I and My Chimney
Prepared by Stephan J. Macaluso
I and My Chimney
by Herman Melville
I and my chimney, two grey-headed old smokers, reside in the
country. We are, I may say, old settlers here; particularly my
old chimney, which settles more and more every day.
Though I always say, I AND MY CHIMNEY, as Cardinal Wolsey used to
say, "I AND MY KING," yet this egotistic way of speaking, wherein
I take precedence of my chimney, is hereby borne out by the
facts; in everything, except the above phrase, my chimney taking
precedence of me.
Within thirty feet of the turf-sided road, my chimney--a huge,
corpulent old Harry VIII of a chimney--rises full in front of me
and all my possessions. Standing well up a hillside, my chimney,
like Lord Rosse's monster telescope, swung vertical to hit the
meridian moon, is the first object to greet the approaching
traveler's eye, nor is it the last which the sun salutes. My
chimney, too, is before me in receiving the first-fruits of the
seasons. The snow is on its head ere on my hat; and every spring,
as in a hollow beech tree, the first swallows build their nests
But it is within doors that the pre-eminence of my chimney is
most manifest. When in the rear room, set apart for that object,
I stand to receive my guests (who, by the way call more, I
suspect, to see my chimney than me) I then stand, not so much
before, as, strictly speaking, behind my chimney, which is,
indeed, the true host. Not that I demur. In the presence of my
betters, I hope I know my place.
From this habitual precedence of my chimney over me, some even
think that I have got into a sad rearward way altogether; in
short, from standing behind my old- fashioned chimney so much, I
have got to be quite behind the age too, as well as running
behindhand in everything else. But to tell the truth, I never was
a very forward old fellow, nor what my farming neighbors call a
forehanded one. Indeed, those rumors about my behindhandedness
are so far correct, that I have an odd sauntering way with me
sometimes of going about with my hands behind my back. As for my
belonging to the rear-guard in general, certain it is, I bring up
the rear of my chimney--which, by the way, is this moment before
me--and that, too, both in fancy and fact. In brief, my chimney
is my superior; my superior, too, in that humbly bowing over with
shovel and tongs, I much minister to it; yet never does it
minister, or incline over to me; but, if anything, in its
settlings, rather leans the other way.
My chimney is grand seignior here--the one great domineering
object, not more of the landscape, than of the house; all the
rest of which house, in each architectural arrangement, as may
shortly appear, is, in the most marked manner, accommodated, not
to my wants, but to my chimney's, which, among other things, has
the centre of the house to himself, leaving but the odd holes and
corners to me.
But I and my chimney must explain; and as we are both rather
obese, we may have to expatiate.
In those houses which are strictly double houses--that is, where
the hall is in the middle--the fireplaces usually are on opposite
sides; so that while one member of the household is warming
himself at a fire built into a recess of the north wall, say
another member, the former's own brother, perhaps, may be holding
his feet to the blaze before a hearth in the south wall--the two
thus fairly sitting back to back. Is this well? Be it put to any
man who has a proper fraternal feeling. Has it not a sort of
sulky appearance? But very probably this style of chimney
building originated with some architect afflicted with a
Then again, almost every modem fireplace has its separate
flue--separate throughout, from hearth to chimney-top. At least
such an arrangement is deemed desirable. Does not this look
egotistical, selfish? But still more, all these separate flues,
instead of having independent masonry establishments of their
own, or instead of being grouped together in one federal stock in
the middle of the house--instead of this, I say, each flue is
surreptitiously honey-combed into the walls; so that these last
are here and there, or indeed almost anywhere, treacherously
hollow, and, in consequence, more or less weak. Of course, the
main reason of this style of chimney building is to economize
room. In cities, where lots are sold by the inch, small space is
to spare for a chimney constructed on magnanimous principles;
and, as with most thin men, who are generally tall, so with such
houses, what is lacking in breadth, must be made up in height.
This remark holds true even with regard to many very stylish
abodes, built by the most stylish of gentlemen. And yet, when
that stylish gentleman, Louis le Grand of France, would build a
palace for his lady, friend, Madame de Maintenon, he built it but
one story high--in fact in the cottage style. But then, how
uncommonly quadrangular, spacious, and broad--horizontal acres,
not vertical ones. Such is the palace, which, in all its
one-storied magnificence of Languedoc marble, in the garden of
Versailles, still remains to this day. Any man can buy a square
foot of land and plant a liberty-pole on it; but it takes a king
to set apart whole acres for a grand triannon.
But nowadays it is different; and furthermore, what originated in
a necessity has been mounted into a vaunt. In towns there is
large rivalry in building tall houses. If one gentleman builds
his house four stories high, and another gentleman comes next
door and builds five stories high, then the former, not to be
looked down upon that way, immediately sends for his architect
and claps a fifth and a sixth story on top of his previous four.
And, not till the gentleman has achieved his aspiration, not till
he has stolen over the way by twilight and observed how his sixth
story soars beyond his neighbor's fifth--not till then does he
retire to his rest with satisfaction.
Such folks, it seems to me, need mountains for neighbors, to take
this emulous conceit of soaring out of them.
If, considering that mine is a very wide house, and by no means
lofty, aught in the above may appear like interested pleading, as
if I did but fold myself about in the cloak of a general
proposition, cunningly to tickle my individual vanity beneath it,
such misconception must vanish upon my frankly conceding, that
land adjoining my alder swamp was sold last month for ten dollars
an acre, and thought a rash purchase at that; so that for wide
houses hereabouts there is plenty of room, and cheap. Indeed so
cheap--dirt cheap--is the soil, that our elms thrust out their
roots in it, and hang their great boughs over it, in the most
lavish and reckless way. Almost all our crops, too, are sown
broadcast, even peas and turnips. A farmer among us, who should
go about his twenty-acre field, poking his finger into it here
and there, and dropping down a mustard seed, would be thought a
penurious, narrow-minded husbandman. The dandelions in the
river-meadows, and the forget-me-nots along the mountain roads,
you see at once they are put to no economy in space. Some
seasons, too, our rye comes up here and there a spear, sole and
single like a church-spire. It doesn't care to crowd itself where
it knows there is such a deal of room. The world is wide, the
world is all before us, says the rye. Weeds, too, it is amazing
how they spread. No such thing as arresting them--some of our
pastures being a sort of Alsatia for the weeds. As for the grass,
every spring it is like Kossuth's rising of what he calls the
peoples. Mountains, too, a regular camp-meeting of them. For the
same reason, the same all-sufficiency of room, our shadows march
and countermarch, going through their various drills and masterly
evolutions, like the old imperial guard on the Champs de Mars.
As for the hills, especially where the roads cross them the
supervisors of our various towns have given notice to all
concerned, that they can come and dig them down and cart them
off, and never a cent to pay, no more than for the privilege of
picking blackberries. The stranger who is buried here, what
liberal-hearted landed proprietor among us grudges him six feet
of rocky pasture?
Nevertheless, cheap, after all, as our land is, and much as it is
trodden under foot, I, for one, am proud of it for what it bears;
and chiefly for its three great lions--the Great Oak, Ogg
Mountain, and my chimney.
Most houses, here, are but one and a half stories high; few
exceed two. That in which I and my chimney dwell, is in width
nearly twice its height, from sill to eaves--which accounts for
the magnitude of its main content--besides showing that in this
house, as in this country at large, there is abundance of space,
and to spare, for both of us.
The frame of the old house is of wood--which but the more sets
forth the solidity of the chimney, which is of brick. And as the
great wrought nails, binding the clapboards, are unknown in these
degenerate days, so are the huge bricks in the chimney walls. The
architect of the chimney must have had the pyramid of Cheops
before him; for, after that famous structure, it seems modeled,
only its rate of decrease towards the summit is considerably
less, and it is truncated. From the exact middle of the mansion
it soars from the cellar, right up through each successive floor,
till, four feet square, it breaks water from the ridge-pole of
the roof, like an anvil-headed whale, through the crest of a
billow. Most people, though, liken it, in that part, to a razed
observatory, masoned up.
The reason for its peculiar appearance above the roof touches
upon rather delicate ground. How shall I reveal that, forasmuch
as many years ago the original gable roof of the old house had
become very leaky, a temporary proprietor hired a band of
woodmen, with their huge, cross-cut saws, and went to sawing the
old gable roof clean off. Off it went, with all its birds' nests,
and dormer windows. It was replaced with a modern roof, more fit
for a railway wood-house than an old country gentleman's abode.
This operation--razeeing the structure some fifteen feet--was, in
effect upon the chimney, something like the falling of the great
spring tides. It left uncommon low water all about the
chimney--to abate which appearance, the same person now proceeds
to slice fifteen feet off the chimney itself, actually beheading
my royal old chinmey--a regicidal act, which, were it not for the
palliating fact that he was a poulterer by trade, and, therefore,
hardened to such neck-wringings, should send that former
proprietor down to posterity in the same cart with Cromwell.
Owing to its pyramidal shape, the reduction of the chimney
inordinately widened its razeed summit. Inordinately, I say, but
only in the estimation of such as have no eye to the picturesque.
What care I, if, unaware that my chimney, as a free citizen of
this free land, stands upon an independent basis of its own,
people passing it, wonder how such a brick-kiln, as they call it,
is supported upon mere joists and rafters? What care I? I will
give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound
to supply him with a sweet taste? Men of cultivated minds see, in
my old house and chimney, a goodly old elephant-and-castle.
All feeling hearts will sympathize with me in what I am now about
to add. The surgical operation, above referred to, necessarily
brought into the open air a part of the chimney previously under
cover, and intended to remain so, and, therefore, not built of
what are called weather-bricks. In consequence, the chimney,
though of a vigorous constitution, suffered not a little, from so
naked an exposure; and, unable to acclimate itself, ere long
began to fail--showing blotchy symptoms akin to those in measles.
Whereupon travelers, passing my way, would wag their heads,
laughing; "See that wax nose--how it melts off!" But what cared
I? The same travelers would travel across the sea to view
Kenilworth peeling away, and for a very good reason: that of all
artists of the picturesque, decay wears the palm--I would say,
the ivy. In fact, I've often thought that the proper place for my
old chimney is ivied old England.
In vain my wife--with what probable ulterior intent will, ere
long, appear--solemnly warned me, that unless something were
done, and speedily, we should be burnt to the ground, owing to
the holes crumbling through the aforesaid blotchy parts, where
the chimney joined the roof. "Wife," said I, "far better that my
house should bum down, than that my chimney should be pulled
down, though but a few feet. They call it a wax nose; very good;
not for me to tweak the nose of my superior." But at last the man
who has a mortgage on the house dropped me a note, reminding me
that, if my chimney was allowed to stand in that invalid
condition, my policy of insurance would be void. This was a sort
of hint not to be neglected. All the world over, the picturesque
yields to the pocketesque. The mortgagor cared not, but the
So another operation was performed. The wax nose was taken off,
and a new one fitted on. Unfortunately for the expression--being
put up by a squint-eyed mason, who, at the time, had a bad stitch
in the same side--the new nose stands a little awry, in the same
Of one thing, however, I am proud. The horizontal dimensions of
the new part are unreduced.
Large as the chimney appears upon the roof, that is nothing to
its spaciousness below. At its base in the cellar, it is
precisely twelve feet square; and hence covers precisely one
hundred and forty-four superficial feet. What an
appropriation of terra firma for a chimney, and what a huge load
for this earth! In fact, it was only because I and my chimney
formed no part of his ancient burden, that that stout peddler,
Atlas of old, was enabled to stand up so bravely under his pack.
The dimensions given may, perhaps, seem fabulous. But, like those
stones at Gilgal, which Joshua set up for a memorial of having
passed over Jordan, does not my chimney remain, even unto this
Very often I go down into my cellar, and attentively survey that
vast square of masonry. I stand long, and ponder over, and
wonder at it. It has a druidical look, away down in the
umbrageous cellar there whose numerous vaulted passages, and far
glens of gloom, resemble the dark, damp depths of primeval woods.
So strongly did this conceit steal over me, so deeply was I
penetrated with wonder at the chimney, that one day--when I was a
little out of my mind, I now think--getting a spade from the
garden, I set to work, digging round the foundation, especially
at the corners thereof, obscurely prompted by dreams of striking
upon some old, earthen-worn memorial of that by-gone day, when,
into all this gloom, the light of heaven entered, as the masons
laid the foundation-stones, peradventure sweltering under an
August sun, or pelted by a March storm. Plying my blunted spade,
how vexed was I by that ungracious interruption of a neighbor
who, calling to see me upon some business, and being informed
that I was below said I need not be troubled to come up, but he
would go down to me; and so, without ceremony, and without my
having been forewarned, suddenly discovered me, digging in my
"Gold digging, sir?"
"Nay, sir," answered I, starting, "I was merely--ahem!--merely--I
say I was merely digging-round my chimney."
"Ah, loosening the soil, to make it grow. Your chimney, sir, you
regard as too small, I suppose; needing further development,
especially at the top?"
"Sir!" said I, throwing down the spade, "do not be personal. I
and my chimney--"
"Sir, I look upon this chimney less as a pile of masonry than as
a personage. It is the king of the house. I am but a suffered and
In fact, I would permit no gibes to be cast at either myself or
my chimney; and never again did my visitor refer to it in my
hearing, without coupling some compliment with the mention. It
well deserves a respectful consideration. There it stands,
solitary and alone--not a council--of ten flues, but, like his
sacred majesty of Russia, a unit of an autocrat.
Even to me, its dimensions, at times, seem incredible. It does
not look so big--no, not even in the cellar. By the mere eye, its
magnitude can be but imperfectly comprehended, because only one
side can be received at one time; and said side can only present
twelve feet, linear measure. But then, each other side also is
twelve feet long; and the whole obviously forms a square and
twelve times twelve is one hundred and forty-four. And so, an
adequate conception of the magnitude of this chimney is only to
be got at by a sort of process in the higher mathematics by a
method somewhat akin to those whereby the surprising distances of
fixed stars are computed.
It need hardly be said, that the walls of my house are entirely
free from fireplaces. These all congregate in the middle--in the
one grand central chimney, upon all four sides of which are
hearths--two tiers of hearths--so that when, in the various
chambers, my family and guests are warming themselves of a cold
winter's night, just before retiring, then, though at the time
they may not be thinking so, all their faces mutually look
towards each other, yea, all their feet point to one centre; and,
when they go to sleep in their beds, they all sleep round one
warm chimney, like so many Iroquois Indians, in the woods, round
their one heap of embers. And just as the Indians' fire serves,
not only to keep them comfortable, but also to keep off wolves,
and other savage monsters, so my chimney, by its obvious smoke at
top, keeps off prowling burglars from the towns--for what burglar
or murderer would dare break into an abode from whose chimney
issues such a continual smoke--betokening that if the inmates are
not stirring, at least fires are, and in case of an alarm,
candles may readily be lighted, to say nothing of muskets.
But stately as is the chimney--yea, grand high altar as it is,
right worthy for the celebration of high mass before the Pope of
Rome, and all his cardinals--yet what is there perfect in this
world? Caius Julius Caesar, had he not been so inordinately
great, they say that Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and the rest, had
been greater. My chimney, were it not so mighty in its magnitude,
my chambers had been larger. How often has my wife ruefully told
me, that my chimney, like the English aristocracy, casts a
contracting shade all round it. She avers that endless domestic
inconveniences arise--more particularly from the chimney's
stubborn central locality. The grand objection with her is, that
it stands midway in the place where a fine entrance-hall ought to
be. In truth, there is no hall whatever to the house--nothing but
a sort of square landing-place, as you enter from the wide front
door. A roomy enough landing-place, I admit, but not attaining to
the dignity of a hall. Now, as the front door is precisely in the
middle of the front of the house, inwards it faces the chimney.
In fact, the opposite wall of the landing-place is formed solely
by the chimney; and hence-owing to the gradual tapering of the
chimney--is a little less than twelve feet in width. Climbing the
chimney in this part, is the principal staircase--which, by three
abrupt turns, and three minor landing-places, mounts to the
second floor, where, over the front door, runs a sort of narrow
gallery, something less than twelve feet long, leading to
chambers on either hand. This gallery, of course, is railed; and
so, looking down upon the stairs, and all those landing-places
together, with the main one at bottom, resembles not a little a
balcony for musicians, in some jolly old abode, in times
Elizabethan. Shall I tell a weakness? I cherish the cobwebs
there, and many a time arrest Biddy in the act of brushing them
with her broom, and have many a quarrel with my wife and
daughters about it.
Now the ceiling, so to speak, of the place where you enter the
house, that ceiling is, in fact, the ceiling of the second floor,
not the first. The two floors are made one here; so that
ascending this turning stairs, you seem going up into a kind of
soaring tower, or lighthouse. At the second landing, midway up
the chimney, is a mysterious door, entering to a mysterious
closet; and here I keep mysterious cordials, of a choice,
mysterious flavor, made so by the constant nurturing and subtle
ripening of the chimney's gentle heat, distilled through that
warm mass of masonry. Better for wines is it than voyages to the
Indias; my chimney itself a tropic. A chair by my chimney in a
November day is as good for an invalid as a long season spent in
Cuba. Often I think how grapes might ripen against my chimney.
How my wife's geraniums bud there! Bud in December. Her eggs,
too--can't keep them near the chimney, an account of the
hatching. Ah, a warm heart has my chimney.
How often my wife was at me about that projected grand
entrance-hall of hers, which was to be knocked clean through the
chimney, from one end of the house to the other, and astonish all
guests by its generous amplitude. "But, wife," said I, "the
chimney--consider the chimney: if you demolish the foundation,
what is to support the superstructure?" "Oh, that will rest on
the second floor." The truth is, women know next to nothing about
the realities of architecture. However, my wife still talked of
running her entries and partitions. She spent many long nights
elaborating her plans; in imagination building her boasted hall
through the chimney, as though its high mightiness were a mere
spear of sorrel-top. At last, I gently reminded her that, little
as she might fancy it, the chimney was a fact--a sober,
substantial fact, which, in all her plannings, it would be well
to take into full consideration. But this was not of much avail.
And here, respectfully craving her permission, I must say a few
words about this enterprising wife of mine. Though in years
nearly old as myself, in spirit she is young as my little sorrel
mare, Trigger, that threw me last fall. What is extraordinary,
though she comes of a rheumatic family, she is straight as a
pine, never has any aches; while for me with the sciatica, I am
sometimes as crippled up as any old apple-tree. But she has not
so much as a toothache. As for her hearing--let me enter the
house in my dusty boots, and she away up in the attic. And for
her sight--Biddy, the housemaid, tells other people's housemaids,
that her mistress will spy a spot on the dresser straight through
the pewter platter, put up on purpose to hide it. Her faculties
are alert as her limbs and her senses. No danger of my spouse
dying of torpor. The longest night in the year I've known her lie
awake, planning her campaign for the morrow. She is a natural
projector. The maxim, "Whatever is, is right," is not hers. Her
maxim is, Whatever is, is wrong; and what is more, must be
altered; and what is still more, must be altered right away.
Dreadful maxim for the wife of a dozy old dreamer like me, who
dote on seventh days as days of rest, and out of a sabbatical
horror of industry, will, on a week day, go out of
my road a quarter of a mile, to avoid the sight of a man at work.
That matches are made in heaven, may be, but my wife would have
been just the wife for Peter the Great, or Peter the Piper. How
she would have set in order that huge littered empire of the one,
and with indefatigable painstaking picked the peck of pickled
peppers for the other.
But the most wonderful thing is, my wife never thinks of her end.
Her youthful incredulity, as to the plain theory, and still
plainer fact of death, hardly seems Christian. Advanced in years,
as she knows she must be, my wife seems to think that she is to
teem on, and be inexhaustible forever. She doesn't believe in old
age. At that strange promise in the plain of Mamre, my old wife,
unlike old Abraham's, would not have jeeringly laughed within
Judge how to me, who, sitting in the comfortable shadow of my
chimney, smoking my comfortable pipe, with ashes not unwelcome at
my feet, and ashes not unwelcome all but in my mouth; and who am
thus in a comfortable sort of not unwelcome, though, indeed, ashy
enough way, reminded of the ultimate exhaustion even of the most
fiery life; judge how to me this unwarrantable vitality in my
wife must come, sometimes, it is true, with a moral and a calm,
but oftener with a breeze and a ruffle.
If the doctrine be true, that in wedlock contraries attract, by
how cogent a fatality must I have been drawn to my wife! While
spicily impatient of present and past, like a glass of
ginger-beer she overflows with her schemes; and, with like energy
as she puts down her foot, puts down her preserves and her
pickles, and lives with them in a continual future; or ever full
of expectations both from time and space, is ever restless for
newspapers, and ravenous for letters. Content with the years that
are gone, taking no thought for the morrow, and looking for no
new thing from any person or quarter whatever, I have not a
single scheme or expectation on earth, save in unequal resistance
of the undue encroachment of hers.
Old myself, I take to oldness in things; for that cause mainly
loving old Montague, and old cheese, and old wine; and eschewing
young people, hot rolls, new books, and early potatoes and very
fond of my old claw-footed chair, and old club-footed Deacon
White, my neighbor, and that still nigher old neighbor, my
betwisted old grape-vine, that of a summer evening leans in his
elbow for cosy company at my window-sill, while I, within doors,
lean over mine to meet his; and above all, high above all, am
fond of my high-mantled old chimney. But she, out of the
infatuate juvenility of hers, takes to nothing but newness; for
that cause mainly, loving new cider in autumn, and in spring, as
if she were own daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, fairly raving after
all sorts of salads and spinages, and more particularly green
cucumbers (though all the time nature rebukes such unsuitable
young hankerings in so elderlv a person, by never permitting such
things to agree with her), and has an itch after recently-
discovered fine prospects (so no graveyard be in the background),
and also after Sweden-borganism, and the Spirit Rapping
philosophy, with other new views, alike in things natural and
unnatural; and immortally hopeful, is forever making new
flower-beds even on the north side of the house where the bleak
mountain wind would scarce allow the wiry weed called hard-hack
to gain a thorough footing; and on the road-side sets out mere
pipe-stems of young elms; though there is no hope of any shade
from them, except over the ruins of her great granddaughter's
gravestones; and won't wear caps, but plaits her gray hair; and
takes the Ladies' Magazine for the fashions; and always buys her
new almanac a month before the new year; and rises at dawn; and
to the warmest sunset turns a cold shoulder; and still goes on at
odd hours with her new course of history, and her French, and her
music; and likes a young company; and offers to ride young colts;
and sets out young suckers in the orchard; and has a spite
against my elbowed old grape-vine, and my club-footed old
neighbor, and my claw-footed old chair, and above all, high above
all, would fain persecute, until death, my high-mantled old
chimney. By what perverse magic, I a thousand times think, does
such a very autumnal old lady have such a very vernal young soul?
When I would remonstrate at times, she spins round on me with,
"Oh, don't you grumble, old man (she always calls me old man),
it's I, young I, that keep you from stagnating." Well, I suppose
it is so. Yea, after all, these things are well ordered. My wife,
as one of her poor relations, good soul, intimates, is the salt
of the earth, and none the less the salt of my sea, which
otherwise were unwholesome. She is its monsoon, too, blowing a
brisk gale over it, in the one steady direction of my chimney.
Not insensible of her superior energies, my wife has frequently
made me propositions to take upon herself all the
responsibilities of my affairs. She is desirous that,
domestically, I should abdicate; that, renouncing further rule,
like the venerable Charles V, I should retire intoo some sort of
monastery. But indeed, the chimney excepted, I have little
authority to lay down. By my wife's ingenious application of the
principle that certain things belong of right to female
jurisdiction, I find myself, through my easy compliances,
insensibly stripped by degrees of one masculine prerogative after
another. In a dream I go about my fields, a sort of lazy,
happy-go-lucky, good-for-nothing, loafing old Lear. Only by some
sudden revelation am I reminded who is over me; as year before
last, one day seeing in one corner of the premises fresh deposits
of mysterious boards and timbers, the oddity of the incident at
length begat serious meditation. "Wife," said I, "whose boards
and timbers are those I see near the orchard there? Do you know
anything about them, wife? Who put them there? You know I do not
like the neighbors to use my land that way, they should ask
She regarded me with a pitying smile.
"Why, old man, don't you know I am building a new barn? Didn't
you know that, old man?"
This is the poor old lady who was accusing me of tyrannizing over
To return now to the chimney. Upon being assured of the futility
of her proposed hall, so long as the obstacle remained, for a
time my wife was for a modified project. But I could never
exactly comprehend it. As far as I could see through it, it
seemed to involve the general idea of a sort of irregular
archway, or elbowed tunnel, which was to penetrate the chimney at
some convenient point under the staircase, and carefully avoiding
dangerous contact with the fireplaces, and particularly steering
clear of the great interior flue, was to conduct the enterprising
traveler from the front door all the way into the dining-room in
the remote rear of the mansion. Doubtless it was a bold stroke of
genius, that plan of hers, and so was Nero's when he schemed his
grand canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. Nor will I take oath,
that, had her project been accomplished, then, by help of lights
hung at judicious intervals through the tunnel, some Belzoni or
other might have succeeded in future ages in penetrating through
the masonry, and actually emerging into the dining-room, and once
there, it would have been inhospitable treatment of such a
traveler to have denied him a recruiting meal.
But my bustling wife did not restrict her objections, nor in the
end confine her proposed alterations to the first floor. Her
ambition was of the mounting order. She ascended with her schemes
to the second floor, and so to the attic. Perhaps there was some
small ground for her discontent with things as they were. The
truth is, there was no regular passage-way up-stairs or down,
unless we again except that little orchestra-gallery before
mentioned. And all this was owing to the chimney, which my
gamesome spouse seemed despitefully to regard as the bully of the
house. On all its four sides, nearly all the chambers sidled up
to the chimney for the benefit of a fireplace. The chimney would
not go to them; they must needs go to it. The consequence was,
almost every room, like a philosophical system, was in itself an
entry, or passage-way to other rooms, and systems of rooms--a
whole suite of entries, in fact. Going through the house, you
seem to be forever going somewhere, and getting nowhere. It is
like losing one's self in the woods; round and round the chimney
you go, and if you arrive at all, it is just where you started,
and so you begin again, and again get nowhere. Indeed--though I
say it not in the way of faultfinding at all--never was there so
labyrinthine an abode. Guests will tarry with me several weeks
and every now and then, be anew astonished at some unforseen
The puzzling nature of the mansion, resulting from the chimney,
is peculiarly noticeable in the dining-room, which has no less
than nine doors, opening in all directions, and into all sorts of
places. A stranger for the first time entering this dining-room,
and naturally taking no special heed at which door he entered,
will, upon rising to depart, commit the strangest blunders. Such,
for instance, as opening the first door that comes handy, and
finding himself stealing up-stairs by the back passage. Shutting
that he will proceed to another, and be aghast at the cellar
yawning at his feet. Trying a third, he surprises the housemaid
at her work. In the end, no more relying on his own unaided
efforts, he procures a trusty guide in some passing person, and
in good time successfully emerges. Perhaps as curious a blunder
as any, was that of a certain stylish young gentleman, a great
exquisite, in whose judicious eyes my daughter Anna had found
especial favor. He called upon the young lady one evening, and
found her alone in the dining-room at her needlework. He stayed
rather late; and after abundance of superfine discourse, all the
while retaining his hat and cane, made his profuse adieus, and
with repeated graceful bows proceeded to depart, after fashion of
courtiers from the Queen, and by so doing, opening a door at
random, with one hand placed behind, very effectually succeeded
in backing himself into a dark pantry, where be carefully shut
himself up, wondering there was no light in the entry. After
several strange noises as of a cat among the crockery, he
reappeared through the same door, looking uncommonly crestfallen,
and, with a deeply embarrassed air, requested my daughter to
designate at which of the nine he should find exit. When the
mischievous Anna told me the story, she said it was surprising
how unaffected and matter-of-fact the young gentleman's manner
was after his reappearance. He was more candid than ever, to be
sure; having inadvertently thrust his white kids into an open
drawer of Havana sugar, under the impression, probably, that
being what they call "a sweet fellow," his route might possibly
lie in that direction.
Another inconvenience resulting from the chimney is, the
bewilderment of a guest in gaining his chamber, many strange
doors lying between him and it. To direct him by finger-posts
would look rather queer; and just as queer in him to be knocking
at every door on his route, like London's city guest, the king,
Now, of all these things and many, many more, my family
continually complained. At last my wife came out with her
sweeping proposition--in toto to abolish the chimney.
"What!" said I, "abolish the chimney? To take out the backbone of
anything, wife, is a hazardous affair. Spines out of backs, and
chimneys out of houses, are not to be taken like frosted lead
pipes from the ground. Besides," added I, "the chimney is the one
grand permanence of this abode. If undisturbed by innovators,
then in future ages, when all the house shall have crumbled from
it, this chimney will still survive--a Bunker Hill monument. No,
no, wife, I can't abolish my backbone."
So said I then. But who is sure of himself, especially an old
man, with both wife and daughters ever at his elbow and ear? In
time, I was persuaded to think a little better of it; in short,
to take the matter into preliminary consideration. At length it
came to pass that a master-mason--a rough sort of architect--one
Mr. Scribe, was summoned to a conference. I formally introduced
him to my chimney. A previous introduction from my wife had
introduced him to myself. He had been not a little employed by
that lady, in preparing plans and estimates for some of her
extensive operations in drainage. Having, with much ado, exhorted
from my spouse the promise that she would leave us to an
unmolested survey, I began by leading Mr. Scribe down to the root
of the matter, in the cellar. Lamp in hand, I descended; for
though up-stairs it was noon, below it was night.
We seemed in the pyramids; and I, with one hand holding my lamp
over head, and with the other pointing out, in the obscurity, the
hoar mass of the chimney, seemed some Arab guide, showing the
cobwebbed mausoleum of the great god Apis.
"This is a most remarkable structure, sir," said the
master-mason, after long contemplating it in silence, "a most
remarkable structure, sir."
"Yes," said I complacently, "every one says so."
"But large as it appears above the roof, I would not have
inferred the magnitude of this foundation, sir," eyeing it
Then taking out his rule, he measured it.
"Twelve feet square; one hundred and forty-four square feet!
Sir, this house would appear to have been built simply for the
accommodation of your chimney."
"Yes, my chimney and me. Tell me candidly, now," I added, "would
you have such a famous chimney abolished?"
"I wouldn't have it in a house of mine, sir, for a gift," was the
reply. "It's a losing affair altogether, sir. Do you know, sir,
that in retaining this chimney, you are losing, not only one
hundred and forty-four square feet of good ground, but likewise a
considerable interest upon a considerable principal?"
Look, sir!" said he, taking a bit of red chalk from his pocket,
and figuring against a whitewashed wall, "twenty times eight is
so and so; then forty-two times thirty--nine is so and so--ain't
it,sir? Well, add those together, and subtract this here, then
that makes so and so, " still chalking away.
To be brief, after no small ciphering, Mr. Scribe informed me
that my chimney contained, I am ashamed to say how many thousand
and odd valuable bricks.
"No more," said I fidgeting. "Pray now, let us have a look
In that upper zone we made two more circumnavigations for the
first and second floors. That done, we stood together at the foot
of the stairway by the front door; my hand upon the knob, and Mr.
Scribe hat in hand.
"Well, sir," said he, a sort of feeling his way, and, to help
himself, fumbling with his hat, "well, sir, I think it can be
"What, pray, Mr. Scribe; WHAT can be done?"
"Your chimney, sir; it can without rashness be removed, I think."
"I will think of it, too, Mr. Scribe" said I, turning the knob
and bowing him towards the open space without, "I will THINK of
it, sir; it demands consideration; much obliged to ye; good
morning, Mr. Scribe."
"It is all arranged, then," cried my wife with great glee,
bursting from the nighest room.
"When will they begin?" demanded my daughter Julia.
"To-morrow?" asked Anna.
"Patience, patience, my dears," said I, "such a big chimney is
not to be abolished in a minute."
Next morning it began again.
"You remember the chimney," said my wife. "Wife," said I, "it is
never out of my house and never out of my mind."
"But when is Mr. Scribe to begin to pull it down?" asked Anna.
"Not to-day, Anna," said I.
"WHEN, then?" demanded Julia, in alarm.
Now, if this chimney of mine was, for size, a sort of belfry, for
ding-donging at me about it, my wife and daughters were a sort of
bells, always chiming together, or taking up each other's
melodies at every pause, my wife the key-clapper of all. A very
sweet ringing, and pealing, and chiming, I confess; but then, the
most silvery of bells may, sometimes, dismally toll, as well as
merrily play. And as touching the subject in question, it became
so now. Perceiving a strange relapse of opposition in me, wife
and daughters began a soft and dirge-like, melancholy tolling
At length my wife, getting much excited, declared to me, with
pointed finger, that so long as that chimney stood, she should
regard it as the monument of what she called my broken pledge.
But finding this did not answer, the next day, she gave me to
understand that either she or the chimney must quit the house.
Finding matters coming to such a pass, I and my pipe
philosophized over them awhile, and finally concluded between us,
that little as our hearts went with the plan, yet for peace'
sake, I might write out the chimney's death-warrant, and, while
my hand was in, scratch a note to Mr. Scribe.
Considering that I, and my chimney, and my pipe, from having been
so much together, were three great cronies, the facility with
which my pipe consented to a project so fatal to the goodliest of
our trio; or rather, the way in which I and my pipe, in secret,
conspired togetber, as it were, against our unsuspicious old
comrade--this may seem rather strange, if not suggestive of sad
reflections upon us two. But, indeed, we, sons of clay, that is
my pipe and I, are no wbit better than the rest. Far from us,
indeed, to have volunteered the betrayal of our crony. We are of
a peaceable nature, too. But that love of peace it was which made
us false to a mutual friend, as soon as his cause demanded a
vigorous vindication. But, I rejoice to add, that better and
braver thoughts soon returned, as will now briefly be set forth.
To my note, Mr. Scribe replied in person.
Once more we made a survey, mainly now with a view to a pecuniary
"I will do it for five hundred dollars," said Mr. Scribe at last,
again hat in hand.
"Very well, Mr. Scribe, I will think of it," replied I, again
bowing him to the door.
Not unvexed by this, for the second time, unexpected response,
again he withdrew, and from my wife, and daughters again burst
the old exclamations.
The truth is, resolved how I would, at the last pinch I and my
chimney could not be parted.
So Holofernes will have his way, never mind whose heart breaks
for it" said my wife next morning, at breakfast, in that
half-didactic, half-reproachful way of hers, which is harder to
bear than her most energetic assault. Holofernes, too, is with
her a pet name for any fell domestic despot. So, whenever,
against her most ambitious innovations, those which saw me quite
across the grain, I, as in the present instance, stand with
however little steadfastness on the defence, she is sure to call
me Holofernes, and ten to one takes the first opportunity to read
aloud, with a suppressed emphasis, of an evening, the first
newspaper paragraph about some tyrannic day-laborer, who, after
being for many years the Caligula of his family, ends by beating
his long-suffering spouse to death, with a garret door wrenched
off its hinges, and then, pitching his little innocents out of
the window, suicidally turns inward towards the broken wall
scored with the butcher's and baker's bills, and so rushes
headlong to his dreadful account.
Nevertheless, for a few days, not a little to my surprise, I
heard no further reproaches. An intense calm pervaded my wife,
but beneath which, as in the sea, there was no knowing what
portentous movements might be going on. She frequently went
abroad, and in a direction which I thought not unsuspicious;
namely, in the direction of New Petra, a griffin-like house of
wood and stucco, in the highest style of ornamental art, graced
with four chimneys in the form of erect dragons spouting smoke
from their nostrils; the elegant modern residence of Mr. Scribe,
which he had built for the purpose of a standing advertisement,
not more of his taste as an architect, than his solidity as a
At last, smoking my pipe one morning, I heard a rap at the door,
and my wife, with an air unusually quiet for her brought me a
note. As I have no correspondents except Solomon, with whom in
his sentiments, at least, I entirely correspond, the note
occasioned me some little surprise, which was not dismissed upon
reading the following:--
NEW PETRA, April 1st.
Sir--During my last examination of your chimney, possibly you may
have noted that I frequently applied my rule to it in a manner
apparently unnecessary. Possibly, also, at the same time, you
might have observed in me more or less of perplexity, to which,
however, I refrained from giving any verbal expression.
I now feel it obligatory upon me to inform you of what was then
but a dim suspicion, and as such would have been unwise to give
utterance to, but which now, from various subsequent calculations
assuming no little probability, it may be important that you
should not remain in further ignorance of.
It is my solemn duty to warn you, sir, that there is
architectural cause to conjecture that somewhere concealed in
your chimney is a reserved space, hermetically closed, in short,
a secret chamber, or rather closet. How long it has been there,
it is for me impossible to say. What it contains is hid, with
itself, in darkness. But probably a secret closet would not have
been contrived except for some extraordinary object, whether for
the concealment of treasure, or for what other purpose, may be
left to those better acquainted with the history of the house to
But enough: in making this disclosure, sir, my conscience is
eased. Whatever step you choose to take upon it, is of course a
matter of indifference to me; though, I confess, as respects the
character of the closet, I cannot but share in a natural
curiosity. Trusting that you may be guided aright, in determining
whether it is Christian-like knowingly to reside in a house,
hidden in which is a secret closet, I remain, with much respect,
Yours very humbly,
My first thought upon reading this note was, not of the alleged
mystery of manner to which, at the outset, it alluded-for none
such had I at all observed in the master-mason during his
surveys--but of my late kinsman, Captain Julian Dacres, long a
ship-master and merchant in the Indian trade, who, about thirty
years ago, and at the ripe age of ninety, died a bachelor, and in
this very house, which he had built. He was supposed to have
retired into this country with a large fortune. But to the
general surprise, after being at great cost in building himself
this mansion, he settled down into a sedate, reserved and
inexpensive old age, which by the neighbors was thought all the
better for his heirs: but lo! upon opening the will, his property
was found to consist but of the house and grounds, and some ten
thousand dollars in stocks; but the place, being found heavily
mortgaged, was in consequence sold. Gossip had its day, and left
the grass quietly to creep over the captain's grave, where he
still slumbers in a privacy as unmolested as if the billows of
the Indian Ocean, instead of the billows of inland verdure,
rolled over him. Still, I remembered long ago, hearing strange
solutions whispered by the country people for the mystery
involving his will, and, by reflex, himself; and that, too, as
well in conscience as purse. But people who could circulate the
report (which they did), that Captain Julian Dacres had, in his
day, been a Borneo pirate, surely were not worthy of credence in
their collateral notions. It is queer what wild whimsies of
rumors will, like toadstools, spring up about any eccentric
stranger, who settling down among a rustic population, keeps
quietly to himself. With some, inoffensiveness would seem a prime
cause of offense. But what chiefly had led me to scout at these
rumors, particularly as referring to concealed treasure, was the
circumstance, that the stranger (the same who razeed the roof and
the chimney) into whose hands the estate had passed on my
kinsman's death, was of that sort of character, that had there
been the least ground for those reports, he would speedily have
tested them, by tearing down and rummaging the walls.
Nevertheless, the note of Mr. Scribe, so strangely recalling the
memory of my kinsman, very naturally chimed in with what had been
mysterious, or at least unexplained, about him; vague flashings
of ingots united in my mind with vague gleamings of skulls. But
the first cool thought soon dismissed such chimeras; and, with a
calm smile, I turned towards my wife, who, meantime, had been
sitting nearby, impatient enough, I dare say, to know who could
have taken it into his head to write me a letter.
"Well, old man," said she, "who is it from, and what is it
"Read it, wife," said I, handing it.
Read it she did, and then--such an explosion! I will not pretend
to describe her emotions, or repeat her expressions. Enough that
my daughters were quickly called in to share the excitement.
Although they had never dreamed of such a revelation as Mr.
Scribe's; yet upon the first suggestion they instinctively saw
the extreme likelihood of it. In corroboration, they cited first
my kinsman, and second, my chimney; alleging that the profound
mystery involving the former, and the equally profound masonry
involving the latter, though both acknowledged facts, were alike
preposterous on any other supposition than the secret closet.
But all this time I was quietly thinking to myself: Could it be
hidden from me that my credulity in this instance would operate
very favorably to a certain plan of theirs? How to get to the
secret closet, or how to have any certainty about it at all,
without making such fell work with my chimney as to render its
set destruction superfluous? That my wife wished to get rid of
the chimney, it needed no reflection to show; and that Mr.
Scribe, for all his pretended disinterestedness, was not opposed
to pocketing five hundred dollars by the operation, seemed
equally evident. That my wife had, in secret, laid heads together
with Mr. Scribe, I at present refrain from affirming. But when I
consider her enmity against my chimney, and the steadiness with
which at the last she is wont to carry out her schemes, if by
hook or crook she can, especially after having been once baffled,
why, I scarcely knew at what step of hers to be surprised.
Of one thing only was I resolved, that I and my chimney should
In vain all protests. Next morning I went out into the road,
where I had noticed a diabolical-looking old gander, that, for
its doughty exploits in the way of scratching into forbidden
enclosures, had been rewarded by its master with a portentous,
four-pronged, wooden decoration, in the shape of a collar of the
Order of the Garotte. This gander I cornered and rummaging out
its stiffest quill, plucked it, took it home, and making a stiff
pen, inscribed the following stiff note:
CHIMNEY SIDE, April 2.
Sir:-For your conjecture, we return you our joint thanks and
compliments, and beg leave to assure you, that we shall remain,
I AND MY CHIMNEY.
Of course, for this epistle we had to endure some pretty sharp
raps. But having at last explicitly understood from me that Mr.
Scribe's note had not altered my mind one jot, my wife, to move
me, among other things said, that if she remembered aright, there
was a statute placing the keeping in private of secret closets on
the same unlawful footing with the keeping of gunpowder. But it
had no effect.
A few days after, my spouse changed her key.
It was nearly midnight, and all were in bed but ourselves, who
sat up, one in each chimney- corner; she, needles in hand,
indefatigably knitting a sock; I, pipe in mouth, indolently
weaving my vapors.
It was one of the first of the chill nights in autumn. There was
a fire on the hearth, burning low. The air without was torpid and
heavy; the wood, by an oversight, of the sort called soggy.
"Do look at the chimney," she began; "can't you see that
something must be in it?"
"Yes, wife. Truly there is smoke in the chimney, as in Mr.
"Smoke? Yes, indeed, and in my eyes, too. How you two wicked old
sinners do smoke!--this wicked old chimney and you."
"Wife," said I, "I and my chimney like to have a quiet smoke
together, it is true, but we don't like to be called names."
"Now, dear old man," said she, softening down, and a little
shifting the subject, "when you think of that old kinsman of
yours, you KNOW there must be a secret closet in this chimney."
"Secret ash-hole, wife, why don't you have it? Yes, I dare say
there is a secret ash-hole in the chimney; for where do all the
ashes go to that drop down the queer hole yonder?"
"I know where they go to; I've been there almost as many times as
"What devil, wife, prompted you to crawl into the ash-hole? Don't
you know that St. Dunstan's devil emerged from the ash-hole? You
will get your death one of these days, exploring all about as you
do. But supposing there be a secret closet, what then?"
"What then? why what should be in a secret closet but--"
"Dry bones, wife," broke in I with a puff, while the sociable old
chimney broke in with another.
"There again! Oh, how this wretched old chimney smokes," wiping
her eyes with her handkerchief. "I've no doubt the reason it
smokes so is, because that secret closet interferes with the
flue. Do see, too, how the jambs here keep settling; and it's
down hill all the way from the door to this hearth. This horrid
old chimney will fall on our heads yet; depend upon it, old man."
"Yes, wife, I do depend on it; yes indeed, I place every
dependence on my chimney. As for its settling, I like it. I, too,
am settling, you know, in my gait. I and my chimney are settling
together, and shall keep settling, too, till, as in a great
feather-bed, we shall both have settled away clean out of sight.
But this secret oven; I mean, secret closet of yours, wife; where
exactly do you suppose that secret closet is? "
"That is for Mr. Scribe to say."
"But suppose he cannot say exactly; what, then?"
"Why then he can prove, I am sure, that it must be somewhere or
other in this horrid old chimney."
"And if he can't prove that; what, then?"
"Why then, old man," with a stately air, "I shall say little more
"Agreed, wife," returned I, knocking my pipe-bowl against the
jamb, "and now, to-morrow, I will for a third time send for Mr.
Scribe. Wife, the sciatica takes me; be so good as to put this
pipe on the mantel."
"If you get the step-ladder for me, I will. This shocking old
chimney, this abominable old-fashioned old chimney's mantels are
so high, I can't reach them."
No opportunity, however trivial, was overlooked for a subordinate
fling at the pile.
Here, by way of introduction, it should be mentioned, that
besides the fireplaces all round it, the chimney was, in the most
haphazard way, excavated on each floor for certain curious
out-of-the-way cupboards and closets, of all sorts and sizes,
clinging here and there, like nests in the crotches of some old
oak. On the second floor these closets were by far the most
irregular and numerous. And yet this should hardly have been so,
since the theory of the chimney was, that it pyramidically
diminished as it ascended. The abridgment of its square on the
roof was obvious enough; and it was supposed that the reduction
must be methodically graduated from bottom to top.
"Mr. Scribe," said I when, the next day, with an eager aspect,
that individual again came, "my object in sending for you this
morning is, not to arrange for the demolition of my chimney, nor
to have any particular conversation about it, but simply to allow
you every reasonable facility for verifying, if you can, the
conjecture communicated in your note."
Though in secret not a little crestfallen, it may be, by my
phlegmatic reception, so different from what he had looked for;
with much apparent alacrity he commenced the survey; throwing
open the cupboards on the first floor, and peering into the
closets on the second; measuring one within, and then comparing
that measurement with the measurement without. Removing the
fireboards, he would gaze up the flues. But no sign of the hidden
Now, on the second floor the rooms were the most rambling
conceivable. They, as it were, dovetailed into each other. They
were of all shapes; not one mathematically square room among them
all--a peculiarity which by the master-mason had not been
unobserved. With a significant, not to say portentous expression,
he took a circuit of the chimney, measuring the area of each room
around it; then going down stairs, and out of doors, he measured
the entire ground area; then compared the sum total of the areas
of all the rooms on the second floor with the ground area; then,
returning to me in no small excitement, announced that there was
a difference of no less than two hundred and odd square
feet--room enough, in all conscience, for a secret closet.
"But, Mr. Scribe," said I, stroking my chin, "have you allowed
for the walls, both main and sectional? They take up some space,
"Ah, I had forgotten that," tapping his forehead; "but," still
ciphering on his paper, "that will not make up the deficiency."
"But, Mr. Scribe, have you allowed for the recesses of so many
fireplaces on a floor, and for the fire-walls, and the flues; in
short, Mr. Scribe, have you allowed for the legitimate chimney
itself--some one hundred and forty-four square feet or
thereabouts, Mr. Scribe?"
"How unaccountable. That slipped my mind, too."
"Did it, indeed, Mr. Scribe?"
He faltered a little, and burst forth with, "But we must now
allow one hundred and forty-four square feet for the legitimate
chimney. My position is, that within those undue limits the
secret closet is contained."
I eyed him in silence a moment; then spoke:
"Your survey is concluded, Mr. Scribe; be so good now as to lay
your finger upon the exact part of the chimney wall where you
believe this secret closet to be; or would a witch-hazel wand
assist you, Mr. Scribe?"
"No, Sir, but a crowbar would," he, with temper, rejoined.
Here, now, thought I to myself, the cat leaps out of the bag. I
looked at him with a calm glance, under which he seemed somewhat
uneasy. More than ever now I suspected a plot. I remembered what
my wife had said about abiding by the decision of Mr. Scribe. In
a bland way, I resolved to buy up the decision of Mr. Scribe.
"Sir," said I, "really, I am much obliged to you for this survey.
It has quite set my mind at rest. And no doubt you, too, Mr.
Scribe, must feel much relieved. Sir," I added, "you have made
three visits to the chimney. With a business man, time is money.
Here are fifty dollars, Mr. Scribe. Nay, take it. You have earned
it. Your opinion is worth it. And by the way,"--as he modestly
received the money-"have you any objections to give me
a--a--little certificate--something, say, like a steamboat
certificate, certifying that you, a competent surveyor, have
surveyed my chimney, and found no reason to believe any
unsoundness; in short, any--any secret closet in it. Would you be
so kind, Mr. Scribe?"
"But, but, sir," stammered he with honest hesitation.
"Here, here are pen and paper," said I, with entire assurance.
That evening I had the certificate framed and hung over the
dining-room fireplace, trusting that the continual sight of it
would forever put at rest at once the dreams and stratagems of my
But, no. Inveterately bent upon the extirpation of that noble old
chimney, still to this day my wife goes about it, with my
daughter Anna's geological hammer, tapping the wall all over, and
then holding her ear against it, as I have seen the physicians of
life insurance companies tap a man's chest, and then incline over
for the echo. Sometimes of nights she almost frightens one, going
about on this phantom errand, and still following the sepulchral
response of the chimney, round and round, as if it were leading
her to the threshold of the secret closet.
"How hollow it sounds," she will hollowly cry. "Yes, I declare,"
with an emphatic tap, "there is a secret closet here. Here, in
this very spot. Hark! How hollow!"
"Psha! wife, of course it is hollow. Who ever heard of a solid
chimney?" But nothing avails. And my daughters take after, not
me, but their mother.
Sometimes all three abandon the theory of the secret closet and
return to the genuine ground of attack--the unsightliness of so
cumbrous a pile, with comments upon the great addition of room to
be gained by its demolition, and the fine effect of the projected
grand hall, and the convenience resulting from the collateral
running in one direction and another of their various partitions.
Not more ruthlessly did the Three Powers partition away poor
Poland, than my wife and daughters would fain partition away my
But seeing that, despite all, I and my chimney still smoke our
pipes, my wife reoccupies the ground of the secret closet,
enlarging upon what wonders are there, and what a shame it is,
not to seek it out and explore it.
"Wife," said I, upon one of these occasions, "why speak more of
that secret closet, when there before you hangs contrary
testimony of a master mason, elected by yourself to decide.
Besides, even if there were a secret closet, secret it should
remain, and secret it shall. Yes, wife, here for once I must say
my say. Infinite sad mischief has resulted from the profane
bursting open of secret recesses. Though standing in the heart of
this house, though hitherto we have all nestled about it,
unsuspicious of aught hidden within, this chimney may or may not
have a secret closet. But if it have, it is my kinsman's. To
break into that wall, would be to break into his breast. And
that wall-breaking wish of Momus I account the wish of a
churchrobbing gossip and knave. Yes, wife, a vile eavesdropping
varlet was Momus."
"Moses? Mumps? Stuff with your mumps and Moses?"
The truth is, my wife, like all the rest of the world, cares not
a fig for philosophical jabber. In dearth of other philosophical
companionship, I and my chimney have to smoke and philosophize
together. And sitting up so late as we do at it, a mighty smoke
it is that we two smoky old philosophers make.
But my spouse, who likes the smoke of my tobacco as little as she
does that of the soot, carries on her war against both. I live in
continual dread lest, like the golden bowl, the pipes of me and
my chimney shall yet be broken. To stay that mad project of my
wife's, naught answers. Or, rather, she herself is incessantly
answering, incessantly besetting me with her terrible alacrity
for improvement, which is a softer name for destruction. Scarce
a day I do not find her with her tape-measure, measuring for her
grand hall, while Anna holds a yardstick on one side, and Julia
looks approvingly on from the other. Mysterious intimations
appear in the nearest village paper, signed "Claude," to the
effect that a certain structure, standing on a certain hill, is a
sad blemish to an otherwise lovely landscape. Anonymous letters
arrive, threatening me with I know not what, unless I remove my
chimney. Is it my wife, too, or who, that sets up the neighbors
to badgering me on the same subject, and hinting to me that my
chimney, like a huge elm, absorbs all moisture from my garden? At
night, also, my wife will start as from sleep, professing to hear
ghostly noises from the secret closet. Assailed on all sides, and
in all ways, small peace have I and my chimney.
Were it not for the baggage, we would together pack up and remove
from the country.
What narrow escapes have been ours! Once I found in a drawer a
whole portfolio of plans and estimates. Another time, upon
returning after a day's absence, I discovered my wife standing
before the chimney in earnest conversation with a person whom I
at once recognized as a meddlesome architectural reformer, who,
because he had no gift for putting up anything was ever intent
upon pulling them down; in various parts of the country having
prevailed upon half-witted old folks to destroy their
old-fashioned houses, particularly the chimneys.
But worst of all was, that time I unexpectedly returned at early
morning from a visit to the city, and upon approaching the house,
narrowly escaped three brickbats which fell, from high aloft, at
my feet. Glancing up, what was my horror to see three savages, in
blue jean overalls in the very act of commencing the
long-threatened attack. Aye, indeed, thinking of those three
brickbats, I and my chimney have had narrow escapes.
It is now some seven years since I have stirred from my home. My
city friends all wonder why I don't come to see them, as in
former times. They think I am getting sour and unsocial. Some say
that I have become a sort of mossy old misanthrope, while all the
time the fact is, I am simply standing guard over my mossy old
chimney; for it is resolved between me and my chimney, that I and
my chimney will never surrender.
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