Part 2 out of 5
If the reader thinks that all these talking Teacups came together by
mere accident, as people meet at a boarding-house, I may as well tell
him at once that he is mistaken. If he thinks I am going to explain
how it is that he finds them thus brought together, whether they form
a secret association, whether they are the editors of this or that
periodical, whether they are connected with some institution, and so
on,--I must disappoint him. It is enough that he finds them in each
other's company, a very mixed assembly, of different sexes, ages, and
pursuits; and if there is a certain mystery surrounds their meetings,
he must not be surprised. Does he suppose we want to be known and
talked about in public as "Teacups"? No; so far as we give to the
community some records of the talks at our table our thoughts become
public property, but the sacred personality of every Teacup must be
properly respected. If any wonder at the presence of one of our
number, whose eccentricities might seem to render him an undesirable
associate of the company, he should remember that some people may
have relatives whom they feel bound to keep their eye on; besides the
cracked Teacup brings out the ring of the sound ones as nothing else
does. Remember also that soundest teacup does not always hold the
best tea, or the cracked teacup the worst.
This is a hint to the reader, who is not expected to be too curious
about the individual Teacups constituting our unorganized
The Dictator Discourses.
I have been reading Balzac's Peau de Chagrin. You have all read the
story, I hope, for it is the first of his wonderful romances which
fixed the eyes of the reading world upon him, and is a most
fascinating if somewhat fantastic tale. A young man becomes the
possessor of a certain magic skin, the peculiarity of which is that,
while it gratifies every wish formed by its possessor, it shrinks in
all its dimensions each time that a wish is gratified. The young man
makes every effort to ascertain the cause of its shrinking; invokes
the aid of the physicist, the chemist, the student of natural
history, but all in vain. He draws a red line around it. That same
day he indulges a longing for a certain object. The next morning
there is a little interval between the red line and the skin, close
to which it was traced. So always, so inevitably. As he lives on,
satisfying one desire, one passion, after another, the process of
shrinking continues. A mortal disease sets in, which keeps pace with
the shrinking skin, and his life and his talisman come to an end
One would say that such a piece of integument was hardly a desirable
possession. And yet, how many of us have at this very moment a peau
de chagrin of our own, diminishing with every costly wish indulged,
and incapable, like the magical one of the story, of being arrested
in its progress
Need I say that I refer to those coupon bonds, issued in the days of
eight and ten per cent interest, and gradually narrowing as they drop
their semiannual slips of paper, which represent wishes to be
realized, as the roses let fall their leaves in July, as the icicles
melt away in the thaw of January?
How beautiful was the coupon bond, arrayed in its golden raiment of
promises to pay at certain stated intervals, for a goodly number of
coming years! What annual the horticulturist can show will bear
comparison with this product of auricultural industry, which has
flowered in midsummer and midwinter for twenty successive seasons?
And now the last of its blossoms is to be plucked, and the bare stem,
stripped of its ever maturing and always welcome appendages, is
reduced to the narrowest conditions of reproductive existence. Such
is the fate of the financial peau de chagrin. Pity the poor
fractional capitalist, who has just managed to live on the eight per
cent of his coupon bonds. The shears of Atropos were not more fatal
to human life than the long scissors which cut the last coupon to the
lean proprietor, whose slice of dry toast it served to flatter with
oleomargarine. Do you wonder that my thoughts took the poetical
form, in the contemplation of these changes and their melancholy
consequences? If the entire poem, of several hundred lines, was
"declined with thanks" by an unfeeling editor, that is no reason why
you should not hear a verse or two of it.
THE PEAU DE CHAGRIN OF STATE STREET.
How beauteous is the bond
In the manifold array
Of its promises to pay,
While the eight per cent it gives
And the rate at which one lives
But at last the bough is bare
Where the coupons one by one
Through their ripening days have run,
And the bond, a beggar now,
Seeks investment anyhow,
The Mistress commonly contents herself with the general supervision
of the company, only now and then taking an active part in the
conversation. She started a question the other evening which set
some of us thinking.
"Why is it," she said, "that there is so common and so intense a
desire for poetical reputation? It seems to me that, if I were a
man, I had rather have done something worth telling of than make
verses about what other people had done."
"You agree with Alexander the Great," said the Professor. "You would
prefer the fame of Achilles to that of Homer, who told the story of
his wrath and its direful consequences. I am afraid that I should
hardly agree with you. Achilles was little better than a Choctaw
brave. I won't quote Horace's line which characterizes him so
admirably, for I will take it for granted that you all know it. He
was a gentleman,--so is a first-class Indian,--a very noble gentleman
in point of courage, lofty bearing, courtesy, but an unsoaped, ill-
clad, turbulent, high-tempered young fellow, looked up to by his
crowd very much as the champion of the heavy weights is looked up to
by his gang of blackguards. Alexander himself was not much better,--
a foolish, fiery young madcap. How often is he mentioned except as a
warning? His best record is that he served to point a moral as
'Macedonian's madman.' He made a figure, it is true, in Dryden's
great Ode, but what kind of a figure? He got drunk,--in very bad
company, too,--and then turned fire-bug. He had one redeeming
point,--he did value his Homer, and slept with the Iliad under his
pillow. A poet like Homer seems to me worth a dozen such fellows as
Achilles and Alexander."
"Homer is all very well far those that can read him," said Number
Seven, "but the fellows that tag verses together nowadays are mostly
fools. That's my opinion. I wrote some verses once myself, but I
had been sick and was very weak; hadn't strength enough to write in
prose, I suppose."
This aggressive remark caused a little stir at our tea-table. For
you must know, if I have not told you already, there are suspicions
that we have more than one "poet" at our table. I have already
confessed that I do myself indulge in verse now and then, and have
given my readers a specimen of my work in that line. But there is so
much difference of character in the verses which are produced at our
table, without any signature, that I feel quite sure there are at
least two or three other contributors besides myself. There is a
tall, old-fashioned silver urn, a sugar-bowl of the period of the
Empire, in which the poems sent to be read are placed by unseen
hands. When the proper moment arrives, I lift the cover of the urn
and take out any manuscript it may contain. If conversation is going
on and the company are in a talking mood, I replace the manuscript or
manuscripts, clap on the cover, and wait until there is a moment's
quiet before taking it off again. I might guess the writers
sometimes by the handwriting, but there is more trouble taken to
disguise the chirography than I choose to take to identify it as that
of any particular member of our company.
The turn the conversation took, especially the slashing onslaught of
Number Seven on the writers of verse, set me thinking and talking
about the matter. Number Five turned on the stream of my discourse
by a question.
"You receive a good many volumes of verse, do you not?" she said,
with a look which implied that she knew I did.
I certainly do, I answered. My table aches with them. My shelves
groan with them. Think of what a fuss Pope made about his trials,
when he complained that
"All Bedlam or Parnassus is let out"!
What were the numbers of the
"Mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease"
to that great multitude of contributors to our magazines, and authors
of little volumes--sometimes, alas! big ones--of verse, which pour
out of the press, not weekly, but daily, and at such a rate of
increase that it seems as if before long every hour would bring a
book, or at least an article which is to grow into a book by and by?
I thanked Heaven, the other day, that I was not a critic. These
attenuated volumes of poetry in fancy bindings open their covers at
one like so many little unfledged birds, and one does so long to drop
a worm in,--a worm in the shape of a kind word for the poor
fledgling! But what a desperate business it is to deal with this
army of candidates for immortality! I have often had something to
say about them, and I may be saying over the same things; but if I do
not remember what I have said, it is not very likely that my reader
will; if he does, he will find, I am very sure, that I say it a
What astonishes me is that this enormous mass of commonplace verse,
which burdens the postman who brings it, which it is a serious task
only to get out of its wrappers and open in two or three places, is
on the whole of so good an average quality. The dead level of
mediocrity is in these days a table-land, a good deal above the old
sea-level of laboring incapacity. Sixty years ago verses made a
local reputation, which verses, if offered today to any of our first-
class magazines, would go straight into the waste-basket. To write
"poetry" was an art and mystery in which only a few noted men and a
woman or two were experts.
When "Potter the ventriloquist," the predecessor of the well-
remembered Signor Blitz, went round giving his entertainments, there
was something unexplained, uncanny, almost awful, and beyond dispute
marvellous, in his performances. Those watches that disappeared and
came back to their owners, those endless supplies of treasures from
empty hats, and especially those crawling eggs that travelled all
over the magician's person, sent many a child home thinking that Mr.
Potter must have ghostly assistants, and raised grave doubts in the
minds of "professors," that is members of the church, whether they
had not compromised their characters by being seen at such an
unhallowed exhibition. Nowadays, a clever boy who has made a study
of parlor magic can do many of those tricks almost as well as the
great sorcerer himself. How simple it all seems when we have seen
the mechanism of the deception!
It is just so with writing in verse. It was not understood that
everybody can learn to make poetry, just as they can learn the more
difficult tricks of juggling. M. Jourdain's discovery that he had
been speaking and writing prose all his life is nothing to that of
the man who finds out in middle life, or even later, that he might
have been writing poetry all his days, if he had only known how
perfectly easy and simple it is. Not everybody, it is true, has a
sufficiently good ear, a sufficient knowledge of rhymes and capacity
for handling them, to be what is called a poet. I doubt whether more
than nine out of ten, in the average, have that combination of gifts
required for the writing of readable verse.
This last expression of opinion created a sensation among The
Teacups. They looked puzzled for a minute. One whispered to the
next Teacup, "More than nine out of ten! I should think that was a
pretty liberal allowance."
Yes, I continued; perhaps ninety-nine in a hundred would come nearer
to the mark. I have sometimes thought I might consider it worth
while to set up a school for instruction in the art. "Poetry taught
in twelve lessons." Congenital idiocy is no disqualification.
Anybody can write "poetry." It is a most unenviable distinction to
leave published a thin volume of verse, which nobody wanted, nobody
buys, nobody reads, nobody cares for except the author, who cries
over its pathos, poor fellow, and revels in its beauties, which he
has all to himself. Come! who will be my pupils in a Course,--Poetry
taught in twelve lessons? That made a laugh, in which most of The
Teacups, myself included, joined heartily. Through it all I heard
the sweet tones of Number Five's caressing voice; not because it was
more penetrating or louder than the others, for it was low and soft,
but it was so different from the others, there was so much more
life,--the life of sweet womanhood,--dissolved in it.
(Of course he will fall in love with her. "He? Who?" Why, the
newcomer, the Counsellor. Did I not see his eyes turn toward her as
the silvery notes rippled from her throat? Did they not follow her
in her movements, as she turned her tread this or that way?
--What nonsense for me to be arranging matters between two people
strangers to each other before to-day!)
"A fellow writes in verse when he has nothing to say, and feels too
dull and silly to say it in prose," said Number Seven.
This made us laugh again, good-naturedly. I was pleased with a kind
of truth which it seemed to me to wrap up in its rather startling
affirmation. I gave a piece of advice the other day which I said I
thought deserved a paragraph to itself. It was from a letter I wrote
not long ago to an unknown young correspondent, who had a longing for
seeing himself in verse but was not hopelessly infatuated with the
idea that he was born a "poet." "When you write in prose," I said,
"you say what you mean. When you write in verse you say what you
must." I was thinking more especially of rhymed verse. Rhythm alone
is a tether, and not a very long one. But rhymes are iron fetters;
it is dragging a chain and ball to march under their incumbrance; it
is a clog-dance you are figuring in, when you execute your metrical
pas seul. Consider under what a disadvantage your thinking powers
are laboring when you are handicapped by the inexorable demands of
our scanty English rhyming vocabulary! You want to say something
about the heavenly bodies, and you have a beautiful line ending with
the word stars. Were you writing in prose, your imagination, your
fancy, your rhetoric, your musical ear for the harmonies of language,
would all have full play. But there is your rhyme fastening you by
the leg, and you must either reject the line which pleases you, or
you must whip your hobbling fancy and all your limping thoughts into
the traces which are hitched to one of three or four or half a dozen
serviceable words. You cannot make any use of cars, I will suppose;
you have no occasion to talk about scars; "the red planet Mars" has
been used already; Dibdin has said enough about the gallant tars;
what is there left for you but bars? So you give up your trains of
thought, capitulate to necessity, and manage to lug in some kind of
allusion, in place or out of place, which will allow you to make use
of bars. Can there be imagined a more certain process for breaking
up all continuity of thought, for taking out all the vigor, all the
virility, which belongs to natural prose as the vehicle of strong,
graceful, spontaneous thought, than this miserable subjugation of
intellect to the-clink of well or ill matched syllables? I think you
will smile if I tell you of an idea I have had about teaching the art
of writing "poems" to the half-witted children at the Idiot Asylum.
The trick of rhyming cannot be more usefully employed than in
furnishing a pleasant amusement to the poor feeble-minded children.
I should feel that I was well employed in getting up a Primer for the
pupils of the Asylum, and other young persons who are incapable of
serious thought and connected expression. I would start in the
simplest way; thus:--
When darkness veils the evening....
I love to close my weary....
The pupil begins by supplying the missing words, which most children
who are able to keep out of fire and water can accomplish after a
certain number of trials. When the poet that is to be has got so as
to perform this task easily, a skeleton verse, in which two or three
words of each line are omitted, is given the child to fill up. By
and by the more difficult forms of metre are outlined, until at
length a feebleminded child can make out a sonnet, completely
equipped with its four pairs of rhymes in the first section and its
three pairs in the second part.
Number Seven interrupted my discourse somewhat abruptly, as is his
wont; for we grant him a license, in virtue of his eccentricity,
which we should hardly expect to be claimed by a perfectly sound
"That's the way,--that 's the way!" exclaimed he. "It's just the
same thing as my plan for teaching drawing."
Some curiosity was shown among The Teacups to know what the queer
creature had got into his mind, and Number Five asked him, in her
irresistible tones, if he wouldn't oblige us by telling us all about
He looked at her a moment without speaking. I suppose he has often
been made fun of,--slighted in conversation, taken as a butt for
people who thought themselves witty, made to feel as we may suppose a
cracked piece of china-ware feels when it is clinked in the company
of sound bits of porcelain. I never saw him when he was carelessly
dealt with in conversation,--for it would sometimes happen, even at
our table,--without recalling some lines of Emerson which always
struck me as of wonderful force and almost terrible truthfulness:--
"Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight
When thou lookest in his face
Thy heart saith, 'Brother, go thy ways
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden;'
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten."
Poor fellow! Number Seven has to bear a good deal in the way of
neglect and ridicule, I do not doubt. Happily, he is protected by an
amount of belief in himself which shields him from many assailants
who would torture a more sensitive nature. But the sweet voice of
Number Five and her sincere way of addressing him seemed to touch his
feelings. That was the meaning of his momentary silence, in which I
saw that his eyes glistened and a faint flush rose on his cheeks. In
a moment, however, as soon as he was on his hobby, he was all right,
and explained his new and ingenious system as follows:
"A man at a certain distance appears as a dark spot,--nothing more.
Good. Anybody, man, woman, or child, can make a dot, say a period,
such as we use in writing. Lesson No. 1. Make a dot; that is, draw
your man, a mile off, if that is far enough. Now make him come a
little nearer, a few rods, say. The dot is an oblong figure now.
Good. Let your scholar draw the oblong figure. It is as easy as it
is to make a note of admiration. Your man comes nearer, and now some
hint of a bulbous enlargement at one end, and perhaps of lateral
appendages and a bifurcation, begins to show itself. The pupil sets
down with his pencil just what he sees,--no more. So by degrees the
man who serves as model approaches. A bright pupil will learn to get
the outline of a human figure in ten lessons, the model coming five
hundred feet nearer each time. A dull one may require fifty, the
model beginning a mile off, or more, and coming a hundred feet nearer
at each move."
The company were amused by all this, but could not help seeing that
there was a certain practical possibility about the scheme. Our two
Annexes, as we call then, appeared to be interested in the project,
or fancy, or whim, or whatever the older heads might consider it.
"I guess I'll try it," said the American Annex. "Quite so," answered
the English Annex. Why the first girl "guessed" about her own
intentions it is hard to say. What "quite so" referred to it would
not be easy to determine. But these two expressions would decide the
nationality of our two young ladies if we met them on the top of the
I was very glad that Number Seven had interrupted me. In fact, it is
a good thing once in a while to break in upon the monotony of a
steady talker at a dinner-table, tea-table, or any other place of
social converse. The best talker is liable to become the most
formidable of bores. It is a peculiarity of the bore that he is the
last person to find himself out. Many a terebrant I have known who,
in that capacity, to borrow a line from Coleridge,
"Was great, nor knew how great he was."
A line, by the way, which, as I have remarked, has in it a germ like
that famous "He builded better than he knew" of Emerson.
There was a slight lull in the conversation. The Mistress, who keeps
an eye on the course of things, and feared that one of those panic
silences was impending, in which everybody wants to say something and
does not know just what to say, begged me to go on with my remarks
about the "manufacture" of "poetry."
You use the right term, madam, I said. The manufacture of that
article has become an extensive and therefore an important branch of
industry. One must be an editor, which I am not, or a literary
confidant of a wide circle of correspondents, which I am, to have any
idea of the enormous output of verse which is characteristic of our
time. There are many curious facts connected with this phenomenon.
Educated people--yes, and many who are not educated--have discovered
that rhymes are not the private property of a few noted writers who,
having squatted on that part of the literary domain some twenty or
forty or sixty years ago, have, as it were, fenced it in with their
touchy, barbed-wire reputations, and have come to regard it and cause
it to be regarded as their private property. The discovery having
been made that rhyme is not a paddock for this or that race-horse,
but a common, where every colt, pony, and donkey can range at will;
a vast irruption into that once-privileged inclosure has taken place.
The study of the great invasion is interesting.
Poetry is commonly thought to he the language of emotion. On the
contrary, most of what is so called proves the absence of all
passionate excitement. It is a cold-blooded, haggard, anxious,
worrying hunt after rhymes which can be made serviceable, after
images which will be effective, after phrases which are sonorous; all
this under limitations which restrict the natural movements of fancy
and imagination. There is a secondary excitement in overcoming the
difficulties of rhythm and rhyme, no doubt, but this is not the
emotional heat excited by the subject of the "poet's" treatment.
True poetry, the best of it, is but the ashes of a burnt-out passion.
The flame was in the eye and in the cheek, the coals may be still
burning in the heart, but when we come to the words it leaves behind
it, a little warmth, a cinder or two just glimmering under the dead
gray ashes,--that is all we can look for. When it comes to the
manufactured article, one is surprised to find how well the metrical
artisans have learned to imitate the real thing. They catch all the
phrases of the true poet. They imitate his metrical forms as a mimic
copies the gait of the person he is representing.
Now I am not going to abuse "these same metre ballad-mongers," for
the obvious reason that, as all The Teacups know, I myself belong to
the fraternity. I don't think that this reason should hinder my
having my say about the ballad-mongering business. For the last
thirty years I have been in the habit of receiving a volume of poems
or a poem, printed or manuscript--I will not say daily, though I
sometimes receive more than one in a day, but at very short
intervals. I have been consulted by hundreds of writers of verse as
to the merit of their performances, and have often advised the
writers to the best of my ability. Of late I have found it
impossible to attempt to read critically all the literary
productions, in verse and in prose, which have heaped themselves on
every exposed surface of my library, like snowdrifts along the
railroad tracks,--blocking my literary pathway, so that I can hardly
find my daily papers.
What is the meaning of this rush into rhyming of such a multitude of
people, of all ages, from the infant phenomenon to the oldest
Many of my young correspondents have told me in so many words,
"I want to be famous." Now it is true that of all the short cuts to
fame, in time of peace, there is none shorter than the road paved
with rhymes. Byron woke up one morning and found himself famous.
Still more notably did Rouget de l'Isle fill the air of France, nay,
the whole atmosphere of freedom all the world over, with his name
wafted on the wings of the Marseillaise, the work of a single night.
But if by fame the aspirant means having his name brought before and
kept before the public, there is a much cheaper way of acquiring that
kind of notoriety. Have your portrait taken as a "Wonderful Cure of
a Desperate Disease given up by all the Doctors." You will get a
fair likeness of yourself and a partial biographical notice, and have
the satisfaction, if not of promoting the welfare of the community,
at least that of advancing the financial interests of the benefactor
whose enterprise has given you your coveted notoriety. If a man
wants to be famous, he had much better try the advertising doctor
than the terrible editor, whose waste-basket is a maw which is as
insatiable as the temporary stomach of Jack the Giant-killer.
"You must not talk so," said Number Five. "I know you don't mean any
wrong to the true poets, but you might be thought to hold them cheap,
whereas you value the gift in others,--in yourself too, I rather
think. There are a great many women,--and some men,--who write in
verse from a natural instinct which leads them to that form of
expression. If you could peep into the portfolio of all the
cultivated women among your acquaintances, you would be surprised, I
believe, to see how many of them trust their thoughts and feelings to
verse which they never think of publishing, and much of which never
meets any eyes but their own. Don't be cruel to the sensitive
natures who find a music in the harmonies of rhythm and rhyme which
soothes their own souls, if it reaches no farther."
I was glad that Number Five spoke up as she did. Her generous
instinct came to the rescue of the poor poets just at the right
moment. Not that I meant to deal roughly with them, but the "poets"
I have been forced into relation with have impressed me with certain
convictions which are not flattering to the fraternity, and if my
judgments are not accompanied by my own qualifications, distinctions,
and exceptions, they may seem harsh to many readers.
Let me draw a picture which many a young man and woman, and some no
longer young, will recognize as the story of their own experiences.
--He is sitting alone with his own thoughts and memories. What is
that book he is holding? Something precious, evidently, for it is
bound in "tree calf," and there is gilding enough about it for a
birthday present. The reader seems to be deeply absorbed in its
contents, and at times greatly excited by what he reads; for his face
is flushed, his eyes glitter, and--there rolls a large tear down his
cheek. Listen to him; he is reading aloud in impassioned tones:
And have I coined my soul in words for naught?
And must I, with the dim, forgotten throng
Of silent ghosts that left no earthly trace
To show they once had breathed this vital air,
Die out, of mortal memories?
His voice is choked by his emotion. "How is it possible," he says to
himself, "that any one can read my 'Gaspings for Immortality' without
being impressed by their freshness, their passion, their beauty,
their originality?" Tears come to his relief freely,--so freely that
be has to push the precious volume out of the range of their
blistering shower. Six years ago "Gaspings for Immortality" was
published, advertised, praised by the professionals whose business it
is to boost their publishers' authors. A week and more it was seen
on the counters of the booksellers and at the stalls in the railroad
stations. Then it disappeared from public view. A few copies still
kept their place on the shelves of friends,--presentation copies, of
course, as there is no evidence that any were disposed of by sale;
and now, one might as well ask for the lost books of Livy as inquire
at a bookstore for "Gaspings for Immortality."
The authors of these poems are all round us, men and women, and no
one with a fair amount of human sympathy in his disposition would
treat them otherwise than tenderly. Perhaps they do not need tender
treatment. How do you know that posterity may not resuscitate these
seemingly dead poems, and give their author the immortality for which
he longed and labored? It is not every poet who is at once
appreciated. Some will tell you that the best poets never are. Who
can say that you, dear unappreciated brother or sister, are not one
of those whom it is left for after times to discover among the wrecks
of the past, and hold up to the admiration of the world?
I have not thought it necessary to put in all the interpellations, as
the French call them, which broke the course of this somewhat
extended series of remarks; but the comments of some of The Teacups
helped me to shape certain additional observations, and may seem to
the reader as of more significance than what I had been saying.
Number Seven saw nothing but the folly and weakness of the "rhyming
cranks," as he called them. He thought the fellow that I had
described as blubbering over his still-born poems would have been
better occupied in earning his living in some honest way or other.
He knew one chap that published a volume of verses, and let his wife
bring up the wood for the fire by which he was writing. A fellow
says, "I am a poet!" and he thinks himself different from common
folks. He ought to be excused from military service. He might be
killed, and the world would lose the inestimable products of his
genius. "I believe some of 'em think," said Number Seven, "that they
ought not to be called upon to pay their taxes and their bills for
household expenses, like the rest of us."
"If they would only study and take to heart Horace's 'Ars Poetica,'"
said the Professor, "it would be a great benefit to them and to the
world at large. I would not advise you to follow him too literally,
of course, for, as you will see, the changes that have taken place
since his time would make some of his precepts useless and some
dangerous, but the spirit of them is always instructive. This is the
way, somewhat modernized and accompanied by my running commentary, in
which he counsels a young poet:
"'Don't try to write poetry, my boy, when you are not in the mood for
doing it,--when it goes against the grain. You are a fellow of
sense,--you understand all that.
"'If you have written anything which you think well of, show it to
Mr.______ , the well-known critic; to "the governor," as you call
him,--your honored father; and to me, your friend.'
"To the critic is well enough, if you like to be overhauled and put
out of conceit with yourself,--it may do you good; but I wouldn't go
to 'the governor' with my verses, if I were you. For either he will
think what you have written is something wonderful, almost as good as
he could have written himself,--in fact, he always did believe in
hereditary genius,--or he will pooh-pooh the whole rhyming nonsense,
and tell you that you had a great deal better stick to your business,
and leave all the word-jingling to Mother Goose and her followers.
"'Show me your verses,' says Horace. Very good it was in him, and
mighty encouraging the first counsel he gives! 'Keep your poem to
yourself for some eight or ten years; you will have time to look it
over, to correct it and make it fit to present to the public.'
"'Much obliged for your advice,' says the poor poet, thirsting for a
draught of fame, and offered a handful of dust. And off he hurries
to the printer, to be sure that his poem comes out in the next number
of the magazine he writes for."
"Is not poetry the natural language of lovers?"
It was the Tutor who asked this question, and I thought he looked in
the direction of Number Five, as if she might answer his question.
But Number Five stirred her tea devotedly; there was a lump of sugar,
I suppose, that acted like a piece of marble. So there was a silence
while the lump was slowly dissolving, and it was anybody's chance who
saw fit to take up the conversation.
The voice that broke the silence was not the sweet, winsome one we
were listening for, but it instantly arrested the attention of the
company. It was the grave, manly voice of one used to speaking, and
accustomed to be listened to with deference. This was the first time
that the company as a whole had heard it, for the speaker was the
new-comer who has been repeatedly alluded to,--the one of whom I
spoke as "the Counsellor."
"I think I can tell you something about that," said the Counsellor.
"I suppose you will wonder how a man of my profession can know or
interest himself about a question so remote from his arid pursuits.
And yet there is hardly one man in a thousand who knows from actual
experience a fraction of what I have learned of the lovers'
vocabulary in my professional experience. I have, I am sorry to say,
had to take an important part in a great number of divorce cases.
These have brought before me scores and hundreds of letters, in which
every shade of the great passion has been represented. What has most
struck me in these amatory correspondences has been their remarkable
sameness. It seems as if writing love-letters reduced all sorts of
people to the same level. I don't remember whether Lord Bacon has
left us anything in that line,--unless, indeed, he wrote Romeo and
Juliet' and the 'Sonnets;' but if he has, I don't believe they differ
so very much from those of his valet or his groom to their respective
lady-loves. It is always, My darling! my darling! The words of
endearment are the only ones the lover wants to employ, and he finds
the vocabulary too limited for his vast desires. So his letters are
apt to be rather tedious except to the personage to whom they are
addressed. As to poetry, it is very common to find it in love-
letters, especially in those that have no love in them. The letters
of bigamists and polygamists are rich in poetical extracts.
Occasionally, an original spurt in rhyme adds variety to an otherwise
monotonous performance. I don't think there is much passion in men's
poetry addressed to women. I agree with The Dictator that poetry is
little more than the ashes of passion; still it may show that the
flame has had its sweep where you find it, unless, indeed, it is
shoveled in from another man's fireplace."
"What do you say to the love poetry of women?" asked the Professor.
"Did ever passion heat words to incandescence as it did those of
The Counsellor turned,--not to Number Five, as he ought to have done,
according to my programme, but to the Mistress.
"Madam," he said, "your sex is adorable in many ways, but in the
abandon of a genuine love-letter it is incomparable. I have seen a
string of women's love-letters, in which the creature enlaced herself
about the object of her worship as that South American parasite which
clasps the tree to which it has attached itself, begins with a
slender succulent network, feeds on the trunk, spreads its fingers
out to hold firmly to one branch after another, thickens, hardens,
stretches in every direction, following the boughs,--and at length
gets strong enough to hold in its murderous arms, high up in air, the
stump and shaft of the once sturdy growth that was its support and
The Counsellor did not say all this quite so formally as I have set
it down here, but in a much easier way. In fact, it is impossible to
smooth out a conversation from memory without stiffening it; you
can't have a dress shirt look quite right without starching the
Some of us would have liked to hear more about those letters in the
divorce cases, but the Counsellor had to leave the table. He
promised to show us some pictures he has of the South American
parasite. I have seen them, and I can assure you they are very
The following verses were found in the urn, or sugar-bowl.
If all the trees in all the woods were men,
And each and every blade of grass a pen;
If every leaf on every shrub and tree
Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
Were changed to ink, and all earth's living tribes
Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
The human race should write, and write, and write,
Till all the pens and paper were used up,
And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
Still would the scribblers clustered round its brim
Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.
"Dolce, ma non troppo dolce," said the Professor to the Mistress, who
was sweetening his tea. She always sweetens his and mine for us. He
has been attending a series of concerts, and borrowed the form of the
directions to the orchestra. "Sweet, but not too sweet," he said,
translating the Italian for the benefit of any of the company who
might not be linguists or musical experts.
"Do you go to those musical hullabaloos?" called out Number Seven.
There was something very much like rudeness in this question and the
tone in which it was asked. But we are used to the outbursts, and
extravagances, and oddities of Number Seven, and do not take offence
at his rough speeches as we should if any other of the company
"If you mean the concerts that have been going on this season, yes, I
do," said the Professor, in a bland, good-humored way.
"And do you take real pleasure in the din of all those screeching and
banging and growling instruments?"
"Yes," he answered, modestly, "I enjoy the brouhaha, if you choose to
consider it such, of all this quarrelsome menagerie of noise-making
machines, brought into order and harmony by the presiding genius, the
leader, who has made a happy family of these snarling stringed
instruments and whining wind instruments, so that although
"Linguae centum sent, oraque centum,
"notwithstanding there are a hundred vibrating tongues and a hundred
bellowing mouths, their one grand blended and harmonized uproar sets
all my fibres tingling with a not unpleasing tremor."
"Do you understand it? Do you take any idea from it? Do you know
what it all means?" said Number Seven.
The Professor was long-suffering under this series of somewhat
peremptory questions. He replied very placidly, "I am afraid I have
but a superficial outside acquaintance with the secrets, the
unfathomable mysteries, of music. I can no more conceive of the
working conditions of the great composer,
"'Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony,'
"than a child of three years can follow the reasonings of Newton's
'Principia.' I do not even pretend that I can appreciate the work of
a great master as a born and trained musician does. Still, I do love
a great crash of harmonies, and the oftener I listen to these musical
tempests the higher my soul seems to ride upon them, as the wild fowl
I see through my window soar more freely and fearlessly the fiercer
the storm with which they battle."
"That's all very well," said Number Seven, "but I wish we could get
the old-time music back again. You ought to have heard,--no, I won't
mention her, dead, poor girl,--dead and singing with the saints in
heaven,--but the S_____ girls. If you could have heard them as I did
when I was a boy, you would have cried, as we all used to. Do you
cry at those great musical smashes? How can you cry when you don't
know what it is all about? We used to think the words meant
something,--we fancied that Burns and Moore said some things very
prettily. I suppose you've outgrown all that."
No one can handle Number Seven in one of his tantrums half so well as
Number Five can do it. She can pick out what threads of sense may be
wound off from the tangle of his ideas when they are crowded and
confused, as they are apt to be at times. She can soften the
occasional expression of half-concealed ridicule with which the poor
old fellow's sallies are liable to be welcomed--or unwelcomed. She
knows that the edge of a broken teacup may be sharper, very possibly,
than that of a philosopher's jackknife. A mind a little off its
balance, one which has a slightly squinting brain as its organ; will
often prove fertile in suggestions. Vulgar, cynical, contemptuous
listeners fly at all its weaknesses, and please themselves with
making light of its often futile ingenuities, when a wiser audience
would gladly accept a hint which perhaps could be developed in some
profitable direction, or so interpret an erratic thought that it
should prove good sense in disguise. That is the way Number Five was
in the habit of dealing with the explosions of Number Seven. Do you
think she did not see the ridiculous element in a silly speech, or
the absurdity of an outrageously extravagant assertion? Then you
never heard her laugh when she could give way to her sense of the
ludicrous without wounding the feelings of any other person. But her
kind heart never would forget itself, and so Number Seven had a
champion who was always ready to see that his flashes of
intelligence, fitful as they were, and liable to be streaked with
half-crazy fancies, always found one willing recipient of what light
there was in them.
Number Five, I have found, is a true lover of music, and has a right
to claim a real knowledge of its higher and deeper mysteries. But
she accepted very cordially what our light-headed companion said
about the songs he used to listen to.
"There is no doubt," she remarked," that the tears which used to be
shed over 'Oft in the sully night,' or 'Auld Robin Gray,' or 'A place
in thy memory, dearest,' were honest tears, coming from the true
sources of emotion. There was no affectation about them; those songs
came home to the sensibilities of young people,--of all who had any
sensibilities to be acted upon. And on the other hand, there is a
great amount of affectation in the apparent enthusiasm of many
persons in admiring and applauding music of which they have not the
least real appreciation. They do not know whether it is good or bad,
the work of a first-rate or a fifth-rate composer; whether there are
coherent elements in it, or whether it is nothing more than 'a
concourse of sweet sounds' with no organic connections. One must be
educated, no doubt, to understand the more complex and difficult
kinds of musical composition. Go to the great concerts where you
know that the music is good, and that you ought to like it whether
you do or not. Take a music-bath once or twice a week for a few
seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath
is to the body. I wouldn't trouble myself about the affectations of
people who go to this or that series of concerts chiefly because it
is fashionable. Some of these people whom we think so silly and hold
so cheap will perhaps find, sooner or later, that they have a dormant
faculty which is at last waking up,--and that they who came because
others came, and began by staring at the audience, are listening with
a newly found delight. Every one of us has a harp under bodice or
waistcoat, and if it can only once get properly strung and tuned it
will respond to all outside harmonies."
The Professor has some ideas about music, which I believe he has
given to the world in one form or another; but the world is growing
old and forgetful, and needs to be reminded now and then of what one
has formerly told it.
"I have had glimpses," the Professor said, "of the conditions into
which music is capable of bringing a sensitive nature. Glimpses, I
say, because I cannot pretend that I am capable of sounding all the
depths or reaching all the heights to which music may transport our
mortal consciousness. Let me remind you of a curious fact with
reference to the seat of the musical sense. Far down below the great
masses of thinking marrow and its secondary agents, just as the brain
is about to merge in the spinal cord, the roots of the nerve of
hearing spread their white filaments out into the sentient matter,
where they report what the external organs of hearing tell them.
This sentient matter is in remote connection only with the mental
organs, far more remote than the centres of the sense of vision and
that of smell. In a word, the musical faculty might be said to have
a little brain of its own. It has a special world and a private
language all to itself. How can one explain its significance to
those whose musical faculties are in a rudimentary state of
development, or who have never had them trained? Can you describe in
intelligible language the smell of a rose as compared with that of a
violet? No,-- music can be translated only by music. Just so far
as it suggests worded thought, it falls short of its highest office.
Pure emotional movements of the spiritual nature,--that is what I ask
of music. Music will be the universal language,--the Volapuk of
"Angels sit down with their harps and play at each other, I suppose,"
said Number Seven. "Must have an atmosphere up there if they have
harps, or they wouldn't get any music. Wonder if angels breathe like
mortals? If they do, they must have lungs and air passages, of
course. Think of an angel with the influenza, and nothing but a
cloud for a handkerchief!"
--This is a good instance of the way in which Number Seven's
squinting brain works. You will now and then meet just such brains
in heads you know very well. Their owners are much given to asking
unanswerable questions. A physicist may settle it for us whether
there is an atmosphere about a planet or not, but it takes a brain
with an extra fissure in it to ask these unexpected questions,--
questions which the natural philosopher cannot answer, and which the
theologian never thinks of asking.
The company at our table do not keep always in the same places. The
first thing I noticed, the other evening, was that the Tutor was
sitting between the two Annexes, and the Counsellor was next to
Number Five. Something ought to come of this arrangement. One of
those two young ladies must certainly captivate and perhaps capture
the Tutor. They are just the age to be falling in love and to be
fallen in love with. The Tutor is good looking, intellectual,
suspected of writing poetry, but a little shy, it appears to me.
I am glad to see him between the two girls. If there were only one,
she might be shy too, and then there would be less chance for a
romance such as I am on the lookout for; but these young persons lend
courage to each other, and between them, if he does not wake up like
Cymon at the sight of Iphigenia, I shall be disappointed. As for the
Counsellor and Number Five, they will soon find each other out. Yes,
it is all pretty clear in my mind,--except that there is always an x
in a problem where sentiments are involved. No, not so clear about
the Tutor. Predestined, I venture my guess, to one or the other, but
to which? I will suspend my opinion for the present.
I have found out that the Counsellor is a childless widower. I am
told that the Tutor is unmarried, and so far as known not engaged.
There is no use in denying it,--a company without the possibility of
a love-match between two of its circle is like a champagne bottle
with the cork out for some hours as compared to one with its pop yet
in reserve. However, if there should be any love-making, it need not
break up our conversations. Most of it will be carried on away from
Some of us have been attending certain lectures on Egypt and its
antiquities. I have never been on the Nile. If in any future state
there shall be vacations in which we may have liberty to revisit our
old home, equipped with a complete brand-new set of mortal senses as
our travelling outfit, I think one of the first places I should go
to, after my birthplace, the old gambrel-roofed house,--the place
where it stood, rather,-- would be that mighty, awe-inspiring river.
I do not suppose we shall ever know half of what we owe to the wise
and wonderful people who confront us with the overpowering monuments
of a past which flows out of the unfathomable darkness as the great
river streams from sources even as yet but imperfectly explored.
I have thought a good deal about Egypt, lately, with reference to our
historical monuments. How did the great unknown mastery who fixed
the two leading forms of their monumental records arrive at those
admirable and eternal types, the pyramid and the obelisk? How did
they get their model of the pyramid?
Here is an hour-glass, not inappropriately filled with sand from the
great Egyptian desert. I turn it, and watch the sand as it
accumulates in the lower half of the glass. How symmetrically, how
beautifully, how inevitably, the little particles pile up the cone,
which is ever building and unbuilding itself, always aiming at the
stability which is found only at a certain fixed angle! The Egyptian
children playing in the sand must have noticed this as they let the
grains fall from their hands, and the sloping sides of the miniature
pyramid must have been among the familiar sights to the little boys
and girls for whom the sand furnished their earliest playthings.
Nature taught her children through the working of the laws of
gravitation how to build so that her forces should act in harmony
with art, to preserve the integrity of a structure meant to reach
a far-off posterity. The pyramid is only the cone in which Nature
arranges her heaped and sliding fragments; the cone with flattened
Surfaces, as it is prefigured in certain well-known crystalline
forms. The obelisk is from another of Nature's patterns; it is only
a gigantic acicular crystal.
The Egyptians knew what a monument should be, simple, noble, durable.
It seems to me that we Americans might take a lesson from those early
architects. Our cemeteries are crowded with monuments which are very
far from simple, anything but noble, and stand a small chance of
being permanent. The pyramid is rarely seen, perhaps because it
takes up so much room; and when built on a small scale seems
insignificant as we think of it, dwarfed by the vast structures of
antiquity. The obelisk is very common, and when in just proportions
and of respectable dimensions is unobjectionable.
But the gigantic obelisks like that on Bunker Hill, and especially
the Washington monument at the national capital, are open to critical
animadversion. Let us contrast the last mentioned of these great
piles with the obelisk as the Egyptian conceived and executed it.
The new Pharaoh ordered a memorial of some important personage or
event. In the first place, a mighty stone was dislodged from its
connections, and lifted, unbroken, from the quarry. This was a feat
from which our modern stone-workers shrink dismayed. The Egyptians
appear to have handled these huge monoliths as our artisans handle
hearthstones and doorsteps, for the land actually bristled with such
giant columns. They were shaped and finished as nicely as if they
were breastpins for the Titans to wear, and on their polished
surfaces were engraved in imperishable characters the records they
were erected to preserve.
Europe and America borrow these noble productions of African art and
power, and find them hard enough to handle after they have succeeded
in transporting them to Rome, or London, or New York. Their
simplicity, grandeur, imperishability, speaking symbolism, shame all
the pretentious and fragile works of human art around them. The
obelisk has no joints for the destructive agencies of nature to
attack; the pyramid has no masses hanging in unstable equilibrium,
and threatening to fall by their own weight in the course of a
thousand or two years.
America says the Father of his Country must have a monument worthy of
his exalted place in history. What shall it be? A temple such as
Athens might have been proud to rear upon her Acropolis? An obelisk
such as Thebes might have pointed out with pride to the strangers who
found admission through her hundred gates? After long meditation and
the rejection of the hybrid monstrosities with which the nation was
menaced, an obelisk is at last decided upon. How can it be made
grand and dignified enough to be equal to the office assigned it? We
dare not attempt to carve a single stone from the living rock,--all
our modern appliances fail to make the task as easy to us as it seems
to have been to the early Egyptians. No artistic skill is required
in giving a four-square tapering figure to a stone column. If we
cannot shape a solid obelisk of the proper dimensions, we can build
one of separate blocks. How can we give it the distinction we demand
for it? The nation which can brag that it has "the biggest show on
earth" cannot boast a great deal in the way of architecture, but it
can do one thing,--it can build an obelisk that shall be taller than
any structure now standing which the hand of man has raised. Build
an obelisk! How different the idea of such a structure from that of
the unbroken, unjointed prismatic shaft, one perfect whole, as
complete in itself, as fitly shaped and consolidated to defy the
elements, as the towering palm or the tapering pine! Well, we had
the satisfaction for a time of claiming the tallest structure in the
world; and now that the new Tower of Babel which has sprung up in
Paris has killed that pretention, I think we shall feel and speak
more modestly about our stone hyperbole, our materialization of the
American love of the superlative. We have the higher civilization
among us, and we must try to keep down the forth-putting instincts of
the lower. We do not want to see our national monument placarded as
"the greatest show on earth,"--perhaps it is well that it is taken
down from that bad eminence.
I do not think that this speech of mine was very well received. It
appeared to jar somewhat on the nerves of the American Annex. There
was a smile on the lips of the other Annex,--the English girl,--which
she tried to keep quiet, but it was too plain that she enjoyed my
It must be remembered that I and the other Teacups, in common with
the rest of our fellow-citizens, have had our sensibilities greatly
worked upon, our patriotism chilled, our local pride outraged, by the
monstrosities which have been allowed to deform our beautiful public
grounds. We have to be very careful in conducting a visitor, say
from his marble-fronted hotel to the City Hall.--Keep pretty
straight along after entering the Garden,--you will not care to
inspect the little figure of the military gentleman to your right.--
Yes, the Cochituate water is drinkable, but I think I would not turn
aside to visit that small fabric which makes believe it is a temple,
and is a weak-eyed fountain feebly weeping over its own
insignificance. About that other stone misfortune, cruelly reminding
us of the "Boston Massacre," we will not discourse; it is not
imposing, and is rarely spoken of.
What a mortification to the inhabitants of a city with some
hereditary and contemporary claims to cultivation; which has noble
edifices, grand libraries, educational institutions of the highest
grade, an art-gallery filled with the finest models and rich in
paintings and statuary,--a stately city that stretches both arms
across the Charles to clasp the hands of Harvard, her twin-sister,
each lending lustre to the other like double stars,--what a pity that
she should be so disfigured by crude attempts to adorn her and
commemorate her past that her most loving children blush for her
artificial deformities amidst the wealth of her natural beauties!
One hardly knows which to groan over most sadly,--the tearing down of
old monuments, the shelling of the Parthenon, the overthrow of the
pillared temples of Rome, and in a humbler way the destruction of the
old Hancock house, or the erection of monuments which are to be a
perpetual eyesore to ourselves and our descendants.
We got talking on the subject of realism, of which so much has been
said of late.
It seems to me, I said, that the great additions which have been made
by realism to the territory of literature consist largely in swampy,
malarious, ill-smelling patches of soil which had previously been
left to reptiles and vermin. It is perfectly easy to be original by
violating the laws of decency and the canons of good taste. The
general consent of civilized people was supposed to have banished
certain subjects from the conversation of well-bred people and the
pages of respectable literature. There is no subject, or hardly any,
which may not be treated of at the proper time, in the proper place,
by the fitting person, for the right kind of listener or reader. But
when the poet or the story-teller invades the province of the man of
science, he is on dangerous ground. I need say nothing of the
blunders he is pretty sure to make. The imaginative writer is after
effects. The scientific man is after truth. Science is decent,
modest; does not try to startle, but to instruct. The same scenes
and objects which outrage every sense of delicacy in the story
teller's highly colored paragraphs can be read without giving offence
in the chaste language of the physiologist or the physician.
There is a very celebrated novel, "Madame Bovary," the work of M.
Flaubert, which is noted for having been the subject of prosecution
as an immoral work. That it has a serious lesson there is no doubt,
if one will drink down to the bottom of the cup. But the honey of
sensuous description is spread so deeply over the surface of the
goblet that a large proportion of its readers never think of its
holding anything else. All the phases of unhallowed passion are
described in full detail. That is what the book is bought and read
for, by the great majority of its purchasers, as all but simpletons
very well know. That is what makes it sell and brought it into the
courts of justice. This book is famous for its realism; in fact, it
is recognized as one of the earliest and most brilliant examples of
that modern style of novel which, beginning where Balzac left off,
attempted to do for literature what the photograph has done for art.
For those who take the trouble to drink out of the cup below the rim
of honey, there is a scene where realism is carried to its extreme,
--surpassed in horror by no writer, unless it be the one whose name
must be looked for at the bottom of the alphabet, as if its natural
place were as low down in the dregs of realism as it could find
itself. This is the death-bed scene, where Madame Bovary expires in
convulsions. The author must have visited the hospitals for the
purpose of watching the terrible agonies he was to depict, tramping
from one bed to another until he reached the one where the cries and
contortions were the most frightful. Such a scene he has reproduced.
No hospital physician would have pictured the straggle in such
colors. In the same way, that other realist, M. Zola, has painted a
patient suffering from delirium tremens, the disease known to common
speech as "the horrors." In describing this case he does all that
language can do to make it more horrible than the reality. He gives
us, not realism, but super-realism, if such a term does not
In this matter of the literal reproduction of sights and scenes which
our natural instinct and our better informed taste and judgment teach
us to avoid, art has been far in advance of literature. It is three
hundred years since Joseph Ribera, more commonly known as
Spagnoletto, was born in the province Valencia, in Spain. We had the
misfortune of seeing a painting of his in a collection belonging to
one of the French princes, and exhibited at the Art Museum. It was
that of a man performing upon himself the operation known to the
Japanese as hararkiri. Many persons who looked upon this revolting
picture will never get rid of its remembrance, and will regret the
day when their eyes fell upon it. I should share the offence of the
painter if I ventured to describe it. Ribera was fond of depicting
just such odious and frightful subjects. "Saint Lawrence writhing on
his gridiron, Saint Sebastian full of arrows, were equally a source
of delight to him. Even in subjects which had no such elements of
horror he finds the materials for the delectation of his ferocious
pencil; he makes up for the defect by rendering with a brutal realism
deformity and ugliness."
The first great mistake made by the ultra-realists; like Flaubert and
Zola, is, as I have said, their ignoring the line of distinction
between imaginative art and science. We can find realism enough in
books of anatomy, surgery, and medicine. In studying the human
figure, we want to see it clothed with its natural integuments. It
is well for the artist to study the ecorche in the dissecting-room,
but we do not want the Apollo or the Venus to leave their skins
behind them when they go into the gallery for exhibition. Lancisi's
figures show us how the great statues look when divested of their
natural covering. It is instructive, but useful chiefly as a means
to aid in the true artistic reproduction of nature. When the,
hospitals are invaded by the novelist, he should learn something from
the physician as well as from the patients. Science delineates in
monochrome. She never uses high tints and strontian lights to
astonish lookers-on. Such scenes as Flaubert and Zola describe would
be reproduced in their essential characters, but not dressed up in
picturesque phrases. That is the first stumbling-block in the way of
the reader of such realistic stories as those to which I have
referred. There are subjects which must be investigated by
scientific men which most educated persons would be glad to know
nothing about. When a realistic writer like Zola surprises his
reader into a kind of knowledge he never thought of wishing for, he
sometimes harms him more than he has any idea of doing. He wants to
produce a sensation, and he leaves a permanent disgust not to be got
rid of. Who does not remember odious images that can never be washed
out from the consciousness which they have stained? A man's
vocabulary is terribly retentive of evil words, and the images they
present cling to his memory and will not loose their hold. One who
has had the mischance to soil his mind by reading certain poems of
Swift will never cleanse it to its original whiteness. Expressions
and thoughts of a certain character stain the fibre of the thinking
organ, and in some degree affect the hue of every idea that passes
through the discolored tissues.
This is the gravest accusation to bring against realism, old or
recent, whether in the brutal paintings of Spagnoletto or in the
unclean revelations of Zola. Leave the description of the drains and
cesspools to the hygienic specialist, the painful facts of disease to
the physician, the details of the laundry to the washerwoman. If we
are to have realism in its tedious descriptions of unimportant
particulars, let it be of particulars which do not excite disgust.
Such is the description of the vegetables in Zola's "Ventre de
Paris," where, if one wishes to see the apotheosis of turnips, beets,
and cabbages, he can find them glorified as supremely as if they had
been symbols of so many deities; their forms, their colors, their
expression, worked upon until they seem as if they were made to be
looked at and worshipped rather than to be boiled and eaten.
I am pleased to find a French critic of M. Flaubert expressing ideas
with which many of my own entirely coincide. "The great mistake of
the realists," he says, "is that they profess to tell the truth
because they tell everything. This puerile hunting after details,
this cold and cynical inventory of all the wretched conditions in the
midst of which poor humanity vegetates, not only do not help us to
understand it better, but, on the contrary, the effect on the
spectators is a kind of dazzled confusion mingled with fatigue and
disgust. The material truthfulness to which the school of M.
Flaubert more especially pretends misses its aim in going beyond it.
Truth is lost in its own excess."
I return to my thoughts on the relations of imaginative art in all
its forms with science. The subject which in the hands of the
scientific student is handled decorously,--reverently, we might
almost say,--becomes repulsive, shameful, and debasing in the
unscrupulous manipulations of the low-bred man of letters.
I confess that I am a little jealous of certain tendencies in our own
American literature, which led one of the severest and most outspoken
of our satirical fellow-countrymen, no longer living to be called to
account for it, to say; in a moment of bitterness, that the mission
of America was to vulgarize mankind. I myself have sometimes
wondered at the pleasure some Old World critics have professed to
find in the most lawless freaks of New World literature. I have
questioned whether their delight was not like that of the Spartans in
the drunken antics of their Helots. But I suppose I belong to
another age, and must not attempt to judge the present by my old-
The company listened very civilly to these remarks, whether they
agreed with them or not. I am not sure that I want all the young
people to think just as I do in matters of critical judgment. New
wine does not go well into old bottles, but if an old cask has held
good wine, it may improve a crude juice to stand awhile upon the lees
of that which once filled it.
I thought the company had had about enough of this disquisition.
They listened very decorously, and the Professor, who agrees very
well with me, as I happen to know, in my views on this business of
realism, thanked me for giving them the benefit of my opinion.
The silence that followed was broken by Number Seven's suddenly
"I should like to boss creation for a week!"
This expression was an outbreak suggested by some train of thought
which Number Seven had been following while I was discoursing. I do
not think one of the company looked as if he or she were shocked by
it as an irreligious or even profane speech. It is a better way
always, in dealing with one of those squinting brains, to let it
follow out its own thought. It will keep to it for a while; then it
will quit the rail, so to speak, and run to any side-track which may
"What is the first thing you would do?" asked Number Five in a
pleasant, easy way.
"The first thing? Pick out a few thousand of the best specimens of
the best races, and drown the rest like so many blind puppies."
"Why," said she, "that was tried once, and does not seem to have
worked very well."
"Very likely. You mean Noah's flood, I suppose. More people
nowadays, and a better lot to pick from than Noah had."
"Do tell us whom you would take with you," said Number Five.
"You, if you would go," he answered, and I thought I saw a slight
flush on his cheek. "But I didn't say that I should go aboard the
new ark myself. I am not sure that I should. No, I am pretty sure
that I shouldn't. I don't believe, on the whole, it would pay me to
save myself. I ain't of much account. But I could pick out some
And just now he was saying that he should like to boss the universe!
All this has nothing very wonderful about it. Every one of us is
subject to alternations of overvaluation and undervaluation of
ourselves. Do you not remember soliloquies something like this?
"Was there ever such a senseless, stupid creature as I am? How have
I managed to keep so long out of the idiot asylum? Undertook to
write a poem, and stuck fast at the first verse. Had a call from a
friend who had just been round the world. Did n't ask him one word
about what he had seen or heard, but gave him full details of my
private history, I having never been off my own hearth-rug for more
than an hour or two at a time, while he was circumnavigating and
circumrailroading the globe. Yes, if anybody can claim the title, I
am certainly the prize idiot." I am afraid that we all say such
things as this to ourselves at times. Do we not use more emphatic
words than these in our self-depreciation? I cannot say how it is
with others, but my vocabulary of self-reproach and humiliation is so
rich in energetic expressions that I should be sorry to have an
interviewer present at an outburst of one of its raging geysers, its
savage soliloquies. A man is a kind of inverted thermometer, the
bulb uppermost, and the column of self-valuation is all the time
going up and down. Number Seven is very much like other people in
this respect,--very much like you and me.
This train of reflections must not carry me away from Number Seven.
"If I can't get a chance to boss this planet for a week or so," he
began again, "I think 1 could write its history,--yes, the history of
the world, in less compass than any one who has tried it so far."
"You know Sir Walter Raleigh's 'History of the World,' of course?"
said the Professor.
"More or less,--more or less," said Number Seven prudently. "But I
don't care who has written it before me. I will agree to write the
story of two worlds, this and the next, in such a compact way that
you can commit them both to memory in less time than you can learn
the answer to the first question in the Catechism."
What he had got into his head we could not guess, but there was no
little curiosity to discover the particular bee which was buzzing in
his bonnet. He evidently enjoyed our curiosity, and meant to keep us
waiting awhile before revealing the great secret.
"How many words do you think I shall want?"
It is a formula, I suppose, I said, and I will grant you a hundred
"Twenty," said the Professor. "That was more than the wise men of
Greece wanted for their grand utterances."
The two Annexes whispered together, and the American Annex gave their
joint result. One thousand was the number they had fixed on. They
were used to hearing lectures, and could hardly conceive that any
subject could be treated without taking up a good part of an hour.
"Less than ten," said Number Five. "If there are to be more than
ten, I don't believe that Number Seven would think the surprise would
be up to our expectations."
"Guess as much as you like," said Number Seven.
"The answer will keep. I don't mean to say what it is until we are
ready to leave the table." He took a blank card from his pocket-book,
wrote something on it, or appeared, at any rate, to write, and handed
it, face down, to the Mistress. What was on the card will be found
near the end of this paper. I wonder if anybody will be curious
enough to look further along to find out what it was before she reads
the next paragraph?
In the mean time there is a train of thought suggested by Number
Seven and his whims. If you want to know how to account for
yourself, study the characters of your relations. All of our brains
squint more or less. There is not one in a hundred, certainly, that
does not sometimes see things distorted by double refraction, out of
plumb or out of focus, or with colors which do not belong to it, or
in some way betraying that the two halves of the brain are not acting
in harmony with each other. You wonder at the eccentricities of this
or that connection of your own. Watch yourself, and you will find
impulses which, but for the restraints you put upon them, would make
you do the same foolish things which you laugh at in that cousin of
yours. I once lived in the same house with the near relative of a
very distinguished person, whose name is still honored and revered
among us. His brain was an active one, like that of his famous
relative, but it was full of random ideas, unconnected trains of
thought, whims, crotchets, erratic suggestions. Knowing him, I could
interpret the mental characteristics of the whole family connection
in the light of its exaggerated peculiarities as exhibited in my odd
fellow-boarder. Squinting brains are a great deal more common than
we should at first sight believe. Here is a great book, a solid
octavo of five hundred pages, full of the vagaries of this class of
organizations. I hope to refer to this work hereafter, but just now
I will only say that, after reading till one is tired the strange
fancies of the squarers of the circle, the inventors of perpetual
motion, and the rest of the moonstruck dreamers, most persons will
confess to themselves that they have had notions as wild, conceptions
as extravagant, theories as baseless, as the least rational of those
which are here recorded.
Some day I want to talk about my library. It is such a curious
collection of old and new books, such a mosaic of learning and
fancies and follies, that a glance over it would interest the
company. Perhaps I may hereafter give you a talk abut books, but
while I am saying a few passing words upon the subject the greatest
bibliographical event that ever happened in the book-market of the
New World is taking place under our eyes. Here is Mr. Bernard
Quaritch just come from his well-known habitat, No. 15 Piccadilly,
with such a collection of rare, beautiful, and somewhat expensive
volumes as the Western Continent never saw before on the shelves of a
We bookworms are all of us now and then betrayed into an
extravagance. The keen tradesmen who tempt us are like the fishermen
who dangle a minnow, a frog, or a worm before the perch or pickerel
who may be on the lookout for his breakfast. But Mr. Quaritch comes
among us like that formidable angler of whom it is said,
His hook he baited with a dragon's tail,
And sat upon a rock and bobbed for whale.
The two catalogues which herald his coming are themselves interesting
literary documents. One can go out with a few shillings in his
pocket, and venture among the books of the first of these catalogues
without being ashamed to show himself with no larger furnishing of
the means for indulging his tastes,--he will find books enough at
comparatively modest prices. But if one feels very rich, so rich that
it requires a good deal to frighten him, let him take the other
catalogue and see how many books he proposes to add to his library at
the prices affixed. Here is a Latin Psalter with the Canticles, from
the press of Fust and Schoeffer, the second book issued from their
press, the second book printed with a date, that date being 1459.
There are only eight copies of this work known to exist; you can have
one of them, if so disposed, and if you have change enough in your
pocket. Twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty dollars will make
you the happy owner of this precious volume. If this is more than
you want to pay, you can have the Gold Gospels of Henry VIII., on
purple vellum, for about half the money. There are pages on pages of
titles of works any one of which would be a snug little property if
turned into money at its catalogue price.
Why will not our multimillionaires look over this catalogue of Mr.
Quaritch, and detain some of its treasures on this side of the
Atlantic for some of our public libraries? We decant the choicest
wines of Europe into our cellars; we ought to be always decanting the
precious treasures of her libraries and galleries into our own, as we
have opportunity and means. As to the means, there are so many rich
people who hardly know what to do with their money that it is well to
suggest to them any new useful end to which their superfluity may
contribute. I am not in alliance with Mr. Quaritch; in fact, I am
afraid of him, for if I stayed a single hour in his library, where I
never was but once, and then for fifteen minutes only, I should leave
it so much poorer than I entered it that I should be reminded of the
picture in the titlepage of Fuller's 'Historie of the Holy Warre,'
"We went out full. We returned empty."
--After the teacups were all emptied, the card containing Number
Seven's abridged history of two worlds, this and the next, was handed
This was all it held:
After all had looked at it, it was passed back to me. "Let The
Dictator interpret it," they all said.
This is what I announced as my interpretation:
Two worlds, the higher and the lower, separated by the thinnest of
partitions. The lower world is that of questions; the upper world is
that of answers. Endless doubt and unrest here below; wondering,
admiring, adoring certainty above.--Am I not right?
"You are right," answered Number Seven solemnly. "That is my
The following poem was found in the sugar-bowl.
I read it to the company. There was much whispering and there were
many conjectures as to its authorship, but every Teacup looked
innocent, and we separated each with his or her private conviction.
I had mine, but I will not mention it.
THE ROSE AND THE FERN.
Lady, life's sweetest lesson wouldst thou learn,
Come thou with me to Love's enchanted bower:
High overhead the trellised roses burn;
Beneath thy feet behold the feathery fern,
A leaf without a flower.
What though the rose leaves fall? They still are sweet,
And have been lovely in their beauteous prime,
While the bare frond seems ever to repeat,
"For us no bud, no blossom, wakes to greet
The joyous flowering time!"
Heed thou the lesson. Life has leaves to tread
And flowers to cherish; summer round thee glows;
Wait not till autumn's fading robes are shed,
But while its petals still are burning red
Gather life's full-blown rose!
Of course the reading of the poem at the end of the last paper has
left a deep impression. I strongly suspect that something very much
like love-making is going on at our table. A peep under the lid of
the sugar-bowl has shown me that there is another poem ready for the
company. That receptacle is looked upon with an almost tremulous
excitement by more than one of The Teacups. The two Annexes turn
towards the mystic urn as if the lots which were to determine their
destiny were shut up in it. Number Five, quieter, and not betraying
more curiosity than belongs to the sex at all ages, glances at the
sugarbowl now and then; looking so like a clairvoyant, that sometimes
I cannot help thinking she must be one. There is a sly look about
that young Doctor's eyes, which might imply that he knows something
about what the silver vessel holds, or is going to hold. The Tutor
naturally falls under suspicion, as he is known to have written and
published poems. I suppose the Professor and myself have hardly been
suspected of writing love-poems; but there is no telling,--there is
no telling. Why may not some one of the lady Teacups have played the
part of a masculine lover? George Sand, George Eliot, Charles Egbert
Craddock, made pretty good men in print. The authoress of "Jane
Eyre" was taken for a man by many persons. Can Number Five be
masquerading in verse? Or is one of the two Annexes the make.
believe lover? Or did these girls lay their heads together, and send
the poem we had at our last sitting to puzzle the company? It is
certain that the Mistress did not write the poem. It is evident that
Number Seven, who is so severe in his talk about rhymesters, would
not, if he could, make such a fool of himself as to set up for a
"poet." Why should not the Counsellor fall in love and write verses?
A good many lawyers have been "poets."
Perhaps the next poem, which may be looked for in its proper place,
may help us to form a judgment. We may have several verse-writers
among us, and if so there will be a good opportunity for the exercise
of judgment in distributing their productions among the legitimate
claimants. In the mean time, we must not let the love-making and the
song-writing interfere with the more serious matters which these
papers are expected to contain.
Number Seven's compendious and comprehensive symbolism proved
suggestive, as his whimsical notions often do. It always pleases me
to take some hint from anything he says when I can, and carry it out
in a direction not unlike that of his own remark. I reminded the
company of his enigmatical symbol.
You can divide mankind in the same way, I said. Two words, each of
two letters, will serve to distinguish two classes of human beings
who constitute the principal divisions of mankind. Can any of you
tell what those two words are?
"Give me five letters," cried Number Seven, "and I can solve your
problem! F-o-o-1-s,--those five letters will give you the first and
largest half. For the other fraction"--
Oh, but, said I, I restrict you absolutely to two letters. If you
are going to take five, you may as well take twenty or a hundred.
After a few attempts, the company gave it up. The nearest approach
to the correct answer was Number Five's guess of Oh and Ah: Oh
signifying eternal striving after an ideal, which belongs to one kind
of nature; and Ah the satisfaction of the other kind of nature, which
rests at ease in what it has attained.
Good! I said to Number Five, but not the answer I am after. The
great division between human beings is into the Ifs and the Ases.
"Is the last word to be spelt with one or two s's?" asked the young
The company laughed feebly at this question. I answered it soberly.
With one s. There are more foolish people among the Ifs than there
are among the Ases.
The company looked puzzled, and asked for an explanation.
This is the meaning of those two words as I interpret them:
If it were,--if it might be,--if it could be,--if it had been. One
portion of mankind go through life always regretting, always whining,
always imagining. These are the people whose backbones remain
cartilaginous all their lives long, as do those of certain other
vertebrate animals,--the sturgeons, for instance. A good many poets
must be classed with this group of vertebrates.
As it is,--this is the way in which the other class of people look at
the conditions in which they find themselves. They may be optimists
or pessimists, they are very largely optimists,--but, taking things
just as they find them, they adjust the facts to their wishes if they
can; and if they cannot, then they adjust themselves to the facts. I
venture to say that if one should count the Ifs and the Ases in the
conversation of his acquaintances, he would find the more able and
important persons among them--statesmen, generals, men of business--
among the Ases, and the majority of the conspicuous failures among
the Ifs. I don't know but this would be as good a test as that of
Gideon,--lapping the water or taking it up in the hand. I have a
poetical friend whose conversation is starred as thick with ifs as a
boiled ham is with cloves. But another friend of mine, a business
man, whom I trust in making my investments, would not let me meddle
with a certain stock which I fancied, because, as he said, "there are
too many ifs in it. As it looks now, I would n't touch it."
I noticed, the other evening, that some private conversation was
going on between the Counsellor and the two Annexes. There was a
mischievous look about the little group, and I thought they were
hatching some plot among them. I did not hear what the English Annex
said, but the American girl's voice was sharper, and I overheard what
sounded to me like, "It is time to stir up that young Doctor." The
Counsellor looked very knowing, and said that he would find a chance
before long. I was rather amused to see how readily he entered into
the project of the young people. The fact is, the Counsellor is
young for his time of life; for he already betrays some signs of the
change referred to in that once familiar street song, which my
friend, the great American surgeon, inquired for at the music-shops
under the title, as he got it from the Italian minstrel,
"Silva tredi mondi goo."
I saw, soon after this, that the Counsellor was watching his chance
to "stir up the young Doctor."
It does not follow, because our young Doctor's bald spot is slower in
coming than he could have wished, that he has not had time to form
many sound conclusions in the calling to which he has devoted himself
Vesalius, the father of modern descriptive anatomy, published his
great work on that subject before he was thirty. Bichat, the great
anatomist and physiologist, who died near the beginning of this
century, published his treatise, which made a revolution in anatomy
and pathology, at about the same age; dying soon after he had reached
the age of thirty. So, possibly the Counsellor may find that he has
"stirred up" a young man who, can take care of his own head, in case
of aggressive movements in its direction.
"Well, Doctor," the Counsellor began, "how are stocks in the measles
market about these times? Any corner in bronchitis? Any syndicate
in the vaccination business?" All this playfully.
"I can't say how it is with other people's patients; most of my
families are doing very well without my help, at this time."
"Do tell me, Doctor, how many families you own. I have heard it said
that some of our fellow-citizens have two distinct families, but you
speak as if you had a dozen."
"I have, but not so large a number as I should like. I could take
care of fifteen or twenty more without: having to work too hard."
"Why, Doctor, you are as bad as a Mormon. What do you mean by
calling certain families yours?"
"Don't you speak about my client? Don't your clients call you their
lawyer? Does n't your baker, does n't your butcher, speak of the
families he supplies as his families?"
To be sure, yes, of course they do; but I had a notion that a man had
as many doctors as he had organs to be doctored."
"Well, there is some truth in that; but did you think the old-
fashioned family doctor was extinct, a fossil like the megatherium?"
"Why, yes, after the recent experience of a friend of mine, I did
begin to think that there would soon be no such personage left as
that same old-fashioned family doctor. Shall I tell you what that
The young Doctor said be should be mightily pleased to hear it. He
was going to be one of those old-fogy practitioners himself.
"I don't know," the Counsellor said, "whether my friend got all the
professional terms of his story correctly, nor whether I have got
them from him without making any mistakes; but if I do make blunders
in some of the queer names, you can correct me. This is my friend's
"My family doctor,' he said, "was a very sensible man, educated at a
school where they professed to teach all the specialties, but not
confining himself to any one branch of medical practice. Surgical
practice he did not profess to meddle with, and there were some
classes of patients whom he was willing to leave to the female
physician. But throughout the range of diseases not requiring
exceptionally skilled manual interference, his education had
authorized him to consider himself, and he did consider himself,
qualified to undertake the treatment of all ordinary cases--It so
happened that my young wife was one of those uneasy persons who are
never long contented with their habitual comforts and blessings, but
always trying to find something a little better, something newer, at
any rate. I was getting to be near fifty years old, and it happened
to me, as it not rarely does to people at about that time of life,
that my hair began to fall out. I spoke of it to my doctor, who
smiled, said it was a part of the process of reversed evolution, but
might be retarded a little, and gave me a prescription. I did not
find any great effect from it, and my wife would have me go to a
noted dermatologist. The distinguished specialist examined my
denuded scalp with great care. He looked at it through a strong
magnifier. He examined the bulb of a fallen hair in a powerful
microscope. He deliberated for a while, and then said, "This is a
case of alopecia. It may perhaps be partially remedied. I will give
you a prescription." Which he did, and told me to call again in a
fortnight. At the end of three months I had called six times, and
each time got a new recipe, and detected no difference in the course
of my "alopecia." After I had got through my treatment, I showed my
recipes to my family physician; and we found that three of them were
the same he had used, familiar, old-fashioned remedies, and the
others were taken from a list of new and little-tried prescriptions
mentioned in one of the last medical journals, which was lying on the
old doctor's table. I might as well have got no better under his
charge, and should have got off much cheaper.
"The next trouble I had was a little redness of the eyes, for which
my doctor gave me a wash; but my wife would have it that I must see
an oculist. So I made four visits to an oculist, and at the last
visit the redness was nearly gone,--as it ought to have been by that
time. The specialist called my complaint conjunctivitis, but that
did not make it feel any better nor get well any quicker. If I had
had a cataract or any grave disease of the eye, requiring a nice
operation on that delicate organ, of course I should have properly
sought the aid of an expert, whose eye, hand, and judgment were
trained to that special business; but in this case I don't doubt that
my family doctor would have done just as well as the expert.
However, I had to obey orders, and my wife would have it that I
should entrust my precious person only to the most skilful specialist
in each department of medical practice.
"In the course of the year I experienced a variety of slight
indispositions. For these I was auriscoped by an aurist,
laryngoscoped by a laryngologist, ausculted by a stethoscopist, and
so on, until a complete inventory of my organs was made out, and I
found that if I believed all these searching inquirers professed to
have detected in my unfortunate person, I could repeat with too
literal truth the words of the General Confession, "And there is no
health in us." I never heard so many hard names in all my life. I
proved to be the subject of a long catalogue of diseases, and what
maladies I was not manifestly guilty of I was at least suspected of
harboring. I was handed along all the way from alopecia, which used
to be called baldness, to zoster, which used to be known as shingles.
I was the patient of more than a dozen specialists. Very pleasant
persons, many of them, but what a fuss they made about my trifling
incommodities! Please look at that photograph. See if there is a
minute elevation under one eye.'
"'On which side?' I asked him, for I could not be sure there was
anything different on one side from what I saw on the other.
"'Under the left eye. I called it a pimple; the specialist called it
acne. Now look at this photograph. It was taken after my acne had
been three months under treatment. It shows a little more distinctly
than in the first photograph, does n't it?'
"'I think it does,' I answered. 'It does n't seem to me that you
gained a great deal by leaving your customary adviser for the
"'Well,' my friend continued, 'following my wife's urgent counsel, I
kept on, as I told you, for a whole year with my specialists, going
from head to foot, and tapering off with a chiropodist. I got a deal
of amusement out of their contrivances and experiments. Some of them
lighted up my internal surfaces with electrical or other illuminating
apparatus. Thermometers, dynamometers, exploring-tubes, little
mirrors that went half-way down to my stomach, tuning-forks,
ophthalmoscopes, percussion-hammers, single and double stethoscopes,
speculums, sphygmometers,--such a battery of detective instruments I
had never imagined. All useful, I don't doubt; but at the end of the
year I began to question whether I should n't have done about as well
to stick to my long tried practitioner. When the bills for
"professional services" came in, and the new carpet had to be given
up, and the old bonnet trimmed over again, and the sealskin sack
remained a vision, we both agreed, my wife and I, that we would try
to get along without consulting specialists, except in such cases as
our family physician considered to be beyond his skill.'"
The Counsellor's story of his friend's experiences seemed to please
the young Doctor very much. It "stirred him up," but in an agreeable
way; for, as he said, he meant to devote himself to family practice,
and not to adopt any limited class of cases as a specialty. I liked
his views so well that I should have been ready to adopt them as my
own, if they had been challenged.
The young Doctor discourses.
"I am very glad," he said, "that we have a number of practitioners
among us who confine themselves to the care of single organs and
their functions. I want to be able to consult an oculist who has
done nothing but attend to eyes long enough to know all that is known
about their diseases and their treatment,--skilful enough to be
trusted with the manipulation of that delicate and most precious
organ. I want an aurist who knows all about the ear and what can be
done for its disorders. The maladies of the larynx are very ticklish
things to handle, and nobody should be trusted to go behind the
epiglottis who has not the tactus eruditus. And so of certain other
particular classes of complaints. A great city must have a limited
number of experts, each a final authority, to be appealed to in cases
where the family physician finds himself in doubt. There are
operations which no surgeon should be willing to undertake unless he
has paid a particular, if not an exclusive, attention to the cases
demanding such operations. All this I willingly grant.
"But it must not be supposed that we can return to the methods of the
old Egyptians--who, if my memory serves me correctly, had a special
physician for every part of the body--without falling into certain
errors and incurring certain liabilities.
"The specialist is much like other people engaged in lucrative
business. He is apt to magnify his calling, to make much of any
symptom which will bring a patient within range of his battery of
remedies. I found a case in one of our medical journals, a couple of
years ago, which illustrates what I mean. Dr. ___________ of
Philadelphia, had a female patient with a crooked nose,--deviated
septum, if our young scholars like that better. She was suffering
from what the doctor called reflex headache. She had been to an
oculist, who found that the trouble was in her eyes. She went from
him to a gynecologist, who considered her headache as owing to causes
for which his specialty had the remedies. How many more specialists
would have appropriated her, if she had gone the rounds of them all,
I dare not guess; but you remember the old story of the siege, in
which each artisan proposed means of defence which be himself was
ready to furnish. Then a shoemaker said, 'Hang your walls with new
"Human nature is the same with medical specialists as it was with
ancient cordwainers, and it is too possible that a hungry
practitioner may be warped by his interest in fastening on a patient
who, as he persuades himself, comes under his medical jurisdiction.
The specialist has but one fang with which to seize and bold his
prey, but that fang is a fearfully long and sharp canine. Being
confined to a narrow field of observation and practice, he is apt to
give much of his time to curious study, which may be magnifique, but
is not exactly la guerre against the patient's malady. He divides
and subdivides, and gets many varieties of diseases, in most respects
similar. These he equips with new names, and thus we have those
terrific nomenclatures which are enough to frighten the medical
student, to say nothing of the sufferers staggering under this long
catalogue of local infirmities. The 'old-fogy' doctor, who knows the
family tendencies of his patient, who 'understands his constitution,'
will often treat him better than the famous specialist, who sees him
for the first time, and has to guess at many things 'the old doctor'
knows from his previous experience with the same patient and the
family to which he belongs.
"It is a great luxury to practise as a specialist in almost any class
of diseases. The special practitioner has his own hours, hardly
needs a night-bell, can have his residence out of the town in which
he exercises his calling, in short, lives like a gentleman; while the
hard-worked general practitioner submits to a servitude more exacting
than that of the man who is employed in his stable or in his kitchen.
That is the kind of life I have made up my mind to."
The teaspoons tinkled all round the table. This was the usual sign
of approbation, instead of the clapping of hands.
The young Doctor paused, and looked round among The Teacups. "I beg
your pardon," he said, "for taking up so much of your time with
medicine. It is a subject that a good many persons, especially
ladies, take an interest in and have a curiosity about, but I have no
right to turn this tea-table into a lecture platform."
"We should like to hear you talk longer about it," said the English
Annex. "One of us has thought of devoting herself to the practice of
medicine. Would you lecture to us; if you were a professor in one of
the great medical schools?"
"Lecture to students of your sex? Why not, I should like to know? I
don't think it is the calling for which the average woman is
especially adapted, but my teacher got a part of his medical
education from a lady, Madame Lachapelle; and I don't see why, if one
can learn from a woman, he may not teach a woman, if he knows
"We all like a little medical talk now and then," said Number Five,
"and we are much obliged to you for your discourse. You are
specialist enough to take care of a sprained ankle, I suppose, are
"I hope I should be equal to that emergency," answered the young
Doctor; "but I trust you are not suffering from any such accident?"
"No," said Number Five, "but there is no telling what may happen. I
might slip, and get a sprain or break a sinew, or something, and I
should like to know that there is a practitioner at hand to take care
of my injury. I think I would risk myself in your bands, although
you are not a specialist. Would you venture to take charge of the
"Ah, my dear lady," he answered gallantly, "the risk would be in the
other direction. I am afraid it would be safer for your doctor if he
were an older man than I am."
This is the first clearly, indisputably sentimental outbreak which
has happened in conversation at our table. I tremble to think what
will come of it; for we have several inflammable elements in our
circle, and a spark like this is liable to light on any one or two of
I was not sorry that this medical episode came in to vary the usual
course of talk at our table. I like to have one--of an intelligent
company, who knows anything thoroughly, hold the floor for a time,
and discourse upon the subject which chiefly engages his daily
thoughts and furnishes his habitual occupation. It is a privilege to
meet such a person now and then, and let him have his full swing.
But because there are "professionals" to whom we are willing to
listen as oracles, I do not want to see everybody who is not a
"professional" silenced or snubbed, if he ventures into any field of
knowledge which he has not made especially his own. I like to read
Montaigne's remarks about doctors, though he never took a medical
degree. I can even enjoy the truth in the sharp satire of Voltaire
on the medical profession. I frequently prefer the remarks I hear
from the pew after the sermon to those I have just been hearing from
the pulpit. There are a great many things which I never expect to
comprehend, but which I desire very much to apprehend. Suppose that
our circle of Teacups were made up of specialists,--experts in
various departments. I should be very willing that each one should
have his innings at the proper time, when the company were ready for
him. But the time is coming when everybody will know something about
every thing. How can one have the illustrated magazines, the
"Popular Science Monthly," the Psychological journals, the
theological periodicals, books on all subjects, forced on his
attention, in their own persons, so to speak, or in the reviews which
analyze and pass judgment upon them, without getting some ideas which
belong to many provinces of human intelligence? The air we breathe
is made up of four elements, at least: oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic
acid gas, and knowledge. There is something quite delightful to
witness in the absorption and devotion of a genuine specialist.
There is a certain sublimity in that picture of the dying scholar in
Browning's "A Grammarian's Funeral:"--
"So with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, through the rattle, parts of speech were rife;
While he could stammer
He settled Hoti's business--let it be--
Properly based Oun
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down."
A genuine enthusiasm, which will never be satisfied until it has
pumped the well dry at the bottom of which truth is lying, always
excites our interest, if not our admiration.
One of the pleasantest of our American writers, whom we all remember
as Ik Marvel, and greet in his more recent appearance as Donald Grant
Mitchell, speaks of the awkwardness which he feels in offering to the
public a "panoramic view of British writers in these days of
specialists,--when students devote half a lifetime to the analysis of
the works of a single author, and to the proper study of a single
He need not have feared that his connected sketches of "English
Lands, Letters and Kings" would be any less welcome because they do
not pretend to fill up all the details or cover all the incidents
they hint in vivid outline. How many of us ever read or ever will
read Drayton's "Poly-Olbion?" Twenty thousand long Alexandrines are
filled with admirable descriptions of scenery, natural productions,
and historical events, but how many of us in these days have time to
read and inwardly digest twenty thousand Alexandrine verses? I fear
that the specialist is apt to hold his intelligent reader or hearer
too cheap. So far as I have observed in medical specialties, what he
knows in addition to the knowledge of the well-taught general
practitioner is very largely curious rather than important. Having
exhausted all that is practical, the specialist is naturally tempted
to amuse himself with the natural history of the organ or function he
deals with; to feel as a writing-master does when he sets a copy,--
not content to shape the letters properly, but he must add flourishes
and fancy figures, to let off his spare energy.
I am beginning to be frightened. When I began these papers, my idea
was a very simple and innocent one. Here was a mixed company, of
various conditions, as I have already told my readers, who came
together regularly, and before they were aware of it formed something
like a club or association. As I was the patriarch among them, they
gave me the name some of you may need to be reminded of; for as these
reports are published at intervals, you may not remember the fact
that I am what The Teacups have seen fit to call The Dictator.
Now, what did I expect when I began these papers, and what is it that
has begun to frighten me?
I expected to report grave conversations and light colloquial
passages of arms among the members of the circle. I expected to
hear, perhaps to read, a paper now and then. I expected to have,
from time to time, a poem from some one of The Teacups, for I felt
sure there must be among them one or more poets,--Teacups of the
finer and rarer translucent kind of porcelain, to speak
Out of these conversations and written contributions I thought I
might make up a readable series of papers; a not wholly unwelcome
string of recollections, anticipations, suggestions, too often
perhaps repetitions, that would be to the twilight what my earlier
series had been to the morning.
I hoped also that I should come into personal relations with my old
constituency, if I may call my nearer friends, and those more distant
ones who belong to my reading parish, by that name. It is time that
I should. I received this blessed morning--I am telling the literal
truth--a highly flattering obituary of myself in the shape of an
extract from "Le National" of the 10th of February last. This is a
bi-weekly newspaper, published in French, in the city of Plattsburg,
Clinton County, New York. I am occasionally reminded by my unknown
friends that I must hurry up their autograph, or make haste to copy
that poem they wish to have in the author's own handwriting, or it
will be too late; but I have never before been huddled out of the
world in this way. I take this rather premature obituary as a hint
that, unless I come to some arrangement with my well-meaning but
insatiable correspondents, it would be as well to leave it in type,
for I cannot bear much longer the load they lay upon me. I will
explain myself on this point after I have told my readers what has
I am beginning to think this room where we take our tea is more like
a tinder-box than a quiet and safe place for "a party in a parlor."
It is true that there are at least two or three incombustibles at our
table, but it looks to me as if the company might pair off before the
season is over, like the crew of Her Majesty's ship the Mantelpiece,
--three or four weddings clear our whole table of all but one or two
of the impregnables. The poem we found in the sugar-bowl last week
first opened my eyes to the probable state of things. Now, the idea
of having to tell a love-story,--perhaps two or three love-stories,
--when I set out with the intention of repeating instructive, useful,
or entertaining discussions, naturally alarms me. It is quite true
that many things which look to me suspicious may be simply playful.
Young people (and we have several such among The Teacups) are fond of
make-believe courting when they cannot have the real thing,--
"flirting," as it used to be practised in the days of Arcadian
innocence, not the more modern and more questionable recreation which
has reached us from the home of the cicisbeo. Whatever comes of it,
I shall tell what I see, and take the consequences.
But I am at this moment going to talk in my own proper person to my
own particular public, which, as I find by my correspondence, is a
very considerable one, and with which I consider myself in
exceptionally pleasant relations.
I have read recently that Mr. Gladstone receives six hundred letters
a day. Perhaps he does not receive six hundred letters every day,
but if he gets anything like half that number daily, what can he do
with them? There was a time when he was said to answer all his
correspondents. It is understood, I think, that he has given up
doing so in these later days.
I do not pretend that I receive six hundred or even sixty letters a
day, but I do receive a good many, and have told the public of the
fact from time to time, under the pressure of their constantly
increasing exertions. As it is extremely onerous, and is soon going
to be impossible, for me to keep up the wide range of correspondence
which has become a large part of my occupation, and tends to absorb
all the vital force which is left me, I wish to enter into a final
explanation with the well-meaning but merciless taskmasters who have
now for many years been levying their daily tax upon me. I have
preserved thousands of their letters, and destroyed a very large
number, after answering most of them. A few interesting chapters
might be made out of the letters I have kept,--not only such as are
signed by the names of well-known personages, but many from unknown
friends, of whom I had never heard before and have never heard since.
A great deal of the best writing the languages of the world have ever
known has been committed to leaves that withered out of sight before
a second sunlight had fallen upon them. I have had many letters I
should have liked to give the public, had their nature admitted of
their being offered to the world. What straggles of young ambition,
finding no place for its energies, or feeling its incapacity to reach
the ideal towards which it was striving! What longings of
disappointed, defeated fellow-mortals, trying to find a new home for
themselves in the heart of one whom they have amiably idealized! And
oh, what hopeless efforts of mediocrities and inferiorities,
believing in themselves as superiorities, and stumbling on through