Backlog Studies
Charles Dudley Warner

Part 3 out of 3

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 infal-
lible 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

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

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 them-
selves 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.



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 reg-ularity 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.


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.


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

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.


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!



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

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

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


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

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.


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

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.


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


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

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

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

"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

"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

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

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 im-
portant 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

"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

And, sure enough, there was n't anv 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

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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