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

Part 16 out of 51

as to certain fearful occurrences,--a great noise, as of many cats
climbing, skipping, and jumping, of throwing about of furniture, and
of men walking in the chambers, with crackling and shaking as if the
house would fall upon him.

"I was at present," he says, "something affrighted; yet considering
what I had lately heard made out by Mr. Mitchel at Cambridge, that
there is more good in God than there is evil in sin, and that
although God is the greatest good and sin the greatest evil, yet the
first Being of evil cannot weave the scales or overpower the first
Being of good: so considering that the authour of good was of greater
power than the authour of evil, God was pleased of his goodness to
keep me from being out of measure frighted."

I shall always bless the memory of this poor, timid creature for
saving that dear remembrance of "Matchless Mitchel." How many, like
him, have thought they were preaching a new gospel, when they were
only reaffirming the principles which underlie the Magna Charta of
humanity, and are common to the noblest utterances of all the nobler
creeds! But spoken by those solemn lips to those stern, simpleminded
hearers, the words I have cited seem to me to have a fragrance like
the precious ointment of spikenard with which Mary anointed her
Master's feet. I can see the little bare meeting-house, with the
godly deacons, and the grave matrons, and the comely maidens, and the
sober manhood of the village, with the small group of college
students sitting by themselves under the shadow of the awful
Presidential Presence, all listening to that preaching, which was, as
Cotton Mather says, "as a very lovely song of one that hath a
pleasant voice"; and as the holy pastor utters those blessed words,
which are not of any one church or age, but of all time, the humble
place of worship is filled with their perfume, as the house where
Mary knelt was filled with the odor of the precious ointment.

--The Master rose, as he finished reading this sentence, and, walking
to the window, adjusted a curtain which he seemed to find a good deal
of trouble in getting to hang just as he wanted it.

He came back to his arm-chair, and began reading again

--If men would only open their eyes to the fact which stares them in
the face from history, and is made clear enough by the slightest
glance at the condition of mankind, that humanity is of immeasurably
greater importance than their own or any other particular belief,
they would no more attempt to make private property of the grace of
God than to fence in the sunshine for their own special use and

We are all tattoed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the
record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate
a man wholly out of the superstitious fears which were early
implanted in his imagination; no matter how utterly his reason may
reject them, he will still feel as the famous woman did about ghosts,
Je n'y crois pas, mais je les crains,--"I don't believe in them, but
I am afraid of them, nevertheless."

--As people grow older they come at length to live so much in memory
that they often think with a kind of pleasure of losing their dearest
blessings. Nothing can be so perfect while we possess it as it will
seem when remembered. The friend we love best may sometimes weary us
by his presence or vex us by his infirmities. How sweet to think of
him as he will be to us after we have outlived him ten or a dozen
years! Then we can recall him in his best moments, bid him stay with
us as long as we want his company, and send him away when we wish to
be alone again. One might alter Shenstone's well-known epitaph to
suit such a case:--

Hen! quanto minus est cum to vivo versari

Quam erit (vel esset) tui mortui reminisse!

"Alas! how much less the delight of thy living presence
Than will (or would) be that of remembering thee when thou hast
left us!"

I want to stop here--I the Poet--and put in a few reflections of my
own, suggested by what I have been giving the reader from the
Master's Book, and in a similar vein.

--How few things there are that do not change their whole aspect in
the course of a single generation! The landscape around us is wholly
different. Even the outlines of the hills that surround us are
changed by the creeping of the villages with their spires and school-
houses up their sides. The sky remains the same, and the ocean. A
few old churchyards look very much as they used to, except, of
course, in Boston, where the gravestones have been rooted up and
planted in rows with walks between them, to the utter disgrace and
ruin of our most venerated cemeteries. The Registry of Deeds and the
Probate Office show us the same old folios, where we can read our
grandfather's title to his estate (if we had a grandfather and he
happened to own anything) and see how many pots and kettles there
were in his kitchen by the inventory of his personal property.

Among living people none remain so long unchanged as the actors. I
can see the same Othello to-day, if I choose, that when I was a boy I
saw smothering Mrs. Duff-Desdemona with the pillow, under the
instigations of Mr. Cooper-Iago. A few stone heavier than he was
then, no doubt, but the same truculent blackamoor that took by the
thr-r-r-oat the circumcised dog in Aleppo, and told us about it in
the old Boston Theatre. In the course of a fortnight, if I care to
cross the water, I can see Mademoiselle Dejazet in the same parts I
saw her in under Louis Philippe, and be charmed by the same grace and
vivacity which delighted my grandmother (if she was in Paris, and
went to see her in the part of Fanchon toute seule at the Theatre des
Capucines) in the days when the great Napoleon was still only First

The graveyard and the stage are pretty much the only places where you
can expect to find your friends--as you left them, five and twenty or
fifty years ago. I have noticed, I may add, that old theatre-goers
bring back the past with their stories more vividly than men with any
other experiences. There were two old New-Yorkers that I used to
love to sit talking with about the stage. One was a scholar and a
writer of note; a pleasant old gentleman, with the fresh cheek of an
octogenarian Cupid. The other not less noted in his way, deep in
local lore, large-brained, full-blooded, of somewhat perturbing and
tumultuous presence. It was good to hear them talk of George
Frederic Cooke, of Kean, and the lesser stars of those earlier
constellations. Better still to breakfast with old Samuel Rogers, as
some of my readers have done more than once, and hear him answer to
the question who was the best actor he remembered, "I think, on the
whole, Garrick."

If we did but know how to question these charming old people before
it is too late! About ten years, more or less, after the generation
in advance of our own has all died off, it occurs to us all at once,
"There! I can ask my old friend what he knows of that picture, which
must be a Copley; of that house and its legends about which there is
such a mystery. He (or she) must know all about that." Too late!
Too late!

Still, now and then one saves a reminiscence that means a good deal
by means of a casual question. I asked the first of those two old
New-Yorkers the following question: "Who, on the whole, seemed to you
the most considerable person you ever met?"

Now it must be remembered that this was a man who had lived in a city
that calls itself the metropolis, one who had been a member of the
State and the National Legislature, who had come in contact with men.
of letters and men of business, with politicians and members of all
the professions, during a long and distinguished public career. I
paused for his answer with no little curiosity. Would it be one of
the great Ex-Presidents whose names were known to, all the world?
Would it be the silver-tongued orator of Kentucky or the "God-like"
champion of the Constitution, our New-England Jupiter Capitolinus?
Who would it be?

"Take it altogether," he answered, very deliberately, "I should say
Colonel Elisha Williams was the most notable personage that I have
met with."

--Colonel Elisha Williams! And who might he be, forsooth? A
gentleman of singular distinction, you may be well assured, even
though you are not familiar with his name; but as I am not writing a
biographical dictionary, I shall leave it to my reader to find out
who and what he was.

--One would like to live long enough to witness certain things which
will no doubt come to pass by and by. I remember that when one of
our good kindhearted old millionnaires was growing very infirm, his
limbs failing him, and his trunk getting packed with the infirmities
which mean that one is bound on a long journey, he said very simply
and sweetly, "I don't care about living a great deal longer, but I
should like to live long enough to find out how much old (a many-
millioned fellow-citizen) is worth." And without committing myself
on the longevity-question, I confess I should like to live long
enough to see a few things happen that are like to come, sooner or

I want to hold the skull of Abraham in my hand. They will go through
the cave of Machpelah at Hebron, I feel sure, in the course of a few
generations at the furthest, and as Dr. Robinson knows of nothing
which should lead us to question the correctness of the tradition
which regards this as the place of sepulture of Abraham and the other
patriarchs, there is no reason why we may not find his mummied body
in perfect preservation, if he was embalmed after the Egyptian
fashion. I suppose the tomb of David will be explored by a
commission in due time, and I should like to see the phrenological
developments of that great king and divine singer and warm-blooded
man. If, as seems probable, the anthropological section of society
manages to get round the curse that protects the bones of
Shakespeare, I should like to see the dome which rounded itself over
his imperial brain. Not that I am what is called a phrenologist, but
I am curious as to the physical developments of these fellow-mortals
of mine, and a little in want of a sensation.

I should like to live long enough to see the course of the Tiber
turned, and the bottom of the river thoroughly dredged. I wonder if
they would find the seven-branched golden candlestick brought from
Jerusalem by Titus, and said to have been dropped from the Milvian
bridge. I have often thought of going fishing for it some year when
I wanted a vacation, as some of my friends used to go to Ireland to
fish for salmon. There was an attempt of that kind, I think, a few
years ago.

We all know how it looks well enough, from the figure of it on the
Arch of Titus, but I should like to "heft" it in my own hand, and
carry it home and shine it up (excuse my colloquialisms), and sit
down and look at it, and think and think and think until the Temple
of Solomon built up its walls of hewn stone and its roofs of cedar
around me as noiselessly as when it rose, and "there was neither
hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was
in building."

All this, you will remember, Beloved, is a digression on my own
account, and I return to the old Master whom I left smiling at his
own alteration of Shenstone's celebrated inscription. He now begin
reading again:

--I want it to be understood that I consider that a certain number of
persons are at liberty to dislike me peremptorily, without showing
cause, and that they give no offence whatever in so doing.

If I did not cheerfully acquiesce in this sentiment towards myself on
the part of others, I should not feel at liberty to indulge my own
aversions. I try to cultivate a Christian feeling to all my fellow-
creatures, but inasmuch as I must also respect truth and honesty, I
confess to myself a certain number of inalienable dislikes and
prejudices, some of which may possibly be shared by others. Some of
these are purely instinctive, for others I can assign a reason. Our
likes and dislikes play so important a part in the Order of Things
that it is well to see on what they are founded.

There are persons I meet occasionally who are too intelligent by half
for my liking. They know my thoughts beforehand, and tell me what I
was going to say. Of course they are masters of all my knowledge,
and a good deal besides; have read all the books I have read, and in
later editions; have had all the experiences I have been through, and
more-too. In my private opinion every mother's son of them will lie
at any time rather than confess ignorance.

--I have a kind of dread, rather than hatred, of persons with a large
excess of vitality; great feeders, great laughers, great story-
tellers, who come sweeping over their company with a huge tidal wave
of animal spirits and boisterous merriment. I have pretty good
spirits myself, and enjoy a little mild pleasantry, but I am
oppressed and extinguished by these great lusty, noisy creatures,--
and feel as if I were a mute at a funeral when they get into full

--I cannot get along much better with those drooping, languid people,
whose vitality falls short as much as that of the others is in
excess. I have not life enough for two; I wish I had. It is not
very enlivening to meet a fellow-creature whose expression and
accents say, "You are the hair that breaks the camel's back of my
endurance, you are the last drop that makes my cup of woe run over";
persons whose heads drop on one side like those of toothless infants,
whose voices recall the tones in which our old snuffling choir used
to wail out the verses of:

"Life is the time to serve the Lord."

--There is another style which does not captivate me. I recognize an
attempt at the grand manner now and then, in persons who are well
enough in their way, but of no particular importance, socially or
otherwise. Some family tradition of wealth or distinction is apt to
be at the bottom of it, and it survives all the advantages that used
to set it off. I like family pride as well as my neighbors, and
respect the high-born fellow-citizen whose progenitors have not
worked in their shirt-sleeves for the last two generations full as
much as I ought to. But grand pere oblige; a person with a known
grandfather is too distinguished to find it necessary to put on airs.
The few Royal Princes I have happened to know were very easy people
to get along with, and had not half the social knee-action I have
often seen in the collapsed dowagers who lifted their eyebrows at me
in my earlier years.

--My heart does not warm as it should do towards the persons, not
intimates, who are always too glad to see me when we meet by
accident, and discover all at once that they have a vast deal to
unbosom themselves of to me.

--There is one blameless person whom I cannot love and have no excuse
for hating. It is the innocent fellow-creature, otherwise
inoffensive to me, whom I find I have involuntarily joined on turning
a corner. I suppose the Mississippi, which was flowing quietly
along, minding its own business, hates the Missouri for coming into
it all at once with its muddy stream. I suppose the Missouri in like
manner hates the Mississippi for diluting with its limpid, but
insipid current the rich reminiscences of the varied soils through
which its own stream has wandered. I will not compare myself, to the
clear or the turbid current, but I will own that my heart sinks when
I find all of a sudden I am in for a corner confluence, and I cease
loving my neighbor as myself until I can get away from him.

--These antipathies are at least weaknesses; they may be sins in the
eye of the Recording Angel. I often reproach myself with my wrong-
doings. I should like sometimes to thank Heaven for saving me from
some kinds of transgression, and even for granting me some qualities
that if I dared I should be disposed to call virtues. I should do
so, I suppose, if I did not remember the story of the Pharisee. That
ought not to hinder me. The parable was told to illustrate a single
virtue, humility, and the most unwarranted inferences have been drawn
from it as to the whole character of the two parties. It seems not
at all unlikely, but rather probable, that the Pharisee was a fairer
dealer, a better husband, and a more charitable person than the
Publican, whose name has come down to us "linked with one virtue,"
but who may have been guilty, for aught that appears to the contrary,
of "a thousand crimes." Remember how we limit the application of
other parables. The lord, it will be recollected, commended the
unjust steward because he had done wisely. His shrewdness was held
up as an example, but after all he was a miserable swindler, and
deserved the state-prison as much as many of our financial operators.
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is a perpetual warning
against spiritual pride. But it must not frighten any one of us out
of being thankful that he is not, like this or that neighbor, under
bondage to strong drink or opium, that he is not an Erie-Railroad
Manager, and that his head rests in virtuous calm on his own pillow.
If he prays in the morning to be kept out of temptation as well as
for his daily bread, shall he not return thanks at night that he has
not fallen into sin as well as that his stomach has been filled? I
do not think the poor Pharisee has ever had fair play, and I am
afraid a good many people sin with the comforting, half-latent
intention of smiting their breasts afterwards and repeating the
prayer of the Publican.


This little movement which I have thus indicated seemed to give the
Master new confidence in his audience. He turned over several pages
until he came to a part of the interleaved volume where we could all
see he had written in a passage of new matter in red ink as of
special interest.

--I told you, he said, in Latin, and I repeat it in English, that I
have freed my soul in these pages,--I have spoken my mind. I have
read you a few extracts, most of them of rather slight texture, and
some of them, you perhaps thought, whimsical. But I meant, if I
thought you were in the right mood for listening to it, to read you
some paragraphs which give in small compass the pith, the marrow, of
all that my experience has taught me. Life is a fatal complaint, and
an eminently contagious one. I took it early, as we all do, and have
treated it all along with the best palliatives I could get hold of,
inasmuch as I could find no radical cure for its evils, and have so
far managed to keep pretty comfortable under it.

It is a great thing for a man to put the whole meaning of his life
into a few paragraphs, if he does it so that others can make anything
out of it. If he conveys his wisdom after the fashion of the old
alchemists, he may as well let it alone. He must talk in very plain
words, and that is what I have done. You want to know what a certain
number of scores of years have taught me that I think best worth
telling. If I had half a dozen square inches of paper, and one
penful of ink, and five minutes to use them in for the instruction of
those who come after me, what should I put down in writing? That is
the question.

Perhaps I should be wiser if I refused to attempt any such brief
statement of the most valuable lesson that life has taught me. I am
by no means sure that I had not better draw my pen through the page
that holds the quintessence of my vital experiences, and leave those
who wish to know what it is to distil to themselves from my many
printed pages. But I have excited your curiosity, and I see that you
are impatient to hear what the wisdom, or the folly, it may be, of a
life shows for, when it is crowded into a few lines as the fragrance
of a gardenful of roses is concentrated in a few drops of perfume.

--By this time I confess I was myself a little excited. What was he
going to tell us? The Young Astronomer looked upon him with an eye
as clear and steady and brilliant as the evening star, but I could
see that he too was a little nervous, wondering what would come next.

The old Master adjusted his large round spectacles, and began:

--It has cost me fifty years to find my place in the Order of Things.
I had explored all the sciences; I had studied the literature of all
ages; I had travelled in many lands; I had learned how to follow the
working of thought in men and of sentiment and instinct in women. I
had examined for myself all the religions that could make out any
claim for themselves. I had fasted and prayed with the monks of a
lonely convent; I had mingled with the crowds that shouted glory at
camp-meetings; I had listened to the threats of Calvinists and the
promises of Universalists; I had been a devout attendant on a Jewish
Synagogue; I was in correspondence with an intelligent Buddhist; and
I met frequently with the inner circle of Rationalists, who believed
in the persistence of Force, and the identity of alimentary
substances with virtue, and were reconstructing the universe on this
basis, with absolute exclusion of all Supernumeraries. In these
pursuits I had passed the larger part of my half-century of
existence, as yet with little satisfaction. It was on the morning of
my fiftieth birthday that the solution of the great problem I had
sought so long came to me as a simple formula, with a few grand but
obvious inferences. I will repeat the substance of this final

The one central fact an the Order of Things which solves all
questions is:

At this moment we were interrupted by a knock at the Master's door.
It was most inopportune, for he was on the point of the great
disclosure, but common politeness compelled him to answer it, and as
the step which we had heard was that of one of the softer-footed sex,
he chose to rise from his chair and admit his visitor.

This visitor was our Landlady. She was dressed with more than usual
nicety, and her countenance showed clearly that she came charged with
an important communication.

--I did n't low there was company with you, said the Landlady,--but
it's jest as well. I've got something to tell my boarders that I
don't want to tell them, and if I must do it, I may as well tell you
all at once as one to a time. I 'm agoing to give up keeping
boarders at the end of this year,--I mean come the end of December.

She took out a white handkerchief, at hand in expectation of what was
to happen, and pressed it to her eyes. There was an interval of
silence. The Master closed his book and laid it on the table. The
Young Astronomer did not look as much surprised as I should have
expected. I was completely taken aback,--I had not thought of such a
sudden breaking up of our little circle.

When the Landlady had recovered her composure, she began again:

The Lady that's been so long with me is going to a house of her own,
--one she has bought back again, for it used to belong to her folks.
It's a beautiful house, and the sun shines in at the front windows
all day long. She's going to be wealthy again, but it doos n't make
any difference in her ways. I've had boarders complain when I was
doing as well as I knowed how for them, but I never heerd a word from
her that wasn't as pleasant as if she'd been talking to the
Governor's lady. I've knowed what it was to have women-boarders that
find fault,--there's some of 'em would quarrel with me and everybody
at my table; they would quarrel with the Angel Gabriel if he lived in
the house with 'em, and scold at him and tell him he was always
dropping his feathers round, if they could n't find anything else to
bring up against him.

Two other boarders of mine has given me notice that they was
expecting to leave come the first of January. I could fill up their
places easy enough, for ever since that first book was wrote that
called people's attention to my boarding-house, I've had more wanting
to come than I wanted to keep.

But I'm getting along in life, and I ain't quite so rugged as I used
to be. My daughter is well settled and my son is making his own
living. I've done a good deal of hard work in my time, and I feel as
if I had a right to a little rest. There's nobody knows what a woman
that has the charge of a family goes through, but God Almighty that
made her. I've done my best for them that I loved, and for them that
was under my roof. My husband and my children was well cared for
when they lived, and he and them little ones that I buried has white
marble head-stones and foot-stones, and an iron fence round the lot,
and a place left for me betwixt him and the....

Some has always been good to me,--some has made it a little of a
strain to me to get along. When a woman's back aches with
overworking herself to keep her house in shape, and a dozen mouths
are opening at her three times a day, like them little young birds
that split their heads open so you can a'most see into their empty
stomachs, and one wants this and another wants that, and provisions
is dear and rent is high, and nobody to look to,--then a sharp word
cuts, I tell you, and a hard look goes right to your heart. I've
seen a boarder make a face at what I set before him, when I had tried
to suit him jest as well as I knew how, and I haven't cared to eat a
thing myself all the rest of that day, and I've laid awake without a
wink of sleep all night. And then when you come down the next
morning all the boarders stare at you and wonder what makes you so
low-spirited, and why you don't look as happy and talk as cheerful as
one of them rich ladies that has dinner-parties, where they've
nothing to do but give a few orders, and somebody comes and cooks
their dinner, and somebody else comes and puts flowers on the table,
and a lot of men dressed up like ministers come and wait on
everybody, as attentive as undertakers at a funeral.

And that reminds me to tell you that I'm agoing to live with my
daughter. Her husband's a very nice man, and when he isn't following
a corpse, he's as good company as if he was a member of the city
council. My son, he's agoing into business with the old Doctor he
studied with, and he's agoing to board with me at my daughter's for a
while,--I suppose he'll be getting a wife before long. [This with a
pointed look at our young friend, the Astronomer.]

It is n't but a little while longer that we are going to be together,
and I want to say to you gentlemen, as I mean to say to the others
and as I have said to our two ladies, that I feel more obligated to,
you for the way you 've treated me than I know very well how to put
into words. Boarders sometimes expect too much of the ladies that
provides for them. Some days the meals are better than other days;
it can't help being so. Sometimes the provision-market is n't well
supplied, sometimes the fire in the cooking-stove does n't burn so
well as it does other days; sometimes the cook is n't so lucky as she
might be. And there is boarders who is always laying in wait for the
days when the meals is not quite so good as they commonly be, to pick
a quarrel with the one that is trying to serve them so as that they
shall be satisfied. But you've all been good and kind to me. I
suppose I'm not quite so spry and quick-sighted as I was a dozen
years ago, when my boarder wrote that first book so many have asked
me about. But--now I'm going to stop taking boarders. I don't
believe you'll think much about what I did n't do,--because I
couldn't,--but remember that at any rate I tried honestly to serve
you. I hope God will bless all that set at my table, old and young,
rich and poor, merried and single, and single that hopes soon to be
merried. My husband that's dead and gone always believed that we all
get to heaven sooner or later,--and sence I've grown older and buried
so many that I've loved I've come to feel that perhaps I should meet
all of them that I've known here--or at least as many of 'em as I
wanted to--in a better world. And though I don't calculate there is
any boarding-houses in heaven, I hope I shall some time or other meet
them that has set round my table one year after another, all
together, where there is no fault-finding with the food and no
occasion for it,--and if I do meet them and you there--or anywhere,--
if there is anything I can do for you....

....Poor dear soul! Her ideas had got a little mixed, and her heart
was overflowing, and the white handkerchief closed the scene with its
timely and greatly needed service.

--What a pity, I have often thought, that she came in just at that
precise moment! For the old Master was on the point of telling us,
and through one of us the reading world,--I mean that fraction of it
which has reached this point of the record,--at any rate, of telling
you, Beloved, through my pen, his solution of a great problem we all
have to deal with. We were some weeks longer together, but he never
offered to continue his reading. At length I ventured to give him a
hint that our young friend and myself would both of us be greatly
gratified if he would begin reading from his unpublished page where
he had left off.

--No, sir,--he said,--better not, better not. That which means so
much to me, the writer, might be a disappointment, or at least a
puzzle, to you, the listener. Besides, if you'll take my printed
book and be at the trouble of thinking over what it says, and put
that with what you've heard me say, and then make those comments and
reflections which will be suggested to a mind in so many respects
like mine as is your own,--excuse my good opinion of myself,

(It is a high compliment to me, I replied) you will perhaps find you
have the elements of the formula and its consequences which I was
about to read you. It's quite as well to crack your own filberts as
to borrow the use of other people's teeth. I think we will wait
awhile before we pour out the Elixir Vitae.

--To tell the honest truth, I suspect the Master has found out that
his formula does not hold water quite so perfectly as he was
thinking, so long as he kept it to himself, and never thought of
imparting it to anybody else. The very minute a thought is
threatened with publicity it seems to shrink towards mediocrity, as.
I have noticed that a great pumpkin, the wonder of a village, seemed
to lose at least a third of its dimensions between the field where it
grew and the cattle-show fair-table, where it took its place with
other enormous pumpkins from other wondering villages. But however
that maybe, I shall always regret that I had not the opportunity of
judging for myself how completely the Master's formula, which, for
him, at least, seemed to have solved the great problem, would have
accomplished that desirable end for me.

The Landlady's announcement of her intention to give up keeping
boarders was heard with regret by all who met around her table. The
Member of the Haouse inquired of me whether I could tell him if the
Lamb Tahvern was kept well abaout these times. He knew that members
from his place used to stop there, but he hadn't heerd much abaout it
of late years. I had to inform him that that fold of rural innocence
had long ceased offering its hospitalities to the legislative, flock.
He found refuge at last, I have learned, in a great public house in
the northern section of the city, where, as he said, the folks all
went up stairs in a rat-trap, and the last I heard of him was looking
out of his somewhat elevated attic-window in a northwesterly
direction in hopes that he might perhaps get a sight of the Grand
Monadnock, a mountain in New Hampshire which I have myself seen from
the top of Bunker Hill Monument.

The Member of the Haouse seems to have been more in a hurry to find a
new resting-place than the other boarders. By the first of January,
however, our whole company was scattered, never to meet again around
the board where we had been so long together.

The Lady moved to the house where she had passed many of her
prosperous years. It had been occupied by a rich family who had
taken it nearly as it stood, and as the pictures had been dusted
regularly, and the books had never been handled, she found everything
in many respects as she had left it, and in some points improved, for
the rich people did not know what else to do, and so they spent money
without stint on their house and its adornments, by all of which she
could not help profiting. I do not choose to give the street and
number of the house where she lives, but a-great many poor people
know very well where it is, and as a matter of course the rich ones
roll up to her door in their carriages by the dozen every fine Monday
while anybody is in town.

It is whispered that our two young folks are to be married before
another season, and that the Lady has asked them to come and stay
with her for a while. Our Scheherezade is to write no more stories.
It is astonishing to see what a change for the better in her aspect a
few weeks of brain-rest and heart's ease have wrought in her. I
doubt very much whether she ever returns to literary labor. The work
itself was almost heart-breaking, but the effect upon her of the
sneers and cynical insolences of the literary rough who came at her
in mask and brass knuckles was to give her what I fear will be a
lifelong disgust against any writing for the public, especially in
any of the periodicals. I am not sorry that she should stop writing,
but I am sorry that she should have been silenced in such a rude way.
I doubt, too, whether the Young Astronomer will pass the rest of his
life in hunting for comets and planets. I think he has found an
attraction that will call him down from the celestial luminaries to a
light not less pure and far less remote. And I am inclined to
believe that the best answer to many of those questions which have
haunted him and found expression in his verse will be reached by a
very different channel from that of lonely contemplation, the duties,
the cares, the responsible realities of a life drawn out of itself by
the power of newly awakened instincts and affections. The double
star was prophetic,--I thought it would be.

The Register of Deeds is understood to have been very handsomely
treated by the boarder who owes her good fortune to his sagacity and
activity. He has engaged apartments at a very genteel boarding-house
not far from the one where we have all been living. The Salesman
found it a simple matter to transfer himself to an establishment over
the way; he had very little to move, and required very small

The Capitalist, however, seems to have felt it impossible to move
without ridding himself of a part at--least of his encumbrances. The
community was startled by the announcement that a citizen who did not
wish his name to be known had made a free gift of a large sum of
money--it was in tens of thousands--to an institution of long
standing and high character in the city of which he was a quiet
resident. The source of such a gift could not long be kept secret.
It, was our economical, not to say parsimonious Capitalist who had
done this noble act, and the poor man had to skulk through back
streets and keep out of sight, as if he were a show character in a
travelling caravan, to avoid the acknowledgments of his liberality,
which met him on every hand and put him fairly out of countenance.

That Boy has gone, in virtue of a special invitation, to make a visit
of indefinite length at the house of the father of the older boy,
whom we know by the name of Johnny. Of course he is having a good
time, for Johnny's father is full of fun, and tells first-rate
stories, and if neither of the boys gets his brains kicked out by the
pony, or blows himself up with gunpowder, or breaks through the ice
and gets drowned, they will have a fine time of it this winter.

The Scarabee could not bear to remove his collections, and the old
Master was equally unwilling to disturb his books. It was arranged,
therefore, that they should keep their apartments until the new
tenant should come into the house, when, if they were satisfied with
her management, they would continue as her boarders.

The last time I saw the Scarabee he was still at work on the meloe
question. He expressed himself very pleasantly towards all of us,
his fellow-boarders, and spoke of the kindness and consideration with
which the Landlady had treated him when he had been straitened at
times for want of means. Especially he seemed to be interested in
our young couple who were soon to be united. His tired old eyes
glistened as he asked about them,--could it be that their little
romance recalled some early vision of his own? However that may be,
he got up presently and went to a little box in which, as he said, he
kept some choice specimens. He brought to me in his hand something
which glittered. It was an exquisite diamond beetle.

--If you could get that to her,--he said,--they tell me that ladies
sometimes wear them in their hair. If they are out of fashion, she
can keep it till after they're married, and then perhaps after a
while there may be--you know--you know what I mean--there may
be larvae, that 's what I 'm thinking there may be, and they 'll like
to look at it.

--As he got out the word larvae, a faint sense of the ridiculous
seemed to take hold of the Scarabee, and for the first and only time
during my acquaintance with him a slight attempt at a smile showed
itself on his features. It was barely perceptible and gone almost as
soon as seen, yet I am pleased to put it on record that on one
occasion at least in his life the Scarabee smiled.

The old Master keeps adding notes and reflections and new suggestions
to his interleaved volume, but I doubt if he ever gives them to the
public. The study he has proposed to himself does not grow easier
the longer it is pursued. The whole Order of Things can hardly be
completely unravelled in any single person's lifetime, and I suspect
he will have to adjourn the final stage of his investigations to that
more luminous realm where the Landlady hopes to rejoin the company of
boarders who are nevermore to meet around her cheerful and well-
ordered table.

The curtain has now fallen, and I show myself a moment before it to
thank my audience and say farewell. The second comer is commonly
less welcome than the first, and the third makes but a rash venture.
I hope I have not wholly disappointed those who have been so kind to
my predecessors.

To you, Beloved, who have never failed to cut the leaves which hold
my record, who have never nodded over its pages, who have never
hesitated in your allegiance, who have greeted me with unfailing
smiles and part from me with unfeigned regrets, to you I look my last
adieu as I bow myself out of sight, trusting my poor efforts to your
always kind remembrance.




Anno Domini 1972.

A crazy bookcase, placed before
A low-price dealer's open door;
Therein arrayed in broken rows
A ragged crew of rhyme and prose,
The homeless vagrants, waifs and strays
Whose low estate this line betrays
(Set forth the lesser birds to lime)

Ho! dealer; for its motto's sake
This scarecrow from the shelf I take;
Three starveling volumes bound in one,
Its covers warping in the sun.
Methinks it hath a musty smell,
I like its flavor none too well,
But Yorick's brain was far from dull,
Though Hamlet pah!'d, and dropped his skull.

Why, here comes rain! The sky grows dark,--
Was that the roll of thunder? Hark!
The shop affords a safe retreat,
A chair extends its welcome seat,
The tradesman has a civil look
(I've paid, impromptu, for my book),
The clouds portend a sudden shower,
I'll read my purchase for an hour.


What have I rescued from the shelf?
A Boswell, writing out himself!
For though he changes dress and name,
The man beneath is still the same,
Laughing or sad, by fits and starts,
One actor in a dozen parts,
And whatsoe'er the mask may be,
The voice assures us, This is he.

I say not this to cry him clown;
I find my Shakespeare in his clown,
His rogues the self-same parent own;
Nay! Satan talks in Milton's tone!
Where'er the ocean inlet strays,
The salt sea wave its source betrays,
Where'er the queen of summer blows,
She tells the zephyr, "I'm the rose!"

And his is not the playwright's page;
His table does not ape the stage;
What matter if the figures seen
Are only shadows on a screen,
He finds in them his lurking thought,
And on their lips the words he sought,
Like one who sits before the keys
And plays a tune himself to please.

And was he noted in his day?
Read, flattered, honored? Who shall say?
Poor wreck of time the wave has cast
To find a peaceful shore at last,
Once glorying in thy gilded name
And freighted deep with hopes of fame,
Thy leaf is moistened with a tear,
The first for many a long, long year!

For be it more or less of art
That veils the lowliest human heart
Where passion throbs, where friendship glows,
Where pity's tender tribute flows,
Where love has lit its fragrant fire,
And sorrow quenched its vain desire,
For me the altar is divine,
Its flame, its ashes,--all are mine!

And thou, my brother, as I look
And see thee pictured in thy book,
Thy years on every page confessed
In shadows lengthening from the west,
Thy glance that wanders, as it sought
Some freshly opening flower of thought,
Thy hopeful nature, light and free,
I start to find myself in thee!

Come, vagrant, outcast, wretch forlorn
In leather jerkin stained and torn,
Whose talk has filled my idle hour
And made me half forget the shower,
I'll do at least as much for you,
Your coat I'll patch, your gilt renew,
Read you,--perhaps,--some other time.
Not bad, my bargain! Price one dime!


by Oliver W. Holmes


The kind way in which this series of papers has been received has
been a pleasure greater than I dared to anticipate. I felt that I
was a late comer in the midst of a crowd of ardent and eager
candidates for public attention, that I had already had my day, and
that if, like the unfortunate Frenchman we used read about, I had
"come again," I ought not to surprised if I received the welcome of
"Monsieur Tonson."

It has not proved so. My old readers have come forward in the
pleasantest possible way and assured me that they were glad to see me
again. There is no need, therefore, of apologies or explanations. I
thought I had something left to say and I have found listeners. In
writing these papers I have had occupation and kept myself in
relation with my fellow-beings. New sympathies, new sources of
encouragement, if not of inspiration, have opened themselves before
me and cheated the least promising season of life of much that seemed
to render it dreary and depressing. What particularly pleased me has
been the freedom of criticisms which I have seen from disadvantageous
comparisons of my later with my earlier writings.

I should like a little rest from literary work before the requiescat
ensures my repose from earthly labors, but I will not be rash enough
to promise that I will not even once again greet my old and new
readers if the impulse becomes irresistible to renew a companionship
which has been to me such a source of happiness.

BEVERLY FARM, Mass., August, 1891.

O. W. H.




This series of papers was begun in March, 1888. A single number was
printed, when it was interrupted the course of events, and not
resumed until nearly years later, in January, 1890. The plan of the
series was not formed in my mind when I wrote the number. In
returning to my task I found that my original plan had shaped itself
in the underground laboratory of my thought so that some changes had
to be made in what I had written. As I proceeded, the slight story
which formed a part of my programme eloped itself without any need of
much contrivance on my, part. Given certain characters in a writer's
conception, if they are real to him, as they ought to be they will
act in such or such a way, according to the law of their nature. It
was pretty safe to assume that intimate relations would spring up
between some members of our mixed company; and it was not rash
conjecture that some of these intimacies might end in such attachment
as would furnish us hints, at least, of a love-story.

As to the course of the conversations which would take place, very
little could be guessed beforehand. Various subjects of interest
would be likely to present themselves, without definite order,
oftentimes abruptly and, as it would seem, capriciously.
Conversation in such a mixed company as that of "The Teacups" is
likely to be suggestive rather than exhaustive. Continuous discourse
is better adapted to the lecture-room than to the tea-table. There
is quite enough of it, I fear too much,--in these pages. But the
reader must take the reports of our talks as they were jotted down.
A patchwork quilt is not like a piece of Gobelin tapestry; but it has
its place and its use.

Some will feel a temptation to compare these conversations with those
earlier ones, and remark unamiably upon their difference. This is
hardly fair, and is certainly not wise. They are produced under very
different conditions, and betray that fact in every line. It is
better to take them by themselves; and, if my reader finds anything
to please or profit from, I shall be contented, and he, I feel sure,
will not be ungrateful.

The readers who take up this volume may recollect a series of
conversations held many years ago over the breakfast-table, and
reported for their more or less profitable entertainment. Those were
not very early breakfasts at which the talks took place, but at any
rate the sun was rising, and the guests had not as yet tired
themselves with the labors of the day. The morning cup of coffee has
an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the
afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. The
toils of the forenoon, the heats of midday, in the warm season, the
slanting light of the descending sun, or the sobered translucency of
twilight have subdued the vivacity of the early day. Yet under the
influence of the benign stimulant many trains of thought which will
bear recalling, may suggest themselves to some of our quiet circle
and prove not uninteresting to a certain number of readers.

How early many of my old breakfast companions went off to bed! I am
thinking not merely of those who sat round our table, but of that
larger company of friends who listened to our conversations as
reported. Dear girl with the silken ringlets, dear boy with the
down-shadowed cheek, your grandfather, your grandmother, turned over
the freshly printed leaves that told the story of those earlier
meetings around the plain board where so many things were said and
sung, not all of which have quite faded from memory of this
overburdened and forgetful time. Your father, your mother, found the
scattered leaves gathered in a volume, and smiled upon them as not
uncompanionable acquaintances. My tea-table makes no promises.
There is no programme of exercises to studied beforehand. What if I
should content myself with a single report of what was said and done
over our teacups? Perhaps my young reader would be glad to let me
off, for there are talkers enough who have not yet left their
breakfast-tables; and nobody can blame the young people for
preferring the thoughts and the language of their own generation,
with all its future before it, to those of their grandfathers

My reader, young or old, will please to observe that I have left
myself entire freedom as to the sources of what may be said over the
teacups. I have not told how many cups are commonly on the board,
but by using the plural I have implied that there is at least one
other talker or listener beside myself, and for all that appears
there may be a dozen. There will be no regulation length to my
reports,--no attempt to make out a certain number of pages. I have
no contract to fill so many columns, no pledge to contribute so many
numbers. I can stop on this first page if I do not care to say
anything more, and let this article stand by itself if so minded.
What a sense of freedom it gives not to write by the yard or the

When one writes for an English review or magazine at so many guineas
a sheet, the temptation is very great to make one's contribution
cover as many sheets as possible. We all know the metallic taste of
articles written under this powerful stimulus. If Bacon's Essays had
been furnished by a modern hand to the "Quarterly Review" at fifty
guineas a sheet, what a great book it would have taken to hold them!

The first thing which suggests itself to me, as I contemplate my
slight project, is the liability of repeating in the evening what I
may have said in the morning in one form or another, and printed in
these or other pages. When it suddenly flashes into the
consciousness of a writer who had been long before the public, "Why,
I have said all that once or oftener in my books or essays, and here
it is again; the same old thought, the same old image, the same old
story!" it irritates him, and is likely to stir up the monosyllables
of his unsanctified vocabulary. He sees in imagination a thousand
readers, smiling or yawning as they say to themselves, "We have had
all that before," and turn to another writer's performance for
something not quite so stale and superfluous. This is what the
writer says to himself about the reader.

The idiot! Does the simpleton really think that everybody has read
all he has written? Does he really believe that everybody remembers
all of his, writer's, words he may happen to have read? At one of
those famous dinners of the Phi Beta Kappa Society; where no reporter
was ever admitted, and which nothing ever leaks out about what is
said and done, Mr. Edward Everett, in his after-dinner speech, quoted
these lines from the AEneid, giving a liberal English version of
them, which he applied to the Oration just delivered by Mr. Emerson:

Tres imbris torti radios, tres nubis aquosae
Addiderant, rutili tres ignis, et alitis Austri.

His nephew, the ingenious, inventive, and inexhaustible. Edward
Everett Hale, tells the story of this quotation, and of the various
uses to which it might plied in after-dinner speeches. How often he
ventured to repeat it at the Phi Beta Kappa dinners I am not sure;
but as he reproduced it with his lively embellishments and fresh
versions and artful circumlocutions, not one person in ten remembered
that he had listened to those same words in those same accents only a
twelvemonth ago. The poor deluded creatures who take it for granted
that all the world remembers what they have said, and laugh at them
when they say it over again, may profit by this recollection. But
what if one does say the same things,--of course in a little
different form each time,--over her? If he has anything to say worth
saying, that is just what be ought to do. Whether he ought to or
not, it is very certain that this is what all who write much or speak
much necessarily must and will do. Think of the clergyman who
preaches fifty or a hundred or more sermons every year for fifty
years! Think of the stump speaker who shouts before a hundred
audiences during the same political campaign, always using the same
arguments, illustrations, and catchwords! Think of the editor, as
Carlyle has pictured him, threshing the same straw every morning,
until we know what is coming when we see the first line, as we do
when we read the large capitals at the head of a thrilling story,
which ends in an advertisement of an all-cleansing soap or an all-
curing remedy!

The latch-key which opens into the inner chambers of my consciousness
fits, as I have sufficient reason to believe, the private apartments
of a good many other people's thoughts. The longer we live, the more
we find we are like other persons. When I meet with any facts in my
own mental experience, I feel almost sure that I shall find them
repeated or anticipated in the writings or the conversation of
others. This feeling gives one a freedom in telling his own personal
history he could not have enjoyed without it. My story belongs to
you as much as to me. De te fabula narratur. Change the personal
pronoun,--that is all. It gives many readers a singular pleasure to
find a writer telling them something they have long known or felt,
but which they have never before found any one to put in words for
them. An author does not always know when he is doing the service of
the angel who stirred the waters of the pool of Bethesda. Many a
reader is delighted to find his solitary thought has a companion, and
is grateful to the benefactor who has strengthened him. This is the
advantage of the humble reader over the ambitious and self-
worshipping writer. It is not with him pereant illi, but beati sunt
illi qui pro nobis nostra dixerunt,-Blessed are those who have said
our good things for us.

What I have been saying of repetitions leads me into a train of
reflections like which I think many readers will find something in
their own mental history. The area of consciousness is covered by
layers of habitual thoughts, as a sea-beach is covered with wave-
worn, rounded pebbles, shaped, smoothed, and polished by long
attrition against each other. These thoughts remain very much the
same from day to day, from week to week; and as we grow older, from
month to month, and from year to year. The tides of wakening
consciousness roll in upon them daily as we unclose our eyelids, and
keep up the gentle movement and murmur of ordinary mental respiration
until we close them again in slumber. When we think we are thinking,
we are for the most part only listening to sound of attrition between
these inert elements of intelligence. They shift their places a
little, they change their relations to each other, they roll over and
turn up new surfaces. Now and then a new fragment is cast in among
them, to be worn and rounded and takes its place with the others, but
the pebbled floor of consciousness is almost as stationary as the
pavement of a city thoroughfare.

It so happens that at this particular tine I have something to tell
which I am quite sure is not one of rolled pebbles which my reader
has seen before in any of my pages, or, as I feel confident, in those
of any other writer.

If my reader asks why I do not send the statement I am going to make
to some one of the special periodicals that deal with such subjects,
my answer is, that I like to tell my own stories at my own time, in
own chosen columns, where they will be read by a class of readers
with whom I like to talk.

All men of letters or of science, all writers well known to the
public, are constantly tampered with, in these days, by a class of
predaceous and hungry fellow-laborers who may be collectively spoken
of as the brain-tappers. They want an author's ideas on the subjects
which interest them, the inquirers, from the gravest religious and
moral questions to the most trivial matters of his habits and his
whims and fancies. Some of their questions he cannot answer; some he
does not choose to answer; some he is not yet ready to answer, and
when he is ready he prefers to select his own organ of publication.
I do not find fault with all the brain-tappers. Some of them are
doing excellent service by accumulating facts which could not
otherwise be attained. Rut one gets tired of the strings of
questions sent him, to which he is expected to return an answer,
plucked, ripe or unripe, from his private tree of knowledge. The
braintappers are like the owner of the goose that laid the golden
eggs. They would have the embryos and germs of one's thoughts out of
the mental oviducts, and cannot wait for their spontaneous evolution
and extrusion.

The story I have promised is, on the whole, the most remarkable of a
series which I may have told in part at some previous date, but
which, if I have not told, may be worth recalling at a future time.

Some few of my readers may remember that in a former paper I
suggested the possibility of the existence of an idiotic area in the
human mind, corresponding to the blind spot in the human retina. I
trust that I shall not be thought to have let my wits go wandering in
that region of my own intellectual domain, when I relate a singular
coincidence which very lately occurred in my experience, and add a
few remarks made by one of our company on the delicate and difficult
but fascinating subject which it forces upon our attention. I will
first copy the memorandum made at the time:

"Remarkable coincidence. On Monday, April 18th, being at table from
6.30 P. M. to 7.30, with ________and ________ the two ladies of my
household, I told them of the case of 'trial by battel' offered by
Abraham Thornton in 1817. I mentioned his throwing down his glove,
which was not taken up by the brother of his victim, and so he had to
be let off, for the old law was still in force. I mentioned that
Abraham Thornton was said to have come to this country, 'and [I added]
he may be living near us, for aught that I know." I rose from the
table, and found an English letter waiting for me, left while I sat
at dinner. A copy the first portion of this letter:

'20 ALFRED PLACE, West (near Museum)
South Kensington, LONDON, S. W.
April 7, 1887.


DEAR SIR,--In travelling, the other day, I met with a reprint of the
very interesting case of Thornton for murder, 1817. The prisoner
pleaded successfully the old Wager of Battel. I thought you would
like to read the account, and send it with this....

Yours faithfully,


Mr. Rathbone is a well-known dealer in old Wedgwood and eighteenth-
century art. As a friend of my hospitable entertainer, Mr. Willett,
he had shown me many attentions in England, but I was not expecting
any communication from him; and when, fresh from my conversation, I
found this letter just arrived by mail, and left while I was at
table, and on breaking the seal read what I had a few moments before
been; telling, I was greatly surprised, and immediately made a note
of the occurrence, as given above.

I had long been familiar with all the details of this celebrated
case, but had not referred to it, so far as I can remember, for
months or years. I know of no train of thought which led me to speak
of it on that particular day. I had never alluded to it before in
that company, nor had I ever spoken of it with Mr. Rathbone.

I told this story over our teacups. Among the company at the table
is a young English girl. She seemed to be amused by the story.
"Fancy!" she said,--"how very very odd!" "It was a striking and
curious coincidence," said the professor who was with us at the
table. "As remarkable as two teaspoons in one saucer," was the
comment of a college youth who happened to be one of the company.
But the member of our circle whom the reader will hereafter know as
Number Seven, began stirring his tea in a nervous sort of way, and I
knew that he was getting ready to say something about the case. An
ingenious man he is, with a brain like a tinder-box, its contents
catching at any spark that is flying about. I always like to hear
what he says when his tinder brain has a spark fall into it. It does
not follow that because he is often wrong he may not sometimes be
right, for he is no fool. He treated my narrative very seriously.

The reader need not be startled at the new terms he introduces.
Indeed, I am not quite sure that some thinking people will not adopt
his view of the matter, which seems to have a degree of plausibility
as he states and illustrates it.

"The impulse which led you to tell that story passed directly from
the letter, which came charged from the cells of the cerebral battery
of your correspondent. The distance at which the action took place
[the letter was left on a shelf twenty-four feet from the place where
I was sitting] shows this charge to have been of notable intensity.

"Brain action through space without material symbolism, such as
speech, expression, etc., is analogous to electrical induction.
Charge the prime conductor of an electrical machine, and a gold-leaf
electrometer, far off from it, will at once be disturbed.
Electricity, as we all know, can be stored and transported as if it
were a measurable fluid.

"Your incident is a typical example of cerebral induction from a
source containing stored cerebricity. I use this word, not to be
found in my dictionaries, as expressing the brain-cell power
corresponding to electricity. Think how long it was before we had
attained any real conception of the laws that govern the wonderful
agent, which now works in harness with the other trained and subdued
forces! It is natural that cerebricity should be the last of the
unweighable agencies to be understood. The human eye had seen heaven
and earth and all that in them is before it saw itself as our
instruments enable us to see it. This fact of yours, which seems so
strange to you, belongs to a great series of similar facts familiarly
known now to many persons, and before long to be recognized as
generally as those relating to the electric telegraph and the slaving

"What! you cannot conceive of a charge of cerebricity fastening
itself on a letter-sheet and clinging to it for weeks, while it was
shuffling about in mail-bags, rolling over the ocean, and shaken up
in railroad cars? And yet the odor of a grain of musk will hang
round a note or a dress for a lifetime. Do you not remember what
Professor Silliman says, in that pleasant journal of his, about the
little ebony cabinet which Mary, Queen of Scots, brought with her
from France,--how 'its drawers still exhale the sweetest perfumes'?
If they could hold their sweetness for more than two hundred years,
why should not a written page retain for a week or a month the
equally mysterious effluence poured over it from the thinking marrow,
and diffuse its vibrations to another excitable nervous centre?"

I have said that although our imaginative friend is given to wild
speculations, he is not always necessarily wrong. We know too little
about the laws of brain-force to be dogmatic with reference to it. I
am, myself, therefore, fully in sympathy with the psychological
investigators. When it comes to the various pretended sciences by
which men and women make large profits, attempts at investigation are
very apt to be used as lucrative advertisements for the charlatans.
But a series of investigations of the significance of certain popular
beliefs and superstitions, a careful study of the relations of
certain facts to each other,--whether that of cause and effect, or
merely of coincidence,--is a task not unworthy of sober-minded and
well-trained students of nature. Such a series of investigations has
been recently instituted, and was reported at a late meeting held in
the rooms of the Boston Natural History Society. The results were,
mostly negative, and in one sense a disappointment. A single case,
related by Professor Royce, attracted a good deal of attention. It
was reported in the next morning's newspapers, and will be given at
full length, doubtless, in the next number of the Psychological
Journal. The leading facts were, briefly, these: A lady in Hamburg,
Germany, wrote, on the 22d of June last, that she had what she
supposed to be nightmare on the night of the 17th, five days before.
"It seemed," she wrote, "to belong to you; to be a horrid pain in
your head, as if it were being forcibly jammed into an iron casque,
or some such pleasant instrument of torture." It proved that on that
same 17th of June her sister was undergoing a painful operation at
the hands of a dentist. "No single case," adds Professor Royce,
"proves, or even makes probable, the existence of telepathic
toothaches; but if there are any more cases of this sort, we want to
hear of them, and that all the more because no folk-lore and no
supernatural horrors have as yet mingled with the natural and well-
known impressions that people associate with the dentist's chair."

The case I have given is, I am confident, absolutely free from every
source of error. I do not remember that Mr. Rathbone had
communicated with me since he sent me a plentiful supply of mistletoe
a year ago last Christmas. The account I received from him was cut
out of "The Sporting Times" of March 5, 1887. My own knowledge of
the case came from "Kirby's Wonderful Museum," a work presented to me
at least thirty years ago. I had not looked at the account, spoken
of it, nor thought of it for a long time, when it came to me by a
kind of spontaneous generation, as it seemed, having no connection
with any previous train of thought that I was aware of. I consider
the evidence of entire independence, apart from possible "telepathic"
causation, completely water-proof, airtight, incombustible, and

I referred, when first reporting this curious case of coincidence,
with suggestive circumstances, to two others, one of which I said was
the most picturesque and the other the most unlikely, as it would
seem, to happen. This is the first of those two cases:--

Grenville Tudor Phillips was a younger brother of George Phillips, my
college classmate, and of Wendell Phillips, the great orator. He
lived in Europe a large part of his life, but at last returned, and,
in the year 1863, died at the house of his brother George. I read
his death in the paper; but, having seen and heard very little of him
during his life, should not have been much impressed by the fact, but
for the following occurrence: between the time of Grenville
Phillips's death and his burial, I was looking in upon my brother,
then living in the house in which we were both born. Some books
which had been my father's were stored in shelves in the room I used
to occupy when at Cambridge. Passing my eye over them, an old dark
quarto attracted my attention. It must be a Bible, I said to myself,
perhaps a rare one,--the "Breeches" Bible or some other interesting
specimen. I took it from the shelves, and, as I did so, an old slip
of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. On lifting it I read
these words:

The name is Grenville Tudor.

What was the meaning of this slip of paper coming to light at this
time, after reposing undisturbed so long? There was only one way of
explaining its presence in my father's old Bible;--a copy of the
Scriptures which I did not remember ever having handled or looked
into before. In christening a child the minister is liable to forget
the name, just at the moment when he ought to remember it. My father
preached occasionally at the Brattle Street Church. I take this for
granted, for I remember going with him on one occasion when he did
so. Nothing was more likely than that he should be asked to
officiate at the baptism of the younger son of his wife's first
cousin, Judge Phillips. This slip was handed him to remind him of
the name: He brought it home, put it in that old Bible, and there it
lay quietly for nearly half a century, when, as if it had just heard
of Mr. Phillips's decease, it flew from its hiding-place and startled
the eyes of those who had just read his name in the daily column of
deaths. It would be hard to find anything more than a mere
coincidence here; but it seems curious enough to be worth telling.

The second of these two last stories must be told in prosaic detail
to show its whole value as a coincidence.

One evening while I was living in Charles Street, I received a call
from Dr. S., a well-known and highly respected Boston physician, a
particular friend of the late Alexander H. Stephens, vice-president
of the Southern Confederacy. It was with reference to a work which
Mr. Stephens was about to publish that Dr. S. called upon me. After
talking that matter over we got conversing on other subjects, among
the rest a family relationship existing between us,--not a very near
one, but one which I think I had seen mentioned in genealogical
accounts. Mary S. (the last name being the same as that of my
visitant), it appeared, was the great-great-grandmother of Mrs. H.
and myself. After cordially recognizing our forgotten relationship,
now for the first time called to mind, we parted, my guest leaving me
for his own home. We had been sitting in my library on the lower
floor. On going up-stairs where Mrs. H. was sitting alone, just as I
entered the room she pushed a paper across the table towards me,
saying that perhaps it might interest me. It was one of a number of
old family papers which she had brought from the house of her mother,
recently deceased.

I opened the paper, which was an old-looking document, and found that
it was a copy, perhaps made in this century, of the will of that same
Mary S. about whom we had been talking down-stairs.

If there is such a thing as a purely accidental coincidence this must
be considered an instance of it.

All one can say about it is that it seems very unlikely that such a
coincidence should occur, but it did.

I have not tried to keep my own personality out of these stories.
But after all, how little difference it makes whether or not a writer
appears with a mask on which everybody can take off,--whether he
bolts his door or not, when everybody can look in at his windows, and
all his entrances are at the mercy of the critic's skeleton key and
the jimmy of any ill-disposed assailant!

The company have been silent listeners for the most part; but the
reader will have a chance to become better acquainted with some cf
them by and by.



I know that it is a hazardous experiment to address myself again to a
public which in days long past has given me a generous welcome. But
my readers have been, and are, a very faithful constituency. I think
there are many among them who would rather listen to an old voice
they are used to than to a new one of better quality, even if the
"childish treble" should betray itself now and then in the tones of
the overtired organ. But there must be others,--I am afraid many
others,--who will exclaim: "He has had his day, and why can't he be
content? We don't want literary revenants, superfluous veterans,
writers who have worn out their welcome and still insist on being
attended to. Give us something fresh, something that belongs to our
day and generation. Your morning draught was well enough, but we
don't care for your evening slip-slop. You are not in relation with
us, with our time, our ideas, our aims, our aspirations."

Alas, alas! my friend,--my young friend, for your hair is not yet
whitened,--I am afraid you are too nearly right. No doubt,--no
doubt. Teacups are not coffee-cups. They do not hold so much.
Their pallid infusion is but a feeble stimulant compared with the
black decoction served at the morning board. And so, perhaps, if
wisdom like yours were compatible with years like mine, I should drop
my pen and make no further attempts upon your patience.

But suppose that a writer who has reached and passed the natural
limit of serviceable years feels that he has some things which be
would like to say, and which may have an interest for a limited class
of readers,--is he not right in trying his powers and calmly taking
the risk of failure? Does it not seem rather lazy and cowardly,
because he cannot "beat his record," or even come up to the level of
what he has done in his prime, to shrink from exerting his talent,
such as it is, now that he has outlived the period of his greatest
vigor? A singer who is no longer equal to the trials of opera on the
stage may yet please at a chamber concert or in the drawing-room.
There is one gratification an old author can afford a certain class
of critics: that, namely, of comparing him as he is with what he was.
It is a pleasure to mediocrity to have its superiors brought within
range, so to speak; and if the ablest of them will only live long
enough, and keep on writing, there is no pop-gun that cannot reach
him. But I fear that this is an unamiable reflection, and I am at
this time in a very amiable mood.

I confess that there is something agreeable to me in renewing my
relations with the reading public. Were it but a single appearance,
it would give me a pleasant glimpse of the time when I was known as a
frequent literary visitor. Many of my readers--if I can lure any
from the pages of younger writers will prove to be the children, or
the grandchildren, of those whose acquaintance I made something more
than a whole generation ago. I could depend on a kind welcome from
my contemporaries,--my coevals. But where are those contemporaries?
Ay de mi! as Carlyle used to exclaim,--Ah, dear me! as our old women
say,--I look round for them, and see only their vacant places. The
old vine cannot unwind its tendrils. The branch falls with the decay
of its support, and must cling to the new growths around it, if it
would not lie helpless in the dust. This paper is a new tendril,
feeling its way, as it best may, to whatever it can wind around. The
thought of finding here and there an old friend, and making, it may
be, once in a while a new one, is very grateful to me. The chief
drawback to the pleasure is the feeling that I am submitting to that
inevitable exposure which is the penalty of authorship in every form.
A writer must make up his mind to the possible rough treatment of the
critics, who swarm like bacteria whenever there is any literary
material on which they can feed. I have had as little to complain of
as most writers, yet I think it is always with reluctance that one
encounters the promiscuous handling which the products of the mind
have to put up with, as much as the fruit and provisions in the
market-stalls. I had rather be criticised, however, than criticise;
that is, express my opinions in the public prints of other writers'
work, if they are living, and can suffer, as I should often have to
make them. There are enough, thank Heaven, without me. We are
literary cannibals, and our writers live on each other and each
other's productions to a fearful extent. What the mulberry leaf is
to the silk-worm, the author's book, treatise, essay, poem, is to the
critical larva; that feed upon it. It furnishes them with food and
clothing. The process may not be agreeable to the mulberry leaf or
to the printed page; but without it the leaf would not have become
the silk that covers the empress's shoulders, and but for the critic
the author's book might never have reached the scholar's table.
Scribblers will feed on each other, and if we insist on being
scribblers we must consent to be fed on. We must try to endure
philosophically what we cannot help, and ought not, I suppose, to
wish to help.

It is the custom at our table to vary the usual talk, by the reading
of short papers, in prose or verse, by one or more of The Teacups, as
we are in the habit of calling those who make up our company. Thirty
years ago, one of our present circle--"Teacup Number Two," The
Professor,--read a paper on Old Age, at a certain Breakfast-table,
where he was in the habit of appearing. That paper was published at
the time, and has since seen the light in other forms. He did not
know so much about old age then as he does now, and would doubtless
write somewhat differently if he took the subject up again. But I
found that it was the general wish that another of our company should
let us hear what he had to say about it. I received a polite note,
requesting me to discourse about old age, inasmuch as I was
particularly well qualified by my experience to write in an
authoritative way concerning it. The fact is that I,--for it is
myself who am speaking,--have recently arrived at the age of
threescore years and twenty,--fourscore years we may otherwise call
it. In the arrangement of our table, I am Teacup Number One, and I
may as well say that I am often spoken of as The Dictator. There is
nothing invidious in this, as I am the oldest of the company, and no
claim is less likely to excite jealousy than that of priority of

I received congratulations on reaching my eightieth birthday, not
only from our circle of Teacups, but from friends, near and distant,
in large numbers. I tried to acknowledge these kindly missives with
the aid of a most intelligent secretary; but I fear that there were
gifts not thanked for, and tokens of good-will not recognized. Let
any neglected correspondent be assured that it was not intentionally
that he or she was slighted. I was grateful for every such mark of
esteem; even for the telegram from an unknown friend in a distant
land, for which I cheerfully paid the considerable charge which the
sender doubtless knew it would give me pleasure to disburse for such
an expression of friendly feeling.

I will not detain the reader any longer from the essay I have

This is the paper read to The Teacups.

It is in A Song of Moses that we find the words, made very familiar
to us by the Episcopal Burial Service, which place the natural limit
on life at threescore years and ten, with an extra ten years for some
of a stronger constitution than the average. Yet we are told that
Moses himself lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, and that
his eye was not dim nor his natural strength abated. This is hard to
accept literally, but we need not doubt that he was very old, and in
remarkably good condition for a man of his age. Among his followers
was a stout old captain, Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. This ancient
warrior speaks of himself in these brave terms: "Lo, I am this day
fourscore and five years old. As yet, I am as strong this day as I
was in the day that Moses sent me; as my strength was then, even so
is my strength now, for war, both to go out and to come in." It is
not likely that anybody believed his brag about his being as good a
man for active service at eighty-five as he was at forty, when Moses
sent him out to spy the land of Canaan. But he was, no doubt, lusty
and vigorous for his years, and ready to smite the Canaanites hip and
thigh, and drive them out, and take possession of their land, as he
did forthwith, when Moses gave him leave.

Grand old men there were, three thousand years ago! But not all
octogenarians were like Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. Listen to poor
old Barzillai, and hear him piping: "I am this day fourscore years
old; and can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste
what I eat or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of
singing men and singing women? Wherefore, then, should thy servant
be yet a burden unto my lord the king?" And poor King David was
worse off than this, as you all remember, at the early age of

Thirty centuries do not seem to have made any very great difference
in the extreme limits of life. Without pretending to rival the
alleged cases of life prolonged beyond the middle of its second
century, such as those of Henry Jenkins and Thomas Parr, we can make
a good showing of centenarians and nonagenarians. I myself remember
Dr. Holyoke, of Salem, son of a president of Harvard College, who
answered a toast proposed in his honor at a dinner given to him on
his hundredth birthday.

"Father Cleveland," our venerated city missionary, was born June 21,
1772, and died June 5, 1872, within a little more than a fortnight of
his hundredth birthday. Colonel Perkins, of Connecticut, died
recently after celebrating his centennial anniversary.

Among nonagenarians, three whose names are well known to Bostonians,
Lord Lyndhurst, Josiah Quincy, and Sidney Bartlett, were remarkable
for retaining their faculties in their extreme age. That patriarch
of our American literature, the illustrious historian of his country,
is still with us, his birth dating in 1800.

Ranke, the great German historian, died at the age of ninety-one, and
Chevreul, the eminent chemist, at that of a hundred and two.

Some English sporting characters have furnished striking examples of
robust longevity. In Gilpin's "Forest Scenery" there is the story of
one of these horseback heroes. Henry Hastings was the name of this
old gentleman, who lived in the time of Charles the First. It would
be hard to find a better portrait of a hunting squire than that which
the Earl of Shaftesbury has the credit of having drawn of this very
peculiar personage. His description ends by saying, "He lived to be
an hundred, and never lost his eyesight nor used spectacles. He got
on horseback without help, and rode to the death of the stag till he
was past fourscore."

Everything depends on habit. Old people can do, of course, more or
less well, what they have been doing all their lives; but try to
teach them any new tricks, and the truth of the old adage will very
soon show itself. Mr. Henry Hastings had done nothing but hunt all
his days, and his record would seem to have been a good deal like
that of Philippus Zaehdarm in that untranslatable epitaph which may
be found in "Sartor Resartus." Judged by its products, it was a very
short life of a hundred useless twelve months.

It is something to have climbed the white summit, the Mont Blanc of
fourscore. A small number only of mankind ever see their eightieth
anniversary. I might go to the statistical tables of the annuity and
life insurance offices for extended and exact information, but I
prefer to take the facts which have impressed themselves upon me in
my own career.

The class of 1829 at Harvard College, of which I am a member,
graduated, according to the triennial, fifty-nine in number. It is
sixty years, then, since that time; and as they were, on an average,
about twenty years old, those who survive must have reached fourscore
years. Of the fifty-nine graduates ten only are living, or were at
the last accounts; one in six, very nearly. In the first ten years
after graduation, our third decade, when we were between twenty and
thirty years old, we lost three members,--about one in twenty;
between the ages of thirty and forty, eight died,--one in seven of
those the decade began with; from forty to fifty, only two,--or one
in twenty-four; from fifty to sixty, eight,--or one in six; from
sixty to seventy, fifteen,--or two out of every five; from seventy to
eighty, twelve,--or one in two. The greatly increased mortality
which began with our seventh decade went on steadily increasing. At
sixty we come "within range of the rifle-pits," to borrow an
expression from my friend Weir Mitchell.

Our eminent classmate, the late Professor Benjamin Peirce, showed by
numerical comparison that the men of superior ability outlasted the
average of their fellow-graduates. He himself lived a little beyond
his threescore and ten years. James Freeman Clarke almost reached
the age of eighty. The eighth decade brought the fatal year for
Benjamin Robbins Curtis, the great lawyer, who was one of the judges
of the Supreme Court of the United States; for the very able chief
justice of Massachusetts, George Tyler Bigelow; and for that famous
wit and electric centre of social life, George T. Davis. At the last
annual dinner every effort was made to bring all the survivors of the
class together. Six of the ten living members were there, six old
men in the place of the thirty or forty classmates who surrounded the
long, oval table in 1859, when I asked, "Has there any old fellow got
mixed with the boys?"--11 boys whose tongues were as the vibrating
leaves of the forest; whose talk was like the voice of many waters;
whose laugh was as the breaking of mighty waves upon the seashore.
Among the six at our late dinner was our first scholar, the thorough-
bred and accomplished engineer who held the city of Lawrence in his
brain before it spread itself out along the banks of the Merrimac.
There, too, was the poet whose National Hymn, "My Country, 't is of
thee," is known to more millions, and dearer to many of them, than
all the other songs written since the Psalms of David. Four of our
six were clergymen; the engineer and the present writer completed the
list. Were we melancholy? Did we talk of graveyards and epitaphs?
No,--we remembered our dead tenderly, serenely, feeling deeply what
we had lost in those who but a little while ago were with us. How
could we forget James Freeman Clarke, that man of noble thought and
vigorous action, who pervaded this community with his spirit, and was
felt through all its channels as are the light and the strength that
radiate through the wires which stretch above us? It was a pride and
a happiness to have such classmates as he was to remember. We were
not the moping, complaining graybeards that many might suppose we
must have been. We had been favored with the blessing of long life.
We had seen the drama well into its fifth act. The sun still warmed
us, the air was still grateful and life-giving. But there was
another underlying source of our cheerful equanimity, which we could
not conceal from ourselves if we had wished to do it. Nature's
kindly anodyne is telling upon us more and more with every year. Our
old doctors used to give an opiate which they called "the black
drop." It was stronger than laudanum, and, in fact, a dangerously
powerful narcotic. Something like this is that potent drug in
Nature's pharmacopoeia which she reserves for the time of need,--the
later stages of life. She commonly begins administering it at about
the time of the "grand climacteric," the ninth septennial period, the
sixty-third year. More and more freely she gives it, as the years go
on, to her grey-haired children, until, if they last long enough,
every faculty is benumbed, and they drop off quietly into sleep under
its benign influence.

Do you say that old age is unfeeling? It has not vital energy enough
to supply the waste of the more exhausting emotions. Old Men's
Tears, which furnished the mournful title to Joshua Scottow's
Lamentations, do not suggest the deepest grief conceivable. A little
breath of wind brings down the raindrops which have gathered on the
leaves of the tremulous poplars. A very slight suggestion brings the
tears from Marlborough's eyes, but they are soon over, and he is
smiling again as an allusion carries him back to the days of Blenheim
and Malplaquet. Envy not the old man the tranquillity of his
existence, nor yet blame him if it sometimes looks like apathy.
Time, the inexorable, does not threaten him with the scythe so often
as with the sand-bag. He does not cut, but he stuns and stupefies.
One's fellow-mortals can afford to be as considerate and tender with
him as Time and Nature.

There was not much boasting among us of our present or our past, as
we sat together in the little room at the great hotel. A certain
amount of self-deception is quite possible at threescore years and
ten, but at three score years and twenty Nature has shown most of
those who live to that age that she is earnest, and means to
dismantle and have done with them in a very little while. As for
boasting of our past, the laudator temporis acti makes but a poor
figure in our time. Old people used to talk of their youth as if
there were giants in those days. We knew some tall men when we were
young, but we can see a man taller than any one among them at the
nearest dime museum. We had handsome women among us, of high local
reputation, but nowadays we have professional beauties who challenge
the world to criticise them as boldly as Phryne ever challenged her
Athenian admirers. We had fast horses,--did not "Old Blue" trot a
mile in three minutes? True, but there is a three-year-old colt just
put on the track who has done it in a little more than two thirds of
that time. It seems as if the material world had been made over
again since we were boys. It is but a short time since we were
counting up the miracles we had lived to witness. The list is
familiar enough: the railroad, the ocean steamer, photography, the
spectroscope, the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, anesthetics,
electric illumination,--with such lesser wonders as the friction
match, the sewing machine, and the bicycle. And now, we said, we
must have come to the end of these unparalleled developments of the
forces of nature. We must rest on our achievements. The nineteenth
century is not likely to add to them; we must wait for the twentieth
century. Many of us, perhaps most of us, felt in that way. We had
seen our planet furnished by the art of man with a complete nervous
system: a spinal cord beneath the ocean, secondary centres,--
ganglions,--in all the chief places where men are gathered together,
and ramifications extending throughout civilization. All at once, by
the side of this talking and light-giving apparatus, we see another
wire stretched over our heads, carrying force to a vast metallic
muscular system,--a slender cord conveying the strength of a hundred
men, of a score of horses, of a team of elephants. The lightning is
tamed and harnessed, the thunderbolt has become a common carrier. No
more surprises in this century! A voice whispers, What next?

It will not do for us to boast about our young days and what they had
to show. It is a great deal better to boast of what they could not
show, and, strange as it may seem, there is a certain satisfaction in
it. In these days of electric lighting, when you have only to touch
a button and your parlor or bedroom is instantly flooded with light,
it is a pleasure to revert to the era of the tinder-box, the flint
and steel, and the brimstone match. It gives me an almost proud
satisfaction to tell how we used, when those implements were not at
hand or not employed, to light our whale-oil lamp by blowing a live
coal held against the wick, often swelling our cheeks and reddening
our faces until we were on the verge of apoplexy. I love to tell of
our stage-coach experiences, of our sailing-packet voyages, of the
semi-barbarous destitution of all modern comforts and conveniences
through which we bravely lived and came out the estimable personages
you find us.

Think of it! All my boyish shooting was done with a flint-lock gun;
the percussion lock came to me as one of those new-fangled notions
people had just got hold of. We ancients can make a grand display of
minus quantities in our reminiscences, and the figures look almost as
well as if they had the plus sign before them.

I am afraid that old people found life rather a dull business in the
time of King David and his rich old subject and friend, Barzillai,
who, poor man, could not have read a wicked novel, nor enjoyed a
symphony concert, if they had had those luxuries in his day. There
were no pleasant firesides, for there were no chimneys. There were
no daily newspapers for the old man to read, and he could not read
them if there were, with his dimmed eyes, nor hear them read, very
probably, with his dulled ears. There was no tobacco, a soothing
drug, which in its various forms is a great solace to many old men
and to some old women, Carlyle and his mother used to smoke their
pipes together, you remember.

Old age is infinitely more cheerful, for intelligent people at least,
than it was two or three thousand years ago. It is our duty, so far
as we can, to keep it so. There will always be enough about it that
is solemn, and more than enough, alas! that is saddening. But how
much there is in our times to lighten its burdens! If they that look
out at the windows be darkened, the optician is happy to supply them
with eye-glasses for use before the public, and spectacles for their
hours of privacy. If the grinders cease because they are few, they
can be made many again by a third dentition, which brings no
toothache in its train. By temperance and good Habits of life,
proper clothing, well-warmed, well-drained, and well-ventilated
dwellings, and sufficient, not too much exercise, the old man of our
time may keep his muscular strength in very good condition. I doubt
if Mr. Gladstone, who is fast nearing his eightieth birthday, would
boast, in the style of Caleb, that he was as good a man with his axe
as he was when he was forty, but I would back him,--if the match were
possible, for a hundred shekels, against that over-confident old
Israelite, to cut down and chop up a cedar of Lebanon. I know a most
excellent clergyman, not far from my own time of life, whom I would
pit against any old Hebrew rabbi or Greek philosopher of his years
and weight, if they could return to the flesh, to run a quarter of a
mile on a good, level track.

We must not make too much of such exceptional cases of prolonged
activity. I often reproached my dear friend and classmate, Tames
Freeman Clarke, that his ceaseless labors made it impossible for his
coevals to enjoy the luxury of that repose which their years
demanded. A wise old man, the late Dr. James Walker, president of
Harvard University, said that the great privilege of old age was the
getting rid of responsibilities. These hard-working veterans will
not let one get rid of them until he drops in his harness, and so
gets rid of them and his life together. How often has many a tired
old man envied the superannuated family cat, stretched upon the rug
before the fire, letting the genial warmth tranquilly diffuse itself
through all her internal arrangements! No more watching for mice in
dark, damp cellars, no more awaiting the savage gray rat at the mouth
of his den, no more scurrying up trees and lamp-posts to avoid the
neighbor's cur who wishes to make her acquaintance! It is very grand
to "die in harness," but it is very pleasant to have the tight straps
unbuckled and the heavy collar lifted from the neck and shoulders.

It is natural enough to cling to life. We are used to atmospheric
existence, and can hardly conceive of ourselves except as breathing
creatures. We have never tried any other mode of being, or, if we
have, we have forgotten all about it, whatever Wordsworth's grand ode
may tell us we remember. Heaven itself must be an experiment to
every human soul which shall find itself there. It may take time for
an earthborn saint to become acclimated to the celestial ether,--that
is, if time can be said to exist for a disembodied spirit. We are
all sentenced to capital punishment for the crime of living, and
though the condemned cell of our earthly existence is but a narrow
and bare dwelling-place, we have adjusted ourselves to it, and made
it tolerably comfortable for the little while we are to be confined
in it. The prisoner of Chillon

"regained [his] freedom with a sigh,"

and a tender-hearted mortal might be pardoned for looking back, like
the poor lady who was driven from her dwelling-place by fire and
brimstone, at the home he was leaving for the "undiscovered country."

On the other hand, a good many persons, not suicidal in their
tendencies, get more of life than they want. One of our wealthy
citizens said, on hearing that a friend had dropped off from
apoplexy, that it made his mouth water to hear of such a case. It
was an odd expression, but I have no doubt that the fine old
gentleman to whom it was attributed made use of it. He had had
enough of his gout and other infirmties. Swift's account of the
Struldbrugs is not very amusing reading for old people, but some may
find it a consolation to reflect on the probable miseries they escape
in not being doomed to an undying earthly existence.

There are strange diversities in the way in which different old
persons look upon their prospects. A millionaire whom I well
remember confessed that be should like to live long enough to learn
how much a certain fellow-citizen, a multimillionaire, was worth.
One of the, three nonagenarians before referred to expressed himself
as having a great curiosity about the new sphere of existence to
which he was looking forward.

The feeling must of necessity come to many aged persons that they
have outlived their usefulness; that they are no longer wanted, but
rather in the way, drags on the wheels rather than helping them
forward. But let them remember the often-quoted line of Milton,

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

This is peculiarly true of them. They are helping others without
always being aware of it. They are the shields, the breakwaters, of
those who come after them. Every decade is a defence of the one next
behind it. At thirty the youth has sobered into manhood, but the
strong men of forty rise in almost unbroken rank between him and the
approaches of old age as they show in the men of fifty. At forty he
looks with a sense of security at the strong men of fifty, and sees
behind them the row of sturdy sexagenarians. When fifty is reached,
somehow sixty does not look so old as it once used to, and seventy is
still afar off. After sixty the stern sentence of the burial service
seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years.
There begins to be something personal about it. But if one lives to
seventy he soon gets used to the text with the threescore years and
ten in it, and begins to count himself among those who by reason of
strength are destined to reach fourscore, of whom he can see a number
still in reasonably good condition. The octogenarian loves to read
about people of ninety and over. He peers among the asterisks of the
triennial catalogue of the University for the names of graduates who
have been seventy years out of college and remain still unstarred.
He is curious about the biographies of centenarians. Such escapades
as those of that terrible old sinner and ancestor of great men, the
Reverend Stephen Bachelder, interest him as they never did before.
But he cannot deceive himself much longer. See him walking on a
level surface, and he steps off almost as well as ever; but watch him
coming down a flight of stairs, and the family record could not tell
his years more faithfully. He cut you dead, you say? Did it occur
to you that he could not see you clearly enough to know you from any
other son or daughter of Adam? He said he was very glad to hear it,
did he, when you told him that your beloved grandmother had just
deceased? Did you happen to remember that though he does not allow
that he is deaf, he will not deny that he does not hear quite so well
as he used to? No matter about his failings; the longer he holds on
to life, the longer he makes life seem to all the living who follow
him, and thus he is their constant benefactor.

Every stage of existence has its special trials and its special
consolations. Habits are the crutches of old age; by the aid of
these we manage to hobble along after the mental joints are stiff and
the muscles rheumatic, to speak metaphorically,--that is to say, when
every act of self-determination costs an effort and a pang. We
become more and more automatic as we grow older, and if we lived long
enough we should come to be pieces of creaking machinery like
Maelzel's chess player,--or what that seemed to be.

Emerson was sixty-three years old, the year I have referred to as
that of the grand climacteric, when he read to his son the poem he
called "Terminus," beginning:

"It is time to be old,
To take in sail.
The God of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds
And said, 'No more!'"

It was early in life to feel that the productive stage was over, but
he had received warning from within, and did not wish to wait for
outside advices. There is all the difference in the world in the
mental as in the bodily constitution of different individuals. Some
must "take in sail" sooner, some later. We can get a useful lesson
from the American and the English elms on our Common. The American
elms are quite bare, and have been so for weeks. They know very well
that they are going to have storms to wrestle with; they have not
forgotten the gales of September and the tempests of the late autumn
and early winter. It is a hard fight they are going to have, and
they strip their coats off and roll up their shirt-sleeves, and show
themselves bare-armed and ready for the contest. The English elms
are of a more robust build, and stand defiant, with all their summer
clothing about their sturdy frames. They may yet have to learn a
lesson of their American cousins, for notwithstanding their compact
and solid structure they go to pieces in the great winds just as ours
do. We must drop much of our foliage before winter is upon us. We
must take in sail and throw over cargo, if that is necessary, to keep
us afloat. We have to decide between our duties and our instinctive
demand of rest. I can believe that some have welcomed the decay of
their active powers because it furnished them with peremptory reasons
for sparing themselves during the few years that were left them.

Age brings other obvious changes besides the loss of active power.
The sensibilities are less keen, the intelligence is less lively, as
we might expect under the influence of that narcotic which Nature
administers. But there is another effect of her "black drop" which
is not so commonly recognized. Old age is like an opium-dream.
Nothing seems real except what is unreal. I am sure that the
pictures painted by the imagination,--the faded frescos on the walls
of memory,--come out in clearer and brighter colors than belonged to
them many years earlier. Nature has her special favors for her
children of every age, and this is one which she reserves for our
second childhood.

No man can reach an advanced age without thinking of that great
change to which, in the course of nature, he must be so near. It has
been remarked that the sterner beliefs of rigid theologians are apt
to soften in their later years. All reflecting persons, even those
whose minds have been half palsied by the deadly dogmas which have
done all they could to disorganize their thinking powers,--all
reflecting persons, I say, must recognize, in looking back over a
long life, how largely their creeds, their course of life, their
wisdom and unwisdom, their whole characters, were shaped by the
conditions which surrounded them. Little children they came from the
hands of the Father of all; little children in their helplessness,
their ignorance, they are going back to Him. They cannot help
feeling that they are to be transferred from the rude embrace of the
boisterous elements to arms that will receive them tenderly. Poor
planetary foundlings, they have known hard treatment at the hands of
the brute forces of nature, from the control of which they are soon
to be set free. There are some old pessimists, it is true, who
believe that they and a few others are on a raft, and that the ship
which they have quitted, holding the rest of mankind, is going down
with all on board. It is no wonder that there should be such when we
remember what have been the teachings of the priesthood through long
series of ignorant centuries. Every age has to shape the Divine
image it worships over again,--the present age and our own country
are busily engaged in the task at this time. We unmake Presidents
and make new ones. This is an apprenticeship for a higher task. Our
doctrinal teachers are unmaking the Deity of the Westminster
Catechism and trying to model a new one, with more of modern humanity
and less of ancient barbarism in his composition. If Jonathan
Edwards had lived long enough, I have no doubt his creed would have
softened into a kindly, humanized belief.

Some twenty or thirty years ago, I said to Longfellow that certain
statistical tables I had seen went to show that poets were not a
long-lived race. He doubted whether there was anything to prove they
were particularly short-lived. Soon after this, he handed me a list
he had drawn up. I cannot lay my hand upon it at this moment, but I
remember that Metastasio was the oldest of them all. He died at the
age of eighty-four. I have had some tables made out, which I have
every reason to believe are correct so far as they go. From these,
it appears that twenty English poets lived to the average age of
fifty-six years and a little over. The eight American poets on the
list averaged seventy-three and a half, nearly, and they are not all
dead yet. The list including Greek, Latin, Italian, and German
poets, with American and English, gave an average of a little over
sixty-two years. Our young poets need not be alarmed. They can
remember that Bryant lived to be eighty-three years old, that
Longfellow reached seventy-five and Halleck seventy-seven, while
Whittier is living at the age of nearly eighty-two. Tennyson is
still writing at eighty, and Browning reached the age of seventy-

Shall a man who in his younger days has written poetry, or what
passed for it, continue to attempt it in his later years? Certainly,
if it amuses or interests him, no one would object to his writing in
verse as much as he likes. Whether he should continue to write for
the public is another question. Poetry is a good deal a matter of
heart-beats, and the circulation is more languid in the later period
of life. The joints are less supple; the arteries are more or less
"ossified." Something like these changes has taken place in the
mind. It has lost the flexibility, the plastic docility, which it
had in youth and early manhood, when the gristle had but just become
hardened into bone. It is the nature of poetry to writhe itself
along through the tangled growths of the vocabulary, as a snake winds
through the grass, in sinuous, complex, and unexpected curves, which
crack every joint that is not supple as india-rubber.

I had a poem that I wanted to print just here. But after what I have
this moment said, I hesitated, thinking that I might provoke the
obvious remark that I exemplified the unfitness of which I had been
speaking. I remembered the advice I had given to a poetical aspirant
not long since, which I think deserves a paragraph to itself.

My friend, I said, I hope you will not write in verse. When you
write in prose you say what you mean. When you write in rhyme you
say what you must.

Should I send this poem to the publishers, or not?

"Some said, 'John, print it;' others said, 'Not so.'"

I did not ask "some" or "others." Perhaps I should have thought it
best to keep my poem to myself and the few friends for whom it was
written. All at once, my daimon--that other Me over whom I button my
waistcoat when I button it over my own person--put it into my head to
look up the story of Madame Saqui. She was a famous danseuse, who
danced Napoleon in and out, and several other dynasties besides. Her
last appearance was at the age of seventy-six, which is rather late
in life for the tight rope, one of her specialties. Jules Janin
mummified her when she died in 1866, at the age of eighty. He spiced
her up in his eulogy as if she had been the queen of a modern
Pharaoh. His foamy and flowery rhetoric put me into such a state of
good-nature that I said, I will print my poem, and let the critical
Gil Blas handle it as he did the archbishop's sermon, or would have
done, if he had been a writer for the "Salamanca Weekly."

It must be premised that a very beautiful loving cup was presented to
me on my recent birthday, by eleven ladies of my acquaintance. This
was the most costly and notable of all the many tributes I received,
and for which in different forms I expressed my gratitude.



"Who gave this cup?" The secret thou wouldst steal
Its brimming flood forbids it to reveal:
No mortal's eye shall read it till he first
Cool the red throat of thirst.

If on the golden floor one draught remain,
Trust me, thy careful search will be in vain;
Not till the bowl is emptied shalt thou know
The names enrolled below.

Deeper than Truth lies buried in her well
Those modest names the graven letters spell
Hide from the sight; but, wait, and thou shalt see
Who the good angels be

Whose bounty glistens in the beauteous gift
That friendly hands to loving lips shall lift:
Turn the fair goblet when its floor is dry,
Their names shall meet thine eye.

Count thou their number on the beads of Heaven,
Alas! the clustered Pleiads are but seven;
Nay, the nine sister Muses are too few,--
The Graces must add two.

"For whom this gift?" For one who all too long
Clings to his bough among the groves of song;
Autumn's last leaf, that spreads its faded wing
To greet a second spring.

Dear friends, kind friends, whate'er the cup may hold,
Bathing its burnished depths, will change to gold
Its last bright drop let thirsty Maenads drain,
Its fragrance will remain.

Better love's perfume in the empty bowl
Than wine's nepenthe for the aching soul
Sweeter than song that ever poet sung,
It makes an old heart young!


After the reading of the paper which was reported in the preceding


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