Part 4 out of 5
black,--a proof of the poisonous matters which had become eliminated
from the system and gathered upon the coin. I remember that at one
time I used to carry fourpence ha'pennies with holes bored through
them, which I furnished to children or to their mothers, under
pledges of secrecy,--receiving a piece of silver of larger dimensions
in exchange. I never felt quite sure about any extraordinary
endowment being a part of my inheritance in virtue of my special
conditions of birth. A phrenologist, who examined my head when I was
a boy, said the two sides were unlike. My hatter's measurement told
me the same thing; but in looking over more than a bushel of the
small cardboard hat-patterns which give the exact shape of the head,
I have found this is not uncommon. The phrenologist made all sorts
of predictions of what I should be and do, which proved about as near
the truth as those recorded in Miss Edith Thomas's charming little
poem, "Augury," which some of us were reading the other day.
I have never been through college, but I had a relative who was
famous as a teacher of rhetoric in one of our universities, and
especially for taking the nonsense out of sophomorical young fellows
who could not say anything without rigging it up in showy and
sounding phrases. I think I learned from him to express myself in
good old-fashioned English, and without making as much fuss about it
as our Fourth of July orators and political haranguers were in the
habit of making.
I read a good many stories during my boyhood, one of which left a
lasting impression upon me, and which I have always commended to
young people. It is too late, generally, to try to teach old people,
yet one may profit by it at any period of life before the sight has
become too dim to be of any use. The story I refer to is in
"Evenings at Home," and is called "Eyes and No Eyes." I ought to
have it by me, but it is constantly happening that the best old
things get overlaid by the newest trash; and though I have never seen
anything of the kind half so good, my table and shelves are cracking
with the weight of involuntary accessions to my library.
This is the story as I remember it: Two children walk out, and are
questioned when they come home. One has found nothing to observe,
nothing to admire, nothing to describe, nothing to ask questions
about. The other has found everywhere objects of curiosity and
interest. I advise you, if you are a child anywhere under forty-
five, and do not yet wear glasses, to send at once for "Evenings at
Home" and read that story. For myself, I am always grateful to the
writer of it for calling my attention to common things. How many
people have been waked to a quicker consciousness of life by
Wordsworth's simple lines about the daffodils, and what he says of
the thoughts suggested to him by "the meanest flower that blows"!
I was driving with a friend, the other day, through a somewhat dreary
stretch of country, where there seemed to be very little to attract
notice or deserve remark. Still, the old spirit infused by "Eyes and
No Eyes" was upon me, and I looked for something to fasten my thought
upon, and treat as an artist treats a study for a picture. The first
object to which my eyes were drawn was an old-fashioned well-sweep.
It did not take much imaginative sensibility to be stirred by the
sight of this most useful, most ancient, most picturesque, of
domestic conveniences. I know something of the shadoof of Egypt,--
the same arrangement by which the sacred waters of the Nile have been
lifted, from the days of the Pharaohs to those of the Khedives. That
long forefinger pointing to heaven was a symbol which spoke to the
Puritan exile as it spoke of old to the enslaved Israelite. Was
there ever any such water as that which we used to draw from the
deep, cold well, in "the old oaken bucket"? What memories gather
about the well in all ages! What love-matches have been made at its
margin, from the times of Jacob and, Rachel downward! What fairy
legends hover over it, what fearful mysteries has it hidden! The
beautiful well-sweep! It is too rarely that we see it, and as it
dies out and gives place to the odiously convenient pump, with the
last patent on its cast-iron uninterestingness, does it not seem as
if the farmyard aspect had lost half its attraction? So long as the
dairy farm exists, doubtless there must be every facility for getting
water in abundance; but the loss of the well-sweep cannot be made up
to us even if our milk were diluted to twice its present attenuation.
The well-sweep had served its turn, and my companion and I relapsed
into silence. After a while we passed another farmyard, with nothing
which seemed deserving of remark except the wreck of an old wagon.
"Look," I said, "if you want to see one of the greatest of all the
triumphs of human ingenuity, one of the most beautiful, as it is one
of the most useful, of all the mechanisms which the intelligence of
successive ages has called into being."
"I see nothing," my companion answered, "but an old broken-down
wagon. Why they leave such a piece of lumbering trash about their
place, where people can see it as they pass, is more than I can
"And yet," said I, "there is one of the most extraordinary products
of human genius and skill,--an object which combines the useful and
the beautiful to an extent which hardly any simple form of mechanism
can pretend to rival. Do you notice how, while everything else has
gone to smash, that wheel remains sound and fit for service? Look at
it merely for its beauty.
"See the perfect circles, the outer and the inner. A circle is in
itself a consummate wonder of geometrical symmetry. It is the line
in which the omnipotent energy delights to move. There is no fault
in it to be amended. The first drawn circle and the last both embody
the same complete fulfillment of a perfect design. Then look at the
rays which pass from the inner to the outer circle. How beautifully
they bring the greater and lesser circles into connection with each
other! The flowers know that secret,--the marguerite in the meadow
displays it as clearly as the great sun in heaven. How beautiful is
this flower of wood and iron, which we were ready to pass by without
wasting a look upon it! But its beauty is only the beginning of its
wonderful claim upon us for our admiration. Look at that field of
flowering grass, the triticum vulgare,--see how its waves follow the
breeze in satiny alternations of light and shadow. You admire it for
its lovely aspect; but when you remember that this flowering grass is
wheat, the finest food of the highest human races, it gains a
dignity, a glory, that its beauty alone could not give it.
"Now look at that exquisite structure lying neglected and disgraced,
but essentially unchanged in its perfection, before you. That slight
and delicate-looking fabric has stood such a trial as hardly any
slender contrivance, excepting always the valves of the heart, was
ever subjected to. It has rattled for years over the cobble-stones
of a rough city pavement. It has climbed over all the accidental
obstructions it met in the highway, and dropped into all the holes
and deep ruts that made the heavy farmer sitting over it use his
Sunday vocabulary in a week-day form of speech. At one time or
another, almost every part of that old wagon has given way. It has
had two new pairs of shafts. Twice the axle has broken off close to
the hub, or nave. The seat broke when Zekle and Huldy were having
what they called 'a ride' together. The front was kicked in by a
vicious mare. The springs gave way and the floor bumped on the axle.
Every portion of the wagon became a prey of its special accident,
except that most fragile looking of all its parts, the wheel. Who
can help admiring the exact distribution of the power of resistance
at the least possible expenditure of material which is manifested in
this wondrous triumph of human genius and skill? The spokes are
planted in the solid hub as strongly as the jaw-teeth of a lion in
their deep-sunken sockets. Each spoke has its own territory in the
circumference, for which it is responsible. According to the load
the vehicle is expected to carry, they are few or many, stout or
slender, but they share their joint labor with absolute justice,--not
one does more, not one does less, than its just proportion. The
outer end of the spokes is received into the deep mortise of the
wooden fellies, and the structure appears to be complete. But how
long would it take to turn that circle into a polygon, unless some
mighty counteracting force should prevent it? See the iron tire
brought hot from the furnace and laid around the smoking
circumference. Once in place, the workman cools the hot iron; and as
it shrinks with a force that seems like a hand-grasp of the
Omnipotent, it clasps the fitted fragments of the structure, and
compresses them into a single inseparable whole.
"Was it not worth our while to stop a moment before passing that old
broken wagon, and see whether we could not find as much in it as
Swift found in his 'Meditations on a Broomstick'? I have been
laughed at for making so much of such a common thing as a wheel.
Idiots! Solomon's court fool would have scoffed at the thought of
the young Galilean who dared compare the lilies of the field to his
august master. Nil admirari is very well for a North American Indian
and his degenerate successor, who has grown too grand to admire
anything but himself, and takes a cynical pride in his stolid
indifference to everything worth reverencing or honoring."
After calling my companion's attention to the wheel, and discoursing
upon it until I thought he was getting sleepy, we jogged along until
we came to a running stream. It was crossed by a stone bridge of a
single arch. There are very few stone arches over the streams in New
England country towns, and I always delighted in this one. It was
built in the last century, amidst the doubting predictions of staring
rustics, and stands to-day as strong as ever, and seemingly good for
centuries to come.
"See there!" said I,--"there is another of my 'Eyes and No Eyes'
subjects to meditate upon. Next to the wheel, the arch is the
noblest of those elementary mechanical composites, corresponding to
the proximate principles of chemistry. The beauty of the arch
consists first in its curve, commonly a part of the circle, of the
perfection of which I have spoken. But the mind derives another
distinct pleasure from the admirable manner in which the several
parts, each different from all the others, contribute to a single
harmonious effect. It is a typical example of the piu nel uno. An
arch cut out or a single stone would not be so beautiful as one of
which each individual stone was shaped for its exact position. Its
completion by the locking of the keystone is a delight to witness and
to contemplate. And how the arch endures, when its lateral thrust is
met by solid masses of resistance! In one of the great temples of
Baalbec a keystone has slipped, but how rare is that occurrence! One
will hardly find another such example among all the ruins of
antiquity. Yes, I never get tired of arches. They are noble when
shaped of solid marble blocks, each carefully beveled for its
position. They are beautiful when constructed with the large thin
tiles the Romans were so fond of using. I noticed some arches built
in this way in the wall of one of the grand houses just going up on
the bank of the river. They were over the capstones of the windows,-
-to take off the pressure from them, no doubt, for now and then a
capstone will crack under the weight of the superincumbent mass. How
close they fit, and how striking the effect of their long
The company listened very well up to this point. When he began the
strain of thoughts which follows, a curious look went round The
What a strange underground life is that which is led by the organisms
we call trees! These great fluttering masses of leaves, stems,
boughs, trunks, are not the real trees. They live underground, and
what we see are nothing more nor less than their tails.
The Mistress dropped her teaspoon. Number Five looked at the Doctor,
whose face was very still and sober. The two Annexes giggled, or
came very near it.
Yes, a tree is an underground creature, with its tail in the air.
All its intelligence is in its roots. All the senses it has are in
its roots. Think what sagacity it shows in its search after food and
drink! Somehow or other, the rootlets, which are its tentacles, find
out that there is a brook at a moderate distance from the trunk of
the tree, and they make for it with all their might. They find every
crack in the rocks where there are a few grains of the nourishing
substance they care for, and insinuate themselves into its deepest
recesses. When spring and summer come, they let their tails grow,
and delight in whisking them about in the wind, or letting them be
whisked about by it; for these tails are poor passive things, with
very little will of their own, and bend in whatever direction the
wind chooses to make them. The leaves make a deal of noise
whispering. I have sometimes thought I could understand them, as
they talk with each other, and that they seemed to think they made
the wind as they wagged forward and back. Remember what I say. The
next time you see a tree waving in the wind, recollect that it is the
tail of a great underground, many-armed, polypus-like creature, which
is as proud of its caudal appendage, especially in summer-time, as a
peacock of his gorgeous expanse of plumage.
Do you think there is anything so very odd about this idea? Once get
it well into your heads, and you will find it renders the landscape
wonderfully interesting. There are as many kinds of tree-tails as
there are of tails to dogs and other quadrupeds. Study them as Daddy
Gilpin studied them in his "Forest Scenery," but don't forget that
they are only the appendage of the underground vegetable polypus, the
true organism to which they belong.
He paused at this point, and we all drew long breaths, wondering what
was coming next. There was no denying it, the "cracked Teacup" was
clinking a little false,--so it seemed to the company. Yet, after
all, the fancy was not delirious,--the mind could follow it well
enough; let him go on.
What do you say to this? You have heard all sorts of things said in
prose and verse about Niagara. Ask our young Doctor there what it
reminds him of. Is n't it a giant putting his tongue out? How can
you fail to see the resemblance? The continent is a great giant, and
the northern half holds the head and shoulders. You can count the
pulse of the giant wherever the tide runs up a creek; but if you want
to look at the giant's tongue, you must go to Niagara. If there were
such a thing as a cosmic physician, I believe he could tell the state
of the country's health, and the prospects of the mortality for the
coming season, by careful inspection of the great tongue, which
Niagara is putting out for him, and has been showing to mankind ever
since the first flint-shapers chipped their arrow-heads. You don't
think the idea adds to the sublimity and associations of the
cataract? I am sorry for that, but I can't help the suggestion. It
is just as manifestly a tongue put out for inspection as if it had
Nature's own label to that effect hung over it. I don't know whether
you can see these things as clearly as I do. There are some people
that never see anything, if it is as plain as a hole in a grindstone,
until it is pointed out to them; and some that can't see it then, and
won't believe there is any hole till they've poked their finger
through it. I've got a great many things to thank God for, but
perhaps most of all that I can find something to admire, to wonder
at, to set my fancy going, and to wind up my enthusiasm pretty much
Look here! There are crowds of people whirled through our streets on
these new-fashioned cars, with their witch-broomsticks overhead,--if
they don't come from Salem, they ought to,--and not more than one in
a dozen of these fish-eyed bipeds thinks or cares a nickel's worth
about the miracle which is wrought for their convenience. They know
that without hands or feet, without horses, without steam, so far as
they can see, they are transported from place to place, and that
there is nothing to account for it except the witch-broomstick and
the iron or copper cobweb which they see stretched above them. What
do they know or care about this last revelation of the omnipresent
spirit of the material universe? We ought to go down on our knees
when one of these mighty caravans, car after car, spins by us, under
the mystic impulse which seems to know not whether its train is
loaded or empty. We are used to force in the muscles of horses, in
the expansive potency of steam, but here we have force stripped stark
naked,--nothing but a filament to cover its nudity,--and yet showing
its might in efforts that would task the working-beam of a ponderous
steam-engine. I am thankful that in an age of cynicism I have not
lost my reverence. Perhaps you would wonder to see how some very
common sights impress me. I always take off my hat if I stop to
speak to a stone-cutter at his work. "Why?" do you ask me? Because
I know that his is the only labor that is likely to endure. A score
of centuries has not effaced the marks of the Greek's or the Roman's
chisel on his block of marble. And now, before this new
manifestation of that form of cosmic vitality which we call
electricity, I feel like taking the posture of the peasants listening
to the Angelus. How near the mystic effluence of mechanical energy
brings us to the divine source of all power and motion! In the old
mythology, the right hand of Jove held and sent forth the lightning.
So, in the record of the Hebrew prophets, did the right hand of
Jehovah cast forth and direct it. Was Nahum thinking of our far-off
time when he wrote, "The chariots shall rage in the streets, they
shall justle one against another in the broad ways: they shall seem
like torches, they shall run like the lightnings"?
Number Seven had finished reading his paper. Two bright spots in his
cheeks showed that he had felt a good deal in writing it, and the
flush returned as he listened to his own thoughts. Poor old fellow!
The "cracked Teacup" of our younger wits,--not yet come to their full
human sensibilities,--the "crank" of vulgar tongues, the eccentric,
the seventh son of a seventh son, too often made the butt of
thoughtless pleasantry, was, after all, a fellow-creature, with flesh
and blood like the rest of us. The wild freaks of his fancy did not
hurt us, nor did they prevent him from seeing many things justly, and
perhaps sometimes more vividly and acutely than if he were as sound
as the dullest of us.
The teaspoons tinkled loudly all round the table, as he finished
reading. The Mistress caught her breath. I was afraid she was going
to sob, but she took it out in vigorous stirring of her tea. Will
you believe that I saw Number Five, with a sweet, approving smile on
her face all the time, brush her cheek with her hand-kerchief? There
must have been a tear stealing from beneath its eyelid. I hope
Number Seven saw it. He is one of the two men at our table who most
need the tender looks and tones of a woman. The Professor and I are
hors de combat; the Counsellor is busy with his cases and his
ambitions; the Doctor is probably in love with a microscope, and
flirting with pathological specimens; but Number Seven and the Tutor
are, I fear, both suffering from that worst of all famines, heart-
Do you remember that Number Seven said he never wrote a line of
"poetry" in his life, except once when he was suffering from
temporary weakness of body and mind? That is because he is a poet.
If he had not been one, he would very certainly have taken to
tinkling rhymes. What should you think of the probable musical
genius of a young man who was particularly fond of jingling a set of
sleigh-bells? Should you expect him to turn out a Mozart or a
Beethoven? Now, I think I recognize the poetical instinct in Number
Seven, however imperfect may be its expression, and however he may be
run away with at times by fantastic notions that come into his head.
If fate had allotted him a helpful companion in the shape of a loving
and intelligent wife, he might have been half cured of his
eccentricities, and we should not have had to say, in speaking of
him, "Poor fellow!" But since this cannot be, I am pleased that he
should have been so kindly treated on the occasion of the reading of
his paper. If he saw Number Five's tear, he will certainly fall in
love with her. No matter if he does Number Five is a kind of Circe
who does not turn the victims of her enchantment into swine, but into
lambs. I want to see Number Seven one of her little flock. I say
"little." I suspect it is larger than most of us know. Anyhow, she
can spare him sympathy and kindness and encouragement enough to keep
him contented with himself and with her, and never miss the pulses of
her loving life she lends him. It seems to be the errand of some
women to give many people as much happiness as they have any right to
in this world. If they concentrated their affection on one, they
would give him more than any mortal could claim as his share. I saw
Number Five watering her flowers, the other day. The watering-pot
had one of those perforated heads, through which the water runs in
many small streams. Every plant got its share: the proudest lily
bent beneath the gentle shower; the lowliest daisy held its little
face up for baptism. All were refreshed, none was flooded.
Presently she took the perforated head, or "rose," from the neck of
the watering-pot, and the full stream poured out in a round, solid
column. It was almost too much for the poor geranium on which it
fell, and it looked at one minute as if the roots would be laid bare,
and perhaps the whole plant be washed out of the soil in which it was
planted. What if Number Five should take off the "rose" that
sprinkles her affections on so many, and pour them all on one? Can
that ever be? If it can, life is worth living for him on whom her
love may be lavished.
One of my neighbors, a thorough American, is much concerned about the
growth of what he calls the "hard-handed aristocracy." He tells the
"I was putting up a fence about my yard, and employed a man of whom I
knew something,--that he was industrious, temperate, and that he had
a wife and children to support,--a worthy man, a native New
Englander. I engaged him, I say, to dig some post-holes. My
employee bought a new spade and scoop on purpose, and came to my
place at the appointed time, and began digging. While he was at
work, two men came over from a drinking-saloon, to which my residence
is nearer than I could desire. One of them I had known as Mike
Fagan, the other as Hans Schleimer. They looked at Hiram, my New
Hampshire man, in a contemptuous and threatening way for a minute or
so, when Fagan addressed him:
"'And how much does the man pay yez by the hour?'
"'The gentleman does n't pay me by the hour,' said Hiram.
"'How mosh does he bay you by der veeks?' said Hans.
"'I don' know as that's any of your business,' answered Hiram.
"'Faith, we'll make it our business,' said Mike Fagan. 'We're
Knoights of Labor, we'd have yez to know, and ye can't make yer
bargains jist as ye loikes. We manes to know how mony hours ye
worrks, and how much ye gets for it.'
"'Knights of Labor!' said I. 'Why, that is a kind of title of
nobility, is n't it? I thought the laws of our country did n't allow
titles of that kind. But if you have a right to be called knights, I
suppose I ought to address you as such. Sir Michael, I congratulate
you on the dignity you have attained. I hope Lady Fagan is getting
on well with my shirts. Sir Hans, I pay my respects to your title.
I trust that Lady Schleixner has got through that little difficulty
between her ladyship and yourself in which the police court thought
it necessary to intervene.'
"The two men looked at me. I weigh about a hundred and eighty
pounds, and am well put together. Hiram was noted in his village as
a 'rahstler.' But my face is rather pallid and peaked, and Hiram had
something of the greenhorn look. The two men, who had been drinking,
hardly knew what ground to take. They rather liked the sound of Sir
Michael and, Sir Hans. They did not know very well what to make of
their wives as 'ladies.' They looked doubtful whether to take what
had been said as a casus belli or not, but they wanted a pretext of
some kind or other. Presently one of them saw a label on the scoop,
or longhandled, spoon-like shovel, with which Hiram had been working.
"'Arrah, be jabers!' exclaimed Mike Fagan, 'but has n't he been
a-tradin' wid Brown, the hardware fellah, that we boycotted! Grab
it, Hans, and we'll carry it off and show it to the brotherhood.'
"The men made a move toward the implement.
"'You let that are scoop-shovel alone,' said Hiram.
"I stepped to his side. The Knights were combative, as their noble
predecessors with the same title always were, and it was necessary to
come to a voie de fait. My straight blow from the shoulder did for
Sir Michael. Hiram treated Sir Hans to what is technically known as
"'Naow, Dutchman,' said Hiram, 'if you don't want to be planted in
that are post-hole, y'd better take y'rself out o' this here piece of
private property. "Dangerous passin'," as the sign-posts say, abaout
"Sir Michael went down half stunned by my expressive gesture; Sir
Hans did not know whether his hip was out of joint or he had got a
bad sprain; but they were both out of condition for further
hostilities. Perhaps it was hardly fair to take advantage of their
misfortunes to inflict a discourse upon them, but they had brought it
on themselves, and we each of us gave them a piece of our mind.
"'I tell you what it is,' said Hiram, 'I'm a free and independent
American citizen, and I an't a-gon' to hev no man tyrannize over me,
if he doos call himself by one o' them noblemen's titles. Ef I can't
work jes' as I choose, fur folks that wants me to work fur 'em and
that I want to work fur, I might jes' as well go to Sibery and done
with it. My gran'f'ther fit in Bunker Hill battle. I guess if our
folks in them days did n't care no great abaout Lord Percy and Sir
William Haowe, we an't a-gon' to be scart by Sir Michael Fagan and
Sir Hans What 's-his-name, nor no other fellahs that undertakes to be
noblemen, and tells us common folks what we shall dew an' what we
sha'n't. No, sir!'
"I took the opportunity to explain to Sir Michael and Sir Hans what
it was our fathers fought for, and what is the meaning of liberty.
If these noblemen did not like the country, they could go elsewhere.
If they did n't like the laws, they had the ballot-box, and could
choose new legislators. But as long as the laws existed they must
obey them. I could not admit that, because they called themselves by
the titles the Old World nobility thought so much of, they had a
right to interfere in the agreements I entered into with my neighbor.
I told Sir Michael that if he would go home and help Lady Fagan to
saw and split the wood for her fire, he would be better employed than
in meddling with my domestic arrangements. I advised Sir Hans to ask
Lady Schleimer for her bottle of spirits to use as an embrocation for
his lame hip. And so my two visitors with the aristocratic titles
staggered off, and left us plain, untitled citizens, Hiram and
myself, to set our posts, and consider the question whether we lived
in a free country or under the authority of a self-constituted order
It is a very curious fact that, with all our boasted "free and equal"
superiority over the communities of the Old World, our people have
the most enormous appetite for Old World titles of distinction. Sir
Michael and Sir Hans belong to one of the most extended of the
aristocratic orders. But we have also "Knights and Ladies of Honor,"
and, what is still grander, "Royal Conclave of Knights and Ladies,"
"Royal Arcanum," and "Royal Society of Good Fellows," "Supreme
Council," "Imperial Court," "Grand Protector," and "Grand
Dictator," and so on. Nothing less than "Grand" and "Supreme" is
good enough for the dignitaries of our associations of citizens.
Where does all this ambition for names without realities come from?
Because a Knight of the Garter wears a golden star, why does the
worthy cordwainer, who mends the shoes of his fellow-citizens, want
to wear a tin star, and take a name that had a meaning as used by the
representatives of ancient families, or the men who had made
themselves illustrious by their achievements?
It appears to be a peculiarly American weakness. The French
republicans of the earlier period thought the term citizen was good
enough for anybody. At a later period, "Roi Citoyen"--the citizen
king was a common title given to Louis Philippe. But nothing is too
grand for the American, in the way of titles. The proudest of them
all signify absolutely nothing. They do not stand for ability, for
public service, for social importance, for large possessions; but, on
the contrary, are oftenest found in connection with personalities to
which they are supremely inapplicable. We can hardly afford to
quarrel with a national habit which, if lightly handled, may involve
us in serious domestic difficulties. The "Right Worshipful"
functionary whose equipage stops at my back gate, and whose services
are indispensable to the health and comfort of my household, is a
dignitary whom I must not offend. I must speak with proper deference
to the lady who is scrubbing my floors, when I remember that her
husband, who saws my wood, carries a string of high-sounding titles
which would satisfy a Spanish nobleman.
After all, every people must have its own forms of ostentation,
pretence, and vulgarity. The ancient Romans had theirs, the English
and the French have theirs as well,--why should not we Americans have
ours? Educated and refined persons must recognize frequent internal
conflicts between the "Homo sum" of Terence and the "Odi profanum
vulgus" of Horace. The nobler sentiment should be that of every true
American, and it is in that direction that our best civilization is
We were waited on by a new girl, the other evening. Our pretty
maiden had left us for a visit to some relative,--so the Mistress
said. I do sincerely hope she will soon come back, for we all like
to see her flitting round the table.
I don't know what to make of it. I had it all laid out in my mind.
With such a company there must be a love-story. Perhaps there will
be, but there may be new combinations of the elements which are to
make it up, and here is a bud among the full-blown flowers to which I
must devote a little space.
I must call her by the name we gave her after she had trimmed the
Samson locks of our Professor. Delilah is a puzzle to most of us.
A pretty creature, dangerously pretty to be in a station not guarded
by all the protective arrangements which surround the maidens of a
higher social order. It takes a strong cage to keep in a tiger or a
grizzly bear, but what iron bars, what barbed wires, can keep out the
smooth and subtle enemy that finds out the cage where beauty is
imprisoned? Our young Doctor is evidently attracted by the charming
maiden who serves him and us so modestly and so gracefully.
Fortunately, the Mistress never loses sight of her. If she were her
own daughter, she could not be more watchful of all her movements.
And yet I do not believe that Delilah needs all this overlooking. If
I am not mistaken, she knows how to take care of herself, and could
be trusted anywhere, in any company, without a duenna. She has a
history,--I feel sure of it. She has been trained and taught as
young persons of higher position in life are brought up, and does not
belong in the humble station in which we find her. But inasmuch as
the Mistress says nothing about her antecedents, we do not like to be
too inquisitive. The two Annexes are, it is plain, very curious
about her. I cannot wonder. They are both good-looking girls, but
Delilah is prettier than either of them. My sight is not so good as
it was, but I can see the way in which the eyes of the young people
follow each other about plainly enough to set me thinking as to what
is going on in the thinking marrow behind them. The young Doctor's
follow Delilah as she glides round the table,--they look into hers
whenever they get a chance; but the girl's never betray any
consciousness of it, so far as I can see. There is no mistaking the
interest with which the two, Annexes watch all this. Why shouldn't
they, I should like to know? The Doctor is a bright young fellow,
and wants nothing but a bald spot and a wife to find himself in a
comfortable family practice. One of the Annexes, as I have said,
has had thoughts of becoming a doctress. I don't think the Doctor
would want his wife to practise medicine, for reasons which I will
not stop to mention. Such a partnership sometimes works wonderfully
well, as in one well-known instance where husband and wife are both
eminent in the profession; but our young Doctor has said to me that
he had rather see his wife,--if he ever should have one,--at the
piano than at the dissecting-table. Of course the Annexes know
nothing about this, and they may think, as he professed himself
willing to lecture on medicine to women, he might like to take one of
his pupils as a helpmeet.
If it were not for our Delilah's humble position, I don't see why she
would not be a good match for any young man. But then it is so hard
to take a young woman from so very lowly a condition as that of a
"waitress" that it would require a deal of courage to venture on such
a step. If we could only find out that she is a princess in
disguise, so to speak,--that is, a young person of presentable
connections as well as pleasing looks and manners; that she has had
an education of some kind, as we suspected when she blushed on
hearing herself spoken of as a "gentille petite," why, then
everything would be all right, the young Doctor would have plain
sailing,--that is, if be is in love with her, and if she fancies
him,--and I should find my love-story,--the one I expected, but not
between the parties I had thought would be mating with each other.
Dear little Delilah! Lily of the valley, growing in the shade now,--
perhaps better there until her petals drop; and yet if she is all I
often fancy she is, how her youthful presence would illuminate and
sweeten a household! There is not one of us who does not feel
interested in her,--not one of us who would not be delighted at some
Cinderella transformation which would show her in the setting Nature
meant for her favorite.
The fancy of Number Seven about the witches' broomsticks suggested to
one of us the following poem:
THE BROOMSTICK TRAIN;
OR, THE RETURN OF THE WITCHES.
Lookout! Look out, boys! Clear the track!
The witches are here! They've all come back!
They hanged them high,--No use! No use!
What cares a witch for a hangman's noose?
They buried them deep, but they would n't lie, still,
For cats and witches are hard to kill;
They swore they shouldn't and wouldn't die,
Books said they did, but they lie! they lie!
--A couple of hundred years, or so,
They had knocked about in the world below,
When an Essex Deacon dropped in to call,
And a homesick feeling seized them all;
For he came from a place they knew full well,
And many a tale he had to tell.
They long to visit the haunts of men,
To see the old dwellings they knew again,
And ride on their broomsticks all around
Their wide domain of unhallowed ground.
In Essex county there's many a roof
Well known to him of the cloven hoof;
The small square windows are full in view
Which the midnight hags went sailing through,
On their well-trained broomsticks mounted high,
Seen like shadows against the sky;
Crossing the track of owls and bats,
Hugging before them their coal-black cats.
Well did they know, those gray old wives,
The sights we see in our daily drives
Shimmer of lake and shine of sea,
Brown's bare hill with its lonely tree,
(It wasn't then as we see it now,
With one scant scalp-lock to shade its brow;)
Dusky nooks in the Essex woods,
Dark, dim, Dante-like solitudes,
Where the tree-toad watches the sinuous snake
Glide through his forests of fern and brake;
Ipswich River; its old stone bridge;
Far off Andover's Indian Ridge,
And many a scene where history tells
Some shadow of bygone terror dwells,
Of "Norman's Woe" with its tale of dread,
Of the Screeching Woman of Marblehead,
(The fearful story that turns men pale
Don't bid me tell it,--my speech would fail.)
Who would not, will not, if he can,
Bathe in the breezes of fair Cape Ann,
Rest in the bowers her bays enfold,
Loved by the sachems and squaws of old?
Home where the white magnolias bloom,
Sweet with the bayberry's chaste perfume,
Hugged by the woods and kissed by the seal
Where is the Eden like to thee?
For that "couple of hundred years, or so,"
There had been no peace in the world below;
The witches still grumbling, "It is n't fair;
Come, give us a taste of the upper air!
We've had enough of your sulphur springs,
And the evil odor that round them clings;
We long for a drink that is cool and nice,
Great buckets of water with Wenham ice;
We've served you well up-stairs, you know;
You're a good old-fellow--come, let us go!"
I don't feel sure of his being good,
But he happened to be in a pleasant mood,
As fiends with their skins full sometimes are,
(He'd been drinking with "roughs" at a Boston bar.)
So what does he do but up and shout
To a graybeard turnkey, "Let 'em out!"
To mind his orders was all he knew;
The gates swung open, and out they flew.
"Where are our broomsticks?" the beldams cried.
"Here are your broomsticks," an imp replied.
"They've been in--the place you know--so long
They smell of brimstone uncommon strong;
But they've gained by being left alone,
Just look, and you'll see how tall they've grown."
--And where is my cat? "a vixen squalled.
Yes, where are our cats?" the witches bawled,
And began to call them all by name:
As fast as they called the cats, they came
There was bob-tailed Tommy and long-tailed Tim,
And wall-eyed Jacky and green-eyed Jim,
And splay-foot Benny and slim-legged Beau,
And Skinny and Squally, and Jerry and Joe,
And many another that came at call,
It would take too long to count them all.
All black,--one could hardly tell which was which,
But every cat knew his own old witch;
And she knew hers as hers knew her,
Ah, did n't they curl their tails and purr!
No sooner the withered hags were free
Than out they swarmed for a midnight spree;
I could n't tell all they did in rhymes,
But the Essex people had dreadful times.
The Swampscott fishermen still relate
How a strange sea-monster stole thair bait;
How their nets were tangled in loops and knots,
And they found dead crabs in their lobster-pots.
Poor Danvers grieved for her blasted crops,
And Wilmington mourned over mildewed hops.
A blight played havoc with Beverly beans,
It was all the work of those hateful queans!
A dreadful panic began at "Pride's,"
Where the witches stopped in their midnight rides,
And there rose strange rumors and vague alarms
'Mid the peaceful dwellers at Beverly Farms.
Now when the Boss of the Beldams found
That without his leave they were ramping round,
He called,--they could hear him twenty miles,
From Chelsea beach to the Misery Isles;
The deafest old granny knew his tone
Without the trick of the telephone.
"Come here, you witches! Come here!" says he,--
"At your games of old, without asking me
I'll give you a little job to do
That will keep you stirring, you godless crew!"
They came, of course, at their master's call,
The witches, the broomsticks, the cats, and all;
He led the hags to a railway train
The horses were trying to drag in vain.
"Now, then," says he, "you've had your fun,
And here are the cars you've got to run.
"The driver may just unhitch his team,
We don't want horses, we don't want steam;
You may keep your old black cats to hug,
But the loaded train you've got to lug."
Since then on many a car you'll see
A broomstick plain as plain can be;
On every stick there's a witch astride,
The string you see to her leg is tied.
She will do a mischief if she can,
But the string is held by a careful man,
And whenever the evil-minded witch
Would cut come caper, he gives a twitch.
As for the hag, you can't see her,
But hark! you can hear her black cat's purr,
And now and then, as a car goes by,
You may catch a gleam from her wicked eye.
Often you've looked on a rushing train,
But just what moved it was not so plain.
It couldn't be those wires above,
For they could neither pull nor shove;
Where was the motor that made it go
You couldn't guess, but now you know.
Remember my rhymes when you ride again
On the rattling rail by the broomstick train!
In my last report of our talks over the teacups I had something to
say of the fondness of our people for titles. Where did the anti-
republican, anti-democratic passion for swelling names come from, and
how long has it been naturalized among us?
A striking instance of it occurred at about the end of the last
century. It was at that time there appeared among us one of the most
original and singular personages to whom America has given birth.
Many of our company,--many of my readers,--all well acquainted with
his name, and not wholly ignorant of his history. They will not
object to my giving some particulars relating to him, which, if not
new to them, will be new to others into whose hands these pages may
Timothy Dexter, the first claimant of a title of nobility among the
people of the United States of America, was born in the town of
Malden, near Boston. He served an apprenticeship as a leather-
dresser, saved some money, got some more with his wife, began trading
and speculating, and became at last rich, for those days. His most
famous business enterprise was that of sending an invoice of warming-
pans to the West Indies. A few tons of ice would have seemed to
promise a better return; but in point of fact, he tells us, the
warming-pans were found useful in the manufacture of sugar, and
brought him in a handsome profit. His ambition rose with his
fortune. He purchased a large and stately house in Newburyport, and
proceeded to embellish and furnish it according to the dictates of
his taste and fancy. In the grounds about his house, he caused to be
erected between forty and fifty wooden statues of great men and
allegorical figures, together with four lions and one lamb. Among
these images were two statues of Dexter himself, one of which held a
label with a characteristic inscription. His house was ornamented
with minarets, adorned with golden balls, and surmounted by a large
gilt eagle. He equipped it with costly furniture, with paintings,
and a library. He went so far as to procure the services of a poet
laureate, whose business it seems to have been to sing his praises.
Surrounded with splendors like these, the plain title of "Mr." Dexter
would have been infinitely too mean and common. He therefore boldly
took the step of self-ennobling, and gave himself forth--as he said,
obeying "the voice of the people at large"--as "Lord Timothy Dexter,"
by which appellation he has ever since been known to the American
If to be the pioneer in the introduction of Old World titles into
republican America can confer a claim to be remembered by posterity,
Lord Timothy Dexter has a right to historic immortality. If the true
American spirit shows itself most clearly in boundless self-
assertion, Timothy Dexter is the great original American egotist. If
to throw off the shackles of Old World pedantry, and defy the paltry
rules and examples of grammarians and rhetoricians, is the special
province and the chartered privilege of the American writer, Timothy
Dexter is the founder of a new school, which tramples under foot the
conventionalities that hampered and subjugated the faculties of the
poets, the dramatists, the historians, essayists, story-tellers,
orators, of the worn-out races which have preceded the great American
The material traces of the first American nobleman's existence have
nearly disappeared. The house is still standing, but the statues,
the minarets, the arches, and the memory of the great Lord Timothy
Dexter live chiefly in tradition, and in the work which be bequeathed
to posterity, and of which I shall say a few words. It is
unquestionably a thoroughly original production, and I fear that some
readers may think I am trifling with them when I am quoting it
literally. I am going to make a strong claim for Lord Timothy as
against other candidates for a certain elevated position.
Thomas Jefferson is commonly recognized as the first to proclaim
before the world the political independence of America. It is not so
generally agreed upon as to who was the first to announce the
literary emancipation of our country.
One of Mr. Emerson's biographers has claimed that his Phi Beta Kappa
Oration was our Declaration of Literary Independence. But Mr.
Emerson did not cut himself loose from all the traditions of Old
World scholarship. He spelled his words correctly, he constructed
his sentences grammatically. He adhered to the slavish rules of
propriety, and observed the reticences which a traditional delicacy
has considered inviolable in decent society, European and Oriental
alike. When he wrote poetry, he commonly selected subjects which
seemed adapted to poetical treatment,--apparently thinking that all
things were not equally calculated to inspire the true poet's genius.
Once, indeed, he ventured to refer to "the meal in the firkin, the
milk in the pan," but he chiefly restricted himself to subjects such
as a fastidious conventionalism would approve as having a certain
fitness for poetical treatment. He was not always so careful as he
might have been in the rhythm and rhyme of his verse, but in the main
he recognized the old established laws which have been accepted as
regulating both. In short, with all his originality, he worked in
Old World harness, and cannot be considered as the creator of a truly
American, self-governed, self-centred, absolutely independent style
of thinking and writing, knowing no law but its own sovereign will
A stronger claim might be urged for Mr. Whitman. He takes into his
hospitable vocabulary words which no English dictionary recognizes as
belonging to the language,--words which will be looked for in vain
outside of his own pages. He accepts as poetical subjects all things
alike, common and unclean, without discrimination, miscellaneous as
the contents of the great sheet which Peter saw let down from heaven.
He carries the principle of republicanism through the whole world of
created objects. He will "thread a thread through [his] poems," he
tells us, "that no one thing in the universe is inferior to another
thing." No man has ever asserted the surpassing dignity and
importance of the American citizen so boldly and freely as Mr.
Whitman. He calls himself "teacher of the unquenchable creed,
namely, egotism." He begins one of his chants, "I celebrate myself,"
but he takes us all in as partners in his self-glorification. He
believes in America as the new Eden.
"A world primal again,--vistas of glory incessant and branching,
A new race dominating previous ones and grander far,
New politics--new literature and religions--new inventions and arts."
Of the new literature be himself has furnished specimens which
certainly have all the originality he can claim for them. So far as
egotism is concerned, he was clearly anticipated by the titled
personage to whom I have referred, who says of himself, "I am the
first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest
philosopher in the Western world." But while Mr. Whitman divests
himself of a part of his baptismal name, the distinguished New
Englander thus announces his proud position: "Ime the first Lord in
the younited States of A mercary Now of Newburyport. it is the voice
of the peopel and I cant Help it." This extract is from his famous
little book called "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones." As an inventor
of a new American style he goes far beyond Mr. Whitman, who, to be
sure, cares little for the dictionary, and makes his own rules of
rhythm, so far as there is any rhythm in his sentences. But Lord
Timothy spells to suit himself, and in place of employing punctuation
as it is commonly used, prints a separate page of periods, colons,
semicolons, commas, notes of interrogation and of admiration, with
which the reader is requested to "peper and soolt" the book as he
I am afraid that Mr. Emerson and Mr. Whitman must yield the claim of
declaring American literary independence to Lord Timothy Dexter, who
not only taught his countrymen that they need not go to the Heralds'
College to authenticate their titles of nobility, but also that they
were at perfect liberty to spell just as they liked, and to write
without troubling themselves about stops of any kind. In writing
what I suppose he intended for poetry, he did not even take the pains
to break up his lines into lengths to make them look like verse, as
may be seen by the following specimen:
WONDER OF WONDERS!
How great the soul is! Do not you all wonder and admire to see and
behold and hear? Can you all believe half the truth, and admire to
hear the wonders how great the soul is--only behold--past finding
out! Only see how large the soul is! that if a man is drowned in the
sea what a great bubble comes up out of the top of the water... The
bubble is the soul.
I confess that I am not in sympathy with some of the movements that
accompany the manifestations of American social and literary
independence. I do not like the assumption of titles of Lords and
Knights by plain citizens of a country which prides itself on
recognizing simple manhood and womanhood as sufficiently entitled to
respect without these unnecessary additions. I do not like any
better the familiar, and as it seems to me rude, way of speaking of
our fellow-citizens who are entitled to the common courtesies of
civilized society. I never thought it dignified or even proper for a
President of the United States to call himself, or to be called by
others, "Frank" Pierce. In the first place I had to look in a
biographical dictionary to find out whether his baptismal name was
Franklin, or Francis, or simply Frank, for I think children are
sometimes christened with this abbreviated name. But it is too much
in the style of Cowper's unpleasant acquaintance:
"The man who hails you Tom or Jack,
And proves by thumping on your back
How he esteems your merit."
I should not like to hear our past chief magistrates spoken of as
Jack Adams or Jim Madison, and it would have been only as a political
partisan that I should have reconciled myself to "Tom" Jefferson.
So, in spite of "Ben" Jonson, "Tom" Moore, and "Jack" Sheppard, I
prefer to speak of a fellow-citizen already venerable by his years,
entitled to respect by useful services to his country, and recognized
by many as the prophet of a new poetical dispensation, with the
customary title of adults rather than by the free and easy school-boy
abbreviation with which he introduced himself many years ago to the
public. As for his rhapsodies, Number Seven, our "cracked Teacup,"
says they sound to him like "fugues played on a big organ which has
been struck by lightning." So far as concerns literary independence,
if we understand by that term the getting rid of our subjection to
British criticism, such as it was in the days when the question was
asked, "Who reads an American book?" we may consider it pretty well
established. If it means dispensing with punctuation, coining words
at will, self-revelation unrestrained by a sense of what is decorous,
declamations in which everything is glorified without being
idealized, "poetry" in which the reader must make the rhythms which
the poet has not made for him, then I think we had better continue
literary colonists. I shrink from a lawless independence to which
all the virile energy and trampling audacity of Mr. Whitman fail to
reconcile me. But there is room for everybody and everything in our
huge hemisphere. Young America is like a three-year-old colt with
his saddle and bridle just taken off. The first thing he wants to do
is to roll. He is a droll object, sprawling in the grass with his
four hoofs in the air; but he likes it, and it won't harm us. So let
him roll,--let him roll
Of all The Teacups around our table, Number Five is the one who is
the object of the greatest interest. Everybody wants to be her
friend, and she has room enough in her hospitable nature to find a
place for every one who is worthy of the privilege. The difficulty
is that it is so hard to be her friend without becoming her lover. I
have said before that she turns the subjects of her Circe-like
enchantment, not into swine, but into lambs. The Professor and I
move round among her lambs, the docile and amiable flock that come
and go at her bidding, that follow her footsteps, and are content to
live in the sunshine of her smile and within reach of the music of
her voice. I like to get her away from their amiable bleatings; I
love to talk with her about life, of which she has seen a great deal,
for she knows what it is to be an idol in society and the centre of
her social circle. It might be a question whether women or men most
admire and love her. With her own sex she is always helpful,
sympathizing, tender, charitable, sharing their griefs as well as
taking part in their pleasures. With men it has seemed to make
little difference whether they were young or old: all have found her
the same sweet, generous, unaffected companion; fresh enough in
feeling for the youngest, deep enough in the wisdom of the heart for
the oldest. She does not pretend to be youthful, nor does she
trouble herself that she has seen the roses of more Junes than many
of--the younger women who gather round her. She has not had to say,
Comme je regrette
Mon bras si dodu,
for her arm has never lost its roundness, and her face is one of
those that cannot be cheated of their charm even if they live long
enough to look upon the grown up grandchildren of their coevals.
It is a wonder how Number Five can find the time to be so much to so
many friends of both sexes, in spite of the fact that she is one of
the most insatiable of readers. She not only reads, but she
remembers; she not only remembers, but she records, for her own use
and pleasure, and for the delight and profit of those who are
privileged to look over her note-books. Number Five, as I think I
have said before, has not the ambition to figure as an authoress.
That she could write most agreeably is certain. I have seen letters
of hers to friends which prove that clearly enough. Whether she
would find prose or verse the most natural mode of expression I
cannot say, but I know she is passionately fond of poetry, and I
should not be surprised if, laid away among the pressed pansies and
roses of past summers, there were poems, songs, perhaps, of her own,
which she sings to herself with her fingers touching the piano; for
to that she tells her secrets in tones sweet as the ring-dove's call
to her mate.
I am afraid it may be suggested that I am drawing Number Five's
portrait too nearly after some model who is unconsciously sitting for
it; but have n't I told you that you must not look for flesh and
blood personalities behind or beneath my Teacups? I am not going to
make these so lifelike that you will be saying, This is Mr. or Miss,
or Mrs. So-and-So. My readers must remember that there are very many
pretty, sweet, amiable girls and women sitting at their pianos, and
finding chords to the music of their heart-strings. If I have
pictured Number Five as one of her lambs might do it, I have
succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish. Why don't I describe her
person? If I do, some gossip or other will be sure to say, "Oh, he
means her, of course," and find a name to match the pronoun.
It is strange to see how we are all coming to depend upon the
friendly aid of Number Five in our various perplexities. The
Counsellor asked her opinion in one of those cases where a divorce
was too probable, but a reconciliation was possible. It takes a
woman to sound a woman's heart, and she found there was still love
enough under the ruffled waters to warrant the hope of peace and
tranquillity. The young Doctor went to her for counsel in the case
of a hysteric girl possessed with the idea that she was a born
poetess, and covering whole pages of foolscap with senseless
outbursts, which she wrote in paroxysms of wild excitement, and read
with a rapture of self-admiration which there was nothing in her
verses to justify or account for. How sweetly Number Five dealt with
that poor deluded sister in her talk with the Doctor! "Yes," she
said to him, "nothing can be fuller of vanity, self-worship, and
self-deception. But we must be very gentle with her. I knew a young
girl tormented with aspirations, and possessed by a belief that she
was meant for a higher place than that which fate had assigned her,
who needed wholesome advice, just as this poor young thing does. She
did not ask for it, and it was not offered. Alas, alas! 'no man
cared for her soul,'--no man nor woman either. She was in her early
teens, and the thought of her earthly future, as it stretched out
before her, was more than she could bear, and she sought the presence
of her Maker to ask the meaning of her abortive existence.--We will
talk it over. I will help you take care of this child."
The Doctor was thankful to have her assistance in a case with which
he would have found it difficult to deal if he had been left to, his
unaided judgment, and between them the young girl was safely piloted
through the perilous straits in which she came near shipwreck.
I know that it is commonly said of her that every male friend of hers
must become her lover unless he is already lassoed by another. Il
fait passer par l'a. The young Doctor is, I think, safe, for I am
convinced that he is bewitched with Delilah. Since she has left us,
he has seemed rather dejected; I feel sure that he misses her. We
all do, but he more seriously than the rest of us. I have said that
I cannot tell whether the Counsellor is to be counted as one of
Number Five's lambs or not, but he evidently admires her, and if he
is not fascinated, looks as if he were very near that condition.
It was a more delicate matter about which the Tutor talked with her.
Something which she had pleasantly said to him about the two Annexes
led him to ask her, more or less seriously, it may be remembered,
about the fitness of either of them to be the wife of a young man in
his position. She talked so sensibly, as it seemed to him, about it
that he continued the conversation, and, shy as he was, became quite
easy and confidential in her company. The Tutor is not only a poet,
but is a great reader of the poetry of many languages. It so
happened that Number Five was puzzled, one day, in reading a sonnet
of Petrarch, and had recourse to the Tutor to explain the difficult
passage. She found him so thoroughly instructed, so clear, so much
interested, so ready to impart knowledge, and so happy in his way of
doing it, that she asked him if he would not allow her the privilege
of reading an Italian author under his guidance, now and then.
The Tutor found Number Five an apt scholar, and something more than
that; for while, as a linguist, he was, of course, her master, her
intelligent comments brought out the beauties of an author in a way
to make the text seem like a different version. They did not always
confine themselves to the book they were reading. Number Five showed
some curiosity about the Tutor's relations with the two Annexes. She
suggested whether it would not be well to ask one or both of them in
to take part in their readings. The Tutor blushed and hesitated.
"Perhaps you would like to ask one of them," said Number Five.
"Which one shall it be?" "It makes no difference to me which," he
answered," but I do not see that we need either." Number Five did
not press the matter further. So the young Tutor and Number Five
read together pretty regularly, and came to depend upon their meeting
over a book as one of their stated seasons of enjoyment. He is so
many years younger than she is that I do not suppose he will have to
pass par la, as most of her male friends have done. I tell her
sometimes that she reminds me of my Alma Mater, always young, always
fresh in her attractions, with her scholars all round her, many of
them graduates, or to graduate sooner or later.
What do I mean by graduates? Why, that they have made love to her,
and would be entitled to her diploma, if she gave a parchment to each
one of them who had had the courage to face the inevitable. About
the Counsellor I am, as I have said, in doubt. Who wrote that
"I Like You and I Love You," which we found in the sugar-bowl the
other day? Was it a graduate who had felt the "icy dagger," or only
a candidate for graduation who was afraid of it? So completely does
she subjugate those who come under her influence that I believe she
looks upon it as a matter of course that the fateful question will
certainly come, often after a brief acquaintance. She confessed as
much to me, who am in her confidence, and not a candidate for
graduation from her academy. Her graduates--her lambs I called them
--are commonly faithful to her, and though now and then one may have
gone off and sulked in solitude, most of them feel kindly to her, and
to those who have shared the common fate of her suitors. I do really
believe that some of them would be glad to see her captured by any
one, if such there can be, who is worthy of her. She is the best of
friends, they say, but can she love anybody, as so many other women
do, or seem to? Why shouldn't our Musician, who is evidently fond of
her company, and sings and plays duets with her, steal her heart as
Piozzi stole that of the pretty and bright Mrs. Thrale, as so many
music-teachers have run away with their pupils' hearts? At present
she seems to be getting along very placidly and contentedly with her
young friend the Tutor. There is something quite charming in their
relations with each other. He knows many things she does not, for he
is reckoned one of the most learned in his literary specialty of all
the young men of his time; and it can be a question of only a few
years when some first-class professorship will be offered him. She,
on the other hand, has so much more experience, so much more
practical wisdom, than he has that he consults her on many every-day
questions, as he did, or made believe do, about that of making love
to one of the two Annexes. I had thought, when we first sat round
the tea-table, that she was good for the bit of romance I wanted; but
since she has undertaken to be a kind of half-maternal friend to the
young Tutor, I am afraid I shall have to give her up as the heroine
of a romantic episode. It would be a pity if there were nothing to
commend these papers to those who take up this periodical but essays,
more or less significant, on subjects more or less interesting to the
jaded and impatient readers of the numberless stories and
entertaining articles which crowd the magazines of this prolific
period. A whole year of a tea-table as large as ours without a
single love passage in it would be discreditable to the company. We
must find one, or make one, before the tea-things are taken away and
the table is no longer spread.
The Dictator turns preacher.
We have so many light and playful talks over the teacups that some
readers may be surprised to find us taking up the most serious and
solemn subject which can occupy a human intelligence. The sudden
appearance among our New England Protestants of the doctrine of
purgatory as a possibility, or even probability, has startled the
descendants of the Puritans. It has naturally led to a
reconsideration of the doctrine of eternal punishment. It is on that
subject that Number Five and I have talked together. I love to
listen to her, for she talks from the promptings of a true woman's
heart. I love to talk to her, for I learn my own thoughts better in
that way than in any other "L'appetit vient en mangeant," the French
saying has it. "L'esprit vient en causant;" that is, if one can find
the right persons to talk with.
The subject which has specially interested Number Five and myself, of
late, was suggested to me in the following way.
Some two years ago I received a letter from a clergyman who bears by
inheritance one of the most distinguished names which has done honor
to the American "Orthodox" pulpit. This letter requested of me "a
contribution to a proposed work which was to present in their own
language the views of 'many men of many minds' on the subject of
future punishment. It was in my mind to let the public hear not only
from professional theologians, but from other professions, as from
jurists on the alleged but disputed value of the hangman's whip
overhanging the witness-box, and from physicians on the working of
beliefs about the future life in the minds of the dangerously sick.
And I could not help thinking what a good thing it would be to draw
out the present writer upon his favorite borderland between the
spiritual and the material." The communication came to me, as the
writer reminds me in a recent letter, at a "painfully inopportune
time," and though it was courteously answered, was not made the
subject of a special reply.
This request confers upon me a certain right to express my opinion on
this weighty subject without fear and without reproach even from
those who might be ready to take offence at one of the laity for
meddling with pulpit questions. It shows also that this is not a
dead issue in our community, as some of the younger generation seem
to think. There are some, there may be many, who would like to hear
what impressions one has received on the subject referred to, after a
long life in which he has heard and read a great deal about the
matter. There is a certain gravity in the position of one who is, in
the order of nature very near the undiscovered country. A man who
has passed his eighth decade feels as if be were already in the
antechamber of the apartments which he may be called to occupy in the
house of many mansions. His convictions regarding the future of our
race are likely to be serious, and his expressions not lightly
uttered. The question my correspondent suggests is a tremendous one.
No other interest compares for one moment with that belonging to it.
It is not only ourselves that it concerns, but all whom we love or
ever have loved, all our human brotherhood, as well as our whole idea
of the Being who made us and the relation in which He stands to his
creatures. In attempting to answer my correspondent's question, I
shall no doubt repeat many things I have said before in different
forms, on different occasions. This is no more than every clergyman
does habitually, and it would be hard if I could not have the same
license which the professional preacher enjoys so fully.
Number Five and I have occasionally talked on religious questions,
and discovered many points of agreement in our views. Both of us
grew up under the old "Orthodox" or Calvinistic system of belief.
Both of us accepted it in our early years as a part of our education.
Our experience is a common one. William Cullen Bryant says of
himself, "The Calvinistic system of divinity I adopted of course, as
I heard nothing else taught from the pulpit, and supposed it to be
the accepted belief of the religious world." But it was not the
"five points" which remained in the young poet's memory and shaped
his higher life. It was the influence of his mother that left its
permanent impression after the questions and answers of the
Assembly's Catechism had faded out, or remained in memory only as
fossil survivors of an extinct or fast-disappearing theological
formation. The important point for him, as for so many other
children of Puritan descent, was not his father's creed, but his
mother's character, precepts, and example. "She was a person," he
says, "of excellent practical sense, of a quick and sensitive moral
judgment, and had no patience with any form of deceit or duplicity.
Her prompt condemnation of injustice, even in those instances in
which it is tolerated by the world, made a strong impression upon me
in early life; and if, in the discussion of public questions, I have
in my riper age endeavored to keep in view the great rule of right
without much regard to persons, it has been owing in a great degree
to the force of her example, which taught me never to countenance a
wrong because others did."
I have quoted this passage because it was an experience not wholly
unlike my own, and in certain respects like that of Number Five. To
grow up in a narrow creed and to grow out of it is a tremendous trial
of one's nature. There is always a bond of fellowship between those
who have been through such an ordeal.
The experiences we have had in common naturally lead us to talk over
the theological questions which at this time are constantly
presenting themselves to the public, not only in the books and papers
expressly devoted to that class of subjects, but in many of the
newspapers and popular periodicals, from the weeklies to the
quarterlies. The pulpit used to lay down the law to the pews; at the
present time, it is of more consequence what the pews think than what
the minister does, for the obvious reason that the pews can change
their minister, and often do, whereas the minister cannot change the
pews, or can do so only to a very limited extent. The preacher's
garment is cut according to the pattern of that of the hearers, for
the most part. Thirty years ago, when I was writing on theological
subjects, I came in for a very pretty share of abuse, such as it was
the fashion of that day, at least in certain quarters, to bestow upon
those who were outside of the high-walled enclosures in which many
persons; not naturally unamiable or exclusive, found themselves
imprisoned. Since that time what changes have taken place! Who will
believe that a well-behaved and reputable citizen could have been
denounced as a "moral parricide," because he attacked some of the
doctrines in which he was supposed to have been brought up? A single
thought should have prevented the masked theologian who abused his
incognito from using such libellous language.
Much, and in many families most, of the religious teaching of
children is committed to the mother. The experience of William
Cullen Bryant, which I have related in his own words, is that of many
New England children. Now, the sternest dogmas that ever came from a
soul cramped or palsied by an obsolete creed become wonderfully
softened in passing between the lips of a mother. The cruel doctrine
at which all but case-hardened "professionals" shudder cones out, as
she teaches and illustrates it, as unlike its original as the milk
which a peasant mother gives her babe is unlike the coarse food which
furnishes her nourishment. The virus of a cursing creed is rendered
comparatively harmless by the time it reaches the young sinner in the
nursery. Its effects fall as far short of what might have been
expected from its virulence as the pearly vaccine vesicle falls short
of the terrors of the confluent small-pox. Controversialists should
therefore be careful (for their own sakes, for they hurt nobody so
much as themselves) how they use such terms as "parricide" as
characterizing those who do not agree in all points with the fathers
whom or whose memory they honor and venerate. They might with as
much propriety call them matricides, if they did not agree with the
milder teachings of their mothers. I can imagine Jonathan Edwards in
the nursery with his three-year-old child upon his knee. The child
looks up to his face and says to him,--"Papa, nurse tells me that you
say God hates me worse than He hates one of those horrid ugly snakes
that crawl all round. Does God hate me so?"
"Alas! my child, it is but too true. So long as you are out of
Christ you are as a viper, and worse than a viper, in his sight."
By and by, Mrs. Edwards, one of the loveliest of women and sweetest
of mothers, comes into the nursery. The child is crying.
"What is the matter, my darling?"
" Papa has been telling me that God hates me worse than a snake."
Poor, gentle, poetical, sensitive, spiritual, almost celestial Mrs.
Jonathan Edwards! On the one hand the terrible sentence conceived,
written down, given to the press, by the child's father; on the other
side the trusting child looking up at her, and all the mother
pleading in her heart against the frightful dogma of her revered
husband. Do you suppose she left that poison to rankle in the tender
soul of her darling? Would it have been moral parricide for a son of
the great divine to have repudiated the doctrine which degraded his
blameless infancy to the condition and below the condition of the
reptile? Was it parricide in the second or third degree when his
descendant struck out that venomous sentence from the page in which
it stood as a monument to what depth Christian heathenism could sink
under the teaching of the great master of logic and spiritual
inhumanity? It is too late to be angry about the abuse a well--
meaning writer received thirty years ago. The whole atmosphere has
changed since then. It is mere childishness to expect men to believe
as their fathers did; that is, if they have any minds of their own.
The world is a whole generation older and wiser than when the father
was of his son's age.
So far as I have observed persons nearing the end of life, the Roman
Catholics understand the business of dying better than Protestants.
They have an expert by them, armed with spiritual specifics, in which
they both, patient and priestly ministrant, place implicit trust.
Confession, the Eucharist, Extreme Unction,--these all inspire a
confidence which without this symbolism is too apt to be wanting in
over-sensitive natures. They have been peopled in earlier years with
ghastly spectres of avenging fiends, moving in a sleepless world of
devouring flames and smothering exhalations; where nothing lives but
the sinner, the fiends, and the reptiles who help to make life an
unending torture. It is no wonder that these images sometimes return
to the enfeebled intelligence. To exorcise them, the old Church of
Christendom has her mystic formulae, of which no rationalistic
prescription can take the place. If Cowper had been a good Roman
Catholic, instead of having his conscience handled by a Protestant
like John Newton, he would not have died despairing, looking upon
himself as a castaway. I have seen a good many Roman Catholics on
their dying beds, and it always appeared to me that they accepted the
inevitable with a composure which showed that their belief, whether
or not the best to live by, was a better one to die by than most of
the harder creeds which have replaced it.
In the more intelligent circles of American society one may question
anything and everything, if he will only do it civilly. We may talk
about eschatology, the science of last things,--or, if you will, the
natural history of the undiscovered country, without offence before
anybody except young children and very old women of both sexes. In
our New England the great Andover discussion and the heretical
missionary question have benumbed all sensibility on this subject as
entirely, as completely, as the new local anaesthetic, cocaine,
deadens the sensibility of the part to which it is applied, so that
the eye may have its mote or beam plucked out without feeling it,--as
the novels of Zola and Maupassant have hardened the delicate nerve-
centres of the women who have fed their imaginations on the food they
The generally professed belief of the Protestant world as embodied in
their published creeds is that the great mass of mankind are destined
to an eternity of suffering. That this eternity is to be one of
bodily pain--of "torment "--is the literal teaching of Scripture,
which has been literally interpreted by the theologians, the poets,
and the artists of many long ages which followed the acceptance of
the recorded legends of the church as infallible. The doctrine has
always been recognized, as it is now, as a very terrible one. It has
found a support in the story of the fall of man, and the view taken
of the relation of man to his Maker since that event. The hatred of
God to mankind in virtue of their "first disobedience" and inherited
depravity is at the bottom of it. The extent to which that idea was
carried is well shown in the expressions I have borrowed from
Jonathan Edwards. According to his teaching,--and he was a reasoner
who knew what he was talking about, what was involved in the premises
of the faith he accepted,--man inherits the curse of God as his
What shall we say to the doctrine of the fall of man as the ground of
inflicting endless misery on the human race? A man to be punished
for what he could not help! He was expected to be called to account
for Adam's sin. It is singular to notice that the reasoning of the
wolf with the lamb should be transferred to the dealings of the
Creator with his creatures. "You stirred the brook up and made my
drinking-place muddy." "But, please your wolfship, I couldn't do
that, for I stirred the water far down the stream,--below your
drinking-place." "Well, anyhow, your father troubled it a year or
two ago, and that is the same thing." So the wolf falls upon the
lamb and makes a meal of him. That is wolf logic,--and theological
How shall we characterize the doctrine of endless torture as the
destiny of most of those who have lived, and are living, on this
planet? I prefer to let another writer speak of it. Mr. John Morley
uses the following words: "The horrors of what is perhaps the most
frightful idea that has ever corroded human character,--the idea of
eternal punishment." Sismondi, the great historian, heard a sermon
on eternal punishment, and vowed never again to enter another church
holding the same creed. Romanism he considered a religion of mercy
and peace by the side of what the English call the Reformation.--I
mention these protests because I happen to find them among my notes,
but it would be easy to accumulate examples of the same kind. When
Cowper, at about the end of the last century, said satirically of the
minister he was attacking,
"He never mentioned hell to ears polite,"
he was giving unconscious evidence that the sense of the barbarism of
the idea was finding its way into the pulpit. When Burns, in the
midst of the sulphurous orthodoxy of Scotland, dared to say,
"The fear o' hell 's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order,"
he was oily appealing to the common sense and common humanity of his
All the reasoning in the world, all the proof-texts in old
manuscripts, cannot reconcile this supposition of a world of
sleepless and endless torment with the declaration that "God is
Where did this "frightful idea" come from? We are surprised, as we
grow older, to find that the legendary hell of the church is nothing
more nor less than the Tartarus of the old heathen world. It has
every mark of coming from the cruel heart of a barbarous despot.
Some malignant and vindictive Sheik, some brutal Mezentius, must have
sat for many pictures of the Divinity. It was not enough to kill his
captive enemy, after torturing him as much as ingenuity could
contrive to do it. He escaped at last by death, but his conqueror
could not give him up so easily, and so his vengeance followed him
into the unseen and unknown world. How the doctrine got in among,
the legends of the church we are no more bound to show than we are to
account for the intercalation of the "three witnesses" text, or the
false insertion, or false omission, whichever it may be, of the last
twelve verses of the Gospel of St Mark. We do not hang our
grandmothers now, as our ancestors did theirs, on the strength of the
positive command, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
The simple truth is that civilization has outgrown witchcraft, and is
outgrowing the Christian Tartarus. The pulpit no longer troubles
itself about witches and their evil doings. All the legends in the
world could not arrest the decay of that superstition and all the
edicts that grew out of it. All the stories that can be found in old
manuscripts will never prevent the going out of the fires of the
legendary Inferno. It is not much talked about nowadays to ears
polite or impolite. Humanity is shocked and repelled by it. The
heart of woman is in unconquerable rebellion against it. The more
humane sects tear it from their "Bodies of Divinity" as if it were
the flaming shirt of Nessus. A few doctrines with which it was bound
up have dropped or are dropping away from it: the primal curse;
consequential damages to give infinite extension to every
transgression of the law of God; inverting the natural order of
relative obligations; stretching the smallest of finite offenses to
the proportions of the infinite; making the babe in arms the
responsible being, and not the parent who gave it birth and
determined its conditions of existence.
After a doctrine like "the hangman's whip" has served its purpose,--
if it ever had any useful purpose,--after a doctrine like that of
witchcraft has hanged old women enough, civilization contrives to get
rid of it. When we say that civilization crowds out the old
superstitious legends, we recognize two chief causes. The first is
the naked individual protest; the voice of the inspiration which
giveth man understanding. This shows itself conspicuously in the
modern poets. Burns in Scotland, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, in
America, preached a new gospel to the successors of men like Thomas
Boston and Jonathan Edwards. In due season, the growth of knowledge,
chiefly under the form of that part of knowledge called science, so
changes the views of the universe that many of its long-unchallenged
legends become no more than nursery tales. The text-books of
astronomy and geology work their way in between the questions and
answers of the time-honored catechisms. The doctrine of evolution,
so far as it is accepted, changes the whole relations of man to the
creative power. It substitutes infinite hope in the place of
infinite despair for the vast majority of mankind. Instead of a
shipwreck, from which a few cabin passengers and others are to be
saved in the long-boat, it gives mankind a vessel built to endure the
tempests, and at last to reach a port where at the worst the
passengers can find rest, and where they may hope for a home better
than any which they ever had in their old country. It is all very
well to say that men and women had their choice whether they would
reach the safe harbor or not.
"Go to it grandam, child;
Give grandam kingdom, and it grandam will
Give it a plum, a cherry and a fig."
We know what the child will take. So which course we shall take
depends very much on the way the choice is presented to us, and on
what the chooser is by nature. What he is by nature is not
determined by himself, but by his parentage. "They know not what
they do." In one sense this is true of every human being. The agent
does not know, never can know, what makes him that which he is. What
we most want to ask of our Maker is an unfolding of the divine
purpose in putting human beings into conditions in which such numbers
of them would be sure to go wrong. We want an advocate of helpless
humanity whose task it shall be, in the words of Milton,
"To justify the ways of God to man."
We have heard Milton's argument, but for the realization of his
vision of the time
"When Hell itself shall pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day,"
our suffering race must wait in patience.
The greater part of the discourse the reader has had before him was
delivered over the teacups one Sunday afternoon. The Mistress looked
rather grave, as if doubtful whether she ought not to signify her
disapprobation of what seemed to her dangerous doctrine.
However, as she knew that I was a good church-goer and was on the
best terms with her minister, she said nothing to show that she had
taken the alarm. Number Five listened approvingly. We had talked
the question over well, and were perfectly agreed on the main point.
How could it be otherwise? Do you suppose that any intellectual,
spiritual woman, with a heart under her bodice, can for a moment
seriously believe that the greater number of the high-minded men, the
noble and lovely women, the ingenuous and affectionate children, whom
she knows and honors or loves, are to be handed over to the experts
in a great torture-chamber, in company with the vilest creatures that
have once worn human shape?
"If there is such a world as used to be talked about from the pulpit,
you may depend upon it," she said to me once, "there will soon be
organized a Humane Society in heaven, and a mission established among
'the spirits in prison.'"
Number Five is a regular church-goer, as I am. I do not believe
either of us would darken the doors of a church if we were likely to
hear any of the "old-fashioned" sermons, such as I used to listen to
in former years from a noted clergyman, whose specialty was the
doctrine of eternal punishment. But you may go to the churches of
almost any of our Protestant denominations, and hear sermons by which
you can profit, because the ministers are generally good men, whose
moral and spiritual natures are above the average, and who know that
the harsh preaching of two or three generations ago would offend and
alienate a large part of their audience. So neither Number Five nor
I are hypocrites in attending church or "going to meeting." I am
afraid it does not make a great deal of difference to either of us
what may be the established creed of the worshipping assembly. That
is a matter of great interest, perhaps of great importance, to them,
but of much less, comparatively, to us. Companionship in worship,
and sitting quiet for an hour while a trained speaker, presumably
somewhat better than we are, stirs up our spiritual nature,--these
are reasons enough to Number Five, as to me, for regular attendance
on divine worship.
Number Seven is of a different way of thinking and feeling. He
insists upon it that the churches keep in their confessions of faith
statements which they do not believe, and that it is notorious that
they are afraid to meddle with them. The Anglo-American church has
dropped the Athanasian Creed from its service; the English mother
church is afraid to. There are plenty of Universalists, Number Seven
says, in the Episcopalian and other Protestant churches, but they do
not avow their belief in any frank and candid fashion. The churches
know very well, he maintains, that the fear of everlasting punishment
more than any or all other motives is the source of their power and
the support of their organizations. Not only are the fears of
mankind the whip to scourge and the bridle to restrain them, but they
are the basis of an almost incalculable material interest. "Talk
about giving up the doctrine of endless punishment by fire!"
exclaimed Number Seven; "there is more capital embarked in the
subterranean fire-chambers than in all the iron-furnaces on the face
of the earth. To think what an army of clerical beggars would be
turned loose on the world, if once those raging flames were allowed
to go out or to calm down! Who can wonder that the old conservatives
draw back startled and almost frightened at the thought that there
may be a possible escape for some victims whom the Devil was thought
to have secured? How many more generations will pass before Milton's
alarming prophecy will find itself realized in the belief of
Remember that Number Seven is called a "crank" by many persons, and
take his remarks for just what they are worth, and no more.
Out of the preceding conversation must have originated the following
poem, which was found in the common receptacle of these versified
While in my simple gospel creed
That "God is Love" so plain I read,
Shall dreams of heathen birth affright
My pathway through the coming night?
Ah, Lord of life, though spectres pale
Fill with their threats the shadowy vale,
With Thee my faltering steps to aid,
How can I dare to be afraid?
Shall mouldering page or fading scroll
Outface the charter of the soul?
Shall priesthood's palsied arm protect
The wrong our human hearts reject,
And smite the lips whose shuddering cry
Proclaims a cruel creed a lie?
The wizard's rope we disallow
Was justice once,--is murder now!
Is there a world of blank despair,
And dwells the Omnipresent there?
Does He behold with smile serene
The shows of that unending scene,
Where sleepless, hopeless anguish lies,
And, ever dying, never dies?
Say, does He hear the sufferer's groan,
And is that child of wrath his own?
O mortal, wavering in thy trust,
Lift thy pale forehead from the dust
The mists that cloud thy darkened eyes
Fade ere they reach the o'erarching skies!
When the blind heralds of despair
Would bid thee doubt a Father's care,
Look up from earth, and read above
On heaven's blue tablet, GOD IS LOVE!
The tea is sweetened.
We have been going on very pleasantly of late, each of us pretty well
occupied with his or her special business. The Counsellor has been
pleading in a great case, and several of The Teacups were in the
court-room. I thought, but I will not be certain, that some of his
arguments were addressed to Number Five rather than to the jury,--the
more eloquent passages especially.
Our young Doctor seems to me to be gradually getting known in the
neighborhood and beyond it. A member of one of the more influential
families, whose regular physician has gone to Europe, has sent for
him to come and see her, and as the patient is a nervous lady, who
has nothing in particular the matter with her, he is probably in for
a good many visits and a long bill by and by. He has even had a call
at a distance of some miles from home,--at least be has had to hire a
conveyance frequently of late, for he has not yet set up his own
horse and chaise. We do not like to ask him about who his patient
may be, but he or she is probably a person of some consequence, as he
is absent several hours on these out-of-town visits. He may get a
good practice before his bald spot makes its appearance, for I have
looked for it many times without as yet seeing a sign of it. I am
sure he must feel encouraged, for he has been very bright and
cheerful of late; and if he sometimes looks at our new handmaid as if
he wished she were Delilah, I do not think he is breaking his heart
about her absence. Perhaps he finds consolation in the company of
the two Annexes, or one of them,--but which, I cannot make out. He
is in consultations occasionally with Number Five, too, but whether
professionally or not I have no means of knowing. I cannot for the
life of me see what Number Five wants of a doctor for herself, so
perhaps it is another difficult case in which her womanly sagacity is
called upon to help him.
In the mean time she and the Tutor continue their readings. In fact,
it seems as if these readings were growing more frequent, and lasted
longer than they did at first. There is a little arbor in the
grounds connected with our place of meeting, and sometimes they have
gone there for their readings. Some of The Teacups have listened
outside once in a while, for the Tutor reads well, and his clear
voice must be heard in the more emphatic passages, whether one is
expressly listening or not. But besides the reading there is now and
then some talking, and persons talking in an arbor do not always
remember that latticework, no matter how closely the vines cover it,
is not impenetrable to the sound of the human voice. There was a
listener one day,--it was not one of The Teacups, I am happy to say,
--who heard and reported some fragments of a conversation which
reached his ear. Nothing but the profound intimacy which exists
between myself and the individual reader whose eyes are on this page
would induce me to reveal what I was told of this conversation. The
first words seem to have been in reply to some question.
"Why, my dear friend, how can you think of such a thing? Do you
know--I am--old enough to be your--[I think she must have been on the
point of saying mother, but that was more than any woman could be
expected to say]--old enough to be your aunt?"
"To be sure you are," answered the Tutor, "and what of it? I have
two aunts, both younger than I am. Your years may be more than mine,
but your life is fuller of youthful vitality than mine is. I never
feel so young as when I have been with you. I don't believe in
settling affinities by the almanac. You know what I have told you
more than once; you have n't 'bared the ice-cold dagger's edge' upon
me yet; may I not cherish the"....
What a pity that the listener did not hear the rest of the sentence
and the reply to it, if there was one! The readings went on the same
as before, but I thought that Number Five was rather more silent and
more pensive than she had been.
I was much pleased when the American Annex came to me one day and
told me that she and the English Annex were meditating an expedition,
in which they wanted the other Teacups to join. About a dozen miles
from us is an educational institution of the higher grade, where a
large number of young ladies are trained in literature, art, and
science, very much as their brothers are trained in the colleges.
Our two young ladies have already been through courses of this kind
in different schools, and are now busy with those more advanced
studies which are ventured upon by only a limited number of
"graduates." They have heard a good deal about this institution, but
have never visited it.
Every year, as the successive classes finish their course, there is a
grand reunion of the former students, with an "exhibition," as it is
called, in which the graduates of the year have an opportunity of
showing their proficiency in the various branches taught. On that
occasion prizes are awarded for excellence in different departments.
It would be hard to find a more interesting ceremony. These girls,
now recognized as young ladies, are going forth as missionaries of
civilization among our busy people. They are many of them to be
teachers, and those who have seen what opportunities they have to
learn will understand their fitness for that exalted office. Many
are to be the wives and mothers of the generation next coming upon
the stage. Young and beautiful, "youth is always beautiful," said
old Samuel Rogers,--their countenances radiant with developed
intelligence, their complexions, their figures, their movements, all
showing that they have had plenty of outdoor as well as indoor
exercise, and have lived well in all respects, one would like to read
on the wall of the hall where they are assembled,--
Si uxorem requiris, circumspice!
This proposed expedition was a great event in our comparatively quiet
circle. The Mistress, who was interested in the school, undertook to
be the matron of the party. The young Doctor, who knew the roads
better than any of us, was to be our pilot. He arranged it so that
he should have the two Annexes under his more immediate charge. We
were all on the lookout to see which of the two was to be the favored
one, for it was pretty well settled among The Teacups that a wife he
must have, whether the bald spot came or not; he was getting into
business, and he could not achieve a complete success as a bachelor.
Number Five and the Tutor seemed to come together as a matter of
course. I confess that I could not help regretting that our pretty
Delilah was not to be one of the party. She always looked so young,
so fresh,--she would have enjoyed the excursion so much, that if she
had been still with us I would have told the Mistress that she must
put on her best dress; and if she had n't one nice enough, I would
give her one myself. I thought, too, that our young Doctor would
have liked to have her with us; but he appeared to be getting along
very well with the Annexes, one of whom it seems likely that he will
annex to himself and his fortunes, if she fancies him, which is not
The organizing of this expedition was naturally a cause of great
excitement among The Teacups. The party had to be arranged in such a
way as to suit all concerned, which was a delicate matter. It was
finally managed in this way: The Mistress was to go with a bodyguard,
consisting of myself, the Professor, and Number Seven, who was good
company, with all his oddities. The young Doctor was to take the two
Annexes in a wagon, and the Tutor was to drive Number Five in a good
old-fashioned chaise drawn by a well-conducted family horse. As for
the Musician, he had gone over early, by special invitation, to take
a part in certain musical exercises which were to have a place in the
exhibition. This arrangement appeared to be in every respect
satisfactory. The Doctor was in high spirits, apparently delighted,
and devoting himself with great gallantry to his two fair companions.
The only question which intruded itself was, whether he might not
have preferred the company of one to that of two. But both looked
very attractive in their best dresses: the English Annex, the rosier
and heartier of the two; the American girl, more delicate in
features, more mobile and excitable, but suggesting the thought that
she would tire out before the other. Which of these did he most
favor? It was hard to say. He seemed to look most at the English
girl, and yet he talked more with the American girl. In short, he
behaved particularly well, and neither of the young ladies could
complain that she was not attended to. As to the Tutor and Number
Five, their going together caused no special comment. Their intimacy
was accepted as an established fact, and nothing but the difference
in their ages prevented the conclusion that it was love, and not mere
friendship, which brought them together. There was, no doubt, a
strong feeling among many people that Number Five's affections were a
kind of Gibraltar or Ehrenbreitstein, say rather a high table-land in
the region of perpetual, unmelting snow. It was hard for these
people to believe that any man of mortal mould could find a foothold
in that impregnable fortress,--could climb to that height and find
the flower of love among its glaciers. The Tutor and Number Five
were both quiet, thoughtful: he, evidently captivated; she, what was
the meaning of her manner to him? Say that she seemed fond of him,
as she might be were he her nephew,--one for whom she had a special
liking. If she had a warmer feeling than this, she could hardly know
how to manage it; for she was so used to having love made to her
without returning it that she would naturally be awkward in dealing
with the new experience.
The Doctor drove a lively five-year-old horse, and took the lead.
The Tutor followed with a quiet, steady-going nag; if he had driven
the five-year-old, I would not have answered for the necks of the
pair in the chaise, for he was too much taken up with the subject
they were talking of, to be very careful about his driving. The
Mistress and her escort brought up the rear,--I holding the reins,
the Professor at my side, and Number Seven sitting with the Mistress.
We arrived at the institution a little later than we had expected to,
and the students were flocking into the hall, where the Commencement
exercises were to take place, and the medal-scholars were to receive
the tokens of their excellence in the various departments. From our
seats we could see the greater part of the assembly,--not quite all,
however of the pupils. A pleasing sight it was to look upon, this
array of young ladies dressed in white, with their class badges, and
with the ribbon of the shade of blue affected by the scholars of the
institution. If Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared to a
lily, a whole bed of lilies could not be compared to this garden-bed
of youthful womanhood.
The performances were very much the same as most of us have seen at
the academies and collegiate schools. Some of the graduating class
read their "compositions," one of which was a poem,--an echo of the
prevailing American echoes, of course, but prettily worded and
intelligently read. Then there was a song sung by a choir of the
pupils, led by their instructor, who was assisted by the Musician
whom we count among The Teacups.--There was something in one of the
voices that reminded me of one I had heard before. Where could it
have been? I am sure I cannot remember. There are some good voices
in our village choir, but none so pure and bird-like as this. A
sudden thought came into my head, but I kept it to myself. I heard a
tremulous catching of the breath, something like a sob, close by me.
It was the Mistress,--she was crying. What was she crying for? It
was impressive, certainly, to listen to these young voices, many of
them blending for the last time,--for the scholars were soon to be
scattered all over the country, and some of them beyond its
boundaries,--but why the Mistress was so carried away, I did not
know. She must be more impressible than most of us; yet I thought
Number Five also looked as if she were having a struggle with herself
to keep down some rebellious signs of emotion.
The exercises went on very pleasingly until they came to the awarding
of the gold medal of the year and the valedictory, which was to be
delivered by the young lady to whom it was to be presented. The name
was called; it was one not unfamiliar to our ears, and the bearer of
it--the Delilah of our tea-table, Avis as she was known in the school
and elsewhere--rose in her place and came forward, so that for the
first time on that day, we looked upon her. It was a sensation for
The Teacups. Our modest, quiet waiting-girl was the best scholar of
her year. We had talked French before her, and we learned that she
was the best French scholar the teacher had ever had in the school.
We had never thought of her except as a pleasing and well-trained
handmaiden, and here she was an accomplished young lady.
Avis went through her part very naturally and gracefully, and when it
was finished, and she stood before us with the medal glittering on
her breast, we did not know whether to smile or to cry,--some of us
did one, and some the other.--We all had an opportunity to see her
and congratulate her before we left the institution. The mystery of
her six weeks' serving at our table was easily solved. She had been
studying too hard and too long, and required some change of scene and
occupation. She had a fancy for trying to see if she could support
herself as so many young women are obliged to, and found a place with
us, the Mistress only knowing her secret.
"She is to be our young Doctor's wife!" the Mistress whispered to me,
and did some more crying, not for grief, certainly.
Whether our young Doctor's long visits to a neighboring town had
anything to do with the fact that Avis was at that institution,
whether she was the patient he visited or not, may be left in doubt.
At all events, he had always driven off in the direction which would
carry him to the place where she was at school.
I have attended a large number of celebrations, commencements,
banquets, soirees, and so forth, and done my best to help on a good
many of them. In fact, I have become rather too well known in
connection with "occasions," and it has cost me no little trouble.
I believe there is no kind of occurrence for which I have not been
requested to contribute something in prose or verse. It is sometimes
very hard to say no to the requests. If one is in the right mood
when he or she writes an occasional poem, it seems as if nothing
could have been easier. "Why, that piece run off jest like ile.
I don't bullieve," the unlettered applicant says to himself, "I don't
bullieve it took him ten minutes to write them verses." The good
people have no suspicion of how much a single line, a single
expression, may cost its author. The wits used to say that Ropers,--
the poet once before referred to, old Samuel Ropers, author of the
Pleasures of Memory and giver of famous breakfasts,--was accustomed
to have straw laid before the house whenever he had just given birth
to a couplet. It is not quite so bad as that with most of us who are
called upon to furnish a poem, a song, a hymn, an ode for some grand
meeting, but it is safe to say that many a trifling performance has
had more good honest work put into it than the minister's sermon of
that week had cost him. If a vessel glides off the ways smoothly and
easily at her launching, it does not mean that no great pains have
been taken to secure the result. Because a poem is an "occasional"
one, it does not follow that it has not taken as much time and skill
as if it had been written without immediate, accidental, temporary
motive. Pindar's great odes were occasional poems, just as much as
our Commencement and Phi Beta Kappa poems are, and yet they have come
down among the most precious bequests of antiquity to modern times.
The mystery of the young Doctor's long visits to the neighboring town
was satisfactorily explained by what we saw and heard of his
relations with our charming "Delilah,"--for Delilah we could hardly
help calling her. Our little handmaid, the Cinderella of the
teacups, now the princess, or, what was better, the pride of the
school to which she had belonged, fit for any position to which she
might be called, was to be the wife of our young Doctor. It would
not have been the right thing to proclaim the fact while she was a
pupil, but now that she had finished her course of instruction there
was no need of making a secret of the engagement.
So we have got our romance, our love-story out of our Teacups, as I
hoped and expected that we should, but not exactly in the quarter
where it might have been looked for.
What did our two Annexes say to this unexpected turn of events? They
were good-hearted girls as ever lived, but they were human, like the
rest of us, and women, like some of the rest of us. They behaved
perfectly. They congratulated the Doctor, and hoped he would bring
the young lady to the tea-table where she had played her part so
becomingly. It is safe to say that each of the Annexes world have
liked to be asked the lover's last question by the very nice young
man who had been a pleasant companion at the table and elsewhere to
each of them. That same question is the highest compliment a man can
pay a woman, and a woman does not mind having a dozen or more such
compliments to string on the rosary of her remembrances. Whether
either of them was glad, on the whole, that he had not offered
himself to the other in preference to herself would be a mean, shabby
question, and I think altogether too well of you who are reading this
paper to suppose that you would entertain the idea of asking it.
It was a very pleasant occasion when the Doctor brought Avis over to
sit with us at the table where she used to stand and wait upon us.
We wondered how we could for a moment have questioned that she was
one to be waited upon, and not made for the humble office which
nevertheless she performed so cheerfully and so well.
Commencements and other Celebrations, American and English.
The social habits of our people have undergone an immense change
within the past half century, largely in consequence of the vast
development of the means of intercourse between different
Commencements, college gatherings of all kinds, church assemblages,
school anniversaries, town centennials,--all possible occasions for
getting crowds together are made the most of. "'T is sixty years
since,"--and a good many years over,--the time to which my memory
extends. The great days of the year were, Election,--General
Election on Wednesday, and Artillery Election on the Monday
following, at which time lilacs were in bloom and 'lection buns were
in order; Fourth of July, when strawberries were just going out; and
Commencement, a grand time of feasting, fiddling, dancing, jollity,
not to mention drunkenness and fighting, on the classic green of
Cambridge. This was the season of melons and peaches. That is the
way our boyhood chronicles events. It was odd that the literary
festival should be turned into a Donnybrook fair, but so it was when
I was a boy, and the tents and the shows and the crowds on the Common
were to the promiscuous many the essential parts of the great
occasion. They had been so for generations, and it was only
gradually that the Cambridge Saturnalia were replaced by the
decencies and solemnities of the present sober anniversary.
Nowadays our celebrations smack of the Sunday-school more than of the
dancing-hall. The aroma of the punch-bowl has given way to the
milder flavor of lemonade and the cooling virtues of ice-cream.
A strawberry festival is about as far as the dissipation of our
social gatherings ventures. There was much that was objectionable in
those swearing, drinking, fighting times, but they had a certain
excitement for us boys of the years when the century was in its
teens, which comes back to us not without its fascinations. The days
of total abstinence are a great improvement over those of unlicensed
license, but there was a picturesque element about the rowdyism of
our old Commencement days, which had a charm for the eye of boyhood.
My dear old friend,--book-friend, I mean,--whom I always called Daddy
Gilpin (as I find Fitzgerald called Wordsworth, Daddy Wordsworth),--
my old friend Gilpin, I say, considered the donkey more picturesque
in a landscape than the horse. So a village fete as depicted by
Teniers is more picturesque than a teetotal picnic or a Sabbath-
school strawberry festival. Let us be thankful that the vicious
picturesque is only a remembrance, and the virtuous commonplace a
reality of to-day.
What put all this into my head is something which the English Annex
has been showing me. Most of my readers are somewhat acquainted with
our own church and village celebrations. They know how they are
organized; the women always being the chief motors, and the machinery
very much the same in one case as in another. Perhaps they would
like to hear how such things are managed in England; and that is just
what they may learn from the pamphlet which was shown me by the
English Annex, and of which I will give them a brief account.
Some of us remember the Rev. Mr. Haweis, his lectures and his violin,
which interested and amused us here in Boston a few years ago. Now
Mr. Haweis, assisted by his intelligent and spirited wife, has charge
of the parish of St. James, Westmoreland Street, Marylebone, London.
On entering upon the twenty-fifth year of his incumbency in
Marylebone, and the twenty-eighth of his ministry in the diocese of
London, it was thought a good idea to have an "Evening Conversazione
and Fete." We can imagine just how such a meeting would be organized
in one of our towns. Ministers, deacons, perhaps a member of