The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 20 out of 51
forms, on different occasions. This is no more than every clergyman
does habitually, and it would be hard if I could not have the same
license which the professional preacher enjoys so fully.
Number Five and I have occasionally talked on religious questions,
and discovered many points of agreement in our views. Both of us
grew up under the old "Orthodox" or Calvinistic system of belief.
Both of us accepted it in our early years as a part of our education.
Our experience is a common one. William Cullen Bryant says of
himself, "The Calvinistic system of divinity I adopted of course, as
I heard nothing else taught from the pulpit, and supposed it to be
the accepted belief of the religious world." But it was not the
"five points" which remained in the young poet's memory and shaped
his higher life. It was the influence of his mother that left its
permanent impression after the questions and answers of the
Assembly's Catechism had faded out, or remained in memory only as
fossil survivors of an extinct or fast-disappearing theological
formation. The important point for him, as for so many other
children of Puritan descent, was not his father's creed, but his
mother's character, precepts, and example. "She was a person," he
says, "of excellent practical sense, of a quick and sensitive moral
judgment, and had no patience with any form of deceit or duplicity.
Her prompt condemnation of injustice, even in those instances in
which it is tolerated by the world, made a strong impression upon me
in early life; and if, in the discussion of public questions, I have
in my riper age endeavored to keep in view the great rule of right
without much regard to persons, it has been owing in a great degree
to the force of her example, which taught me never to countenance a
wrong because others did."
I have quoted this passage because it was an experience not wholly
unlike my own, and in certain respects like that of Number Five. To
grow up in a narrow creed and to grow out of it is a tremendous trial
of one's nature. There is always a bond of fellowship between those
who have been through such an ordeal.
The experiences we have had in common naturally lead us to talk over
the theological questions which at this time are constantly
presenting themselves to the public, not only in the books and papers
expressly devoted to that class of subjects, but in many of the
newspapers and popular periodicals, from the weeklies to the
quarterlies. The pulpit used to lay down the law to the pews; at the
present time, it is of more consequence what the pews think than what
the minister does, for the obvious reason that the pews can change
their minister, and often do, whereas the minister cannot change the
pews, or can do so only to a very limited extent. The preacher's
garment is cut according to the pattern of that of the hearers, for
the most part. Thirty years ago, when I was writing on theological
subjects, I came in for a very pretty share of abuse, such as it was
the fashion of that day, at least in certain quarters, to bestow upon
those who were outside of the high-walled enclosures in which many
persons; not naturally unamiable or exclusive, found themselves
imprisoned. Since that time what changes have taken place! Who will
believe that a well-behaved and reputable citizen could have been
denounced as a "moral parricide," because he attacked some of the
doctrines in which he was supposed to have been brought up? A single
thought should have prevented the masked theologian who abused his
incognito from using such libellous language.
Much, and in many families most, of the religious teaching of
children is committed to the mother. The experience of William
Cullen Bryant, which I have related in his own words, is that of many
New England children. Now, the sternest dogmas that ever came from a
soul cramped or palsied by an obsolete creed become wonderfully
softened in passing between the lips of a mother. The cruel doctrine
at which all but case-hardened "professionals" shudder cones out, as
she teaches and illustrates it, as unlike its original as the milk
which a peasant mother gives her babe is unlike the coarse food which
furnishes her nourishment. The virus of a cursing creed is rendered
comparatively harmless by the time it reaches the young sinner in the
nursery. Its effects fall as far short of what might have been
expected from its virulence as the pearly vaccine vesicle falls short
of the terrors of the confluent small-pox. Controversialists should
therefore be careful (for their own sakes, for they hurt nobody so
much as themselves) how they use such terms as "parricide" as
characterizing those who do not agree in all points with the fathers
whom or whose memory they honor and venerate. They might with as
much propriety call them matricides, if they did not agree with the
milder teachings of their mothers. I can imagine Jonathan Edwards in
the nursery with his three-year-old child upon his knee. The child
looks up to his face and says to him,--"Papa, nurse tells me that you
say God hates me worse than He hates one of those horrid ugly snakes
that crawl all round. Does God hate me so?"
"Alas! my child, it is but too true. So long as you are out of
Christ you are as a viper, and worse than a viper, in his sight."
By and by, Mrs. Edwards, one of the loveliest of women and sweetest
of mothers, comes into the nursery. The child is crying.
"What is the matter, my darling?"
" Papa has been telling me that God hates me worse than a snake."
Poor, gentle, poetical, sensitive, spiritual, almost celestial Mrs.
Jonathan Edwards! On the one hand the terrible sentence conceived,
written down, given to the press, by the child's father; on the other
side the trusting child looking up at her, and all the mother
pleading in her heart against the frightful dogma of her revered
husband. Do you suppose she left that poison to rankle in the tender
soul of her darling? Would it have been moral parricide for a son of
the great divine to have repudiated the doctrine which degraded his
blameless infancy to the condition and below the condition of the
reptile? Was it parricide in the second or third degree when his
descendant struck out that venomous sentence from the page in which
it stood as a monument to what depth Christian heathenism could sink
under the teaching of the great master of logic and spiritual
inhumanity? It is too late to be angry about the abuse a well--
meaning writer received thirty years ago. The whole atmosphere has
changed since then. It is mere childishness to expect men to believe
as their fathers did; that is, if they have any minds of their own.
The world is a whole generation older and wiser than when the father
was of his son's age.
So far as I have observed persons nearing the end of life, the Roman
Catholics understand the business of dying better than Protestants.
They have an expert by them, armed with spiritual specifics, in which
they both, patient and priestly ministrant, place implicit trust.
Confession, the Eucharist, Extreme Unction,--these all inspire a
confidence which without this symbolism is too apt to be wanting in
over-sensitive natures. They have been peopled in earlier years with
ghastly spectres of avenging fiends, moving in a sleepless world of
devouring flames and smothering exhalations; where nothing lives but
the sinner, the fiends, and the reptiles who help to make life an
unending torture. It is no wonder that these images sometimes return
to the enfeebled intelligence. To exorcise them, the old Church of
Christendom has her mystic formulae, of which no rationalistic
prescription can take the place. If Cowper had been a good Roman
Catholic, instead of having his conscience handled by a Protestant
like John Newton, he would not have died despairing, looking upon
himself as a castaway. I have seen a good many Roman Catholics on
their dying beds, and it always appeared to me that they accepted the
inevitable with a composure which showed that their belief, whether
or not the best to live by, was a better one to die by than most of
the harder creeds which have replaced it.
In the more intelligent circles of American society one may question
anything and everything, if he will only do it civilly. We may talk
about eschatology, the science of last things,--or, if you will, the
natural history of the undiscovered country, without offence before
anybody except young children and very old women of both sexes. In
our New England the great Andover discussion and the heretical
missionary question have benumbed all sensibility on this subject as
entirely, as completely, as the new local anaesthetic, cocaine,
deadens the sensibility of the part to which it is applied, so that
the eye may have its mote or beam plucked out without feeling it,--as
the novels of Zola and Maupassant have hardened the delicate nerve-
centres of the women who have fed their imaginations on the food they
The generally professed belief of the Protestant world as embodied in
their published creeds is that the great mass of mankind are destined
to an eternity of suffering. That this eternity is to be one of
bodily pain--of "torment "--is the literal teaching of Scripture,
which has been literally interpreted by the theologians, the poets,
and the artists of many long ages which followed the acceptance of
the recorded legends of the church as infallible. The doctrine has
always been recognized, as it is now, as a very terrible one. It has
found a support in the story of the fall of man, and the view taken
of the relation of man to his Maker since that event. The hatred of
God to mankind in virtue of their "first disobedience" and inherited
depravity is at the bottom of it. The extent to which that idea was
carried is well shown in the expressions I have borrowed from
Jonathan Edwards. According to his teaching,--and he was a reasoner
who knew what he was talking about, what was involved in the premises
of the faith he accepted,--man inherits the curse of God as his
What shall we say to the doctrine of the fall of man as the ground of
inflicting endless misery on the human race? A man to be punished
for what he could not help! He was expected to be called to account
for Adam's sin. It is singular to notice that the reasoning of the
wolf with the lamb should be transferred to the dealings of the
Creator with his creatures. "You stirred the brook up and made my
drinking-place muddy." "But, please your wolfship, I couldn't do
that, for I stirred the water far down the stream,--below your
drinking-place." "Well, anyhow, your father troubled it a year or
two ago, and that is the same thing." So the wolf falls upon the
lamb and makes a meal of him. That is wolf logic,--and theological
How shall we characterize the doctrine of endless torture as the
destiny of most of those who have lived, and are living, on this
planet? I prefer to let another writer speak of it. Mr. John Morley
uses the following words: "The horrors of what is perhaps the most
frightful idea that has ever corroded human character,--the idea of
eternal punishment." Sismondi, the great historian, heard a sermon
on eternal punishment, and vowed never again to enter another church
holding the same creed. Romanism he considered a religion of mercy
and peace by the side of what the English call the Reformation.--I
mention these protests because I happen to find them among my notes,
but it would be easy to accumulate examples of the same kind. When
Cowper, at about the end of the last century, said satirically of the
minister he was attacking,
"He never mentioned hell to ears polite,"
he was giving unconscious evidence that the sense of the barbarism of
the idea was finding its way into the pulpit. When Burns, in the
midst of the sulphurous orthodoxy of Scotland, dared to say,
"The fear o' hell 's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order,"
he was oily appealing to the common sense and common humanity of his
All the reasoning in the world, all the proof-texts in old
manuscripts, cannot reconcile this supposition of a world of
sleepless and endless torment with the declaration that "God is
Where did this "frightful idea" come from? We are surprised, as we
grow older, to find that the legendary hell of the church is nothing
more nor less than the Tartarus of the old heathen world. It has
every mark of coming from the cruel heart of a barbarous despot.
Some malignant and vindictive Sheik, some brutal Mezentius, must have
sat for many pictures of the Divinity. It was not enough to kill his
captive enemy, after torturing him as much as ingenuity could
contrive to do it. He escaped at last by death, but his conqueror
could not give him up so easily, and so his vengeance followed him
into the unseen and unknown world. How the doctrine got in among,
the legends of the church we are no more bound to show than we are to
account for the intercalation of the "three witnesses" text, or the
false insertion, or false omission, whichever it may be, of the last
twelve verses of the Gospel of St Mark. We do not hang our
grandmothers now, as our ancestors did theirs, on the strength of the
positive command, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
The simple truth is that civilization has outgrown witchcraft, and is
outgrowing the Christian Tartarus. The pulpit no longer troubles
itself about witches and their evil doings. All the legends in the
world could not arrest the decay of that superstition and all the
edicts that grew out of it. All the stories that can be found in old
manuscripts will never prevent the going out of the fires of the
legendary Inferno. It is not much talked about nowadays to ears
polite or impolite. Humanity is shocked and repelled by it. The
heart of woman is in unconquerable rebellion against it. The more
humane sects tear it from their "Bodies of Divinity" as if it were
the flaming shirt of Nessus. A few doctrines with which it was bound
up have dropped or are dropping away from it: the primal curse;
consequential damages to give infinite extension to every
transgression of the law of God; inverting the natural order of
relative obligations; stretching the smallest of finite offenses to
the proportions of the infinite; making the babe in arms the
responsible being, and not the parent who gave it birth and
determined its conditions of existence.
After a doctrine like "the hangman's whip" has served its purpose,--
if it ever had any useful purpose,--after a doctrine like that of
witchcraft has hanged old women enough, civilization contrives to get
rid of it. When we say that civilization crowds out the old
superstitious legends, we recognize two chief causes. The first is
the naked individual protest; the voice of the inspiration which
giveth man understanding. This shows itself conspicuously in the
modern poets. Burns in Scotland, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, in
America, preached a new gospel to the successors of men like Thomas
Boston and Jonathan Edwards. In due season, the growth of knowledge,
chiefly under the form of that part of knowledge called science, so
changes the views of the universe that many of its long-unchallenged
legends become no more than nursery tales. The text-books of
astronomy and geology work their way in between the questions and
answers of the time-honored catechisms. The doctrine of evolution,
so far as it is accepted, changes the whole relations of man to the
creative power. It substitutes infinite hope in the place of
infinite despair for the vast majority of mankind. Instead of a
shipwreck, from which a few cabin passengers and others are to be
saved in the long-boat, it gives mankind a vessel built to endure the
tempests, and at last to reach a port where at the worst the
passengers can find rest, and where they may hope for a home better
than any which they ever had in their old country. It is all very
well to say that men and women had their choice whether they would
reach the safe harbor or not.
"Go to it grandam, child;
Give grandam kingdom, and it grandam will
Give it a plum, a cherry and a fig."
We know what the child will take. So which course we shall take
depends very much on the way the choice is presented to us, and on
what the chooser is by nature. What he is by nature is not
determined by himself, but by his parentage. "They know not what
they do." In one sense this is true of every human being. The agent
does not know, never can know, what makes him that which he is. What
we most want to ask of our Maker is an unfolding of the divine
purpose in putting human beings into conditions in which such numbers
of them would be sure to go wrong. We want an advocate of helpless
humanity whose task it shall be, in the words of Milton,
"To justify the ways of God to man."
We have heard Milton's argument, but for the realization of his
vision of the time
"When Hell itself shall pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day,"
our suffering race must wait in patience.
The greater part of the discourse the reader has had before him was
delivered over the teacups one Sunday afternoon. The Mistress looked
rather grave, as if doubtful whether she ought not to signify her
disapprobation of what seemed to her dangerous doctrine.
However, as she knew that I was a good church-goer and was on the
best terms with her minister, she said nothing to show that she had
taken the alarm. Number Five listened approvingly. We had talked
the question over well, and were perfectly agreed on the main point.
How could it be otherwise? Do you suppose that any intellectual,
spiritual woman, with a heart under her bodice, can for a moment
seriously believe that the greater number of the high-minded men, the
noble and lovely women, the ingenuous and affectionate children, whom
she knows and honors or loves, are to be handed over to the experts
in a great torture-chamber, in company with the vilest creatures that
have once worn human shape?
"If there is such a world as used to be talked about from the pulpit,
you may depend upon it," she said to me once, "there will soon be
organized a Humane Society in heaven, and a mission established among
'the spirits in prison.'"
Number Five is a regular church-goer, as I am. I do not believe
either of us would darken the doors of a church if we were likely to
hear any of the "old-fashioned" sermons, such as I used to listen to
in former years from a noted clergyman, whose specialty was the
doctrine of eternal punishment. But you may go to the churches of
almost any of our Protestant denominations, and hear sermons by which
you can profit, because the ministers are generally good men, whose
moral and spiritual natures are above the average, and who know that
the harsh preaching of two or three generations ago would offend and
alienate a large part of their audience. So neither Number Five nor
I are hypocrites in attending church or "going to meeting." I am
afraid it does not make a great deal of difference to either of us
what may be the established creed of the worshipping assembly. That
is a matter of great interest, perhaps of great importance, to them,
but of much less, comparatively, to us. Companionship in worship,
and sitting quiet for an hour while a trained speaker, presumably
somewhat better than we are, stirs up our spiritual nature,--these
are reasons enough to Number Five, as to me, for regular attendance
on divine worship.
Number Seven is of a different way of thinking and feeling. He
insists upon it that the churches keep in their confessions of faith
statements which they do not believe, and that it is notorious that
they are afraid to meddle with them. The Anglo-American church has
dropped the Athanasian Creed from its service; the English mother
church is afraid to. There are plenty of Universalists, Number Seven
says, in the Episcopalian and other Protestant churches, but they do
not avow their belief in any frank and candid fashion. The churches
know very well, he maintains, that the fear of everlasting punishment
more than any or all other motives is the source of their power and
the support of their organizations. Not only are the fears of
mankind the whip to scourge and the bridle to restrain them, but they
are the basis of an almost incalculable material interest. "Talk
about giving up the doctrine of endless punishment by fire!"
exclaimed Number Seven; "there is more capital embarked in the
subterranean fire-chambers than in all the iron-furnaces on the face
of the earth. To think what an army of clerical beggars would be
turned loose on the world, if once those raging flames were allowed
to go out or to calm down! Who can wonder that the old conservatives
draw back startled and almost frightened at the thought that there
may be a possible escape for some victims whom the Devil was thought
to have secured? How many more generations will pass before Milton's
alarming prophecy will find itself realized in the belief of
Remember that Number Seven is called a "crank" by many persons, and
take his remarks for just what they are worth, and no more.
Out of the preceding conversation must have originated the following
poem, which was found in the common receptacle of these versified
While in my simple gospel creed
That "God is Love" so plain I read,
Shall dreams of heathen birth affright
My pathway through the coming night?
Ah, Lord of life, though spectres pale
Fill with their threats the shadowy vale,
With Thee my faltering steps to aid,
How can I dare to be afraid?
Shall mouldering page or fading scroll
Outface the charter of the soul?
Shall priesthood's palsied arm protect
The wrong our human hearts reject,
And smite the lips whose shuddering cry
Proclaims a cruel creed a lie?
The wizard's rope we disallow
Was justice once,--is murder now!
Is there a world of blank despair,
And dwells the Omnipresent there?
Does He behold with smile serene
The shows of that unending scene,
Where sleepless, hopeless anguish lies,
And, ever dying, never dies?
Say, does He hear the sufferer's groan,
And is that child of wrath his own?
O mortal, wavering in thy trust,
Lift thy pale forehead from the dust
The mists that cloud thy darkened eyes
Fade ere they reach the o'erarching skies!
When the blind heralds of despair
Would bid thee doubt a Father's care,
Look up from earth, and read above
On heaven's blue tablet, GOD IS LOVE!
The tea is sweetened.
We have been going on very pleasantly of late, each of us pretty well
occupied with his or her special business. The Counsellor has been
pleading in a great case, and several of The Teacups were in the
court-room. I thought, but I will not be certain, that some of his
arguments were addressed to Number Five rather than to the jury,--the
more eloquent passages especially.
Our young Doctor seems to me to be gradually getting known in the
neighborhood and beyond it. A member of one of the more influential
families, whose regular physician has gone to Europe, has sent for
him to come and see her, and as the patient is a nervous lady, who
has nothing in particular the matter with her, he is probably in for
a good many visits and a long bill by and by. He has even had a call
at a distance of some miles from home,--at least be has had to hire a
conveyance frequently of late, for he has not yet set up his own
horse and chaise. We do not like to ask him about who his patient
may be, but he or she is probably a person of some consequence, as he
is absent several hours on these out-of-town visits. He may get a
good practice before his bald spot makes its appearance, for I have
looked for it many times without as yet seeing a sign of it. I am
sure he must feel encouraged, for he has been very bright and
cheerful of late; and if he sometimes looks at our new handmaid as if
he wished she were Delilah, I do not think he is breaking his heart
about her absence. Perhaps he finds consolation in the company of
the two Annexes, or one of them,--but which, I cannot make out. He
is in consultations occasionally with Number Five, too, but whether
professionally or not I have no means of knowing. I cannot for the
life of me see what Number Five wants of a doctor for herself, so
perhaps it is another difficult case in which her womanly sagacity is
called upon to help him.
In the mean time she and the Tutor continue their readings. In fact,
it seems as if these readings were growing more frequent, and lasted
longer than they did at first. There is a little arbor in the
grounds connected with our place of meeting, and sometimes they have
gone there for their readings. Some of The Teacups have listened
outside once in a while, for the Tutor reads well, and his clear
voice must be heard in the more emphatic passages, whether one is
expressly listening or not. But besides the reading there is now and
then some talking, and persons talking in an arbor do not always
remember that latticework, no matter how closely the vines cover it,
is not impenetrable to the sound of the human voice. There was a
listener one day,--it was not one of The Teacups, I am happy to say,
--who heard and reported some fragments of a conversation which
reached his ear. Nothing but the profound intimacy which exists
between myself and the individual reader whose eyes are on this page
would induce me to reveal what I was told of this conversation. The
first words seem to have been in reply to some question.
"Why, my dear friend, how can you think of such a thing? Do you
know--I am--old enough to be your--[I think she must have been on the
point of saying mother, but that was more than any woman could be
expected to say]--old enough to be your aunt?"
"To be sure you are," answered the Tutor, "and what of it? I have
two aunts, both younger than I am. Your years may be more than mine,
but your life is fuller of youthful vitality than mine is. I never
feel so young as when I have been with you. I don't believe in
settling affinities by the almanac. You know what I have told you
more than once; you have n't 'bared the ice-cold dagger's edge' upon
me yet; may I not cherish the"....
What a pity that the listener did not hear the rest of the sentence
and the reply to it, if there was one! The readings went on the same
as before, but I thought that Number Five was rather more silent and
more pensive than she had been.
I was much pleased when the American Annex came to me one day and
told me that she and the English Annex were meditating an expedition,
in which they wanted the other Teacups to join. About a dozen miles
from us is an educational institution of the higher grade, where a
large number of young ladies are trained in literature, art, and
science, very much as their brothers are trained in the colleges.
Our two young ladies have already been through courses of this kind
in different schools, and are now busy with those more advanced
studies which are ventured upon by only a limited number of
"graduates." They have heard a good deal about this institution, but
have never visited it.
Every year, as the successive classes finish their course, there is a
grand reunion of the former students, with an "exhibition," as it is
called, in which the graduates of the year have an opportunity of
showing their proficiency in the various branches taught. On that
occasion prizes are awarded for excellence in different departments.
It would be hard to find a more interesting ceremony. These girls,
now recognized as young ladies, are going forth as missionaries of
civilization among our busy people. They are many of them to be
teachers, and those who have seen what opportunities they have to
learn will understand their fitness for that exalted office. Many
are to be the wives and mothers of the generation next coming upon
the stage. Young and beautiful, "youth is always beautiful," said
old Samuel Rogers,--their countenances radiant with developed
intelligence, their complexions, their figures, their movements, all
showing that they have had plenty of outdoor as well as indoor
exercise, and have lived well in all respects, one would like to read
on the wall of the hall where they are assembled,--
Si uxorem requiris, circumspice!
This proposed expedition was a great event in our comparatively quiet
circle. The Mistress, who was interested in the school, undertook to
be the matron of the party. The young Doctor, who knew the roads
better than any of us, was to be our pilot. He arranged it so that
he should have the two Annexes under his more immediate charge. We
were all on the lookout to see which of the two was to be the favored
one, for it was pretty well settled among The Teacups that a wife he
must have, whether the bald spot came or not; he was getting into
business, and he could not achieve a complete success as a bachelor.
Number Five and the Tutor seemed to come together as a matter of
course. I confess that I could not help regretting that our pretty
Delilah was not to be one of the party. She always looked so young,
so fresh,--she would have enjoyed the excursion so much, that if she
had been still with us I would have told the Mistress that she must
put on her best dress; and if she had n't one nice enough, I would
give her one myself. I thought, too, that our young Doctor would
have liked to have her with us; but he appeared to be getting along
very well with the Annexes, one of whom it seems likely that he will
annex to himself and his fortunes, if she fancies him, which is not
The organizing of this expedition was naturally a cause of great
excitement among The Teacups. The party had to be arranged in such a
way as to suit all concerned, which was a delicate matter. It was
finally managed in this way: The Mistress was to go with a bodyguard,
consisting of myself, the Professor, and Number Seven, who was good
company, with all his oddities. The young Doctor was to take the two
Annexes in a wagon, and the Tutor was to drive Number Five in a good
old-fashioned chaise drawn by a well-conducted family horse. As for
the Musician, he had gone over early, by special invitation, to take
a part in certain musical exercises which were to have a place in the
exhibition. This arrangement appeared to be in every respect
satisfactory. The Doctor was in high spirits, apparently delighted,
and devoting himself with great gallantry to his two fair companions.
The only question which intruded itself was, whether he might not
have preferred the company of one to that of two. But both looked
very attractive in their best dresses: the English Annex, the rosier
and heartier of the two; the American girl, more delicate in
features, more mobile and excitable, but suggesting the thought that
she would tire out before the other. Which of these did he most
favor? It was hard to say. He seemed to look most at the English
girl, and yet he talked more with the American girl. In short, he
behaved particularly well, and neither of the young ladies could
complain that she was not attended to. As to the Tutor and Number
Five, their going together caused no special comment. Their intimacy
was accepted as an established fact, and nothing but the difference
in their ages prevented the conclusion that it was love, and not mere
friendship, which brought them together. There was, no doubt, a
strong feeling among many people that Number Five's affections were a
kind of Gibraltar or Ehrenbreitstein, say rather a high table-land in
the region of perpetual, unmelting snow. It was hard for these
people to believe that any man of mortal mould could find a foothold
in that impregnable fortress,--could climb to that height and find
the flower of love among its glaciers. The Tutor and Number Five
were both quiet, thoughtful: he, evidently captivated; she, what was
the meaning of her manner to him? Say that she seemed fond of him,
as she might be were he her nephew,--one for whom she had a special
liking. If she had a warmer feeling than this, she could hardly know
how to manage it; for she was so used to having love made to her
without returning it that she would naturally be awkward in dealing
with the new experience.
The Doctor drove a lively five-year-old horse, and took the lead.
The Tutor followed with a quiet, steady-going nag; if he had driven
the five-year-old, I would not have answered for the necks of the
pair in the chaise, for he was too much taken up with the subject
they were talking of, to be very careful about his driving. The
Mistress and her escort brought up the rear,--I holding the reins,
the Professor at my side, and Number Seven sitting with the Mistress.
We arrived at the institution a little later than we had expected to,
and the students were flocking into the hall, where the Commencement
exercises were to take place, and the medal-scholars were to receive
the tokens of their excellence in the various departments. From our
seats we could see the greater part of the assembly,--not quite all,
however of the pupils. A pleasing sight it was to look upon, this
array of young ladies dressed in white, with their class badges, and
with the ribbon of the shade of blue affected by the scholars of the
institution. If Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared to a
lily, a whole bed of lilies could not be compared to this garden-bed
of youthful womanhood.
The performances were very much the same as most of us have seen at
the academies and collegiate schools. Some of the graduating class
read their "compositions," one of which was a poem,--an echo of the
prevailing American echoes, of course, but prettily worded and
intelligently read. Then there was a song sung by a choir of the
pupils, led by their instructor, who was assisted by the Musician
whom we count among The Teacups.--There was something in one of the
voices that reminded me of one I had heard before. Where could it
have been? I am sure I cannot remember. There are some good voices
in our village choir, but none so pure and bird-like as this. A
sudden thought came into my head, but I kept it to myself. I heard a
tremulous catching of the breath, something like a sob, close by me.
It was the Mistress,--she was crying. What was she crying for? It
was impressive, certainly, to listen to these young voices, many of
them blending for the last time,--for the scholars were soon to be
scattered all over the country, and some of them beyond its
boundaries,--but why the Mistress was so carried away, I did not
know. She must be more impressible than most of us; yet I thought
Number Five also looked as if she were having a struggle with herself
to keep down some rebellious signs of emotion.
The exercises went on very pleasingly until they came to the awarding
of the gold medal of the year and the valedictory, which was to be
delivered by the young lady to whom it was to be presented. The name
was called; it was one not unfamiliar to our ears, and the bearer of
it--the Delilah of our tea-table, Avis as she was known in the school
and elsewhere--rose in her place and came forward, so that for the
first time on that day, we looked upon her. It was a sensation for
The Teacups. Our modest, quiet waiting-girl was the best scholar of
her year. We had talked French before her, and we learned that she
was the best French scholar the teacher had ever had in the school.
We had never thought of her except as a pleasing and well-trained
handmaiden, and here she was an accomplished young lady.
Avis went through her part very naturally and gracefully, and when it
was finished, and she stood before us with the medal glittering on
her breast, we did not know whether to smile or to cry,--some of us
did one, and some the other.--We all had an opportunity to see her
and congratulate her before we left the institution. The mystery of
her six weeks' serving at our table was easily solved. She had been
studying too hard and too long, and required some change of scene and
occupation. She had a fancy for trying to see if she could support
herself as so many young women are obliged to, and found a place with
us, the Mistress only knowing her secret.
"She is to be our young Doctor's wife!" the Mistress whispered to me,
and did some more crying, not for grief, certainly.
Whether our young Doctor's long visits to a neighboring town had
anything to do with the fact that Avis was at that institution,
whether she was the patient he visited or not, may be left in doubt.
At all events, he had always driven off in the direction which would
carry him to the place where she was at school.
I have attended a large number of celebrations, commencements,
banquets, soirees, and so forth, and done my best to help on a good
many of them. In fact, I have become rather too well known in
connection with "occasions," and it has cost me no little trouble.
I believe there is no kind of occurrence for which I have not been
requested to contribute something in prose or verse. It is sometimes
very hard to say no to the requests. If one is in the right mood
when he or she writes an occasional poem, it seems as if nothing
could have been easier. "Why, that piece run off jest like ile.
I don't bullieve," the unlettered applicant says to himself, "I don't
bullieve it took him ten minutes to write them verses." The good
people have no suspicion of how much a single line, a single
expression, may cost its author. The wits used to say that Ropers,--
the poet once before referred to, old Samuel Ropers, author of the
Pleasures of Memory and giver of famous breakfasts,--was accustomed
to have straw laid before the house whenever he had just given birth
to a couplet. It is not quite so bad as that with most of us who are
called upon to furnish a poem, a song, a hymn, an ode for some grand
meeting, but it is safe to say that many a trifling performance has
had more good honest work put into it than the minister's sermon of
that week had cost him. If a vessel glides off the ways smoothly and
easily at her launching, it does not mean that no great pains have
been taken to secure the result. Because a poem is an "occasional"
one, it does not follow that it has not taken as much time and skill
as if it had been written without immediate, accidental, temporary
motive. Pindar's great odes were occasional poems, just as much as
our Commencement and Phi Beta Kappa poems are, and yet they have come
down among the most precious bequests of antiquity to modern times.
The mystery of the young Doctor's long visits to the neighboring town
was satisfactorily explained by what we saw and heard of his
relations with our charming "Delilah,"--for Delilah we could hardly
help calling her. Our little handmaid, the Cinderella of the
teacups, now the princess, or, what was better, the pride of the
school to which she had belonged, fit for any position to which she
might be called, was to be the wife of our young Doctor. It would
not have been the right thing to proclaim the fact while she was a
pupil, but now that she had finished her course of instruction there
was no need of making a secret of the engagement.
So we have got our romance, our love-story out of our Teacups, as I
hoped and expected that we should, but not exactly in the quarter
where it might have been looked for.
What did our two Annexes say to this unexpected turn of events? They
were good-hearted girls as ever lived, but they were human, like the
rest of us, and women, like some of the rest of us. They behaved
perfectly. They congratulated the Doctor, and hoped he would bring
the young lady to the tea-table where she had played her part so
becomingly. It is safe to say that each of the Annexes world have
liked to be asked the lover's last question by the very nice young
man who had been a pleasant companion at the table and elsewhere to
each of them. That same question is the highest compliment a man can
pay a woman, and a woman does not mind having a dozen or more such
compliments to string on the rosary of her remembrances. Whether
either of them was glad, on the whole, that he had not offered
himself to the other in preference to herself would be a mean, shabby
question, and I think altogether too well of you who are reading this
paper to suppose that you would entertain the idea of asking it.
It was a very pleasant occasion when the Doctor brought Avis over to
sit with us at the table where she used to stand and wait upon us.
We wondered how we could for a moment have questioned that she was
one to be waited upon, and not made for the humble office which
nevertheless she performed so cheerfully and so well.
Commencements and other Celebrations, American and English.
The social habits of our people have undergone an immense change
within the past half century, largely in consequence of the vast
development of the means of intercourse between different
Commencements, college gatherings of all kinds, church assemblages,
school anniversaries, town centennials,--all possible occasions for
getting crowds together are made the most of. "'T is sixty years
since,"--and a good many years over,--the time to which my memory
extends. The great days of the year were, Election,--General
Election on Wednesday, and Artillery Election on the Monday
following, at which time lilacs were in bloom and 'lection buns were
in order; Fourth of July, when strawberries were just going out; and
Commencement, a grand time of feasting, fiddling, dancing, jollity,
not to mention drunkenness and fighting, on the classic green of
Cambridge. This was the season of melons and peaches. That is the
way our boyhood chronicles events. It was odd that the literary
festival should be turned into a Donnybrook fair, but so it was when
I was a boy, and the tents and the shows and the crowds on the Common
were to the promiscuous many the essential parts of the great
occasion. They had been so for generations, and it was only
gradually that the Cambridge Saturnalia were replaced by the
decencies and solemnities of the present sober anniversary.
Nowadays our celebrations smack of the Sunday-school more than of the
dancing-hall. The aroma of the punch-bowl has given way to the
milder flavor of lemonade and the cooling virtues of ice-cream.
A strawberry festival is about as far as the dissipation of our
social gatherings ventures. There was much that was objectionable in
those swearing, drinking, fighting times, but they had a certain
excitement for us boys of the years when the century was in its
teens, which comes back to us not without its fascinations. The days
of total abstinence are a great improvement over those of unlicensed
license, but there was a picturesque element about the rowdyism of
our old Commencement days, which had a charm for the eye of boyhood.
My dear old friend,--book-friend, I mean,--whom I always called Daddy
Gilpin (as I find Fitzgerald called Wordsworth, Daddy Wordsworth),--
my old friend Gilpin, I say, considered the donkey more picturesque
in a landscape than the horse. So a village fete as depicted by
Teniers is more picturesque than a teetotal picnic or a Sabbath-
school strawberry festival. Let us be thankful that the vicious
picturesque is only a remembrance, and the virtuous commonplace a
reality of to-day.
What put all this into my head is something which the English Annex
has been showing me. Most of my readers are somewhat acquainted with
our own church and village celebrations. They know how they are
organized; the women always being the chief motors, and the machinery
very much the same in one case as in another. Perhaps they would
like to hear how such things are managed in England; and that is just
what they may learn from the pamphlet which was shown me by the
English Annex, and of which I will give them a brief account.
Some of us remember the Rev. Mr. Haweis, his lectures and his violin,
which interested and amused us here in Boston a few years ago. Now
Mr. Haweis, assisted by his intelligent and spirited wife, has charge
of the parish of St. James, Westmoreland Street, Marylebone, London.
On entering upon the twenty-fifth year of his incumbency in
Marylebone, and the twenty-eighth of his ministry in the diocese of
London, it was thought a good idea to have an "Evening Conversazione
and Fete." We can imagine just how such a meeting would be organized
in one of our towns. Ministers, deacons, perhaps a member of
Congress, possibly a Senator, and even, conceivably, his Excellency
the Governor, and a long list of ladies lend their names to give
lustre to the occasion. It is all very pleasant, unpretending,
unceremonious, cheerful, well ordered, commendable, but not imposing.
Now look at our Marylebone parish celebration, and hold your breath
while the procession of great names passes before you. You learn at
the outset that it is held UNDER ROYAL PATRONAGE, and read the names
of two royal highnesses, one highness, a prince, and a princess.
Then comes a list before which if you do not turn pale, you must
certainly be in the habit of rouging: three earls, seven lords, three
bishops, two generals (one of them Lord Wolseley), one admiral, four
baronets, nine knights, a crowd of right honorable and honorable
ladies (many of them peeresses), and a mob of other personages, among
whom I find Mr. Howells, Bret Harte, and myself.
Perhaps we are disposed to smile at seeing so much made of titles;
but after what we have learned of Lord Timothy Dexter and the high-
sounding names appropriated by many of our own compatriots, who have
no more claim to them than we plain Misters and Misseses, we may feel
to them something as our late friend Mr. Appleton felt to the real
green turtle soup set before him, when he said that it was almost as
good as mock.
The entertainment on this occasion was of the most varied character.
The programme makes the following announcement:
Friday, 4 July, 18-.
At 8 P. M. the Doors will Open.
Mr. Haweis will receive his Friends.
The Royal Handbell Ringers will Ring.
The Fish-pond will be Fished.
The Stalls will be Visited.
The Phonograph will Utter.
Refreshments will be called for, and they will come,--Tea, Coffee,
and Cooling Drinks. Spirits will not be called for, from the Vasty
Deep or anywhere else,--nor would they come if they were.
At 9.30 Mrs. Haweis will join the assembly.
I am particularly delighted with this last feature in the preliminary
announcement. It is a proof of the high regard in which the
estimable and gifted lady who shares her husband's labors is held by
the people of their congregation, and the friends who share in their
feelings. It is such a master stroke of policy, too, to keep back
the principal attraction until the guests must have grown eager for
her appearance: I can well imagine how great a saving it must have
been to the good lady's nerves, which were probably pretty well tried
already by the fatigues and responsibilities of the busy evening. I
have a right to say this, for I myself had the honor of attending a
meeting at Mr. Haweis's house, where I was a principal guest, as I
suppose, from the fact of the great number of persons who were
presented to me. The minister must be very popular, for the meeting
was a regular jam,--not quite so tremendous as that greater one,
where but for the aid of Mr. Smalley, who kept open a breathing-space
round us, my companion and myself thought we should have been
The company was interested, as some of my readers maybe, to know what
were the attractions offered to the visitors besides that of meeting
the courteous entertainers and their distinguished guests. I cannot
give these at length, for each part of the show is introduced in the
programme with apt quotations and pleasantries, which enlivened the
catalogue. There were eleven stalls, "conducted on the cooperative
principle of division of profits and interest; they retain the
profits, and you take a good deal of interest, we hope, in their
Stall No. 1. Edisoniana, or the Phonograph. Alluded to by
the Roman Poet as Vox, et praeterea nihil.
Stall No. 2. Money-changing.
Stall No. 3. Programmes and General Enquiries.
Stall No. 4. Roses.
A rose by any other name, etc. Get one. You can't expect to smell
one without buying it, but you may buy one without smelling it.
Stall No. 5. Lasenby Liberty Stall.
(I cannot explain this. Probably articles from Liberty's famous
Stall No. 6. Historical Costumes and Ceramics.
Stall No. 7. The Fish-pond.
Stall No. 8. Varieties.
Stall No. 9. Bookstall.
(Books) "highly recommended for insomnia; friends we never speak to,
and always cut if we want to know them well."
Stall No. 10. Icelandic.
Stall No. 11. Call Office.
"Mrs. Magnusson, who is devoted to the North Pole and all its works,
will thaw your sympathies, enlighten your minds," etc., etc.
All you buy may be left at the stalls, ticketed. A duplicate ticket
will be handed to you on leaving. Present your duplicate at the Call
At 9.45, First Concert.
At 10.45, An Address of Welcome by Rev. H. R. Haweis.
At 11 P. M., Bird-warbling Interlude by Miss Mabel Stephenson,
U. S. A.
At 11.20, Second Concert.
Three Great Pictures.
LORD TENNYSON. G. F. Watts, R. A.
JOHN STUART MILL G. F. Watts, R. A.
JOSEPH GARIBALDI Sig. Rondi.
A Famous Violin.
A world-famed Stradivarius Violin, for which Mr. Hill, of Bond
Street, gave L 1000, etc., etc.
Tickets for Tea, Coffee, Sandwiches, Iced Drinks, or Ices, Sixpence
each, etc., etc.
I hope my American reader is pleased and interested by this glimpse
of the way in which they do these things in London.
There is something very pleasant about all this, but what specially
strikes me is a curious flavor of city provincialism. There are
little centres in the heart of great cities, just as there are small
fresh-water ponds in great islands with the salt sea roaring all
round them, and bays and creeks penetrating them as briny as the
ocean itself. Irving has given a charming picture of such a quasi-
provincial centre in one of his papers in the Sketch-Book,--the one
with the title "Little Britain." London is a nation of itself, and
contains provinces, districts, foreign communities, villages,
parishes,--innumerable lesser centres, with their own distinguishing
characteristics, habits, pursuit, languages, social laws, as much
isolated from each other as if "mountains interposed" made the
separation between them. One of these lesser centres is that over
which my friend Mr. Haweis presides as spiritual director. Chelsea
has been made famous as the home of many authors and artists,--above
all, as the residence of Carlyle during the greater part of his life.
Its population, like that of most respectable suburbs, must belong
mainly to the kind of citizens which resembles in many ways the
better class,--as we sometimes dare to call it,--of one of our
thriving New England towns. How many John Gilpins there must be in
this population,--citizens of "famous London town," but living with
the simplicity of the inhabitants of our inland villages! In the
mighty metropolis where the wealth of the world displays itself they
practise their snug economies, enjoy their simple pleasures, and look
upon ice-cream as a luxury, just as if they were living on the banks
of the Connecticut or the Housatonic, in regions where the summer
locusts of the great cities have not yet settled on the verdure of
the native inhabitants. It is delightful to realize the fact that
while the West End of London is flaunting its splendors and the East
End in struggling with its miseries, these great middle-class
communities are living as comfortable, unpretending lives as if they
were in one of our thriving townships in the huckleberry-districts.
Human beings are wonderfully alike when they are placed in similar
We were sitting together in a very quiet way over our teacups. The
young Doctor, who was in the best of spirits, had been laughing and
chatting with the two Annexes. The Tutor, who always sits next to
Number Five of late, had been conversing with her in rather low
tones. The rest of us had been soberly sipping our tea, and when the
Doctor and the Annexes stopped talking there was one of those dead
silences which are sometimes so hard to break in upon, and so awkward
while they last. All at once Number Seven exploded in a loud laugh,
which startled everybody at the table.
What is it that sets you laughing so? said I.
"I was thinking," Number Seven replied, "of what you said the other
day of poetry being only the ashes of emotion. I believe that some
people are disposed to dispute the proposition. I have been putting
your doctrine to the test. In doing it I made some rhymes,--the
first and only ones I ever made. I will suppose a case of very
exciting emotion, and see whether it would probably take the form of
poetry or prose. You are suddenly informed that your house is on
fire, and have to scramble out of it, without stopping to tie your
neck-cloth neatly or to put a flower in your buttonhole. Do you
think a poet turning out in his night-dress, and looking on while the
flames were swallowing his home and all its contents, would express
himself in this style?
"My house is on fire!
Bring me my lyre!
Like the flames that rise heavenward my song shall aspire!
"He would n't do any such thing, and you know he wouldn't. He would
yell Fire! Fire! with all his might. Not much rhyming for him just
yet! Wait until the fire is put out, and he has had time to look at
the charred timbers and the ashes of his home, and in the course of a
week he may possibly spin a few rhymes about it. Or suppose he was
making an offer of his hand and heart, do you think he would declaim
a versified proposal to his Amanda, or perhaps write an impromptu on
the back of his hat while he knelt before her?
"My beloved, to you
I will always be true.
Oh, pray make me happy, my love, do! do! do!
"What would Amanda think of a suitor who courted her with a rhyming
dictionary in his pocket to help him make love?"
You are right, said I,--there's nothing in the world like rhymes to
cool off a man's passion. You look at a blacksmith working on a bit
of iron or steel. Bright enough it looked while it was on the
hearth, in the midst of the sea-coal, the great bellows blowing away,
and the rod or the horse-shoe as red or as white as the burning
coals. How it fizzes as it goes into the trough of water, and how
suddenly all the glow is gone! It looks black and cold enough now.
Just so with your passionate incandescence. It is all well while it
burns and scintillates in your emotional centres, without articulate
and connected expression; but the minute you plunge it into the
rhyme-trough it cools down, and becomes as dead and dull as the cold
horse-shoe. It is true that if you lay it cold on the anvil and
hammer away on it for a while it warms up somewhat. Just so with the
rhyming fellow,--he pounds away on his verses and they warm up a
little. But don't let him think that this afterglow of composition
is the same thing as the original passion. That found expression in
a few oh, oh's, eheu's, helas, helas's, and when the passion had
burned itself out you got the rhymed verses, which, as I have said,
are its ashes.
I thanked Number Seven for his poetical illustration of my thesis.
There is great good to be got out of a squinting brain, if one only
knows how to profit by it. We see only one side of the moon, you
know, but a fellow with a squinting brain seems now and then to get a
peep at the other side. I speak metaphorically. He takes new and
startling views of things we have always looked at in one particular
aspect. There is a rule invariably to be observed with one of this
class of intelligences: Never contradict a man with a squinting
brain. I say a man, because I do not think that squinting brains are
nearly so common in women as they are in men. The "eccentrics" are,
I think, for the most part of the male sex.
That leads me to say that persons with a strong instinctive tendency
to contradiction are apt to become unprofitable companions. Our
thoughts are plants that never flourish in inhospitable soils or
chilling atmospheres. They are all started under glass, so to speak;
that is, sheltered and fostered in our own warm and sunny
consciousness. They must expect some rough treatment when we lift
the sash from the frame and let the outside elements in upon them.
They can bear the rain and the breezes, and be all the better for
them; but perpetual contradiction is a pelting hailstorm, which
spoils their growth and tends to kill them out altogether.
Now stop and consider a moment. Are not almost all brains a little
wanting in bilateral symmetry? Do you not find in persons whom you
love, whom you esteem, and even admire, some marks of obliquity in
mental vision? Are there not some subjects in looking at which it
seems to you impossible that they should ever see straight? Are
there not moods in which it seems to you that they are disposed to
see all things out of plumb and in false relations with each other?
If you answer these questions in the affirmative, then you will be
glad of a hint as to the method of dealing with your friends who have
a touch of cerebral strabismus, or are liable to occasional paroxysms
of perversity. Let them have their head. Get them talking on
subjects that interest them. As a rule, nothing is more likely to
serve this purpose than letting them talk about themselves; if
authors, about their writings; if artists, about their pictures or
statues; and generally on whatever they have most pride in and think
most of their own relations with.
Perhaps you will not at first sight agree with me in thinking that
slight mental obliquity is as common as I suppose. An analogy may
have some influence on your belief in this matter. Will you take the
trouble to ask your tailor how many persons have their two shoulders
of the same height? I think be will tell you that the majority of
his customers show a distinct difference of height on the two sides.
Will you ask a portrait-painter how many of those who sit to hint
have both sides of their faces exactly alike? I believe he will tell
you that one side is always a little better than the other. What
will your hatter say about the two sides of the head? Do you see
equally well with both eyes, and hear equally well with both ears?
Few persons past middle age will pretend that they do. Why should
the two halves of a brain not show a natural difference, leading to
confusion of thought, and very possibly to that instinct of
contradiction of which I was speaking? A great deal of time is lost
in profitless conversation, and a good deal of ill temper frequently
caused, by not considering these organic and practically insuperable
conditions. In dealing with them, acquiescence is the best of
palliations and silence the sovereign specific.
I have been the reporter, as you have seen, of my own conversation
and that of the other Teacups. I have told some of the circumstances
of their personal history, and interested, as I hope, here and there
a reader in the fate of different members of our company. Here are
our pretty Delilah and our Doctor provided for. We may take it for
granted that it will not be very long that the young couple will have
to wait; for, as I have told you all, the Doctor is certainly getting
into business, and bids fair to have a thriving practice before he
saddles his nose with an eyeglass and begins to think of a pair of
spectacles. So that part of our little domestic drama is over, and
we can only wish the pair that is to be all manner of blessings
consistent with a reasonable amount of health in the community on
whose ailings must depend their prosperity.
All our thoughts are now concentrated on the relation existing betwen
Number Five and the Tutor. That there is some profound instinctive
impulse which is drawing them closer together no one who watches them
can for a moment doubt. There are two principles of attraction which
bring different natures together: that in which the two natures
closely resemble each other, and that in which one is complementary
of the other. In the first case, they coalesce, as do two drops of
water or of mercury, and become intimately blended as soon as they
touch; in the other, they rush together as an acid and an alkali
unite, predestined from eternity to find all they most needed in each
other. What is the condition of things in the growing intimacy of
Number Five and the Tutor? He is many years her junior, as we know.
Both of them look that fact squarely in the face. The presumption is
against the union of two persons under these circumstances.
Presumptions are strong obstacles against any result we wish to
attain, but half our work in life is to overcome them. A great many
results look in the distance like six-foot walls, and when we get
nearer prove to be only five-foot hurdles, to be leaped over or
knocked down. Twenty years from now she may be a vigorous and active
old woman, and he a middle-aged, half-worn-out invalid, like so many
overworked scholars. Everything depends on the number of drops of
the elixir vitae which Nature mingled in the nourishment she
administered to the embryo before it tasted its mother's milk. Think
of Cleopatra, the bewitching old mischief-maker; think of Ninon de
L'Enclos, whose own son fell desperately in love with her, not
knowing the relation in which she stood to him; think of Dr.
Johnson's friend, Mrs. Thrale, afterward Mrs. Piozzi, who at the age
of eighty was full enough of life to be making love ardently and
persistently to Conway, the handsome young actor. I can readily
believe that Number Five will outlive the Tutor, even if he is
fortunate enough rather in winning his way into the fortress through
gates that open to him of their own accord. If he fails in his
siege, I do really believe he will die early; not of a broken heart,
exactly, but of a heart starved, with the food it was craving close
to it, but unattainable. I have, therefore, a deep interest in
knowing how Number Five and the Tutor are getting along together. Is
there any danger of one or the other growing tired of the intimacy,
and becoming willing to get rid of it, like a garment which has
shrunk and grown too tight? Is it likely that some other attraction
may come into disturb the existing relation? The problem is to my
mind not only interesting, but exceptionally curious. You remember
the story of Cymon and Iphigenia as Dryden tells it. The poor youth
has the capacity of loving, but it lies hidden in his undeveloped
nature. All at once he comes upon the sleeping beauty, and is
awakened by her charms to a hitherto unfelt consciousness. With the
advent of the new passion all his dormant faculties start into life,
and the seeming simpleton becomes the bright and intelligent lover.
The case of Number Five is as different from that of Cymon as it
could well be. All her faculties are wide awake, but one emotional
side of her nature has never been called into active exercise. Why
has she never been in love with any one of her suitors? Because she
liked too many of them. Do you happen to remember a poem printed
among these papers, entitled "I Like You and I Love You"
No one of the poems which have been placed in the urn,--that is, in
the silver sugar-bowl,--has had any name attached to it; but you
could guess pretty nearly who was the author of some of them,
certainly of the one just, referred to. Number Five was attracted to
the Tutor from the first time he spoke to her. She dreamed about him
that night, and nothing idealizes and renders fascinating one in whom
we have already an interest like dreaming of him or of her. Many a
calm suitor has been made passionate by a dream; many a passionate
lover has been made wild and half beside himself by a dream; and now
and then an infatuated but hapless lover, waking from a dream of
bliss to a cold reality of wretchedness, has helped himself to
eternity before he was summoned to the table.
Since Number Five had dreamed about the Tutor, he had been more in
her waking thoughts than she was willing to acknowledge. These
thoughts were vague, it is true,--emotions, perhaps, rather than
worded trains of ideas; but she was conscious of a pleasing
excitement as his name or his image floated across her consciousness;
she sometimes sighed as she looked over the last passage they had
read from the same book, and sometimes when they were together they
were silent too long,--too long! What were they thinking of?
And so it was all as plain sailing for Number Five and the young
Tutor as it had been for Delilah and the young Doctor, was it? Do
you think so? Then you do not understand Number Five. Many a woman
has as many atmospheric rings about her as the planet Saturn. Three
are easily to be recognized. First, there is the wide ring of
attraction which draws into itself all that once cross its outer
border. These revolve about her without ever coming any nearer.
Next is the inner ring of attraction. Those who come within its
irresistible influence are drawn so close that it seems as if they
must become one with her sooner or later. But within this ring is
another,--an atmospheric girdle, one of repulsion, which love, no
matter how enterprising, no matter how prevailing or how insinuating,
has never passed, and, if we judge of what is to be by what has been,
never will. Perhaps Nature loved Number Five so well that she
grudged her to any mortal man, and gave her this inner girdle of
repulsion to guard her from all who would know her too nearly and
love her too well. Sometimes two vessels at sea keep each other
company for a long distance, it may be daring a whole voyage. Very
pleasant it is to each to have a companion to exchange signals with
from time to time; to came near enough, when the winds are light, to
hold converse in ordinary tones from deck to deck; to know that, in
case of need, there's help at hand. It is good for them to be near
each other, but not good to be too near. Woe is to them if they
touch! The wreck of one or both is likely to be the consequence.
And so two well-equipped and heavily freighted natures may be the
best of companions to each other, and yet must never attempt to come
into closer union. Is this the condition of affairs between Number
Five and the Tutor? I hope not, for I want them to be joined
together in that dearest of intimacies, which, if founded in true
affinity, is the nearest approach to happiness to be looked for in
our mortal, experience. We mast wait. The Teacups will meet once
more before the circle is broken, and we may, perhaps, find the
solution of the question we have raised.
In the mean time, our young Doctor is playing truant oftener than
ever. He has brought Avis,--if we must call her so, and not
Delilah,--several times to take tea with us. It means something, in
these days, to graduate from one of our first-class academies or
collegiate schools. I shall never forget my first visit to one of
these institutions. How much its pupils know, I said, which I was
never taught, and have never learned! I was fairly frightened to see
what a teaching apparatus was provided for them. I should think the
first thing to be done with most of the husbands, they are likely to
get would be to put them through a course of instruction. The young
wives must find their lords wofully ignorant, in a large proportion
of cases. When the wife has educated the husband to such a point
that she can invite him to work out a problem in the higher
mathematics or to perform a difficult chemical analysis with her as
his collaborator, as less instructed dames ask their husbands to play
a game of checkers or backgammon, they can have delightful and
instructive evenings together. I hope our young Doctor will take
kindly to his wife's (that is to be) teachings.
When the following verses were taken out of the urn, the Mistress
asked me to hand the manuscript to the young Doctor to read. I
noticed that he did not keep his eyes very closely fixed on the
paper. It seemed as if he could have recited the lines without
referring to the manuscript at all.
AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD.
The glory has passed from the goldenrod's plume,
The purple-hued asters still linger in bloom;
The birch is bright yellow, the sumachs are red,
The maples like torches aflame overhead.
But what if the joy of the summer is past,
And winter's wild herald is blowing his blast?
For me dull November is sweeter than May,
For my love is its sunshine,--she meets me to-day!
Will she come? Will the ring-dove return to her nest?
Will the needle swing back from the east or the west?
At the stroke of the hour she will be at her gate;
A friend may prove laggard,--love never comes late.
Do I see her afar in the distance? Not yet.
Too early! Too early! She could not forget!
When I cross the old bridge where the brook overflowed,
She will flash full in sight at the turn of the road.
I pass the low wall where the ivy entwines;
I tread the brown pathway that leads through the pines;
I haste by the boulder that lies in the field,
Where her promise at parting was lovingly sealed.
Will she come by the hillside or round through the wood?
Will she wear her brown dress or her mantle and hood?
The minute draws near,--but her watch may go wrong;
My heart will be asking, What keeps her so long?
Why doubt for a moment? More shame if I do!
Why question? Why tremble? Are angels more true?
She would come to the lover who calls her his own
Though she trod in the track of a whirling cyclone!
--I crossed the old bridge ere the minute had passed.
I looked: lo! my Love stood before me at last.
Her eyes, how they sparkled, her cheeks, how they glowed,
As we met, face to face, at the turn of the road!
There was a great tinkling of teaspoons the other evening, when I
took my seat at the table, where ail The Teacups were gathered before
my entrance. The whole company arose, and the Mistress, speaking for
them, expressed the usual sentiment appropriate to such occasions.
"Many happy returns" is the customary formula. No matter if the
object of this kind wish is a centenarian, it is quite safe to assume
that he is ready and very willing to accept as many more years as the
disposing powers may see fit to allow him.
The meaning of it all was that this was my birthday. My friends,
near and distant, had seen fit to remember it, and to let me know in
various pleasant ways that they had not forgotten it. The tables
were adorned with flowers. Gifts of pretty and pleasing objects were
displayed on a side table. A great green wreath, which must have
cost the parent oak a large fraction of its foliage, was an object of
special admiration. Baskets of flowers which had half unpeopled
greenhouses, large bouquets of roses, fragrant bunches of pinks, and
many beautiful blossoms I am not botanist enough to name had been
coming in upon me all day long. Many of these offerings were brought
by the givers in person; many came with notes as fragrant with good
wishes as the flowers they accompanied with their natural perfumes.
How old was I, The Dictator, once known by another equally audacious
title,--I, the recipient of all these favors and honors? I had
cleared the eight-barred gate, which few come in sight of, and fewer,
far fewer, go over, a year before. I was a trespasser on the domain
belonging to another generation. The children of my coevals were
fast getting gray and bald, and their children beginning to look upon
the world as belonging to them, and not to their sires and
grandsires. After that leap over the tall barrier, it looks like a
kind of impropriety to keep on as if one were still of a reasonable
age. Sometimes it seems to me almost of the nature of a misdemeanor
to be wandering about in the preserve which the fleshless gamekeeper
guards so jealously. But, on the other hand, I remember that men of
science have maintained that the natural life of man is nearer
fivescore than threescore years and ten. I always think of a
familiar experience which I bring from the French cafes, well known
to me in my early manhood. One of the illustrated papers of my
Parisian days tells it pleasantly enough.
A guest of the establishment is sitting at his little table. He has
just had his coffee, and the waiter is serving him with his petit
verre. Most of my readers know very well what a petit verre is, but
there may be here and there a virtuous abstainer from alcoholic
fluids, living among the bayberries and the sweet ferns, who is not
aware that the words, as commonly used, signify a small glass--a very
small glass--of spirit, commonly brandy, taken as a chasse-cafe, or
coffee-chaser. This drinking of brandy, "neat," I may remark by the
way, is not quite so bad as it looks. Whiskey or rum taken unmixed
from a tumbler is a knock-down blow to temperance, but the little
thimbleful of brandy, or Chartreuse, or Maraschino, is only, as it
were, tweaking the nose of teetotalism.
Well,--to go back behind our brackets,--the guest is calling to the
waiter, "Garcon! et le bain de pieds! "Waiter! and the foot-bath!
--The little glass stands in a small tin saucer or shallow dish, and
the custom is to more than fill the glass, so that some extra brandy
rung over into this tin saucer or cup-plate, to the manifest gain of
Life is a petit verre of a very peculiar kind of spirit. At seventy
years it used to be said that the little glass was full. We should
be more apt to put it at eighty in our day, while Gladstone and
Tennyson and our own Whittier are breathing, moving, thinking,
writing, speaking, in the green preserve belonging to their children
and grandchildren, and Bancroft is keeping watch of the gamekeeper in
the distance. But, returning resolutely to the petit verre, I am
willing to concede that all after fourscore is the bain de pieds,
--the slopping over, so to speak, of the full measure of life. I
remember that one who was very near and dear to me, and who lived to
a great age, so that the ten-barred gate of the century did not look
very far off, would sometimes apologize in a very sweet, natural way
for lingering so long to be a care and perhaps a burden to her
children, themselves getting well into years. It is not hard to
understand the feeling, never less called for than it was in the case
of that beloved nonagenarian. I have known few persons, young or
old, more sincerely and justly regretted than the gentle lady whose
memory comes up before me as I write.
Oh, if we could all go out of flower as gracefully, as pleasingly, as
we come into blossom! I always think of the morning-glory as the
loveliest example of a graceful yielding to the inevitable. It is
beautiful before its twisted corolla opens; it is comely as it folds
its petals inward, when its brief hours of perfection are over.
Women find it easier than men to grow old in a becoming way. A very
old lady who has kept something, it may be a great deal, of her
youthful feelings, who is daintily cared for, who is grateful for the
attentions bestowed upon her, and enters into the spirit of the young
lives that surround her, is as precious to those who love her as a
gem in an antique setting, the fashion of which has long gone by, but
which leaves the jewel the color and brightness which are its
inalienable qualities. With old men it is too often different. They
do not belong so much indoors as women do. They have no pretty
little manual occupations. The old lady knits or stitches so long as
her eyes and fingers will let her. The old man smokes his pipe, but
does not know what to do with his fingers, unless he plays upon some
instrument, or has a mechanical turn which finds business for them.
But the old writer, I said to The Teacups, as I say to you, my
readers, labors under one special difficulty, which I am thinking of
and exemplifying at this moment. He is constantly tending to reflect
upon and discourse about his own particular stage of life. He feels
that he must apologize for his intrusion upon the time and thoughts
of a generation which he naturally supposes must be tired of him, if
they ever had any considerable regard for him. Now, if the world of
readers hates anything it sees in print, it is apology. If what one
has to say is worth saying, he need not beg pardon fur saying it. If
it is not worth saying I will not finish the sentence. But it is so
hard to resist the temptation, notwithstanding that the terrible line
beginning "Superfluous lags the veteran" is always repeating itself
in his dull ear!
What kind of audience or reading parish is a man who secured his
constituency in middle life, or before that period, to expect when he
has reached the age of threescore and twenty? His coevals have
dropped away by scores and tens, and he sees only a few units
scattered about here and there, like the few beads above the water
after a ship has gone to pieces. Does he write and publish for those
of his own time of life? He need not print a large edition. Does he
hope to secure a hearing from those who have come into the reading
world since his coevals? They have found fresher fields and greener
pastures. Their interests are in the out-door, active world. Some
of them are circumnavigating the planet while he is hitching his
rocking chair about his hearth-rug. Some are gazing upon the
pyramids while he is staring at his andirons. Some are settling the
tariff and fixing the laws of suffrage and taxation while he is
dozing over the weather bulletin, and going to sleep over the
obituaries in his morning or evening paper.
Nature is wiser than we give her credit for being; never wiser than
in her dealings with the old. She has no idea of mortifying them by
sudden and wholly unexpected failure of the chief servants of
consciousness. The sight, for instance, begins to lose something of
its perfection long before its deficiency calls the owner's special
attention to it. Very probably, the first hint we have of the change
is that a friend makes the pleasing remark that we are "playing the
trombone," as he calls it; that is, moving a book we are holding
backward and forward, to get the right focal distance. Or it may be
we find fault with the lamp or the gas-burner for not giving so much
light as it used to. At last, somewhere between forty and fifty, we
begin to dangle a jaunty pair of eye-glasses, half plaything and half
necessity. In due time a pair of sober, business-like spectacles
bestrides the nose. Old age leaps upon it as his saddle, and rides
triumphant, unchallenged, until the darkness comes which no glasses
can penetrate. Nature is pitiless in carrying out the universal
sentence, but very pitiful in her mode of dealing with the condemned
on his way to the final scene. The man who is to be hanged always
has a good breakfast provided for him.
Do not think that the old look upon themselves as the helpless,
hopeless, forlorn creatures which they seem to young people. Do
these young folks suppose that all vanity dies out of the natures of
old men and old women? A dentist of olden time told me that a good-
looking young man once said to him, "Keep that incisor presentable,
if you can, till I am fifty, and then I sha'n't care how I look." I
venture to say that that gentleman was as particular about his
personal appearance and as proud of his good looks at fifty, and many
years after fifty, as he was in the twenties, when he made that
speech to the dentist.
My dear friends around the teacups, and at that wider board where I
am now entertaining, or trying to entertain, my company, is it not as
plain to you as it is to me that I had better leave such tasks as
that which I am just finishing to those who live in a more
interesting period of life than one which, in the order of nature, is
next door to decrepitude? Ought I not to regret having undertaken to
report the doings and sayings of the members of the circle which you
have known as The Teacups?
Dear, faithful reader, whose patient eyes have followed my reports
through these long months, you and I are about parting company.
Perhaps you are one of those who have known me under another name, in
those far-off days separated from these by the red sea of the great
national conflict. When you first heard the tinkle of the teaspoons,
as the table was being made ready for its guests, you trembled for
me, in the kindness of your hearts. I do not wonder that you did,--I
trembled for myself. But I remembered the story of Sir Cloudesley
Shovel, who was seen all of a tremor just as he was going into
action. "How is this?" said a brother officer to him. "Surely you
are not afraid?" "No," he answered, "but my flesh trembles at the
thought of the dangers into which my intrepid spirit will carry me."
I knew the risk of undertaking to carry through a series of connected
papers. And yet I thought it was better to run that risk, more
manly, more sensible, than to give way to the fears which made my
flesh tremble as did Sir Cloudesley Shovel's. For myself the labor
has been a distraction, and one which came at a time when it was
needed. Sometimes, as in one of those poems recently published,--the
reader will easily guess which,--the youthful spirit has come over me
with such a rush that it made me feel just as I did when I wrote the
history of the "One-hoss Shay" thirty years ago. To repeat one of my
comparisons, it was as if an early fruit had ripened on a graft upon
an old, steady-going tree, to the astonishment of all its later-
maturing products. I should hardly dare to say so much as this if I
had not heard a similar opinion expressed by others.
Once committed to my undertaking, there was no turning back. It is
true that I had said I might stop at any moment, but after one or two
numbers it seemed as if there were an informal pledge to carry the
series on, as in former cases, until I had completed my dozen
Writers and speakers have their idiosyncrasies, their habits, their
tricks, if you had rather call them so, as to their ways of writing
and speaking. There is a very old and familiar story, accompanied by
a feeble jest, which most of my readers may probably enough have met
with in Joe Miller or elsewhere. It is that of a lawyer who could
never make an argument without having a piece of thread to work upon
with his fingers while he was pleading. Some one stole it from him
one day, and he could not get on at all with his speech,--he had lost
the thread of his discourse, as the story had it. Now this is what I
myself once saw. It was at a meeting where certain grave matters
were debated in an assembly of professional men. A speaker, whom I
never heard before or since, got up and made a long and forcible
argument. I do not think he was a lawyer, but he spoke as if he had
been trained to talk to juries. He held a long string in one hand,
which he drew through the other band incessantly, as he spoke, just
as a shoe maker performs the motion of waxing his thread. He
appeared to be dependent on this motion. The physiological
significance of the fact I suppose to be that the flow of what we
call the nervous current from the thinking centre to the organs of
speech was rendered freer and easier by the establishment of a
simultaneous collateral nervous current to the set of muscles
concerned in the action I have described.
I do not use a string to help me write or speak, but I must have its
equivalent. I must have my paper and pen or pencil before me to set
my thoughts flowing in such form that they can be written
continuously. There have been lawyers who could think out their
whole argument in connected order without a single note. There are
authors,--and I think there are many,--who can compose and finish off
a poem or a story without writing a word of it until, when the proper
time comes, they copy what they carry in their heads. I have been
told that Sir Edwin Arnold thought out his beautiful "Light of Asia"
in this way.
I find the great charm of writing consists in its surprises. When
one is in the receptive attitude of mind, the thoughts which are
sprung upon him, the images which flash through his--consciousness,
are a delight and an excitement. I am impatient of every hindrance
in setting down my thoughts,--of a pen that will not write, of ink
that will not flow, of paper that will not receive the ink. And here
let me pay the tribute which I owe to one of the humblest but most
serviceable of my assistants, especially in poetical composition.
Nothing seems more prosaic than the stylographic pen. It deprives
the handwriting of its beauty, and to some extent of its individual
character. The brutal communism of the letters it forms covers the
page it fills with the most uniformly uninteresting characters. But,
abuse it as much as you choose, there is nothing like it for the
poet, for the imaginative writer. Many a fine flow of thought has
been checked, perhaps arrested, by the ill behavior of a goose-quill.
Many an idea has escaped while the author was dipping his pen in the
inkstand. But with the stylographic pen, in the hands of one who
knows how to care for it and how to use it, unbroken rhythms and
harmonious cadences are the natural products of the unimpeded flow of
the fluid which is the vehicle of the author's thoughts and fancies.
So much for my debt of gratitude to the humble stylographic pen. It
does not furnish the proper medium for the correspondence of
intimates, who wish to see as much of their friends' personality as
their handwriting can hold,--still less for the impassioned
interchange of sentiments between lovers; but in writing for the
press its use is open to no objection. Its movement over the paper
is like the flight of a swallow, while the quill pen and the steel
pen and the gold pen are all taking short, laborious journeys, and
stopping to drink every few minutes.
A chief pleasure which the author of novels and stories experiences
is that of becoming acquainted with the characters be draws. It is
perfectly true that his characters must, in the nature of things,
have more or less of himself in their composition. If I should seek
an exemplification of this in the person of any of my Teacups, I
should find it most readily in the one whom I have called Number
Seven, the one with the squinting brain. I think that not only I,
the writer, but many of my readers, recognize in our own mental
constitution an occasional obliquity of perception, not always
detected at the time, but plain enough when looked back upon. What
extravagant fancies you and I have seriously entertained at one time
or another! What superstitious notions have got into our heads and
taken possession of its empty chambers,--or, in the language of
science, seized on the groups of nerve-cells in some of the idle
The writer, I say, becomes acquainted with his characters as be goes
on. They are at first mere embryos, outlines of distinct
personalities. By and by, if they have any organic cohesion, they
begin to assert themselves. They can say and do such and such
things; such and such other things they cannot and must not say or
do. The story-writer's and play-writer's danger is that they will
get their characters mixed, and make A say what B ought to have said.
The stronger his imaginative faculty, the less liable will the writer
be to this fault; but not even Shakespeare's power of throwing
himself into his characters prevents many of his different personages
from talking philosophy in the same strain and in a style common to
You will often observe that authors fall in love with the imaginary
persons they describe, and that they bestow affectionate epithets
upon them which it may happen the reader does not consider in any way
called for. This is a pleasure to which they have a right. Every
author of a story is surrounded by a little family of ideal children,
as dear to him, it may be, as are flesh-and-blood children to their
parents. You may forget all about the circle of Teacups to which I
have introduced you,--on the supposition that you have followed me
with some degree of interest; but do you suppose that Number Five
does not continue as a presence with me, and that my pretty Delilah
has left me forever because she is going to be married?
No, my dear friend, our circle will break apart, and its different
members will soon be to you as if they had never been. But do you
think that I can forget them? Do you suppose that I shall cease to
follow the love (or the loves; which do you think is the true word,
the singular or the plural?) of Number Five and the young Tutor who
is so constantly found in her company? Do you suppose that I do not
continue my relations with the "Cracked Teacup,"--the poor old fellow
with whom I have so much in common, whose counterpart, perhaps, you
may find in your own complex personality?
I take from the top shelf of the hospital department of my library-
the section devoted to literary cripples, imbeciles, failures,
foolish rhymesters, and silly eccentrics--one of the least
conspicuous and most hopelessly feeble of the weak-minded population
of that intellectual almshouse. I open it and look through its
pages. It is a story. I have looked into it once before,--on its
first reception as a gift from the author. I try to recall some of
the names I see there: they mean nothing to me, but I venture to say
the author cherishes them all, and cries over them as he did when he
was writing their history. I put the book back among its dusty
companions, and, sitting down in my reflective rocking-chair, think
how others must forget, and how I shall remember, the company that
gathered about this table.
Shall I ever meet any one of them again, in these pages or in any
other? Will the cracked Teacup hold together, or will he go to
pieces, and find himself in that retreat where the owner of the
terrible clock which drove him crazy is walking under the shelter of
the high walls? Has the young Doctor's crown yet received the seal
which is Nature's warrant of wisdom and proof of professional
competency? And Number Five and her young friend the Tutor,--have
they kept on in their dangerous intimacy? Did they get through the
tutto tremante passage, reading from the same old large edition of
Dante which the Tutor recommended as the best, and in reading from
which their heads were necessarily brought perilously near to each
It would be very pleasant if I could, consistently with the present
state of affairs, bring these two young people together. I say two
young people, for the one who counts most years seems to me to be
really the younger of the pair. That Number Five foresaw from the
first that any tenderer feeling than that of friendship would intrude
itself between them I do not believe. As for the Tutor, he soon
found where he was drifting. It was his first experience in matters
concerning the heart, and absorbed his whole nature as a thing of
course. Did he tell her he loved her? Perhaps he did, fifty times;
perhaps he never had the courage to say so outright. But sometimes
they looked each other straight in the eyes, and strange messages
seemed to pass from one consciousness to the other. Will the Tutor
ask Number Five to be his wife; and if he does, will she yield to the
dictates of nature, and lower the flag of that fortress so long
thought impregnable? Will be go on writing such poems to her as "The
Rose and the Fern" or "I Like You and I Love You," and be content
with the pursuit of that which he never can attain? That is all very
well, on the "Grecian Urn" of Keats,--beautiful, but not love such as
mortals demand. Still, that may be all, for aught that we have yet
"Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never, canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal,--yet do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
"More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm, and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting and forever young!"
And so, good-bye, young people, whom we part with here. Shadows you
have been and are to my readers; very real you have been and are to
me,--as real as the memories of many friends whom I shall see no
As I am not in the habit of indulging in late suppers, the reader
need not think that I shall spread another board and invite him to
listen to the conversations which take place around it. If, from
time to time, he finds a slight refection awaiting him on the
sideboard, I hope he may welcome it as pleasantly as he has accepted
what I have offered him from the board now just being cleared.
It is a good rule for the actor who manages the popular street drama
of Punch not to let the audience or spectators see his legs. It is
very hard for the writer of papers like these, which are now coming
to their conclusion, to keep his personality from showing itself too
conspicuously through the thin disguises of his various characters.
As the show is now over, as the curtain has fallen, I appear before
it in my proper person, to address a few words to the friends who
have assisted, as the French say, by their presence, and as we use
the word, by the kind way in which they have received my attempts at
This series of papers is the fourth of its kind which I have offered
to my readers. I may be allowed to look back upon the succession of
serial articles which was commenced more than thirty years ago, in
1857. "The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" was the first of the
series. It was begun without the least idea what was to be its
course and its outcome. Its characters shaped themselves gradually
as the manuscript grew under my hand. I jotted down on the sheet of
blotting paper before me the thoughts and fancies which came into my
head. A very odd-looking object was this page of memoranda. Many of
the hints were worked up into formal shape, many were rejected.
Sometimes I recorded a story, a jest, or a pun for consideration, and
made use of it or let it alone as my second thought decided. I
remember a curious coincidence, which, if I have ever told in print,
--I am not sure whether I have or not,--I will tell over again. I
mention it, not for the pun, which I rejected as not very edifying
and perhaps not new, though I did not recollect having seen it.
Mulier, Latin for woman; why apply that name to one of the gentle but
occasionally obstinate sex? The answer was that a woman is
(sometimes) more mulish than a mule. Please observe that I did not
like the poor pun very well, and thought it rather rude and
inelegant. So I left it on the blotter, where it was standing when
one of the next numbers of "Punch" came out and contained that very
same pun, which must have been hit upon by some English contributor
at just about the same time I fell upon it on this side of the
Atlantic. This fact may be added to the chapter of coincidences
which belongs to the first number of this series of papers.
The "Autocrat" had the attraction of novelty, which of course was
wanting in the succeeding papers of similar character. The
criticisms upon the successive numbers as they came out were various,
but generally encouraging. Some were more than encouraging; very
high-colored in their phrases of commendation. When the papers were
brought together in a volume their success was beyond my
expectations. Up to the present time the "Autocrat" has maintained
its position. An immortality of a whole generation is more than most
writers are entitled to expect. I venture to think, from the letters
I receive from the children and grandchildren of my first set of
readers, that for some little time longer, at least, it will continue
to be read, and even to be a favorite with some of its readers. Non
omnis moriar is a pleasant thought to one who has loved his poor
little planet, and will, I trust, retain kindly recollections of it
through whatever wilderness of worlds he may be called to wander in
his future pilgrimages. I say "poor little planet." Ever since I
had a ten cent look at the transit of Venus, a few years ago, through
the telescope in the Mall, the earth has been wholly different to me
from what it used to be. I knew from books what a speck it is in the
universe, but nothing ever brought the fact home like the sight of
the sister planet sailing across the sun's disk, about large enough
for a buckshot, not large enough for a full-sized bullet. Yes, I
love the little globule where I have spent more than fourscore years,
and I like to think that some of my thoughts and some of my emotions
may live themselves over again when I am sleeping. I cannot thank
all the kind readers of the "Autocrat" who are constantly sending me
their acknowledgments. If they see this printed page, let them be
assured that a writer is always rendered happier by being told that
he has made a fellow-being wiser or better, or even contributed to
his harmless entertainment. This a correspondent may take for
granted, even if his letter of grateful recognition receives no
reply. It becomes more and more difficult for me to keep up with my
correspondents, and I must soon give it up as impossible.
"The Professor at the Breakfast Table" followed immediately on the
heels of the "Autocrat." The Professor was the alter ego of the
first personage. In the earlier series he had played a secondary
part, and in this second series no great effort was made to create a
character wholly unlike the first. The Professor was more outspoken,
however, on religious subjects, and brought down a good deal of hard
language on himself and the author to whom he owed his existence. I
suppose he may have used some irritating expressions, unconsciously,
but not unconscientiously, I am sure. There is nothing harder to
forgive than the sting of an epigram. Some of the old doctors, I
fear, never pardoned me for saying that if a ship, loaded with an
assorted cargo of the drugs which used to be considered the natural
food of sick people, went to the bottom of the sea, it would be "all
the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes." If I had
not put that snapper on the end of my whip-lash, I might have got off
without the ill temper which my antithesis provoked. Thirty years
set that all right, and the same thirty years have so changed the
theological atmosphere that such abusive words as "heretic" and
"infidel," applied to persons who differ from the old standards of
faith, are chiefly interesting as a test of breeding, being seldom
used by any people above the social half-caste line. I am speaking
of Protestants; how it may be among Roman Catholics I do not know,
but I suspect that with them also it is a good deal a matter of
breeding. There were not wanting some who liked the Professor better
than the Autocrat. I confess that I prefer my champagne in its first
burst of gaseous enthusiasm; but if my guest likes it better after it
has stood awhile, I am pleased to accommodate him. The first of my
series came from my mind almost with an explosion, like the champagne
cork; it startled me a little to see what I had written, and to hear
what people said about it. After that first explosion the flow was
more sober, and I looked upon the product of my wine-press more
coolly. Continuations almost always sag a little. I will not say
that of my own second effort, but if others said it, I should not be
disposed to wonder at or to dispute them.
"The Poet at the Breakfast Table" came some years later. This series
of papers was not so much a continuation as a resurrection. It was a
doubly hazardous attempt, made without any extravagant expectations,
and was received as well as I had any right to anticipate. It
differed from the other two series in containing a poem of
considerable length, published in successive portions. This poem
holds a good deal of self-communing, and gave me the opportunity of
expressing some thoughts and feelings not to be found elsewhere in my
writings. I had occasion to read the whole volume, not long since,
in preparation for a new edition, and was rather more pleased with it
than I had expected to be. An old author is constantly rediscoving
himself in the more or less fossilized productions of his earlier
years. It is a long time since I have read the "Autocrat," but I
take it up now and then and read in it for a few minutes, not always
without some degree of edification.
These three series of papers, "Autocrat," "Professor," "Poet," are
all studies of life from somewhat different points of view. They are
largely made up of sober reflections, and appeared to me to require
some lively human interest to save them from wearisome didactic
dulness. What could be more natural than that love should find its
way among the young people who helped to make up the circle gathered
around the table? Nothing is older than the story of young love.
Nothing is newer than that same old story. A bit of gilding here and
there has a wonderful effect in enlivening a landscape or an
apartment. Napoleon consoled the Parisians in their year of defeat
by gilding the dome of the Invalides. Boston has glorified her State
House and herself at the expense of a few sheets of gold leaf laid on
the dome, which shines like a sun in the eyes of her citizens, and
like a star in those of the approaching traveller. I think the
gilding of a love-story helped all three of these earlier papers.
The same need I felt in the series of papers just closed. The slight
incident of Delilah's appearance and disappearance served my purpose
to some extent. But what should I do with Number Five? The reader
must follow out her career for himself. For myself, I think that she
and the Tutor have both utterly forgotten the difference of their
years in the fascination of intimate intercourse. I do not believe
that a nature so large, so rich in affection, as Number Five's is
going to fall defeated of its best inheritance of life, like a vine
which finds no support for its tendrils to twine around, and so
creeps along the ground from which nature meant that love should lift
it. I feel as if I ought to follow these two personages of my
sermonizing story until they come together or separate, to fade, to
wither,--perhaps to die, at last, of something like what the doctors
call heart-failure, but which might more truly be called heart-
starvation. When I say die, I do not mean necessarily the death that
goes into the obituary column. It may come to that, in one or both;
but I think that, if they are never united, Number Five will outlive
the Tutor, who will fall into melancholy ways, and pine and waste,
while she lives along, feeling all the time that she has cheated
herself of happiness. I hope that is not going to be their fortune,
or misfortune. Vieille fille fait jeune mariee. What a youthful
bride Number Five would be, if she could only make up her mind to
matrimony! In the mean time she must be left with her lambs all
around her. May heaven temper the winds to them, for they have been
shorn very close, every one of them, of their golden fleece of
aspirations and anticipations.
I must avail myself of this opportunity to say a few words to my
distant friends who take interest enough in my writings, early or
recent, to wish to enter into communication with me by letter, or to
keep up a communication already begun. I have given notice in print
that the letters, books, and manuscripts which I receive by mail are
so numerous that if I undertook to read and answer them all I should
have little time for anything else. I have for some years depended
on the assistance of a secretary, but our joint efforts have proved
unable, of late, to keep down the accumulations which come in with
every mail. So many of the letters I receive are of a pleasant
character that it is hard to let them go unacknowledged. The extreme
friendliness which pervades many of them gives them a value which I
rate very highly. When large numbers of strangers insist on claiming
one as a friend, on the strength of what he has written, it tends to
make him think of himself somewhat indulgently. It is the most
natural thing in the world to want to give expression to the feeling
the loving messages from far-off unknown friends must excite. Many a
day has had its best working hours broken into, spoiled for all
literary work, by the labor of answering correspondents whose good
opinion it is gratifying to have called forth, but who were
unconsciously laying a new burden on shoulders already aching. I
know too well that what I say will not reach the eyes of many who
might possibly take a hint from it. Still I must keep repeating it
before breaking off suddenly and leaving whole piles of letters
unanswered. I have been very heavily handicapped for many years. It
is partly my own fault. From what my correspondents tell me, I must
infer that I have established a dangerous reputation for willingness
to answer all sorts of letters. They come with such insinuating
humility,--they cannot bear to intrude upon my time, they know that
I have a great many calls upon it,--and incontinently proceed to lay
their additional weight on the load which is breaking my back.
The hypocrisy of kind-hearted people is one of the most painful
exhibitions of human weakness. It has occurred to me that it might
be profitable to reproduce some of my unwritten answers to
correspondents. If those which were actually written and sent were
to be printed in parallel columns with those mentally formed but not
written out responses and comments, the reader would get some idea of
the internal conflicts an honest and not unamiable person has to go
through, when he finds himself driven to the wall by a correspondence
which is draining his vocabulary to find expressions that sound as
agreeably, and signify as little, as the phrases used by a
diplomatist in closing an official communication.
No. 1. Want my autograph, do you? And don't know how to spell my
name. An a for an e in my middle name. Leave out the l in my last
name. Do you know how people hate to have their names misspelled?
What do you suppose are the sentiments entertained by the Thompsons
with a p towards those who address them in writing as Thomson?
No. 2. Think the lines you mention are by far the best I ever
wrote, hey? Well, I didn't write those lines. What is more, I think
they are as detestable a string of rhymes as I could wish my worst
enemy had written. A very pleasant frame of mind I am in for writing
a letter, after reading yours!
No. 3. I am glad to hear that my namesake, whom I never saw and
never expect to see, has cut another tooth; but why write four pages
on the strength of that domestic occurrence?
No. 4. You wish to correct an error in my Broomstick poem, do you?
You give me to understand that Wilmington is not in Essex County, but
in Middlesex. Very well; but are they separated by running water?
Because if they are not, what could hinder a witch from crossing the
line that separates Wilmington from Andover, I should like to know?
I never meant to imply that the witches made no excursions beyond the
district which was more especially their seat of operations.
As I come towards the end of this task which I had set myself, I
wish, of course, that I could have performed it more to my own
satisfaction and that of my readers. This is a feeling which almost
every one must have at the conclusion of any work he has undertaken.
A common and very simple reason for this disappointment is that most
of us overrate our capacity. We expect more of ourselves than we
have any right to, in virtue of our endowments. The figurative
descriptions of the last Grand Assize must no more be taken literally
than the golden crowns, which we do not expect or want to wear on our
heads, or the golden harps, which we do not want or expect to hold in
our hands. Is it not too true that many religious sectaries think of
the last tribunal complacently, as the scene in which they are to
have the satisfaction of saying to the believers of a creed different
from their own, "I told you so"? Are not others oppressed with the
thought of the great returns which will be expected of them as the
product of their great gifts, the very limited amount of which they
do not suspect, and will be very glad to learn, even at the expense
of their self-love, when they are called to their account? If the
ways of the Supreme Being are ever really to be "justified to men,"
to use Milton's expression, every human being may expect an
exhaustive explanation of himself. No man is capable of being his
own counsel, and I cannot help hoping that the ablest of the,
archangels will be retained for the defence of the worst of sinners.
He himself is unconscious of the agencies which made him what he is.
Self-determining he may be, if you will, but who determines the self
which is the proximate source of the determination? Why was the A
self like his good uncle in bodily aspect and mental and moral
qualities, and the B self like the bad uncle in look and character?
Has not a man a right to ask this question in the here or in the
hereafter,--in this world or in any world in which he may find
himself? If the All-wise wishes to satisfy his reasonable and
reasoning creatures, it will not be by a display of elemental
convulsions, but by the still small voice, which treats with him as a
dependent entitled to know the meaning of his existence, and if there
was anything wrong in his adjustment to the moral and spiritual
conditions of the world around him to have full allowance made for
it. No melodramatic display of warring elements, such as the white-
robed Second Adventist imagines, can meet the need of the human
heart. The thunders and lightnings of Sinai terrified and impressed
the more timid souls of the idolatrous and rebellious caravan which
the great leader was conducting, but a far nobler manifestation of
divinity was that when "the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a
man speaketh unto his friend."
I find the burden and restrictions of rhyme more and more troublesome
as I grow older. There are times when it seems natural enough to
employ that form of expression, but it is only occasionally; and the
use of it as the vehicle of the commonplace is so prevalent that one
is not much tempted to select it as the medium for his thoughts and
emotions. The art of rhyming has almost become a part of a high-
school education, and its practice is far from being an evidence of
intellectual distinction. Mediocrity is as much forbidden to the
poet in our days as it was in those of Horace, and the immense
majority of the verses written are stamped with hopeless mediocrity.
When one of the ancient poets found he was trying to grind out verses
which came unwillingly, he said he was writing
Vex not the Muse with idle prayers,--
She will not hear thy call;
She steals upon thee unawares,
Or seeks thee not at all.
Soft as the moonbeams when they sought
Endymion's fragrant bower,
She parts the whispering leaves of thought
To show her full-blown flower.
For thee her wooing hour has passed,
The singing birds have flown,
And winter comes with icy blast
To chill thy buds unblown.
Yet, though the woods no longer thrill
As once their arches rung,
Sweet echoes hover round thee still
Of songs thy summer sung.
Live in thy past; await no more
The rush of heaven-sent wings;
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