The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 19 out of 51
"How happy could I be with neither.
"There are several young women in the world besides our two Annexes."
I question whether the Tutor had asked those questions very
seriously, and I doubt if Number Five thought he was very much in
One of The Teacups reminded me that I had promised to say something
of my answers to certain questions. So I began at once:
I have given the name of brain-tappers to the literary operatives who
address persons whose names are well known to the public, asking
their opinions or their experiences on subjects which are at the time
of general interest. They expect a literary man or a scientific
expert to furnish them materials for symposia and similar articles,
to be used by them for their own special purposes. Sometimes they
expect to pay for the information furnished them; at other times, the
honor of being included in a list of noted personages who have
received similar requests is thought sufficient compensation. The
object with which the brain-tapper puts his questions may be a purely
benevolent and entirely disinterested one. Such was the object of
some of those questions which I have received and answered. There
are other cases, in which the brain-tapper is acting much as those
persons do who stop a physician in the street to talk with him about
their livers or stomachs, or other internal arrangements, instead of
going to his office and consulting him, expecting to pay for his
advice. Others are more like those busy women who, having the
generous intention of making a handsome present to their pastor, at
as little expense as may be, send to all their neighbors and
acquaintances for scraps of various materials, out of which the
imposing "bedspread" or counterpane is to be elaborated.
That is all very well so long as old pieces of stuff are all they
call for, but it is a different matter to ask for clippings out of
new and uncut rolls of cloth. So it is one thing to ask an author
for liberty to use extracts from his published writings, and it is a
very different thing to expect him to write expressly for the
editor's or compiler's piece of literary patchwork.
I have received many questions within the last year or two, some of
which I am willing to answer, but prefer to answer at my own time, in
my own way, through my customary channel of communication with the
public. I hope I shall not be misunderstood as implying any reproach
against the inquirers who, in order to get at facts which ought to be
known, apply to all whom they can reach for information. Their
inquisitiveness is not always agreeable or welcome, but we ought to
be glad that there are mousing fact-hunters to worry us with queries
to which, for the sake of the public, we are bound to give our
attention. Let me begin with my brain-tappers.
And first, as the papers have given publicity to the fact that I, The
Dictator of this tea-table, have reached the age of threescore years
and twenty, I am requested to give information as to how I managed to
do it, and to explain just how they can go and do likewise. I think
I can lay down a few rules that will help them to the desired result.
There is no certainty in these biological problems, but there are
reasonable probabilities upon which it is safe to act.
The first thing to be done is, some years before birth, to advertise
for a couple of parents both belonging to long-lived families.
Especially let the mother come of a race in which octogenarians and
nonagenarians are very common phenomena. There are practical
difficulties in following out this suggestion, but possibly the
forethought of your progenitors, or that concurrence of circumstances
which we call accident, may have arranged this for you.
Do not think that a robust organization is any warrant of long life,
nor that a frail and slight bodily constitution necessarily means
scanty length of days. Many a strong-limbed young man and many a
blooming young woman have I seen failing and dropping away in or
before middle life, and many a delicate and slightly constituted
person outliving the athletes and the beauties of their generation.
Whether the excessive development of the muscular system is
compatible with the best condition of general health is, I think,
more than doubtful. The muscles are great sponges that suck up and
make use of large quantities of blood, and the other organs must be
liable to suffer for want of their share.
One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece boiled his wisdom down into two
words,--NOTHING TOO MUCH. It is a rule which will apply to food,
exercise, labor, sleep, and, in short, to every part of life. This
is not so very difficult a matter if one begins in good season and
forms regular habits. But what if I should lay down the rule, Be
cheerful; take all the troubles and trials of life with perfect
equanimity and a smiling countenance? Admirable directions! Your
friend, the curly-haired blonde, with florid complexion, round
cheeks, the best possible digestion and respiration, the stomach of
an ostrich and the lungs of a pearl-diver, finds it perfectly easy to
carry them into practice. You, of leaden complexion, with black and
lank hair, lean, hollow-eyed, dyspeptic, nervous, find it not so easy
to be always hilarious and happy. The truth is that the persons of
that buoyant disposition which comes always heralded by a smile, as a
yacht driven by a favoring breeze carries a wreath of sparkling foam
before her, are born with their happiness ready made. They cannot
help being cheerful any more than their saturnine fellow-mortal can
help seeing everything through the cloud he carries with him. I give
you the precept, then, Be cheerful, for just what it is worth, as I
would recommend to you to be six feet, or at least five feet ten, in
stature. You cannot settle that matter for yourself, but you can
stand up straight, and give your five feet five its--full value.
You can help along a little by wearing high-heeled shoes. So you can
do something to encourage yourself in serenity of aspect and
demeanor, keeping your infirmities and troubles in the background
instead of making them the staple of your conversation. This piece
of advice, if followed, may be worth from three to five years of the
fourscore which you hope to attain.
If, on the other hand, instead of going about cheerily in society,
making the best of everything and as far as possible forgetting your
troubles, you can make up your mind to economize all your stores of
vital energy, to hoard your life as a miser hoards his money, you
will stand a fair chance of living until you are tired of life,--
fortunate if everybody is not tired of you.
One of my prescriptions for longevity may startle you somewhat. It
is this: Become the subject of a mortal disease. Let half a dozen
doctors thump you, and knead you, and test you in every possible way,
and render their verdict that you have an internal complaint; they
don't know exactly what it is, but it will certainly kill you by and
by. Then bid farewell to the world and shut yourself up for an
invalid. If you are threescore years old when you begin this mode of
life, you may very probably last twenty years, and there you are,--an
octogenarian. In the mean time, your friends outside have been
dropping off, one after another, until you find yourself almost
alone, nursing your mortal complaint as if it were your baby, hugging
it and kept alive by it,--if to exist is to live. Who has not seen
cases like this,--a man or a woman shutting himself or herself up,
visited by a doctor or a succession of doctors (I remember that once,
in my earlier experience, I was the twenty-seventh physician who had
been consulted), always taking medicine, until everybody was reminded
of that impatient speech of a relative of one of these invalid
vampires who live on the blood of tired-out attendants, "I do wish
she would get well--or something"? Persons who are shut up in that
way, confined to their chambers, sometimes to their beds, have a very
small amount of vital expenditure, and wear out very little of their
living substance. They are like lamps with half their wicks picked
down, and will continue to burn when other lamps have used up all
their oil. An insurance office might make money by taking no risks
except on lives of persons suffering from mortal disease. It is on
this principle of economizing the powers of life that a very eminent
American physician,--Dr. Weir Mitchell, a man of genius,--has
founded his treatment of certain cases of nervous exhaustion.
What have I got to say about temperance, the use of animal food, and
so forth? These are questions asked me. Nature has proved a wise
teacher, as I think, in my own case. The older I grow, the less use
I make of alcoholic stimulants. In fact, I hardly meddle with them
at all, except a glass or two of champagne occasionally. I find that
by far the best borne of all drinks containing alcohol. I do not
suppose my experience can be the foundation of a universal rule. Dr.
Holyoke, who lived to be a hundred, used habitually, in moderate
quantities, a mixture of cider, water, and rum. I think, as one
grows older, less food, especially less animal food, is required.
But old people have a right to be epicures, if they can afford it.
The pleasures of the palate are among the last gratifications of the
senses allowed them. We begin life as little cannibals,--feeding on
the flesh and blood of our mothers. We range through all the
vegetable and animal products, of nature, and I suppose, if the
second childhood could return to the food of the first, it might
prove a wholesome diet.
What do I say to smoking? I cannot grudge an old man his pipe, but I
think tobacco often does a good deal of harm to the health,--to the
eyes especially, to the nervous system generally, producing headache,
palpitation, and trembling. I myself gave it up many years ago.
Philosophically speaking, I think self-narcotization and self-
alcoholization are rather ignoble substitutes for undisturbed self-
consciousness and unfettered self-control.
Here is another of those brain-tapping letters, of similar character,
which I have no objection to answering at my own time and in the
place which best suits me. As the questions must be supposed to be
asked with a purely scientific and philanthropic purpose, it can make
little difference when and where they are answered. For myself, I
prefer our own tea-table to the symposia to which I am often invited.
I do not quarrel with those who invite their friends to a banquet to
which many strangers are expected to contribute. It is a very easy
and pleasant way of giving an entertainment at little cost and with
no responsibility. Somebody has been writing to me about "Oatmeal
and Literature," and somebody else wants to know whether I have found
character influenced by diet; also whether, in my opinion, oatmeal is
preferable to pie as an American national food.
In answer to these questions, I should say that I have my beliefs and
prejudices; but if I were pressed hard for my proofs of their
correctness, I should make but a poor show in the witness-box. Most
assuredly I do believe that body and mind are much influenced by the
kind of food habitually depended upon. I am persuaded that a too
exclusively porcine diet gives a bristly character to the beard and
hair, which is borrowed from the animal whose tissues these stiff-
bearded compatriots of ours have too largely assimilated. I can
never stray among the village people of our windy capes without now
and then coming upon a human being who looks as if he had been split,
salted, and dried, like the salt-fish which has built up his arid
organism. If the body is modified by the food which nourishes it,
the mind and character very certainly will be modified by it also.
We know enough of their close connection with each other to be sure
of that, without any statistical observations to prove it.
Do you really want to know "whether oatmeal is preferable to pie as
an American national food"? I suppose the best answer I can give to
your question is to tell you what is my own practice. Oatmeal in the
morning, as an architect lays a bed of concrete to form a base for
his superstructure. Pie when I can get it; that is, of the genuine
sort, for I am not patriotic enough to think very highly of the
article named after the Father of his Country, who was first in war,
first in peace,--not first in pies, according to my standard.
There is a very odd prejudice against pie as an article of diet. It
is common to hear every form of bodily degeneracy and infirmity
attributed to this particular favorite food. I see no reason or
sense in it. Mr. Emerson believed in pie, and was almost indignant
when a fellow-traveller refused the slice he offered him. "Why,
Mr.________ ," said be, "what is pie made for!" If every Green
Mountain boy has not eaten a thousand times his weight in apple,
pumpkin, squash, and mince pie, call me a dumpling. And Colonel
Ethan Allen was one of them,--Ethan Allen, who, as they used to say,
could wrench off the head of a wrought nail with his teeth.
If you mean to keep as well as possible, the less you think about
your health the better. You know enough not to eat or drink what you
have found does not agree with you. You ought to know enough not to
expose yourself needlessly to draughts. If you take a
"constitutional," walk with the wind when you can, and take a closed
car against it if you can get one. Walking against the wind is one
of the most dangerous kinds of exposure, if you are sensitive to
cold. But except a few simple rules such as I have just given, let
your health take care of itself so long as it behaves decently. If
you want to be sure not to reach threescore and twenty, get a little
box of homoeopathic pellets and a little book of homeopathic
prescriptions. I had a poor friend who fell into that way, and
became at last a regular Hahnemaniac. He left a box of his little
jokers, which at last came into my hands. The poor fellow had
cultivated symptoms as other people cultivate roses or
chrysanthemums. What a luxury of choice his imagination presented to
him! When one watches for symptoms, every organ in the body is ready
to put in its claim. By and by a real illness attacked him, and the
box of little pellets was shut up, to minister to his fancied evils
Let me tell you one thing. I think if patients and physicians were
in the habit of recognizing the fact I am going to mention, both
would be gainers. The law I refer to must be familiar to all
observing physicians, and to all intelligent persons who have
observed their own bodily and mental conditions. This is the curve
of health. It is a mistake to suppose that the normal state of
health is represented by a straight horizontal line. Independently
of the well-known causes which raise or depress the standard of
vitality, there seems to be,--I think I may venture to say there is,
--a rhythmic undulation in the flow of the vital force. The "dynamo"
which furnishes the working powers of consciousness and action has
its annual, its monthly, its diurnal waves, even its momentary
ripples, in the current it furnishes. There are greater and lesser
curves in the movement of every day's life,--a series of ascending
and descending movements, a periodicity depending on the very nature
of the force at work in the living organism. Thus we have our good
seasons and our bad seasons, our good days and our bad days, life
climbing and descending in long or short undulations, which I have
called the curve of health.
From this fact spring a great proportion of the errors of medical
practice. On it are based the delusions of the various shadowy
systems which impose themselves on the ignorant and half-learned
public as branches or "schools" of science. A remedy taken at the
time of the ascent in the curve of health is found successful. The
same remedy taken while the curve is in its downward movement proves
So long as this biological law exists, so long the charlatan will
keep his hold on the ignorant public. So long as it exists, the
wisest practitioner will be liable to deceive himself about the
effect of what he calls and loves to think are his remedies. Long-
continued and sagacious observation will to some extent undeceive
him; but were it not for the happy illusion that his useless or even
deleterious drugs were doing good service, many a practitioner would
give up his calling for one in which he could be more certain that he
was really being useful to the subjects of his professional dealings.
For myself, I should prefer a physician of a sanguine temperament,
who had a firm belief in himself and his methods. I do not wonder at
all that the public support a whole community of pretenders who show
the portraits of the patients they have "cured." The best physicians
will tell you that, though many patients get well under their
treatment, they rarely cure anybody. If you are told also that the
best physician has many more patients die on his hands than the worst
of his fellow-practitioners, you may add these two statements to your
bundle of paradoxes, and if they puzzle you I will explain them at
some future time.
[I take this opportunity of correcting a statement now going the
rounds of the medical and probably other periodicals. In "The
Journal of the American Medical Association," dated April 26,1890,
published at Chicago, I am reported, in quotation marks, as saying,
"Give me opium, wine, and milk, and I will cure all diseases to which
flesh is heir."
In the first place, I never said I will cure, or can cure, or would
or could cure, or had cured any disease. My venerated instructor,
Dr. James Jackson, taught me never to use that expression. Curo
means, I take care of, he used to say, and in that sense, if you mean
nothing more, it is properly employed. So, in the amphitheatre of
the Ecole de Medecine, I used to read the words of Ambroise Pare, "Je
le pansay, Dieu le guarist." (I dressed his wound, and God cured
him.) Next, I am not in the habit of talking about "the diseases to
which flesh is heir." The expression has become rather too familiar
for repetition, and belongs to the rhetoric of other latitudes. And,
lastly, I have said some plain things, perhaps some sharp ones, about
the abuse of drugs and the limited number of vitally important
remedies, but I am not so ignorantly presumptuous as to make the
foolish statement falsely attributed to me.]
I paused a minute or two, and as no one spoke out; I put a question
to the Counsellor.
Are you quite sure that you wish to live to be threescore and twenty
"Most certainly I do. Don't they say that Theophrastus lived to his
hundred and seventh year, and did n't he complain of the shortness of
life? At eighty a man has had just about time to get warmly settled
in his nest. Do you suppose he doesn't enjoy the quiet of that
resting-place? No more haggard responsibility to keep him awake
nights,--unless he prefers to retain his hold on offices and duties
from which he can be excused if be chooses. No more goading
ambitions,--he knows he has done his best. No more jealousies, if he
were weak enough to feel such ignoble stirrings in his more active
season. An octogenarian with a good record, and free from annoying
or distressing infirmities, ought to be the happiest of men.
Everybody treats him with deference. Everybody wants to help him.
He is the ward of the generations that have grown up since he was in
the vigor of maturity. Yes, let me live to be fourscore years, and
then I will tell you whether I should like a few more years or not."
You carry the feelings of middle age, I said, in imagination, over
into the period of senility, and then reason and dream about it as if
its whole mode of being were like that of the earlier period of life.
But how many things there are in old age which you must live into if
you would expect to have any "realizing sense" of their significance!
In the first place, you have no coevals, or next to none. At fifty,
your vessel is stanch, and you are on deck with the rest, in all
weathers. At sixty, the vessel still floats, and you are in the
cabin. At seventy, you, with a few fellow-passengers, are on a raft.
At eighty, you are on a spars to which, possibly, one, or two, or
three friends of about your own age are still clinging. After that,
you must expect soon to find yourself alone, if you are still
floating, with only a life-preserver to keep your old white-bearded
chin above the water.
Kindness? Yes, pitying kindness, which is a bitter sweet in which
the amiable ingredient can hardly be said to predominate. How
pleasant do you think it is to have an arm offered to you when you
are walking on a level surface, where there is no chance to trip?
How agreeable do you suppose it is to have your well-meaning friends
shout and screech at you, as if you were deaf as an adder, instead of
only being, as you insist, somewhat hard of hearing? I was a little
over twenty years old when I wrote the lines which some of you may
have met with, for they have been often reprinted:
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
The world was a garden to me then; it is a churchyard now.
"I thought you were one of those who looked upon old age cheerfully,
and welcomed it as a season of peace and contented enjoyment."
I am one of those who so regard it. Those are not bitter or scalding
tears that fall from my eyes upon "the mossy marbles." The young who
left my side early in my life's journey are still with me in the
unchanged freshness and beauty of youth. Those who have long kept
company with me live on after their seeming departure, were it only
by the mere force of habit; their images are all around me, as if
every surface had been a sensitive film that photographed them; their
voices echo about me, as if they had been recorded on those
unforgetting cylinders which bring back to us the tones and accents
that have imprinted them, as the hardened sands show us the tracks of
extinct animals. The melancholy of old age has a divine tenderness
in it, which only the sad experiences of life can lend a human soul.
But there is a lower level,--that of tranquil contentment and easy
acquiescence in the conditions in which we find ourselves; a lower
level, in which old age trudges patiently when it is not using its
wings. I say its wings, for no period of life is so imaginative as
that which looks to younger people the most prosaic. The atmosphere
of memory is one in which imagination flies more easily and feels
itself more at home than in the thinner ether of youthful
anticipation. I have told you some of the drawbacks of age; I would
not have you forget its privileges. When it comes down from its
aerial excursions, it has much left to enjoy on the humble plane of
being. And so you think you would like to become an octogenarian?
"I should," said the Counsellor, now a man in the high noon of bodily
and mental vigor. "Four more--yes, five more--decades would not be
too much, I think. And how much I should live to see in that time!
I am glad you have laid down some rules by which a man may reasonably
expect to leap the eight barred gate. I won't promise to obey them
Among the questions addressed to me, as to a large number of other
persons, are the following. I take them from "The American Hebrew"
of April 4, 1890. I cannot pretend to answer them all, but I can say
something about one or two of them.
"I. Can you, of your own personal experience, find any justification
whatever for the entertainment of prejudice towards individuals
solely because they are Jews?
"II. Is this prejudice not due largely to the religious instruction
that is given by the church acid Sunday-school? For instance, the
teachings that the Jews crucified Jesus; that they rejected him, and
can only secure salvation by belief in him, and similar matters that
are calculated to excite in the impressionable mind of the child an
aversion, if not a loathing, for members of 'the despised race.'
"III. Have you observed in the social or business life of the Jew,
so far as your personal experience has gone, any different standard
of conduct than prevails among Christians of the same social status?
"IV. Can you suggest what should be done to dispel the existing
As to the first question, I have had very slight acquaintance with
the children of Israel. I shared more or less the prevailing
prejudices against the persecuted race. I used to read in my hymn-
book,--I hope I quote correctly,--
"See what a living stone
The builders did refuse!
Yet God has built his church thereon,
In spite of envious Jews."
I grew up inheriting the traditional idea that they were a race lying
under a curse for their obstinacy in refusing the gospel. Like other
children of New England birth, I walked in the narrow path of Puritan
exclusiveness. The great historical church of Christendom was
presented to me as Bunyan depicted it: one of the two giants sitting
at the door of their caves, with the bones, of pilgrims scattered
about them, and grinning at the travellers whom they could no longer
devour. In the nurseries of old-fashioned Orthodoxy there was one
religion in the world,--one religion, and a multitude of detestable,
literally damnable impositions, believed in by uncounted millions,
who were doomed to perdition for so believing. The Jews were the
believers in one of these false religions. It had been true once,
but was now a pernicious and abominable lie. The principal use of
the Jews seemed to be to lend money, and to fulfil the predictions of
the old prophets of their race.
No doubt the individual sons of Abraham whom we found in our ill-
favored and ill-flavored streets were apt to be unpleasing specimens
of the race. It was against the most adverse influences of
legislation, of religious feeling, of social repugnance, that the
great names of Jewish origin made themselves illustrious; that the
philosophers, the musicians, the financiers, the statesmen, of the
last centuries forced the world to recognize and accept them.
Benjamin, the son of Isaac, a son of Israel, as his family name makes
obvious, has shown how largely Jewish blood has been represented in
the great men and women of modern days.
There are two virtues which Christians have found it very hard to
exemplify in practice. These are modesty and civility. The Founder
of the Christian religion appeared among a people accustomed to look
for a Messiah, a special ambassador from heaven, with an
authoritative message. They were intimately acquainted with every
expression having reference to this divine messenger. They had a
religion of their own, about which Christianity agrees with Judaism
in asserting that it was of divine origin. It is a serious fact, to
which we do not give all the attention it deserves, that this
divinely instructed people were not satisfied with the evidence that
the young Rabbi who came to overthrow their ancient church and found
a new one was a supernatural being. "We think he was a great
Doctor," said a Jewish companion with whom I was conversing. He
meant a great Teacher, I presume, though healing the sick was one of
his special offices. Instead of remembering that they were entitled
to form their own judgment of the new Teacher, as they had judged of
Hillel and other great instructors, Christians, as they called
themselves, have insulted, calumniated, oppressed, abased, outraged,
"the chosen race" during the long succession of centuries since the
Jewish contemporaries of the Founder of Christianity made up their
minds that he did not meet the conditions required by the subject of
the predictions of their Scriptures. The course of the argument
against them is very briefly and effectively stated by Mr. Emerson:
"This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you if you
say he was a man."
It seems as if there should be certain laws of etiquette regulating
the relation of different religions to each other. It is not civil
for a follower of Mahomet to call his neighbor of another creed a
"Christian dog." Still more, there should be something like
politeness in the bearing of Christian sects toward each other, and
of believers in the new dispensation toward those who still adhere to
the old. We are in the habit of allowing a certain arrogant
assumption to our Roman Catholic brethren. We have got used to their
pretensions. They may call us "heretics," if they like. They may
speak of us as "infidels," if they choose, especially if they say it
in Latin. So long as there is no inquisition, so long as there is no
auto da fe, we do not mind the hard words much; and we have as good
phrases to give them back: the Man of Sin and the Scarlet Woman will
serve for examples. But it is better to be civil to each other all
round. I doubt if a convert to the religion of Mahomet was ever made
by calling a man a Christian dog. I doubt if a Hebrew ever became a
good Christian if the baptismal rite was performed by spitting on his
Jewish gabardine. I have often thought of the advance in comity and
true charity shown in the title of my late honored friend James
Freeman Clarke's book, "The Ten Great Religions." If the creeds of
mankind try to understand each other before attempting mutual
extermination, they will be sure to find a meaning in beliefs which
are different from their own. The old Calvinistic spirit was almost
savagely exclusive. While the author of the "Ten Great Religions"
was growing up in Boston under the benignant, large-minded teachings
of the Rev. James Freeman, the famous Dr. John M. Mason, at New
York, was fiercely attacking the noble humanity of "The Universal
Prayer." "In preaching," says his biographer, "he once quoted Pope's
lines as to God's being adored alike 'by saint, by savage, and by
sage,' and pronounced it (in his deepest guttural) 'the most damnable
What could the Hebrew expect when a Christian preacher could use such
language about a petition breathing the very soul of humanity?
Happily, the true human spirit is encroaching on that arrogant and
narrow-minded form of selfishness which called itself Christianity.
The golden rule should govern us in dealing with those whom we call
unbelievers, with heathen, and with all who do not accept our
religious views. The Jews are with us as a perpetual lesson to teach
us modesty and civility. The religion we profess is not self-
evident. It did not convince the people to whom it was sent. We
have no claim to take it for granted that we are all right, and they
are all wrong. And, therefore, in the midst of all the triumphs of
Christianity, it is well that the stately synagogue should lift its
walls by the side of the aspiring cathedral, a perpetual reminder
that there are many mansions in the Father's earthly house as well as
in the heavenly one; that civilized humanity, longer in time and
broader in space than any historical form of belief, is mightier than
any one institution or organization it includes.
Many years ago I argued with myself the proposition which my Hebrew
correspondent has suggested. Recognizing the fact that I was born to
a birthright of national and social prejudices against "the chosen
people,"--chosen as the object of contumely and abuse by the rest of
the world,--I pictured my own inherited feelings of aversion in all
their intensity, and the strain of thought under the influence of
which those prejudices gave way to a more human, a more truly
Christian feeling of brotherhood. I must ask your indulgence while I
quote a few verses from a poem of my own, printed long ago under the
title "At the Pantomime."
I was crowded between two children of Israel, and gave free inward
expression to my feelings. All at once I happened to look more
closely at one of my neighbors, and saw that the youth was the very
ideal of the Son of Mary.
A fresh young cheek whose olive hue
The mantling blood shows faintly through;
Locks dark as midnight, that divide
And shade the neck on either side;
Soft, gentle, loving eyes that gleam
Clear as a starlit mountain stream;
So looked that other child of Shem,
The Maiden's Boy of Bethlehem!
--And thou couldst scorn the peerless blood
That flows unmingled from the Flood,
Thy scutcheon spotted with the stains
Of Norman thieves and pirate Danes!
The New World's foundling, in thy pride
Scowl on the Hebrew at thy side,
And lo! the very semblance there
The Lord of Glory deigned to wear!
I see that radiant image rise,
The flowing hair, the pitying eyes,
The faintly crimsoned cheek that shows
The blush of Sharon's opening rose,
Thy hands would clasp his hallowed feet
Whose brethren soil thy Christian seat,
Thy lips would press his garment's hem
That curl in wrathful scorn for them!
A sudden mist, a watery screen,
Dropped like a veil before the scene;
The shadow floated from my soul,
And to my lips a whisper stole:--
Thy prophets caught the Spirit's flame,
From thee the Son of Mary came,
With thee the Father deigned to dwell,
Peace be upon thee, Israel!
It is not to be expected that intimate relations will be established
between Jewish and Christian communities until both become so far
rationalized and humanized that their differences are comparatively
unimportant. But already there is an evident approximation in the
extreme left of what is called liberal Christianity and the
representatives of modern Judaism. The life of a man like the late
Sir Moses Montefiore reads a lesson from the Old Testament which
might well have been inspired by the noblest teachings of the
Delilah, and how she got her name.
Est-elle bien gentille, cette petite? I said one day to Number Five,
as our pretty Delilah put her arm between us with a bunch of those
tender early radishes that so recall the rosy-fingered morning of
Homer. The little hand which held the radishes would not have shamed
Aurora. That hand has never known drudgery, I feel sure.
When I spoke those French words our little Delilah gave a slight,
seemingly involuntary start, and her cheeks grew of as bright a red
as her radishes. Ah, said I to myself; does that young girl
understand French? It may be worth while to be careful what one says
There is a mystery about this girl. She seems to know her place
perfectly,--except, perhaps, when she burst out crying, the other
day, which was against all the rules of table-maiden's etiquette,--
and yet she looks as if she had been born to be waited on, and not to
perform that humble service for others. We know that once in a while
girls with education and well connected take it into their heads to
go into service for a few weeks or months. Sometimes it is from
economic motives,--to procure means for their education, or to help
members of their families who need assistance. At any rate, they
undertake the lighter menial duties of some household where they are
not known, and, having stooped--if stooping it is to be considered--
to lowly offices, no born and bred servants are more faithful to all
their obligations. You must not suppose she was christened Delilah.
Any of our ministers would hesitate to give such a heathen name to a
The way she came to get it was this: The Professor was going to give
a lecture before an occasional audience, one evening. When he took
his seat with the other Teacups, the American Annex whispered to the
other Annex, "His hair wants cutting,--it looks like fury." "Quite
so," said the English Annex. "I wish you would tell him so,-- I do,
awfully." "I'll fix it," said the American girl. So, after the
teacups were emptied and the company had left the table, she went up
to the Professor. "You read this lecture, don't you, Professor?" she
said. "I do," he answered. "I should think that lock of hair which
falls down over your forehead would trouble you," she said. "It does
sometimes," replied the Professor. "Let our little maid trim it for
you. You're equal to that, aren't you?" turning to the handmaiden.
"I always used to cut my father's hair," she answered. She brought a
pair of glittering shears, and before she would let the Professor go
she had trimmed his hair and beard as they had not been dealt with
for many a day. Everybody said the Professor looked ten years
younger. After that our little handmaiden was always called Delilah,
among the talking Teacups.
The Mistress keeps a watchful eye on this young girl. I should not
be surprised to find that she was carrying out some ideal, some fancy
or whim,--possibly nothing more, but springing from some generous,
youthful impulse. Perhaps she is working for that little sister at
the Blind Asylum. Where did she learn French? She did certainly
blush, and betrayed every sign of understanding the words spoken
about her in that language. Sometimes she sings while at her work,
and we have all been struck with the pure, musical character of her
voice. It is just such a voice as ought to come from that round
white throat. We made a discovery about it the other evening.
The Mistress keeps a piano in her room, and we have sometimes had
music in the evening. One of The Teacups, to whom I have slightly
referred, is an accomplished pianist, and the two Annexes sing very
sweetly together,--the American girl having a clear soprano voice,
the English girl a mellow contralto. They had sung several tunes,
when the Mistress rang for Avis,--for that is our Delilah's real
name. She whispered to the young girl, who blushed and trembled.
"Don't be frightened," said the Mistress encouragingly. "I have
heard you singing 'Too Young for Love,' and I will get our pianist to
play it. The young ladies both know it, and you must join in."
The two voices, with the accompaniment, had hardly finished the first
line when a pure, ringing, almost childlike voice joined the vocal
duet. The sound of her own voice seemed to make her forget her
fears, and she warbled as naturally and freely as any young bird of a
May morning. Number Five came in while she was singing, and when she
got through caught her in her arms and kissed her, as if she were her
sister, and not Delilah, our table-maid. Number Five is apt to
forget herself and those social differences to which some of us
attach so much importance. This is the song in which the little maid
TOO YOUNG FOR LOVE.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Tell reddening rose-buds not to blow!
Wait not for spring to pass away,--
Love's summer months begin with May!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so,
While daisies bloom and tulips glow!
June soon will come with lengthened day
To practise all love learned in May.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
I often wish that our Number Seven could have known and corresponded
with the author of "The Budget of Paradoxes." I think Mr. De Morgan
would have found some of his vagaries and fancies not undeserving of
a place in his wonderful collection of eccentricities, absurdities,
ingenuities,--mental freaks of all sorts. But I think he would have
now and then recognized a sound idea, a just comparison, a suggestive
hint, a practical notion, which redeemed a page of extravagances and
crotchety whims. I confess that I am often pleased with fancies of
his, and should be willing to adopt them as my own. I think he has,
in the midst of his erratic and tangled conceptions, some perfectly
clear and consistent trains of thought.
So when Number Seven spoke of sending us a paper, I welcomed the
suggestion. I asked him whether he had any objection to my looking
it over before he read it. My proposal rather pleased him, I
thought, for, as was observed on a former occasion, he has in
connection with a belief in himself another side,--a curious self-
distrust. I have no question that he has an obscure sense of some
mental deficiency. Thus you may expect from him first a dogma, and
presently a doubt. If you fight his dogma, he will do battle for it
stoutly; if you let him alone, he will very probably explain its
extravagances, if it has any, and tame it into reasonable limits.
Sometimes he is in one mood, sometimes in another.
The first portion of what we listened to shows him at his best; in
the latter part I am afraid you will think he gets a little wild.
I proceed to lay before you the paper which Number Seven read to The
Teacups. There was something very pleasing in the deference which
was shown him. We all feel that there is a crack in the teacup, and
are disposed to handle it carefully. I have left out a few things
which he said, feeling that they might give offence to some of the
company. There were sentences so involved and obscure that I was
sure they would not be understood, if indeed he understood them
himself. But there are other passages so entirely sane, and as it
seems to me so just, that if any reader attributes them to me I shall
not think myself wronged by the supposition. You must remember that
Number Seven has had a fair education, that he has been a wide reader
in many directions, and that he belongs to a family of remarkable
intellectual gifts. So it was not surprising that he said some
things which pleased the company, as in fact they did. The reader
will not be startled to see a certain abruptness in the transition
from one subject to another,--it is a characteristic of the squinting
brain wherever you find it. Another curious mark rarely wanting in
the subjects of mental strabismus is an irregular and often sprawling
and deformed handwriting. Many and many a time I have said, after
glancing at the back of a letter, "This comes from an insane asylum,
or from an eccentric who might well be a candidate for such an
institution." Number Seven's manuscript, which showed marks of my
corrections here and there, furnished good examples of the
chirography of persons with ill-mated cerebral hemispheres. But the
earlier portions of the manuscript are of perfectly normal
Conticuere omnes, as Virgil says. We were all silent as Number Seven
began the reading of his paper.
Number Seven reads.
I am the seventh son of a seventh son, as I suppose you all know. It
is commonly believed that some extraordinary gifts belong to the
fortunate individuals born under these exceptional conditions.
However this may be, a peculiar virtue was supposed to dwell in me
from my earliest years. My touch was believed to have the influence
formerly attributed to that of the kings and queens of England. You
may remember that the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, when a child, was
carried to be touched by her Majesty Queen Anne for the "king's
evil," as scrofula used to be called. Our honored friend The
Dictator will tell you that the brother of one of his Andover
schoolmates was taken to one of these gifted persons, who touched
him, and hung a small bright silver coin, either a "fourpence
ha'penny" or a "ninepence," about his neck, which, strange to say,
after being worn a certain time, became tarnished, and finally
black,--a proof of the poisonous matters which had become eliminated
from the system and gathered upon the coin. I remember that at one
time I used to carry fourpence ha'pennies with holes bored through
them, which I furnished to children or to their mothers, under
pledges of secrecy,--receiving a piece of silver of larger dimensions
in exchange. I never felt quite sure about any extraordinary
endowment being a part of my inheritance in virtue of my special
conditions of birth. A phrenologist, who examined my head when I was
a boy, said the two sides were unlike. My hatter's measurement told
me the same thing; but in looking over more than a bushel of the
small cardboard hat-patterns which give the exact shape of the head,
I have found this is not uncommon. The phrenologist made all sorts
of predictions of what I should be and do, which proved about as near
the truth as those recorded in Miss Edith Thomas's charming little
poem, "Augury," which some of us were reading the other day.
I have never been through college, but I had a relative who was
famous as a teacher of rhetoric in one of our universities, and
especially for taking the nonsense out of sophomorical young fellows
who could not say anything without rigging it up in showy and
sounding phrases. I think I learned from him to express myself in
good old-fashioned English, and without making as much fuss about it
as our Fourth of July orators and political haranguers were in the
habit of making.
I read a good many stories during my boyhood, one of which left a
lasting impression upon me, and which I have always commended to
young people. It is too late, generally, to try to teach old people,
yet one may profit by it at any period of life before the sight has
become too dim to be of any use. The story I refer to is in
"Evenings at Home," and is called "Eyes and No Eyes." I ought to
have it by me, but it is constantly happening that the best old
things get overlaid by the newest trash; and though I have never seen
anything of the kind half so good, my table and shelves are cracking
with the weight of involuntary accessions to my library.
This is the story as I remember it: Two children walk out, and are
questioned when they come home. One has found nothing to observe,
nothing to admire, nothing to describe, nothing to ask questions
about. The other has found everywhere objects of curiosity and
interest. I advise you, if you are a child anywhere under forty-
five, and do not yet wear glasses, to send at once for "Evenings at
Home" and read that story. For myself, I am always grateful to the
writer of it for calling my attention to common things. How many
people have been waked to a quicker consciousness of life by
Wordsworth's simple lines about the daffodils, and what he says of
the thoughts suggested to him by "the meanest flower that blows"!
I was driving with a friend, the other day, through a somewhat dreary
stretch of country, where there seemed to be very little to attract
notice or deserve remark. Still, the old spirit infused by "Eyes and
No Eyes" was upon me, and I looked for something to fasten my thought
upon, and treat as an artist treats a study for a picture. The first
object to which my eyes were drawn was an old-fashioned well-sweep.
It did not take much imaginative sensibility to be stirred by the
sight of this most useful, most ancient, most picturesque, of
domestic conveniences. I know something of the shadoof of Egypt,--
the same arrangement by which the sacred waters of the Nile have been
lifted, from the days of the Pharaohs to those of the Khedives. That
long forefinger pointing to heaven was a symbol which spoke to the
Puritan exile as it spoke of old to the enslaved Israelite. Was
there ever any such water as that which we used to draw from the
deep, cold well, in "the old oaken bucket"? What memories gather
about the well in all ages! What love-matches have been made at its
margin, from the times of Jacob and, Rachel downward! What fairy
legends hover over it, what fearful mysteries has it hidden! The
beautiful well-sweep! It is too rarely that we see it, and as it
dies out and gives place to the odiously convenient pump, with the
last patent on its cast-iron uninterestingness, does it not seem as
if the farmyard aspect had lost half its attraction? So long as the
dairy farm exists, doubtless there must be every facility for getting
water in abundance; but the loss of the well-sweep cannot be made up
to us even if our milk were diluted to twice its present attenuation.
The well-sweep had served its turn, and my companion and I relapsed
into silence. After a while we passed another farmyard, with nothing
which seemed deserving of remark except the wreck of an old wagon.
"Look," I said, "if you want to see one of the greatest of all the
triumphs of human ingenuity, one of the most beautiful, as it is one
of the most useful, of all the mechanisms which the intelligence of
successive ages has called into being."
"I see nothing," my companion answered, "but an old broken-down
wagon. Why they leave such a piece of lumbering trash about their
place, where people can see it as they pass, is more than I can
"And yet," said I, "there is one of the most extraordinary products
of human genius and skill,--an object which combines the useful and
the beautiful to an extent which hardly any simple form of mechanism
can pretend to rival. Do you notice how, while everything else has
gone to smash, that wheel remains sound and fit for service? Look at
it merely for its beauty.
"See the perfect circles, the outer and the inner. A circle is in
itself a consummate wonder of geometrical symmetry. It is the line
in which the omnipotent energy delights to move. There is no fault
in it to be amended. The first drawn circle and the last both embody
the same complete fulfillment of a perfect design. Then look at the
rays which pass from the inner to the outer circle. How beautifully
they bring the greater and lesser circles into connection with each
other! The flowers know that secret,--the marguerite in the meadow
displays it as clearly as the great sun in heaven. How beautiful is
this flower of wood and iron, which we were ready to pass by without
wasting a look upon it! But its beauty is only the beginning of its
wonderful claim upon us for our admiration. Look at that field of
flowering grass, the triticum vulgare,--see how its waves follow the
breeze in satiny alternations of light and shadow. You admire it for
its lovely aspect; but when you remember that this flowering grass is
wheat, the finest food of the highest human races, it gains a
dignity, a glory, that its beauty alone could not give it.
"Now look at that exquisite structure lying neglected and disgraced,
but essentially unchanged in its perfection, before you. That slight
and delicate-looking fabric has stood such a trial as hardly any
slender contrivance, excepting always the valves of the heart, was
ever subjected to. It has rattled for years over the cobble-stones
of a rough city pavement. It has climbed over all the accidental
obstructions it met in the highway, and dropped into all the holes
and deep ruts that made the heavy farmer sitting over it use his
Sunday vocabulary in a week-day form of speech. At one time or
another, almost every part of that old wagon has given way. It has
had two new pairs of shafts. Twice the axle has broken off close to
the hub, or nave. The seat broke when Zekle and Huldy were having
what they called 'a ride' together. The front was kicked in by a
vicious mare. The springs gave way and the floor bumped on the axle.
Every portion of the wagon became a prey of its special accident,
except that most fragile looking of all its parts, the wheel. Who
can help admiring the exact distribution of the power of resistance
at the least possible expenditure of material which is manifested in
this wondrous triumph of human genius and skill? The spokes are
planted in the solid hub as strongly as the jaw-teeth of a lion in
their deep-sunken sockets. Each spoke has its own territory in the
circumference, for which it is responsible. According to the load
the vehicle is expected to carry, they are few or many, stout or
slender, but they share their joint labor with absolute justice,--not
one does more, not one does less, than its just proportion. The
outer end of the spokes is received into the deep mortise of the
wooden fellies, and the structure appears to be complete. But how
long would it take to turn that circle into a polygon, unless some
mighty counteracting force should prevent it? See the iron tire
brought hot from the furnace and laid around the smoking
circumference. Once in place, the workman cools the hot iron; and as
it shrinks with a force that seems like a hand-grasp of the
Omnipotent, it clasps the fitted fragments of the structure, and
compresses them into a single inseparable whole.
"Was it not worth our while to stop a moment before passing that old
broken wagon, and see whether we could not find as much in it as
Swift found in his 'Meditations on a Broomstick'? I have been
laughed at for making so much of such a common thing as a wheel.
Idiots! Solomon's court fool would have scoffed at the thought of
the young Galilean who dared compare the lilies of the field to his
august master. Nil admirari is very well for a North American Indian
and his degenerate successor, who has grown too grand to admire
anything but himself, and takes a cynical pride in his stolid
indifference to everything worth reverencing or honoring."
After calling my companion's attention to the wheel, and discoursing
upon it until I thought he was getting sleepy, we jogged along until
we came to a running stream. It was crossed by a stone bridge of a
single arch. There are very few stone arches over the streams in New
England country towns, and I always delighted in this one. It was
built in the last century, amidst the doubting predictions of staring
rustics, and stands to-day as strong as ever, and seemingly good for
centuries to come.
"See there!" said I,--"there is another of my 'Eyes and No Eyes'
subjects to meditate upon. Next to the wheel, the arch is the
noblest of those elementary mechanical composites, corresponding to
the proximate principles of chemistry. The beauty of the arch
consists first in its curve, commonly a part of the circle, of the
perfection of which I have spoken. But the mind derives another
distinct pleasure from the admirable manner in which the several
parts, each different from all the others, contribute to a single
harmonious effect. It is a typical example of the piu nel uno. An
arch cut out or a single stone would not be so beautiful as one of
which each individual stone was shaped for its exact position. Its
completion by the locking of the keystone is a delight to witness and
to contemplate. And how the arch endures, when its lateral thrust is
met by solid masses of resistance! In one of the great temples of
Baalbec a keystone has slipped, but how rare is that occurrence! One
will hardly find another such example among all the ruins of
antiquity. Yes, I never get tired of arches. They are noble when
shaped of solid marble blocks, each carefully beveled for its
position. They are beautiful when constructed with the large thin
tiles the Romans were so fond of using. I noticed some arches built
in this way in the wall of one of the grand houses just going up on
the bank of the river. They were over the capstones of the windows,-
-to take off the pressure from them, no doubt, for now and then a
capstone will crack under the weight of the superincumbent mass. How
close they fit, and how striking the effect of their long
The company listened very well up to this point. When he began the
strain of thoughts which follows, a curious look went round The
What a strange underground life is that which is led by the organisms
we call trees! These great fluttering masses of leaves, stems,
boughs, trunks, are not the real trees. They live underground, and
what we see are nothing more nor less than their tails.
The Mistress dropped her teaspoon. Number Five looked at the Doctor,
whose face was very still and sober. The two Annexes giggled, or
came very near it.
Yes, a tree is an underground creature, with its tail in the air.
All its intelligence is in its roots. All the senses it has are in
its roots. Think what sagacity it shows in its search after food and
drink! Somehow or other, the rootlets, which are its tentacles, find
out that there is a brook at a moderate distance from the trunk of
the tree, and they make for it with all their might. They find every
crack in the rocks where there are a few grains of the nourishing
substance they care for, and insinuate themselves into its deepest
recesses. When spring and summer come, they let their tails grow,
and delight in whisking them about in the wind, or letting them be
whisked about by it; for these tails are poor passive things, with
very little will of their own, and bend in whatever direction the
wind chooses to make them. The leaves make a deal of noise
whispering. I have sometimes thought I could understand them, as
they talk with each other, and that they seemed to think they made
the wind as they wagged forward and back. Remember what I say. The
next time you see a tree waving in the wind, recollect that it is the
tail of a great underground, many-armed, polypus-like creature, which
is as proud of its caudal appendage, especially in summer-time, as a
peacock of his gorgeous expanse of plumage.
Do you think there is anything so very odd about this idea? Once get
it well into your heads, and you will find it renders the landscape
wonderfully interesting. There are as many kinds of tree-tails as
there are of tails to dogs and other quadrupeds. Study them as Daddy
Gilpin studied them in his "Forest Scenery," but don't forget that
they are only the appendage of the underground vegetable polypus, the
true organism to which they belong.
He paused at this point, and we all drew long breaths, wondering what
was coming next. There was no denying it, the "cracked Teacup" was
clinking a little false,--so it seemed to the company. Yet, after
all, the fancy was not delirious,--the mind could follow it well
enough; let him go on.
What do you say to this? You have heard all sorts of things said in
prose and verse about Niagara. Ask our young Doctor there what it
reminds him of. Is n't it a giant putting his tongue out? How can
you fail to see the resemblance? The continent is a great giant, and
the northern half holds the head and shoulders. You can count the
pulse of the giant wherever the tide runs up a creek; but if you want
to look at the giant's tongue, you must go to Niagara. If there were
such a thing as a cosmic physician, I believe he could tell the state
of the country's health, and the prospects of the mortality for the
coming season, by careful inspection of the great tongue, which
Niagara is putting out for him, and has been showing to mankind ever
since the first flint-shapers chipped their arrow-heads. You don't
think the idea adds to the sublimity and associations of the
cataract? I am sorry for that, but I can't help the suggestion. It
is just as manifestly a tongue put out for inspection as if it had
Nature's own label to that effect hung over it. I don't know whether
you can see these things as clearly as I do. There are some people
that never see anything, if it is as plain as a hole in a grindstone,
until it is pointed out to them; and some that can't see it then, and
won't believe there is any hole till they've poked their finger
through it. I've got a great many things to thank God for, but
perhaps most of all that I can find something to admire, to wonder
at, to set my fancy going, and to wind up my enthusiasm pretty much
Look here! There are crowds of people whirled through our streets on
these new-fashioned cars, with their witch-broomsticks overhead,--if
they don't come from Salem, they ought to,--and not more than one in
a dozen of these fish-eyed bipeds thinks or cares a nickel's worth
about the miracle which is wrought for their convenience. They know
that without hands or feet, without horses, without steam, so far as
they can see, they are transported from place to place, and that
there is nothing to account for it except the witch-broomstick and
the iron or copper cobweb which they see stretched above them. What
do they know or care about this last revelation of the omnipresent
spirit of the material universe? We ought to go down on our knees
when one of these mighty caravans, car after car, spins by us, under
the mystic impulse which seems to know not whether its train is
loaded or empty. We are used to force in the muscles of horses, in
the expansive potency of steam, but here we have force stripped stark
naked,--nothing but a filament to cover its nudity,--and yet showing
its might in efforts that would task the working-beam of a ponderous
steam-engine. I am thankful that in an age of cynicism I have not
lost my reverence. Perhaps you would wonder to see how some very
common sights impress me. I always take off my hat if I stop to
speak to a stone-cutter at his work. "Why?" do you ask me? Because
I know that his is the only labor that is likely to endure. A score
of centuries has not effaced the marks of the Greek's or the Roman's
chisel on his block of marble. And now, before this new
manifestation of that form of cosmic vitality which we call
electricity, I feel like taking the posture of the peasants listening
to the Angelus. How near the mystic effluence of mechanical energy
brings us to the divine source of all power and motion! In the old
mythology, the right hand of Jove held and sent forth the lightning.
So, in the record of the Hebrew prophets, did the right hand of
Jehovah cast forth and direct it. Was Nahum thinking of our far-off
time when he wrote, "The chariots shall rage in the streets, they
shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem
like torches, they shall run like the lightnings"?
Number Seven had finished reading his paper. Two bright spots in his
cheeks showed that he had felt a good deal in writing it, and the
flush returned as he listened to his own thoughts. Poor old fellow!
The "cracked Teacup" of our younger wits,--not yet come to their full
human sensibilities,--the "crank" of vulgar tongues, the eccentric,
the seventh son of a seventh son, too often made the butt of
thoughtless pleasantry, was, after all, a fellow-creature, with flesh
and blood like the rest of us. The wild freaks of his fancy did not
hurt us, nor did they prevent him from seeing many things justly, and
perhaps sometimes more vividly and acutely than if he were as sound
as the dullest of us.
The teaspoons tinkled loudly all round the table, as he finished
reading. The Mistress caught her breath. I was afraid she was going
to sob, but she took it out in vigorous stirring of her tea. Will
you believe that I saw Number Five, with a sweet, approving smile on
her face all the time, brush her cheek with her hand-kerchief? There
must have been a tear stealing from beneath its eyelid. I hope
Number Seven saw it. He is one of the two men at our table who most
need the tender looks and tones of a woman. The Professor and I are
hors de combat; the Counsellor is busy with his cases and his
ambitions; the Doctor is probably in love with a microscope, and
flirting with pathological specimens; but Number Seven and the Tutor
are, I fear, both suffering from that worst of all famines, heart-
Do you remember that Number Seven said he never wrote a line of
"poetry" in his life, except once when he was suffering from
temporary weakness of body and mind? That is because he is a poet.
If he had not been one, he would very certainly have taken to
tinkling rhymes. What should you think of the probable musical
genius of a young man who was particularly fond of jingling a set of
sleigh-bells? Should you expect him to turn out a Mozart or a
Beethoven? Now, I think I recognize the poetical instinct in Number
Seven, however imperfect may be its expression, and however he may be
run away with at times by fantastic notions that come into his head.
If fate had allotted him a helpful companion in the shape of a loving
and intelligent wife, he might have been half cured of his
eccentricities, and we should not have had to say, in speaking of
him, "Poor fellow!" But since this cannot be, I am pleased that he
should have been so kindly treated on the occasion of the reading of
his paper. If he saw Number Five's tear, he will certainly fall in
love with her. No matter if he does Number Five is a kind of Circe
who does not turn the victims of her enchantment into swine, but into
lambs. I want to see Number Seven one of her little flock. I say
"little." I suspect it is larger than most of us know. Anyhow, she
can spare him sympathy and kindness and encouragement enough to keep
him contented with himself and with her, and never miss the pulses of
her loving life she lends him. It seems to be the errand of some
women to give many people as much happiness as they have any right to
in this world. If they concentrated their affection on one, they
would give him more than any mortal could claim as his share. I saw
Number Five watering her flowers, the other day. The watering-pot
had one of those perforated heads, through which the water runs in
many small streams. Every plant got its share: the proudest lily
bent beneath the gentle shower; the lowliest daisy held its little
face up for baptism. All were refreshed, none was flooded.
Presently she took the perforated head, or "rose," from the neck of
the watering-pot, and the full stream poured out in a round, solid
column. It was almost too much for the poor geranium on which it
fell, and it looked at one minute as if the roots would be laid bare,
and perhaps the whole plant be washed out of the soil in which it was
planted. What if Number Five should take off the "rose" that
sprinkles her affections on so many, and pour them all on one? Can
that ever be? If it can, life is worth living for him on whom her
love may be lavished.
One of my neighbors, a thorough American, is much concerned about the
growth of what he calls the "hard-handed aristocracy." He tells the
"I was putting up a fence about my yard, and employed a man of whom I
knew something,--that he was industrious, temperate, and that he had
a wife and children to support,--a worthy man, a native New
Englander. I engaged him, I say, to dig some post-holes. My
employee bought a new spade and scoop on purpose, and came to my
place at the appointed time, and began digging. While he was at
work, two men came over from a drinking-saloon, to which my residence
is nearer than I could desire. One of them I had known as Mike
Fagan, the other as Hans Schleimer. They looked at Hiram, my New
Hampshire man, in a contemptuous and threatening way for a minute or
so, when Fagan addressed him:
"'And how much does the man pay yez by the hour?'
"'The gentleman does n't pay me by the hour,' said Hiram.
"'How mosh does he bay you by der veeks?' said Hans.
"'I don' know as that's any of your business,' answered Hiram.
"'Faith, we'll make it our business,' said Mike Fagan. 'We're
Knoights of Labor, we'd have yez to know, and ye can't make yer
bargains jist as ye loikes. We manes to know how mony hours ye
worrks, and how much ye gets for it.'
"'Knights of Labor!' said I. 'Why, that is a kind of title of
nobility, is n't it? I thought the laws of our country did n't allow
titles of that kind. But if you have a right to be called knights, I
suppose I ought to address you as such. Sir Michael, I congratulate
you on the dignity you have attained. I hope Lady Fagan is getting
on well with my shirts. Sir Hans, I pay my respects to your title.
I trust that Lady Schleixner has got through that little difficulty
between her ladyship and yourself in which the police court thought
it necessary to intervene.'
"The two men looked at me. I weigh about a hundred and eighty
pounds, and am well put together. Hiram was noted in his village as
a 'rahstler.' But my face is rather pallid and peaked, and Hiram had
something of the greenhorn look. The two men, who had been drinking,
hardly knew what ground to take. They rather liked the sound of Sir
Michael and, Sir Hans. They did not know very well what to make of
their wives as 'ladies.' They looked doubtful whether to take what
had been said as a casus belli or not, but they wanted a pretext of
some kind or other. Presently one of them saw a label on the scoop,
or longhandled, spoon-like shovel, with which Hiram had been working.
"'Arrah, be jabers!' exclaimed Mike Fagan, 'but has n't he been
a-tradin' wid Brown, the hardware fellah, that we boycotted! Grab
it, Hans, and we'll carry it off and show it to the brotherhood.'
"The men made a move toward the implement.
"'You let that are scoop-shovel alone,' said Hiram.
"I stepped to his side. The Knights were combative, as their noble
predecessors with the same title always were, and it was necessary to
come to a voie de fait. My straight blow from the shoulder did for
Sir Michael. Hiram treated Sir Hans to what is technically known as
"'Naow, Dutchman,' said Hiram, 'if you don't want to be planted in
that are post-hole, y'd better take y'rself out o' this here piece of
private property. "Dangerous passin'," as the sign-posts say, abaout
"Sir Michael went down half stunned by my expressive gesture; Sir
Hans did not know whether his hip was out of joint or he had got a
bad sprain; but they were both out of condition for further
hostilities. Perhaps it was hardly fair to take advantage of their
misfortunes to inflict a discourse upon them, but they had brought it
on themselves, and we each of us gave them a piece of our mind.
"'I tell you what it is,' said Hiram, 'I'm a free and independent
American citizen, and I an't a-gon' to hev no man tyrannize over me,
if he doos call himself by one o' them noblemen's titles. Ef I can't
work jes' as I choose, fur folks that wants me to work fur 'em and
that I want to work fur, I might jes' as well go to Sibery and done
with it. My gran'f'ther fit in Bunker Hill battle. I guess if our
folks in them days did n't care no great abaout Lord Percy and Sir
William Haowe, we an't a-gon' to be scart by Sir Michael Fagan and
Sir Hans What 's-his-name, nor no other fellahs that undertakes to be
noblemen, and tells us common folks what we shall dew an' what we
sha'n't. No, sir!'
"I took the opportunity to explain to Sir Michael and Sir Hans what
it was our fathers fought for, and what is the meaning of liberty.
If these noblemen did not like the country, they could go elsewhere.
If they did n't like the laws, they had the ballot-box, and could
choose new legislators. But as long as the laws existed they must
obey them. I could not admit that, because they called themselves by
the titles the Old World nobility thought so much of, they had a
right to interfere in the agreements I entered into with my neighbor.
I told Sir Michael that if he would go home and help Lady Fagan to
saw and split the wood for her fire, he would be better employed than
in meddling with my domestic arrangements. I advised Sir Hans to ask
Lady Schleimer for her bottle of spirits to use as an embrocation for
his lame hip. And so my two visitors with the aristocratic titles
staggered off, and left us plain, untitled citizens, Hiram and
myself, to set our posts, and consider the question whether we lived
in a free country or under the authority of a self-constituted order
It is a very curious fact that, with all our boasted "free and equal"
superiority over the communities of the Old World, our people have
the most enormous appetite for Old World titles of distinction. Sir
Michael and Sir Hans belong to one of the most extended of the
aristocratic orders. But we have also "Knights and Ladies of Honor,"
and, what is still grander, "Royal Conclave of Knights and Ladies,"
"Royal Arcanum," and "Royal Society of Good Fellows," "Supreme
Council," "Imperial Court," "Grand Protector," and "Grand
Dictator," and so on. Nothing less than "Grand" and "Supreme" is
good enough for the dignitaries of our associations of citizens.
Where does all this ambition for names without realities come from?
Because a Knight of the Garter wears a golden star, why does the
worthy cordwainer, who mends the shoes of his fellow-citizens, want
to wear a tin star, and take a name that had a meaning as used by the
representatives of ancient families, or the men who had made
themselves illustrious by their achievements?
It appears to be a peculiarly American weakness. The French
republicans of the earlier period thought the term citizen was good
enough for anybody. At a later period, "Roi Citoyen"--the citizen
king was a common title given to Louis Philippe. But nothing is too
grand for the American, in the way of titles. The proudest of them
all signify absolutely nothing. They do not stand for ability, for
public service, for social importance, for large possessions; but, on
the contrary, are oftenest found in connection with personalities to
which they are supremely inapplicable. We can hardly afford to
quarrel with a national habit which, if lightly handled, may involve
us in serious domestic difficulties. The "Right Worshipful"
functionary whose equipage stops at my back gate, and whose services
are indispensable to the health and comfort of my household, is a
dignitary whom I must not offend. I must speak with proper deference
to the lady who is scrubbing my floors, when I remember that her
husband, who saws my wood, carries a string of high-sounding titles
which would satisfy a Spanish nobleman.
After all, every people must have its own forms of ostentation,
pretence, and vulgarity. The ancient Romans had theirs, the English
and the French have theirs as well,--why should not we Americans have
ours? Educated and refined persons must recognize frequent internal
conflicts between the "Homo sum" of Terence and the "Odi profanum
vulgus" of Horace. The nobler sentiment should be that of every true
American, and it is in that direction that our best civilization is
We were waited on by a new girl, the other evening. Our pretty
maiden had left us for a visit to some relative,--so the Mistress
said. I do sincerely hope she will soon come back, for we all like
to see her flitting round the table.
I don't know what to make of it. I had it all laid out in my mind.
With such a company there must be a love-story. Perhaps there will
be, but there may be new combinations of the elements which are to
make it up, and here is a bud among the full-blown flowers to which I
must devote a little space.
I must call her by the name we gave her after she had trimmed the
Samson locks of our Professor. Delilah is a puzzle to most of us.
A pretty creature, dangerously pretty to be in a station not guarded
by all the protective arrangements which surround the maidens of a
higher social order. It takes a strong cage to keep in a tiger or a
grizzly bear, but what iron bars, what barbed wires, can keep out the
smooth and subtle enemy that finds out the cage where beauty is
imprisoned? Our young Doctor is evidently attracted by the charming
maiden who serves him and us so modestly and so gracefully.
Fortunately, the Mistress never loses sight of her. If she were her
own daughter, she could not be more watchful of all her movements.
And yet I do not believe that Delilah needs all this overlooking. If
I am not mistaken, she knows how to take care of herself, and could
be trusted anywhere, in any company, without a duenna. She has a
history,--I feel sure of it. She has been trained and taught as
young persons of higher position in life are brought up, and does not
belong in the humble station in which we find her. But inasmuch as
the Mistress says nothing about her antecedents, we do not like to be
too inquisitive. The two Annexes are, it is plain, very curious
about her. I cannot wonder. They are both good-looking girls, but
Delilah is prettier than either of them. My sight is not so good as
it was, but I can see the way in which the eyes of the young people
follow each other about plainly enough to set me thinking as to what
is going on in the thinking marrow behind them. The young Doctor's
follow Delilah as she glides round the table,--they look into hers
whenever they get a chance; but the girl's never betray any
consciousness of it, so far as I can see. There is no mistaking the
interest with which the two, Annexes watch all this. Why shouldn't
they, I should like to know? The Doctor is a bright young fellow,
and wants nothing but a bald spot and a wife to find himself in a
comfortable family practice. One of the Annexes, as I have said,
has had thoughts of becoming a doctress. I don't think the Doctor
would want his wife to practise medicine, for reasons which I will
not stop to mention. Such a partnership sometimes works wonderfully
well, as in one well-known instance where husband and wife are both
eminent in the profession; but our young Doctor has said to me that
he had rather see his wife,--if he ever should have one,--at the
piano than at the dissecting-table. Of course the Annexes know
nothing about this, and they may think, as he professed himself
willing to lecture on medicine to women, he might like to take one of
his pupils as a helpmeet.
If it were not for our Delilah's humble position, I don't see why she
would not be a good match for any young man. But then it is so hard
to take a young woman from so very lowly a condition as that of a
"waitress" that it would require a deal of courage to venture on such
a step. If we could only find out that she is a princess in
disguise, so to speak,--that is, a young person of presentable
connections as well as pleasing looks and manners; that she has had
an education of some kind, as we suspected when she blushed on
hearing herself spoken of as a "gentille petite," why, then
everything would be all right, the young Doctor would have plain
sailing,--that is, if be is in love with her, and if she fancies
him,--and I should find my love-story,--the one I expected, but not
between the parties I had thought would be mating with each other.
Dear little Delilah! Lily of the valley, growing in the shade now,--
perhaps better there until her petals drop; and yet if she is all I
often fancy she is, how her youthful presence would illuminate and
sweeten a household! There is not one of us who does not feel
interested in her,--not one of us who would not be delighted at some
Cinderella transformation which would show her in the setting Nature
meant for her favorite.
The fancy of Number Seven about the witches' broomsticks suggested to
one of us the following poem:
THE BROOMSTICK TRAIN;
OR, THE RETURN OF THE WITCHES.
Lookout! Look out, boys! Clear the track!
The witches are here! They've all come back!
They hanged them high,--No use! No use!
What cares a witch for a hangman's noose?
They buried them deep, but they would n't lie, still,
For cats and witches are hard to kill;
They swore they shouldn't and wouldn't die,
Books said they did, but they lie! they lie!
--A couple of hundred years, or so,
They had knocked about in the world below,
When an Essex Deacon dropped in to call,
And a homesick feeling seized them all;
For he came from a place they knew full well,
And many a tale he had to tell.
They long to visit the haunts of men,
To see the old dwellings they knew again,
And ride on their broomsticks all around
Their wide domain of unhallowed ground.
In Essex county there's many a roof
Well known to him of the cloven hoof;
The small square windows are full in view
Which the midnight hags went sailing through,
On their well-trained broomsticks mounted high,
Seen like shadows against the sky;
Crossing the track of owls and bats,
Hugging before them their coal-black cats.
Well did they know, those gray old wives,
The sights we see in our daily drives
Shimmer of lake and shine of sea,
Brown's bare hill with its lonely tree,
(It wasn't then as we see it now,
With one scant scalp-lock to shade its brow;)
Dusky nooks in the Essex woods,
Dark, dim, Dante-like solitudes,
Where the tree-toad watches the sinuous snake
Glide through his forests of fern and brake;
Ipswich River; its old stone bridge;
Far off Andover's Indian Ridge,
And many a scene where history tells
Some shadow of bygone terror dwells,
Of "Norman's Woe" with its tale of dread,
Of the Screeching Woman of Marblehead,
(The fearful story that turns men pale
Don't bid me tell it,--my speech would fail.)
Who would not, will not, if he can,
Bathe in the breezes of fair Cape Ann,
Rest in the bowers her bays enfold,
Loved by the sachems and squaws of old?
Home where the white magnolias bloom,
Sweet with the bayberry's chaste perfume,
Hugged by the woods and kissed by the seal
Where is the Eden like to thee?
For that "couple of hundred years, or so,"
There had been no peace in the world below;
The witches still grumbling, "It is n't fair;
Come, give us a taste of the upper air!
We've had enough of your sulphur springs,
And the evil odor that round them clings;
We long for a drink that is cool and nice,
Great buckets of water with Wenham ice;
We've served you well up-stairs, you know;
You're a good old-fellow--come, let us go!"
I don't feel sure of his being good,
But he happened to be in a pleasant mood,
As fiends with their skins full sometimes are,
(He'd been drinking with "roughs" at a Boston bar.)
So what does he do but up and shout
To a graybeard turnkey, "Let 'em out!"
To mind his orders was all he knew;
The gates swung open, and out they flew.
"Where are our broomsticks?" the beldams cried.
"Here are your broomsticks," an imp replied.
"They've been in--the place you know--so long
They smell of brimstone uncommon strong;
But they've gained by being left alone,
Just look, and you'll see how tall they've grown."
--And where is my cat? "a vixen squalled.
Yes, where are our cats?" the witches bawled,
And began to call them all by name:
As fast as they called the cats, they came
There was bob-tailed Tommy and long-tailed Tim,
And wall-eyed Jacky and green-eyed Jim,
And splay-foot Benny and slim-legged Beau,
And Skinny and Squally, and Jerry and Joe,
And many another that came at call,
It would take too long to count them all.
All black,--one could hardly tell which was which,
But every cat knew his own old witch;
And she knew hers as hers knew her,
Ah, did n't they curl their tails and purr!
No sooner the withered hags were free
Than out they swarmed for a midnight spree;
I could n't tell all they did in rhymes,
But the Essex people had dreadful times.
The Swampscott fishermen still relate
How a strange sea-monster stole thair bait;
How their nets were tangled in loops and knots,
And they found dead crabs in their lobster-pots.
Poor Danvers grieved for her blasted crops,
And Wilmington mourned over mildewed hops.
A blight played havoc with Beverly beans,
It was all the work of those hateful queans!
A dreadful panic began at "Pride's,"
Where the witches stopped in their midnight rides,
And there rose strange rumors and vague alarms
'Mid the peaceful dwellers at Beverly Farms.
Now when the Boss of the Beldams found
That without his leave they were ramping round,
He called,--they could hear him twenty miles,
From Chelsea beach to the Misery Isles;
The deafest old granny knew his tone
Without the trick of the telephone.
"Come here, you witches! Come here!" says he,--
"At your games of old, without asking me
I'll give you a little job to do
That will keep you stirring, you godless crew!"
They came, of course, at their master's call,
The witches, the broomsticks, the cats, and all;
He led the hags to a railway train
The horses were trying to drag in vain.
"Now, then," says he, "you've had your fun,
And here are the cars you've got to run.
"The driver may just unhitch his team,
We don't want horses, we don't want steam;
You may keep your old black cats to hug,
But the loaded train you've got to lug."
Since then on many a car you'll see
A broomstick plain as plain can be;
On every stick there's a witch astride,
The string you see to her leg is tied.
She will do a mischief if she can,
But the string is held by a careful man,
And whenever the evil-minded witch
Would cut come caper, he gives a twitch.
As for the hag, you can't see her,
But hark! you can hear her black cat's purr,
And now and then, as a car goes by,
You may catch a gleam from her wicked eye.
Often you've looked on a rushing train,
But just what moved it was not so plain.
It couldn't be those wires above,
For they could neither pull nor shove;
Where was the motor that made it go
You couldn't guess, but now you know.
Remember my rhymes when you ride again
On the rattling rail by the broomstick train!
In my last report of our talks over the teacups I had something to
say of the fondness of our people for titles. Where did the anti-
republican, anti-democratic passion for swelling names come from, and
how long has it been naturalized among us?
A striking instance of it occurred at about the end of the last
century. It was at that time there appeared among us one of the most
original and singular personages to whom America has given birth.
Many of our company,--many of my readers,--all well acquainted with
his name, and not wholly ignorant of his history. They will not
object to my giving some particulars relating to him, which, if not
new to them, will be new to others into whose hands these pages may
Timothy Dexter, the first claimant of a title of nobility among the
people of the United States of America, was born in the town of
Malden, near Boston. He served an apprenticeship as a leather-
dresser, saved some money, got some more with his wife, began trading
and speculating, and became at last rich, for those days. His most
famous business enterprise was that of sending an invoice of warming-
pans to the West Indies. A few tons of ice would have seemed to
promise a better return; but in point of fact, he tells us, the
warming-pans were found useful in the manufacture of sugar, and
brought him in a handsome profit. His ambition rose with his
fortune. He purchased a large and stately house in Newburyport, and
proceeded to embellish and furnish it according to the dictates of
his taste and fancy. In the grounds about his house, he caused to be
erected between forty and fifty wooden statues of great men and
allegorical figures, together with four lions and one lamb. Among
these images were two statues of Dexter himself, one of which held a
label with a characteristic inscription. His house was ornamented
with minarets, adorned with golden balls, and surmounted by a large
gilt eagle. He equipped it with costly furniture, with paintings,
and a library. He went so far as to procure the services of a poet
laureate, whose business it seems to have been to sing his praises.
Surrounded with splendors like these, the plain title of "Mr." Dexter
would have been infinitely too mean and common. He therefore boldly
took the step of self-ennobling, and gave himself forth--as he said,
obeying "the voice of the people at large"--as "Lord Timothy Dexter,"
by which appellation he has ever since been known to the American
If to be the pioneer in the introduction of Old World titles into
republican America can confer a claim to be remembered by posterity,
Lord Timothy Dexter has a right to historic immortality. If the true
American spirit shows itself most clearly in boundless self-
assertion, Timothy Dexter is the great original American egotist. If
to throw off the shackles of Old World pedantry, and defy the paltry
rules and examples of grammarians and rhetoricians, is the special
province and the chartered privilege of the American writer, Timothy
Dexter is the founder of a new school, which tramples under foot the
conventionalities that hampered and subjugated the faculties of the
poets, the dramatists, the historians, essayists, story-tellers,
orators, of the worn-out races which have preceded the great American
The material traces of the first American nobleman's existence have
nearly disappeared. The house is still standing, but the statues,
the minarets, the arches, and the memory of the great Lord Timothy
Dexter live chiefly in tradition, and in the work which be bequeathed
to posterity, and of which I shall say a few words. It is
unquestionably a thoroughly original production, and I fear that some
readers may think I am trifling with them when I am quoting it
literally. I am going to make a strong claim for Lord Timothy as
against other candidates for a certain elevated position.
Thomas Jefferson is commonly recognized as the first to proclaim
before the world the political independence of America. It is not so
generally agreed upon as to who was the first to announce the
literary emancipation of our country.
One of Mr. Emerson's biographers has claimed that his Phi Beta Kappa
Oration was our Declaration of Literary Independence. But Mr.
Emerson did not cut himself loose from all the traditions of Old
World scholarship. He spelled his words correctly, he constructed
his sentences grammatically. He adhered to the slavish rules of
propriety, and observed the reticences which a traditional delicacy
has considered inviolable in decent society, European and Oriental
alike. When he wrote poetry, he commonly selected subjects which
seemed adapted to poetical treatment,--apparently thinking that all
things were not equally calculated to inspire the true poet's genius.
Once, indeed, he ventured to refer to "the meal in the firkin, the
milk in the pan," but he chiefly restricted himself to subjects such
as a fastidious conventionalism would approve as having a certain
fitness for poetical treatment. He was not always so careful as he
might have been in the rhythm and rhyme of his verse, but in the main
he recognized the old established laws which have been accepted as
regulating both. In short, with all his originality, he worked in
Old World harness, and cannot be considered as the creator of a truly
American, self-governed, self-centred, absolutely independent style
of thinking and writing, knowing no law but its own sovereign will
A stronger claim might be urged for Mr. Whitman. He takes into his
hospitable vocabulary words which no English dictionary recognizes as
belonging to the language,--words which will be looked for in vain
outside of his own pages. He accepts as poetical subjects all things
alike, common and unclean, without discrimination, miscellaneous as
the contents of the great sheet which Peter saw let down from heaven.
He carries the principle of republicanism through the whole world of
created objects. He will "thread a thread through [his] poems," he
tells us, "that no one thing in the universe is inferior to another
thing." No man has ever asserted the surpassing dignity and
importance of the American citizen so boldly and freely as Mr.
Whitman. He calls himself "teacher of the unquenchable creed,
namely, egotism." He begins one of his chants, "I celebrate myself,"
but he takes us all in as partners in his self-glorification. He
believes in America as the new Eden.
"A world primal again,--vistas of glory incessant and branching,
A new race dominating previous ones and grander far,
New politics--new literature and religions--new inventions and arts."
Of the new literature be himself has furnished specimens which
certainly have all the originality he can claim for them. So far as
egotism is concerned, he was clearly anticipated by the titled
personage to whom I have referred, who says of himself, "I am the
first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest
philosopher in the Western world." But while Mr. Whitman divests
himself of a part of his baptismal name, the distinguished New
Englander thus announces his proud position: "Ime the first Lord in
the younited States of A mercary Now of Newburyport. it is the voice
of the peopel and I cant Help it." This extract is from his famous
little book called "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones." As an inventor
of a new American style he goes far beyond Mr. Whitman, who, to be
sure, cares little for the dictionary, and makes his own rules of
rhythm, so far as there is any rhythm in his sentences. But Lord
Timothy spells to suit himself, and in place of employing punctuation
as it is commonly used, prints a separate page of periods, colons,
semicolons, commas, notes of interrogation and of admiration, with
which the reader is requested to "peper and soolt" the book as he
I am afraid that Mr. Emerson and Mr. Whitman must yield the claim of
declaring American literary independence to Lord Timothy Dexter, who
not only taught his countrymen that they need not go to the Heralds'
College to authenticate their titles of nobility, but also that they
were at perfect liberty to spell just as they liked, and to write
without troubling themselves about stops of any kind. In writing
what I suppose he intended for poetry, he did not even take the pains
to break up his lines into lengths to make them look like verse, as
may be seen by the following specimen:
WONDER OF WONDERS!
How great the soul is! Do not you all wonder and admire to see and
behold and hear? Can you all believe half the truth, and admire to
hear the wonders how great the soul is--only behold--past finding
out! Only see how large the soul is! that if a man is drowned in the
sea what a great bubble comes up out of the top of the water... The
bubble is the soul.
I confess that I am not in sympathy with some of the movements that
accompany the manifestations of American social and literary
independence. I do not like the assumption of titles of Lords and
Knights by plain citizens of a country which prides itself on
recognizing simple manhood and womanhood as sufficiently entitled to
respect without these unnecessary additions. I do not like any
better the familiar, and as it seems to me rude, way of speaking of
our fellow-citizens who are entitled to the common courtesies of
civilized society. I never thought it dignified or even proper for a
President of the United States to call himself, or to be called by
others, "Frank" Pierce. In the first place I had to look in a
biographical dictionary to find out whether his baptismal name was
Franklin, or Francis, or simply Frank, for I think children are
sometimes christened with this abbreviated name. But it is too much
in the style of Cowper's unpleasant acquaintance:
"The man who hails you Tom or Jack,
And proves by thumping on your back
How he esteems your merit."
I should not like to hear our past chief magistrates spoken of as
Jack Adams or Jim Madison, and it would have been only as a political
partisan that I should have reconciled myself to "Tom" Jefferson.
So, in spite of "Ben" Jonson, "Tom" Moore, and "Jack" Sheppard, I
prefer to speak of a fellow-citizen already venerable by his years,
entitled to respect by useful services to his country, and recognized
by many as the prophet of a new poetical dispensation, with the
customary title of adults rather than by the free and easy school-boy
abbreviation with which he introduced himself many years ago to the
public. As for his rhapsodies, Number Seven, our "cracked Teacup,"
says they sound to him like "fugues played on a big organ which has
been struck by lightning." So far as concerns literary independence,
if we understand by that term the getting rid of our subjection to
British criticism, such as it was in the days when the question was
asked, "Who reads an American book?" we may consider it pretty well
established. If it means dispensing with punctuation, coining words
at will, self-revelation unrestrained by a sense of what is decorous,
declamations in which everything is glorified without being
idealized, "poetry" in which the reader must make the rhythms which
the poet has not made for him, then I think we had better continue
literary colonists. I shrink from a lawless independence to which
all the virile energy and trampling audacity of Mr. Whitman fail to
reconcile me. But there is room for everybody and everything in our
huge hemisphere. Young America is like a three-year-old colt with
his saddle and bridle just taken off. The first thing he wants to do
is to roll. He is a droll object, sprawling in the grass with his
four hoofs in the air; but he likes it, and it won't harm us. So let
him roll,--let him roll
Of all The Teacups around our table, Number Five is the one who is
the object of the greatest interest. Everybody wants to be her
friend, and she has room enough in her hospitable nature to find a
place for every one who is worthy of the privilege. The difficulty
is that it is so hard to be her friend without becoming her lover. I
have said before that she turns the subjects of her Circe-like
enchantment, not into swine, but into lambs. The Professor and I
move round among her lambs, the docile and amiable flock that come
and go at her bidding, that follow her footsteps, and are content to
live in the sunshine of her smile and within reach of the music of
her voice. I like to get her away from their amiable bleatings; I
love to talk with her about life, of which she has seen a great deal,
for she knows what it is to be an idol in society and the centre of
her social circle. It might be a question whether women or men most
admire and love her. With her own sex she is always helpful,
sympathizing, tender, charitable, sharing their griefs as well as
taking part in their pleasures. With men it has seemed to make
little difference whether they were young or old: all have found her
the same sweet, generous, unaffected companion; fresh enough in
feeling for the youngest, deep enough in the wisdom of the heart for
the oldest. She does not pretend to be youthful, nor does she
trouble herself that she has seen the roses of more Junes than many
of--the younger women who gather round her. She has not had to say,
Comme je regrette
Mon bras si dodu,
for her arm has never lost its roundness, and her face is one of
those that cannot be cheated of their charm even if they live long
enough to look upon the grown up grandchildren of their coevals.
It is a wonder how Number Five can find the time to be so much to so
many friends of both sexes, in spite of the fact that she is one of
the most insatiable of readers. She not only reads, but she
remembers; she not only remembers, but she records, for her own use
and pleasure, and for the delight and profit of those who are
privileged to look over her note-books. Number Five, as I think I
have said before, has not the ambition to figure as an authoress.
That she could write most agreeably is certain. I have seen letters
of hers to friends which prove that clearly enough. Whether she
would find prose or verse the most natural mode of expression I
cannot say, but I know she is passionately fond of poetry, and I
should not be surprised if, laid away among the pressed pansies and
roses of past summers, there were poems, songs, perhaps, of her own,
which she sings to herself with her fingers touching the piano; for
to that she tells her secrets in tones sweet as the ring-dove's call
to her mate.
I am afraid it may be suggested that I am drawing Number Five's
portrait too nearly after some model who is unconsciously sitting for
it; but have n't I told you that you must not look for flesh and
blood personalities behind or beneath my Teacups? I am not going to
make these so lifelike that you will be saying, This is Mr. or Miss,
or Mrs. So-and-So. My readers must remember that there are very many
pretty, sweet, amiable girls and women sitting at their pianos, and
finding chords to the music of their heart-strings. If I have
pictured Number Five as one of her lambs might do it, I have
succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish. Why don't I describe her
person? If I do, some gossip or other will be sure to say, "Oh, he
means her, of course," and find a name to match the pronoun.
It is strange to see how we are all coming to depend upon the
friendly aid of Number Five in our various perplexities. The
Counsellor asked her opinion in one of those cases where a divorce
was too probable, but a reconciliation was possible. It takes a
woman to sound a woman's heart, and she found there was still love
enough under the ruffled waters to warrant the hope of peace and
tranquillity. The young Doctor went to her for counsel in the case
of a hysteric girl possessed with the idea that she was a born
poetess, and covering whole pages of foolscap with senseless
outbursts, which she wrote in paroxysms of wild excitement, and read
with a rapture of self-admiration which there was nothing in her
verses to justify or account for. How sweetly Number Five dealt with
that poor deluded sister in her talk with the Doctor! "Yes," she
said to him, "nothing can be fuller of vanity, self-worship, and
self-deception. But we must be very gentle with her. I knew a young
girl tormented with aspirations, and possessed by a belief that she
was meant for a higher place than that which fate had assigned her,
who needed wholesome advice, just as this poor young thing does. She
did not ask for it, and it was not offered. Alas, alas! 'no man
cared for her soul,'--no man nor woman either. She was in her early
teens, and the thought of her earthly future, as it stretched out
before her, was more than she could bear, and she sought the presence
of her Maker to ask the meaning of her abortive existence.--We will
talk it over. I will help you take care of this child."
The Doctor was thankful to have her assistance in a case with which
he would have found it difficult to deal if he had been left to, his
unaided judgment, and between them the young girl was safely piloted
through the perilous straits in which she came near shipwreck.
I know that it is commonly said of her that every male friend of hers
must become her lover unless he is already lassoed by another. Il
fait passer par l'a. The young Doctor is, I think, safe, for I am
convinced that he is bewitched with Delilah. Since she has left us,
he has seemed rather dejected; I feel sure that he misses her. We
all do, but he more seriously than the rest of us. I have said that
I cannot tell whether the Counsellor is to be counted as one of
Number Five's lambs or not, but he evidently admires her, and if he
is not fascinated, looks as if he were very near that condition.
It was a more delicate matter about which the Tutor talked with her.
Something which she had pleasantly said to him about the two Annexes
led him to ask her, more or less seriously, it may be remembered,
about the fitness of either of them to be the wife of a young man in
his position. She talked so sensibly, as it seemed to him, about it
that he continued the conversation, and, shy as he was, became quite
easy and confidential in her company. The Tutor is not only a poet,
but is a great reader of the poetry of many languages. It so
happened that Number Five was puzzled, one day, in reading a sonnet
of Petrarch, and had recourse to the Tutor to explain the difficult
passage. She found him so thoroughly instructed, so clear, so much
interested, so ready to impart knowledge, and so happy in his way of
doing it, that she asked him if he would not allow her the privilege
of reading an Italian author under his guidance, now and then.
The Tutor found Number Five an apt scholar, and something more than
that; for while, as a linguist, he was, of course, her master, her
intelligent comments brought out the beauties of an author in a way
to make the text seem like a different version. They did not always
confine themselves to the book they were reading. Number Five showed
some curiosity about the Tutor's relations with the two Annexes. She
suggested whether it would not be well to ask one or both of them in
to take part in their readings. The Tutor blushed and hesitated.
"Perhaps you would like to ask one of them," said Number Five.
"Which one shall it be?" "It makes no difference to me which," he
answered," but I do not see that we need either." Number Five did
not press the matter further. So the young Tutor and Number Five
read together pretty regularly, and came to depend upon their meeting
over a book as one of their stated seasons of enjoyment. He is so
many years younger than she is that I do not suppose he will have to
pass par la, as most of her male friends have done. I tell her
sometimes that she reminds me of my Alma Mater, always young, always
fresh in her attractions, with her scholars all round her, many of
them graduates, or to graduate sooner or later.
What do I mean by graduates? Why, that they have made love to her,
and would be entitled to her diploma, if she gave a parchment to each
one of them who had had the courage to face the inevitable. About
the Counsellor I am, as I have said, in doubt. Who wrote that
"I Like You and I Love You," which we found in the sugar-bowl the
other day? Was it a graduate who had felt the "icy dagger," or only
a candidate for graduation who was afraid of it? So completely does
she subjugate those who come under her influence that I believe she
looks upon it as a matter of course that the fateful question will
certainly come, often after a brief acquaintance. She confessed as
much to me, who am in her confidence, and not a candidate for
graduation from her academy. Her graduates--her lambs I called them
--are commonly faithful to her, and though now and then one may have
gone off and sulked in solitude, most of them feel kindly to her, and
to those who have shared the common fate of her suitors. I do really
believe that some of them would be glad to see her captured by any
one, if such there can be, who is worthy of her. She is the best of
friends, they say, but can she love anybody, as so many other women
do, or seem to? Why shouldn't our Musician, who is evidently fond of
her company, and sings and plays duets with her, steal her heart as
Piozzi stole that of the pretty and bright Mrs. Thrale, as so many
music-teachers have run away with their pupils' hearts? At present
she seems to be getting along very placidly and contentedly with her
young friend the Tutor. There is something quite charming in their
relations with each other. He knows many things she does not, for he
is reckoned one of the most learned in his literary specialty of all
the young men of his time; and it can be a question of only a few
years when some first-class professorship will be offered him. She,
on the other hand, has so much more experience, so much more
practical wisdom, than he has that he consults her on many every-day
questions, as he did, or made believe do, about that of making love
to one of the two Annexes. I had thought, when we first sat round
the tea-table, that she was good for the bit of romance I wanted; but
since she has undertaken to be a kind of half-maternal friend to the
young Tutor, I am afraid I shall have to give her up as the heroine
of a romantic episode. It would be a pity if there were nothing to
commend these papers to those who take up this periodical but essays,
more or less significant, on subjects more or less interesting to the
jaded and impatient readers of the numberless stories and
entertaining articles which crowd the magazines of this prolific
period. A whole year of a tea-table as large as ours without a
single love passage in it would be discreditable to the company. We
must find one, or make one, before the tea-things are taken away and
the table is no longer spread.
The Dictator turns preacher.
We have so many light and playful talks over the teacups that some
readers may be surprised to find us taking up the most serious and
solemn subject which can occupy a human intelligence. The sudden
appearance among our New England Protestants of the doctrine of
purgatory as a possibility, or even probability, has startled the
descendants of the Puritans. It has naturally led to a
reconsideration of the doctrine of eternal punishment. It is on that
subject that Number Five and I have talked together. I love to
listen to her, for she talks from the promptings of a true woman's
heart. I love to talk to her, for I learn my own thoughts better in
that way than in any other "L'appetit vient en mangeant," the French
saying has it. "L'esprit vient en causant;" that is, if one can find
the right persons to talk with.
The subject which has specially interested Number Five and myself, of
late, was suggested to me in the following way.
Some two years ago I received a letter from a clergyman who bears by
inheritance one of the most distinguished names which has done honor
to the American "Orthodox" pulpit. This letter requested of me "a
contribution to a proposed work which was to present in their own
language the views of 'many men of many minds' on the subject of
future punishment. It was in my mind to let the public hear not only
from professional theologians, but from other professions, as from
jurists on the alleged but disputed value of the hangman's whip
overhanging the witness-box, and from physicians on the working of
beliefs about the future life in the minds of the dangerously sick.
And I could not help thinking what a good thing it would be to draw
out the present writer upon his favorite borderland between the
spiritual and the material." The communication came to me, as the
writer reminds me in a recent letter, at a "painfully inopportune
time," and though it was courteously answered, was not made the
subject of a special reply.
This request confers upon me a certain right to express my opinion on
this weighty subject without fear and without reproach even from
those who might be ready to take offence at one of the laity for
meddling with pulpit questions. It shows also that this is not a
dead issue in our community, as some of the younger generation seem
to think. There are some, there may be many, who would like to hear
what impressions one has received on the subject referred to, after a
long life in which he has heard and read a great deal about the
matter. There is a certain gravity in the position of one who is, in
the order of nature very near the undiscovered country. A man who
has passed his eighth decade feels as if be were already in the
antechamber of the apartments which he may be called to occupy in the
house of many mansions. His convictions regarding the future of our
race are likely to be serious, and his expressions not lightly
uttered. The question my correspondent suggests is a tremendous one.
No other interest compares for one moment with that belonging to it.
It is not only ourselves that it concerns, but all whom we love or
ever have loved, all our human brotherhood, as well as our whole idea
of the Being who made us and the relation in which He stands to his
creatures. In attempting to answer my correspondent's question, I
shall no doubt repeat many things I have said before in different
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