
of boarders as this change of position included. There was no denying
that the youth and maiden were a handsome pair, as they sat side by side.
But whatever the young girl may have thought of her new neighbor she
never seemed for a moment to forget the poor little friend who had been
taken from her side. There are women, and even girls, with whom it is of
no use to talk. One might as well reason with a bee as to the form of
his cell, or with an oriole as to the construction of his swinging nest,
as try to stir these creatures from their own way of doing their own
work. It was not a question with Iris, whether she was entitled by any
special relation or by the fitness of things to play the part of a nurse.
She was a wilful creature that must have her way in this matter. And it
so proved that it called for much patience and long endurance to carry
through the duties, say rather the kind offices, the painful pleasures,
which she had chosen as her share in the household where accident had
thrown her. She had that genius of ministration which is the special
province of certain women, marked even among their helpful sisters by a
soft, low voice, a quiet footfall, a light hand, a cheering smile, and a
ready self-surrender to the objects of their care, which such trifles as
their own food, sleep, or habits of any kind never presume to interfere
with. Day after day, and too often through the long watches of the night,
she kept her place by the pillow.
That girl will kill herself over me, Sir,—said the poor Little Gentleman
to me, one day,—she will kill herself, Sir, if you don't call in all the
resources of your art to get me off as soon as may be. I shall wear her
out, Sir, with sitting in this close chamber and watching when she ought
to be sleeping, if you leave me to the care of Nature without dosing me.
This was rather strange pleasantry, under the circumstances. But there
are certain persons whose existence is so out of parallel with the larger
laws in the midst of which it is moving, that life becomes to them as
death and death as life.—How am I getting along?—he said, another
morning. He lifted his shrivelled hand, with the death's-head ring on
it, and looked at it with a sad sort of complacency. By this one
movement, which I have seen repeatedly of late, I know that his thoughts
have gone before to another condition, and that he is, as it were,
looking back on the infirmities of the body as accidents of the past.
For, when he was well, one might see him often looking at the handsome
hand with the flaming jewel on one of its fingers. The single
well-shaped limb was the source of that pleasure which in some form or
other Nature almost always grants to her least richly endowed children.
Handsome hair, eyes, complexion, feature, form, hand, foot, pleasant
voice, strength, grace, agility, intelligence,—how few there are that
have not just enough of one at least of these gifts to show them that the
good Mother, busy with her millions of children, has not quite forgotten
them! But now he was thinking of that other state, where, free from all
mortal impediments, the memory of his sorrowful burden should be only as
that of the case he has shed to the insect whose "deep-damasked wings"
beat off the golden dust of the lily-anthers, as he flutters in the
ecstasy of his new life over their full-blown summer glories.
No human being can rest for any time in a state of equilibrium, where the
desire to live and that to depart just balance each other. If one has a
house, which he has lived and always means to live in, he pleases himself
with the thought of all the conveniences it offers him, and thinks little
of its wants and imperfections. But once having made up his mind to move
to a better, every incommodity starts out upon him, until the very
ground-plan of it seems to have changed in his mind, and his thoughts and
affections, each one of them packing up its little bundle of
circumstances, have quitted their several chambers and nooks and migrated
to the new home, long before its apartments are ready to receive their
coming tenant. It is so with the body. Most persons have died before
they expire,—died to all earthly longings, so that the last breath is
only, as it were, the locking of the door of the already deserted
mansion. The fact of the tranquillity with which the great majority of
dying persons await this locking of those gates of life through which its
airy angels have been going and coming, from the moment of the first cry,
is familiar to those who have been often called upon to witness the last
period of life. Almost always there is a preparation made by Nature for
unearthing a soul, just as on the smaller scale there is for the removal
of a milktooth. The roots which hold human life to earth are absorbed
before it is lifted from its place. Some of the dying are weary and want
rest, the idea of which is almost inseparable in the universal mind from
death. Some are in pain, and want to be rid of it, even though the
anodyne be dropped, as in the legend, from the sword of the Death-Angel.
Some are stupid, mercifully narcotized that they may go to sleep without
long tossing about. And some are strong in faith and hope, so that, as
they draw near the next world, they would fair hurry toward it, as the
caravan moves faster over the sands when the foremost travellers send
word along the file that water is in sight. Though each little party
that follows in a foot-track of its own will have it that the water to
which others think they are hastening is a mirage, not the less has it
been true in all ages and for human beings of every creed which
recognized a future, that those who have fallen worn out by their march
through the Desert have dreamed at least of a River of Life, and thought
they heard its murmurs as they lay dying.
The change from the clinging to the present to the welcoming of the
future comes very soon, for the most part, after all hope of life is
extinguished, provided this be left in good degree to Nature, and not
insolently and cruelly forced upon those who are attacked by illness, on
the strength of that odious foreknowledge often imparted by science,
before the white fruit whose core is ashes, and which we call death, has
set beneath the pallid and drooping flower of sickness. There is a
singular sagacity very often shown in a patient's estimate of his own
vital force. His physician knows the state of his material frame well
enough, perhaps,—that this or that organ is more or less impaired or
disintegrated; but the patient has a sense that he can hold out so much
longer,—sometimes that he must and will live for a while, though by the
logic of disease he ought to die without any delay.
The Little Gentleman continued to fail, until it became plain that his
remaining days were few. I told the household what to expect. There was
a good deal of kind feeling expressed among the boarders, in various
modes, according to their characters and style of sympathy. The landlady
was urgent that he should try a certain nostrum which had saved
somebody's life in jest sech a case. The Poor Relation wanted me to
carry, as from her, a copy of "Allein's Alarm," etc. I objected to the
title, reminding her that it offended people of old, so that more than
twice as many of the book were sold when they changed the name to "A Sure
Guide to Heaven." The good old gentleman whom I have mentioned before has
come to the time of life when many old men cry easily, and forget their
tears as children do.—He was a worthy gentleman,—he said,—a very
worthy gentleman, but unfortunate,—very unfortunate. Sadly deformed
about the spine and the feet. Had an impression that the late Lord Byron
had some malformation of this kind. Had heerd there was something the
matter with the ankle-j'ints of that nobleman, but he was a man of
talents. This gentleman seemed to be a man of talents. Could not always
agree with his statements,—thought he was a little over-partial to this
city, and had some free opinions; but was sorry to lose him,—and
if—there was anything—he—could—. In the midst of these kind
expressions, the gentleman with the diamond, the Koh-i-noor, as we called
him, asked, in a very unpleasant sort of way, how the old boy was likely
to cut up,—meaning what money our friend was going to leave behind.
The young fellow John spoke up, to the effect that this was a diabolish
snobby question, when a man was dying and not dead.—To this the
Koh-i-noor replied, by asking if the other meant to insult him. Whereto
the young man John rejoined that he had no particul'r intentions one way
or t'other.-The Kohi-noor then suggested the young man's stepping out
into the yard, that he, the speaker, might "slap his chops."—Let 'em
alone, said young Maryland,—it 'll soon be over, and they won't hurt
each other much.—So they went out.
The Koh-i-noor entertained the very common idea, that, when one quarrels
with another, the simple thing to do is to knock the man down, and there
is the end of it. Now those who have watched such encounters are aware
of two things: first, that it is not so easy to knock a man down as it is
to talk about it; secondly, that, if you do happen to knock a man down,
there is a very good chance that he will be angry, and get up and give
you a thrashing.
So the Koh-i-noor thought he would begin, as soon as they got into the
yard, by knocking his man down, and with this intention swung his arm
round after the fashion of rustics and those unskilled in the noble art,
expecting the young fellow John to drop when his fist, having completed a
quarter of a circle, should come in contact with the side of that young
man's head. Unfortunately for this theory, it happens that a blow struck
out straight is as much shorter, and therefore as much quicker than the
rustic's swinging blow, as the radius is shorter than the quarter of a
circle. The mathematical and mechanical corollary was, that the
Koh-i-noor felt something hard bring up suddenly against his right eye,
which something he could have sworn was a paving-stone, judging by his
sensations; and as this threw his person somewhat backwards, and the
young man John jerked his own head back a little, the swinging blow had
nothing to stop it; and as the Jewel staggered between the hit he got and
the blow he missed, he tripped and "went to grass," so far as the
back-yard of our boardinghouse was provided with that vegetable. It was
a signal illustration of that fatal mistake, so frequent in young and
ardent natures with inconspicuous calves and negative pectorals, that
they can settle most little quarrels on the spot by "knocking the man
We are in the habit of handling our faces so carefully, that a heavy
blow, taking effect on that portion of the surface, produces a most
unpleasant surprise, which is accompanied with odd sensations, as of
seeing sparks, and a kind of electrical or ozone-like odor,
half-sulphurous in character, and which has given rise to a very vulgar
and profane threat sometimes heard from the lips of bullies. A person
not used to pugilistic gestures does not instantly recover from this
surprise. The Koh-i-noor exasperated by his failure, and still a little
confused by the smart hit he had received, but furious, and confident of
victory over a young fellow a good deal lighter than himself, made a
desperate rush to bear down all before him and finish the contest at
once. That is the way all angry greenhorns and incompetent persons
attempt to settle matters. It does n't do, if the other fellow is only
cool, moderately quick, and has a very little science. It didn't do this
time; for, as the assailant rushed in with his arms flying everywhere,
like the vans of a windmill, he ran a prominent feature of his face
against a fist which was travelling in the other direction, and
immediately after struck the knuckles of the young man's other fist a
severe blow with the part of his person known as the epigastrium to one
branch of science and the bread-basket to another. This second round
closed the battle. The Koh-i-noor had got enough, which in such cases is
more than as good as a feast. The young fellow asked him if he was
satisfied, and held out his hand. But the other sulked, and muttered
something about revenge.—Jest as ye like,—said the young man
John.—Clap a slice o' raw beefsteak on to that mouse o' yours 'n' 't'll
take down the swellin'. (Mouse is a technical term for a bluish, oblong,
rounded elevation occasioned by running one's forehead or eyebrow against
another's knuckles.) The young fellow was particularly pleased that he
had had an opportunity of trying his proficiency in the art of
self-defence without the gloves. The Koh-i-noor did not favor us with
his company for a day or two, being confined to his chamber, it was said,
by a slight feverish, attack. He was chop-fallen always after this, and
got negligent in his person. The impression must have been a deep one;
for it was observed, that, when he came down again, his moustache and
whiskers had turned visibly white about the roots. In short, it
disgraced him, and rendered still more conspicuous a tendency to
drinking, of which he had been for some time suspected. This, and the
disgust which a young lady naturally feels at hearing that her lover has
been "licked by a fellah not half his size," induced the landlady's
daughter to take that decided step which produced a change in the
programme of her career I may hereafter allude to.
I never thought he would come to good, when I heard him attempting to
sneer at an unoffending city so respectable as Boston. After a man
begins to attack the State-House, when he gets bitter about the
Frog-Pond, you may be sure there is not much left of him. Poor Edgar Poe
died in the hospital soon after he got into this way of talking; and so
sure as you find an unfortunate fellow reduced to this pass, you had
better begin praying for him, and stop lending him money, for he is on
his last legs. Remember poor Edgar! He is dead and gone; but the
State-House has its cupola fresh-gilded, and the Frog-Pond has got a
fountain that squirts up a hundred feet into the air and glorifies that
humble sheet with a fine display of provincial rainbows.
—I cannot fulfil my promise in this number. I expected to gratify your
curiosity, if you have become at all interested in these puzzles, doubts,
fancies, whims, or whatever you choose to call them, of mine. Next month
you shall hear all about it.
—It was evening, and I was going to the sick-chamber. As I paused
at the door before entering, I heard a sweet voice singing. It was
not the wild melody I had sometimes heard at midnight:—no, this was
the voice of Iris, and I could distinguish every word. I had seen
the verses in her book; the melody was new to me. Let me finish my
page with them.
HYMN OF TRUST.
O Love Divine, that stooped to share
Our sharpest pang, our bitterest tear,
On Thee we cast each earthborn care,
We smile at pain while Thou art near!
Though long the weary way we tread,
And sorrow crown each lingering year,
No path we shun, no darkness dread,
Our hearts still whispering, Thou art near!
When drooping pleasure turns to grief,
And trembling faith is changed to fear,
The murmuring wind, the quivering leaf
Shall softly tell us, Thou art near!
On Thee we fling our burdening woe,
O Love Divine, forever dear,
Content to suffer, while we know,
Living and dying, Thou art near!
A young fellow, born of good stock, in one of the more thoroughly
civilized portions of these United States of America, bred in good
principles, inheriting a social position which makes him at his ease
everywhere, means sufficient to educate him thoroughly without taking
away the stimulus to vigorous exertion, and with a good opening in some
honorable path of labor, is the finest sight our private satellite has
had the opportunity of inspecting on the planet to which she belongs. In
some respects it was better to be a young Greek. If we may trust the old
marbles, my friend with his arm stretched over my head, above there, (in
plaster of Paris,) or the discobolus, whom one may see at the principal
sculpture gallery of this metropolis,—those Greek young men were of
supreme beauty. Their close curls, their elegantly set heads, column-like
necks, straight noses, short, curled lips, firm chins, deep chests, light
flanks, large muscles, small joints, were finer than anything we ever
see. It may well be questioned whether the human shape will ever present
itself again in a race of such perfect symmetry. But the life of the
youthful Greek was local, not planetary, like that of the young American.
He had a string of legends, in place of our Gospels. He had no printed
books, no newspaper, no steam caravans, no forks, no soap, none of the
thousand cheap conveniences which have become matters of necessity to our
modern civilization. Above all things, if he aspired to know as well as
to enjoy, he found knowledge not diffused everywhere about him, so that a
day's labor would buy him more wisdom than a year could master, but held
in private hands, hoarded in precious manuscripts, to be sought for only
as gold is sought in narrow fissures, and in the beds of brawling
streams. Never, since man came into this atmosphere of oxygen and azote,
was there anything like the condition of the young American of the
nineteenth century. Having in possession or in prospect the best part of
half a world, with all its climates and soils to choose from; equipped
with wings of fire and smoke than fly with him day and night, so that he
counts his journey not in miles, but in degrees, and sees the seasons
change as the wild fowl sees them in his annual flights; with huge
leviathans always ready to take him on their broad backs and push behind
them with their pectoral or caudal fins the waters that seam the
continent or separate the hemispheres; heir of all old civilizations,
founder of that new one which, if all the prophecies of the human heart
are not lies, is to be the noblest, as it is the last; isolated in space
from the races that are governed by dynasties whose divine right grows
out of human wrong, yet knit into the most absolute solidarity with
mankind of all times and places by the one great thought he inherits as
his national birthright; free to form and express his opinions on almost
every subject, and assured that he will soon acquire the last franchise
which men withhold from man,—that of stating the laws of his spiritual
being and the beliefs he accepts without hindrance except from clearer
views of truth,—he seems to want nothing for a large, wholesome, noble,
beneficent life. In fact, the chief danger is that he will think the
whole planet is made for him, and forget that there are some
possibilities left in the debris of the old-world civilization which
deserve a certain respectful consideration at his hands.
The combing and clipping of this shaggy wild continent are in some
measure done for him by those who have gone before. Society has
subdivided itself enough to have a place for every form of talent. Thus,
if a man show the least sign of ability as a sculptor or a painter, for
instance, he finds the means of education and a demand for his services.
Even a man who knows nothing but science will be provided for, if he does
not think it necessary to hang about his birthplace all his days,—which
is a most unAmerican weakness. The apron-strings of an American mother
are made of India-rubber. Her boy belongs where he is wanted; and that
young Marylander of ours spoke for all our young men, when he said that
his home was wherever the stars and stripes blew over his head.
And that leads me to say a few words of this young gentleman, who made
that audacious movement lately which I chronicled in my last
record,—jumping over the seats of I don't know how many boarders to put
himself in the place which the Little Gentleman's absence had left vacant
at the side of Iris. When a young man is found habitually at the side of
any one given young lady,—when he lingers where she stays, and hastens
when she leaves,—when his eyes follow her as she moves and rest upon her
when she is still,—when he begins to grow a little timid, he who was so
bold, and a little pensive, he who was so gay, whenever accident finds
them alone,—when he thinks very often of the given young lady, and
names her very seldom,—
What do you say about it, my charming young expert in that sweet science
in which, perhaps, a long experience is not the first of qualifications?
—But we don't know anything about this young man, except that he is
good-looking, and somewhat high-spirited, and strong-limbed, and has a
generous style of nature,—all very promising, but by no means proving
that he is a proper lover for Iris, whose heart we turned inside out when
we opened that sealed book of hers.
Ah, my dear young friend! When your mamma then, if you will believe it,
a very slight young lady, with very pretty hair and figure—came and told
her mamma that your papa had—had—asked No, no, no! she could n't say
it; but her mother—oh the depth of maternal sagacity!—guessed it all
without another word!—When your mother, I say, came and told her mother
she was engaged, and your grandmother told your grandfather, how much did
they know of the intimate nature of the young gentleman to whom she had
pledged her existence? I will not be so hard as to ask how much your
respected mamma knew at that time of the intimate nature of your
respected papa, though, if we should compare a young girl's
man-as-she-thinks-him with a forty-summered matron's man-as-she-finds-him,
I have my doubts as to whether the second would be a facsimile of the
first in most cases.
The idea that in this world each young person is to wait until he or she
finds that precise counterpart who alone of all creation was meant for
him or her, and then fall instantly in love with it, is pretty enough,
only it is not Nature's way. It is not at all essential that all pairs
of human beings should be, as we sometimes say of particular couples,
"born for each other." Sometimes a man or a woman is made a great deal
better and happier in the end for having had to conquer the faults of the
one beloved, and make the fitness not found at first, by gradual
assimilation. There is a class of good women who have no right to marry
perfectly good men, because they have the power of saving those who would
go to ruin but for the guiding providence of a good wife. I have known
many such cases. It is the most momentous question a woman is ever
called upon to decide, whether the faults of the man she loves are beyond
remedy and will drag her down, or whether she is competent to be his
earthly redeemer and lift him to her own level.
A person of genius should marry a person of character. Genius does not
herd with genius. The musk-deer and the civet-cat are never found in
company. They don't care for strange scents,—they like plain animals
better than perfumed ones. Nay, if you will have the kindness to notice,
Nature has not gifted my lady musk-deer with the personal peculiarity by
which her lord is so widely known.
Now when genius allies itself with character, the world is very apt to
think character has the best of the bargain. A brilliant woman marries a
plain, manly fellow, with a simple intellectual mechanism;—we have all
seen such cases. The world often stares a good deal and wonders. She
should have taken that other, with a far more complex mental machinery.
She might have had a watch with the philosophical compensation-balance,
with the metaphysical index which can split a second into tenths, with
the musical chime which can turn every quarter of an hour into melody.
She has chosen a plain one, that keeps good time, and that is all.
Let her alone! She knows what she is about. Genius has an infinitely
deeper reverence for character than character can have for genius. To be
sure, genius gets the world's praise, because its work is a tangible
product, to be bought, or had for nothing. It bribes the common voice to
praise it by presents of speeches, poems, statues, pictures, or whatever
it can please with. Character evolves its best products for home
consumption; but, mind you, it takes a deal more to feed a family for
thirty years than to make a holiday feast for our neighbors once or twice
in our lives. You talk of the fire of genius. Many a blessed woman, who
dies unsung and unremembered, has given out more of the real vital heat
that keeps the life in human souls, without a spark flitting through her
humble chimney to tell the world about it, than would set a dozen
theories smoking, or a hundred odes simmering, in the brains of so many
men of genius. It is in latent caloric, if I may borrow a philosophical
expression, that many of the noblest hearts give out the life that warms
them. Cornelia's lips grow white, and her pulse hardly warms her thin
fingers,—but she has melted all the ice out of the hearts of those young
Gracchi, and her lost heat is in the blood of her youthful heroes. We
are always valuing the soul's temperature by the thermometer of public
deed or word. Yet the great sun himself, when he pours his noonday beams
upon some vast hyaline boulder, rent from the eternal ice-quarries, and
floating toward the tropics, never warms it a fraction above the
thirty-two degrees of Fahrenheit that marked the moment when the first
drop trickled down its side.
How we all like the spirting up of a fountain, seemingly against the law
that makes water everywhere slide, roll, leap, tumble headlong, to get as
low as the earth will let it! That is genius. But what is this
transient upward movement, which gives us the glitter and the rainbow, to
that unsleeping, all-present force of gravity, the same yesterday,
to-day, and forever, (if the universe be eternal,)—the great outspread
hand of God himself, forcing all things down into their places, and
keeping them there? Such, in smaller proportion, is the force of
character to the fitful movements of genius, as they are or have been
linked to each other in many a household, where one name was historic,
and the other, let me say the nobler, unknown, save by some faint
reflected ray, borrowed from its lustrous companion.
Oftentimes, as I have lain swinging on the water, in the swell of the
Chelsea ferry-boats, in that long, sharp-pointed, black cradle in which I
love to let the great mother rock me, I have seen a tall ship glide by
against the tide, as if drawn by some invisible towline, with a hundred
strong arms pulling it. Her sails hung unfilled, her streamers were
drooping, she had neither side-wheel nor stern-wheel; still she moved on,
stately, in serene triumph, as if with her own life. But I knew that on
the other side of the ship, hidden beneath the great hulk that swam so
majestically, there was a little toiling steam-tug, with heart of fire
and arms of iron, that was hugging it close and dragging it bravely on;
and I knew, that, if the little steam-tug untwined her arms and left the
tall ship, it would wallow and roll about, and drift hither and thither,
and go off with the refluent tide, no man knows whither. And so I have
known more than one genius, high-decked, full-freighted, wide-sailed,
gay-pennoned, that, but for the bare toiling arms, and brave, warm,
beating heart of the faithful little wife, that nestled close in his
shadow, and clung to him, so that no wind or wave could part them, and
dragged him on against all the tide of circumstance, would soon have gone
down the stream and been heard of no more.—No, I am too much a lover of
genius, I sometimes think, and too often get impatient with dull people,
so that, in their weak talk, where nothing is taken for granted, I look
forward to some future possible state of development, when a gesture
passing between a beatified human soul and an archangel shall signify as
much as the complete history of a planet, from the time when it curdled
to the time when its sun was burned out. And yet, when a strong brain is
weighed with a true heart, it seems to me like balancing a bubble against
a wedge of gold.
—It takes a very true man to be a fitting companion for a woman of
genius, but not a very great one. I am not sure that she will not
embroider her ideal better on a plain ground than on one with a brilliant
pattern already worked in its texture. But as the very essence of genius
is truthfulness, contact with realities, (which are always ideas behind
shows of form or language,) nothing is so contemptible as falsehood and
pretence in its eyes. Now it is not easy to find a perfectly true woman,
and it is very hard to find a perfectly true man. And a woman of genius,
who has the sagacity to choose such a one as her companion, shows more of
the divine gift in so doing than in her finest talk or her most brilliant
work of letters or of art.
I have been a good while coming at a secret, for which I wished to
prepare you before telling it. I think there is a kindly feeling growing
up between Iris and our young Marylander. Not that I suppose there is
any distinct understanding between them, but that the affinity which has
drawn him from the remote corner where he sat to the side of the young
girl is quietly bringing their two natures together. Just now she is all
given up to another; but when he no longer calls upon her daily thoughts
and cares, I warn you not to be surprised, if this bud of friendship open
like the evening primrose, with a sound as of a sudden stolen kiss, and
lo! the flower of full-blown love lies unfolded before you.
And now the days had come for our little friend, whose whims and
weaknesses had interested us, perhaps, as much as his better traits, to
make ready for that long journey which is easier to the cripple than to
the strong man, and on which none enters so willingly as he who has borne
the life-long load of infirmity during his earthly pilgrimage. At this
point, under most circumstances, I would close the doors and draw the
veil of privacy before the chamber where the birth which we call death,
out of life into the unknown world, is working its mystery. But this
friend of ours stood alone in the world, and, as the last act of his life
was mainly in harmony with the rest of its drama, I do not here feel the
force of the objection commonly lying against that death-bed literature
which forms the staple of a certain portion of the press. Let me explain
what I mean, so that my readers may think for themselves a little, before
they accuse me of hasty expressions.
The Roman Catholic Church has certain formulas for its dying children, to
which almost all of them attach the greatest importance. There is hardly
a criminal so abandoned that he is not anxious to receive the
"consolations of religion" in his last hours. Even if he be senseless,
but still living, I think that the form is gone through with, just as
baptism is administered to the unconscious new-born child. Now we do not
quarrel with these forms. We look with reverence and affection upon all
symbols which give peace and comfort to our fellow-creatures. But the
value of the new-born child's passive consent to the ceremony is null, as
testimony to the truth of a doctrine. The automatic closing of a dying
man's lips on the consecrated wafer proves nothing in favor of the Real
Presence, or any other dogma. And, speaking generally, the evidence of
dying men in favor of any belief is to be received with great caution.
They commonly tell the truth about their present feelings, no doubt. A
dying man's deposition about anything he knows is good evidence. But it
is of much less consequence what a man thinks and says when he is changed
by pain, weakness, apprehension, than what he thinks when he is truly and
wholly himself. Most murderers die in a very pious frame of mind,
expecting to go to glory at once; yet no man believes he shall meet a
larger average of pirates and cut-throats in the streets of the New
Jerusalem than of honest folks that died in their beds.
Unfortunately, there has been a very great tendency to make capital of
various kinds out of dying men's speeches. The lies that have been put
into their mouths for this purpose are endless. The prime minister,
whose last breath was spent in scolding his nurse, dies with a
magnificent apothegm on his lips, manufactured by a reporter. Addison
gets up a tableau and utters an admirable sentiment,—or somebody makes
the posthumous dying epigram for him. The incoherent babble of green
fields is translated into the language of stately sentiment. One would
think, all that dying men had to do was to say the prettiest thing they
could,—to make their rhetorical point,—and then bow themselves
politely out of the world.
Worse than this is the torturing of dying people to get their evidence in
favor of this or that favorite belief. The camp-followers of proselyting
sects have come in at the close of every life where they could get in, to
strip the languishing soul of its thoughts, and carry them off as spoils.
The Roman Catholic or other priest who insists on the reception of his
formula means kindly, we trust, and very commonly succeeds in getting the
acquiescence of the subject of his spiritual surgery, but do not let us
take the testimony of people who are in the worst condition to form
opinions as evidence of the truth or falsehood of that which they accept.
A lame man's opinion of dancing is not good for much. A poor fellow who
can neither eat nor drink, who is sleepless and full of pains, whose
flesh has wasted from him, whose blood is like water, who is gasping for
breath, is not in a condition to judge fairly of human life, which in all
its main adjustments is intended for men in a normal, healthy condition.
It is a remark I have heard from the wise Patriarch of the Medical
Profession among us, that the moral condition of patients with disease
above the great breathing-muscle, the diaphragm, is much more hopeful
than that of patients with disease below it, in the digestive organs.
Many an honest ignorant man has given us pathology when he thought he was
giving us psychology. With this preliminary caution I shall proceed to
the story of the Little Gentleman's leaving us.
When the divinity-student found that our fellow-boarder was not likely to
remain long with us, he, being a young man of tender conscience and
kindly nature, was not a little exercised on his behalf. It was
undeniable that on several occasions the Little Gentleman had expressed
himself with a good deal of freedom on a class of subjects which,
according to the divinity-student, he had no right to form an opinion
upon. He therefore considered his future welfare in jeopardy.
The Muggletonian sect have a very odd way of dealing with people. If I,
the Professor, will only give in to the Muggletonian doctrine, there
shall be no question through all that persuasion that I am competent to
judge of that doctrine; nay, I shall be quoted as evidence of its truth,
while I live, and cited, after I am dead, as testimony in its behalf.
But if I utter any ever so slight Anti-Muggletonian sentiment, then I
become incompetent to form any opinion on the matter. This, you cannot
fail to observe, is exactly the way the pseudo-sciences go to work, as
explained in my Lecture on Phrenology. Now I hold that he whose
testimony would be accepted in behalf of the Muggletonian doctrine has a
right to be heard against it. Whoso offers me any article of belief for
my signature implies that I am competent to form an opinion upon it; and
if my positive testimony in its favor is of any value, then my negative
testimony against it is also of value.
I thought my young friend's attitude was a little too much like that of
the Muggletonians. I also remarked a singular timidity on his part lest
somebody should "unsettle" somebody's faith,—as if faith did not require
exercise as much as any other living thing, and were not all the better
for a shaking up now and then. I don't mean that it would be fair to
bother Bridget, the wild Irish girl, or Joice Heth, the centenarian, or
any other intellectual non-combatant; but all persons who proclaim a
belief which passes judgment on their neighbors must be ready to have it
"unsettled," that is, questioned, at all times and by anybody,—just as
those who set up bars across a thoroughfare must expect to have them
taken down by every one who wants to pass, if he is strong enough.
Besides, to think of trying to water-proof the American mind against the
questions that Heaven rains down upon it shows a misapprehension of our
new conditions. If to question everything be unlawful and dangerous, we
had better undeclare our independence at once; for what the Declaration
means is the right to question everything, even the truth of its own
The old-world order of things is an arrangement of locks and canals,
where everything depends on keeping the gates shut, and so holding the
upper waters at their level; but the system under which the young
republican American is born trusts the whole unimpeded tide of life to
the great elemental influences, as the vast rivers of the continent
settle their own level in obedience to the laws that govern the planet
and the spheres that surround it.
The divinity-student was not quite up to the idea of the commonwealth, as
our young friend the Marylander, for instance, understood it. He could
not get rid of that notion of private property in truth, with the right
to fence it in, and put up a sign-board, thus:
ALL TRESPASSERS ARE WARNED OFF THESE
He took the young Marylander to task for going to the Church of the
Galileans, where he had several times accompanied Iris of late.
I am a Churchman,—the young man said,—by education and habit. I love
my old Church for many reasons, but most of all because I think it has
educated me out of its own forms into the spirit of its highest
teachings. I think I belong to the "Broad Church," if any of you can
tell what that means.
I had the rashness to attempt to answer the question myself.—Some say
the Broad Church means the collective mass of good people of all
denominations. Others say that such a definition is nonsense; that a
church is an organization, and the scattered good folks are no
organization at all. They think that men will eventually come together
on the basis of one or two or more common articles of belief, and form a
great unity. Do they see what this amounts to? It means an equal
division of intellect! It is mental agrarianism! a thing that never was
and never will be until national and individual idiosyncrasies have
ceased to exist. The man of thirty-nine beliefs holds the man of one
belief a pauper; he is not going to give up thirty-eight of them for the
sake of fraternizing with the other in the temple which bears on its
front, "Deo erexit Voltaire." A church is a garden, I have heard it
said, and the illustration was neatly handled. Yes, and there is no such
thing as a broad garden. It must be fenced in, and whatever is fenced in
is narrow. You cannot have arctic and tropical plants growing together
in it, except by the forcing system, which is a mighty narrow piece of
business. You can't make a village or a parish or a family think alike,
yet you suppose that you can make a world pinch its beliefs or pad them
to a single pattern! Why, the very life of an ecclesiastical
organization is a life of induction, a state of perpetually disturbed
equilibrium kept up by another charged body in the neighborhood. If the
two bodies touch and share their respective charges, down goes the index
of the electrometer!
Do you know that every man has a religious belief peculiar to himself?
Smith is always a Smithite. He takes in exactly Smith's-worth of
knowledge, Smith's-worth of truth, of beauty, of divinity. And Brown has
from time immemorial been trying to burn him, to excommunicate him, to
anonymous-article him, because he did not take in Brown's-worth of
knowledge, truth, beauty, divinity. He cannot do it, any more than a
pint-pot can hold a quart, or a quart-pot be filled by a pint. Iron is
essentially the same everywhere and always; but the sulphate of iron is
never the same as the carbonate of iron. Truth is invariable; but the
Smithate of truth must always differ from the Brownate of truth.
The wider the intellect, the larger and simpler the expressions in which
its knowledge is embodied. The inferior race, the degraded and enslaved
people, the small-minded individual, live in the details which to larger
minds and more advanced tribes of men reduce themselves to axioms and
laws. As races and individual minds must always differ just as sulphates
and carbonates do, I cannot see ground for expecting the Broad Church to
be founded on any fusion of intellectual beliefs, which of course implies
that those who hold the larger number of doctrines as essential shall
come down to those who hold the smaller number. These doctrines are to
the negative aristocracy what the quarterings of their coats are to the
positive orders of nobility.
The Broad Church, I think, will never be based on anything that requires
the use of language. Freemasonry gives an idea of such a church, and a
brother is known and cared for in a strange land where no word of his can
be understood. The apostle of this church may be a deaf mute carrying a
cup of cold water to a thirsting fellow-creature. The cup of cold water
does not require to be translated for a foreigner to understand it. I am
afraid the only Broad Church possible is one that has its creed in the
heart, and not in the head,—that we shall know its members by their
fruits, and not by their words. If you say this communion of well-doers
is no church, I can only answer, that all organized bodies have their
limits of size, and that when we find a man a hundred feet high and
thirty feet broad across the shoulders, we will look out for an
organization that shall include all Christendom.
Some of us do practically recognize a Broad Church and a Narrow Church,
however. The Narrow Church may be seen in the ship's boats of humanity,
in the long boat, in the jolly boat, in the captain's gig, lying off the
poor old vessel, thanking God that they are safe, and reckoning how soon
the hulk containing the mass of their fellow-creatures will go down. The
Broad Church is on board, working hard at the pumps, and very slow to
believe that the ship will be swallowed up with so many poor people in
it, fastened down under the hatches ever since it floated.
—All this, of course, was nothing but my poor notion about these
matters. I am simply an "outsider," you know; only it doesn't do very
well for a nest of Hingham boxes to talk too much about outsiders and
After this talk of ours, I think these two young people went pretty
regularly to the Church of the Galileans. Still they could not keep away
from the sweet harmonies and rhythmic litanies of Saint Polycarp on the
great Church festival-days; so that, between the two, they were so much
together, that the boarders began to make remarks, and our landlady said
to me, one day, that, though it was noon of her business, them that had
eyes couldn't help seein' that there was somethin' goin', on between them
two young people; she thought the young man was a very likely young man,
though jest what his prospecs was was unbeknown to her; but she thought
he must be doing well, and rather guessed he would be able to take care
of a femily, if he didn't go to takin' a house; for a gentleman and his
wife could board a great deal cheaper than they could keep house;—but
then that girl was nothin' but a child, and wouldn't think of bein'
married this five year. They was good boarders, both of 'em, paid
regular, and was as pooty a couple as she ever laid eyes on.
—To come back to what I began to speak of before,—the divinity-student
was exercised in his mind about the Little Gentleman, and, in the
kindness of his heart,—for he was a good young man,—and in the strength
of his convictions,—for he took it for granted that he and his crowd
were right, and other folks and their crowd were wrong,—he determined to
bring the Little Gentleman round to his faith before he died, if he
could. So he sent word to the sick man, that he should be pleased to
visit him and have some conversation with him; and received for answer
that he would be welcome.
The divinity-student made him a visit, therefore and had a somewhat
remarkable interview with him, which I shall briefly relate, without
attempting to justify the positions taken by the Little Gentleman. He
found him weak, but calm. Iris sat silent by his pillow.
After the usual preliminaries, the divinity-student said; in a kind way,
that he was sorry to find him in failing health, that he felt concerned
for his soul, and was anxious to assist him in making preparations for
the great change awaiting him.
I thank you, Sir,—said the Little Gentleman, permit me to ask you, what
makes you think I am not ready for it, Sir, and that you can do anything
to help me, Sir?
I address you only as a fellow-man,—said the divinity-student,—and
therefore a fellow-sinner.
I am not a man, Sir!—said the Little Gentleman.—I was born into this
world the wreck of a man, and I shall not be judged with a race to which
I do not belong. Look at this!—he said, and held up his withered
arm.—See there!—and he pointed to his misshapen extremities.—Lay your
hand here!—and he laid his own on the region of his misplaced heart.—I
have known nothing of the life of your race. When I first came to my
consciousness, I found myself an object of pity, or a sight to show. The
first strange child I ever remember hid its face and would not come near
me. I was a broken-hearted as well as broken-bodied boy. I grew into
the emotions of ripening youth, and all that I could have loved shrank
from my presence. I became a man in years, and had nothing in common
with manhood but its longings. My life is the dying pang of a worn-out
race, and I shall go down alone into the dust, out of this world of men
and women, without ever knowing the fellowship of the one or the love of
the other. I will not die with a lie rattling in my throat. If another
state of being has anything worse in store for me, I have had a long
apprenticeship to give me strength that I may bear it. I don't believe
it, Sir! I have too much faith for that. God has not left me wholly
without comfort, even here. I love this old place where I was born;—the
heart of the world beats under the three hills of Boston, Sir! I love
this great land, with so many tall men in it, and so many good, noble
women.—His eyes turned to the silent figure by his pillow.—I have
learned to accept meekly what has been allotted to me, but I cannot
honestly say that I think my sin has been greater than my suffering. I
bear the ignorance and the evil-doing of whole generations in my single
person. I never drew a breath of air nor took a step that was not a
punishment for another's fault. I may have had many wrong thoughts, but
I cannot have done many wrong deeds,—for my cage has been a narrow one,
and I have paced it alone. I have looked through the bars and seen the
great world of men busy and happy, but I had no part in their doings. I
have known what it was to dream of the great passions; but since my
mother kissed me before she died, no woman's lips have pressed my
cheek,—nor ever will.
—The young girl's eyes glittered with a sudden film, and almost without
a thought, but with a warm human instinct that rushed up into her face
with her heart's blood, she bent over and kissed him. It was the
sacrament that washed out the memory of long years of bitterness, and I
should hold it an unworthy thought to defend her. The Little Gentleman
repaid her with the only tear any of us ever saw him shed.
The divinity-student rose from his place, and, turning away from the sick
man, walked to the other side of the room, where he bowed his head and
was still. All the questions he had meant to ask had faded from his
memory. The tests he had prepared by which to judge of his
fellow-creature's fitness for heaven seemed to have lost their virtue.
He could trust the crippled child of sorrow to the Infinite Parent. The
kiss of the fair-haired girl had been like a sign from heaven, that
angels watched over him whom he was presuming but a moment before to
summon before the tribunal of his private judgment. Shall I pray with
you?—he said, after a pause. A little before he would have said, Shall
I pray for you?—The Christian religion, as taught by its Founder, is
full of sentiment. So we must not blame the divinity-student, if he was
overcome by those yearnings of human sympathy which predominate so much
more in the sermons of the Master than in the writings of his successors,
and which have made the parable of the Prodigal Son the consolation of
mankind, as it has been the stumbling-block of all exclusive doctrines.
Pray!—said the Little Gentleman.
The divinity-student prayed, in low, tender tones,
Iris and the Little Gentleman that God would look on his servant lying
helpless at the feet of his mercy; that He would remember his long years
of bondage in the flesh; that He would deal gently with the bruised reed.
Thou hast visited the sins of the fathers upon this their child. Oh,
turn away from him the penalties of his own transgressions! Thou hast
laid upon him, from infancy, the cross which thy stronger children are
called upon to take up; and now that he is fainting under it, be Thou his
stay, and do Thou succor him that is tempted! Let his manifold
infirmities come between him and Thy judgment; in wrath remember mercy!
If his eyes are not opened to all Thy truth, let Thy compassion lighten
the darkness that rests upon him, even as it came through the word of thy
Son to blind Bartimeus, who sat by the wayside, begging!
Many more petitions he uttered, but all in the same subdued tone of
tenderness. In the presence of helpless suffering, and in the
fast-darkening shadow of the Destroyer, he forgot all but his Christian
humanity, and cared more about consoling his fellow-man than making a
proselyte of him.
This was the last prayer to which the Little Gentleman ever listened.
Some change was rapidly coming over him during this last hour of which I
have been speaking. The excitement of pleading his cause before his
self-elected spiritual adviser,—the emotion which overcame him, when the
young girl obeyed the sudden impulse of her feelings and pressed her lips
to his cheek,—the thoughts that mastered him while the divinity-student
poured out his soul for him in prayer, might well hurry on the inevitable
moment. When the divinity-student had uttered his last petition,
commending him to the Father through his Son's intercession, he turned to
look upon him before leaving his chamber. His face was changed.—There
is a language of the human countenance which we all understand without an
interpreter, though the lineaments belong to the rudest savage that ever
stammered in an unknown barbaric dialect. By the stillness of the
sharpened features, by the blankness of the tearless eyes, by the
fixedness of the smileless mouth, by the deadening tints, by the
contracted brow, by the dilating nostril, we know that the soul is soon
to leave its mortal tenement, and is already closing up its windows and
putting out its fires.—Such was the aspect of the face upon which the
divinity-student looked, after the brief silence which followed his
prayer. The change had been rapid, though not that abrupt one which is
liable to happen at any moment in these cases.—The sick man looked
towards him.—Farewell,—he said,—I thank you. Leave me alone with her.
When the divinity-student had gone, and the Little Gentleman found
himself alone with Iris, he lifted his hand to his neck, and took from
it, suspended by a slender chain, a quaint, antique-looking key,—the
same key I had once seen him holding. He gave this to her, and pointed
to a carved cabinet opposite his bed, one of those that had so attracted
my curious eyes and set me wondering as to what it might contain.
Open it,—he said,—and light the lamp.—The young girl walked to the
cabinet and unlocked the door. A deep recess appeared, lined with black
velvet, against which stood in white relief an ivory crucifix. A silver
lamp hung over it. She lighted the lamp and came back to the bedside.
The dying man fixed his eyes upon the figure of the dying Saviour.—Give
me your hand, he said; and Iris placed her right hand in his left. So
they remained, until presently his eyes lost their meaning, though they
still remained vacantly fixed upon the white image. Yet he held the
young girl's hand firmly, as if it were leading him through some
deep-shadowed valley and it was all he could cling to. But presently an
involuntary muscular contraction stole over him, and his terrible dying
grasp held the poor girl as if she were wedged in an engine of torture.
She pressed her lips together and sat still. The inexorable hand held
her tighter and tighter, until she felt as if her own slender fingers
would be crushed in its gripe. It was one of the tortures of the
Inquisition she was suffering, and she could not stir from her place.
Then, in her great anguish, she, too, cast her eyes upon that dying
figure, and, looking upon its pierced hands and feet and side and
lacerated forehead, she felt that she also must suffer uncomplaining. In
the moment of her sharpest pain she did not forget the duties of her
under office, but dried the dying man's moist forehead with her
handkerchief, even while the dews of agony were glistening on her own.
How long this lasted she never could tell. Time and thirst are two
things you and I talk about; but the victims whom holy men and righteous
judges used to stretch on their engines knew better what they meant than
you or I!—What is that great bucket of water for? said the Marchioness
de Brinvilliers, before she was placed on the rack.—For you to
drink,—said the torturer to the little woman.—She could not think that
it would take such a flood to quench the fire in her and so keep her
alive for her confession. The torturer knew better than she.
After a time not to be counted in minutes, as the clock measures,
—without any warning,—there came a swift change of his features; his
face turned white, as the waters whiten when a sudden breath passes over
their still surface; the muscles instantly relaxed, and Iris, released at
once from her care for the sufferer and from his unconscious grasp, fell
senseless, with a feeble cry,—the only utterance of her long agony.
Perhaps you sometimes wander in through the iron gates of the Copp's Hill
burial-ground. You love to stroll round among the graves that crowd each
other in the thickly peopled soil of that breezy summit. You love to lean
on the freestone slab which lies over the bones of the Mathers,—to read
the epitaph of stout William Clark, "Despiser of Sorry Persons and little
Actions,"—to stand by the stone grave of sturdy Daniel Malcolm and look
upon the splintered slab that tells the old rebel's story,—to kneel by
the triple stone that says how the three Worthylakes, father, mother, and
young daughter, died on the same day and lie buried there; a mystery; the
subject of a moving ballad, by the late BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, as may be seen
in his autobiography, which will explain the secret of the triple
gravestone; though the old philosopher has made a mistake, unless the
stone is wrong.
Not very far from that you will find a fair mound, of dimensions fit to
hold a well-grown man. I will not tell you the inscription upon the
stone which stands at its head; for I do not wish you to be sure of the
resting-place of one who could not bear to think that he should be known
as a cripple among the dead, after being pointed at so long among the
living. There is one sign, it is true, by which, if you have been a
sagacious reader of these papers, you will at once know it; but I fear
you read carelessly, and must study them more diligently before you will
detect the hint to which I allude.
The Little Gentleman lies where he longed to lie, among the old names and
the old bones of the old Boston people. At the foot of his resting-place
is the river, alive with the wings and antennae of its colossal
water-insects; over opposite are the great war-ships, and the heavy guns,
which, when they roar, shake the soil in which he lies; and in the
steeple of Christ Church, hard by, are the sweet chimes which are the
Boston boy's Ranz des Vaches, whose echoes follow him all the world over.
I, told you a good while ago that the Little Gentleman could not do a
better thing than to leave all his money, whatever it might be, to the
young girl who has since that established such a claim upon him. He did
not, however. A considerable bequest to one of our public institutions
keeps his name in grateful remembrance. The telescope through which he
was fond of watching the heavenly bodies, and the movements of which had
been the source of such odd fancies on my part, is now the property of a
Western College. You smile as you think of my taking it for a fleshless
human figure, when I saw its tube pointing to the sky, and thought it was
an arm, under the white drapery thrown over it for protection. So do I
smile now; I belong to the numerous class who are prophets after the
fact, and hold my nightmares very cheap by daylight.
I have received many letters of inquiry as to the sound resembling a
woman's voice, which occasioned me so many perplexities. Some thought
there was no question that he had a second apartment, in which he had
made an asylum for a deranged female relative. Others were of opinion
that he was, as I once suggested, a "Bluebeard" with patriarchal
tendencies, and I have even been censured for introducing so Oriental an
element into my record of boarding-house experience.
Come in and see me, the Professor, some evening when I have nothing else
to do, and ask me to play you Tartini's Devil's Sonata on that
extraordinary instrument in my possession, well known to amateurs as one
of the masterpieces of Joseph Guarnerius. The vox humana of the great
Haerlem organ is very lifelike, and the same stop in the organ of the
Cambridge chapel might be mistaken in some of its tones for a human
voice; but I think you never heard anything come so near the cry of a
prima donna as the A string and the E string of this instrument. A
single fact will illustrate the resemblance. I was executing some tours
de force upon it one evening, when the policeman of our district rang the
bell sharply, and asked what was the matter in the house. He had heard a
woman's screams,—he was sure of it. I had to make the instrument sing
before his eyes before he could be satisfied that he had not heard the
cries of a woman. The instrument was bequeathed to me by the Little
Gentleman. Whether it had anything to do with the sounds I heard coming
from his chamber, you can form your own opinion;—I have no other
conjecture to offer. It is not true that a second apartment with a
secret entrance was found; and the story of the veiled lady is the
invention of one of the Reporters.
Bridget, the housemaid, always insisted that he died a Catholic. She had
seen the crucifix, and believed that he prayed on his knees before it.
The last circumstance is very probably true; indeed, there was a spot
worn on the carpet just before this cabinet which might be thus accounted
for. Why he, whose whole life was a crucifixion, should not love to look
on that divine image of blameless suffering, I cannot see; on the
contrary, it seems to me the most natural thing in the world that he
should. But there are those who want to make private property of
everything, and can't make up their minds that people who don't think as
they do should claim any interest in that infinite compassion expressed
in the central figure of the Christendom which includes us all.
The divinity-student expressed a hope before the boarders that he should
meet him in heaven.—The question is, whether he'll meet you,—said the
young fellow John, rather smartly. The divinity-student had n't thought
However, he is a worthy young man, and I trust I have shown him in a
kindly and respectful light. He will get a parish by-and-by; and, as he
is about to marry the sister of an old friend,—the Schoolmistress, whom
some of us remember,—and as all sorts of expensive accidents happen to
young married ministers, he will be under bonds to the amount of his
salary, which means starvation, if they are forfeited, to think all his
days as he thought when he was settled,—unless the majority of his
people change with him or in advance of him. A hard ease, to which
nothing could reconcile a man, except that the faithful discharge of
daily duties in his personal relations with his parishioners will make
him useful enough in his way, though as a thinker he may cease to exist
before he has reached middle age.
—Iris went into mourning for the Little Gentleman. Although, as I have
said, he left the bulk of his property, by will, to a public institution,
he added a codicil, by which he disposed of various pieces of property as
tokens of kind remembrance. It was in this way I became the possessor of
the wonderful instrument I have spoken of, which had been purchased for
him out of an Italian convent. The landlady was comforted with a small
legacy. The following extract relates to Iris: "in consideration of her
manifold acts of kindness, but only in token of grateful remembrance, and
by no means as a reward for services which cannot be compensated, a
certain messuage, with all the land thereto appertaining, situated in
______ Street, at the North End, so called, of Boston, aforesaid, the
same being the house in which I was born, but now inhabited by several
families, and known as 'The Rookery.'" Iris had also the crucifix, the
portrait, and the red-jewelled ring. The funeral or death's-head ring
was buried with him.
It was a good while, after the Little Gentleman was gone, before our
boarding-house recovered its wonted cheerfulness. There was a flavor in
his whims and local prejudices that we liked, even while we smiled at
them. It was hard to see the tall chair thrust away among useless
lumber, to dismantle his room, to take down the picture of Leah, the
handsome Witch of Essex, to move away the massive shelves that held the
books he loved, to pack up the tube through which he used to study the
silent stars, looking down at him like the eyes of dumb creatures, with a
kind of stupid half-consciousness that did not worry him as did the eyes
of men and women,—and hardest of all to displace that sacred figure to
which his heart had always turned and found refuge, in the feelings it
inspired, from all the perplexities of his busy brain. It was hard, but
it had to be done.
And by-and-by we grew cheerful again, and the breakfast-table wore
something of its old look. The Koh-i-noor, as we named the gentleman
with the diamond, left us, however, soon after that "little mill," as the
young fellow John called it, where he came off second best. His
departure was no doubt hastened by a note from the landlady's daughter,
inclosing a lock of purple hair which she "had valued as a pledge of
affection, ere she knew the hollowness of the vows he had breathed,"
speedily followed by another, inclosing the landlady's bill. The next
morning he was missing, as were his limited wardrobe and the trunk that
held it. Three empty bottles of Mrs. Allen's celebrated preparation,
each of them asserting, on its word of honor as a bottle, that its former
contents were "not a dye," were all that was left to us of the
From this time forward, the landlady's daughter manifested a decided
improvement in her style of carrying herself before the boarders. She
abolished the odious little flat, gummy side-curl. She left off various
articles of "jewelry." She began to help her mother in some of her
household duties. She became a regular attendant on the ministrations of
a very worthy clergyman, having been attracted to his meetin' by
witnessing a marriage ceremony in which he called a man and a woman a
"gentleman" and a "lady,"—a stroke of gentility which quite overcame
her. She even took a part in what she called a Sabbath school, though it
was held on Sunday, and by no means on Saturday, as the name she intended
to utter implied. All this, which was very sincere, as I believe, on her
part, and attended with a great improvement in her character, ended in
her bringing home a young man, with straight, sandy hair, brushed so as
to stand up steeply above his forehead, wearing a pair of green
spectacles, and dressed in black broadcloth. His personal aspect, and a
certain solemnity of countenance, led me to think he must be a clergyman;
and as Master Benjamin Franklin blurted out before several of us
boarders, one day, that "Sis had got a beau," I was pleased at the
prospect of her becoming a minister's wife. On inquiry, however, I found
that the somewhat solemn look which I had noticed was indeed a
professional one, but not clerical. He was a young undertaker, who had
just succeeded to a thriving business. Things, I believe, are going on
well at this time of writing, and I am glad for the landlady's daughter
and her mother. Sextons and undertakers are the cheerfullest people in
the world at home, as comedians and circus-clowns are the most melancholy
in their domestic circle.
As our old boarding-house is still in existence, I do not feel at liberty
to give too minute a statement of the present condition of each and all
of its inmates. I am happy to say, however, that they are all alive and
well, up to this time. That amiable old gentleman who sat opposite to me
is growing older, as old men will, but still smiles benignantly on all
the boarders, and has come to be a kind of father to all of them,—so
that on his birthday there is always something like a family festival.
The Poor Relation, even, has warmed into a filial feeling towards him,
and on his last birthday made him a beautiful present, namely, a very
handsomely bound copy of Blair's celebrated poem, "The Grave."
The young man John is still, as he says, "in fustrate fettle." I saw him
spar, not long since, at a private exhibition, and do himself great
credit in a set-to with Henry Finnegass, Esq., a professional gentleman
of celebrity. I am pleased to say that he has been promoted to an upper
clerkship, and, in consequence of his rise in office, has taken an
apartment somewhat lower down than number "forty-'leven," as he
facetiously called his attic. Whether there is any truth, or not, in the
story of his attachment to, and favorable reception by, the daughter of
the head of an extensive wholesale grocer's establishment, I will not
venture an opinion; I may say, however, that I have met him repeatedly in
company with a very well-nourished and high-colored young lady, who, I
understand, is the daughter of the house in question.
Some of the boarders were of opinion that Iris did not return the
undisguised attentions of the handsome young Marylander. Instead of
fixing her eyes steadily on him, as she used to look upon the Little
Gentleman, she would turn them away, as if to avoid his own. They often
went to church together, it is true; but nobody, of course, supposes
there is any relation between religious sympathy and those wretched
"sentimental" movements of the human heart upon which it is commonly
agreed that nothing better is based than society, civilization,
friendship, the relation of husband and wife, and of parent and child,
and which many people must think were singularly overrated by the Teacher
of Nazareth, whose whole life, as I said before, was full of sentiment,
loving this or that young man, pardoning this or that sinner, weeping
over the dead, mourning for the doomed city, blessing, and perhaps
kissing, the little children, so that the Gospels are still cried over
almost as often as the last work of fiction!
But one fine June morning there rumbled up to the door of our
boarding-house a hack containing a lady inside and a trunk on the
outside. It was our friend the lady-patroness of Miss Iris, the same who
had been called by her admiring pastor "The Model of all the Virtues."
Once a week she had written a letter, in a rather formal hand, but full
of good advice, to her young charge. And now she had come to carry her
away, thinking that she had learned all she was likely to learn under her
present course of teaching. The Model, however, was to stay awhile,—a
week, or more,—before they should leave together.
Iris was obedient, as she was bound to be. She was respectful, grateful,
as a child is with a just, but not tender parent. Yet something was
wrong. She had one of her trances, and became statue-like, as before,
only the day after the Model's arrival. She was wan and silent, tasted
nothing at table, smiled as if by a forced effort, and often looked
vaguely away from those who were looking at her, her eyes just glazed
with the shining moisture of a tear that must not be allowed to gather
and fall. Was it grief at parting from the place where her strange
friendship had grown up with the Little Gentleman? Yet she seemed to
have become reconciled to his loss, and rather to have a deep feeling of
gratitude that she had been permitted to care for him in his last weary
The Sunday after the Model's arrival, that lady had an attack of
headache, and was obliged to shut herself up in a darkened room alone.
Our two young friends took the opportunity to go together to the Church
of the Galileans. They said but little going,—"collecting their
thoughts" for the service, I devoutly hope. My kind good friend the
pastor preached that day one of his sermons that make us all feel like
brothers and sisters, and his text was that affectionate one from John,
"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in
deed and in truth." When Iris and her friend came out of church, they
were both pale, and walked a space without speaking.
At last the young man said,—You and I are not little children, Iris!
She looked in his face an instant, as if startled, for there was
something strange in the tone of his voice. She smiled faintly, but
spoke never a word.
In deed and in truth, Iris,——
What shall a poor girl say or do, when a strong man falters in his speech
before her, and can do nothing better than hold out his hand to finish
his broken sentence?
The poor girl said nothing, but quietly laid her ungloved hand in
his,—the little soft white hand which had ministered so tenderly and
suffered so patiently.
The blood came back to the young man's cheeks, as he lifted it to his
lips, even as they walked there in the street, touched it gently with
them, and said, "It is mine!"
Iris did not contradict him.
The seasons pass by so rapidly, that I am startled to think how much has
happened since these events I was describing. Those two young people
would insist on having their own way about their own affairs,
notwithstanding the good lady, so justly called the Model, insisted that
the age of twenty-five years was as early as any discreet young lady
should think of incurring the responsibilities, etc., etc. Long before
Iris had reached that age, she was the wife of a young Maryland engineer,
directing some of the vast constructions of his native State,—where he
was growing rich fast enough to be able to decline that famous Russian
offer which would have made him a kind of nabob in a few years. Iris
does not write verse often, nowadays, but she sometimes draws. The last
sketch of hers I have seen in my Southern visits was of two children, a
boy and girl, the youngest holding a silver goblet, like the one she held
that evening when I—I was so struck with her statue-like beauty. If in
the later, summer months you find the grass marked with footsteps around
that grave on Copp's Hill I told you of, and flowers scattered over it,
you may be sure that Iris is here on her annual visit to the home of her
childhood and that excellent lady whose only fault was, that Nature had
written out her list of virtues an ruled paper, and forgotten to rub out
One thing more I must mention. Being on the Common, last Sunday, I was
attracted by the cheerful spectacle of a well-dressed and somewhat
youthful papa wheeling a very elegant little carriage containing a stout
baby. A buxom young lady watched them from one of the stone seats, with
an interest which could be nothing less than maternal. I at once
recognized my old friend, the young fellow whom we called John. He was
delighted to see me, introduced me to "Madam," and would have the lusty
infant out of the carriage, and hold him up for me to look at.
Now, then,—he said to the two-year-old,—show the gentleman how you hit
from the shoulder. Whereupon the little imp pushed his fat fist straight
into my eye, to his father's intense satisfaction.
Fust-rate little chap,—said the papa.—Chip of the old block. Regl'r
little Johnny, you know.
I was so much pleased to find the young fellow settled in life, and
pushing about one of "them little articles" he had seemed to want so
much, that I took my "punishment" at the hands of the infant pugilist
with great equanimity.—And how is the old boarding-house?—I asked.
A 1,—he answered.—Painted and papered as good as new. Gabs in all the
rooms up to the skyparlors. Old woman's layin' up money, they say.
Means to send Ben Franklin to college. Just then the first bell rang for
church, and my friend, who, I understand, has become a most exemplary
member of society, said he must be off to get ready for meetin', and told
the young one to "shake dada," which he did with his closed fist, in a
somewhat menacing manner. And so the young man John, as we used to call
him, took the pole of the miniature carriage, and pushed the small
pugilist before him homewards, followed, in a somewhat leisurely way, by
his pleasant-looking lady-companion, and I sent a sigh and a smile after
That evening, as soon as it was dark, I could not help going round by the
old boarding-house. The "gahs" was lighted, but the curtains, or more
properly, the painted shades; were not down. And so I stood there and
looked in along the table where the boarders sat at the evening
meal,—our old breakfast-table, which some of us feel as if we knew so
well. There were new faces at it, but also old and familiar ones.—The
landlady, in a wonderfully smart cap, looking young, comparatively
speaking, and as if half the wrinkles had been ironed out of her
forehead.—Her daughter, in rather dressy half-mourning, with a vast
brooch of jet, got up, apparently, to match the gentleman next her, who
was in black costume and sandy hair,—the last rising straight from his
forehead, like the marble flame one sometimes sees at the top of a
funeral urn.—The Poor Relation, not in absolute black, but in a stuff
with specks of white; as much as to say, that, if there were any more
Hirams left to sigh for her, there were pin-holes in the night of her
despair, through which a ray of hope might find its way to an adorer.
—Master Benjamin Franklin, grown taller of late, was in the act of
splitting his face open with a wedge of pie, so that his features were
seen to disadvantage for the moment.—The good old gentleman was sitting
still and thoughtful. All at once he turned his face toward the window
where I stood, and, just as if he had seen me, smiled his benignant
smile. It was a recollection of some past pleasant moment; but it fell
upon me like the blessing of a father.
I kissed my hand to them all, unseen as I stood in the outer darkness;
and as I turned and went my way, the table and all around it faded into
the realm of twilight shadows and of midnight dreams.
And so my year's record is finished. The Professor has talked less than
his predecessor, but he has heard and seen more. Thanks to all those
friends who from time to time have sent their messages of kindly
recognition and fellow-feeling! Peace to all such as may have been vexed
in spirit by any utterance these pages have repeated! They will,
doubtless, forget for the moment the difference in the hues of truth we
look at through our human prisms, and join in singing (inwardly) this
hymn to the Source of the light we all need to lead us, and the warmth
which alone can make us all brothers.
A SUN-DAY HYMN.
Lord of all being! throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star,
Centre and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!
Sun of our life, thy quickening ray
Sheds on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, thy softened light
Cheers the long watches of the night.
Our midnight is thy smile withdrawn;
Our noontide is thy gracious dawn;
Our rainbow arch thy mercy's sign;
All, save the clouds of sin, are thine!
Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before thy ever-blazing throne
We ask no lustre of our own.
Grant us thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for thee,
Till all thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame.
One holy light, one heavenly flame.