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The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Part 2 out of 5

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nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies
their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble
game! White stands well enough, so far as you can see; but Red
says, Mate in six moves;--White looks,--nods;--the game is over.
Just so in talking with first-rate men; especially when they are
good-natured and expansive, as they are apt to be at table. That
blessed clairvoyance which sees into things without opening them,--
that glorious license, which, having shut the door and driven the
reporter from its key-hole, calls upon Truth, majestic virgin! to
get off from her pedestal and drop her academic poses, and take a
festive garland and the vacant place on the medius lectus,--that
carnival-shower of questions and replies and comments, large axioms
bowled over the mahogany like bomb-shells from professional
mortars, and explosive wit dropping its trains of many-colored
fire, and the mischief-making rain of bon-bons pelting everybody
that shows himself,--the picture of a truly intellectual banquet is
one which the old Divinities might well have attempted to reproduce
in their -

- "Oh, oh, oh!" cried the young fellow whom they call John,--"that
is from one of your lectures!"

I know it, I replied,--I concede it, I confess it, I proclaim it.

"The trail of the serpent is over them all!"

All lecturers, all professors, all schoolmasters, have ruts and
grooves in their minds into which their conversation is perpetually
sliding. Did you never, in riding through the woods of a still
June evening, suddenly feel that you had passed into a warm stratum
of air, and in a minute or two strike the chill layer of atmosphere
beyond? Did you never, in cleaving the green waters of the Back
Bay,--where the Provincial blue-noses are in the habit of beating
the "Metropolitan" boat-clubs,--find yourself in a tepid streak, a
narrow, local gulf-stream, a gratuitous warm-bath a little
underdone, through which your glistening shoulders soon flashed, to
bring you back to the cold realities of full-sea temperature? Just
so, in talking with any of the characters above referred to, one
not unfrequently finds a sudden change in the style of the
conversation. The lack-lustre eye rayless as a Beacon-Street door-
plate in August, all at once fills with light; the face flings
itself wide open like the church-portals when the bride and
bridegroom enter; the little man grows in stature before your eyes,
like the small prisoner with hair on end, beloved yet dreaded of
early childhood; you were talking with a dwarf and an imbecile,--
you have a giant and a trumpet-tongued angel before you!--Nothing
but a streak out of a fifty-dollar lecture.--As when, at some
unlooked-for moment, the mighty fountain-column springs into the
air before the astonished passer-by,--silver-footed, diamond-
crowned, rainbow-scarfed,--from the bosom of that fair sheet,
sacred to the hymns of quiet batrachians at home, and the epigrams
of a less amiable and less elevated order of reptilia in other

- Who was that person that was so abused some time since for saying
that in the conflict of two races our sympathies naturally go with
the higher? No matter who he was. Now look at what is going on in
India,--a white, superior "Caucasian" race, against a dark-skinned,
inferior, but still "Caucasian" race,--and where are English and
American sympathies? We can't stop to settle all the doubtful
questions; all we know is, that the brute nature is sure to come
out most strongly in the lower race, and it is the general law that
the human side of humanity should treat the brutal side as it does
the same nature in the inferior animals,--tame it or crush it. The
India mail brings stories of women and children outraged and
murdered; the royal stronghold is in the hands of the babe-killers.
England takes down the Map of the World, which she has girdled with
empire, and makes a correction thus: [DELPHI] Dele. The civilized
world says, Amen.

- Do not think, because I talk to you of many subjects briefly,
that I should not find it much lazier work to take each one of them
and dilute it down to an essay. Borrow some of my old college
themes and water my remarks to suit yourselves, as the Homeric
heroes did with their melas oinos,--that black sweet, syrupy wine
(?) which they used to alloy with three parts or more of the
flowing stream. [Could it have been melasses, as Webster and his
provincials spell it,--or Molossa's, as dear old smattering,
chattering, would-be-College-President, Cotton Mather, has it in
the "Magnalia"? Ponder thereon, ye small antiquaries who make
barn-door-fowl flights of learning in "Notes and Queries!"--ye
Historical Societies, in one of whose venerable triremes I, too,
ascend the stream of time, while other hands tug at the oars!--ye
Amines of parasitical literature, who pick up your grains of
native-grown food with a bodkin, having gorged upon less honest
fare, until, like the great minds Goethe speaks of, you have "made
a Golgotha" of your pages!--ponder thereon!]

- Before you go, this morning, I want to read you a copy of verses.
You will understand by the title that they are written in an
imaginary character. I don't doubt they will fit some family-man
well enough. I send it forth as "Oak Hall" projects a coat, on a
priori grounds of conviction that it will suit somebody. There is
no loftier illustration of faith than this. It believes that a
soul has been clad in flesh; that tender parents have fed and
nurtured it; that its mysterious compages or frame-work has
survived its myriad exposures and reached the stature of maturity;
that the Man, now self-determining, has given in his adhesion to
the traditions and habits of the race in favor of artificial
clothing; that he will, having all the world to choose from, select
the very locality where this audacious generalization has been
acted upon. It builds a garment cut to the pattern of an Idea, and
trusts that Nature will model a material shape to fit it. There is
a prophecy in every seam, and its pockets are full of inspiration.-
-Now hear the verses.


O for one hour of youthful joy!
Give back my twentieth spring!
I'd rather laugh a bright-haired boy
Than reign a gray-beard king!

Off with the wrinkled spoils of age!
Away with learning's crown!
Tear out life's wisdom-written page,
And dash its trophies down!

One moment let my life-blood stream
From boyhood's fount of flame!
Give me one giddy, reeling dream
Of life all love and fame!

- My listening angel heard the prayer,
And calmly smiling, said,
"If I but touch thy silvered hair,
Thy hasty wish hath sped.

"But is there nothing in thy track
To bid thee fondly stay,
While the swift seasons hurry back
To find the wished-for day?"

- Ah, truest soul of womankind!
Without thee, what were life?
One bliss I cannot leave behind:
I'll take--my--precious wife!

- The angel took a sapphire pen
And wrote in rainbow dew,
"The man would be a boy again,
And be a husband too!"

- "And is there nothing yet unsaid
Before the change appears?
Remember, all their gifts have fled
With those dissolving years!"

Why, yes; for memory would recall
My fond paternal joys;
I could not bear to leave them all;
I'll take--my--girl--and--boys!

The smiling angel dropped his pen, -
"Why this will never do;
The man would be a boy again,
And be a father too!"

And so I laughed,--my laughter woke
The household with its noise, -
And wrote my dream, when morning broke,
To please the gray-haired boys.


[I am so well pleased with my boarding-house that I intend to
remain there, perhaps for years. Of course I shall have a great
many conversations to report, and they will necessarily be of
different tone and on different subjects. The talks are like the
breakfasts,--sometimes dipped toast, and sometimes dry. You must
take them as they come. How can I do what all these letters ask me
to? No. 1. want serious and earnest thought. No. 2. (letter
smells of bad cigars) must have more jokes; wants me to tell a
"good storey" which he has copied out for me. (I suppose two
letters before the word "good" refer to some Doctor of Divinity who
told the story.) No. 3. (in female hand)--more poetry. No. 4.
wants something that would be of use to a practical man.
(Prahctical mahn he probably pronounces it.) No. 5. (gilt-edged,
sweet-scented)--"more sentiment,"--"heart's outpourings." -

My dear friends, one and all, I can do nothing but report such
remarks as I happen to have made at our breakfast-table. Their
character will depend on many accidents,--a good deal on the
particular persons in the company to whom they were addressed. It
so happens that those which follow were mainly intended for the
divinity-student and the school-mistress; though others, whom I
need not mention, saw to interfere, with more or less propriety, in
the conversation. This is one of my privileges as a talker; and of
course, if I was not talking for our whole company, I don't expect
all the readers of this periodical to be interested in my notes of
what was said. Still, I think there may be a few that will rather
like this vein,--possibly prefer it to a livelier one,--serious
young men, and young women generally, in life's roseate parenthesis
from--years of age to--inclusive.

Another privilege of talking is to misquote.--Of course it wasn't
Proserpina that actually cut the yellow hair,--but Iris. (As I
have since told you) it was the former lady's regular business, but
Dido had used herself ungenteelly, and Madame d'Enfer stood firm on
the point of etiquette. So the bathycolpian Here--Juno, in Latin--
sent down Iris instead. But I was mightily pleased to see that one
of the gentlemen that do the heavy articles for the celebrated
"Oceanic Miscellany" misquoted Campbell's line without any excuse.
"Waft us HOME the MESSAGE" of course it ought to be. Will he be
duly grateful for the correction?]

- The more we study the body and the mind, the more we find both to
be governed, not by, but ACCORDING TO laws, such as we observe in
the larger universe.--You think you know all about WALKING,--don't
you, now? Well, how do you suppose your lower limbs are held to
your body? They are sucked up by two cupping vessels, ("cotyloid"-
-cup-like--cavities,) and held there as long as you live, and
longer. At any rate, you think you move them backward and forward
at such a rate as your will determines, don't you?--On the
contrary, they swing just as any other pendulums swing, at a fixed
rate, determined by their length. You can alter this by muscular
power, as you can take hold of the pendulum of a clock and make it
move faster or slower; but your ordinary gait is timed by the same
mechanism as the movements of the solar system.

[My friend, the Professor, told me all this, referring me to
certain German physiologists by the name of Weber for proof of the
facts, which, however, he said he had often verified. I
appropriated it to my own use; what can one do better than this,
when one has a friend that tells him anything worth remembering?

The Professor seems to think that man and the general powers of the
universe are in partnership. Some one was saying that it had cost
nearly half a million to move the Leviathan only so far as they had
got it already.--Why,--said the Professor,--they might have hired
an EARTHQUAKE for less money!]

Just as we find a mathematical rule at the bottom of many of the
bodily movements, just so thought may be supposed to have its
regular cycles. Such or such a thought comes round periodically,
in its turn. Accidental suggestions, however, so far interfere
with the regular cycles, that we may find them practically beyond
our power of recognition. Take all this for what it is worth, but
at any rate you will agree that there are certain particular
thoughts that do not come up once a day, nor once a week, but that
a year would hardly go round without your having them pass through
your mind. Here is one which comes up at intervals in this way.
Some one speaks of it, and there is an instant and eager smile of
assent in the listener or listeners. Yes, indeed; they have often
been struck by it.


O, dear, yes!--said one of the company,--everybody has had that

The landlady didn't know anything about such notions; it was an
idee in folks' heads, she expected.

The schoolmistress said, in a hesitating sort of way, that she knew
the feeling well, and didn't like to experience it; it made her
think she was a ghost, sometimes.

The young fellow whom they call John said he knew all about it; he
had just lighted a cheroot the other day, when a tremendous
conviction all at once came over him that he had done just that
same thing ever so many times before. I looked severely at him,
and his countenance immediately fell--ON THE SIDE TOWARD ME; I
cannot answer for the other, for he can wink and laugh with either
half of his face without the other half's knowing it.

- I have noticed--I went on to say--the following circumstances
connected with these sudden impressions. First, that the condition
which seems to be the duplicate of a former one is often very
trivial,--one that might have presented itself a hundred times.
Secondly, that the impression is very evanescent, and that it is
rarely, if ever, recalled by any voluntary effort, at least after
any time has elapsed. Thirdly, that there is a disinclination to
record the circumstances, and a sense of incapacity to reproduce
the state of mind in words. Fourthly, I have often felt that the
duplicate condition had not only occurred once before, but that it
was familiar and, as it seemed, habitual. Lastly, I have had the
same convictions in my dreams.

How do I account for it?--Why, there are several ways that I can
mention, and you may take your choice. The first is that which the
young lady hinted at;--that these flashes are sudden recollections
of a previous existence. I don't believe that; for I remember a
poor student I used to know told me he had such a conviction one
day when he was blacking his boots, and I can't think he had ever
lived in another world where they use Day and Martin.

Some think that Dr. Wigan's doctrine of the brain's being a double
organ, its hemispheres working together like the two eyes, accounts
for it. One of the hemispheres hangs fire, they suppose, and the
small interval between the perceptions of the nimble and the
sluggish half seems an indefinitely long period, and therefore the
second perception appears to be the copy of another, ever so old.
But even allowing the centre of perception to be double, I can see
no good reason for supposing this indefinite lengthening of the
time, nor any analogy that bears it out. It seems to me most
likely that the coincidence of circumstances is very partial, but
that we take this partial resemblance for identity, as we
occasionally do resemblances of persons. A momentary posture of
circumstances is so far like some preceding one that we accept it
as exactly the same, just as we accost a stranger occasionally,
mistaking him for a friend. The apparent similarity may be owing
perhaps, quite as much to the mental state at the time, as to the
outward circumstances.

- Here is another of these curiously recurring remarks. I have
said it, and heard it many times, and occasionally met with
something like it in books,--somewhere in Bulwer's novels, I think,
and in one of the works of Mr. Olmsted, I know.


Of course the particular odors which act upon each person's
susceptibilities differ.--O, yes! I will tell you some of mine.
The smell of PHOSPHORUS is one of them. During a year or two of
adolescence I used to be dabbling in chemistry a good deal, and as
about that time I had my little aspirations and passions like
another, some of these things got mixed up with each other:
orange-colored fumes of nitrous acid, and visions as bright and
transient; reddening litmus-paper, and blushing cheeks;--eheu!

"Soles occidere et redire possunt,"

but there is no reagent that will redden the faded roses of
eighteen hundred and--spare them! But, as I was saying, phosphorus
fires this train of associations in an instant; its luminous vapors
with their penetrating odor throw me into a trance; it comes to me
in a double sense "trailing clouds of glory." Only the confounded
Vienna matches, ohne phosphor-geruch, have worn my sensibilities a

Then there is the MARIGOLD. When I was of smallest dimensions, and
wont to ride impacted between the knees of fond parental pair, we
would sometimes cross the bridge to the next village-town and stop
opposite a low, brown, "gambrel-roofed" cottage. Out of it would
come one Sally, sister of its swarthy tenant, swarthy herself,
shady-lipped, sad-voiced, and, bending over her flower-bed, would
gather a "posy," as she called it, for the little boy. Sally lies
in the churchyard with a slab of blue slate at her head, lichen-
crusted, and leaning a little within the last few years. Cottage,
garden-beds, posies, grenadier-like rows of seedling onions,--
stateliest of vegetables,--all are gone, but the breath of a
marigold brings them all back to me.

Perhaps the herb EVERLASTING, the fragrant immortelle of our autumn
fields, has the most suggestive odor to me of all those that set me
dreaming. I can hardly describe the strange thoughts and emotions
that come to me as I inhale the aroma of its pale, dry, rustling
flowers. A something it has of sepulchral spicery, as if it had
been brought from the core of some great pyramid, where it had lain
on the breast of a mummied Pharaoh. Something, too, of immortality
in the sad, faint sweetness lingering so long in its lifeless
petals. Yet this does not tell why it fills my eyes with tears and
carries me in blissful thought to the banks of asphodel that border
the River of Life.

- I should not have talked so much about these personal
susceptibilities, if I had not a remark to make about them which I
believe is a new one. It is this. There may be a physical reason
for the strange connection between the sense of smell and the mind.
The olfactory nerve--so my friend, the Professor, tells me--is the
only one directly connected with the hemispheres of the brain, the
parts in which, as we have every reason to believe, the
intellectual processes are performed. To speak more truly the
olfactory "nerve" is not a nerve at all, he says, but a part of the
brain, in intimate connection with its anterior lobes. Whether
this anatomical arrangement is at the bottom of the facts I have
mentioned, I will not decide, but it is curious enough to be worth
remembering. Contrast the sense of taste, as a source of
suggestive impressions, with that of smell. Now the Professor
assures me that you will find the nerve of taste has no immediate
connection with the brain proper, but only with the prolongation of
the spinal cord.

[The old gentleman opposite did not pay much attention, I think, to
this hypothesis of mine. But while I was speaking about the sense
of smell he nestled about in his seat, and presently succeeded in
getting out a large red bandanna handkerchief. Then he lurched a
little to the other side, and after much tribulation at last
extricated an ample round snuff-box. I looked as he opened it and
felt for the wonted pugil. Moist rappee, and a Tonka-bean lying
therein. I made the manual sign understood of all mankind that use
the precious dust, and presently my brain, too, responded to the
long unused stimulus--O boys,--that were,--actual papas and
possible grandpapas,--some of you with crowns like billiard-balls,-
-some in locks of sable silvered, and some of silver sabled,--do
you remember, as you doze over this, those after-dinners at the
Trois Freres when the Scotch-plaided snuff-box went round, and the
dry Lundy-Foot tickled its way along into our happy sensoria? Then
it was that the Chambertin or the Clos Vougeot came in, slumbering
in its straw cradle. And one among you,--do you remember how he
would have a bit of ice always in his Burgundy, and sit tinkling it
against the sides of the bubble-like glass, saying that he was
hearing the cow-bells as he used to hear them, when the deep-
breathing kine came home at twilight from the huckleberry pasture,
in the old home a thousand leagues towards the sunset?]

Ah me! what strains and strophes of unwritten verse pulsate through
my soul when I open a certain closet in the ancient house where I
was born! On its shelves used to lie bundles of sweet-marjoram and
pennyroyal and lavender and mint and catnip; there apples were
stored until their seeds should grow black, which happy period
there were sharp little milk-teeth always ready to anticipate;
there peaches lay in the dark, thinking of the sunshine they had
lost, until, like the hearts of saints that dream of heaven in
their sorrow, they grew fragrant as the breath of angels. The
odorous echo of a score of dead summers lingers yet in those dim

- Do I remember Byron's line about "striking the electric chain"?--
To be sure I do. I sometimes think the less the hint that stirs
the automatic machinery of association, the more easily this moves
us. What can be more trivial than that old story of opening the
folio Shakspeare that used to lie in some ancient English hall and
finding the flakes of Christmas pastry between its leaves, shut up
in them perhaps a hundred years ago? And, lo! as one looks on
these poor relics of a bygone generation, the universe changes in
the twinkling of an eye; old George the Second is back again, and
the elder Pitt is coming into power, and General Wolfe is a fine,
promising young man, and over the Channel they are pulling the
Sieur Damiens to pieces with wild horses, and across the Atlantic
the Indians are tomahawking Hirams and Jonathans and Jonases at
Fort William Henry; all the dead people who have been in the dust
so long--even to the stout-armed cook that made the pastry--are
alive again; the planet unwinds a hundred of its luminous coils,
and the precession of the equinoxes is retraced on the dial of
heaven! And all this for a bit of pie-crust!

- I will thank you for that pie,--said the provoking young fellow
whom I have named repeatedly. He looked at it for a moment, and
put his hands to his eyes as if moved.--I was thinking,--he said
indistinctly -

- How? What is't?--said our landlady.

- I was thinking--said he--who was king of England when this old
pie was baked,--and it made me feel bad to think how long he must
have been dead.

[Our landlady is a decent body, poor, and a widow, of course; cela
va sans dire. She told me her story once; it was as if a grain of
corn that had been ground and bolted had tried to individualize
itself by a special narrative. There was the wooing and the
wedding,--the start in life,--the disappointments,--the children
she had buried,--the struggle against fate,--the dismantling of
life, first of its small luxuries, and then of its comforts,--the
broken spirits,--the altered character of the one on whom she
leaned,--and at last the death that came and drew the black curtain
between her and all her earthly hopes.

I never laughed at my landlady after she had told me her story, but
I often cried,--not those pattering tears that run off the eaves
upon our neighbors' grounds, the stillicidium of self-conscious
sentiment, but those which steal noiselessly through their conduits
until they reach the cisterns lying round about the heart; those
tears that we weep inwardly with unchanging features;--such I did
shed for her often when the imps of the boarding-house Inferno
tugged at her soul with their red-hot pincers.]

Young man,--I said,--the pasty you speak lightly of is not old, but
courtesy to those who labor to serve us, especially if they are of
the weaker sex, is very old, and yet well worth retaining. May I
recommend to you the following caution, as a guide, whenever you
are dealing with a woman, or an artist, or a poet--if you are
handling an editor or politician, it is superfluous advice. I take
it from the back of one of those little French toys which contain
pasteboard figures moved by a small running stream of fine sand;
Benjamin Franklin will translate it for you: "Quoiqu'elle soit
tres solidement montee, il faut ne pas BRUTALISER la machine."--I
will thank you for the pie, if you please.

[I took more of it than was good for me--as much as 85 degrees, I
should think,--and had an indigestion in consequence. While I was
suffering from it, I wrote some sadly desponding poems, and a
theological essay which took a very melancholy view of creation.
When I got better I labelled them all "Pie-crust," and laid them by
as scarecrows and solemn warnings. I have a number of books on my
shelves that I should like to label with some such title; but, as
they have great names on their title-pages,--Doctors of Divinity,
some of them,--it wouldn't do.]

- My friend, the Professor, whom I have mentioned to you once or
twice, told me yesterday that somebody had been abusing him in some
of the journals of his calling. I told him that I didn't doubt he
deserved it; that I hoped he did deserve a little abuse
occasionally, and would for a number of years to come; that nobody
could do anything to make his neighbors wiser or better without
being liable to abuse for it; especially that people hated to have
their little mistakes made fun of, and perhaps he had been doing
something of the kind.--The Professor smiled.--Now, said I, hear
what I am going to say. It will not take many years to bring you
to the period of life when men, at least the majority of writing
and talking men, do nothing but praise. Men, like peaches and
pears, grow sweet a little while before they begin to decay. I
don't know what it is,--whether a spontaneous change, mental or
bodily, or whether it is thorough experience of the thanklessness
of critical honesty,--but it is a fact, that most writers, except
sour and unsuccessful ones, get tired of finding fault at about the
time when they are beginning to grow old. As a general thing, I
would not give a great deal for the fair words of a critic, if he
is himself an author, over fifty years of age. At thirty we are
all trying to cut our names in big letters upon the walls of this
tenement of life; twenty years later we have carved it, or shut up
our jack-knives. Then we are ready to help others, and care less
to hinder any, because nobody's elbows are in our way. So I am
glad you have a little life left; you will be saccharine enough in
a few years.

- Some of the softening effects of advancing age have struck me
very much in what I have heard or seen here and elsewhere. I just
now spoke of the sweetening process that authors undergo. Do you
know that in the gradual passage from maturity to helplessness the
harshest characters sometimes have a period in which they are
gentle and placid as young children? I have heard it said, but I
cannot be sponsor for its truth, that the famous chieftain,
Lochiel, was rocked in a cradle like a baby, in his old age. An
old man, whose studies had been of the severest scholastic kind,
used to love to hear little nursery-stories read over and over to
him. One who saw the Duke of Wellington in his last years
describes him as very gentle in his aspect and demeanor. I
remember a person of singularly stern and lofty bearing who became
remarkably gracious and easy in all his ways in the later period of
his life.

And that leads me to say that men often remind me of pears in their
way of coming to maturity. Some are ripe at twenty, like human
Jargonelles, and must be made the most of, for their day is soon
over. Some come into their perfect condition late, like the autumn
kinds, and they last better than the summer fruit. And some, that,
like the Winter-Nelis, have been hard and uninviting until all the
rest have had their season, get their glow and perfume long after
the frost and snow have done their worst with the orchards. Beware
of rash criticisms; the rough and stringent fruit you condemn may
be an autumn or a winter pear, and that which you picked up beneath
the same bough in August may have been only its worm-eaten
windfalls. Milton was a Saint-Germain with a graft of the roseate
Early-Catherine. Rich, juicy, lively, fragrant, russet skinned old
Chaucer was an Easter-Beurre; the buds of a new summer were
swelling when he ripened.

- There is no power I envy so much--said the divinity-student--as
that of seeing analogies and making comparisons. I don't
understand how it is that some minds are continually coupling
thoughts or objects that seem not in the least related to each
other, until all at once they are put in a certain light, and you
wonder that you did not always see that they were as like as a pair
of twins. It appears to me a sort of miraculous gift.

[He is rather a nice young man, and I think has an appreciation of
the higher mental qualities remarkable for one of his years and
training. I try his head occasionally as housewives try eggs,--
give it an intellectual shake and hold it up to the light, so to
speak, to see if it has life in it, actual or potential, or only
contains lifeless albumen.]

You call it MIRACULOUS,--I replied,--tossing the expression with my
facial eminence, a little smartly, I fear.--Two men are walking by
the polyphloesboean ocean, one of them having a small tin cup with
which he can scoop up a gill of sea-water when he will, and the
other nothing but his hands, which will hardly hold water at all,--
and you call the tin cup a miraculous possession! It is the ocean
that is the miracle, my infant apostle! Nothing is clearer than
that all things are in all things, and that just according to the
intensity and extension of our mental being we shall see the many
in the one and the one in the many. Did Sir Isaac think what he
was saying when he made HIS speech about the ocean,--the child and
the pebbles, you know? Did he mean to speak slightingly of a
pebble? Of a spherical solid which stood sentinel over its
compartment of space before the stone that became the pyramids had
grown solid, and has watched it until now! A body which knows all
the currents of force that traverse the globe; which holds by
invisible threads to the ring of Saturn and the belt of Orion! A
body from the contemplation of which an archangel could infer the
entire inorganic universe as the simplest of corollaries! A throne
of the all-pervading Deity, who has guided its every atom since the
rosary of heaven was strung with beaded stars!

So,--to return to OUR walk by the ocean,--if all that poetry has
dreamed, all that insanity has raved, all that maddening narcotics
have driven through the brains of men, or smothered passion nursed
in the fancies of women,--if the dreams of colleges and convents
and boarding-schools,--if every human feeling that sighs, or
smiles, or curses, or shrieks, or groans, should bring all their
innumerable images, such as come with every hurried heart-beat,--
the epic which held them all, though its letters filled the zodiac,
would be but a cupful from the infinite ocean of similitudes and
analogies that rolls through the universe.

[The divinity-student honored himself by the way in which he
received this. He did not swallow it at once, neither did he
reject it; but he took it as a pickerel takes the bait, and carried
it off with him to his hole (in the fourth story) to deal with at
his leisure.]

- Here is another remark made for his especial benefit.--There is a
natural tendency in many persons to run their adjectives together
in TRIADS, as I have heard them called,--thus: He was honorable,
courteous, and brave; she was graceful, pleasing, and virtuous.
Dr. Johnson is famous for this; I think it was Bulwer who said you
could separate a paper in the "Rambler" into three distinct essays.
Many of our writers show the same tendency,--my friend, the
Professor, especially. Some think it is in humble imitation of
Johnson,--some that it is for the sake of the stately sound only.
I don't think they get to the bottom of it. It is, I suspect, an
instinctive and involuntary effort of the mind to present a thought
or image with the THREE DIMENSIONS that belong to every solid,--an
unconscious handling of an idea as if it had length, breadth, and
thickness. It is a great deal easier to say this than to prove it,
and a great deal easier to dispute it than to disprove it. But
mind this: the more we observe and study, the wider we find the
range of the automatic and instinctive principles in body, mind,
and morals, and the narrower the limits of the self-determining
conscious movement.

- I have often seen piano-forte players and singers make such
strange motions over their instruments or song-books that I wanted
to laugh at them. "Where did our friends pick up all these fine
ecstatic airs?" I would say to myself. Then I would remember My
Lady in "Marriage a la Mode," and amuse myself with thinking how
affectation was the same thing in Hogarth's time and in our own.
But one day I bought me a Canary-bird and hung him up in a cage at
my window. By-and-by he found himself at home, and began to pipe
his little tunes; and there he was, sure enough, swimming and
waving about, with all the droopings and liftings and languishing
side-turnings of the head that I had laughed at. And now I should
like to ask, WHO taught him all this?--and me, through him, that
the foolish head was not the one swinging itself from side to side
and bowing and nodding over the music, but that other which was
passing its shallow and self-satisfied judgment on a creature made
of finer clay than the frame which carried that same head upon its

- Do you want an image of the human will, or the self-determining
principle, as compared with its prearranged and impassable
restrictions? A drop of water, imprisoned in a crystal; you may
see such a one in any mineralogical collection. One little fluid
particle in the crystalline prism of the solid universe!

- Weaken moral obligations?--No, not weaken, but define them. When
I preach that sermon I spoke of the other day, I shall have to lay
down some principles not fully recognized in some of your text-

I should have to begin with one most formidable preliminary. You
saw an article the other day in one of the journals, perhaps, in
which some old Doctor or other said quietly that patients were very
apt to be fools and cowards. But a great many of the clergyman's
patients are not only fools and cowards, but also liars.

[Immense sensation at the table.--Sudden retirement of the angular
female in oxydated bombazine. Movement of adhesion--as they say in
the Chamber of Deputies--on the part of the young fellow they call
John. Falling of the old-gentleman-opposite's lower jaw--
(gravitation is beginning to get the better of him.) Our landlady
to Benjamin Franklin, briskly,--Go to school right off, there's a
good boy! Schoolmistress curious,--takes a quick glance at
divinity-student. Divinity-student slightly flushed draws his
shoulders back a little, as if a big falsehood--or truth--had hit
him in the forehead. Myself calm.]

- I should not make such a speech as that, you know, without having
pretty substantial indorsers to fall back upon, in case my credit
should be disputed. Will you run up stairs, Benjamin Franklin,
(for B. F. had NOT gone right off, of course,) and bring down a
small volume from the left upper corner of the right-hand shelves?

[Look at the precious little black, ribbed backed, clean-typed,
vellum-papered 32mo. "DESIDERII ERASMI COLLOQUIA. Amstelodami.
Typis Ludovici Elzevirii. 1650." Various names written on title-
page. Most conspicuous this: Gul. Cookeson E. Coll. Omn. Anim.
1725. Oxon.

- O William Cookeson, of All-Souls College, Oxford,--then writing
as I now write,--now in the dust, where I shall lie,--is this line
all that remains to thee of earthly remembrance? Thy name is at
least once more spoken by living men;--is it a pleasure to thee?
Thou shalt share with me my little draught of immortality,--its
week, its month, its year,--whatever it may be,--and then we will
go together into the solemn archives of Oblivion's Uncatalogued

- If you think I have used rather strong language, I shall have to
read something to you out of the book of this keen and witty
scholar,--the great Erasmus,--who "laid the egg of the Reformation
which Luther hatched." Oh, you never read his Naufragium, or
"Shipwreck," did you? Of course not; for, if you had, I don't
think you would have given me credit--or discredit--for entire
originality in that speech of mine. That men are cowards in the
contemplation of futurity he illustrates by the extraordinary
antics of many on board the sinking vessel; that they are fools, by
their praying to the sea, and making promises to bits of wood from
the true cross, and all manner of similar nonsense; that they are
fools, cowards, and liars all at once, by this story: I will put
it into rough English for you.--"I couldn't help laughing to hear
one fellow bawling out, so that he might be sure to be heard, a
promise to Saint Christopher of Paris--the monstrous statue in the
great church there--that he would give him a wax taper as big as
himself. 'Mind what you promise!' said an acquaintance that stood
near him, poking him with his elbow; 'you couldn't pay for it, if
you sold all your things at auction.' 'Hold your tongue, you
donkey!' said the fellow,--but softly, so that Saint Christopher
should not hear him,--'do you think I'm in earnest? If I once get
my foot on dry ground, catch me giving him so much as a tallow

Now, therefore, remembering that those who have been loudest in
their talk about the great subject of which we were speaking have
not necessarily been wise, brave, and true men, but, on the
contrary, have very often been wanting in one or two or all of the
qualities these words imply, I should expect to find a good many
doctrines current in the schools which I should be obliged to call
foolish, cowardly, and false.

- So you would abuse other people's beliefs, Sir, and yet not tell
us your own creed!--said the divinity-student, coloring up with a
spirit for which I liked him all the better.

- I have a creed,--I replied;--none better, and none shorter. It
is told in two words,--the two first of the Paternoster. And when
I say these words I mean them. And when I compared the human will
to a drop in a crystal, and said I meant to DEFINE moral
obligations, and not weaken them, this was what I intended to
express: that the fluent, self-determining power of human beings
is a very strictly limited agency in the universe. The chief
planes of its enclosing solid are, of course, organization,
education, condition. Organization may reduce the power of the
will to nothing, as in some idiots; and from this zero the scale
mounts upwards by slight gradations. Education is only second to
nature. Imagine all the infants born this year in Boston and
Timbuctoo to change places! Condition does less, but "Give me
neither poverty nor riches" was the prayer of Agur, and with good
reason. If there is any improvement in modern theology, it is in
getting out of the region of pure abstractions and taking these
every-day working forces into account. The great theological
question now heaving and throbbing in the minds of Christian men is

No, I wont talk about these things now. My remarks might be
repeated, and it would give my friends pain to see with what
personal incivilities I should be visited. Besides, what business
has a mere boarder to be talking about such things at a breakfast-
table? Let him make puns. To be sure, he was brought up among the
Christian fathers, and learned his alphabet out of a quarto
"Concilium Tridentinum." He has also heard many thousand
theological lectures by men of various denominations; and it is not
at all to the credit of these teachers, if he is not fit by this
time to express an opinion on theological matters.

I know well enough that there are some of you who had a great deal
rather see me stand on my head than use it for any purpose of
thought. Does not my friend, the Professor, receive at least two
letters a week, requesting him to. . . . ,--on the strength of some
youthful antic of his, which, no doubt, authorizes the intelligent
constituency of autograph-hunters to address him as a harlequin?

- Well, I can't be savage with you for wanting to laugh, and I like
to make you laugh, well enough, when I can. But then observe this:
if the sense of the ridiculous is one side of an impressible
nature, it is very well; but if that is all there is in a man, he
had better have been an ape at once, and so have stood at the head
of his profession. Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels
of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the
other water-power; that is all. I have often heard the Professor
talk about hysterics as being Nature's cleverest illustration of
the reciprocal convertibility of the two states of which these acts
are the manifestations; But you may see it every day in children;
and if you want to choke with stifled tears at sight of the
transition, as it shows itself in older years, go and see Mr. Blake

It is a very dangerous thing for a literary man to indulge his love
for the ridiculous. People laugh WITH him just so long as he
amuses them; but if he attempts to be serious, they must still have
their laugh, and so they laugh AT him. There is in addition,
however, a deeper reason for this than would at first appear. Do
you know that you feel a little superior to every man who makes you
laugh, whether by making faces or verses? Are you aware that you
have a pleasant sense of patronizing him, when you condescend so
far as to let him turn somersets, literal or literary, for your
royal delight? Now if a man can only be allowed to stand on a
dais, or raised platform, and look down on his neighbor who is
exerting his talent for him, oh, it is all right!--first-rate
performance!--and all the rest of the fine phrases. But if all at
once the performer asks the gentleman to come upon the floor, and,
stepping upon the platform, begins to talk down at him,--ah, that
wasn't in the programme!

I have never forgotten what happened when Sydney Smith--who, as
everybody knows, was an exceedingly sensible man, and a gentleman,
every inch of him--ventured to preach a sermon on the Duties of
Royalty. The "Quarterly," "so savage and tartarly," came down upon
him in the most contemptuous style, as "a joker of jokes," a
"diner-out of the first water," in one of his own phrases; sneering
at him, insulting him, as nothing but a toady of a court, sneaking
behind the anonymous, would ever have been mean enough to do to a
man of his position and genius, or to any decent person even.--If I
were giving advice to a young fellow of talent, with two or three
facets to his mind, I would tell him by all means to keep his wit
in the background until after he had made a reputation by his more
solid qualities. And so to an actor: Hamlet first, and Bob Logic
afterwards, if you like; but don't think, as they say poor Liston
used to, that people will be ready to allow that you can do
anything great with Macbeth's dagger after flourishing about with
Paul Pry's umbrella. Do you know, too, that the majority of men
look upon all who challenge their attention,--for a while, at
least,--as beggars, and nuisances? They always try to get off as
cheaply as they can; and the cheapest of all things they can give a
literary man--pardon the forlorn pleasantry!--is the FUNNY-bone.
That is all very well so far as it goes, but satisfies no man, and
makes a good many angry, as I told you on a former occasion.

- Oh, indeed, no!--I am not ashamed to make you laugh,
occasionally. I think I could read you something I have in my desk
which would probably make you smile. Perhaps I will read it one of
these days, if you are patient with me when I am sentimental and
reflective; not just now. The ludicrous has its place in the
universe; it is not a human invention, but one of the Divine ideas,
illustrated in the practical jokes of kittens and monkeys long
before Aristophanes or Shakspeare. How curious it is that we
always consider solemnity and the absence of all gay surprises and
encounter of wits as essential to the idea of the future life of
those whom we thus deprive of half their faculties and then call
BLESSED! There are not a few who, even in this life, seem to be
preparing themselves for that smileless eternity to which they look
forward, by banishing all gayety from their hearts and all
joyousness from their countenances. I meet one such in the street
not unfrequently, a person of intelligence and education, but who
gives me (and all that he passes) such a rayless and chilling look
of recognition,--something as if he were one of Heaven's assessors,
come down to "doom" every acquaintance he met,--that I have
sometimes begun to sneeze on the spot, and gone home with a violent
cold, dating from that instant. I don't doubt he would cut his
kitten's tail off, if he caught her playing with it. Please tell
me, who taught her to play with it?

No, no!--give me a chance to talk to you, my fellow-boarders, and
you need not be afraid that I shall have any scruples about
entertaining you, if I can do it, as well as giving you some of my
serious thoughts, and perhaps my sadder fancies. I know nothing in
English or any other literature more admirable than that sentiment

I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand,
as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven,
we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it,--but
we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. There is one very
sad thing in old friendships, to every mind that is really moving
onward. It is this: that one cannot help using his early friends
as the seaman uses the log, to mark his progress. Every now and
then we throw an old schoolmate over the stern with a string of
thought tied to him, and look--I am afraid with a kind of luxurious
and sanctimonious compassion--to see the rate at which the string
reels off, while he lies there bobbing up and down, poor fellow!
and we are dashing along with the white foam and bright sparkle at
our bows;--the ruffled bosom of prosperity and progress, with a
sprig of diamonds stuck in it! But this is only the sentimental
side of the matter; for grow we must, if we outgrow all that we

Don't misunderstand that metaphor of heaving the log, I beg you.
It is merely a smart way of saying that we cannot avoid measuring
our rate of movement by those with whom we have long been in the
habit of comparing ourselves; and when they once become stationary,
we can get our reckoning from them with painful accuracy. We see
just what we were when they were our peers, and can strike the
balance between that and whatever we may feel ourselves to be now.
No doubt we may sometimes be mistaken. If we change our last
simile to that very old and familiar one of a fleet leaving the
harbor and sailing in company for some distant region, we can get
what we want out of it. There is one of our companions;--her
streamers were torn into rags before she had got into the open sea,
then by and by her sails blew out of the ropes one after another,
the waves swept her deck, and as night came on we left her a
seeming wreck, as we flew under our pyramid of canvas. But lo! at
dawn she is still in sight,--it may be in advance of us. Some deep
ocean-current has been moving her on, strong, but silent,--yes,
stronger than these noisy winds that puff our sails until they are
swollen as the cheeks of jubilant cherubim. And when at last the
black steam-tug with the skeleton arms, which comes out of the mist
sooner or later and takes us all in tow, grapples her and goes off
panting and groaning with her, it is to that harbor where all
wrecks are refitted, and where, alas! we, towering in our pride,
may never come.

So you will not think I mean to speak lightly of old friendships,
because we cannot help instituting comparisons between our present
and former selves by the aid of those who were what we were, but
are not what we are. Nothing strikes one more, in the race of
life, than to see how many give out in the first half of the
course. "Commencement day" always reminds me of the start for the
"Derby," when the beautiful high-bred three-year olds of the season
are brought up for trial. That day is the start, and life is the
race. Here we are at Cambridge, and a class is just "graduating."
Poor Harry! he was to have been there too, but he has paid forfeit;
step out here into the grass back of the church; ah! there it is:-


But this is the start, and here they are,--coats bright as silk,
and manes as smooth as eau lustrale can make them. Some of the
best of the colts are pranced round, a few minutes each, to show
their paces. What is that old gentleman crying about? and the old
lady by him, and the three girls, what are they all covering their
eyes for? Oh, that is THEIR colt which has just been trotted up on
the stage. Do they really think those little thin legs can do
anything in such a slashing sweepstakes as is coming off in these
next forty years? Oh, this terrible gift of second-sight that
comes to some of us when we begin to look through the silvered
rings of the arcus senilis!

TEN YEARS GONE. First turn in the race. A few broken down; two or
three bolted. Several show in advance of the ruck. CASSOCK, a
black colt, seems to be ahead of the rest; those black colts
commonly get the start, I have noticed, of the others, in the first
quarter. METEOR has pulled up.

TWENTY YEARS. Second corner turned. CASSOCK has dropped from the
front, and JUDEX, an iron-gray, has the lead. But look! how they
have thinned out! Down flat,--five,--six,--how many? They lie
still enough! they will not get up again in this race, be very
sure! And the rest of them, what a "tailing off"! Anybody can see
who is going to win,--perhaps.

THIRTY YEARS. Third corner turned. DIVES, bright sorrel, ridden
by the fellow in a yellow jacket, begins to make play fast; is
getting to be the favourite with many. But who is that other one
that has been lengthening his stride from the first, and now shows
close up to the front? Don't you remember the quiet brown colt
ASTEROID, with the star in his forehead? That is he; he is one of
the sort that lasts; look out for him! The black "colt," as we
used to call him, is in the background, taking it easily in a
gentle trot. There is one they used to call THE FILLY, on account
of a certain feminine air he had; well up, you see; the Filly is
not to be despised my boy!

FORTY YEARS. More dropping off,--but places much as before.

FIFTY YEARS. Race over. All that are on the course are coming in
at a walk; no more running. Who is ahead? Ahead? What! and the
winning-post a slab of white or gray stone standing out from that
turf where there is no more jockeying or straining for victory!
Well, the world marks their places in its betting-book; but be sure
that these matter very little, if they have run as well as they
knew how!

- Did I not say to you a little while ago that the universe swam in
an ocean of similitudes and analogies? I will not quote Cowley, or
Burns, or Wordsworth, just now, to show you what thoughts were
suggested to them by the simplest natural objects, such as a flower
or a leaf; but I will read you a few lines, if you do not object,
suggested by looking at a section of one of those chambered shells
to which is given the name of Pearly Nautilus. We need not trouble
ourselves about the distinction between this and the Paper
Nautilus, the Argonauta of the ancients. The name applied to both
shows that each has long been compared to a ship, as you may see
more fully in Webster's Dictionary, or the "Encyclopedia," to which
he refers. If you will look into Roget's Bridgewater Treatise, you
will find a figure of one of these shells, and a section of it.
The last will show you the series of enlarging compartments
successively dwelt in by the animal that inhabits the shell, which
is built in a widening spiral. Can you find no lesson in this?


This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main, -
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every clambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed, -
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:-

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!


A lyric conception--my friend, the Poet, said--hits me like a
bullet in the forehead. I have often had the blood drop from my
cheeks when it struck, and felt that I turned as white as death.
Then comes a creeping as of centipedes running down the spine,--
then a gasp and a great jump of the heart,--then a sudden flush and
a beating in the vessels of the head,--then a long sigh,--and the
poem is written.

It is an impromptu, I suppose, then, if you write it so suddenly,--
I replied.

No,--said he,--far from it. I said written, but I did not say
COPIED. Every such poem has a soul and a body, and it is the body
of it, or the copy, that men read and publishers pay for. The soul
of it is born in an instant in the poet's soul. It comes to him a
thought, tangled in the meshes of a few sweet words,--words that
have loved each other from the cradle of the language, but have
never been wedded until now. Whether it will ever fully embody
itself in a bridal train of a dozen stanzas or not is uncertain;
but it exists potentially from the instant that the poet turns pale
with it. It is enough to stun and scare anybody, to have a hot
thought come crashing into his brain, and ploughing up those
parallel ruts where the wagon trains of common ideas were jogging
along in their regular sequences of association. No wonder the
ancients made the poetical impulse wholly external. [Greek text
which cannot be reproduced]. Goddess,--Muse,--divine afflatus,--
something outside always. _I_ never wrote any verses worth
reading. I can't. I am too stupid. If I ever copied any that
were worth reading, I was only a medium.

[I was talking all this time to our boarders, you understand,--
telling them what this poet told me. The company listened rather
attentively, I thought, considering the literary character of the

The old gentleman opposite all at once asked me if I ever read
anything better than Pope's "Essay on Man"? Had I ever perused
McFingal? He was fond of poetry when he was a boy,--his mother
taught him to say many little pieces,--he remembered one beautiful
hymn;--and the old gentleman began, in a clear, loud voice, for his
years, -

"The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens," -

He stopped, as if startled by our silence, and a faint flush ran up
beneath the thin white hairs that fell upon his cheek. As I looked
round, I was reminded of a show I once saw at the Museum,--the
Sleeping Beauty, I think they called it. The old man's sudden
breaking out in this way turned every face towards him, and each
kept his posture as if changed to stone. Our Celtic Bridget, or
Biddy, is not a foolish fat scullion to burst out crying for a
sentiment. She is of the serviceable, red-handed, broad-and-high-
shouldered type; one of those imported female servants who are
known in public by their amorphous style of person, their stoop
forwards, and a headlong and as it were precipitous walk,--the
waist plunging downwards into the rocking pelvis at every heavy
footfall. Bridget, constituted for action, not for emotion, was
about to deposit a plate heaped with something upon the table, when
I saw the coarse arm stretched by my shoulder arrested,--motionless
as the arm of a terra-cotta caryatid; she couldn't set the plate
down while the old gentleman was speaking!

He was quite silent after this, still wearing the slight flush on
his cheek. Don't ever think the poetry is dead in an old man
because his forehead is wrinkled, or that his manhood has left him
when his hand trembles! If they ever WERE there, they ARE there

By and by we got talking again.--Does a poet love the verses
written through him, do you think, Sir?--said the divinity-student.

So long as they are warm from his mind, carry any of his animal
heat about them, _I_ KNOW he loves them,--I answered. When they
have had time to cool, he is more indifferent.

A good deal as it is with buckwheat cakes,--said the young fellow
whom they call John.

The last words, only, reached the ear of the economically organized
female in black bombazine .--Buckwheat is skerce and high,--she
remarked. [Must be a poor relation sponging on our landlady,--pays
nothing,--so she must stand by the guns and be ready to repel

I liked the turn the conversation had taken, for I had some things
I wanted to say, and so, after waiting a minute, I began again.--I
don't think the poems I read you sometimes can be fairly
appreciated, given to you as they are in the green state.

- You don't know what I mean by the GREEN STATE? Well, then, I
will tell you. Certain things are good for nothing until they have
been kept a long while; and some are good for nothing until they
have been long kept and USED. Of the first, wine is the
illustrious and immortal example. Of those which must be kept and
used I will name three,--meerschaum pipes, violins, and poems. The
meerschaum is but a poor affair until it has burned a thousand
offerings to the cloud-compelling deities. It comes to us without
complexion or flavor,--born of the sea-foam, like Aphrodite, but
colorless as pallida Mors herself. The fire is lighted in its
central shrine, and gradually the juices which the broad leaves of
the Great Vegetable had sucked up from an acre and curdled into a
drachm are diffused through its thirsting pores. First a
discoloration, then a stain, and at last a rich, glowing, umber
tint spreading over the whole surface. Nature true to her old
brown autumnal hue, you see,--as true in the fire of the meerschaum
as in the sunshine of October! And then the cumulative wealth of
its fragrant reminiscences! he who inhales its vapors takes a
thousand whiffs in a single breath; and one cannot touch it without
awakening the old joys that hang around it as the smell of flowers
clings to the dresses of the daughters of the house of Farina!

[Don't think I use a meerschaum myself, for _I_ DO NOT, though I
have owned a calumet since my childhood, which from a naked Pict
(of the Mohawk species) my grandsire won, together with a tomahawk
and beaded knife-sheath; paying for the lot with a bullet-mark on
his right check. On the maternal side I inherit the loveliest
silver-mounted tobacco-stopper you ever saw. It is a little box-
wood Triton, carved with charming liveliness and truth; I have
often compared it to a figure in Raphael's "Triumph of Galatea."
It came to me in an ancient shagreen case,--how old it is I do not
know,--but it must have been made since Sir Walter Raleigh's time.
If you are curious, you shall see it any day. Neither will I
pretend that I am so unused to the more perishable smoking
contrivance that a few whiffs would make me feel as if I lay in a
ground-swell on the Bay of Biscay. I am not unacquainted with that
fusiform, spiral-wound bundle of chopped stems and miscellaneous
incombustibles, the CIGAR, so called, of the shops,--which to
"draw" asks the suction-power of a nursling infant Hercules, and to
relish, the leathery palate of an old Silenus. I do not advise
you, young man, even if my illustration strike your fancy, to
consecrate the flower of your life to painting the bowl of a pipe,
for, let me assure you, the stain of a reverie-breeding narcotic
may strike deeper than you think for. I have seen the green leaf
of early promise grow brown before its time under such Nicotian
regimen, and thought the umbered meerschaum was dearly bought at
the cost of a brain enfeebled and a will enslaved.]

Violins, too,--the sweet old Amati!--the divine Stradivarius!
Played on by ancient maestros until the bow-hand lost its power and
the flying fingers stiffened. Bequeathed to the passionate, young
enthusiast, who made it whisper his hidden love, and cry his
inarticulate longings, and scream his untold agonies, and wail his
monotonous despair. Passed from his dying hand to the cold
virtuoso, who let it slumber in its case for a generation, till,
when his hoard was broken up, it came forth once more and rode the
stormy symphonies of royal orchestras, beneath the rushing bow of
their lord and leader. Into lonely prisons with improvident
artists; into convents from which arose, day and night, the holy
hymns with which its tones were blended; and back again to orgies
in which it learned to howl and laugh as if a legion of devils were
shut up in it; then again to the gentle dilettante who calmed it
down with easy melodies until it answered him softly as in the days
of the old maestros. And so given into our hands, its pores all
full of music; stained, like the meerschaum, through and through,
with the concentrated hue and sweetness of all the harmonies which
have kindled and faded on its strings.

Now I tell you a poem must be kept AND USED, like a meerschaum, or
a violin. A poem is just as porous as the meerschaum;--the more
porous it is, the better. I mean to say that a genuine poem is
capable of absorbing an indefinite amount of the essence of our own
humanity,--its tenderness, its heroism, its regrets, its
aspirations, so as to be gradually stained through with a divine
secondary color derived from ourselves. So you see it must take
time to bring the sentiment of a poem into harmony with our nature,
by staining ourselves through every thought and image our being can

Then again as to the mere music of a new poem; why, who can expect
anything more from that than from the music of a violin fresh from
the maker's hands? Now you know very well that there are no less
than fifty-eight different pieces in a violin. These pieces are
strangers to each other, and it takes a century, more or less, to
make them thoroughly acquainted. At last they learn to vibrate in
harmony, and the instrument becomes an organic whole, as if it were
a great seed-capsule which had grown from a garden-bed in Cremona,
or elsewhere. Besides, the wood is juicy and full of sap for fifty
years or so, but at the end of fifty or a hundred more gets
tolerably dry and comparatively resonant.

Don't you see that all this is just as true of a poem? Counting
each word as a piece, there are more pieces in an average copy of
verses than in a violin. The poet has forced all these words
together, and fastened them, and they don't understand it at first.
But let the poem be repeated aloud and murmured over in the mind's
muffled whisper often enough, and at length the parts become knit
together in such absolute solidarity that you could not change a
syllable without the whole world's crying out against you for
meddling with the harmonious fabric. Observe, too, how the drying
process takes place in the stuff of a poem just as in that of a
violin. Here is a Tyrolese fiddle that is just coming to its
hundredth birthday,--(Pedro Klauss, Tyroli, fecit, 1760,)--the sap
is pretty well out of it. And here is the song of an old poet whom
Neaera cheated. -

"Nox erat, et coelo fulgebat Luna sereno
Inter minora sidera,
Cum tu magnorum numen laesura deorum
In verba jurabas mea."

Don't you perceive the sonorousness of these old dead Latin
phrases? Now I tell you that, every word fresh from the dictionary
brings with it a certain succulence; and though I cannot expect the
sheets of the "Pactolian," in which, as I told you, I sometimes
print my verses, to get so dry as the crisp papyrus that held those
words of Horatius Flaccus, yet you may be sure, that, while the
sheets are damp, and while the lines hold their sap, you can't
fairly judge of my performances, and that, if made of the true
stuff, they will ring better after a while.

[There was silence for a brief space, after my somewhat elaborate
exposition of these self-evident analogies. Presently A PERSON
turned towards me--I do not choose to designate the individual--and
said that he rather expected my pieces had given pretty good
"sahtisfahction."--I had, up to this moment, considered this
complimentary phrase as sacred to the use of secretaries of
lyceums, and, as it has been usually accompanied by a small
pecuniary testimonial, have acquired a certain relish for this
moderately tepid and unstimulating expression of enthusiasm. But
as a reward for gratuitous services, I confess I thought it a
little below that blood-heat standard which a man's breath ought to
have, whether silent, or vocal and articulate. I waited for a
favorable opportunity, however, before making the remarks which

- There are single expressions, as I have told you already, that
fix a man's position for you before you have done shaking hands
with him. Allow me to expand a little. There are several things,
very slight in themselves, yet implying other things not so
unimportant. Thus, your French servant has devalise your premises
and got caught. Excusez, says the sergent-de-ville, as he politely
relieves him of his upper garments and displays his bust in the
full daylight. Good shoulders enough,--a little marked,--traces of
smallpox, perhaps,--but white. . . . . Crac! from the sergent-de-
ville's broad palm on the white shoulder! Now look! Vogue la
galere! Out comes the big red V--mark of the hot iron;--he had
blistered it out pretty nearly,--hadn't he?--the old rascal VOLEUR,
branded in the galleys at Marseilles! [Don't! What if he has got
something like this?--nobody supposes I INVENTED such a story.]

My man John, who used to drive two of those six equine females
which I told you I had owned,--for, look you, my friends, simple
though I stand here, I am one that has been driven in his
"kerridge,"--not using that term, as liberal shepherds do, for any
battered old shabby-genteel go-cart which has more than one wheel,
but meaning thereby a four-wheeled vehicle WITH A POLE,--my man
John, I say, was a retired soldier. He retired unostentatiously,
as many of Her Majesty's modest servants have done before and
since. John told me, that when an officer thinks he recognizes one
of these retiring heroes, and would know if he has really been in
the service, that he may restore him, if possible, to a grateful
country, he comes suddenly upon him, and says, sharply, "Strap!"
If he has ever worn the shoulder-strap, he has learned the
reprimand for its ill adjustment. The old word of command flashes
through his muscles, and his hand goes up in an instant to the
place where the strap used to be.

[I was all the time preparing for my grand coup, you understand;
but I saw they were not quite ready for it, and so continued,--
always in illustration of the general principle I had laid down.]

Yes, odd things come out in ways that nobody thinks of. There was
a legend, that, when the Danish pirates made descents upon the
English coast, they caught a few Tartars occasionally, in the shape
of Saxons, who would not let them go,--on the contrary, insisted on
their staying, and, to make sure of it, treated them as Apollo
treated Marsyas, or an Bartholinus has treated a fellow-creature in
his title-page, and, having divested them of the one essential and
perfectly fitting garment, indispensable in the mildest climates,
nailed the same on the church-door as we do the banns of marriage,
in terrorem.

[There was a laugh at this among some of the young folks; but as I
looked at our landlady, I saw that "the water stood in her eyes,"
as it did in Christiana's when the interpreter asked her about the
spider, and I fancied, but wasn't quite sure that the
schoolmistress blushed, as Mercy did in the same conversation, as
you remember.]

That sounds like a cock-and-bull-story,--said the young fellow whom
they call John. I abstained from making Hamlet's remark to
Horatio, and continued.

Not long since, the church-wardens were repairing and beautifying
an old Saxon church in a certain English village, and among other
things thought the doors should be attended to. One of them
particularly, the front-door, looked very badly, crusted, as it
were, and as if it would be all the better for scraping. There
happened to be a microscopist in the village who had heard the old
pirate story, and he took it into his head to examine the crust on
this door. There was no mistake about it; it was a genuine
historical document, of the Ziska drum-head pattern,--a real cutis
humana, stripped from some old Scandinavian filibuster, and the
legend was true.

My friend, the Professor, settled an important historical and
financial question once by the aid of an exceedingly minute
fragment of a similar document. Behind the pane of plate-glass
which bore his name and title burned a modest lamp, signifying to
the passers-by that at all hours of the night the slightest favors
(or fevers) were welcome. A youth who had freely partaken of the
cup which cheers and likewise inebriates, following a moth-like
impulse very natural under the circumstances, dashed his fist at
the light and quenched the meek luminary,--breaking through the
plate-glass, of course, to reach it. Now I don't want to go into
minutiae at table, you know, but a naked hand can no more go
through a pane of thick glass without leaving some of its cuticle,
to say the least, behind it, than a butterfly can go through a
sausage-machine without looking the worse for it. The Professor
gathered up the fragments of glass, and with them certain very
minute but entirely satisfactory documents which would have
identified and hanged any rogue in Christendom who had parted with
them.--The historical question, WHO DID IT? and the financial
question, WHO PAID FOR IT? were both settled before the new lamp
was lighted the next evening.

You see, my friends, what immense conclusions, touching our lives,
our fortunes, and our sacred honor, may be reached by means of very
insignificant premises. This is eminently true of manners and
forms of speech; a movement or a phrase often tells you all you
want to know about a person. Thus, "How's your health?" (commonly
pronounced haalth)--instead of, How do you do? or, How are you? Or
calling your little dark entry a "hall," and your old rickety one-
horse wagon a "kerridge." Or telling a person who has been trying
to please you that he has given you pretty good "sahtisfahction."
Or saying that you "remember of" such a thing, or that you have
been "stoppin"' at Deacon Somebody's,--and other such expressions.
One of my friends had a little marble statuette of Cupid in the
parlor of his country-house,--bow, arrows, wings, and all complete.
A visitor, indigenous to the region, looking pensively at the
figure, asked the lady of the house "if that was a statoo of her
deceased infant?" What a delicious, though somewhat voluminous
biography, social, educational, and aesthetic in that brief

[Please observe with what Machiavellian astuteness I smuggled in
the particular offence which it was my object to hold up to my
fellow-boarders, without too personal an attack on the individual
at whose door it lay.]

That was an exceedingly dull person who made the remark, Ex pede
Herculem. He might as well have said, "From a peck of apples you
may judge of the barrel." Ex PEDE, to be sure! Read, instead, Ex
ungue minimi digiti pedis, Herculem, ejusque patrem, matrem, avos
et proavos, filios, nepotes et pronepotes! Talk to me about your
[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]! Tell me about Cuvier's
getting up a megatherium from a tooth, or Agassiz's drawing a
portrait of an undiscovered fish from a single scale! As the "O"
revealed Giotto,--as the one word "moi" betrayed the Stratford
atte-Bowe-taught Anglais,--so all a man's antecedents and
possibilities are summed up in a single utterance which gives at
once the gauge of his education and his mental organization.

Possibilities, Sir?--said the divinity-student; can't a man who
says Haow? arrive at distinction?

Sir,--I replied,--in a republic all things are possible. But the
man WITH A FUTURE has almost of necessity sense enough to see that
any odious trick of speech or manners must be got rid of. Doesn't
Sydney Smith say that a public man in England never gets over a
false quantity uttered in early life? OUR public men are in little
danger of this fatal misstep, as few of them are in the habit of
introducing Latin into their speeches,--for good and sufficient
reasons. But they are bound to speak decent English,--unless,
indeed, they are rough old campaigners, like General Jackson or
General Taylor; in which case, a few scars on Priscian's head are
pardoned to old fellows who have quite as many on their own, and a
constituency of thirty empires is not at all particular, provided
they do not swear in their Presidential Messages.

However, it is not for me to talk. I have made mistakes enough in
conversation and print. I never find them out until they are
stereotyped, and then I think they rarely escape me. I have no
doubt I shall make half a dozen slips before this breakfast is
over, and remember them all before another. How one does tremble
with rage at his own intense momentary stupidity about things he
knows perfectly well, and to think how he lays himself open to the
impertinences of the captatores verborum, those useful but humble
scavengers of the language, whose business it is to pick up what
might offend or injure, and remove it, hugging and feeding on it as
they go! I don't want to speak too slightingly of these verbal
critics;--how can I, who am so fond of talking about errors and
vulgarisms of speech? Only there is a difference between those
clerical blunders which almost every man commits, knowing better,
and that habitual grossness or meanness of speech which is
unendurable to educated persons, from anybody that wears silk or

[I write down the above remarks this morning, January 26th, making
this record of the date that nobody may think it was written in
wrath, on account of any particular grievance suffered from the
invasion of any individual scarabaeus grammaticus.]

- I wonder if anybody ever finds fault with anything I say at this
table when it is repeated? I hope they do, I am sure. I should be
very certain that I had said nothing of much significance, if they
did not.

Did you never, in walking in the fields, come across a large flat
stone, which had lain, nobody knows how long, just where you found
it, with the grass forming a little hedge, as it were, all round
it, close to its edges,--and have you not, in obedience to a kind
of feeling that told you it had been lying there long enough,
insinuated your stick or your foot or your fingers under its edge
and turned it over as a housewife turns a cake, when she says to
herself, "It's done brown enough by this time"? What an odd
revelation, and what an unforeseen and unpleasant surprise to a
small community, the very existence of which you had not suspected,
until the sudden dismay and scattering among its members produced
by your turning the old stone over! Blades of grass flattened
down, colorless, matted together, as if they had been bleached and
ironed; hideous crawling creatures, some of them coleopterous or
horny-shelled,--turtle-bugs one wants to call them; some of them
softer, but cunningly spread out and compressed like Lepine
watches; (Nature never loses a crack or a crevice, mind you, or a
joint in a tavern bedstead, but she always has one of her flat-
pattern five timekeepers to slide into it;) black, glossy crickets,
with their long filaments sticking out like the whips of four-horse
stage-coaches; motionless, slug-like creatures, young larvae,
perhaps more horrible in their pulpy stillness than even in the
infernal wriggle of maturity! But no sooner is the stone turned
and the wholesome light of day let upon this compressed and blinded
community of creeping things, than all of them which enjoy the
luxury of legs--and some of them have a good many--rush round
wildly, butting each other and everything in their way, and end in
a general stampede for underground retreats from the region
poisoned by sunshine. NEXT YEAR you will find the grass growing
tall and green where the stone lay; the ground-bird builds her nest
where the beetle had his hole; the dandelion and the buttercup are
growing there, and the broad fans of insect-angels open and shut
over their golden disks, as the rhythmic waves of blissful
consciousness pulsate through their glorified being.

- The young fellow whom they call John saw fit to say, in his very
familiar way,--at which I do not choose to take offence, but which
I sometimes think it necessary to repress,--that I was coming it
rather strong on the butterflies.

No, I replied; there is meaning in each of those images,--the
butterfly as well as the others. The stone is ancient error. The
grass is human nature borne down and bleached of all its colour by
it. The shapes which are found beneath are the crafty beings that
thrive in darkness, and the weaker organisms kept helpless by it.
He who turns the stone over is whosoever puts the staff of truth to
the old lying incubus, no matter whether he do it with a serious
face or a laughing one. The next year stands for the coming time.
Then shall the nature which had lain blanched and broken rise in
its full stature and native hues in the sunshine. Then shall God's
minstrels build their nests in the hearts of a new-born humanity.
Then shall beauty--Divinity taking outlines and color--light upon
the souls of men as the butterfly, image of the beatified spirit
rising from the dust, soars from the shell that held a poor grub,
which would never have found wings, had not the stone been lifted.

You never need think you can turn over any old falsehood without a
terrible squirming and scattering of the horrid little population
that dwells under it.

- Every real thought on every real subject knocks the wind out of
somebody or other. As soon as his breath comes back, he very
probably begins to expend it in hard words. These are the best
evidence a man can have that he has said something it was time to
say. Dr. Johnson was disappointed in the effect of one of his
pamphlets. "I think I have not been attacked enough for it," he
said;--"attack is the reaction; I never think I have hit hard
unless it rebounds."

- If a fellow attacked my opinions in print would I reply? Not I.
Do you think I don't understand what my friend, the Professor, long

Don't know what that means?--Well, I will tell you. You know,
that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a
pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would
stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy
equalizes fools and wise men in the same way,--AND THE FOOLS KNOW

- No, but I often read what they say about other people. There are
about a dozen phrases which all come tumbling along together, like
the tongs, and the shovel, and the poker, and the brush, and the
bellows, in one of those domestic avalanches that everybody knows.
If you get one, you get the whole lot.

What are they?--Oh, that depends a good deal on latitude and
longitude. Epithets follow the isothermal lines pretty accurately.
Grouping them in two families, one finds himself a clever, genial,
witty, wise, brilliant, sparkling, thoughtful, distinguished,
celebrated, illustrious scholar and perfect gentleman, and first
writer of the age; or a dull, foolish, wicked, pert, shallow,
ignorant, insolent, traitorous, black-hearted outcast, and disgrace
to civilization.

What do I think determines the set of phrases a man gets?--Well, I
should say a set of influences something like these: --1st.
Relationships, political, religious, social, domestic. 2d.
Oyster, in the form of suppers given to gentlemen connected with
criticism. I believe in the school, the college, and the clergy;
but my sovereign logic, for regulating public opinion--which means
commonly the opinion of half a dozen of the critical gentry--is the
following MAJOR PROPOSITION. Oysters au naturel. Minor
proposition. The same "scalloped." Conclusion. That--(here
insert entertainer's name) is clever, witty, wise, brilliant,--and
the rest.

- No, it isn't exactly bribery. One man has oysters, and another
epithets. It is an exchange of hospitalities; one gives a "spread"
on linen, and the other on paper,--that is all. Don't you think
you and I should be apt to do just so, if we were in the critical
line? I am sure I couldn't resist the softening influences of
hospitality. I don't like to dine out, you know,--I dine so well
at our own table, [our landlady looked radiant,] and the company is
so pleasant [a rustling movement of satisfaction among the
boarders]; but if I did partake of a man's salt, with such
additions as that article of food requires to make it palatable, I
could never abuse him, and if I had to speak of him, I suppose I
should hang my set of jingling epithets round him like a string of
sleigh-bells. Good feeling helps society to make liars of most of
us,--not absolute liars, but such careless handlers of truth that
its sharp corners get terribly rounded. I love truth as chiefest
among the virtues; I trust it runs in my blood; but I would never
be a critic, because I know I could not always tell it. I might
write a criticism of a book that happened to please me; that is
another matter.

- Listen, Benjamin Franklin! This is for you, and such others of
tender age as you may tell it to.

When we are as yet small children, long before the time when those
two grown ladies offer us the choice of Hercules, there comes up to
us a youthful angel, holding in his right hand cubes like dice, and
in his left spheres like marbles. The cubes are of stainless
ivory, and on each is written in letters of gold--TRUTH. The
spheres are veined and streaked and spotted beneath, with a dark
crimson flush above, where the light falls on them, and in a
certain aspect you can make out upon every one of them the three
letters L, I, E. The child to whom they are offered very probably
clutches at both. The spheres are the most convenient things in
the world; they roll with the least possible impulse just where the
child would have them. The cubes will not roll at all; they have a
great talent for standing still, and always keep right side up.
But very soon the young philosopher finds that things which roll so
easily are very apt to roll into the wrong corner, and to get out
of his way when he most wants them, while he always knows where to
find the others, which stay where they are left. Thus he learns--
thus we learn--to drop the streaked and speckled globes of
falsehood and to hold fast the white angular blocks of truth. But
then comes Timidity, and after her Good-nature, and last of all
Polite-behavior, all insisting that truth must ROLL, or nobody can
do anything with it; and so the first with her coarse rasp, and the
second with her broad file, and the third with her silken sleeve,
do so round off and smooth and polish the snow-white cubes of
truth, that, when they have got a little dingy by use, it becomes
hard to tell them from the rolling spheres of falsehood.

The schoolmistress was polite enough to say that she was pleased
with this, and that she would read it to her little flock the next
day. But she should tell the children, she said, that there were
better reasons for truth than could be found in mere experience of
its convenience and the inconvenience of lying.

Yes,--I said,--but education always begins through the senses, and
works up to the idea of absolute right and wrong. The first thing
the child has to learn about this matter is, that lying is
unprofitable,--afterwards, that it is against the peace and dignity
of the universe.

- Do I think that the particular form of lying often seen in
newspapers, under the title, "From our Foreign Correspondent," does
any harm?--Why, no,--I don't know that it does. I suppose it
doesn't really deceive people any more than the "Arabian Nights" or
"Gulliver's Travels" do. Sometimes the writers compile TOO
carelessly, though, and mix up facts out of geographies, and
stories out of the penny papers, so as to mislead those who are
desirous of information. I cut a piece out of one of the papers,
the other day, which contains a number of improbabilities, and, I
suspect, misstatements. I will send up and get it for you, if you
would like to hear it.--Ah, this is it; it is headed


"This island is now the property of the Stamford family,--having
been won, it is said, in a raffle, by Sir--Stamford, during the
stock-gambling mania of the South-Sea Scheme. The history of this
gentleman may be found in an interesting series of questions
(unfortunately not yet answered) contained in the 'Notes and
Queries.' This island is entirely surrounded by the ocean, which
here contains a large amount of saline substance, crystallizing in
cubes remarkable for their symmetry, and frequently displays on its
surface, during calm weather, the rainbow tints of the celebrated
South-Sea bubbles. The summers are oppressively hot, and the
winters very probably cold; but this fact cannot be ascertained
precisely, as, for some peculiar reason, the mercury in these
latitudes never shrinks, as in more northern regions, and thus the
thermometer is rendered useless in winter.

The principal vegetable productions of the island are the pepper
tree and the bread-fruit tree. Pepper being very abundantly
produced, a benevolent society was organized in London during the
last century for supplying the natives with vinegar and oysters, as
an addition to that delightful condiment. [Note received from Dr.
D. P.] It is said, however, that, as the oysters were of the kind
called NATIVES in England, the natives of Sumatra, in obedience to
a natural instinct, refused to touch them, and confined themselves
entirely to the crew of the vessel in which they were brought over.
This information was received from one of the oldest inhabitants, a
native himself, and exceedingly fond of missionaries. He is said
also to be very skilful in the CUISINE peculiar to the island.

"During the season of gathering the pepper, the persons employed
are subject to various incommodities, the chief of which is violent
and long-continued sternutation, or sneezing. Such is the
vehemence of these attacks, that the unfortunate subjects of them
are often driven backwards for great distances at immense speed, on
the well-known principle of the aeolipile. Not being able to see
where they are going, these poor creatures dash themselves to
pieces against the rocks or are precipitated over the cliffs and
thus many valuable lives are lost annually. As, during the whole
pepper-harvest, they feed exclusively on this stimulant, they
become exceedingly irritable. The smallest injury is resented with
ungovernable rage. A young man suffering from the PEPPER-FEVER as
it is called, cudgelled another most severely for appropriating a
superannuated relative of trifling value, and was only pacified by
having a present made him of a pig of that peculiar species of
swine called the Peccavi by the Catholic Jews, who, it is well
known, abstain from swine's flesh in imitation of the Mahometan

"The bread-tree grows abundantly. Its branches are well known to
Europe and America under the familiar name of maccaroni. The
smaller twigs are called vermicelli. They have a decided animal
flavor, as may be observed in the soups containing them.
Maccaroni, being tubular, is the favorite habitat of a very
dangerous insect, which is rendered peculiarly ferocious by being
boiled. The government of the island, therefore, never allows a
stick of it to be exported without being accompanied by a piston
with which its cavity may at any time be thoroughly swept out.
These are commonly lost or stolen before the maccaroni arrives
among us. It therefore always contains many of these insects,
which, however, generally die of old age in the shops, so that
accidents from this source are comparatively rare.

"The fruit of the bread-tree consists principally of hot rolls.
The buttered-muffin variety is supposed to be a hybrid with the
cocoa-nut palm, the cream found on the milk of the cocoa-nut
exuding from the hybrid in the shape of butter, just as the ripe
fruit is splitting, so as to fit it for the tea-table, where it is
commonly served up with cold" -

- There,--I don't want to read any more of it. You see that many
of these statements are highly improbable.--No, I shall not mention
the paper.--No, neither of them wrote it, though it reminds me of
the style of these popular writers. I think the fellow who wrote
it must have been reading some of their stories, and got them mixed
up with his history and geography. I don't suppose HE lies;--he
sells it to the editor, who knows how many squares off "Sumatra"
is. The editor, who sells it to the public--By the way, the papers
have been very civil haven't they?--to the--the what d'ye call it?-
-"Northern Magazine,"--isn't it?--got up by some of those Come-
outers, down East, as an organ for their local peculiarities.

- The Professor has been to see me. Came in, glorious, at about
twelve o'clock, last night. Said he had been with "the boys." On
inquiry, found that "the boys," were certain baldish and grayish
old gentlemen that one sees or hears of in various important
stations of society. The Professor is one of the same set, but he
always talks as if he had been out of college about ten years,
whereas. . . [Each of these dots was a little nod, which the
company understood, as the reader will, no doubt.] He calls them
sometimes "the boys," and sometimes "the old fellows." Call him by
the latter title, and see how he likes it.--Well, he came in last
night glorious, as I was saying. Of course I don't mean vinously
exalted; he drinks little wine on such occasions, and is well known
to all the Peters and Patricks as the gentleman who always has
indefinite quantities of black tea to kill any extra glass of red
claret he may have swallowed. But the Professor says he always
gets tipsy on old memories at these gatherings. He was, I forget
how many years old when he went to the meeting; just turned of
twenty now,--he said. He made various youthful proposals to me,
including a duet under the landlady's daughter's window. He had
just learned a trick, he said, of one of "the boys," of getting a
splendid bass out of a door-panel by rubbing it with the palm of
his hand. Offered to sing "The sky is bright," accompanying
himself on the front-door, if I would go down and help in the
chorus. Said there never was such a set of fellows as the old boys
of the set he has been with. Judges, mayors, Congress-men, Mr.
Speakers, leaders in science, clergymen better than famous, and
famous too, poets by the half-dozen, singers with voices like
angels, financiers, wits, three of the best laughers in the
Commonwealth, engineers, agriculturists,--all forms of talent and
knowledge he pretended were represented in that meeting. Then he
began to quote Byron about Santa Croce, and maintained that he
could "furnish out creation" in all its details from that set of
his. He would like to have the whole boodle of them, (I
remonstrated against this word, but the Professor said it was a
diabolish good word, and he would have no other,) with their wives
and children, shipwrecked on a remote island, just to see how
splendidly they would reorganize society. They could build a
city,--they have done it; make constitutions and laws; establish
churches and lyceums; teach and practise the healing art; instruct
in every department; found observatories; create commerce and
manufactures; write songs and hymns, and sing 'em, and make
instruments to accompany the songs with; lastly, publish a journal
almost as good as the "Northern Magazine," edited by the Come-
outers. There was nothing they were not up to, from a christening
to a hanging; the last, to be sure, could never be called for,
unless some stranger got in among them.

- I let the Professor talk as long as he liked; it didn't make much
difference to me whether it was all truth, or partly made up of
pale Sherry and similar elements. All at once he jumped up and
said, -

Don't you want to hear what I just read to the boys?

I have had questions of a similar character asked me before,
occasionally. A man of iron mould might perhaps say, No! I am not
a man of iron mould, and said that I should be delighted.

The Professor then read--with that slightly sing-song cadence which
is observed to be common in poets reading their own verses--the
following stanzas; holding them at a focal distance of about two
feet and a half, with an occasional movement back or forward for
better adjustment, the appearance of which has been likened by some
impertinent young folks to that of the act of playing on the
trombone. His eyesight was never better; I have his word for it.


Flash out a stream of blood-red wine! -
For I would drink to other days;
And brighter shall their memory shine,
Seen flaming through its crimson blaze.
The roses die, the summers fade;
But every ghost of boyhood's dream
By Nature's magic power is laid
To sleep beneath this blood-red stream.

It filled the purple grapes that lay
And drank the splendors of the sun
Where the long summer's cloudless day
Is mirrored in the broad Garonne;
It pictures still the bacchant shapes
That saw their hoarded sunlight shed, -
The maidens dancing on the grapes, -
Their milk-white ankles splashed with red.

Beneath these waves of crimson lie,
In rosy fetters prisoned fast,
Those flitting shapes that never die,
The swift-winged visions of the past.
Kiss but the crystal's mystic rim,
Each shadow rends its flowery chain,
Springs in a bubble from its brim
And walks the chambers of the brain.

Poor Beauty! time and fortune's wrong
No form nor feature may withstand, -
Thy wrecks are scattered all along,
Like emptied sea-shells on the sand; -
Yet, sprinkled with this blushing rain,
The dust restores each blooming girl,
As if the sea-shells moved again
Their glistening lips of pink and pearl.

Here lies the home of school-boy life,
With creaking stair and wind-swept hall,
And, scarred by many a truant knife,
Our old initials on the wall;
Here rest--their keen vibrations mute -
The shout of voices known so well,
The ringing laugh, the wailing flute,
The chiding of the sharp-tongued bell.

Here, clad in burning robes, are laid
Life's blossomed joys, untimely shed;
And here those cherished forms have strayed
We miss awhile, and call them dead.
What wizard fills the maddening glass
What soil the enchanted clusters grew?
That buried passions wake and pass
In beaded drops of fiery dew?

Nay, take the cup of blood-red wine, -
Our hearts can boast a warmer grow,
Filled from a vantage more divine, -
Calmed, but not chilled by winter's snow!
To-night the palest wave we sip
Rich as the priceless draught shall be
That wet the bride of Cana's lip, -
The wedding wine of Galilee!


Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.

- I think, Sir,--said the divinity-student,--you must intend that
for one of the sayings of the Seven Wise Men of Boston you were
speaking of the other day.

I thank you, my young friend,--was my reply,--but I must say
something better than that, before I could pretend to fill out the

- The schoolmistress wanted to know how many of these sayings there
were on record, and what, and by whom said.

- Why, let us see,--there is that one of Benjamin Franklin, "the
great Bostonian," after whom this lad was named. To be sure, he
said a great many wise things,--and I don't feel sure he didn't
borrow this,--he speaks as if it were old. But then he applied it
so neatly! -

"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you
another than he whom you yourself have obliged."

Then there is that glorious Epicurean paradox, uttered by my
friend, the Historian, in one of his flashing moments:-

"Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with its

To these must certainly be added that other saying of one of the
wittiest of men:-

"Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris." -

The divinity-student looked grave at this, but said nothing.

The schoolmistress spoke out, and said she didn't think the wit
meant any irreverence. It was only another way of saying, Paris is
a heavenly place after New York or Boston.

A jaunty-looking person, who had come in with the young fellow they
call John,--evidently a stranger,--said there was one more wise
man's saying that he had heard; it was about our place, but he
didn't know who said it.--A civil curiosity was manifested by the
company to hear the fourth wise saying. I heard him distinctly
whispering to the young fellow who brought him to dinner, SHALL I
TELL IT? To which the answer was, GO AHEAD!--Well,--he said,--this
was what I heard:-

"Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't
pry that out of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation
straightened out for a crowbar."

Sir,--said I,--I am gratified with your remark. It expresses with
pleasing vivacity that which I have sometimes heard uttered with
malignant dulness. The satire of the remark is essentially true of
Boston,--and of all other considerable--and inconsiderable--places
with which I have had the privilege of being acquainted. Cockneys
think London is the only place in the world. Frenchmen--you
remember the line about Paris, the Court, the World, etc.-- I
recollect well, by the way, a sign in that city which ran thus:
"Hotel l'Univers et des Etats Unis"; and as Paris IS the universe
to a Frenchman, of course the United States are outside of it.--
"See Naples and then die."--It is quite as bad with smaller places.
I have been about, lecturing, you know, and have found the
following propositions to hold true of all of them.

1. The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of
each and every town or city.

2. If more than fifty years have passed since its foundation, it
is affectionately styled by the inhabitants the "GOOD OLD town of"-
-(whatever its name may happen to be.)

3. Every collection of its inhabitants that comes together to
listen to a stranger is invariably declared to be a "remarkably
intelligent audience."

4. The climate of the place is particularly favorable to

5. It contains several persons of vast talent little known to the
world. (One or two of them, you may perhaps chance to remember,
sent short pieces to the "Pactolian" some time since, which were
"respectfully declined.")

Boston is just like other places of its size;--only perhaps,
considering its excellent fish-market, paid fire-department,
superior monthly publications, and correct habit of spelling the
English language, it has some right to look down on the mob of
cities. I'll tell you, though, if you want to know it, what is the
real offence of Boston. It drains a large water-shed of its
intellect, and will not itself be drained. If it would only send
away its first-rate men, instead of its second-rate ones, (no
offence to the well-known exceptions, of which we are always
proud,) we should be spared such epigrammatic remarks as that which
the gentleman has quoted. There can never be a real metropolis in
this country, until the biggest centre can drain the lesser ones of
their talent and wealth.--I have observed, by the way, that the
people who really live in two great cities are by no means so
jealous of each other, as are those of smaller cities situated
within the intellectual basin, or suction-range, of one large one,
of the pretensions of any other. Don't you see why? Because their
promising young author and rising lawyer and large capitalist have
been drained off to the neighboring big city,--their prettiest girl
has been exported to the same market; all their ambition points
there, and all their thin gilding of glory comes from there. I
hate little toad-eating cities.

- Would I be so good as to specify any particular example?--Oh,--an
example? Did you ever see a bear-trap? Never? Well, shouldn't
you like to see me put my foot into one? With sentiments of the
highest consideration I must beg leave to be excused.

Besides, some of the smaller cities are charming. If they have an
old church or two, a few stately mansions of former grandees, here
and there an old dwelling with the second story projecting, (for
the convenience of shooting the Indians knocking at the front-door
with their tomahawks,)--if they have, scattered about, those mighty
square houses built something more than half a century ago, and
standing like architectural boulders dropped by the former diluvium
of wealth, whose refluent wave has left them as its monument,--if
they have gardens with elbowed apple-trees that push their branches
over the high board-fence and drop their fruit on the side-walk,--
if they have a little grass in the side-streets, enough to betoken
quiet without proclaiming decay,--I think I could go to pieces,
after my life's work were done, in one of those tranquil places, as
sweetly as in any cradle that an old man may be rocked to sleep in.
I visit such spots always with infinite delight. My friend, the
Poet, says, that rapidly growing towns are most unfavorable to the
imaginative and reflective faculties. Let a man live in one of
these old quiet places, he says, and the wine of his soul, which is
kept thick and turbid by the rattle of busy streets, settles, and,
as you hold it up, you may see the sun through it by day and the
stars by night.

- Do I think that the little villages have the conceit of the great
towns?--I don't believe there is much difference. You know how
they read Pope's line in the smallest town in our State of
Massachusetts?--Well, they read it

"All are but parts of one stupendous HULL!"

- Every person's feelings have a front-door and a side-door by
which they may be entered. The front-door is on the street. Some
keep it always open; some keep it latched; some, locked; some,
bolted,--with a chain that will let you peep in, but not get in;
and some nail it up, so that nothing can pass its threshold. This
front-door leads into a passage which opens into an ante-room, and
this into the inferior apartments. The side-door opens at once
into the sacred chambers.

There is almost always at least one key to this side-door. This is
carried for years hidden in a mother's bosom. Fathers, brothers,
sisters, and friends, often, but by no means so universally, have
duplicates of it. The wedding-ring conveys a right to one; alas,
if none is given with it!

If nature or accident has put one of these keys into the hands of a
person who has the torturing instinct, I can only solemnly
pronounce the words that Justice utters over its doomed victim,--
THE LORD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL! You will probably go mad within
a reasonable time,--or, if you are a man, run off and die with your

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