The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 15 out of 51

So, while my thought has life, it needs must burn,
And burning, set the stubble-fields ablaze,
Where all the harvest long ago was reaped
And safely garnered in the ancient barns,
But still the gleaners, groping for their food,
Go blindly feeling through the close-shorn straw,
While the young reapers flash their glittering steel
Where later suns have ripened nobler grain!

We listened to these lines in silence. They were evidently written
honestly, and with feeling, and no doubt meant to be reverential. I
thought, however, the Lady looked rather serious as he finished
reading. The Young Girl's cheeks were flushed, but she was not in
the mood for criticism.

As we came away the Master said to me--The stubble-fields are mighty
slow to take fire. These young fellows catch up with the world's
ideas one after another,--they have been tamed a long while, but they
find them running loose in their minds, and think they are ferae
naturae. They remind me of young sportsmen who fire at the first
feathers they see, and bring down a barnyard fowl. But the chicken
may be worth bagging for all that, he said, good-humoredly.


Caveat Lector. Let the reader look out for himself. The old Master,
whose words I have so frequently quoted and shall quote more of, is a
dogmatist who lays down the law, ex cathedra, from the chair of his
own personality. I do not deny that he has the ambition of knowing
something about a greater number of subjects than any one man ought
to meddle with, except in a very humble and modest way. And that is
not his way. There was no doubt something of, humorous bravado in
his saying that the actual "order of things" did not offer a field
sufficiently ample for his intelligence. But if I found fault with
him, which would be easy enough, I should say that he holds and
expresses definite opinions about matters that he could afford to
leave open questions, or ask the judgment of others about. But I do
not want to find fault with him. If he does not settle all the
points he speaks of so authoritatively, he sets me thinking about
them, and I like a man as a companion who is not afraid of a half-
truth. I know he says some things peremptorily that he may inwardly
debate with himself. There are two ways of dealing with assertions
of this kind. One may attack them on the false side and perhaps gain
a conversational victory. But I like better to take them up on the
true side and see how much can be made of that aspect of the dogmatic
assertion. It is the only comfortable way of dealing with persons
like the old Master.

There have been three famous talkers in Great Britain, either of whom
would illustrate what I say about dogmatists well enough for my
purpose. You cannot doubt to what three I refer: Samuel the First,
Samuel the Second, and Thomas, last of the Dynasty. (I mean the
living Thomas and not Thomas B.)

I say the last of the Dynasty, for the conversational dogmatist on
the imperial scale becomes every year more and more an impossibility.
If he is in intelligent company he will be almost sure to find some
one who knows more about some of the subjects he generalizes upon
than any wholesale thinker who handles knowledge by the cargo is like
to know. I find myself, at certain intervals, in the society of a
number of experts in science, literature, and art, who cover a pretty
wide range, taking them all together, of human knowledge. I have not
the least doubt that if the great Dr. Samuel Johnson should come in
and sit with this company at one of their Saturday dinners, he would
be listened to, as he always was, with respect and attention. But
there are subjects upon which the great talker could speak
magisterially in his time and at his club, upon which so wise a man
would express himself guardedly at the meeting where I have supposed
him a guest. We have a scientific man or two among us, for instance,
who would be entitled to smile at the good Doctor's estimate of their
labors, as I give it here:

"Of those that spin out life in trifles and die without a memorial,
many flatter themselves with high opinion of their own importance and
imagine that they are every day adding some improvement to human
life."--"Some turn the wheel of electricity, some suspend rings to a
loadstone, and find that what they did yesterday they can do again
to-day. Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully
convinced that the wind is changeable.

"There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless
liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will
grow hot if they are mingled; they mingle them, and produce the
effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again."

I cannot transcribe this extract without an intense inward delight in
its wit and a full recognition of its thorough half-truthfulness.
Yet if while the great moralist is indulging in these vivacities, he
can be imagined as receiving a message from Mr. Boswell or Mrs.
Thrale flashed through the depths of the ocean, we can suppose he
might be tempted to indulge in another oracular utterance, something
like this:--
--A wise man recognizes the convenience of a general statement, but
he bows to the authority of a particular fact. He who would bound
the possibilities of human knowledge by the limitations of present
acquirements would take the dimensions of the infant in ordering the
habiliments of the adult. It is the province of knowledge to speak
and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. Will the Professor have
the kindness to inform me by what steps of gradual development the
ring and the loadstone, which were but yesterday the toys of children
and idlers, have become the means of approximating the intelligences
of remote continents, and wafting emotions unchilled through the
abysses of the no longer unfathomable deep?

--This, you understand, Beloved, is only a conventional imitation of
the Doctor's style of talking. He wrote in grand balanced phrases,
but his conversation was good, lusty, off-hand familiar talk. He
used very often to have it all his own way. If he came back to us we
must remember that to treat him fairly we must suppose him on a level
with the knowledge of our own time. But that knowledge is more
specialized, a great deal, than knowledge was in his day. Men cannot
talk about things they have seen from the outside with the same
magisterial authority the talking dynasty pretended to. The sturdy
old moralist felt grand enough, no doubt, when he said, "He that is
growing great and happy by electrifying a bottle wonders how the
world can be engaged by trifling prattle about war or peace."
Benjamin Franklin was one of these idlers who were electrifying
bottles, but he also found time to engage in the trifling prattle
about war and peace going on in those times. The talking Doctor hits
him very hard in "Taxation no Tyranny": "Those who wrote the Address
(of the American Congress in 1775), though they have shown no great
extent or profundity of mind, are yet probably wiser than to believe
it: but they have been taught by some master of mischief how to put
in motion the engine of political electricity; to attract by the
sounds of Liberty and Property, to repel by those of Popery and
Slavery; and to give the great stroke by the name of Boston."
The talking dynasty has always been hard upon us Americans. King
Samuel II. says: "It is, I believe, a fact verified beyond doubt,
that some years ago it was impossible to obtain a copy of the Newgate
Calendar, as they had all been bought up by the Americans, whether to
suppress the blazon of their forefathers or to assist in their
genealogical researches I could never learn satisfactorily."
As for King Thomas, the last of the monological succession, he made
such a piece of work with his prophecies and his sarcasms about our
little trouble with some of the Southern States, that we came rather
to pity him for his whims and crotchets than to get angry with him
for calling us bores and other unamiable names.

I do not think we believe things because considerable people say
them, on personal authority, that is, as intelligent listeners very
commonly did a century ago. The newspapers have lied that belief out
of us. Any man who has a pretty gift of talk may hold his company a
little while when there is nothing better stirring. Every now and
then a man who may be dull enough prevailingly has a passion of talk
come over him which makes him eloquent and silences the rest. I have
a great respect for these divine paroxysms, these half-inspired
moments of influx when they seize one whom we had not counted among
the luminaries of the social sphere. But the man who can--give us a
fresh experience on anything that interests us overrides everybody
else. A great peril escaped makes a great story-teller of a common
person enough. I remember when a certain vessel was wrecked long
ago, that one of the survivors told the story as well as Defoe could
have told it. Never a word from him before; never a word from him
since. But when it comes to talking one's common thoughts,--those
that come and go as the breath does; those that tread the mental
areas and corridors with steady, even foot-fall, an interminable
procession of every hue and garb,--there are few, indeed, that can
dare to lift the curtain which hangs before the window in the breast
and throw open the window, and let us look and listen. We are all
loyal enough to our sovereign when he shows himself, but sovereigns
are scarce. I never saw the absolute homage of listeners but once,
that I remember, to a man's common talk, and that was to the
conversation of an old man, illustrious by his lineage and the
exalted honors he had won, whose experience had lessons for the
wisest, and whose eloquence had made the boldest tremble.

All this because I told you to look out for yourselves and not take
for absolute truth everything the old Master of our table, or anybody
else at it sees fit to utter. At the same time I do not think that
he, or any of us whose conversation I think worth reporting, says
anything for the mere sake of saying it and without thinking that it
holds some truth, even if it is not unqualifiedly true.

I suppose a certain number of my readers wish very heartily that the
Young Astronomer whose poetical speculations I am recording would
stop trying by searching to find out the Almighty, and sign the
thirty-nine articles, or the Westminster Confession of Faith, at any
rate slip his neck into some collar or other, and pull quietly in the
harness, whether it galled him or not. I say, rather, let him have
his talk out; if nobody else asks the questions he asks, some will be
glad to hear them, but if you, the reader, find the same questions in
your own mind, you need not be afraid to see how they shape
themselves in another's intelligence. Do you recognize the fact that
we are living in a new time? Knowledge--it excites prejudices to
call it science--is advancing as irresistibly, as majestically, as
remorselessly as the ocean moves in upon the shore. The courtiers of
King Canute (I am not afraid of the old comparison), represented by
the adherents of the traditional beliefs of the period, move his
chair back an inch at a time, but not until his feet are pretty damp,
not to say wet. The rock on which he sat securely awhile ago is
completely under water. And now people are walking up and down the
beach and judging for themselves how far inland the chair of King
Canute is like to be moved while they and their children are looking
on, at the rate in which it is edging backward. And it is quite too
late to go into hysterics about it.

The shore, solid, substantial, a great deal more than eighteen
hundred years old, is natural humanity. The beach which the ocean of
knowledge--you may call it science if you like--is flowing over, is
theological humanity. Somewhere between the Sermon on the Mount and
the teachings of Saint Augustine sin was made a transferable chattel.
(I leave the interval wide for others to make narrow.)

The doctrine of heritable guilt, with its mechanical consequences,
has done for our moral nature what the doctrine of demoniac
possession has done in barbarous times and still does among barbarous
tribes for disease. Out of that black cloud came the lightning which
struck the compass of humanity. Conscience, which from the dawn of
moral being had pointed to the poles of right and wrong only as the
great current of will flowed through the soul, was demagnetized,
paralyzed, and knew henceforth no fixed meridian, but stayed where
the priest or the council placed it. There is nothing to be done but
to polarize the needle over again. And for this purpose we must
study the lines of direction of all the forces which traverse our
human nature.

We must study man as we have studied stars and rocks. We need not
go, we are told, to our sacred books for astronomy or geology or
other scientific knowledge. Do not stop there! Pull Canute's chair
back fifty rods at once, and do not wait until he is wet to the
knees! Say now, bravely, as you will sooner or later have to say,
that we need not go to any ancient records for our anthropology. Do
we not all hold, at least, that the doctrine of man's being a
blighted abortion, a miserable disappointment to his Creator, and
hostile and hateful to him from his birth, may give way to the belief
that he is the latest terrestrial manifestation of an ever upward-
striving movement of divine power? If there lives a man who does not
want to disbelieve the popular notions about the condition and
destiny of the bulk of his race, I should like to have him look me in
the face and tell me so.

I am not writing for the basement story or the nursery, and I do not
pretend to be, but I say nothing in these pages which would not be
said without fear of offence in any intelligent circle, such as
clergymen of the higher castes are in the habit of frequenting.
There are teachers in type for our grandmothers and our grandchildren
who vaccinate the two childhoods with wholesome doctrine, transmitted
harmlessly from one infant to another. But we three men at our table
have taken the disease of thinking in the natural way. It is an
epidemic in these times, and those who are afraid of it must shut
themselves up close or they will catch it.

I hope none of us are wanting in reverence. One at least of us is a
regular church-goer, and believes a man may be devout and yet very
free in the expression of his opinions on the gravest subjects.
There may be some good people who think that our young friend who
puts his thoughts in verse is going sounding over perilous depths,
and are frightened every time he throws the lead. There is nothing
to be frightened at. This is a manly world we live in. Our
reverence is good for nothing if it does not begin with self-respect.
Occidental manhood springs from that as its basis; Oriental manhood
finds the greatest satisfaction in self-abasement. There is no use
in trying to graft the tropical palm upon the Northern pine. The
same divine forces underlie the growth of both, but leaf and flower
and fruit must follow the law of race, of soil, of climate. Whether
the questions which assail my young friend have risen in my reader's
mind or not, he knows perfectly well that nobody can keep such
questions from springing up in every young mind of any force or
honesty. As for the excellent little wretches who grow up in what
they are taught, with never a scruple or a query, Protestant or
Catholic, Jew or Mormon, Mahometan or Buddhist, they signify nothing
in the intellectual life of the race. If the world had been wholly
peopled with such half-vitalized mental negatives, there never would
have been a creed like that of Christendom.

I entirely agree with the spirit of the verses I have looked over, in
this point at least, that a true man's allegiance is given to that
which is highest in his own nature. He reverences truth, he loves
kindness, he respects justice. The two first qualities he
understands well enough. But the last, justice, at least as between
the Infinite and the finite, has been so utterly dehumanized,
disintegrated, decomposed, and diabolized in passing through the
minds of the half-civilized banditti who have peopled and unpeopled
the world for some scores of generations, that it has become a mere
algebraic x, and has no fixed value whatever as a human conception.

As for power, we are outgrowing all superstition about that. We have
not the slightest respect for it as such, and it is just as well to
remember this in all our spiritual adjustments. We fear power when
we cannot master it; but just as far as we can master it, we make a
slave and a beast of burden of it without hesitation. We cannot
change the ebb and flow of the tides, or the course of the seasons,
but we come as near it as we can. We dam out the ocean, we make
roses bloom in winter and water freeze in summer. We have no more
reverence for the sun than we have for a fish-tail gas-burner; we
stare into his face with telescopes as at a ballet-dancer with opera-
glasses; we pick his rays to pieces with prisms as if they were so
many skeins of colored yarn; we tell him we do not want his company
and shut him out like a troublesome vagrant. The gods of the old
heathen are the servants of to-day. Neptune, Vulcan, Aolus, and the
bearer of the thunderbolt himself have stepped down from their
pedestals and put on our livery. We cannot always master them,
neither can we always master our servant, the horse, but we have put
a bridle on the wildest natural agencies. The mob of elemental
forces is as noisy and turbulent as ever, but the standing army of
civilization keeps it well under, except for an occasional outbreak.

When I read the Lady's letter printed some time since, I could not
help honoring the feeling which prompted her in writing it. But
while I respect the innocent incapacity of tender age and the
limitations of the comparatively uninstructed classes, it is quite
out of the question to act as if matters of common intelligence and
universal interest were the private property of a secret society,
only to be meddled with by those who know the grip and the password.

We must get over the habit of transferring the limitations of the
nervous temperament and of hectic constitutions to the great Source
of all the mighty forces of nature, animate and inanimate. We may
confidently trust that we have over us a Being thoroughly robust and
grandly magnanimous, in distinction from the Infinite Invalid bred in
the studies of sickly monomaniacs, who corresponds to a very common
human type, but makes us blush for him when we contrast him with a
truly noble man, such as most of us have had the privilege of knowing
both in public and in private life.

I was not a little pleased to find that the Lady, in spite of her
letter, sat through the young man's reading of portions of his poem
with a good deal of complacency. I think I can guess what is in her
mind. She believes, as so many women do, in that great remedy for
discontent, and doubts about humanity, and questionings of
Providence, and all sorts of youthful vagaries,--I mean the love-
cure. And she thinks, not without some reason, that these
astronomical lessons, and these readings of poetry and daily
proximity at the table, and the need of two young hearts that have
been long feeling lonely, and youth and nature and "all impulses of
soul and sense," as Coleridge has it, will bring these two young
people into closer relations than they perhaps have yet thought of;
and so that sweet lesson of loving the neighbor whom he has seen may
lead him into deeper and more trusting communion with the Friend and
Father whom he has not seen.

The Young Girl evidently did not intend that her accomplice should be
a loser by the summary act of the Member of the Haouse: I took
occasion to ask That Boy what had become of all the popguns. He gave
me to understand that popguns were played out, but that he had got a
squirt and a whip, and considered himself better off than before.

This great world is full of mysteries. I can comprehend the pleasure
to be got out of the hydraulic engine; but what can be the
fascination of a whip, when one has nothing to flagellate but the
calves of his own legs, I could never understand. Yet a small
riding-whip is the most popular article with the miscellaneous New-
Englander at all great gatherings,--cattle-shows and Fourth-of-July
celebrations. If Democritus and Heraclitus could walk arm in arm
through one of these crowds, the first would be in a broad laugh to
see the multitude of young persons who were rejoicing in the
possession of one of these useless and worthless little commodities;
happy himself to see how easily others could purchase happiness. But
the second would weep bitter tears to think what a rayless and barren
life that must be which could extract enjoyment from the miserable
flimsy wand that has such magic attraction for sauntering youths and
simpering maidens. What a dynamometer of happiness are these paltry
toys, and what a rudimentary vertebrate must be the freckled
adolescent whose yearning for the infinite can be stayed even for a
single hour by so trifling a boon from the venal hands of the finite!

Pardon these polysyllabic reflections, Beloved, but I never
contemplate these dear fellow-creatures of ours without a delicious
sense of superiority to them and to all arrested embryos of
intelligence, in which I have no doubt you heartily sympathize with
me. It is not merely when I look at the vacuous countenances of the
mastigophori, the whip-holders, that I enjoy this luxury (though I
would not miss that holiday spectacle for a pretty sum of money, and
advise you by all means to make sure of it next Fourth of July, if
you missed it this), but I get the same pleasure from many similar

I delight in Regalia, so called, of the kind not worn by kings, nor
obtaining their diamonds from the mines of Golconda. I have a
passion for those resplendent titles which are not conferred by a
sovereign and would not be the open sesame to the courts of royalty,
yet which are as opulent in impressive adjectives as any Knight of
the Garter's list of dignities. When I have recognized in the every-
day name of His Very Worthy High Eminence of some cabalistic
association, the inconspicuous individual whose trifling indebtedness
to me for value received remains in a quiescent state and is likely
long to continue so, I confess to having experienced a thrill of
pleasure. I have smiled to think how grand his magnificent titular
appendages sounded in his own ears and what a feeble tintinnabulation
they made in mine. The crimson sash, the broad diagonal belt of the
mounted marshal of a great procession, so cheap in themselves, yet so
entirely satisfactory to the wearer, tickle my heart's root.

Perhaps I should have enjoyed all these weaknesses of my infantile
fellow-creatures without an afterthought, except that on a certain
literary anniversary when I tie the narrow blue and pink ribbons in
my button-hole and show my decorated bosom to the admiring public, I
am conscious of a certain sense of distinction and superiority in
virtue of that trifling addition to my personal adornments which
reminds me that I too have some embryonic fibres in my tolerably
well-matured organism.

I hope I have not hurt your feelings, if you happen to be a High and
Mighty Grand Functionary in any illustrious Fraternity. When I tell
you that a bit of ribbon in my button-hole sets my vanity prancing, I
think you cannot be grievously offended that I smile at the resonant
titles which make you something more than human in your own eyes. I
would not for the world be mistaken for one of those literary roughs
whose brass knuckles leave their mark on the foreheads of so many
inoffensive people.

There is a human sub-species characterized by the coarseness of its
fibre and the acrid nature of its intellectual secretions. It is to
a certain extent penetrative, as all creatures are which are provided
with stings. It has an instinct which guides it to the vulnerable
parts of the victim on which it fastens. These two qualities give it
a certain degree of power which is not to be despised. It might
perhaps be less mischievous, but for the fact that the wound where it
leaves its poison opens the fountain from which it draws its

Beings of this kind can be useful if they will only find their
appropriate sphere, which is not literature, but that circle of
rough-and-tumble political life where the fine-fibred men are at a
discount, where epithets find their subjects poison-proof, and the
sting which would be fatal to a literary debutant only wakes the
eloquence of the pachydermatous ward-room politician to a fiercer
shriek of declamation.

The Master got talking the other day about the difference between
races and families. I am reminded of what he said by what I have
just been saying myself about coarse-fibred and fine-fibred people.

--We talk about a Yankee, a New-Englander,---he said,-as if all of
'em were just the same kind of animal. "There is knowledge and
knowledge," said John Bunyan. There are Yankees and Yankees. Do you
know two native trees called pitch pine and white pine respectively?
Of course you know 'em. Well, there are pitch-pine Yankees and
white-pine Yankees. We don't talk about the inherited differences of
men quite as freely, perhaps, as they do in the Old World, but
republicanism doesn't alter the laws of physiology. We have a native
aristocracy, a superior race, just as plainly marked by nature as of
a higher and finer grade than the common run of people as the white
pine is marked in its form, its stature, its bark, its delicate
foliage, as belonging to the nobility of the forest; and the pitch
pine, stubbed, rough, coarse-haired, as of the plebeian order. Only
the strange thing is to see in what a capricious way our natural
nobility is distributed. The last born nobleman I have seen, I saw
this morning; he was pulling a rope that was fastened to a Maine
schooner loaded with lumber. I should say he was about twenty years
old, as fine a figure of a young man as you would ask to see, and
with a regular Greek outline of countenance, waving hair, that fell
as if a sculptor had massed it to copy, and a complexion as rich as a
red sunset. I have a notion that the State of Maine breeds the
natural nobility in a larger proportion than some other States, but
they spring up in all sorts of out-of-the-way places. The young
fellow I saw this morning had on an old flannel shirt, a pair of
trowsers that meant hard work, and a cheap cloth cap pushed back on
his head so as to let the large waves of hair straggle out over his
forehead; he was tugging at his rope with the other sailors, but upon
my word I don't think I have seen a young English nobleman of all
those whom I have looked upon that answered to the notion of "blood"
so well as this young fellow did. I suppose if I made such a
levelling confession as this in public, people would think I was
looking towards being the labor-reform candidate for President. But
I should go on and spoil my prospects by saying that I don't think
the white-pine Yankee is the more generally prevailing growth, but
rather the pitch-pine Yankee.

--The Member of the Haouse seemed to have been getting a dim idea
that all this was not exactly flattering to the huckleberry
districts. His features betrayed the growth of this suspicion so
clearly that the Master replied to his look as if it had been a
remark. [I need hardly say that this particular member of the
General Court was a pitch-pine Yankee of the most thoroughly
characterized aspect and flavor.]

--Yes, Sir,--the Master continued,--Sir being anybody that listened,
--there is neither flattery nor offence in the views which a
physiological observer takes of the forms of life around him. It
won't do to draw individual portraits, but the differences of natural
groups of human beings are as proper subjects of remark as those of
different breeds of horses, and if horses were Houyhnhnms I don't
think they would quarrel with us because we made a distinction
between a "Morgan" and a "Messenger." The truth is, Sir, the lean
sandy soil and the droughts and the long winters and the east-winds
and the cold storms, and all sorts of unknown local influences that
we can't make out quite so plainly as these, have a tendency to
roughen the human organization and make it coarse, something as it is
with the tree I mentioned. Some spots and some strains of blood
fight against these influences, but if I should say right out what I
think, it would be that the finest human fruit, on the whole; and
especially the finest women that we get in New England are raised
under glass.

--Good gracious!--exclaimed the Landlady, under glass!

--Give me cowcumbers raised in the open air, said the Capitalist, who
was a little hard of hearing.

--Perhaps,--I remarked,--it might be as well if you would explain
this last expression of yours. Raising human beings under glass I
take to be a metaphorical rather than a literal statement of your

--No, Sir!--replied the Master, with energy,--I mean just what I say,
Sir. Under glass, and with a south exposure. During the hard
season, of course,--for in the heats of summer the tenderest hot-
house plants are not afraid of the open air. Protection is what the
transplanted Aryan requires in this New England climate. Keep him,
and especially keep her, in a wide street of a well-built city eight
months of the year; good solid brick walls behind her, good sheets of
plate-glass, with the sun shining warm through them, in front of her,
and you have put her in the condition of the pine-apple, from the
land of which, and not from that of the other kind of pine, her race
started on its travels. People don't know what a gain there is to
health by living in cities, the best parts of them of course, for we
know too well what the worst parts are. In the first place you get
rid of the noxious emanations which poison so many country localities
with typhoid fever and dysentery, not wholly rid of them, of course,
but to a surprising degree. Let me tell you a doctor's story. I was
visiting a Western city a good many years ago; it was in the autumn,
the time when all sorts of malarious diseases are about. The doctor
I was speaking of took me to see the cemetery just outside the town,
I don't know how much he had done to fill it, for he didn't tell me,
but I'll tell you what he did say.

"Look round," said the doctor. "There isn't a house in all the ten-
mile circuit of country you can see over, where there isn't one
person, at least, shaking with fever and ague. And yet you need n't
be afraid of carrying it away with you, for as long as your home is
on a paved street you are safe."

--I think it likely--the Master went on to say--that my friend the
doctor put it pretty strongly, but there is no doubt at all that
while all the country round was suffering from intermittent fever,
the paved part of the city was comparatively exempted. What do you
do when you build a house on a damp soil, and there are damp soils
pretty much everywhere? Why you floor the cellar with cement, don't
you? Well, the soil of a city is cemented all over, one may say,
with certain qualifications of course. A first-rate city house is a
regular sanatorium. The only trouble is, that the little good-for-
nothings that come of utterly used-up and worn-out stock, and ought
to die, can't die, to save their lives. So they grow up to dilute
the vigor of the race with skim-milk vitality. They would have died,
like good children, in most average country places; but eight months
of shelter in a regulated temperature, in a well-sunned house, in a
duly moistened air, with good sidewalks to go about on in all
weather, and four months of the cream of summer and the fresh milk of
Jersey cows, make the little sham organizations--the worm-eaten wind-
falls, for that 's what they look like--hang on to the boughs of life
like "froze-n-thaws"; regular struldbrugs they come to be, a good
many of 'em.

--The Scarabee's ear was caught by that queer word of Swift's, and he
asked very innocently what kind of bugs he was speaking of, whereupon
That Boy shouted out, Straddlebugs! to his own immense amusement and
the great bewilderment of the Scarabee, who only saw that there was
one of those unintelligible breaks in the conversation which made
other people laugh, and drew back his antennae as usual, perplexed,
but not amused.

I do not believe the Master had said all he was going to say on this
subject, and of course all these statements of his are more or less
one-sided. But that some invalids do much better in cities than in
the country is indisputable, and that the frightful dysenteries and
fevers which have raged like pestilences in many of our country towns
are almost unknown in the better built sections of some of our large
cities is getting to be more generally understood since our well-to-
do people have annually emigrated in such numbers from the cemented
surface of the city to the steaming soil of some of the dangerous
rural districts. If one should contrast the healthiest country
residences with the worst city ones the result would be all the other
way, of course, so that there are two sides to the question, which we
must let the doctors pound in their great mortar, infuse and strain,
hoping that they will present us with the clear solution when they
have got through these processes. One of our chief wants is a
complete sanitary map of every State in the Union.

The balance of our table, as the reader has no doubt observed, has
been deranged by the withdrawal of the Man of Letters, so called, and
only the side of the deficiency changed by the removal of the Young
Astronomer into our neighborhood. The fact that there was a vacant
chair on the side opposite us had by no means escaped the notice of
That Boy. He had taken advantage of his opportunity and invited in a
schoolmate whom he evidently looked upon as a great personage. This
boy or youth was a good deal older than himself and stood to him
apparently in the light of a patron and instructor in the ways of
life. A very jaunty, knowing young gentleman he was, good-looking,
smartly dressed, smooth-checked as yet, curly-haired, with a roguish
eye, a sagacious wink, a ready tongue, as I soon found out; and as I
learned could catch a ball on the fly with any boy of his age; not
quarrelsome, but, if he had to strike, hit from the shoulder; the
pride of his father (who was a man of property and a civic
dignitary), and answering to the name of Johnny.

I was a little surprised at the liberty That Boy had taken in
introducing an extra peptic element at our table, reflecting as I did
that a certain number of avoirdupois ounces of nutriment which the
visitor would dispose of corresponded to a very appreciable pecuniary
amount, so that he was levying a contribution upon our Landlady which
she might be inclined to complain of. For the Caput mortuum (or
deadhead, in vulgar phrase) is apt to be furnished with a Venter
vivus, or, as we may say, a lively appetite. But the Landlady
welcomed the new-comer very heartily.

--Why! how--do--you--do Johnny?! with the notes of interrogation and
of admiration both together, as here represented.

Johnny signified that he was doing about as well as could be expected
under the circumstances, having just had a little difference with a
young person whom he spoke of as "Pewter-jaw" (I suppose he had worn
a dentist's tooth-straightening contrivance during his second
dentition), which youth he had finished off, as he said, in good
shape, but at the expense of a slight epistaxis, we will translate
his vernacular expression.

--The three ladies all looked sympathetic, but there did not seem to
be any great occasion for it, as the boy had come out all right, and
seemed to be in the best of spirits.

-And how is your father and your mother? asked the Landlady.

-Oh, the Governor and the Head Centre? A 1, both of 'em. Prime
order for shipping,--warranted to stand any climate. The Governor
says he weighs a hunderd and seventy-five pounds. Got a chin-tuft
just like Ed'in Forrest. D'd y' ever see Ed'in Forrest play
Metamora? Bully, I tell you! My old gentleman means to be Mayor or
Governor or President or something or other before he goes off the
handle, you'd better b'lieve. He's smart,--and I've heard folks say
I take after him.

--Somehow or other I felt as if I had seen this boy before, or known
something about him. Where did he get those expressions "A 1" and
"prime" and so on? They must have come from somebody who has been in
the retail dry-goods business, or something of that nature. I have
certain vague reminiscences that carry me back to the early times of
this boardinghouse.---Johnny.---Landlady knows his father well.

---Boarded with her, no doubt.---There was somebody by the name of
John, I remember perfectly well, lived with her. I remember both my
friends mentioned him, one of them very often. I wonder if this boy
isn't a son of his! I asked the Landlady after breakfast whether
this was not, as I had suspected, the son of that former boarder.

--To be sure he is,--she answered,--and jest such a good-natur'd sort
of creatur' as his father was. I always liked John, as we used to
call his father. He did love fun, but he was a good soul, and stood
by me when I was in trouble, always. He went into business on his
own account after a while, and got merried, and settled down into a
family man. They tell me he is an amazing smart business man,--grown
wealthy, and his wife's father left her money. But I can't help
calling him John,--law, we never thought of calling him anything
else, and he always laughs and says, "That's right." This is his
oldest son, and everybody calls him Johnny. That Boy of ours goes to
the same school with his boy, and thinks there never was anybody like
him,--you see there was a boy undertook to impose on our boy, and
Johnny gave the other boy a good licking, and ever since that he is
always wanting to have Johnny round with him and bring him here with
him,--and when those two boys get together, there never was boys that
was so chock full of fun and sometimes mischief, but not very bad
mischief, as those two boys be. But I like to have him come once in
a while when there is room at the table, as there is now, for it puts
me in mind of the old times, when my old boarders was all round me,
that I used to think so much of,--not that my boarders that I have
now a'nt very nice people, but I did think a dreadful sight of the
gentleman that made that first book; it helped me on in the world
more than ever he knew of,--for it was as good as one of them
Brandreth's pills advertisements, and did n't cost me a cent, and
that young lady he merried too, she was nothing but a poor young
schoolma'am when she come to my house, and now--and she deserved it
all too; for she was always just the same, rich or poor, and she is
n't a bit prouder now she wears a camel's-hair shawl, than she was
when I used to lend her a woollen one to keep her poor dear little
shoulders warm when she had to go out and it was storming,--and then
there was that old gentleman,--I can't speak about him, for I never
knew how good he was till his will was opened, and then it was too
late to thank him....

I respected the feeling which caused the interval of silence, and
found my own eyes moistened as I remembered how long it was since
that friend of ours was sitting in the chair where I now sit, and
what a tidal wave of change has swept over the world and more
especially over this great land of ours, since he opened his lips and
found so many kind listeners.

The Young Astronomer has read us another extract from his manuscript.
I ran my eye over it, and so far as I have noticed it is correct
enough in its versification. I suppose we are getting gradually over
our hemispherical provincialism, which allowed a set of monks to pull
their hoods over our eyes and tell us there was no meaning in any
religious symbolism but our own. If I am mistaken about this advance
I am very glad to print the young man's somewhat outspoken lines to
help us in that direction.



The time is racked with birth-pangs; every hour
Brings forth some gasping truth, and truth new-born
Looks a misshapen and untimely growth,
The terror of the household and its shame,
A monster coiling in its nurse's lap
That some would strangle, some would only starve;
But still it breathes, and passed from hand to hand,
And suckled at a hundred half-clad breasts,
Comes slowly to its stature and its form,
Calms the rough ridges of its dragon-scales,
Changes to shining locks its snaky hair,
And moves transfigured into angel guise,
Welcomed by all that cursed its hour of birth,
And folded in the same encircling arms
That cast it like a serpent from their hold!

If thou wouldst live in honor, die in peace,
Have the fine words the marble-workers learn
To carve so well, upon thy funeral-stone,
And earn a fair obituary, dressed
In all the many-colored robes of praise,
Be deafer than the adder to the cry
Of that same foundling truth, until it grows
To seemly favor, and at length has won
The smiles of hard-mouthed men and light-upped dames,
Then snatch it from its meagre nurse's breast,
Fold it in silk and give it food from gold;
So shalt thou share its glory when at last
It drops its mortal vesture, and revealed
In all the splendor of its heavenly form,
Spreads on the startled air its mighty wings!

Alas! how much that seemed immortal truth
That heroes fought for, martyrs died to save,
Reveals its earth-born lineage, growing old
And limping in its march, its wings unplumed,
Its heavenly semblance faded like a dream!

Here in this painted casket, just unsealed,
Lies what was once a breathing shape like thine,
Once loved as thou art loved; there beamed the eyes
That looked on Memphis in its hour of pride,
That saw the walls of hundred-gated Thebes,
And all the mirrored glories of the Nile.
See how they toiled that all-consuming time
Might leave the frame immortal in its tomb;
Filled it with fragrant balms and odorous gums
That still diffuse their sweetness through the air,
And wound and wound with patient fold on fold
The flaxen bands thy hand has rudely torn!
Perchance thou yet canst see the faded stain
Of the sad mourner's tear.

But what is this?
The sacred beetle, bound upon the breast
Of the blind heathen! Snatch the curious prize,
Give it a place among thy treasured spoils
Fossil and relic,--corals, encrinites,
The fly in amber and the fish in stone,
The twisted circlet of Etruscan gold,
Medal, intaglio, poniard, poison-ring,--
Place for the Memphian beetle with thine hoard!

Ah! longer than thy creed has blest the world
This toy, thus ravished from thy brother's breast,
Was to the heart of Mizraim as divine,
As holy, as the symbol that we lay
On the still bosom of our white-robed dead,
And raise above their dust that all may know
Here sleeps an heir of glory. Loving friends,
With tears of trembling faith and choking sobs,
And prayers to those who judge of mortal deeds,
Wrapped this poor image in the cerement's fold
That Isis and Osiris, friends of man,
Might know their own and claim the ransomed soul

An idol? Man was born to worship such!
An idol is an image of his thought;
Sometimes he carves it out of gleaming stone,
And sometimes moulds it out of glittering gold,
Or rounds it in a mighty frescoed dome,
Or lifts it heavenward in a lofty spire,
Or shapes it in a cunning frame of words,
Or pays his priest to make it day by day;
For sense must have its god as well as soul;
A new-born Dian calls for silver shrines,
And Egypt's holiest symbol is our own,
The sign we worship as did they of old
When Isis and Osiris ruled the world.

Let us be true to our most subtle selves,
We long to have our idols like the rest.
Think! when the men of Israel had their God
Encamped among them, talking with their chief,
Leading them in the pillar of the cloud
And watching o'er them in the shaft of fire,
They still must have an image; still they longed
For somewhat of substantial, solid form
Whereon to hang their garlands, and to fix
Their wandering thoughts, and gain a stronger hold
For their uncertain faith, not yet assured
If those same meteors of the day and night
Were not mere exhalations of the soil.

Are we less earthly than the chosen race?
Are we more neighbors of the living God
Than they who gathered manna every morn,
Reaping where none had sown, and heard the voice
Of him who met the Highest in the mount,
And brought them tables, graven with His hand?
Yet these must have their idol, brought their gold,
That star-browed Apis might be god again;
Yea, from their ears the women brake the rings
That lent such splendors to the gypsy brown
Of sunburnt cheeks,--what more could woman do
To show her pious zeal? They went astray,
But nature led them as it leads us all.

We too, who mock at Israel's golden calf
And scoff at Egypt's sacred scarabee,
Would have our amulets to clasp and kiss,
And flood with rapturous tears, and bear with us
To be our dear companions in the dust,
Such magic works an image in our souls!

Man is an embryo; see at twenty years
His bones, the columns that uphold his frame
Not yet cemented, shaft and capital,
Mere fragments of the temple incomplete.
At twoscore, threescore, is he then full grown?
Nay, still a child, and as the little maids
Dress and undress their puppets, so he tries
To dress a lifeless creed, as if it lived,
And change its raiment when the world cries shame!
We smile to see our little ones at play
So grave, so thoughtful, with maternal care
Nursing the wisps of rags they call their babes;
Does He not smile who sees us with the toys
We call by sacred names, and idly feign
To be what we have called them?
He is still The Father of this helpless nursery-brood,
Whose second childhood joins so close its first,
That in the crowding, hurrying years between
We scarce have trained our senses to their task
Before the gathering mist has dimmed our eyes,
And with our hollowed palm we help our ear,
And trace with trembling hand our wrinkled names,
And then begin to tell our stories o'er,
And see--not hear-the whispering lips that say,
"You know--? Your father knew him.--This is he,
Tottering and leaning on the hireling's arm,--"
And so, at length, disrobed of all that clad
The simple life we share with weed and worm,
Go to our cradles, naked as we came.


I suppose there would have been even more remarks upon the growing
intimacy of the Young Astronomer and his pupil, if the curiosity of
the boarders had not in the mean time been so much excited at the
apparently close relation which had sprung up between the Register of
Deeds and the Lady. It was really hard to tell what to make of it.
The Register appeared at the table in a new coat. Suspicious. The
Lady was evidently deeply interested in him, if we could judge by the
frequency and the length of their interviews. On at least one
occasion he has brought a lawyer with him, which naturally suggested
the idea that there were some property arrangements to be attended
to, in case, as seems probable against all reasons to the contrary,
these two estimable persons, so utterly unfitted, as one would say,
to each other, contemplated an alliance. It is no pleasure to me to
record an arrangement of this kind. I frankly confess I do not know
what to make of it. With her tastes and breeding, it is the last
thing that I should have thought of,--her uniting herself with this
most commonplace and mechanical person, who cannot even offer her the
elegances and luxuries to which she might seem entitled on changing
her condition.

While I was thus interested and puzzled I received an unexpected
visit from our Landlady. She was evidently excited, and by some
event which was of a happy nature, for her countenance was beaming
and she seemed impatient to communicate what she had to tell.
Impatient or not, she must wait a moment, while I say a word about
her. Our Landlady is as good a creature as ever lived. She is a
little negligent of grammar at times, and will get a wrong word now
and then; she is garrulous, circumstantial, associates facts by their
accidental cohesion rather than by their vital affinities, is given
to choking and tears on slight occasions, but she has a warm heart,
and feels to her boarders as if they were her blood-relations.
She began her conversation abruptly.--I expect I'm a going to lose
one of my boarders,--she said.

--You don't seem very unhappy about it, madam,--I answered.---We all
took it easily when the person who sat on our side of the table
quitted us in such a hurry, but I do not think there is anybody left
that either you or the boarders want to get rid of--unless it is
myself,--I added modestly.

--You! said the Landlady--you! No indeed. When I have a quiet
boarder that 's a small eater, I don't want to lose him. You don't
make trouble, you don't find fault with your vit--[Dr. Benjamin had
schooled his parent on this point and she altered the word] with your
food, and you know when you 've had enough.

--I really felt proud of this eulogy, which embraces the most
desirable excellences of a human being in the capacity of boarder.

The Landlady began again.--I'm going to lose--at least, I suppose I
shall--one of the best boarders I ever had,--that Lady that's been
with me so long.

--I thought there was something going on between her and the
Register,--I said.

--Something! I should think there was! About three months ago he
began making her acquaintance. I thought there was something
particular. I did n't quite like to watch 'em very close; but I
could n't help overbearing some of the things he said to her, for,
you see, he used to follow her up into the parlor, they talked pretty
low, but I could catch a word now and then. I heard him say
something to her one day about "bettering her condition," and she
seemed to be thinking very hard about it, and turning of it over in
her mind, and I said to myself, She does n't want to take up with
him, but she feels dreadful poor, and perhaps he has been saving and
has got money in the bank, and she does n't want to throw away a
chance of bettering herself without thinking it over. But dear me,--
says I to myself,--to think of her walking up the broad aisle into
meeting alongside of such a homely, rusty-looking creatur' as that!
But there 's no telling what folks will do when poverty has got hold
of 'em.

--Well, so I thought she was waiting to make up her mind, and he was
hanging on in hopes she'd come round at last, as women do half the
time, for they don't know their own minds and the wind blows both
ways at once with 'em as the smoke blows out of the tall chimlies,--
east out of this one and west out of that,--so it's no use looking at
'em to know what the weather is.

--But yesterday she comes up to me after breakfast, and asks me to go
up with her into her little room. Now, says I to myself, I shall
hear all about it. I saw she looked as if she'd got some of her
trouble off her mind, and I guessed that it was settled, and so, says
I to myself, I must wish her joy and hope it's all for the best,
whatever I think about it.

--Well, she asked me to set down, and then she begun. She said that
she was expecting to have a change in her condition of life, and had
asked me up so that I might' have the first news of it. I am sure--
says I--I wish you both joy. Merriage is a blessed thing when folks
is well sorted, and it is an honorable thing, and the first meracle
was at the merriage in Canaan. It brings a great sight of happiness
with it, as I've had a chance of knowing, for my hus

The Landlady showed her usual tendency to "break" from the
conversational pace just at this point, but managed to rein in the
rebellious diaphragm, and resumed her narrative.

--Merriage!--says she,--pray who has said anything about merriage?
--I beg your pardon, ma'am,--says I,--I thought you had spoke of
changing your condition and I--She looked so I stopped right short.

-Don't say another word, says she, but jest listen to what I am going
to tell you.

--My friend, says she, that you have seen with me so often lately,
was hunting among his old Record books, when all at once he come
across an old deed that was made by somebody that had my family name.
He took it into his head to read it over, and he found there was some
kind of a condition that if it was n't kept, the property would all
go back to them that was the heirs of the one that gave the deed, and
that he found out was me. Something or other put it into his head,
says she, that the company that owned the property--it was ever so
rich a company and owned land all round everywhere--hadn't kept to
the conditions. So he went to work, says she, and hunted through his
books and he inquired all round, and he found out pretty much all
about it, and at last he come to me--it 's my boarder, you know, that
says all this--and says he, Ma'am, says he, if you have any kind of
fancy for being a rich woman you've only got to say so. I didn't
know what he meant, and I began to think, says she, he must be crazy.
But he explained it all to me, how I'd nothing to do but go to court
and I could get a sight of property back. Well, so she went on
telling me--there was ever so much more that I suppose was all plain
enough, but I don't remember it all--only I know my boarder was a
good deal worried at first at the thought of taking money that other
people thought was theirs, and the Register he had to talk to her,
and he brought a lawyer and he talked to her, and her friends they
talked to her, and the upshot of it all was that the company agreed
to settle the business by paying her, well, I don't know just how
much, but enough to make her one of the rich folks again.

I may as well add here that, as I have since learned, this is one of
the most important cases of releasing right of reentry for condition
broken which has been settled by arbitration for a considerable
period. If I am not mistaken the Register of Deeds will get
something more than a new coat out of this business, for the Lady
very justly attributes her change of fortunes to his sagacity and his
activity in following up the hint he had come across by mere

So my supernumerary fellow-boarder, whom I would have dispensed with
as a cumberer of the table, has proved a ministering angel to one of
the personages whom I most cared for.

One would have thought that the most scrupulous person need not have
hesitated in asserting an unquestioned legal and equitable claim
simply because it had lain a certain number of years in abeyance.
But before the Lady could make up her mind to accept her good fortune
she had been kept awake many nights in doubt and inward debate
whether she should avail herself of her rights. If it had been
private property, so that another person must be made poor that she
should become rich, she would have lived and died in want rather than
claim her own. I do not think any of us would like to turn out the
possessor of a fine estate enjoyed for two or three generations on
the faith of unquestioned ownership by making use of some old
forgotten instrument, which accident had thrown in our way.

But it was all nonsense to indulge in any sentiment in a case like
this, where it was not only a right, but a duty which she owed
herself and others in relation with her, to accept what Providence,
as it appeared, had thrust upon her, and when no suffering would be
occasioned to anybody. Common sense told her not to refuse it. So
did several of her rich friends, who remembered about this time that
they had not called upon her for a good while, and among them Mrs.
Midas Goldenrod.

Never had that lady's carriage stood before the door of our boarding-
house so long, never had it stopped so often, as since the revelation
which had come from the Registry of Deeds. Mrs. Midas Goldenrod was
not a bad woman, but she loved and hated in too exclusive and
fastidious a way to allow us to consider her as representing the
highest ideal of womanhood. She hated narrow ill-ventilated courts,
where there was nothing to see if one looked out of the window but
old men in dressing-gowns and old women in caps; she hated little
dark rooms with air-tight stoves in them; she hated rusty bombazine
gowns and last year's bonnets; she hated gloves that were not as
fresh as new-laid eggs, and shoes that had grown bulgy and wrinkled
in service; she hated common crockeryware and teaspoons of slight
constitution; she hated second appearances on the dinner-table; she
hated coarse napkins and table-cloths; she hated to ride in the
horsecars; she hated to walk except for short distances, when she was
tired of sitting in her carriage. She loved with sincere and
undisguised affection a spacious city mansion and a charming country
villa, with a seaside cottage for a couple of months or so; she loved
a perfectly appointed household, a cook who was up to all kinds of
salmis and vol-au-vents, a French maid, and a stylish-looking
coachman, and the rest of the people necessary to help one live in a
decent manner; she loved pictures that other people said were first-
rate, and which had at least cost first-rate prices; she loved books
with handsome backs, in showy cases; she loved heavy and richly
wought plate; fine linen and plenty of it; dresses from Paris
frequently, and as many as could be got in without troubling the
customhouse; Russia sables and Venetian point-lace; diamonds, and
good big ones; and, speaking generally, she loved dear things in
distinction from cheap ones, the real article and not the economical

For the life of me I cannot see anything Satanic in all this. Tell
me, Beloved, only between ourselves, if some of these things are not
desirable enough in their way, and if you and I could not make up our
minds to put up with some of the least objectionable of them without
any great inward struggle? Even in the matter of ornaments there is
something to be said. Why should we be told that the New Jerusalem
is paved with gold, and that its twelve gates are each of them a
pearl, and that its foundations are garnished with sapphires and
emeralds and all manner of precious stones, if these are not among
the most desirable of objects? And is there anything very strange in
the fact that many a daughter of earth finds it a sweet foretaste of
heaven to wear about her frail earthly tabernacle these glittering
reminders of the celestial city?

Mrs. Midas Goldenrod was not so entirely peculiar and anomalous in
her likes and dislikes; the only trouble was that she mixed up these
accidents of life too much with life itself, which is so often
serenely or actively noble and happy without reference to them. She
valued persons chiefly according to their external conditions, and of
course the very moment her relative, the Lady of our breakfast-table,
began to find herself in a streak of sunshine she came forward with a
lighted candle to show her which way her path lay before her.

The Lady saw all this, how plainly, how painfully! yet she exercised
a true charity for the weakness of her relative. Sensible people
have as much consideration for the frailties of the rich as for those
of the poor. There is a good deal of excuse for them. Even you and
I, philosophers and philanthropists as we may think ourselves, have a
dislike for the enforced economies, proper and honorable though they
certainly are, of those who are two or three degrees below us in the
scale of agreeable living.

--These are very worthy persons you have been living with, my dear,--
said Mrs. Midas--[the "My dear" was an expression which had flowered
out more luxuriantly than ever before in the new streak of sunshine]
--eminently respectable parties, I have no question, but then we
shall want you to move as soon as possible to our quarter of the
town, where we can see more of you than we have been able to in this
queer place.

It was not very pleasant to listen to this kind of talk, but the Lady
remembered her annual bouquet, and her occasional visits from the
rich lady, and restrained the inclination to remind her of the humble
sphere from which she herself, the rich and patronizing personage,
had worked her way up (if it was up) into that world which she seemed
to think was the only one where a human being could find life worth
having. Her cheek flushed a little, however, as she said to Mrs.
Midas that she felt attached to the place where she had been living
so long. She doubted, she was pleased to say, whether she should
find better company in any circle she was like to move in than she
left behind her at our boarding-house. I give the old Master the
credit of this compliment. If one does not agree with half of what
he says, at any rate he always has something to say, and entertains
and lets out opinions and whims and notions of one kind and another
that one can quarrel with if he is out of humor, or carry away to
think about if he happens to be in the receptive mood.

But the Lady expressed still more strongly the regret she should feel
at leaving her young friend, our Scheherezade. I cannot wonder at
this. The Young Girl has lost what little playfulness she had in the
earlier months of my acquaintance with her. I often read her stories
partly from my interest in her, and partly because I find merit
enough in them to deserve something, better than the rough handling
they got from her coarse-fibred critic, whoever he was. I see
evidence that her thoughts are wandering from her task, that she has
fits of melancholy, and bursts of tremulous excitement, and that she
has as much as she can do to keep herself at all to her stated,
inevitable, and sometimes almost despairing literary labor. I have
had some acquaintance with vital phenomena of this kind, and know
something of the nervous nature of young women and its "magnetic
storms," if I may borrow an expression from the physicists, to
indicate the perturbations to which they are liable. She is more in
need of friendship and counsel now than ever before, it seems to me,
and I cannot bear to think that the Lady, who has become like a
mother to her, is to leave her to her own guidance.

It is plain enough what is at the bottom of this disturbance. The
astronomical lessons she has been taking have become interesting
enough to absorb too much of her thoughts, and she finds them
wandering to the stars or elsewhere, when they should be working
quietly in the editor's harness.

The Landlady has her own views on this matter which she communicated
to me something as follows:

--I don't quite like to tell folks what a lucky place my boarding-
house is, for fear I should have all sorts of people crowding in to
be my boarders for the sake of their chances. Folks come here poor
and they go away rich. Young women come here without a friend in the
world, and the next thing that happens is a gentleman steps up to 'em
and says, "If you'll take me for your pardner for life, I'll give you
a good home and love you ever so much besides"; and off goes my young
lady-boarder into a fine three-story house, as grand as the
governor's wife, with everything to make her comfortable, and a
husband to care for her into the bargain. That's the way it is with
the young ladies that comes to board with me, ever since the
gentleman that wrote the first book that advertised my establishment
(and never charged me a cent for it neither) merried the Schoolma'am.
And I think but that's between you and me--that it 's going to be the
same thing right over again between that young gentleman and this
young girl here--if she doos n't kill herself with writing for them
news papers,--it 's too bad they don't pay her more for writing her
stories, for I read one of 'em that made me cry so the Doctor--my
Doctor Benjamin--said, "Ma, what makes your eyes look so?" and wanted
to rig a machine up and look at 'em, but I told him what the matter
was, and that he needn't fix up his peeking contrivances on my
account,--anyhow she's a nice young woman as ever lived, and as
industrious with that pen of hers as if she was at work with a
sewing-machine,--and there ain't much difference, for that matter,
between sewing on shirts and writing on stories,--one way you work
with your foot, and the other way you work with your fingers, but I
rather guess there's more headache in the stories than there is in
the stitches, because you don't have to think quite so hard while
your foot's going as you do when your fingers is at work, scratch,
scratch, scratch, scribble, scribble, scribble.

It occurred to me that this last suggestion of the Landlady was worth
considering by the soft-handed, broadcloth-clad spouters to the
laboring classes,--so called in distinction from the idle people who
only contrive the machinery and discover the processes and lay out
the work and draw the charts and organize the various movements which
keep the world going and make it tolerable. The organ-blower works
harder with his muscles, for that matter, than the organ player, and
may perhaps be exasperated into thinking himself a downtrodden martyr
because he does not receive the same pay for his services.

I will not pretend that it needed the Landlady's sagacious guess
about the Young Astronomer and his pupil to open my eyes to certain
possibilities, if not probabilities, in that direction. Our
Scheherezade kept on writing her stories according to agreement, so
many pages for so many dollars, but some of her readers began to
complain that they could not always follow her quite so well as in
her earlier efforts. It seemed as if she must have fits of absence.
In one instance her heroine began as a blonde and finished as a
brunette; not in consequence of the use of any cosmetic, but through
simple inadvertence. At last it happened in one of her stories that
a prominent character who had been killed in an early page, not
equivocally, but mortally, definitively killed, done for, and
disposed of, reappeared as if nothing had happened towards the close
of her narrative. Her mind was on something else, and she had got
two stories mixed up and sent her manuscript without having looked it
over. She told this mishap to the Lady, as something she was
dreadfully ashamed of and could not possibly account for. It had
cost her a sharp note from the publisher, and would be as good as a
dinner to some half-starved Bohemian of the critical press.

The Lady listened to all this very thoughtfully, looking at her with
great tenderness, and said, "My poor child!" Not another word then,
but her silence meant a good deal.

When a man holds his tongue it does not signify much. But when a
woman dispenses with the office of that mighty member, when she
sheathes her natural weapon at a trying moment, it means that she
trusts to still more formidable enginery; to tears it may be, a
solvent more powerful than that with which Hannibal softened the
Alpine rocks, or to the heaving bosom, the sight of which has subdued
so many stout natures, or, it may be, to a sympathizing, quieting
look which says "Peace, be still!" to the winds and waves of the
little inland ocean, in a language that means more than speech.

While these matters were going on the Master and I had many talks on
many subjects. He had found me a pretty good listener, for I had
learned that the best way of getting at what was worth having from
him was to wind him up with a question and let him run down all of
himself. It is easy to turn a good talker into an insufferable bore
by contradicting him, and putting questions for him to stumble over,
--that is, if he is not a bore already, as "good talkers" are apt to
be, except now and then.

We had been discussing some knotty points one morning when he said
all at once:

--Come into my library with me. I want to read you some new passages
from an interleaved copy of my book. You haven't read the printed
part yet. I gave you a copy of it, but nobody reads a book that is
given to him. Of course not. Nobody but a fool expects him to. He
reads a little in it here and there, perhaps, and he cuts all the
leaves if he cares enough about the writer, who will be sure to call
on him some day, and if he is left alone in his library for five
minutes will have hunted every corner of it until he has found the
book he sent,--if it is to be found at all, which does n't always
happen, if there's a penal colony anywhere in a garret or closet for
typographical offenders and vagrants.

--What do you do when you receive a book you don't want, from the
author?--said I.

--Give him a good-natured adjective or two if I can, and thank him,
and tell him I am lying under a sense of obligation to him.

--That is as good an excuse for lying as almost any,--I said.

--Yes, but look out for the fellows that send you a copy of their
book to trap you into writing a bookseller's advertisement for it. I
got caught so once, and never heard the end of it and never shall
hear it.---He took down an elegantly bound volume, on opening which
appeared a flourishing and eminently flattering dedication to
himself.---There,--said he, what could I do less than acknowledge
such a compliment in polite terms, and hope and expect the book would
prove successful, and so forth and so forth? Well, I get a letter
every few months from some new locality where the man that made that
book is covering the fences with his placards, asking me whether I
wrote that letter which he keeps in stereotype and has kept so any
time these dozen or fifteen years. Animus tuus oculus, as the
freshmen used to say. If her Majesty, the Queen of England, sends
you a copy of her "Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the
Highlands," be sure you mark your letter of thanks for it Private!

We had got comfortably seated in his library in the mean time, and
the Master had taken up his book. I noticed that every other page
was left blank, and that he had written in a good deal of new matter.

--I tell you what,--he said,--there 's so much intelligence about
nowadays in books and newspapers and talk that it's mighty hard to
write without getting something or other worth listening to into your
essay or your volume. The foolishest book is a kind of leaky boat on
a sea of wisdom; some of the wisdom will get in anyhow. Every now
and then I find something in my book that seems so good to me, I
can't help thinking it must have leaked in. I suppose other people
discover that it came through a leak, full as soon as I do. You must
write a book or two to find out how much and how little you know and
have to say. Then you must read some notices of it by somebody that
loves you and one or two by somebody that hates you. You 'll find
yourself a very odd piece of property after you 've been through
these experiences. They 're trying to the constitution; I'm always
glad to hear that a friend is as well as can be expected after he 's
had a book.

You must n't think there are no better things in these pages of mine
than the ones I'm going to read you, but you may come across
something here that I forgot to say when we were talking over these

He began, reading from the manuscript portion of his book:

--We find it hard to get and to keep any private property in thought.
Other people are all the time saying the same things we are hoarding
to say when we get ready. [He looked up from his book just here and
said, "Don't be afraid, I am not going to quote Pereant."] One of our
old boarders--the one that called himself "The Professor" I think it
was--said some pretty audacious things about what he called
"pathological piety," as I remember, in one of his papers. And here
comes along Mr. Galton, and shows in detail from religious
biographies that "there is a frequent correlation between an
unusually devout disposition and a weak constitution." Neither of
them appeared to know that John Bunyan had got at the same fact long
before them. He tells us, "The more healthy the lusty man is, the
more prone he is unto evil." If the converse is true, no wonder that
good people, according to Bunyan, are always in trouble and terror,
for he says,

"A Christian man is never long at ease;
When one fright is gone, another doth him seize."

If invalidism and the nervous timidity which is apt to go with it are
elements of spiritual superiority, it follows that pathology and
toxicology should form a most important part of a theological
education, so that a divine might know how to keep a parish in a
state of chronic bad health in order that it might be virtuous.

It is a great mistake to think that a man's religion is going to rid
him of his natural qualities. "Bishop Hall" (as you may remember to
have seen quoted elsewhere) "prefers Nature before Grace in the
Election of a wife, because, saith he, it will be a hard Task, where
the Nature is peevish and froward, for Grace to make an entire
conquest while Life lasteth."

"Nature" and "Grace" have been contrasted with each other in a way
not very respectful to the Divine omnipotence. Kings and queens
reign "by the Grace of God," but a sweet, docile, pious disposition,
such as is born in some children and grows up with them,--that
congenital gift which good Bishop Hall would look for in a wife,--is
attributed to "Nature." In fact "Nature" and "Grace," as handled by
the scholastics, are nothing more nor less than two hostile
Divinities in the Pantheon of post-classical polytheism.

What is the secret of the profound interest which "Darwinism" has
excited in the minds and hearts of more persons than dare to confess
their doubts and hopes? It is because it restores "Nature" to its
place as a true divine manifestation. It is that it removes the
traditional curse from that helpless infant lying in its mother's
arms. It is that it lifts from the shoulders of man the
responsibility for the fact of death. It is that, if it is true,
woman can no longer be taunted with having brought down on herself
the pangs which make her sex a martyrdom. If development upward is
the general law of the race; if we have grown by natural evolution
out of the cave-man, and even less human forms of life, we have
everything to hope from the future. That the question can be
discussed without offence shows that we are entering on a new era, a
Revival greater than that of Letters, the Revival of Humanity.

The prevalent view of "Nature" has been akin to that which long
reigned with reference to disease. This used to be considered as a
distinct entity apart from the processes of life, of which it is one
of the manifestations. It was a kind of demon to be attacked with
things of odious taste and smell; to be fumigated out of the system
as the evil spirit was driven from the bridal-chamber in the story of
Tobit. The Doctor of earlier days, even as I can remember him, used
to exorcise the demon of disease with recipes of odor as potent as
that of the angel's diabolifuge,--the smoke from a fish's heart and
liver, duly burned,--"the which smell when the evil spirit had
smelled he fled into the uttermost parts of Egypt." The very moment
that disease passes into the category of vital processes, and is
recognized as an occurrence absolutely necessary, inevitable, and as
one may say, normal under certain given conditions of constitution
and circumstance, the medicine-man loses his half-miraculous
endowments. The mythical serpent is untwined from the staff of
Esculapius, which thenceforth becomes a useful walking-stick, and
does not pretend to be anything more.

Sin, like disease, is a vital process. It is a function, and not an
entity. It must be studied as a section of anthropology. No
preconceived idea must be allowed to interfere with our investigation
of the deranged spiritual function, any more than the old ideas of
demoniacal possession must be allowed to interfere with our study of
epilepsy. Spiritual pathology is a proper subject for direct
observation and analysis, like any other subject involving a series
of living actions.

In these living actions everything is progressive. There are sudden
changes of character in what is called "conversion" which, at first,
hardly seem to come into line with the common laws of evolution. But
these changes have been long preparing, and it is just as much in the
order of nature that certain characters should burst all at once from
the rule of evil propensities, as it is that the evening primrose
should explode, as it were, into bloom with audible sound, as you may
read in Keats's Endymion, or observe in your own garden.

There is a continual tendency in men to fence in themselves and a few
of their neighbors who agree with them in their ideas, as if they
were an exception to their race. We must not allow any creed or
religion whatsoever to confiscate to its own private use and benefit
the virtues which belong to our common humanity. The Good Samaritan
helped his wounded neighbor simply because he was a suffering fellow-
creature. Do you think your charitable act is more acceptable than
the Good Samaritan's, because you do it in the name of Him who made
the memory of that kind man immortal? Do you mean that you would not
give the cup of cold water for the sake simply and solely of the
poor, suffering fellow-mortal, as willingly as you now do, professing
to give it for the sake of Him who is not thirsty or in need of any
help of yours? We must ask questions like this, if we are to claim
for our common nature what belongs to it.

The scientific study of man is the most difficult of all branches of
knowledge. It requires, in the first place, an entire new
terminology to get rid of that enormous load of prejudices with which
every term applied to the malformations, the functional disturbances,
and the organic diseases of the moral nature is at present burdened.
Take that one word Sin, for instance: all those who have studied the
subject from nature and not from books know perfectly well that a
certain fraction of what is so called is nothing more or less than a
symptom of hysteria; that another fraction is the index of a limited
degree of insanity; that still another is the result of a congenital
tendency which removes the act we sit in judgment upon from the
sphere of self-determination, if not entirely, at least to such an
extent that the subject of the tendency cannot be judged by any
normal standard.

To study nature without fear is possible, but without reproach,
impossible. The man who worships in the temple of knowledge must
carry his arms with him as our Puritan fathers had to do when they
gathered in their first rude meeting-houses. It is a fearful thing
to meddle with the ark which holds the mysteries of creation. I
remember that when I was a child the tradition was whispered round
among us little folks that if we tried to count the stars we should
drop down dead. Nevertheless, the stars have been counted and the
astronomer has survived. This nursery legend is the child's version
of those superstitions which would have strangled in their cradles
the young sciences now adolescent and able to take care of
themselves, and which, no longer daring to attack these, are watching
with hostile aspect the rapid growth of the comparatively new science
of man.

The real difficulty of the student of nature at this time is to
reconcile absolute freedom and perfect fearlessness with that respect
for the past, that reverence, for the spirit of reverence wherever we
find it, that tenderness for the weakest fibres by which the hearts
of our fellow-creatures hold to their religious convictions, which
will make the transition from old belief to a larger light and
liberty an interstitial change and not a violent mutilation.

I remember once going into a little church in a small village some
miles from a great European capital. The special object of adoration
in this humblest of places of worship was a bambino, a holy infant,
done in wax, and covered with cheap ornaments such as a little girl
would like to beautify her doll with. Many a good Protestant of the
old Puritan type would have felt a strong impulse to seize this
"idolatrous" figure and dash it to pieces on the stone floor of the
little church. But one must have lived awhile among simple-minded
pious Catholics to know what this poor waxen image and the whole
baby-house of bambinos mean for a humble, unlettered, unimaginative
peasantry. He will find that the true office of this eidolon is to
fix the mind of the worshipper, and that in virtue of the devotional
thoughts it has called forth so often for so many years in the mind
of that poor old woman who is kneeling before it, it is no longer a
wax doll for her, but has undergone a transubstantiation quite as
real as that of the Eucharist. The moral is that we must not roughly
smash other people's idols because we know, or think we know, that
they are of cheap human manufacture.

--Do you think cheap manufactures encourage idleness?--said I.

The Master stared. Well he might, for I had been getting a little
drowsy, and wishing to show that I had been awake and attentive,
asked a question suggested by some words I had caught, but which
showed that I had not been taking the slightest idea from what he was
reading me. He stared, shook his head slowly, smiled good-humoredly,
took off his great round spectacles, and shut up his book.

--Sat prates biberunt,--he said. A sick man that gets talking about
himself, a woman that gets talking about her baby, and an author that
begins reading out of his own book, never know when to stop. You'll
think of some of these things you've been getting half asleep over by
and by. I don't want you to believe anything I say; I only want you
to try to see what makes me believe it.

My young friend, the Astronomer, has, I suspect, been making some
addition to his manuscript. At any rate some of the lines he read us
in the afternoon of this same day had never enjoyed the benefit of my
revision, and I think they had but just been written. I noticed that
his manner was somewhat more excited than usual, and his voice just
towards the close a little tremulous. Perhaps I may attribute his
improvement to the effect of my criticisms, but whatever the reason,
I think these lines are very nearly as correct as they would have
been if I had looked them over.



What if a soul redeemed, a spirit that loved
While yet on earth and was beloved in turn,
And still remembered every look and tone
Of that dear earthly sister who was left
Among the unwise virgins at the gate,
Itself admitted with the bridegroom's train,
What if this spirit redeemed, amid the host
Of chanting angels, in some transient lull
Of the eternal anthem, heard the cry
Of its lost darling, whom in evil hour
Some wilder pulse of nature led astray
And left an outcast in a world of fire,
Condemned to be the sport of cruel fiends,
Sleepless, unpitying, masters of the skill
To wring the maddest ecstasies of pain
From worn-out souls that only ask to die,
Would it not long to leave the bliss of Heaven,
Bearing a little water in its hand
To moisten those poor lips that plead in vain
With Him we call our Father? Or is all
So changed in such as taste celestial joy
They hear unmoved the endless wail of woe,
The daughter in the same dear tones that hushed
Her cradled slumbers; she who once had held
A babe upon her bosom from its voice
Hoarse with its cry of anguish, yet the same?

No! not in ages when the Dreadful Bird
Stamped his huge footprints, and the Fearful Beast
Strode with the flesh about those fossil bones
We build to mimic life with pygmy hands,
Not in those earliest days when men ran wild
And gashed each other with their knives of stone,
When their low foreheads bulged in ridgy brows
And their flat hands were callous in the palm
With walking in the fashion of their sires,
Grope as they might to find a cruel god
To work their will on such as human wrath
Had wrought its worst to torture, and had left
With rage unsated, white and stark and cold,
Could hate have shaped a demon more malign
Than him the dead men mummied in their creed
And taught their trembling children to adore!
Made in his image! Sweet and gracious souls
Dear to my heart by nature's fondest names,
Is not your memory still the precious mould
That lends its form to Him who hears my prayer?
Thus only I behold him, like to them,
Long-suffering, gentle, ever slow to wrath,
If wrath it be that only wounds to heal,
Ready to meet the wanderer ere he reach
The door he seeks, forgetful of his sin,
Longing to clasp him in a father's arms,
And seal his pardon with a pitying tear!

Four gospels tell their story to mankind,
And none so full of soft, caressing words
That bring the Maid of Bethlehem and her Babe
Before our tear-dimmed eyes, as his who learned
In the meek service of his gracious art
The tones which like the medicinal balms
That calm the sufferer's anguish, soothe our souls.
--Oh that the loving woman, she who sat
So long a listener at her Master's feet,
Had left us Mary's Gospel,--all she heard
Too sweet, too subtle for the ear of man!
Mark how the tender-hearted mothers read
The messages of love between the lines
Of the same page that loads the bitter tongue
Of him who deals in terror as his trade
With threatening words of wrath that scorch like flame!
They tell of angels whispering round the bed
Of the sweet infant smiling in its dream,
Of lambs enfolded in the Shepherd's arms,
Of Him who blessed the children; of the land
Where crystal rivers feed unfading flowers,
Of cities golden-paved with streets of pearl,
Of the white robes the winged creatures wear,
The crowns and harps from whose melodious strings
One long, sweet anthem flows forevermore!

--We too bad human mothers, even as Thou,
Whom we have learned to worship as remote
From mortal kindred, wast a cradled babe.
The milk of woman filled our branching veins,
She lulled us with her tender nursery-song,
And folded round us her untiring arms,
While the first unremembered twilight year
Shaped us to conscious being; still we feel
Her pulses in our own,--too faintly feel;
Would that the heart of woman warmed our creeds!

Not from the sad-eyed hermit's lonely cell,
Not from the conclave where the holy men
Glare on each other, as with angry eyes
They battle for God's glory and their own,
Till, sick of wordy strife, a show of hands
Fixes the faith of ages yet unborn,
Ah, not from these the listening soul can hear
The Father's voice that speaks itself divine!
Love must be still our Master; till we learn
What he can teach us of a woman's heart,
We know not His, whose love embraces all.

There are certain nervous conditions peculiar to women in which the
common effects of poetry and of music upon their sensibilities are
strangely exaggerated. It was not perhaps to be wondered at that
Octavia fainted when Virgil in reading from his great poem came to
the line beginning Tu Marcellus eris: It is not hard to believe the
story told of one of the two Davidson sisters, that the singing of
some of Moore's plaintive melodies would so impress her as almost to
take away the faculties of sense and motion. But there must have
been some special cause for the singular nervous state into which
this reading threw the young girl, our Scheherezade. She was
doubtless tired with overwork and troubled with the thought that she
was not doing herself justice, and that she was doomed to be the
helpless prey of some of those corbies who not only pick out corbies'
eyes, but find no other diet so nutritious and agreeable.

Whatever the cause may have been, her heart heaved tumultuously, her
color came and went, and though she managed to avoid a scene by the
exercise of all her self-control, I watched her very anxiously, for I
was afraid she would have had a hysteric turn, or in one of her
pallid moments that she would have fainted and fallen like one dead
before us.

I was very glad, therefore, when evening came, to find that she was
going out for a lesson on the stars. I knew the open air was what
she needed, and I thought the walk would do her good, whether she
made any new astronomical acquisitions or not.

It was now late in the autumn, and the trees were pretty nearly
stripped of their leaves.--There was no place so favorable as the
Common for the study of the heavens. The skies were brilliant with
stars, and the air was just keen enough to remind our young friends
that the cold season was at hand. They wandered round for a while,
and at last found themselves under the Great Elm, drawn thither, no
doubt, by the magnetism it is so well known to exert over the natives
of its own soil and those who have often been under the shadow of its
outstretched arms. The venerable survivor of its contemporaries that
flourished in the days when Blackstone rode beneath it on his bull
was now a good deal broken by age, yet not without marks of lusty
vitality. It had been wrenched and twisted and battered by so many
scores of winters that some of its limbs were crippled and many of
its joints were shaky, and but for the support of the iron braces
that lent their strong sinews to its more infirm members it would
have gone to pieces in the first strenuous northeaster or the first
sudden and violent gale from the southwest. But there it stood, and
there it stands as yet,--though its obituary was long ago written
after one of the terrible storms that tore its branches,--leafing out
hopefully in April as if it were trying in its dumb language to lisp
"Our Father," and dropping its slender burden of foliage in October
as softly as if it were whispering Amen!

Not far from the ancient and monumental tree lay a small sheet of
water, once agile with life and vocal with evening melodies, but now
stirred only by the swallow as he dips his wing, or by the morning
bath of the English sparrows, those high-headed, thick-bodied, full-
feeding, hot-tempered little John Bulls that keep up such a swashing
and swabbing and spattering round all the water basins, one might
think from the fuss they make about it that a bird never took a bath
here before, and that they were the missionaries of ablution to the
unwashed Western world.

There are those who speak lightly of this small aqueous expanse, the
eye of the sacred enclosure, which has looked unwinking on the happy
faces of so many natives and the curious features of so many
strangers. The music of its twilight minstrels has long ceased, but
their memory lingers like an echo in the name it bears. Cherish it,
inhabitants of the two-hilled city, once three-hilled; ye who have
said to the mountain, "Remove hence," and turned the sea into dry
land! May no contractor fill his pockets by undertaking to fill
thee, thou granite girdled lakelet, or drain the civic purse by
drawing off thy waters! For art thou not the Palladium of our Troy?
Didst thou not, like the Divine image which was the safeguard of
Ilium, fall from the skies, and if the Trojan could look with pride
upon the heaven-descended form of the Goddess of Wisdom, cannot he
who dwells by thy shining oval look in that mirror and contemplate
Himself,--the Native of Boston.

There must be some fatality which carries our young men and maidens
in the direction of the Common when they have anything very
particular to exchange their views about. At any rate I remember two
of our young friends brought up here a good many years ago, and I
understand that there is one path across the enclosure which a young
man must not ask a young woman to take with him unless he means
business, for an action will hold--for breach of promise, if she
consents to accompany him, and he chooses to forget his obligations:

Our two young people stood at the western edge of the little pool,
studying astronomy in the reflected firmament. The Pleiades were
trembling in the wave before them, and the three great stars of
Orion,--for these constellations were both glittering in the eastern

"There is no place too humble for the glories of heaven to shine in,"
she said

"And their splendor makes even this little pool beautiful and noble,"
he answered. "Where is the light to come from that is to do as much
for our poor human lives?"

A simple question enough, but the young girl felt her color change as
she answered, "From friendship, I think."

--Grazing only as -yet,--not striking full, hardly hitting at all,--
but there are questions and answers that come so very near, the wind
of them alone almost takes the breath away.

There was an interval of silence. Two young persons can stand
looking at water for a long time without feeling the necessity of
speaking. Especially when the water is alive with stars and the
young persons are thoughtful and impressible. The water seems to do
half the thinking while one is looking at it; its movements are felt
in the brain very much like thought. When I was in full training as
a flaneur, I could stand on the Pont Neuf with the other experts in
the great science of passive cerebration and look at the river for
half an hour with so little mental articulation that when I moved on
it seemed as if my thinking-marrow had been asleep and was just
waking up refreshed after its nap.

So the reader can easily account for the interval of silence. It is
hard to tell how long it would have lasted, but just then a lubberly
intrusive boy threw a great stone, which convulsed the firmament, the
one at their feet, I mean. The six Pleiads disappeared as if in
search of their lost sister; the belt of Orion was broken asunder,
and a hundred worlds dissolved back into chaos. They turned away and
strayed off into one of the more open paths, where the view of the
sky over them was unobstructed. For some reason or other the
astronomical lesson did not get on very fast this evening.

Presently the young man asked his pupil:

--Do you know what the constellation directly over our heads is?

--Is it not Cassiopea?--she asked a little hesitatingly.

--No, it is Andromeda. You ought not to have forgotten her, for I
remember showing you a double star, the one in her right foot,
through the equatorial telescope. You have not forgotten the double
star,--the two that shone for each other and made a little world by

--No, indeed,--she answered, and blushed, and felt ashamed because
she had said indeed, as if it had been an emotional recollection.

The double-star allusion struck another dead silence. She would have
given a week's pay to any invisible attendant that would have cut her

At last: Do you know the story of Andromeda? he said.

--Perhaps I did once, but suppose I don't remember it.

He told her the story of the unfortunate maiden chained to a rock and
waiting for a sea-beast that was coming to devour her, and how
Perseus came and set her free, and won her love with her life. And
then he began something about a young man chained to his rock, which
was a star-gazer's tower, a prey by turns to ambition, and lonely
self-contempt and unwholesome scorn of the life he looked down upon
after the serenity of the firmament, and endless questionings that
led him nowhere,--and now he had only one more question to ask. He
loved her. Would she break his chain?--He held both his hands out
towards her, the palms together, as if they were fettered at the
wrists. She took hold of them very gently; parted them a little;
then wider--wider--and found herself all at once folded, unresisting,
in her lover's arms.

So there was a new double-star in the living firmament. The
constellations seemed to kindle with new splendors as the student and
the story-teller walked homeward in their light; Alioth and Algol
looked down on them as on the first pair of lovers they shone over,
and the autumn air seemed full of harmonies as when the morning stars
sang together.


The old Master had asked us, the Young Astronomer and myself, into
his library, to hear him read some passages from his interleaved
book. We three had formed a kind of little club without knowing it
from the time when the young man began reading those extracts from
his poetical reveries which I have reproduced in these pages.
Perhaps we agreed in too many things,--I suppose if we could have had
a good hard-headed, old-fashioned New England divine to meet with us
it might have acted as a wholesome corrective. For we had it all our
own way; the Lady's kindly remonstrance was taken in good part, but
did not keep us from talking pretty freely, and as for the Young
Girl, she listened with the tranquillity and fearlessness which a
very simple trusting creed naturally gives those who hold it. The
fewer outworks to the citadel of belief, the fewer points there are
to be threatened and endangered.

The reader must not suppose that I even attempt to reproduce
everything exactly as it took place in our conversations, or when we
met to listen to the Master's prose or to the Young Astronomer's
verse. I do not pretend to give all the pauses and interruptions by
question or otherwise. I could not always do it if I tried, but I do
not want to, for oftentimes it is better to let the speaker or reader
go on continuously, although there may have been many breaks in the
course of the conversation or reading. When, for instance, I by and
by reproduce what the Landlady said to us, I shall give it almost
without any hint that it was arrested in its flow from time to time
by various expressions on the part of the hearers.

I can hardly say what the reason of it was, but it is very certain
that I had a vague sense of some impending event as we took our seats
in the Master's library. He seemed particularly anxious that we
should be comfortably seated, and shook up the cushions of the arm-
chairs himself, and got them into the right places.

Now go to sleep--he said--or listen,--just which you like best. But
I am going to begin by telling you both a secret.

Liberavi animam meam. That is the meaning of my book and of my
literary life, if I may give such a name to that party-colored shred
of human existence. I have unburdened myself in this book, and in
some other pages, of what I was born to say. Many things that I have
said in my ripe days have been aching in my soul since I was a mere
child. I say aching, because they conflicted with many of my
inherited beliefs, or rather traditions. I did not know then that
two strains of blood were striving in me for the mastery,--two!
twenty, perhaps,--twenty thousand, for aught I know,--but represented
to me by two,--paternal and maternal. Blind forces in themselves;
shaping thoughts as they shaped features and battled for the moulding
of constitution and the mingling of temperament.

Philosophy and poetry came--to me before I knew their names.

Je fis mes premiers vers, sans savoir les ecrire.

Not verses so much as the stuff that verses are made of. I don't
suppose that the thoughts which came up of themselves in my mind were
so mighty different from what come up in the minds of other young
folks. And that 's the best reason I could give for telling 'em. I
don't believe anything I've written is as good as it seemed to me
when I wrote it,--he stopped, for he was afraid he was lying,--not
much that I 've written, at any rate,--he said--with a smile at the
honesty which made him qualify his statement. But I do know this: I
have struck a good many chords, first and last, in the consciousness
of other people. I confess to a tender feeling for my little brood
of thoughts. When they have been welcomed and praised it has pleased
me, and if at any time they have been rudely handled and despitefully
entreated it has cost me a little worry. I don't despise reputation,
and I should like to be remembered as having said something worth
lasting well enough to last.

But all that is nothing to the main comfort I feel as a writer. I
have got rid of something my mind could not keep to itself and rise
as it was meant to into higher regions. I saw the aeronauts the
other day emptying from the bags some of the sand that served as
ballast. It glistened a moment in the sunlight as a slender shower,
and then was lost and seen no more as it scattered itself unnoticed.
But the airship rose higher as the sand was poured out, and so it
seems to me I have felt myself getting above the mists and clouds
whenever I have lightened myself of some portion of the mental
ballast I have carried with me. Why should I hope or fear when I
send out my book? I have had my reward, for I have wrought out my
thought, I have said my say, I have freed my soul. I can afford to
be forgotten.

Look here!--he said. I keep oblivion always before me.---He pointed
to a singularly perfect and beautiful trilobite which was lying on a
pile of manuscripts.---Each time I fill a sheet of paper with what I
am writing, I lay it beneath this relic of a dead world, and project
my thought forward into eternity as far as this extinct crustacean
carries it backward. When my heart beats too lustily with vain hopes
of being remembered, I press the cold fossil against it and it grows
calm. I touch my forehead with it, and its anxious furrows grow
smooth. Our world, too, with all its breathing life, is but a leaf
to be folded with the other strata, and if I am only patient, by and
by I shall be just as famous as imperious Caesar himself, embedded
with me in a conglomerate.

He began reading:--"There is no new thing under the sun," said the
Preacher. He would not say so now, if he should come to life for a
little while, and have his photograph taken, and go up in a balloon,
and take a trip by railroad and a voyage by steamship, and get a
message from General Grant by the cable, and see a man's leg cut off
without its hurting him. If it did not take his breath away and lay
him out as flat as the Queen of Sheba was knocked over by the
splendors of his court, he must have rivalled our Indians in the nil
admarari line.

For all that, it is a strange thing to see what numbers of new things
are really old. There are many modern contrivances that are of as
early date as the first man, if not thousands of centuries older.
Everybody knows how all the arrangements of our telescopes and
microscopes are anticipated in the eye, and how our best musical
instruments are surpassed by the larynx. But there are some very odd
things any anatomist can tell, showing how our recent contrivances
are anticipated in the human body. In the alimentary canal are
certain pointed eminences called villi, and certain ridges called
valvuloe conniventes. The makers of heating apparatus have exactly
reproduced the first in the "pot" of their furnaces, and the second
in many of the radiators to be seen in our public buildings. The
object in the body and the heating apparatus is the same; to increase
the extent of surface.--We mix hair with plaster (as the Egyptians
mixed straw with clay to make bricks) so that it shall hold more
firmly. But before man had any artificial dwelling the same
contrivance of mixing fibrous threads with a cohesive substance had
been employed in the jointed fabric of his own spinal column. India-
rubber is modern, but the yellow animal substance which is elastic
like that, and serves the same purpose in the animal economy which
that serves in our mechanical contrivances, is as old as the
mammalia. The dome, the round and the Gothic arch, the groined roof,
the flying buttress, are all familiar to those who have studied the
bony frame of man. All forms of the lever and all the principal
kinds of hinges are to be met with in our own frames. The valvular
arrangements of the blood-vessels are unapproached by any artificial
apparatus, and the arrangements for preventing friction are so
perfect that two surfaces will play on each other for fourscore years
or more and never once trouble their owner by catching or rubbing so
as to be felt or heard.

But stranger than these repetitions are the coincidences one finds in
the manners and speech of antiquity and our own time. In the days
when Flood Ireson was drawn in the cart by the Maenads of Marblehead,
that fishing town had the name of nurturing a young population not
over fond of strangers. It used to be said that if an unknown
landsman showed himself in the streets, the boys would follow after
him, crying, "Rock him! Rock him! He's got a long-tailed coat on!"

Now if one opens the Odyssey, he will find that the Phaeacians, three
thousand years ago, were wonderfully like these youthful
Marbleheaders. The blue-eyed Goddess who convoys Ulysses, under the
disguise of a young maiden of the place, gives him some excellent
advice. "Hold your tongue," she says, "and don't look at anybody or
ask any questions, for these are seafaring people, and don't like to
have strangers round or anybody that does not belong here."

Who would have thought that the saucy question, "Does your mother
know you're out?" was the very same that Horace addressed to the bore
who attacked him in the Via Sacra?

Interpellandi locus hic erat; Est tibi mater?
Cognati, queis te salvo est opus?

And think of the London cockney's prefix of the letter h to innocent
words beginning with a vowel having its prototype in the speech of
the vulgar Roman, as may be seen in the verses of Catullus:

Chommoda dicebat, siquando commoda vellet
Dicere, et hinsidias Arrius insidias.
Et tum mirifice sperabat se esse locutum,
Cum quantum poterat, dixerat hinsidias...

Hoc misso in Syriam, requierant omnibus aures...
Cum subito affertur nuncius horribilis;
Ionios fluctus, postquam illue Arrius isset,
Jam non Ionios esse, sed Hionios.

--Our neighbors of Manhattan have an excellent jest about our crooked
streets which, if they were a little more familiar with a native
author of unquestionable veracity, they would strike out from the
letter of "Our Boston Correspondent," where it is a source of
perennial hilarity. It is worth while to reprint, for the benefit of
whom it may concern, a paragraph from the authentic history of the
venerable Diedrich Knickerbocker:

"The sage council, as has been mentioned in a preceding chapter, not
being able to determine upon any plan for the building of their
city,--the cows, in a laudable fit of patriotism, took it under their
peculiar charge, and as they went to and from pasture, established
paths through the bushes, on each side of which the good folks built
their houses; which is one cause of the rambling and picturesque
turns and labyrinths, which distinguish certain streets of New York
at this very day."

--When I was a little boy there came to stay with us for a while a
young lady with a singularly white complexion. Now I had often seen
the masons slacking lime, and I thought it was the whitest thing I
had ever looked upon. So I always called this fair visitor of ours
Slacked Lime. I think she is still living in a neighboring State,
and I am sure she has never forgotten the fanciful name I gave her.
But within ten or a dozen years I have seen this very same comparison
going the round of the papers, and credited to a Welsh poet, David Ap
Gwyllym, or something like that, by name.

--I turned a pretty sentence enough in one of my lectures about
finding poppies springing up amidst the corn; as if it had been
foreseen by nature that wherever there should be hunger that asked
for food, there would be pain that needed relief,--and many years
afterwards. I had the pleasure of finding that Mistress Piozzi had
been beforehand with me in suggesting the same moral reflection.

--I should like to carry some of my friends to see a giant bee-hive I
have discovered. Its hum can be heard half a mile, and the great
white swarm counts its tens of thousands. They pretend to call it a
planing-mill, but if it is not a bee-hive it is so like one that if a
hundred people have not said so before me, it is very singular that
they have not. If I wrote verses I would try to bring it in, and I
suppose people would start up in a dozen places, and say, "Oh, that
bee-hive simile is mine,--and besides, did not Mr. Bayard Taylor call
the snowflakes 'white bees'?"

I think the old Master had chosen these trivialities on purpose to
amuse the Young Astronomer and myself, if possible, and so make sure
of our keeping awake while he went on reading, as follows:

--How the sweet souls of all time strike the same note, the same
because it is in unison with the divine voice that sings to them! I
read in the Zend Avesta, "No earthly man with a hundred-fold strength
speaks so much evil as Mithra with heavenly strength speaks good. No
earthly man with a hundred-fold strength does so much evil as Mithra
with heavenly strength does good."

And now leave Persia and Zoroaster, and come down with me to our own
New England and one of our old Puritan preachers. It was in the
dreadful days of the Salem Witchcraft delusion that one Jonathan
Singletary, being then in the prison at Ipswich, gave his testimony


Back to Full Books