Part 3 out of 5
limping disappointments to prostrate failure! Poverty comes
pleading, not for charity, for the most part, but imploring us to
find a purchaser for its unmarketable wares. The unreadable author
particularly requests us to make a critical examination of his book,
and report to him whatever may be our verdict,--as if he wanted
anything but our praise, and that very often to be used in his
But what does not one have to submit to who has become the martyr--
the Saint Sebastian--of a literary correspondence! I will not dwell
on the possible impression produced on a sensitive nature by reading
one's own premature obituary, as I have told you has been my recent
experience. I will not stop to think whether the urgent request for
an autograph by return post, in view of the possible contingencies
which might render it the last one was ever to write, is pleasing or
not. At threescore and twenty one must expect such hints of what is
like to happen before long. I suppose, if some near friend were to
watch one who was looking over such a pressing letter, he might
possibly see a slight shadow flit over the reader's features, and
some such dialogue might follow as that between Othello and Iago,
after "this honest creature" has been giving breath to his suspicions
"I see this hath a little dash'd your spirits.
Not a jot, not a jot.
"My lord, I see you're moved."
And a little later the reader might, like Othello, complain,
"I have a pain upon my forehead here."
Nothing more likely. But, for myself, I have grown callous to all
such allusions. The repetition of the Scriptural phrase for the
natural term of life is so frequent that it wears out one's
But how many charming and refreshing letters I have received! How
often I have felt their encouragement in moments of doubt and
depression, such as the happiest temperaments must sometimes
If the time comes when to answer all my kind unknown friends, even by
dictation, is impossible, or more than I feel equal to, I wish to
refer any of those who may feel disappointed at not receiving an
answer to the following general acknowledgments:
I. I am always grateful for any attention which shows me that I am
kindly remembered.--II. Your pleasant message has been read to me,
and has been thankfully listened to.--III. Your book (your essay)
(your poem) has reached me safely, and has received all the
respectful attention to which it seemed entitled. It would take more
than all the time I have at my disposal to read all the printed
matter and all the manuscripts which are sent to me, and you would
not ask me to attempt the impossible. You will not, therefore,
expect me to express a critical opinion of your work.--IV. I am
deeply sensible to your expressions of personal attachment to me as
the author of certain writings which have brought me very near to
you, in virtue of some affinity in our ways of thought and moods of
feeling. Although I cannot keep up correspondences with many of my
readers who seem to be thoroughly congenial with myself, let them be
assured that their letters have been read or heard with peculiar
gratification, and are preserved as precious treasures.
I trust that after this notice no correspondent will be surprised to
find his or her letter thus answered by anticipation; and that if one
of the above formulae is the only answer he receives, the unknown
friend will remember that he or she is one of a great many whose
incessant demands have entirely outrun my power of answering them as
fully as the applicants might wish and perhaps expect.
I could make a very interesting volume of the letters I have received
from correspondents unknown to the world of authorship, but writing
from an instinctive impulse, which many of them say they have long
felt and resisted. One must not allow himself to be flattered into
an overestimate of his powers because he gets many letters expressing
a peculiar attraction towards his books, and a preference of them to
those with which he would not have dared to compare his own. Still,
if the homo unius libri--the man of one book--choose to select one of
our own writing as his favorite volume, it means something,--not
much, perhaps; but if one has unlocked the door to the secret
entrance of one heart, it is not unlikely that his key may fit the
locks of others. What if nature has lent him a master key? He has
found the wards and slid back the bolt of one lock; perhaps he may
have learned the secret of others. One success is an encouragement
to try again. Let the writer of a truly loving letter, such as
greets one from time to time, remember that, though he never hears a
word from it, it may prove one of the best rewards of an anxious and
laborious past, and the stimulus of a still aspiring future.
Among the letters I have recently received, none is more interesting
than the following. The story of Helen Keller, who wrote it, is told
in the well-known illustrated magazine called "The Wide Awake," in
the number for July, 1888. For the account of this little girl, now
between nine and ten years old, and other letters of her writing, I
must refer to the article I have mentioned. It is enough to say that
she is deaf and dumb and totally blind. She was seven years old when
her teacher, Miss Sullivan, under the direction of Mr. Anagnos, at
the Blind Asylum at South Boston, began her education. A child
fuller of life and happiness it would be hard to find. It seems as
if her soul was flooded with light and filled with music that had
found entrance to it through avenues closed to other mortals. It is
hard to understand how she has learned to deal with abstract ideas,
and so far to supplement the blanks left by the senses of sight and
hearing that one would hardly think of her as wanting in any human
faculty. Remember Milton's pathetic picture of himself, suffering
from only one of poor little Helen's deprivations:
"Not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature's works, to me expunged and rased,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out."
Surely for this loving and lovely child does
"the celestial Light
Anthropologist, metaphysician, most of all theologian, here is a
lesson which can teach you much that you will not find in your
primers and catechisms. Why should I call her "poor little Helen"?
Where can you find a happier child?
SOUTH BOSTON, MASS., March 1, 1890.
DEAR KIND POET,--I have thought of you many times since that bright
Sunday when I bade you goodbye, and I am going to write you a letter
because I love you. I am sorry that you have no little children to
play with sometimes, but I think you are very happy with your books,
and your many, many friends. On Washington's Birthday a great many
people came here to see the little blind children, and I read for
them from your poems, and showed them some beautiful shells which
came from a little island near Palos. I am reading a very sad story
called "Little Jakey." Jakey was the sweetest little fellow you can
imagine, but he was poor and blind. I used to think, when I was
small and before I could read, that everybody was always happy, and
at first it made me very sad to know about pain and great sorrow; but
now I know that we could never learn to be brave and patient, if
there were only joy in the world. I am studying about insects in
Zoology, and I have learned many things about butterflies. They do
not make honey for us, like the bees, but many of them are as
beautiful as the flowers they light upon, and they always delight the
hearts of little children. They live a gay life, flitting from
flower to flower, sipping the drops of honey-dew, without a thought
for the morrow. They are just like little boys and girls when they
forget books and studies, and run away to the woods and the fields to
gather wild-flowers, or wade in the ponds for fragrant lilies, happy
in the bright sunshine. If my little sister comes to Boston next
June, will you let me bring her to see you? She is a lovely baby and
I am sure you will love [her]. Now I must tell my gentle poet good-
bye, for I have a letter to write home before I go to bed. From your
loving little friend,
HELEN A. KELLER.
The reading of this letter made many eyes glisten, and a dead silence
hushed the whole circle. All at once Delilah, our pretty table-maid,
forgot her place,--what business had she to be listening to our
conversation and reading?--and began sobbing, just as if she had
been a lady. She could n't help it, she explained afterwards,--she
had a little blind sister at the asylum, who had told her about
Helen's reading to the children.
It was very awkward, this breaking-down of our pretty Delilah, for
one girl crying will sometimes set off a whole row of others,--it is
as hazardous as lighting one cracker in a bunch. The two Annexes
hurried out their pocket-handkerchiefs, and I almost expected a semi-
hysteric cataclysm. At this critical moment Number Five called
Delilah to her, looked into her face with those calm eyes of hers,
and spoke a few soft words. Was Number Five forgetful, too? Did she
not remember the difference of their position? I suppose so. But
she quieted the poor handmaiden as simply and easily as a nursing
mother quiets her unweaned baby. Why are we not all in love with
Number Five? Perhaps we are. At any rate, I suspect the Professor.
When we all get quiet, I will touch him up about that visit she
promised to make to his laboratory.
I got a chance at last to speak privately with him.
"Did Number Five go to meet you in your laboratory, as she talked of
"Oh, yes, of course she did,--why, she said she would!"
"Oh, to be sure. Do tell me what she wanted in your laboratory."
"She wanted me to burn a diamond for her."
"Burn a diamond! What was that for? Because Cleopatra swallowed a
"No, nothing of that kind. It was a small stone, and had a flaw in
it. Number Five said she did n't want a diamond with a flaw in it,
and that she did want to see how a diamond would burn."
"Was that all that happened?"
"That was all. She brought the two Annexes with her, and I gave my
three visitors a lecture on carbon, which they seemed to enjoy very
I looked steadily in the Professor's face during the reading of the
following poem. I saw no questionable look upon it,--but he has a
remarkable command of his features. Number Five read it with a
certain archness of expression, as if she saw all its meaning, which
I think some of the company did not quite take in. They said they
must read it slowly and carefully. Somehow, "I like you" and "I love
you" got a little mixed, as they heard it. It was not Number Five's
fault, for she read it beautifully, as we all agreed, and as I knew
she would when I handed it to her.
I LIKE YOU AND I LOVE YOU.
I LIKE YOU met I LOVE YOU, face to face;
The path was narrow, and they could not pass.
I LIKE YOU smiled; I LOVE YOU cried, Alas!
And so they halted for a little space.
"Turn thou and go before," I LOVE YOU said,
` "Down the green pathway, bright with many a flower
Deep in the valley, lo! my bridal bower
Awaits thee." But I LIKE YOU shook his head.
Then while they lingered on the span-wide shelf
That shaped a pathway round the rocky ledge,
I LIKE YOU bared his icy dagger's edge,
And first he slew I LOVE YOU,--then himself.
There is no use in burdening my table with those letters of inquiry
as to where our meetings are held, and what are the names of the
persons designated by numbers, or spoken of under the titles of the
Professor, the Tutor, and so forth. It is enough that you are aware
who I am, and that I am known at the tea-table as The Dictator.
Theatrical "asides" are apt to be whispered in a pretty loud voice,
and the persons who ought not to have any idea of what is said are
expected to be reasonably hard of bearing. If I named all The
Teacups, some of them might be offended. If any of my readers happen
to be able to identify any one Teacup by some accidental
circumstance,--say, for instance, Number Five, by the incident of her
burning the diamond,--I hope they will keep quiet about it. Number
Five does n't want to be pointed out in the street as the extravagant
person who makes use of such expensive fuel, for the story would soon
grow to a statement that she always uses diamonds, instead of cheaper
forms of carbon, to heat her coffee with. So with other members of
the circle. The "Cracked Teacup," Number Seven, would not, perhaps,
be pleased to recognize himself under that title. I repeat it,
therefore, Do not try to identify the individual Teacups. You will
not get them right; or, if you do, you may too probably make trouble.
How is it possible that I can keep up my freedom of intercourse with
you all if you insist on bellowing my "asides" through a speaking-
trumpet? Besides, you cannot have failed to see that there are
strong symptoms of the springing up of delicate relations between
some of our number. I told you how it would be. It did not require
a prophet to foresee that the saucy intruder who, as Mr. Willis
wrote, and the dear dead girls used to sing, in our young days,
"Taketh every form of air,
And every shape of earth,
And comes unbidden everywhere,
Like thought's mysterious birth,"
would pop his little curly head up between one or more pairs of
Teacups. If you will stop these questions, then, I will go on with
my reports of what was said and done at our meetings over the
Of all things beautiful in this fair world, there is nothing so
enchanting to look upon, to dream about, as the first opening of the
flower of young love. How closely the calyx has hidden the glowing
leaves in its quiet green mantle! Side by side, two buds have been
tossing jauntily in the breeze, often brought very near to each
other, sometimes touching for a moment, with a secret thrill in their
close-folded heart-leaves, it may be, but still the cool green sepals
shutting tight over the burning secret within. All at once a morning
ray touches one of the two buds, and the point of a blushing petal
betrays the imprisoned and swelling blossom.
--Oh, no, I did not promise a love-story. There may be a little
sentiment now and then, but these papers are devoted chiefly to the
opinions, prejudices, fancies, whims, of myself, The Dictator, and
others of The Teacups who have talked or written for the general
benefit of the company.
Here are some of the remarks I made the other evening on the subject
of Intellectual Over-Feeding and its consequence, Mental Dyspepsia.
There is something positively appalling in the amount of printed
matter yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, secreted by that great gland
of the civilized organism, the press. I need not dilate upon this
point, for it is brought home to every one of you who ever looks into
a bookstore or a public library. So large is the variety of literary
products continually coming forward, forced upon the attention of the
reader by stimulating and suggestive titles, commended to his notice
by famous names, recasting old subjects and developing and
illustrating new ones, that the mind is liable to be urged into a
kind of unnatural hunger, leading to a repletion which is often
followed by disgust and disturbed nervous conditions as its natural
It has long been a favorite rule with me, a rule which I have never
lost sight of, however imperfectly I have carried it out: Try to know
enough of a wide range of subjects to profit by the conversation of
intelligent persons of different callings and various intellectual
gifts and acquisitions. The cynic will paraphrase this into a
shorter formula: Get a smattering in every sort of knowledge. I must
therefore add a second piece of advice: Learn to hold as of small
account the comments of the cynic. He is often amusing, sometimes
really witty, occasionally, without meaning it, instructive; but his
talk is to profitable conversation what the stone is to the pulp of
the peach, what the cob is to the kernels on an ear of Indian corn.
Once more: Do not be bullied out of your common sense by the
specialist; two to one, he is a pedant, with all his knowledge and
valuable qualities, and will "cavil on the ninth part of a hair," if
it will give him a chance to show off his idle erudition.
I saw attributed to me, the other day, the saying, "Know something
about everything, and everything about something." I am afraid it
does not belong to me, but I will treat it as I used to treat a stray
boat which came through my meadow, floating down the Housatonic,--get
hold of it and draw it ashore, and hold on to it until the owner
turns up. If this precept is used discreetly, it is very
serviceable; but it is as well to recognize the fact that you cannot
know something about everything in days like these of intellectual
activity, of literary and scientific production. We all feel this.
It makes us nervous to see the shelves of new books, many of which we
feel as if we ought to read, and some among them to study. We must
adopt some principle of selection among the books outside of any
particular branch which we may have selected for study. I have often
been asked what books I would recommend for a course of reading. I
have always answered that I had a great deal rather take advice than
give it. Fortunately, a number of scholars have furnished lists of
books to which the inquirer may be directed. But the worst of it is
that each student is in need of a little library specially adapted to
his wants. Here is a young man writing to me from a Western college,
and wants me to send him a list of the books which I think would be
most useful to him. He does not send me his intellectual
measurements, and he might as well have sent to a Boston tailor for a
coat, without any hint of his dimensions in length, breadth, and
But instead of laying down rules for reading, and furnishing lists of
the books which should be read in order, I will undertake the much
humbler task of giving a little quasi-medical advice to persons,
young or old, suffering from book-hunger, book-surfeit, book-
nervousness, book-indigestion, book-nausea, and all other maladies
which, directly or indirectly, may be traced to books, and to which I
could give Greek or Latin names if I thought it worth while.
I have a picture hanging in my library, a lithograph, of which many
of my readers may have seen copies. It represents a gray-haired old
book-lover at the top of a long flight of steps. He finds himself in
clover, so to speak, among rare old editions, books he has longed to
look upon and never seen before, rarities, precious old volumes,
incunabula, cradle-books, printed while the art was in its infancy,--
its glorious infancy, for it was born a giant. The old bookworm is
so intoxicated with the sight and handling of the priceless treasures
that he cannot bear to put one of the volumes back after he has taken
it from the shelf. So there he stands,--one book open in his hands,
a volume under each arm, and one or more between his legs,--loaded
with as many as he can possibly hold at the same time.
Now, that is just the way in which the extreme form of book-hunger
shows itself in the reader whose appetite has become over-developed.
He wants to read so many books that he over-crams himself with the
crude materials of knowledge, which become knowledge only when the
mental digestion has time to assimilate them. I never can go into
that famous "Corner Bookstore" and look over the new books in the row
before me, as I enter the door, without seeing half a dozen which I
want to read, or at least to know something about. I cannot empty my
purse of its contents, and crowd my bookshelves with all those
volumes. The titles of many of them interest me. I look into one or
two, perhaps. I have sometimes picked up a line or a sentence, in
these momentary glances between the uncut leaves of a new book, which
I have never forgotten. As a trivial but bona fide example, one day
I opened a book on duelling. I remember only these words:
"Conservons-la, cette noble institution." I had never before seen
duelling called a noble institution, and I wish I had taken the name
of the book. Book-tasting is not necessarily profitless, but it is
very stimulating, and makes one hungry for more than he needs for the
nourishment of his thinking-marrow. To feed this insatiable hunger,
the abstracts, the reviews, do their best. But these, again, have
grown so numerous and so crowded with matter that it is hard to find
time to master their contents. We are accustomed, therefore, to look
for analyses of these periodicals, and at last we have placed before
us a formidable-looking monthly, "The Review of Reviews." After the
analyses comes the newspaper notice; and there is still room for the
epigram, which sometimes makes short work with all that has gone
before on the same subject.
It is just as well to recognize the fact that if one should read day
and night, confining himself to his own language, he could not
pretend to keep up with the press. He might as well try to race with
a locomotive. The first discipline, therefore, is that of despair.
If you could stick to your reading day and night for fifty years,
what a learned idiot you would become long before the half-century
was over! Well, then, there is no use in gorging one's self with
knowledge, and no need of self-reproach because one is content to
remain more or less ignorant of many things which interest his
fellow-creatures. We gain a good deal of knowledge through the
atmosphere; we learn a great deal by accidental hearsay, provided we
have the mordant in our own consciousness which makes the wise
remark, the significant fact, the instructive incident, take hold
upon it. After the stage of despair comes the period of consolation.
We soon find that we are not so much worse off than most of our
neighbors as we supposed. The fractional value of the wisest shows a
small numerator divided by an infinite denominator of knowledge.
I made some explanations to The Teacups, the other evening, which
they received very intelligently and graciously, as I have no doubt
the readers of these reports of mine will receive them. If the
reader will turn back to the end of the fourth number of these
papers, he will find certain lines entitled, "Cacoethes Scribendi."
They were said to have been taken from the usual receptacle of the
verses which are contributed by The Teacups, and, though the fact was
not mentioned, were of my own composition. I found them in
manuscript in my drawer, and as my subject had naturally suggested
the train of thought they carried out into extravagance, I printed
them. At the same time they sounded very natural, as we say, and I
felt as if I had published them somewhere or other before; but I
could find no evidence of it, and so I ventured to have them put in
And here I wish to take breath for a short, separate paragraph. I
have often felt, after writing a line which pleased me more than
common, that it was not new, and perhaps was not my own. I have very
rarely, however, found such a coincidence in ideas or expression as
would be enough to justify an accusation of unconscious plagiarism,--
conscious plagiarism is not my particular failing. I therefore say
my say, set down my thought, print my line, and do not heed the
suspicion that I may not be as original as I supposed, in the passage
I have been writing. My experience may be worth something to a
modest young writer, and so I have interrupted what I was about to
say by intercalating this paragraph.
In this instance my telltale suspicion had not been at fault. I had
printed those same lines, years ago, in "The Contributors' Club," to
which I have rarely sent any of my prose or verse. Nobody but the
editor has noticed the fact, so far as I know. This is consoling, or
mortifying, I hardly know which. I suppose one has a right to
plagiarize from himself, but he does not want to present his work as
fresh from the workshop when it has been long standing in his
But I have just received a letter from a brother of the late Henry
Howard Brownell, the poet of the Bay Fight and the River Fight, in
which he quotes a passage from an old book, "A Heroine, Adventures of
Cherubina," which might well have suggested my own lines, if I had
ever seen it. I have not the slightest recollection of the book or
the passage. I think its liveliness and "local color" will make it
please the reader, as it pleases me, more than my own more prosaic
LINES TO A PRETTY LITTLE MAID OF MAMMA'S.
"If Black Sea, Red Sea, White Sea, ran
One tide of ink to Ispahan,
If all the geese in Lincoln fens
Produced spontaneous well-made pens,
If Holland old and Holland new
One wondrous sheet of paper grew,
And could I sing but half the grace
Of half a freckle in thy face,
Each syllable I wrote would reach
From Inverness to Bognor's beach,
Each hair-stroke be a river Rhine,
Each verse an equinoctial line!"
"The immediate dismissal of the 'little maid' was the consequence."
I may as well say that our Delilah was not in the room when the last
sentence was read.
Readers must be either very good-natured or very careless. I have
laid myself open to criticism by more than one piece of negligence,
which has been passed over without invidious comment by the readers
of my papers. How could I, for instance, have written in my original
"copy" for the printer about the fisherman baiting his hook with a
giant's tail instead of a dragon's? It is the automatic fellow,--Me-
Number-Two of our dual personality,--who does these things, who
forgets the message Me--Number--One sends down to him from the
cerebral convolutions, and substitutes a wrong word for the right
one. I suppose Me--Number--Two will "sass back," and swear that
"giant's" was the message which came down from headquarters. He is
always doing the wrong thing and excusing himself. Who blows out the
gas instead of shutting it off? Who puts the key in the desk and
fastens it tight with the spring lock? Do you mean to say that the
upper Me, the Me of the true thinking-marrow, the convolutions of the
brain, does not know better? Of course he does, and Me-Number-Two is
a careless servant, who remembers some old direction, and follows
that instead of the one just given.
Number Seven demurred to this, and I am not sure that he is wrong in
so doing. He maintains that the automatic fellow always does just
what he is told to do. Number Five is disposed to agree with him.
We will talk over the question.
But come, now, why should not a giant have a tail as well as a
dragon? Linnaeus admitted the homo caudatus into his anthropological
catalogue. The human embryo has a very well marked caudal appendage;
that is, the vertebral column appears prolonged, just as it is in a
young quadruped. During the late session of the Medical Congress at
Washington, my friend Dr. Priestley, a distinguished London
physician, of the highest character and standing, showed me the
photograph of a small boy, some three or four years old, who had a
very respectable little tail, which would have passed muster on a
pig, and would have made a frog or a toad ashamed of himself. I have
never heard what became of the little boy, nor have I looked in the
books or journals to find out if there are similar cases on record,
but I have no doubt that there are others. And if boys may have this
additional ornament to their vertebral columns, why not men? And if
men, why not giants? So I may not have made a very bad blunder,
after all, and my reader has learned something about the homo
caudatus as spoken of by Linnxus, and as shown me in photograph by
Dr. Priestley. This child is a candidate for the vacant place of
In accounting for the blunders, and even gross blunders, which,
sooner or later, one who writes much is pretty sure to commit, I must
not forget the part played by the blind spot or idiotic area in the
brain, which I have already described.
The most knowing persons we meet with are sometimes at fault. Nova
onania possumus omnes is not a new nor profound axiom, but it is well
to remember it as a counterpoise to that other truly American saying
of the late Mr. Samuel Patch, "Some things can be done as well as
others." Yes, some things, but not all things. We all know men and
women who hate to admit their ignorance of anything. Like Talkative
in "Pilgrim's Progress," they are ready to converse of "things
heavenly or things earthly; things moral or things evangelical;
things sacred or things profane; things past or things to come;
things foreign or things at home; things more essential or things
Talkative is apt to be a shallow fellow, and to say foolish things
about matters he only half understands, and yet he has his place in
society. The specialists would grow to be intolerable, were they not
counterpoised to some degree by the people of general intelligence.
The man who knows too much about one particular subject is liable to
become a terrible social infliction. Some of the worst bores (to use
plain language) we ever meet with are recognized as experts of high
grade in their respective departments. Beware of making so much as a
pinhole in the dam that holds back their knowledge. They ride their
hobbies without bit or bridle. A poet on Pegasus, reciting his own
verses, is hardly more to be dreaded than a mounted specialist.
One of the best offices which women perform for men is that of
tasting books for them. They may or may not be profound students,--
some of them are; but we do not expect to meet women like Mrs.
Somerville, or Caroline Herschel, or Maria Mitchell at every dinner-
table or afternoon tea. But give your elect lady a pile of books to
look over for you, and she will tell you what they have for her and
for you in less time than you would have wasted in stupefying
yourself over a single volume.
One of the encouraging signs of the times is the condensed and
abbreviated form in which knowledge is presented to the general
reader. The short biographies of historic personages, of which
within the past few years many have been published, have been a great
relief to the large class of readers who want to know something, but
not too much, about them.
What refuge is there for the victim who is oppressed with the feeling
that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is
only long enough for him to attempt to read a hundred? Many readers
remember what old Rogers, the poet,
"When I hear a new book talked about or have it pressed upon me, I
read an old one."
Happy the man who finds his rest in the pages of some favorite
classic! I know no reader more to be envied than that friend of mine
who for many years has given his days and nights to the loving study
of Horace. After a certain period in life, it is always with an
effort that we admit a new author into the inner circle of our
intimates. The Parisian omnibuses, as I remember them half a century
ago,--they may still keep to the same habit, for aught that I know,--
used to put up the sign "Complet" as soon as they were full. Our
public conveyances are never full until the natural atmospheric
pressure of sixteen pounds to the square inch is doubled, in the
close packing of the human sardines that fill the all-accommodating
vehicles. A new-comer, however well mannered and well dressed, is
not very welcome under these circumstances. In the same way, our
tables are full of books half-read and books we feel that we must
read. And here come in two thick volumes, with uncut leaves, in
small type, with many pages, and many lines to a page,--a book that
must be read and ought to be read at once. What a relief to hand it
over to the lovely keeper of your literary conscience, who will tell
you all that you will most care to know about it, and leave you free
to plunge into your beloved volume, in which you are ever finding new
beauties, and from which you rise refreshed, as if you had just come
from the cool waters of Hippocrene! The stream of modern literature
represented by the books and periodicals on the crowded counters is a
turbulent and clamorous torrent, dashing along among the rocks of
criticism, over the pebbles of the world's daily events; trying to
make itself seen and heard amidst the hoarse cries of the politicians
and the rumbling wheels of traffic. The classic is a still lakelet,
a mountain tarn, fed by springs that never fail, its surface never
ruffled by storms,--always the same, always smiling a welcome to its
visitor. Such is Horace to my friend. To his eye "Lydia, dic per
omnes" is as familiar as "Pater noster qui es in caelis" to that of a
pious Catholic. "Integer vitae," which he has put into manly
English, his Horace opens to as Watt's hymn-book opens to "From all
that dwell below the skies." The more he reads, the more he studies
his author, the richer are the treasures he finds. And what Horace
is to him, Homer, or Virgil, or Dante is to many a quiet reader, sick
to death of the unending train of bookmakers.
I have some curious books in my library, a few of which I should like
to say something about to The Teacups, when they have no more
immediately pressing subjects before them. A library of a few
thousand volumes ought always to have some books in it which the
owner almost never opens, yet with whose backs he is so well
acquainted that he feels as if he knew something of their contents.
They are like those persons whom we meet in our daily walks, with
whose faces and figures, whose summer and winter garments, whose
walking-sticks and umbrellas even, we feel acquainted, and yet whose
names, whose business, whose residences, we know nothing about. Some
of these books are so formidable in their dimensions, so rusty and
crabbed in their aspect, that it takes a considerable amount of
courage to attack them.
I will ask Delilah to bring down from my library a very thick, stout
volume, bound in parchment, and standing on the lower shelf, next the
fireplace. The pretty handmaid knows my books almost as if she were
my librarian, and I don't doubt she would have found it if I had
given only the name on the back.
Delilah returned presently, with the heavy quarto in her arms. It
was a pleasing sight,--the old book in the embrace of the fresh young
damsel. I felt, on looking at them, as I did when I followed the
slip of a girl who conducted us in the Temple, that ancient building
in the heart of London. The long-enduring monuments of the dead do
so mock the fleeting presence of the living!
Is n't this book enough to scare any of you? I said, as Delilah
dumped it down upon the table. The teacups jumped from their saucers
as it thumped on the board. Danielis Georgii Morhofii Polyhistor,
Literarius, Philosophicus et Poeticus. Lubecae MDCCXXXIII. Perhaps
I should not have ventured to ask you to look at this old volume, if
it had not been for the fact that Dr. Johnson mentions Morohof as the
author to whom he was specially indebted.--more, I think, than to
any other. It is a grand old encyclopaedic summary of all the author
knew about pretty nearly everything, full of curious interest, but so
strangely mediaeval, so utterly antiquated in most departments of
knowledge, that it is hard to believe the volume came from the press
at a time when persons whom I well remember were living. Is it
possible that the books which have been for me what Morhof was for
Dr. Johnson can look like that to the student of the year 1990?
Morhof was a believer in magic and the transmutation of metals.
There was always something fascinating to me in the old books of
alchemy. I have felt that the poetry of science lost its wings when
the last powder of projection had been cast into the crucible, and
the fire of the last transmutation furnace went out. Perhaps I am
wrong in implying that alchemy is an extinct folly. It existed in
New England's early days, as we learn from the Winthrop papers, and I
see no reason why gold-making should not have its votaries as well as
other popular delusions.
Among the essays of Morhof is one on the "Paradoxes of the Senses."
That title brought to mind the recollection of another work I have
been meaning to say something about, at some time when you were in
the listening mood. The book I refer to is "A Budget of Paradoxes,"
by Augustus De Morgan. De Morgan is well remembered as a very
distinguished mathematician, whose works have kept his name in high
honor to the present time. The book I am speaking of was published
by his widow, and is largely made up of letters received by him and
his comments upon them. Few persons ever read it through. Few
intelligent readers ever took it up and laid it down without taking a
long draught of its singular and interesting contents. The letters
are mostly from that class of persons whom we call "cranks," in our
At this point Number Seven interrupted me by calling out, "Give us
some of those cranks' letters. A crank is a man who does his own
thinking. I had a relation who was called a crank. I believe I have
been spoken of as one myself. That is what you have to expect if you
invent anything that puts an old machine out of fashion, or solve a
problem that has puzzled all the world up to your time. There never
was a religion founded but its Messiah was called a crank. There
never was an idea started that woke up men out of their stupid
indifference but its originator was spoken of as a crank. Do you
want to know why that name is given to the men who do most for the
world's progress? I will tell you. It is because cranks make all
the wheels in all the machinery of the world go round. What would a
steam-engine be without a crank? I suppose the first fool that
looked on the first crank that was ever made asked what that crooked,
queer-looking thing was good for. When the wheels got moving he
found out. Tell us something about that book which has so much to
say concerning cranks."
Hereupon I requested Delilah to carry back Morhof, and replace him in
the wide gap he had left in the bookshelf. She was then to find and
bring down the volume I had been speaking of.
Delilah took the wisdom of the seventeenth century in her arms, and
departed on her errand. The book she brought down was given me some
years ago by a gentleman who had sagaciously foreseen that it was
just one of those works which I might hesitate about buying, but
should be well pleased to own. He guessed well; the book has been a
great source of instruction and entertainment to me. I wonder that
so much time and cost should have been expended upon a work which
might have borne a title like the Encomium Moriae of Erasmus; and yet
it is such a wonderful museum of the productions of the squinting
brains belonging to the class of persons commonly known as cranks
that we could hardly spare one of its five hundred octavo pages.
Those of us who are in the habit of receiving letters from all sorts
of would-be-literary people--letters of inquiry, many of them with
reference to matters we are supposed to understand--can readily see
how it was that Mr. De Morgan, never too busy to be good-natured with
the people who pestered--or amused-him with their queer fancies,
received such a number of letters from persons who thought they had
made great discoveries, from those who felt that they and their
inventions and contrivances had been overlooked, and who sought in
his large charity of disposition and great receptiveness a balm for
their wounded feelings and a ray of hope for their darkened
The book before us is made up from papers published in "The
Athenaeum," with additions by the author. Soon after opening it we
come to names with which we are familiar, the first of these, that of
Cornelius Agrippa, being connected with the occult and mystic
doctrines dealt with by many of De Morgan's correspondents. But the
name most likely to arrest us is that of Giordano Bruno, the same
philosopher, heretic, and martyr whose statue has recently been
erected in Rome, to the great horror of the Pope and his prelates in
the Old World and in the New. De Morgan's pithy account of him will
interest the company: "Giordano Bruno was all paradox. He was, as
has been said, a vorticist before Descartes, an optimist before
Leibnitz, a Copernican before Galileo. It would be easy to collect a
hundred strange opinions of his. He was born about 1550, and was
roasted alive at Rome, February 17, 1600, for the maintenance and
defence of the Holy Church, and the rights and liberties of the
Number Seven could not contain himself when the reading had reached
this point. He rose from his chair, and tinkled his spoon against
the side of his teacup. It may have been a fancy, but I thought it
returned a sound which Mr. Richard Briggs would have recognized as
implying an organic defect. But Number Seven did not seem to notice
it, or, if be did, to mind it.
"Why did n't we all have a chance to help erect that statue?" he
cried. "A murdered heretic at the beginning of the seventeenth
century, a hero of knowledge in the nineteenth,--I drink to the
memory of the roasted crank, Giordano Bruno!"
Number Seven lifted his teacup to his lips, and most of us followed
After this outburst of emotion and eloquence had subsided, and the
teaspoons lay quietly in their saucers, I went on with my extract
from the book I had in hand.
I think, I said, that the passage which follows will be new and
instructive to most of the company. De Morgan's interpretation of
the cabalistic sentence, made up as you will find it, is about as
ingenious a piece of fanciful exposition as you will be likely to
meet with anywhere in any book, new or old. I am the more willing to
mention it as it suggests a puzzle which some of the company may like
to work upon. Observe the character and position of the two
distinguished philosophers who did not think their time thrown away
in laboring at this seemingly puerile task.
"There is a kind of Cabbala Alphabetica which the investigators of
the numerals in words would do well to take up; it is the formation
of sentences which contain all the letters of the alphabet, and each
only once. No one has done it with v and j treated as consonants;
but you and I can do it. Dr. Whewell and I amused ourselves some
years ago with attempts. He could not make sense, though he joined
words he gave me Phiz, styx, wrong, buck, flame, quiz.
"I gave him the following, which he agreed was 'admirable sense,'--
I certainly think the words would never have come together except in
this way: I quartz pyx who fling muck beds. I long thought that no
human being could say this under any circumstances. At last I
happened to be reading a religious writer,--as he thought himself,--
who threw aspersions on his opponents thick and threefold. Heyday
came into my head; this fellow flings muck beds; he must be a quartz
pyx. And then I remembered that a pyx is a sacred vessel, and quartz
is a hard stone, as hard as the heart of a religious foe-curser. So
that the line is the motto of the ferocious sectarian who turns his
religious vessels into mud-holders, for the benefit of those who will
not see what he sees."
"There are several other sentences given, in which all the letters
(except v and j as consonants) are employed, of which the following
is the best: Get nymph; quiz sad brow; fix luck,--which in more sober
English would be, Marry; be cheerful; watch your business. There is
more edification, more religion, in this than in all the 666
interpretations put together."
There is something very pleasant in the thought of these two sages
playing at jackstraws with the letters of the alphabet. The task
which De Morgan and Dr. Whewell, "the omniscient," set themselves
would not be unworthy of our own ingenious scholars, and it might be
worth while for some one of our popular periodicals to offer a prize
for the best sentence using up the whole alphabet, under the same
conditions as those submitted to by our two philosophers.
This whole book of De Morgan's seems to me full of instruction.
There is too much of it, no doubt; yet one can put up with the
redundancy for the sake of the multiplicity of shades of credulity
and self-deception it displays in broad daylight. I suspect many of
us are conscious of a second personality in our complex nature, which
has many traits resembling those found in the writers of the letters
addressed to Mr. De Horgan.
I have not ventured very often nor very deeply into the field of
metaphysics, but if I were disposed to make any claim in that
direction, it would be the recognition of the squinting brain, the
introduction of the term "cerebricity" corresponding to electricity,
the idiotic area in the brain or thinking-marrow, and my studies of
the second member in the partnership of I-My-Self & Co. I add the
Co. with especial reference to a very interesting article in a late
Scribner, by my friend Mr. William James. In this article the reader
will find a full exposition of the doctrine of plural personality
illustrated by striking cases. I have long ago noticed and referred
to the fact of the stratification of the currents of thought in three
layers, one over the other. I have recognized that where there are
two individuals talking together there are really six personalities
engaged in the conversation. But the distinct, separable,
independent individualities, taking up conscious life one after the
other, are brought out by Mr. James and the authorities to which he
refers as I have not elsewhere seen them developed.
Whether we shall ever find the exact position of the idiotic centre
or area in the brain (if such a spot exists) is uncertain. We know
exactly where the blind spot of the eye is situated, and can
demonstrate it anatomically and physiologically. But we have only
analogy to lead us to infer the possible or even probable existence
of an insensible spot in the thinking-centre. If there is a focal
point where consciousness is at its highest development, it would not
be strange if near by there should prove to be an anaesthetic
district or limited space where no report from the senses was
intelligently interpreted. But all this is mere hypothesis.
Notwithstanding the fact that I am nominally the head personage of
the circle of Teacups, I do not pretend or wish to deny that we all
look to Number Five as our chief adviser in all the literary
questions that come before us. She reads more and better than any of
us. She is always ready to welcome the first sign of genius, or of
talent which approaches genius. She makes short work with all the
pretenders whose only excuse for appealing to the public is that they
"want to be famous." She is one of the very few persons to whom I am
willing to read any one of my own productions while it is yet in
manuscript, unpublished. I know she is disposed to make more of it
than it deserves; but, on the other hand, there are degrees in her
scale of judgment, and I can distinguish very easily what delights
her from what pleases only, or is, except for her kindly feeling to
the writer, indifferent, or open to severe comment. What is curious
is that she seems to have no literary aspirations, no desire to be
known as a writer. Yet Number Five has more esprit, more sparkle,
more sense in her talk, than many a famous authoress from whom we
should expect brilliant conversation.
There are mysteries about Number Five. I am not going to describe
her personally. Whether she belongs naturally among the bright young
people, or in the company of the maturer persons, who have had a good
deal of experience of the world, and have reached the wisdom of the
riper decades without losing the graces of the earlier ones, it would
be hard to say. The men and women, young and old, who throng about
her forget their own ages. "There is no such thing as time in her
presence," said the Professor, the other day, in speaking of her.
Whether the Professor is in love with her or not is more than I can
say, but I am sure that he goes to her for literary sympathy and
counsel, just as I do. The reader may remember what Number Five said
about the possibility of her getting a sprained ankle, and her asking
the young Doctor whether he felt equal to taking charge of her if she
did. I would not for the world insinuate that he wishes she would
slip and twist her foot a little,--just a little, you know, but so
that it would have to be laid on a pillow in a chair, and inspected,
and bandaged, and delicately manipulated. There was a banana-skin
which she might naturally have trodden on, in her way to the tea-
table. Nobody can suppose that it was there except by the most
innocent of accidents. There are people who will suspect everybody.
The idea of the Doctor's putting that banana-skin there! People love
to talk in that silly way about doctors.
Number Five had promised to read us a narrative which she thought
would interest some of the company. Who wrote it she did not tell
us, but I inferred from various circumstances that she had known the
writer. She read the story most effectively in her rich, musical
voice. I noticed that when it came to the sounds of the striking
clock, the ringing of the notes was so like that which reaches us
from some far-off cathedral tower that we wanted to bow our heads, as
if we had just heard a summons to the Angelus. This was the short
story that Number Five read to The Teacups:--
I have somewhere read this anecdote. Louis the Fourteenth was
looking out, one day, from, a window of his palace of Saint-Germain.
It was a beautiful landscape which spread out before him, and the
monarch, exulting in health, strength, and the splendors of his
exalted position, felt his bosom swell with emotions of pride and
happiness: Presently he noticed the towers of a church in the
distance, above the treetops. "What building is that?" he asked.
"May it please your Majesty, that is the Church of St. Denis, where
your royal ancestors have been buried for many generations." The
answer did not "please his Royal Majesty." There, then, was the
place where he too was to lie and moulder in the dust. He turned,
sick at heart, from the window, and was uneasy until he had built him
another palace, from which he could never be appalled by that fatal
Something like the experience of Louis the Fourteenth was that of the
THE TERRIBLE CLOCK.
I give the story as transcribed from the original manuscript:--
The clock was bequeathed to me by an old friend who had recently
died. His mind had been a good deal disordered in the later period
of his life. This clock, I am told; seemed to have a strange
fascination for him. His eyes were fastened on it during the last
hours of his life. He died just at midnight. The clock struck
twelve, the nurse told me, as he drew his last breath, and then,
without any known cause, stopped, with both hands upon the hour.
It is a complex and costly piece of mechanism. The escapement is in
front, so that every tooth is seen as it frees itself. It shows the
phases of the moon, the month of the year, the day of the month, and
the day of the week, as well as the hour and minute of the day.
I had not owned it a week before I began to perceive the same kind of
fascination as that which its former owner had experienced. This
gradually grew upon me, and presently led to trains of thought which
became at first unwelcome, then worrying, and at last unendurable. I
began by taking offence at the moon. I did not like to see that
"something large and smooth and round," so like the skull which
little Peterkin picked up on the field of Blenheim. "How many
times," I kept saying to myself, "is that wicked old moon coming up
to stare at me?" I could not stand it. I stopped a part of the
machinery, and the moon went into permanent eclipse. By and by the
sounds of the infernal machine began to trouble and pursue me. They
talked to me; more and more their language became that of
articulately speaking men. They twitted me with the rapid flight of
time. They hurried me, as if I had not a moment to lose. Quick!
Quick! Quick! as each tooth released itself from the escapement. And
as I looked and listened there could not be any mistake about it. I
heard Quick! Quick! Quick! as plainly, at least, as I ever heard a
word from the phonograph. I stood watching the dial one day,--it was
near one o'clock,--and a strange attraction held me fastened to the
spot. Presently something appeared to trip or stumble inside of the
infernal mechanism. I waited for the sound I knew was to follow.
How nervous I got! It seemed to me that it would never strike. At
last the minute-hand reached the highest point of the dial. Then
there was a little stir among the works, as there is in a
congregation as it rises to receive the benediction. It was no form
of blessing which rung out those deep, almost sepulchral tones. But
the word they uttered could not be mistaken. I can hear its
prolonged, solemn vibrations as if I were standing before the clock
at this moment.
Gone! Yes, I said to myself, gone,--its record made up to be opened
I stood still, staring vaguely at the dial as in a trance. And as
the next hour creeps stealthily up, it starts all at once, and cries
aloud, Gone!--Gone! The sun sinks lower, the hour-hand creeps
downward with it, until I hear the thrice-repeated monosyllable,
Gone!--Gone!--Gone! Soon through the darkening hours, until at the
dead of night the long roll is called, and with the last Gone! the
latest of the long procession that filled the day follows its ghostly
companions into the stillness and darkness of the past.
I silenced the striking part of the works. Still, the escapement
kept repeating, Quick! Quick! Quick! Still the long minute-hand,
like the dart in the grasp of Death, as we see it in Roubiliac's
monument to Mrs. Nightingale, among the tombs of Westminster Abbey,
stretched itself out, ready to transfix each hour as it passed, and
make it my last. I sat by the clock to watch the leap from one day
of the week to the next. Then would come, in natural order, the long
stride from one month to the following one.
I could endure it no longer. "Take that clock away!" I said. They
took it away. They took me away, too,--they thought I needed country
air. The sounds and motions still pursued me in imagination. I was
very nervous when I came here. The walks are pleasant, but the walls
seem to me unnecessarily high. The boarders are numerous; a little
miscellaneous, I think. But we have the Queen, and the President of
the United States, and several other distinguished persons, if we may
trust what they tell about themselves.
After we had listened to Number Five's story, I was requested to read
a couple of verses written by me when the guest of my friends, whose
name is hinted by the title prefixed to my lines.
LA MAISON D'OR.
From this fair home behold on either side
The restful mountains or the restless sea:
So the warm sheltering walls of life divide
Time and its tides from still eternity.
Look on the waves: their stormy voices teach
That not on earth may toil and struggle cease.
Look on the mountains: better far than speech
Their silent promise of eternal peace.
I had intended to devote this particular report to an account of my
replies to certain questions which have been addressed to me,--
questions which I have a right to suppose interest the public, and
which, therefore, I was justified in bringing before The Teacups, and
presenting to the readers of these articles.
Some may care for one of these questions, and some for another. A
good many young people think nothing about life as it presents itself
in the far horizon, bounded by the snowy ridges of threescore and the
dim peaks beyond that remote barrier. Again, there are numbers of
persons who know nothing at all about the Jews; while, on the other
hand, there are those who can, or think they can, detect the
Israelitish blood in many of their acquaintances who believe
themselves of the purest Japhetic origin, and are full of prejudices
about the Semitic race.
I do not mean to be cheated out of my intentions. I propose to
answer my questioners on the two points just referred to, but I find
myself so much interested in the personal affairs of The Teacups that
I must deal with them before attacking those less exciting subjects.
There is no use, let me say here, in addressing to me letters marked
"personal," "private," "confidential," and so forth, asking me how I
came to know what happened in certain conversations of which I shall
give a partial account. If there is a very sensitive phonograph
lying about here and there in unsuspected corners, that might account
for some part of my revelations. If Delilah, whose hearing is of
almost supernatural delicacy, reports to me what she overhears, it
might explain a part of the mystery. I do not want to accuse
Delilah, but a young person who assures me she can hear my watch
ticking in my pocket, when I am in the next room, might undoubtedly
tell many secrets, if so disposed. Number Five is pretty nearly
omniscient, and she and I are on the best terms with each other.
These are all the hints I shall give you at present.
The Teacups of whom the least has been heard at our table are the
Tutor and the Musician. The Tutor is a modest young man, kept down a
little, I think, by the presence of older persons, like the Professor
and myself. I have met him several times, of late, walking with
different lady Teacups: once with the American Annex; twice with the
English Annex; once with the two Annexes together; once with Number
I have mentioned the fact that the Tutor is a poet as among his
claims to our attention. I must add that I do not think any the
worse of him for expressing his emotions and experiences in verse.
For though rhyming is often a bad sign in a young man, especially if
he is already out of his teens, there are those to whom it is as
natural, one might almost say as necessary, as it is to a young bird
to fly. One does not care to see barnyard fowls tumbling about in
trying to use their wings. They have a pair of good, stout
drumsticks, and had better keep to them, for the most part. But that
feeling does not apply to young eagles, or even to young swallows and
sparrows. The Tutor is by no means one of those ignorant, silly,
conceited phrase-tinklers, who live on the music of their own
jingling syllables and the flattery of their foolish friends. I
think Number Five must appreciate him. He is sincere, warmhearted,--
his poetry shows that,--not in haste to be famous, and he looks to me
as if he only wanted love to steady him. With one of those two young
girls he ought certainly to be captivated, if he is not already.
Twice walking with the English Annex, I met him, and they were so
deeply absorbed in conversation they hardly noticed me. He has been
talking over the matter with Number Five, who is just the kind of
person for a confidante.
"I know I feel very lonely," he was saying, "and I only wish I felt
sure that I could make another person happy. My life would be
transfigured if I could find such a one, whom I could love well
enough to give my life to her,--for her, if that were needful, and
who felt an affinity for me, if any one could."
"And why not your English maiden?" said Number Five.
"What makes you think I care more for her than for her American
friend?" said the Tutor.
"Why, have n't I met you walking with her, and did n't you both seem
greatly interested in the subject you were discussing? I thought, of
course, it was something more or less sentimental that you were
"I was explaining that 'enclitic de' in Browning's Grammarian's
Funeral. I don't think there was anything very sentimental about
that. She is an inquisitive creature, that English girl. She is
very fond of asking me questions,--in fact, both of them are. There
is one curious difference between them: the English girl settles down
into her answers and is quiet; the American girl is never satisfied
with yesterday's conclusions; she is always reopening old questions
in the light of some new fact or some novel idea. I suppose that
people bred from childhood to lean their backs against the wall of
the Creed and the church catechism find it hard to sit up straight on
the republican stool, which obliges them to stiffen their own backs.
Which of these two girls would be the safest choice for a young man?
I should really like to hear what answer yon would make if I
consulted you seriously, with a view to my own choice,--on the
supposition that there was a fair chance that either of them might be
"The one you are in love with," answered Number Five.
"But what if it were a case of 'How happy could I be with either'?
Which offers the best chance of happiness,--a marriage between two
persons of the same country, or a marriage where one of the parties
is of foreign birth? Everything else being equal, which is best for
an American to marry, an American or an English girl? We need not
confine the question to those two young persons, but put it more
"There are reasons on both sides," answered Number Five. "I have
often talked this matter over with The Dictator. This is the way he
speaks about it. English blood is apt to tell well on the stock upon
which it is engrafted. Over and over again he has noticed finely
grown specimens of human beings, and on inquiry has found that one or
both of the parents or grandparents were of British origin. The
chances are that the descendants of the imported stock will be of a
richer organization, more florid, more muscular, with mellower
voices, than the native whose blood has been unmingled with that of
new emigrants since the earlier colonial times.--So talks The
Dictator.--I myself think the American will find his English wife
concentrates herself more readily and more exclusively on her
husband,--for the obvious reason that she is obliged to live mainly
in him. I remember hearing an old friend of my early days say,
'A woman does not bear transplanting.' It does not do to trust these
old sayings, and yet they almost always have some foundation in the
experience of mankind, which has repeated them from generation to
generation. Happy is the married woman of foreign birth who can say
to her husband, as Andromache said to Hector, after enumerating all
the dear relatives she had lost,
"'Yet while my hector still survives,
I see My father, mother, brethren, all in thee!'
"How many a sorrowing wife, exiled from her native country, dreams of
the mother she shall see no more! How many a widow, in a strange
land, wishes that her poor, worn-out body could be laid among her
kinsfolk, in the little churchyard where she used to gather daisies
in her childhood! It takes a great deal of love to keep down the
'climbing sorrow' that swells up in a woman's throat when such
memories seize upon her, in her moments of desolation. But if a
foreign-born woman does willingly give up all for a man, and never
looks backward, like Lot's wife, she is a prize that it is worth
running a risk to gain,--that is, if she has the making of a good
woman in her; and a few years will go far towards naturalizing her."
The Tutor listened to Number Five with much apparent interest. "And
now," he said, "what do you think of her companion?"
"A charming girl for a man of a quiet, easy temperament. The great
trouble is with her voice. It is pitched a full note too high. It
is aggressive, disturbing, and would wear out a nervous man without
his ever knowing what was the matter with him. A good many crazy
Northern people would recover their reason if they could live for a
year or two among the blacks of the Southern States. But the
penetrating, perturbing quality of the voices of many of our Northern
women has a great deal to answer for in the way of determining love
and friendship. You remember that dear friend of ours who left us
not long since? If there were more voices like hers, the world would
be a different place to live in. I do not believe any man or woman
ever came within the range of those sweet, tranquil tones without
being hushed, captivated, entranced I might almost say, by their
calming, soothing influence. Can you not imagine the tones in which
those words, 'Peace, be still,' were spoken? Such was the effect of
the voice to which but a few weeks ago we were listening. It is hard
to believe that it has died out of human consciousness. Can such a
voice be spared from that world of happiness to which we fondly look
forward, where we love to dream, if we do not believe with assured
conviction, that whatever is loveliest in this our mortal condition
shall be with us again as an undying possession? Your English friend
has a very agreeable voice, round, mellow, cheery, and her
articulation is charming. Other things being equal, I think you, who
are, perhaps, oversensitive, would live from two to three years
longer with her than with the other. I suppose a man who lived
within hearing of a murmuring brook would find his life shortened if
a sawmill were set up within earshot of his dwelling."
"And so you advise me to make love to the English girl, do you?"
asked the Tutor.
Number Five laughed. It was not a loud laugh, she never laughed
noisily; it was not a very hearty laugh; the idea did not seem to
amuse her much.
"No," she said, "I won't take the responsibility. Perhaps this is a
case in which the true reading of Gay's line would be
"How happy could I be with neither.
"There are several young women in the world besides our two Annexes."
I question whether the Tutor had asked those questions very
seriously, and I doubt if Number Five thought he was very much in
One of The Teacups reminded me that I had promised to say something
of my answers to certain questions. So I began at once:
I have given the name of brain-tappers to the literary operatives who
address persons whose names are well known to the public, asking
their opinions or their experiences on subjects which are at the time
of general interest. They expect a literary man or a scientific
expert to furnish them materials for symposia and similar articles,
to be used by them for their own special purposes. Sometimes they
expect to pay for the information furnished them; at other times, the
honor of being included in a list of noted personages who have
received similar requests is thought sufficient compensation. The
object with which the brain-tapper puts his questions may be a purely
benevolent and entirely disinterested one. Such was the object of
some of those questions which I have received and answered. There
are other cases, in which the brain-tapper is acting much as those
persons do who stop a physician in the street to talk with him about
their livers or stomachs, or other internal arrangements, instead of
going to his office and consulting him, expecting to pay for his
advice. Others are more like those busy women who, having the
generous intention of making a handsome present to their pastor, at
as little expense as may be, send to all their neighbors and
acquaintances for scraps of various materials, out of which the
imposing "bedspread" or counterpane is to be elaborated.
That is all very well so long as old pieces of stuff are all they
call for, but it is a different matter to ask for clippings out of
new and uncut rolls of cloth. So it is one thing to ask an author
for liberty to use extracts from his published writings, and it is a
very different thing to expect him to write expressly for the
editor's or compiler's piece of literary patchwork.
I have received many questions within the last year or two, some of
which I am willing to answer, but prefer to answer at my own time, in
my own way, through my customary channel of communication with the
public. I hope I shall not be misunderstood as implying any reproach
against the inquirers who, in order to get at facts which ought to be
known, apply to all whom they can reach for information. Their
inquisitiveness is not always agreeable or welcome, but we ought to
be glad that there are mousing fact-hunters to worry us with queries
to which, for the sake of the public, we are bound to give our
attention. Let me begin with my brain-tappers.
And first, as the papers have given publicity to the fact that I, The
Dictator of this tea-table, have reached the age of threescore years
and twenty, I am requested to give information as to how I managed to
do it, and to explain just how they can go and do likewise. I think
I can lay down a few rules that will help them to the desired result.
There is no certainty in these biological problems, but there are
reasonable probabilities upon which it is safe to act.
The first thing to be done is, some years before birth, to advertise
for a couple of parents both belonging to long-lived families.
Especially let the mother come of a race in which octogenarians and
nonagenarians are very common phenomena. There are practical
difficulties in following out this suggestion, but possibly the
forethought of your progenitors, or that concurrence of circumstances
which we call accident, may have arranged this for you.
Do not think that a robust organization is any warrant of long life,
nor that a frail and slight bodily constitution necessarily means
scanty length of days. Many a strong-limbed young man and many a
blooming young woman have I seen failing and dropping away in or
before middle life, and many a delicate and slightly constituted
person outliving the athletes and the beauties of their generation.
Whether the excessive development of the muscular system is
compatible with the best condition of general health is, I think,
more than doubtful. The muscles are great sponges that suck up and
make use of large quantities of blood, and the other organs must be
liable to suffer for want of their share.
One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece boiled his wisdom down into two
words,--NOTHING TOO MUCH. It is a rule which will apply to food,
exercise, labor, sleep, and, in short, to every part of life. This
is not so very difficult a matter if one begins in good season and
forms regular habits. But what if I should lay down the rule, Be
cheerful; take all the troubles and trials of life with perfect
equanimity and a smiling countenance? Admirable directions! Your
friend, the curly-haired blonde, with florid complexion, round
cheeks, the best possible digestion and respiration, the stomach of
an ostrich and the lungs of a pearl-diver, finds it perfectly easy to
carry them into practice. You, of leaden complexion, with black and
lank hair, lean, hollow-eyed, dyspeptic, nervous, find it not so easy
to be always hilarious and happy. The truth is that the persons of
that buoyant disposition which comes always heralded by a smile, as a
yacht driven by a favoring breeze carries a wreath of sparkling foam
before her, are born with their happiness ready made. They cannot
help being cheerful any more than their saturnine fellow-mortal can
help seeing everything through the cloud he carries with him. I give
you the precept, then, Be cheerful, for just what it is worth, as I
would recommend to you to be six feet, or at least five feet ten, in
stature. You cannot settle that matter for yourself, but you can
stand up straight, and give your five feet five its--full value.
You can help along a little by wearing high-heeled shoes. So you can
do something to encourage yourself in serenity of aspect and
demeanor, keeping your infirmities and troubles in the background
instead of making them the staple of your conversation. This piece
of advice, if followed, may be worth from three to five years of the
fourscore which you hope to attain.
If, on the other hand, instead of going about cheerily in society,
making the best of everything and as far as possible forgetting your
troubles, you can make up your mind to economize all your stores of
vital energy, to hoard your life as a miser hoards his money, you
will stand a fair chance of living until you are tired of life,--
fortunate if everybody is not tired of you.
One of my prescriptions for longevity may startle you somewhat. It
is this: Become the subject of a mortal disease. Let half a dozen
doctors thump you, and knead you, and test you in every possible way,
and render their verdict that you have an internal complaint; they
don't know exactly what it is, but it will certainly kill you by and
by. Then bid farewell to the world and shut yourself up for an
invalid. If you are threescore years old when you begin this mode of
life, you may very probably last twenty years, and there you are,--an
octogenarian. In the mean time, your friends outside have been
dropping off, one after another, until you find yourself almost
alone, nursing your mortal complaint as if it were your baby, hugging
it and kept alive by it,--if to exist is to live. Who has not seen
cases like this,--a man or a woman shutting himself or herself up,
visited by a doctor or a succession of doctors (I remember that once,
in my earlier experience, I was the twenty-seventh physician who had
been consulted), always taking medicine, until everybody was reminded
of that impatient speech of a relative of one of these invalid
vampires who live on the blood of tired-out attendants, "I do wish
she would get well--or something"? Persons who are shut up in that
way, confined to their chambers, sometimes to their beds, have a very
small amount of vital expenditure, and wear out very little of their
living substance. They are like lamps with half their wicks picked
down, and will continue to burn when other lamps have used up all
their oil. An insurance office might make money by taking no risks
except on lives of persons suffering from mortal disease. It is on
this principle of economizing the powers of life that a very eminent
American physician,--Dr. Weir Mitchell, a man of genius,--has
founded his treatment of certain cases of nervous exhaustion.
What have I got to say about temperance, the use of animal food, and
so forth? These are questions asked me. Nature has proved a wise
teacher, as I think, in my own case. The older I grow, the less use
I make of alcoholic stimulants. In fact, I hardly meddle with them
at all, except a glass or two of champagne occasionally. I find that
by far the best borne of all drinks containing alcohol. I do not
suppose my experience can be the foundation of a universal rule. Dr.
Holyoke, who lived to be a hundred, used habitually, in moderate
quantities, a mixture of cider, water, and rum. I think, as one
grows older, less food, especially less animal food, is required.
But old people have a right to be epicures, if they can afford it.
The pleasures of the palate are among the last gratifications of the
senses allowed them. We begin life as little cannibals,--feeding on
the flesh and blood of our mothers. We range through all the
vegetable and animal products, of nature, and I suppose, if the
second childhood could return to the food of the first, it might
prove a wholesome diet.
What do I say to smoking? I cannot grudge an old man his pipe, but I
think tobacco often does a good deal of harm to the health,--to the
eyes especially, to the nervous system generally, producing headache,
palpitation, and trembling. I myself gave it up many years ago.
Philosophically speaking, I think self-narcotization and self-
alcoholization are rather ignoble substitutes for undisturbed self-
consciousness and unfettered self-control.
Here is another of those brain-tapping letters, of similar character,
which I have no objection to answering at my own time and in the
place which best suits me. As the questions must be supposed to be
asked with a purely scientific and philanthropic purpose, it can make
little difference when and where they are answered. For myself, I
prefer our own tea-table to the symposia to which I am often invited.
I do not quarrel with those who invite their friends to a banquet to
which many strangers are expected to contribute. It is a very easy
and pleasant way of giving an entertainment at little cost and with
no responsibility. Somebody has been writing to me about "Oatmeal
and Literature," and somebody else wants to know whether I have found
character influenced by diet; also whether, in my opinion, oatmeal is
preferable to pie as an American national food.
In answer to these questions, I should say that I have my beliefs and
prejudices; but if I were pressed hard for my proofs of their
correctness, I should make but a poor show in the witness-box. Most
assuredly I do believe that body and mind are much influenced by the
kind of food habitually depended upon. I am persuaded that a too
exclusively porcine diet gives a bristly character to the beard and
hair, which is borrowed from the animal whose tissues these stiff-
bearded compatriots of ours have too largely assimilated. I can
never stray among the village people of our windy capes without now
and then coming upon a human being who looks as if he had been split,
salted, and dried, like the salt-fish which has built up his arid
organism. If the body is modified by the food which nourishes it,
the mind and character very certainly will be modified by it also.
We know enough of their close connection with each other to be sure
of that, without any statistical observations to prove it.
Do you really want to know "whether oatmeal is preferable to pie as
an American national food"? I suppose the best answer I can give to
your question is to tell you what is my own practice. Oatmeal in the
morning, as an architect lays a bed of concrete to form a base for
his superstructure. Pie when I can get it; that is, of the genuine
sort, for I am not patriotic enough to think very highly of the
article named after the Father of his Country, who was first in war,
first in peace,--not first in pies, according to my standard.
There is a very odd prejudice against pie as an article of diet. It
is common to hear every form of bodily degeneracy and infirmity
attributed to this particular favorite food. I see no reason or
sense in it. Mr. Emerson believed in pie, and was almost indignant
when a fellow-traveller refused the slice he offered him. "Why,
Mr.________ ," said be, "what is pie made for!" If every Green
Mountain boy has not eaten a thousand times his weight in apple,
pumpkin, squash, and mince pie, call me a dumpling. And Colonel
Ethan Allen was one of them,--Ethan Allen, who, as they used to say,
could wrench off the head of a wrought nail with his teeth.
If you mean to keep as well as possible, the less you think about
your health the better. You know enough not to eat or drink what you
have found does not agree with you. You ought to know enough not to
expose yourself needlessly to draughts. If you take a
"constitutional," walk with the wind when you can, and take a closed
car against it if you can get one. Walking against the wind is one
of the most dangerous kinds of exposure, if you are sensitive to
cold. But except a few simple rules such as I have just given, let
your health take care of itself so long as it behaves decently. If
you want to be sure not to reach threescore and twenty, get a little
box of homoeopathic pellets and a little book of homeopathic
prescriptions. I had a poor friend who fell into that way, and
became at last a regular Hahnemaniac. He left a box of his little
jokers, which at last came into my hands. The poor fellow had
cultivated symptoms as other people cultivate roses or
chrysanthemums. What a luxury of choice his imagination presented to
him! When one watches for symptoms, every organ in the body is ready
to put in its claim. By and by a real illness attacked him, and the
box of little pellets was shut up, to minister to his fancied evils
Let me tell you one thing. I think if patients and physicians were
in the habit of recognizing the fact I am going to mention, both
would be gainers. The law I refer to must be familiar to all
observing physicians, and to all intelligent persons who have
observed their own bodily and mental conditions. This is the curve
of health. It is a mistake to suppose that the normal state of
health is represented by a straight horizontal line. Independently
of the well-known causes which raise or depress the standard of
vitality, there seems to be,--I think I may venture to say there is,
--a rhythmic undulation in the flow of the vital force. The "dynamo"
which furnishes the working powers of consciousness and action has
its annual, its monthly, its diurnal waves, even its momentary
ripples, in the current it furnishes. There are greater and lesser
curves in the movement of every day's life,--a series of ascending
and descending movements, a periodicity depending on the very nature
of the force at work in the living organism. Thus we have our good
seasons and our bad seasons, our good days and our bad days, life
climbing and descending in long or short undulations, which I have
called the curve of health.
From this fact spring a great proportion of the errors of medical
practice. On it are based the delusions of the various shadowy
systems which impose themselves on the ignorant and half-learned
public as branches or "schools" of science. A remedy taken at the
time of the ascent in the curve of health is found successful. The
same remedy taken while the curve is in its downward movement proves
So long as this biological law exists, so long the charlatan will
keep his hold on the ignorant public. So long as it exists, the
wisest practitioner will be liable to deceive himself about the
effect of what he calls and loves to think are his remedies. Long-
continued and sagacious observation will to some extent undeceive
him; but were it not for the happy illusion that his useless or even
deleterious drugs were doing good service, many a practitioner would
give up his calling for one in which he could be more certain that he
was really being useful to the subjects of his professional dealings.
For myself, I should prefer a physician of a sanguine temperament,
who had a firm belief in himself and his methods. I do not wonder at
all that the public support a whole community of pretenders who show
the portraits of the patients they have "cured." The best physicians
will tell you that, though many patients get well under their
treatment, they rarely cure anybody. If you are told also that the
best physician has many more patients die on his hands than the worst
of his fellow-practitioners, you may add these two statements to your
bundle of paradoxes, and if they puzzle you I will explain them at
some future time.
[I take this opportunity of correcting a statement now going the
rounds of the medical and probably other periodicals. In "The
Journal of the American Medical Association," dated April 26,1890,
published at Chicago, I am reported, in quotation marks, as saying,
"Give me opium, wine, and milk, and I will cure all diseases to which
flesh is heir."
In the first place, I never said I will cure, or can cure, or would
or could cure, or had cured any disease. My venerated instructor,
Dr. James Jackson, taught me never to use that expression. Curo
means, I take care of, he used to say, and in that sense, if you mean
nothing more, it is properly employed. So, in the amphitheatre of
the Ecole de Medecine, I used to read the words of Ambroise Pare, "Je
le pansay, Dieu le guarist." (I dressed his wound, and God cured
him.) Next, I am not in the habit of talking about "the diseases to
which flesh is heir." The expression has become rather too familiar
for repetition, and belongs to the rhetoric of other latitudes. And,
lastly, I have said some plain things, perhaps some sharp ones, about
the abuse of drugs and the limited number of vitally important
remedies, but I am not so ignorantly presumptuous as to make the
foolish statement falsely attributed to me.]
I paused a minute or two, and as no one spoke out; I put a question
to the Counsellor.
Are you quite sure that you wish to live to be threescore and twenty
"Most certainly I do. Don't they say that Theophrastus lived to his
hundred and seventh year, and did n't he complain of the shortness of
life? At eighty a man has had just about time to get warmly settled
in his nest. Do you suppose he doesn't enjoy the quiet of that
resting-place? No more haggard responsibility to keep him awake
nights,--unless he prefers to retain his hold on offices and duties
from which he can be excused if be chooses. No more goading
ambitions,--he knows he has done his best. No more jealousies, if he
were weak enough to feel such ignoble stirrings in his more active
season. An octogenarian with a good record, and free from annoying
or distressing infirmities, ought to be the happiest of men.
Everybody treats him with deference. Everybody wants to help him.
He is the ward of the generations that have grown up since he was in
the vigor of maturity. Yes, let me live to be fourscore years, and
then I will tell you whether I should like a few more years or not."
You carry the feelings of middle age, I said, in imagination, over
into the period of senility, and then reason and dream about it as if
its whole mode of being were like that of the earlier period of life.
But how many things there are in old age which you must live into if
you would expect to have any "realizing sense" of their significance!
In the first place, you have no coevals, or next to none. At fifty,
your vessel is stanch, and you are on deck with the rest, in all
weathers. At sixty, the vessel still floats, and you are in the
cabin. At seventy, you, with a few fellow-passengers, are on a raft.
At eighty, you are on a spars to which, possibly, one, or two, or
three friends of about your own age are still clinging. After that,
you must expect soon to find yourself alone, if you are still
floating, with only a life-preserver to keep your old white-bearded
chin above the water.
Kindness? Yes, pitying kindness, which is a bitter sweet in which
the amiable ingredient can hardly be said to predominate. How
pleasant do you think it is to have an arm offered to you when you
are walking on a level surface, where there is no chance to trip?
How agreeable do you suppose it is to have your well-meaning friends
shout and screech at you, as if you were deaf as an adder, instead of
only being, as you insist, somewhat hard of hearing? I was a little
over twenty years old when I wrote the lines which some of you may
have met with, for they have been often reprinted:
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
The world was a garden to me then; it is a churchyard now.
"I thought you were one of those who looked upon old age cheerfully,
and welcomed it as a season of peace and contented enjoyment."
I am one of those who so regard it. Those are not bitter or scalding
tears that fall from my eyes upon "the mossy marbles." The young who
left my side early in my life's journey are still with me in the
unchanged freshness and beauty of youth. Those who have long kept
company with me live on after their seeming departure, were it only
by the mere force of habit; their images are all around me, as if
every surface had been a sensitive film that photographed them; their
voices echo about me, as if they had been recorded on those
unforgetting cylinders which bring back to us the tones and accents
that have imprinted them, as the hardened sands show us the tracks of
extinct animals. The melancholy of old age has a divine tenderness
in it, which only the sad experiences of life can lend a human soul.
But there is a lower level,--that of tranquil contentment and easy
acquiescence in the conditions in which we find ourselves; a lower
level, in which old age trudges patiently when it is not using its
wings. I say its wings, for no period of life is so imaginative as
that which looks to younger people the most prosaic. The atmosphere
of memory is one in which imagination flies more easily and feels
itself more at home than in the thinner ether of youthful
anticipation. I have told you some of the drawbacks of age; I would
not have you forget its privileges. When it comes down from its
aerial excursions, it has much left to enjoy on the humble plane of
being. And so you think you would like to become an octogenarian?
"I should," said the Counsellor, now a man in the high noon of bodily
and mental vigor. "Four more--yes, five more--decades would not be
too much, I think. And how much I should live to see in that time!
I am glad you have laid down some rules by which a man may reasonably
expect to leap the eight barred gate. I won't promise to obey them
Among the questions addressed to me, as to a large number of other
persons, are the following. I take them from "The American Hebrew"
of April 4, 1890. I cannot pretend to answer them all, but I can say
something about one or two of them.
"I. Can you, of your own personal experience, find any justification
whatever for the entertainment of prejudice towards individuals
solely because they are Jews?
"II. Is this prejudice not due largely to the religious instruction
that is given by the church acid Sunday-school? For instance, the
teachings that the Jews crucified Jesus; that they rejected him, and
can only secure salvation by belief in him, and similar matters that
are calculated to excite in the impressionable mind of the child an
aversion, if not a loathing, for members of 'the despised race.'
"III. Have you observed in the social or business life of the Jew,
so far as your personal experience has gone, any different standard
of conduct than prevails among Christians of the same social status?
"IV. Can you suggest what should be done to dispel the existing
As to the first question, I have had very slight acquaintance with
the children of Israel. I shared more or less the prevailing
prejudices against the persecuted race. I used to read in my hymn-
book,--I hope I quote correctly,--
"See what a living stone
The builders did refuse!
Yet God has built his church thereon,
In spite of envious Jews."
I grew up inheriting the traditional idea that they were a race lying
under a curse for their obstinacy in refusing the gospel. Like other
children of New England birth, I walked in the narrow path of Puritan
exclusiveness. The great historical church of Christendom was
presented to me as Bunyan depicted it: one of the two giants sitting
at the door of their caves, with the bones, of pilgrims scattered
about them, and grinning at the travellers whom they could no longer
devour. In the nurseries of old-fashioned Orthodoxy there was one
religion in the world,--one religion, and a multitude of detestable,
literally damnable impositions, believed in by uncounted millions,
who were doomed to perdition for so believing. The Jews were the
believers in one of these false religions. It had been true once,
but was now a pernicious and abominable lie. The principal use of
the Jews seemed to be to lend money, and to fulfil the predictions of
the old prophets of their race.
No doubt the individual sons of Abraham whom we found in our ill-
favored and ill-flavored streets were apt to be unpleasing specimens
of the race. It was against the most adverse influences of
legislation, of religious feeling, of social repugnance, that the
great names of Jewish origin made themselves illustrious; that the
philosophers, the musicians, the financiers, the statesmen, of the
last centuries forced the world to recognize and accept them.
Benjamin, the son of Isaac, a son of Israel, as his family name makes
obvious, has shown how largely Jewish blood has been represented in
the great men and women of modern days.
There are two virtues which Christians have found it very hard to
exemplify in practice. These are modesty and civility. The Founder
of the Christian religion appeared among a people accustomed to look
for a Messiah, a special ambassador from heaven, with an
authoritative message. They were intimately acquainted with every
expression having reference to this divine messenger. They had a
religion of their own, about which Christianity agrees with Judaism
in asserting that it was of divine origin. It is a serious fact, to
which we do not give all the attention it deserves, that this
divinely instructed people were not satisfied with the evidence that
the young Rabbi who came to overthrow their ancient church and found
a new one was a supernatural being. "We think he was a great
Doctor," said a Jewish companion with whom I was conversing. He
meant a great Teacher, I presume, though healing the sick was one of
his special offices. Instead of remembering that they were entitled
to form their own judgment of the new Teacher, as they had judged of
Hillel and other great instructors, Christians, as they called
themselves, have insulted, calumniated, oppressed, abased, outraged,
"the chosen race" during the long succession of centuries since the
Jewish contemporaries of the Founder of Christianity made up their
minds that he did not meet the conditions required by the subject of
the predictions of their Scriptures. The course of the argument
against them is very briefly and effectively stated by Mr. Emerson:
"This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you if you
say he was a man."
It seems as if there should be certain laws of etiquette regulating
the relation of different religions to each other. It is not civil
for a follower of Mahomet to call his neighbor of another creed a
"Christian dog." Still more, there should be something like
politeness in the bearing of Christian sects toward each other, and
of believers in the new dispensation toward those who still adhere to
the old. We are in the habit of allowing a certain arrogant
assumption to our Roman Catholic brethren. We have got used to their
pretensions. They may call us "heretics," if they like. They may
speak of us as "infidels," if they choose, especially if they say it
in Latin. So long as there is no inquisition, so long as there is no
auto da fe, we do not mind the hard words much; and we have as good
phrases to give them back: the Man of Sin and the Scarlet Woman will
serve for examples. But it is better to be civil to each other all
round. I doubt if a convert to the religion of Mahomet was ever made
by calling a man a Christian dog. I doubt if a Hebrew ever became a
good Christian if the baptismal rite was performed by spitting on his
Jewish gabardine. I have often thought of the advance in comity and
true charity shown in the title of my late honored friend James
Freeman Clarke's book, "The Ten Great Religions." If the creeds of
mankind try to understand each other before attempting mutual
extermination, they will be sure to find a meaning in beliefs which
are different from their own. The old Calvinistic spirit was almost
savagely exclusive. While the author of the "Ten Great Religions"
was growing up in Boston under the benignant, large-minded teachings
of the Rev. James Freeman, the famous Dr. John M. Mason, at New
York, was fiercely attacking the noble humanity of "The Universal
Prayer." "In preaching," says his biographer, "he once quoted Pope's
lines as to God's being adored alike 'by saint, by savage, and by
sage,' and pronounced it (in his deepest guttural) 'the most damnable
What could the Hebrew expect when a Christian preacher could use such
language about a petition breathing the very soul of humanity?
Happily, the true human spirit is encroaching on that arrogant and
narrow-minded form of selfishness which called itself Christianity.
The golden rule should govern us in dealing with those whom we call
unbelievers, with heathen, and with all who do not accept our
religious views. The Jews are with us as a perpetual lesson to teach
us modesty and civility. The religion we profess is not self-
evident. It did not convince the people to whom it was sent. We
have no claim to take it for granted that we are all right, and they
are all wrong. And, therefore, in the midst of all the triumphs of
Christianity, it is well that the stately synagogue should lift its
walls by the side of the aspiring cathedral, a perpetual reminder
that there are many mansions in the Father's earthly house as well as
in the heavenly one; that civilized humanity, longer in time and
broader in space than any historical form of belief, is mightier than
any one institution or organization it includes.
Many years ago I argued with myself the proposition which my Hebrew
correspondent has suggested. Recognizing the fact that I was born to
a birthright of national and social prejudices against "the chosen
people,"--chosen as the object of contumely and abuse by the rest of
the world,--I pictured my own inherited feelings of aversion in all
their intensity, and the strain of thought under the influence of
which those prejudices gave way to a more human, a more truly
Christian feeling of brotherhood. I must ask your indulgence while I
quote a few verses from a poem of my own, printed long ago under the
title "At the Pantomime."
I was crowded between two children of Israel, and gave free inward
expression to my feelings. All at once I happened to look more
closely at one of my neighbors, and saw that the youth was the very
ideal of the Son of Mary.
A fresh young cheek whose olive hue
The mantling blood shows faintly through;
Locks dark as midnight, that divide
And shade the neck on either side;
Soft, gentle, loving eyes that gleam
Clear as a starlit mountain stream;
So looked that other child of Shem,
The Maiden's Boy of Bethlehem!
--And thou couldst scorn the peerless blood
That flows unmingled from the Flood,
Thy scutcheon spotted with the stains
Of Norman thieves and pirate Danes!
The New World's foundling, in thy pride
Scowl on the Hebrew at thy side,
And lo! the very semblance there
The Lord of Glory deigned to wear!
I see that radiant image rise,
The flowing hair, the pitying eyes,
The faintly crimsoned cheek that shows
The blush of Sharon's opening rose,
Thy hands would clasp his hallowed feet
Whose brethren soil thy Christian seat,
Thy lips would press his garment's hem
That curl in wrathful scorn for them!
A sudden mist, a watery screen,
Dropped like a veil before the scene;
The shadow floated from my soul,
And to my lips a whisper stole:--
Thy prophets caught the Spirit's flame,
From thee the Son of Mary came,
With thee the Father deigned to dwell,
Peace be upon thee, Israel!
It is not to be expected that intimate relations will be established
between Jewish and Christian communities until both become so far
rationalized and humanized that their differences are comparatively
unimportant. But already there is an evident approximation in the
extreme left of what is called liberal Christianity and the
representatives of modern Judaism. The life of a man like the late
Sir Moses Montefiore reads a lesson from the Old Testament which
might well have been inspired by the noblest teachings of the
Delilah, and how she got her name.
Est-elle bien gentille, cette petite? I said one day to Number Five,
as our pretty Delilah put her arm between us with a bunch of those
tender early radishes that so recall the rosy-fingered morning of
Homer. The little hand which held the radishes would not have shamed
Aurora. That hand has never known drudgery, I feel sure.
When I spoke those French words our little Delilah gave a slight,
seemingly involuntary start, and her cheeks grew of as bright a red
as her radishes. Ah, said I to myself; does that young girl
understand French? It may be worth while to be careful what one says
There is a mystery about this girl. She seems to know her place
perfectly,--except, perhaps, when she burst out crying, the other
day, which was against all the rules of table-maiden's etiquette,--
and yet she looks as if she had been born to be waited on, and not to
perform that humble service for others. We know that once in a while
girls with education and well connected take it into their heads to
go into service for a few weeks or months. Sometimes it is from
economic motives,--to procure means for their education, or to help
members of their families who need assistance. At any rate, they
undertake the lighter menial duties of some household where they are
not known, and, having stooped--if stooping it is to be considered--
to lowly offices, no born and bred servants are more faithful to all
their obligations. You must not suppose she was christened Delilah.
Any of our ministers would hesitate to give such a heathen name to a
The way she came to get it was this: The Professor was going to give
a lecture before an occasional audience, one evening. When he took
his seat with the other Teacups, the American Annex whispered to the
other Annex, "His hair wants cutting,--it looks like fury." "Quite
so," said the English Annex. "I wish you would tell him so,-- I do,
awfully." "I'll fix it," said the American girl. So, after the
teacups were emptied and the company had left the table, she went up
to the Professor. "You read this lecture, don't you, Professor?" she
said. "I do," he answered. "I should think that lock of hair which
falls down over your forehead would trouble you," she said. "It does
sometimes," replied the Professor. "Let our little maid trim it for
you. You're equal to that, aren't you?" turning to the handmaiden.
"I always used to cut my father's hair," she answered. She brought a
pair of glittering shears, and before she would let the Professor go
she had trimmed his hair and beard as they had not been dealt with
for many a day. Everybody said the Professor looked ten years
younger. After that our little handmaiden was always called Delilah,
among the talking Teacups.
The Mistress keeps a watchful eye on this young girl. I should not
be surprised to find that she was carrying out some ideal, some fancy
or whim,--possibly nothing more, but springing from some generous,
youthful impulse. Perhaps she is working for that little sister at
the Blind Asylum. Where did she learn French? She did certainly
blush, and betrayed every sign of understanding the words spoken
about her in that language. Sometimes she sings while at her work,
and we have all been struck with the pure, musical character of her
voice. It is just such a voice as ought to come from that round
white throat. We made a discovery about it the other evening.
The Mistress keeps a piano in her room, and we have sometimes had
music in the evening. One of The Teacups, to whom I have slightly
referred, is an accomplished pianist, and the two Annexes sing very
sweetly together,--the American girl having a clear soprano voice,
the English girl a mellow contralto. They had sung several tunes,
when the Mistress rang for Avis,--for that is our Delilah's real
name. She whispered to the young girl, who blushed and trembled.
"Don't be frightened," said the Mistress encouragingly. "I have
heard you singing 'Too Young for Love,' and I will get our pianist to
play it. The young ladies both know it, and you must join in."
The two voices, with the accompaniment, had hardly finished the first
line when a pure, ringing, almost childlike voice joined the vocal
duet. The sound of her own voice seemed to make her forget her
fears, and she warbled as naturally and freely as any young bird of a
May morning. Number Five came in while she was singing, and when she
got through caught her in her arms and kissed her, as if she were her
sister, and not Delilah, our table-maid. Number Five is apt to
forget herself and those social differences to which some of us
attach so much importance. This is the song in which the little maid
TOO YOUNG FOR LOVE.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Tell reddening rose-buds not to blow!
Wait not for spring to pass away,--
Love's summer months begin with May!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so,
While daisies bloom and tulips glow!
June soon will come with lengthened day
To practise all love learned in May.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
I often wish that our Number Seven could have known and corresponded
with the author of "The Budget of Paradoxes." I think Mr. De Morgan
would have found some of his vagaries and fancies not undeserving of
a place in his wonderful collection of eccentricities, absurdities,
ingenuities,--mental freaks of all sorts. But I think he would have
now and then recognized a sound idea, a just comparison, a suggestive
hint, a practical notion, which redeemed a page of extravagances and
crotchety whims. I confess that I am often pleased with fancies of
his, and should be willing to adopt them as my own. I think he has,
in the midst of his erratic and tangled conceptions, some perfectly
clear and consistent trains of thought.
So when Number Seven spoke of sending us a paper, I welcomed the
suggestion. I asked him whether he had any objection to my looking
it over before he read it. My proposal rather pleased him, I
thought, for, as was observed on a former occasion, he has in
connection with a belief in himself another side,--a curious self-
distrust. I have no question that he has an obscure sense of some
mental deficiency. Thus you may expect from him first a dogma, and
presently a doubt. If you fight his dogma, he will do battle for it
stoutly; if you let him alone, he will very probably explain its
extravagances, if it has any, and tame it into reasonable limits.
Sometimes he is in one mood, sometimes in another.
The first portion of what we listened to shows him at his best; in
the latter part I am afraid you will think he gets a little wild.
I proceed to lay before you the paper which Number Seven read to The
Teacups. There was something very pleasing in the deference which
was shown him. We all feel that there is a crack in the teacup, and
are disposed to handle it carefully. I have left out a few things
which he said, feeling that they might give offence to some of the
company. There were sentences so involved and obscure that I was
sure they would not be understood, if indeed he understood them
himself. But there are other passages so entirely sane, and as it
seems to me so just, that if any reader attributes them to me I shall
not think myself wronged by the supposition. You must remember that
Number Seven has had a fair education, that he has been a wide reader
in many directions, and that he belongs to a family of remarkable
intellectual gifts. So it was not surprising that he said some
things which pleased the company, as in fact they did. The reader
will not be startled to see a certain abruptness in the transition
from one subject to another,--it is a characteristic of the squinting
brain wherever you find it. Another curious mark rarely wanting in
the subjects of mental strabismus is an irregular and often sprawling
and deformed handwriting. Many and many a time I have said, after
glancing at the back of a letter, "This comes from an insane asylum,
or from an eccentric who might well be a candidate for such an
institution." Number Seven's manuscript, which showed marks of my
corrections here and there, furnished good examples of the
chirography of persons with ill-mated cerebral hemispheres. But the
earlier portions of the manuscript are of perfectly normal
Conticuere omnes, as Virgil says. We were all silent as Number Seven
began the reading of his paper.
Number Seven reads.
I am the seventh son of a seventh son, as I suppose you all know. It
is commonly believed that some extraordinary gifts belong to the
fortunate individuals born under these exceptional conditions.
However this may be, a peculiar virtue was supposed to dwell in me
from my earliest years. My touch was believed to have the influence
formerly attributed to that of the kings and queens of England. You
may remember that the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, when a child, was
carried to be touched by her Majesty Queen Anne for the "king's
evil," as scrofula used to be called. Our honored friend The
Dictator will tell you that the brother of one of his Andover
schoolmates was taken to one of these gifted persons, who touched
him, and hung a small bright silver coin, either a "fourpence
ha'penny" or a "ninepence," about his neck, which, strange to say,
after being worn a certain time, became tarnished, and finally