Part 3 out of 3
careless fluency of a man who draws his pay by the column.
He is delineating with skill and rapidity. The reporters'
room is gloomy and desolate. Mr. Scalper is a man of
sensitive temperament and the dreariness of his surroundings
depresses him. He opens the letter of a correspondent,
examines the handwriting narrowly, casts his eye around
the room for inspiration, and proceeds to delineate:
"G.H. You have an unhappy, despondent nature; your
circumstances oppress you, and your life is filled with
an infinite sadness. You feel that you are without hope--"
Mr. Scalper pauses, takes another look around the room,
and finally lets his eye rest for some time upon a tall
black bottle that stands on the shelf of an open cupboard.
Then he goes on:
"--and you have lost all belief in Christianity and a
future world and human virtue. You are very weak against
temptation, but there is an ugly vein of determination
in your character, when you make up your mind that you
are going to have a thing--"
Here Mr. Scalper stops abruptly, pushes back his chair,
and dashes across the room to the cupboard. He takes the
black bottle from the shelf, applies it to his lips, and
remains for some time motionless. He then returns to
finish the delineation of G.H. with the hurried words:
"On the whole I recommend you to persevere; you are doing
very well." Mr. Scalper's next proceeding is peculiar.
He takes from the cupboard a roll of twine, about fifty
feet in length, and attaches one end of it to the neck
of the bottle. Going then to one of the windows, he opens
it, leans out, and whistles softly. The alert ear of
Policeman Hogan on the pavement below catches the sound,
and he returns it. The bottle is lowered to the end of
the string, the guardian of the peace applies it to his
gullet, and for some time the policeman and the man of
letters remain attached by a cord of sympathy. Gentlemen
who lead the variegated life of Mr. Scalper find it well
to propitiate the arm of the law, and attachments of this
sort are not uncommon. Mr. Scalper hauls up the bottle,
closes the window, and returns to his task; the policeman
resumes his walk with a glow of internal satisfaction.
A glance at the City Hall clock causes him to enter
another note in his book.
"Half-past two. All is better. The weather is milder with
a feeling of young summer in the air. Two lights in Mr.
Scalper's room. Nothing has occurred which need be brought
to the notice of the roundsman."
Things are going better upstairs too. The delineator
opens a second envelope, surveys the writing of the
correspondent with a critical yet charitable eye, and
writes with more complacency.
"William H. Your writing shows a disposition which, though
naturally melancholy, is capable of a temporary
cheerfulness. You have known misfortune but have made up
your mind to look on the bright side of things. If you
will allow me to say so, you indulge in liquor but are
quite moderate in your use of it. Be assured that no harm
ever comes of this moderate use. It enlivens the intellect,
brightens the faculties, and stimulates the dormant fancy
into a pleasurable activity. It is only when carried to
At this point the feelings of Mr. Scalper, who had been
writing very rapidly, evidently become too much for him.
He starts up from his chair, rushes two or three times
around the room, and finally returns to finish the
delineation thus: "it is only when carried to excess that
this moderation becomes pernicious."
Mr. Scalper succumbs to the train of thought suggested
and gives an illustration of how moderation to excess
may be avoided, after which he lowers the bottle to
Policeman Hogan with a cheery exchange of greetings.
The half-hours pass on. The delineator is writing busily
and feels that he is writing well. The characters of his
correspondents lie bare to his keen eye and flow from
his facile pen. From time to time he pauses and appeals
to the source of his inspiration; his humanity prompts
him to extend the inspiration to Policeman Hogan. The
minion of the law walks his beat with a feeling of more
than tranquillity. A solitary Chinaman, returning home
late from his midnight laundry, scuttles past. The literary
instinct has risen strong in Hogan from his connection
with the man of genius above him, and the passage of the
lone Chinee gives him occasion to write in his book:
"Four-thirty. Everything is simply great. There are four
lights in Mr. Scalper's room. Mild, balmy weather with
prospects of an earthquake, which may be held in check
by walking with extreme caution. Two Chinamen have just
passed--mandarins, I presume. Their walk was unsteady,
but their faces so benign as to disarm suspicion."
Up in the office Mr. Scalper has reached the letter of
a correspondent which appears to give him particular
pleasure, for he delineates the character with a beaming
smile of satisfaction. To the unpractised eye the writing
resembles the prim, angular hand of an elderly spinster.
Mr. Scalper, however, seems to think otherwise, for he
"Aunt Dorothea. You have a merry, rollicking nature. At
times you are seized with a wild, tumultuous hilarity to
which you give ample vent in shouting and song. You are
much addicted to profanity, and you rightly feel that
this is part of your nature and you must not check it.
The world is a very bright place to you, Aunt Dorothea.
Write to me again soon. Our minds seem cast in the same
Mr. Scalper seems to think that he has not done full
justice to the subject he is treating, for he proceeds
to write a long private letter to Aunt Dorothea in addition
to the printed delineation. As he finishes the City Hall
clock points to five, and Policeman Hogan makes the last
entry in his chronicle. Hogan has seated himself upon
the steps of The Eclipse building for greater comfort
and writes with a slow, leisurely fist:
"The other hand of the clock points north and the second
longest points south-east by south. I infer that it is
five o'clock. The electric lights in Mr. Scalper's room
defy the eye. The roundsman has passed and examined my
notes of the night's occurrences. They are entirely
satisfactory, and he is pleased with their literary form.
The earthquake which I apprehended was reduced to a few
minor oscillations which cannot reach me where I sit--"
The lowering of the bottle interrupts Policeman Hogan.
The long letter to Aunt Dorothea has cooled the ardour
of Mr. Scalper. The generous blush has passed from his
mind and he has been trying in vain to restore it. To
afford Hogan a similar opportunity, he decides not to
haul the bottle up immediately, but to leave it in his
custody while he delineates a character. The writing of
this correspondent would seem to the inexperienced eye
to be that of a timid little maiden in her teens. Mr.
Scalper is not to be deceived by appearances. He shakes
his head mournfully at the letter and writes:
"Little Emily. You have known great happiness, but it
has passed. Despondency has driven you to seek forgetfulness
in drink. Your writing shows the worst phase of the liquor
habit. I apprehend that you will shortly have delirium
tremens. Poor little Emily! Do not try to break off; it
is too late."
Mr. Scalper is visibly affected by his correspondent's
unhappy condition. His eye becomes moist, and he decides
to haul up the bottle while there is still time to save
Policeman Hogan from acquiring a taste for liquor. He is
surprised and alarmed to find the attempt to haul it up
ineffectual. The minion of the law has fallen into a
leaden slumber, and the bottle remains tight in his grasp.
The baffled delineator lets fall the string and returns
to finish his task. Only a few lines are now required to
fill the column, but Mr. Scalper finds on examining the
correspondence that he has exhausted the subjects. This,
however, is quite a common occurrence and occasions no
dilemma in the mind of the talented gentleman. It is his
custom in such cases to fill up the space with an imaginary
character or two, the analysis of which is a task most
congenial to his mind. He bows his head in thought for
a few moments, and then writes as follows:
"Policeman H. Your hand shows great firmness; when once
set upon a thing you are not easily moved. But you have
a mean, grasping disposition and a tendency to want more
than your share. You have formed an attachment which you
hope will be continued throughout life, but your selfishness
threatens to sever the bond."
Having written which, Mr. Scalper arranges his manuscript
for the printer next day, dons his hat and coat, and
wends his way home in the morning twilight, feeling that
his pay is earned.
The Passing of the Poet
Studies in what may be termed collective psychology are
essentially in keeping with the spirit of the present
century. The examination of the mental tendencies, the
intellectual habits which we display not as individuals,
but as members of a race, community, or crowd, is offering
a fruitful field of speculation as yet but little exploited.
One may, therefore, not without profit, pass in review
the relation of the poetic instinct to the intellectual
development of the present era.
Not the least noticeable feature in the psychological
evolution of our time is the rapid disappearance of
poetry. The art of writing poetry, or perhaps more fairly,
the habit of writing poetry, is passing from us. The poet
is destined to become extinct.
To a reader of trained intellect the initial difficulty
at once suggests itself as to what is meant by poetry.
But it is needless to quibble at a definition of the
term. It may be designated, simply and fairly, as the
art of expressing a simple truth in a concealed form of
words, any number of which, at intervals greater or less,
may or may not rhyme.
The poet, it must be said, is as old as civilization.
The Greeks had him with them, stamping out his iambics
with the sole of his foot. The Romans, too, knew
him--endlessly juggling his syllables together, long and
short, short and long, to make hexameters. This can now
be done by electricity, but the Romans did not know it.
But it is not my present purpose to speak of the poets
of an earlier and ruder time. For the subject before us
it is enough to set our age in comparison with the era
that preceded it. We have but to contrast ourselves with
our early Victorian grandfathers to realize the profound
revolution that has taken place in public feeling. It is
only with an effort that the practical common sense of
the twentieth century can realize the excessive
sentimentality of the earlier generation.
In those days poetry stood in high and universal esteem.
Parents read poetry to their children. Children recited
poetry to their parents. And he was a dullard, indeed,
who did not at least profess, in his hours of idleness,
to pour spontaneous rhythm from his flowing quill.
Should one gather statistics of the enormous production
of poetry some sixty or seventy years ago, they would
scarcely appear credible. Journals and magazines teemed
with it. Editors openly countenanced it. Even the daily
press affected it. Love sighed in home-made stanzas.
Patriotism rhapsodized on the hustings, or cited rolling
hexameters to an enraptured legislature. Even melancholy
death courted his everlasting sleep in elegant elegiacs.
In that era, indeed, I know not how, polite society was
haunted by the obstinate fiction that it was the duty of
a man of parts to express himself from time to time in
verse. Any special occasion of expansion or exuberance,
of depression, torsion, or introspection, was sufficient
to call it forth. So we have poems of dejection, of
reflection, of deglutition, of indigestion.
Any particular psychological disturbance was enough to
provoke an excess of poetry. The character and manner of
the verse might vary with the predisposing cause. A
gentleman who had dined too freely might disexpand himself
in a short fit of lyric doggerel in which "bowl" and
"soul" were freely rhymed. The morning's indigestion
inspired a long-drawn elegiac, with "bier" and "tear,"
"mortal" and "portal" linked in sonorous sadness. The
man of politics, from time to time, grateful to an
appreciative country, sang back to it, "Ho, Albion, rising
from the brine!" in verse whose intention at least was
And yet it was but a fiction, a purely fictitious
obligation, self-imposed by a sentimental society. In
plain truth, poetry came no more easily or naturally to
the early Victorian than to you or me. The lover twanged
his obdurate harp in vain for hours for the rhymes that
would not come, and the man of politics hammered at his
heavy hexameter long indeed before his Albion was finally
"hoed" into shape; while the beer-besotted convivialist
cudgelled his poor wits cold sober in rhyming the light
little bottle-ditty that should have sprung like Aphrodite
from the froth of the champagne.
I have before me a pathetic witness of this fact. It is
the note-book once used for the random jottings of a
gentleman of the period. In it I read: "Fair Lydia, if
my earthly harp." This is crossed out, and below it
appears, "Fair Lydia, COULD my earthly harp." This again
is erased, and under it appears, "Fair Lydia, SHOULD my
earthly harp." This again is struck out with a despairing
stroke, and amended to read: "Fair Lydia, DID my earthly
harp." So that finally, when the lines appeared in the
Gentleman's Magazine (1845) in their ultimate shape--"Fair
Edith, when with fluent pen," etc., etc.--one can realize
from what a desperate congelation the fluent pen had been
so perseveringly rescued.
There can be little doubt of the deleterious effect
occasioned both to public and private morals by this
deliberate exaltation of mental susceptibility on the
part of the early Victorian. In many cases we can detect
the evidences of incipient paresis. The undue access of
emotion frequently assumed a pathological character. The
sight of a daisy, of a withered leaf or an upturned sod,
seemed to disturb the poet's mental equipoise. Spring
unnerved him. The lambs distressed him. The flowers made
him cry. The daffodils made him laugh. Day dazzled him.
Night frightened him.
This exalted mood, combined with the man's culpable
ignorance of the plainest principles of physical science,
made him see something out of the ordinary in the flight
of a waterfowl or the song of a skylark. He complained
that he could HEAR it, but not SEE it--a phenomenon too
familiar to the scientific observer to occasion any
In such a state of mind the most inconsequential inferences
were drawn. One said that the brightness of the dawn--a fact
easily explained by the diurnal motion of the globe--showed
him that his soul was immortal. He asserted further that he
had, at an earlier period of his life, trailed bright clouds
behind him. This was absurd.
With the disturbance thus set up in the nervous system
were coupled, in many instances, mental aberrations,
particularly in regard to pecuniary matters. "Give me
not silk, nor rich attire," pleaded one poet of the period
to the British public, "nor gold nor jewels rare." Here
was an evident hallucination that the writer was to become
the recipient of an enormous secret subscription. Indeed,
the earnest desire NOT to be given gold was a recurrent
characteristic of the poetic temperament. The repugnance
to accept even a handful of gold was generally accompanied
by a desire for a draught of pure water or a night's rest.
It is pleasing to turn from this excessive sentimentality
of thought and speech to the practical and concise diction
of our time. We have learned to express ourselves with
equal force, but greater simplicity. To illustrate this
I have gathered from the poets of the earlier generation
and from the prose writers of to-day parallel passages
that may be fairly set in contrast. Here, for example,
is a passage from the poet Grey, still familiar to
"Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can honour's voice invoke the silent dust
Or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death?"
Precisely similar in thought, though different in form,
is the more modern presentation found in Huxley's
"Whether after the moment of death the ventricles of the
heart can be again set in movement by the artificial
stimulus of oxygen, is a question to which we must impose
a decided negative."
How much simpler, and yet how far superior to Grey's
elaborate phraseology! Huxley has here seized the central
point of the poet's thought, and expressed it with the
dignity and precision of exact science.
I cannot refrain, even at the risk of needless iteration,
from quoting a further example. It is taken from the poet
Burns. The original dialect being written in inverted
hiccoughs, is rather difficult to reproduce. It describes
the scene attendant upon the return of a cottage labourer
to his home on Saturday night:
"The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face
They round the ingle form in a circle wide;
The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace,
The big ha' Bible, ance his father's pride:
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare:
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion wi' judeecious care."
Now I find almost the same scene described in more apt
phraseology in the police news of the Dumfries Chronicle
(October 3, 1909), thus: "It appears that the prisoner
had returned to his domicile at the usual hour, and,
after partaking of a hearty meal, had seated himself on
his oaken settle, for the ostensible purpose of reading
the Bible. It was while so occupied that his arrest was
effected." With the trifling exception that Burns omits
all mention of the arrest, for which, however, the whole
tenor of the poem gives ample warrant, the two accounts
are almost identical.
In all that I have thus said I do not wish to be
misunderstood. Believing, as I firmly do, that the poet
is destined to become extinct, I am not one of those who
would accelerate his extinction. The time has not yet
come for remedial legislation, or the application of the
criminal law. Even in obstinate cases where pronounced
delusions in reference to plants, animals, and natural
phenomena are seen to exist, it is better that we should
do nothing that might occasion a mistaken remorse. The
inevitable natural evolution which is thus shaping the
mould of human thought may safely be left to its own
They were both what we commonly call successful business
men--men with well-fed faces, heavy signet rings on
fingers like sausages, and broad, comfortable waistcoats,
a yard and a half round the equator. They were seated
opposite each other at a table of a first-class restaurant,
and had fallen into conversation while waiting to give
their order to the waiter. Their talk had drifted back
to their early days and how each had made his start in
life when he first struck New York.
"I tell you what, Jones," one of them was saying, "I
shall never forget my first few years in this town. By
George, it was pretty uphill work! Do you know, sir, when
I first struck this place, I hadn't more than fifteen
cents to my name, hadn't a rag except what I stood up
in, and all the place I had to sleep in--you won't
believe it, but it's a gospel fact just the same--was an
empty tar barrel. No, sir," he went on, leaning back and
closing up his eyes into an expression of infinite
experience, "no, sir, a fellow accustomed to luxury like
you has simply no idea what sleeping out in a tar barrel
and all that kind of thing is like."
"My dear Robinson," the other man rejoined briskly, "if
you imagine I've had no experience of hardship of that
sort, you never made a bigger mistake in your life. Why,
when I first walked into this town I hadn't a cent, sir,
not a cent, and as for lodging, all the place I had for
months and months was an old piano box up a lane, behind
a factory. Talk about hardship, I guess I had it pretty
rough! You take a fellow that's used to a good warm tar
barrel and put him into a piano box for a night or two,
and you'll see mighty soon--"
"My dear fellow," Robinson broke in with some irritation,
"you merely show that you don't know what a tar barrel's
like. Why, on winter nights, when you'd be shut in there
in your piano box just as snug as you please, I used to
lie awake shivering, with the draught fairly running in
at the bunghole at the back."
"Draught!" sneered the other man, with a provoking laugh,
"draught! Don't talk to me about draughts. This box I
speak of had a whole darned plank off it, right on the
north side too. I used to sit there studying in the
evenings, and the snow would blow in a foot deep. And
yet, sir," he continued more quietly, "though I know
you'll not believe it, I don't mind admitting that some
of the happiest days of my life were spent in that same
old box. Ah, those were good old times! Bright, innocent
days, I can tell you. I'd wake up there in the mornings
and fairly shout with high spirits. Of course, you may
not be able to stand that kind of life--"
"Not stand it!" cried Robinson fiercely; "me not stand
it! By gad! I'm made for it. I just wish I had a taste
of the old life again for a while. And as for innocence!
Well, I'll bet you you weren't one-tenth as innocent as
I was; no, nor one-fifth, nor one-third! What a grand
old life it was! You'll swear this is a darned lie and
refuse to believe it--but I can remember evenings when
I'd have two or three fellows in, and we'd sit round and
play pedro by a candle half the night."
"Two or three!" laughed Jones; "why, my dear fellow, I've
known half a dozen of us to sit down to supper in my
piano box, and have a game of pedro afterwards; yes, and
charades and forfeits, and every other darned thing.
Mighty good suppers they were too! By Jove, Robinson,
you fellows round this town who have ruined your digestions
with high living, have no notion of the zest with which
a man can sit down to a few potato peelings, or a bit of
broken pie crust, or--"
"Talk about hard food," interrupted the other, "I guess
I know all about that. Many's the time I've breakfasted
off a little cold porridge that somebody was going to
throw away from a back-door, or that I've gone round to
a livery stable and begged a little bran mash that they
intended for the pigs. I'll venture to say I've eaten
more hog's food--"
"Hog's food!" shouted Robinson, striking his fist savagely
on the table, "I tell you hog's food suits me better than--"
He stopped speaking with a sudden grunt of surprise as
the waiter appeared with the question:
"What may I bring you for dinner, gentlemen?"
"Dinner!" said Jones, after a moment of silence, "dinner!
Oh, anything, nothing--I never care what I eat--give me
a little cold porridge, if you've got it, or a chunk of
salt pork--anything you like, it's all the same to me."
The waiter turned with an impassive face to Robinson.
"You can bring me some of that cold porridge too," he
said, with a defiant look at Jones; "yesterday's, if you
have it, and a few potato peelings and a glass of skim
There was a pause. Jones sat back in his chair and looked
hard across at Robinson. For some moments the two men
gazed into each other's eyes with a stern, defiant
intensity. Then Robinson turned slowly round in his seat
and beckoned to the waiter, who was moving off with the
muttered order on his lips.
"Here, waiter," he said with a savage scowl, "I guess
I'll change that order a little. Instead of that cold
porridge I'll take--um, yes--a little hot partridge. And
you might as well bring me an oyster or two on the half
shell, and a mouthful of soup (mock-turtle, consomme,
anything), and perhaps you might fetch along a dab of
fish, and a little peck of Stilton, and a grape, or a
The waiter turned to Jones.
"I guess I'll take the same," he said simply, and added;
"and you might bring a quart of champagne at the same
And nowadays, when Jones and Robinson meet, the memory
of the tar barrel and the piano box is buried as far out
of sight as a home for the blind under a landslide.
A Model Dialogue
In which is shown how the drawing-room juggler may be
permanently cured of his card trick.
The drawing-room juggler, having slyly got hold of the
pack of cards at the end of the game of whist, says:
"Ever see any card tricks? Here's rather a good one; pick
"Thank you, I don't want a card."
"No, but just pick one, any one you like, and I'll tell
which one you pick."
"You'll tell who?"
"No, no; I mean, I'll know which it is don't you see? Go
on now, pick a card."
"Any one I like?"
"Any colour at all?"
"Oh, yes; do go on."
"Well, let me see, I'll--pick--the--ace of spades."
"Great Caesar! I mean you are to pull a card out of the
"Oh, to pull it out of the pack! Now I understand. Hand
me the pack. All right--I've got it."
"Have you picked one?"
"Yes, it's the three of hearts. Did you know it?"
"Hang it! Don't tell me like that. You spoil the thing.
Here, try again. Pick a card."
"All right, I've got it."
"Put it back in the pack. Thanks. (Shuffle, shuffle,
shuffle--flip)--There, is that it?" (triumphantly).
"I don't know. I lost sight of it."
"Lost sight of it! Confound it, you have to look at it
and see what it is."
"Oh, you want me to look at the front of it!"
"Why, of course! Now then, pick a card."
"All right. I've picked it. Go ahead."
(Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle--flip.)
"Say, confound you, did you put that card back in the
"Why, no. I kept it."
"Holy Moses! Listen. Pick--a--card--just one--look at
it--see what it is--then put it back--do you understand?"
"Oh, perfectly. Only I don't see how you are ever going
to do it. You must be awfully clever."
(Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle--flip.)
"There you are; that's your card, now, isn't it?" (This
is the supreme moment.)
"NO. THAT IS NOT MY CARD." (This is a flat lie, but Heaven
will pardon you for it.)
"Not that card!!!! Say--just hold on a second. Here, now,
watch what you're at this time. I can do this cursed
thing, mind you, every time. I've done it on father, on
mother, and on every one that's ever come round our place.
Pick a card. (Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle--flip, bang.)
There, that's your card."
"NO. I AM SORRY. THAT IS NOT MY CARD. But won't you try
it again? Please do. Perhaps you are a little excited--I'm
afraid I was rather stupid. Won't you go and sit quietly
by yourself on the back verandah for half an hour and
then try? You have to go home? Oh, I'm so sorry. It must
be such an awfully clever little trick. Good night!"
Back to the Bush
I have a friend called Billy, who has the Bush Mania. By
trade he is a doctor, but I do not think that he needs
to sleep out of doors. In ordinary things his mind appears
sound. Over the tops I of his gold-rimmed spectacles, as
he bends forward to speak to you, there gleams nothing
but amiability and kindliness. Like all the rest of us
he is, or was until he forgot it all, an extremely
I am aware of no criminal strain in his blood. Yet Billy
is in reality hopelessly unbalanced. He has the Mania of
the Open Woods.
Worse than that, he is haunted with the desire to drag
his friends with him into the depths of the Bush.
Whenever we meet he starts to talk about it.
Not long ago I met him in the club.
"I wish," he said, "you'd let me take you clear away up
"Yes, I wish I would, I don't think," I murmured to
myself, but I humoured him and said:
"How do we go, Billy, in a motor-car or by train?"
"No, we paddle."
"And is it up-stream all the way?"
"Oh, yes," Billy said enthusiastically.
"And how many days do we paddle all day to get up?"
"Couldn't we do it in less?"
"Yes," Billy answered, feeling that I was entering into
the spirit of the thing, "if we start each morning just
before daylight and paddle hard till moonlight, we could
do it in five days and a half."
"Glorious! and are there portages?"
"Lots of them."
"And at each of these do I carry two hundred pounds of
stuff up a hill on my back?"
"And will there be a guide, a genuine, dirty-looking
"And can I sleep next to him?"
"Oh, yes, if you want to."
"And when we get to the top, what is there?"
"Well, we go over the height of land."
"Oh, we do, do we? And is the height of land all rock
and about three hundred yards up-hill? And do I carry a
barrel of flour up it? And does it roll down and crush
me on the other side? Look here, Billy, this trip is a
great thing, but it is too luxurious for me. If you will
have me paddled up the river in a large iron canoe with
an awning, carried over the portages in a sedan-chair,
taken across the height of land in a palanquin or a
howdah, and lowered down the other side in a derrick,
I'll go. Short of that, the thing would be too fattening."
Billy was discouraged and left me. But he has since
returned repeatedly to the attack.
He offers to take me to the head-waters of the Batiscan.
I am content at the foot.
He wants us to go to the sources of the Attahwapiscat.
He says I ought to see the grand chutes of the Kewakasis.
Why should I?
I have made Billy a counter-proposition that we strike
through the Adirondacks (in the train) to New York, from
there portage to Atlantic City, then to Washington,
carrying our own grub (in the dining-car), camp there a
few days (at the Willard), and then back, I to return by
train and Billy on foot with the outfit.
The thing is still unsettled.
Billy, of course, is only one of thousands that have got
this mania. And the autumn is the time when it rages at
Every day there move northward trains, packed full of
lawyers, bankers, and brokers, headed for the bush. They
are dressed up to look like pirates. They wear slouch
hats, flannel shirts, and leather breeches with belts.
They could afford much better clothes than these, but
they won't use them. I don't know where they get these
clothes. I think the railroad lends them out. They have
guns between their knees and big knives at their hips.
They smoke the worst tobacco they can find, and they
carry ten gallons of alcohol per man in the baggage car.
In the intervals of telling lies to one another they read
the railroad pamphlets about hunting. This kind of
literature is deliberately and fiendishly contrived to
infuriate their mania. I know all about these pamphlets
because I write them. I once, for instance, wrote up,
from imagination, a little place called Dog Lake at the
end of a branch line. The place had failed as a settlement,
and the railroad had decided to turn it into a hunting
resort. I did the turning. I think I did it rather well,
rechristening the lake and stocking the place with suitable
varieties of game. The pamphlet ran like this.
"The limpid waters of Lake Owatawetness (the name,
according to the old Indian legends of the place, signifies,
The Mirror of the Almighty) abound with every known
variety of fish. Near to its surface, so close that the
angler may reach out his hand and stroke them, schools
of pike, pickerel, mackerel, doggerel, and chickerel
jostle one another in the water. They rise instantaneously
to the bait and swim gratefully ashore holding it in
their mouths. In the middle depth of the waters of the
lake, the sardine, the lobster, the kippered herring,
the anchovy and other tinned varieties of fish disport
themselves with evident gratification, while even lower
in the pellucid depths the dog-fish, the hog-fish, the
log-fish, and the sword-fish whirl about in never-ending
"Nor is Lake Owatawetness merely an Angler's Paradise.
Vast forests of primeval pine slope to the very shores
of the lake, to which descend great droves of bears--brown,
green, and bear-coloured--while as the shades of evening
fall, the air is loud with the lowing of moose, cariboo,
antelope, cantelope, musk-oxes, musk-rats, and other
graminivorous mammalia of the forest. These enormous
quadrumana generally move off about 10.30 p.m., from
which hour until 11.45 p.m. the whole shore is reserved
for bison and buffalo.
"After midnight hunters who so desire it can be chased
through the woods, for any distance and at any speed they
select, by jaguars, panthers, cougars, tigers, and jackals
whose ferocity is reputed to be such that they will tear
the breeches off a man with their teeth in their eagerness
to sink their fangs in his palpitating flesh. Hunters,
attention! Do not miss such attractions as these!"
I have seen men--quiet, reputable, well-shaved men--
reading that pamphlet of mine in the rotundas of hotels,
with their eyes blazing with excitement. I think it is
the jaguar attraction that hits them the hardest, because
I notice them rub themselves sympathetically with their
hands while they read.
Of course, you can imagine the effect of this sort of
literature on the brains of men fresh from their offices,
and dressed out as pirates.
They just go crazy and stay crazy.
Just watch them when they get into the bush.
Notice that well-to-do stockbroker crawling about on his
stomach in the underbrush, with his spectacles shining
like gig-lamps. What is he doing? He is after a cariboo
that isn't there. He is "stalking" it. With his stomach.
Of course, away down in his heart he knows that the
cariboo isn't there and never was; but that man read my
pamphlet and went crazy. He can't help it: he's GOT to
stalk something. Mark him as he crawls along; see him
crawl through a thimbleberry bush (very quietly so that
the cariboo won't hear the noise of the prickles going
into him), then through a bee's nest, gently and slowly,
so that the cariboo will not take fright when the bees
are stinging him. Sheer woodcraft! Yes, mark him. Mark
him any way you like. Go up behind him and paint a blue
cross on the seat of his pants as he crawls. He'll never
notice. He thinks he's a hunting dog. Yet this is the
man who laughs at his little son of ten for crawling
round under the dining-room table with a mat over his
shoulders, and pretending to be a bear.
Now see these other men in camp.
Someone has told them--I think I first started the idea
in my pamphlet--that the thing is to sleep on a pile of
hemlock branches. I think I told them to listen to the
wind sowing (you know the word I mean), sowing and crooning
in the giant pines. So there they are upside-down, doubled
up on a couch of green spikes that would have killed St.
Sebastian. They stare up at the sky with blood-shot,
restless eyes, waiting for the crooning to begin. And
there isn't a sow in sight.
Here is another man, ragged and with a six days' growth
of beard, frying a piece of bacon on a stick over a little
fire. Now what does he think he is? The CHEF of the
Waldorf Astoria? Yes, he does, and what's more he thinks
that that miserable bit of bacon, cut with a tobacco
knife from a chunk of meat that lay six days in the rain,
is fit to eat. What's more, he'll eat it. So will the
rest. They're all crazy together.
There's another man, the Lord help him who thinks he has
the "knack" of being a carpenter. He is hammering up
shelves to a tree. Till the shelves fall down he thinks
he is a wizard. Yet this is the same man who swore at
his wife for asking him to put up a shelf in the back
kitchen. "How the blazes," he asked, "could he nail the
damn thing up? Did she think he was a plumber?"
After all, never mind.
Provided they are happy up there, let them stay.
Personally, I wouldn't mind if they didn't come back and
lie about it. They get back to the city dead fagged for
want of sleep, sogged with alcohol, bitten brown by the
bush-flies, trampled on by the moose and chased through
the brush by bears and skunks--and they have the nerve
to say that they like it.
Sometimes I think they do.
Men are only animals anyway. They like to get out into
the woods and growl round at night and feel something
Only why haven't they the imagination to be able to do
the same thing with less fuss? Why not take their coats
and collars off in the office and crawl round on the
floor and growl at one another. It would be just as good.
Reflections on Riding
The writing of this paper has been inspired by a debate
recently held at the literary society of my native town
on the question, "Resolved: that the bicycle is a nobler
animal than the horse." In order to speak for the negative
with proper authority, I have spent some weeks in completely
addicting myself to the use of the horse. I find that
the difference between the horse and the bicycle is
greater than I had supposed.
The horse is entirely covered with hair; the bicycle is
not entirely covered with hair, except the '89 model they
are using in Idaho.
In riding a horse the performer finds that the pedals in
which he puts his feet will not allow of a good circular
stroke. He will observe, however, that there is a saddle
in which--especially while the horse is trotting--he is
expected to seat himself from time to time. But it is
simpler to ride standing up, with the feet in the pedals.
There are no handles to a horse, but the 1910 model has
a string to each side of its face for turning its head
when there is anything you want it to see.
Coasting on a good horse is superb, but should be under
control. I have known a horse to suddenly begin to coast
with me about two miles from home, coast down the main
street of my native town at a terrific rate, and finally
coast through a plantoon of the Salvation Army into its
I cannot honestly deny that it takes a good deal of
physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have.
I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as
I find that in riding a horse up the long street of a
country town, it is not well to proceed at a trot. It
excites unkindly comment. It is better to let the horse
walk the whole distance. This may be made to seem natural
by turning half round in the saddle with the hand on the
horse's back, and gazing intently about two miles up the
road. It then appears that you are the first in of about
Since learning to ride, I have taken to noticing the
things that people do on horseback in books. Some of
these I can manage, but most of them are entirely beyond
me. Here, for instance, is a form of equestrian performance
that every reader will recognize and for which I have
only a despairing admiration:
"With a hasty gesture of farewell, the rider set spurs
to his horse and disappeared in a cloud of dust."
With a little practice in the matter of adjustment, I
think I could set spurs to any size of horse, but I could
never disappear in a cloud of dust--at least, not with
any guarantee of remaining disappeared when the dust
Here, however, is one that I certainly can do:
"The bridle-rein dropped from Lord Everard's listless
hand, and, with his head bowed upon his bosom, he suffered
his horse to move at a foot's pace up the sombre avenue.
Deep in thought, he heeded not the movement of the steed
which bore him."
That is, he looked as if he didn't; but in my case Lord
Everard has his eye on the steed pretty closely, just
This next I am doubtful about:
"To horse! to horse!" cried the knight, and leaped into
I think I could manage it if it read:
"To horse!" cried the knight, and, snatching a step-ladder
from the hands of his trusty attendant, he rushed into
As a concluding remark, I may mention that my experience
of riding has thrown a very interesting sidelight upon
a rather puzzling point in history. It is recorded of
the famous Henry the Second that he was "almost constantly
in the saddle, and of so restless a disposition that he
never sat down, even at meals." I had hitherto been unable
to understand Henry's idea about his meals, but I think
I can appreciate it now.
A STUDY IN SHAKESPEAREAN CRITICISM
They say that young men fresh from college are pretty
positive about what they know. But from my own experience
of life, I should say that if you take a comfortable,
elderly man who hasn't been near a college for about
twenty years, who has been pretty liberally fed and dined
ever since, who measures about fifty inches around the
circumference, and has a complexion like a cranberry by
candlelight, you will find that there is a degree of
absolute certainty about what he thinks he knows that
will put any young man to shame. I am specially convinced
of this from the case of my friend Colonel Hogshead, a
portly, choleric gentleman who made a fortune in the
cattle-trade out in Wyoming, and who, in his later days,
has acquired a chronic idea that the plays of Shakespeare
are the one subject upon which he is most qualified to
He came across me the other evening as I was sitting by
the fire in the club sitting-room looking over the leaves
of The Merchant of Venice, and began to hold forth to me
about the book.
"Merchant of Venice, eh? There's a play for you, sir!
There's genius! Wonderful, sir, wonderful! You take the
characters in that play and where will you find anything
like them? You take Antonio, take Sherlock, take Saloonio--"
"Saloonio, Colonel?" I interposed mildly, "aren't you
making a mistake? There's a Bassanio and a Salanio in
the play, but I don't think there's any Saloonio, is
For a moment Colonel Hogshead's eye became misty with
doubt, but he was not the man to admit himself in error:
"Tut, tut! young man," he said with a frown, "don't skim
through your books in that way. No Saloonio? Why, of
course there's a Saloonio!"
"But I tell you, Colonel," I rejoined, "I've just been
reading the play and studying it, and I know there's no
"Nonsense, sir, nonsense!" said the Colonel, "why he
comes in all through; don't tell me, young man, I've read
that play myself. Yes, and seen it played, too, out in
Wyoming, before you were born, by fellers, sir, that
could act. No Saloonio, indeed! why, who is it that is
Antonio's friend all through and won't leave him when
Bassoonio turns against him? Who rescues Clarissa from
Sherlock, and steals the casket of flesh from the Prince
of Aragon? Who shouts at the Prince of Morocco, 'Out,
out, you damned candlestick'? Who loads up the jury in
the trial scene and fixes the doge? No Saloonio! By gad!
in my opinion, he's the most important character in the
"Colonel Hogshead," I said very firmly, "there isn't any
Saloonio and you know it."
But the old man had got fairly started on whatever dim
recollection had given birth to Saloonio; the character
seemed to grow more and more luminous in the Colonel's
mind, and he continued with increasing animation:
"I'll just tell you what Saloonio is: he's a type.
Shakespeare means him to embody the type of the perfect
Italian gentleman. He's an idea, that's what he is, he's
a symbol, he's a unit--"
Meanwhile I had been searching among the leaves of the
play. "Look here," I said, "here's the list of the Dramatis
Personae. There's no Saloonio there."
But this didn't dismay the Colonel one atom. "Why, of
course there isn't," he said. "You don't suppose you'd
find Saloonio there! That's the whole art of it! That's
Shakespeare! That's the whole gist of it! He's kept clean
out of the Personae--gives him scope, gives him a free
hand, makes him more of a type than ever. Oh, it's a
subtle thing, sir, the dramatic art!" continued the
Colonel, subsiding into quiet reflection; "it takes a
feller quite a time to get right into Shakespeare's mind
and see what he's at all the time."
I began to see that there was no use in arguing any
further with the old man. I left him with the idea that
the lapse of a little time would soften his views on
Saloonio. But I had not reckoned on the way in which old
men hang on to a thing. Colonel Hogshead quite took up
Saloonio. From that time on Saloonio became the theme of
his constant conversation. He was never tired of discussing
the character of Saloonio, the wonderful art of the
dramatist in creating him, Saloonio's relation to modern
life, Saloonio's attitude toward women, the ethical
significance of Saloonio, Saloonio as compared with
Hamlet, Hamlet as compared with Saloonio--and so on,
endlessly. And the more he looked into Saloonio, the more
he saw in him.
Saloonio seemed inexhaustible. There were new sides to
him--new phases at every turn. The Colonel even read over
the play, and finding no mention of Saloonio's name in
it, he swore that the books were not the same books they
had had out in Wyoming; that the whole part had been cut
clean out to suit the book to the infernal public schools,
Saloonio's language being--at any rate, as the Colonel
quoted it--undoubtedly a trifle free. Then the Colonel
took to annotating his book at the side with such remarks
as, "Enter Saloonio," or "A tucket sounds; enter Saloonio,
on the arm of the Prince of Morocco." When there was no
reasonable excuse for bringing Saloonio on the stage the
Colonel swore that he was concealed behind the arras, or
feasting within with the doge.
But he got satisfaction at last. He had found that there
was nobody in our part of the country who knew how to
put a play of Shakespeare on the stage, and took a trip
to New York to see Sir Henry Irving and Miss Terry do
the play. The Colonel sat and listened all through with
his face just beaming with satisfaction, and when the
curtain fell at the close of Irving's grand presentation
of the play, he stood up in his seat, and cheered and
yelled to his friends: "That's it! That's him! Didn't
you see that man that came on the stage all the time and
sort of put the whole play through, though you couldn't
understand a word he said? Well, that's him! That's
Half-hours with the Poets
I.--MR. WORDSWORTH AND THE LITTLE COTTAGE GIRL.
"I met a little cottage girl,
She was eight years old she said,
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head."
This is what really happened.
Over the dreary downs of his native Cumberland the aged
laureate was wandering with bowed head and countenance
Times were bad with the old man.
In the south pocket of his trousers, as he set his face
to the north, jingled but a few odd coins and a cheque
for St. Leon water. Apparently his cup of bitterness was
In the distance a child moved--a child in form, yet the
deep lines upon her face bespoke a countenance prematurely
The poet espied, pursued and overtook the infant. He
observed that apparently she drew her breath lightly and
felt her life in every limb, and that presumably her
acquaintance with death was of the most superficial
"I must sit awhile and ponder on that child," murmured
the poet. So he knocked her down with his walking-stick
and seating himself upon her, he pondered.
Long he sat thus in thought. "His heart is heavy," sighed
At length he drew forth a note-book and pencil and prepared
to write upon his knee. "Now then, my dear young friend,"
he said, addressing the elfin creature, "I want those
lines upon your face. Are you seven?"
"Yes, we are seven," said the girl sadly, and added, "I
know what you want. You are going to question me about
my afflicted family. You are Mr. Wordsworth, and you are
collecting mortuary statistics for the Cottagers' Edition
of the Penny Encyclopaedia."
"You are eight years old?" asked the bard.
"I suppose so," answered she. "I have been eight years
old for years and years."
"And you know nothing of death, of course?" said the poet
"How can I?" answered the child.
"Now then," resumed the venerable William, "let us get
to business. Name your brothers and sisters."
"Let me see," began the child wearily; "there was Rube
and Ike, two I can't think of, and John and Jane."
"You must not count John and Jane," interrupted the bard
reprovingly; "they're dead, you know, so that doesn't
"I wasn't counting them, but perhaps I added up wrongly,"
said the child; "and will you please move your overshoe
off my neck?"
"Pardon," said the old man. "A nervous trick, I have been
absorbed; indeed, the exigency of the metre almost demands
my doubling up my feet. To continue, however; which died
"The first to go was little Jane," said the child.
"She lay moaning in bed, I presume?"
"In bed she moaning lay."
"What killed her?"
"Insomnia," answered the girl. "The gaiety of our cottage
life, previous to the departure of our elder brothers
for Conway, and the constant field-sports in which she
indulged with John, proved too much for a frame never
"You express yourself well," said the poet. "Now, in
regard to your unfortunate brother, what was the effect
upon him in the following winter of the ground being
white with snow and your being able to run and slide?"
"My brother John was forced to go," answered she. "We
have been at a loss to understand the cause of his death.
We fear that the dazzling glare of the newly fallen snow,
acting upon a restless brain, may have led him to a fatal
attempt to emulate my own feats upon the ice. And, oh,
sir," the child went on, "speak gently of poor Jane. You
may rub it into John all you like; we always let him
"Very well," said the bard, "and allow me, in conclusion,
one rather delicate question: Do you ever take your little
"Oh, yes," answered the child frankly--
"'Quite often after sunset,
When all is light and fair,
I take my little porringer'--
"I can't quite remember what I do after that, but I know
that I like it."
"That is immaterial," said Wordsworth. "I can say that
you take your little porringer neat, or with bitters, or
in water after every meal. As long as I can state that
you take a little porringer regularly, but never to
excess, the public is satisfied. And now," rising from
his seat, "I will not detain you any longer. Here is
sixpence--or stay," he added hastily, "here is a cheque
for St. Leon water. Your information has been most
valuable, and I shall work it, for all I am Wordsworth."
With these words the aged poet bowed deferentially to
the child and sauntered off in the direction of the Duke
of Cumberland's Arms, with his eyes on the ground, as if
looking for the meanest flower that blows itself.
II:--HOW TENNYSON KILLED THE MAY QUEEN
"If you're waking call me early, call me early, mother dear."
As soon as the child's malady had declared itself the
afflicted parents of the May Queen telegraphed to Tennyson,
"Our child gone crazy on subject of early rising, could
you come and write some poetry about her?"
Alfred, always prompt to fill orders in writing from the
country, came down on the evening train. The old cottager
greeted the poet warmly, and began at once to speak of
the state of his unfortunate daughter.
"She was took queer in May," he said, "along of a sort
of bee that the young folks had; she ain't been just
right since; happen you might do summat."
With these words he opened the door of an inner room.
The girl lay in feverish slumber. Beside her bed was an
alarm-clock set for half-past three. Connected with the
clock was an ingenious arrangement of a falling brick
with a string attached to the child's toe.
At the entrance of the visitor she started up in bed.
"Whoop," she yelled, "I am to be Queen of the May, mother,
Then perceiving Tennyson in the doorway, "If that's a
caller," she said, "tell him to call me early."
The shock caused the brick to fall. In the subsequent
confusion Alfred modestly withdrew to the sitting-room.
"At this rate," he chuckled, "I shall not have long to
wait. A few weeks of that strain will finish her."
Six months had passed.
It was now mid-winter.
And still the girl lived. Her vitality appeared
She got up earlier and earlier. She now rose yesterday
At intervals she seemed almost sane, and spoke in a most
pathetic manner of her grave and the probability of the
sun shining on it early in the morning, and her mother
walking on it later in the day. At other times her malady
would seize her, and she would snatch the brick off the
string and throw it fiercely at Tennyson. Once, in an
uncontrollable fit of madness, she gave her sister Effie
a half-share in her garden tools and an interest in a
box of mignonette.
The poet stayed doggedly on. In the chill of the morning
twilight he broke the ice in his water-basin and cursed
the girl. But he felt that he had broken the ice and he
On the whole, life at the cottage, though rugged, was
not cheerless. In the long winter evenings they would
gather around a smoking fire of peat, while Tennyson read
aloud the Idylls of the King to the rude old cottager.
Not to show his rudeness, the old man kept awake by
sitting on a tin-tack. This also kept his mind on the
right tack. The two found that they had much in common,
especially the old cottager. They called each other
"Alfred" and "Hezekiah" now.
Time moved on and spring came.
Still the girl baffled the poet.
"I thought to pass away before," she would say with a
mocking grin, "but yet alive I am, Alfred, alive I am."
Tennyson was fast losing hope.
Worn out with early rising, they engaged a retired
Pullman-car porter to take up his quarters, and being a
negro his presence added a touch of colour to their life.
The poet also engaged a neighbouring divine at fifty
cents an evening to read to the child the best hundred
books, with explanations. The May Queen tolerated him,
and used to like to play with his silver hair, but
protested that he was prosy.
At the end of his resources the poet resolved upon
He chose an evening when the cottager and his wife were
out at a dinner-party.
At nightfall Tennyson and his accomplices entered the
She defended herself savagely with her brick, but was
The negro seated himself upon her chest, while the
clergyman hastily read a few verses about the comfort of
early rising at the last day.
As he concluded, the poet drove his pen into her eye.
"Last call!" cried the negro porter triumphantly.
III.--OLD MR. LONGFELLOW ON BOARD THE HESPERUS.
"It was the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea,
And the skipper had taken his little daughter to bear
There were but three people in the cabin party of the
Hesperus: old Mr. Longfellow, the skipper, and the
The skipper was much attached to the child, owing to the
singular whiteness of her skin and the exceptionally
limpid blue of her eyes; she had hitherto remained on
shore to fill lucrative engagements as albino lady in a
This time, however, her father had taken her with him
for company. The girl was an endless source of amusement
to the skipper and the crew. She constantly got up games
of puss-in-the-corner, forfeits, and Dumb Crambo with
her father and Mr. Longfellow, and made Scripture puzzles
and geographical acrostics for the men.
Old Mr. Longfellow was taking the voyage to restore his
shattered nerves. From the first the captain disliked
Henry. He was utterly unused to the sea and was nervous
and fidgety in the extreme. He complained that at sea
his genius had not a sufficient degree of latitude. Which
was unparalleled presumption.
On the evening of the storm there had been a little jar
between Longfellow and the captain at dinner. The captain
had emptied it several times, and was consequently in a
reckless, quarrelsome humour.
"I confess I feel somewhat apprehensive," said old Henry
nervously, "of the state of the weather. I have had some
conversation about it with an old gentleman on deck who
professed to have sailed the Spanish main. He says you
ought to put into yonder port."
"I have," hiccoughed the skipper, eyeing the bottle, and
added with a brutal laugh that "he could weather the
roughest gale that ever wind did blow." A whole Gaelic
society, he said, wouldn't fizz on him.
Draining a final glass of grog, he rose from his chair,
said grace, and staggered on deck.
All the time the wind blew colder and louder.
The billows frothed like yeast. It was a yeast wind.
The evening wore on.
Old Henry shuffled about the cabin in nervous misery.
The skipper's daughter sat quietly at the table selecting
verses from a Biblical clock to amuse the ship's bosun,
who was suffering from toothache.
At about ten Longfellow went to his bunk, requesting the
girl to remain up in his cabin.
For half an hour all was quiet, save the roaring of the
Then the girl heard the old gentleman start up in bed.
"What's that bell, what's that bell?" he gasped.
A minute later he emerged from his cabin wearing a cork
jacket and trousers over his pyjamas.
"Sissy," he said, "go up and ask your pop who rang that
The obedient child returned.
"Please, Mr. Longfellow," she said, "pa says there weren't
The old man sank into a chair and remained with his head
buried in his hands.
"Say," he exclaimed presently, "someone's firing guns
and there's a glimmering light somewhere. You'd better
go upstairs again."
Again the child returned.
"The crew are guessing at an acrostic, and occasionally
they get a glimmering of it."
Meantime the fury of the storm increased.
The skipper had the hatches battered down.
Presently Longfellow put his head out of a porthole and
called out, "Look here, you may not care, but the cruel
rocks are goring the sides of this boat like the horns
of an angry bull."
The brutal skipper heaved the log at him. A knot in it
struck a plank and it glanced off.
Too frightened to remain below, the poet raised one of
the hatches by picking out the cotton batting and made
his way on deck. He crawled to the wheel-house.
The skipper stood lashed to the helm all stiff and stark.
He bowed stiffly to the poet. The lantern gleamed through
the gleaming snow on his fixed and glassy eyes. The man
was hopelessly intoxicated.
All the crew had disappeared. When the missile thrown by
the captain had glanced off into the sea, they glanced
after it and were lost.
At this moment the final crash came.
Something hit something. There was an awful click followed
by a peculiar grating sound, and in less time than it
takes to write it (unfortunately), the whole wreck was
As the vessel sank, Longfellow's senses left him. When
he reopened his eyes he was in his own bed at home, and
the editor of his local paper was bending over him.
"You have made a first-rate poem of it, Mr. Longfellow,"
he was saying, unbending somewhat as he spoke, "and I am
very happy to give you our cheque for a dollar and a
quarter for it."
"Your kindness checks my utterance," murmured Henry
feebly, very feebly.
A, B, and C
THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN MATHEMATICS
The student of arithmetic who has mastered the first four
rules of his art, and successfully striven with money
sums and fractions, finds himself confronted by an unbroken
expanse of questions known as problems. These are short
stories of adventure and industry with the end omitted,
and though betraying a strong family resemblance, are
not without a certain element of romance.
The characters in the plot of a problem are three people
called A, B, and C. The form of the question is generally
of this sort:
"A, B, and C do a certain piece of work. A can do as much
work in one hour as B in two, or C in four. Find how long
they work at it."
"A, B, and C are employed to dig a ditch. A can dig as
much in one hour as B can dig in two, and B can dig twice
as fast as C. Find how long, etc. etc."
Or after this wise:
"A lays a wager that he can walk faster than B or C. A
can walk half as fast again as B, and C is only an
indifferent walker. Find how far, and so forth."
The occupations of A, B, and C are many and varied. In
the older arithmetics they contented themselves with
doing "a certain piece of work." This statement of the
case however, was found too sly and mysterious, or possibly
lacking in romantic charm. It became the fashion to define
the job more clearly and to set them at walking matches,
ditch-digging, regattas, and piling cord wood. At times,
they became commercial and entered into partnership,
having with their old mystery a "certain" capital. Above
all they revel in motion. When they tire of
walking-matches--A rides on horseback, or borrows a
bicycle and competes with his weaker-minded associates
on foot. Now they race on locomotives; now they row; or
again they become historical and engage stage-coaches;
or at times they are aquatic and swim. If their occupation
is actual work they prefer to pump water into cisterns,
two of which leak through holes in the bottom and one of
which is water-tight. A, of course, has the good one; he
also takes the bicycle, and the best locomotive, and the
right of swimming with the current. Whatever they do they
put money on it, being all three sports. A always wins.
In the early chapters of the arithmetic, their identity
is concealed under the names John, William, and Henry,
and they wrangle over the division of marbles. In algebra
they are often called X, Y, Z. But these are only their
Christian names, and they are really the same people.
Now to one who has followed the history of these men
through countless pages of problems, watched them in
their leisure hours dallying with cord wood, and seen
their panting sides heave in the full frenzy of filling
a cistern with a leak in it, they become something more
than mere symbols. They appear as creatures of flesh and
blood, living men with their own passions, ambitions,
and aspirations like the rest of us. Let us view them in
turn. A is a full-blooded blustering fellow, of energetic
temperament, hot-headed and strong-willed. It is he who
proposes everything, challenges B to work, makes the
bets, and bends the others to his will. He is a man of
great physical strength and phenomenal endurance. He has
been known to walk forty-eight hours at a stretch, and
to pump ninety-six. His life is arduous and full of peril.
A mistake in the working of a sum may keep him digging
a fortnight without sleep. A repeating decimal in the
answer might kill him.
B is a quiet, easy-going fellow, afraid of A and bullied
by him, but very gentle and brotherly to little C, the
weakling. He is quite in A's power, having lost all his
money in bets.
Poor C is an undersized, frail man, with a plaintive
face. Constant walking, digging, and pumping has broken
his health and ruined his nervous system. His joyless
life has driven him to drink and smoke more than is good
for him, and his hand often shakes as he digs ditches.
He has not the strength to work as the others can, in
fact, as Hamlin Smith has said, "A can do more work in
one hour than C in four."
The first time that ever I saw these men was one evening
after a regatta. They had all been rowing in it, and it
had transpired that A could row as much in one hour as
B in two, or C in four. B and C had come in dead fagged
and C was coughing badly. "Never mind, old fellow," I
heard B say, "I'll fix you up on the sofa and get you
some hot tea." Just then A came blustering in and shouted,
"I say, you fellows, Hamlin Smith has shown me three
cisterns in his garden and he says we can pump them until
to-morrow night. I bet I can beat you both. Come on. You
can pump in your rowing things, you know. Your cistern
leaks a little, I think, C." I heard B growl that it was
a dirty shame and that C was used up now, but they went,
and presently I could tell from the sound of the water
that A was pumping four times as fast as C.
For years after that I used to see them constantly about
town and always busy. I never heard of any of them eating
or sleeping. Then owing to a long absence from home, I
lost sight of them. On my return I was surprised to no
longer find A, B, and C at their accustomed tasks; on
inquiry I heard that work in this line was now done by
N, M, and O, and that some people were employing for
algebraica jobs four foreigners called Alpha, Beta, Gamma,
Now it chanced one day that I stumbled upon old D, in the little
garden in front of his cottage, hoeing in the sun. D is an aged
labouring man who used occasionally to be called in to help A,
B, and C. "Did I know 'em, sir?" he answered, "why, I knowed 'em
ever since they was little fellows in brackets. Master A, he
were a fine lad, sir, though I always said, give me Master B for
kind-heartedness-like. Many's the job as we've been on together,
sir, though I never did no racing nor aught of that, but just
the plain labour, as you might say. I'm getting a bit too old
and stiff for it nowadays, sir--just scratch about in the
garden here and grow a bit of a logarithm, or raise a common
denominator or two. But Mr. Euclid he use me still for them
propositions, he do."
From the garrulous old man I learned the melancholy end of
my former acquaintances. Soon after I left town, he told
me, C had been taken ill. It seems that A and B had been
rowing on the river for a wager, and C had been running
on the bank and then sat in a draught. Of course the bank
had refused the draught and C was taken ill. A and B came
home and found C lying helpless in bed. A shook him
roughly and said, "Get up, C, we're going to pile wood."
C looked so worn and pitiful that B said, "Look here, A,
I won't stand this, he isn't fit to pile wood to-night."
C smiled feebly and said, "Perhaps I might pile a little
if I sat up in bed." Then B, thoroughly alarmed, said,
"See here, A, I'm going to fetch a doctor; he's dying."
A flared up and answered, "You've no money to fetch a
doctor." "I'll reduce him to his lowest terms," B said
firmly, "that'll fetch him." C's life might even then
have been saved but they made a mistake about the medicine.
It stood at the head of the bed on a bracket, and the
nurse accidentally removed it from the bracket without
changing the sign. After the fatal blunder C seems to
have sunk rapidly. On the evening of the next day, as
the shadows deepened in the little room, it was clear to
all that the end was near. I think that even A was affected
at the last as he stood with bowed head, aimlessly offering
to bet with the doctor on C's laboured breathing. "A,"
whispered C, "I think I'm going fast." "How fast do you
think you'll go, old man?" murmured A. "I don't know,"
said C, "but I'm going at any rate."--The end came soon
after that. C rallied for a moment and asked for a certain
piece of work that he had left downstairs. A put it in
his arms and he expired. As his soul sped heavenward A
watched its flight with melancholy admiration. B burst
into a passionate flood of tears and sobbed, "Put away
his little cistern and the rowing clothes he used to
wear, I feel as if I could hardly ever dig again."--The
funeral was plain and unostentatious. It differed in
nothing from the ordinary, except that out of deference
to sporting men and mathematicians, A engaged two hearses.
Both vehicles started at the same time, B driving the
one which bore the sable parallelopiped containing the
last remains of his ill-fated friend. A on the box of
the empty hearse generously consented to a handicap of
a hundred yards, but arrived first at the cemetery by
driving four times as fast as B. (Find the distance to
the cemetery.) As the sarcophagus was lowered, the grave
was surrounded by the broken figures of the first book
of Euclid.--It was noticed that after the death of C, A
became a changed man. He lost interest in racing with B,
and dug but languidly. He finally gave up his work and
settled down to live on the interest of his bets.--B
never recovered from the shock of C's death; his grief
preyed upon his intellect and it became deranged. He grew
moody and spoke only in monosyllables. His disease became
rapidly aggravated, and he presently spoke only in words
whose spelling was regular and which presented no difficulty
to the beginner. Realizing his precarious condition he
voluntarily submitted to be incarcerated in an asylum,
where he abjured mathematics and devoted himself to
writing the History of the Swiss Family Robinson in words
of one syllable.
Many of the sketches which form the present volume have
already appeared in print. Others of them are new. Of
the re-printed pieces, "Melpomenus Jones," "Policeman
Hogan," "A Lesson in Fiction," and many others were
contributions by the author to the New York Truth. The
"Boarding-House Geometry" first appeared in Truth, and
was subsequently republished in the London Punch, and in
a great many other journals. The sketches called the
"Life of John Smith," "Society Chit-Chat," and "Aristocratic
Education" appeared in Puck. "The New Pathology" was
first printed in the Toronto Saturday Night, and was
subsequently republished by the London Lancet, and by
various German periodicals in the form of a translation.
The story called "Number Fifty-Six" is taken from the
Detroit Free Press. "My Financial Career" was originally
contributed to the New York Life, and has been frequently
reprinted. The Articles "How to Make a Million Dollars"
and "How to Avoid Getting Married," etc. are reproduced
by permission of the Publishers' Press Syndicate. The
wide circulation which some of the above sketches have
enjoyed has encouraged the author to prepare the present
The author desires to express his sense of obligation to
the proprietors of the above journals who have kindly
permitted him to republish the contributions which appeared
in their columns.