Infomotions, Inc.Backlog Studies / Warner, Charles Dudley, 1829-1900



Author: Warner, Charles Dudley, 1829-1900
Title: Backlog Studies
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): mandeville; herbert; parson; mistress
Contributor(s): Cotton, Charles, 1630-1687 [Translator]
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Title: Backlog Studies

Author: Charles Dudley Warner

Release Date: August 22, 2006 [EBook #3134]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BACKLOG STUDIES ***




Produced by David Widger





BACKLOG STUDIES

By Charles Dudley Warner



FIRST STUDY

I

The fire on the hearth has almost gone out in New England; the hearth
has gone out; the family has lost its center; age ceases to be
respected; sex is only distinguished by a difference between
millinery bills and tailors' bills; there is no more toast-and-cider;
the young are not allowed to eat mince-pies at ten o'clock at night;
half a cheese is no longer set to toast before the fire; you scarcely
ever see in front of the coals a row of roasting apples, which a
bright little girl, with many a dive and start, shielding her sunny
face from the fire with one hand, turns from time to time; scarce are
the gray-haired sires who strop their razors on the family Bible, and
doze in the chimney-corner. A good many things have gone out with
the fire on the hearth.

I do not mean to say that public and private morality have vanished
with the hearth. A good degree of purity and considerable happiness
are possible with grates and blowers; it is a day of trial, when we
are all passing through a fiery furnace, and very likely we shall be
purified as we are dried up and wasted away. Of course the family is
gone, as an institution, though there still are attempts to bring up
a family round a "register." But you might just as well try to bring
it up by hand, as without the rallying-point of a hearthstone. Are
there any homesteads nowadays? Do people hesitate to change houses
any more than they do to change their clothes? People hire houses as
they would a masquerade costume, liking, sometimes, to appear for a
year in a little fictitious stone-front splendor above their means.
Thus it happens that so many people live in houses that do not fit
them. I should almost as soon think of wearing another person's
clothes as his house; unless I could let it out and take it in until
it fitted, and somehow expressed my own character and taste. But we
have fallen into the days of conformity. It is no wonder that people
constantly go into their neighbors' houses by mistake, just as, in
spite of the Maine law, they wear away each other's hats from an
evening party. It has almost come to this, that you might as well be
anybody else as yourself.

Am I mistaken in supposing that this is owing to the discontinuance
of big chimneys, with wide fireplaces in them? How can a person be
attached to a house that has no center of attraction, no soul in it,
in the visible form of a glowing fire, and a warm chimney, like the
heart in the body? When you think of the old homestead, if you ever
do, your thoughts go straight to the wide chimney and its burning
logs. No wonder that you are ready to move from one fireplaceless
house into another. But you have something just as good, you say.
Yes, I have heard of it. This age, which imitates everything, even
to the virtues of our ancestors, has invented a fireplace, with
artificial, iron, or composition logs in it, hacked and painted, in
which gas is burned, so that it has the appearance of a wood-fire.
This seems to me blasphemy. Do you think a cat would lie down before
it? Can you poke it? If you can't poke it, it is a fraud. To poke
a wood-fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the
world. The crowning human virtue in a man is to let his wife poke
the fire. I do not know how any virtue whatever is possible over an
imitation gas-log. What a sense of insincerity the family must have,
if they indulge in the hypocrisy of gathering about it. With this
center of untruthfulness, what must the life in the family be?
Perhaps the father will be living at the rate of ten thousand a year
on a salary of four thousand; perhaps the mother, more beautiful and
younger than her beautified daughters, will rouge; perhaps the young
ladies will make wax-work. A cynic might suggest as the motto of
modern life this simple legend,--"just as good as the real." But I am
not a cynic, and I hope for the rekindling of wood-fires, and a
return of the beautiful home light from them. If a wood-fire is a
luxury, it is cheaper than many in which we indulge without thought,
and cheaper than the visits of a doctor, made necessary by the want
of ventilation of the house. Not that I have anything against
doctors; I only wish, after they have been to see us in a way that
seems so friendly, they had nothing against us.

My fireplace, which is deep, and nearly three feet wide, has a broad
hearthstone in front of it, where the live coals tumble down, and a
pair of gigantic brass andirons. The brasses are burnished, and
shine cheerfully in the firelight, and on either side stand tall
shovel and tongs, like sentries, mounted in brass. The tongs, like
the two-handed sword of Bruce, cannot be wielded by puny people. We
burn in it hickory wood, cut long. We like the smell of this
aromatic forest timber, and its clear flame. The birch is also a
sweet wood for the hearth, with a sort of spiritual flame and an even
temper,--no snappishness. Some prefer the elm, which holds fire so
well; and I have a neighbor who uses nothing but apple-tree wood,--a
solid, family sort of wood, fragrant also, and full of delightful
suggestions. But few people can afford to burn up their fruit trees.
I should as soon think of lighting the fire with sweet-oil that comes
in those graceful wicker-bound flasks from Naples, or with manuscript
sermons, which, however, do not burn well, be they never so dry, not
half so well as printed editorials.

Few people know how to make a wood-fire, but everybody thinks he or
she does. You want, first, a large backlog, which does not rest on
the andirons. This will keep your fire forward, radiate heat all
day, and late in the evening fall into a ruin of glowing coals, like
the last days of a good man, whose life is the richest and most
beneficent at the close, when the flames of passion and the sap of
youth are burned out, and there only remain the solid, bright
elements of character. Then you want a forestick on the andirons;
and upon these build the fire of lighter stuff. In this way you have
at once a cheerful blaze, and the fire gradually eats into the solid
mass, sinking down with increasing fervor; coals drop below, and
delicate tongues of flame sport along the beautiful grain of the
forestick. There are people who kindle a fire underneath. But these
are conceited people, who are wedded to their own way. I suppose an
accomplished incendiary always starts a fire in the attic, if he can.
I am not an incendiary, but I hate bigotry. I don't call those
incendiaries very good Christians who, when they set fire to the
martyrs, touched off the fagots at the bottom, so as to make them go
slow. Besides, knowledge works down easier than it does up.
Education must proceed from the more enlightened down to the more
ignorant strata. If you want better common schools, raise the
standard of the colleges, and so on. Build your fire on top. Let
your light shine. I have seen people build a fire under a balky
horse; but he wouldn't go, he'd be a horse-martyr first. A fire
kindled under one never did him any good. Of course you can make a
fire on the hearth by kindling it underneath, but that does not make
it right. I want my hearthfire to be an emblem of the best things.



II

It must be confessed that a wood-fire needs as much tending as a pair
of twins. To say nothing of fiery projectiles sent into the room,
even by the best wood, from the explosion of gases confined in its
cells, the brands are continually dropping down, and coals are being
scattered over the hearth. However much a careful housewife, who
thinks more of neatness than enjoyment, may dislike this, it is one
of the chief delights of a wood-fire. I would as soon have an
Englishman without side-whiskers as a fire without a big backlog; and
I would rather have no fire than one that required no tending,--one
of dead wood that could not sing again the imprisoned songs of the
forest, or give out in brilliant scintillations the sunshine it
absorbed in its growth. Flame is an ethereal sprite, and the spice
of danger in it gives zest to the care of the hearth-fire. Nothing
is so beautiful as springing, changing flame,--it was the last freak
of the Gothic architecture men to represent the fronts of elaborate
edifices of stone as on fire, by the kindling flamboyant devices. A
fireplace is, besides, a private laboratory, where one can witness
the most brilliant chemical experiments, minor conflagrations only
wanting the grandeur of cities on fire. It is a vulgar notion that a
fire is only for heat. A chief value of it is, however, to look at.
It is a picture, framed between the jambs. You have nothing on your
walls, by the best masters (the poor masters are not, however,
represented), that is really so fascinating, so spiritual. Speaking
like an upholsterer, it furnishes the room. And it is never twice
the same. In this respect it is like the landscape-view through a
window, always seen in a new light, color, or condition. The
fireplace is a window into the most charming world I ever had a
glimpse of.

Yet direct heat is an agreeable sensation. I am not scientific
enough to despise it, and have no taste for a winter residence on
Mount Washington, where the thermometer cannot be kept comfortable
even by boiling. They say that they say in Boston that there is a
satisfaction in being well dressed which religion cannot give. There
is certainly a satisfaction in the direct radiance of a hickory fire
which is not to be found in the fieriest blasts of a furnace. The
hot air of a furnace is a sirocco; the heat of a wood-fire is only
intense sunshine, like that bottled in Lacrimae Christi. Besides
this, the eye is delighted, the sense of smell is regaled by the
fragrant decomposition, and the ear is pleased with the hissing,
crackling, and singing,--a liberation of so many out-door noises.
Some people like the sound of bubbling in a boiling pot, or the
fizzing of a frying-spider. But there is nothing gross in the
animated crackling of sticks of wood blazing on the earth, not even
if chestnuts are roasting in the ashes. All the senses are
ministered to, and the imagination is left as free as the leaping
tongues of flame.

The attention which a wood-fire demands is one of its best
recommendations. We value little that which costs us no trouble to
maintain. If we had to keep the sun kindled up and going by private
corporate action, or act of Congress, and to be taxed for the support
of customs officers of solar heat, we should prize it more than we
do. Not that I should like to look upon the sun as a job, and have
the proper regulation of its temperature get into politics, where we
already have so much combustible stuff; but we take it quite too much
as a matter of course, and, having it free, do not reckon it among
the reasons for gratitude. Many people shut it out of their houses
as if it were an enemy, watch its descent upon the carpet as if it
were only a thief of color, and plant trees to shut it away from the
mouldering house. All the animals know better than this, as well as
the more simple races of men; the old women of the southern Italian
coasts sit all day in the sun and ply the distaff, as grateful as the
sociable hens on the south side of a New England barn; the slow
tortoise likes to take the sun upon his sloping back, soaking in
color that shall make him immortal when the imperishable part of him
is cut up into shell ornaments. The capacity of a cat to absorb
sunshine is only equaled by that of an Arab or an Ethiopian. They
are not afraid of injuring their complexions.

White must be the color of civilization; it has so many natural
disadvantages. But this is politics. I was about to say that,
however it may be with sunshine, one is always grateful for his
wood-fire, because he does not maintain it without some cost.

Yet I cannot but confess to a difference between sunlight and the
light of a wood-fire. The sunshine is entirely untamed. Where it
rages most freely it tends to evoke the brilliancy rather than the
harmonious satisfactions of nature. The monstrous growths and the
flaming colors of the tropics contrast with our more subdued
loveliness of foliage and bloom. The birds of the middle region
dazzle with their contrasts of plumage, and their voices are for
screaming rather than singing. I presume the new experiments in
sound would project a macaw's voice in very tangled and inharmonious
lines of light. I suspect that the fiercest sunlight puts people, as
well as animals and vegetables, on extremes in all ways. A wood-fire
on the hearth is a kindler of the domestic virtues. It brings in
cheerfulness, and a family center, and, besides, it is artistic.
I should like to know if an artist could ever represent on canvas a
happy family gathered round a hole in the floor called a register.
Given a fireplace, and a tolerable artist could almost create a
pleasant family round it. But what could he conjure out of a
register? If there was any virtue among our ancestors,--and they
labored under a great many disadvantages, and had few of the aids
which we have to excellence of life,--I am convinced they drew it
mostly from the fireside. If it was difficult to read the eleven
commandments by the light of a pine-knot, it was not difficult to get
the sweet spirit of them from the countenance of the serene mother
knitting in the chimney-corner.



III

When the fire is made, you want to sit in front of it and grow genial
in its effulgence. I have never been upon a throne,--except in
moments of a traveler's curiosity, about as long as a South American
dictator remains on one,--but I have no idea that it compares, for
pleasantness, with a seat before a wood-fire. A whole leisure day
before you, a good novel in hand, and the backlog only just beginning
to kindle, with uncounted hours of comfort in it, has life anything
more delicious? For "novel" you can substitute "Calvin's
Institutes," if you wish to be virtuous as well as happy. Even
Calvin would melt before a wood-fire. A great snowstorm, visible on
three sides of your wide-windowed room, loading the evergreens, blown
in fine powder from the great chestnut-tops, piled up in ever
accumulating masses, covering the paths, the shrubbery, the hedges,
drifting and clinging in fantastic deposits, deepening your sense of
security, and taking away the sin of idleness by making it a
necessity, this is an excellent ground to your day by the fire.

To deliberately sit down in the morning to read a novel, to enjoy
yourself, is this not, in New England (I am told they don't read much
in other parts of the country), the sin of sins? Have you any right
to read, especially novels, until you have exhausted the best part of
the day in some employment that is called practical? Have you any
right to enjoy yourself at all until the fag-end of the day, when you
are tired and incapable of enjoying yourself? I am aware that this
is the practice, if not the theory, of our society,--to postpone the
delights of social intercourse until after dark, and rather late at
night, when body and mind are both weary with the exertions of
business, and when we can give to what is the most delightful and
profitable thing in life, social and intellectual society, only the
weariness of dull brains and over-tired muscles. No wonder we take
our amusements sadly, and that so many people find dinners heavy and
parties stupid. Our economy leaves no place for amusements; we
merely add them to the burden of a life already full. The world is
still a little off the track as to what is really useful.

I confess that the morning is a very good time to read a novel, or
anything else which is good and requires a fresh mind; and I take it
that nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind.
I suppose it is necessary that business should be transacted; though
the amount of business that does not contribute to anybody's comfort
or improvement suggests the query whether it is not overdone. I know
that unremitting attention to business is the price of success, but
I don't know what success is. There is a man, whom we all know, who
built a house that cost a quarter of a million of dollars, and
furnished it for another like sum, who does not know anything more
about architecture, or painting, or books, or history, than he cares
for the rights of those who have not so much money as he has. I
heard him once, in a foreign gallery, say to his wife, as they stood
in front of a famous picture by Rubens: "That is the Rape of the
Sardines!" What a cheerful world it would be if everybody was as
successful as that man! While I am reading my book by the fire, and
taking an active part in important transactions that may be a good
deal better than real, let me be thankful that a great many men are
profitably employed in offices and bureaus and country stores in
keeping up the gossip and endless exchange of opinions among mankind,
so much of which is made to appear to the women at home as
"business." I find that there is a sort of busy idleness among men in
this world that is not held in disrepute. When the time comes that I
have to prove my right to vote, with women, I trust that it will be
remembered in my favor that I made this admission. If it is true, as
a witty conservative once said to me, that we never shall have peace
in this country until we elect a colored woman president, I desire to
be rectus in curia early.



IV

The fireplace, as we said, is a window through which we look out upon
other scenes. We like to read of the small, bare room, with
cobwebbed ceiling and narrow window, in which the poor child of
genius sits with his magical pen, the master of a realm of beauty and
enchantment. I think the open fire does not kindle the imagination
so much as it awakens the memory; one sees the past in its crumbling
embers and ashy grayness, rather than the future. People become
reminiscent and even sentimental in front of it. They used to become
something else in those good old days when it was thought best to
heat the poker red hot before plunging it into the mugs of flip.
This heating of the poker has been disapproved of late years, but I
do not know on what grounds; if one is to drink bitters and gins and
the like, such as I understand as good people as clergymen and women
take in private, and by advice, I do not know why one should not make
them palatable and heat them with his own poker. Cold whiskey out of
a bottle, taken as a prescription six times a day on the sly, is n't
my idea of virtue any more than the social ancestral glass, sizzling
wickedly with the hot iron. Names are so confusing in this world;
but things are apt to remain pretty much the same, whatever we call
them.

Perhaps as you look into the fireplace it widens and grows deep and
cavernous. The back and the jambs are built up of great stones, not
always smoothly laid, with jutting ledges upon which ashes are apt to
lie. The hearthstone is an enormous block of trap rock, with a
surface not perfectly even, but a capital place to crack butternuts
on. Over the fire swings an iron crane, with a row of pot-hooks of
all lengths hanging from it. It swings out when the housewife wants
to hang on the tea-kettle, and it is strong enough to support a row
of pots, or a mammoth caldron kettle on occasion. What a jolly sight
is this fireplace when the pots and kettles in a row are all boiling
and bubbling over the flame, and a roasting spit is turning in front!
It makes a person as hungry as one of Scott's novels. But the
brilliant sight is in the frosty morning, about daylight, when the
fire is made. The coals are raked open, the split sticks are piled
up in openwork criss-crossing, as high as the crane; and when the
flame catches hold and roars up through the interstices, it is like
an out-of-door bonfire. Wood enough is consumed in that morning
sacrifice to cook the food of a Parisian family for a year. How it
roars up the wide chimney, sending into the air the signal smoke and
sparks which announce to the farming neighbors another day cheerfully
begun! The sleepiest boy in the world would get up in his red
flannel nightgown to see such a fire lighted, even if he dropped to
sleep again in his chair before the ruddy blaze. Then it is that the
house, which has shrunk and creaked all night in the pinching cold of
winter, begins to glow again and come to life. The thick frost melts
little by little on the small window-panes, and it is seen that the
gray dawn is breaking over the leagues of pallid snow. It is time to
blow out the candle, which has lost all its cheerfulness in the light
of day. The morning romance is over; the family is astir; and member
after member appears with the morning yawn, to stand before the
crackling, fierce conflagration. The daily round begins. The most
hateful employment ever invented for mortal man presents itself: the
"chores" are to be done. The boy who expects every morning to open
into a new world finds that to-day is like yesterday, but he believes
to-morrow will be different. And yet enough for him, for the day, is
the wading in the snowdrifts, or the sliding on the diamond-sparkling
crust. Happy, too, is he, when the storm rages, and the snow
is piled high against the windows, if he can sit in the warm
chimney-corner and read about Burgoyne, and General Fraser, and Miss
McCrea, midwinter marches through the wilderness, surprises of wigwams,
and the stirring ballad, say, of the Battle of the Kegs:--

   "Come, gallants, attend and list a friend
   Thrill forth harmonious ditty;
   While I shall tell what late befell
   At Philadelphia city."


I should like to know what heroism a boy in an old New England
farmhouse--rough-nursed by nature, and fed on the traditions of the
old wars did not aspire to. "John," says the mother, "You'll burn
your head to a crisp in that heat." But John does not hear; he is
storming the Plains of Abraham just now. "Johnny, dear, bring in a
stick of wood." How can Johnny bring in wood when he is in that
defile with Braddock, and the Indians are popping at him from behind
every tree? There is something about a boy that I like, after all.

The fire rests upon the broad hearth; the hearth rests upon a great
substruction of stone, and the substruction rests upon the cellar.
What supports the cellar I never knew, but the cellar supports the
family. The cellar is the foundation of domestic comfort. Into its
dark, cavernous recesses the child's imagination fearfully goes.
Bogies guard the bins of choicest apples. I know not what comical
sprites sit astride the cider-barrels ranged along the walls. The
feeble flicker of the tallow-candle does not at all dispel, but
creates, illusions, and magnifies all the rich possibilities of this
underground treasure-house. When the cellar-door is opened, and the
boy begins to descend into the thick darkness, it is always with a
heart-beat as of one started upon some adventure. Who can forget the
smell that comes through the opened door;--a mingling of fresh earth,
fruit exhaling delicious aroma, kitchen vegetables, the mouldy odor
of barrels, a sort of ancestral air,--as if a door had been opened
into an old romance. Do you like it? Not much. But then I would
not exchange the remembrance of it for a good many odors and perfumes
that I do like.

It is time to punch the backlog and put on a new forestick.




SECOND STUDY

I

The log was white birch. The beautiful satin bark at once kindled
into a soft, pure, but brilliant flame, something like that of
naphtha. There is no other wood flame so rich, and it leaps up in a
joyous, spiritual way, as if glad to burn for the sake of burning.
Burning like a clear oil, it has none of the heaviness and fatness of
the pine and the balsam. Woodsmen are at a loss to account for its
intense and yet chaste flame, since the bark has no oily appearance.
The heat from it is fierce, and the light dazzling. It flares up
eagerly like young love, and then dies away; the wood does not keep
up the promise of the bark. The woodsmen, it is proper to say, have
not considered it in its relation to young love. In the remote
settlements the pine-knot is still the torch of courtship; it endures
to sit up by. The birch-bark has alliances with the world of
sentiment and of letters. The most poetical reputation of the North
American Indian floats in a canoe made of it; his picture-writing was
inscribed on it. It is the paper that nature furnishes for lovers in
the wilderness, who are enabled to convey a delicate sentiment by its
use, which is expressed neither in their ideas nor chirography. It
is inadequate for legal parchment, but does very well for deeds of
love, which are not meant usually to give a perfect title. With
care, it may be split into sheets as thin as the Chinese paper. It
is so beautiful to handle that it is a pity civilization cannot make
more use of it. But fancy articles manufactured from it are very
much like all ornamental work made of nature's perishable seeds,
leaves, cones, and dry twigs,--exquisite while the pretty fingers are
fashioning it, but soon growing shabby and cheap to the eye. And yet
there is a pathos in "dried things," whether they are displayed as
ornaments in some secluded home, or hidden religiously in bureau
drawers where profane eyes cannot see how white ties are growing
yellow and ink is fading from treasured letters, amid a faint and
discouraging perfume of ancient rose-leaves.

The birch log holds out very well while it is green, but has not
substance enough for a backlog when dry. Seasoning green timber or
men is always an experiment. A man may do very well in a simple, let
us say, country or backwoods line of life, who would come to nothing
in a more complicated civilization. City life is a severe trial.
One man is struck with a dry-rot; another develops season-cracks;
another shrinks and swells with every change of circumstance.
Prosperity is said to be more trying than adversity, a theory which
most people are willing to accept without trial; but few men stand
the drying out of the natural sap of their greenness in the
artificial heat of city life. This, be it noticed, is nothing
against the drying and seasoning process; character must be put into
the crucible some time, and why not in this world? A man who cannot
stand seasoning will not have a high market value in any part of the
universe. It is creditable to the race, that so many men and women
bravely jump into the furnace of prosperity and expose themselves to
the drying influences of city life.

The first fire that is lighted on the hearth in the autumn seems to
bring out the cold weather. Deceived by the placid appearance of the
dying year, the softness of the sky, and the warm color of the
foliage, we have been shivering about for days without exactly
comprehending what was the matter. The open fire at once sets up a
standard of comparison. We find that the advance guards of winter
are besieging the house. The cold rushes in at every crack of door
and window, apparently signaled by the flame to invade the house and
fill it with chilly drafts and sarcasms on what we call the temperate
zone. It needs a roaring fire to beat back the enemy; a feeble one
is only an invitation to the most insulting demonstrations. Our
pious New England ancestors were philosophers in their way. It was
not simply owing to grace that they sat for hours in their barnlike
meeting-houses during the winter Sundays, the thermometer many
degrees below freezing, with no fire, except the zeal in their own
hearts,--a congregation of red noses and bright eyes. It was no
wonder that the minister in the pulpit warmed up to his subject,
cried aloud, used hot words, spoke a good deal of the hot place and
the Person whose presence was a burning shame, hammered the desk as
if he expected to drive his text through a two-inch plank, and heated
himself by all allowable ecclesiastical gymnastics. A few of their
followers in our day seem to forget that our modern churches are
heated by furnaces and supplied with gas. In the old days it would
have been thought unphilosophic as well as effeminate to warm the
meeting-houses artificially. In one house I knew, at least, when it
was proposed to introduce a stove to take a little of the chill from
the Sunday services, the deacons protested against the innovation.
They said that the stove might benefit those who sat close to it, but
it would drive all the cold air to the other parts of the church, and
freeze the people to death; it was cold enough now around the edges.
Blessed days of ignorance and upright living! Sturdy men who served
God by resolutely sitting out the icy hours of service, amid the
rattling of windows and the carousal of winter in the high, windswept
galleries! Patient women, waiting in the chilly house for
consumption to pick out his victims, and replace the color of youth
and the flush of devotion with the hectic of disease! At least, you
did not doze and droop in our over-heated edifices, and die of
vitiated air and disregard of the simplest conditions of organized
life. It is fortunate that each generation does not comprehend its
own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ancestors barbarous.
It is something also that each age has its choice of the death it
will die. Our generation is most ingenious. From our public
assembly-rooms and houses we have almost succeeded in excluding pure
air. It took the race ages to build dwellings that would keep out
rain; it has taken longer to build houses air-tight, but we are on
the eve of success. We are only foiled by the ill-fitting, insincere
work of the builders, who build for a day, and charge for all time.



II

When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and then settled into
steady radiance, talk begins. There is no place like the
chimney-corner for confidences; for picking up the clews of an old
friendship; for taking note where one's self has drifted, by
comparing ideas and prejudices with the intimate friend of years ago,
whose course in life has lain apart from yours. No stranger puzzles
you so much as the once close friend, with whose thinking and
associates you have for years been unfamiliar. Life has come to mean
this and that to you; you have fallen into certain habits of thought;
for you the world has progressed in this or that direction; of
certain results you feel very sure; you have fallen into harmony with
your surroundings; you meet day after day people interested in the
things that interest you; you are not in the least opinionated, it is
simply your good fortune to look upon the affairs of the world from
the right point of view. When you last saw your friend,--less than a
year after you left college,--he was the most sensible and agreeable
of men; he had no heterodox notions; he agreed with you; you could
even tell what sort of a wife he would select, and if you could do
that, you held the key to his life.

Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day from the antipodes. And
here he sits by the fireplace. I cannot think of any one I would
rather see there, except perhaps Thackery; or, for entertainment,
Boswell; or old, Pepys; or one of the people who was left out of the
Ark. They were talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt's about
whom they would most like to have seen, when Charles Lamb startled
the company by declaring that he would rather have seen Judas
Iscariot than any other person who had lived on the earth. For
myself, I would rather have seen Lamb himself once, than to have
lived with Judas. Herbert, to my great delight, has not changed; I
should know him anywhere,--the same serious, contemplative face, with
lurking humor at the corners of the mouth,--the same cheery laugh and
clear, distinct enunciation as of old. There is nothing so winning
as a good voice. To see Herbert again, unchanged in all outward
essentials, is not only gratifying, but valuable as a testimony to
nature's success in holding on to a personal identity, through the
entire change of matter that has been constantly taking place for so
many years. I know very well there is here no part of the Herbert
whose hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting; but it is an
astonishing reproduction of him,--a material likeness; and now for
the spiritual.

Such a wide chance for divergence in the spiritual. It has been such
a busy world for twenty years. So many things have been torn up by
the roots again that were settled when we left college. There were
to be no more wars; democracy was democracy, and progress, the
differentiation of the individual, was a mere question of clothes; if
you want to be different, go to your tailor; nobody had demonstrated
that there is a man-soul and a woman-soul, and that each is in
reality only a half-soul,--putting the race, so to speak, upon the
half-shell. The social oyster being opened, there appears to be two
shells and only one oyster; who shall have it? So many new canons of
taste, of criticism, of morality have been set up; there has been
such a resurrection of historical reputations for new judgment, and
there have been so many discoveries, geographical, archaeological,
geological, biological, that the earth is not at all what it was
supposed to be; and our philosophers are much more anxious to
ascertain where we came from than whither we are going. In this
whirl and turmoil of new ideas, nature, which has only the single end
of maintaining the physical identity in the body, works on
undisturbed, replacing particle for particle, and preserving the
likeness more skillfully than a mosaic artist in the Vatican; she has
not even her materials sorted and labeled, as the Roman artist has
his thousands of bits of color; and man is all the while doing his
best to confuse the process, by changing his climate, his diet, all
his surroundings, without the least care to remain himself. But the
mind?

It is more difficult to get acquainted with Herbert than with an
entire stranger, for I have my prepossessions about him, and do not
find him in so many places where I expect to find him. He is full of
criticism of the authors I admire; he thinks stupid or improper the
books I most read; he is skeptical about the "movements" I am
interested in; he has formed very different opinions from mine
concerning a hundred men and women of the present day; we used to eat
from one dish; we could n't now find anything in common in a dozen;
his prejudices (as we call our opinions) are most extraordinary, and
not half so reasonable as my prejudices; there are a great many
persons and things that I am accustomed to denounce, uncontradicted
by anybody, which he defends; his public opinion is not at all my
public opinion. I am sorry for him. He appears to have fallen into
influences and among a set of people foreign to me. I find that his
church has a different steeple on it from my church (which, to say
the truth, hasn't any). It is a pity that such a dear friend and a
man of so much promise should have drifted off into such general
contrariness. I see Herbert sitting here by the fire, with the old
look in his face coming out more and more, but I do not recognize any
features of his mind,--except perhaps his contrariness; yes, he was
always a little contrary, I think. And finally he surprises me with,
"Well, my friend, you seem to have drifted away from your old notions
and opinions. We used to agree when we were together, but I
sometimes wondered where you would land; for, pardon me, you showed
signs of looking at things a little contrary."

I am silent for a good while. I am trying to think who I am. There
was a person whom I thought I knew, very fond of Herbert, and
agreeing with him in most things. Where has he gone? and, if he is
here, where is the Herbert that I knew?

If his intellectual and moral sympathies have all changed, I wonder
if his physical tastes remain, like his appearance, the same. There
has come over this country within the last generation, as everybody
knows, a great wave of condemnation of pie. It has taken the
character of a "movement!" though we have had no conventions about
it, nor is any one, of any of the several sexes among us, running for
president against it. It is safe almost anywhere to denounce pie,
yet nearly everybody eats it on occasion. A great many people think
it savors of a life abroad to speak with horror of pie, although they
were very likely the foremost of the Americans in Paris who used to
speak with more enthusiasm of the American pie at Madame Busque's
than of the Venus of Milo. To talk against pie and still eat it is
snobbish, of course; but snobbery, being an aspiring failing, is
sometimes the prophecy of better things. To affect dislike of pie is
something. We have no statistics on the subject, and cannot tell
whether it is gaining or losing in the country at large. Its
disappearance in select circles is no test. The amount of writing
against it is no more test of its desuetude, than the number of
religious tracts distributed in a given district is a criterion of
its piety. We are apt to assume that certain regions are
substantially free of it. Herbert and I, traveling north one summer,
fancied that we could draw in New England a sort of diet line, like
the sweeping curves on the isothermal charts, which should show at
least the leading pie sections. Journeying towards the White
Mountains, we concluded that a line passing through Bellows Falls,
and bending a little south on either side, would mark northward the
region of perpetual pie. In this region pie is to be found at all
hours and seasons, and at every meal. I am not sure, however, that
pie is not a matter of altitude rather than latitude, as I find that
all the hill and country towns of New England are full of those
excellent women, the very salt of the housekeeping earth, who would
feel ready to sink in mortification through their scoured kitchen
floors, if visitors should catch them without a pie in the house.
The absence of pie would be more noticed than a scarcity of Bible
even. Without it the housekeepers are as distracted as the
boarding-house keeper, who declared that if it were not for canned
tomato, she should have nothing to fly to. Well, in all this great
agitation I find Herbert unmoved, a conservative, even to the
under-crust. I dare not ask him if he eats pie at breakfast. There
are some tests that the dearest friendship may not apply.

"Will you smoke?" I ask.

"No, I have reformed."

"Yes, of course."

"The fact is, that when we consider the correlation of forces, the
apparent sympathy of spirit manifestations with electric conditions,
the almost revealed mysteries of what may be called the odic force,
and the relation of all these phenomena to the nervous system in man,
it is not safe to do anything to the nervous system that will--"

"Hang the nervous system! Herbert, we can agree in one thing: old
memories, reveries, friendships, center about that:--is n't an open
wood-fire good?"

"Yes," says Herbert, combatively, "if you don't sit before it too
long."




III

The best talk is that which escapes up the open chimney and cannot be
repeated. The finest woods make the best fire and pass away with the
least residuum. I hope the next generation will not accept the
reports of "interviews" as specimens of the conversations of these
years of grace.

But do we talk as well as our fathers and mothers did? We hear
wonderful stories of the bright generation that sat about the wide
fireplaces of New England. Good talk has so much short-hand that it
cannot be reported,--the inflection, the change of voice, the shrug,
cannot be caught on paper. The best of it is when the subject
unexpectedly goes cross-lots, by a flash of short-cut, to a
conclusion so suddenly revealed that it has the effect of wit. It
needs the highest culture and the finest breeding to prevent the
conversation from running into mere persiflage on the one hand--its
common fate--or monologue on the other. Our conversation is largely
chaff. I am not sure but the former generation preached a good deal,
but it had great practice in fireside talk, and must have talked
well. There were narrators in those days who could charm a circle
all the evening long with stories. When each day brought
comparatively little new to read, there was leisure for talk, and the
rare book and the in-frequent magazine were thoroughly discussed.
Families now are swamped by the printed matter that comes daily upon
the center-table. There must be a division of labor, one reading
this, and another that, to make any impression on it. The telegraph
brings the only common food, and works this daily miracle, that every
mind in Christendom is excited by one topic simultaneously with every
other mind; it enables a concurrent mental action, a burst of
sympathy, or a universal prayer to be made, which must be, if we have
any faith in the immaterial left, one of the chief forces in modern
life. It is fit that an agent so subtle as electricity should be the
minister of it.

When there is so much to read, there is little time for conversation;
nor is there leisure for another pastime of the ancient firesides,
called reading aloud. The listeners, who heard while they looked
into the wide chimney-place, saw there pass in stately procession the
events and the grand persons of history, were kindled with the
delights of travel, touched by the romance of true love, or made
restless by tales of adventure;--the hearth became a sort of magic
stone that could transport those who sat by it to the most distant
places and times, as soon as the book was opened and the reader
began, of a winter's night. Perhaps the Puritan reader read through
his nose, and all the little Puritans made the most dreadful nasal
inquiries as the entertainment went on. The prominent nose of the
intellectual New-Englander is evidence of the constant linguistic
exercise of the organ for generations. It grew by talking through.
But I have no doubt that practice made good readers in those days.
Good reading aloud is almost a lost accomplishment now. It is little
thought of in the schools. It is disused at home. It is rare to
find any one who can read, even from the newspaper, well. Reading is
so universal, even with the uncultivated, that it is common to hear
people mispronounce words that you did not suppose they had ever
seen. In reading to themselves they glide over these words, in
reading aloud they stumble over them. Besides, our every-day books
and newspapers are so larded with French that the ordinary reader is
obliged marcher a pas de loup,--for instance.

The newspaper is probably responsible for making current many words
with which the general reader is familiar, but which he rises to in
the flow of conversation, and strikes at with a splash and an
unsuccessful attempt at appropriation; the word, which he perfectly
knows, hooks him in the gills, and he cannot master it. The
newspaper is thus widening the language in use, and vastly increasing
the number of words which enter into common talk. The Americans of
the lowest intellectual class probably use more words to express
their ideas than the similar class of any other people; but this
prodigality is partially balanced by the parsimony of words in some
higher regions, in which a few phrases of current slang are made to
do the whole duty of exchange of ideas; if that can be called
exchange of ideas when one intellect flashes forth to another the
remark, concerning some report, that "you know how it is yourself,"
and is met by the response of "that's what's the matter," and rejoins
with the perfectly conclusive "that's so." It requires a high degree
of culture to use slang with elegance and effect; and we are yet very
far from the Greek attainment.




IV

The fireplace wants to be all aglow, the wind rising, the night heavy
and black above, but light with sifting snow on the earth, a
background of inclemency for the illumined room with its pictured
walls, tables heaped with books, capacious easy-chairs and their
occupants,--it needs, I say, to glow and throw its rays far through
the crystal of the broad windows, in order that we may rightly
appreciate the relation of the wide-jambed chimney to domestic
architecture in our climate. We fell to talking about it; and, as is
usual when the conversation is professedly on one subject, we
wandered all around it. The young lady staying with us was roasting
chestnuts in the ashes, and the frequent explosions required
considerable attention. The mistress, too, sat somewhat alert, ready
to rise at any instant and minister to the fancied want of this or
that guest, forgetting the reposeful truth that people about a
fireside will not have any wants if they are not suggested. The
worst of them, if they desire anything, only want something hot, and
that later in the evening. And it is an open question whether you
ought to associate with people who want that.

I was saying that nothing had been so slow in its progress in the
world as domestic architecture. Temples, palaces, bridges,
aqueducts, cathedrals, towers of marvelous delicacy and strength,
grew to perfection while the common people lived in hovels, and the
richest lodged in the most gloomy and contracted quarters. The
dwelling-house is a modern institution. It is a curious fact that it
has only improved with the social elevation of women. Men were never
more brilliant in arms and letters than in the age of Elizabeth, and
yet they had no homes. They made themselves thick-walled castles,
with slits in the masonry for windows, for defense, and magnificent
banquet-halls for pleasure; the stone rooms into which they crawled
for the night were often little better than dog-kennels. The
Pompeians had no comfortable night-quarters. The most singular thing
to me, however, is that, especially interested as woman is in the
house, she has never done anything for architecture. And yet woman
is reputed to be an ingenious creature.

HERBERT. I doubt if woman has real ingenuity; she has great
adaptability. I don't say that she will do the same thing twice
alike, like a Chinaman, but she is most cunning in suiting herself to
circumstances.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, if you speak of constructive, creative
ingenuity, perhaps not; but in the higher ranges of achievement--that
of accomplishing any purpose dear to her heart, for instance--her
ingenuity is simply incomprehensible to me.

HERBERT. Yes, if you mean doing things by indirection.

THE MISTRESS. When you men assume all the direction, what else is
left to us?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see a woman refurnish a house?

THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH US. I never saw a man do it, unless he
was burned out of his rookery.

HERBERT. There is no comfort in new things.

THE FIRE-TENDER (not noticing the interruption). Having set her mind
on a total revolution of the house, she buys one new thing, not too
obtrusive, nor much out of harmony with the old. The husband
scarcely notices it, least of all does he suspect the revolution,
which she already has accomplished. Next, some article that does
look a little shabby beside the new piece of furniture is sent to the
garret, and its place is supplied by something that will match in
color and effect. Even the man can see that it ought to match, and
so the process goes on, it may be for years, it may be forever, until
nothing of the old is left, and the house is transformed as it was
predetermined in the woman's mind. I doubt if the man ever
understands how or when it was done; his wife certainly never says
anything about the refurnishing, but quietly goes on to new
conquests.

THE MISTRESS. And is n't it better to buy little by little, enjoying
every new object as you get it, and assimilating each article to your
household life, and making the home a harmonious expression of your
own taste, rather than to order things in sets, and turn your house,
for the time being, into a furniture ware-room?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, I only spoke of the ingenuity of it.

THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I never can get acquainted with more
than one piece of furniture at a time.

HERBERT. I suppose women are our superiors in artistic taste, and I
fancy that I can tell whether a house is furnished by a woman or a
man; of course, I mean the few houses that appear to be the result of
individual taste and refinement,--most of them look as if they had
been furnished on contract by the upholsterer.

THE MISTRESS. Woman's province in this world is putting things to
rights.

HERBERT. With a vengeance, sometimes. In the study, for example.
My chief objection to woman is that she has no respect for the
newspaper, or the printed page, as such. She is Siva, the destroyer.
I have noticed that a great part of a married man's time at home is
spent in trying to find the things he has put on his study-table.

THE YOUNG LADY. Herbert speaks with the bitterness of a bachelor
shut out of paradise. It is my experience that if women did not
destroy the rubbish that men bring into the house, it would become
uninhabitable, and need to be burned down every five years.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I confess women do a great deal for the appearance
of things. When the mistress is absent, this room, although
everything is here as it was before, does not look at all like the
same place; it is stiff, and seems to lack a soul. When she returns,
I can see that her eye, even while greeting me, takes in the
situation at a glance. While she is talking of the journey, and
before she has removed her traveling-hat, she turns this chair and
moves that, sets one piece of furniture at a different angle,
rapidly, and apparently unconsciously, shifts a dozen little
knick-knacks and bits of color, and the room is transformed. I
couldn't do it in a week.

THE MISTRESS. That is the first time I ever knew a man admit he
couldn't do anything if he had time.

HERBERT. Yet with all their peculiar instinct for making a home,
women make themselves very little felt in our domestic architecture.

THE MISTRESS. Men build most of the houses in what might be called
the ready-made-clothing style, and we have to do the best we can with
them; and hard enough it is to make cheerful homes in most of them.
You will see something different when the woman is constantly
consulted in the plan of the house.

HERBERT. We might see more difference if women would give any
attention to architecture. Why are there no women architects?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Want of the ballot, doubtless. It seems to me that
here is a splendid opportunity for woman to come to the front.

THE YOUNG LADY. They have no desire to come to the front; they would
rather manage things where they are.

THE FIRE-TENDER. If they would master the noble art, and put their
brooding taste upon it, we might very likely compass something in our
domestic architecture that we have not yet attained. The outside of
our houses needs attention as well as the inside. Most of them are
as ugly as money can build.

THE YOUNG LADY. What vexes me most is, that women, married women,
have so easily consented to give up open fires in their houses.

HERBERT. They dislike the dust and the bother. I think that women
rather like the confined furnace heat.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Nonsense; it is their angelic virtue of submission.
We wouldn't be hired to stay all-day in the houses we build.

THE YOUNG LADY. That has a very chivalrous sound, but I know there
will be no reformation until women rebel and demand everywhere the
open fire.

HERBERT. They are just now rebelling about something else; it seems
to me yours is a sort of counter-movement, a fire in the rear.

THE MISTRESS. I'll join that movement. The time has come when woman
must strike for her altars and her fires.

HERBERT. Hear, hear!

THE MISTRESS. Thank you, Herbert. I applauded you once, when you
declaimed that years ago in the old Academy. I remember how
eloquently you did it.

HERBERT. Yes, I was once a spouting idiot.

Just then the door-bell rang, and company came in. And the company
brought in a new atmosphere, as company always does, something of the
disturbance of out-doors, and a good deal of its healthy cheer. The
direct news that the thermometer was approaching zero, with a hopeful
prospect of going below it, increased to liveliness our satisfaction
in the fire. When the cider was heated in the brown stone pitcher,
there was difference of opinion whether there should be toast in it;
some were for toast, because that was the old-fashioned way, and
others were against it, "because it does not taste good" in cider.
Herbert said there, was very little respect left for our forefathers.

More wood was put on, and the flame danced in a hundred fantastic
shapes. The snow had ceased to fall, and the moonlight lay in
silvery patches among the trees in the ravine. The conversation
became worldly.




THIRD STUDY


I

Herbert said, as we sat by the fire one night, that he wished he had
turned his attention to writing poetry like Tennyson's.

The remark was not whimsical, but satirical. Tennyson is a man of
talent, who happened to strike a lucky vein, which he has worked with
cleverness. The adventurer with a pickaxe in Washoe may happen upon
like good fortune. The world is full of poetry as the earth is of
"pay-dirt;" one only needs to know how to "strike" it. An able man
can make himself almost anything that he will. It is melancholy to
think how many epic poets have been lost in the tea-trade, how many
dramatists (though the age of the drama has passed) have wasted their
genius in great mercantile and mechanical enterprises. I know a man
who might have been the poet, the essayist, perhaps the critic, of
this country, who chose to become a country judge, to sit day after
day upon a bench in an obscure corner of the world, listening to
wrangling lawyers and prevaricating witnesses, preferring to judge
his fellow-men rather than enlighten them.

It is fortunate for the vanity of the living and the reputation of
the dead, that men get almost as much credit for what they do not as
for what they do. It was the opinion of many that Burns might have
excelled as a statesman, or have been a great captain in war; and Mr.
Carlyle says that if he had been sent to a university, and become a
trained intellectual workman, it lay in him to have changed the whole
course of British literature! A large undertaking, as so vigorous
and dazzling a writer as Mr. Carlyle must know by this time, since
British literature has swept by him in a resistless and widening
flood, mainly uncontaminated, and leaving his grotesque contrivances
wrecked on the shore with other curiosities of letters, and yet among
the richest of all the treasures lying there.

It is a temptation to a temperate man to become a sot, to hear what
talent, what versatility, what genius, is almost always attributed to
a moderately bright man who is habitually drunk. Such a mechanic,
such a mathematician, such a poet he would be, if he were only sober;
and then he is sure to be the most generous, magnanimous, friendly
soul, conscientiously honorable, if he were not so conscientiously
drunk. I suppose it is now notorious that the most brilliant and
promising men have been lost to the world in this way. It is
sometimes almost painful to think what a surplus of talent and genius
there would be in the world if the habit of intoxication should
suddenly cease; and what a slim chance there would be for the
plodding people who have always had tolerably good habits. The fear
is only mitigated by the observation that the reputation of a person
for great talent sometimes ceases with his reformation.

It is believed by some that the maidens who would make the best wives
never marry, but remain free to bless the world with their impartial
sweetness, and make it generally habitable. This is one of the
mysteries of Providence and New England life. It seems a pity, at
first sight, that all those who become poor wives have the
matrimonial chance, and that they are deprived of the reputation of
those who would be good wives were they not set apart for the high
and perpetual office of priestesses of society. There is no beauty
like that which was spoiled by an accident, no accomplishments--and
graces are so to be envied as those that circumstances rudely
hindered the development of. All of which shows what a charitable
and good-tempered world it is, notwithstanding its reputation for
cynicism and detraction.

Nothing is more beautiful than the belief of the faithful wife that
her husband has all the talents, and could, if he would, be
distinguished in any walk in life; and nothing will be more
beautiful--unless this is a very dry time for signs--than the
husband's belief that his wife is capable of taking charge of any of
the affairs of this confused planet. There is no woman but thinks
that her husband, the green-grocer, could write poetry if he had
given his mind to it, or else she thinks small beer of poetry in
comparison with an occupation or accomplishment purely vegetable. It
is touching to see the look of pride with which the wife turns to her
husband from any more brilliant personal presence or display of wit
than his, in the perfect confidence that if the world knew what she
knows, there would be one more popular idol. How she magnifies his
small wit, and dotes upon the self-satisfied look in his face as if
it were a sign of wisdom! What a councilor that man would make!
What a warrior he would be! There are a great many corporals in
their retired homes who did more for the safety and success of our
armies in critical moments, in the late war, than any of the
"high-cock-a-lorum" commanders. Mrs. Corporal does not envy the
reputation of General Sheridan; she knows very well who really won
Five Forks, for she has heard the story a hundred times, and will
hear it a hundred times more with apparently unabated interest. What
a general her husband would have made; and how his talking talent
would shine in Congress!

HERBERT. Nonsense. There isn't a wife in the world who has not
taken the exact measure of her husband, weighed him and settled him
in her own mind, and knows him as well as if she had ordered him
after designs and specifications of her own. That knowledge,
however, she ordinarily keeps to herself, and she enters into a
league with her husband, which he was never admitted to the secret
of, to impose upon the world. In nine out of ten cases he more than
half believes that he is what his wife tells him he is. At any rate,
she manages him as easily as the keeper does the elephant, with only
a bamboo wand and a sharp spike in the end. Usually she flatters
him, but she has the means of pricking clear through his hide on
occasion. It is the great secret of her power to have him think that
she thoroughly believes in him.

THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH Us. And you call this hypocrisy? I have
heard authors, who thought themselves sly observers of women, call it
so.

HERBERT. Nothing of the sort. It is the basis on which society
rests, the conventional agreement. If society is about to be
overturned, it is on this point. Women are beginning to tell men
what they really think of them; and to insist that the same relations
of downright sincerity and independence that exist between men shall
exist between women and men. Absolute truth between souls, without
regard to sex, has always been the ideal life of the poets.

THE MISTRESS. Yes; but there was never a poet yet who would bear to
have his wife say exactly what she thought of his poetry, any more
than he would keep his temper if his wife beat him at chess; and
there is nothing that disgusts a man like getting beaten at chess by
a woman.

HERBERT. Well, women know how to win by losing. I think that the
reason why most women do not want to take the ballot and stand out in
the open for a free trial of power, is that they are reluctant to
change the certain domination of centuries, with weapons they are
perfectly competent to handle, for an experiment. I think we should
be better off if women were more transparent, and men were not so
systematically puffed up by the subtle flattery which is used to
control them.

MANDEVILLE. Deliver me from transparency. When a woman takes that
guise, and begins to convince me that I can see through her like a
ray of light, I must run or be lost. Transparent women are the truly
dangerous. There was one on ship-board [Mandeville likes to say
that; he has just returned from a little tour in Europe, and he quite
often begins his remarks with "on the ship going over;" the Young
Lady declares that he has a sort of roll in his chair, when he says
it, that makes her sea-sick] who was the most innocent, artless,
guileless, natural bunch of lace and feathers you ever saw; she was
all candor and helplessness and dependence; she sang like a
nightingale, and talked like a nun. There never was such simplicity.
There was n't a sounding-line on board that would have gone to the
bottom of her soulful eyes. But she managed the captain and all the
officers, and controlled the ship as if she had been the helm. All
the passengers were waiting on her, fetching this and that for her
comfort, inquiring of her health, talking about her genuineness, and
exhibiting as much anxiety to get her ashore in safety, as if she had
been about to knight them all and give them a castle apiece when they
came to land.

THE MISTRESS. What harm? It shows what I have always said, that the
service of a noble woman is the most ennobling influence for men.

MANDEVILLE. If she is noble, and not a mere manager. I watched this
woman to see if she would ever do anything for any one else. She
never did.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see her again? I presume Mandeville
has introduced her here for some purpose.

MANDEVILLE. No purpose. But we did see her on the Rhine; she was
the most disgusted traveler, and seemed to be in very ill humor with
her maid. I judged that her happiness depended upon establishing
controlling relations with all about her. On this Rhine boat, to be
sure, there was reason for disgust. And that reminds me of a remark
that was made.

THE YOUNG LADY. Oh!

MANDEVILLE. When we got aboard at Mayence we were conscious of a
dreadful odor somewhere; as it was a foggy morning, we could see no
cause of it, but concluded it was from something on the wharf. The
fog lifted, and we got under way, but the odor traveled with us, and
increased. We went to every part of the vessel to avoid it, but in
vain. It occasionally reached us in great waves of disagreeableness.
We had heard of the odors of the towns on the Rhine, but we had no
idea that the entire stream was infected. It was intolerable.

The day was lovely, and the passengers stood about on deck holding
their noses and admiring the scenery. You might see a row of them
leaning over the side, gazing up at some old ruin or ivied crag,
entranced with the romance of the situation, and all holding their
noses with thumb and finger. The sweet Rhine! By and by somebody
discovered that the odor came from a pile of cheese on the forward
deck, covered with a canvas; it seemed that the Rhinelanders are so
fond of it that they take it with them when they travel. If there
should ever be war between us and Germany, the borders of the Rhine
would need no other defense from American soldiers than a barricade
of this cheese. I went to the stern of the steamboat to tell a stout
American traveler what was the origin of the odor he had been trying
to dodge all the morning. He looked more disgusted than before, when
he heard that it was cheese; but his only reply was: "It must be a
merciful God who can forgive a smell like that!"




II

The above is introduced here in order to illustrate the usual effect
of an anecdote on conversation. Commonly it kills it. That talk
must be very well in hand, and under great headway, that an anecdote
thrown in front of will not pitch off the track and wreck. And it
makes little difference what the anecdote is; a poor one depresses
the spirits, and casts a gloom over the company; a good one begets
others, and the talkers go to telling stories; which is very good
entertainment in moderation, but is not to be mistaken for that
unwearying flow of argument, quaint remark, humorous color, and
sprightly interchange of sentiments and opinions, called
conversation.

The reader will perceive that all hope is gone here of deciding
whether Herbert could have written Tennyson's poems, or whether
Tennyson could have dug as much money out of the Heliogabalus Lode as
Herbert did. The more one sees of life, I think the impression
deepens that men, after all, play about the parts assigned them,
according to their mental and moral gifts, which are limited and
preordained, and that their entrances and exits are governed by a law
no less certain because it is hidden. Perhaps nobody ever
accomplishes all that he feels lies in him to do; but nearly every
one who tries his powers touches the walls of his being occasionally,
and learns about how far to attempt to spring. There are no
impossibilities to youth and inexperience; but when a person has
tried several times to reach high C and been coughed down, he is
quite content to go down among the chorus. It is only the fools who
keep straining at high C all their lives.

Mandeville here began to say that that reminded him of something that
happened when he was on the--

But Herbert cut in with the observation that no matter what a man's
single and several capacities and talents might be, he is controlled
by his own mysterious individuality, which is what metaphysicians
call the substance, all else being the mere accidents of the man.
And this is the reason that we cannot with any certainty tell what
any person will do or amount to, for, while we know his talents and
abilities, we do not know the resulting whole, which is he himself.
THE FIRE-TENDER. So if you could take all the first-class qualities
that we admire in men and women, and put them together into one
being, you wouldn't be sure of the result?

HERBERT. Certainly not. You would probably have a monster. It
takes a cook of long experience, with the best materials, to make a
dish "taste good;" and the "taste good" is the indefinable essence,
the resulting balance or harmony which makes man or woman agreeable
or beautiful or effective in the world.

THE YOUNG LADY. That must be the reason why novelists fail so
lamentably in almost all cases in creating good characters. They put
in real traits, talents, dispositions, but the result of the
synthesis is something that never was seen on earth before.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, a good character in fiction is an inspiration.
We admit this in poetry. It is as true of such creations as Colonel
Newcome, and Ethel, and Beatrix Esmond. There is no patchwork about
them.

THE YOUNG LADY. Why was n't Thackeray ever inspired to create a
noble woman?

THE FIRE-TENDER. That is the standing conundrum with all the women.
They will not accept Ethel Newcome even. Perhaps we shall have to
admit that Thackeray was a writer for men.

HERBERT. Scott and the rest had drawn so many perfect women that
Thackeray thought it was time for a real one.

THE MISTRESS. That's ill-natured. Thackeray did, however, make
ladies. If he had depicted, with his searching pen, any of us just
as we are, I doubt if we should have liked it much.

MANDEVILLE. That's just it. Thackeray never pretended to make
ideals, and if the best novel is an idealization of human nature,
then he was not the best novelist. When I was crossing the Channel--

THE MISTRESS. Oh dear, if we are to go to sea again, Mandeville, I
move we have in the nuts and apples, and talk about our friends.




III

There is this advantage in getting back to a wood-fire on the hearth,
that you return to a kind of simplicity; you can scarcely imagine any
one being stiffly conventional in front of it. It thaws out
formality, and puts the company who sit around it into easy attitudes
of mind and body,--lounging attitudes,--Herbert said.

And this brought up the subject of culture in America, especially as
to manner. The backlog period having passed, we are beginning to
have in society people of the cultured manner, as it is called, or
polished bearing, in which the polish is the most noticeable thing
about the man. Not the courtliness, the easy simplicity of the
old-school gentleman, in whose presence the milkmaid was as much at
her ease as the countess, but something far finer than this. These
are the people of unruffled demeanor, who never forget it for a
moment, and never let you forget it. Their presence is a constant
rebuke to society. They are never "jolly;" their laugh is never
anything more than a well-bred smile; they are never betrayed into
any enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a sign of inexperience, of ignorance,
of want of culture. They never lose themselves in any cause; they
never heartily praise any man or woman or book; they are superior to
all tides of feeling and all outbursts of passion. They are not even
shocked at vulgarity. They are simply indifferent. They are calm,
visibly calm, painfully calm; and it is not the eternal, majestic
calmness of the Sphinx either, but a rigid, self-conscious
repression. You would like to put a bent pin in their chair when
they are about calmly to sit down.

A sitting hen on her nest is calm, but hopeful; she has faith that
her eggs are not china. These people appear to be sitting on china
eggs. Perfect culture has refined all blood, warmth, flavor, out of
them. We admire them without envy. They are too beautiful in their
manners to be either prigs or snobs. They are at once our models and
our despair. They are properly careful of themselves as models, for
they know that if they should break, society would become a scene of
mere animal confusion.

MANDEVILLE. I think that the best-bred people in the world are the
English.

THE YOUNG LADY. You mean at home.

MANDEVILLE. That's where I saw them. There is no nonsense about a
cultivated English man or woman. They express themselves sturdily
and naturally, and with no subservience to the opinions of others.
There's a sort of hearty sincerity about them that I like. Ages of
culture on the island have gone deeper than the surface, and they
have simpler and more natural manners than we. There is something
good in the full, round tones of their voices.

HERBERT. Did you ever get into a diligence with a growling
English-man who had n't secured the place he wanted?

[Mandeville once spent a week in London, riding about on the tops of
omnibuses.]

THE MISTRESS. Did you ever see an English exquisite at the San
Carlo, and hear him cry "Bwavo"?

MANDEVILLE. At any rate, he acted out his nature, and was n't afraid
to.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I think Mandeville is right, for once. The men of
the best culture in England, in the middle and higher social classes,
are what you would call good fellows,--easy and simple in manner,
enthusiastic on occasion, and decidedly not cultivated into the
smooth calmness of indifference which some Americans seem to regard
as the sine qua non of good breeding. Their position is so assured
that they do not need that lacquer of calmness of which we were
speaking.

THE YOUNG LADY. Which is different from the manner acquired by those
who live a great deal in American hotels?

THE MISTRESS. Or the Washington manner?

HERBERT. The last two are the same.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Not exactly. You think you can always tell if a
man has learned his society carriage of a dancing-master. Well, you
cannot always tell by a person's manner whether he is a habitui of
hotels or of Washington. But these are distinct from the perfect
polish and politeness of indifferentism.




IV

Daylight disenchants. It draws one from the fireside, and dissipates
the idle illusions of conversation, except under certain conditions.
Let us say that the conditions are: a house in the country, with some
forest trees near, and a few evergreens, which are Christmas-trees
all winter long, fringed with snow, glistening with ice-pendants,
cheerful by day and grotesque by night; a snow-storm beginning out of
a dark sky, falling in a soft profusion that fills all the air, its
dazzling whiteness making a light near at hand, which is quite lost
in the distant darkling spaces.

If one begins to watch the swirling flakes and crystals, he soon gets
an impression of infinity of resources that he can have from nothing
else so powerfully, except it be from Adirondack gnats. Nothing
makes one feel at home like a great snow-storm. Our intelligent cat
will quit the fire and sit for hours in the low window, watching the
falling snow with a serious and contented air. His thoughts are his
own, but he is in accord with the subtlest agencies of Nature; on
such a day he is charged with enough electricity to run a telegraphic
battery, if it could be utilized. The connection between thought and
electricity has not been exactly determined, but the cat is mentally
very alert in certain conditions of the atmosphere. Feasting his
eyes on the beautiful out-doors does not prevent his attention to the
slightest noise in the wainscot. And the snow-storm brings content,
but not stupidity, to all the rest of the household.

I can see Mandeville now, rising from his armchair and swinging his
long arms as he strides to the window, and looks out and up, with,
"Well, I declare!" Herbert is pretending to read Herbert Spencer's
tract on the philosophy of style but he loses much time in looking at
the Young Lady, who is writing a letter, holding her portfolio in her
lap,--one of her everlasting letters to one of her fifty everlasting
friends. She is one of the female patriots who save the post-office
department from being a disastrous loss to the treasury. Herbert is
thinking of the great radical difference in the two sexes, which
legislation will probably never change; that leads a woman always, to
write letters on her lap and a man on a table,--a distinction which
is commended to the notice of the anti-suffragists.

The Mistress, in a pretty little breakfast-cap, is moving about the
room with a feather-duster, whisking invisible dust from the
picture-frames, and talking with the Parson, who has just come in, and
is thawing the snow from his boots on the hearth. The Parson says the
thermometer is 15 deg., and going down; that there is a snowdrift across
the main church entrance three feet high, and that the house looks as if
it had gone into winter quarters, religion and all. There were only ten
persons at the conference meeting last night, and seven of those were
women; he wonders how many weather-proof Christians there are in the
parish, anyhow.

The Fire-Tender is in the adjoining library, pretending to write; but
it is a poor day for ideas. He has written his wife's name about
eleven hundred times, and cannot get any farther. He hears the
Mistress tell the Parson that she believes he is trying to write a
lecture on the Celtic Influence in Literature. The Parson says that
it is a first-rate subject, if there were any such influence, and
asks why he does n't take a shovel and make a path to the gate.
Mandeville says that, by George! he himself should like no better
fun, but it wouldn't look well for a visitor to do it. The
Fire-Tender, not to be disturbed by this sort of chaff, keeps on
writing his wife's name.

Then the Parson and the Mistress fall to talking about the
soup-relief, and about old Mrs. Grumples in Pig Alley, who had a
present of one of Stowe's Illustrated Self-Acting Bibles on
Christmas, when she had n't coal enough in the house to heat her
gruel; and about a family behind the church, a widow and six little
children and three dogs; and he did n't believe that any of them had
known what it was to be warm in three weeks, and as to food, the
woman said, she could hardly beg cold victuals enough to keep the
dogs alive.

The Mistress slipped out into the kitchen to fill a basket with
provisions and send it somewhere; and when the Fire-Tender brought in
a new forestick, Mandeville, who always wants to talk, and had been
sitting drumming his feet and drawing deep sighs, attacked him.

MANDEVILLE. Speaking about culture and manners, did you ever notice
how extremes meet, and that the savage bears himself very much like
the sort of cultured persons we were talking of last night?

THE FIRE-TENDER. In what respect?

MANDEVILLE. Well, you take the North American Indian. He is never
interested in anything, never surprised at anything. He has by
nature that calmness and indifference which your people of culture
have acquired. If he should go into literature as a critic, he would
scalp and tomahawk with the same emotionless composure, and he would
do nothing else.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Then you think the red man is a born gentleman of
the highest breeding?

MANDEVILLE. I think he is calm.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How is it about the war-path and all that?

MANDEVILLE. Oh, these studiously calm and cultured people may have
malice underneath. It takes them to give the most effective "little
digs;" they know how to stick in the pine-splinters and set fire to
them.

HERBERT. But there is more in Mandeville's idea. You bring a red
man into a picture-gallery, or a city full of fine architecture, or
into a drawing-room crowded with objects of art and beauty, and he is
apparently insensible to them all. Now I have seen country people,
--and by country people I don't mean people necessarily who live in the
country, for everything is mixed in these days,--some of the best
people in the world, intelligent, honest, sincere, who acted as the
Indian would.

THE MISTRESS. Herbert, if I did n't know you were cynical, I should
say you were snobbish.

HERBERT. Such people think it a point of breeding never to speak of
anything in your house, nor to appear to notice it, however beautiful
it may be; even to slyly glance around strains their notion of
etiquette. They are like the countryman who confessed afterwards
that he could hardly keep from laughing at one of Yankee Hill's
entertainments.

THE YOUNG LADY. Do you remember those English people at our house in
Flushing last summer, who pleased us all so much with their apparent
delight in everything that was artistic or tasteful, who explored the
rooms and looked at everything, and were so interested? I suppose
that Herbert's country relations, many of whom live in the city,
would have thought it very ill-bred.

MANDEVILLE. It's just as I said. The English, the best of them,
have become so civilized that they express themselves, in speech and
action, naturally, and are not afraid of their emotions.

THE PARSON. I wish Mandeville would travel more, or that he had
stayed at home. It's wonderful what a fit of Atlantic sea-sickness
will do for a man's judgment and cultivation. He is prepared to
pronounce on art, manners, all kinds of culture. There is more
nonsense talked about culture than about anything else.

HERBERT. The Parson reminds me of an American country minister I
once met walking through the Vatican. You could n't impose upon him
with any rubbish; he tested everything by the standards of his native
place, and there was little that could bear the test. He had the sly
air of a man who could not be deceived, and he went about with his
mouth in a pucker of incredulity. There is nothing so placid as
rustic conceit. There was something very enjoyable about his calm
superiority to all the treasures of art.

MANDEVILLE. And the Parson reminds me of another American minister,
a consul in an Italian city, who said he was going up to Rome to have
a thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece of his mind.
Ministers seem to think that is their business. They serve it in
such small pieces in order to make it go round.

THE PARSON. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, let's have some music;
nothing else will keep him in good humor till lunch-time.

THE MISTRESS. What shall it be?

THE PARSON. Give us the larghetto from Beethoven's second symphony.

The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Herbert looks at the young
lady. The Parson composes himself for critical purposes. Mandeville
settles himself in a chair and stretches his long legs nearly into
the fire, remarking that music takes the tangles out of him.

After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. It is still
snowing.




FOURTH STUDY

It is difficult to explain the attraction which the uncanny and even
the horrible have for most minds. I have seen a delicate woman half
fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most unseemly of
reptiles, vulgarly known as the "blowing viper" of the Alleghanies.
She would look at it, and turn away with irresistible shuddering and
the utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and again, only
to experience the same spasm of disgust. In spite of her aversion,
she must have relished the sort of electric mental shock that the
sight gave her.

I can no more account for the fascination for us of the stories of
ghosts and "appearances," and those weird tales in which the dead are
the chief characters; nor tell why we should fall into converse about
them when the winter evenings are far spent, the embers are glazing
over on the hearth, and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises
in the house. At such times one's dreams become of importance, and
people like to tell them and dwell upon them, as if they were a link
between the known and unknown, and could give us a clew to that
ghostly region which in certain states of the mind we feel to be more
real than that we see.

Recently, when we were, so to say, sitting around the borders of the
supernatural late at night, MANDEVILLE related a dream of his which
he assured us was true in every particular, and it interested us so
much that we asked him to write it out. In doing so he has curtailed
it, and to my mind shorn it of some of its more vivid and picturesque
features. He might have worked it up with more art, and given it a
finish which the narration now lacks, but I think best to insert it
in its simplicity. It seems to me that it may properly be called,


A NEW "VISION OF SIN"

In the winter of 1850 I was a member of one of the leading colleges
of this country. I was in moderate circumstances pecuniarily,
though I was perhaps better furnished with less fleeting riches than
many others. I was an incessant and indiscriminate reader of books.
For the solid sciences I had no particular fancy, but with mental
modes and habits, and especially with the eccentric and fantastic in
the intellectual and spiritual operations, I was tolerably familiar.
All the literature of the supernatural was as real to me as the
laboratory of the chemist, where I saw the continual struggle of
material substances to evolve themselves into more volatile, less
palpable and coarse forms. My imagination, naturally vivid,
stimulated by such repasts, nearly mastered me. At times I could
scarcely tell where the material ceased and the immaterial began (if
I may so express it); so that once and again I walked, as it seemed,
from the solid earth onward upon an impalpable plain, where I heard
the same voices, I think, that Joan of Arc heard call to her in the
garden at Domremy. She was inspired, however, while I only lacked
exercise. I do not mean this in any literal sense; I only describe a
state of mind. I was at this time of spare habit, and nervous,
excitable temperament. I was ambitious, proud, and extremely
sensitive. I cannot deny that I had seen something of the world, and
had contracted about the average bad habits of young men who have the
sole care of themselves, and rather bungle the matter. It is
necessary to this relation to admit that I had seen a trifle more of
what is called life than a young man ought to see, but at this period
I was not only sick of my experience, but my habits were as correct
as those of any Pharisee in our college, and we had some very
favorable specimens of that ancient sect.

Nor can I deny that at this period of my life I was in a peculiar
mental condition. I well remember an illustration of it. I sat
writing late one night, copying a prize essay,--a merely manual task,
leaving my thoughts free. It was in June, a sultry night, and about
midnight a wind arose, pouring in through the open windows, full of
mournful reminiscence, not of this, but of other summers,--the same
wind that De Quincey heard at noonday in midsummer blowing through
the room where he stood, a mere boy, by the side of his dead sister,
--a wind centuries old. As I wrote on mechanically, I became conscious
of a presence in the room, though I did not lift my eyes from the
paper on which I wrote. Gradually I came to know that my
grandmother--dead so long ago that I laughed at the idea--was in the
room. She stood beside her old-fashioned spinning-wheel, and quite
near me. She wore a plain muslin cap with a high puff in the crown,
a short woolen gown, a white and blue checked apron, and shoes with
heels. She did not regard me, but stood facing the wheel, with the
left hand near the spindle, holding lightly between the thumb and
forefinger the white roll of wool which was being spun and twisted on
it. In her right hand she held a small stick. I heard the sharp
click of this against the spokes of the wheel, then the hum of the
wheel, the buzz of the spindles as the twisting yarn was teased by
the whirl of its point, then a step backwards, a pause, a step
forward and the running of the yarn upon the spindle, and again a
backward step, the drawing out of the roll and the droning and hum of
the wheel, most mournfully hopeless sound that ever fell on mortal
ear. Since childhood it has haunted me. All this time I wrote, and
I could hear distinctly the scratching of the pen upon the paper.
But she stood behind me (why I did not turn my head I never knew),
pacing backward and forward by the spinning-wheel, just as I had a
hundred times seen her in childhood in the old kitchen on drowsy
summer afternoons. And I heard the step, the buzz and whirl of the
spindle, and the monotonous and dreary hum of the mournful wheel.
Whether her face was ashy pale and looked as if it might crumble at
the touch, and the border of her white cap trembled in the June wind
that blew, I cannot say, for I tell you I did NOT see her. But I
know she was there, spinning yarn that had been knit into hose years
and years ago by our fireside. For I was in full possession of my
faculties, and never copied more neatly and legibly any manuscript
than I did the one that night. And there the phantom (I use the word
out of deference to a public prejudice on this subject) most
persistently remained until my task was finished, and, closing the
portfolio, I abruptly rose. Did I see anything? That is a silly and
ignorant question. Could I see the wind which had now risen
stronger, and drove a few cloud-scuds across the sky, filling the
night, somehow, with a longing that was not altogether born of
reminiscence?

In the winter following, in January, I made an effort to give up the
use of tobacco,--a habit in which I was confirmed, and of which I
have nothing more to say than this: that I should attribute to it
almost all the sin and misery in the world, did I not remember that
the old Romans attained a very considerable state of corruption
without the assistance of the Virginia plant.

On the night of the third day of my abstinence, rendered more nervous
and excitable than usual by the privation, I retired late, and later
still I fell into an uneasy sleep, and thus into a dream, vivid,
illuminated, more real than any event of my life. I was at home, and
fell sick. The illness developed into a fever, and then a delirium
set in, not an intellectual blank, but a misty and most delicious
wandering in places of incomparable beauty. I learned subsequently
that our regular physician was not certain to finish me, when a
consultation was called, which did the business. I have the
satisfaction of knowing that they were of the proper school. I lay
sick for three days.

On the morning of the fourth, at sunrise, I died. The sensation was
not unpleasant. It was not a sudden shock. I passed out of my body
as one would walk from the door of his house. There the body lay,--a
blank, so far as I was concerned, and only interesting to me as I was
rather entertained with watching the respect paid to it. My friends
stood about the bedside, regarding me (as they seemed to suppose),
while I, in a different part of the room, could hardly repress a
smile at their mistake, solemnized as they were, and I too, for that
matter, by my recent demise. A sensation (the word you see is
material and inappropriate) of etherealization and imponderability
pervaded me, and I was not sorry to get rid of such a dull, slow mass
as I now perceived myself to be, lying there on the bed. When I
speak of my death, let me be understood to say that there was no
change, except that I passed out of my body and floated to the top of
a bookcase in the corner of the room, from which I looked down. For
a moment I was interested to see my person from the outside, but
thereafter I was quite indifferent to the body. I was now simply
soul. I seemed to be a globe, impalpable, transparent, about six
inches in diameter. I saw and heard everything as before. Of
course, matter was no obstacle to me, and I went easily and quickly
wherever I willed to go. There was none of that tedious process of
communicating my wishes to the nerves, and from them to the muscles.
I simply resolved to be at a particular place, and I was there. It
was better than the telegraph.

It seemed to have been intimated to me at my death (birth I half
incline to call it) that I could remain on this earth for four weeks
after my decease, during which time I could amuse myself as I chose.

I chose, in the first place, to see myself decently buried, to stay
by myself to the last, and attend my own funeral for once. As most
of those referred to in this true narrative are still living, I am
forbidden to indulge in personalities, nor shall I dare to say
exactly how my death affected my friends, even the home circle.
Whatever others did, I sat up with myself and kept awake. I saw the
"pennies" used instead of the "quarters" which I should have
preferred. I saw myself "laid out," a phrase that has come to have
such a slang meaning that I smile as I write it. When the body was
put into the coffin, I took my place on the lid.

I cannot recall all the details, and they are commonplace besides.
The funeral took place at the church. We all rode thither in
carriages, and I, not fancying my place in mine, rode on the outside
with the undertaker, whom I found to be a good deal more jolly than
he looked to be. The coffin was placed in front of the pulpit when
we arrived. I took my station on the pulpit cushion, from which
elevation I had an admirable view of all the ceremonies, and could
hear the sermon. How distinctly I remember the services. I think I
could even at this distance write out the sermon. The tune sung was
of--the usual country selection,--Mount Vernon. I recall the text.
I was rather flattered by the tribute paid to me, and my future was
spoken of gravely and as kindly as possible,--indeed, with remarkable
charity, considering that the minister was not aware of my presence.
I used to beat him at chess, and I thought, even then, of the last
game; for, however solemn the occasion might be to others, it was not
so to me. With what interest I watched my kinsfolks, and neighbors
as they filed past for the last look! I saw, and I remember, who
pulled a long face for the occasion and who exhibited genuine
sadness. I learned with the most dreadful certainty what people
really thought of me. It was a revelation never forgotten.

Several particular acquaintances of mine were talking on the steps as
we passed out.

"Well, old Starr's gone up. Sudden, was n't it? He was a first-rate
fellow."

"Yes, queer about some things; but he had some mighty good streaks,"
said another. And so they ran on.

Streaks! So that is the reputation one gets during twenty years of
life in this world. Streaks!

After the funeral I rode home with the family. It was pleasanter
than the ride down, though it seemed sad to my relations. They did
not mention me, however, and I may remark, that although I stayed
about home for a week, I never heard my name mentioned by any of the
family. Arrived at home, the tea-kettle was put on and supper got
ready. This seemed to lift the gloom a little, and under the
influence of the tea they brightened up and gradually got more
cheerful. They discussed the sermon and the singing, and the mistake
of the sexton in digging the grave in the wrong place, and the large
congregation. From the mantel-piece I watched the group. They had
waffles for supper,--of which I had been exceedingly fond, but now I
saw them disappear without a sigh.

For the first day or two of my sojourn at home I was here and there
at all the neighbors, and heard a good deal about my life and
character, some of which was not very pleasant, but very wholesome,
doubtless, for me to hear. At the expiration of a week this
amusement ceased to be such for I ceased to be talked of. I realized
the fact that I was dead and gone.

By an act of volition I found myself back at college. I floated into
my own room, which was empty. I went to the room of my two warmest
friends, whose friendship I was and am yet assured of. As usual,
half a dozen of our set were lounging there. A game of whist was
just commencing. I perched on a bust of Dante on the top of the
book-shelves, where I could see two of the hands and give a good
guess at a third. My particular friend Timmins was just shuffling
the cards.

"Be hanged if it is n't lonesome without old Starr. Did you cut? I
should like to see him lounge in now with his pipe, and with feet on
the mantel-piece proceed to expound on the duplex functions of the
soul."

"There--misdeal," said his vis-a-vis. "Hope there's been no misdeal
for old Starr."

"Spades, did you say?" the talk ran on, "never knew Starr was
sickly."

"No more was he; stouter than you are, and as brave and plucky as he
was strong. By George, fellows,--how we do get cut down! Last term
little Stubbs, and now one of the best fellows in the class."

"How suddenly he did pop off,--one for game, honors easy,--he was
good for the Spouts' Medal this year, too."

"Remember the joke he played on Prof. A., freshman year?" asked
another.

"Remember he borrowed ten dollars of me about that time," said
Timmins's partner, gathering the cards for a new deal.

"Guess he is the only one who ever did," retorted some one.

And so the talk went on, mingled with whist-talk, reminiscent of me,
not all exactly what I would have chosen to go into my biography, but
on the whole kind and tender, after the fashion of the boys. At
least I was in their thoughts, and I could see was a good deal
regretted,--so I passed a very pleasant evening. Most of those
present were of my society, and wore crape on their badges, and all
wore the usual crape on the left arm. I learned that the following
afternoon a eulogy would be delivered on me in the chapel.

The eulogy was delivered before members of our society and others,
the next afternoon, in the chapel. I need not say that I was
present. Indeed, I was perched on the desk within reach of the
speaker's hand. The apotheosis was pronounced by my most intimate
friend, Timmins, and I must say he did me ample justice. He never
was accustomed to "draw it very mild" (to use a vulgarism which I
dislike) when he had his head, and on this occasion he entered into
the matter with the zeal of a true friend, and a young man who never
expected to have another occasion to sing a public "In Memoriam." It
made my hair stand on end,--metaphorically, of course. From my
childhood I had been extremely precocious. There were anecdotes of
preternatural brightness, picked up, Heaven knows where, of my
eagerness to learn, of my adventurous, chivalrous young soul, and of
my arduous struggles with chill penury, which was not able (as it
appeared) to repress my rage, until I entered this institution, of
which I had been ornament, pride, cynosure, and fair promising bud
blasted while yet its fragrance was mingled with the dew of its
youth. Once launched upon my college days, Timmins went on with all
sails spread. I had, as it were, to hold on to the pulpit cushion.
Latin, Greek, the old literatures, I was perfect master of; all
history was merely a light repast to me; mathematics I glanced at,
and it disappeared; in the clouds of modern philosophy I was wrapped
but not obscured; over the field of light literature I familiarly
roamed as the honey-bee over the wide fields of clover which blossom
white in the Junes of this world! My life was pure, my character
spotless, my name was inscribed among the names of those deathless
few who were not born to die!

It was a noble eulogy, and I felt before he finished, though I had
misgivings at the beginning, that I deserved it all. The effect on
the audience was a little different. They said it was a "strong"
oration, and I think Timmins got more credit by it than I did. After
the performance they stood about the chapel, talking in a subdued
tone, and seemed to be a good deal impressed by what they had heard,
or perhaps by thoughts of the departed. At least they all soon went
over to Austin's and called for beer. My particular friends called
for it twice. Then they all lit pipes. The old grocery keeper was
good enough to say that I was no fool, if I did go off owing him four
dollars. To the credit of human nature, let me here record that the
fellows were touched by this remark reflecting upon my memory, and
immediately made up a purse and paid the bill,--that is, they told
the old man to charge it over to them. College boys are rich in
credit and the possibilities of life.

It is needless to dwell upon the days I passed at college during this
probation. So far as I could see, everything went on as if I were
there, or had never been there. I could not even see the place where
I had dropped out of the ranks. Occasionally I heard my name, but I
must say that four weeks was quite long enough to stay in a world
that had pretty much forgotten me. There is no great satisfaction in
being dragged up to light now and then, like an old letter. The case
was somewhat different with the people with whom I had boarded. They
were relations of mine, and I often saw them weep, and they talked of
me a good deal at twilight and Sunday nights, especially the youngest
one, Carrie, who was handsomer than any one I knew, and not much
older than I. I never used to imagine that she cared particularly
for me, nor would she have done so, if I had lived, but death brought
with it a sort of sentimental regret, which, with the help of a
daguerreotype, she nursed into quite a little passion. I spent most
of my time there, for it was more congenial than the college.

But time hastened. The last sand of probation leaked out of the
glass. One day, while Carrie played (for me, though she knew it not)
one of Mendelssohn's "songs without words," I suddenly, yet gently,
without self-effort or volition, moved from the house, floated in the
air, rose higher, higher, by an easy, delicious, exultant, yet
inconceivably rapid motion. The ecstasy of that triumphant flight!
Groves, trees, houses, the landscape, dimmed, faded, fled away
beneath me. Upward mounting, as on angels' wings, with no effort,
till the earth hung beneath me a round black ball swinging, remote,
in the universal ether. Upward mounting, till the earth, no longer
bathed in the sun's rays, went out to my sight, disappeared in the
blank. Constellations, before seen from afar, I sailed among.
Stars, too remote for shining on earth, I neared, and found to be
round globes flying through space with a velocity only equaled by my
own. New worlds continually opened on my sight; newfields of
everlasting space opened and closed behind me.

For days and days--it seemed a mortal forever--I mounted up the great
heavens, whose everlasting doors swung wide. How the worlds and
systems, stars, constellations, neared me, blazed and flashed in
splendor, and fled away! At length,--was it not a thousand years?--I
saw before me, yet afar off, a wall, the rocky bourn of that country
whence travelers come not back, a battlement wider than I could
guess, the height of which I could not see, the depth of which was
infinite. As I approached, it shone with a splendor never yet beheld
on earth. Its solid substance was built of jewels the rarest, and
stones of priceless value. It seemed like one solid stone, and yet
all the colors of the rainbow were contained in it. The ruby, the
diamond, the emerald, the carbuncle, the topaz, the amethyst, the
sapphire; of them the wall was built up in harmonious combination.
So brilliant was it that all the space I floated in was full of the
splendor. So mild was it and so translucent, that I could look for
miles into its clear depths.

Rapidly nearing this heavenly battlement, an immense niche was
disclosed in its solid face. The floor was one large ruby. Its
sloping sides were of pearl. Before I was aware I stood within the
brilliant recess. I say I stood there, for I was there bodily, in my
habit as I lived; how, I cannot explain. Was it the resurrection of
the body? Before me rose, a thousand feet in height, a wonderful
gate of flashing diamond. Beside it sat a venerable man, with long
white beard, a robe of light gray, ancient sandals, and a golden key
hanging by a cord from his waist. In the serene beauty of his noble
features I saw justice and mercy had met and were reconciled. I
cannot describe the majesty of his bearing or the benignity of his
appearance. It is needless to say that I stood before St. Peter, who
sits at the Celestial Gate.

I humbly approached, and begged admission. St. Peter arose, and
regarded me kindly, yet inquiringly.

"What is your name?" asked he, "and from what place do you come?"

I answered, and, wishing to give a name well known, said I was from
Washington, United States. He looked doubtful, as if he had never
heard the name before.

"Give me," said he, "a full account of your whole life."

I felt instantaneously that there was no concealment possible; all
disguise fell away, and an unknown power forced me to speak absolute
and exact truth. I detailed the events of my life as well as I
could, and the good man was not a little affected by the recital of
my early trials, poverty, and temptation. It did not seem a very
good life when spread out in that presence, and I trembled as I
proceeded; but I plead youth, inexperience, and bad examples.

"Have you been accustomed," he said, after a time, rather sadly, "to
break the Sabbath?"

I told him frankly that I had been rather lax in that matter,
especially at college. I often went to sleep in the chapel on
Sunday, when I was not reading some entertaining book. He then asked
who the preacher was, and when I told him, he remarked that I was not
so much to blame as he had supposed.

"Have you," he went on, "ever stolen, or told any lie?"

I was able to say no, except admitting as to the first, usual college
"conveyances," and as to the last, an occasional "blinder" to the
professors. He was gracious enough to say that these could be
overlooked as incident to the occasion.

"Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously and keeping late
hours?"

"Yes."

This also could be forgiven me as an incident of youth.

"Did you ever," he went on, "commit the crime of using intoxicating
drinks as a beverage?"

I answered that I had never been a habitual drinker, that I had never
been what was called a "moderate drinker," that I had never gone to a
bar and drank alone; but that I had been accustomed, in company with
other young men, on convivial occasions to taste the pleasures of the
flowing bowl, sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the
pains of it, and for months before my demise had refrained from
liquor altogether. The holy man looked grave, but, after reflection,
said this might also be overlooked in a young man.

"What," continued he, in tones still more serious, "has been your
conduct with regard to the other sex?"

I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I pulled from my bosom a
little book like the one Leperello exhibits in the opera of "Don
Giovanni." There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and
inconstancy. I waited long for the decision, but it came in mercy.

"Rise," he cried; "young men will be young men, I suppose. We shall
forgive this also to your youth and penitence."

"Your examination is satisfactory, he informed me," after a pause;
"you can now enter the abodes of the happy."

Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. The key turned in the
lock. The gate swung noiselessly on its hinges a little open. Out
flashed upon me unknown splendors. What I saw in that momentary
gleam I shall never whisper in mortal ears. I stood upon the
threshold, just about to enter.

"Stop! one moment," exclaimed St. Peter, laying his hand on my
shoulder; "I have one more question to ask you."

I turned toward him.

"Young man, did you ever use tobacco?"

"I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime," I faltered, "but..."

"THEN TO HELL WITH YOU!" he shouted in a voice of thunder.

Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was flung, hurled,
from the battlement, down! down! down! Faster and faster I sank in
a dizzy, sickening whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. The
light faded. Dampness and darkness were round about me. As before,
for days and days I rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank
into thickening darkness,--and yet not darkness, but a pale, ashy
light more fearful.

In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall before me. It ran up
and down and on either hand endlessly into the night. It was solid,
black, terrible in its frowning massiveness.

Straightway I alighted at the gate,--a dismal crevice hewn into the
dripping rock. The gate was wide open, and there sat-I knew him at
once; who does not?--the Arch Enemy of mankind. He cocked his eye at
me in an impudent, low, familiar manner that disgusted me. I saw
that I was not to be treated like a gentleman.

"Well, young man," said he, rising, with a queer grin on his face,
"what are you sent here for?"

"For using tobacco," I replied.

"Ho!" shouted he in a jolly manner, peculiar to devils, "that's what
most of 'em are sent here for now."

Without more ado, he called four lesser imps, who ushered me within.
What a dreadful plain lay before me! There was a vast city laid out
in regular streets, but there were no houses. Along the streets were
places of torment and torture exceedingly ingenious and disagreeable.
For miles and miles, it seemed, I followed my conductors through
these horrors, Here was a deep vat of burning tar. Here were rows of
fiery ovens. I noticed several immense caldron kettles of boiling
oil, upon the rims of which little devils sat, with pitchforks in
hand, and poked down the helpless victims who floundered in the
liquid. But I forbear to go into unseemly details. The whole scene
is as vivid in my mind as any earthly landscape.

After an hour's walk my tormentors halted before the mouth of an
oven,--a furnace heated seven times, and now roaring with flames.
They grasped me, one hold of each hand and foot. Standing before the
blazing mouth, they, with a swing, and a "one, two, THREE...."

I again assure the reader that in this narrative I have set down
nothing that was not actually dreamed, and much, very much of this
wonderful vision I have been obliged to omit.

Haec fabula docet: It is dangerous for a young man to leave off the
use of tobacco.




FIFTH STUDY


I

I wish I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of the New England
winter. Perhaps I could if I more thoroughly believed in it. But
skepticism comes in with the south wind. When that begins to blow,
one feels the foundations of his belief breaking up. This is only
another way of saying that it is more difficult, if it be not
impossible, to freeze out orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is
to thaw it out; though it is a mere fancy to suppose that this is the
reason why the martyrs, of all creeds, were burned at the stake.
There is said to be a great relaxation in New England of the ancient
strictness in the direction of toleration of opinion, called by some
a lowering of the standard, and by others a raising of the banner of
liberality; it might be an interesting inquiry how much this change
is due to another change,--the softening of the New England winter
and the shifting of the Gulf Stream. It is the fashion nowadays to
refer almost everything to physical causes, and this hint is a
gratuitous contribution to the science of metaphysical physics.

The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England
winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It
is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize
society than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it
filled the silken sails of Cleopatra's galley. It blows over New
England every few days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing
wind. That it brings the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long
enough to almost deceive the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and
to tempt the robin from the secluded evergreen copses, may be
nothing; but it takes the tone out of the mind, and engenders
discontent, making one long for the tropics; it feeds the weakened
imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we know it we
become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden change to
sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from the
plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are
braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.

Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a
fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not
altogether a matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used
to say, in his humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very
good woman, but her "temperature was very different from that of the
other two." The north wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina
of endurance into a man, and it probably would into a woman too if
there were a series of resolutions passed to that effect. The west
wind is hopeful; it has promise and adventure in it, and is, except
to Atlantic voyagers America-bound, the best wind that ever blew.
The east wind is peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling,
and curls one up in the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the
chimney ever smokes, it smokes when the wind sits in that quarter.
The south wind is full of longing and unrest, of effeminate
suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we might say of modern
poetry,--at any rate, modern poetry needs a change of air. I am not
sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds, because of its
sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in spring, when it
comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men "longen to gon on
pilgrimages."

I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to
do in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying
With Us, beginning,--

   "Out of a drifting southern cloud
   My soul heard the night-bird cry,"

but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was
exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only
rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can
write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many
poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a
south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very
fortunate when there is not wind enough to finish them. This
emotional poem, if I may so call it, was begun after Herbert went
away. I liked it, and thought it was what is called "suggestive;"
although I did not understand it, especially what the night-bird was;
and I am afraid I hurt the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she
meant Herbert by the "night-bird,"--a very absurd suggestion about
two unsentimental people. She said, "Nonsense;" but she afterwards
told the Mistress that there were emotions that one could never put
into words without the danger of being ridiculous; a profound truth.
And yet I should not like to say that there is not a tender
lonesomeness in love that can get comfort out of a night-bird in a
cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis is the death of sentiment.

But to return to the winds. Certain people impress us as the winds
do. Mandeville never comes in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor
and healthfulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and in his
wholesome way of looking at things. The Parson, you would say, was
the east wind, and only his intimates know that his peevishness is
only a querulous humor. In the fair west wind I know the Mistress
herself, full of hope, and always the first one to discover a bit of
blue in a cloudy sky. It would not be just to apply what I have said
of the south wind to any of our visitors, but it did blow a little
while Herbert was here.




II

In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual sparkle in it, I
suppose that no luxurious lounging on tropical isles set in tropical
seas compares with the positive happiness one may have before a great
woodfire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), with a veritable
New England winter raging outside. In order to get the highest
enjoyment, the faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a mere
recipient dullness. There are those who prefer a warm bath to a
brisk walk in the inspiring air, where ten thousand keen influences
minister to the sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves.
There are, for instance, a sharpness of horizon outline and a
delicacy of color on distant hills which are wanting in summer, and
which convey to one rightly organized the keenest delight, and a
refinement of enjoyment that is scarcely sensuous, not at all
sentimental, and almost passing the intellectual line into the
spiritual.

I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he said that I was
drawing it altogether too fine; that he experienced sensations of
pleasure in being out in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to
breast a north wind, and that there was a certain inspiration in
sharp outlines and in a landscape in trim winter-quarters, with
stripped trees, and, as it were, scudding through the season under
bare poles; but that he must say that he preferred the weather in
which he could sit on the fence by the wood-lot, with the spring sun
on his back, and hear the stir of the leaves and the birds beginning
their housekeeping.

A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear he is getting to have
private thoughts about the Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes
the robustness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little
suspicious to hear him express the hope that we shall have an early
spring.

I wonder how many people there are in New England who know the glory
and inspiration of a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too,
not only on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame with a rosy
color, which has no suggestion of languor or unsatisfied longing in
it, but on dull days, when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon,
full of threats of storm and the terrors of the gathering night. We
are very busy with our own affairs, but there is always something
going on out-doors worth looking at; and there is seldom an hour
before sunset that has not some special attraction. And, besides, it
puts one in the mood for the cheer and comfort of the open fire at
home.

Probably if the people of New England could have a plebiscitum on
their weather, they would vote against it, especially against winter.
Almost no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests the idea that
most people here were either born in the wrong place, or do not know
what is best for them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any
better satisfied, or would turn out as well, in the tropics.
Everybody knows our virtues,--at least if they believe half we tell
them,--and for delicate beauty, that rare plant, I should look among
the girls of the New England hills as confidently as anywhere, and I
have traveled as far south as New Jersey, and west of the Genesee
Valley. Indeed, it would be easy to show that the parents of the
pretty girls in the West emigrated from New England. And yet--such
is the mystery of Providence--no one would expect that one of the
sweetest and most delicate flowers that blooms, the trailing.
arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable climate, and peep forth
from the edge of a snowbank at that.

It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer that the thousands
of people who are dissatisfied with their climate do not seek a more
congenial one--or stop grumbling. The world is so small, and all
parts of it are so accessible, it has so many varieties of climate,
that one could surely suit himself by searching; and, then, is it
worth while to waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant
surroundings and in a constant friction with that which is
disagreeable? One would suppose that people set down on this little
globe would seek places on it most agreeable to themselves. It must
be that they are much more content with the climate and country upon
which they happen, by the accident of their birth, than they pretend
to be.




III

Home sympathies and charities are most active in the winter. Coming
in from my late walk,--in fact driven in by a hurrying north wind
that would brook no delay,--a wind that brought snow that did not
seem to fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be blown from polar
fields,--I find the Mistress returned from town, all in a glow of
philanthropic excitement.

There has been a meeting of a woman's association for Ameliorating
the Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by
paying a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life
Ameliorator,--a sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the
meeting, I believe, "seconded the motion" several times, and is one
of the Vice-Presidents; and this family honor makes me feel almost as
if I were a president of something myself. These little distinctions
are among the sweetest things in life, and to see one's name
officially printed stimulates his charity, and is almost as
satisfactory as being the chairman of a committee or the mover of a
resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and not at all discreditable,
that our little vanity, which is reckoned among our weaknesses, is
thus made to contribute to the activity of our nobler powers.
Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and probably
there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the whisper,
"That's he," "That's she."

There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the
Jews; but they were found to be so much more adept than other people
in ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up.
Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people
who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy
in society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem
to think that the world owes them a living because they are
philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose
condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really
accomplished in the effort for them, it always remains true that the
charitable reap a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful
compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help
another without helping himself.

OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR. Why is it that almost all philanthropists
and reformers are disagreeable?

I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person
who comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as
his wife does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner
cup of tea before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you
lock your doors, and only admit visitors through the media of bells
and servants. It is lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is
honest.

THE PARSON. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together?
Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They
are agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they
wish to make it as unpleasant to others as possible.

MANDEVILLE. That's a noble view of your fellow-men.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to
be unpleasant people to live with?

THE PARSON. As if the unpleasant people who won't mind their own
business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best
people I know are philanthropists,--I mean the genuine ones, and not
the uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It is not altogether the not minding their own
business. Nobody does that. The usual explanation is, that people
with one idea are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few
persons have more than one idea,--ministers, doctors, lawyers,
teachers, manufacturers, merchants,--they all think the world they
live in is the central one.

MANDEVILLE. And you might add authors. To them nearly all the life
of the world is in letters, and I suppose they would be astonished if
they knew how little the thoughts of the majority of people are
occupied with books, and with all that vast thought circulation which
is the vital current of the world to book-men. Newspapers have
reached their present power by becoming unliterary, and reflecting
all the interests of the world.

THE MISTRESS. I have noticed one thing, that the most popular
persons in society are those who take the world as it is, find the
least fault, and have no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner.

THE YOUNG LADY. And the other kind always appear to me to want a
dinner.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It seems to me that the real reason why reformers
and some philanthropists are unpopular is, that they disturb our
serenity and make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is only
now and then that a whole people get a spasm of reformatory fervor,
of investigation and regeneration. At other times they rather hate
those who disturb their quiet.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Professional reformers and philanthropists are
insufferably conceited and intolerant.

THE MISTRESS. Everything depends upon the spirit in which a reform
or a scheme of philanthropy is conducted.

MANDEVILLE. I attended a protracted convention of reformers of a
certain evil, once, and had the pleasure of taking dinner with a
tableful of them. It was one of those country dinners accompanied
with green tea. Every one disagreed with every one else, and you
would n't wonder at it, if you had seen them. They were people with
whom good food wouldn't agree. George Thompson was expected at the
convention, and I remember that there was almost a cordiality in the
talk about him, until one sallow brother casually mentioned that
George took snuff,--when a chorus of deprecatory groans went up from
the table. One long-faced maiden in spectacles, with purple ribbons
in her hair, who drank five cups of tea by my count, declared that
she was perfectly disgusted, and did n't want to hear him speak. In
the course of the meal the talk ran upon the discipline of children,
and how to administer punishment. I was quite taken by the remark of
a thin, dyspeptic man who summed up the matter by growling out in a
harsh, deep bass voice, "Punish 'em in love!" It sounded as if he had
said, "Shoot 'em on the spot!"

THE PARSON. I supposed you would say that he was a minister. There
is another thing about those people. I think they are working
against the course of nature. Nature is entirely indifferent to any
reform. She perpetuates a fault as persistently as a virtue.
There's a split in my thumb-nail that has been scrupulously continued
for many years, not withstanding all my efforts to make the nail
resume its old regularity. You see the same thing in trees whose
bark is cut, and in melons that have had only one summer's intimacy
with squashes. The bad traits in character are passed down from
generation to generation with as much care as the good ones. Nature,
unaided, never reforms anything.

MANDEVILLE. Is that the essence of Calvinism?

THE PARSON. Calvinism has n't any essence, it's a fact.

MANDEVILLE. When I was a boy, I always associated Calvinism and
calomel together. I thought that homeopathy--similia, etc.--had done
away with both of them.

OUR NEXT DOOR (rising). If you are going into theology, I'm off..




IV

I fear we are not getting on much with the joyousness of winter. In
order to be exhilarating it must be real winter. I have noticed that
the lower the thermometer sinks the more fiercely the north wind
rages, and the deeper the snow is, the higher rise the spirits of the
community. The activity of the "elements" has a great effect upon
country folk especially; and it is a more wholesome excitement than
that caused by a great conflagration. The abatement of a snow-storm
that grows to exceptional magnitude is regretted, for there is always
the half-hope that this will be, since it has gone so far, the
largest fall of snow ever known in the region, burying out of sight
the great fall of 1808, the account of which is circumstantially and
aggravatingly thrown in our way annually upon the least provocation.
We all know how it reads: "Some said it began at daylight, others
that it set in after sunrise; but all agree that by eight o'clock
Friday morning it was snowing in heavy masses that darkened the air."

The morning after we settled the five--or is it seven?--points of
Calvinism, there began a very hopeful snow-storm, one of those
wide-sweeping, careering storms that may not much affect the city,
but which strongly impress the country imagination with a sense of
the personal qualities of the weather,--power, persistency,
fierceness, and roaring exultation. Out-doors was terrible to those
who looked out of windows, and heard the raging wind, and saw the
commotion in all the high tree-tops and the writhing of the low
evergreens, and could not summon resolution to go forth and breast
and conquer the bluster. The sky was dark with snow, which was not
permitted to fall peacefully like a blessed mantle, as it sometimes
does, but was blown and rent and tossed like the split canvas of a
ship in a gale. The world was taken possession of by the demons of
the air, who had their will of it. There is a sort of fascination in
such a scene, equal to that of a tempest at sea, and without its
attendant haunting sense of peril; there is no fear that the house
will founder or dash against your neighbor's cottage, which is dimly
seen anchored across the field; at every thundering onset there is no
fear that the cook's galley will upset, or the screw break loose and
smash through the side, and we are not in momently expectation of the
tinkling of the little bell to "stop her." The snow rises in
drifting waves, and the naked trees bend like strained masts; but so
long as the window-blinds remain fast, and the chimney-tops do not
go, we preserve an equal mind. Nothing more serious can happen than
the failure of the butcher's and the grocer's carts, unless, indeed,
the little news-carrier should fail to board us with the world's
daily bulletin, or our next-door neighbor should be deterred from
coming to sit by the blazing, excited fire, and interchange the
trifling, harmless gossip of the day. The feeling of seclusion on
such a day is sweet, but the true friend who does brave the storm and
come is welcomed with a sort of enthusiasm that his arrival in
pleasant weather would never excite. The snow-bound in their Arctic
hulk are glad to see even a wandering Esquimau.

On such a day I recall the great snow-storms on the northern New
England hills, which lasted for a week with no cessation, with no
sunrise or sunset, and no observation at noon; and the sky all the
while dark with the driving snow, and the whole world full of the
noise of the rioting Boreal forces; until the roads were obliterated,
the fences covered, and the snow was piled solidly above the
first-story windows of the farmhouse on one side, and drifted before
the front door so high that egress could only be had by tunneling the
bank.

After such a battle and siege, when the wind fell and the sun
struggled out again, the pallid world lay subdued and tranquil, and
the scattered dwellings were not unlike wrecks stranded by the
tempest and half buried in sand. But when the blue sky again bent
over all, the wide expanse of snow sparkled like diamond-fields, and
the chimney signal-smokes could be seen, how beautiful was the
picture! Then began the stir abroad, and the efforts to open up
communication through roads, or fields, or wherever paths could be
broken, and the ways to the meeting-house first of all. Then from
every house and hamlet the men turned out with shovels, with the
patient, lumbering oxen yoked to the sleds, to break the roads,
driving into the deepest drifts, shoveling and shouting as if the
severe labor were a holiday frolic, the courage and the hilarity
rising with the difficulties encountered; and relief parties, meeting
at length in the midst of the wide white desolation, hailed each
other as chance explorers in new lands, and made the whole
country-side ring with the noise of their congratulations. There was
as much excitement and healthy stirring of the blood in it as in the
Fourth of July, and perhaps as much patriotism. The boy saw it in
dumb show from the distant, low farmhouse window, and wished he were
a man. At night there were great stories of achievement told by the
cavernous fireplace; great latitude was permitted in the estimation
of the size of particular drifts, but never any agreement was reached
as to the "depth on a level." I have observed since that people are
quite as apt to agree upon the marvelous and the exceptional as upon
simple facts.




V

By the firelight and the twilight, the Young Lady is finishing a
letter to Herbert,--writing it, literally, on her knees, transforming
thus the simple deed into an act of devotion. Mandeville says that
it is bad for her eyes, but the sight of it is worse for his eyes.
He begins to doubt the wisdom of reliance upon that worn apothegm
about absence conquering love.

Memory has the singular characteristic of recalling in a friend
absent, as in a journey long past, only that which is agreeable.
Mandeville begins to wish he were in New South Wales.

I did intend to insert here a letter of Herbert's to the Young Lady,
--obtained, I need not say, honorably, as private letters which get
into print always are,--not to gratify a vulgar curiosity, but
to show how the most unsentimental and cynical people are affected by
the master passion. But I cannot bring myself to do it. Even in the
interests of science one has no right to make an autopsy of two
loving hearts, especially when they are suffering under a late attack
of the one agreeable epidemic.

All the world loves a lover, but it laughs at him none the less in
his extravagances. He loses his accustomed reticence; he has
something of the martyr's willingness for publicity; he would even
like to show the sincerity of his devotion by some piece of open
heroism. Why should he conceal a discovery which has transformed the
world to him, a secret which explains all the mysteries of nature and
human-ity? He is in that ecstasy of mind which prompts those who
were never orators before to rise in an experience-meeting and pour
out a flood of feeling in the tritest language and the most
conventional terms. I am not sure that Herbert, while in this glow,
would be ashamed of his letter in print, but this is one of the cases
where chancery would step in and protect one from himself by his next
friend. This is really a delicate matter, and perhaps it is brutal
to allude to it at all.

In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in print. Love has
a marvelous power of vivifying language and charging the simplest
words with the most tender meaning, of restoring to them the power
they had when first coined. They are words of fire to those two who
know their secret, but not to others. It is generally admitted that
the best love-letters would not make very good literature.
"Dearest," begins Herbert, in a burst of originality, felicitously
selecting a word whose exclusiveness shuts out all the world but one,
and which is a whole letter, poem, confession, and creed in one
breath. What a weight of meaning it has to carry! There may be
beauty and wit and grace and naturalness and even the splendor of
fortune elsewhere, but there is one woman in the world whose sweet
presence would be compensation for the loss of all else. It is not
to be reasoned about; he wants that one; it is her plume dancing down
the sunny street that sets his heart beating; he knows her form among
a thousand, and follows her; he longs to run after her carriage,
which the cruel coachman whirls out of his sight. It is marvelous to
him that all the world does not want her too, and he is in a panic
when he thinks of it. And what exquisite flattery is in that little
word addressed to her, and with what sweet and meek triumph she
repeats it to herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for
those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out of all the
available world--it is almost as much bliss as it is to choose. "All
that long, long stage-ride from Blim's to Portage I thought of you
every moment, and wondered what you were doing and how you were
looking just that moment, and I found the occupation so charming that
I was almost sorry when the journey was ended." Not much in that!
But I have no doubt the Young Lady read it over and over, and dwelt
also upon every moment, and found in it new proof of unshaken
constancy, and had in that and the like things in the letter a sense
of the sweetest communion. There is nothing in this letter that we
need dwell on it, but I am convinced that the mail does not carry any
other letters so valuable as this sort.

I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this new light
unconsciously gave tone a little to the evening's talk; not that
anybody mentioned him, but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from
the qualities that make one person admired by another to those that
win the love of mankind.

MANDEVILLE. There seems to be something in some persons that wins
them liking, special or general, independent almost of what they do
or say.

THE MISTRESS. Why, everybody is liked by some one.

MANDEVILLE. I'm not sure of that. There are those who are
friendless, and would be if they had endless acquaintances. But, to
take the case away from ordinary examples, in which habit and a
thousand circumstances influence liking, what is it that determines
the world upon a personal regard for authors whom it has never seen?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Probably it is the spirit shown in their writings.

THE MISTRESS. More likely it is a sort of tradition; I don't believe
that the world has a feeling of personal regard for any author who
was not loved by those who knew him most intimately.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Which comes to the same thing. The qualities, the
spirit, that got him the love of his acquaintances he put into his
books.

MANDEVILLE. That does n't seem to me sufficient. Shakespeare has
put everything into his plays and poems, swept the whole range of
human sympathies and passions, and at times is inspired by the
sweetest spirit that ever man had.

THE YOUNG LADY. No one has better interpreted love.

MANDEVILLE. Yet I apprehend that no person living has any personal
regard for Shakespeare, or that his personality affects many,--except
they stand in Stratford church and feel a sort of awe at the thought
that the bones of the greatest poet are so near them.

THE PARSON. I don't think the world cares personally for any mere
man or woman dead for centuries.

MANDEVILLE. But there is a difference. I think there is still
rather a warm feeling for Socrates the man, independent of what he
said, which is little known. Homer's works are certainly better
known, but no one cares personally for Homer any more than for any
other shade.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Why not go back to Moses? We've got the evening
before us for digging up people.

MANDEVILLE. Moses is a very good illustration. No name of antiquity
is better known, and yet I fancy he does not awaken the same kind of
popular liking that Socrates does.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Fudge! You just get up in any lecture assembly and
propose three cheers for Socrates, and see where you'll be.
Mandeville ought to be a missionary, and read Robert Browning to the
Fijis.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How do you account for the alleged personal regard
for Socrates?

THE PARSON. Because the world called Christian is still more than
half heathen.

MANDEVILLE. He was a plain man; his sympathies were with the people;
he had what is roughly known as "horse-sense," and he was homely.
Franklin and Abraham Lincoln belong to his class. They were all
philosophers of the shrewd sort, and they all had humor. It was
fortunate for Lincoln that, with his other qualities, he was homely.
That was the last touching recommendation to the popular heart.

THE MISTRESS. Do you remember that ugly brown-stone statue of St.
Antonio by the bridge in Sorrento? He must have been a coarse saint,
patron of pigs as he was, but I don't know any one anywhere, or the
homely stone image of one, so loved by the people.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Ugliness being trump, I wonder more people don't win.
Mandeville, why don't you get up a "centenary" of Socrates, and put
up his statue in the Central Park? It would make that one of Lincoln
in Union Square look beautiful.

THE PARSON. Oh, you'll see that some day, when they have a museum
there illustrating the "Science of Religion."

THE FIRE-TENDER. Doubtless, to go back to what we were talking of,
the world has a fondness for some authors, and thinks of them with an
affectionate and half-pitying familiarity; and it may be that this
grows out of something in their lives quite as much as anything in
their writings. There seems to be more disposition of personal
liking to Thackeray than to Dickens, now both are dead,--a result
that would hardly have been predicted when the world was crying over
Little Nell, or agreeing to hate Becky Sharp.

THE YOUNG LADY. What was that you were telling about Charles Lamb,
the other day, Mandeville? Is not the popular liking for him
somewhat independent of his writings?

MANDEVILLE. He is a striking example of an author who is loved.
Very likely the remembrance of his tribulations has still something
to do with the tenderness felt for him. He supported no dignity and
permitted a familiarity which indicated no self-appreciation of his
real rank in the world of letters. I have heard that his
acquaintances familiarly called him "Charley."

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a relief to know that! Do you happen to know
what Socrates was called?

MANDEVILLE. I have seen people who knew Lamb very well. One of them
told me, as illustrating his want of dignity, that as he was going
home late one night through the nearly empty streets, he was met by a
roystering party who were making a night of it from tavern to tavern.
They fell upon Lamb, attracted by his odd figure and hesitating
manner, and, hoisting him on their shoulders, carried him off,
singing as they went. Lamb enjoyed the lark, and did not tell them
who he was. When they were tired of lugging him, they lifted him,
with much effort and difficulty, to the top of a high wall, and left
him there amid the broken bottles, utterly unable to get down. Lamb
remained there philosophically in the enjoyment of his novel
adventure, until a passing watchman rescued him from his ridiculous
situation.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How did the story get out?

MANDEVILLE. Oh, Lamb told all about it next morning; and when asked
afterwards why he did so, he replied that there was no fun in it
unless he told it.




SIXTH STUDY


I

The King sat in the winter-house in the ninth month, and there was a
fire on the hearth burning before him . . . . When Jehudi had
read three or four leaves he cut it with the penknife.

That seems to be a pleasant and home-like picture from a not very
remote period,--less than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many
centuries after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very long ago,
for Thebes, in the splendid streets of which Homer wandered and sang
to the kings when Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was
its younger rival, was twelve centuries old when Paris ran away with
Helen.

I am sorry that the original--and you can usually do anything with
the "original"--does not bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant
picture. I should like to believe that Jehoiakim--for that was the
singular name of the gentleman who sat by his hearthstone--had just
received the Memphis "Palimpsest," fifteen days in advance of the
date of its publication, and that his secretary was reading to him
that monthly, and cutting its leaves as he read. I should like to
have seen it in that year when Thales was learning astronomy in
Memphis, and Necho was organizing his campaign against Carchemish.
If Jehoiakim took the "Attic Quarterly," he might have read its
comments on the banishment of the Alcmaeonida, and its gibes at
Solon for his prohibitory laws, forbidding the sale of unguents,
limiting the luxury of dress, and interfering with the sacred rights
of mourners to passionately bewail the dead in the Asiatic manner;
the same number being enriched with contributions from two rising
poets,--a lyric of love by Sappho, and an ode sent by Anacreon from
Teos, with an editorial note explaining that the Maces was not
responsible for the sentiments of the poem.

But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the backlog in his
winter-house had other things to think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was
coming that way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a great
crowd of marauders; and the king had not even the poor choice whether
he would be the vassal of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us,
this is only a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors stalking
across vast historic spaces. It was no doubt a vulgar enough scene
of war and plunder. The great captains of that age went about to
harry each other's territories and spoil each other's cities very
much as we do nowadays, and for similar reasons;--Napoleon the Great
in Moscow, Napoleon the Small in Italy, Kaiser William in Paris,
Great Scott in Mexico! Men have not changed much.

--The Fire-Tender sat in his winter-garden in the third month; there
was a fire on the hearth burning before him. He cut the leaves of
"Scribner's Monthly" with his penknife, and thought of Jehoiakim.

That seems as real as the other. In the garden, which is a room of
the house, the tall callas, rooted in the ground, stand about the
fountain; the sun, streaming through the glass, illumines the
many-hued flowers. I wonder what Jehoiakim did with the mealy-bug on
his passion-vine, and if he had any way of removing the scale-bug
from his African acacia? One would like to know, too, how he treated
the red spider on the Le Marque rose. The record is silent. I do
not doubt he had all these insects in his winter-garden, and the
aphidae besides; and he could not smoke them out with tobacco, for
the world had not yet fallen into its second stage of the knowledge
of good and evil by eating the forbidden tobacco-plant.

I confess that this little picture of a fire on the hearth so many
centuries ago helps to make real and interesting to me that somewhat
misty past. No doubt the lotus and the acanthus from the Nile grew
in that winter-house, and perhaps Jehoiakim attempted--the most
difficult thing in the world the cultivation of the wild flowers from
Lebanon. Perhaps Jehoiakim was interested also, as I am through this
ancient fireplace,--which is a sort of domestic window into the
ancient world,--in the loves of Bernice and Abaces at the court of
the Pharaohs. I see that it is the same thing as the sentiment
--perhaps it is the shrinking which every soul that is a soul has,
sooner or later, from isolation--which grew up between Herbert and
the Young Lady Staying With Us. Jeremiah used to come in to that
fireside very much as the Parson does to ours. The Parson, to be
sure, never prophesies, but he grumbles, and is the chorus in the
play that sings the everlasting ai ai of "I told you so!" Yet we
like the Parson. He is the sprig of bitter herb that makes the
pottage wholesome. I should rather, ten times over, dispense with
the flatterers and the smooth-sayers than the grumblers. But the
grumblers are of two sorts,--the healthful-toned and the whiners.
There are makers of beer who substitute for the clean bitter of the
hops some deleterious drug, and then seek to hide the fraud by some
cloying sweet. There is nothing of this sickish drug in the Parson's
talk, nor was there in that of Jeremiah, I sometimes think there is
scarcely enough of this wholesome tonic in modern society. The
Parson says he never would give a child sugar-coated pills.
Mandeville says he never would give them any. After all, you cannot
help liking Mandeville.




II

We were talking of this late news from Jerusalem. The Fire-Tender
was saying that it is astonishing how much is telegraphed us
from the East that is not half so interesting. He was at a loss
philosophically to account for the fact that the world is so eager to
know the news of yesterday which is unimportant, and so indifferent
to that of the day before which is of some moment.

MANDEVILLE. I suspect that it arises from the want of imagination.
People need to touch the facts, and nearness in time is contiguity.
It would excite no interest to bulletin the last siege of Jerusalem
in a village where the event was unknown, if the date was appended;
and yet the account of it is incomparably more exciting than that of
the siege of Metz.

OUR NEXT DOOR. The daily news is a necessity. I cannot get along
without my morning paper. The other morning I took it up, and was
absorbed in the telegraphic columns for an hour nearly. I thoroughly
enjoyed the feeling of immediate contact with all the world of
yesterday, until I read among the minor items that Patrick Donahue,
of the city of New York, died of a sunstroke. If he had frozen to
death, I should have enjoyed that; but to die of sunstroke in
February seemed inappropriate, and I turned to the date of the paper.
When I found it was printed in July, I need not say that I lost all
interest in it, though why the trivialities and crimes and accidents,
relating to people I never knew, were not as good six months after
date as twelve hours, I cannot say.

THE FIRE-TENDER. You know that in Concord the latest news, except a
remark or two by Thoreau or Emerson, is the Vedas. I believe the
Rig-Veda is read at the breakfast-table instead of the Boston
journals.

THE PARSON. I know it is read afterward instead of the Bible.

MANDEVILLE. That is only because it is supposed to be older. I have
understood that the Bible is very well spoken of there, but it is not
antiquated enough to be an authority.

OUR NEXT DOOR. There was a project on foot to put it into the
circulating library, but the title New in the second part was
considered objectionable.

HERBERT. Well, I have a good deal of sympathy with Concord as to the
news. We are fed on a daily diet of trivial events and gossip, of
the unfruitful sayings of thoughtless men and women, until our mental
digestion is seriously impaired; the day will come when no one will
be able to sit down to a thoughtful, well-wrought book and assimilate
its contents.

THE MISTRESS. I doubt if a daily newspaper is a necessity, in the
higher sense of the word.

THE PARSON. Nobody supposes it is to women,--that is, if they can
see each other.

THE MISTRESS. Don't interrupt, unless you have something to say;
though I should like to know how much gossip there is afloat that the
minister does not know. The newspaper may be needed in society, but
how quickly it drops out of mind when one goes beyond the bounds of
what is called civilization. You remember when we were in the depths
of the woods last summer how difficult it was to get up any interest
in the files of late papers that reached us, and how unreal all the
struggle and turmoil of the world seemed. We stood apart, and could
estimate things at their true value.

THE YOUNG LADY. Yes, that was real life. I never tired of the
guide's stories; there was some interest in the intelligence that a
deer had been down to eat the lily-pads at the foot of the lake the
night before; that a bear's track was seen on the trail we crossed
that day; even Mandeville's fish-stories had a certain air of
probability; and how to roast a trout in the ashes and serve him hot
and juicy and clean, and how to cook soup and prepare coffee and heat
dish-water in one tin-pail, were vital problems.

THE PARSON. You would have had no such problems at home. Why will
people go so far to put themselves to such inconvenience? I hate the
woods. Isolation breeds conceit; there are no people so conceited as
those who dwell in remote wildernesses and live mostly alone.

THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I feel humble in the presence of
mountains, and in the vast stretches of the wilderness.

THE PARSON. I'll be bound a woman would feel just as nobody would
expect her to feel, under given circumstances.

MANDEVILLE. I think the reason why the newspaper and the world it
carries take no hold of us in the wilderness is that we become a kind
of vegetable ourselves when we go there. I have often attempted to
improve my mind in the woods with good solid books. You might as
well offer a bunch of celery to an oyster. The mind goes to sleep:
the senses and the instincts wake up. The best I can do when it
rains, or the trout won't bite, is to read Dumas's novels. Their
ingenuity will almost keep a man awake after supper, by the
camp-fire. And there is a kind of unity about them that I like; the
history is as good as the morality.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I always wondered where Mandeville got his historical
facts.

THE MISTRESS. Mandeville misrepresents himself in the woods. I
heard him one night repeat "The Vision of Sir Launfal"--(THE
FIRE-TENDER. Which comes very near being our best poem.)--as we were
crossing the lake, and the guides became so absorbed in it that they
forgot to paddle, and sat listening with open mouths, as if it had
been a panther story.

THE PARSON. Mandeville likes to show off well enough. I heard that
he related to a woods' boy up there the whole of the Siege of Troy.
The boy was very much interested, and said "there'd been a man up
there that spring from Troy, looking up timber." Mandeville always
carries the news when he goes into the country.

MANDEVILLE. I'm going to take the Parson's sermon on Jonah next
summer; it's the nearest to anything like news we've had from his
pulpit in ten years. But, seriously, the boy was very well informed.
He'd heard of Albany; his father took in the "Weekly Tribune," and he
had a partial conception of Horace Greeley.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I never went so far out of the world in America yet
that the name of Horace Greeley did n't rise up before me. One of
the first questions asked by any camp-fire is, "Did ye ever see
Horace?"

HERBERT. Which shows the power of the press again. But I have often
remarked how little real conception of the moving world, as it is,
people in remote regions get from the newspaper. It needs to be read
in the midst of events. A chip cast ashore in a refluent eddy tells
no tale of the force and swiftness of the current.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I don't exactly get the drift of that last remark;
but I rather like a remark that I can't understand; like the
landlady's indigestible bread, it stays by you.

HERBERT. I see that I must talk in words of one syllable. The
newspaper has little effect upon the remote country mind, because the
remote country mind is interested in a very limited number of things.
Besides, as the Parson says, it is conceited. The most accomplished
scholar will be the butt of all the guides in the woods, because he
cannot follow a trail that would puzzle a sable (saple the trappers
call it).

THE PARSON. It's enough to read the summer letters that people write
to the newspapers from the country and the woods. Isolated from the
activity of the world, they come to think that the little adventures
of their stupid days and nights are important. Talk about that being
real life! Compare the letters such people write with the other
contents of the newspaper, and you will see which life is real.
That's one reason I hate to have summer come, the country letters set
in.

THE MISTRESS. I should like to see something the Parson does n't
hate to have come.

MANDEVILLE. Except his quarter's salary; and the meeting of the
American Board.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I don't see that we are getting any nearer the
solution of the original question. The world is evidently interested
in events simply because they are recent.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I have a theory that a newspaper might be published
at little cost, merely by reprinting the numbers of years before,
only altering the dates; just as the Parson preaches over his
sermons.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It's evident we must have a higher order of
news-gatherers. It has come to this, that the newspaper furnishes
thought-material for all the world, actually prescribes from day to
day the themes the world shall think on and talk about. The
occupation of news-gathering becomes, therefore, the most important.
When you think of it, it is astonishing that this department should
not be in the hands of the ablest men, accomplished scholars,
philosophical observers, discriminating selectors of the news of the
world that is worth thinking over and talking about. The editorial
comments frequently are able enough, but is it worth while keeping an
expensive mill going to grind chaff? I sometimes wonder, as I open
my morning paper, if nothing did happen in the twenty-four hours
except crimes, accidents, defalcations, deaths of unknown loafers,
robberies, monstrous births,--say about the level of police-court
news.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I have even noticed that murders have deteriorated;
they are not so high-toned and mysterious as they used to be.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It is true that the newspapers have improved vastly
within the last decade.

HERBERT. I think, for one, that they are very much above the level
of the ordinary gossip of the country.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But I am tired of having the under-world still
occupy so much room in the newspapers. The reporters are rather more
alert for a dog-fight than a philological convention. It must be
that the good deeds of the world outnumber the bad in any given day;
and what a good reflex action it would have on society if they could
be more fully reported than the bad! I suppose the Parson would call
this the Enthusiasm of Humanity.

THE PARSON. You'll see how far you can lift yourself up by your
boot-straps.

HERBERT. I wonder what influence on the quality (I say nothing of
quantity) of news the coming of women into the reporter's and
editor's work will have.

OUR NEXT DOOR. There are the baby-shows; they make cheerful reading.

THE MISTRESS. All of them got up by speculating men, who impose upon
the vanity of weak women.

HERBERT. I think women reporters are more given to personal details
and gossip than the men. When I read the Washington correspondence I
am proud of my country, to see how many Apollo Belvederes, Adonises,
how much marble brow and piercing eye and hyacinthine locks, we have
in the two houses of Congress.

THE YOUNG LADY. That's simply because women understand the personal
weakness of men; they have a long score of personal flattery to pay
off too.

MANDEVILLE. I think women will bring in elements of brightness,
picturesqueness, and purity very much needed. Women have a power of
investing simple ordinary things with a charm; men are bungling
narrators compared with them.

THE PARSON. The mistake they make is in trying to write, and
especially to "stump-speak," like men; next to an effeminate man
there is nothing so disagreeable as a mannish woman.

HERBERT. I heard one once address a legislative committee. The
knowing air, the familiar, jocular, smart manner, the nodding and
winking innuendoes, supposed to be those of a man "up to snuff," and
au fait in political wiles, were inexpressibly comical. And yet the
exhibition was pathetic, for it had the suggestive vulgarity of a
woman in man's clothes. The imitation is always a dreary failure.

THE MISTRESS. Such women are the rare exceptions. I am ready to
defend my sex; but I won't attempt to defend both sexes in one.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I have great hope that women will bring into the
newspaper an elevating influence; the common and sweet life of
society is much better fitted to entertain and instruct us than the
exceptional and extravagant. I confess (saving the Mistress's
presence) that the evening talk over the dessert at dinner is much
more entertaining and piquant than the morning paper, and often as
important.

THE MISTRESS. I think the subject had better be changed.

MANDEVILLE. The person, not the subject. There is no entertainment
so full of quiet pleasure as the hearing a lady of cultivation and
refinement relate her day's experience in her daily rounds of calls,
charitable visits, shopping, errands of relief and condolence. The
evening budget is better than the finance minister's.

OUR NEXT DOOR. That's even so. My wife will pick up more news in
six hours than I can get in a week, and I'm fond of news.

MANDEVILLE. I don't mean gossip, by any means, or scandal. A woman
of culture skims over that like a bird, never touching it with the
tip of a wing. What she brings home is the freshness and brightness
of life. She touches everything so daintily, she hits off a
character in a sentence, she gives the pith of a dialogue without
tediousness, she mimics without vulgarity; her narration sparkles,
but it does n't sting. The picture of her day is full of vivacity,
and it gives new value and freshness to common things. If we could
only have on the stage such actresses as we have in the drawing-room!

THE FIRE-TENDER. We want something more of this grace,
sprightliness, and harmless play of the finer life of society in the
newspaper.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder Mandeville does n't marry, and become a
permanent subscriber to his embodied idea of a newspaper.

THE YOUNG LADY. Perhaps he does not relish the idea of being unable
to stop his subscription.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Parson, won't you please punch that fire, and give us
more blaze? we are getting into the darkness of socialism.




III

Herbert returned to us in March. The Young Lady was spending the
winter with us, and March, in spite of the calendar, turned out to be
a winter month. It usually is in New England, and April too, for
that matter. And I cannot say it is unfortunate for us. There are
so many topics to be turned over and settled at our fireside that a
winter of ordinary length would make little impression on the list.
The fireside is, after all, a sort of private court of chancery,
where nothing ever does come to a final decision. The chief effect
of talk on any subject is to strengthen one's own opinions, and, in
fact, one never knows exactly what he does believe until he is warmed
into conviction by the heat of attack and defence. A man left to
himself drifts about like a boat on a calm lake; it is only when the
wind blows that the boat goes anywhere.

Herbert said he had been dipping into the recent novels written by
women, here and there, with a view to noting the effect upon
literature of this sudden and rather overwhelming accession to it.
There was a good deal of talk about it evening after evening, off and
on, and I can only undertake to set down fragments of it.

HERBERT. I should say that the distinguishing feature of the
literature of this day is the prominence women have in its
production. They figure in most of the magazines, though very rarely
in the scholarly and critical reviews, and in thousands of
newspapers; to them we are indebted for the oceans of Sunday-school
books, and they write the majority of the novels, the serial stories,
and they mainly pour out the watery flood of tales in the weekly
papers. Whether this is to result in more good than evil it is
impossible yet to say, and perhaps it would be unjust to say, until
this generation has worked off its froth, and women settle down to
artistic, conscientious labor in literature.

THE MISTRESS. You don't mean to say that George Eliot, and Mrs.
Gaskell, and George Sand, and Mrs. Browning, before her marriage and
severe attack of spiritism, are less true to art than contemporary
men novelists and poets.

HERBERT. You name some exceptions that show the bright side of the
picture, not only for the present, but for the future. Perhaps
genius has no sex; but ordinary talent has. I refer to the great
body of novels, which you would know by internal evidence were
written by women. They are of two sorts: the domestic story,
entirely unidealized, and as flavorless as water-gruel; and the
spiced novel, generally immoral in tendency, in which the social
problems are handled, unhappy marriages, affinity and passional
attraction, bigamy, and the violation of the seventh commandment.
These subjects are treated in the rawest manner, without any settled
ethics, with little discrimination of eternal right and wrong, and
with very little sense of responsibility for what is set forth. Many
of these novels are merely the blind outbursts of a nature impatient
of restraint and the conventionalities of society, and are as chaotic
as the untrained minds that produce them.

MANDEVILLE. Don't you think these novels fairly represent a social
condition of unrest and upheaval?

HERBERT. Very likely; and they help to create and spread abroad the
discontent they describe. Stories of bigamy (sometimes disguised by
divorce), of unhappy marriages, where the injured wife, through an
entire volume, is on the brink of falling into the arms of a sneaking
lover, until death kindly removes the obstacle, and the two souls,
who were born for each other, but got separated in the cradle, melt
and mingle into one in the last chapter, are not healthful reading
for maids or mothers.

THE MISTRESS. Or men.

THE FIRE-TENDER. The most disagreeable object to me in modern
literature is the man the women novelists have introduced as the
leading character; the women who come in contact with him seem to be
fascinated by his disdainful mien, his giant strength, and his brutal
manner. He is broad across the shoulders, heavily moulded, yet as
lithe as a cat; has an ugly scar across his right cheek; has been in
the four quarters of the globe; knows seventeen languages; had a
harem in Turkey and a Fayaway in the Marquesas; can be as polished as
Bayard in the drawing-room, but is as gloomy as Conrad in the
library; has a terrible eye and a withering glance, but can be
instantly subdued by a woman's hand, if it is not his wife's; and
through all his morose and vicious career has carried a heart as pure
as a violet.

THE MISTRESS. Don't you think the Count of Monte Cristo is the elder
brother of Rochester?

THE FIRE-TENDER. One is a mere hero of romance; the other is meant
for a real man.

MANDEVILLE. I don't see that the men novel-writers are better than
the women.

HERBERT. That's not the question; but what are women who write so
large a proportion of the current stories bringing into literature?
Aside from the question of morals, and the absolutely demoralizing
manner of treating social questions, most of their stories are vapid
and weak beyond expression, and are slovenly in composition, showing
neither study, training, nor mental discipline.

THE MISTRESS. Considering that women have been shut out from the
training of the universities, and have few opportunities for the wide
observation that men enjoy, isn't it pretty well that the foremost
living writers of fiction are women?

HERBERT. You can say that for the moment, since Thackeray and
Dickens have just died. But it does not affect the general
estimate. We are inundated with a flood of weak writing. Take the
Sunday-school literature, largely the product of women; it has n't as
much character as a dried apple pie. I don't know what we are coming to
if the presses keep on running.

OUR NEXT DOOR. We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful
time; I'm glad I don't write novels.

THE PARSON. So am I.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I tried a Sunday-school book once; but I made the
good boy end in the poorhouse, and the bad boy go to Congress; and
the publisher said it wouldn't do, the public wouldn't stand that
sort of thing. Nobody but the good go to Congress.

THE MISTRESS. Herbert, what do you think women are good for?

OUR NEXT DOOR. That's a poser.

HERBERT. Well, I think they are in a tentative state as to
literature, and we cannot yet tell what they will do. Some of our
most brilliant books of travel, correspondence, and writing on topics
in which their sympathies have warmly interested them, are by women.
Some of them are also strong writers in the daily journals.

MANDEVILLE. I 'm not sure there's anything a woman cannot do as well
as a man, if she sets her heart on it.

THE PARSON. That's because she's no conscience.

CHORUS. O Parson!

THE PARSON. Well, it does n't trouble her, if she wants to do
anything. She looks at the end, not the means. A woman, set on
anything, will walk right through the moral crockery without wincing.
She'd be a great deal more unscrupulous in politics than the average
man. Did you ever see a female lobbyist? Or a criminal? It is Lady
Macbeth who does not falter. Don't raise your hands at me! The
sweetest angel or the coolest devil is a woman. I see in some of the
modern novels we have been talking of the same unscrupulous daring, a
blindness to moral distinctions, a constant exaltation of a passion
into a virtue, an entire disregard of the immutable laws on which the
family and society rest. And you ask lawyers and trustees how
scrupulous women are in business transactions!

THE FIRE-TENDER. Women are often ignorant of affairs, and, besides,
they may have a notion often that a woman ought to be privileged more
than a man in business matters; but I tell you, as a rule, that if
men would consult their wives, they would go a deal straighter in
business operations than they do go.

THE PARSON. We are all poor sinners. But I've another indictment
against the women writers. We get no good old-fashioned love-stories
from them. It's either a quarrel of discordant natures one a
panther, and the other a polar bear--for courtship, until one of them
is crippled by a railway accident; or a long wrangle of married life
between two unpleasant people, who can neither live comfortably
together nor apart. I suppose, by what I see, that sweet wooing,
with all its torturing and delightful uncertainty, still goes on in
the world; and I have no doubt that the majority of married people
live more happily than the unmarried. But it's easier to find a dodo
than a new and good love-story.

MANDEVILLE. I suppose the old style of plot is exhausted.
Everything in man and outside of him has been turned over so often
that I should think the novelists would cease simply from want of
material.

THE PARSON. Plots are no more exhausted than men are. Every man is
a new creation, and combinations are simply endless. Even if we did
not have new material in the daily change of society, and there were
only a fixed number of incidents and characters in life, invention
could not be exhausted on them. I amuse myself sometimes with my
kaleidoscope, but I can never reproduce a figure. No, no. I cannot
say that you may not exhaust everything else: we may get all the
secrets of a nature into a book by and by, but the novel is immortal,
for it deals with men.

The Parson's vehemence came very near carrying him into a sermon; and
as nobody has the privilege of replying to his sermons, so none of
the circle made any reply now.

Our Next Door mumbled something about his hair standing on end, to
hear a minister defending the novel; but it did not interrupt the
general silence. Silence is unnoticed when people sit before a fire;
it would be intolerable if they sat and looked at each other.

The wind had risen during the evening, and Mandeville remarked, as
they rose to go, that it had a spring sound in it, but it was as cold
as winter. The Mistress said she heard a bird that morning singing
in the sun a spring song, it was a winter bird, but it sang.




SEVENTH STUDY


We have been much interested in what is called the Gothic revival.
We have spent I don't know how many evenings in looking over
Herbert's plans for a cottage, and have been amused with his vain
efforts to cover with Gothic roofs the vast number of large rooms
which the Young Lady draws in her sketch of a small house.

I have no doubt that the Gothic, which is capable of infinite
modification, so that every house built in that style may be as
different from every other house as one tree is from every other, can
be adapted to our modern uses, and will be, when artists catch its
spirit instead of merely copying its old forms. But just now we are
taking the Gothic very literally, as we took the Greek at one time,
or as we should probably have taken the Saracenic, if the Moors had
not been colored. Not even the cholera is so contagious in this
country as a style of architecture which we happen to catch; the
country is just now broken out all over with the Mansard-roof
epidemic.

And in secular architecture we do not study what is adapted to our
climate any more than in ecclesiastic architecture we adopt that
which is suited to our religion.

We are building a great many costly churches here and there, we
Protestants, and as the most of them are ill adapted to our forms of
worship, it may be necessary and best for us to change our religion
in order to save our investments. I am aware that this would be a
grave step, and we should not hasten to throw overboard Luther and
the right of private judgment without reflection. And yet, if it is
necessary to revive the ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, not in
its spirit (that we nowhere do), but in the form which served another
age and another faith, and if, as it appears, we have already a great
deal of money invested in this reproduction, it may be more prudent
to go forward than to go back. The question is, "Cannot one easier
change his creed than his pew?"

I occupy a seat in church which is an admirable one for reflection,
but I cannot see or hear much that is going on in what we like to
call the apse. There is a splendid stone pillar, a clustered column,
right in front of me, and I am as much protected from the minister as
Old Put's troops were from the British, behind the stone wall at
Bunker's Hill. I can hear his voice occasionally wandering round in
the arches overhead, and I recognize the tone, because he is a friend
of mine and an excellent man, but what he is saying I can very seldom
make out. If there was any incense burning, I could smell it, and
that would be something. I rather like the smell of incense, and it
has its holy associations. But there is no smell in our church,
except of bad air,--for there is no provision for ventilation in the
splendid and costly edifice. The reproduction of the old Gothic is
so complete that the builders even seem to have brought over the
ancient air from one of the churches of the Middle Ages,--you would
declare it had n't been changed in two centuries.

I am expected to fix my attention during the service upon one man,
who stands in the centre of the apse and has a sounding-board behind
him in order to throw his voice out of the sacred semicircular space
(where the altar used to stand, but now the sounding-board takes the
place of the altar) and scatter it over the congregation at large,
and send it echoing up in the groined roof I always like to hear a
minister who is unfamiliar with the house, and who has a loud voice,
try to fill the edifice. The more he roars and gives himself with
vehemence to the effort, the more the building roars in
indistinguishable noise and hubbub. By the time he has said (to
suppose a case), "The Lord is in his holy temple," and has passed on
to say, "let all the earth keep silence," the building is repeating
"The Lord is in his holy temple" from half a dozen different angles
and altitudes, rolling it and growling it, and is not keeping silence
at all. A man who understands it waits until the house has had its
say, and has digested one passage, before he launches another into
the vast, echoing spaces. I am expected, as I said, to fix my eye
and mind on the minister, the central point of the service. But the
pillar hides him. Now if there were several ministers in the church,
dressed in such gorgeous colors that I could see them at the distance
from the apse at which my limited income compels me to sit, and
candles were burning, and censers were swinging, and the platform was
full of the sacred bustle of a gorgeous ritual worship, and a bell
rang to tell me the holy moments, I should not mind the pillar at
all. I should sit there, like any other Goth, and enjoy it. But, as
I have said, the pastor is a friend of mine, and I like to look at
him on Sunday, and hear what he says, for he always says something
worth hearing. I am on such terms with him, indeed we all are, that
it would be pleasant to have the service of a little more social
nature, and more human. When we put him away off in the apse, and
set him up for a Goth, and then seat ourselves at a distance,
scattered about among the pillars, the whole thing seems to me a
trifle unnatural. Though I do not mean to say that the congregations
do not "enjoy their religion" in their splendid edifices which cost
so much money and are really so beautiful.

A good many people have the idea, so it seems, that Gothic
architecture and Christianity are essentially one and the same thing.
Just as many regard it as an act of piety to work an altar cloth or
to cushion a pulpit. It may be, and it may not be.

Our Gothic church is likely to prove to us a valuable religious
experience, bringing out many of the Christian virtues. It may have
had its origin in pride, but it is all being overruled for our good.
Of course I need n't explain that it is the thirteenth century
ecclesiastic Gothic that is epidemic in this country; and I think it
has attacked the Congregational and the other non-ritual churches
more violently than any others. We have had it here in its most
beautiful and dangerous forms. I believe we are pretty much all of
us supplied with a Gothic church now. Such has been the enthusiasm
in this devout direction, that I should not be surprised to see our
rich private citizens putting up Gothic churches for their individual
amusement and sanctification. As the day will probably come when
every man in Hartford will live in his own mammoth, five-story
granite insurance building, it may not be unreasonable to expect that
every man will sport his own Gothic church. It is beginning to be
discovered that the Gothic sort of church edifice is fatal to the
Congregational style of worship that has been prevalent here in New
England; but it will do nicely (as they say in Boston) for private
devotion.

There isn't a finer or purer church than ours any where, inside and
outside Gothic to the last. The elevation of the nave gives it even
that "high-shouldered" appearance which seemed more than anything
else to impress Mr. Hawthorne in the cathedral at Amiens. I fancy
that for genuine high-shoulderness we are not exceeded by any church
in the city. Our chapel in the rear is as Gothic as the rest of it,
--a beautiful little edifice. The committee forgot to make any more
provision for ventilating that than the church, and it takes a pretty
well-seasoned Christian to stay in it long at a time. The
Sunday-school is held there, and it is thought to be best to accustom
the children to bad air before they go into the church. The poor little
dears shouldn't have the wickedness and impurity of this world break
on them too suddenly. If the stranger noticed any lack about our
church, it would be that of a spire. There is a place for one;
indeed, it was begun, and then the builders seem to have stopped,
with the notion that it would grow itself from such a good root. It
is a mistake however, to suppose that we do not know that the church
has what the profane here call a "stump-tail" appearance. But the
profane are as ignorant of history as they are of true Gothic. All
the Old World cathedrals were the work of centuries. That at Milan
is scarcely finished yet; the unfinished spires of the Cologne
cathedral are one of the best-known features of it. I doubt if it
would be in the Gothic spirit to finish a church at once. We can
tell cavilers that we shall have a spire at the proper time, and not
a minute before. It may depend a little upon what the Baptists do,
who are to build near us. I, for one, think we had better wait and
see how high the Baptist spire is before we run ours up. The church
is everything that could be desired inside. There is the nave, with
its lofty and beautiful arched ceiling; there are the side aisles,
and two elegant rows of stone pillars, stained so as to be a perfect
imitation of stucco; there is the apse, with its stained glass and
exquisite lines; and there is an organ-loft over the front entrance,
with a rose window. Nothing was wanting, so far as we could see,
except that we should adapt ourselves to the circumstances; and that
we have been trying to do ever since. It may be well to relate how
we do it, for the benefit of other inchoate Goths.

It was found that if we put up the organ in the loft, it would hide
the beautiful rose window. Besides, we wanted congregational
singing, and if we hired a choir, and hung it up there under the roof,
like a cage of birds, we should not have congregational singing. We
therefore left the organ-loft vacant, making no further use of it
than to satisfy our Gothic cravings. As for choir,--several of the
singers of the church volunteered to sit together in the front
side-seats, and as there was no place for an organ, they gallantly
rallied round a melodeon,--or perhaps it is a cabinet organ,--a
charming instrument, and, as everybody knows, entirely in keeping
with the pillars, arches, and great spaces of a real Gothic edifice.
It is the union of simplicity with grandeur, for which we have all
been looking. I need not say to those who have ever heard a
melodeon, that there is nothing like it. It is rare, even in the
finest churches on the Continent. And we had congregational singing.
And it went very well indeed. One of the advantages of pure
congregational singing, is that you can join in the singing whether
you have a voice or not. The disadvantage is, that your neighbor can
do the same. It is strange what an uncommonly poor lot of voices
there is, even among good people. But we enjoy it. If you do not
enjoy it, you can change your seat until you get among a good lot.

So far, everything went well. But it was next discovered that it was
difficult to hear the minister, who had a very handsome little desk
in the apse, somewhat distant from the bulk of the congregation;
still, we could most of us see him on a clear day. The church was
admirably built for echoes, and the centre of the house was very
favorable to them. When you sat in the centre of the house, it
sometimes seemed as if three or four ministers were speaking.

It is usually so in cathedrals; the Right Reverend So-and-So is
assisted by the very Reverend Such-and-Such, and the good deal
Reverend Thus-and-Thus, and so on. But a good deal of the minister's
voice appeared to go up into the groined arches, and, as there was no
one up there, some of his best things were lost. We also had a
notion that some of it went into the cavernous organ-loft. It would
have been all right if there had been a choir there, for choirs
usually need more preaching, and pay less heed to it, than any other
part of the congregation. Well, we drew a sort of screen over the
organ-loft; but the result was not as marked as we had hoped. We
next devised a sounding-board,--a sort of mammoth clamshell, painted
white,--and erected it behind the minister. It had a good effect on
the minister. It kept him up straight to his work. So long as he
kept his head exactly in the focus, his voice went out and did not
return to him; but if he moved either way, he was assailed by a Babel
of clamoring echoes. There was no opportunity for him to splurge
about from side to side of the pulpit, as some do. And if he raised
his voice much, or attempted any extra flights, he was liable to be
drowned in a refluent sea of his own eloquence. And he could hear
the congregation as well as they could hear him. All the coughs,
whispers, noises, were gathered in the wooden tympanum behind him,
and poured into his ears.

But the sounding-board was an improvement, and we advanced to bolder
measures; having heard a little, we wanted to hear more. Besides,
those who sat in front began to be discontented with the melodeon.
There are depths in music which the melodeon, even when it is called
a cabinet organ, with a colored boy at the bellows, cannot sound.
The melodeon was not, originally, designed for the Gothic worship.
We determined to have an organ, and we speculated whether, by
erecting it in the apse, we could not fill up that elegant portion of
the church, and compel the preacher's voice to leave it, and go out
over the pews. It would of course do something to efface the main
beauty of a Gothic church; but something must be done, and we began a
series of experiments to test the probable effects of putting the
organ and choir behind the minister. We moved the desk to the very
front of the platform, and erected behind it a high, square board
screen, like a section of tight fence round the fair-grounds. This
did help matters. The minister spoke with more ease, and we could
hear him better. If the screen had been intended to stay there, we
should have agitated the subject of painting it. But this was only
an experiment.

Our next move was to shove the screen back and mount the volunteer
singers, melodeon and all, upon the platform,--some twenty of them
crowded together behind the minister. The effect was beautiful. It
seemed as if we had taken care to select the finest-looking people in
the congregation,--much to the injury of the congregation, of course,
as seen from the platform. There are few congregations that can
stand this sort of culling, though ours can endure it as well as any;
yet it devolves upon those of us who remain the responsibility of
looking as well as we can.

The experiment was a success, so far as appearances went, but when
the screen went back, the minister's voice went back with it. We
could not hear him very well, though we could hear the choir as plain
as day. We have thought of remedying this last defect by putting the
high screen in front of the singers, and close to the minister, as it
was before. This would make the singers invisible,--"though lost to
sight, to memory dear,"--what is sometimes called an "angel choir,"
when the singers (and the melodeon) are concealed, with the most
subdued and religious effect. It is often so in cathedrals.

This plan would have another advantage. The singers on the platform,
all handsome and well dressed, distract our attention from the
minister, and what he is saying. We cannot help looking at them,
studying all the faces and all the dresses. If one of them sits up
very straight, he is a rebuke to us; if he "lops" over, we wonder why
he does n't sit up; if his hair is white, we wonder whether it is age
or family peculiarity; if he yawns, we want to yawn; if he takes up a
hymn-book, we wonder if he is uninterested in the sermon; we look at
the bonnets, and query if that is the latest spring style, or whether
we are to look for another; if he shaves close, we wonder why he
doesn't let his beard grow; if he has long whiskers, we wonder why he
does n't trim 'em; if she sighs, we feel sorry; if she smiles, we
would like to know what it is about. And, then, suppose any of the
singers should ever want to eat fennel, or peppermints, or Brown's
troches, and pass them round! Suppose the singers, more or less of
them, should sneeze!

Suppose one or two of them, as the handsomest people sometimes will,
should go to sleep! In short, the singers there take away all our
attention from the minister, and would do so if they were the
homeliest people in the world. We must try something else.

It is needless to explain that a Gothic religious life is not an idle
one.




EIGHTH STUDY


I

Perhaps the clothes question is exhausted, philosophically. I cannot
but regret that the Poet of the Breakfast-Table, who appears to have
an uncontrollable penchant for saying the things you would like to
say yourself, has alluded to the anachronism of "Sir Coeur de Lion
Plantagenet in the mutton-chop whiskers and the plain gray suit."

A great many scribblers have felt the disadvantage of writing after
Montaigne; and it is impossible to tell how much originality in
others Dr. Holmes has destroyed in this country. In whist there are
some men you always prefer to have on your left hand, and I take it
that this intuitive essayist, who is so alert to seize the few
remaining unappropriated ideas and analogies in the world, is one of
them.

No doubt if the Plantagenets of this day were required to dress in a
suit of chain-armor and wear iron pots on their heads, they would be
as ridiculous as most tragedy actors on the stage. The pit which
recognizes Snooks in his tin breastplate and helmet laughs at him,
and Snooks himself feels like a sheep; and when the great tragedian
comes on, shining in mail, dragging a two-handed sword, and mouths
the grandiloquence which poets have put into the speech of heroes,
the dress-circle requires all its good-breeding and its feigned love
of the traditionary drama not to titter.

If this sort of acting, which is supposed to have come down to us
from the Elizabethan age, and which culminated in the school of the
Keans, Kembles, and Siddonses, ever had any fidelity to life, it must
have been in a society as artificial as the prose of Sir Philip
Sidney. That anybody ever believed in it is difficult to think,
especially when we read what privileges the fine beaux and gallants
of the town took behind the scenes and on the stage in the golden
days of the drama. When a part of the audience sat on the stage, and
gentlemen lounged or reeled across it in the midst of a play, to
speak to acquaintances in the audience, the illusion could not have
been very strong.

Now and then a genius, like Rachel as Horatia, or Hackett as
Falstaff, may actually seem to be the character assumed by virtue of
a transforming imagination, but I suppose the fact to be that getting
into a costume, absurdly antiquated and remote from all the habits
and associations of the actor, largely accounts for the incongruity
and ridiculousness of most of our modern acting. Whether what is
called the "legitimate drama" ever was legitimate we do not know, but
the advocates of it appear to think that the theatre was some time
cast in a mould, once for all, and is good for all times and peoples,
like the propositions of Euclid. To our eyes the legitimate drama of
to-day is the one in which the day is reflected, both in costume and
speech, and which touches the affections, the passions, the humor, of
the present time. The brilliant success of the few good plays that
have been written out of the rich life which we now live--the most
varied, fruitful, and dramatically suggestive--ought to rid us
forever of the buskin-fustian, except as a pantomimic or spectacular
curiosity.

We have no objection to Julius Caesar or Richard III. stalking about
in impossible clothes, and stepping four feet at a stride, if they
want to, but let them not claim to be more "legitimate" than "Ours"
or "Rip Van Winkle." There will probably be some orator for years
and years to come, at every Fourth of July, who will go on asking,
Where is Thebes? but he does not care anything about it, and he does
not really expect an answer. I have sometimes wished I knew the
exact site of Thebes, so that I could rise in the audience, and stop
that question, at any rate. It is legitimate, but it is tiresome.

If we went to the bottom of this subject, I think we should find that
the putting upon actors clothes to which they are unaccustomed makes
them act and talk artificially, and often in a manner intolerable.

An actor who has not the habits or instincts of a gentleman cannot be
made to appear like one on the stage by dress; he only caricatures
and discredits what he tries to represent; and the unaccustomed
clothes and situation make him much more unnatural and insufferable
than he would otherwise be. Dressed appropriately for parts for
which he is fitted, he will act well enough, probably. What I mean
is, that the clothes inappropriate to the man make the incongruity of
him and his part more apparent. Vulgarity is never so conspicuous as
in fine apparel, on or off the stage, and never so self-conscious.
Shall we have, then, no refined characters on the stage? Yes; but
let them be taken by men and women of taste and refinement and let us
have done with this masquerading in false raiment, ancient and
modern, which makes nearly every stage a travesty of nature and the
whole theatre a painful pretension. We do not expect the modern
theatre to be a place of instruction (that business is now turned
over to the telegraphic operator, who is making a new language), but
it may give amusement instead of torture, and do a little in
satirizing folly and kindling love of home and country by the way.

This is a sort of summary of what we all said, and no one in
particular is responsible for it; and in this it is like public
opinion. The Parson, however, whose only experience of the theatre
was the endurance of an oratorio once, was very cordial in his
denunciation of the stage altogether.

MANDEVILLE. Yet, acting itself is delightful; nothing so entertains
us as mimicry, the personation of character. We enjoy it in private.
I confess that I am always pleased with the Parson in the character
of grumbler. He would be an immense success on the stage. I don't
know but the theatre will have to go back into the hands of the
priests, who once controlled it.

THE PARSON. Scoffer!

MANDEVILLE. I can imagine how enjoyable the stage might be, cleared
of all its traditionary nonsense, stilted language, stilted behavior,
all the rubbish of false sentiment, false dress, and the manners of
times that were both artificial and immoral, and filled with living
characters, who speak the thought of to-day, with the wit and culture
that are current to-day. I've seen private theatricals, where all
the performers were persons of cultivation, that....

OUR NEXT DOOR. So have I. For something particularly cheerful,
commend me to amateur theatricals. I have passed some melancholy
hours at them.

MANDEVILLE. That's because the performers acted the worn stage
plays, and attempted to do them in the manner they had seen on the
stage. It is not always so.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I suppose Mandeville would say that acting has got
into a mannerism which is well described as stagey, and is supposed
to be natural to the stage; just as half the modern poets write in a
recognized form of literary manufacture, without the least impulse
from within, and not with the purpose of saying anything, but of
turning out a piece of literary work. That's the reason we
have so much poetry that impresses one like sets of faultless
cabinet-furniture made by machinery.

THE PARSON. But you need n't talk of nature or naturalness in acting
or in anything. I tell you nature is poor stuff. It can't go alone.
Amateur acting--they get it up at church sociables nowadays--is apt
to be as near nature as a school-boy's declamation. Acting is the
Devil's art.

THE MISTRESS. Do you object to such innocent amusement?

MANDEVILLE. What the Parson objects to is, that he isn't amused.

THE PARSON. What's the use of objecting? It's the fashion of the
day to amuse people into the kingdom of heaven.

HERBERT. The Parson has got us off the track. My notion about the
stage is, that it keeps along pretty evenly with the rest of the
world; the stage is usually quite up to the level of the audience.
Assumed dress on the stage, since you were speaking of that, makes
people no more constrained and self-conscious than it does off the
stage.

THE MISTRESS. What sarcasm is coming now?

HERBERT. Well, you may laugh, but the world has n't got used to good
clothes yet. The majority do not wear them with ease. People who
only put on their best on rare and stated occasions step into an
artificial feeling.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder if that's the reason the Parson finds it so
difficult to get hold of his congregation.

HERBERT. I don't know how else to account for the formality and
vapidity of a set "party," where all the guests are clothed in a
manner to which they are unaccustomed, dressed into a condition of
vivid self-consciousness. The same people, who know each other
perfectly well, will enjoy themselves together without restraint in
their ordinary apparel. But nothing can be more artificial than the
behavior of people together who rarely "dress up." It seems
impossible to make the conversation as fine as the clothes, and so it
dies in a kind of inane helplessness. Especially is this true in the
country, where people have not obtained the mastery of their clothes
that those who live in the city have. It is really absurd, at this
stage of our civilization, that we should be so affected by such an
insignificant accident as dress. Perhaps Mandeville can tell us
whether this clothes panic prevails in the older societies.

THE PARSON. Don't. We've heard it; about its being one of the
Englishman's thirty-nine articles that he never shall sit down to
dinner without a dress-coat, and all that.

THE MISTRESS. I wish, for my part, that everybody who has time to
eat a dinner would dress for that, the principal event of the day,
and do respectful and leisurely justice to it.

THE YOUNG LADY. It has always seemed singular to me that men who
work so hard to build elegant houses, and have good dinners, should
take so little leisure to enjoy either.

MANDEVILLE. If the Parson will permit me, I should say that the
chief clothes question abroad just now is, how to get any; and it is
the same with the dinners.




II

It is quite unnecessary to say that the talk about clothes ran into
the question of dress-reform, and ran out, of course. You cannot
converse on anything nowadays that you do not run into some reform.
The Parson says that everybody is intent on reforming everything but
himself. We are all trying to associate ourselves to make everybody
else behave as we do. Said--

OUR NEXT DOOR. Dress reform! As if people couldn't change their
clothes without concert of action. Resolved, that nobody should put
on a clean collar oftener than his neighbor does. I'm sick of every
sort of reform. I should like to retrograde awhile. Let a dyspeptic
ascertain that he can eat porridge three times a day and live, and
straightway he insists that everybody ought to eat porridge and
nothing else. I mean to get up a society every member of which shall
be pledged to do just as he pleases.

THE PARSON. That would be the most radical reform of the day. That
would be independence. If people dressed according to their means,
acted according to their convictions, and avowed their opinions, it
would revolutionize society.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I should like to walk into your church some Sunday
and see the changes under such conditions.

THE PARSON. It might give you a novel sensation to walk in at any
time. And I'm not sure but the church would suit your retrograde
ideas. It's so Gothic that a Christian of the Middle Ages, if he
were alive, couldn't see or hear in it.

HERBERT. I don't know whether these reformers who carry the world on
their shoulders in such serious fashion, especially the little fussy
fellows, who are themselves the standard of the regeneration they
seek, are more ludicrous than pathetic.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Pathetic, by all means. But I don't know that they
would be pathetic if they were not ludicrous. There are those reform
singers who have been piping away so sweetly now for thirty years,
with never any diminution of cheerful, patient enthusiasm; their hair
growing longer and longer, their eyes brighter and brighter, and
their faces, I do believe, sweeter and sweeter; singing always with
the same constancy for the slave, for the drunkard, for the
snufftaker, for the suffragist,--"There'sa-good-time-com-ing-boys
(nothing offensive is intended by 'boys,' it is put in for
euphony, and sung pianissimo, not to offend the suffragists),
it's-almost-here." And what a brightening up of their faces there is when
they say, "it's-al-most-here," not doubting for a moment that "it's"
coming tomorrow; and the accompanying melodeon also wails its wheezy
suggestion that "it's-al-most-here," that "good-time" (delayed so
long, waiting perhaps for the invention of the melodeon) when we
shall all sing and all play that cheerful instrument, and all vote,
and none shall smoke, or drink, or eat meat, "boys." I declare it
almost makes me cry to hear them, so touching is their faith in the
midst of a jeer-ing world.

HERBERT. I suspect that no one can be a genuine reformer and not be
ridiculous. I mean those who give themselves up to the unction of
the reform.

THE MISTRESS. Does n't that depend upon whether the reform is large
or petty?

THE FIRE-TENDER. I should say rather that the reforms attracted to
them all the ridiculous people, who almost always manage to become
the most conspicuous. I suppose that nobody dare write out all that
was ludicrous in the great abolition movement. But it was not at all
comical to those most zealous in it; they never could see--more's the
pity, for thereby they lose much--the humorous side of their
performances, and that is why the pathos overcomes one's sense of the
absurdity of such people.

THE YOUNG LADY. It is lucky for the world that so many are willing
to be absurd.

HERBERT. Well, I think that, in the main, the reformers manage to
look out for themselves tolerably well. I knew once a lean and
faithful agent of a great philanthropic scheme, who contrived to
collect every year for the cause just enough to support him at a good
hotel comfortably.

THE MISTRESS. That's identifying one's self with the cause.

MANDEVILLE. You remember the great free-soil convention at Buffalo,
in 1848, when Van Buren was nominated. All the world of hope and
discontent went there, with its projects of reform. There seemed to
be no doubt, among hundreds that attended it, that if they could get
a resolution passed that bread should be buttered on both sides, it
would be so buttered. The platform provided for every want and every
woe.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I remember. If you could get the millennium by
political action, we should have had it then.

MANDEVILLE. We went there on the Erie Canal, the exciting and
fashionable mode of travel in those days. I was a boy when we began
the voyage. The boat was full of conventionists; all the talk was of
what must be done there. I got the impression that as that boat-load
went so would go the convention; and I was not alone in that feeling.
I can never be grateful enough for one little scrubby fanatic who was
on board, who spent most of his time in drafting resolutions and
reading them privately to the passengers. He was a very
enthusiastic, nervous, and somewhat dirty little man, who wore a
woolen muffler about his throat, although it was summer; he had
nearly lost his voice, and could only speak in a hoarse, disagreeable
whisper, and he always carried a teacup about, containing some sticky
compound which he stirred frequently with a spoon, and took, whenever
he talked, in order to improve his voice. If he was separated from
his cup for ten minutes, his whisper became inaudible. I greatly
delighted in him, for I never saw any one who had so much enjoyment
of his own importance. He was fond of telling what he would do if
the convention rejected such and such resolutions. He'd make it hot
for them. I did n't know but he'd make them take his mixture. The
convention had got to take a stand on tobacco, for one thing. He'd
heard Gid-dings took snuff; he'd see. When we at length reached
Buffalo he took his teacup and carpet-bag of resolutions and went
ashore in a great hurry. I saw him once again in a cheap restaurant,
whispering a resolution to another delegate, but he did n't appear in
the con-vention. I have often wondered what became of him.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably he's consul somewhere. They mostly are.

THE FIRE-TENDER. After all, it's the easiest thing in the world to
sit and sneer at eccentricities. But what a dead and uninteresting
world it would be if we were all proper, and kept within the lines!
Affairs would soon be reduced to mere machinery. There are moments,
even days, when all interests and movements appear to be settled upon
some universal plan of equilibrium; but just then some restless and
absurd person is inspired to throw the machine out of gear. These
individual eccentricities seem to be the special providences in the
general human scheme.

HERBERT. They make it very hard work for the rest of us, who are
disposed to go along peaceably and smoothly.

MANDEVILLE. And stagnate. I 'm not sure but the natural condition
of this planet is war, and that when it is finally towed to its
anchorage--if the universe has any harbor for worlds out of
commission--it will look like the Fighting Temeraire in Turner's
picture.

HERBERT. There is another thing I should like to understand: the
tendency of people who take up one reform, perhaps a personal
regeneration in regard to some bad habit, to run into a dozen other
isms, and get all at sea in several vague and pernicious theories and
practices.

MANDEVILLE. Herbert seems to think there is safety in a man's being
anchored, even if it is to a bad habit.

HERBERT. Thank you. But what is it in human nature that is apt to
carry a man who may take a step in personal reform into so many
extremes?

OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably it's human nature.

HERBERT. Why, for instance, should a reformed drunkard (one of the
noblest examples of victory over self) incline, as I have known the
reformed to do, to spiritism, or a woman suffragist to "pantarchism"
(whatever that is), and want to pull up all the roots of society, and
expect them to grow in the air, like orchids; or a Graham-bread
disciple become enamored of Communism?

MANDEVILLE. I know an excellent Conservative who would, I think,
suit you; he says that he does not see how a man who indulges in the
theory and practice of total abstinence can be a consistent believer
in the Christian religion.

HERBERT. Well, I can understand what he means: that a person is
bound to hold himself in conditions of moderation and control, using
and not abusing the things of this world, practicing temperance, not
retiring into a convent of artificial restrictions in order to escape
the full responsibility of self-control. And yet his theory would
certainly wreck most men and women. What does the Parson say?

THE PARSON. That the world is going crazy on the notion of individual
ability. Whenever a man attempts to reform himself, or anybody else,
without the aid of the Christian religion, he is sure to go adrift,
and is pretty certain to be blown about by absurd theories, and
shipwrecked on some pernicious ism.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I think the discussion has touched bottom.




III

I never felt so much the value of a house with a backlog in it as
during the late spring; for its lateness was its main feature.
Everybody was grumbling about it, as if it were something ordered
from the tailor, and not ready on the day. Day after day it snowed,
night after night it blew a gale from the northwest; the frost sunk
deeper and deeper into the ground; there was a popular longing for
spring that was almost a prayer; the weather bureau was active;
Easter was set a week earlier than the year before, but nothing
seemed to do any good. The robins sat under the evergreens, and
piped in a disconsolate mood, and at last the bluejays came and
scolded in the midst of the snow-storm, as they always do scold in
any weather. The crocuses could n't be coaxed to come up, even with
a pickaxe. I'm almost ashamed now to recall what we said of the
weather only I think that people are no more accountable for what
they say of the weather than for their remarks when their corns are
stepped on.

We agreed, however, that, but for disappointed expectations and the
prospect of late lettuce and peas, we were gaining by the fire as
much as we were losing by the frost. And the Mistress fell to
chanting the comforts of modern civilization.

THE FIRE-TENDER said he should like to know, by the way, if our
civilization differed essentially from any other in anything but its
comforts.

HERBERT. We are no nearer religious unity.

THE PARSON. We have as much war as ever.

MANDEVILLE. There was never such a social turmoil.

THE YOUNG LADY. The artistic part of our nature does not appear to
have grown.

THE FIRE-TENDER. We are quarreling as to whether we are in fact
radically different from the brutes.

HERBERT. Scarcely two people think alike about the proper kind of
human government.

THE PARSON. Our poetry is made out of words, for the most part, and
not drawn from the living sources.

OUR NEXT DOOR. And Mr. Cumming is uncorking his seventh phial. I
never felt before what barbarians we are.

THE MISTRESS. Yet you won't deny that the life of the average man is
safer and every way more comfortable than it was even a century ago.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But what I want to know is, whether what we call
our civilization has done any thing more for mankind at large than to
increase the ease and pleasure of living? Science has multiplied
wealth, and facilitated intercourse, and the result is refinement of
manners and a diffusion of education and information. Are men and
women essentially changed, however? I suppose the Parson would say
we have lost faith, for one thing.

MANDEVILLE. And superstition; and gained toleration.

HERBERT. The question is, whether toleration is anything but
indifference.

THE PARSON. Everything is tolerated now but Christian orthodoxy.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It's easy enough to make a brilliant catalogue of
external achievements, but I take it that real progress ought to be
in man himself. It is not a question of what a man enjoys, but what
he can produce. The best sculpture was executed two thousand years
ago. The best paintings are several centuries old. We study the
finest architecture in its ruins. The standards of poetry are
Shakespeare, Homer, Isaiah, and David. The latest of the arts,
music, culminated in composition, though not in execution, a century
ago.

THE MISTRESS. Yet culture in music certainly distinguishes the
civilization of this age. It has taken eighteen hundred years for
the principles of the Christian religion to begin to be practically
incorporated in government and in ordinary business, and it will take
a long time for Beethoven to be popularly recognized; but there is
growth toward him, and not away from him, and when the average
culture has reached his height, some other genius will still more
profoundly and delicately express the highest thoughts.

HERBERT. I wish I could believe it. The spirit of this age is
expressed by the Calliope.

THE PARSON. Yes, it remained for us to add church-bells and cannon
to the orchestra.

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a melancholy thought to me that we can no longer
express ourselves with the bass-drum; there used to be the whole of
the Fourth of July in its patriotic throbs.

MANDEVILLE. We certainly have made great progress in one art,--that
of war.

THE YOUNG LADY. And in the humane alleviations of the miseries of
war.

THE FIRE-TENDER. The most discouraging symptom to me in our
undoubted advance in the comforts and refinements of society is the
facility with which men slip back into barbarism, if the artificial
and external accidents of their lives are changed. We have always
kept a fringe of barbarism on our shifting western frontier; and I
think there never was a worse society than that in California and
Nevada in their early days.

THE YOUNG LADY. That is because women were absent.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But women are not absent in London and New York,
and they are conspicuous in the most exceptionable demonstrations of
social anarchy. Certainly they were not wanting in Paris. Yes,
there was a city widely accepted as the summit of our material
civilization. No city was so beautiful, so luxurious, so safe, so
well ordered for the comfort of living, and yet it needed only a
month or two to make it a kind of pandemonium of savagery. Its
citizens were the barbarians who destroyed its own monuments of
civilization. I don't mean to say that there was no apology for what
was done there in the deceit and fraud that preceded it, but I simply
notice how ready the tiger was to appear, and how little restraint
all the material civilization was to the beast.

THE MISTRESS. I can't deny your instances, and yet I somehow feel
that pretty much all you have been saying is in effect untrue. Not
one of you would be willing to change our civilization for any other.
In your estimate you take no account, it seems to me, of the growth
of charity.

MANDEVILLE. And you might add a recognition of the value of human
life.

THE MISTRESS. I don't believe there was ever before diffused
everywhere such an element of good-will, and never before were women
so much engaged in philanthropic work.

THE PARSON. It must be confessed that one of the best signs of the
times is woman's charity for woman. That certainly never existed to
the same extent in any other civilization.

MANDEVILLE. And there is another thing that distinguishes us, or is
beginning to. That is, the notion that you can do something more
with a criminal than punish him; and that society has not done its
duty when it has built a sufficient number of schools for one class,
or of decent jails for another.

HERBERT. It will be a long time before we get decent jails.

MANDEVILLE. But when we do they will begin to be places of education
and training as much as of punishment and disgrace. The public will
provide teachers in the prisons as it now does in the common schools.

THE FIRE-TENDER. The imperfections of our methods and means of
selecting those in the community who ought to be in prison are so
great, that extra care in dealing with them becomes us. We are
beginning to learn that we cannot draw arbitrary lines with
infallible justice. Perhaps half those who are convicted of crimes
are as capable of reformation as half those transgressors who are not
convicted, or who keep inside the statutory law.

HERBERT. Would you remove the odium of prison?

THE FIRE-TENDER. No; but I would have criminals believe, and society
believe, that in going to prison a man or woman does not pass an
absolute line and go into a fixed state.

THE PARSON. That is, you would not have judgment and retribution
begin in this world.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Don't switch us off into theology. I hate to go up
in a balloon, or see any one else go.

HERBERT. Don't you think there is too much leniency toward crime and
criminals, taking the place of justice, in these days?

THE FIRE-TENDER. There may be too much disposition to condone the
crimes of those who have been considered respectable.

OUR NEXT DOOR. That is, scarcely anybody wants to see his friend
hung.

MANDEVILLE. I think a large part of the bitterness of the condemned
arises from a sense of the inequality with which justice is
administered. I am surprised, in visiting jails, to find so few
respectable-looking convicts.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Nobody will go to jail nowadays who thinks anything
of himself.

THE FIRE-TENDER. When society seriously takes hold of the
reformation of criminals (say with as much determination as it does
to carry an election) this false leniency will disappear; for it
partly springs from a feeling that punishment is unequal, and does
not discriminate enough in individuals, and that society itself has
no right to turn a man over to the Devil, simply because he shows a
strong leaning that way. A part of the scheme of those who work for
the reformation of criminals is to render punishment more certain,
and to let its extent depend upon reformation. There is no reason
why a professional criminal, who won't change his trade for an honest
one, should have intervals of freedom in his prison life in which he
is let loose to prey upon society. Criminals ought to be discharged,
like insane patients, when they are cured.

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a wonder to me, what with our multitudes of
statutes and hosts of detectives, that we are any of us out of jail.
I never come away from a visit to a State-prison without a new spasm
of fear and virtue. The faculties for getting into jail seem to be
ample. We want more organizations for keeping people out.

MANDEVILLE. That is the sort of enterprise the women are engaged in,
the frustration of the criminal tendencies of those born in vice. I
believe women have it in their power to regenerate the world morally.

THE PARSON. It's time they began to undo the mischief of their
mother.

THE MISTRESS. The reason they have not made more progress is that
they have usually confined their individual efforts to one man; they
are now organizing for a general campaign.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I'm not sure but here is where the ameliorations of
the conditions of life, which are called the comforts of this
civilization, come in, after all, and distinguish the age above all
others. They have enabled the finer powers of women to have play as
they could not in a ruder age. I should like to live a hundred years
and see what they will do.

HERBERT. Not much but change the fashions, unless they submit
themselves to the same training and discipline that men do.

I have no doubt that Herbert had to apologize for this remark
afterwards in private, as men are quite willing to do in particular
cases; it is only in general they are unjust. The talk drifted off
into general and particular depreciation of other times. Mandeville
described a picture, in which he appeared to have confidence, of a
fight between an Iguanodon and a Megalosaurus, where these huge
iron-clad brutes were represented chewing up different portions of
each other's bodies in a forest of the lower cretaceous period. So
far as he could learn, that sort of thing went on unchecked for
hundreds of thousands of years, and was typical of the intercourse of
the races of man till a comparatively recent period. There was also
that gigantic swan, the Plesiosaurus; in fact, all the early brutes
were disgusting. He delighted to think that even the lower animals
had improved, both in appearance and disposition.

The conversation ended, therefore, in a very amicable manner, having
been taken to a ground that nobody knew anything about.




NINTH STUDY


I

Can you have a backlog in July? That depends upon circumstances.

In northern New England it is considered a sign of summer when the
housewives fill the fireplaces with branches of mountain laurel, and,
later, with the feathery stalks of the asparagus. This is often,
too, the timid expression of a tender feeling, under Puritanic
repression, which has not sufficient vent in the sweet-william and
hollyhock at the front door. This is a yearning after beauty and
ornamentation which has no other means of gratifying itself.

In the most rigid circumstances, the graceful nature of woman thus
discloses itself in these mute expressions of an undeveloped taste.
You may never doubt what the common flowers growing along the pathway
to the front door mean to the maiden of many summers who tends them;
--love and religion, and the weariness of an uneventful life. The
sacredness of the Sabbath, the hidden memory of an unrevealed and
unrequited affection, the slow years of gathering and wasting
sweetness, are in the smell of the pink and the sweet-clover. These
sentimental plants breathe something of the longing of the maiden who
sits in the Sunday evenings of summer on the lonesome front
doorstone, singing the hymns of the saints, and perennial as the
myrtle that grows thereby.

Yet not always in summer, even with the aid of unrequited love and
devotional feeling, is it safe to let the fire go out on the hearth,
in our latitude. I remember when the last almost total eclipse of
the sun happened in August, what a bone-piercing chill came over the
world. Perhaps the imagination had something to do with causing the
chill from that temporary hiding of the sun to feel so much more
penetrating than that from the coming on of night, which shortly
followed. It was impossible not to experience a shudder as of the
approach of the Judgment Day, when the shadows were flung upon the
green lawn, and we all stood in the wan light, looking unfamiliar to
each other. The birds in the trees felt the spell. We could in
fancy see those spectral camp-fires which men would build on the
earth, if the sun should slow its fires down to about the brilliancy
of the moon. It was a great relief to all of us to go into the
house, and, before a blazing wood-fire, talk of the end of the world.

In New England it is scarcely ever safe to let the fire go out; it is
best to bank it, for it needs but the turn of a weather-vane at any
hour to sweep the Atlantic rains over us, or to bring down the chill of
Hudson's Bay. There are days when the steam ship on the Atlantic glides
calmly along under a full canvas, but its central fires must always be
ready to make steam against head-winds and antagonistic waves. Even in
our most smiling summer days one needs to have the materials of a
cheerful fire at hand. It is only by this readiness for a change that
one can preserve an equal mind. We are made provident and sagacious by
the fickleness of our climate. We should be another sort of people if
we could have that serene, unclouded trust in nature which the Egyptian
has. The gravity and repose of the Eastern peoples is due to the
unchanging aspect of the sky, and the deliberation and regularity of
the great climatic processes. Our literature, politics, religion, show
the effect of unsettled weather. But they compare favorably with the
Egyptian, for all that.




II

You cannot know, the Young Lady wrote, with what longing I look back
to those winter days by the fire; though all the windows are open to
this May morning, and the brown thrush is singing in the
chestnut-tree, and I see everywhere that first delicate flush of
spring, which seems too evanescent to be color even, and amounts to
little more than a suffusion of the atmosphere. I doubt, indeed, if the
spring is exactly what it used to be, or if, as we get on in years [no
one ever speaks of "getting on in years" till she is virtually settled
in life], its promises and suggestions do not seem empty in comparison
with the sympathies and responses of human friendship, and the
stimulation of society. Sometimes nothing is so tiresome as a perfect
day in a perfect season.

I only imperfectly understand this. The Parson says that woman is
always most restless under the most favorable conditions, and that
there is no state in which she is really happy except that of change.
I suppose this is the truth taught in what has been called the "Myth
of the Garden." Woman is perpetual revolution, and is that element
in the world which continually destroys and re-creates. She is the
experimenter and the suggester of new combinations. She has no
belief in any law of eternal fitness of things. She is never even
content with any arrangement of her own house. The only reason the
Mistress could give, when she rearranged her apartment, for hanging a
picture in what seemed the most inappropriate place, was that it had
never been there before. Woman has no respect for tradition, and
because a thing is as it is is sufficient reason for changing it.
When she gets into law, as she has come into literature, we shall
gain something in the destruction of all our vast and musty libraries
of precedents, which now fetter our administration of individual
justice. It is Mandeville's opinion that women are not so
sentimental as men, and are not so easily touched with the unspoken
poetry of nature; being less poetical, and having less imagination,
they are more fitted for practical affairs, and would make less
failures in business. I have noticed the almost selfish passion for
their flowers which old gardeners have, and their reluctance to part
with a leaf or a blossom from their family. They love the flowers
for themselves. A woman raises flowers for their use. She is
destruct-ion in a conservatory. She wants the flowers for her lover,
for the sick, for the poor, for the Lord on Easter day, for the
ornamentation of her house. She delights in the costly pleasure of
sacrificing them. She never sees a flower but she has an intense but
probably sinless desire to pick it.

It has been so from the first, though from the first she has been
thwarted by the accidental superior strength of man. Whatever she
has obtained has been by craft, and by the same coaxing which the sun
uses to draw the blossoms out of the apple-trees. I am not surprised
to learn that she has become tired of indulgences, and wants some of
the original rights. We are just beginning to find out the extent to
which she has been denied and subjected, and especially her condition
among the primitive and barbarous races. I have never seen it in a
platform of grievances, but it is true that among the Fijians she is
not, unless a better civilization has wrought a change in her behalf,
permitted to eat people, even her own sex, at the feasts of the men;
the dainty enjoyed by the men being considered too good to be wasted
on women. Is anything wanting to this picture of the degradation of
woman? By a refinement of cruelty she receives no benefit whatever
from the missionaries who are sent out by--what to her must seem a
new name for Tantalus--the American Board.

I suppose the Young Lady expressed a nearly universal feeling in her
regret at the breaking up of the winter-fireside company. Society
needs a certain seclusion and the sense of security. Spring opens
the doors and the windows, and the noise and unrest of the world are
let in. Even a winter thaw begets a desire to travel, and summer
brings longings innumerable, and disturbs the most tranquil souls.
Nature is, in fact, a suggester of uneasiness, a promoter of
pilgrimages and of excursions of the fancy which never come to any
satisfactory haven. The summer in these latitudes is a campaign of
sentiment and a season, for the most part, of restlessness and
discontent. We grow now in hot-houses roses which, in form and
color, are magnificent, and appear to be full of passion; yet one
simple June rose of the open air has for the Young Lady, I doubt not,
more sentiment and suggestion of love than a conservatory full of
them in January. And this suggestion, leavened as it is with the
inconstancy of nature, stimulated by the promises which are so often
like the peach-blossom of the Judas-tree, unsatisfying by reason of
its vague possibilities, differs so essentially from the more limited
and attainable and home-like emotion born of quiet intercourse by the
winter fireside, that I do not wonder the Young Lady feels as if some
spell had been broken by the transition of her life from in-doors to
out-doors. Her secret, if secret she has, which I do not at all
know, is shared by the birds and the new leaves and the blossoms on
the fruit trees. If we lived elsewhere, in that zone where the poets
pretend always to dwell, we might be content, perhaps I should say
drugged, by the sweet influences of an unchanging summer; but not
living elsewhere, we can understand why the Young Lady probably now
looks forward to the hearthstone as the most assured center of
enduring attachment.

If it should ever become the sad duty of this biographer to write of
disappointed love, I am sure he would not have any sensational story
to tell of the Young Lady. She is one of those women whose
unostentatious lives are the chief blessing of humanity; who, with a
sigh heard only by herself and no change in her sunny face, would put
behind her all the memories of winter evenings and the promises of
May mornings, and give her life to some ministration of human
kindness with an assiduity that would make her occupation appear like
an election and a first choice. The disappointed man scowls, and
hates his race, and threatens self-destruction, choosing oftener the
flowing bowl than the dagger, and becoming a reeling nuisance in the
world. It would be much more manly in him to become the secretary of
a Dorcas society.

I suppose it is true that women work for others with less expectation
of reward than men, and give themselves to labors of self-sacrifice
with much less thought of self. At least, this is true unless woman
goes into some public performance, where notoriety has its
attractions, and mounts some cause, to ride it man-fashion, when I
think she becomes just as eager for applause and just as willing that
self-sacrifice should result in self-elevation as man. For her,
usually, are not those unbought--presentations which are forced upon
firemen, philanthropists, legislators, railroad-men, and the
superintendents of the moral instruction of the young. These are
almost always pleasing and unexpected tributes to worth and modesty,
and must be received with satisfaction when the public service
rendered has not been with a view to procuring them. We should say
that one ought to be most liable to receive a "testimonial" who,
being a superintendent of any sort, did not superintend with a view
to getting it. But "testimonials" have become so common that a
modest man ought really to be afraid to do his simple duty, for fear
his motives will be misconstrued. Yet there are instances of very
worthy men who have had things publicly presented to them. It is the
blessed age of gifts and the reward of private virtue. And the
presentations have become so frequent that we wish there were a
little more variety in them. There never was much sense in giving a
gallant fellow a big speaking-trumpet to carry home to aid him in his
intercourse with his family; and the festive ice-pitcher has become a
too universal sign of absolute devotion to the public interest. The
lack of one will soon be proof that a man is a knave. The
legislative cane with the gold head, also, is getting to be
recognized as the sign of the immaculate public servant, as the
inscription on it testifies, and the steps of suspicion must ere-long
dog him who does not carry one. The "testimonial" business is, in
truth, a little demoralizing, almost as much so as the "donation;"
and the demoralization has extended even to our language, so that a
perfectly respectable man is often obliged to see himself "made the
recipient of" this and that. It would be much better, if
testimonials must be, to give a man a barrel of flour or a keg of
oysters, and let him eat himself at once back into the ranks of
ordinary men.




III

We may have a testimonial class in time, a sort of nobility here in
America, made so by popular gift, the members of which will all be
able to show some stick or piece of plated ware or massive chain, "of
which they have been the recipients." In time it may be a
distinction not to belong to it, and it may come to be thought more
blessed to give than to receive. For it must have been remarked that
it is not always to the cleverest and the most amiable and modest man
that the deputation comes with the inevitable ice-pitcher (and
"salver to match"), which has in it the magic and subtle quality of
making the hour in which it is received the proudest of one's life.
There has not been discovered any method of rewarding all the
deserving people and bringing their virtues into the prominence of
notoriety. And, indeed, it would be an unreasonable world if there
had, for its chief charm and sweetness lie in the excellences in it
which are reluctantly disclosed; one of the chief pleasures of living
is in the daily discovery of good traits, nobilities, and kindliness
both in those we have long known and in the chance passenger whose
way happens for a day to lie with ours. The longer I live the more I
am impressed with the excess of human kindness over human hatred, and
the greater willingness to oblige than to disoblige that one meets at
every turn. The selfishness in politics, the jealousy in letters,
the bickering in art, the bitterness in theology, are all as nothing
compared to the sweet charities, sacrifices, and deferences of
private life. The people are few whom to know intimately is to
dislike. Of course you want to hate somebody, if you can, just to
keep your powers of discrimination bright, and to save yourself from
becoming a mere mush of good-nature; but perhaps it is well to hate
some historical person who has been dead so long as to be indifferent
to it. It is more comfortable to hate people we have never seen. I
cannot but think that Judas Iscariot has been of great service to the
world as a sort of buffer for moral indignation which might have made
a collision nearer home but for his utilized treachery. I used to
know a venerable and most amiable gentleman and scholar, whose
hospitable house was always overrun with wayside ministers, agents,
and philanthropists, who loved their fellow-men better than they
loved to work for their living; and he, I suspect, kept his moral
balance even by indulgence in violent but most distant dislikes.
When I met him casually in the street, his first salutation was
likely to be such as this: "What a liar that Alison was! Don't you
hate him?" And then would follow specifications of historical
inveracity enough to make one's blood run cold. When he was thus
discharged of his hatred by such a conductor, I presume he had not a
spark left for those whose mission was partly to live upon him and
other generous souls.

Mandeville and I were talking of the unknown people, one rainy night
by the fire, while the Mistress was fitfully and interjectionally
playing with the piano-keys in an improvising mood. Mandeville has a
good deal of sentiment about him, and without any effort talks so
beautifully sometimes that I constantly regret I cannot report his
language. He has, besides, that sympathy of presence--I believe it
is called magnetism by those who regard the brain as only a sort of
galvanic battery--which makes it a greater pleasure to see him think,
if I may say so, than to hear some people talk.

It makes one homesick in this world to think that there are so many
rare people he can never know; and so many excellent people that
scarcely any one will know, in fact. One discovers a friend by
chance, and cannot but feel regret that twenty or thirty years of
life maybe have been spent without the least knowledge of him. When
he is once known, through him opening is made into another little
world, into a circle of culture and loving hearts and enthusiasm in a
dozen congenial pursuits, and prejudices perhaps. How instantly and
easily the bachelor doubles his world when he marries, and enters
into the unknown fellowship of the to him continually increasing
company which is known in popular language as "all his wife's
relations."

Near at hand daily, no doubt, are those worth knowing intimately, if
one had the time and the opportunity. And when one travels he sees
what a vast material there is for society and friendship, of which he
can never avail himself. Car-load after car-load of summer travel
goes by one at any railway-station, out of which he is sure he could
choose a score of life-long friends, if the conductor would introduce
him. There are faces of refinement, of quick wit, of sympathetic
kindness,--interesting people, traveled people, entertaining people,
--as you would say in Boston, "nice people you would admire to know,"
whom you constantly meet and pass without a sign of recognition, many
of whom are no doubt your long-lost brothers and sisters. You can
see that they also have their worlds and their interests, and they
probably know a great many "nice" people. The matter of personal
liking and attachment is a good deal due to the mere fortune of
association. More fast friendships and pleasant acquaintanceships
are formed on the Atlantic steamships between those who would have
been only indifferent acquaintances elsewhere, than one would think
possible on a voyage which naturally makes one as selfish as he is
indifferent to his personal appearance. The Atlantic is the only
power on earth I know that can make a woman indifferent to her
personal appearance.

Mandeville remembers, and I think without detriment to himself, the
glimpses he had in the White Mountains once of a young lady of whom
his utmost efforts could give him no further information than her
name. Chance sight of her on a passing stage or amid a group on some
mountain lookout was all he ever had, and he did not even know
certainly whether she was the perfect beauty and the lovely character
he thought her. He said he would have known her, however, at a great
distance; there was to her form that command of which we hear so much
and which turns out to be nearly all command after the "ceremony;" or
perhaps it was something in the glance of her eye or the turn of her
head, or very likely it was a sweet inherited reserve or hauteur that
captivated him, that filled his days with the expectation of seeing
her, and made him hasten to the hotel-registers in the hope that her
name was there recorded. Whatever it was, she interested him as one
of the people he would like to know; and it piqued him that there was
a life, rich in friendships, no doubt, in tastes, in many
noblenesses, one of thousands of such, that must be absolutely
nothing to him,--nothing but a window into heaven momentarily opened
and then closed. I have myself no idea that she was a countess
incognito, or that she had descended from any greater heights than
those where Mandeville saw her, but I have always regretted that she
went her way so mysteriously and left no glow, and that we shall wear
out the remainder of our days without her society. I have looked for
her name, but always in vain, among the attendants at the
rights-conventions, in the list of those good Americans presented at
court, among those skeleton names that appear as the remains of beauty
in the morning journals after a ball to the wandering prince, in the
reports of railway collisions and steamboat explosions. No news comes
of her. And so imperfect are our means of communication in this world
that, for anything we know, she may have left it long ago by some
private way.




IV

The lasting regret that we cannot know more of the bright, sincere,
and genuine people of the world is increased by the fact that they
are all different from each other. Was it not Madame de Sevigne who
said she had loved several different women for several different
qualities? Every real person--for there are persons as there are
fruits that have no distinguishing flavor, mere gooseberries--has a
distinct quality, and the finding it is always like the discovery of
a new island to the voyager. The physical world we shall exhaust
some day, having a written description of every foot of it to which
we can turn; but we shall never get the different qualities of people
into a biographical dictionary, and the making acquaintance with a
human being will never cease to be an exciting experiment. We cannot
even classify men so as to aid us much in our estimate of them. The
efforts in this direction are ingenious, but unsatisfactory. If I
hear that a man is lymphatic or nervous-sanguine, I cannot tell
therefrom whether I shall like and trust him. He may produce a
phrenological chart showing that his knobby head is the home of all
the virtues, and that the vicious tendencies are represented by holes
in his cranium, and yet I cannot be sure that he will not be as
disagreeable as if phrenology had not been invented. I feel
sometimes that phrenology is the refuge of mediocrity. Its charts
are almost as misleading concerning character as photographs. And
photography may be described as the art which enables commonplace
mediocrity to look like genius. The heavy-jowled man with shallow
cerebrum has only to incline his head so that the lying instrument
can select a favorable focus, to appear in the picture with the brow
of a sage and the chin of a poet. Of all the arts for ministering to
human vanity the photographic is the most useful, but it is a poor
aid in the revelation of character. You shall learn more of a man's
real nature by seeing him walk once up the broad aisle of his church
to his pew on Sunday, than by studying his photograph for a month.

No, we do not get any certain standard of men by a chart of their
temperaments; it will hardly answer to select a wife by the color of
her hair; though it be by nature as red as a cardinal's hat, she may
be no more constant than if it were dyed. The farmer who shuns all
the lymphatic beauties in his neighborhood, and selects to wife the
most nervous-sanguine, may find that she is unwilling to get up in
the winter mornings and make the kitchen fire. Many a man, even in
this scientific age which professes to label us all, has been cruelly
deceived in this way. Neither the blondes nor the brunettes act
according to the advertisement of their temperaments. The truth
is that men refuse to come under the classifications of the
pseudo-scientists, and all our new nomenclatures do not add much to our
knowledge. You know what to expect--if the comparison will be pardoned
--of a horse with certain points; but you wouldn't dare go on a journey
with a man merely upon the strength of knowing that his temperament was
the proper mixture of the sanguine and the phlegmatic. Science is not
able to teach us concerning men as it teaches us of horses, though I am
very far from saying that there are not traits of nobleness and of
meanness that run through families and can be calculated to appear in
individuals with absolute certainty; one family will be trusty and
another tricky through all its members for generations; noble strains
and ignoble strains are perpetuated. When we hear that she has eloped
with the stable-boy and married him, we are apt to remark, "Well, she
was a Bogardus." And when we read that she has gone on a mission and
has died, distinguishing herself by some extraordinary devotion to the
heathen at Ujiji, we think it sufficient to say, "Yes, her mother
married into the Smiths." But this knowledge comes of our experience
of special families, and stands us in stead no further.

If we cannot classify men scientifically and reduce them under a kind
of botanical order, as if they had a calculable vegetable
development, neither can we gain much knowledge of them by
comparison. It does not help me at all in my estimate of their
characters to compare Mandeville with the Young Lady, or Our Next
Door with the Parson. The wise man does not permit himself to set up
even in his own mind any comparison of his friends. His friendship
is capable of going to extremes with many people, evoked as it is by
many qualities. When Mandeville goes into my garden in June I can
usually find him in a particular bed of strawberries, but he does not
speak disrespectfully of the others. When Nature, says Mandeville,
consents to put herself into any sort of strawberry, I have no
criticisms to make, I am only glad that I have been created into the
same world with such a delicious manifestation of the Divine favor.
If I left Mandeville alone in the garden long enough, I have no doubt
he would impartially make an end of the fruit of all the beds, for
his capacity in this direction is as all-embracing as it is in the
matter of friendships. The Young Lady has also her favorite patch of
berries. And the Parson, I am sorry to say, prefers to have them
picked for him the elect of the garden--and served in an orthodox
manner. The straw-berry has a sort of poetical precedence, and I
presume that no fruit is jealous of it any more than any flower is
jealous of the rose; but I remark the facility with which liking for
it is transferred to the raspberry, and from the raspberry (not to
make a tedious enumeration) to the melon, and from the melon to the
grape, and the grape to the pear, and the pear to the apple. And we
do not mar our enjoyment of each by comparisons.

Of course it would be a dull world if we could not criticise our
friends, but the most unprofitable and unsatisfactory criticism is
that by comparison. Criticism is not necessarily uncharitableness, but
a wholesome exercise of our powers of analysis and discrimination. It
is, however, a very idle exercise, leading to no results when we set
the qualities of one over against the qualities of another, and
disparage by contrast and not by independent judgment. And this method
of procedure creates jealousies and heart-burnings innumerable.

Criticism by comparison is the refuge of incapables, and especially
is this true in literature. It is a lazy way of disposing of a young
poet to bluntly declare, without any sort of discrimination of his
defects or his excellences, that he equals Tennyson, and that Scott
never wrote anything finer. What is the justice of damning a
meritorious novelist by comparing him with Dickens, and smothering
him with thoughtless and good-natured eulogy? The poet and the
novelist may be well enough, and probably have qualities and gifts of
their own which are worth the critic's attention, if he has any time
to bestow on them; and it is certainly unjust to subject them to a
comparison with somebody else, merely because the critic will not
take the trouble to ascertain what they are. If, indeed, the poet
and novelist are mere imitators of a model and copyists of a style,
they may be dismissed with such commendation as we bestow upon the
machines who pass their lives in making bad copies of the pictures of
the great painters. But the critics of whom we speak do not intend
depreciation, but eulogy, when they say that the author they have in
hand has the wit of Sydney Smith and the brilliancy of Macaulay.
Probably he is not like either of them, and may have a genuine though
modest virtue of his own; but these names will certainly kill him,
and he will never be anybody in the popular estimation. The public
finds out speedily that he is not Sydney Smith, and it resents the
extravagant claim for him as if he were an impudent pretender. How
many authors of fair ability to interest the world have we known in
our own day who have been thus sky-rocketed into notoriety by the
lazy indiscrimination of the critic-by-comparison, and then have sunk
into a popular contempt as undeserved! I never see a young aspirant
injudiciously compared to a great and resplendent name in literature,
but I feel like saying, My poor fellow, your days are few and full of
trouble; you begin life handicapped, and you cannot possibly run a
creditable race.

I think this sort of critical eulogy is more damaging even than that
which kills by a different assumption, and one which is equally
common, namely, that the author has not done what he probably never
intended to do. It is well known that most of the trouble in life
comes from our inability to compel other people to do what we think
they ought, and it is true in criticism that we are unwilling to take
a book for what it is, and credit the author with that. When the
solemn critic, like a mastiff with a ladies' bonnet in his mouth,
gets hold of a light piece of verse, or a graceful sketch which
catches the humor of an hour for the entertainment of an hour, he
tears it into a thousand shreds. It adds nothing to human knowledge,
it solves none of the problems of life, it touches none of the
questions of social science, it is not a philosophical treatise, and
it is not a dozen things that it might have been. The critic cannot
forgive the author for this disrespect to him. This isn't a rose,
says the critic, taking up a pansy and rending it; it is not at all
like a rose, and the author is either a pretentious idiot or an
idiotic pretender. What business, indeed, has the author to send the
critic a bunch of sweet-peas, when he knows that a cabbage would be
preferred,--something not showy, but useful?

A good deal of this is what Mandeville said and I am not sure that it
is devoid of personal feeling. He published, some years ago, a
little volume giving an account of a trip through the Great West, and
a very entertaining book it was. But one of the heavy critics got
hold of it, and made Mandeville appear, even to himself, he
confessed, like an ass, because there was nothing in the volume about
geology or mining prospects, and very little to instruct the student
of physical geography. With alternate sarcasm and ridicule, he
literally basted the author, till Mandeville said that he felt almost
like a depraved scoundrel, and thought he should be held up to less
execration if he had committed a neat and scientific murder.

But I confess that I have a good deal of sympathy with the critics.
Consider what these public tasters have to endure! None of us, I
fancy, would like to be compelled to read all that they read, or to
take into our mouths, even with the privilege of speedily ejecting it
with a grimace, all that they sip. The critics of the vintage, who
pursue their calling in the dark vaults and amid mouldy casks, give
their opinion, for the most part, only upon wine, upon juice that has
matured and ripened into development of quality. But what crude,
unrestrained, unfermented--even raw and drugged liquor, must the
literary taster put to his unwilling lips day after day!




TENTH STUDY


I

It was my good fortune once to visit a man who remembered the
rebellion of 1745. Lest this confession should make me seem very
aged, I will add that the visit took place in 1851, and that the man
was then one hundred and thirteen years old. He was quite a lad
before Dr. Johnson drank Mrs. Thrale's tea. That he was as old as he
had the credit of being, I have the evidence of my own senses (and I
am seldom mistaken in a person's age), of his own family, and his own
word; and it is incredible that so old a person, and one so
apparently near the grave, would deceive about his age.

The testimony of the very aged is always to be received without
question, as Alexander Hamilton once learned. He was trying a
land-title with Aaron Burr, and two of the witnesses upon whom Burr
relied were venerable Dutchmen, who had, in their youth, carried the
surveying chains over the land in dispute, and who were now aged
respectively one hundred and four years and one hundred and six
years. Hamilton gently attempted to undervalue their testimony, but
he was instantly put down by the Dutch justice, who suggested that
Mr. Hamilton could not be aware of the age of the witnesses.

My old man (the expression seems familiar and inelegant) had indeed
an exaggerated idea of his own age, and sometimes said that he
supposed he was going on four hundred, which was true enough, in
fact; but for the exact date, he referred to his youngest son,--a
frisky and humorsome lad of eighty years, who had received us at the
gate, and whom we had at first mistaken for the veteran, his father.
But when we beheld the old man, we saw the difference between age and
age. The latter had settled into a grizzliness and grimness which
belong to a very aged and stunted but sturdy oak-tree, upon the bark
of which the gray moss is thick and heavy. The old man appeared hale
enough, he could walk about, his sight and hearing were not seriously
impaired, he ate with relish, and his teeth were so sound that he
would not need a dentist for at least another century; but the moss
was growing on him. His boy of eighty seemed a green sapling beside
him.

He remembered absolutely nothing that had taken place within thirty
years, but otherwise his mind was perhaps as good as it ever was, for
he must always have been an ignoramus, and would never know anything
if he lived to be as old as he said he was going on to be. Why he
was interested in the rebellion of 1745 I could not discover, for he
of course did not go over to Scotland to carry a pike in it, and he
only remembered to have heard it talked about as a great event in the
Irish market-town near which he lived, and to which he had ridden
when a boy. And he knew much more about the horse that drew him, and
the cart in which he rode, than he did about the rebellion of the
Pretender.

I hope I do not appear to speak harshly of this amiable old man, and
if he is still living I wish him well, although his example was bad
in some respects. He had used tobacco for nearly a century, and the
habit has very likely been the death of him. If so, it is to be
regretted. For it would have been interesting to watch the process
of his gradual disintegration and return to the ground: the loss of
sense after sense, as decaying limbs fall from the oak; the failure
of discrimination, of the power of choice, and finally of memory
itself; the peaceful wearing out and passing away of body and mind
without disease, the natural running down of a man. The interesting
fact about him at that time was that his bodily powers seemed in
sufficient vigor, but that the mind had not force enough to manifest
itself through his organs. The complete battery was there, the
appetite was there, the acid was eating the zinc; but the electric
current was too weak to flash from the brain. And yet he appeared so
sound throughout, that it was difficult to say that his mind was not
as good as it ever had been. He had stored in it very little to feed
on, and any mind would get enfeebled by a century's rumination on a
hearsay idea of the rebellion of '45.

It was possible with this man to fully test one's respect for age,
which is in all civilized nations a duty. And I found that my
feelings were mixed about him. I discovered in him a conceit in
regard to his long sojourn on this earth, as if it were somehow a
credit to him. In the presence of his good opinion of himself, I
could but question the real value of his continued life, to himself
or to others. If he ever had any friends he had outlived them,
except his boy; his wives--a century of them--were all dead; the
world had actually passed away for him. He hung on the tree like a
frost-nipped apple, which the farmer has neglected to gather. The
world always renews itself, and remains young. What relation had he
to it?

I was delighted to find that this old man had never voted for George
Washington. I do not know that he had ever heard of him. Washington
may be said to have played his part since his time. I am not sure
that he perfectly remembered anything so recent as the American
Revolution. He was living quietly in Ireland during our French and
Indian wars, and he did not emigrate to this country till long after
our revolutionary and our constitutional struggles were over. The
Rebellion Of '45 was the great event of the world for him, and of
that he knew nothing.

I intend no disrespect to this man,--a cheerful and pleasant enough
old person,--but he had evidently lived himself out of the world, as
completely as people usually die out of it. His only remaining value
was to the moralist, who might perchance make something out of him.
I suppose if he had died young, he would have been regretted, and his
friends would have lamented that he did not fill out his days in the
world, and would very likely have called him back, if tears and
prayers could have done so. They can see now what his prolonged life
amounted to, and how the world has closed up the gap he once filled
while he still lives in it.

A great part of the unhappiness of this world consists in regret for
those who depart, as it seems to us, prematurely. We imagine that if
they would return, the old conditions would be restored. But would
it be so? If they, in any case, came back, would there be any place
for them? The world so quickly readjusts itself after any loss, that
the return of the departed would nearly always throw it, even the
circle most interested, into confusion. Are the Enoch Ardens ever
wanted?




II

A popular notion akin to this, that the world would have any room for
the departed if they should now and then return, is the constant
regret that people will not learn by the experience of others, that
one generation learns little from the preceding, and that youth never
will adopt the experience of age. But if experience went for
anything, we should all come to a standstill; for there is nothing so
discouraging to effort. Disbelief in Ecclesiastes is the mainspring
of action. In that lies the freshness and the interest of life, and
it is the source of every endeavor.

If the boy believed that the accumulation of wealth and the
acquisition of power were what the old man says they are, the world
would very soon be stagnant. If he believed that his chances of
obtaining either were as poor as the majority of men find them to be,
ambition would die within him. It is because he rejects the
experience of those who have preceded him, that the world is kept in
the topsy-turvy condition which we all rejoice in, and which we call
progress.

And yet I confess I have a soft place in my heart for that rare
character in our New England life who is content with the world as he
finds it, and who does not attempt to appropriate any more of it to
himself than he absolutely needs from day to day. He knows from the
beginning that the world could get on without him, and he has never
had any anxiety to leave any result behind him, any legacy for the
world to quarrel over.

He is really an exotic in our New England climate and society, and
his life is perpetually misunderstood by his neighbors, because he
shares none of their uneasiness about getting on in life. He is even
called lazy, good-for-nothing, and "shiftless,"--the final stigma
that we put upon a person who has learned to wait without the
exhausting process of laboring.

I made his acquaintance last summer in the country, and I have not in
a long time been so well pleased with any of our species. He was a
man past middle life, with a large family. He had always been from
boyhood of a contented and placid mind, slow in his movements, slow
in his speech. I think he never cherished a hard feeling toward
anybody, nor envied any one, least of all the rich and prosperous
about whom he liked to talk. Indeed, his talk was a good deal about
wealth, especially about his cousin who had been down South and "got
fore-handed" within a few years. He was genuinely pleased at his
relation's good luck, and pointed him out to me with some pride. But
he had no envy of him, and he evinced no desire to imitate him. I
inferred from all his conversation about "piling it up" (of which he
spoke with a gleam of enthusiasm in his eye), that there were moments
when he would like to be rich himself; but it was evident that he
would never make the least effort to be so, and I doubt if he could
even overcome that delicious inertia of mind and body called
laziness, sufficiently to inherit.

Wealth seemed to have a far and peculiar fascination for him, and I
suspect he was a visionary in the midst of his poverty. Yet I
suppose he had--hardly the personal property which the law exempts
from execution. He had lived in a great many towns, moving from one
to another with his growing family, by easy stages, and was always
the poorest man in the town, and lived on the most niggardly of its
rocky and bramble-grown farms, the productiveness of which he reduced
to zero in a couple of seasons by his careful neglect of culture.
The fences of his hired domain always fell into ruins under him,
perhaps because he sat on them so much, and the hovels he occupied
rotted down during his placid residence in them. He moved from
desolation to desolation, but carried always with him the equal mind
of a philosopher. Not even the occasional tart remarks of his wife,
about their nomadic life and his serenity in the midst of discomfort,
could ruffle his smooth spirit.

He was, in every respect, a most worthy man, truthful, honest,
temperate, and, I need not say, frugal; and he had no bad habits,
--perhaps he never had energy enough to acquire any. Nor did he lack
the knack of the Yankee race. He could make a shoe, or build a
house, or doctor a cow; but it never seemed to him, in this brief
existence, worth while to do any of these things. He was an
excellent angler, but he rarely fished; partly because of the
shortness of days, partly on account of the uncertainty of bites, but
principally because the trout brooks were all arranged lengthwise and
ran over so much ground. But no man liked to look at a string of
trout better than he did, and he was willing to sit down in a sunny
place and talk about trout-fishing half a day at a time, and he would
talk pleasantly and well too, though his wife might be continually
interrupting him by a call for firewood.

I should not do justice to his own idea of himself if I did not add
that he was most respectably connected, and that he had a justifiable
though feeble pride in his family. It helped his self-respect, which
no ignoble circumstances could destroy. He was, as must appear by
this time, a most intelligent man, and he was a well-informed man;
that is to say, he read the weekly newspapers when he could get them,
and he had the average country information about Beecher and Greeley
and the Prussian war ("Napoleon is gettin' on't, ain't he?"), and
the general prospect of the election campaigns. Indeed, he was
warmly, or rather luke-warmly, interested in politics. He liked to
talk about the inflated currency, and it seemed plain to him that his
condition would somehow be improved if we could get to a specie
basis. He was, in fact, a little troubled by the national debt; it
seemed to press on him somehow, while his own never did. He
exhibited more animation over the affairs of the government than he
did over his own,--an evidence at once of his disinterestedness and
his patriotism. He had been an old abolitionist, and was strong on
the rights of free labor, though he did not care to exercise his
privilege much. Of course he had the proper contempt for the poor
whites down South. I never saw a person with more correct notions on
such a variety of subjects. He was perfectly willing that churches
(being himself a member), and Sunday-schools, and missionary
enterprises should go on; in fact, I do not believe he ever opposed
anything in his life. No one was more willing to vote town taxes and
road-repairs and schoolhouses than he. If you could call him
spirited at all, he was public-spirited.

And with all this he was never very well; he had, from boyhood,
"enjoyed poor health." You would say he was not a man who would ever
catch anything, not even an epidemic; but he was a person whom
diseases would be likely to overtake, even the slowest of slow
fevers. And he was n't a man to shake off anything. And yet
sickness seemed to trouble him no more than poverty. He was not
discontented; he never grumbled. I am not sure but he relished a
"spell of sickness" in haying-time.

An admirably balanced man, who accepts the world as it is, and
evidently lives on the experience of others. I have never seen a man
with less envy, or more cheerfulness, or so contented with as little
reason for being so. The only drawback to his future is that rest
beyond the grave will not be much change for him, and he has no works
to follow him.




III

This Yankee philosopher, who, without being a Brahmin, had, in an
uncongenial atmosphere, reached the perfect condition of Nirvina,
reminded us all of the ancient sages; and we queried whether a world
that could produce such as he, and could, beside, lengthen a man's
years to one hundred and thirteen, could fairly be called an old and
worn-out world, having long passed the stage of its primeval poetry
and simplicity. Many an Eastern dervish has, I think, got
immortality upon less laziness and resignation than this temporary
sojourner in Massachusetts. It is a common notion that the world
(meaning the people in it) has become tame and commonplace, lost its
primeval freshness and epigrammatic point. Mandeville, in his
argumentative way, dissents from this entirely. He says that the
world is more complex, varied, and a thousand times as interesting as
it was in what we call its youth, and that it is as fresh, as
individual and capable of producing odd and eccentric characters as
ever. He thought the creative vim had not in any degree abated, that
both the types of men and of nations are as sharply stamped and
defined as ever they were.

Was there ever, he said, in the past, any figure more clearly cut and
freshly minted than the Yankee? Had the Old World anything to show
more positive and uncompromising in all the elements of character
than the Englishman? And if the edges of these were being rounded
off, was there not developing in the extreme West a type of men
different from all preceding, which the world could not yet define?
He believed that the production of original types was simply
infinite.

Herbert urged that he must at least admit that there was a freshness
of legend and poetry in what we call the primeval peoples that is
wanting now; the mythic period is gone, at any rate.

Mandeville could not say about the myths. We couldn't tell what
interpretation succeeding ages would put upon our lives and history
and literature when they have become remote and shadowy. But we need
not go to antiquity for epigrammatic wisdom, or for characters as
racy of the fresh earth as those handed down to us from the dawn of
history. He would put Benjamin Franklin against any of the sages of
the mythic or the classic period. He would have been perfectly at
home in ancient Athens, as Socrates would have been in modern Boston.
There might have been more heroic characters at the siege of Troy
than Abraham Lincoln, but there was not one more strongly marked
individually; not one his superior in what we call primeval craft and
humor. He was just the man, if he could not have dislodged Priam by
a writ of ejectment, to have invented the wooden horse, and then to
have made Paris the hero of some ridiculous story that would have set
all Asia in a roar.

Mandeville said further, that as to poetry, he did not know much
about that, and there was not much he cared to read except parts of
Shakespeare and Homer, and passages of Milton. But it did seem to
him that we had men nowadays, who could, if they would give their
minds to it, manufacture in quantity the same sort of epigrammatic
sayings and legends that our scholars were digging out of the Orient.
He did not know why Emerson in antique setting was not as good as
Saadi. Take for instance, said Mandeville, such a legend as this,
and how easy it would be to make others like it:

The son of an Emir had red hair, of which he was ashamed, and wished
to dye it. But his father said: "Nay, my son, rather behave in such
a manner that all fathers shall wish their sons had red hair."

This was too absurd. Mandeville had gone too far, except in the
opinion of Our Next Door, who declared that an imitation was just as
good as an original, if you could not detect it. But Herbert said
that the closer an imitation is to an original, the more unendurable
it is. But nobody could tell exactly why.

The Fire-Tender said that we are imposed on by forms. The nuggets of
wisdom that are dug out of the Oriental and remote literatures would
often prove to be only commonplace if stripped of their quaint
setting. If you gave an Oriental twist to some of our modern
thought, its value would be greatly enhanced for many people.

I have seen those, said the Mistress, who seem to prefer dried fruit
to fresh; but I like the strawberry and the peach of each season, and
for me the last is always the best.

Even the Parson admitted that there were no signs of fatigue or decay
in the creative energy of the world; and if it is a question of
Pagans, he preferred Mandeville to Saadi.




ELEVENTH STUDY


It happened, or rather, to tell the truth, it was contrived,--for I
have waited too long for things to turn up to have much faith in
"happen," that we who have sat by this hearthstone before should all
be together on Christmas eve. There was a splendid backlog of
hickory just beginning to burn with a glow that promised to grow more
fiery till long past midnight, which would have needed no apology in
a loggers' camp,--not so much as the religion of which a lady (in a
city which shall be nameless) said, "If you must have a religion,
this one will do nicely."

There was not much conversation, as is apt to be the case when people
come together who have a great deal to say, and are intimate enough
to permit the freedom of silence. It was Mandeville who suggested
that we read something, and the Young Lady, who was in a mood to
enjoy her own thoughts, said, "Do." And finally it came about that
the Fire Tender, without more resistance to the urging than was
becoming, went to his library, and returned with a manuscript, from
which he read the story of


MY UNCLE IN INDIA

Not that it is my uncle, let me explain. It is Polly's uncle, as I
very well know, from the many times she has thrown him up to me, and
is liable so to do at any moment. Having small expectations myself,
and having wedded Polly when they were smaller, I have come to feel
the full force, the crushing weight, of her lightest remark about "My
Uncle in India." The words as I write them convey no idea of the
tone in which they fall upon my ears. I think it is the only fault
of that estimable woman, that she has an "uncle in India" and does
not let him quietly remain there. I feel quite sure that if I had an
uncle in Botany Bay, I should never, never throw him up to Polly in
the way mentioned. If there is any jar in our quiet life, he is the
cause of it; all along of possible "expectations" on the one side
calculated to overawe the other side not having expectations. And
yet I know that if her uncle in India were this night to roll a
barrel of "India's golden sands," as I feel that he any moment may
do, into our sitting-room, at Polly's feet, that charming wife, who
is more generous than the month of May, and who has no thought but
for my comfort in two worlds, would straightway make it over to me,
to have and to hold, if I could lift it, forever and forever. And
that makes it more inexplicable that she, being a woman, will
continue to mention him in the way she does.

In a large and general way I regard uncles as not out of place in
this transitory state of existence. They stand for a great many
possible advantages. They are liable to "tip" you at school, they
are resources in vacation, they come grandly in play about the
holidays, at which season mv heart always did warm towards them with
lively expectations, which were often turned into golden solidities;
and then there is always the prospect, sad to a sensitive mind, that
uncles are mortal, and, in their timely taking off, may prove as
generous in the will as they were in the deed. And there is always
this redeeming possibility in a niggardly uncle. Still there must be
something wrong in the character of the uncle per se, or all history
would not agree that nepotism is such a dreadful thing.

But, to return from this unnecessary digression, I am reminded that
the charioteer of the patient year has brought round the holiday
time. It has been a growing year, as most years are. It is very
pleasant to see how the shrubs in our little patch of ground widen
and thicken and bloom at the right time, and to know that the great
trees have added a laver to their trunks. To be sure, our garden,
--which I planted under Polly's directions, with seeds that must have
been patented, and I forgot to buy the right of, for they are mostly
still waiting the final resurrection,--gave evidence that it shared
in the misfortune of the Fall, and was never an Eden from which one
would have required to have been driven. It was the easiest garden
to keep the neighbor's pigs and hens out of I ever saw. If its
increase was small its temptations were smaller, and that is no
little recommendation in this world of temptations. But, as a
general thing, everything has grown, except our house. That little
cottage, over which Polly presides with grace enough to adorn a
palace, is still small outside and smaller inside; and if it has an
air of comfort and of neatness, and its rooms are cozy and sunny by
day and cheerful by night, and it is bursting with books, and not
unattractive with modest pictures on the walls, which we think do
well enough until my uncle--(but never mind my uncle, now),--and if,
in the long winter evenings, when the largest lamp is lit, and the
chestnuts glow in embers, and the kid turns on the spit, and the
house-plants are green and flowering, and the ivy glistens in the
firelight, and Polly sits with that contented, far-away look in her
eyes that I like to see, her fingers busy upon one of those cruel
mysteries which have delighted the sex since Penelope, and I read in
one of my fascinating law-books, or perhaps regale ourselves with a
taste of Montaigne,--if all this is true, there are times when the
cottage seems small; though I can never find that Polly thinks so,
except when she sometimes says that she does not know where she
should bestow her uncle in it, if he should suddenly come back from
India.

There it is, again. I sometimes think that my wife believes her
uncle in India to be as large as two ordinary men; and if her ideas
of him are any gauge of the reality, there is no place in the town
large enough for him except the Town Hall. She probably expects him
to come with his bungalow, and his sedan, and his palanquin, and his
elephants, and his retinue of servants, and his principalities, and
his powers, and his ha--(no, not that), and his chowchow, and his--I
scarcely know what besides.

Christmas eve was a shiny cold night, a creaking cold night, a
placid, calm, swingeing cold night.

Out-doors had gone into a general state of crystallization. The
snow-fields were like the vast Arctic ice-fields that Kane looked on,
and lay sparkling under the moonlight, crisp and Christmasy, and all
the crystals on the trees and bushes hung glistening, as if ready, at
a breath of air, to break out into metallic ringing, like a million
silver joy-bells. I mentioned the conceit to Polly, as we stood at
the window, and she said it reminded her of Jean Paul. She is a
woman of most remarkable discernment.

Christmas is a great festival at our house in a small way. Among the
many delightful customs we did not inherit from our Pilgrim Fathers,
there is none so pleasant as that of giving presents at this season.
It is the most exciting time of the year. No one is too rich to
receive something, and no one too poor to give a trifle. And in the
act of giving and receiving these tokens of regard, all the world is
kin for once, and brighter for this transient glow of generosity.
Delightful custom! Hard is the lot of childhood that knows nothing
of the visits of Kriss Kringle, or the stockings hung by the chimney
at night; and cheerless is any age that is not brightened by some
Christmas gift, however humble. What a mystery of preparation there
is in the preceding days, what planning and plottings of surprises!
Polly and I keep up the custom in our simple way, and great is the
perplexity to express the greatest amount of affection with a limited
outlay. For the excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness
rather than in its value. As we stood by the window that night, we
wondered what we should receive this year, and indulged in I know not
what little hypocrisies and deceptions.

I wish, said Polly, "that my uncle in India would send me a
camel's-hair shawl, or a string of pearls, each as big as the end of
my thumb."

"Or a white cow, which would give golden milk, that would make butter
worth seventy-five cents a pound," I added, as we drew the curtains,
and turned to our chairs before the open fire.

It is our custom on every Christmas eve--as I believe I have
somewhere said, or if I have not, I say it again, as the member from
Erin might remark--to read one of Dickens's Christmas stories. And
this night, after punching the fire until it sent showers of sparks
up the chimney, I read the opening chapter of "Mrs. Lirriper's
Lodgings," in my best manner, and handed the book to Polly to
continue; for I do not so much relish reading aloud the succeeding
stories of Mr. Dickens's annual budget, since he wrote them, as men
go to war in these days, by substitute. And Polly read on, in her
melodious voice, which is almost as pleasant to me as the
Wasser-fluth of Schubert, which she often plays at twilight; and I
looked into the fire, unconsciously constructing stories of my own out
of the embers. And her voice still went on, in a sort of running
accompaniment to my airy or fiery fancies.

"Sleep?" said Polly, stopping, with what seemed to me a sort of
crash, in which all the castles tumbled into ashes.

"Not in the least," I answered brightly, "never heard anything more
agreeable." And the reading flowed on and on and on, and I looked
steadily into the fire, the fire, fire, fi....

Suddenly the door opened, and into our cozy parlor walked the most
venerable personage I ever laid eyes on, who saluted me with great
dignity. Summer seemed to have burst into the room, and I was
conscious of a puff of Oriental airs, and a delightful, languid
tranquillity. I was not surprised that the figure before me was clad
in full turban, baggy drawers, and a long loose robe, girt about the
middle with a rich shawl. Followed him a swart attendant, who
hastened to spread a rug upon which my visitor sat down, with great
gravity, as I am informed they do in farthest Ind. The slave then
filled the bowl of a long-stemmed chibouk, and, handing it to his
master, retired behind him and began to fan him with the most
prodigious palm-leaf I ever saw. Soon the fumes of the delicate
tobacco of Persia pervaded the room, like some costly aroma which you
cannot buy, now the entertainment of the Arabian Nights is
discontinued.

Looking through the window I saw, if I saw anything, a palanquin at
our door, and attendant on it four dusky, half-naked bearers, who did
not seem to fancy the splendor of the night, for they jumped about on
the snow crust, and I could see them shiver and shake in the keen
air. Oho! thought! this, then, is my uncle from India!

"Yes, it is," now spoke my visitor extraordinary, in a gruff, harsh
voice.

"I think I have heard Polly speak of you," I rejoined, in an attempt
to be civil, for I did n't like his face any better than I did his
voice,--a red, fiery, irascible kind of face.

"Yes I've come over to O Lord,--quick, Jamsetzee, lift up that foot,
--take care. There, Mr. Trimings, if that's your name, get me a
glass of brandy, stiff."

I got him our little apothecary-labeled bottle and poured out enough
to preserve a whole can of peaches. My uncle took it down without a
wink, as if it had been water, and seemed relieved. It was a very
pleasant uncle to have at our fireside on Christmas eve, I felt.

At a motion from my uncle, Jamsetzee handed me a parcel which I saw
was directed to Polly, which I untied, and lo! the most wonderful
camel's-hair shawl that ever was, so fine that I immediately drew it
through my finger-ring, and so large that I saw it would entirely
cover our little room if I spread it out; a dingy red color, but
splendid in appearance from the little white hieroglyphic worked in
one corner, which is always worn outside, to show that it cost nobody
knows how many thousands of dollars.

"A Christmas trifle for Polly. I have come home--as I was saying
when that confounded twinge took me--to settle down; and I intend to
make Polly my heir, and live at my ease and enjoy life. Move that
leg a little, Jamsetzee."

I meekly replied that I had no doubt Polly would be delighted to see
her dear uncle, and as for inheriting, if it came to that, I did n't
know any one with a greater capacity for that than she.

"That depends," said the gruff old smoker, "how I like ye. A
fortune, scraped up in forty years in Ingy, ain't to be thrown away
in a minute. But what a house this is to live in!"; the
uncomfortable old relative went on, throwing a contemptuous glance
round the humble cottage. "Is this all of it?"

"In the winter it is all of it," I said, flushing up; "but in the
summer, when the doors and windows are open, it is as large as
anybody's house. And," I went on, with some warmth, "it was large
enough just before you came in, and pleasant enough. And besides," I
said, rising into indignation, "you can not get anything much better
in this city short of eight hundred dollars a year, payable first
days of January, April, July, and October, in advance, and my
salary...."

"Hang your salary, and confound your impudence and your seven-by-nine
hovel! Do you think you have anything to say about the use of my
money, scraped up in forty years in Ingy? THINGS HAVE GOT TO BE
CHANGED!" he burst out, in a voice that rattled the glasses on the
sideboard.

I should think they were. Even as I looked into the little fireplace
it enlarged, and there was an enormous grate, level with the floor,
glowing with seacoal; and a magnificent mantel carved in oak, old and
brown; and over it hung a landscape, wide, deep, summer in the
foreground with all the gorgeous coloring of the tropics, and beyond
hills of blue and far mountains lying in rosy light. I held my
breath as I looked down the marvelous perspective. Looking round for
a second, I caught a glimpse of a Hindoo at each window, who vanished
as if they had been whisked off by enchantment; and the close walls
that shut us in fled away. Had cohesion and gravitation given out?
Was it the "Great Consummation" of the year 18-? It was all like the
swift transformation of a dream, and I pinched my arm to make sure
that I was not the subject of some diablerie.

The little house was gone; but that I scarcely minded, for I had
suddenly come into possession of my wife's castle in Spain. I sat in
a spacious, lofty apartment, furnished with a princely magnificence.
Rare pictures adorned the walls, statues looked down from deep
niches, and over both the dark ivy of England ran and drooped in
graceful luxuriance. Upon the heavy tables were costly, illuminated
volumes; luxurious chairs and ottomans invited to easy rest; and upon
the ceiling Aurora led forth all the flower-strewing daughters of the
dawn in brilliant frescoes. Through the open doors my eyes wandered
into magnificent apartment after apartment. There to the south,
through folding-doors, was the splendid library, with groined roof,
colored light streaming in through painted windows, high shelves
stowed with books, old armor hanging on the walls, great carved oaken
chairs about a solid oaken table, and beyond a conservatory of
flowers and plants with a fountain springing in the center, the
splashing of whose waters I could hear. Through the open windows I
looked upon a lawn, green with close-shaven turf, set with ancient
trees, and variegated with parterres of summer plants in bloom. It
was the month of June, and the smell of roses was in the air.

I might have thought it only a freak of my fancy, but there by the
fireplace sat a stout, red-faced, puffy-looking man, in the ordinary
dress of an English gentleman, whom I had no difficulty in
recognizing as my uncle from India.

"One wants a fire every day in the year in this confounded climate,"
remarked that amiable old person, addressing no one in particular.

I had it on my lips to suggest that I trusted the day would come when
he would have heat enough to satisfy him, in permanent supply. I
wish now that I had.

I think things had changed. For now into this apartment, full of the
morning sunshine, came sweeping with the air of a countess born, and
a maid of honor bred, and a queen in expectancy, my Polly, stepping
with that lofty grace which I always knew she possessed, but which
she never had space to exhibit in our little cottage, dressed with
that elegance and richness that I should not have deemed possible to
the most Dutch duchess that ever lived, and, giving me a complacent
nod of recognition, approached her uncle, and said in her smiling,
cheery way, "How is the dear uncle this morning?" And, as she spoke,
she actually bent down and kissed his horrid old cheek, red-hot with
currie and brandy and all the biting pickles I can neither eat nor
name, kissed him, and I did not turn into stone.

"Comfortable as the weather will permit, my darling!"--and again I
did not turn into stone.

"Wouldn't uncle like to take a drive this charming morning?" Polly
asked.

Uncle finally grunted out his willingness, and Polly swept away again
to prepare for the drive, taking no more notice of me than if I had
been a poor assistant office lawyer on a salary. And soon the
carriage was at the door, and my uncle, bundled up like a mummy, and
the charming Polly drove gayly away.

How pleasant it is to be married rich, I thought, as I arose and
strolled into the library, where everything was elegant and prim and
neat, with no scraps of paper and piles of newspapers or evidences of
literary slovenness on the table, and no books in attractive
disorder, and where I seemed to see the legend staring at me from all
the walls, "No smoking." So I uneasily lounged out of the house.
And a magnificent house it was, a palace, rather, that seemed to
frown upon and bully insignificant me with its splendor, as I walked
away from it towards town.

And why town? There was no use of doing anything at the dingy
office. Eight hundred dollars a year! It wouldn't keep Polly in
gloves, let alone dressing her for one of those fashionable
entertainments to which we went night after night. And so, after a
weary day with nothing in it, I went home to dinner, to find my uncle
quite chirruped up with his drive, and Polly regnant, sublimely
engrossed in her new world of splendor, a dazzling object of
admiration to me, but attentive and even tender to that
hypochondriacal, gouty old subject from India.

Yes, a magnificent dinner, with no end of servants, who seemed to
know that I couldn't have paid the wages of one of them, and plate
and courses endless. I say, a miserable dinner, on the edge of which
seemed to sit by permission of somebody, like an invited poor
relation, who wishes he had sent a regret, and longing for some of
those nice little dishes that Polly used to set before me with
beaming face, in the dear old days.

And after dinner, and proper attention to the comfort for the night
of our benefactor, there was the Blibgims's party. No long,
confidential interviews, as heretofore, as to what she should wear
and what I should wear, and whether it would do to wear it again.
And Polly went in one coach, and I in another. No crowding into the
hired hack, with all the delightful care about tumbling dresses, and
getting there in good order; and no coming home together to our
little cozy cottage, in a pleasant, excited state of "flutteration,"
and sitting down to talk it all over, and "Was n't it nice?" and "Did
I look as well as anybody?" and "Of course you did to me," and all
that nonsense. We lived in a grand way now, and had our separate
establishments and separate plans, and I used to think that a real
separation couldn't make matters much different. Not that Polly
meant to be any different, or was, at heart; but, you know, she was
so much absorbed in her new life of splendor, and perhaps I was a
little old-fashioned.

I don't wonder at it now, as I look back. There was an army of
dressmakers to see, and a world of shopping to do, and a houseful of
servants to manage, and all the afternoon for calls, and her dear,
dear friend, with the artless manners and merry heart of a girl, and
the dignity and grace of a noble woman, the dear friend who lived in
the house of the Seven Gables, to consult about all manner of
important things. I could not, upon my honor, see that there was any
place for me, and I went my own way, not that there was much comfort
in it.

And then I would rather have had charge of a hospital ward than take
care of that uncle. Such coddling as he needed, such humoring of
whims. And I am bound to say that Polly could n't have been more
dutiful to him if he had been a Hindoo idol. She read to him and
talked to him, and sat by him with her embroidery, and was patient
with his crossness, and wearied herself, that I could see, with her
devoted ministrations.

I fancied sometimes she was tired of it, and longed for the old
homely simplicity. I was. Nepotism had no charms for me. There was
nothing that I could get Polly that she had not. I could surprise
her with no little delicacies or trifles, delightedly bought with
money saved for the purpose. There was no more coming home weary
with office work and being met at the door with that warm, loving
welcome which the King of England could not buy. There was no long
evening when we read alternately from some favorite book, or laid our
deep housekeeping plans, rejoiced in a good bargain or made light of
a poor one, and were contented and merry with little. I recalled
with longing my little den, where in the midst of the literary
disorder I love, I wrote those stories for the "Antarctic" which
Polly, if nobody else, liked to read. There was no comfort for me in
my magnificent library. We were all rich and in splendor, and our
uncle had come from India. I wished, saving his soul, that the ship
that brought him over had foundered off Barnegat Light. It would
always have been a tender and regretful memory to both of us. And
how sacred is the memory of such a loss!

Christmas? What delight could I have in long solicitude and
ingenious devices touching a gift for Polly within my means, and
hitting the border line between her necessities and her extravagant
fancy? A drove of white elephants would n't have been good enough
for her now, if each one carried a castle on his back.

"--and so they were married, and in their snug cottage lived happy
ever after."--It was Polly's voice, as she closed the book.

"There, I don't believe you have heard a word of it," she said half
complainingly.

"Oh, yes, I have," I cried, starting up and giving the fire a jab
with the poker; "I heard every word of it, except a few at the close
I was thinking"--I stopped, and looked round.

"Why, Polly, where is the camel's-hair shawl?"

"Camel's-hair fiddlestick! Now I know you have been asleep for an
hour."

And, sure enough, there was n't any camel's-hair shawl there, nor any
uncle, nor were there any Hindoos at our windows.

And then I told Polly all about it; how her uncle came back, and we
were rich and lived in a palace and had no end of money, but she
didn't seem to have time to love me in it all, and all the comfort of
the little house was blown away as by the winter wind. And Polly
vowed, half in tears, that she hoped her uncle never would come back,
and she wanted nothing that we had not, and she wouldn't exchange our
independent comfort and snug house, no, not for anybody's mansion.
And then and there we made it all up, in a manner too particular for
me to mention; and I never, to this day, heard Polly allude to My
Uncle in India.

And then, as the clock struck eleven, we each produced from the place
where we had hidden them the modest Christmas gifts we had prepared
for each other, and what surprise there was! "Just the thing I
needed." And, "It's perfectly lovely." And, "You should n't have
done it." And, then, a question I never will answer, "Ten? fifteen?
five? twelve?" "My dear, it cost eight hundred dollars, for I have
put my whole year into it, and I wish it was a thousand times
better."

And so, when the great iron tongue of the city bell swept over the
snow the twelve strokes that announced Christmas day, if there was
anywhere a happier home than ours, I am glad of it!





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