Part 2 out of 5
and stretches them through and through, till you feel yourself turning
into one long spiral spring from finger-tips to toes. In cricket or
base-ball, a player runs, strikes, watches, catches, throws, must learn
endurance also. Yet, no matter which of these may be your special hobby,
you must, if you wish to use all the days and all the muscles, seek the
gymnasium at last,--the only thorough panacea.
The history of modern gymnastic exercises is easily written: it is
proper to say modern,--for, so far as apparatus goes, the ancient
gymnasiums seem to have had scarcely anything in common with our own.
The first institution on the modern plan was founded at Schnepfenthal,
near Gotha, in Germany, in 1785, by Salzmann, a clergyman and the
principal of a boys' school. After eight years of experience, his
assistant, Gutsmuths, wrote a book upon the subject, which was
translated into English, and published at London in 1799 and at
Philadelphia in 1800, under the name of "Salzmann's Gymnastics." No
similar institution seems to have existed in either country, however,
till those established by Voelckers, in London, in 1824, and by Dr.
Follen, at Cambridge, Mass., in 1826. Both were largely patronized
at first, and died out at last. The best account of Voelckers's
establishment will be found in Hone's "Every-Day Book"; its plan seems
to have been unexceptionable. But Dr. James Johnson, writing his
"Economy of Health" ten years after, declared that these German
exercises had proved "better adapted to the Spartan youth than to the
pallid sons of pampered cits, the dandies of the desk, and the squalid
tenants of attics and factories," and also adds the epitaph, "This
ultra-gymnastic enthusiast did much injury to an important branch of
hygiene by carrying it to excess, and consequently by causing its
desuetude." And Dr. Jarvis, in his "Practical Physiology," declares the
unquestionable result of the American experiment to have been "general
Accordingly, the English, who are reputed kings in all physical
exercises, have undoubtedly been far surpassed by the Germans, and
even by the French, in gymnastics. The writer of the excellent little
"Handbook for Gymnastics," George Forrest, M.A., testifies strongly to
this deficiency. "It is curious that we English, who possess perhaps
the finest and strongest figures of all European nations, should leave
ourselves so undeveloped bodily. There is not one man in a hundred who
can even raise his toes to a level with his hands, when suspended by the
later members; and yet to do so is at the very beginning of gymnastic
exercises. We, as a rule, are strong in the arms and legs, but weak
across the loins and back, and are apparently devoid of that beautiful
set of muscles that run round the entire waist, and show to such
advantage in the ancient statues. Indeed, at a bathing-place, I can pick
out every gymnast merely by the development of those muscles."
It is the Germans and the military portion of the French nation,
chiefly, who have developed gymnastic exercises to their present
elaboration, while the working out of their curative applications was
chiefly due to Ling, a Swede. In the German manuals, such, for instance,
as Eiselen's "Turnuebungen," are to be found nearly all the stock
exercises of our institutions. Until within a few years, American skill
has added nothing to these, except through the medium of the circus; but
the present revival of athletic exercises is rapidly placing American
gymnasts in advance of the _Turners_, both in the feats performed and
in the style of doing them. Never yet have I succeeded in seeing a
thoroughly light and graceful German gymnast, while again and again I
have seen Americans who carried into their severest exercise such
an airy, floating elegance of motion, that all the beauty of Greek
sculpture appeared to return again, and it seemed as if plastic art
might once more make its studio in the gymnasium.
The apparatus is not costly. Any handful of young men in the smallest
country-village, with a very few dollars and a little mechanical skill,
can put up in any old shed or shoe-shop a few simple articles of
machinery, which will, through many a winter evening, vary the monotony
of the cigar and the grocery-bench by an endless variety of manly
competitions. Fifteen cents will bring by mail from the publishers of
the "Atlantic" Forrest's little sixpenny "Handbook," which gives a
sufficient number of exercises to form an introduction to all others;
and a gymnasium is thus easily established. This is just the method of
the simple and sensible Germans, who never wait for elegant upholstery.
A pair of plain parallel bars, a movable vaulting-bar, a wooden horse,
a spring-board, an old mattress to break the fall, a few settees where
sweethearts and wives may sit with their knitting as spectators, and
there is a _Turnhalle_ complete,--to be henceforward filled, two or
three nights in every week, with cheery German faces, jokes, laughs,
gutturals, and gambols.
But this suggests that you are being kept too long in the anteroom. Let
me act as cicerone through this modest gymnastic hall of ours. You will
better appreciate all this oddly shaped apparatus, if I tell you in
advance, as a connoisseur does in his picture-gallery, precisely what
you are expected to think of each particular article.
You will notice, however, that a part of the gymnastic class are
exercising without apparatus, in a series of rather grotesque movements
which supple and prepare the body for more muscular feats: these are
calisthenic exercises. Such are being at last introduced, thanks to Dr.
Lewis and others, into our common schools. At the word of command, as
swiftly as a conjuror twists his puzzle-paper, these living forms are
shifted from one odd resemblance to another, at which it is quite lawful
to laugh, especially if those laugh who win. A series of windmills,--a
group of inflated balloons,--a flock of geese all asleep on one leg,--a
circle of ballet-dancers, just poised to begin,--a band of patriots
just kneeling to take an oath upon their country's altar,--a senate of
tailors,--a file of soldiers,--a whole parish of Shaker worshippers,--a
Japanese embassy performing _Ko-tow_: these all in turn come like
shadows,--so depart. This complicated attitudinizing forms the
preliminary to the gymnastic hour. But now come and look at some of the
Here is a row of Indian clubs, or sceptres, as they are sometimes
called,--tapering down from giants of fifteen pounds to dwarfs of four.
Help yourself to a pair of dwarfs, at first; grasp one in each hand,
by the handle; swing one of them round your head quietly, dropping the
point behind as far as possible,--then the other,--and so swing them
alternately some twenty times. Now do the same back-handed, bending the
wrist outward, and carrying the club behind the head first. Now
swing them both together, crossing them in front, and then the same
back-handed; then the same without crossing, and this again backward,
which you will find much harder. Place them on the ground gently after
each set of processes. Now can you hold them out horizontally at arm's
length, forward and then sideways? Your arms quiver and quiver, and down
come the clubs thumping at last. Take them presently in a different and
more difficult manner, holding each club with the point erect instead of
hanging down; it tries your wrists, you will find, to manipulate them
so, yet all the most graceful exercises have this for a basis. Soon you
will gain the mastery of heavier implements than you begin with, and
will understand how yonder slight youth has learned to handle his two
heavy clubs in complex curves that seem to you inexplicable, tracing
in the air a device as swift and tangled as that woven by a swarm of
gossamer flies above a brook, in the sultry stillness of the summer
This row of masses of iron, laid regularly in order of size, so as to
resemble something between a musical instrument and a gridiron, consists
of dumb-bells weighing from four pounds to a hundred. These playthings,
suited to a variety of capacities, have experienced a revival of favor
within a few years, and the range of exercises with them has been
greatly increased. The use of very heavy ones is, so far as I can find,
a peculiarly American hobby, though not originating with Dr. Windship.
Even he, at the beginning of his exhibitions, used those weighing only
ninety-eight pounds; and it was considered an astonishing feat, when,
a little earlier, Mr. Richard Montgomery used to "put up" a dumb-bell
weighing one hundred and one pounds. A good many persons, in different
parts of the country, now handle one hundred and twenty-five, and Dr.
Windship has got much farther on. There is, of course, a knack in
using these little articles, as in every other feat, yet it takes good
extensor muscles to get beyond the fifties. The easiest way of elevating
the weight is to swing it up from between the knees; or it may be thrown
up from the shoulder, with a simultaneous jerk of the whole body; but
the only way of doing it handsomely is to put it up from the shoulder
with the arm alone, without bending the knee, though you may bend the
body as much as you please. Dr. Windship now puts up one hundred and
forty-one pounds in this manner, and by the aid of a jerk can elevate
one hundred and eighty with one arm. This particular movement with
dumb-bells is most practised, as affording a test of strength; but there
are many other ways of using them, all exceedingly invigorating, and all
safe enough, unless the weight employed be too great, which it is very
apt to be. Indeed, there is so much danger of this, that at Cambridge it
has been deemed best to exclude all beyond seventy pounds. Nevertheless,
the dumb-bell remains the one available form of home or office exercise:
it is a whole athletic apparatus packed up in the smallest space; it is
gymnastic pemmican. With one fifty-pound dumb-bell, or a pair of half
that size--or more or less, according to his strength and habits,--a
man may exercise nearly every muscle in his body in half an hour, if he
has sufficient ingenuity in positions. If it were one's fortune to be
sent to prison,--and the access to such retirement is growing more and
more facile in many regions of our common country,--one would certainly
wish to carry a dumb-bell with him, precisely as Dr. Johnson carried an
arithmetic in his pocket on his tour to the Hebrides, as containing the
greatest amount of nutriment in the compactest form.
Apparatus for lifting is not yet introduced into most gymnasiums, in
spite of the recommendations of the Roxbury Hercules: beside the fear
of straining, there is the cumbrous weight and cost of iron apparatus,
while, for some reason or other, no cheap and accurate dynamometer has
yet come into the market. Running and jumping, also, have as yet been
too much neglected in our institutions, or practised spasmodically
rather than systematically. It is singular how little pains have been
taken to ascertain definitely what a man can do with his body,--far
less, as Quetelet has observed, than in regard to any animal which man
has tamed, or any machine which he has invented. It is stated, for
instance, in Walker's "Manly Exercises," that six feet is the maximum
of a high leap, with a run,--and certainly one never finds in the
newspapers a record of anything higher; yet it is the English tradition,
that Ireland, of Yorkshire, could clear a string raised fourteen feet,
and that he once kicked a bladder at sixteen. No spring-board would
explain a difference so astounding. In the same way, Walker fixes the
limit of a long leap without a run at fourteen feet, and with a run at
twenty-two,--both being large estimates; and Thackeray makes his young
Virginian jump twenty-one feet and three inches, crediting George
Washington with a foot more. Yet the ancient epitaph of Phayllus the
Crotonian claimed for him nothing less than fifty-five feet, on an
inclined plane. Certainly the story must have taken a leap also.
These ladders, aspiring indefinitely into the air, like Piranesi's
stairways, are called technically peak-ladders; and dear banished
T.S.K., who always was puzzled to know why Mount Washington kept up such
a pique against the sky, would have found his joke fit these ladders
with great precision, so frequent the disappointment they create. But
try them, and see what trivial appendages one's legs may become,--since
the feet are not intended to touch these polished rounds. Walk up
backward on the under side, hand over hand, then forward; then go up
again, omitting every other round; then aspire to the third round, if
you will. Next grasp a round with both hands, give a slight swing of
the body, let go, and grasp the round above, and so on upward; then the
same, omitting one round, or more, if you can, and come down in the
same way. Can you walk up on _one_ hand? It is not an easy thing, but a
first-class gymnast will do it,--and Dr. Windship does it, taking only
every third round. Fancy a one-armed and legless hodman ascending the
under side of a ladder to the roof, and reflect on the conveniences of
Here is a wooden horse; on this noble animal the Germans say that not
less than three hundred distinct feats can be performed. Bring yonder
spring-board, and we will try a few. Grasp these low pommels and vault
over the horse, first to the right, then again to the left; then with
one hand each way. Now spring to the top and stand; now spring between
the hands forward, now backward; now take a good impetus, spread your
feet far apart, and leap over it, letting go the hands. Grasp the
pommels again and throw a somerset over it,--coming down on your feet,
if the Fates permit. Now vault up and sit upon the horse, at one end,
knees the same side; now grasp the pommels and whirl yourself round
till you sit at the other end, facing the other way. Now spring up and
bestride it, whirl round till you bestride it the other way, at the
other end; do it once again, and, letting go your hand, seat yourself in
the saddle. Now push away the spring-board and repeat every feat without
its aid. Next, take a run and spring upon the end of the horse astride;
then walk over, supporting yourself on your hands alone, the legs not
touching; then backward, the same. It will be hard to balance yourself
at first, and you will careen uneasily one way or the other; no matter,
you will get over it somehow. Lastly, mount once more, kneel in the
saddle, and leap to the ground. It appears at first ridiculously
impracticable, the knees seem glued to their position, and it looks
as if one would fall inevitably on his face; but falling is hardly
possible. Any novice can do it, if he will only have faith. You shall
learn to do it from the horizontal bar presently, where it looks much
But first you must learn some simpler exercises on this horizontal bar:
you observe that it is made movable, and may be placed as low as your
knee, or higher than your hand can reach. This bar is only five inches
in circumference; but it is remarkably strong and springy, and therefore
we hope secure, though for some exercises our boys prefer to substitute
a larger one. Try and vault it, first to the right, then to the left, as
you did with the horse; try first with one hand, then see how high
you can vault with both. Now vault it between your hands, forward and
backward: the latter will baffle you, unless you have brought an unusual
stock of India-rubber in your frame, to begin with. Raise it higher
and higher, till you can vault it no longer. Now spring up on the bar,
resting on your palms, and vault over from that position with a swing of
your body, without touching the ground; when you have once managed this,
you can vault as high as you can reach: double-vaulting this is called.
Now put the bar higher than your head; grasp it with your hands, and
draw yourself up till you look over it; repeat this a good many times:
capital practice this, as is usually said of things particularly
tiresome. Take hold of the bar again, and with a good spring from the
ground try to curl your body over it, feet foremost. At first, in all
probability, your legs will go angling in the air convulsively, and come
down with nothing caught; but ere long we shall see you dispense with
the spring from the ground and go whirling over and over, as if the bar
were the axle of a wheel and your legs the spokes. Now spring upon the
bar, supporting yourself on your palms, as before; put your hands a
little farther apart, with the thumbs forward, then suddenly bring up
your knees on the bar and let your whole body go over forward: you will
not fall, if your hands have a good grasp. Try it again with your feet
outside your hands, instead of between them; then once again flinging
your body off from the bar and describing a long curve with it, arms
stiff: this is called the Giant's Swing. Now hang to the bar by the
knees,--by both knees; do not try it yet with one; then seize the bar
with your hands and thrust the legs still farther and farther forward,
pulling with your arms at the same time, till you find yourself sitting
unaccountably on the bar itself. This our boys cheerfully denominate
"skinning the cat," because the sensations it suggests, on a first
experiment, are supposed to resemble those of pussy with her skin drawn
over her head; but, after a few experiments, it seems like stroking the
fur in the right direction, and grows rather pleasant.
Try now the parallel bars, the most invigorating apparatus of the
gymnasium, and in its beginnings "accessible to the meanest capacity,"
since there are scarcely any who cannot support themselves by the hands
on the bars, and not very many who cannot walk a few steps upon the
palms, at the first trial. Soon you will learn to swing along these bars
in long surges of motion, forward and backward; to go through them, in
a series of springs from the hand only, without a jerk of the knees; to
turn round and round between them, going forward or backward all the
while; to vault over them and under them in complicated ways; to turn
somersets in them and across them; to roll over and over on them as
a porpoise seems to roll in the sea. Then come the "low-standing"
exercises, the grasshopper style of business; supporting yourself now
with arms not straight, but bent at the elbow, you shall learn to raise
and lower your body and to hold or swing yourself as lightly in that
position as if you had not felt pinioned and paralyzed hopelessly at the
first trial; and whole new systems of muscles shall seem to shoot out
from your shoulder-blades to enable you to do what you could not have
dreamed of doing before. These bars are magical,--they are conduits of
power; you cannot touch them, you cannot rest your weight on them in the
slightest degree, without causing strength to flow into your body as
naturally and irresistibly as water into the aqueduct-pipe when you turn
it on. Do you but give the opportunity, and every pulsation of blood
from your heart is pledged for the rest.
These exercises, and such as these, are among the elementary lessons of
gymnastic training. Practise these thoroughly and patiently, and you
will in time attain evolutions more complicated, and, if you wish, more
perilous. Neglect these, to grasp at random after everything which you
see others doing, and you will fail like a bookkeeper who is weak in
the multiplication-table. The older you begin, the more gradual the
preparation must be. A respectable middle-aged citizen, bent on
improving his _physique_, goes into a gymnasium, and sees slight,
smooth-faced boys going gayly through a series of exercises which show
their bodies to be a triumph, not a drag, and he is assured that the
same might be the case with him. Off goes the coat of our enthusiast and
in he plunges; he gripes a heavy dumb-bell and strains one shoulder,
hauls at a weight-box and strains the other, vaults the bar and bruises
his knee, swings in the rings once or twice till his hand slips and he
falls to the floor. No matter, he thinks the cause demands sacrifices;
but he subsides, for the next fifteen minutes, into more moderate
exercises, which he still makes immoderate by his awkward way of doing
them. Nevertheless, he goes home, cheerful under difficulties, and will
try again to-morrow. To-morrow finds him stiff, lame, and wretched; he
cannot lift his arm to his face to shave, nor lower it sufficiently to
pull his boots on; his little daughter must help him with his shoes,
and the indignant wife of his bosom must put on his hat, with that
ineffectual one-sidedness to which alone the best-regulated female mind
can attain, in this difficult part of costuming. His sorrows increase
as the day passes; the gymnasium alone can relieve them, but his soul
shudders at the remedy; and he can conceive of nothing so absurd as a
first gymnastic lesson, except a second one. But had he been wise enough
to place himself under an experienced adviser at the very beginning, he
would have been put through a few simple movements which would have sent
him home glowing and refreshed and fancying himself half-way back to
boyhood again; the slight ache and weariness of next day would have
been cured by next day's exercise; and after six months' patience, by a
progress almost imperceptible, he would have found himself, in respect
to strength and activity, a transformed man.
Most of these discomforts, of course, are spared to boys; their frames
are more elastic and less liable to ache and strain. They learn
gymnastics, as they learn everything else, more readily than their
elders. Begin with a boy early enough, and if he be of a suitable
temperament, he can learn in the gymnasium all the feats usually seen in
the circus-ring, and could even acquire more difficult ones, if it were
worth his while to try them. This is true even of the air-somersets and
hand-springs which are not so commonly cultivated by gymnasts; but it is
especially true of all exercises with apparatus. It is astonishing how
readily our classes pick up any novelty brought into town by a strolling
company,--holding the body out horizontally from an upright pole, or
hanging by the back of the head, or touching the head to the heels,
though this last is oftener tried than accomplished. They may be seen
practising these antics, at all spare moments, for weeks, until some
later hobby drives them away. From Blondin downwards, the public feats
derive a large part of their wonder from the imposing height in the air
at which they are done. Many a young man who can swing himself more
than his own length on the horizontal ladder at the gymnasium has yet
shuddered at _l'echelle perilleuse_ of the Hanlons; and I noticed that
even the simplest of their performances, such as holding by one hand, or
hanging by the knees, seemed perfectly terrific when done at a height
of twenty or thirty feet in the air, even to those who had done them a
hundred times at a lower level. It was the nerve that was astounding,
not the strength or skill; but the eye found it hard to draw the
distinction. So when a gymnastic friend of mine, crossing the
ocean lately, amused himself with hanging by one leg to the
mizzen-topmast-stay, the boldest sailors shuddered, though the feat
itself was nothing, save to the imagination.
Indeed, it is almost impossible for an inexperienced spectator to form
the slightest opinion as to the comparative difficulty or danger of
different exercises, since it is the test of merit to make the hardest
things look easy. Moreover, there may be a distinction between two
feats almost imperceptible to the eye,--a change, for instance, in the
position of the hands on a bar,--which may at once transform the thing
from a trifle to a wonder. An unpractised eye can no more appreciate
the difficulty of a gymnastic exercise by seeing it executed, than an
inexperienced ear, of the perplexities of a piece of music by hearing it
The first effect of gymnastic exercise is almost always to increase the
size of the arms and the chest; and new-comers may commonly be known by
their frequent recourse to the tape-measure. The average increase among
the students of Harvard University during the first three months of the
gymnasium was nearly two inches in the chest, more than one inch in the
upper arm, and more than half an inch in the fore-arm. This was far
beyond what the unassisted growth of their age would account for; and
the increase is always very marked for a time, especially with thin
persons. In those of fuller habit the loss of flesh may counterbalance
the gain in muscle, so that size and weight remain the same; and in all
cases the increase stops after a time, and the subsequent change is
rather in texture than in volume. Mere size is no index of strength: Dr.
Windship is scarcely larger or heavier now than when he had not half his
In the vigor gained by exercise there is nothing false or morbid; it
is as reliable as hereditary strength, except that it is more easily
relaxed by indolent habits. No doubt it is aggravating to see some
robust, lazy giant come into the gymnasium for the first time, and by
hereditary muscle shoulder a dumb-bell which all your training has
not taught you to handle. No matter; it is by comparing yourself with
yourself that the estimate is to be made. As the writing-master exhibits
with triumph to each departing pupil the uncouth copy which he wrote
on entering, so it will be enough to you, if you can appreciate your
present powers with your original inabilities. When you first joined the
gymnastic class, you could not climb yonder smooth mast, even with all
your limbs brought into service; now you can do it with your hands
alone. When you came, you could not possibly, when hanging by your hands
to the horizontal bar, raise your feet as high as your head,--nor could
you, with any amount of spring from the ground, curl your body over the
bar itself; now you can hang at arm's length and fling yourself over it
a dozen times in succession. At first, if you lowered yourself with bent
elbows between the parallel bars, you could not by any manoeuvre get up
again, but sank to the ground a hopeless wreck; now you can raise and
lower yourself an indefinite number of times. As for the weights and
clubs and dumb-bells, you feel as if there must be some jugglery about
them,--they have grown so much lighter than they used to be. It is you
who have gained a double set of muscles to every limb; that is all.
Strike out from the shoulder with your clenched hand; once your arm was
loose-jointed and shaky; now it is firm and tense, and begins to feel
like a natural arm. Moreover, strength and suppleness have grown
together; you have not stiffened by becoming stronger, but find yourself
more flexible. When you first came here, you could not touch your
fingers to the ground without bending the knees, and now you can place
your knuckles on the floor; then you could scarcely bend yourself
backward, and now you can lay the back of your head in a chair, or walk,
without crouching forward, under a bar less than three feet from
the ground. You have found, indeed, that almost every feat is done
originally by sheer strength, and then by agility, requiring very little
expenditure of force after the precise motion is hit upon; at first
labor, puffing, and a red face,--afterwards ease and the graces.
To a person who begins after the age of thirty or thereabouts, the
increase of strength and suppleness, of course, comes more slowly; yet
it comes as surely, and perhaps it is a more permanent acquisition, less
easily lost again, than in the softer frame of early youth. There is no
doubt that men of sixty have experienced a decided gain in strength and
health by beginning gymnastic exercises even at that age, as Socrates
learned to dance at seventy; and if they have practised similar
exercises all their lives, so much is added to their chance of
preserving physical youthfulness to the last. Jerome and Gabriel Ravel
are reported to have spent near three-score years on the planet which
their winged feet have so lightly trod; and who will dare to say how
many winters have passed over the head of the still young and graceful
Dr. Windship's most important experience is, that strength is to a
certain extent identical with health, so that every increase in muscular
development is an actual protection against disease. Americans, who are
ashamed to confess to doing the most innocent thing for the sake of mere
enjoyment, must be cajoled into every form of exercise under the plea of
health. Joining, the other day, in a children's dance, I was amused by a
solemn parent who turned to me, in the midst of a Virginia reel, still
conscientious, though breathless, and asked if I did not consider
dancing to be, on the whole, a _healthy_ exercise? Well, the gymnasium
is healthy; but the less you dwell on that fact, the better, after you
have once entered it. If it does you good, you will enjoy it; and if
you enjoy it, it will do you good. With body, as with soul, the highest
experience merges duty in pleasure. The better one's condition is, the
less one has to think about growing better, and the more unconsciously
one's natural instincts guide the right way.
When ill, we eat to support life; when well, we eat because the food
tastes good. It is a merit of the gymnasium, that, when properly taken,
it makes one forget to think about health or anything else that is
troublesome; "a man remembereth neither sorrow nor debt"; cares must be
left outside, be they physical or metaphysical, like canes at the door
of a museum.
No doubt, to some it grows tedious. It shares this objection with all
means of exercise. To be an American is to hunger for novelty; and all
instruments and appliances, especially, require constant modification:
we are dissatisfied with last winter's skates, with the old boat, and
with the family pony. So the zealot finds the gymnasium insufficient
long before he has learned half the moves. To some temperaments it
becomes a treadmill, and that, strangely enough, to diametrically
opposite temperaments. A lethargic youth, requiring great effort to keep
himself awake between the exercises, thinks the gymnasium slow, because
he is; while an eager, impetuous young fellow, exasperated because
he cannot in a fortnight draw himself up by one hand, finds the same
trouble there as elsewhere, that the laws of Nature are not fast enough
for his inclinations. No one without energy, no one without patience,
can find permanent interest in a gymnasium; but with these qualities,
and a modest willingness to live and learn, I do not see why one should
ever grow tired of the moderate use of its apparatus. For one, I really
never enter it without exhilaration, or leave it without a momentary
regret: there are always certain special new things on the docket for
trial; and when those are settled, there will be something more. It is
amazing what a variety of interest can be extracted from those few bits
of wood and rope and iron. There is always somebody in advance, some
"man on horseback" on a wooden horse, some India-rubber hero, some
slight and powerful fellow who does with ease what you fail to do with
toil, some terrible Dr. Windship with an ever-waxing dumb-bell. The
interest becomes semi-professional. A good gymnast enjoys going into
a new and well-appointed establishment, precisely as a sailor enjoys
a well-rigged ship; every rope and spar is scanned with intelligent
interest; "we know the forest round us as seamen know the sea." The
pupils talk gymnasium as some men talk horse. A particularly smooth
and flexible horizontal pole, a desirable pair of parallel bars, a
remarkably elastic spring-board,--these are matters of personal pride,
and described from city to city with loving enthusiasm. The gymnastic
apostle rises to eloquence in proportion to the height of the
handswings, and points his climax to match the peak-ladders.
An objection frequently made to the gymnasium, and especially by anxious
parents, is the supposed danger of accident. But this peril is obviously
inseparable from all physical activity. If a man never leaves his house,
the chances undoubtedly are, that he will never break his leg, unless
upon the stairway; but if he is always to stay in the house, he might
as well have no legs at all. Certainly we incur danger every time we go
outside the front-door; but to remain always on the inside would prove
the greatest danger of the whole. When a man slips in the street and
dislocates his arm, we do not warn him against walking, but against
carelessness. When a man is thrown from his horse and gratifies the
surgeons by a beautiful case of compound fracture, we do not advise him
to avoid a riding-school, but to go to one. Trivial accidents are not
uncommon in the gymnasium, severe ones are rare, fatal ones almost
unheard-of,--which is far more than can be said of riding, driving,
hunting, boating, skating, or even "coasting" on a sled. Learning
gymnastics is like learning to swim,--you incur a small temporary risk
for the sake of acquiring powers that will lessen your risks in the end.
Your increased strength and agility will carry you past many unseen
perils hereafter, and the invigorated tone of your system will make
accidents less important, if they happen. Some trifling sprain causes
lameness for life, some slight blow brings on wasting disease, to
a person whose health is merely negative, not positive,--while a
well-trained frame throws it off in twenty-four hours. It is almost
proverbial of the gymnasium, that it cures its own wounds.
A minor objection is, that these exercises are not performed in the
open air. In summer, however, they may be, and in winter and in stormy
weather it is better that they should not be. Extreme cold is not
favorable to them; it braces, but stiffens; and the bars and ropes
become slippery and even dangerous. In Germany it is common to have a
double set of apparatus, out-doors and in-doors; and this would always
be desirable, but for the increased expense. Moreover, the gymnasium
should be taken in addition to out-door exercise, giving, for instance,
an hour a day to each, one for training, the other for oxygen. I know
promising gymnasts whose pallid complexions show that their blood is not
worthy of their muscle, and they will break down. But these cases are
rare, for the reason already hinted,--that nothing gives so good an
appetite for out-door life as this indoor activity. It alternates
admirably with skating, and seduces irresistibly into walking or rowing
when spring arrives.
My young friend Silverspoon, indeed, thinks that a good trot on a fast
horse is worth all the gymnastics in the world. But I learn, on inquiry,
that my young friend's mother is constantly imploring him to ride in
order to air her horses. It is a beautiful parental trait; but for those
born horseless, what an economical substitute is the wooden quadruped of
the gymnasium! Our Autocrat has well said, that the livery-stable horse
is "a profligate animal"; and I do not wonder that the Centaurs of old
should be suspected of having originated spurious coin. Undoubtedly it
was to pay for the hire of their own hoofs.
For young men in cities, too, the facilities for exercise are limited
not only by money, but by time. They must commonly take it after dark.
It is every way a blessing, when the gymnasium divides their evenings
with the concert, the book, or the public meeting. Then there is no
time left, and small temptation, for pleasures less pure. It gives an
innocent answer to that first demand for evening excitement which perils
the soul of the homeless boy in the seductive city. The companions whom
he meets at the gymnasium are not the ones whose pursuits of later
nocturnal hours entice him to sin. The honest fatigue of his exercises
calls for honest rest. It is the nervous exhaustion of a sedentary,
frivolous, or joyless life which madly tries to restore itself by the
other nervous exhaustion of debauchery. It is an old prescription,--
"Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit,
_Abstinuit venere et vino_."
There is another class of critics whose cant is simply can't, and who,
being unable or unwilling to surrender themselves to these simple
sources of enjoyment, are grandiloquent upon the dignity of manhood,
and the absurdity of full-grown men in playing monkey-tricks with their
bodies. Full-grown men? There is not a person in the world who can
afford to be a "full-grown man" through all the twenty-four hours. There
is not one who does not need, more than he needs his dinner, to have
habitually one hour in the day when he throws himself with boyish
eagerness into interests as simple as those of boys. No church or state,
no science or art, can feed us all the time; some morsels there must be
of simpler diet, some moments of unadulterated play. But dignity? Alas
for that poor soul whose dignity must be "preserved,"--preserved in
the right culinary sense, as fruits which are growing dubious in their
natural state are sealed up in jars to make their acidity presentable!
"There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned," and degradation in
the dignity that has to be preserved. Simplicity is the only dignity. If
one has not the genuine article, no affluence of starch, no snow-drift
of white-linen decency, will furnish any substitute. If one has it, he
will retain it, whether he stand on his head or his heels. Nothing
is really undignified but affectation or conceit; and for the total
extinction and annihilation of every vestige of these, there are few
things so effectual as athletic exercises.
Still another objection is that of the medical men, that the gymnasium,
as commonly used, is not a specific prescription for the special disease
of the patient. But setting aside the claims of the system of applied
gymnastics, which Ling and his followers have so elaborated, it is
enough to answer, that the one great fundamental disorder of all
Americans is simply nervous exhaustion, and that for this the gymnasium
can never be misdirected, though it may be used to excess. Of course one
can no more cure over-work of brain by over-work of body than one
can restore a wasted candle by lighting it at the other end. But by
subtracting an hour a day from the present amount of purely intellectual
fatigue, and inserting that quantum of bodily fatigue in its place, you
begin an immediate change in your conditions of life. Moreover, the
great object is not merely to get well, but to keep well. The exhaustion
of over-work can almost always be cured by a water-cure, or by a voyage,
which is a salt-water cure; but the problem is, how to make the whole
voyage of life perpetually self-curative. Without this, there is
perpetual dissatisfaction and chronic failure. Emerson well says, "Each
class fixes its eye on the advantages it has not,--the refined on rude
strength, the democrat on birth and breeding." This is the aim of the
gymnasium, to give to the refined this rude strength, or its better
substitute, refined strength. It is something to secure to the student
or the clerk the strong muscles, hearty appetite, and sound sleep of the
sailor and the ploughman,--to enable him, if need be, to out-row the
fisherman, and out-run the mountaineer, and lift more than his porter,
and to remember head-ache and dyspepsia only as he recalls the primeval
whooping-cough of his childhood. I am one of those who think that the
Autocrat rides his hobby of the pavements a little too far; but it is
useless to deny, that, within the last few years of gymnasiums and
boat-clubs, the city has been gaining on the country, in physical
development. Here in our town we had all the city- and college-boys
assembled in July to see the regattas, and all the country-boys in
September to see the thousand-dollar base-ball match; and it was
impossible to deny, whatever one's theories, that the physical
superiority lay for the time being with the former.
The secret is, that, though the country offers to farmers more oxygen
than to anybody in the city, yet not all dwellers in the country are
farmers, and even those who are such are suffering from other causes,
being usually the very last to receive those lessons of food and
clothing and bathing and ventilation which have their origin in cities.
Physical training is not a mechanical, but a vital process: no bricks
without straw; no good _physique_ without good materials and conditions.
The farmer knows, that, to rear a premium colt or calf, he must oversee
every morsel that it eats, every motion it makes, every breath it
draws,--must guard against over-work and under-work, cold and heat, wet
and dry. He remembers it for the quadrupeds, but he forgets it for his
children, his wife, and himself: so his cattle deserve a premium, and
his family does not.
Neglect is the danger of the country; the peril of the city is in living
too fast. All mental excitement acts as a stimulant, and, like all
stimulants, debilitates when taken in excess. This explains the
unnatural strength and agility of the insane, always followed by
prostration; and even moderate cerebral excitement produces similar
results, so far as it goes. Quetelet discovered that sometimes after
lecturing, or other special intellectual action, he could perform
gymnastic feats impossible to him at other times. The fact is
unquestionable; and it is also certain that an extreme in this direction
has precisely the contrary effect, and is fatal to the physical
condition. One may spring up from a task of moderate mental labor with a
sense of freedom like a bow let loose; but after an immoderate task
one feels like the same bow too long bent, flaccid, nerveless, all the
elasticity gone. Such fatigue is far more overwhelming than any mere
physical exhaustion. I have lounged into the gymnasium, after an
afternoon's skating, supposing myself quite tired, and have found myself
in excellent condition; and I have gone in after an hour or two of some
specially concentrated anxiety or thought, without being aware that
the body was at all fatigued, and found it good for nothing. Such
experiences are invaluable; all the libraries cannot so illustrate the
supremacy of immaterial forces. Thought, passion, purpose, expectation,
absorbed attention even, all feed upon the body's powers; let them
act one atom too intensely or one moment too long, and this wondrous
physical organization finds itself drained of its forces to support
them. It does not seem strange that strong men should have died by a
single ecstasy of emotion too convulsive, when we bear within us this
tremendous engine whose slightest pulsation so throbs in every fibre of
The relation between mental culture and physical powers is a subject of
the greatest interest, as yet but little touched, because so few of our
physiologists have been practical gymnasts. Nothing is more striking
than the tendency of all athletic exercises, when brought to perfection,
to eliminate mere brute bulk from the competition, and give the palm
to more subtile qualities, agility, quickness, a good eye, a ready
hand,--in short, superior fineness of organization. Any clown can learn
the military manual exercise; but it needs brain-power to drill with
the Zouaves. Even a prize-fight tests strength less than activity and
"science." The game of base-ball, as played in our boyhood, was a
simple, robust, straightforward contest, where the hardest hitter
was the best man; but it is every year becoming perfected into a
sleight-of-hand, like cricket; mere strength is now almost valueless
in playing it, and it calls rather for the qualities of the
billiard-player. In the last champion-match at Worcester, nearly the
whole time was consumed in skilful feints and parryings, and it took
five days to make fifty runs. And these same characteristics mark
gymnastic exercises above all; men of great natural strength are very
apt to be too slow and clumsy for them, and the most difficult feats
are usually done by persons of comparatively delicate _physique_ and a
certain artistic organization. It is this predominance of the nervous
temperament which is yet destined to make American gymnasts the foremost
in the world.
Indeed, the gymnasium is as good a place for the study of human nature
as any. The perpetual analogy of mind and body can be appreciated only
where both are trained with equal system. In both departments the great
prizes are not won by the most astounding special powers, but by a
certain harmonious adaptation. There is a physical tact, as there is
a mental tact. Every process is accomplished by using just the right
stress at just the right moment; but no two persons are alike in the
length of time required for these little discoveries. Gymnastic genius
lies in gaining at the first trial what will cost weeks of perseverance
to those less happily gifted. And as the close elastic costume which is
worn by the gymnast, or should be worn, allows no merit or defect of
figure to be concealed, so the close contact of emulation exhibits all
the varieties of temperament. One is made indolent by success, and
another is made ardent; one is discouraged by failure, and another
aroused by it; one does everything best the first time and slackens ever
after, while another always begins at the bottom and always climbs to
One of the most enjoyable things in these mimic emulations is this
absolute genuineness in their gradations of success. In the great world
outside, there is no immediate and absolute test for merit. There are
cliques and puffings and jealousies, quarrels of authors, tricks of
trade, caucusing in politics, hypocrisy among the deacons. We distrust
the value of others' successes, they distrust ours, and we all sometimes
distrust our own. There are those who believe in Shakspeare, and those
who believe in Tupper. All merit is measured by sliding scales, and each
has his own theory of the sliding. In a dozen centuries it will all come
right, no doubt. In the mean time there is vanity in one half the world
and vexation of spirit in the other half, and each man joins each half
in turn. But once enter the charmed gate of the gymnasium, and you leave
shams behind. Though you be saint or sage, no matter, the inexorable
laws of gravitation are around you. If you flinch, you fail; if you
slip, you fall. That bar, that rope, that weight shall test you
absolutely. Can you handle it, it is well; but if not, stand aside for
him who can. You may have every other gift and grace, it counts for
nothing; he, not you, is the man for the hour. The code of Spanish
aristocracy is slight and flexible compared with this rigid precedence.
It is Emerson's Astraea. Each registers himself, and there is no appeal.
No use to kick and struggle, no use to apologize. Do not say that
to-night you are tired, last night you felt ill. These excuses may serve
for a day, but no longer. A slight margin is allowed for moods and
variations, but it is not great after all. One revels in this Palace
of Truth. Defeat itself is a satisfaction, before a tribunal of such
This contributes to that healthful ardor with which, in these exercises,
a man forgets the things which are behind and presses forward to fresh
achievements. This perpetually saves from vanity; for everything seems
a trifle, when you have once attained to it. The aim which yesterday
filled your whole gymnastic horizon you overtake and pass as a boat
passes a buoy: until passed, it was a goal; when passed, a mere speck in
the horizon. Yesterday you could swing yourself three rounds upon the
horizontal ladder; to-day, after weeks of effort, you have suddenly
attained to the fourth, and instantly all that long laborious effort
vanishes, to be formed again between you and the fifth round: five, five
is the only goal for heroic labor to-day; and when five is attained,
there will be six, and so on while the Arabic numerals hold out. A
childish aim, no doubt; but is not this what we all recognize as the
privilege of childhood, to obtain exaggerated enjoyment from little
things? When you have come to the really difficult feats of the
gymnasium,--when you have conquered the "barber's curl" and the
"peg-pole,"--when you can draw yourself up by one arm, and perform the
"giant's swing" over and over, without changing hands, and vault the
horizontal bar as high as you can reach it,--when you can vault across
the high parallel bars between your hands backward, or walk through them
on your palms with your feet in the vicinity of the ceiling,--then you
will reap the reward of your past labors, and may begin to call yourself
It is pleasant to think, that, so great is the variety of exercises in
the gymnasium, even physical deficiencies and deformities do not wholly
exclude from its benefits. I have seen an invalid girl, so lame from
childhood that she could not stand without support, whose general health
had been restored, and her bust and arms made a study for a sculptor, by
means of gymnastics. Nay, there are odd compensations of Nature by which
even exceptional formations may turn to account in athletic exercises. A
squinting eye is a treasure to a boxer, a left-handed batter is a prize
in a cricketing eleven, and one of the best gymnasts in Chicago is an
individual with a wooden leg, which he takes off at the commencement
of affairs, thus economizing weight and stowage, and performing
achievements impossible except to unipeds.
In the enthusiasm created by this emulation, there is necessarily some
danger of excess. Dr. Windship approves of exercising only every other
day in the gymnasium; but as most persons take their work in a more
diluted form than his, they can afford to repeat it daily, unless warned
by headache or languor that they are exceeding their allowance. There
is no good in excess; our constitutions cannot be hurried. The law is
universal, that exercise strengthens as long as nutrition balances it,
but afterwards wastes the very forces it should increase. We cannot make
bricks faster than Nature supplies us with straw.
It is one good evidence of the increasing interest in these exercises,
that the American gymnasiums built during the past year or two have far
surpassed all their predecessors in size and completeness, and have
probably no superiors in the world. The Seventh Regiment Gymnasium in
New York, just opened by Mr. Abner S. Brady, is one hundred and eighty
feet by fifty-two, in its main hall, and thirty-five feet in height,
with nearly a thousand pupils. The beautiful hall of the Metropolitan
Gymnasium, in Chicago, measures one hundred and eight feet by eighty,
and is twenty feet high at the sides, with a dome in the centre, forty
feet high, and the same in diameter. Next to these probably rank the
new gymnasium at Cincinnati, the Tremont Gymnasium at Boston, and the
Bunker-Hill Gymnasium at Charlestown, all recently opened. Of college
institutions the most complete are probably those at Cambridge and New
Haven,--the former being eighty-five feet by fifty, and the latter one
hundred feet by fifty, in external dimensions. The arrangements for
instruction are rather more systematic at Harvard, but Yale has several
valuable articles of apparatus--as the rack-bars and the series
of rings--which have hardly made their appearance, as yet, in
Massachusetts, though considered indispensable in New York.
Gymnastic exercises are as yet but very sparingly introduced into our
seminaries, primary or professional, though a great change is already
beginning. Frederick the Great complained of the whole Prussian
school-system of his day, because it assumed that men were originally
created for students and clerks, whereas his Majesty argued that the
very shape of the human body rather proved them to be meant by Nature
for postilions. Until lately all our educational plans have assumed man
to be a merely sedentary being; we have employed teachers of music and
drawing to go from school to school to teach those elegant arts, but
have had none to teach the art of health. Accordingly, the pupils have
exhibited more complex curves in their spines than they could possibly
portray on the blackboard, and acquired such discords in their nervous
systems as would have utterly disgraced their singing. It is something
to have got beyond the period when active sports were actually
prohibited. I remember when there was but one boat owned by a Cambridge
student,--the owner was the first of his class, by the way, to get his
name into capitals in the "Triennial Catalogue" afterwards,--and that
boat was soon reported to have been suppressed by the Faculty, on the
plea that there was a college law against a student's keeping domestic
animals, and a boat was a domestic animal within the meaning of the
statute. Manual labor was thought less reprehensible; but schools on
this basis have never yet proved satisfactory, because either the hands
or the brains have always come off second-best from the effort to
combine: it is a law of Nature, that after a hard day's work one does
not need more work, but play. But in many of the German common-schools
one or two hours are given daily to gymnastic exercises with apparatus,
with sometimes the addition of Wednesday or Saturday afternoon; and this
was the result, as appears from Gutsmuth's book, of precisely the same
popular reaction against a purely intellectual system which is visible
in our community now. In the French military school at Joinville, the
degree of Bachelor of Agility is formally conferred; but Horace Mann's
remark still holds good, that it is seldom thought necessary to train
men's bodies for any purpose except to destroy those of other men.
However, in view of the present wise policy of our leading colleges,
we shall have to stop croaking before long, especially as enthusiastic
alumni already begin to fancy a visible improvement in the _physique_ of
graduating classes on Commencement Day.
It would be unpardonable, in this connection, not to speak a good word
for the hobby of the day,--Dr. Lewis, and his system of gymnastics, or,
more properly, of calisthenics. Aside from a few amusing games, there is
nothing very novel in the "system," except the man himself. Dr. Windship
had done all that was needed in apostleship of severe exercises, and
there was wanting some man with a milder hobby, perfectly safe for a
lady to drive. The Fates provided that man, also, in Dr. Lewis,--so
hale and hearty, so profoundly confident in the omnipotence of his own
methods and the uselessness of all others, with such a ready invention,
and such an inundation of animal spirits that he could flood any
company, no matter how starched or listless, with an unbounded appetite
for ball-games and bean-games. How long it will last in the hands of
others than the projector remains to be seen, especially as some of his
feats are more exhausting than average gymnastics; but, in the mean
time, it is just what is wanted for multitudes of persons who find or
fancy the real gymnasium to be unsuited to them. It will especially
render service to female pupils, so far as they practise it; for the
accustomed gymnastic exercises seem never yet to have been rendered
attractive to them, on any large scale, and with any permanency. Girls,
no doubt, learn as readily as boys to row, to skate, and to swim,--any
muscular inferiority being perhaps counterbalanced in swimming by
their greater physical buoyancy, in skating by their dancing-school
experience, and in rowing by their music-lessons enabling them more
promptly to fall into regular time,--though these suggestions may all be
fancies rather than facts. The same points help them, perhaps, in the
lighter calisthenic exercises; but when they come to the apparatus, one
seldom sees a girl who takes hold like a boy: it, perhaps, requires a
certain ready capital of muscle, at the outset, which they have not at
command, and which it is tedious to acquire afterwards. Yet there seem
to be some cases, as with the classes of Mrs. Molineaux at Cambridge,
where a good deal of gymnastic enthusiasm is created among female
pupils, and it may be, after all, that the deficiency lies thus far in
Experience is already showing that the advantages of school-gymnasiums
go deeper than was at first supposed. It is not to be the whole object
of American education to create scholars or idealists, but to produce
persons of a solid strength,--persons who, to use the most expressive
Western phrase that ever was coined into five monosyllables, "will do to
tie to"; whereas to most of us it would be absurd to tie anything but
the Scriptural millstone. In the military school of Brienne, the only
report appended to the name of the little Napoleon Bonaparte was "Very
healthy"; and it is precisely this class of boys for whom there is least
place in a purely intellectual institution. A child of immense animal
activity and unlimited observing faculties, personally acquainted with
every man, child, horse, dog, in the township,--intimate in the families
of oriole and grasshopper, pickerel and turtle,--quick of hand and
eye,--in short, born for practical leadership and victory,--such a boy
finds no provision for him in most of our seminaries, and must, by his
constitution, be either truant or torment. The theory of the institution
ignores such aptitudes as his, and recognizes no merits save those of
some small sedentary linguist or mathematician,--a blessing to his
teacher, but an object of watchful anxiety to the family physician, and
whose career was endangering not only his health, but his humility.
Introduce now some athletic exercises as a regular part of the
school-drill, instantly the rogue finds his legitimate sphere, and leads
the class; he is no longer an outcast, no longer has to look beyond the
school for companions and appreciation; while, on the other hand, the
youthful pedant, no longer monopolizing superiority, is brought down to
a proper level. Presently comes along some finer fellow than either, who
cultivates all his faculties, and is equally good at spring-board and
black-board; and straightway, since every child wishes to be a Crichton,
the whole school tries for the combination of merits, and the grade of
the juvenile community is perceptibly raised.
What is true of childhood is true of manhood also. What a shame it is
that even Kingsley should fall into the cant of deploring maturity as a
misfortune, and declaring that our freshest pleasures come "before
the age of fourteen"! Health is perpetual youth,--that is, a state of
positive health. Merely negative health, the mere keeping out of the
hospital for a series of years, is not health. Health is to feel the
body a luxury, as every vigorous child does,--as the bird does when it
shoots and quivers through the air, not flying for the sake of the goal,
but for the sake of the flight,--as the dog does when he scours madly
across the meadow, or plunges into the muddy blissfulness of the
stream. But neither dog nor bird nor child enjoys his cup of physical
happiness--let the dull or the worldly say what they will--with a
felicity so cordial as the educated palate of conscious manhood. To
"feel one's life in every limb," this is the secret bliss of which all
forms of athletic exercise are merely varying disguises; and it is
absurd to say that we cannot possess this when character is mature, but
only when it is half-developed. As the flower is better than the bud, so
should the fruit be better than the flower.
We need more examples of a mode of living which shall not alone be a
success in view of some ulterior object, but which shall be, in its
nobleness and healthfulness, successful every moment as it passes on.
Navigating a wholly new temperament through history, this American race
must of course form its own methods and take nothing at second-hand; but
the same triumphant combination of bodily and mental training which made
human life beautiful in Greece, strong in Rome, simple and joyous in
Germany, truthful and brave in England, must yet be moulded to a higher
quality amid this varying climate and on these low shores. The regions
of the world most garlanded with glory and romance, Attica, Provence,
Scotland, were originally more barren than Massachusetts; and there is
yet possible for us such an harmonious mingling of refinement and vigor,
that we may more than fulfil the world's expectation, and may become
classic to ourselves.
* * * * *
Black lie the hills, swiftly doth daylight flee,
And, catching gleams of sunset's dying smile,
Through the dusk land for many a changing mile
The river runneth softly to the sea.
O happy river, could I follow thee!
O yearning heart, that never can be still!
O wistful eyes, that watch the steadfast hill,
Longing for level line of solemn sea!
Have patience; here are flowers and songs of birds,
Beauty and fragrance, wealth of sound and sight,
All summer's glory thine from morn till night,
And life too full of joy for uttered words.
Neither am I ungrateful. But I dream
Deliciously, how twilight falls to-night
Over the glimmering water, how the light
Dies blissfully away, until I seem
To feel the wind sea-scented on my cheek,
To catch the sound of dusky flapping sail,
And dip of oars, and voices on the gale,
Afar off, calling softly, low and sweet.
O Earth, thy summer-song of joy may soar
Ringing to heaven in triumph! I but crave
The sad, caressing murmur of the wave
That breaks in tender music on the shore.
TWO OR THREE TROUBLES.
If there are only two or three, I am pretty sure of a sympathetic
hearing. If there were two-and-twenty, I should be much more doubtful:
for only last night, on being introduced to a tall lady in deep
mourning, and assured that she had been "a terrible sufferer," that her
life, indeed, had been "one long tragedy," I may as well confess, that,
so far from being interested in this tall long tragedy, merely as such,
I stepped a little aside on the instant, on some frivolous pretence, and
took an early opportunity to get out of the way. Why this was I leave to
persons who understand the wrong side of human nature. I am ashamed
of it; but there it is,--neither worse nor better. And I can't expect
others to be more compassionate than I am myself.
One of my troubles grew out of a pleasure, but was not less a trouble
for the time. The other was not an excrescence, but ingrained with the
material: not necessarily, indeed,--far from it; but, from the nature of
the case, hopelessly so.
The penny-postman had brought me a letter from my Aunt Allen, from
Albany. This letter contained, in three lines, a desire that her
dear niece would buy something with the inclosed, and accept it as a
wedding-gift, with the tenderest wishes for her life-long happiness,
from the undersigned.
"The inclosed" fell on the floor, and Laura picked it up.
"Fifty dollars!--hum!--Metropolitan Bank."
"Oh, now, that is charming! Good old soul she is!"
"Yes. Very well. I'm glad she sent it in money."
"So am I. 'T isn't a butter-knife, anyhow."
"How do you mean?" inquired Laura.
"Why, Mr. Lang was telling last night about his clerk. He said he bought
a pair of butter-knives for his clerk Hillman, hearing that he was to be
married, and got them marked. A good substantial present he thought it
was,--cost only seven dollars for a good article, and couldn't fail to
be useful to Hillman. He took them himself, so as to be doubly gracious,
and met his clerk at the store-door.
"'Good morning!--good morning! Wish you joy, Hillman! I've got a pair of
butter-knives for your wife.--Hey? got any?'
"Eleven butter-knives! and all marked _Marcia Ann Hillman, from A.B.,
from C.D._, and so on!"
Laura laughed, and said she hoped my friends would all be as considerate
as Aunt Allen, or else consult her. Suppose eleven tea-pots, for
instance, or eleven silver salvers, all in a row! Ridiculous!
"Now, Del, I will tell you what it is," said Laura, gravely.
Laura was the sensible one, like Laura in Miss Edgeworth's "Moral
Tales," and never made any mistake. I was like the naughty horse that
is always rearing and jumping, but kept on the track by the good steady
one. Of course, I was far more interesting, and was to be married in
"Now, Del, I'll tell you what it is. Are you going to have all your
presents paraded on the study-table, for everybody to pull over and
compare values,--and have one mortified, and another elated, and all
"Why, what can I do?"
"I know what I wouldn't do."
"You wouldn't do it, Laura?" said I, looking steadily at the
"Never, Del! I told Mrs. Harris so, when we were coming home from Ellis
Hall's wedding. It looked absolutely vulgar."
We all swore by Mrs. Harris in that part of Boynton, and it was
something to know that Mrs. Harris had received the shock of such a
"And what did Mrs. Harris say, Laura?"
"She said she agreed with me entirely."
"Did she really?" said I, drawing a good long breath.
"Yes,--and she said she would as soon, and sooner, go to a silversmith's
and pull over all the things on the counter. There were knives and
forks, tea-spoons and table-spoons, fish-knives and pie-knives,
strawberry-shovels and ice-shovels, large silver salvers and small
silver salvers and medium silver salvers. Everything useful, and nothing
you want to look at. There wasn't a thing that was in good taste to
show, but just a good photograph of the minister that married them,--and
a beautiful little wreath of sea-weed, that one of her Sunday-school
scholars made for her. As to everything else, I would, as far as good
taste goes, have just as soon had a collection of all Waterman's
Laura stopped at last, indignant, and out of breath.
"There was a tremendous display of silver, I allow," said I; "the piano
and sideboard were covered with it."
"Yes, and thoroughly vulgar, for that reason. A wedding-gift should be
something appropriate,--not merely useful. As soon as it is only that,
it sinks at once. It should speak of the bride, or to the bride, or
of and from the friend,--intimately associating the gift with past
impressions, with personal tastes, and future hopes felt by both.
The gift should always be a dear reminder of the giver; a
picture,--Evangeline or Beatrice; something you have both of you loved
to look at, or would love to. But think of the delight of cutting your
meat with Edward's present! forking ditto with Mary's! a crumb-scraper
reminding you of this one, table-bell of that one; large salver,
Uncle,--rich; small salver, Uncle,--mean; gold thimble, Cousin,--meanest
of all. Table cleared, ditto mind and memory, of the whole of them--till
next meal, _perhaps!_"
Laura ceased talking, but rocked herself swiftly to and fro in her
chair. It is not necessary to say we were in our chambers,--as, since
our British cousins have ridiculed our rocking-chairs, they are all
banished from the parlor. Consequently we remain in our chambers to rock
and be useful, and come into the parlor to be useless and uncomfortable
in _fauteuils_, made, as the chair-makers tell us, "after the line of
beauty." Laura and I both detest them, and Polly says, "Nothing can be
worse for the spine of a person's back." To be
"Stretched on the rack of a too-easy chair,"
let anybody try a modern drawing-room. So Laura and I have cane
sewing-chairs, which, it is needless to add, rock,--rock eloquently,
too. They wave, as the boat waves with the impetus of the sea, gently,
calmly, slowly,--or, as conversation grows animated, as disputes arise,
as good stories are told, one after another, so do the sympathizing and
eloquent rocking-chairs keep pace with our conversation, stimulating or
soothing, as it chances.
And now I come to my first trouble,--first, and, as it happened, of long
standing now; insomuch that, when Laura asked me once, gravely, why I
had not made it a vital objection, in the first place, I had not a word
to reply, but just--rocked.
She, Laura, was stitching on some shirts for "him." They were intended
as a wedding-gift from herself, and were beautifully made. Laura
despised a Wheeler-and-Wilson, and all its kindred,--and the shirts
looked like shirts, consequently.
I linger a little, shivering on the brink. Somehow I always say
"_him_,"--nowadays, of course, Mr. Sampson,--but then I always said "he"
and "him." I know why country-folk say so, now. Though sentimentalists
say, it is because there is only one "he" for "her," I don't believe it.
It is because their names are Jotham, or Adoniram, or Jehiel, or Asher,
or some of those names, and so they say "he," for short. But there
was no short for me. So I may as well come to it. "His" name was
America,--America Sampson. It is four years and a half since I knew this
for a fact, yet my surprise is not lessened. Epithets are weak trash for
such an occasion, or I should vituperate even now the odious practice
of saddling children with one's own folly or prejudice in the shape of
There was no help for it. There was no hope. My lover had not received
his name from any rich uncle, with the condition of a handsome fortune;
so he had no chance of indignantly asserting his choice to be Herbert
barefoot rather than Hog's-flesh with gold shoes. His father and mother
had given his name,--not at the baptismal font, for they were Baptists,
and didn't baptize so,--but they had given it to him. They were both
alive and well, and so were seventeen uncles and aunts who would all
know,--in good health, and bad taste, all of them.
"He" had four brothers to keep him in countenance, all with worse names
than his: Washington, Philip Massasoit, Scipio, and Hiram Yaw Byron!
There was the excuse, in this last name, of its being a family one,
as far as Yaw went; but----However, as I said, language is wholly
inadequate and weak for some purposes. There was a lower deep than
America,--that was some comfort.
Hiram Yaw wasn't sent to college, but to Ashtabula, wherever that is,
and I never wish to see him. But to college was America sent,--to be
"hazed," and taunted, and called "E Plury," and his beak and claws
inquired after, through the freshman year. I never knew how he went
through,--I mean, with what feelings. Of course, he was the first
scholar. But that, even, must have been but a small consolation.
The worst of all was, he was sensitive about his name,--whether because
it had been used to torment him, and so, like poor worn-out Nessus,
he wrapped more closely his poisoned scarf, (I like scarf better than
shirt,)--or whether he had, in the course of his law-studies and
men-studies, come to think it really mattered very little what a man's
name was in the beginning; at all events, he had no notion of dismissing
My own secret hope had been, that, by an Act of the Legislature, which
that very season had changed Pontifex Parker to Charles Alfred Parker,
Mr. Sampson might be accommodated with a name less unspeakably national.
Dear me! Alfred, Arthur, Albert,--if he must begin with A.
"A was an Archer, and shot at a frog."
I should even prefer Archer. It needn't be Insatiate Archer. So I kept
turning over and over the painful subject, one evening,--I mean, of
course, in my mind, for I had not really broached this matter of
legislative action. Luckily, "he" had brought in the new edition of
George Herbert's Works. We were reading aloud, and "he" read the chapter
of "The Parson in Sacraments." At the foot was an extract from "The
Parish Register" of Crabbe, which he read, unconscious of the way in
which I mentally applied it. Indeed, I think he scarcely thought of his
own name at that time. But I did, twenty-four times in every day. This
was the note:--
"Pride lives with all; strange names our rustics give
To helpless infants, that their own may live;
Pleased to be known, they'll some attention claim,
And find some by-way to the house of fame.
'Why Lonicera wilt thou name thy child?'
I asked the gardener's wife, in accents mild.
'We have a right,' replied the sturdy dame;
And Lonicera was the infant's name."
He stopped reading just here, to look at the evening paper, which had
been brought in. I read something in it, and then we all went to sit on
the piazza, with the street-lamp shining through the bitter-sweet vine,
as good as the moon, and the conversation naturally and easily turned
on odd names. I told what I had read in the paper: that our country
rivalled Dickens's in queer names, and that it wasn't for a land that
had Boggs and Bigger and Bragg for governors, and Stubbs, Snoggles,
Scroggs, and Pugh among its respectable citizens, to accuse Dickens
of caricature. I turned, a little tremulously, I confess, to "him,"
"If you had been so unfortunate as to have for a name Darius Snoggles,
now, for instance, wouldn't you have it changed by the Legislature?"
I shivered with anxiety.
"Certainly not," he replied, with perfect unconsciousness. "Whatever my
name might be, I would endeavor to make it a respectable one while I
Laura sat the other side of me, and softly touched me. So I only
asked, if that great star up there was Lyra; but all the time Anodyne,
Ambergris, Abner, Albion, Alpheus, and all the names that begin with A,
rolled through my memory monotonously and continually.
After we went up-stairs that night, and while I was trying in vain to do
up my hair so as to make a natural wave in front, (sometimes everything
goes wrong,) Laura said,--
My mother mixed romance with good practical sense, and very properly
said that girls with good names and tolerable faces might get on in the
world, but it took fortune to make your Sallies and Mollies go down. She
had good taste, too, and didn't name either of us Louisa Prudence, like
an unfortunate I once saw; and we were left, with our nice cottage
covered with its vine of bitter-sweet and climbing rose, fifteen hundred
dollars each, and our names, Delphine and Laura. Not a bad heritage,
with economy, good looks, and hearts to take life cheerily. Still it
is plain enough that a fifty-dollar note for the bride was not to be
despised nor overlooked. In fact, with the exception of Polly's present
of a brown earthen bowl and a pudding-stick, it was the first approach
to a wedding-gift that I had yet received. And this note was trouble the
second. But of that, by-and-by.
"Delphine!" said Laura, softly.
Some people's voices excoriate you, Laura's was soft and soothing.
"Don't say any more to--to Mr. Sampson about names."
"Oh, dear! hateful!"
"Delphine, be thankful it's no worse!"
"How could it be worse,--unless it were Hog-and-Hominy? I never knew
anything so utterly ridiculous! America! Columbia! Yankee-Doodle! I'd
rather it had been Abraham!"
All this I almost shouted in a passion of vexation, and Laura hastily
closed the window.
"Let me loosen your braids for you, Del," said she, quietly, taking up
my hair in her gentle way, which always had a good effect on my prancing
nerves; "let me bathe your forehead with this, dear;--now, let me tell
you something you will like."
"Oh, my heart! Laura, I wish you could! for I declare to you, that, if
it wasn't for--if it didn't----Oh, dear, dear! how I do hate that name!"
"It is not so very good a name,--that must be owned, Del. All is, you
will have to call him 'Mr. Sampson,' or 'My dear,' or 'You'; or, stay,
you might abbreviate it into Ame, Ami. Ami and Delphine!--it sounds like
a French story for youth. If I were you, I wouldn't meddle with it or
think any more about it."
"Such a name! so ridiculous!" I muttered.
"You have considered it so much and so closely, Del, that it is most
disproportionately prominent in your mind. You can put out Bunker-Hill
Monument with your little finger, if you hold it close enough to your
eye. Don't you remember what Mr. Sampson said to-night about somebody
whose mind had no perspective in it? that his shoe-ribbon was as
prominent and important as his soul? Don't go and be a goosey, Del, and
have no perspective, will you?" And Laura leaned over and kissed my
forehead, all corrugated with my pet grief.
"Well, Laura, what can be worse? I declare--almost I think, Laura, I
would rather he should have some great defect."
"Moral or physical? Gambling? one leg? one eye? lying? six fingers? How
do you mean, Del?"
"Oh, patience! no, indeed!--six fingers! I only meant"----
And here, of course, I stopped.
"Which virtue could you spare in Mr. Sampson?" said Laura, coolly,
fastening my hair neatly in its net, and sitting down in _her_
When it came to that, of course there were none to be spared. We
undressed, silently,--Laura rolling all her ribbons carefully, and
I throwing mine about; Laura, consistent, conservative, allopathic,
High-Church,--I, homoeopathic, hydropathic, careless, and given to
Parkerism. It did not matter, as to harmony. Two bracelets, but no
need to be alike. We clasped arms and hearts all the same. By-and-by I
"Oh! what's your good news, Laura?"
"Ariana Cooper and Geraldine Parker are both married,--both on the same
day, at Grace Church, New York."
"Is it possible? Who told you? How do you know?"
"I read it in the 'Evening Post,' just before I came up-stairs. Now
guess,--guess a month, Del, and you won't guess whom they have married."
"No use to guess. They've found somebody in New York at their aunt's,
I suppose. Both so pretty and rich, they were likely to find good
"Merchants both, I think. Now do guess!"
"How can I? Herbert Clark, maybe,--or Captain Ellington? No, of course
not. A merchant? Julius Winthrop. I know Ariana was a great admirer of
a military man. She used to say she would have loved Sidney for his
chivalry, and Raleigh for his graceful foppery; and Pembroke Dunkin she
admired for both. It isn't Pembroke?"
And here I sighed over and over, like a foolish virgin.
"Now, then, listen. Here it is in the paper," said Laura.
"'Married, at Grace Church, by the Rev. So-and-So, assisted, etc., etc.,
Ossian Smutt, Esq., of the firm of S. Hamilton & Company, to Ariana,
eldest daughter of the late George S. Cooper. At the same place, and
day, Hon. Unity Smith, M.C., to Geraldine Miranda, daughter of the late
Russell Parker of Pine Lodge. The happy quartette have left in the
Persia for a tour in Europe. We wish them joy.'"
"Ugh! Laura! goodness! well, that outdoes me," I screamed, with a sudden
sense of relief, that set me laughing as passionately as I had been
crying. For, though I have not before owned it, I had been crying
The Balm of a Thousand Flowers descended on my lacerated heart. To say
the truth, I had dreaded more Ariana's little shrug, and Geraldine
Parker's upraised eyebrows, on reading my marriage, than a whole life of
_that_ name, on my own account merely. But now, thank Heaven, so much
trouble was out of my way. Mrs. Unity Smith, and Mrs. Orlando--no,
Ossian Smutt, could by no possibility laugh at me. Mrs. A. Sampson
wasn't bad on a card. It would not smut one, anyhow. I laughed grimly,
and composed myself to sleep.
The next morning had come the pleasant letter from my Albany aunt, with
the fifty-dollar note. Laura continued rocking, fifty strokes a minute,
and stitching at the rate of sixty. I held the note idly, rubbing up
my imagination for things new and old. Laura, being industrious, was
virtuously employing her thoughts. As idleness brings mischief, and
riches anxiety, I did not rock long without evil consequences. Eve
herself was not contented in Eden. She had to do all the cooking, for
one thing,--and angels always happening in to dinner! For my part, the
name of Adam would have been enough to spoil my pleasure. Here Laura
interrupted my thoughts, which were running headlong into everything
"What do you say?"
"What do you?" I answered; for, like other bad people, I had the
greatest respect for good people's opinions.
"I think--a small--silver salver!"
"Do you think so, really?"
"Yes, Del. That will be good; silver, you know, is always good to have;
and it will be handsome and useful always."
"What! for us?"
"Yes,--pretty to hand a cup of tea on, or a glass of wine,--pretty to
set in the middle of a long table with a vase of flowers on it, when you
have the Court and High-Sheriff to dine,--as you will, of course, every
year,--or with your spoon-goblet. Oh, there are plenty of ways to make a
small silver salver useful. Mrs. Harris says she doesn't see how any one
can keep house without a silver salver."
The last sentence she said with a laugh, for she knew I thought so much
of what Mrs. Harris said.
"We've kept house all our lives without one, Laura."
"Yes,--but I often wish we had one, for all that. As Mrs. Harris says,
'It gives such an air!'"
What a dreadful utilitarian Laura was, I thought. Now, the whole world
and Boston were full of beautiful things,--full of things that had no
special usefulness, but were absolutely and of themselves beautiful. And
such a thing I wanted,--such a presence before me,--"a thing of beauty
and of joy forever,"--something that would not speak directly or
indirectly of labor, of something to be wrought out with toil, or
associated with common, every-day objects. When that life should come to
which I secretly looked forward,--when my soul should bound into a more
radiant atmosphere, where the clouds, if any were, should be all
gold- and silver-tinted, and where my sorrows, love-colored, were to be
sweeter than other people's joys,--in that life, there would be moments
of sweet abandonment to the simple sense of happiness. Then I should
want something on which my mind might linger, my eye rest,--as the bird
rests for an instant, to turn her plumage in the sun, and take another
and loftier flight. Not a word of all this, which common minds called
farrago, but which had its truth to me, did I utter to Laura. Of course,
none of these things bear transplanting or expressing.
"Laura, do you like that statue of Mercury in Mrs. Gore's library?"
"Very much. But I am sure I should be tired of seeing it every day,
standing on one toe. I should be tired, if he wasn't."
"Mrs. Gore says she never tires of it. I asked her. She says it is a
delight to her to lie on the sofa and trace the beautiful undulations
of his figure. How airy! It looks as if it would fly again without the
least effort,--as if it had just 'new-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill'!
Don't you think it perfect, Laura?"
"Well--yes,--I suppose so. I am not so enthusiastic as you are about
"Why don't you like it?"
I would not let Laura see how disappointed I was.
"One thing,--I don't like statuary in any attitude which, if continued,
would seem to be painful. I know artists admire what gives an impression
of motion; and I like to look at Mercury once; as you say, it gives an
idea of flight, of motion,--and it is beautiful for two minutes. But
then comes a sense of its being painful. So that statue of Hebe, or
Aurora,--which is it?--looks as if swiftly coming towards you; but only
for a minute. It does not satisfy you longer, because the unfitness
comes then, and the fatigue, and your imagination is harassed and
fretted. I think statuary should be in repose,--that is, if we want it
in the house as a constant object of sight. Eve at the fountain, or Echo
listening, or Sabrina fair sitting
"'Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
With twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of her amber-dropping hair.'
"No matter, if she is represented employed. The motion may go so far."
I suppose I looked blank.
"Oh, don't think I am not glad to admire it. I thought you were thinking
of it for Aunt Allen's gift," continued Laura.
"And so I was. It costs just fifty dollars. But I think you are right
about it. And, besides, do you like bronze, Laura?"
"I like marble a great, great deal best. There is a bronze statue of
Fortune, and a Venus, at Harris & Stanwood's, that are called 'so
beautiful!'--and I wouldn't have them in my house."
Here was an extinguisher. Laura didn't like bronze. And Laura was to be
in my house, whether bronzes--were or not.
* * * * *
The sun shone brightly through the bitter-sweet that ran half over the
window, and lighted on the corner of an old mahogany chest.
"That reminds me!" said I, suddenly. "Yesterday, I was looking at
crockery, and there was the most delightful cabinet!--real Japan work,
such as we read of; full of little drawers, and with carved silver
handles, and a secret drawer that shoots out when you touch a spring at
the back. Wouldn't that be a beautiful thing to stand in the parlor,
"For what, Del? Could you keep silver in it? How large is it?"
"Why, no,--it wouldn't be large enough to hold silver. And, besides, I
don't know that I want it for any such purpose. It would hold jewelry."
"If you had any, Del."
"There's the secret drawer,--that would be capital for anything I wanted
to keep perfectly secret."
"Such as what'?"
"Oh, I don't know what, now; but I might possibly have."
"I can't think of anything you would want to shut up in that drawer,"
said Laura, laughing at my mysterious face, which she said looked about
as secret as a hen-coop with the chickens all flying out between the
slats. "In the first place, you haven't any secrets, and are not likely
to have; and next, you will show us (Mr. Sampson and me) the drawer and
spring the first thing you do. And I shall look there every week, to see
if there's anything hid there!"
"Oh, bah!" said I to myself; "Sumner told me that cabinet was just fifty
Something--I know not what, and probably never shall know--made me rise
from my rocking-chair, and walk to the chamber-window. At that moment, a
man with a green bag in his hand walked swiftly by, touched his hat as
he passed, and smiled as he turned the corner out of sight. A little
spasm, half painful in its pleasure, contracted my chest, and then
set out at a thrilling pace to the end of my fingers. Then a sense of
triumphant fulness, in my heart, on my lip, in my eyes. Not the name,
but the nature passed,--strong to wrestle, determined to win. Not the
body, but the soul of a man, passed across my field of vision, armed for
earth-strife, gallantly breasting life. What mattered the shape or the
name,--whether handsome or with a fine fortune? How these accidents fell
off from the soul, as it beamed in the loving eye and firm lip!
"The moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must" lead "me."
And gently as the fawn follows the forest-keeper does my heart follow
his, to the green pastures and still waters where he loves to lead. I
did not think whether he had a name.
"Are you considering what to put into the secret drawer, Del?"
Again Laura and I sat and rocked,--this time silently, for my head was
full, and I was holding a stopper on it to keep it from running over;
while Laura was really puzzled about the way to make a dog's eyes with
Berlin wool. As I rocked, from association probably, I thought again of
Eve,--who never seems at all like a grandmother to me, nor even like
"the mother of all living," but like a sweet, capricious, tender,
naughty girl. Like Eve, I had only to stretch forth my hand (with the
fifty-dollar note in it) and grasp "as much beauty as could live" within
that space. Yet, as fifty dollars would buy not only this, but that,
and also the other, it presently became the representative of tens
of fifties, hundreds of fifties, thousands of fifties, and so
on,--different fifties all, but all assuming shapes of beauty and value;
finally, alternately clustering and separating, gathering as if in all
sorts of beautiful heads,--angel heads, winged children,--then shooting
off in a thousand different directions, leaving behind landscapes of
exquisite sunsets, of Norwegian scenery, of processions of pines, of
moonlight seen through arched bridges, of Palmyrene deserts, of
pilgrims in the morning praying. Then came hurdy-gurdy boys and little
flower-girls again, mingling with the landscapes, and thrusting their
curly heads forward, as if to bid me not forget them. Then they all ran
away and left me standing in a long, endless hall with endless columns,
and white figures all about,--in the niches, on the floor, on the
walls,--each Olympian in beauty, in grandeur, in power to lift the
entranced soul to the high region where itself was created, and to which
it always pointed. The white figures melted and warmed into masses and
alcoves, and innumerable volumes looked affectionately at me. They knew
me of old, and had told me their delightful secrets. "They had slept
in my bosom, and whispered kind things to me in the dark night." Some
pressed forward, declaring that here was the new wine of thought,
sparkling and foaming as it had never done before, from the depths of
human sympathy; and others murmured, "The old is better," and smiled at
the surface-thoughts in blue and gold. Volumes and authors grew angry
and vituperative. There was so much to be said on all sides, that I was
deafened, and, with a shake of my head, shook everything into chaos, as
I had done a hundred times before.
"What are you thinking of, Del?" said Laura, pointing the dog's eye with
scarlet wool, to make him look fierce. "You have been looking straight
at me for half a minute."
"Half a minute! have I?"
That wasn't long, however, considering what I had seen in the time.
"At Cotton's, yesterday, I saw, Laura, a beautiful engraving of Arria
and Paetus. She is drawing the dagger from her side, and saying, so
calmly, so heroically,--'My Paetus! it is not hard to die!'"
I had inquired the price of this engraving, and the man said it was
fifty dollars without the frame.
"Those pictures are so painful to look at! don't you think so, Del? And
the better they are, the worse they are! Don't you remember that day we
passed with Sarah, how we wondered she could have her walls covered with
"Merrill brought them home from Italy, or she wouldn't, perhaps. But I
do remember,--they ware very disagreeable. That flaying of Marsyas! and
Christ crowned with thorns! and that sad Ecce Homo!"
"Yes,--and the Laocooen on that centre bracket! enough to make you scream
to look at it! I desire never to have such bloody reminders about me;
and for a parlor or sitting-room I would infinitely prefer a dead wall
to such a picture, if it were by the oldest of the old masters. Who
wants Ugolino in the house, if it is ever so well painted? Supping on
We rocked again,--and Laura talked about plants and shirts and such
healthy subjects. But, of course, my mind was in such a condition,
nothing but fifty-dollar subjects would stay in it; and, most of all, I
must not let Laura guess what I was thinking of.
"Do you like enamelled watches, Laura,--those pretty little ones made in
Geneva, I mean, worth from forty to sixty dollars?"
"How do you mean? Do I like the small timepieces? or is it the picture
on the back?" said Laura.
"Oh, either. I was thinking of a beauty I saw at Crosby's yesterday,
with the Madonna della Seggiola on the back. Now it is a good thing to
have such a picture about one, any way. I looked at this through the
microscope. It was surprisingly well done; and I suppose the watches are
as good as most."
"Better than yours and mine, Del?" said Laura, demurely.
"Why, no,--I suppose not so good. But I was thinking more of the
"Oh!" said Laura.
I was on the point of asking what she thought of Knight's Shakspeare,
when the bell rang and Polly brought up Miss Russell's card.
Miss Russell was good and pretty, with a peach-bloom complexion, soft
blue eyes, and curling auburn hair. Still those were articles that could
not well be appraised, as I thought the first minute after we were
seated in the parlor. But she had over her shoulders a cashmere scarf,
which Mr. Russell had brought from India himself, which was therefore a
genuine article, and which, to crown all, cost him only fifty dollars.
It would readily bring thrice that sum in Boston, Miss Russell said. But
such chances were always occurring. Then she described how the shawls
were all thrown in a mess together in a room, and how the captains of
vessels bought them at hap-hazard, without knowing anything about their
value or their relative fineness, and how you could often, if you knew
about the goods, get great bargains. It was a good way to send out fifty
or a hundred dollars by some captain you could trust for taste, or the
captain's wife. But it was generally a mere chance. Sometimes there
would be bought a great old shawl that had been wound round the naked
waist and shoulders of some Indian till it was all soiled and worn. That
would have to be cut up into little neck-scarfs. But sometimes, too, you
got them quite new. Papa knew about dry goods, luckily, and selected a
Part of this was repulsive,--but, again, part of it attractive. We don't
expect to be the cheated ones ourselves.
The bell rang again, and this time Lieutenant Clarence Herbert entered
on tiptoe: not of expectation particularly, but he had a way of
tiptoeing which had been the fashion before he went to sea the last
time, and which he resumed on his return, without noticing that in the
mean time the fashion had gone by, and everybody stood straight and
square on his feet. The effect, like all just-gone-by fashions, was to
make him look ridiculous; and it required some self-control on our part
to do him the justice of remembering that he could be quite brilliant
when he pleased, was musical and sentimental. He had a good name, as I
sighed in recalling.
We talked on, and on, instinctively keeping near the ground, and hopping
from bough to bough of daily facts.
When they were both gone, we rejoiced, and went up-stairs again to our
work and our rocking. Laura hummed,--
"'The visit paid, with ecstasy we come,
As from a seven-years' transportation, home,
And there resume the unembarrassed brow,
Recovering what we lost, we know not how,'--
"What is it?--
"'Expression,--and the privilege of thought.'"
"What an idea Louisa Russell always gives one of clothes!" said Laura.
"I never remember the least thing she says. I would almost as soon have
in the house one of those wire-women they keep in the shops to hang
shawls on, for anything she has to say."
"I know it," I answered. "But, to tell the truth, Laura, there was
something very interesting about her clothes to me to-day. That scarf!
Don't you think, Laura, that an India scarf is always handsome?"
"Always handsome? What! all colors and qualities?"
"Of course not. I mean a handsome one,--like Louisa Russell's."
"Why, yes, Del. A handsome scarf is always handsome,--that is, until it
is defaced or worn out. What a literal mood you are in just now!"
"Well, Laura,"--I hesitated, and then added slowly, "don't you think
that an India scarf has become almost a matter of necessity? I mean,
that everybody has one?"
"In Boston, you mean. I understand the New York traders say they sell
ten cashmere shawls to Boston people where they do one to a New-Yorker."
"Mrs. Harris told me, Laura, that she _could not_ do without one. She
says she considers them a real necessary of life. She has lost four of
those little neck-scarfs, and, she says, she just goes and buys another.
Her neck is always cold just there."
"Is it, really?" said Laura, dryly. "I suppose nothing short of cashmere
could possibly warm it!"
"Well, it is a pretty thing for a present, any way," said I, rather
impatiently; for I had settled on a scarf as unexceptionable in most
respects. There was the bargain, to begin with. Then it was always a
good thing to hand down to one's heirs. The Gores had a long one that
belonged to their grandmamma, and they could draw it through a gold
ring. It was good to wear, and good to leave. Indicated blood,
too,--and--and----In short, a great deal of nonsense was on the end of
my tongue, waiting my leave to slip off, when Laura said,--
"Didn't Lieutenant Herbert say he would bring you Darley's 'Margaret'?"
"Yes,--he is to bring it to-morrow. What a pretty name Clarence Herbert
is! Lieutenant Clarence Herbert,--there's a good name for you! How many
pretty names there are!"
"You wouldn't be at a loss to name boys," said Laura, laughing,--"like
Mr. Stickney, who named his boys One, Two, and Three. Think of going by
the name of One Stickney!"
"That isn't so bad as to be named 'The Fifteenth of March.' And that was
a real name, given to a girl who was born at sea--I wonder what _she_
was called 'for short.'"
"Sweet fifteen, perhaps."
"That would do. Yes,--Herbert, Robert," said I, musingly, "and Philip,
and Arthur, and Algernon, Alfred, Sidney, Howard, Rupert"----
"Oh, don't, Del! You are foolish, now."
"How, Laura?" said I, consciously.
"Why don't you say America?"
"Oh, what a fall!"
"Enough better than your fine Lieutenant, Del, with his taste, and his
sentiments, and his fine bows, and 'his infinite deal of nothing.'"
I sighed and said nothing. The name-fancies had gone by in long
procession. America had buried them all, and stamped sternly on their
"What made you ask about Darley's 'Margaret,' Laura?"
"Oh,--only I wanted to see it."
"Don't you think," said I, suddenly reviving with a new idea, "that a
portfolio of engravings is a handsome thing to have in one's parlor
or library? Add to it, you know, from time to time; but begin with
'Margaret,' perhaps, and Retzsch's 'Hamlet' or 'Faust,'--or a collection
of fine wood engravings, such as Mrs. Harris has,--and perhaps one of
Albert Duerer's ugly things to show off with. What do you think of it,
"Do you ever look at Mrs. Harris's nowadays, Del?"
"Why, no,--I can't say I do, now. But I have looked at them when people
were there. How she would shrug and shiver when they _would_ put their
fingers on her nice engravings, and soil, or bend and break them at
the corners! Somebody asked her once, all the time breaking up a fine
Bridgewater Madonna she had just given forty dollars for, 'What is
this engraving worth, now?' She answered, coldly,--'Five minutes ago I
thought it worth forty dollars: now I would take forty cents for it.'"
"Not very polite, I should say," said Laura. "And rather cruel too,
on the whole; since the offence was doubtless the result of ignorance
"I know. But Mrs. Harris said she was so vexed she could not restrain
herself; and besides, she would infinitely prefer that he should be
mortally offended, at least to the point of losing his acquaintance, to
having her best pictures spoiled. She said he cost too much altogether."
"She should have the corners covered somehow. To be sure, it would be
better for people to learn how to treat nice engravings,--but they
won't; and every day somebody comes to see you, and talks excellent
sense, all the while either rolling up your last 'Art Journal,' or
breaking the face of Bryant's portrait in, or some equal mischief. I
don't think engravings pay, to keep,--on the whole; do you, Del?" And
Laura smiled while she rocked.
"Well, perhaps not. I am sure I shouldn't be amiable enough to have mine
thumbed and ruined; and certainly, if they are only to be kept in a
portfolio, it seems hardly worth while."
"So I think," said Laura.
This vexatious consideration--for so it had become--of how I should
spend my aunt's money, came at length almost to outweigh the pleasure of
having it to spend. It was perhaps a little annoyance, at first, but by
repetition became of course great. The prick of a pin is nothing; but if
it prick three weeks, sleeping and waking, "there is differences, look
"What shall I do with it?" became a serious matter. Suppose I left the
regions of art and beauty particularly, and came back and down to what
would be suitable on the whole, and agreeable to my aunt, whose taste
was evidently beyond what Albany could afford, or she would not have
sent me to the Modern Athens to buy the right thing. Nothing that would
break; else, Sevres china would be nice: I might get a small plate, or
a dish, for the money. Clothes wear out. Furniture,--you don't want to
say, "This chair, or this bureau or looking-glass, is my Aunt Allen's
gift." No, indeed! It must be something uncommon, _recherche_, tasteful,
durable, and, if possible, something that will show well and sound well
always. If it were only to spend the money, of course I could buy a
carpet or fire-set with it. And off went my bewildered head again on a
tour of observation.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
HARBORS OF THE GREAT LAKES.
In a recent article upon "The Great Lakes,"[A] we remarked, that,
from the conformation of their shores, natural harbors are of rare
occurrence. Consequently, for the protection and convenience of
commerce, a system of artificial harbors has been adopted by the Federal
Government, and appropriations have been made from time to time by
Congress for this purpose; and officers of the United States Engineer
Corps have been appointed to carry on the work. It is to some extent a
new and peculiar kind of engineering, caused by the peculiar conditions
of the case.
[Footnote A: See _Atlantic Monthly_ for February.]
Most of the lake-towns are built upon rivers which empty into the lakes,
and these rivers are usually obstructed at their mouths by bars of sand
and clay. The formation of these bars is due to several causes. The
principal one is this:--The shores of the lakes being usually composed
of sand, this is carried along by the shore-currents of the lake and
deposited at the river-mouths. Another cause of these obstructions may
be found in the fact, that the currents of the rivers are constantly
bringing down with them an amount of soil, which is deposited at the
point where the current meets the still waters of the lake. A third
cause, as we are told by Col. Graham, in his Report for 1855, is the
"Although the great depth of Lake Michigan prevents the surface from
freezing, yet the ice accumulates in large bodies in the shallow water
near the shores, and is driven by the wind into the mouths of the
rivers. A barrier being thus formed to the force of the lake-waves, the
sudden check of velocity causes them to deposit a portion of the silt
they hold in suspension upon the upper surface of this stratum of ice.
By repeated accumulations in this way, the weight becomes sufficient to
sink the whole mass to the bottom. There it rests, together with other
strata, which are sunk in the same way, until the channel is obstructed
by the combined masses of ice and silt. In the spring, when the ice
melts, the silt is dropped to the bottom, which, combined with that
constantly deposited by the lakeshore currents, causes a greater
accumulation in winter than at any other season."
These bars at the natural river-mouths have frequently not more than two
or three feet of water; and some of them have entirely closed up the
entrance, although at a short distance inside there may be a depth of
from twelve to fifteen or even twenty feet of water.
The channels of these rivers have also a tendency to be deflected from
their courses, on entering the lake, by the shore-currents, which,
driven before the prevailing winds, bend the channel off at right
angles, and, carrying it parallel with the lake-shore, form a long spit
of sand between the river and the lake.
Thus, in constructing an artificial harbor at one of these river-mouths,
the first object to be aimed at is to prevent the further formation of a
bar; and the second, to deepen and improve the river-channel. The former
is attained by running out piers into the lake from the mouth of the
river; and the latter, by the use of a dredge-boat, to cut through the
These piers are formed of a line of cribs, built of timber, and loaded
with stone to keep them in place, and enable them to resist the action
of the waves. They are usually built about twenty or twenty-five feet
wide, and from thirty to forty feet long. They are strengthened by
cross-ties of timber, uniting together the outward walls of the crib.
Piles are usually driven down into the clay, inside of these cribs, and
they are covered with a deck or flooring of plank. As the action of the
currents is constantly tending to remove the bed on which the cribs
rest, and thus cause them to tilt over, their bottoms are constructed
in a sort of open lattice-work, with openings large enough to allow the
stones with which they are loaded to drop through and supply the place
of the earth which is washed away.
The effect of these piers is to concentrate and deepen the
river-channel, and to retard the formation of bars, though they do not
wholly prevent it. In the spring it is often necessary to employ the
services of a steam-dredge-boat to cut through the bar, before vessels
can pass out.
The portion of these cribs above water is found not to last more than
ten or fifteen years; so that it is now recommended to replace them with
piers of stone masonry, wherever the material is easy of access.
As to the cause of the shore-currents which produce this mischief, Col.
Graham says, in one of his Reports,--
"The great power which operates to produce the littoral or shore
currents of the lake is the prevailing winds; just as the great ocean
current called the Gulf Stream is produced by the trade-winds. The
first-mentioned phenomenon is but a miniature demonstration of the same
principle which is more boldly shown in the other. The wind, acting
in its most prevalent lakeward direction, combined with this littoral
current, produces the great power which is constantly forming sand-bars
and shoals at all the harbor-entrances on our extensive lake-coasts. To
counteract the effect of this great power, upon a given point, is what
we have chiefly to contend for in planning the harbor-piers for all the
lake-ports intended to be improved. The point which an engineer first
aims at, in undertaking to plan any of these harbor-works, is to
ascertain as nearly as possible the direction and force of the
The length of the Chicago piers is as follows:--North pier, 3900 feet
long, 24 feet wide; south pier, 1800 feet long, 24 feet wide; and they
are placed 200 feet apart.
Harbors of this kind have been constructed at Chicago, Waukegan,
Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Manitoowoc, Michigan City, and
St. Joseph, on Lake Michigan; at Clinton River, on Lake St. Clair; at
Monroe, Sandusky, Huron, Vermilion, Black River, Cleveland, Grand River,
Ashtabula, Conneaut, Erie, Dunkirk, and Buffalo, on Lake Erie; at Oak
Orchard, Genesee River, Sodus Bay, Oswego, and Ogdensburg, on Lake
For Lakes Huron and Superior it is believed that no appropriations have
been made, the scanty population of their shores not seeming as yet
to demand it, and those two lakes having in their numerous groups of
islands more natural shelter for vessels than Michigan or Erie.
Besides these river-harbors, Col. Graham recommends to Government the
construction at certain points on the lakes of sheltered roadsteads, or
harbors of refuge, to which vessels may run for shelter in bad weather,
when it may be difficult or dangerous to enter the river-mouths. These
are proposed to be made by building breakwaters of crib-work, loaded
with stone, and extending along the shore in a sufficient depth of water
to admit vessels riding easily at anchor under their lee. Many lives
and much property would undoubtedly be saved every year by such
constructions; for it is a difficult matter for a vessel to enter these
narrow rivers in a heavy gale of wind, and if she misses the entrance,
she is very likely to go ashore.
Another very important work to the navigation of the lakes is the
deepening of the channel in Lake St. Clair.
Between Lakes Huron and Erie lies Lake St. Clair, a shallow sheet of
water, some twenty miles in length, through which all the trade of the
Upper Lakes is obliged to pass. At the mouth of the river which connects
this lake with Huron, there is a delta of mud flats, with numerous
channels, which in their deepest parts have not more than ten feet of
water, and would be utterly impassable, were not the bottom of a soft
and yielding mud, which permits the passage of vessels through it, under
the impulse of steam or a strong wind.
Mr. James L. Barton, a gentleman long connected with the lake-commerce,
thus wrote some years ago upon this subject to the Hon. Robert
McClelland, then chairman of the House Committee on Commerce:--
"These difficulties are vastly increased from the almost impassable
condition of the flats in Lake St. Clair. Here steamboats and vessels
are daily compelled in all weather to lie fast aground, and shift their
cargoes, passengers, and luggage into lighters, exposing life, health,
and property to great hazard, and then by extraordinary heaving and
hauling are enabled to get over. Indeed, so bad has this passage become,
that one of the largest steamboats, after lying two or three days on
these flats, everything taken from her into lighters, was unable, with
the powerful aid of steam and everything else she could bring into
service, to pass over; she was obliged to give her freight and
passengers to a smaller boat, abandon the trip, and return to Buffalo.
Other vessels have been compelled not only to take out all their
cargoes, but even their chains and anchors have been stripped from them,
before they could get over. To meet this difficulty as far as possible,
the commercial men around these lakes have imposed a tax upon their
shipping, to dredge out and deepen the channel through these flats."
Col. Graham, in one of his Reports to the Department, writes as follows
upon the importance of this improvement in a military point of view:--
"Since the opening of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal, the only obstacle to
the co-operation of armed fleets, which in time of war would be placed
upon Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, with that which would be on
Lake Erie, is at St. Clair flats. That obstacle removed, and a depth
of channel of twelve feet obtained there, which might be increased to
sixteen or eighteen feet by dredging, war-steamers of the largest
class which would probably be placed on these lakes would have a free
navigation from Buffalo at the foot of Lake Erie to Fond du Lac of Lake
"It would be very important that these fleets should have the power of
concentration, either wholly or in part, at certain important points now
rendered impracticable by these intervening flats. It would no doubt
often be important as a measure of naval tactics alone. It would as
often, again, be equally necessary in cooeperating with our land-forces.
It might even become necessary to depend on the navy to transport our
land-forces rapidly from one point to another on different sides of the
"When a work like this subserves the double purpose of military defence
in times of war, and of promoting the interests of commerce between
several of the States of the Union in time of peace, it would seem to
have an increased claim to the attention of the General Government. If