Part 2 out of 3
Haec fabula docet: It is dangerous for a young man to leave off the
use of tobacco.
I wish I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of the New England
winter. Perhaps I could if I more thoroughly believed in it. But
skepticism comes in with the south wind. When that begins to blow,
one feels the foundations of his belief breaking up. This is only
another way of saying that it is more difficult, if it be not
impossible, to freeze out orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is
to thaw it out; though it is a mere fancy to suppose that this is the
reason why the martyrs, of all creeds, were burned at the stake.
There is said to be a great relaxation in New England of the ancient
strictness in the direction of toleration of opinion, called by some
a lowering of the standard, and by others a raising of the banner of
liberality; it might be an interesting inquiry how much this change
is due to another change,--the softening of the New England winter
and the shifting of the Gulf Stream. It is the fashion nowadays to
refer almost everything to physical causes, and this hint is a
gratuitous contribution to the science of metaphysical physics.
The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England
winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It
is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize
society than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it
filled the silken sails of Cleopatra's galley. It blows over New
England every few days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing
wind. That it brings the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long
enough to almost deceive the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and
to tempt the robin from the secluded evergreen copses, may be
nothing; but it takes the tone out of the mind, and engenders
discontent, making one long for the tropics; it feeds the weakened
imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we know it we
become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden change to
sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from the
plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are
braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.
Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a
fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not
altogether a matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used
to say, in his humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very
good woman, but her "temperature was very different from that of the
other two." The north wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina
of endurance into a man, and it probably would into a woman too if
there were a series of resolutions passed to that effect. The west
wind is hopeful; it has promise and adventure in it, and is, except
to Atlantic voyagers America-bound, the best wind that ever blew.
The east wind is peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling,
and curls one up in the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the
chimney ever smokes, it smokes when the wind sits in that quarter.
The south wind is full of longing and unrest, of effeminate
suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we might say of modern
poetry,--at any rate, modern poetry needs a change of air. I am not
sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds, because of its
sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in spring, when it
comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men "longen to gon on
I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to
do in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying
With Us, beginning,--
"Out of a drifting southern cloud
My soul heard the night-bird cry,"
but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was
exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only
rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can
write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many
poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a
south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very
fortunate when there is not wind enough to finish them. This
emotional poem, if I may so call it, was begun after Herbert went
away. I liked it, and thought it was what is called "suggestive;"
although I did not understand it, especially what the night-bird was;
and I am afraid I hurt the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she
meant Herbert by the "night-bird,"--a very absurd suggestion about
two unsentimental people. She said, "Nonsense;" but she afterwards
told the Mistress that there were emotions that one could never put
into words without the danger of being ridiculous; a profound truth.
And yet I should not like to say that there is not a tender
lonesomeness in love that can get comfort out of a night-bird in a
cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis is the death of sentiment.
But to return to the winds. Certain people impress us as the winds
do. Mandeville never comes in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor
and healthfulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and in his
wholesome way of looking at things. The Parson, you would say, was
the east wind, and only his intimates know that his peevishness is
only a querulous humor. In the fair west wind I know the Mistress
herself, full of hope, and always the first one to discover a bit of
blue in a cloudy sky. It would not be just to apply what I have said
of the south wind to any of our visitors, but it did blow a little
while Herbert was here.
In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual sparkle in it, I
suppose that no luxurious lounging on tropical isles set in tropical
seas compares with the positive happiness one may have before a great
woodfire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), with a veritable
New England winter raging outside. In order to get the highest
enjoyment, the faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a mere
recipient dullness. There are those who prefer a warm bath to a
brisk walk in the inspiring air, where ten thousand keen influences
minister to the sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves.
There are, for instance, a sharpness of horizon outline and a
delicacy of color on distant hills which are wanting in summer, and
which convey to one rightly organized the keenest delight, and a
refinement of enjoyment that is scarcely sensuous, not at all
sentimental, and almost passing the intellectual line into the
I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he said that I was
drawing it altogether too fine; that he experienced sensations of
pleasure in being out in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to
breast a north wind, and that there was a certain inspiration in
sharp outlines and in a landscape in trim winter-quarters, with
stripped trees, and, as it were, scudding through the season under
bare poles; but that he must say that he preferred the weather in
which he could sit on the fence by the wood-lot, with the spring sun
on his back, and hear the stir of the leaves and the birds beginning
A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear he is getting to have
private thoughts about the Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes
the robustness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little
suspicious to hear him express the hope that we shall have an early
I wonder how many people there are in New England who know the glory
and inspiration of a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too,
not only on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame with a rosy
color, which has no suggestion of languor or unsatisfied longing in
it, but on dull days, when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon,
full of threats of storm and the terrors of the gathering night. We
are very busy with our own affairs, but there is always something
going on out-doors worth looking at; and there is seldom an hour
before sunset that has not some special attraction. And, besides, it
puts one in the mood for the cheer and comfort of the open fire at
Probably if the people of New England could have a plebiscitum on
their weather, they would vote against it, especially against winter.
Almost no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests the idea that
most people here were either born in the wrong place, or do not know
what is best for them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any
better satisfied, or would turn out as well, in the tropics.
Everybody knows our virtues,--at least if they believe half we tell
them,--and for delicate beauty, that rare plant, I should look among
the girls of the New England hills as confidently as anywhere, and I
have traveled as far south as New Jersey, and west of the Genesee
Valley. Indeed, it would be easy to show that the parents of the
pretty girls in the West emigrated from New England. And yet--such
is the mystery of Providence--no one would expect that one of the
sweetest and most delicate flowers that blooms, the trailing.
arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable climate, and peep forth
from the edge of a snowbank at that.
It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer that the thousands
of people who are dissatisfied with their climate do not seek a more
congenial one--or stop grumbling. The world is so small, and all
parts of it are so accessible, it has so many varieties of climate,
that one could surely suit himself by searching; and, then, is it
worth while to waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant
surroundings and in a constant friction with that which is
disagreeable? One would suppose that people set down on this little
globe would seek places on it most agreeable to themselves. It must
be that they are much more content with the climate and country upon
which they happen, by the accident of their birth, than they pretend
Home sympathies and charities are most active in the winter. Coming
in from my late walk,--in fact driven in by a hurrying north wind
that would brook no delay,--a wind that brought snow that did not
seem to fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be blown from polar
fields,--I find the Mistress returned from town, all in a glow of
There has been a meeting of a woman's association for Ameliorating
the Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by
paying a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life
Ameliorator,--a sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the
meeting, I believe, "seconded the motion" several times, and is one
of the Vice-Presidents; and this family honor makes me feel almost as
if I were a president of something myself. These little distinctions
are among the sweetest things in life, and to see one's name
officially printed stimulates his charity, and is almost as
satisfactory as being the chairman of a committee or the mover of a
resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and not at all discreditable,
that our little vanity, which is reckoned among our weaknesses, is
thus made to contribute to the activity of our nobler powers.
Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and probably
there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the whisper,
"That's he," "That's she."
There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the
Jews; but they were found to be so much more adept than other people
in ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up.
Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people
who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy
in society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem
to think that the world owes them a living because they are
philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose
condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really
accomplished in the effort for them, it always remains true that the
charitable reap a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful
compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help
another without helping himself
OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR. Why is it that almost all philanthropists
and reformers are disagreeable?
I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person
who comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as
his wife does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner
cup of tea before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you
lock your doors, and only admit visitors through the media of bells
and servants. It is lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is
THE PARSON. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together?
Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They
are agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they
wish to make it as unpleasant to others as possible.
MANDEVILLE. That's a noble view of your fellow-men.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to
be unpleasant people to live with?
THE PARSON. As if the unpleasant people who won't mind their own
business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best
people I know are philanthropists,--I mean the genuine ones, and not
the uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It is not altogether the not minding their own
business. Nobody does that. The usual explanation is, that people
with one idea are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few
persons have more than one idea,--ministers, doctors, lawyers,
teachers, manufacturers, merchants,--they all think the world they
live in is the central one.
MANDEVILLE. And you might add authors. To them nearly all the life
of the world is in letters, and I suppose they would be astonished if
they knew how little the thoughts of the majority of people are
occupied with books, and with all that vast thought circulation which
is the vital current of the world to book-men. Newspapers have
reached their present power by becoming unliterary, and reflecting
all the interests of the world.
THE MISTRESS. I have noticed one thing, that the most popular
persons in society are those who take the world as it is, find the
least fault, and have no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner.
THE YOUNG LADY. And the other kind always appear to me to want a
THE FIRE-TENDER. It seems to me that the real reason why reformers
and some philanthropists are unpopular is, that they disturb our
serenity and make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is only
now and then that a whole people get a spasm of reformatory fervor,
of investigation and regeneration. At other times they rather hate
those who disturb their quiet.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Professional reformers and philanthropists are
insufferably conceited and intolerant.
THE MISTRESS. Everything depends upon the spirit in which a reform
or a scheme of philanthropy is conducted.
MANDEVILLE. I attended a protracted convention of reformers of a
certain evil, once, and had the pleasure of taking dinner with a
tableful of them. It was one of those country dinners accompanied
with green tea. Every one disagreed with every one else, and you
would n't wonder at it, if you had seen them. They were people with
whom good food wouldn't agree. George Thompson was expected at the
convention, and I remember that there was almost a cordiality in the
talk about him, until one sallow brother casually mentioned that
George took snuff,--when a chorus of deprecatory groans went up from
the table. One long-faced maiden in spectacles, with purple ribbons
in her hair, who drank five cups of tea by my count, declared that
she was perfectly disgusted, and did n't want to hear him speak. In
the course of the meal the talk ran upon the discipline of children,
and how to administer punishment. I was quite taken by the remark of
a thin, dyspeptic man who summed up the matter by growling out in a
harsh, deep bass voice, "Punish 'em in love!" It sounded as if he had
said, "Shoot 'em on the spot!"
THE PARSON. I supposed you would say that he was a minister. There
is another thing about those people. I think they are working
against the course of nature. Nature is entirely indifferent to any
reform. She perpetuates a fault as persistently as a virtue.
There's a split in my thumb-nail that has been scrupulously continued
for many years, not withstanding all my efforts to make the nail
resume its old regularity. You see the same thing in trees whose
bark is cut, and in melons that have had only one summer's intimacy
with squashes. The bad traits in character are passed down from
generation to generation with as much care as the good ones. Nature,
unaided, never reforms anything.
MANDEVILLE. Is that the essence of Calvinism?
THE PARSON. Calvinism has n't any essence, it's a fact.
MANDEVILLE. When I was a boy, I always associated Calvinism and
calomel together. I thought that homeopathy--similia, etc.--had done
away with both of them.
OUR NEXT DOOR (rising). If you are going into theology, I'm off..
I fear we are not getting on much with the joyousness of winter. In
order to be exhilarating it must be real winter. I have noticed that
the lower the thermometer sinks the more fiercely the north wind
rages, and the deeper the snow is, the higher rise the spirits of the
community. The activity of the "elements" has a great effect upon
country folk especially; and it is a more wholesome excitement than
that caused by a great conflagration. The abatement of a snow-storm
that grows to exceptional magnitude is regretted, for there is always
the half-hope that this will be, since it has gone so far, the
largest fall of snow ever known in the region, burying out of sight
the great fall of 1808, the account of which is circumstantially and
aggravatingly thrown in our way annually upon the least provocation.
We all know how it reads: "Some said it began at daylight, others
that it set in after sunrise; but all agree that by eight o'clock
Friday morning it was snowing in heavy masses that darkened the air."
The morning after we settled the five--or is it seven?--points of
Calvinism, there began a very hopeful snow-storm, one of those
wide-sweeping, careering storms that may not much affect the city,
but which strongly impress the country imagination with a sense of
the personal qualities of the weather,--power, persistency,
fierceness, and roaring exultation. Out-doors was terrible to those
who looked out of windows, and heard the raging wind, and saw the
commotion in all the high tree-tops and the writhing of the low
evergreens, and could not summon resolution to go forth and breast
and conquer the bluster. The sky was dark with snow, which was not
permitted to fall peacefully like a blessed mantle, as it sometimes
does, but was blown and rent and tossed like the split canvas of a
ship in a gale. The world was taken possession of by the demons of
the air, who had their will of it. There is a sort of fascination in
such a scene, equal to that of a tempest at sea, and without its
attendant haunting sense of peril; there is no fear that the house
will founder or dash against your neighbor's cottage, which is dimly
seen anchored across the field; at every thundering onset there is no
fear that the cook's galley will upset, or the screw break loose and
smash through the side, and we are not in momently expectation of the
tinkling of the little bell to "stop her." The snow rises in
drifting waves, and the naked trees bend like strained masts; but so
long as the window-blinds remain fast, and the chimney-tops do not
go, we preserve an equal mind. Nothing more serious can happen than
the failure of the butcher's and the grocer's carts, unless, indeed,
the little news-carrier should fail to board us with the world's
daily bulletin, or our next-door neighbor should be deterred from
coming to sit by the blazing, excited fire, and interchange the
trifling, harmless gossip of the day. The feeling of seclusion on
such a day is sweet, but the true friend who does brave the storm and
come is welcomed with a sort of enthusiasm that his arrival in
pleasant weather would never excite. The snow-bound in their Arctic
hulk are glad to see even a wandering Esquimau.
On such a day I recall the great snow-storms on the northern New
England hills, which lasted for a week with no cessation, with no
sunrise or sunset, and no observation at noon; and the sky all the
while dark with the driving snow, and the whole world full of the
noise of the rioting Boreal forces; until the roads were obliterated,
the fences covered, and the snow was piled solidly above the first-
story windows of the farmhouse on one side, and drifted before the
front door so high that egress could only be had by tunneling the
After such a battle and siege, when the wind fell and the sun
struggled out again, the pallid world lay subdued and tranquil, and
the scattered dwellings were not unlike wrecks stranded by the
tempest and half buried in sand. But when the blue sky again bent
over all, the wide expanse of snow sparkled like diamond-fields, and
the chimney signal-smokes could be seen, how beautiful was the
picture! Then began the stir abroad, and the efforts to open up
communication through roads, or fields, or wherever paths could be
broken, and the ways to the meeting-house first of all. Then from
every house and hamlet the men turned out with shovels, with the
patient, lumbering oxen yoked to the sleds, to break the roads,
driving into the deepest drifts, shoveling and shouting as if the
severe labor were a holiday frolic, the courage and the hilarity
rising with the difficulties encountered; and relief parties, meeting
at length in the midst of the wide white desolation, hailed each
other as chance explorers in new lands, and made the whole
country-side ring with the noise of their congratulations. There was
as much excitement and healthy stirring of the blood in it as in the
Fourth of July, and perhaps as much patriotism. The boy saw it in
dumb show from the distant, low farmhouse window, and wished he were
a man. At night there were great stories of achievement told by the
cavernous fireplace; great latitude was permitted in the estimation
of the size of particular drifts, but never any agreement was reached
as to the "depth on a level." I have observed since that people are
quite as apt to agree upon the marvelous and the exceptional as upon
By the firelight and the twilight, the Young Lady is finishing a
letter to Herbert,--writing it, literally, on her knees, transforming
thus the simple deed into an act of devotion. Mandeville says that
it is bad for her eyes, but the sight of it is worse for his eyes.
He begins to doubt the wisdom of reliance upon that worn apothegm
about absence conquering love.
Memory has the singular characteristic of recalling in a friend
absent, as in a journey long past, only that which is agreeable.
Mandeville begins to wish he were in New South Wales.
I did intend to insert here a letter of Herbert's to the Young Lady,
--obtained, I need not say, honorably, as private letters which get
into print always are,--not to gratify a vulgar curiosity, but
to show how the most unsentimental and cynical people are affected by
the master passion. But I cannot bring myself to do it. Even in the
interests of science one has no right to make an autopsy of two
loving hearts, especially when they are suffering under a late attack
of the one agreeable epidemic.
All the world loves a lover, but it laughs at him none the less in
his extravagances. He loses his accustomed reticence; he has
something of the martyr's willingness for publicity; he would even
like to show the sincerity of his devotion by some piece of open
heroism. Why should he conceal a discovery which has transformed the
world to him, a secret which explains all the mysteries of nature and
human-ity? He is in that ecstasy of mind which prompts those who
were never orators before to rise in an experience-meeting and pour
out a flood of feeling in the tritest language and the most
conventional terms. I am not sure that Herbert, while in this glow,
would be ashamed of his letter in print, but this is one of the cases
where chancery would step in and protect one from himself by his next
friend. This is really a delicate matter, and perhaps it is brutal
to allude to it at all.
In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in print. Love has
a marvelous power of vivifying language and charging the simplest
words with the most tender meaning, of restoring to them the power
they had when first coined. They are words of fire to those two who
know their secret, but not to others. It is generally admitted that
the best love-letters would not make very good literature.
"Dearest," begins Herbert, in a burst of originality, felicitously
selecting a word whose exclusiveness shuts out all the world but one,
and which is a whole letter, poem, confession, and creed in one
breath. What a weight of meaning it has to carry! There may be
beauty and wit and grace and naturalness and even the splendor of
fortune elsewhere, but there is one woman in the world whose sweet
presence would be compensation for the loss of all else. It is not
to be reasoned about; he wants that one; it is her plume dancing down
the sunny street that sets his heart beating; he knows her form among
a thousand, and follows her; he longs to run after her carriage,
which the cruel coachman whirls out of his sight. It is marvelous to
him that all the world does not want her too, and he is in a panic
when he thinks of it. And what exquisite flattery is in that little
word addressed to her, and with what sweet and meek triumph she
repeats it to herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for
those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out of all the
available world--it is almost as much bliss as it is to choose. "All
that long, long stage-ride from Blim's to Portage I thought of you
every moment, and wondered what you were doing and how you were
looking just that moment, and I found the occupation so charming that
I was almost sorry when the journey was ended." Not much in that!
But I have no doubt the Young Lady read it over and over, and dwelt
also upon every moment, and found in it new proof of unshaken
constancy, and had in that and the like things in the letter a sense
of the sweetest communion. There is nothing in this letter that we
need dwell on it, but I am convinced that the mail does not carry any
other letters so valuable as this sort.
I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this new light
unconsciously gave tone a little to the evening's talk; not that
anybody mentioned him, but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from
the qualities that make one person admired by another to those that
win the love of mankind.
MANDEVILLE. There seems to be something in some persons that wins
them liking, special or general, independent almost of what they do
THE MISTRESS. Why, everybody is liked by some one.
MANDEVILLE. I'm not sure of that. There are those who are
friendless, and would be if they had endless acquaintances. But, to
take the case away from ordinary examples, in which habit and a
thousand circumstances influence liking, what is it that determines
the world upon a personal regard for authors whom it has never seen?
THE FIRE-TENDER. Probably it is the spirit shown in their writings.
THE MISTRESS. More likely it is a sort of tradition; I don't believe
that the world has a feeling of personal regard for any author who
was not loved by those who knew him most intimately.
THE FIRE-TENDFR. Which comes to the same thing. The qualities, the
spirit, that got him the love of his acquaintances he put into his
MANDEVILLE. That does n't seem to me sufficient. Shakespeare has
put everything into his plays and poems, swept the whole range of
human sympathies and passions, and at times is inspired by the
sweetest spirit that ever man had.
THE YOUNG LADY. No one has better interpreted love.
MANDEVILLE. Yet I apprehend that no person living has any personal
regard for Shakespeare, or that his personality affects many,--except
they stand in Stratford church and feel a sort of awe at the thought
that the bones of the greatest poet are so near them.
THE PARSON. I don't think the world cares personally for any mere
man or woman dead for centuries.
MANDEVILLE. But there is a difference. I think there is still
rather a warm feeling for Socrates the man, independent of what he
said, which is little known. Homer's works are certainly better
known, but no one cares personally for Homer any more than for any
OUR NEXT DOOR. Why not go back to Moses? We've got the evening
before us for digging up people.
MANDEVILLE. Moses is a very good illustration. No name of antiquity
is better known, and yet I fancy he does not awaken the same kind of
popular liking that Socrates does.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Fudge! You just get up in any lecture assembly and
propose three cheers for Socrates, and see where you'll be.
Mandeville ought to be a missionary, and read Robert Browning to the
THE FIRE-TENDER. How do you account for the alleged personal regard
THE PARSON. Because the world called Christian is still more than
MANDEVILLE. He was a plain man; his sympathies were with the people;
he had what is roughly known as "horse-sense," and he was homely.
Franklin and Abraham Lincoln belong to his class. They were all
philosophers of the shrewd sort, and they all had humor. It was
fortunate for Lincoln that, with his other qualities, he was homely.
That was the last touching recommendation to the popular heart.
THE MISTRESS. Do you remember that ugly brown-stone statue of St.
Antonio by the bridge in Sorrento? He must have been a coarse saint,
patron of pigs as he was, but I don't know any one anywhere, or the
homely stone image of one, so loved by the people.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Ugliness being trump, I wonder more people don't win.
Mandeville, why don't you get up a "centenary" of Socrates, and put
up his statue in the Central Park? It would make that one of Lincoln
in Union Square look beautiful.
THE PARSON. Oh, you'll see that some day, when they have a museum
there illustrating the "Science of Religion."
THE FIRE-TENDER. Doubtless, to go back to what we were talking of,
the world has a fondness for some authors, and thinks of them with an
affectionate and half-pitying familiarity; and it may be that this
grows out of something in their lives quite as much as anything in
their writings. There seems to be more disposition of personal
liking to Thackeray than to Dickens, now both are dead,--a result
that would hardly have been predicted when the world was crying over
Little Nell, or agreeing to hate Becky Sharp.
THE YOUNG LADY. What was that you were telling about Charles Lamb,
the other day, Mandeville? Is not the popular liking for him
somewhat independent of his writings?
MANDEVILLE. He is a striking example of an author who is loved.
Very likely the remembrance of his tribulations has still something
to do with the tenderness felt for him. He supported no dignity and
permitted a familiarity which indicated no self-appreciation of his
real rank in the world of letters. I have heard that his
acquaintances familiarly called him "Charley."
OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a relief to know that! Do you happen to know
what Socrates was called?
MANDEVILLE. I have seen people who knew Lamb very well. One of them
told me, as illustrating his want of dignity, that as he was going
home late one night through the nearly empty streets, he was met by a
roystering party who were making a night of it from tavern to tavern.
They fell upon Lamb, attracted by his odd figure and hesitating
manner, and, hoisting him on their shoulders, carried him off,
singing as they went. Lamb enjoyed the lark, and did not tell them
who he was. When they were tired of lugging him, they lifted him,
with much effort and difficulty, to the top of a high wall, and left
him there amid the broken bottles, utterly unable to get down. Lamb
remained there philosophically in the enjoyment of his novel
adventure, until a passing watchman rescued him from his ridiculous
THE FIRE-TENDER. How did the story get out?
MANDEVILLE. Oh, Lamb told all about it next morning; and when asked
afterwards why he did so, he replied that there was no fun in it
unless he told it.
The King sat in the winter-house in the ninth month, and there was a
fire on the hearth burning before him . . . . When Jehudi had
read three or four leaves he cut it with the penknife.
That seems to be a pleasant and home-like picture from a not very
remote period,--less than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many
centuries after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very long ago,
for Thebes, in the splendid streets of which Homer wandered and sang
to the kings when Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was
its younger rival, was twelve centuries old when Paris ran away with
I am sorry that the original--and you can usually do anything with
the "original"--does not bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant
picture. I should like to believe that Jehoiakiin--for that was the
singular name of the gentleman who sat by his hearthstone--had just
received the Memphis "Palimpsest," fifteen days in advance of the
date of its publication, and that his secretary was reading to him
that monthly, and cutting its leaves as he read. I should like to
have seen it in that year when Thales was learning astronomy in
Memphis, and Necho was organizing his campaign against Carchemish.
If Jehoiakim took the "Attic Quarterly," he might have read its
comments on the banishment of the Alcmaeonida, and its gibes at
Solon for his prohibitory laws, forbidding the sale of unguents,
limiting the luxury of dress, and interfering with the sacred rights
of mourners to passionately bewail the dead in the Asiatic manner;
the same number being enriched with contributions from two rising
poets,--a lyric of love by Sappho, and an ode sent by Anacreon from
Teos, with an editorial note explaining that the Maces was not
responsible for the sentiments of the poem.
But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the backlog in his
winter-house had other things to think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was
coming that way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a great
crowd of marauders; and the king had not even the poor choice whether
he would be the vassal of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us,
this is only a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors stalking
across vast historic spaces. It was no doubt a vulgar enough scene
of war and plunder. The great captains of that age went about to
harry each other's territories and spoil each other's cities very
much as we do nowadays, and for similar reasons;--Napoleon the Great
in Moscow, Napoleon the Small in Italy, Kaiser William in Paris,
Great Scott in Mexico! Men have not changed much.
--The Fire-Tender sat in his winter-garden in the third month; there
was a fire on the hearth burning before him. He cut the leaves of
"Scribner's Monthly" with his penknife, and thought of Jehoiakim.
That seems as real as the other. In the garden, which is a room of
the house, the tall callas, rooted in the ground, stand about the
fountain; the sun, streaming through the glass, illumines the
many-hued flowers. I wonder what Jehoiakim did with the mealy-bug on
his passion-vine, and if he had any way of removing the scale-bug
from his African acacia? One would like to know, too, how he treated
the red spider on the Le Marque rose. The record is silent. I do
not doubt he had all these insects in his winter-garden, and the
aphidae besides; and he could not smoke them out with tobacco, for
the world had not yet fallen into its second stage of the knowledge
of good and evil by eating the forbidden tobacco-plant.
I confess that this little picture of a fire on the hearth so many
centuries ago helps to make real and interesting to me that somewhat
misty past. No doubt the lotus and the acanthus from the Nile grew
in that winter-house, and perhaps Jehoiakim attempted--the most
difficult thing in the world the cultivation of the wild flowers from
Lebanon. Perhaps Jehoiakim was interested also, as I am through this
ancient fireplace,--which is a sort of domestic window into the
ancient world,--in the loves of Bernice and Abaces at the court of
the Pharaohs. I see that it is the same thing as the sentiment--
perhaps it is the shrinking which every soul that is a soul has,
sooner or later, from isolation--which grew up between Herbert and
the Young Lady Staying With Us. Jeremiah used to come in to that
fireside very much as the Parson does to ours. The Parson, to be
sure, never prophesies, but he grumbles, and is the chorus in the
play that sings the everlasting ai ai of "I told you so!" Yet we
like the Parson. He is the sprig of bitter herb that makes the
pottage wholesome. I should rather, ten times over, dispense with
the flatterers and the smooth-sayers than the grumblers. But the
grumblers are of two sorts,--the healthful-toned and the whiners.
There are makers of beer who substitute for the clean bitter of the
hops some deleterious drug, and then seek to hide the fraud by some
cloying sweet. There is nothing of this sickish drug in the Parson's
talk, nor was there in that of Jeremiah, I sometimes think there is
scarcely enough of this wholesome tonic in modern society. The
Parson says he never would give a child sugar-coated pills.
Mandeville says he never would give them any. After all, you cannot
help liking Mandeville.
We were talking of this late news from Jerusalem. The Fire-Tender
was saying that it is astonishing how much is telegraphed us from the
East that is not half so interesting. He was at a loss
philosophically to account for the fact that the world is so eager to
know the news of yesterday which is unimportant, and so indifferent
to that of the day before which is of some moment.
MANDEVILLE. I suspect that it arises from the want of imagination.
People need to touch the facts, and nearness in time is contiguity.
It would excite no interest to bulletin the last siege of Jerusalem
in a village where the event was unknown, if the date was appended;
and yet the account of it is incomparably more exciting than that of
the siege of Metz.
OUR NEXT DOOR. The daily news is a necessity. I cannot get along
without my morning paper. The other morning I took it up, and was
absorbed in the telegraphic columns for an hour nearly. I thoroughly
enjoyed the feeling of immediate contact with all the world of
yesterday, until I read among the minor items that Patrick Donahue,
of the city of New York, died of a sunstroke. If he had frozen to
death, I should have enjoyed that; but to die of sunstroke in
February seemed inappropriate, and I turned to the date of the paper.
When I found it was printed in July, I need not say that I lost all
interest in it, though why the trivialities and crimes and accidents,
relating to people I never knew, were not as good six months after
date as twelve hours, I cannot say.
THE FIRE-TENDER. You know that in Concord the latest news, except a
remark or two by Thoreau or Emerson, is the Vedas. I believe the
Rig-Veda is read at the breakfast-table instead of the Boston
THE PARSON. I know it is read afterward instead of the Bible.
MANDEVILLE. That is only because it is supposed to be older. I have
understood that the Bible is very well spoken of there, but it is not
antiquated enough to be an authority.
OUR NEXT DOOR. There was a project on foot to put it into the
circulating library, but the title New in the second part was
HERBERT. Well, I have a good deal of sympathy with Concord as to the
news. We are fed on a daily diet of trivial events and gossip, of
the unfruitful sayings of thoughtless men and women, until our mental
digestion is seriously impaired; the day will come when no one will
be able to sit down to a thoughtful, well-wrought book and assimilate
THE MISTRESS. I doubt if a daily newspaper is a necessity, in the
higher sense of the word.
THE PARSON. Nobody supposes it is to women,--that is, if they can
see each other.
THE MISTRESS. Don't interrupt, unless you have something to say;
though I should like to know how much gossip there is afloat that the
minister does not know. The newspaper may be needed in society, but
how quickly it drops out of mind when one goes beyond the bounds of
what is called civilization. You remember when we were in the depths
of the woods last summer how difficult it was to get up any interest
in the files of late papers that reached us, and how unreal all the
struggle and turmoil of the world seemed. We stood apart, and could
estimate things at their true value.
THE YOUNG LADY. Yes, that was real life. I never tired of the
guide's stories; there was some interest in the intelligence that a
deer had been down to eat the lily-pads at the foot of the lake the
night before; that a bear's track was seen on the trail we crossed
that day; even Mandeville's fish-stories had a certain air of
probability; and how to roast a trout in the ashes and serve him hot
and juicy and clean, and how to cook soup and prepare coffee and heat
dish-water in one tin-pail, were vital problems.
THE PARSON. You would have had no such problems at home. Why will
people go so far to put themselves to such inconvenience? I hate the
woods. Isolation breeds conceit; there are no people so conceited as
those who dwell in remote wildernesses and live mostly alone.
THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I feel humble in the presence of
mountains, and in the vast stretches of the wilderness.
THE PARSON. I'll be bound a woman would feel just as nobody would
expect her to feel, under given circumstances.
MANDEVILLE. I think the reason why the newspaper and the world it
carries take no hold of us in the wilderness is that we become a kind
of vegetable ourselves when we go there. I have often attempted to
improve my mind in the woods with good solid books. You might as
well offer a bunch of celery to an oyster. The mind goes to sleep:
the senses and the instincts wake up. The best I can do when it
rains, or the trout won't bite, is to read Dumas's novels. Their
ingenuity will almost keep a man awake after supper, by the
camp-fire. And there is a kind of unity about them that I like; the
history is as good as the morality.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I always wondered where Mandeville got his historical
THE MISTRESS. Mandeville misrepresents himself in the woods. I
heard him one night repeat "The Vision of Sir Launfal"--(THE
FIRE-TENDER. Which comes very near being our best poem.)--as we were
crossing the lake, and the guides became so absorbed in it that they
forgot to paddle, and sat listening with open mouths, as if it had
been a panther story.
THE PARSON. Mandeville likes to show off well enough. I heard that
he related to a woods' boy up there the whole of the Siege of Troy.
The boy was very much interested, and said "there'd been a man up
there that spring from Troy, looking up timber." Mandeville always
carries the news when he goes into the country.
MANDEVILLE. I'm going to take the Parson's sermon on Jonah next
summer; it's the nearest to anything like news we've had from his
pulpit in ten years. But, seriously, the boy was very well informed.
He'd heard of Albany; his father took in the "Weekly Tribune," and he
had a partial conception of Horace Greeley.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I never went so far out of the world in America yet
that the name of Horace Greeley did n't rise up before me. One of
the first questions asked by any camp-fire is, "Did ye ever see
HERBERT. Which shows the power of the press again. But I have often
remarked how little real conception of the moving world, as it is,
people in remote regions get from the newspaper. It needs to be read
in the midst of events. A chip cast ashore in a refluent eddy tells
no tale of the force and swiftness of the current.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I don't exactly get the drift of that last remark;
but I rather like a remark that I can't understand; like the
landlady's indigestible bread, it stays by you.
HERBERT. I see that I must talk in words of one syllable. The
newspaper has little effect upon the remote country mind, because the
remote country mind is interested in a very limited number of things.
Besides, as the Parson says, it is conceited. The most accomplished
scholar will be the butt of all the guides in the woods, because he
cannot follow a trail that would puzzle a sable (saple the trappers
THE PARSON. It's enough to read the summer letters that people write
to the newspapers from the country and the woods. Isolated from the
activity of the world, they come to think that the little adventures
of their stupid days and nights are important. Talk about that being
real life! Compare the letters such people write with the other
contents of the newspaper, and you will see which life is real.
That's one reason I hate to have summer come, the country letters set
THE MISTRESS. I should like to see something the Parson does n't
hate to have come.
MANDEVILLE. Except his quarter's salary; and the meeting of the
THE FIRE-TENDER. I don't see that we are getting any nearer the
solution of the original question. The world is evidently interested
in events simply because they are recent.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I have a theory that a newspaper might be published
at little cost, merely by reprinting the numbers of years before,
only altering the dates; just as the Parson preaches over his
THE FIRE-TENDER. It's evident we must have a higher order of
news-gatherers. It has come to this, that the newspaper furnishes
thought-material for all the world, actually prescribes from day to
day the themes the world shall think on and talk about. The
occupation of news-gathering becomes, therefore, the most important.
When you think of it, it is astonishing that this department should
not be in the hands of the ablest men, accomplished scholars,
philosophical observers, discriminating selectors of the news of the
world that is worth thinking over and talking about. The editorial
comments frequently are able enough, but is it worth while keeping an
expensive mill going to grind chaff? I sometimes wonder, as I open
my morning paper, if nothing did happen in the twenty-four hours
except crimes, accidents, defalcations, deaths of unknown loafers,
robberies, monstrous births,--say about the level of police-court
OUR NEXT DOOR. I have even noticed that murders have deteriorated;
they are not so high-toned and mysterious as they used to be.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It is true that the newspapers have improved vastly
within the last decade.
HERBERT. I think, for one, that they are very much above the level
of the ordinary gossip of the country.
THE FIRE-TENDER. But I am tired of having the under-world still
occupy so much room in the newspapers. The reporters are rather more
alert for a dog-fight than a philological convention. It must be
that the good deeds of the world outnumber the bad in any given day;
and what a good reflex action it would have on society if they could
be more fully reported than the bad! I suppose the Parson would call
this the Enthusiasm of Humanity.
THE PARSON. You'll see how far you can lift yourself up by your
HERBERT. I wonder what influence on the quality (I say nothing of
quantity) of news the coming of women into the reporter's and
editor's work will have.
OUR NEXT DOOR. There are the baby-shows; they make cheerful reading.
THE MISTRESS. All of them got up by speculating men, who impose upon
the vanity of weak women.
HERBERT. I think women reporters are more given to personal details
and gossip than the men. When I read the Washington correspondence I
am proud of my country, to see how many Apollo Belvederes, Adonises,
how much marble brow and piercing eye and hyacinthine locks, we have
in the two houses of Congress.
THE YOUNG LADY. That's simply because women understand the personal
weakness of men; they have a long score of personal flattery to pay
MANDEVILLE. I think women will bring in elements of brightness,
picturesqueness, and purity very much needed. Women have a power of
investing simple ordinary things with a charm; men are bungling
narrators compared with them.
THE PARSON. The mistake they make is in trying to write, and
especially to "stump-speak," like men; next to an effeminate man
there is nothing so disagreeable as a mannish woman.
HERBERT. I heard one once address a legislative committee. The
knowing air, the familiar, jocular, smart manner, the nodding and
winking innuendoes, supposed to be those of a man "up to snuff," and
au fait in political wiles, were inexpressibly comical. And yet the
exhibition was pathetic, for it had the suggestive vulgarity of a
woman in man's clothes. The imitation is always a dreary failure.
THE MISTRESS. Such women are the rare exceptions. I am ready to
defend my sex; but I won't attempt to defend both sexes in one.
THE FIRE-TENDER. I have great hope that women will bring into the
newspaper an elevating influence; the common and sweet life of
society is much better fitted to entertain and instruct us than the
exceptional and extravagant. I confess (saving the Mistress's
presence) that the evening talk over the dessert at dinner is much
more entertaining and piquant than the morning paper, and often as
THE MISTRESS. I think the subject had better be changed.
MANDEVILLE. The person, not the subject. There is no entertainment
so full of quiet pleasure as the hearing a lady of cultivation and
refinement relate her day's experience in her daily rounds of calls,
charitable visits, shopping, errands of relief and condolence. The
evening budget is better than the finance minister's.
OUR NEXT DOOR. That's even so. My wife will pick up more news in
six hours than I can get in a week, and I'm fond of news.
MANDEVILLE. I don't mean gossip, by any means, or scandal. A woman
of culture skims over that like a bird, never touching it with the
tip of a wing. What she brings home is the freshness and brightness
of life. She touches everything so daintily, she hits off a
character in a sentence, she gives the pith of a dialogue without
tediousness, she mimics without vulgarity; her narration sparkles,
but it does n't sting. The picture of her day is full of vivacity,
and it gives new value and freshness to common things. If we could
only have on the stage such actresses as we have in the drawing-room!
THE FIRE-TENDER. We want something more of this grace,
sprightliness, and harmless play of the finer life of society in the
OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder Mandeville does n't marry, and become a
permanent subscriber to his embodied idea of a newspaper.
THE YOUNG LADY. Perhaps he does not relish the idea of being unable
to stop his subscription.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Parson, won't you please punch that fire, and give us
more blaze? we are getting into the darkness of socialism.
Herbert returned to us in March. The Young Lady was spending the
winter with us, and March, in spite of the calendar, turned out to be
a winter month. It usually is in New England, and April too, for
that matter. And I cannot say it is unfortunate for us. There are
so many topics to be turned over and settled at our fireside that a
winter of ordinary length would make little impression on the list.
The fireside is, after all, a sort of private court of chancery,
where nothing ever does come to a final decision. The chief effect
of talk on any subject is to strengthen one's own opinions, and, in
fact, one never knows exactly what he does believe until he is warmed
into conviction by the heat of attack and defence. A man left to
himself drifts about like a boat on a calm lake; it is only when the
wind blows that the boat goes anywhere.
Herbert said he had been dipping into the recent novels written by
women, here and there, with a view to noting the effect upon
literature of this sudden and rather overwhelming accession to it.
There was a good deal of talk about it evening after evening, off and
on, and I can only undertake to set down fragments of it.
HERBERT. I should say that the distinguishing feature of the
literature of this day is the prominence women have in its
production. They figure in most of the magazines, though very rarely
in the scholarly and critical reviews, and in thousands of
newspapers; to them we are indebted for the oceans of Sunday-school
books, and they write the majority of the novels, the serial stories,
and they mainly pour out the watery flood of tales in the weekly
papers. Whether this is to result in more good than evil it is
impossible yet to say, and perhaps it would be unjust to say, until
this generation has worked off its froth, and women settle down to
artistic, conscien-tious labor in literature.
THE MISTRESS. You don't mean to say that George Eliot, and Mrs.
Gaskell, and George Sand, and Mrs. Browning, before her marriage and
severe attack of spiritism, are less true to art than contemporary
men novelists and poets.
HERBERT. You name some exceptions that show the bright side of the
picture, not only for the present, but for the future. Perhaps
genius has no sex; but ordinary talent has. I refer to the great
body of novels, which you would know by internal evidence were
written by women. They are of two sorts: the domestic story,
entirely unidealized, and as flavorless as water-gruel; and the
spiced novel, generally immoral in tendency, in which the social
problems are handled, unhappy marriages, affinity and passional
attraction, bigamy, and the violation of the seventh commandment.
These subjects are treated in the rawest manner, without any settled
ethics, with little discrimination of eternal right and wrong, and
with very little sense of responsibility for what is set forth. Many
of these novels are merely the blind outbursts of a nature impatient
of restraint and the conventionalities of society, and are as chaotic
as the untrained minds that produce them.
MANDEVILLE. Don't you think these novels fairly represent a social
condition of unrest and upheaval?
HERBERT. Very likely; and they help to create and spread abroad the
discontent they describe. Stories of bigamy (sometimes disguised by
divorce), of unhappy marriages, where the injured wife, through an
entire volume, is on the brink of falling into the arms of a sneaking
lover, until death kindly removes the obstacle, and the two souls,
who were born for each other, but got separated in the cradle, melt
and mingle into one in the last chapter, are not healthful reading
for maids or mothers.
THE MISTRESS. Or men.
THE FIRE-TENDER. The most disagreeable object to me in modern
literature is the man the women novelists have introduced as the
leading character; the women who come in contact with him seem to be
fascinated by his disdainful mien, his giant strength, and his brutal
manner. He is broad across the shoulders, heavily moulded, yet as
lithe as a cat; has an ugly scar across his right cheek; has been in
the four quarters of the globe; knows seventeen languages; had a
harem in Turkey and a Fayaway in the Marquesas; can be as polished as
Bayard in the drawing-room, but is as gloomy as Conrad in the
library; has a terrible eye and a withering glance, but can be
instantly subdued by a woman's hand, if it is not his wife's; and
through all his morose and vicious career has carried a heart as pure
as a violet.
THE MISTRESS. Don't you think the Count of Monte Cristo is the elder
brother of Rochester?
THE FIRE-TENDER. One is a mere hero of romance; the other is meant
for a real man.
MANDEVILLE. I don't see that the men novel-writers are better than
HERBERT. That's not the question; but what are women who write so
large a proportion of the current stories bringing into literature?
Aside from the question of morals, and the absolutely demoralizing
manner of treating social questions, most of their stories are vapid
and weak beyond expression, and are slovenly in composition, showing
neither study, training, nor mental discipline.
THE MISTRESS. Considering that women have been shut out from the
training of the universities, and have few opportunities for the wide
observation that men enjoy, isn't it pretty well that the foremost
living writers of fiction are women?
HERBERT. You can say that for the moment, since Thackeray and
Dickens have just died. But it does not affect the general estimate.
We are inundated with a flood of weak writing. Take the Sunday-
school literature, largely the product of women; it has n't as much
character as a dried apple pie. I don't know what we are coming to
if the presses keep on running.
OUR NEXT DOOR. We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful
time; I'm glad I don't write novels.
THE PARSON. So am I.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I tried a Sunday-school book once; but I made the
good boy end in the poorhouse, and the bad boy go to Congress; and
the publisher said it wouldn't do, the public wouldn't stand that
sort of thing. Nobody but the good go to Congress.
THE MISTRESS. Herbert, what do you think women are good for?
OUR NEXT DOOR. That's a poser.
HERBERT. Well, I think they are in a tentative state as to
literature, and we cannot yet tell what they will do. Some of our
most brilliant books of travel, correspondence, and writing on topics
in which their sympathies have warmly interested them, are by women.
Some of them are also strong writers in the daily journals.
MANDEVILLE. I 'm not sure there's anything a woman cannot do as well
as a man, if she sets her heart on it.
THE PARSON. That's because she's no conscience.
CHORUS. O Parson!
THE PARSON. Well, it does n't trouble her, if she wants to do
anything. She looks at the end, not the means. A woman, set on
anything, will walk right through the moral crockery without wincing.
She'd be a great deal more unscrupulous in politics than the average
man. Did you ever see a female lobbyist? Or a criminal? It is Lady
Macbeth who does not falter. Don't raise your hands at me! The
sweetest angel or the coolest devil is a woman. I see in some of the
modern novels we have been talking of the same unscrupulous daring, a
blindness to moral distinctions, a constant exaltation of a passion
into a virtue, an entire disregard of the immutable laws on which the
family and society rest. And you ask lawyers and trustees how
scrupulous women are in business transactions!
THE FIRE-TENDER. Women are often ignorant of affairs, and, besides,
they may have a notion often that a woman ought to be privileged more
than a man in business matters; but I tell you, as a rule, that if
men would consult their wives, they would go a deal straighter in
business operations than they do go.
THE PARSON. We are all poor sinners. But I've another indictment
against the women writers. We get no good old-fashioned love-stories
from them. It's either a quarrel of discordant natures one a
panther, and the other a polar bear--for courtship, until one of them
is crippled by a railway accident; or a long wrangle of married life
between two unpleasant people, who can neither live comfortably
together nor apart. I suppose, by what I see, that sweet wooing,
with all its torturing and delightful uncertainty, still goes on in
the world; and I have no doubt that the majority of married people
live more happily than the unmarried. But it's easier to find a dodo
than a new and good love-story.
MANDEVILLE. I suppose the old style of plot is exhausted.
Everything in man and outside of him has been turned over so often
that I should think the novelists would cease simply from want of
THE PARSON. Plots are no more exhausted than men are. Every man is
a new creation, and combinations are simply endless. Even if we did
not have new material in the daily change of society, and there were
only a fixed number of incidents and characters in life, invention
could not be exhausted on them. I amuse myself sometimes with my
kaleidoscope, but I can never reproduce a figure. No, no. I cannot
say that you may not exhaust everything else: we may get all the
secrets of a nature into a book by and by, but the novel is immortal,
for it deals with men.
The Parson's vehemence came very near carrying him into a sermon; and
as nobody has the privilege of replying to his sermons, so none of
the circle made any reply now.
Our Next Door mumbled something about his hair standing on end, to
hear a minister defending the novel; but it did not interrupt the
general silence. Silence is unnoticed when people sit before a fire;
it would be intolerable if they sat and looked at each other.
The wind had risen during the evening, and Mandeville remarked, as
they rose to go, that it had a spring sound in it, but it was as cold
as winter. The Mistress said she heard a bird that morning singing
in the sun a spring song, it was a winter bird, but it sang
We have been much interested in what is called the Gothic revival.
We have spent I don't know how many evenings in looking over
Herbert's plans for a cottage, and have been amused with his vain
efforts to cover with Gothic roofs the vast number of large rooms
which the Young Lady draws in her sketch of a small house.
I have no doubt that the Gothic, which is capable of infinite
modification, so that every house built in that style may be as
different from every other house as one tree is from every other, can
be adapted to our modern uses, and will be, when artists catch its
spirit instead of merely copying its old forms. But just now we are
taking the Gothic very literally, as we took the Greek at one time,
or as we should probably have taken the Saracenic, if the Moors had
not been colored. Not even the cholera is so contagious in this
country as a style of architecture which we happen to catch; the
country is just now broken out all over with the Mansard-roof
And in secular architecture we do not study what is adapted to our
climate any more than in ecclesiastic architecture we adopt that
which is suited to our religion.
We are building a great many costly churches here and there, we
Protestants, and as the most of them are ill adapted to our forms of
worship, it may be necessary and best for us to change our religion
in order to save our investments. I am aware that this would be a
grave step, and we should not hasten to throw overboard Luther and
the right of private judgment without reflection. And yet, if it is
necessary to revive the ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, not in
its spirit (that we nowhere do), but in the form which served another
age and another faith, and if, as it appears, we have already a great
deal of money invested in this reproduction, it may be more prudent
to go forward than to go back. The question is, "Cannot one easier
change his creed than his pew?"
I occupy a seat in church which is an admirable one for reflection,
but I cannot see or hear much that is going on in what we like to
call the apse. There is a splendid stone pillar, a clustered column,
right in front of me, and I am as much protected from the minister as
Old Put's troops were from the British, behind the stone wall at
Bunker's Hill. I can hear his voice occasionally wandering round in
the arches overhead, and I recognize the tone, because he is a friend
of mine and an excellent man, but what he is saying I can very seldom
make out. If there was any incense burning, I could smell it, and
that would be something. I rather like the smell of incense, and it
has its holy associations. But there is no smell in our church,
except of bad air,--for there is no provision for ventilation in the
splendid and costly edifice. The reproduction of the old Gothic is
so complete that the builders even seem to have brought over the
ancient air from one of the churches of the Middle Ages,--you would
declare it had n't been changed in two centuries.
I am expected to fix my attention during the service upon one man,
who stands in the centre of the apse and has a sounding-board behind
him in order to throw his voice out of the sacred semicircular space
(where the aitar used to stand, but now the sounding-board takes the
place of the altar) and scatter it over the congregation at large,
and send it echoing up in the groined roof I always like to hear a
minister who is unfamiliar with the house, and who has a loud voice,
try to fill the edifice. The more he roars and gives himself with
vehemence to the effort, the more the building roars in
indistinguishable noise and hubbub. By the time he has said (to
suppose a case), "The Lord is in his holy temple," and has passed on
to say, "let all the earth keep silence," the building is repeating
"The Lord is in his holy temple" from half a dozen different angles
and altitudes, rolling it and growling it, and is not keeping silence
at all. A man who understands it waits until the house has had its
say, and has digested one passage, before he launches another into
the vast, echoing spaces. I am expected, as I said, to fix my eye
and mind on the minister, the central point of the service. But the
pillar hides him. Now if there were several ministers in the church,
dressed in such gorgeous colors that I could see them at the distance
from the apse at which my limited income compels me to sit, and
candles were burning, and censers were swinging, and the platform was
full of the sacred bustle of a gorgeous ritual worship, and a bell
rang to tell me the holy moments, I should not mind the pillar at
all. I should sit there, like any other Goth, and enjoy it. But, as
I have said, the pastor is a friend of mine, and I like to look at
him on Sunday, and hear what he says, for he always says something
worth hearing. I am on such terms with him, indeed we all are, that
it would be pleasant to have the service of a little more social
nature, and more human. When we put him away off in the apse, and
set him up for a Goth, and then seat ourselves at a distance,
scattered about among the pillars, the whole thing seems to me a
trifle unnatural. Though I do not mean to say that the congregations
do not "enjoy their religion" in their splendid edifices which cost
so much money and are really so beautiful.
A good many people have the idea, so it seems, that Gothic
architecture and Christianity are essentially one and the same thing.
Just as many regard it as an act of piety to work an altar cloth or
to cushion a pulpit. It may be, and it may not be.
Our Gothic church is likely to prove to us a valuable religious
experience, bringing out many of the Christian virtues. It may have
had its origin in pride, but it is all being overruled for our good.
Of course I need n't explain that it is the thirteenth century
ecclesiastic Gothic that is epidemic in this country; and I think it
has attacked the Congregational and the other non-ritual churches
more violently than any others. We have had it here in its most
beautiful and dangerous forms. I believe we are pretty much all of
us supplied with a Gothic church now. Such has been the enthusiasm
in this devout direction, that I should not be surprised to see our
rich private citizens putting up Gothic churches for their individual
amusement and sanctification. As the day will probably come when
every man in Hartford will live in his own mammoth, five-story
granite insurance building, it may not be unreasonable to expect that
every man will sport his own Gothic church. It is beginning to be
discovered that the Gothic sort of church edifice is fatal to the
Congregational style of worship that has been prevalent here in New
England; but it will do nicely (as they say in Boston) for private
There isn't a finer or purer church than ours any where, inside and
outside Gothic to the last. The elevation of the nave gives it even
that "high-shouldered" appearance which seemed more than anything
else to impress Mr. Hawthorne in the cathedral at Amiens. I fancy
that for genuine high-shoulderness we are not exceeded by any church
in the city. Our chapel in the rear is as Gothic as the rest of it,-
-a beautiful little edifice. The committee forgot to make any more
provision for ventilating that than the church, and it takes a pretty
well-seasoned Christian to stay in it long at a time. The Sunday-
school is held there, and it is thought to be best to accustom the
children to bad air before they go into the church. The poor little
dears shouldn't have the wickedness and impurity of this world break
on them too suddenly. If the stranger noticed any lack about our
church, it would be that of a spire. There is a place for one;
indeed, it was begun, and then the builders seem to have stopped,
with the notion that it would grow itself from such a good root. It
is a mistake however, to suppose that we do not know that the church
has what the profane here call a "stump-tail" appearance. But the
profane are as ignorant of history as they are of true Gothic. All
the Old World cathedrals were the work of centuries. That at Milan
is scarcely finished yet; the unfinished spires of the Cologne
cathedral are one of the best-known features of it. I doubt if it
would be in the Gothic spirit to finish a church at once. We can
tell cavilers that we shall have a spire at the proper time, and not
a minute before. It may depend a little upon what the Baptists do,
who are to build near us. I, for one, think we had better wait and
see how high the Baptist spire is before we run ours up. The church
is everything that could be desired inside. There is the nave, with
its lofty and beautiful arched ceiling; there are the side aisles,
and two elegant rows of stone pillars, stained so as to be a perfect
imitation of stucco; there is the apse, with its stained glass and
exquisite lines; and there is an organ-loft over the front entrance,
with a rose window. Nothing was wanting, so far as we could see,
except that we should adapt ourselves to the circumstances; and that
we have been trying to do ever since. It may be well to relate how
we do it, for the benefit of other inchoate Goths.
It was found that if we put up the organ in the loft, it would hide
the beautiful rose window. Besides, we wanted congregational sing-
ing, and if we hired a choir, and hung it up there under the roof,
like a cage of birds, we should not have congregational singing. We
therefore left the organ-loft vacant, making no further use of it
than to satisfy our Gothic cravings. As for choir,--several of the
singers of the church volunteered to sit together in the front
side-seats, and as there was no place for an organ, they gallantly
rallied round a melodeon,--or perhaps it is a cabinet organ,--a
charming instrument, and, as everybody knows, entirely in keeping
with the pillars, arches, and great spaces of a real Gothic edifice.
It is the union of simplicity with grandeur, for which we have all
been looking. I need not say to those who have ever heard a
melodeon, that there is nothing like it. It is rare, even in the
finest churches on the Continent. And we had congregational singing.
And it went very well indeed. One of the advantages of pure
congregational singing, is that you can join in the singing whether
you have a voice or not. The disadvantage is, that your neighbor can
do the same. It is strange what an uncommonly poor lot of voices
there is, even among good people. But we enjoy it. If you do not
enjoy it, you can change your seat until you get among a good lot.
So far, everything went well. But it was next discovered that it was
difficult to hear the minister, who had a very handsome little desk
in the apse, somewhat distant from the bulk of the congregation;
still, we could most of us see him on a clear day. The church was
admirably built for echoes, and the centre of the house was very
favorable to them. When you sat in the centre of the house, it
sometimes seemed as if three or four ministers were speaking.
It is usually so in cathedrals; the Right Reverend So-and-So is
assisted by the very Reverend Such-and-Such, and the good deal
Reverend Thus-and-Thus, and so on. But a good deal of the minister's
voice appeared to go up into the groined arches, and, as there was no
one up there, some of his best things were lost. We also had a
notion that some of it went into the cavernous organ-loft. It would
have been all right if there had been a choir there, for choirs
usually need more preaching, and pay less heed to it, than any other
part of the congregation. Well, we drew a sort of screen over the
organ-loft; but the result was not as marked as we had hoped. We
next devised a sounding-board,--a sort of mammoth clamshell, painted
white,--and erected it behind the minister. It had a good effect on
the minister. It kept him up straight to his work. So long as he
kept his head exactly in the focus, his voice went out and did not
return to him; but if he moved either way, he was assailed by a Babel
of clamoring echoes. There was no opportunity for him to splurge
about from side to side of the pulpit, as some do. And if he raised
his voice much, or attempted any extra flights, he was liable to be
drowned in a refluent sea of his own eloquence. And he could hear
the congregation as well as they could hear him. All the coughs,
whispers, noises, were gathered in the wooden tympanum behind him,
and poured into his ears.
But the sounding-board was an improvement, and we advanced to bolder
measures; having heard a little, we wanted to hear more. Besides,
those who sat in front began to be discontented with the melodeon.
There are depths in music which the melodeon, even when it is called
a cabinet organ, with a colored boy at the bellows, cannot sound.
The melodeon was not, originally, designed for the Gothic worship.
We determined to have an organ, and we speculated whether, by
erecting it in the apse, we could not fill up that elegant portion of
the church, and compel the preacher's voice to leave it, and go out
over the pews. It would of course do something to efface the main
beauty of a Gothic church; but something must be done, and we began a
series of experiments to test the probable effects of putting the
organ and choir behind the minister. We moved the desk to the very
front of the platform, and erected behind it a high, square board
screen, like a section of tight fence round the fair-grounds. This
did help matters. The minister spoke with more ease, and we could
hear him better. If the screen had been intended to stay there, we
should have agitated the subject of painting it. But this was only
Our next move was to shove the screen back and mount the volunteer
singers, melodeon and all, upon the platform,--some twenty of them
crowded together behind the minister. The effect was beautiful. It
seemed as if we had taken care to select the finest-looking people in
the congregation,--much to the injury of the congregation, of course,
as seen from the platform. There are few congregations that can
stand this sort of culling, though ours can endure it as well as any;
yet it devolves upon those of us who remain the responsibility of
looking as well as we can.
The experiment was a success, so far as appearances went, but when
the screen went back, the minister's voice went back with it. We
could not hear him very well, though we could hear the choir as plain
as day. We have thought of remedying this last defect by putting the
high screen in front of the singers, and close to the minister, as it
was before. This would make the singers invisible,--"though lost to
sight, to memory dear,"--what is sometimes called an "angel choir,"
when the singers (and the melodeon) are concealed, with the most
subdued and religious effect. It is often so in cathedrals.
This plan would have another advantage. The singers on the platform,
all handsome and well dressed, distract our attention from the
minister, and what he is saying. We cannot help looking at them,
studying all the faces and all the dresses. If one of them sits up
very straight, he is a rebuke to us; if he "lops" over, we wonder why
he does n't sit up; if his hair is white, we wonder whether it is age
or family peculiarity; if he yawns, we want to yawn; if he takes up a
hymn-book, we wonder if he is uninterested in the sermon; we look at
the bonnets, and query if that is the latest spring style, or whether
we are to look for another; if he shaves close, we wonder why he
doesn't let his beard grow; if he has long whiskers, we wonder why he
does n't trim 'em; if she sighs, we feel sorry; if she smiles, we
would like to know what it is about. And, then, suppose any of the
singers should ever want to eat fennel, or peppermints, or Brown's
troches, and pass them round! Suppose the singers, more or less of
them, should sneeze!
Suppose one or two of them, as the handsomest people sometimes will,
should go to sleep! In short, the singers there take away all our
attention from the minister, and would do so if they were the
homeliest people in the world. We must try something else.
It is needless to explain that a Gothic religious life is not an idle
Perhaps the clothes question is exhausted, philosophically. I cannot
but regret that the Poet of the Breakfast-Table, who appears to have
an uncontrollable penchant for saying the things you would like to
say yourself, has alluded to the anachronism of "Sir Coeur de Lion
Plantagenet in the mutton-chop whiskers and the plain gray suit."
A great many scribblers have felt the disadvantage of writing after
Montaigne; and it is impossible to tell how much originality in
others Dr. Holmes has destroyed in this country. In whist there are
some men you always prefer to have on your left hand, and I take it
that this intuitive essayist, who is so alert to seize the few
remaining unappropriated ideas and analogies in the world, is one of
No doubt if the Plantagenets of this day were required to dress in a
suit of chain-armor and wear iron pots on their heads, they would be
as ridiculous as most tragedy actors on the stage. The pit which
recognizes Snooks in his tin breastplate and helmet laughs at him,
and Snooks himself feels like a sheep; and when the great tragedian
comes on, shining in mail, dragging a two-handed sword, and mouths
the grandiloquence which poets have put into the speech of heroes,
the dress-circle requires all its good-breeding and its feigned love
of the traditionary drama not to titter.
If this sort of acting, which is supposed to have come down to us
from the Elizabethan age, and which culminated in the school of the
Keans, Kembles, and Siddonses, ever had any fidelity to life, it must
have been in a society as artificial as the prose of Sir Philip
Sidney. That anybody ever believed in it is difficult to think,
especially when we read what privileges the fine beaux and gallants
of the town took behind the scenes and on the stage in the golden
days of the drama. When a part of the audience sat on the stage, and
gentlemen lounged or reeled across it in the midst of a play, to
speak to acquaintances in the audience, the illusion could not have
been very strong.
Now and then a genius, like Rachel as Horatia, or Hackett as
Falstaff, may actually seem to be the character assumed by virtue of
a transforming imagination, but I suppose the fact to be that getting
into a costume, absurdly antiquated and remote from all the habits
and associations of the actor, largely accounts for the incongruity
and ridiculousness of most of our modern acting. Whether what is
called the "legitimate drama" ever was legitimate we do not know, but
the advocates of it appear to think that the theatre was some time
cast in a mould, once for all, and is good for all times and peoples,
like the propositions of Euclid. To our eyes the legitimate drama of
to-day is the one in which the day is reflected, both in costume and
speech, and which touches the affections, the passions, the humor, of
the present time. The brilliant success of the few good plays that
have been written out of the rich life which we now live--the most
varied, fruitful, and dramatically suggestive--ought to rid us
forever of the buskin-fustian, except as a pantomimic or spectacular
We have no objection to Julius Caesar or Richard III. stalking about
in impossible clothes, and stepping four feet at a stride, if they
want to, but let them not claim to be more "legitimate" than "Ours"
or "Rip Van Winkle." There will probably be some orator for years
and years to come, at every Fourth of July, who will go on asking,
Where is Thebes? but he does not care anything about it, and he does
not really expect an answer. I have sometimes wished I knew the
exact site of Thebes, so that I could rise in the audience, and stop
that question, at any rate. It is legitimate, but it is tiresome.
If we went to the bottom of this subject, I think we should find that
the putting upon actors clothes to which they are unaccustomed makes
them act and talk artificially, and often in a manner intolerable.
An actor who has not the habits or instincts of a gentleman cannot be
made to appear like one on the stage by dress; he only caricatures
and discredits what he tries to represent; and the unaccustomed
clothes and situation make him much more unnatural and insufferable
than he would otherwise be. Dressed appropriately for parts for
which he is fitted, he will act well enough, probably. What I mean
is, that the clothes inappropriate to the man make the incongruity of
him and his part more apparent. Vulgarity is never so conspicuous as
in fine apparel, on or off the stage, and never so self-conscious.
Shall we have, then, no refined characters on the stage? Yes; but
let them be taken by men and women of taste and refinement and let us
have done with this masquerading in false raiment, ancient and
modern, which makes nearly every stage a travesty of nature and the
whole theatre a painful pretension. We do not expect the modern
theatre to be a place of instruction (that business is now turned
over to the telegraphic operator, who is making a new language), but
it may give amusement instead of torture, and do a little in
satirizing folly and kindling love of home and country by the way.
This is a sort of summary of what we all said, and no one in
particular is responsible for it; and in this it is like public
opinion. The Parson, however, whose only experience of the theatre
was the endurance of an oratorio once, was very cordial in his
denunciation of the stage altogether.
MANDEVILLE. Yet, acting itself is delightful; nothing so entertains
us as mimicry, the personation of character. We enjoy it in private.
I confess that I am always pleased with the Parson in the character
of grumbler. He would be an immense success on the stage. I don't
know but the theatre will have to go back into the hands of the
priests, who once controlled it.
THE PARSON. Scoffer!
MANDEVILLE. I can imagine how enjoyable the stage might be, cleared
of all its traditionary nonsense, stilted language, stilted behavior,
all the rubbish of false sentiment, false dress, and the manners of
times that were both artificial and immoral, and filled with living
characters, who speak the thought of to-day, with the wit and culture
that are current to-day. I've seen private theatricals, where all
the performers were persons of cultivation, that....
OUR NEXT DOOR. So have I. For something particularly cheerful,
commend me to amateur theatricals. I have passed some melancholy
hours at them.
MANDEVILLE. That's because the performers acted the worn stage
plays, and attempted to do them in the manner they had seen on the
stage. It is not always so.
THE FIRE-TENDER. I suppose Mandeville would say that acting has got
into a mannerism which is well described as stagey, and is supposed
to be natural to the stage; just as half the modern poets write in a
recognized form of literary manufacture, without the least impulse
from within, and not with the purpose of saying anything, but of
turning out a piece of literary work. That's the reason we have so
much poetry that impresses one like sets of faultless cabinet-
furniture made by machinery.
THE PARSON. But you need n't talk of nature or naturalness in acting
or in anything. I tell you nature is poor stuff. It can't go alone.
Amateur acting--they get it up at church sociables nowadays--is apt
to be as near nature as a school-boy's declamation. Acting is the
THE MISTRESS. Do you object to such innocent amusement?
MANDEVILLE. What the Parson objects to is, that he isn't amused.
THE PARSON. What's the use of objecting? It's the fashion of the
day to amuse people into the kingdom of heaven.
HERBERT. The Parson has got us off the track. My notion about the
stage is, that it keeps along pretty evenly with the rest of the
world; the stage is usually quite up to the level of the audience.
Assumed dress on the stage, since you were speaking of that, makes
people no more constrained and self-conscious than it does off the
THE MISTRESS. What sarcasm is coming now?
HERBERT. Well, you may laugh, but the world has n't got used to good
clothes yet. The majority do not wear them with ease. People who
only put on their best on rare and stated occasions step into an
OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder if that's the reason the Parson finds it so
difficult to get hold of his congregation.
HERBERT. I don't know how else to account for the formality and
vapidity of a set "party," where all the guests are clothed in a
manner to which they are unaccustomed, dressed into a condition of
vivid self-consciousness. The same people, who know each other
perfectly well, will enjoy themselves together without restraint in
their ordinary apparel. But nothing can be more artificial than the
behavior of people together who rarely "dress up." It seems
impossible to make the conversation as fine as the clothes, and so it
dies in a kind of inane helplessness. Especially is this true in the
country, where people have not obtained the mastery of their clothes
that those who live in the city have. It is really absurd, at this
stage of our civilization, that we should be so affected by such an
insignificant accident as dress. Perhaps Mandeville can tell us
whether this clothes panic prevails in the older societies.
THE PARSON. Don't. We've heard it; about its being one of the
Englishman's thirty-nine articles that he never shall sit down to
dinner without a dress-coat, and all that.
THE MISTRESS. I wish, for my part, that everybody who has time to
eat a dinner would dress for that, the principal event of the day,
and do respectful and leisurely justice to it.
THE YOUNG LADY. It has always seemed singular to me that men who
work so hard to build elegant houses, and have good dinners, should
take so little leisure to enjoy either.
MANDEVILLE. If the Parson will permit me, I should say that the
chief clothes question abroad just now is, how to get any; and it is
the same with the dinners.
It is quite unnecessary to say that the talk about clothes ran into
the question of dress-reform, and ran out, of course. You cannot
converse on anything nowadays that you do not run into some reform.
The Parson says that everybody is intent on reforming everything but
himself. We are all trying to associate ourselves to make everybody
else behave as we do. Said--
OUR NEXT DOOR. Dress reform! As if people couldn't change their
clothes without concert of action. Resolved, that nobody should put
on a clean collar oftener than his neighbor does. I'm sick of every
sort of reform. I should like to retrograde awhile. Let a dyspeptic
ascertain that he can eat porridge three times a day and live, and
straightway he insists that everybody ought to eat porridge and
nothing else. I mean to get up a society every member of which shall
be pledged to do just as he pleases.
THE PARSON. That would be the most radical reform of the day. That
would be independence. If people dressed according to their means,
acted according to their convictions, and avowed their opinions, it
would revolutionize society.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I should like to walk into your church some Sunday
and see the changes under such conditions.
THE PARSON. It might give you a novel sensation to walk in at any
time. And I'm not sure but the church would suit your retrograde
ideas. It's so Gothic that a Christian of the Middle Ages, if he
were alive, couldn't see or hear in it.
HERBERT. I don't know whether these reformers who carry the world on
their shoulders in such serious fashion, especially the little fussy
fellows, who are themselves the standard of the regeneration they
seek, are more ludicrous than pathetic.
THE FIRE-TENDER. Pathetic, by all means. But I don't know that they
would be pathetic if they were not ludicrous. There are those reform
singers who have been piping away so sweetly now for thirty years,
with never any diminution of cheerful, patient enthusiasm; their hair
growing longer and longer, their eyes brighter and brighter, and
their faces, I do believe, sweeter and sweeter; singing always with
the same constancy for the slave, for the drunkard, for the
snufftaker, for the suffragist,--"There'sa-good-time-com-ing-boys
(nothing offensive is intended by "boys," it is put in for euphony,
and sung pianissimo, not to offend the suffragists), it's-
almost-here." And what a brightening up of their faces there is when
they say, "it's-al-most-here," not doubting for a moment that "it's"
coming tomorrow; and the accompanying melodeon also wails its wheezy
suggestion that "it's-al-most-here," that "good-time" (delayed so
long, waiting perhaps for the invention of the melodeon) when we
shall all sing and all play that cheerful instrument, and all vote,
and none shall smoke, or drink, or eat meat, "boys." I declare it
almost makes me cry to hear them, so touching is their faith in the
midst of a jeer-ing world.
HERBERT. I suspect that no one can be a genuine reformer and not be
ridiculous. I mean those who give themselves up to the unction of
THE MISTRESS. Does n't that depend upon whether the reform is large
THE FIRE-TENDER. I should say rather that the reforms attracted to
them all the ridiculous people, who almost always manage to become
the most conspicuous. I suppose that nobody dare write out all that
was ludicrous in the great abolition movement. But it was not at all
comical to those most zealous in it; they never could see--more's the
pity, for thereby they lose much--the humorous side of their per-
formances, and that is why the pathos overcomes one's sense of the
absurdity of such people.
THE YOUNG LADY. It is lucky for the world that so many are willing
to be absurd.
HERBERT. Well, I think that, in the main, the reformers manage to
look out for themselves tolerably well. I knew once a lean and
faithful agent of a great philanthropic scheme, who contrived to
collect every year for the cause just enough to support him at a good
THE MISTRESS. That's identifying one's self with the cause.
MANDEVILLE. You remember the great free-soil convention at Buffalo,
in 1848, when Van Buren was nominated. All the world of hope and
discontent went there, with its projects of reform. There seemed to
be no doubt, among hundreds that attended it, that if they could get
a resolution passed that bread should be buttered on both sides, it
would be so buttered. The platform provided for every want and every
THE FIRE-TENDER. I remember. If you could get the millennium by
political action, we should have had it then.
MANDEVILLE. We went there on the Erie Canal, the exciting and
fashionable mode of travel in those days. I was a boy when we began
the voyage. The boat was full of conventionists; all the talk was of
what must be done there. I got the impression that as that boat-load
went so would go the convention; and I was not alone in that feeling.
I can never be grateful enough for one little scrubby fanatic who was
on board, who spent most of his time in drafting resolutions and
reading them privately to the passengers. He was a very
enthusiastic, nervous, and somewhat dirty little man, who wore a
woolen muffler about his throat, although it was summer; he had
nearly lost his voice, and could only speak in a hoarse, disagreeable
whisper, and he always carried a teacup about, containing some sticky
compound which he stirred frequently with a spoon, and took, whenever
he talked, in order to improve his voice. If he was separated from
his cup for ten minutes, his whisper became inaudible. I greatly
delighted in him, for I never saw any one who had so much enjoyment
of his own importance. He was fond of telling what he would do if
the conven-tion rejected such and such resolutions. He'd make it hot
for them. I did n't know but he'd make them take his mixture. The
convention had got to take a stand on tobacco, for one thing. He'd
heard Gid-dings took snuff; he'd see. When we at length reached
Buffalo he took his teacup and carpet-bag of resolutions and went
ashore in a great hurry. I saw him once again in a cheap restaurant,
whispering a resolution to another delegate, but he did n't appear in
the con-vention. I have often wondered what became of him.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably he's consul somewhere. They mostly are.
THE FIRE-TENDER. After all, it's the easiest thing in the world to
sit and sneer at eccentricities. But what a dead and uninteresting
world it would be if we were all proper, and kept within the lines!
Affairs would soon be reduced to mere machinery. There are moments,
even days, when all interests and movements appear to be settled upon
some universal plan of equilibrium; but just then some restless and
absurd person is inspired to throw the machine out of gear. These
individual eccentricities seem to be the special providences in the
general human scheme.
HERBERT. They make it very hard work for the rest of us, who are
disposed to go along peaceably and smoothly.
MANDEVILLE. And stagnate. I 'm not sure but the natural condition
of this planet is war, and that when it is finally towed to its
anchorage--if the universe has any harbor for worlds out of
commission--it will look like the Fighting Temeraire in Turner's
HERBERT. There is another thing I should like to understand: the
tendency of people who take up one reform, perhaps a personal
regeneration in regard to some bad habit, to run into a dozen other
isms, and get all at sea in several vague and pernicious theories and
MANDEVILLE. Herbert seems to think there is safety in a man's being
anchored, even if it is to a bad habit.
HERBERT. Thank you. But what is it in human nature that is apt to
carry a man who may take a step in personal reform into so many
OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably it's human nature.
HERBERT. Why, for instance, should a reformed drunkard (one of the
noblest examples of victory over self) incline, as I have known the
reformed to do, to spiritism, or a woman suffragist to "pantarchism"
(whatever that is), and want to pull up all the roots of society, and
expect them to grow in the air, like orchids; or a Graham-bread
disciple become enamored of Communism?
MANDEVILLE. I know an excellent Conservative who would, I think,
suit you; he says that he does not see how a man who indulges in the
theory and practice of total abstinence can be a consistent believer
in the Christian religion.
HERBERT. Well, I can understand what he means: that a person is
bound to hold himself in conditions of moderation and control, using
and not abusing the things of this world, practicing temperance, not
retiring into a convent of artificial restrictions in order to escape
the full responsibility of self-control. And yet his theory would
certainly wreck most men and women. What does the Parson say?
THE PARSON. That the world is going crazy on the notion of individual
ability. Whenever a man attempts to reform himself, or anybody else,
without the aid of the Christian religion, he is sure to go adrift,
and is pretty certain to be blown about by absurd theories, and
shipwrecked on some pernicious ism.
THE FIRE-TENDER. I think the discussion has touched bottom.
I never felt so much the value of a house with a backlog in it as
during the late spring; for its lateness was its main feature.
Everybody was grumbling about it, as if it were something ordered
from the tailor, and not ready on the day. Day after day it snowed,
night after night it blew a gale from the northwest; the frost sunk
deeper and deeper into the ground; there was a popular longing for
spring that was almost a prayer; the weather bureau was active;
Easter was set a week earlier than the year before, but nothing
seemed to do any good. The robins sat under the evergreens, and
piped in a disconsolate mood, and at last the bluejays came and
scolded in the midst of the snow-storm, as they always do scold in
any weather. The crocuses could n't be coaxed to come up, even with
a pickaxe. I'm almost ashamed now to recall what we said of the
weather only I think that people are no more accountable for what
they say of the weather than for their remarks when their corns are
We agreed, however, that, but for disappointed expectations and the
prospect of late lettuce and peas, we were gaining by the fire as
much as we were losing by the frost. And the Mistress fell to
chanting the comforts of modern civilization.
THE FIRE-TENDER said he should like to know, by the way, if our
civilization differed essentially from any other in anything but its
HERBERT. We are no nearer religious unity.
THE PARSON. We have as much war as ever.
MANDEVILLE. There was never such a social turmoil.
THE YOUNG LADY. The artistic part of our nature does not appear to
THE FIRE-TENDER. We are quarreling as to whether we are in fact
radically different from the brutes.
HERBERT. Scarcely two people think alike about the proper kind of
THE PARSON. Our poetry is made out of words, for the most part, and
not drawn from the living sources.
OUR NEXT DOOR. And Mr. Cumming is uncorking his seventh phial. I
never felt before what barbarians we are.
THE MISTRESS. Yet you won't deny that the life of the average man is
safer and every way more comfortable than it was even a century ago.
THE FIRE-TENDER. But what I want to know is, whether what we call
our civilization has done any thing more for mankind at large than to
increase the ease and pleasure of living? Science has multiplied
wealth, and facilitated intercourse, and the result is refinement of
manners and a diffusion of education and information. Are men and
women essentially changed, however? I suppose the Parson would say
we have lost faith, for one thing.
MANDEVILLE. And superstition; and gained toleration.
HERBERT. The question is, whether toleration is anything but
THE PARSON. Everything is tolerated now but Christian orthodoxy.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It's easy enough to make a brilliant catalogue of
external achievements, but I take it that real progress ought to be
in man himself. It is not a question of what a man enjoys, but what
he can produce. The best sculpture was executed two thousand years
ago. The best paintings are several centuries old. We study the
finest architecture in its ruins. The standards of poetry are
Shakespeare, Homer, Isaiah, and David. The latest of the arts,
music, culminated in composition, though not in execution, a century
THE MISTRESS. Yet culture in music certainly distinguishes the
civilization of this age. It has taken eighteen hundred years for
the principles of the Christian religion to begin to be practically
incorporated in government and in ordinary business, and it will take
a long time for Beethoven to be popularly recognized; but there is
growth toward him, and not away from him, and when the average
culture has reached his height, some other genius will still more
profoundly and delicately express the highest thoughts.
HERBERT. I wish I could believe it. The spirit of this age is
expressed by the Calliope.
THE PARSON. Yes, it remained for us to add church-bells and cannon
to the orchestra.
OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a melancholy thought to me that we can no longer
express ourselves with the bass-drum; there used to be the whole of
the Fourth of July in its patriotic throbs.
MANDEVILLE. We certainly have made great progress in one art,--that
THE YOUNG LADY. And in the humane alleviations of the miseries of
THE FIRE-TENDER. The most discouraging symptom to me in our
undoubted advance in the comforts and refinements of society is the
facility with which men slip back into barbarism, if the artificial
and external accidents of their lives are changed. We have always
kept a fringe of barbarism on our shifting western frontier; and I
think there never was a worse society than that in California and
Nevada in their early days.
THE YOUNG LADY. That is because women were absent.
THE FIRE-TENDER. But women are not absent in London and New York,
and they are conspicuous in the most exceptionable demonstrations of
social anarchy. Certainly they were not wanting in Paris. Yes,
there was a city widely accepted as the summit of our material
civilization. No city was so beautiful, so luxurious, so safe, so
well ordered for the comfort of living, and yet it needed only a
month or two to make it a kind of pandemonium of savagery. Its
citizens were the barbarians who destroyed its own monuments of
civilization. I don't mean to say that there was no apology for what
was done there in the deceit and fraud that preceded it, but I simply
notice how ready the tiger was to appear, and how little restraint
all the material civilization was to the beast.
THE MISTRESS. I can't deny your instances, and yet I somehow feel
that pretty much all you have been saying is in effect untrue. Not
one of you would be willing to change our civilization for any other.
In your estimate you take no account, it seems to me, of the growth
MANDEVILLE. And you might add a recognition of the value of human