The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 5 out of 51
Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always SOMEWHERE a weakest spot, -
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, - lurking still
Find it somewhere you must and will, -
Above or below, or within or without, -
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise BREASTS DOWN, but doesn't WEAR OUT.
But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell YEOU,")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'n' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it COULDN' break daown -
- "Fur," said the Deacon, "'t's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan the strain;
'n' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."
So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke, -
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees;
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum," -
Last of its timber, - they couldn't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through." -
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew."
Do! I tell you, I father guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grand-children - where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss-shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!
EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; - it came and found
The Deacon's Masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten; -
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; -
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.
Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. - You're welcome. - No extra charge.)
FIRST OF NOVEMBER, - the Earthquake-day. -
There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay.
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn't be, - for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whippletree neither less nor more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub ENCORE.
And yet, AS A WHOLE, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be WORN OUT!
First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-horse-shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson. - Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text, -
Had got to FIFTHLY, and stopped perplexed
At what the - Moses - was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n-house on the hill.
- First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, -
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half-past nine by the meet'n-house clock, -
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
- What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, -
All at once, and nothing first, -
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss-shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.
- I think there is one habit, - I said to our company a day or two
afterwards - worse than that of punning. It is the gradual
substitution of cant or flash terms for words which truly
characterize their objects. I have known several very genteel
idiots whose whole vocabulary had deliquesced into some half dozen
expressions. All things fell into one of two great categories, -
FAST or SLOW. Man's chief end was to be a BRICK. When the great
calamities of life overtook their friends, these last were spoken
of as being a GOOD DEAL CUT UP. Nine-tenths of human existence
were summed up in the single word, BORE. These expressions come to
be the algebraic symbols of minds which have grown too weak or
indolent to discriminate. They are the blank checks of
intellectual bankruptcy; - you may fill them up with what idea you
like; it makes no difference, for there are no funds in the
treasury upon which they are drawn. Colleges and good-for-nothing
smoking-clubs are the places where these conversational fungi
spring up most luxuriantly. Don't think I undervalue the proper
use and application of a cant word or phrase. It adds piquancy to
conversation, as a mushroom does to a sauce. But it is no better
than a toadstool, odious to the sense and poisonous to the
intellect, when it spawns itself all over the talk of men and
youths capable of talking, as it sometimes does. As we hear flash
phraseology, it is commonly the dishwater from the washings of
English dandyism, school-boy or full-grown, wrung out of a three-
volume novel which had sopped it up, or decanted from the pictured
urn of Mr. Verdant Green, and diluted to suit the provincial
- The young fellow called John spoke up sharply and said, it was
"rum" to hear me "pitchin' into fellers" for "goin' it in the slang
line," when I used all the flash words myself just when I pleased.
- I replied with my usual forbearance. - Certainly, to give up the
algebraic symbol, because A or B is often a cover for ideal
nihility, would be unwise. I have heard a child laboring to
express a certain condition, involving a hitherto undescribed
sensation (as it supposed,) all of which could have been
sufficiently explained by the participle - BORED. I have seen a
country-clergyman, with a one-story intellect and a one-horse
vocabulary, who has consumed his valuable time (and mine) freely,
in developing an opinion of a brother-minister's discourse which
would have been abundantly characterized by a peach-down-lipped
sophomore in the one word - SLOW. Let us discriminate, and be shy
of absolute proscription. I am omniverbivorous by nature and
training. Passing by such words as are poisonous, I can swallow
most others, and chew such as I cannot swallow.
Dandies are not good for much, but they are good for something.
They invent or keep in circulation those conversational blank
checks or counters just spoken of, which intellectual capitalists
may sometimes find it worth their while to borrow of them. They
are useful, too, in keeping up the standard of dress, which, but
for them, would deteriorate, and become, what some old fools would
have it, a matter of convenience, and not of taste and art. Yes, I
like dandies well enough, - on one condition.
- What is that, Sir? - said the divinity-student.
- That they have pluck. I find that lies at the bottom of all true
dandyism. A little boy dressed up very fine, who puts his finger
in his mouth and takes to crying, if other boys make fun of him,
looks very silly. But if he turns red in the face and knotty in
the fists, and makes an example of the biggest of his assailants,
throwing off his fine Leghorn and his thickly-buttoned jacket, if
necessary, to consummate the act of justice, his small toggery
takes on the splendors of the crested helmet that frightened
Astyanax. You remember that the Duke said his dandy officers were
his best officers. The "Sunday blood," the super-superb sartorial
equestrian of our annual Fast-day, is not imposing or dangerous.
But such fellows as Brummel and D'Orsay and Byron are not to be
snubbed quite so easily. Look out for "la main de fer sous le gant
de velours," (which I printed in English the other day without
quotation-marks, thinking whether any SCARABAEUS CRITICUS would add
this to his globe and roll in glory with it into the newspapers, -
which he didn't do it, in the charming pleonasm of the London
language, and therefore I claim the sole merit of exposing the
same.) A good many powerful and dangerous people have had a
decided dash of dandyism about them. There was Alcibiades, the
"curled son of Clinias," an accomplished young man, but what would
be called a "swell" in these days. There was Aristoteles, a very
distinguished writer, of whom you have heard, - a philosopher, in
short, whom it took centuries to learn, centuries to unlearn, and
is now going to take a generation or more to learn over again.
Regular dandy, he was. So was Marcus Antonius; and though he lost
his game, he played for big stakes, and it wasn't his dandyism that
spoiled his chance. Petrarca was not to be despised as a scholar
or a poet, but he was one of the same sort. So was Sir Humphrey
Davy; so was Lord Palmerston, formerly, if I am not forgetful.
Yes, - a dandy is good for something as such; and dandies such as I
was just speaking of have rocked this planet like a cradle, - aye,
and left it swinging to this day. - Still, if I were you, I
wouldn't go to the tailor's, on the strength of these remarks, and
run up a long bill which will render pockets a superfluity in your
next suit. ELEGANS "NASCITUR, NON FIT." A man is born a dandy, as
he is born a poet. There are heads that can't wear hats; there are
necks that can't fit cravats; there are jaws that can't fill out
collars - (Willis touched this last point in one of his earlier
ambrotypes, if I remember rightly); there are TOURNURES nothing can
humanize, and movements nothing can subdue to the gracious suavity
or elegant languor or stately serenity which belong to different
styles of dandyism.
We are forming an aristocracy, as you may observe, in this country,
- not a GRATIA-DEI, nor a JUREDIVINO one, - but a DE-FACTO upper
stratum of being, which floats over the turbid waves of common life
like the iridescent film you may have seen spreading over the water
about our wharves, - very splendid, though its origin may have been
tar, tallow, train-oil, or other such unctuous commodities. I say,
then, we are forming an aristocracy; and, transitory as its
individual life often is, it maintains itself tolerably, as a
whole. Of course, money is its corner-stone. But now observe
this. Money kept for two or three generations transforms a race, -
I don't mean merely in manners and hereditary culture, but in blood
and bone. Money buys air and sunshine, in which children grow up
more kindly, of course, than in close, back streets; it buys
country-places to give them happy and healthy summers, good
nursing, good doctoring, and the best cuts of beef and mutton.
When the spring-chickens come to market - I beg your pardon, - that
is not what I was going to speak of. As the young females of each
successive season come on, the finest specimens among them, other
things being equal, are apt to attract those who can afford the
expensive luxury of beauty. The physical character of the next
generation rises in consequence. It is plain that certain families
have in this way acquired an elevated type of face and figure, and
that in a small circle of city-connections one may sometimes find
models of both sexes which one of the rural counties would find it
hard to match from all its townships put together. Because there
is a good deal of running down, of degeneration and waste of life,
among the richer classes, you must not overlook the equally obvious
fact I have just spoken of, - which in one or two generations more
will be, I think, much more patent than just now.
The weak point in our chryso-aristocracy is the same I have alluded
to in connection with cheap dandyism. Its thorough manhood, its
high-caste gallantry, are not so manifest as the plate-glass of its
windows and the more or less legitimate heraldry of its coach-
panels. It is very curious to observe of how small account
military folks are held among our Northern people. Our young men
must gild their spurs, but they need not win them. The equal
division of property keeps the younger sons of rich people above
the necessity of military service. Thus the army loses an element
of refinement, and the moneyed upper class forgets what it is to
count heroism among its virtues. Still I don't believe in any
aristocracy without pluck as its backbone. Ours may show it when
the time comes, if it ever does come.
- These United States furnish the greatest market for intellectual
GREEN FRUIT of all the places in the world. I think so, at any
rate. The demand for intellectual labor is so enormous and the
market so far from nice, that young talent is apt to fare like
unripe gooseberries, - get plucked to make a fool of. Think of a
country which buys eighty thousand copies of the "Proverbial
Philosophy," while the author's admiring countrymen have been
buying twelve thousand! How can one let his fruit hang in the sun
until it gets fully ripe, while there are eighty thousand such
hungry mouths ready to swallow it and proclaim its praises?
Consequently, there never was such a collection of crude pippins
and half-grown windfalls as our native literature displays among
its fruits. There are literary green-groceries at every corner,
which will buy anything, from a button-pear to a pine-apple. It
takes a long apprenticeship to train a whole people to reading and
writing. The temptation of money and fame is too great for young
people. Do I not remember that glorious moment when the late Mr. -
we won't say who, - editor of the - we won't say what, offered me
the sum of fifty cents PER double-columned quarto page for shaking
my young boughs over his foolscap apron? Was it not an
intoxicating vision of gold and glory? I should doubtless have
revelled in its wealth and splendor, but for learning that the
FIFTY CENTS was to be considered a rhetorical embellishment, and by
no means a literal expression of past fact or present intention.
- Beware of making your moral staple consist of the negative
virtues. It is good to abstain, and teach others to abstain, from
all that is sinful or hurtful. But making a business of it leads
to emaciation of character, unless one feeds largely also on the
more nutritious diet of active sympathetic benevolence.
- I don't believe one word of what you are saying, - spoke up the
angular female in black bombazine.
I am sorry you disbelieve it, Madam, - I said, and added softly to
my next neighbor, - but you prove it.
The young fellow sitting near me winked; and the divinity-student
said, in an undertone, - OPTIME DICTUM.
Your talking Latin, - said I, - reminds me of an odd trick of one
of my old tutors. He read so much of that language, that his
English half turned into it. He got caught in town, one hot
summer, in pretty close quarters, and wrote, or began to write, a
series of city pastorals. Eclogues he called them, and meant to
have published them by subscription. I remember some of his
verses, if you want to hear them. - You, Sir, (addressing myself to
the divinity-student,) and all such as have been through college,
or, what is the same thing, received an honorary degree, will
understand them without a dictionary. The old man had a great deal
to say about "aestivation," as he called it, in opposition, as one
might say, to HIBERNATION. Intramural aestivation, or town-life in
summer, he would say, is a peculiar form of suspended existence, or
semi-asphyxia. One wakes up from it about the beginning of the
last week in September. This is what I remember of his poem:-
AN UNPUBLISHED POEM, BY MY LATE LATIN TUTOR
IN candent ire the solar splendor flames;
The foles, languescent, pend from arid rames;
His humid front the cive, anheling, wipes,
And dreams of erring on ventiferous ripes.
How dulce to vive occult to mortal eyes,
Dorm on the herb with none to supervise,
Carp the suave berries from the crescent vine,
And bibe the flow from longicaudate kine!
To me, alas! no verdurous visions come,
Save yon exiguous pool's conferva-scum, -
No concave vast repeats the tender hue
That laves my milk-jug with celestial blue!
Me wretched! Let me curr to quercine shades
Effund your albid hausts, lactiferous maids!
Oh, might I vole to some umbrageous clump, -
Depart, - be off, - excede, - evade, - erump!
- I have lived by the sea-shore and by the mountains. - No, I am
not going to say which is best. The one where your place is is the
best for you. But this difference there is: you can domesticate
mountains, but the sea is FERAE NATURAE. You may have a hut, or
know the owner of one, on the mountain-side; you see a light half-
way up its ascent in the evening, and you know there is a home, and
you might share it. You have noted certain trees, perhaps; you
know the particular zone where the hemlocks look so black in
October, when the maples and beeches have faded. All its reliefs
and intaglios have electrotyped themselves in the medallions that
hang round the walls of your memory's chamber. - The sea remembers
nothing. It is feline. It licks your feet, - its huge flanks purr
very pleasantly for you; but it will crack your bones and eat you,
for all that, and wipe the crimsoned foam from its jaws as if
nothing had happened. The mountains give their lost children
berries and water; the sea mocks their thirst and lets them die.
The mountains have a grand, stupid, lovable tranquillity; the sea
has a fascinating, treacherous intelligence. The mountains lie
about like huge ruminants, their broad backs awful to look upon,
but safe to handle. The sea smooths its silver scales until you
cannot see their joints, - but their shining is that of a snake's
belly, after all. - In deeper suggestiveness I find as great a
difference. The mountains dwarf mankind and foreshorten the
procession of its long generations. The sea drowns out humanity
and time; it has no sympathy with either; for it belongs to
eternity, and of that it sings its monotonous song forever and
Yet I should love to have a little box by the seashore. I should
love to gaze out on the wild feline element from a front window of
my own, just as I should love to look on a caged panther, and see
it, stretch its shining length, and then curl over and lap its
smooth sides, and by-and-by begin to lash itself into rage and show
its white teeth and spring at its bars, and howl the cry of its
mad, but, to me, harmless fury. - And then, - to look at it with
that inward eye, - who does not love to shuffle off time and its
concerns, at intervals, - to forget who is President and who is
Governor, what race he belongs to, what language he speaks, which
golden-headed nail of the firmament his particular planetary system
is hung upon, and listen to the great liquid metronome as it beats
its solemn measure, steadily swinging when the solo or duet of
human life began, and to swing just as steadily after the human
chorus has died out and man is a fossil on its shores?
- What should decide one, in choosing a summer residence? -
Constitution, first of all. How much snow could you melt in an
hour, if you were planted in a hogshead of it? Comfort is
essential to enjoyment. All sensitive people should remember that
persons in easy circumstances suffer much more cold in summer -
that is, the warm half of the year - than in winter, or the other
half. You must cut your climate to your constitution, as much as
your clothing to your shape. After this, consult your taste and
convenient. But if you would be happy in Berkshire, you must carry
mountains in your brain; and if you would enjoy Nahant, you must
have an ocean in your soul. Nature plays at dominos with you; you
must match her piece, or she will never give it up to you.
- The schoolmistress said, in a rather mischievous way, that she
was afraid some minds or souls would be a little crowded, if they
took in the Rocky Mountains or the Atlantic.
Have you ever read the little book called "The Stars and the
Earth?" - said I. - Have you seen the Declaration of Independence
photographed in a surface that a fly's foot would cover? The forms
or conditions of Time and Space, as Kant will tell you, are nothing
in themselves, - only our way of looking at things. You are right,
I think, however, in recognizing the category of Space as being
quite as applicable to minds as to the outer world. Every man of
reflection is vaguely conscious of an imperfectly-defined circle
which is drawn about his intellect. He has a perfectly clear sense
that the fragments of his intellectual circle include the curves of
many other minds of which he is cognizant. He often recognizes
these as manifestly concentric with his own, but of less radius.
On the other hand, when we find a portion of an are on the outside
of our own, we say it INTERSECTS ours, but are very slow to confess
or to see that it CIRCUMSCRIBES it. Every now and then a man's
mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks
back to its former dimensions. After looking at the Alps, I felt
that my mind had been stretched beyond the limits of its
elasticity, and fitted so loosely on my old ideas of space that I
had to spread these to fit it.
- If I thought I should ever see the Alps! - said the
Perhaps you will, some time or other, - I said.
It is not very likely, - she answered. - I have had one or two
opportunities, but I had rather be anything than governess in a
[Proud, too, you little soft-voiced woman! Well, I can't say I
like you any the worse for it. How long will school-keeping take
to kill you? Is it possible the poor thing works with her needle,
too? I don't like those marks on the side of her forefinger.
TABLEAU. Chamouni. Mont Blanc in full view. Figures in the
foreground; two of them standing apart; one of them a gentleman of
- oh, - ah, - yes! the other a lady in a white cashmere, leaning on
his shoulder. - The ingenuous reader will understand that this was
an internal, private, personal, subjective diorama, seen for one
instant on the background of my own consciousness, and abolished
into black nonentity by the first question which recalled me to
actual life, as suddenly as if one of those iron shop-blinds (which
I always pass at dusk with a shiver, expecting to stumble over some
poor but honest shop-boy's head, just taken off by its sudden and
unexpected descent, and left outside upon the sidewalk) had come
down in front of it "by the run."]
- Should you like to hear what moderate wishes life brings one to
at last? I used to be very ambitious, - wasteful, extravagant, and
luxurious in all my fancies. Read too much in the "Arabian
Nights." Must have the lamp, - couldn't do without the ring.
Exercise every morning on the brazen horse. Plump down into
castles as full of little milk-white princesses as a nest is of
young sparrows. All love me dearly at once. - Charming idea of
life, but too high-colored for the reality. I have outgrown all
this; my tastes have become exceedingly primitive, - almost,
perhaps, ascetic. We carry happiness into our condition, but must
not hope to find it there. I think you will be willing to hear
some lines which embody the subdued and limited desires of my
"Man wants but little here below."
LITTLE I ask, my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone,
(A VERY PLAIN brown stone will do,)
That I may call my own; -
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.
Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten; -
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice; -
My CHOICE would be vanilla-ice.
I care not much for gold or land; -
Give me a mortgage here and there, -
Some good bank-stock, - some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share; -
I only ask that Fortune send
A LITTLE more than I shall spend.
Honors are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names; -
I would, PERHAPS, be Plenipo, -
But only near St. James; -
I'm very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator's chair.
Jewels are baubles; 'tis a sin
To care for such unfruitful things; -
One good-sized diamond in a pin, -
Some, NOT SO LARGE, in rings, -
A ruby and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me; - I laugh at show.
My dame should dress in cheap attire;
(Good, heavy silks are never dear;) -
I own perhaps I MIGHT desire
Some shawls of true cashmere, -
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.
I would not have the horse I drive
So fast that folks must stop and stare
An easy gait - two, forty-five -
Suits me; I do not care; -
Perhaps, for just a SINGLE SPURT,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.
Of pictures, I should like to own
Titians and Raphaels three or four, -
I love so much their style and tone, -
One Turner, and no more, -
(A landscape, - foreground golden dirt
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)
Of books but few, - some fifty score
For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor; -
Some LITTLE luxury THERE
Of red morocco's gilded gleam,
And vellum rich as country cream.
Busts, cameos, gems, - such things as these,
Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
And selfish churls deride; -
ONE Stradivarius, I confess,
TWO Meerschaums, I would fain possess.
Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool; -
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But ALL must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share, -
I ask but ONE recumbent chair.
Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas' golden touch,
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shall not miss them MUCH, -
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!
MY LAST WALK WITH THE SCHOOLMISTRESS.
I can't say just how many walks she and I had taken together before
this one. I found the effect of going out every morning was
decidedly favorable on her health. Two pleasing dimples, the
places for which were just marked when she came, played, shadowy,
in her freshening cheeks when she smiled and nodded good-morning to
me from the school-house-steps.
I am afraid I did the greater part of the talking. At any rate, if
I should try to report all that I said during the first half-dozen
walks we took together, I fear that I might receive a gentle hint
from my friends the publishers, that a separate volume, at my own
risk and expense, would be the proper method of bringing them
before the public.
- I would have a woman as true as Death. At the first real lie
which works from the heart outward, she should be tenderly
chloroformed into a better world, where she can have an angel for a
governess, and feed on strange fruits which will make her all over
again, even to her bones and marrow. - Whether gifted with the
accident of beauty or not, she should have been moulded in the
rose-red clay of Love, before the breath of life made a moving
mortal of her. Love-capacity is a congenital endowment; and I
think, after a while, one gets to know the warm-hued natures it
belongs to from the pretty pipe-clay counterfeits of them. - Proud
she may be, in the sense of respecting herself; but pride in the
sense of contemning others less gifted than herself, deserves the
two lowest circles of a vulgar woman's Inferno, where the
punishments are Smallpox and Bankruptcy. - She who nips off the end
of a brittle courtesy, as one breaks the tip of an icicle, to
bestow upon those whom she ought cordially and kindly to recognize,
proclaims the fact that she comes not merely of low blood, but of
bad blood. Consciousness of unquestioned position makes people
gracious in proper measure to all; but if a woman puts on airs with
her real equals, she has something about herself or her family she
is ashamed of, or ought to be. Middle, and more than middle-aged
people, who know family histories, generally see through it. An
official of standing was rude to me once. Oh, that is the maternal
grandfather, - said a wise old friend to me, - he was a boor. -
Better too few words, from the woman we love, than too many: while
she is silent, Nature is working for her; while she talks, she is
working for herself. - Love is sparingly soluble in the words of
men; therefore they speak much of it; but one syllable of woman's
speech can dissolve more of it than a man's heart can hold.
- Whether I said any or all of these things to the schoolmistress,
or not, - whether I stole them out of Lord Bacon, - whether I
cribbed them from Balzac, - whether I dipped them from the ocean of
Tupperian wisdom, - or whether I have just found them in my head,
laid there by that solemn fowl, Experience, (who, according to my
observation, cackles oftener than she drops real live eggs,) I
cannot say. Wise men have said more foolish things, - and foolish
men, I don't doubt, have said as wise things. Anyhow, the
schoolmistress and I had pleasant walks and long talks, all of
which I do not feel bound to report.
- You are a stranger to me, Ma'am. - I don't doubt you would like
to know all I said to the schoolmistress. - I sha'n't do it; - I
had rather get the publishers to return the money you have invested
in this. Besides, I have forgotten a good deal of it. I shall
tell only what I like of what I remember.
- My idea was, in the first place, to search out the picturesque
spots which the city affords a sight of, to those who have eyes. I
know a good many, and it was a pleasure to look at them in company
with my young friend. There were the shrubs and flowers in the
Franklin-Place front-yards or borders; Commerce is just putting his
granite foot upon them. Then there are certain small seraglio-
gardens, into which one can get a peep through the crevices of high
fences, - one in Myrtle Street, or backing on it, - here and there
one at the North and South Ends. Then the great elms in Essex
Street. Then the stately horse-chestnuts in that vacant lot in
Chambers Street, which hold their outspread hands over your head,
(as I said in my poem the other day,) and look as if they were
whispering, "May grace, mercy, and peace be with you!" - and the
rest of that benediction. Nay, there are certain patches of
ground, which, having lain neglected for a time, Nature, who always
has her pockets full of seeds, and holes in all her pockets, has
covered with hungry plebeian growths, which fight for life with
each other, until some of them get broad-leaved and succulent, and
you have a coarse vegetable tapestry which Raphael would not have
disdained to spread over the foreground of his masterpiece. The
Professor pretends that he found such a one in Charles Street,
which, in its dare-devil impudence of rough-and-tumble vegetation,
beat the pretty-behaved flower-beds of the Public Garden as
ignominiously as a group of young tatterdemalions playing pitch-
and-toss beats a row of Sunday-school-boys with their teacher at
But then the Professor has one of his burrows in that region, and
puts everything in high colors relating to it. That is his way
about everything. I hold any man cheap, - he said, - of whom
nothing stronger can be uttered than that all his geese are swans.
- How is that, Professor? - said I; - I should have set you down
for one of that sort. - Sir, - said he, - I am proud to say, that
Nature has so far enriched me, that I cannot own so much as a duck
without seeing in it as pretty a swan as ever swam the basin in the
garden of the Luxembourg. And the Professor showed the whites of
his eyes devoutly, like one returning thanks after a dinner of many
I don't know anything sweeter than this leaking in of Nature
through all the cracks in the walls and floors of cities. You heap
up a million tons of hewn rocks on a square mile or two of earth
which was green once. The trees look down from the hill-sides and
ask each other, as they stand on tiptoe, - "What are these people
about?" And the small herbs at their feet look up and whisper
back, - "We will go and see." So the small herbs pack themselves
up in the least possible bundles, and wait until the wind steals to
them at night and whispers, "Come with me." Then they go softly
with it into the great city, - one to a cleft in the pavement, one
to a spout on the roof, one to a seam in the marbles over a rich
gentleman's bones, and one to the grave without a stone where
nothing but a man is buried, - and there they grow, looking down on
the generations of men from mouldy roofs, looking up from between
the less-trodden pavements, looking out through iron cemetery-
railings. Listen to them, when there is only a light breath
stirring, and you will hear them saying to each other, - "Wait
awhile!" The words run along the telegraph of those narrow green
lines that border the roads leading from the city, until they reach
the slope of the hills, and the trees repeat in low murmurs to each
other, - "Wait awhile!" By-and-by the flow of life in the streets
ebbs, and the old leafy inhabitants - the smaller tribes always in
front - saunter in, one by one, very careless seemingly, but very
tenacious, until they swarm so that the great stones gape from each
other with the crowding of their roots, and the feldspar begins to
be picked out of the granite to find them food. At last the trees
take up their solemn line of march, and never rest until they have
encamped in the market-place. Wait long enough and you will find
an old doting oak hugging a huge worn block in its yellow
underground arms; that was the cornerstone of the State-House. Oh,
so patient she is, this imperturbable Nature!
- Let us cry! -
But all this has nothing to do with my walks and talks with the
schoolmistress. I did not say that I would not tell you something
about them. Let me alone, and I shall talk to you more than I
ought to, probably. We never tell our secrets to people that pump
Books we talked about, and education. It was her duty to know
something of these, and of course she did. Perhaps I was somewhat
more learned than she, but I found that the difference between her
reading and mine was like that of a man's and a woman's dusting a
library. The man flaps about with a bunch of feathers; the woman
goes to work softly with a cloth. She does not raise half the
dust, nor fill her own eyes and mouth with it, - but she goes into
all the corners, and attends to the leaves as much as the covers. -
Books are the NEGATIVE pictures of thought, and the more sensitive
the mind that receives their images, the more nicely the finest
lines are reproduced. A woman, (of the right kind,) reading after
a man, follows him as Ruth followed the reapers of Boaz, and her
gleanings are often the finest of the wheat.
But it was in talking of Life that we came most clearly together.
I thought I knew something about that, - that I could speak or
write about it somewhat to the purpose.
To take up this fluid earthly being of ours as a sponge sucks up
water, - to be steeped and soaked in its realities as a hide fills
its pores lying seven years in a tan-pit, - to have winnowed every
wave of it as a mill-wheel works up the stream that runs through
the flume upon its float-boards, - to have curled up in the keenest
spasms and flattened out in the laxest languors of this breathing-
sickness, which keeps certain parcels of matter uneasy for three or
four score years, - to have fought all the devils and clasped all
the angels of its delirium, - and then, just at the point when the
white-hot passions have cooled down to cherry-red, plunge our
experience into the ice-cold stream of some human language or
other, one might think would end in a rhapsody with something of
spring and temper in it. All this I thought my power and province.
The schoolmistress had tried life, too. Once in a while one meets
with a single soul greater than all the living pageant which passes
before it. As the pale astronomer sits in his study with sunken
eyes and thin fingers, and weighs Uranus or Neptune as in a
balance, so there are meek, slight women who have weighed all which
this planetary life can offer, and hold it like a bauble in the
palm of their slender hands. This was one of them. Fortune had
left her, sorrow had baptized her; the routine of labor and the
loneliness of almost friendless city-life were before her. Yet, as
I looked upon her tranquil face, gradually regaining a cheerfulness
which was often sprightly, as she became interested in the various
matters we talked about and places we visited, I saw that eye and
lip and every shifting lineament were made for love, - unconscious
of their sweet office as yet, and meeting the cold aspect of Duty
with the natural graces which were meant for the reward of nothing
less than the Great Passion.
- I never addressed one word of love to the schoolmistress in the
course of these pleasant walks. It seemed to me that we talked of
everything but love on that particular morning. There was,
perhaps, a little more timidity and hesitancy on my part than I
have commonly shown among our people at the boarding-house. In
fact, I considered myself the master at the breakfast-table; but,
somehow, I could not command myself just then so well as usual.
The truth is, I had secured a passage to Liverpool in the steamer
which was to leave at noon, - with the condition, however, of being
released in case circumstances occurred to detain me. The
schoolmistress knew nothing about all this, of course, as yet.
It was on the Common that we were walking. The MALL, or boulevard
of our Common, you know, has various branches leading from it in
different directions. One of these runs down from opposite Joy
Street southward across the whole length of the Common to Boylston
Street. We called it the long path, and were fond of it.
I felt very weak indeed (though of a tolerably robust habit) as we
came opposite the head of this path on that morning. I think I
tried to speak twice without making myself distinctly audible. At
last I got out the question, - Will you take the long path with me?
- Certainly, - said the schoolmistress, - with much pleasure. -
Think, - I said, - before you answer; if you take the long path
with me now, I shall interpret it that we are to part no more! -
The schoolmistress stepped back with a sudden movement, as if an
arrow had struck her.
One of the long granite blocks used as seats was hard by, - the one
you may still see close by the Gingko-tree. - Pray, sit down, - I
said. - No, no, she answered, softly, - I will walk the LONG PATH
- The old gentleman who sits opposite met us walking, arm in arm,
about the middle of the long path, and said, very charmingly, -
"Good morning, my dears!"
[I DID not think it probable that I should have a great many more
talks with our company, and therefore I was anxious to get as much
as I could into every conversation. That is the reason why you
will find some odd, miscellaneous facts here, which I wished to
tell at least once, as I should not have a chance to tell them
habitually at our breakfast-table. - We're very free and easy, you
know; we don't read what we don't like. Our parish is so large,
one can't pretend to preach to all the pews at once. One can't be
all the time trying to do the best of one's best if a company works
a steam fire-engine, the firemen needn't be straining themselves
all day to squirt over the top of the flagstaff. Let them wash
some of those lower-story windows a little. Besides, there is no
use in our quarrelling now, as you will find out when you get
through this paper.]
- Travel, according to my experience, does not exactly correspond
to the idea one gets of it out of most books of travels. I am
thinking of travel as it was when I made the Grand Tour, especially
in Italy. Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes
it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it
without sticking. I can prove some facts about travelling by a
story or two. There are certain principles to be assumed, - such
as these:- He who is carried by horses must deal with rogues. - To-
day's dinner subtends a larger visual angle than yesterday's
revolution. A mote in my eye is bigger to me than the biggest of
Dr. Gould's private planets. - Every traveller is a self-taught
entomologist. - Old jokes are dynamometers of mental tension; an
old joke tells better among friends travelling than at home, -
which shows that their minds are in a state of diminished, rather
than increased vitality. There was a story about "strahps to your
pahnts," which was vastly funny to us fellows - on the road from
Milan to Venice. - CAELUM, NON ANIMUM, - travellers change their
guineas, but not their characters. The bore is the same, eating
dates under the cedars of Lebanon, as over a plate of baked beans
in Beacon Street. - Parties of travellers have a morbid instinct
for "establishing raws" upon each other. - A man shall sit down
with his friend at the foot of the Great Pyramid and they will take
up the question they had been talking about under "the great elm,"
and forget all about Egypt. When I was crossing the Po, we were
all fighting about the propriety of one fellow's telling another
that his argument was ABSURD; one maintaining it to be a perfectly
admissible logical term, as proved by the phrase "reductio ad
absurdum;" the rest badgering him as a conversational bully.
Mighty little we troubled ourselves for PADUS, the Po, "a river
broader and more rapid than the Rhone," and the times when Hannibal
led his grim Africans to its banks, and his elephants thrust their
trunks into the yellow waters over which that pendulum ferry-boat
was swinging back and forward every ten minutes!
- Here are some of those reminiscences, with morals prefixed, or
annexed, or implied.
Lively emotions very commonly do not strike us full in front, but
obliquely from the side; a scene or incident in UNDRESS often
affects us more than one in full costume.
"Is this the mighty ocean? - is this all?"
says the Princess in Gebir. The rush that should have flooded my
soul in the Coliseum did not come. But walking one day in the
fields about the city, I stumbled over a fragment of broken
masonry, and lo! the World's Mistress in her stone girdle - ALTA
MAENIA ROMAE - rose before me and whitened my cheek with her pale
shadow as never before or since.
I used very often, when coming home from my morning's work at one
of the public institutions of Paris, to stop in at the dear old
church of St. Etienne du Mont. The tomb of St. Genevieve,
surrounded by burning candles and votive tablets, was there; the
mural tablet of Jacobus Benignus Winslow was there; there was a
noble organ with carved figures; the pulpit was borne on the oaken
shoulders of a stooping Samson; and there was a marvellous
staircase like a coil of lace. These things I mention from memory,
but not all of them together impressed me so much as an inscription
on a small slab of marble fixed in one of the walls. It told how
this church of St. Stephen was repaired and beautified in the year
16**, and how, during the celebration of its reopening, two girls
of the parish (FILLES DE LA PAROISSE) fell from the gallery,
carrying a part of the balustrade with them, to the pavement, but
by a miracle escaped uninjured. Two young girls, nameless, but
real presences to my imagination, as much as when they came
fluttering down on the tiles with a cry that outscreamed the
sharpest treble in the Te Deum. (Look at Carlyle's article on
Boswell, and see how he speaks of the poor young woman Johnson
talked with in the streets one evening.) All the crowd gone but
these two "filles de la paroisse," - gone as utterly as the dresses
they wore, as the shoes that were on their feet, as the bread and
meat that were in the market on that day.
Not the great historical events, but the personal incidents that
call up single sharp pictures of some human being in its pang or
struggle, reach us most nearly. I remember the platform at Berne,
over the parapet of which Theobald Weinzapfli's restive horse
sprung with him and landed him more than a hundred feet beneath in
the lower town, not dead, but sorely broken, and no longer a wild
youth, but God's servant from that day forward. I have forgotten
the famous bears, and all else. - I remember the Percy lion on the
bridge over the little river at Alnwick, - the leaden lion with his
tail stretched out straight like a pump-handle, - and why? Because
of the story of the village boy who must fain bestride the leaden
tail, standing out over the water, - which breaking, he dropped
into the stream far below, and was taken out an idiot for the rest
of his life.
Arrow-heads must be brought to a sharp point, and the guillotine-
axe must have a slanting edge. Something intensely human, narrow,
and definate pierces to the seat of our sensibilities more readily
than huge occurrences and catastrophes. A nail will pick a lock
that defies hatchet and hammer. "The Royal George" went down with
all her crew, and Cowper wrote an exquisitely simple poem about it;
but the leaf which holds it is smooth, while that which bears the
lines on his mother's portrait is blistered with tears.
My telling these recollections sets me thinking of others of the
same kind which strike the imagination, especially when one is
still young. You remember the monument in Devizes market to the
woman struck dead with a lie in her mouth. I never saw that, but
it is in the books. Here is one I never heard mentioned; - if any
of the "Note and Query" tribe can tell the story, I hope they will.
Where is this monument? I was riding on an English stage-coach
when we passed a handsome marble column (as I remember it) of
considerable size and pretensions. - What is that? - I said. -
That, - answered the coachman, - is THE HANGMAN'S PILLAR. Then he
told me how a man went out one night, many years ago, to steal
sheep. He caught one, tied its legs together, passed the rope over
his head, and started for home. In climbing a fence, the rope
slipped, caught him by the neck, and strangled him. Next morning
he was found hanging dead on one side of the fence and the sheep on
the other; in memory whereof the lord of the manor caused this
monument to be erected as a warning to all who love mutton better
than virtue. I will send a copy of this record to him or her who
shall first set me right about this column and its locality.
And telling over these old stories reminds me that I have something
which may interest architects and perhaps some other persons. I
once ascended the spire of Strasburg Cathedral, which is the
highest, I think, in Europe. It is a shaft of stone filigree-work,
frightfully open, so that the guide puts his arms behind you to
keep you from falling. To climb it is a noonday nightmare, and to
think of having climbed it crisps all the fifty-six joints of one's
twenty digits. While I was on it, "pinnacled dim in the intense
inane," a strong wind was blowing, and I felt sure that the spire
was rocking. It swayed back and forward like a stalk of rye or a
cat-o'nine-tails (bulrush) with a bobolink on it. I mentioned it
to the guide, and he said that the spire did really swing back and
forward, - I think he said some feet.
Keep any line of knowledge ten years and some other line will
intersect it. Long afterwards I was hunting out a paper of
Dumeril's in an old journal, - the "Magazin Encyclopedique" for
L'AN TROISIEME, (1795,) when I stumbled upon a brief article on the
vibrations of the spire of Strasburg Cathedral. A man can shake it
so that the movement shall be shown in a vessel of water nearly
seventy feet below the summit, and higher up the vibration is like
that of an earthquake. I have seen one of those wretched wooden
spires with which we very shabbily finish some of our stone
churches (thinking that the lidless blue eye of heaven cannot tell
the counterfeit we try to pass on it,) swinging like a reed, in a
wind, but one would hardly think of such a thing's happening in a
stone spire. Does the Bunker-Hill Monument bend in the blast like
a blade of grass? I suppose so.
You see, of course, that I am talking in a cheap way; - perhaps we
will have some philosophy by and by; - let me work out this thin
mechanical vein. - I have something more to say about trees. I
have brought down this slice of hemlock to show you. Tree blew
down in my woods (that were) in 1852. Twelve feet and a half
round, fair girth; - nine feet, where I got my section, higher up.
This is a wedge, going to the centre, of the general shape of a
slice of apple-pie in a large and not opulent family. Length,
about eighteen inches. I have studied the growth of this tree by
its rings, and it is curious. Three hundred and forty-two rings.
Started, therefore, about 1510. The thickness of the rings tells
the rate at which it grew. For five or six years the rate was
slow, - then rapid for twenty years. A little before the year 1550
it began to grow very slowly, and so continued for about seventy
years. In 1620 it took a new start and grew fast until 1714 then
for the most part slowly until 1786, when it started again and grew
pretty well and uniformly until within the last dozen years, when
it seems to have got on sluggishly.
Look here. Here are some human lives laid down against the periods
of its growth, to which they corresponded. This is Shakspeare's.
The tree was seven inches in diameter when he was born; ten inches
when he died. A little less than ten inches when Milton was born;
seventeen when he died. Then comes a long interval, and this
thread marks out Johnson's life, during which the tree increased
from twenty-two to twenty-nine inches in diameter. Here is the
span of Napoleon's career; - the tree doesn't seem to have minded
I never saw the man yet who was not startled at looking on this
section. I have seen many wooden preachers, - never one like this.
How much more striking would be the calendar counted on the rings
of one of those awful trees which were standing when Christ was on
earth, and where that brief mortal life is chronicled with the
stolid apathy of vegetable being, which remembers all human history
as a thing of yesterday in its own dateless existence!
I have something more to say about elms. A relative tells me there
is one of great glory in Andover, near Bradford. I have some
recollections of the former place, pleasant and other. [I wonder
if the old Seminary clock strikes as slowly as it used to. My
room-mate thought, when he first came, it was the bell tolling
deaths, and people's ages, as they do in the country. He swore -
(ministers' sons get so familiar with good words that they are apt
to handle them carelessly) - that the children were dying by the
dozen, of all ages, from one to twelve, and ran off next day in
recess, when it began to strike eleven, but was caught before the
clock got through striking.] At the foot of "the hill," down in
town, is, or was, a tidy old elm, which was said to have been
hooped with iron to protect it from Indian tomahawks, (CREDAT
HAHNEMANNUS,) and to have grown round its hoops and buried them in
its wood. Of course, this is not the tree my relative means.
Also, I have a very pretty letter from Norwich, in Connecticut,
telling me of two noble elms which are to be seen in that town.
One hundred and twenty-seven feet from bough-end to bough-end!
What do you say to that? And gentle ladies beneath it, that love
it and celebrate its praises! And that in a town of such supreme,
audacious, Alpine loveliness as Norwich! - Only the dear people
there must learn to call it Norridge, and not be misled by the mere
accident of spelling.
What a sad picture of our civilization!
I did not speak to you of the great tree on what used to be the
Colman farm, in Deerfield, simply because I had not seen it for
many years, and did not like to trust my recollection. But I had
it in memory, and even noted down, as one of the finest trees in
symmetry and beauty I had ever seen. I have received a document,
signed by two citizens of a neighboring town, certified by the
postmaster and a selectman, and these again corroborated,
reinforced, and sworn to by a member of that extraordinary college-
class to which it is the good fortune of my friend the Professor to
belong, who, though he has FORMERLY been a member of Congress, is,
I believe, fully worthy of confidence. The tree "girts" eighteen
and a half feet, and spreads over a hundred, and is a real beauty.
I hope to meet my friend under its branches yet; if we don't have
"youth at the prow," we will have "pleasure at the 'elm."
And just now, again, I have got a letter about some grand willows
in Maine, and another about an elm in Wayland, but too late for
anything but thanks.
[And this leads me to say, that I have received a great many
communications, in prose and verse since I began printing these
notes. The last came this very morning, in the shape of a neat and
brief poem, from New Orleans. I could not make any of them public,
though sometimes requested to do so. Some of them have given me
great pleasure, and encouraged me to believe I had friends whose
faces I had never seen. If you are pleased with anything a writer
says, and doubt whether to tell him of it, do not hesitate; a
pleasant word is a cordial to one, who perhaps thinks he is tiring
you, and so becomes tired himself. I purr very loud over a good,
honest letter that says pretty things to me.]
- Sometimes very young persons send communications which they want
forwarded to editors; and these young persons do not always seem to
have right conceptions of these same editors, and of the public,
and of themselves. Here is a letter I wrote to one of these young
folks, but, on the whole, thought it best not to send. It is not
fair to single out one for such sharp advice, where there are
hundreds that are in need of it.
DEAR SIR, - You seem to be somewhat, but not a great deal, wiser
than I was at your age. I don't wish to be understood as saying
too much, for I think, without committing myself to any opinion on
my present state, that I was not a Solomon at that stage of
You long to "leap at a single bound into celebrity." Nothing is so
common-place as to wish to be remarkable. Fame usually comes to
those who are thinking about something else, - very rarely to those
who say to themselves, "Go to, now, let us be a celebrated
individual!" The struggle for fame, as such, commonly ends in
notoriety; - that ladder is easy to climb, but it leads to the
pillory which is crowded with fools who could not hold their
tongues and rogues who could not hide their tricks.
If you have the consciousness of genius, do something to show it.
The world is pretty quick, nowadays, to catch the flavor of true
originality; if you write anything remarkable, the magazines and
newspapers will find you out, as the school-boys find out where the
ripe apples and pears are. Produce anything really good, and an
intelligent editor will jump at it. Don't flatter yourself that
any article of yours is rejected because you are unknown to fame.
Nothing pleases an editor more than to get anything worth having
from a new hand. There is always a dearth of really fine articles
for a first-rate journal; for, of a hundred pieces received, ninety
are at or below the sea-level; some have water enough, but no head;
some head enough, but no water; only two or three are from full
reservoirs, high up that hill which is so hard to climb.
You may have genius. The contrary is of course probable, but it is
not demonstrated. If you have, the world wants you more than you
want it. It has not only a desire, but a passion, for every spark
of genius that shows itself among us; there is not a bull-calf in
our national pasture that can bleat a rhyme but it is ten to one,
among his friends, and no takers, that he is the real, genuine, no-
QU'EST CE QU'IL A FAIT? What has he done? That was Napoleon's
test. What have you done? Turn up the faces of your picture-
cards, my boy! You need not make mouths at the public because it
has not accepted you at your own fancy-valuation. Do the prettiest
thing you can and wait your time.
For the verses you send me, I will not say they are hopeless, and I
dare not affirm that they show promise. I am not an editor, but I
know the standard of some editors. You must not expect to "leap
with a single bound" into the society of those whom it is not
flattery to call your betters. When "The Pactolian" has paid you
for a copy of verses, - (I can furnish you a list of alliterative
signatures, beginning with Annie Aureole and ending with Zoe
Zenith,) - when "The Rag-bag" has stolen your piece, after
carefully scratching your name out, - when "The Nut-cracker" has
thought you worth shelling, and strung the kernel of your cleverest
poem, - then, and not till then, you may consider the presumption
against you, from the fact of your rhyming tendency, as called in
question, and let our friends hear from you, if you think it worth
while. You may possibly think me too candid, and even accuse me of
incivility; but let me assure you that I am not half so plain-
spoken as Nature, nor half so rude as Time. If you prefer the long
jolting of public opinion to the gentle touch of friendship, try it
like a man. Only remember this, - that, if a bushel of potatoes is
shaken in a market-cart without springs to it, the small potatoes
always get to the bottom. Believe me, etc., etc.
I always think of verse-writers, when I am in this vein; for these
are by far the most exacting, eager, self-weighing, restless,
querulous, unreasonable literary persons one is like to meet with.
Is a young man in the habit of writing verses? Then the
presumption is that he is an inferior person. For, look you, there
are at least nine chances in ten that he writes POOR verses. Now
the habit of chewing on rhymes without sense and soul to match them
is, like that of using any other narcotic, at once a proof of
feebleness and a debilitating agent. A young man can get rid of
the presumption against him afforded by his writing verses only by
convincing us that they are verses worth writing.
All this sounds hard and rough, but, observe, it is not addressed
to any individual, and of course does not refer to any reader of
these pages. I would always treat any given young person passing
through the meteoric showers which rain down on the brief period of
adolescence with great tenderness. God forgive us if we ever speak
harshly to young creatures on the strength of these ugly truths,
and so sooner or later, smite some tender-souled poet or poetess on
the lips who might have sung the world into sweet trances, had we
not silenced the matin-song in its first low breathings! Just as
my heart yearns over the unloved, just so it sorrows for the
ungifted who are doomed to the pangs of an undeceived self-
estimate. I have always tried to be gentle with the most hopeless
cases. My experience, however, has not been encouraging.
- X. Y., aet. 18, a cheaply-got-up youth, with narrow jaws, and
broad, bony, cold, red hands, having been laughed at by the girls
in his village, and "got the mitten" (pronounced mittIn) two or
three times, falls to souling and controlling, and youthing and
truthing, in the newspapers. Sends me some strings of verses,
candidates for the Orthopedic Infirmary, all of them, in which I
learn for the millionth time one of the following facts: either
that something about a chime is sublime, or that something about
time is sublime, or that something about a chime is concerned with
time, or that something about a rhyme is sublime or concerned with
time or with a chime. Wishes my opinion of the same, with advice
as to his future course.
What shall I do about it? Tell him the whole truth, and send him a
ticket of admission to the Institution for Idiots and Feeble-minded
Youth? One doesn't like to be cruel, - and yet one hates to lie.
Therefore one softens down the ugly central fact of donkeyism, -
recommends study of good models, - that writing verse should be an
incidental occupation only, not interfering with the hoe, the
needle, the lapstone, or the ledger, - and, above all that there
should be no hurry in printing what is written. Not the least use
in all this. The poetaster who has tasted type is done for. He is
like the man who has once been a candidate for the Presidency. He
feeds on the madder of his delusion all his days, and his very
bones grow red with the glow of his foolish fancy. One of these
young brains is like a bunch of India crackers; once touch fire to
it and it is best to keep hands off until it has done popping, - if
it ever stops. I have two letters on file; one is a pattern of
adulation, the other of impertinence. My reply to the first,
containing the best advice I could give, conveyed in courteous
language, had brought out the second. There was some sport in
this, but Dulness is not commonly a game fish, and only sulks after
he is struck. You may set it down as a truth which admits of few
exceptions, that those who ask your OPINION really want your
PRAISE, and will be contented with nothing less.
There is another kind of application to which editors, or those
supposed to have access to them, are liable, and which often proves
trying and painful. One is appealed to in behalf of some person in
needy circumstances who wishes to make a living by the pen. A
manuscript accompanying the letter is offered for publication. It
is not commonly brilliant, too often lamentably deficient. If
Rachel's saying is true, that "fortune is the measure of
intelligence," then poverty is evidence of limited capacity which
it too frequently proves to be, notwithstanding a noble exception
here and there. Now an editor is a person under a contract with
the public to furnish them with the best things he can afford for
his money. Charity shown by the publication of an inferior article
would be like the generosity of Claude Duval and the other
gentlemen highwaymen, who pitied the poor so much they robbed the
rich to have the means of relieving them.
Though I am not and never was an editor, I know something of the
trials to which they are submitted. They have nothing to do but to
develope enormous calluses at every point of contact with
authorship. Their business is not a matter of sympathy, but of
intellect. They must reject the unfit productions of those whom
they long to befriend, because it would be a profligate charity to
accept them. One cannot burn his house down to warm the hands even
of the fatherless and the widow.
THE PROFESSOR UNDER CHLOROFORM.
- You haven't heard about my friend the Professor's first
experiment in the use of anaesthetics, have you?
He was mightily pleased with the reception of that poem of his
about the chaise. He spoke to me once or twice about another poem
of similar character he wanted to read me, which I told him I would
listen to and criticize.
One day, after dinner, he came in with his face tied up, looking
very red in the cheeks and heavy about the eyes. - Hy'r'ye? - he
said, and made for an arm-chair, in which he placed first his hat
and then his person, going smack through the crown of the former as
neatly as they do the trick at the circus. The Professor jumped at
the explosion as if he had sat down on one of those small CALTHROPS
our grandfathers used to sow round in the grass when there were
Indians about, - iron stars, each ray a rusty thorn an inch and a
half long, - stick through moccasins into feet, - cripple 'em on
the spot, and give 'em lockjaw in a day or two.
At the same time he let off one of those big words which lie at the
bottom of the best man's vocabulary, but perhaps never turn up in
his life, - just as every man's hair MAY stand on end, but in most
men it never does.
After he had got calm, he pulled out a sheet or two of manuscript,
together with a smaller scrap, on which, as he said, he had just
been writing an introduction or prelude to the main performance. A
certain suspicion had come into my mind that the Professor was not
quite right, which was confirmed by the way he talked; but I let
him begin. This is the way he read it:-
I'M the fellah that tole one day
The tale of the won'erful one-hoss-shay.
Wan' to hear another? Say.
- Funny, wasn'it? Made ME laugh, -
I'm too modest, I am, by half, -
Made me laugh'S THOUGH I SH'D SPLIT, -
Cahn' a fellah like fellah's own wit? -
- Fellahs keep sayin', - "Well, now that's nice;
Did it once, but cahn' do it twice." -
Don' you b'lieve the'z no more fat;
Lots in the kitch'n 'z good 'z that.
Fus'-rate throw, 'n' no mistake, -
Han' us the props for another shake; -
Know I'll try, 'n' guess I'll win;
Here sh' goes for hit 'm ag'in!
Here I thought it necessary to interpose. - Professor, - I said, -
you are inebriated. The style of what you call your "Prelude"
shows that it was written under cerebral excitement. Your
articulation is confused. You have told me three times in
succession, in exactly the same words, that I was the only true
friend you had in the world that you would unbutton your heart to.
You smell distinctly and decidedly of spirits. - I spoke, and
paused; tender, but firm.
Two large tears orbed themselves beneath the Professor's lids, - in
obedience to the principle of gravitation celebrated in that
delicious bit of bladdery bathos, "The very law that moulds a
tear," with which the "Edinburgh Review" attempted to put down
Master George Gordon when that young man was foolishly trying to
make himself conspicuous.
One of these tears peeped over the edge of the lid until it lost
its balance, - slid an inch and waited for reinforcements, -
swelled again, - rolled down a little further, - stopped, - moved
on, - and at last fell on the back of the Professor's hand. He
held it up for me to look at, and lifted his eyes, brimful, till
they met mine.
I couldn't stand it, - I always break down when folks cry in my
face, - so I hugged him, and said he was a dear old boy, and asked
him kindly what was the matter with him, and what made him smell so
dreadfully strong of spirits.
Upset his alcohol lamp, - he said, - and spilt the alcohol on his
legs. That was it. - But what had he been doing to get his head
into such a state? - had he really committed an excess? What was
the matter? - Then it came out that he had been taking chloroform
to have a tooth out, which had left him in a very queer state, in
which he had written the "Prelude" given above, and under the
influence of which he evidently was still.
I took the manuscript from his hands and read the following
continuation of the lines he had begun to read me, while he made up
for two or three nights' lost sleep as he best might.
PARSON TURELL'S LEGACY:
OR THE PRESIDENT'S OLD ARM-CHAIR.
A MATHEMATICAL STORY.
FACTS respecting an old arm-chair.
At Cambridge. Is kept in the College there.
Seems but little the worse for wear.
That's remarkable when I say
It was old in President Holyoke's day.
(One of his boys, perhaps you know,
Died, AT ONE HUNDRED, years ago.)
HE took lodging for rain or shine
Under green bed-clothes in '69.
Know old Cambridge? Hope you do. -
Born there? Don't say so! I was, too.
(Born in a house with a gambrel-roof, -
Standing still, if you must have proof. -
"Gambrel? - Gambrel?" - Let me beg
You'll look at a horse's hinder leg, -
First great angle above the hoof, -
That's the gambrel; hence gambrel-roof.)
- Nicest place that ever was seen, -
Colleges red and Common green,
Sidewalks brownish with trees between.
Sweetest spot beneath the skies
When the canker-worms don't rise, -
When the dust, that sometimes flies
Into your mouth and ears and eyes.
In a quiet slumber lies,
NOT in the shape of unbaked pies
Such as barefoot children prize.
A kind of harber it seems to be,
Facing the flow of a boundless sea.
Rows of gray old Tutors stand
Ranged like rocks above the sand;
Rolling beneath them, soft and green,
Breaks the tide of bright sixteen, -
One wave, two waves, three waves, four,
Sliding up the sparkling floor;
Then it ebbs to flow no more,
Wandering off from shore to shore
With its freight of golden ore!
- Pleasant place for boys to play; -
Better keep your girls away;
Hearts get rolled as pebbles do
Which countless fingering waves pursue,
And every classic beach is strown
With heart-shaped pebbles of blood-red stone.
But this is neither here nor there; -
I'm talking about an old arm-chair.
You've heard, no doubt, of PARSON TURELL?
Over at Medford he used to dwell;
Married one of the Mathers' folk;
Got with his wife a chair of oak, -
Funny old chair, with seat like wedge,
Sharp behind and broad front edge, -
One of the oddest of human things,
Turned all over with knobs and rings, -
But heavy, and wide, and deep, and grand, -
Fit for the worthies of the land, -
Chief-Justice Sewall a cause to try in,
Or Cotton Mather to sit - and lie - in.
- Parson Turell bequeathed the same
To a certain student, - SMITH by name;
These were the terms, as we are told:
"Saide Smith saide Chaire to have and holde;
When he doth graduate, then to passe
To ye oldest Youth in ye Senior Classe.
On Payment of" -(naming a certain sum) -
"By him to whom ye Chaire shall come;
He to ye oldest Senior next,
And soe forever," - (thus runs the text,) -
"But one Crown lesse then he gave to claime,
That being his Debte for use of same."
SMITH transferred it to one of the BROWNS,
And took his money, - five silver crowns.
BROWN delivered it up to MOORE,
Who paid, it is plain, not five, but four.
MOORE made over the chair to LEE,
Who gave him crowns of silver three.
LEE conveyed it unto DREW,
And now the payment, of course, was two.
DREW gave up the chair to DUNN, -
All he got, as you see, was one.
DUNN released the chair to HALL,
And got by the bargain no crown at all.
- And now it passed to a second BROWN,
Who took it, and likewise CLAIMED A CROWN.
When BROWN conveyed it unto WARE,
Having had one crown, to make it fair,
He paid him two crowns to take the chair;
And WARE, being honest, (as all Wares be,)
He paid one POTTER, who took it, three.
Four got ROBINSON; five got DIX;
JOHNSON PRIMUS demanded six;
And so the sum kept gathering still
Till after the battle of Bunker's Hill
- When paper money became so cheap,
Folks wouldn't count it, but said "a heap,"
A certain RICHARDS, the books declare,
(A. M. in '90? I've looked with care
Through the Triennial, - NAME NOT THERE.)
This person, Richards, was offered then
Eight score pounds, but would have ten;
Nine, I think, was the sum he took, -
Not quite certain, - but see the book.
- By and by the wars were still,
But nothing had altered the Parson's will.
The old arm-chair was solid yet,
But saddled with such a monstrous debt!
Things grew quite too bad to bear,
Paying such sums to get rid of the chair!
But dead men's fingers hold awful tight,
And there was the will in black and white,
Plain enough for a child to spell.
What should be done no man could tell,
For the chair was a kind of nightmare curse,
And every season but made it worse.
As a last resort, to clear the doubt,
They got old GOVERNOR HANCOCK out.
The Governor came, with his Light-horse Troop
And his mounted truckmen, all cock-a-hoop;
Halberds glittered and colors flew,
French horns whinnied and trumpets blew,
The yellow fifes whistled between their teeth
And the bumble-bee bass-drums boomed beneath;
So he rode with all his band,
Till the President met him, cap in hand.
- The Governor "hefted" the crowns, and said, -
"A will is a will, and the Parson's dead."
The Governor hefted the crowns. Said he, -
"There is your p'int. And here's my fee.
These are the terms you must fulfil, -
On such conditions I BREAK THE WILL!"
The Governor mentioned what these should be.
(Just wait a minute and then you'll see.)
The President prayed. Then all was still,
And the Governor rose and BROKE THE WILL!
- "About those conditions?" Well, now you go
And do as I tell you, and then you'll know.
Once a year, on Commencement-day,
If you'll only take the pains to stay,
You'll see the President in the CHAIR,
Likewise the Governor sitting there.
The President rises; both old and young
May hear his speech in a foreign tongue,
The meaning whereof, as lawyers swear,
Is this: Can I keep this old arm-chair?
And then his Excellency bows,
As much as to say that he allows.
The Vice-Gub. next is called by name;
He bows like t'other, which means the same.
And all the officers round 'em bow,
As much as to say that THEY allow.
And a lot of parchments about the chair
Are handed to witnesses then and there,
And then the lawyers hold it clear
That the chair is safe for another year.
God bless you, Gentlemen! Learn to give
Money to colleges while you live.
Don't be silly and think you'll try
To bother the colleges, when you die,
With codicil this, and codicil that,
That Knowledge may starve while Law grows fat;
For there never was pitcher that wouldn't spill,
And there's always a flaw in a donkey's will!
- Hospitality is a good deal a matter of latitude, I suspect. The
shade of a palm-tree serves an African for a hut; his dwelling is
all door and no walls; everybody can come in. To make a morning
call on an Esquimaux acquaintance, one must creep through a long
tunnel; his house is all walls and no door, except such a one as an
apple with a worm-hole has. One might, very probably, trace a
regular gradation between these two extremes. In cities where the
evenings are generally hot, the people have porches at their doors,
where they sit, and this is, of course, a provocative to the
interchange of civilities. A good deal, which in colder regions is
ascribed to mean dispositions, belongs really to mean temperature.
Once in a while, even in our Northern cities, at noon, in a very
hot summer's day, one may realize, by a sudden extension in his
sphere of consciousness, how closely he is shut up for the most
part. - Do you not remember something like this? July, between 1
and 2, P. M., Fahrenheit 96 degrees, or thereabout. Windows all
gaping, like the mouths of panting dogs. Long, stinging cry of a
locust comes in from a tree, half a mile off; had forgotten there
was such a tree. Baby's screams from a house several blocks
distant; - never knew there were any babies in the neighborhood
before. Tinman pounding something that clatters dreadfully, - very
distinct, but don't remember any tinman's shop near by. Horses
stamping on pavement to get off flies. When you hear these four
sounds, you may set it down as a warm day. Then it is that one
would like to imitate the mode of life of the native at Sierra
Leone, as somebody has described it: stroll into the market in
natural costume, - buy a water-melon for a halfpenny, - split it,
and scoop out the middle, - sit down in one half of the empty rind,
clap the other on one's head, and feast upon the pulp.
- I see some of the London journals have been attacking some of
their literary people for lecturing, on the ground of its being a
public exhibition of themselves for money. A popular author can
print his lecture; if he deliver it, it is a case of QUAESTUM
CORPORE, or making profit of his person. None but "snobs" do that.
ERGO, etc. To this I reply, - NEGATUR MINOR. Her Most Gracious
Majesty, the Queen, exhibits herself to the public as a part of the
service for which she is paid. We do not consider it low-bred in
her to pronounce her own speech, and should prefer it so to hearing
it from any other person, or reading it. His Grace and his
Lordship exhibit themselves very often for popularity, and their
houses every day for money. - No, if a man shows himself other than
he is, if he belittles himself before an audience for hire, then he
acts unworthily. But a true word, fresh from the lips of a true
man, is worth paying for, at the rate of eight dollars a day, or
even of fifty dollars a lecture. The taunt must be an outbreak of
jealousy against the renowned authors who have the audacity to be
also orators. The sub-lieutenants (of the press) stick a too
popular writer and speaker with an epithet in England, instead of
with a rapier, as in France. - Poh! All England is one great
menagerie, and, all at once, the jackal, who admires the gilded
cage of the royal beast, must protest against the vulgarity of the
talking-bird's and the nightingale's being willing to become a part
of the exhibition!
THE LONG PATH.
(LAST OF THE PARENTHESES.)
Yes, that was my last walk with the SCHOOLMISTRESS. It happened to
be the end of a term; and before the next began, a very nice young
woman, who had been her assistant, was announced as her successor,
and she was provided for elsewhere. So it was no longer the
schoolmistress that I walked with, but - Let us not be in unseemly
haste. I shall call her the schoolmistress still; some of you love
her under that name.
When it became known among the boarders that two of their number
had joined hands to walk down the long path of life side by side,
there was, as you may suppose, no small sensation. I confess I
pitied our landlady. It took her all of a suddin, - she said. Had
not known that we was keepin company, and never mistrusted anything
particular. Ma'am was right to better herself. Didn't look very
rugged to take care of a femily, but could get hired haalp, she
calc'lated. - The great maternal instinct came crowding up in her
soul just then, and her eyes wandered until they settled on her
- No, poor, dear woman, - that could not have been. But I am
dropping one of my internal tears for you, with this pleasant smile
on my face all the time.
The great mystery of God's providence is the permitted crushing out
of flowering instincts. Life is maintained by the respiration of
oxygen and of sentiments. In the long catalogue of scientific
cruelties there is hardly anything quite so painful to think of as
that experiment of putting an animal under the bell of an air-pump
and exhausting the air from it. [I never saw the accursed trick
performed. LAUS DEO!] There comes a time when the souls of human
beings, women, perhaps, more even than men, begin to faint for the
atmosphere of the affections they were made to breathe. Then it is
that Society places its transparent bell-glass over the young woman
who is to be the subject of one of its fatal experiments. The
element by which only the heart lives is sucked out of her
crystalline prison. Watch her through its transparent walls; - her
bosom is heaving; but it is in a vacuum. Death is no riddle,
compared to this. I remember a poor girl's story in the "Book of
Martyrs." The "dry-pan and the gradual fire" were the images that
frightened her most. How many have withered and wasted under as
slow a torment in the walls of that larger Inquisition which we
Yes, my surface-thought laughs at you, you foolish, plain,
overdressed, mincing, cheaply-organized, self-saturated young
person, whoever you may be, now reading this, - little thinking you
are what I describe, and in blissful unconsciousness that you are
destined to the lingering asphyxia of soul which is the lot of such
multitudes worthier than yourself. But it is only my surface-
thought which laughs. For that great procession of the UNLOVED,
who not only wear the crown of thorns, but must hide it under the
locks of brown or gray, - under the snowy cap, under the chilling
turban, - hide it even from themselves, - perhaps never know they
wear it, though it kills them, - there is no depth of tenderness in
my nature that Pity has not sounded. Somewhere, - somewhere, -
love is in store for them, - the universe must not be allowed to
fool them so cruelly. What infinite pathos in the small, half-
unconscious artifices by which unattractive young persons seek to
recommend themselves to the favor of those towards whom our dear
sisters, the unloved, like the rest, are impelled by their God-
Read what the singing-women - one to ten thousand of the suffering
women - tell us, and think of the griefs that die unspoken! Nature
is in earnest when she makes a woman; and there are women enough
lying in the next churchyard with very commonplace blue slate-
stones at their head and feet, for whom it was just as true that
"all sounds of life assumed one tone of love," as for Letitia
Landon, of whom Elizabeth Browning said it; but she could give
words to her grief, and they could not. - Will you hear a few
stanzas of mine?
WE count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber, -
But o'er their silent sister's breast
The wild flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them; -
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!
Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts' sad story, -
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O'er Sappho's memory-haunted billow,
But where the glistening night-dews weep
On nameless sorrow's churchyard pillow.
O hearts that break and give no sign
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till Death pours out his cordial wine
Slow-dropped from Misery's crushing presses, -
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pang were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!
I hope that our landlady's daughter is not so badly off, after all.
That young man from another city who made the remark which you
remember about Boston State-house and Boston folks, has appeared at
our table repeatedly of late, and has seemed to me rather attentive
to this young lady. Only last evening I saw him leaning over her
while she was playing the accordion, - indeed, I undertook to join
them in a song, and got as far as "Come rest in this boo-oo," when,
my voice getting tremulous, I turned off, as one steps out of a
procession, and left the basso and soprano to finish it. I see no
reason why this young woman should not be a very proper match for a
man that laughs about Boston State-house. He can't be very
The young fellow whom I have so often mentioned was a little free
in his remarks, but very good-natured. - Sorry to have you go, - he
said. - School-ma'am made a mistake not to wait for me. Haven't
taken anything but mournin' fruit at breakfast since I heard of it.
- MOURNING fruit, - said I, - what's that? - Huckleberries and
blackberries, - said he; - couldn't eat in colors, raspberries,
currants, and such, after a solemn thing like this happening. - The
conceit seemed to please the young fellow. If you will believe it,
when we came down to breakfast the next morning, he had carried it
out as follows. You know those odious little "saas-plates" that
figure so largely at boarding-houses, and especially at taverns,
into which a strenuous attendant female trowels little dabs, sombre
of tint and heterogeneous of composition, which it makes you feel
homesick to look at, and into which you poke the elastic coppery
tea-spoon with the air of a cat dipping her foot into a wash-tub, -
(not that I mean to say anything against them, for, when they are
of tinted porcelain or starry many-faceted crystal, and hold clean
bright berries, or pale virgin honey, or "lucent syrups tinct with
cinnamon," and the teaspoon is of white silver, with the Tower-
stamp, solid, but not brutally heavy, - as people in the green
stage of millionism will have them, - I can dally with their amber
semi-fluids or glossy spherules without a shiver,) - you know these
small, deep dishes, I say. When we came down the next morning,
each of these (two only excepted) was covered with a broad leaf.
On lifting this, each boarder found a small heap of solemn black
huckleberries. But one of those plates held red currants, and was
covered with a red rose; the other held white currants, and was
covered with a white rose. There was a laugh at this at first, and
then a short silence, and I noticed that her lip trembled, and the
old gentleman opposite was in trouble to get at his bandanna
- "What was the use in waiting? We should be too late for
Switzerland, that season, if we waited much longer." - The hand I
held trembled in mine, and the eyes fell meekly, as Esther bowed
herself before the feet of Ahasuerus. - She had been reading that
chapter, for she looked up, - if there was a film of moisture over
her eyes there was also the faintest shadow of a distant smile
skirting her lips, but not enough to accent the dimples, - and
said, in her pretty, still way, - "If it please the king, and if I
have found favor in his sight, and the thing seem right before the
king, and I be pleasing in his eyes" -
I don't remember what King Ahasuerus did or said when Esther got
just to that point of her soft, humble words, - but I know what I
did. That quotation from Scripture was cut short, anyhow. We came
to a compromise on the great question, and the time was settled for
the last day of summer.
In the mean time, I talked on with our boarders, much as usual, as
you may see by what I have reported. I must say, I was pleased
with a certain tenderness they all showed toward us, after the
first excitement of the news was over. It came out in trivial
matters, - but each one, in his or her way, manifested kindness.
Our landlady, for instance, when we had chickens, sent the LIVER
instead of the GIZZARD, with the wing, for the schoolmistress.
This was not an accident; the two are never mistaken, though some
landladies APPEAR as if they did not know the difference. The
whole of the company were even more respectfully attentive to my
remarks than usual. There was no idle punning, and very little
winking on the part of that lively young gentleman who, as the
reader may remember, occasionally interposed some playful question
or remark, which could hardly be considered relevant, - except when
the least allusion was made to matrimony, when he would look at the
landlady's daughter, and wink with both sides of his face, until
she would ask what he was pokin' his fun at her for, and if he
wasn't ashamed of himself. In fact, they all behaved very
handsomely, so that I really felt sorry at the thought of leaving
I suppose you think, that, because I lived at a plain widow-woman's
plain table, I was of course more or less infirm in point of
worldly fortune. You may not be sorry to learn, that, though not
what GREAT MERCHANTS call very rich, I was comfortable, -
comfortable, - so that most of those moderate luxuries I described
in my verses on CONTENTMENT - MOST of them, I say - were within our
reach, if we chose to have them. But I found out that the
schoolmistress had a vein of charity about her, which had hitherto
been worked on a small silver and copper basis, which made her
think less, perhaps, of luxuries than even I did, - modestly as I
have expressed my wishes.
It is a rather pleasant thing to tell a poor young woman, whom one
has contrived to win without showing his rent-roll, that she has
found what the world values so highly, in following the lead of her
affections. That was an enjoyment I was now ready for.
I began abruptly:- Do you know that you are a rich young person?
I know that I am very rich, - she said. - Heaven has given me more
than I ever asked; for I had not thought love was ever meant for
It was a woman's confession, and her voice fell to a whisper as it
threaded the last words.
I don't mean that, - I said, - you blessed little saint and seraph!
- if there's an angel missing in the New Jerusalem, inquire for her
at this boarding house! - I don't mean that! I mean that I - that
is, you - am - are - confound it! - I mean that you'll be what most
people call a lady of fortune. And I looked full in her eyes for
the effect of the announcement.
There wasn't any. She said she was thankful that I had what would
save me from drudgery, and that some other time I should tell her
about it. - I never made a greater failure in an attempt to produce
So the last day of summer came. It was our choice to go to the
church, but we had a kind of reception at the boarding-house. The
presents were all arranged, and among them none gave more pleasure
than the modest tributes of our fellow-boarders, - for there was
not one, I believe, who did not send something. The landlady would
insist on making an elegant bride-cake, with her own hands; to
which Master Benjamin Franklin wished to add certain embellishments
out of his private funds, - namely, a Cupid in a mouse-trap, done
in white sugar, and two miniature flags with the stars and stripes,
which had a very pleasing effect, I assure you. The landlady's
daughter sent a richly bound copy of Tupper's Poems. On a blank
leaf was the following, written in a very delicate and careful
Presented to . . . by . . .
On the eve ere her union in holy matrimony.
May sunshine ever beam o'er her!
Even the poor relative thought she must do something, and sent a
copy of "The Whole Duty of Man," bound in very attractive
variegated sheepskin, the edges nicely marbled. From the divinity-
student came the loveliest English edition of "Keble's Christian
Year." I opened it, when it came, to the FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT,
and read that angelic poem, sweeter than anything I can remember
since Xavier's "My God, I love thee." - I am not a Churchman, - I
don't believe in planting oaks in flower-pots, - but such a poem as
"The Rosebud" makes one's heart a proselyte to the culture it grows
from. Talk about it as much as you like, - one's breeding shows
itself nowhere more than in his religion. A man should be a
gentleman in his hymns and prayers; the fondness for "scenes,"
among vulgar saints, contrasts so meanly with that -
"God only and good angels look
Behind the blissful scene,"-
and that other, -
"He could not trust his melting soul
But in his Maker's sight," -
that I hope some of them will see this, and read the poem, and
profit by it.
My laughing and winking young friend undertook to procure and
arrange the flowers for the table, and did it with immense zeal. I
never saw him look happier than when he came in, his hat saucily on
one side, and a cheroot in his mouth, with a huge bunch of tea-
roses, which he said were for "Madam."
One of the last things that came was an old square box, smelling of
camphor, tied and sealed. It bore, in faded ink, the marks,
"Calcutta, 1805." On opening it, we found a white Cashmere shawl
with a very brief note from the dear old gentleman opposite, saying
that he had kept this some years, thinking he might want it, and
many more, not knowing what to do with it, - that he had never seen
it unfolded since he was a young supercargo, - and now, if she
would spread it on her shoulders, it would make him feel young to
look at it.
Poor Bridget, or Biddy, our red-armed maid of all work! What must
she do but buy a small copper breast-pin and put it under
"Schoolma'am's" plate that morning, at breakfast? And Schoolma'am
would wear it, - though I made her cover it, as well as I could,
with a tea-rose.
It was my last breakfast as a boarder, and I could not leave them
in utter silence.
Good-by, - I said, - my dear friends, one and all of you! I have
been long with you, and I find it hard parting. I have to thank
you for a thousand courtesies, and above all for the patience and
indulgence with which you have listened to me when I have tried to
instruct or amuse you. My friend the Professor (who, as well as my
friend the Poet, is unavoidably absent on this interesting
occasion) has given me reason to suppose that he would occupy my
empty chair about the first of January next. If he comes among
you, be kind to him, as you have been to me. May the Lord bless
you all! - And we shook hands all round the table.
Half an hour afterwards the breakfast things and the cloth were
gone. I looked up and down the length of the bare boards over
which I had so often uttered my sentiments and experiences - and -
Yes, I am a man, like another.
All sadness vanished, as, in the midst of these old friends of
mine, whom you know, and others a little more up in the world,
perhaps, to whom I have not introduced you, I took the
schoolmistress before the altar from the hands of the old gentleman
who used to sit opposite, and who would insist on giving her away.
And now we two are walking the long path in peace together. The
"schoolmistress" finds her skill in teaching called for again,
without going abroad to seek little scholars. Those visions of
mine have all come true.
I hope you all love me none the less for anything I have told you.
THE PROFESSOR AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
PREFACE TO REVISED EDITION.
The reader of to-day will not forget, I trust, that it is nearly a
quarter of a century since these papers were written. Statements
which were true then are not necessarily true now. Thus, the speed
of the trotting horse has been so much developed that the record of
the year when the fastest time to that date was given must be very
considerably altered, as may be seen by referring to a note on page
49 of the "Autocrat." No doubt many other statements and opinions
might be more or less modified if I were writing today instead of
having written before the war, when the world and I were both more
than a score of years younger.
These papers followed close upon the track of the "Autocrat." They
had to endure the trial to which all second comers are subjected,
which is a formidable ordeal for the least as well as the greatest.
Paradise Regained and the Second Part of Faust are examples which are
enough to warn every one who has made a jingle fair hit with his
arrow of the danger of missing when he looses "his fellow of the
There is good reason why it should be so. The first juice that runs
of itself from the grapes comes from the heart of the fruit, and
tastes of the pulp only; when the grapes are squeezed in the press
the flow betrays the flavor of the skin. If there is any freshness
in the original idea of the work, if there is any individuality in
the method or style of a new author, or of an old author on a new
track, it will have lost much of its first effect when repeated.
Still, there have not been wanting readers who have preferred this
second series of papers to the first. The new papers were more
aggressive than the earlier ones, and for that reason found a
heartier welcome in some quarters, and met with a sharper antagonism
in others. It amuses me to look back on some of the attacks they
called forth. Opinions which do not excite the faintest show of
temper at this time from those who do not accept them were treated as
if they were the utterances of a nihilist incendiary. It required
the exercise of some forbearance not to recriminate.
How a stray sentence, a popular saying, the maxim of some wise man, a
line accidentally fallen upon and remembered, will sometimes help one
when he is all ready to be vexed or indignant! One day, in the time
when I was young or youngish, I happened to open a small copy of "Tom
Jones," and glance at the title-page. There was one of those little
engravings opposite, which bore the familiar name of "T. Uwins," as I
remember it, and under it the words "Mr. Partridge bore all this
patiently." How many times, when, after rough usage from
ill-mannered critics, my own vocabulary of vituperation was simmering
in such a lively way that it threatened to boil and lift its lid and
so boil over, those words have calmed the small internal
effervescence! There is very little in them and very little of them;
and so there is not much in a linchpin considered by itself, but it
often keeps a wheel from coming off and prevents what might be a
catastrophe. The chief trouble in offering such papers as these to
the readers of to-day is that their heresies have become so familiar
among intelligent people that they have too commonplace an aspect.
All the lighthouses and land-marks of belief bear so differently from
the way in which they presented themselves when these papers were
written that it is hard to recognize that we and our fellow-
passengers are still in the same old vessel sailing the same
unfathomable sea and bound to the same as yet unseen harbor.
But after all, there is not enough theology, good or bad, in these
papers to cause them to be inscribed on the Protestant Index
Expurgatorius; and if they are medicated with a few questionable
dogmas or antidogmas, the public has become used to so much rougher
treatments, that what was once an irritant may now act as an anodyne,
and the reader may nod over pages which, when they were first
written, would have waked him into a paroxysm of protest and
PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION
This book is one of those which, if it lives for a number of decades,
and if it requires any Preface at all, wants a new one every ten
years. The first Preface to a book is apt to be explanatory, perhaps
apologetic, in the expectation of attacks from various quarters. If
the book is in some points in advance of public opinion, it is
natural that the writer should try to smooth the way to the reception
of his more or less aggressive ideas. He wishes to convince, not to
offend,--to obtain a hearing for his thought, not to stir up angry
opposition in those who do not accept it. There is commonly an
anxious look about a first Preface. The author thinks he shall be
misapprehended about this or that matter, that his well-meant
expressions will probably be invidiously interpreted by those whom he
looks upon as prejudiced critics, and if he deals with living
questions that he will be attacked as a destructive by the
conservatives and reproached for his timidity by the noisier
radicals. The first Preface, therefore, is likely to be the weakest
part of a work containing the thoughts of an honest writer.
After a time the writer has cooled down from his excitement,--has got
over his apprehensions, is pleased to find that his book is still
read, and that he must write a new Preface. He comes smiling to his
task. How many things have explained themselves in the ten or twenty
or thirty years since he came before his untried public in those
almost plaintive paragraphs in which he introduced himself to his
readers,--for the Preface writer, no matter how fierce a combatant he
may prove, comes on to the stage with his shield on his right arm and
his sword in his left hand.
The Professor at the Breakfast-Table came out in the "Atlantic
Monthly" and introduced itself without any formal Preface. A quarter
of a century later the Preface of 1882, which the reader has just had
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