The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 7 out of 51
--The mother of little Iris was not called Electra, like hers of the
old story, neither was her grandfather Oceanus. Her blood-name,
which she gave away with her heart to the Latin tutor, was a plain
old English one, and her water-name was Hannah, beautiful as
recalling the mother of Samuel, and admirable as reading equally well
from the initial letter forwards and from the terminal letter
backwards. The poor lady, seated with her companion at the
chessboard of matrimony, had but just pushed forward her one little
white pawn upon an empty square, when the Black Knight, that cares
nothing for castles or kings or queens, swooped down upon her and
swept her from the larger board of life.
The old Latin tutor put a modest blue stone at the head of his late
companion, with her name and age and Eheu! upon it,--a smaller one
at her feet, with initials; and left her by herself, to be rained and
snowed on,--which is a hard thing to do for those whom we have
About the time that the lichens, falling on the stone, like drops of
water, had spread into fair, round rosettes, the tutor had starved
into a slight cough. Then he began to draw the buckle of his black
trousers a little tighter, and took in another reef in his never-
ample waistcoat. His temples got a little hollow, and the contrasts
of color in his cheeks more vivid than of old. After a while his
walks fatigued him, and he was tired, and breathed hard after going
up a flight or two of stairs. Then came on other marks of inward
trouble and general waste, which he spoke of to his physician as
peculiar, and doubtless owing to accidental causes; to all which the
doctor listened with deference, as if it had not been the old story
that one in five or six of mankind in temperate climates tells, or
has told for him, as if it were something new. As the doctor went
out, he said to himself,--"On the rail at last. Accommodation train.
A good many stops, but will get to the station by and by." So the
doctor wrote a recipe with the astrological sign of Jupiter before
it, (just as your own physician does, inestimable reader, as you will
see, if you look at his next prescription,) and departed, saying he
would look in occasionally. After this, the Latin tutor began the
usual course of "getting better," until he got so much better that
his face was very sharp, and when he smiled, three crescent lines
showed at each side of his lips, and when he spoke; it was in a
muffled whisper, and the white of his eye glistened as pearly as the
purest porcelain,--so much better, that he hoped--by spring--he----
might be able--to--attend------to his class again.--But he was
recommended not to expose himself, and so kept his chamber, and
occasionally, not having anything to do, his bed. The unmarried
sister with whom he lived took care of him; and the child, now old
enough to be manageable and even useful in trifling offices, sat in
the chamber, or played, about.
Things could not go on so forever, of course. One morning his face
was sunken and his hands were very, very cold. He was "better," he
whispered, but sadly and faintly. After a while he grew restless and
seemed a little wandering. His mind ran on his classics, and fell
back on the Latin grammar.
"Iris!" he said,--"filiola mea!"--The child knew this meant my
dear little daughter as well as if it had been English.--"Rainbow!
"for he would translate her name at times,--"come to me,--veni"--and
his lips went on automatically, and murmured," vel venito!"--The
child came and sat by his bedside and took his hand, which she could
not warm, but which shot its rays of cold all through her slender
frame. But there she sat, looking steadily at him. Presently he
opened his lips feebly, and whispered, "Moribundus." She did not
know what that meant, but she saw that there was something new and
sad. So she began to cry; but presently remembering an old book that
seemed to comfort him at times, got up and brought a Bible in the
Latin version, called the Vulgate. "Open it," he said,--"I will
read, segnius irritant,--don't put the light out,--ah! hoeret
lateri,--I am going,--vale, vale, vale, goodbye, good-bye,--the Lord
take care of my child! Domine, audi--vel audito!" His face whitened
suddenly, and he lay still, with open eyes and mouth. He had taken
his last degree.
--Little Miss Iris could not be said to begin life with a very
brilliant rainbow over her, in a worldly point of view. A limited
wardrobe of man's attire, such as poor tutors wear,--a few good
books, principally classics,--a print or two, and a plaster model of
the Pantheon, with some pieces of furniture which had seen service,--
these, and a child's heart full of tearful recollections and strange
doubts and questions, alternating with the cheap pleasures which are
the anodynes of childish grief; such were the treasures she
inherited.--No,--I forgot. With that kindly sentiment which all of
us feel for old men's first children,--frost-flowers of the early
winter season, the old tutor's students had remembered him at a time
when he was laughing and crying with his new parental emotions, and
running to the side of the plain crib in which his alter egg, as he
used to say, was swinging, to hang over the little heap of stirring
clothes, from which looked the minute, red, downy, still, round face,
with unfixed eyes and working lips,--in that unearthly gravity which
has never yet been broken by a smile, and which gives to the earliest
moon-year or two of an infant's life the character of a first old
age, to counterpoise that second childhood which there is one chance
in a dozen it may reach by and by. The boys had remembered the old
man and young father at that tender period of his hard, dry life.
There came to him a fair, silver goblet, embossed with classical
figures, and bearing on a shield the graver words, Ex dono
pupillorum. The handle on its side showed what use the boys had
meant it for; and a kind letter in it, written with the best of
feeling, in the worst of Latin, pointed delicately to its
destination. Out of this silver vessel, after a long, desperate,
strangling cry, which marked her first great lesson in the realities
of life, the child took the blue milk, such as poor tutors and their
children get, tempered with water, and sweetened a little, so as to
bring it nearer the standard established by the touching indulgence
and partiality of Nature,--who had mingled an extra allowance of
sugar in the blameless food of the child at its mother's breast, as
compared with that of its infant brothers and sisters of the bovine
But a willow will grow in baked sand wet with rainwater. An air-
plant will grow by feeding on the winds. Nay, those huge forests
that overspread great continents have built themselves up mainly from
the air-currents with which they are always battling. The oak is but
a foliated atmospheric crystal deposited from the aerial ocean that
holds the future vegetable world in solution. The storm that tears
its leaves has paid tribute to its strength, and it breasts the
tornado clad in the spoils of a hundred hurricanes.
Poor little Iris! What had she in common with the great oak in the
shadow of which we are losing sight of her?--She lived and grew like
that,--this was all. The blue milk ran into her veins and filled
them with thin, pure blood. Her skin was fair, with a faint tinge,
such as the white rosebud shows before it opens. The doctor who had
attended her father was afraid her aunt would hardly be able to
"raise " her,--"delicate child,"--hoped she was not consumptive,--
thought there was a fair chance she would take after her father.
A very forlorn-looking person, dressed in black, with a white
neckcloth, sent her a memoir of a child who died at the age of two
years and eleven months, after having fully indorsed all the
doctrines of the particular persuasion to which he not only belonged
himself, but thought it very shameful that everybody else did not
belong. What with foreboding looks and dreary death-bed stories, it
was a wonder the child made out to live through it. It saddened her
early years, of course,--it distressed her tender soul with thoughts
which, as they cannot be fully taken in, should be sparingly used as
instruments of torture to break down the natural cheerfulness of a
healthy child, or, what is infinitely worse, to cheat a dying one out
of the kind illusions with which the Father of All has strewed its
The child would have died, no doubt, and, if properly managed, might
have added another to the long catalogue of wasting children who have
been as cruelly played upon by spiritual physiologists, often with
the best intentions, as ever the subject of a rare disease by the
curious students of science.
Fortunately for her, however, a wise instinct had guided the late
Latin tutor in the selection of the partner of his life, and the
future mother of his child. The deceased tutoress was a tranquil,
smooth woman, easily nourished, as such people are,--a quality which
is inestimable in a tutor's wife,--and so it happened that the
daughter inherited enough vitality from the mother to live through
childhood and infancy and fight her way towards womanhood, in spite
of the tendencies she derived from her other parent.
--Two and two do not always make four, in this matter of hereditary
descent of qualities. Sometimes they make three, and sometimes five.
It seems as if the parental traits at one time showed separate, at
another blended,--that occasionally, the force of two natures is
represented in the derivative one by a diagonal of greater value than
either original line of living movement,--that sometimes there is a
loss of vitality hardly to be accounted for, and again a forward
impulse of variable intensity in some new and unforeseen direction.
So it was with this child. She had glanced off from her parental
probabilities at an unexpected angle. Instead of taking to classical
learning like her father, or sliding quietly into household duties
like her mother, she broke out early in efforts that pointed in the
direction of Art. As soon as she could hold a pencil she began to
sketch outlines of objects round her with a certain air and spirit.
Very extraordinary horses, but their legs looked as if they could
move. Birds unknown to Audubon, yet flying, as it were, with a rush.
Men with impossible legs, which did yet seem to have a vital
connection with their most improbable bodies. By-and-by the doctor,
on his beast,--an old man with a face looking as if Time had kneaded
it like dough with his knuckles, with a rhubarb tint and flavor
pervading himself and his sorrel horse and all their appurtenances.
A dreadful old man! Be sure she did not forget those saddle-bags
that held the detestable bottles out of which he used to shake those
loathsome powders which, to virgin childish palates that find heaven
in strawberries and peaches, are--Well, I suppose I had better stop.
Only she wished she was dead sometimes when she heard him coming.
On the next leaf would figure the gentleman with the black coat and
white cravat, as he looked when he came and entertained her with
stories concerning the death of various little children about her
age, to encourage her, as that wicked Mr. Arouet said about shooting
Admiral Byng. Then she would take her pencil, and with a few
scratches there would be the outline of a child, in which you might
notice how one sudden sweep gave the chubby cheek, and two dots
darted at the paper looked like real eyes.
By-and-by she went to school, and caricatured the schoolmaster on the
leaves of her grammars and geographies, and drew the faces of her
companions, and, from time to time, heads and figures from her fancy,
with large eyes, far apart, like those of Raffaelle's mothers and
children, sometimes with wild floating hair, and then with wings and
heads thrown back in ecstasy. This was at about twelve years old, as
the dates of these drawings show, and, therefore, three or four years
before she came among us. Soon after this time, the ideal figures
began to take the place of portraits and caricatures, and a new
feature appeared in her drawing-books in the form of fragments of
verse and short poems.
It was dull work, of course, for such a young girl to live with an
old spinster and go to a village school. Her books bore testimony to
this; for there was a look of sadness in the faces she drew, and a
sense of weariness and longing for some imaginary conditions of
blessedness or other, which began to be painful. She might have gone
through this flowering of the soul, and, casting her petals, subsided
into a sober, human berry, but for the intervention of friendly
assistance and counsel.
In the town where she lived was a lady of honorable condition,
somewhat past middle age, who was possessed of pretty ample means, of
cultivated tastes, of excellent principles, of exemplary character,
and of more than common accomplishments. The gentleman in black
broadcloth and white neckerchief only echoed the common voice about
her, when he called her, after enjoying, beneath her hospitable roof,
an excellent cup of tea, with certain elegancies and luxuries he was.
unaccustomed to, "The Model of all the Virtues."
She deserved this title as well as almost any woman. She did really
bristle with moral excellences. Mention any good thing she had not
done; I should like to see you try! There was no handle of weakness
to take hold of her by; she was as unseizable, except in her
totality, as a billiard-ball; and on the broad, green, terrestrial
table, where she had been knocked about, like all of us, by the cue
of Fortune, she glanced from every human contact, and "caromed" from
one relation to another, and rebounded from the stuffed cushion of
temptation, with such exact and perfect angular movements, that the
Enemy's corps of Reporters had long given up taking notes of her
conduct, as there was no chance for their master.
What an admirable person for the patroness and directress of a
slightly self-willed child, with the lightning zigzag line of genius
running like a glittering vein through the marble whiteness of her
virgin nature! One of the lady-patroness's peculiar virtues was
calmness. She was resolute and strenuous, but still. You could
depend on her for every duty; she was as true as steel. She was
kind-hearted and serviceable in all the relations of life. She had
more sense, more knowledge, more conversation, as well as more
goodness, than all the partners you have waltzed with this winter put
Yet no man was known to have loved her, or even to have offered
himself to her in marriage. It was a great wonder. I am very
anxious to vindicate my character as a philosopher and an observer of
Nature by accounting for this apparently extraordinary fact.
You may remember certain persons who have the misfortune of
presenting to the friends whom they meet a cold, damp hand. There
are states of mind in which a contact of this kind has a depressing
effect on the vital powers that makes us insensible to all the
virtues and graces of the proprietor of one of these life-absorbing
organs. When they touch us, virtue passes out of us, and we feel as
if our electricity had been drained by a powerful negative battery,
carried about by an overgrown human torpedo.
"The Model of all the Virtues" had a pair of searching eyes as clear
as Wenham ice; but they were slower to melt than that fickle jewelry.
Her features disordered themselves slightly at times in a surface-
smile, but never broke loose from their corners and indulged in the
riotous tumult of a laugh,--which, I take it, is the mob-law of the
features;--and propriety the magistrate who reads the riot-act. She
carried the brimming cup of her inestimable virtues with a cautious,
steady hand, and an eye always on them, to see that they did not
spill. Then she was an admirable judge of character. Her mind was a
perfect laboratory of tests and reagents; every syllable you put into
breath went into her intellectual eudiometer, and all your thoughts
were recorded on litmus-paper. I think there has rarely been a more
admirable woman. Of course, Miss Iris was immensely and passionately
attached to her.--Well,--these are two highly oxygenated adverbs,--
grateful,--suppose we say,--yes,--grateful, dutiful, obedient to her
wishes for the most part,--perhaps not quite up to the concert pitch
of such a perfect orchestra of the virtues.
We must have a weak spot or two in a character before we can love it
much. People that do not laugh or cry, or take more of anything than
is good for them, or use anything but dictionary-words, are admirable
subjects for biographies. But we don't always care most for those
flat-pattern flowers that press best in the herbarium.
This immaculate woman,--why could n't she have a fault or two?
Is n't there any old whisper which will tarnish that wearisome
aureole of saintly perfection? Does n't she carry a lump of opium in
her pocket? Is n't her cologne-bottle replenished oftener than its
legitimate use would require? It would be such a comfort!
Not for the world would a young creature like Iris have let such
words escape her, or such thoughts pass through her mind. Whether at
the bottom of her soul lies any uneasy consciousness of an oppressive
presence, it is hard to say, until we know more about her. Iris sits
between the Little Gentleman and the "Model of all the Virtues," as
the black-coated personage called her.--I will watch them all.
--Here I stop for the present. What the Professor said has had to
make way this time for what he saw and heard.
-And now you may read these lines, which were written for gentle
souls who love music, and read in even tones, and, perhaps, with
something like a smile upon the reader's lips, at a meeting where
these musical friends had gathered. Whether they were written with
smiles or not, you can guess better after you have read them.
THE OPENING OF THE PIANO.
In the little southern parlor of the house you may have seen
With the gambrel-roof, and the gable looking westward to the green,
At the side toward the sunset, with the window on its right,
Stood the London-made piano I am dreaming of to-night.
Ah me! how I remember the evening when it came!
What a cry of eager voices, what a group of cheeks in flame,
When the wondrous boa was opened that had come from over seas,
With its smell of mastic-varnish and its flash of ivory keys!
Then the children all grew fretful in the restlessness of joy,
For the boy would push his sister, and the sister crowd the boy,
Till the father asked for quiet in his grave paternal way,
But the mother hushed the tumult with the words, "Now, Mary, play."
For the dear soul knew that music was a very sovereign balm;
She had sprinkled it over Sorrow and seen its brow grow calm,
In the days of slender harpsichords with tapping tinkling quills,
Or caroling to her spinet with its thin metallic thrills.
So Mary, the household minstrel, who always loved to please,
Sat down to the new "Clementi," and struck the glittering keys.
Hushed were the children's voices, and every eye grew dim,
As, floating from lip and finger, arose the "Vesper Hymn."
--Catharine, child of a neighbor, curly and rosy-red,
(Wedded since, and a widow,--something like ten years dead,)
Hearing a gush of music such as none before,
Steals from her mother's chamber and peeps at the open door.
Just as the "Jubilate " in threaded whisper dies,
--"Open it! open it, lady!" the little maiden cries,
(For she thought't was a singing creature caged in a box she heard,)
"Open it! open it, lady! and let me see the bird!"
I don't know whether our literary or professional people are more
amiable than they are in other places, but certainly quarrelling is
out of fashion among them. This could never be, if they were in the
habit of secret anonymous puffing of each other. That is the kind of
underground machinery which manufactures false reputations and
genuine hatreds. On the other hand, I should like to know if we are
not at liberty to have a good time together, and say the pleasantest
things we can think of to each other, when any of us reaches his
thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth or eightieth birthday.
We don't have "scenes," I warrant you, on these occasions. No
"surprise" parties! You understand these, of course. In the rural
districts, where scenic tragedy and melodrama cannot be had, as in
the city, at the expense of a quarter and a white pocket-
handkerchief, emotional excitement has to be sought in the dramas of
real life. Christenings, weddings, and funerals, especially the
latter, are the main dependence; but babies, brides, and deceased
citizens cannot be had at a day's notice. Now, then, for a surprise-
A bag of flour, a barrel of potatoes, some strings of onions, a
basket of apples, a big cake and many little cakes, a jug of
lemonade, a purse stuffed with bills of the more modest
denominations, may, perhaps, do well enough for the properties in one
of these private theatrical exhibitions. The minister of the parish,
a tender-hearted, quiet, hard-working man, living on a small salary,
with many children, sometimes pinched to feed and clothe them,
praying fervently every day to be blest in his "basket and store,"
but sometimes fearing he asks amiss, to judge by the small returns,
has the first role,--not, however, by his own choice, but forced upon
him. The minister's wife, a sharp-eyed, unsentimental body, is first
lady; the remaining parts by the rest of the family. If they only
had a playbill, it would run thus:
ON TUESDAY NEXT
WILL BE PRESENTED
THE AFFECTING SCENE
THE OVERCOME FAMILY;
WITH THE FOLLOWING STRONG CAST OF CHARACTERS.
The Rev. Mr. Overcome, by the Clergyman of this Parish.
Mrs. Overcome, by his estimable lady.
Masters Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Overcome,
Misses Dorcas, Tabitha, Rachel, and Hannah, Overcome, by their
Peggy, by the female help.
The poor man is really grateful;--it is a most welcome and unexpected
relief. He tries to express his thanks,--his voice falters,--he
chokes,--and bursts into tears. That is the great effect of the
evening. The sharp-sighted lady cries a little with one eye, and
counts the strings of onions, and the rest of the things, with the
other. The children stand ready for a spring at the apples. The
female help weeps after the noisy fashion of untutored handmaids.
Now this is all very well as charity, but do let the kind visitors
remember they get their money's worth. If you pay a quarter for dry
crying, done by a second-rate actor, how much ought you to pay for
real hot, wet tears, out of the honest eyes of a gentleman who is not
acting, but sobbing in earnest?
All I meant to say, when I began, was, that this was not a surprise-
party where I read these few lines that follow:
We will not speak of years to-night;
For what have years to bring,
But larger floods of love and light
And sweeter songs to sing?
We will not drown in wordy praise
The kindly thoughts that rise;
If friendship owns one tender phrase,
He reads it in our eyes.
We need not waste our schoolboy art
To gild this notch of time;
Forgive me, if my wayward heart
Has throbbed in artless rhyme.
Enough for him the silent grasp
That knits us hand in hand,
And he the bracelet's radiant clasp
That locks our circling band.
Strength to his hours of manly toil!
Peace to his starlit dreams!
Who loves alike the furrowed soil,
The music-haunted streams!
Sweet smiles to keep forever bright
The sunshine on his lips,
And faith, that sees the ring of light
Round Nature's last eclipse!
--One of our boarders has been talking in such strong language that I
am almost afraid to report it. However, as he seems to be really
honest and is so very sincere in his local prejudices, I don't
believe anybody will be very angry with him.
It is here, Sir! right here!--said the little deformed gentleman,--
in this old new city of Boston,--this remote provincial corner of a
provincial nation, that the Battle of the Standard is fighting, and
was fighting before we were born, and will be fighting when we are
dead and gone,--please God! The battle goes on everywhere throughout
civilization; but here, here, here is the broad white flag flying
which proclaims, first of all, peace and good-will to men, and, next
to that, the absolute, unconditional spiritual liberty of each
individual immortal soul! The three-hilled city against the seven-
hilled city! That is it, Sir,--nothing less than that; and if you
know what that means, I don't think you'll ask for anything more. I
swear to you, Sir, I believe that these two centres of civilization
are just exactly the two points that close the circuit in the battery
of our planetary intelligence! And I believe there are spiritual
eyes looking out from Uranus and unseen Neptune,--ay, Sir, from the
systems of Sirius and Arcturus and Aldebaran, and as far as that
faint stain of sprinkled worlds confluent in the distance that we
call the nebula of Orion,--looking on, Sir, with what organs I know
not, to see which are going to melt in that fiery fusion, the
accidents and hindrances of humanity or man himself, Sir,--the
stupendous abortion, the illustrious failure that he is, if the
three-hilled city does not ride down and trample out the seven-hilled
--Steam 's up!--said the young man John, so called, in a low tone.
--Three hundred and sixty-five tons to the square inch. Let him blow
her off, or he'll bu'st his b'iler.
The divinity-student took it calmly, only whispering that he thought
there was a little confusion of images between a galvanic battery and
a charge of cavalry.
But the Koh-i-noor--the gentleman, you remember, with a very large
diamond in his shirt-front laughed his scornful laugh, and made as if
Sail in, Metropolis!--said that same young man John, by name. And
then, in a lower lane, not meaning to be heard,--Now, then, Ma'am
But he was heard,--and the Koh-i-noor's face turned so white with
rage, that his blue-black moustache and beard looked fearful, seen
against it. He grinned with wrath, and caught at a tumbler, as if he
would have thrown it or its contents at the speaker. The young
Marylander fixed his clear, steady eye upon him, and laid his hand on
his arm, carelessly almost, but the Jewel found it was held so that
he could not move it. It was of no use. The youth was his master in
muscle, and in that deadly Indian hug in which men wrestle with their
eyes;--over in five seconds, but breaks one of their two backs, and
is good for threescore years and ten;--one trial enough,--settles the
whole matter,--just as when two feathered songsters of the barnyard,
game and dunghill, come together,-after a jump or two at each other,
and a few sharp kicks, there is the end of it; and it is, Apres vous,
Monsieur, with the beaten party in all the social relations for all
the rest of his days.
I cannot philosophically account for the Koh-i-noor's wrath. For
though a cosmetic is sold, bearing the name of the lady to whom
reference was made by the young person John, yet, as it is publicly
asserted in respectable prints that this cosmetic is not a dye, I see
no reason why he should have felt offended by any suggestion that he
was indebted to it or its authoress.
I have no doubt that there are certain exceptional complexions to
which the purple tinge, above alluded to, is natural. Nature is
fertile in variety. I saw an albiness in London once, for sixpence,
(including the inspection of a stuffed boa-constrictor,) who looked
as if she had been boiled in milk. A young Hottentot of my
acquaintance had his hair all in little pellets of the size of
marrow-fat peas. One of my own classmates has undergone a singular
change of late years,--his hair losing its original tint, and getting
a remarkable discolored look; and another has ceased to cultivate any
hair at all over the vertex or crown of the head. So I am perfectly
willing to believe that the purple-black of the Koh-i-noor's
moustache and whiskers is constitutional and not pigmentary. But I
can't think why he got so angry.
The intelligent reader will understand that all this pantomime of the
threatened onslaught and its suppression passed so quickly that it
was all over by the time the other end of the table found out there
was a disturbance; just as a man chopping wood half a mile off may be
seen resting on his axe at the instant you hear the last blow he
struck. So you will please to observe that the Little Gentleman was
not, interrupted during the time implied by these ex-post-facto
remarks of mine, but for some ten or fifteen seconds only.
He did not seem to mind the interruption at all, for he started
again. The "Sir" of his harangue was no doubt addressed to myself
more than anybody else, but he often uses it in discourse as if he
were talking with some imaginary opponent.
--America, Sir,--he exclaimed,--is the only place where man is full-
He straightened himself up, as he spoke, standing on the top round of
his high chair, I suppose, and so presented the larger part of his
little figure to the view of the boarders.
It was next to impossible to keep from laughing. The commentary was
so strange an illustration of the text! I thought it was time to put
in a word; for I have lived in foreign parts, and am more or less
I doubt if we have more practical freedom in America than they have
in England,---I said.--An Englishman thinks as he likes in religion
and politics. Mr. Martineau speculates as freely as ever Dr.
Channing did, and Mr. Bright is as independent as Mr. Seward.
Sir,--said he,--it is n't what a man thinks or says; but when and
where and to whom he thinks and says it. A man with a flint and
steel striking sparks over a wet blanket is one thing, and striking
them over a tinder-box is another. The free Englishman is born under
protest; he lives and dies under protest,--a tolerated, but not a
welcome fact. Is not freethinker a term of reproach in England? The
same idea in the soul of an Englishman who struggled up to it and
still holds it antagonistically, and in the soul of an American to
whom it is congenital and spontaneous, and often unrecognized, except
as an element blended with all his thoughts, a natural movement, like
the drawing of his breath or the beating of his heart, is a very
different thing. You may teach a quadruped to walk on his hind legs,
but he is always wanting to be on all fours. Nothing that can be
taught a growing youth is like the atmospheric knowledge he breathes
from his infancy upwards. The American baby sucks in freedom with
the milk of the breast at which he hangs.
--That's a good joke,--said the young fellow John,--considerin' it
commonly belongs to a female Paddy.
I thought--I will not be certain--that the Little Gentleman winked,
as if he had been hit somewhere--as I have no doubt Dr. Darwin did
when the wooden-spoon suggestion upset his theory about why, etc. If
he winked, however, he did not dodge.
A lively comment!--he said.--But Rome, in her great founder, sucked
the blood of empire out of the dugs of a brute, Sir! The Milesian
wet-nurse is only a convenient vessel through which the American
infant gets the life-blood of this virgin soil, Sir, that is making
man over again, on the sunset pattern! You don't think what we are
doing and going to do here. Why, Sir, while commentators are
bothering themselves with interpretation of prophecies, we have got
the new heavens and the new earth over us and under us! Was there
ever anything in Italy, I should like to know, like a Boston sunset?
--This time there was a laugh, and the little man himself almost
Yes,--Boston sunsets;--perhaps they're as good in some other places,
but I know 'em best here. Anyhow, the American skies are different
from anything they see in the Old World. Yes, and the rocks are
different, and the soil is different, and everything that comes out
of the soil, from grass up to Indians, is different. And now that
the provisional races are dying out-
--What do you mean by the provisional races, Sir?--said the divinity-
student, interrupting him.
Why, the aboriginal bipeds, to be sure,--he answered,--the red-crayon
sketch of humanity laid on the canvas before the colors for the real
manhood were ready.
I hope they will come to something yet,--said the divinity-student.
Irreclaimable, Sir,--irreclaimable!--said the Little Gentleman.
--Cheaper to breed white men than domesticate a nation of red ones.
When you can get the bitter out of the partridge's thigh, you can
make an enlightened commonwealth of Indians. A provisional race,
Sir,--nothing more. Exhaled carbonic acid for the use of vegetation,
kept down the bears and catamounts, enjoyed themselves in scalping
and being scalped, and then passed away or are passing away,
according to the programme.
Well, Sir, these races dying out, the white man has to acclimate
himself. It takes him a good while; but he will come all right by-
and-by, Sir,--as sound as a woodchuck,--as sound as a musquash!
A new nursery, Sir, with Lake Superior and Huron and all the rest of
'em for wash-basins! A new race, and a whole new world for the new-
born human soul to work in! And Boston is the brain of it, and has
been any time these hundred years! That's all I claim for Boston,--
that it is the thinking centre of the continent, and therefore of the
--And the grand emporium of modesty,--said the divinity-student, a
Oh, don't talk to me of modesty!--answered the Little Gentleman,--I
'm past that! There is n't a thing that was ever said or done in
Boston, from pitching the tea overboard to the last ecclesiastical
lie it tore into tatters and flung into the dock, that was n't
thought very indelicate by some fool or tyrant or bigot, and all the
entrails of commercial and spiritual conservatism are twisted into
colics as often as this revolutionary brain of ours has a fit of
thinking come over it.--No, Sir,--show me any other place that is,
or was since the megalosaurus has died out, where wealth and social
influence are so fairly divided between the stationary and the
progressive classes! Show me any other place where every other
drawing-room is not a chamber of the Inquisition, with papas and
mammas for inquisitors,--and the cold shoulder, instead of the "dry
pan and the gradual fire," the punishment of "heresy"!
--We think Baltimore is a pretty civilized kind of a village,--said
the young Marylander, good-naturedly.--But I suppose you can't
forgive it for always keeping a little ahead of Boston in point of
numbers,--tell the truth now. Are we not the centre of something?
Ah, indeed, to be sure you are. You are the gastronomic metropolis
of the Union. Why don't you put a canvas-back-duck on the top of the
Washington column? Why don't you get that lady off from Battle
Monument and plant a terrapin in her place? Why will you ask for
other glories when you have soft crabs? No, Sir,--you live too well
to think as hard as we do in Boston. Logic comes to us with the
salt-fish of Cape Ann; rhetoric is born of the beans of Beverly; but
you--if you open your mouths to speak, Nature stops them with a fat
oyster, or offers a slice of the breast of your divine bird, and
silences all your aspirations.
And what of Philadelphia?--said the Marylander.
Oh, Philadelphia?--Waterworks,--killed by the Croton and Cochituate;-
-Ben Franklin,--borrowed from Boston;--David Rittenhouse,--made an
orrery;--Benjamin Rush,--made a medical system;--both interesting to
antiquarians;--great Red-river raft of medical students,--spontaneous
generation of professors to match;--more widely known through the
Moyamensing hose-company, and the Wistar parties;-for geological
section of social strata, go to The Club.--Good place to live in,
--first-rate market,--tip-top peaches.--What do we know about
Philadelphia, except that the engine-companies are always shooting
And what do you say to New York?--asked the Koh-i-noor.
A great city, Sir,--replied the Little Gentleman,--a very opulent,
splendid city. A point of transit of much that is remarkable, and of
permanence for much that is respectable. A great money-centre. San
Francisco with the mines above-ground,--and some of 'em under the
sidewalks. I have seen next to nothing grandiose, out of New York,
in all our cities. It makes 'em all look paltry and petty. Has many
elements of civilization. May stop where Venice did, though, for
aught we know.--The order of its development is just this:--Wealth;
architecture; upholstery; painting; sculpture. Printing, as a
mechanical art,--just as Nicholas Jepson and the Aldi, who were
scholars too, made Venice renowned for it. Journalism, which is the
accident of business and crowded populations, in great perfection.
Venice got as far as Titian and Paul Veronese and Tintoretto,--great
colorists, mark you, magnificent on the flesh-and-blood side of Art,-
-but look over to Florence and see who lie in Santa Crocea, and ask
out of whose loins Dante sprung!
Oh, yes, to be sure, Venice built her Ducal Palace, and her Church of
St. Mark, and her Casa d' Or, and the rest of her golden houses; and
Venice had great pictures and good music; and Venice had a Golden
Book, in which all the large tax-payers had their names written;--but
all that did not make Venice the brain of Italy.
I tell you what, Sir,--with all these magnificent appliances of
civilization, it is time we began to hear something from the djinnis
donee whose names are on the Golden Book of our sumptuous, splendid,
marble-placed Venice,--something in the higher walks of literature,--
something in the councils of the nation. Plenty of Art, I grant you,
Sir; now, then, for vast libraries, and for mighty scholars and
thinkers and statesmen,--five for every Boston one, as the population
is to ours,--ten to one more properly, in virtue of centralizing
attraction as the alleged metropolis, and not call our people
provincials, and have to come begging to us to write the lives of
Hendrik Hudson and Gouverneur Morris!
--The Little Gentleman was on his hobby, exalting his own city at the
expense of every other place. I have my doubts if he had been in
either of the cities he had been talking about. I was just going to
say something to sober him down, if I could, when the young
Marylander spoke up.
Come, now,--he said,--what's the use of these comparisons? Did n't I
hear this gentleman saying, the other day, that every American owns
all America? If you have really got more brains in Boston than other
folks, as you seem to think, who hates you for it, except a pack of
scribbling fools? If I like Broadway better than Washington Street,
what then? I own them both, as much as anybody owns either. I am an
American,--and wherever I look up and see the stars and stripes
overhead, that is home to me!
He spoke, and looked up as if he heard the emblazoned folds crackling
over him in the breeze. We all looked up involuntarily, as if we
should see the national flag by so doing. The sight of the dingy
ceiling and the gas-fixture depending therefrom dispelled the
Bravo! bravo!--said the venerable gentleman on the other side of the
table.--Those are the sentiments of Washington's Farewell Address.
Nothing better than that since the last chapter in Revelations.
Five-and-forty years ago there used to be Washington societies, and
little boys used to walk in processions, each little boy having a
copy of the Address, bound in red, hung round his neck by a ribbon.
Why don't they now? Why don't they now? I saw enough of hating each
other in the old Federal times; now let's love each other, I say,--
let's love each other, and not try to make it out that there is n't
any place fit to live in except the one we happen to be born in.
It dwarfs the mind, I think,--said I,--to feed it on any localism.
The full stature of manhood is shrivelled--
The color burst up into my cheeks. What was I saying,--I, who would
not for the world have pained our unfortunate little boarder by an
I will go,--he said,--and made a movement with his left arm to let
himself down from his high chair.
No,--no,--he does n't mean it,--you must not go,--said a kind voice
next him; and a soft, white hand was laid upon his arm.
Iris, my dear!--exclaimed another voice, as of a female, in accents
that might be considered a strong atmospheric solution of duty with
very little flavor of grace.
She did not move for this address, and there was a tableau that
lasted some seconds. For the young girl, in the glory of half-blown
womanhood, and the dwarf, the cripple, the misshapen little creature
covered with Nature's insults, looked straight into each other's
Perhaps no handsome young woman had ever looked at him so in his
life. Certainly the young girl never had looked into eyes that
reached into her soul as these did. It was not that they were in
themselves supernaturally bright,--but there was the sad fire in them
that flames up from the soul of one who looks on the beauty of woman
without hope, but, alas! not without emotion. To him it seemed as if
those amber gates had been translucent as the brown water of a
mountain brook, and through them he had seen dimly into a virgin
wilderness, only waiting for the sunrise of a great passion for all
its buds to blow and all its bowers to ring with melody.
That is my image, of course,--not his. It was not a simile that was
in his mind, or is in anybody's at such a moment,--it was a pang of
wordless passion, and then a silent, inward moan.
A lady's wish,--he said, with a certain gallantry of manner,--makes
slaves of us all.--And Nature, who is kind to all her children, and
never leaves the smallest and saddest of all her human failures
without one little comfit of self-love at the bottom of his poor
ragged pocket,--Nature suggested to him that he had turned his
sentence well; and he fell into a reverie, in which the old thoughts
that were always hovering dust outside the doors guarded by Common
Sense, and watching for a chance to squeeze in, knowing perfectly
well they would be ignominiously kicked out again as soon as Common
Sense saw them, flocked in pell-mell,--misty, fragmentary, vague,
half-ashamed of themselves, but still shouldering up against his
inner consciousness till it warmed with their contact:--John
Wilkes's--the ugliest man's in England--saying, that with half-an-
hour's start he would cut out the handsomest man in all the land in
any woman's good graces; Cadenus--old and savage--leading captive
Stella and Vanessa; and then the stray line of a ballad, "And a
winning tongue had he,"--as much as to say, it is n't looks, after
all, but cunning words, that win our Eves over,--just as of old when
it was the worst-looking brute of the lot that got our grandmother to
listen to his stuff and so did the mischief.
Ah, dear me! We rehearse the part of Hercules with his club,
subjugating man and woman in our fancy, the first by the weight of
it, and the second by our handling of it,--we rehearse it, I say, by
our own hearth-stones, with the cold poker as our club, and the
exercise is easy. But when we come to real life, the poker is in the
fore, and, ten to one, if we would grasp it, we find it too hot to
hold;--lucky for us, if it is not white-hot, and we do not have to
leave the skin of our hands sticking to it when we fling it down or
drop it with a loud or silent cry!
--I am frightened when I find into what a labyrinth of human
character and feeling I am winding. I meant to tell my thoughts, and
to throw in a few studies of manner and costume as they pictured
themselves for me from day to day. Chance has thrown together at the
table with me a number of persons who are worth studying, and I mean
not only to look on them, but, if I can, through them. You can get
any man's or woman's secret, whose sphere is circumscribed by your
own, if you will only look patiently on them long enough. Nature is
always applying her reagents to character, if you will take the pains
to watch her. Our studies of character, to change the image, are
very much like the surveyor's triangulation of a geographical
province. We get a base-line in organization, always; then we get an
angle by sighting some distant object to which the passions or
aspirations of the subject of our observation are tending; then
another;--and so we construct our first triangle. Once fix a man's
ideals, and for the most part the rest is easy. A wants to die worth
half a million. Good. B (female) wants to catch him,--and outlive
him. All right. Minor details at our leisure.
What is it, of all your experiences, of all your thoughts, of all
your misdoings, that lies at the very bottom of the great heap of
acts of consciousness which make up your past life? What should you
most dislike to tell your nearest friend?--Be so good as to pause for
a brief space, and shut the volume you hold with your finger between
the pages.--Oh, that is it!
What a confessional I have been sitting at, with the inward ear of my
soul open, as the multitudinous whisper of my involuntary confidants
came back to me like the reduplicated echo of a cry among the craggy
At the house of a friend where I once passed the night was one of
those stately upright cabinet desks and cases of drawers which were
not rare in prosperous families during the last century. It had held
the clothes and the books and the papers of generation after
generation. The hands that opened its drawers had grown withered,
shrivelled, and at last been folded in death. The children that
played with the lower handles had got tall enough to open the desk,
to reach the upper shelves behind the folding-doors,--grown bent
after a while,--and then followed those who had gone before, and left
the old cabinet to be ransacked by a new generation.
A boy of ten or twelve was looking at it a few years ago, and, being
a quick-witted fellow, saw that all the space was not accounted for
by the smaller drawers in the part beneath the lid of the desk.
Prying about with busy eyes and fingers, he at length came upon a
spring, on pressing which, a secret drawer flew from its hiding-
place. It had never been opened but by the maker. The mahogany
shavings and dust were lying in it as when the artisan closed it,--
and when I saw it, it was as fresh as if that day finished.
Is there not one little drawer in your soul, my sweet reader, which
no hand but yours has ever opened, and which none that have known you
seem to have suspected? What does it hold?--A sin?--I hope not.
What a strange thing an old dead sin laid away in a secret drawer of
the soul is! Must it some time or other be moistened with tears,
until it comes to life again and begins to stir in our
consciousness,--as the dry wheel-animalcule, looking like a grain of
dust, becomes alive, if it is wet with a drop of water?
Or is it a passion? There are plenty of withered men and women
walking about the streets who have the secret drawer in their hearts,
which, if it were opened, would show as fresh as it was when they
were in the flush of youth and its first trembling emotions.
What it held will, perhaps, never be known, until they are dead and
gone, and same curious eye lights on an old yellow letter with the
fossil footprints of the extinct passion trodden thick all over it.
There is not a boarder at our table, I firmly believe, excepting the
young girl, who has not a story of the heart to tell, if one could
only get the secret drawer open. Even this arid female, whose armor
of black bombazine looks stronger against the shafts of love than any
cuirass of triple brass, has had her sentimental history, if I am not
mistaken. I will tell you my reason for suspecting it.
Like many other old women, she shows a great nervousness and
restlessness whenever I venture to express any opinion upon a class
of subjects which can hardly be said to belong to any man or set of
men as their strictly private property,--not even to the clergy, or
the newspapers commonly called "religious." Now, although it would
be a great luxury to me to obtain my opinions by contract, ready-
made, from a professional man, and although I have a constitutional
kindly feeling to all sorts of good people which would make me happy
to agree with all their beliefs, if that were possible, still I must
have an idea, now and then, as to the meaning of life; and though the
only condition of peace in this world is to have no ideas, or, at
least, not to express them, with reference to such subjects, I can't
afford to pay quite so much as that even for peace.
I find that there is a very prevalent opinion among the dwellers on
the shores of Sir Isaac Newton's Ocean of Truth, that salt, fish,
which have been taken from it a good while ago, split open, cured and
dried, are the only proper and allowable food for reasonable people.
I maintain, on the other hand, that there are a number of live fish
still swimming in it, and that every one of us has a right to see if
he cannot catch some of them. Sometimes I please myself with the
idea that I have landed an actual living fish, small, perhaps, but
with rosy gills and silvery scales. Then I find the consumers of
nothing but the salted and dried article insist that it is poisonous,
simply because it is alive, and cry out to people not to touch it. I
have not found, however, that people mind them much.
The poor boarder in bombazine is my dynamometer. I try every
questionable proposition on her. If she winces, I must be prepared
for an outcry from the other old women. I frightened her, the other
day, by saying that faith, as an intellectual state, was self-
reliance, which, if you have a metaphysical turn, you will find is
not so much of a paradox as it sounds at first. So she sent me a
book to read which was to cure me of that error. It was an old book,
and looked as if it had not been opened for a long time. What should
drop out of it, one day, but a small heart-shaped paper, containing a
lock of that straight, coarse, brown hair which sets off the sharp
faces of so many thin-flanked, large-handed bumpkins! I read upon
the paper the name "Hiram."--Love! love! love!--everywhere!
everywhere!--under diamonds and housemaids' "jewelry,"--lifting the
marrowy camel's-hair, and rustling even the black bombazine!--No,
no,--I think she never was pretty, but she was young once, and wore
bright ginghams, and, perhaps, gay merinos. We shall find that the
poor little crooked man has been in love, or is in love, or will be
in love before we have done with him, for aught that I know!
Romance! Was there ever a boarding-house in the world where the
seemingly prosaic table had not a living fresco for its background,
where you could see, if you had eyes, the smoke and fire of some
upheaving sentiment, or the dreary craters of smouldering or burnt-
out passions? You look on the black bombazine and high-necked
decorum of your neighbor, and no more think of the real life that
underlies this despoiled and dismantled womanhood than you think of a
stone trilobite as having once been full of the juices and the
nervous thrills of throbbing and self-conscious being. There is a
wild creature under that long yellow pin which serves as brooch for
the bombazine cuirass,--a wild creature, which I venture to say would
leap in his cage, if I should stir him, quiet as you think him. A
heart which has been domesticated by matrimony and maternity is as
tranquil as a tame bullfinch; but a wild heart which has never been
fairly broken in flutters fiercely long after you think time has
tamed it down,--like that purple finch I had the other day, which
could not be approached without such palpitations and frantic flings
against the bars of his cage, that I had to send him back and get a
little orthodox canary which had learned to be quiet and never mind
the wires or his keeper's handling. I will tell you my wicked, but
half involuntary experiment on the wild heart under the faded
Was there ever a person in the room with you, marked by any special
weakness or peculiarity, with whom you could be two hours and not
touch the infirm spot? I confess the most frightful tendency to do
just this thing. If a man has a brogue, I am sure to catch myself
imitating it. If another is lame, I follow him, or, worse than that,
go before him, limping.
I could never meet an Irish gentleman--if it had been the Duke of
Wellington himself--without stumbling upon the word "Paddy,"--which I
use rarely in my common talk.
I have been worried to know whether this was owing to some innate
depravity of disposition on my part, some malignant torturing
instinct, which, under different circumstances, might have made a
Fijian anthropophagus of me, or to some law of thought for which I
was not answerable. It is, I am convinced, a kind of physical fact
like endosmosis, with which some of you are acquainted. A thin film
of politeness separates the unspoken and unspeakable current of
thought from the stream of conversation. After a time one begins to
soak through and mingle with the other.
We were talking about names, one day.--Was there ever anything,--I
said,--like the Yankee for inventing the most uncouth, pretentious,
detestable appellations,--inventing or finding them,--since the time
of Praise-God Barebones? I heard a country-boy once talking of
another whom he called Elpit, as I understood him. Elbridge is
common enough, but this sounded oddly. It seems the boy was
christened Lord Pitt,--and called for convenience, as above. I have
heard a charming little girl, belonging to an intelligent family in
the country, called Anges invariably; doubtless intended for Agnes.
Names are cheap. How can a man name an innocent new-born child, that
never did him any harm, Hiram?--The poor relation, or whatever she
is, in bombazine, turned toward me, but I was stupid, and went on.--
To think of a man going through life saddled with such an abominable
name as that!--The poor relation grew very uneasy.--I continued;
for I never thought of all this till afterwards.--I knew one young
fellow, a good many years ago, by the name of Hiram--What's got
into you, Cousin,--said our landlady,--to look so?--There! you 've
upset your teacup!
It suddenly occurred to me what I had been doing, and I saw the poor
woman had her hand at her throat; she was half-choking with the
"hysteric ball,"--a very odd symptom, as you know, which nervous
women often complain of. What business had I to be trying
experiments on this forlorn old soul? I had a great deal better be
watching that young girl.
Ah, the young girl! I am sure that she can hide nothing from me.
Her skin is so transparent that one can almost count her heart-beats
by the flushes they send into her cheeks. She does not seem to be
shy, either. I think she does not know enough of danger to be timid.
She seems to me like one of those birds that travellers tell of,
found in remote, uninhabited islands, who, having never received any
wrong at the hand of man, show no alarm at and hardly any particular
consciousness of his presence.
The first thing will be to see how she and our little deformed
gentleman get along together; for, as I have told you, they sit side
by side. The next thing will be to keep an eye on the duenna,--the
"Model" and so forth, as the white-neck-cloth called her. The
intention of that estimable lady is, I understand, to launch her and
leave her. I suppose there is no help for it, and I don't doubt this
young lady knows how to take care of herself, but I do not like to
see young girls turned loose in boarding-houses. Look here now!
There is that jewel of his race, whom I have called for convenience
the Koh-i-noor, (you understand it is quite out of the question for
me to use the family names of our boarders, unless I want to get into
trouble,)--I say, the gentleman with the diamond is looking very
often and very intently, it seems to me, down toward the farther
corner of the table, where sits our amber-eyed blonde. The
landlady's daughter does not look pleased, it seems to me, at this,
nor at those other attentions which the gentleman referred to has, as
I have learned, pressed upon the newly-arrived young person. The
landlady made a communication to me, within a few days after the
arrival of Miss Iris, which I will repeat to the best of my
He, (the person I have been speaking of,)--she said,--seemed to be
kinder hankerin' round after that young woman. It had hurt her
daughter's feelin's a good deal, that the gentleman she was a-keepin'
company with should be offerin' tickets and tryin' to send presents
to them that he'd never know'd till jest a little spell ago,--and he
as good as merried, so fur as solemn promises went, to as respectable
a young lady, if she did say so, as any there was round, whosomever
they might be.
Tickets! presents!--said I.--What tickets, what presents has he had
the impertinence to be offering to that young lady?
Tickets to the Museum,--said the landlady. There is them that's glad
enough to go to the Museum, when tickets is given 'em; but some of
'em ha'n't had a ticket sence Cenderilla was played,--and now he must
be offerin' 'em to this ridiculous young paintress, or whatever she
is, that's come to make more mischief than her board's worth. But it
a'n't her fault,--said the landlady, relenting;--and that aunt of
hers, or whatever she is, served him right enough.
Why, what did she do?
Do? Why, she took it up in the tongs and dropped it out o' winder.
Dropped? dropped what?--I said.
Why, the soap,--said the landlady.
It appeared that the Koh-i-noor, to ingratiate himself, had sent an
elegant package of perfumed soap, directed to Miss Iris, as a
delicate expression of a lively sentiment of admiration, and that,
after having met with the unfortunate treatment referred to, it was
picked up by Master Benjamin Franklin, who appropriated it,
rejoicing, and indulged in most unheard-of and inordinate ablutions
in consequence, so that his hands were a frequent subject of maternal
congratulation, and he smelt like a civet-cat for weeks after his
After watching daily for a time, I think I can see clearly into the
relation which is growing up between the little gentleman and the
young lady. She shows a tenderness to him that I can't help being
interested in. If he was her crippled child, instead of being more
than old enough to be her father, she could not treat him more
kindly. The landlady's daughter said, the other day, she believed
that girl was settin' her cap for the Little Gentleman.
Some of them young folks is very artful,--said her mother,--and there
is them that would merry Lazarus, if he'd only picked up crumbs
enough. I don't think, though, this is one of that sort; she's
kinder childlike,--said the landlady,--and maybe never had any dolls
to play with; for they say her folks was poor before Ma'am undertook
to see to her teachin' and board her and clothe her.
I could not help overhearing this conversation. "Board her and
clothe her!"--speaking of such a young creature! Oh, dear!--Yes,--
she must be fed,--just like Bridget, maid-of-all-work at this
establishment. Somebody must pay for it. Somebody has a right to
watch her and see how much it takes to "keep" her, and growl at her,
if she has too good an appetite. Somebody has a right to keep an eye
on her and take care that she does not dress too prettily. No mother
to see her own youth over again in these fresh features and rising
reliefs of half-sculptured womanhood, and, seeing its loveliness,
forget her lessons of neutral-tinted propriety, and open the cases
that hold her own ornaments to find for her a necklace or a bracelet
or a pair of ear-rings,--those golden lamps that light up the deep,
shadowy dimples on the cheeks of young beauties,--swinging in a semi-
barbaric splendor that carries the wild fancy to Abyssinian queens
and musky Odalisques! I don't believe any woman has utterly given up
the great firm of Mundus & Co., so long as she wears ear-rings.
I think Iris loves to hear the Little Gentleman talk. She smiles
sometimes at his vehement statements, but never laughs at him. When
he speaks to her, she keeps her eye always steadily upon him. This
may be only natural good-breeding, so to speak, but it is worth
noticing. I have often observed that vulgar persons, and public
audiences of inferior collective intelligence, have this in common:
the least thing draws off their minds, when you are speaking to them.
I love this young creature's rapt attention to her diminutive
neighbor while he is speaking.
He is evidently pleased with it. For a day or two after she came, he
was silent and seemed nervous and excited. Now he is fond of getting
the talk into his own hands, and is obviously conscious that he has
at least one interested listener. Once or twice I have seen marks of
special attention to personal adornment, a ruffled shirt-bosom, one
day, and a diamond pin in it,--not so very large as the Koh-i-noor's,
but more lustrous. I mentioned the death's-head ring he wears on his
right hand. I was attracted by a very handsome red stone, a ruby or
carbuncle or something of the sort, to notice his left hand, the
other day. It is a handsome hand, and confirms my suspicion that the
cast mentioned was taken from his arm. After all, this is just what
I should expect. It is not very uncommon to see the upper limbs, or
one of them, running away with the whole strength, and, therefore,
with the whole beauty, which we should never have noticed, if it had
been divided equally between all four extremities. If it is so, of
course he is proud of his one strong and beautiful arm; that is human
nature. I am afraid he can hardly help betraying his favoritism, as
people who have any one showy point are apt to do,--especially
dentists with handsome teeth, who always smile back to their last
Sitting, as he does, next to the young girl, and next but one to the
calm lady who has her in charge, he cannot help seeing their
relations to each other.
That is an admirable woman, Sir,--he said to me one day, as we sat
alone at the table after breakfast,--an admirable woman, Sir,--and I
Of course, I begged an explanation.
An admirable woman, Sir, because she does good things, and even kind
things,--takes care of this--this--young lady--we have here, talks
like a sensible person, and always looks as if she was doing her duty
with all her might. I hate her because her voice sounds as if it
never trembled and her eyes look as if she never knew what it was to
cry. Besides, she looks at me, Sir, stares at me, as if she wanted
to get an image of me for some gallery in her brain,--and we don't
love to be looked at in this way, we that have--I hate her,--I hate
her,--her eyes kill me,--it is like being stabbed with icicles to be
looked at so,--the sooner she goes home, the better. I don't want a
woman to weigh me in a balance; there are men enough for that sort of
work. The judicial character is n't captivating in females, Sir. A
woman fascinates a man quite as often by what she overlooks as by
what she sees. Love prefers twilight to daylight; and a man doesn't
think much of, nor care much for, a woman outside of his household,
unless he can couple the idea of love, past, present, or future, with
her. I don't believe the Devil would give half as much for the
services of a sinner as he would for those of one of these folks that
are always doing virtuous acts in a way to make them unpleasing.
--That young girl wants a tender nature to cherish her and give her a
chance to put out her leaves,--sunshine, and not east winds.
He was silent,--and sat looking at his handsome left hand with the
red stone ring upon it.--Is he going to fall in love with Iris?
Here are some lines I read to the boarders the other day:--
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH
Ah, here it is! the sliding rail
That marks the old remembered spot,--
The gap that struck our schoolboy trail,--
The crooked path across the lot.
It left the road by school and church,
A pencilled shadow, nothing more,
That parted from the silver birch
And ended at the farmhouse door.
No line or compass traced its plan;
With frequent bends to left or right,
In aimless, wayward curves it ran,
But always kept the door in sight.
The gabled porch, with woodbine green,--
The broken millstone at the sill,--
Though many a rood might stretch between,
The truant child could see them still.
No rocks, across the pathway lie,--
No fallen trunk is o'er it thrown,--
And yet it winds, we know not why,
And turns as if for tree or stone.
Perhaps some lover trod the way
With shaking knees and leaping heart,--
And so it often runs astray
With sinuous sweep or sudden start.
Or one, perchance, with clouded brain
From some unholy banquet reeled,--
And since, our devious steps maintain
His track across the trodden field.
Nay, deem not thus,--no earthborn will
Could ever trace a faultless line;
Our truest steps are human still,--
To walk unswerving were divine!
Truants from love, we dream of wrath;--
Oh, rather let us trust the more!
Through all the wanderings of the path,
We still can see our Father's door!
The Professor finds a Fly in his Teacup.
I have a long theological talk to relate, which must be dull reading
to some of my young and vivacious friends. I don't know, however,
that any of them have entered into a contract to read all that I
write, or that I have promised always to write to please them. What
if I should sometimes write to please myself?
Now you must know that there are a great many things which interest
me, to some of which this or that particular class of readers may be
totally indifferent. I love Nature, and human nature, its thoughts,
affections, dreams, aspirations, delusions,--Art in all its forms,--
virtu in all its eccentricities,--old stories from black-letter
volumes and yellow manuscripts, and new projects out of hot brains
not yet imbedded in the snows of age. I love the generous impulses
of the reformer; but not less does my imagination feed itself upon
the old litanies, so often warmed by the human breath upon which they
were wafted to Heaven that they glow through our frames like our own
heart's blood. I hope I love good men and women; I know that they
never speak a word to me, even if it be of question or blame, that I
do not take pleasantly, if it is expressed with a reasonable amount
of human kindness.
I have before me at this time a beautiful and affecting letter, which
I have hesitated to answer, though the postmark upon it gave its
direction, and the name is one which is known to all, in some of its
representatives. It contains no reproach, only a delicately-hinted
fear. Speak gently, as this dear lady has spoken, and there is no
heart so insensible that it does not answer to the appeal, no
intellect so virile that it does not own a certain deference to the
claims of age, of childhood, of sensitive and timid natures, when
they plead with it not to look at those sacred things by the broad
daylight which they see in mystic shadow. How grateful would it be
to make perpetual peace with these pleading saints and their
confessors, by the simple act that silences all complainings! Sleep,
sleep, sleep! says the Arch-Enchantress of them all,--and pours her
dark and potent anodyne, distilled over the fires that consumed her
foes,--its large, round drops changing, as we look, into the beads of
her convert's rosary! Silence! the pride of reason! cries another,
whose whole life is spent in reasoning down reason.
I hope I love good people, not for their sake, but for my own. And
most assuredly, if any deed of wrong or word of bitterness led me
into an act of disrespect towards that enlightened and excellent
class of men who make it their calling to teach goodness and their
duty to practise it, I should feel that I had done myself an injury
rather than them. Go and talk with any professional man holding any
of the medieval creeds, choosing one who wears upon his features the
mark of inward and outward health, who looks cheerful, intelligent,
and kindly, and see how all your prejudices melt away in his
presence! It is impossible to come into intimate relations with a
large, sweet nature, such as you may often find in this class,
without longing to be at one with it in all its modes of being and
believing. But does it not occur to you that one may love truth as
he sees it, and his race as he views it, better than even the
sympathy and approbation of many good men whom he honors,--better
than sleeping to the sound of the Miserere or listening to the
repetition of an effete Confession of Faith?
The three learned professions have but recently emerged from a state
of quasi-barbarism. None of them like too well to be told of it, but
it must be sounded in their ears whenever they put on airs. When a
man has taken an overdose of laudanum, the doctors tell us to place
him between two persons who shall make him walk up and down
incessantly; and if he still cannot be kept from going to sleep, they
say that a lash or two over his back is of great assistance.
So we must keep the doctors awake by telling them that they have not
yet shaken off astrology and the doctrine of signatures, as is shown
by the form of their prescriptions, and their use of nitrate of
silver, which turns epileptics into Ethiopians. If that is not
enough, they must be given over to the scourgers, who like their task
and get good fees for it. A few score years ago, sick people were
made to swallow burnt toads and powdered earthworms and the expressed
juice of wood-lice. The physician of Charles I. and II. prescribed
abominations not to be named. Barbarism, as bad as that of Congo or
Ashantee. Traces of this barbarism linger even in the greatly
improved medical science of our century. So while the solemn farce
of over-drugging is going on, the world over, the harlequin pseudo-
science jumps on to the stage, whip in hand, with half-a-dozen
somersets, and begins laying about him.
In 1817, perhaps you remember, the law of wager by battle was
unrepealed, and the rascally murderous, and worse than murderous,
clown, Abraham Thornton, put on his gauntlet in open court and defied
the appellant to lift the other which he threw down. It was not
until the reign of George II. that the statutes against witchcraft
were repealed. As for the English Court of Chancery, we know that
its antiquated abuses form one of the staples of common proverbs and
popular literature. So the laws and the lawyers have to be watched
perpetually by public opinion as much as the doctors do.
I don't think the other profession is an exception. When the
Reverend Mr. Cauvin and his associates burned my distinguished
scientific brother,--he was burned with green fagots, which made it
rather slow and painful,--it appears to me they were in a state of
religious barbarism. The dogmas of such people about the Father of
Mankind and his creatures are of no more account in my opinion than
those of a council of Aztecs. If a man picks your pocket, do you not
consider him thereby disqualified to pronounce any authoritative
opinion on matters of ethics? If a man hangs my ancient female
relatives for sorcery, as they did in this neighborhood a little
while ago, or burns my instructor for not believing as he does, I
care no more for his religious edicts than I should for those of any
Of course, a barbarian may hold many true opinions; but when the
ideas of the healing art, of the administration of justice, of
Christian love, could not exclude systematic poisoning, judicial
duelling, and murder for opinion's sake, I do not see how we can
trust the verdict of that time relating to any subject which involves
the primal instincts violated in these abominations and absurdities.
--What if we are even now in a state of semi-barbarism?
[This physician believes we "are even now in a state of semi-
barbarism": invasive procedures for the prolongation of death rather
than prolongation of life; "faith",as slimly based as medieval faith
in minute differences between control and treated groups; statistical
manipulation to prove a prejudice. Medicine has a good deal to
answer for! D.W.]
Perhaps some think we ought not to talk at table about such things.
--I am not so sure of that. Religion and government appear to me the
two subjects which of all others should belong to the common talk of
people who enjoy the blessings of freedom. Think, one moment. The
earth is a great factory-wheel, which, at every revolution on its
axis, receives fifty thousand raw souls and turns off nearly the same
number worked up more or less completely. There must be somewhere a
population of two hundred thousand million, perhaps ten or a hundred
times as many, earth-born intelligences. Life, as we call it, is
nothing but the edge of the boundless ocean of existence where it
comes on soundings. In this view, I do not see anything so fit to
talk about, or half so interesting, as that which relates to the
innumerable majority of our fellow-creatures, the dead-living, who
are hundreds of thousands to one of the live-living, and with whom we
all potentially belong, though we have got tangled for the present in
some parcels of fibrine, albumen, and phosphates, that keep us on the
minority side of the house. In point of fact, it is one of the many
results of Spiritualism to make the permanent destiny of the race a
matter of common reflection and discourse, and a vehicle for the
prevailing disbelief of the Middle-Age doctrines on the subject. I
cannot help thinking, when I remember how many conversations my
friend and myself have sported, that it would be very extraordinary,
if there were no mention of that class of subjects which involves all
that we have and all that we hope, not merely for ourselves, but for
the dear people whom we love best,--noble men, pure and lovely women,
ingenuous children, about the destiny of nine tenths of whom you know
the opinions that would have been taught by those old man-roasting,
woman-strangling dogmatists.--However, I fought this matter with one
of our boarders the other day, and I am going to report the
The divinity-student came down, one morning, looking rather more
serious than usual. He said little at breakfast-time, but lingered
after the others, so that I, who am apt to be long at the table,
found myself alone with him.
When the rest were all gone, he turned his chair round towards mine,
I am afraid,--he said,--you express yourself a little too freely on a
most important class of subjects. Is there not danger in introducing
discussions or allusions relating to matters of religion into common
Danger to what?--I asked.
Danger to truth,--he replied, after a slight pause.
I didn't know Truth was such an invalid,' I said.--How long is it
since she could only take the air in a close carriage, with a
gentleman in a black coat on the box? Let me tell you a story,
adapted to young persons, but which won't hurt older ones.
--There was a very little boy who had one of those balloons you may
have seen, which are filled with light gas, and are held by a string
to keep them from running off in aeronautic voyages on their own
account. This little boy had a naughty brother, who said to him, one
day,--Brother, pull down your balloon, so that I can look at it and
take hold of it. Then the little boy pulled it down. Now the
naughty brother had a sharp pin in his hand, and he thrust it into
the balloon, and all the gas oozed out, so that there was nothing
left but a shrivelled skin.
One evening, the little boy's father called him to the window to see
the moon, which pleased him very much; but presently he said,--
Father, do not pull the string and bring down the moon, for my
naughty brother will prick it, and then it will all shrivel up and we
shall not see it any more.
Then his father laughed, and told him how the moon had been shining a
good while, and would shine a good while longer, and that all we
could do was to keep our windows clean, never letting the dust get
too thick on them, and especially to keep our eyes open, but that we
could not pull the moon down with a string, nor prick it with a pin.
--Mind you this, too, the moon is no man's private property, but is
seen from a good many parlor-windows.
--Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch; nay,
you may kick it about all day, like a football, and it will be round
and full at evening. Does not Mr. Bryant say, that Truth gets well
if she is run over by a locomotive, while Error dies of lockjaw if
she scratches her finger? [Would that this was so:--error,
superstition, mysticism, authoritarianism, pseudo-science all have a
tenacity that survives inexplicably. D.W.] I never heard that a
mathematician was alarmed for the safety of a demonstrated
proposition. I think, generally, that fear of open discussion
implies feebleness of inward conviction, and great sensitiveness to
the expression of individual opinion is a mark of weakness.
--I am not so much afraid for truth,--said the divinity-student,--as
for the conceptions of truth in the minds of persons not accustomed
to judge wisely the opinions uttered before them.
Would you, then, banish all allusions to matters of this nature from
the society of people who come together habitually?
I would be very careful in introducing them,--said the divinity-
Yes, but friends of yours leave pamphlets in people's entries, to be
picked up by nervous misses and hysteric housemaids, full of
doctrines these people do not approve. Some of your friends stop
little children in the street, and give them books, which their
parents, who have had them baptized into the Christian fold and give
them what they consider proper religious instruction, do not think
fit for them. One would say it was fair enough to talk about matters
thus forced upon people's attention.
The divinity-student could not deny that this was what might be
called opening the subject to the discussion of intelligent people.
But,--he said,--the greatest objection is this, that persons who have
not made a professional study of theology are not competent to speak
on such subjects. Suppose a minister were to undertake to express
opinions on medical subjects, for instance, would you not think he
was going beyond his province?
I laughed,--for I remembered John Wesley's "sulphur and
supplication," and so many other cases where ministers had meddled
with medicine,--sometimes well and sometimes ill, but, as a general
rule, with a tremendous lurch to quackery, owing to their very loose
way of admitting evidence,--that I could not help being amused.
I beg your pardon,--I said,--I do not wish to be impolite, but I was
thinking of their certificates to patent medicines. Let us look at
If a minister had attended lectures on the theory and practice of
medicine, delivered by those who had studied it most deeply, for
thirty or forty years, at the rate of from fifty to one hundred a
year,--if he had been constantly reading and hearing read the most
approved text-books on the subject,--if he had seen medicine actually
practised according to different methods, daily, for the same length
of time,--I should think, that if a person of average understanding,
he was entitled to express an opinion on the subject of medicine, or
else that his instructors were a set of ignorant and incompetent
If, before a medical practitioner would allow me to enjoy the full
privileges of the healing art, he expected me to affirm my belief in
a considerable number of medical doctrines, drugs, and formulae, I
should think that he thereby implied my right to discuss the same,
and my ability to do so, if I knew how to express myself in English.
Suppose, for instance, the Medical Society should refuse to give us
an opiate, or to set a broken limb, until we had signed our belief in
a certain number of propositions,--of which we will say this is the
I. All men's teeth are naturally in a state of total decay or
caries, and, therefore, no man can bite until every one of them is
extracted and a new set is inserted according to the principles of
dentistry adopted by this Society.
I, for one, should want to discuss that before signing my name to it,
and I should say this:--Why, no, that is n't true. There are a good
many bad teeth, we all know, but a great many more good ones. You
must n't trust the dentists; they are all the time looking at the
people who have bad teeth, and such as are suffering from toothache.
The idea that you must pull out every one of every nice young man and
young woman's natural teeth! Poh, poh! Nobody believes that. This
tooth must be straightened, that must be filled with gold, and this
other perhaps extracted, but it must be a very rare case, if they are
all so bad as to require extraction; and if they are, don't blame the
poor soul for it! Don't tell us, as some old dentists used to, that
everybody not only always has every tooth in his head good for
nothing, but that he ought to have his head cut off as a punishment
for that misfortune! No, I can't sign Number One. Give us Number
II. We hold that no man can be well who does not agree with our
views of the efficacy of calomel, and who does not take the doses of
it prescribed in our tables, as there directed.
To which I demur, questioning why it should be so, and get for answer
the two following:
III. Every man who does not take our prepared calomel, as prescribed
by us in our Constitution and By-Laws, is and must be a mass of
disease from head to foot; it being self-evident that he is
simultaneously affected with Apoplexy, Arthritis, Ascites, Asphyxia,
and Atrophy; with Borborygmus, Bronchitis, and Bulimia; with
Cachexia, Carcinoma, and Cretinismus; and so on through the alphabet,
to Xerophthahnia and Zona, with all possible and incompatible
diseases which are necessary to make up a totally morbid state; and
he will certainly die, if he does not take freely of our prepared
calomel, to be obtained only of one of our authorized agents.
IV. No man shall be allowed to take our prepared calomel who does
not give in his solemn adhesion to each and all of the above-named
and the following propositions (from ten to a hundred) and show his
mouth to certain of our apothecaries, who have not studied dentistry,
to examine whether all his teeth have been extracted and a new set
inserted according to our regulations.
Of course, the doctors have a right to say we sha'n't have any
rhubarb, if we don't sign their articles, and that, if, after signing
them, we express doubts (in public), about any of them, they will cut
us off from our jalap and squills,--but then to ask a fellow not to
discuss the propositions before he signs them is what I should call
boiling it down a little too strong!
If we understand them, why can't we discuss them? If we can't
understand them, because we have n't taken a medical degree, what the
Father of Lies do they ask us to sign them for?
Just so with the graver profession. Every now and then some of its
members seem to lose common sense and common humanity. The laymen
have to keep setting the divines right constantly. Science, for
instance,--in other words, knowledge,--is not the enemy of religion;
for, if so, then religion would mean ignorance: But it is often the
antagonist of school-divinity.
Everybody knows the story of early astronomy and the school-divines.
Come down a little later, Archbishop Usher, a very learned Protestant
prelate, tells us that the world was created on Sunday, the twenty-
third of October, four thousand and four years before the birth of
Christ. Deluge, December 7th, two thousand three hundred and forty-
eight years B. C. Yes, and the earth stands on an elephant, and the
elephant on a tortoise. One statement is as near the truth as the
Again, there is nothing so brutalizing to some natures as moral
surgery. I have often wondered that Hogarth did not add one more
picture to his four stages of Cruelty. Those wretched fools,
reverend divines and others, who were strangling men and women for
imaginary crimes a little more than a century ago among us, were set
right by a layman, and very angry it made them to have him meddle.
The good people of Northampton had a very remarkable man for their
clergyman,--a man with a brain as nicely adjusted for certain
mechanical processes as Babbage's calculating machine. The
commentary of the laymen on the preaching and practising of Jonathan
Edwards was, that, after twenty-three years of endurance, they turned
him out by a vote of twenty to one, and passed a resolve that he
should never preach for them again. A man's logical and analytical
adjustments are of little consequence, compared to his primary
relations with Nature and truth: and people have sense enough to find
it out in the long ran; they know what "logic" is worth.
In that miserable delusion referred to above, the reverend Aztecs and
Fijians argued rightly enough from their premises, no doubt, for many
men can do this. But common sense and common humanity were
unfortunately left out from their premises, and a layman had to
supply them. A hundred more years and many of the barbarisms still
lingering among us will, of course, have disappeared like witch-
hanging. But people are sensitive now, as they were then. You will
see by this extract that the Rev. Cotton Mather did not like
intermeddling with his business very well.
"Let the Levites of the Lord keep close to their Instructions," he
says, "and God will smite thro' the loins of those that rise up
against them. I will report unto you a Thing which many Hundreds
among us know to be true. The Godly Minister of a certain Town in
Connecticut, when he had occasion to be absent on a Lord's Day from
his Flock, employ'd an honest Neighbour of some small Talents for a
Mechanick, to read a Sermon out of some good Book unto 'em. This
Honest, whom they ever counted also a Pious Man, had so much conceit
of his Talents, that instead of Reading a Sermon appointed, he to the
Surprize of the People, fell to preaching one of his own. For his
Text he took these Words, 'Despise not Prophecyings'; and in his
Preachment he betook himself to bewail the Envy of the Clergy in the
Land, in that they did not wish all the Lord's People to be Prophets,
and call forth Private Brethren publickly to prophesie. While he was
thus in the midst of his Exercise, God smote him with horrible
Madness; he was taken ravingly distracted; the People were forc'd
with violent Hands to carry him home. I will not mention his Name:
He was reputed a Pious Man."--This is one of Cotton Mather's
"Remarkable Judgments of God, on Several Sorts of Offenders,"--and
the next cases referred to are the Judgments on the "Abominable
Sacrilege" of not paying the Ministers' Salaries.
This sort of thing does n't do here and now, you see, my young
friend! We talk about our free institutions;--they are nothing but a
coarse outside machinery to secure the freedom of individual thought.
The President of the United States is only the engine driver of our
broad-gauge mail-train; and every honest, independent thinker has a
seat in the first-class cars behind him.
--There is something in what you say,--replied the divinity-student;-
-and yet it seems to me there are places and times where disputed
doctrines of religion should not be introduced. You would not attack
a church dogma--say Total Depravity--in a lyceum-lecture, for
Certainly not; I should choose another place,--I answered.--But,
mind you, at this table I think it is very different. I shall
express my ideas on any subject I like. The laws of the lecture-
room, to which my friends and myself are always amenable, do not hold
here. I shall not often give arguments, but frequently opinions,--I
trust with courtesy and propriety, but, at any rate, with such
natural forms of expression as it has pleased the Almighty to bestow
A man's opinions, look you, are generally of much more value than his
arguments. These last are made by his brain, and perhaps he does not
believe the proposition they tend to prove,--as is often the case
with paid lawyers; but opinions are formed by our whole nature,--
brain, heart, instinct, brute life, everything all our experience has
shaped for us by contact with the whole circle of our being.
--There is one thing more,--said the divinity-student,--that I wished
to speak of; I mean that idea of yours, expressed some time since, of
depolarizing the text of sacred books in order to judge them fairly.
May I ask why you do not try the experiment yourself?
Certainly,--I replied,--if it gives you any pleasure to ask foolish
questions. I think the ocean telegraph-wire ought to be laid and
will be laid, but I don't know that you have any right to ask me to
go and lay it. But, for that matter, I have heard a good deal of
Scripture depolarized in and out of the pulpit. I heard the Rev.
Mr. F. once depolarize the story of the Prodigal Son in Park-Street
Church. Many years afterwards, I heard him repeat the same or a
similar depolarized version in Rome, New York. I heard an admirable
depolarization of the story of the young man who "had great
possessions" from the Rev. Mr. H. in another pulpit, and felt that
I had never half understood it before. All paraphrases are more or
less perfect depolarizations. But I tell you this: the faith of our
Christian community is not robust enough to bear the turning of our
most sacred language into its depolarized equivalents. You have only
to look back to Dr. Channing's famous Baltimore discourse and
remember the shrieks of blasphemy with which it was greeted, to
satisfy yourself on this point. Time, time only, can gradually wean
us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas
of the thing signified. Man is an idolater or symbol-worshipper by
nature, which, of course, is no fault of his; but sooner or later all
his local and temporary symbols must be ground to powder, like the
golden calf,--word-images as well as metal and wooden ones. Rough
work, iconoclasm,--but the only way to get at truth. It is, indeed,
as that quaint and rare old discourse, "A Summons for Sleepers," hath
it, "no doubt a thankless office, and a verie unthriftie occupation;
veritas odium parit, truth never goeth without a scratcht face; he
that will be busie with voe vobis, let him looke shortly for coram
The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may
think what we like and say what we think.
--Think what we like!--said the divinity-student;--think what we
like! What! against all human and divine authority?
Against all human versions of its own or any other authority. At our
own peril always, if we do not like the right,--but not at the risk
of being hanged and quartered for political heresy, or broiled on
green fagots for ecclesiastical treason! Nay, we have got so far,
that the very word heresy has fallen into comparative disuse among
And now, my young friend, let-us shake hands and stop our discussion,
which we will not make a quarrel. I trust you know, or will learn, a
great many things in your profession which we common scholars do not
know; but mark this: when the common people of New England stop
talking politics and theology, it will be because they have got an
Emperor to teach them the one, and a Pope to teach them the other!
That was the end of my long conference with the divinity-student.
The next morning we got talking a little on the same subject, very
good-naturedly, as people return to a matter they have talked out.
You must look to yourself,--said the divinity-student,--if your
democratic notions get into print. You will be fired into from all
If it were only a bullet, with the marksman's name on it!--I said.
--I can't stop to pick out the peep-shot of the anonymous scribblers.
Right, Sir! right!--said the Little Gentleman. The scamps! I know
the fellows. They can't give fifty cents to one of the Antipodes,
but they must have it jingled along through everybody's palms all the
way, till it reaches him,--and forty cents of it gets spilt, like the
water out of the fire-buckets passed along a "lane" at a fire;--but
when it comes to anonymous defamation, putting lies into people's
mouths, and then advertising those people through the country as the
authors of them,--oh, then it is that they let not their left hand
know what their right hand doeth!
I don't like Ehud's style of doing business, Sir. He comes along
with a very sanctimonious look, Sir, with his "secret errand unto
thee," and his "message from God unto thee," and then pulls out his
hidden knife with that unsuspected hand of his,---(the Little
Gentleman lifted his clenched left hand with the blood-red jewel on
the ring-finger,)--and runs it, blade and haft, into a man's stomach!
Don't meddle with these fellows, Sir. They are read mostly by
persons whom you would not reach, if you were to write ever so much.
Let 'em alone. A man whose opinions are not attacked is beneath
I hope so,--I said.--I got three pamphlets and innumerable squibs
flung at my head for attacking one of the pseudo-sciences, in former
years. When, by the permission of Providence, I held up to the
professional public the damnable facts connected with the conveyance
of poison from one young mother's chamber to another's,--for doing
which humble office I desire to be thankful that I have lived, though
nothing else good should ever come of my life,--I had to bear the
sneers of those whose position I had assailed, and, as I believe,
have at last demolished, so that nothing but the ghosts of dead women
stir among the ruins.--What would you do, if the folks without names
kept at you, trying to get a San Benito on to your shoulders that
would fit you?--Would you stand still in fly-time, or would you give
a kick now and then?
Let 'em bite!--said the Little Gentleman,--let 'em bite! It makes
'em hungry to shake 'em off, and they settle down again as thick as
ever and twice as savage. Do you know what meddling with the folks
without names, as you call 'em, is like?--It is like riding at the
quintaan. You run full tilt at the board, but the board is on a
pivot, with a bag of sand on an arm that balances it. The board
gives way as soon as you touch it; and before you have got by, the
bag of sand comes round whack on the back of your neck. "Ananias,"
for instance, pitches into your lecture, we will say, in some paper
taken by the people in your kitchen. Your servants get saucy and
negligent. If their newspaper calls you names, they need not be so
particular about shutting doors softly or boiling potatoes. So you
lose your temper, and come out in an article which you think is going
to finish "Ananias," proving him a booby who doesn't know enough to
understand even a lyceum-lecture, or else a person that tells lies.
Now you think you 've got him! Not so fast. "Ananias" keeps still
and winks to "Shimei," and "Shimei" comes out in the paper which they
take in your neighbor's kitchen, ten times worse than t'other fellow.
If you meddle with "Shimei," he steps out, and next week appears
"Rab-shakeh," an unsavory wretch; and now, at any rate, you find out
what good sense there was in Hezekiah's "Answer him not."--No, no,--
keep your temper.--So saying, the Little Gentleman doubled his left
fist and looked at it as if he should like to hit something or
somebody a most pernicious punch with it.
Good!--said I.--Now let me give you some axioms I have arrived at,
after seeing something of a great many kinds of good folks.
--Of a hundred people of each of the different leading religious
sects, about the same proportion will be safe and pleasant persons to
deal and to live with.
--There are, at least, three real saints among the women to one among
the men, in every denomination.
--The spiritual standard of different classes I would reckon thus:
1. The comfortably rich.
2. The decently comfortable.
3. The very rich, who are apt to be irreligious.
4. The very poor, who are apt to be immoral.
--The cut nails of machine-divinity may be driven in, but they won't
--The arguments which the greatest of our schoolmen could not refute
were two: the blood in men's veins, and the milk in women's breasts.
--Humility is the first of the virtues--for other people.
--Faith always implies the disbelief of a lesser fact in favor of a
greater. A little mind often sees the unbelief, without seeing the
belief of a large one.
The Poor Relation had been fidgeting about and working her mouth
while all this was going on. She broke out in speech at this point.
I hate to hear folks talk so. I don't see that you are any better
than a heathen.
I wish I were half as good as many heathens have been,--I said.
--Dying for a principle seems to me a higher degree of virtue than
scolding for it; and the history of heathen races is full of
instances where men have laid down their lives for the love of their
kind, of their country, of truth, nay, even for simple manhood's
sake, or to show their obedience or fidelity. What would not such
beings have done for the souls of men, for the Christian
commonwealth, for the King of Kings, if they had lived in days of
larger light? Which seems to you nearest heaven, Socrates drinking
his hemlock, Regulus going back to the enemy's camp, or that old New
England divine sitting comfortably in his study and chuckling over
his conceit of certain poor women, who had been burned to death in
his own town, going "roaring out of one fire into another"?
I don't believe he said any such thing,--replied the Poor Relation.
It is hard to believe,--said I,--but it is true for all that. In
another hundred years it will be as incredible that men talked as we
sometimes hear them now.
Pectus est quod facit theologum. The heart makes the theologian.
Every race, every civilization, either has a new revelation of its
own or a new interpretation of an old one. Democratic America, has a
different humanity from feudal Europe, and so must have a new
divinity. See, for one moment, how intelligence reacts on our
faiths. The Bible was a divining-book to our ancestors, and is so
still in the hands of some of the vulgar. The Puritans went to the
Old Testament for their laws; the Mormons go to it for their
patriarchal institution. Every generation dissolves something new
and precipitates something once held in solution from that great
storehouse of temporary and permanent truths.
You may observe this: that the conversation of intelligent men of the
stricter sects is strangely in advance of the formula that belong to
their organizations. So true is this, that I have doubts whether a
large proportion of them would not have been rather pleased than
offended, if they could have overheard our, talk. For, look you, I
think there is hardly a professional teacher who will not in private
conversation allow a large part of what we have said, though it may
frighten him in print; and I know well what an under-current of
secret sympathy gives vitality to those poor words of mine which
sometimes get a hearing.
I don't mind the exclamation of any old stager who drinks Madeira
worth from two to six Bibles a bottle, and burns, according to his
own premises, a dozen souls a year in the cigars with which he
muddles his brains. But as for the good and true and intelligent men
whom we see all around us, laborious, self-denying, hopeful,
helpful,--men who know that the active mind of the century is tending
more and more to the two poles, Rome and Reason, the sovereign church
or the free soul, authority or personality, God in us or God in our
masters, and that, though a man may by accident stand half-way
between these two points, he must look one way or the other,--I don't
believe they would take offence at anything I have reported of our
But supposing any one do take offence at first sight, let him look
over these notes again, and see whether he is quite sure he does not
agree with most of these things that were said amongst us. If he
agrees with most of them, let him be patient with an opinion he does
not accept, or an expression or illustration a little too vivacious.
I don't know that I shall report any more conversations on these
topics; but I do insist on the right to express a civil opinion on
this class of subjects without giving offence, just when and where I
please,---unless, as in the lecture-room, there is an implied
contract to keep clear of doubtful matters. You did n't think a man
could sit at a breakfast-table doing nothing but making puns every
morning for a year or two, and never give a thought to the two
thousand of his fellow-creatures who are passing into another state
during every hour that he sits talking and laughing. Of course, the
one matter that a real human being cares for is what is going to
become of them and of him. And the plain truth is, that a good many
people are saying one thing about it and believing another.
--How do I know that? Why, I have known and loved to talk with good
people, all the way from Rome to Geneva in doctrine, as long as I can
remember. Besides, the real religion of the world comes from women
much more than from men,--from mothers most of all, who carry the key
of our souls in their bosoms. It is in their hearts that the
"sentimental" religion some people are so fond of sneering at has its
source. The sentiment of love, the sentiment of maternity, the
sentiment of the paramount obligation of the parent to the child as
having called it into existence, enhanced just in proportion to the
power and knowledge of the one and the weakness and ignorance of the
other,--these are the "sentiments" that have kept our soulless
systems from driving men off to die in holes like those that riddle
the sides of the hill opposite the Monastery of St. Saba, where the
miserable victims of a falsely-interpreted religion starved and
withered in their delusion.
I have looked on the face of a saintly woman this very day, whose
creed many dread and hate, but whose life is lovely and noble beyond
all praise. When I remember the bitter words I have heard spoken
against her faith, by men who have an Inquisition which
excommunicates those who ask to leave their communion in peace, and
an Index Expurgatorius on which this article may possibly have the
honor of figuring,--and, far worse than these, the reluctant,
pharisaical confession, that it might perhaps be possible that one
who so believed should be accepted of the Creator,--and then recall
the sweet peace and love that show through all her looks, the price
of untold sacrifices and labors, and again recollect how thousands of
women, filled with the same spirit, die, without a murmur, to earthly
life, die to their own names even, that they may know nothing but
their holy duties,--while men are torturing and denouncing their
fellows, and while we can hear day and night the clinking of the
hammers that are trying, like the brute forces in the "Prometheus,"
to rivet their adamantine wedges right through the breast of human
nature,--I have been ready to believe that we have even now a new
revelation, and the name of its Messiah is WOMAN!
--I should be sorry,--I remarked, a day or two afterwards, to the
divinity-student,--if anything I said tended in any way to foster any
jealousy between the professions, or to throw disrespect upon that
one on whose counsel and sympathies almost all of us lean in our
moments of trial. But we are false to our new conditions of life, if
we do not resolutely maintain our religious as well as our political
freedom, in the face of any and all supposed monopolies. Certain men
will, of course, say two things, if we do not take their views:
first, that we don't know anything about these matters; and,
secondly, that we are not so good as they are. They have a polarized
phraseology for saying these things, but it comes to precisely that.
To which it may be answered, in the first place, that we have good
authority for saying that even babes and sucklings know something;
and, in the second, that, if there is a mote or so to be removed from
our premises, the courts and councils of the last few years have
found beams enough in some other quarters to build a church that
would hold all the good people in Boston and have sticks enough left
to make a bonfire for all the heretics.
As to that terrible depolarizing process of mine, of which we were
talking the other day, I will give you a specimen of one way of
managing it, if you like. I don't believe it will hurt you or
anybody. Besides, I had a great deal rather finish our talk with
pleasant images and gentle words than with sharp sayings, which will
only afford a text, if anybody repeats them, for endless relays of
attacks from Messrs. Ananias, Shimei, and Rabshakeh.
[I must leave such gentry, if any of them show themselves, in the
hands of my clerical friends, many of whom are ready to stand up for
the rights of the laity,--and to those blessed souls, the good women,
to whom this version of the story of a mother's hidden hopes and
tender anxieties is dedicated by their peaceful and loving servant.]
A MOTHER'S SECRET.
How sweet the sacred legend--if unblamed
In my slight verse such holy things are named--
Of Mary's secret hours of hidden joy,
Silent, but pondering on her wondrous boy!
Ave, Maria! Pardon, if I wrong
Those heavenly words that shame my earthly song!
The choral host had closed the angel's strain
Sung to the midnight watch on Bethlehem's plain;
And now the shepherds, hastening on their way,
Sought the still hamlet where the Infant lay.
They passed the fields that gleaning Ruth toiled O'er,
They saw afar the ruined threshing-floor
Where Moab's daughter, homeless and forlorn,
Found Boaz slumbering by his heaps of corn;
And some remembered how the holy scribe,
Skilled in the lore of every jealous tribe,
Traced the warm blood of Jesse's royal son
To that fair alien, bravely wooed and won.
So fared they on to seek the promised sign
That marked the anointed heir of David's line.
At last, by forms of earthly semblance led,
They found the crowded inn, the oxen's shed.
No pomp was there, no glory shone around
On the coarse straw that strewed the reeking ground;
One dim retreat a flickering torch betrayed,
In that poor cell the Lord of Life was laid!
The wondering shepherds told their breathless tale
Of the bright choir that woke the sleeping vale;
Told how the skies with sudden glory flamed;
Told how the shining multitude proclaimed
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