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The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 1 by Charles Dudley Warner

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streams and mountains, and their savage inhabitants, as well as we
know all our rich relations and what they are doing; and in lonely
bear-hunts and sable-trappings he has thought out and solved most of
the problems of life. As he stands in his wood-gear, he is as
grizzly as an old cedar-tree; and he speaks in a high falsetto voice,
which would be invaluable to a boatswain in a storm at sea.

We had been talking of all subjects about which rational men are
interested,--bears, panthers, trapping, the habits of trout, the
tariff, the internal revenue (to wit, the injustice of laying such a
tax on tobacco, and none on dogs: --There ain't no dog in the United
States," says the guide, at the top of his voice, "that earns his
living"), the Adventists, the Gorner Grat, Horace Greeley, religion,
the propagation of seeds in the wilderness (as, for instance, where
were the seeds lying for ages that spring up into certain plants and
flowers as soon as a spot is cleared anywhere in the most remote
forest; and why does a growth of oak-trees always come up after a
growth of pine has been removed?)--in short, we had pretty nearly
reached a solution of many mysteries, when Phelps suddenly exclaimed
with uncommon energy,--

"Wall, there's one thing that beats me!"

"What's that?" we asked with undisguised curiosity.

"That's 'pusley'!" he replied, in the tone of a man who has come to
one door in life which is hopelessly shut, and from which he retires
in despair.

"Where it comes from I don't know, nor what to do with it. It's in
my garden; and I can't get rid of it. It beats me."

About "pusley" the guide had no theory and no hope. A feeling of awe
came over me, as we lay there at midnight, hushed by the sound of the
stream and the rising wind in the spruce-tops. Then man can go
nowhere that "pusley" will not attend him. Though he camp on the
Upper Au Sable, or penetrate the forest where rolls the Allegash, and
hear no sound save his own allegations, he will not escape it. It
has entered the happy valley of Keene, although there is yet no
church there, and only a feeble school part of the year. Sin travels
faster than they that ride in chariots. I take my hoe, and begin;
but I feel that I am warring against something whose roots take hold
on H.

By the time a man gets to be eighty, he learns that he is compassed
by limitations, and that there has been a natural boundary set to his
individual powers. As he goes on in life, he begins to doubt his
ability to destroy all evil and to reform all abuses, and to suspect
that there will be much left to do after he has done. I stepped into
my garden in the spring, not doubting that I should be easily master
of the weeds. I have simply learned that an institution which is at
least six thousand years old, and I believe six millions, is not to
be put down in one season.

I have been digging my potatoes, if anybody cares to know it. I
planted them in what are called "Early Rose," --the rows a little
less than three feet apart; but the vines came to an early close in
the drought. Digging potatoes is a pleasant, soothing occupation,
but not poetical. It is good for the mind, unless they are too small
(as many of mine are), when it begets a want of gratitude to the
bountiful earth. What small potatoes we all are, compared with what
we might be! We don't plow deep enough, any of us, for one thing. I
shall put in the plow next year, and give the tubers room enough. I
think they felt the lack of it this year: many of them seemed ashamed
to come out so small. There is great pleasure in turning out the
brown-jacketed fellows into the sunshine of a royal September day,
and seeing them glisten as they lie thickly strewn on the warm soil.
Life has few such moments. But then they must be picked up. The
picking-up, in this world, is always the unpleasant part of it.


I do not hold myself bound to answer the question, Does gardening
pay? It is so difficult to define what is meant by paying. There is
a popular notion that, unless a thing pays, you had better let it
alone; and I may say that there is a public opinion that will not let
a man or woman continue in the indulgence of a fancy that does not
pay. And public opinion is stronger than the legislature, and nearly
as strong as the ten commandments: I therefore yield to popular
clamor when I discuss the profit of my garden.

As I look at it, you might as well ask, Does a sunset pay? I know
that a sunset is commonly looked on as a cheap entertainment; but it
is really one of the most expensive. It is true that we can all have
front seats, and we do not exactly need to dress for it as we do for
the opera; but the conditions under which it is to be enjoyed are
rather dear. Among them I should name a good suit of clothes,
including some trifling ornament,--not including back hair for one
sex, or the parting of it in the middle for the other. I should add
also a good dinner, well cooked and digestible; and the cost of a
fair education, extended, perhaps, through generations in which
sensibility and love of beauty grew. What I mean is, that if a man
is hungry and naked, and half a savage, or with the love of beauty
undeveloped in him, a sunset is thrown away on him : so that it
appears that the conditions of the enjoyment of a sunset are as
costly as anything in our civilization.

Of course there is no such thing as absolute value in this world.
You can only estimate what a thing is worth to you. Does gardening
in a city pay? You might as well ask if it pays to keep hens, or a
trotting-horse, or to wear a gold ring, or to keep your lawn cut, or
your hair cut. It is as you like it. In a certain sense, it is a
sort of profanation to consider if my garden pays, or to set a money-
value upon my delight in it. I fear that you could not put it in
money. Job had the right idea in his mind when he asked, "Is there
any taste in the white of an egg?" Suppose there is not! What!
shall I set a price upon the tender asparagus or the crisp lettuce,
which made the sweet spring a reality? Shall I turn into merchandise
the red strawberry, the pale green pea, the high-flavored raspberry,
the sanguinary beet, that love-plant the tomato, and the corn which
did not waste its sweetness on the desert air, but, after flowing in
a sweet rill through all our summer life, mingled at last with the
engaging bean in a pool of succotash? Shall I compute in figures
what daily freshness and health and delight the garden yields, let
alone the large crop of anticipation I gathered as soon as the first
seeds got above ground? I appeal to any gardening man of sound mind,
if that which pays him best in gardening is not that which he cannot
show in his trial-balance. Yet I yield to public opinion, when I
proceed to make such a balance; and I do it with the utmost
confidence in figures.

I select as a representative vegetable, in order to estimate the cost
of gardening, the potato. In my statement, I shall not include the
interest on the value of the land. I throw in the land, because it
would otherwise have stood idle: the thing generally raised on city
land is taxes. I therefore make the following statement of the cost
and income of my potato-crop, a part of it estimated in connection
with other garden labor. I have tried to make it so as to satisfy
the income-tax collector:--

Manure........................................ 8.00
Assistance in planting and digging, 3 days.... 6.75
Labor of self in planting, hoeing, digging,
picking up, 5 days at 17 cents........... 0.85
Total Cost................$17.60

Two thousand five hundred mealy potatoes,
at 2 cents..............................$50.00
Small potatoes given to neighbor's pig....... .50

Total return..............$50.50

Balance, profit in cellar......$32.90

Some of these items need explanation. I have charged nothing for my
own time waiting for the potatoes to grow. My time in hoeing,
fighting weeds, etc., is put in at five days: it may have been a
little more. Nor have I put in anything for cooling drinks while
hoeing. I leave this out from principle, because I always recommend
water to others. I had some difficulty in fixing the rate of my own
wages. It was the first time I had an opportunity of paying what I
thought labor was worth; and I determined to make a good thing of it
for once. I figured it right down to European prices,--seventeen
cents a day for unskilled labor. Of course, I boarded myself. I
ought to say that I fixed the wages after the work was done, or I
might have been tempted to do as some masons did who worked for me at
four dollars a day. They lay in the shade and slept the sleep of
honest toil full half the time, at least all the time I was away. I
have reason to believe that when the wages of mechanics are raised to
eight and ten dollars a day, the workmen will not come at all: they
will merely send their cards.

I do not see any possible fault in the above figures. I ought to say
that I deferred putting a value on the potatoes until I had footed up
the debit column. This is always the safest way to do. I had
twenty-five bushels. I roughly estimated that there are one hundred
good ones to the bushel. Making my own market price, I asked two
cents apiece for them. This I should have considered dirt cheap last
June, when I was going down the rows with the hoe. If any one thinks
that two cents each is high, let him try to raise them.

Nature is "awful smart." I intend to be complimentary in saying so.
She shows it in little things. I have mentioned my attempt to put in
a few modest turnips, near the close of the season. I sowed the
seeds, by the way, in the most liberal manner. Into three or four
short rows I presume I put enough to sow an acre; and they all came
up,--came up as thick as grass, as crowded and useless as babies in a
Chinese village. Of course, they had to be thinned out; that is,
pretty much all pulled up; and it took me a long time; for it takes a
conscientious man some time to decide which are the best and
healthiest plants to spare. After all, I spared too many. That is
the great danger everywhere in this world (it may not be in the
next): things are too thick; we lose all in grasping for too much.
The Scotch say, that no man ought to thin out his own turnips,
because he will not sacrifice enough to leave room for the remainder
to grow: he should get his neighbor, who does not care for the
plants, to do it. But this is mere talk, and aside from the point:
if there is anything I desire to avoid in these agricultural papers,
it is digression. I did think that putting in these turnips so late
in the season, when general activity has ceased, and in a remote part
of the garden, they would pass unnoticed. But Nature never even
winks, as I can see. The tender blades were scarcely out of the
ground when she sent a small black flv, which seemed to have been
born and held in reserve for this purpose,--to cut the leaves. They
speedily made lace-work of the whole bed. Thus everything appears to
have its special enemy,--except, perhaps, p----y: nothing ever
troubles that.

Did the Concord Grape ever come to more luscious perfection than this
year? or yield so abundantly? The golden sunshine has passed into
them, and distended their purple skins almost to bursting. Such
heavy clusters! such bloom! such sweetness! such meat and drink in
their round globes! What a fine fellow Bacchus would have been, if
he had only signed the pledge when he was a young man! I have taken
off clusters that were as compact and almost as large as the Black
Hamburgs. It is slow work picking them. I do not see how the
gatherers for the vintage ever get off enough. It takes so long to
disentangle the bunches from the leaves and the interlacing vines and
the supporting tendrils; and then I like to hold up each bunch and
look at it in the sunlight, and get the fragrance and the bloom of
it, and show it to Polly, who is making herself useful, as taster and
companion, at the foot of the ladder, before dropping it into the
basket. But we have other company. The robin, the most knowing and
greedy bird out of paradise (I trust he will always be kept out), has
discovered that the grape-crop is uncommonly good, and has come back,
with his whole tribe and family, larger than it was in pea-time. He
knows the ripest bunches as well as anybody, and tries them all. If
he would take a whole bunch here and there, say half the number, and
be off with it, I should not so much care. But he will not. He
pecks away at all the bunches, and spoils as many as he can. It is
time he went south.

There is no prettier sight, to my eye, than a gardener on a ladder in
his grape-arbor, in these golden days, selecting the heaviest
clusters of grapes, and handing them down to one and another of a
group of neighbors and friends, who stand under the shade of the
leaves, flecked with the sunlight, and cry, "How sweet!" "What nice
ones!" and the like,--remarks encouraging to the man on the ladder.
It is great pleasure to see people eat grapes.

Moral Truth. --I have no doubt that grapes taste best in other
people's mouths. It is an old notion that it is easier to be
generous than to be stingy. I am convinced that the majority of
people would be generous from selfish motives, if they had the

Philosophical Observation. --Nothing shows one who his friends are
like prosperity and ripe fruit. I had a good friend in the country,
whom I almost never visited except in cherry-time. By your fruits
you shall know them.


I like to go into the garden these warm latter days, and muse. To
muse is to sit in the sun, and not think of anything. I am not sure
but goodness comes out of people who bask in the sun, as it does out
of a sweet apple roasted before the fire. The late September and
October sun of this latitude is something like the sun of extreme
Lower Italy: you can stand a good deal of it, and apparently soak a
winter supply into the system. If one only could take in his winter
fuel in this way! The next great discovery will, very likely, be the
conservation of sunlight. In the correlation of forces, I look to
see the day when the superfluous sunshine will be utilized; as, for
instance, that which has burned up my celery this year will be
converted into a force to work the garden.

This sitting in the sun amid the evidences of a ripe year is the
easiest part of gardening I have experienced. But what a combat has
gone on here! What vegetable passions have run the whole gamut of
ambition, selfishness, greed of place, fruition, satiety, and now
rest here in the truce of exhaustion! What a battle-field, if one
may look upon it so! The corn has lost its ammunition, and stacked
arms in a slovenly, militia sort of style. The ground vines are
torn, trampled, and withered; and the ungathered cucumbers, worthless
melons, and golden squashes lie about like the spent bombs and
exploded shells of a battle-field. So the cannon-balls lay on the
sandy plain before Fort Fisher after the capture. So the great
grassy meadow at Munich, any morning during the October Fest, is
strewn with empty beermugs. History constantly repeats itself.
There is a large crop of moral reflections in my garden, which
anybody is at liberty to gather who passes this way.

I have tried to get in anything that offered temptation to sin.
There would be no thieves if there was nothing to steal; and I
suppose, in the thieves' catechism, the provider is as bad as the
thief; and, probably, I am to blame for leaving out a few winter
pears, which some predatory boy carried off on Sunday. At first I
was angry, and said I should like to have caught the urchin in the
act; but, on second thought, I was glad I did not. The interview
could not have been pleasant: I shouldn't have known what to do with
him. The chances are, that he would have escaped away with his
pockets full, and jibed at me from a safe distance. And, if I had
got my hands on him, I should have been still more embarrassed. If I
had flogged him, he would have got over it a good deal sooner than I
should. That sort of boy does not mind castigation any more than he
does tearing his trousers in the briers. If I had treated him with
kindness, and conciliated him with grapes, showing him the enormity
of his offense, I suppose he would have come the next night, and
taken the remainder of the grapes. The truth is, that the public
morality is lax on the subject of fruit. If anybody puts arsenic or
gunpowder into his watermelons, he is universally denounced as a
stingy old murderer by the community. A great many people regard
growing fruit as lawful prey, who would not think of breaking into
your cellar to take it. I found a man once in my raspberry-bushes,
early in the season, when we were waiting for a dishful to ripen.
Upon inquiring what he was about, he said he was only eating some;
and the operation seemed to be so natural and simple, that I disliked
to disturb him. And I am not very sure that one has a right to the
whole of an abundant crop of fruit until he has gathered it. At
least, in a city garden, one might as well conform his theory to the
practice of the community.

As for children (and it sometimes looks as if the chief products of
my garden were small boys and hens), it is admitted that they are
barbarians. There is no exception among them to this condition of
barbarism. This is not to say that they are not attractive; for they
have the virtues as well as the vices of a primitive people. It is
held by some naturalists that the child is only a zoophyte, with a
stomach, and feelers radiating from it in search of something to fill
it. It is true that a child is always hungry all over: but he is
also curious all over; and his curiosity is excited about as early as
his hunger. He immediately begins to put out his moral feelers into
the unknown and the infinite to discover what sort of an existence
this is into which he has come. His imagination is quite as hungry
as his stomach. And again and again it is stronger than his other
appetites. You can easily engage his imagination in a story which
will make him forget his dinner. He is credulous and superstitious,
and open to all wonder. In this, he is exactly like the savage
races. Both gorge themselves on the marvelous; and all the unknown
is marvelous to them. I know the general impression is that children
must be governed through their stomachs. I think they can be
controlled quite as well through their curiosity; that being the more
craving and imperious of the two. I have seen children follow about
a person who told them stories, and interested them with his charming
talk, as greedily as if his pockets had been full of bon-bons.

Perhaps this fact has no practical relation to gardening; but it
occurs to me that, if I should paper the outside of my high board
fence with the leaves of "The Arabian Nights," it would afford me a
good deal of protection,--more, in fact, than spikes in the top,
which tear trousers and encourage profanity, but do not save much
fruit. A spiked fence is a challenge to any boy of spirit. But if
the fence were papered with fairy-tales, would he not stop to read
them until it was too late for him to climb into the garden? I don't
know. Human nature is vicious. The boy might regard the picture of
the garden of the Hesperides only as an advertisement of what was
over the fence. I begin to find that the problem of raising fruit is
nothing to that of getting it after it has matured. So long as the
law, just in many respects, is in force against shooting birds and
small boys, the gardener may sow in tears and reap in vain.

The power of a boy is, to me, something fearful. Consider what he
can do. You buy and set out a choice pear-tree; you enrich the earth
for it; you train and trim it, and vanquish the borer, and watch its
slow growth. At length it rewards your care by producing two or
three pears, which you cut up and divide in the family, declaring the
flavor of the bit you eat to be something extraordinary. The next
year, the little tree blossoms full, and sets well; and in the autumn
has on its slender, drooping limbs half a bushel of fruit, daily
growing more delicious in the sun. You show it to your friends,
reading to them the French name, which you can never remember, on the
label; and you take an honest pride in the successful fruit of long
care. That night your pears shall be required of you by a boy!
Along comes an irresponsible urchin, who has not been growing much
longer than the tree, with not twenty-five cents worth of clothing on
him, and in five minutes takes off every pear, and retires into safe
obscurity. In five minutes the remorseless boy has undone your work
of years, and with the easy nonchalance, I doubt not, of any agent of
fate, in whose path nothing is sacred or safe.

And it is not of much consequence. The boy goes on his way,--to
Congress, or to State Prison: in either place he will be accused of
stealing, perhaps wrongfully. You learn, in time, that it is better
to have had pears and lost them than not to have had pears at all.
You come to know that the least (and rarest) part of the pleasure of
raising fruit is the vulgar eating it. You recall your delight in
conversing with the nurseryman, and looking at his illustrated
catalogues, where all the pears are drawn perfect in form, and of
extra size, and at that exact moment between ripeness and decay which
it is so impossible to hit in practice. Fruit cannot be raised on
this earth to taste as you imagine those pears would taste. For
years you have this pleasure, unalloyed by any disenchanting reality.
How you watch the tender twigs in spring, and the freshly forming
bark, hovering about the healthy growing tree with your pruning-knife
many a sunny morning! That is happiness. Then, if you know it, you
are drinking the very wine of life; and when the sweet juices of the
earth mount the limbs, and flow down the tender stem, ripening and
reddening the pendent fruit, you feel that you somehow stand at the
source of things, and have no unimportant share in the processes of
Nature. Enter at this moment boy the destroyer, whose office is that
of preserver as well; for, though he removes the fruit from your
sight, it remains in your memory immortally ripe and desirable. The
gardener needs all these consolations of a high philosophy.


Regrets are idle; yet history is one long regret. Everything might
have turned out so differently! If Ravaillac had not been imprisoned
for debt, he would not have stabbed Henry of Navarre. If William of
Orange had escaped assassination by Philip's emissaries; if France
had followed the French Calvin, and embraced Protestant Calvinism, as
it came very near doing towards the end of the sixteenth century; if
the Continental ammunition had not given out at Bunker's Hill; if
Blucher had not "come up" at Waterloo,--the lesson is, that things do
not come up unless they are planted. When you go behind the
historical scenery, you find there is a rope and pulley to effect
every transformation which has astonished you. It was the rascality
of a minister and a contractor five years before that lost the
battle; and the cause of the defeat was worthless ammunition. I
should like to know how many wars have been caused by fits of
indigestion, and how many more dynasties have been upset by the love
of woman than by the hate of man. It is only because we are ill
informed that anything surprises us; and we are disappointed because
we expect that for which we have not provided.

I had too vague expectations of what my garden would do of itself. A
garden ought to produce one everything,--just as a business ought to
support a man, and a house ought to keep itself. We had a convention
lately to resolve that the house should keep itself; but it won't.
There has been a lively time in our garden this summer; but it seems
to me there is very little to show for it. It has been a terrible
campaign; but where is the indemnity? Where are all "sass" and
Lorraine? It is true that we have lived on the country; but we
desire, besides, the fruits of the war. There are no onions, for one
thing. I am quite ashamed to take people into my garden, and have
them notice the absence of onions. It is very marked. In onion is
strength; and a garden without it lacks flavor. The onion in its
satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables; and it is
the only one that represents the essence of things. It can almost be
said to have a soul. You take off coat after coat) and the onion is
still there; and, when the last one is removed, who dare say that the
onion itself is destroyed, though you can weep over its departed
spirit? If there is any one thing on this fallen earth that the
angels in heaven weep over--more than another, it is the onion.

I know that there is supposed to be a prejudice against the onion;
but I think there is rather a cowardice in regard to it. I doubt not
that all men and women love the onion; but few confess their love.
Affection for it is concealed. Good New-Englanders are as shy of
owning it as they are of talking about religion. Some people have
days on which they eat onions,--what you might call "retreats," or
their "Thursdays." The act is in the nature of a religious ceremony,
an Eleusinian mystery; not a breath of it must get abroad. On that
day they see no company; they deny the kiss of greeting to the
dearest friend; they retire within themselves, and hold communion
with one of the most pungent and penetrating manifestations of the
moral vegetable world. Happy is said to be the family which can eat
onions together. They are, for the time being, separate from the
world, and have a harmony of aspiration. There is a hint here for
the reformers. Let them become apostles of the onion; let them eat,
and preach it to their fellows, and circulate tracts of it in the
form of seeds. In the onion is the hope of universal brotherhood.
If all men will eat onions at all times, they will come into a
universal sympathy. Look at Italy. I hope I am not mistaken as to
the cause of her unity. It was the Reds who preached the gospel
which made it possible. All the Reds of Europe, all the sworn
devotees of the mystic Mary Ann, eat of the common vegetable. Their
oaths are strong with it. It is the food, also, of the common people
of Italy. All the social atmosphere of that delicious land is laden
with it. Its odor is a practical democracy. In the churches all are
alike: there is one faith, one smell. The entrance of Victor Emanuel
into Rome is only the pompous proclamation of a unity which garlic
had already accomplished; and yet we, who boast of our democracy, eat
onions in secret.

I now see that I have left out many of the most moral elements.
Neither onions, parsnips, carrots, nor cabbages are here. I have
never seen a garden in the autumn before, without the uncouth cabbage
in it; but my garden gives the impression of a garden without a head.
The cabbage is the rose of Holland. I admire the force by which it
compacts its crisp leaves into a solid head. The secret of it would
be priceless to the world. We should see less expansive foreheads
with nothing within. Even the largest cabbages are not always the
best. But I mention these things, not from any sympathy I have with
the vegetables named, but to show how hard it is to go contrary to
the expectations of society. Society expects every man to have
certain things in his garden. Not to raise cabbage is as if one had
no pew in church. Perhaps we shall come some day to free churches
and free gardens; when I can show my neighbor through my tired
garden, at the end of the season, when skies are overcast, and brown
leaves are swirling down, and not mind if he does raise his eyebrows
when he observes, "Ah! I see you have none of this, and of that." At
present we want the moral courage to plant only what we need; to
spend only what will bring us peace, regardless of what is going on
over the fence. We are half ruined by conformity; but we should be
wholly ruined without it; and I presume I shall make a garden next
year that will be as popular as possible.

And this brings me to what I see may be a crisis in life. I begin to
feel the temptation of experiment. Agriculture, horticulture,
floriculture,--these are vast fields, into which one may wander away,
and never be seen more. It seemed to me a very simple thing, this
gardening; but it opens up astonishingly. It is like the infinite
possibilities in worsted-work. Polly sometimes says to me, "I wish
you would call at Bobbin's, and match that skein of worsted for me,
when you are in town." Time was, I used to accept such a commission
with alacrity and self-confidence. I went to Bobbin's, and asked one
of his young men, with easy indifference, to give me some of that.
The young man, who is as handsome a young man as ever I looked at,
and who appears to own the shop, and whose suave superciliousness
would be worth everything to a cabinet minister who wanted to repel
applicants for place, says, "I have n't an ounce: I have sent to
Paris, and I expect it every day. I have a good deal of difficulty
in getting that shade in my assortment." To think that he is in
communication with Paris, and perhaps with Persia! Respect for such
a being gives place to awe. I go to another shop, holding fast to my
scarlet clew. There I am shown a heap of stuff, with more colors and
shades than I had supposed existed in all the world. What a blaze of
distraction! I have been told to get as near the shade as I could;
and so I compare and contrast, till the whole thing seems to me about
of one color. But I can settle my mind on nothing. The affair
assumes a high degree of importance. I am satisfied with nothing but
perfection. I don't know what may happen if the shade is not
matched. I go to another shop, and another, and another. At last a
pretty girl, who could make any customer believe that green is blue,
matches the shade in a minute. I buy five cents worth. That was the
order. Women are the most economical persons that ever were. I have
spent two hours in this five-cent business; but who shall say they
were wasted, when I take the stuff home, and Polly says it is a
perfect match, and looks so pleased, and holds it up with the work,
at arm's length, and turns her head one side, and then takes her
needle, and works it in? Working in, I can see, my own obligingness
and amiability with every stitch. Five cents is dirt cheap for such
a pleasure.

The things I may do in my garden multiply on my vision. How
fascinating have the catalogues of the nurserymen become! Can I
raise all those beautiful varieties, each one of which is preferable
to the other? Shall I try all the kinds of grapes, and all the sorts
of pears? I have already fifteen varieties of strawberries (vines);
and I have no idea that I have hit the right one. Must I subscribe
to all the magazines and weekly papers which offer premiums of the
best vines? Oh, that all the strawberries were rolled into one, that
I could inclose all its lusciousness in one bite! Oh for the good
old days when a strawberry was a strawberry, and there was no
perplexity about it! There are more berries now than churches; and
no one knows what to believe. I have seen gardens which were all
experiment, given over to every new thing, and which produced little
or nothing to the owners, except the pleasure of expectation. People
grow pear-trees at great expense of time and money, which never yield
them more than four pears to the tree. The fashions of ladies'
bonnets are nothing to the fashions of nurserymen. He who attempts
to follow them has a business for life; but his life may be short.
If I enter upon this wide field of horticultural experiment, I shall
leave peace behind; and I may expect the ground to open, and swallow
me and all my fortune. May Heaven keep me to the old roots and herbs
of my forefathers! Perhaps in the world of modern reforms this is
not possible; but I intend now to cultivate only the standard things,
and learn to talk knowingly of the rest. Of course, one must keep up
a reputation. I have seen people greatly enjoy themselves, and
elevate themselves in their own esteem, in a wise and critical talk
about all the choice wines, while they were sipping a decoction, the
original cost of which bore no relation to the price of grapes.


The closing scenes are not necessarily funereal. A garden should be
got ready for winter as well as for summer. When one goes into
winter-quarters, he wants everything neat and trim. Expecting high
winds, we bring everything into close reef. Some men there are who
never shave (if they are so absurd as ever to shave), except when
they go abroad, and who do not take care to wear polished boots in
the bosoms of their families. I like a man who shaves (next to one
who does n't shave) to satisfy his own conscience, and not for
display, and who dresses as neatly at home as he does anywhere. Such
a man will be likely to put his garden in complete order before the
snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of
melancholy ruin and decay.

I confess that, after such an exhausting campaign, I felt a great
temptation to retire, and call it a drawn engagement. But better
counsels prevailed. I determined that the weeds should not sleep on
the field of battle. I routed them out, and leveled their works. I
am master of the situation. If I have made a desert, I at least have
peace; but it is not quite a desert. The strawberries, the
raspberries, the celery, the turnips, wave green above the clean
earth, with no enemy in sight. In these golden October days no work
is more fascinating than this getting ready for spring. The sun is
no longer a burning enemy, but a friend, illuminating all the open
space, and warming the mellow soil. And the pruning and clearing
away of rubbish, and the fertilizing, go on with something of the
hilarity of a wake, rather than the despondency of other funerals.
When the wind begins to come out of the northwest of set purpose, and
to sweep the ground with low and searching fierceness, very different
from the roistering, jolly bluster of early fall, I have put the
strawberries under their coverlet of leaves, pruned the grape-vines
and laid them under the soil, tied up the tender plants, given the
fruit trees a good, solid meal about the roots; and so I turn away,
writing Resurgam on the gatepost. And Calvin, aware that the summer
is past and the harvest is ended, and that a mouse in the kitchen is
worth two birds gone south, scampers away to the house with his tail
in the air.

And yet I am not perfectly at rest in my mind. I know that this is
only a truce until the parties recover their exhausted energies. All
winter long the forces of chemistry will be mustering under ground,
repairing the losses, calling up the reserves, getting new strength
from my surface-fertilizing bounty, and making ready for the spring
campaign. They will open it before I am ready: while the snow is
scarcely melted, and the ground is not passable, they will begin to
move on my works; and the fight will commence. Yet how deceitfully
it will open to the music of birds and the soft enchantment of the
spring mornings! I shall even be permitted to win a few skirmishes:
the secret forces will even wait for me to plant and sow, and show my
full hand, before they come on in heavy and determined assault.
There are already signs of an internecine fight with the devil-grass,
which has intrenched itself in a considerable portion of my
garden-patch. It contests the ground inch by inch; and digging it
out is very much such labor as eating a piece of choke-cherry pie
with the stones all in. It is work, too, that I know by experience I
shall have to do alone. Every man must eradicate his own devil-
grass. The neighbors who have leisure to help you in grape-picking
time are all busy when devil-grass is most aggressive. My neighbors'
visits are well timed: it is only their hens which have seasons for
their own.

I am told that abundant and rank weeds are signs of a rich soil; but
I have noticed that a thin, poor soil grows little but weeds. I am
inclined to think that the substratum is the same, and that the only
choice in this world is what kind of weeds you will have. I am not
much attracted by the gaunt, flavorless mullein, and the wiry thistle
of upland country pastures, where the grass is always gray, as if the
world were already weary and sick of life. The awkward, uncouth
wickedness of remote country-places, where culture has died out after
the first crop, is about as disagreeable as the ranker and richer
vice of city life, forced by artificial heat and the juices of an
overfed civilization. There is no doubt that, on the whole, the rich
soil is the best: the fruit of it has body and flavor. To what
affluence does a woman (to take an instance, thank Heaven, which is
common) grow, with favoring circumstances, under the stimulus of the
richest social and intellectual influences! I am aware that there
has been a good deal said in poetry about the fringed gentian and the
harebell of rocky districts and waysides, and I know that it is
possible for maidens to bloom in very slight soil into a wild-wood
grace and beauty; yet, the world through, they lack that wealth of
charms, that tropic affluence of both person and mind, which higher
and more stimulating culture brings,--the passion as well as the soul
glowing in the Cloth-of-Gold rose. Neither persons nor plants are
ever fully themselves until they are cultivated to their highest. I,
for one, have no fear that society will be too much enriched. The
only question is about keeping down the weeds; and I have learned by
experience, that we need new sorts of hoes, and more disposition to
use them.

Moral Deduction. --The difference between soil and society is
evident. We bury decay in the earth; we plant in it the perishing;
we feed it with offensive refuse: but nothing grows out of it that is
not clean; it gives us back life and beauty for our rubbish. Society
returns us what we give it.

Pretending to reflect upon these things, but in reality watching the
blue-jays, who are pecking at the purple berries of the woodbine on
the south gable, I approach the house. Polly is picking up chestnuts
on the sward, regardless of the high wind which rattles them about
her head and upon the glass roof of her winter-garden. The garden, I
see, is filled with thrifty plants, which will make it always summer
there. The callas about the fountain will be in flower by Christmas:
the plant appears to keep that holiday in her secret heart all
summer. I close the outer windows as we go along, and congratulate
myself that we are ready for winter. For the winter-garden I have no
responsibility: Polly has entire charge of it. I am only required to
keep it heated, and not too hot either; to smoke it often for the
death of the bugs; to water it once a day; to move this and that into
the sun and out of the sun pretty constantly: but she does all the
work. We never relinquish that theory.

As we pass around the house, I discover a boy in the ravine filling a
bag with chestnuts and hickorynuts. They are not plenty this year;
and I suggest the propriety of leaving some for us. The boy is a
little slow to take the idea: but he has apparently found the picking
poor, and exhausted it; for, as he turns away down the glen, he hails
me with,

"Mister, I say, can you tell me where I can find some walnuts?"

The coolness of this world grows upon me. It is time to go in and
light a wood-fire on the hearth.


NOTE. --The following brief Memoir of one of the characters in
this book is added by his friend, in the hope that the record of an
exemplary fife in an humble sphere may be of some service to the

HARTFORD, January, 1880.



Calvin is dead. His life, long to him, but short for the rest of us,
was not marked by startling adventures, but his character was so
uncommon and his qualities were so worthy of imitation, that I have
been asked by those who personally knew him to set down my
recollections of his career.

His origin and ancestry were shrouded in mystery; even his age was a
matter of pure conjecture. Although he was of the Maltese race, I
have reason to suppose that he was American by birth as he certainly
was in sympathy. Calvin was given to me eight years ago by Mrs.
Stowe, but she knew nothing of his age or origin. He walked into her
house one day out of the great unknown and became at once at home, as
if he had been always a friend of the family. He appeared to have
artistic and literary tastes, and it was as if he had inquired at the
door if that was the residence of the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
and, upon being assured that it was, bad decided to dwell there.
This is, of course, fanciful, for his antecedents were wholly
unknown, but in his time he could hardly have been in any household
where he would not have heard "Uncle Tom's Cabin" talked about. When
he came to Mrs. Stowe, he was as large as he ever was, and
apparently as old as he ever became. Yet there was in him no
appearance of age; he was in the happy maturity of all his powers,
and you would rather have said that in that maturity he had found the
secret of perpetual youth. And it was as difficult to believe that
he would ever be aged as it was to imagine that he had ever been in
immature youth. There was in him a mysterious perpetuity.

After some years, when Mrs. Stowe made her winter home in Florida,
Calvin came to live with us. From the first moment, he fell into the
ways of the house and assumed a recognized position in the family,--I
say recognized, because after he became known he was always inquired
for by visitors, and in the letters to the other members of the
family he always received a message. Although the least obtrusive of
beings, his individuality always made itself felt.

His personal appearance had much to do with this, for he was of royal
mould, and had an air of high breeding. He was large, but he had
nothing of the fat grossness of the celebrated Angora family; though
powerful, he was exquisitely proportioned, and as graceful in every
movement as a young leopard. When he stood up to open a door--he
opened all the doors with old-fashioned latches--he was portentously
tall, and when stretched on the rug before the fire he seemed too
long for this world--as indeed he was. His coat was the finest and
softest I have ever seen, a shade of quiet Maltese; and from his
throat downward, underneath, to the white tips of his feet, he wore
the whitest and most delicate ermine; and no person was ever more
fastidiously neat. In his finely formed head you saw something of
his aristocratic character; the ears were small and cleanly cut,
there was a tinge of pink in the nostrils, his face was handsome, and
the expression of his countenance exceedingly intelligent--I should
call it even a sweet expression, if the term were not inconsistent
with his look of alertness and sagacity.

It is difficult to convey a just idea of his gayety in connection
with his dignity and gravity, which his name expressed. As we know
nothing of his family, of course it will be understood that Calvin
was his Christian name. He had times of relaxation into utter
playfulness, delighting in a ball of yarn, catching sportively at
stray ribbons when his mistress was at her toilet, and pursuing his
own tail, with hilarity, for lack of anything better. He could amuse
himself by the hour, and he did not care for children; perhaps
something in his past was present to his memory. He had absolutely
no bad habits, and his disposition was perfect. I never saw him
exactly angry, though I have seen his tail grow to an enormous size
when a strange cat appeared upon his lawn. He disliked cats,
evidently regarding them as feline and treacherous, and he had no
association with them. Occasionally there would be heard a night
concert in the shrubbery. Calvin would ask to have the door opened,
and then you would hear a rush and a "pestzt," and the concert would
explode, and Calvin would quietly come in and resume his seat on the
hearth. There was no trace of anger in his manner, but he would n't
have any of that about the house. He had the rare virtue of
magnanimity. Although he had fixed notions about his own rights, and
extraordinary persistency in getting them, he never showed temper at
a repulse; he simply and firmly persisted till he had what he wanted.
His diet was one point; his idea was that of the scholars about
dictionaries,--to "get the best." He knew as well as any one what was
in the house, and would refuse beef if turkey was to be had; and if
there were oysters, he would wait over the turkey to see if the
oysters would not be forthcoming. And yet he was not a gross
gourmand; he would eat bread if he saw me eating it, and thought he
was not being imposed on. His habits of feeding, also, were refined;
he never used a knife, and he would put up his hand and draw the fork
down to his mouth as gracefully as a grown person. Unless necessity
compelled, he would not eat in the kitchen, but insisted upon his
meals in the dining-room, and would wait patiently, unless a stranger
were present; and then he was sure to importune the visitor, hoping
that the latter was ignorant of the rule of the house, and would give
him something. They used to say that he preferred as his table-cloth
on the floor a certain well-known church journal; but this was said
by an Episcopalian. So far as I know, he had no religious
prejudices, except that he did not like the association with
Romanists. He tolerated the servants, because they belonged to the
house, and would sometimes linger by the kitchen stove; but the
moment visitors came in he arose, opened the door, and marched into
the drawing-room. Yet he enjoyed the company of his equals, and
never withdrew, no matter how many callers--whom he recognized as of
his society--might come into the drawing-room. Calvin was fond of
company, but he wanted to choose it; and I have no doubt that his was
an aristocratic fastidiousness rather than one of faith. It is so
with most people.

The intelligence of Calvin was something phenomenal, in his rank of
life. He established a method of communicating his wants, and even
some of his sentiments; and he could help himself in many things.
There was a furnace register in a retired room, where he used to go
when he wished to be alone, that he always opened when he desired
more heat; but he never shut it, any more than he shut the door after
himself. He could do almost everything but speak; and you would
declare sometimes that you could see a pathetic longing to do that in
his intelligent face. I have no desire to overdraw his qualities,
but if there was one thing in him more noticeable than another, it
was his fondness for nature. He could content himself for hours at a
low window, looking into the ravine and at the great trees, noting
the smallest stir there; he delighted, above all things, to accompany
me walking about the garden, hearing the birds, getting the smell of
the fresh earth, and rejoicing in the sunshine. He followed me and
gamboled like a dog, rolling over on the turf and exhibiting his
delight in a hundred ways. If I worked, he sat and watched me, or
looked off over the bank, and kept his ear open to the twitter in the
cherry-trees. When it stormed, he was sure to sit at the window,
keenly watching the rain or the snow, glancing up and down at its
falling; and a winter tempest always delighted him. I think he was
genuinely fond of birds, but, so far as I know, he usually confined
himself to one a day; he never killed, as some sportsmen do, for the
sake of killing, but only as civilized people do,--from necessity.
He was intimate with the flying-squirrels who dwell in the chestnut-
trees,--too intimate, for almost every day in the summer he would
bring in one, until he nearly discouraged them. He was, indeed, a
superb hunter, and would have been a devastating one, if his bump of
destructiveness had not been offset by a bump of moderation. There
was very little of the brutality of the lower animals about him; I
don't think he enjoyed rats for themselves, but he knew his business,
and for the first few months of his residence with us he waged an
awful campaign against the horde, and after that his simple presence
was sufficient to deter them from coming on the premises. Mice
amused him, but he usually considered them too small game to be taken
seriously; I have seen him play for an hour with a mouse, and then
let him go with a royal condescension. In this whole, matter of
"getting a living," Calvin was a great contrast to the rapacity of
the age in which he lived.

I hesitate a little to speak of his capacity for friendship and the
affectionateness of his nature, for I know from his own reserve that
he would not care to have it much talked about. We understood each
other perfectly, but we never made any fuss about it; when I spoke
his name and snapped my fingers, he came to me; when I returned home
at night, he was pretty sure to be waiting for me near the gate, and
would rise and saunter along the walk, as if his being there were
purely accidental,--so shy was he commonly of showing feeling; and
when I opened the door, he never rushed in, like a cat, but loitered,
and lounged, as if he had no intention of going in, but would
condescend to. And yet, the fact was, he knew dinner was ready, and
he was bound to be there. He kept the run of dinner-time. It
happened sometimes, during our absence in the summer, that dinner
would be early, and Calvin, walking about the grounds, missed it and
came in late. But he never made a mistake the second day. There was
one thing he never did,--he never rushed through an open doorway. He
never forgot his dignity. If he had asked to have the door opened,
and was eager to go out, he always went deliberately; I can see him
now standing on the sill, looking about at the sky as if he was
thinking whether it were worth while to take an umbrella, until he
was near having his tail shut in.

His friendship was rather constant than demonstrative. When we
returned from an absence of nearly two years, Calvin welcomed us with
evident pleasure, but showed his satisfaction rather by tranquil
happiness than by fuming about. He had the faculty of making us glad
to get home. It was his constancy that was so attractive. He liked
companionship, but he wouldn't be petted, or fussed over, or sit in
any one's lap a moment; he always extricated himself from such
familiarity with dignity and with no show of temper. If there was
any petting to be done, however, he chose to do it. Often he would
sit looking at me, and then, moved by a delicate affection, come and
pull at my coat and sleeve until he could touch my face with his
nose, and then go away contented. He had a habit of coming to my
study in the morning, sitting quietly by my side or on the table for
hours, watching the pen run over the paper, occasionally swinging his
tail round for a blotter, and then going to sleep among the papers by
the inkstand. Or, more rarely, he would watch the writing from a
perch on my shoulder. Writing always interested him, and, until he
understood it, he wanted to hold the pen.

He always held himself in a kind of reserve with his friend, as if he
had said, "Let us respect our personality, and not make a "mess" of
friendship." He saw, with Emerson, the risk of degrading it to
trivial conveniency. "Why insist on rash personal relations with
your friend?" "Leave this touching and clawing." Yet I would not
give an unfair notion of his aloofness, his fine sense of the
sacredness of the me and the not-me. And, at the risk of not being
believed, I will relate an incident, which was often repeated.
Calvin had the practice of passing a portion of the night in the
contemplation of its beauties, and would come into our chamber over
the roof of the conservatory through the open window, summer and
winter, and go to sleep on the foot of my bed. He would do this
always exactly in this way; he never was content to stay in the
chamber if we compelled him to go upstairs and through the door. He
had the obstinacy of General Grant. But this is by the way. In the
morning, he performed his toilet and went down to breakfast with the
rest of the family. Now, when the mistress was absent from home, and
at no other time, Calvin would come in the morning, when the bell
rang, to the head of the bed, put up his feet and look into my face,
follow me about when I rose, "assist" at the dressing, and in many
purring ways show his fondness, as if he had plainly said, "I know
that she has gone away, but I am here." Such was Calvin in rare

He had his limitations. Whatever passion he had for nature, he had
no conception of art. There was sent to him once a fine and very
expressive cat's head in bronze, by Fremiet. I placed it on the
floor. He regarded it intently, approached it cautiously and
crouchingly, touched it with his nose, perceived the fraud, turned
away abruptly, and never would notice it afterward. On the whole,
his life was not only a successful one, but a happy one. He never
had but one fear, so far as I know: he had a mortal and a reasonable
terror of plumbers. He would never stay in the house when they were
here. No coaxing could quiet him. Of course he did n't share our
fear about their charges, but he must have had some dreadful
experience with them in that portion of his life which is unknown to
us. A plumber was to him the devil, and I have no doubt that, in his
scheme, plumbers were foreordained to do him mischief.

In speaking of his worth, it has never occurred to me to estimate
Calvin by the worldly standard. I know that it is customary now,
when any one dies, to ask how much he was worth, and that no obituary
in the newspapers is considered complete without such an estimate.
The plumbers in our house were one day overheard to say that, "They
say that she says that he says that he wouldn't take a hundred
dollars for him." It is unnecessary to say that I never made such a
remark, and that, so far as Calvin was concerned, there was no
purchase in money.

As I look back upon it, Calvin's life seems to me a fortunate one,
for it was natural and unforced. He ate when he was hungry, slept
when he was sleepy, and enjoyed existence to the very tips of his
toes and the end of his expressive and slow-moving tail. He
delighted to roam about the garden, and stroll among the trees, and
to lie on the green grass and luxuriate in all the sweet influences
of summer. You could never accuse him of idleness, and yet he knew
the secret of repose. The poet who wrote so prettily of him that his
little life was rounded with a sleep, understated his felicity; it
was rounded with a good many. His conscience never seemed to
interfere with his slumbers. In fact, he had good habits and a
contented mind. I can see him now walk in at the study door, sit
down by my chair, bring his tail artistically about his feet, and
look up at me with unspeakable happiness in his handsome face. I
often thought that he felt the dumb limitation which denied him the
power of language. But since he was denied speech, he scorned the
inarticulate mouthings of the lower animals. The vulgar mewing and
yowling of the cat species was beneath him; he sometimes uttered a
sort of articulate and well-bred ejaculation, when he wished to call
attention to something that he considered remarkable, or to some want
of his, but he never went whining about. He would sit for hours at a
closed window, when he desired to enter, without a murmur, and when
it was opened, he never admitted that he had been impatient by
"bolting" in. Though speech he had not, and the unpleasant kind of
utterance given to his race he would not use, he had a mighty power
of purr to express his measureless content with congenial society.
There was in him a musical organ with stops of varied power and
expression, upon which I have no doubt he could have performed
Scarlatti's celebrated cat's-fugue.

Whether Calvin died of old age, or was carried off by one of the
diseases incident to youth, it is impossible to say; for his
departure was as quiet as his advent was mysterious. I only know
that he appeared to us in this world in his perfect stature and
beauty, and that after a time, like Lohengrin, he withdrew. In his
illness there was nothing more to be regretted than in all his
blameless life. I suppose there never was an illness that had more
of dignity, and sweetness and resignation in it. It came on
gradually, in a kind of listlessness and want of appetite. An
alarming symptom was his preference for the warmth of a
furnace-register to the lively sparkle of the open woodfire.
Whatever pain he suffered, he bore it in silence, and seemed only
anxious not to obtrude his malady. We tempted him with the
delicacies of the season, but it soon became impossible for him to
eat, and for two weeks he ate or drank scarcely anything. Sometimes
he made an effort to take something, but it was evident that he made
the effort to please us. The neighbors--and I am convinced that the
advice of neighbors is never good for anything--suggested catnip. He
would n't even smell it. We had the attendance of an amateur
practitioner of medicine, whose real office was the cure of souls,
but nothing touched his case. He took what was offered, but it was
with the air of one to whom the time for pellets was passed. He sat
or lay day after day almost motionless, never once making a display
of those vulgar convulsions or contortions of pain which are so
disagreeable to society. His favorite place was on the brightest
spot of a Smyrna rug by the conservatory, where the sunlight fell and
he could hear the fountain play. If we went to him and exhibited our
interest in his condition, he always purred in recognition of our
sympathy. And when I spoke his name, he looked up with an expression
that said, "I understand it, old fellow, but it's no use." He was to
all who came to visit him a model of calmness and patience in

I was absent from home at the last, but heard by daily postal-card of
his failing condition; and never again saw him alive. One sunny
morning, he rose from his rug, went into the conservatory (he was
very thin then), walked around it deliberately, looking at all the
plants he knew, and then went to the bay-window in the dining-room,
and stood a long time looking out upon the little field, now brown
and sere, and toward the garden, where perhaps the happiest hours of
his life had been spent. It was a last look. He turned and walked
away, laid himself down upon the bright spot in the rug, and quietly

It is not too much to say that a little shock went through the
neighborhood when it was known that Calvin was dead, so marked was
his individuality; and his friends, one after another, came in to see
him. There was no sentimental nonsense about his obsequies; it was
felt that any parade would have been distasteful to him. John, who
acted as undertaker, prepared a candle-box for him and I believe
assumed a professional decorum; but there may have been the usual
levity underneath, for I heard that he remarked in the kitchen that
it was the "driest wake he ever attended." Everybody, however, felt
a fondness for Calvin, and regarded him with a certain respect.
Between him and Bertha there existed a great friendship, and she
apprehended his nature; she used to say that sometimes she was afraid
of him, he looked at her so intelligently; she was never certain that
he was what he appeared to be.

When I returned, they had laid Calvin on a table in an upper chamber
by an open window. It was February. He reposed in a candle-box,
lined about the edge with evergreen, and at his head stood a little
wine-glass with flowers. He lay with his head tucked down in his
arms,--a favorite position of his before the fire,--as if asleep in
the comfort of his soft and exquisite fur. It was the involuntary
exclamation of those who saw him, "How natural he looks! "As for
myself, I said nothing. John buried him under the twin hawthorn-
trees,--one white and the other pink,--in a spot where Calvin was
fond of lying and listening to the hum of summer insects and the
twitter of birds.

Perhaps I have failed to make appear the individuality of character
that was so evident to those who knew him. At any rate, I have set
down nothing concerning him, but the literal truth. He was always a
mystery. I did not know whence he came; I do not know whither he has
gone. I would not weave one spray of falsehood in the wreath I lay
upon his grave.




The fire on the hearth has almost gone out in New England; the hearth
has gone out; the family has lost its center; age ceases to be
respected; sex is only distinguished by a difference between
millinery bills and tailors' bills; there is no more toast-and-cider;
the young are not allowed to eat mince-pies at ten o'clock at night;
half a cheese is no longer set to toast before the fire; you scarcely
ever see in front of the coals a row of roasting apples, which a
bright little girl, with many a dive and start, shielding her sunny
face from the fire with one hand, turns from time to time; scarce are
the gray-haired sires who strop their razors on the family Bible, and
doze in the chimney-corner. A good many things have gone out with
the fire on the hearth.

I do not mean to say that public and private morality have vanished
with the hearth. A good degree of purity and considerable happiness
are possible with grates and blowers; it is a day of trial, when we
are all passing through a fiery furnace, and very likely we shall be
purified as we are dried up and wasted away. Of course the family is
gone, as an institution, though there still are attempts to bring up
a family round a "register." But you might just as well try to bring
it up by hand, as without the rallying-point of a hearthstone. Are
there any homesteads nowadays? Do people hesitate to change houses
any more than they do to change their clothes? People hire houses as
they would a masquerade costume, liking, sometimes, to appear for a
year in a little fictitious stone-front splendor above their means.
Thus it happens that so many people live in houses that do not fit
them. I should almost as soon think of wearing another person's
clothes as his house; unless I could let it out and take it in until
it fitted, and somehow expressed my own character and taste. But we
have fallen into the days of conformity. It is no wonder that people
constantly go into their neighbors' houses by mistake, just as, in
spite of the Maine law, they wear away each other's hats from an
evening party. It has almost come to this, that you might as well be
anybody else as yourself.

Am I mistaken in supposing that this is owing to the discontinuance
of big chimneys, with wide fireplaces in them? How can a person be
attached to a house that has no center of attraction, no soul in it,
in the visible form of a glowing fire, and a warm chimney, like the
heart in the body? When you think of the old homestead, if you ever
do, your thoughts go straight to the wide chimney and its burning
logs. No wonder that you are ready to move from one fireplaceless
house into another. But you have something just as good, you say.
Yes, I have heard of it. This age, which imitates everything, even
to the virtues of our ancestors, has invented a fireplace, with
artificial, iron, or composition logs in it, hacked and painted, in
which gas is burned, so that it has the appearance of a wood-fire.
This seems to me blasphemy. Do you think a cat would lie down before
it? Can you poke it? If you can't poke it, it is a fraud. To poke
a wood-fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the
world. The crowning human virtue in a man is to let his wife poke
the fire. I do not know how any virtue whatever is possible over an
imitation gas-log. What a sense of insincerity the family must have,
if they indulge in the hypocrisy of gathering about it. With this
center of untruthfulness, what must the life in the family be?
Perhaps the father will be living at the rate of ten thousand a year
on a salary of four thousand; perhaps the mother, more beautiful and
younger than her beautified daughters, will rouge; perhaps the young
ladies will make wax-work. A cynic might suggest as the motto of
modern life this simple legend,--"just as good as the real." But I am
not a cynic, and I hope for the rekindling of wood-fires, and a
return of the beautiful home light from them. If a wood-fire is a
luxury, it is cheaper than many in which we indulge without thought,
and cheaper than the visits of a doctor, made necessary by the want
of ventilation of the house. Not that I have anything against
doctors; I only wish, after they have been to see us in a way that
seems so friendly, they had nothing against us.

My fireplace, which is deep, and nearly three feet wide, has a broad
hearthstone in front of it, where the live coals tumble down, and a
pair of gigantic brass andirons. The brasses are burnished, and
shine cheerfully in the firelight, and on either side stand tall
shovel and tongs, like sentries, mounted in brass. The tongs, like
the two-handed sword of Bruce, cannot be wielded by puny people. We
burn in it hickory wood, cut long. We like the smell of this
aromatic forest timber, and its clear flame. The birch is also a
sweet wood for the hearth, with a sort of spiritual flame and an even
temper,--no snappishness. Some prefer the elm, which holds fire so
well; and I have a neighbor who uses nothing but apple-tree wood,--a
solid, family sort of wood, fragrant also, and full of delightful
suggestions. But few people can afford to burn up their fruit trees.
I should as soon think of lighting the fire with sweet-oil that comes
in those graceful wicker-bound flasks from Naples, or with manuscript
sermons, which, however, do not burn well, be they never so dry, not
half so well as printed editorials.

Few people know how to make a wood-fire, but everybody thinks he or
she does. You want, first, a large backlog, which does not rest on
the andirons. This will keep your fire forward, radiate heat all
day, and late in the evening fall into a ruin of glowing coals, like
the last days of a good man, whose life is the richest and most
beneficent at the close, when the flames of passion and the sap of
youth are burned out, and there only remain the solid, bright
elements of character. Then you want a forestick on the andirons;
and upon these build the fire of lighter stuff. In this way you have
at once a cheerful blaze, and the fire gradually eats into the solid
mass, sinking down with increasing fervor; coals drop below, and
delicate tongues of flame sport along the beautiful grain of the
forestick. There are people who kindle a fire underneath. But these
are conceited people, who are wedded to their own way. I suppose an
accomplished incendiary always starts a fire in the attic, if he can.
I am not an incendiary, but I hate bigotry. I don't call those
incendiaries very good Christians who, when they set fire to the
martyrs, touched off the fagots at the bottom, so as to make them go
slow. Besides, knowledge works down easier than it does up.
Education must proceed from the more enlightened down to the more
ignorant strata. If you want better common schools, raise the
standard of the colleges, and so on. Build your fire on top. Let
your light shine. I have seen people build a fire under a balky
horse; but he wouldn't go, he'd be a horse-martyr first. A fire
kindled under one never did him any good. Of course you can make a
fire on the hearth by kindling it underneath, but that does not make
it right. I want my hearthfire to be an emblem of the best things.


It must be confessed that a wood-fire needs as much tending as a pair
of twins. To say nothing of fiery projectiles sent into the room,
even by the best wood, from the explosion of gases confined in its
cells, the brands are continually dropping down, and coals are being
scattered over the hearth. However much a careful housewife, who
thinks more of neatness than enjoyment, may dislike this, it is one
of the chief delights of a wood-fire. I would as soon have an
Englishman without side-whiskers as a fire without a big backlog; and
I would rather have no fire than one that required no tending,--one
of dead wood that could not sing again the imprisoned songs of the
forest, or give out in brilliant scintillations the sunshine it
absorbed in its growth. Flame is an ethereal sprite, and the spice
of danger in it gives zest to the care of the hearth-fire. Nothing
is so beautiful as springing, changing flame,--it was the last freak
of the Gothic architecture men to represent the fronts of elaborate
edifices of stone as on fire, by the kindling flamboyant devices. A
fireplace is, besides, a private laboratory, where one can witness
the most brilliant chemical experiments, minor conflagrations only
wanting the grandeur of cities on fire. It is a vulgar notion that a
fire is only for heat. A chief value of it is, however, to look at.
It is a picture, framed between the jambs. You have nothing on your
walls, by the best masters (the poor masters are not, however,
represented), that is really so fascinating, so spiritual. Speaking
like an upholsterer, it furnishes the room. And it is never twice
the same. In this respect it is like the landscape-view through a
window, always seen in a new light, color, or condition. The
fireplace is a window into the most charming world I ever had a
glimpse of.

Yet direct heat is an agreeable sensation. I am not scientific
enough to despise it, and have no taste for a winter residence on
Mount Washington, where the thermometer cannot be kept comfortable
even by boiling. They say that they say in Boston that there is a
satisfaction in being well dressed which religion cannot give. There
is certainly a satisfaction in the direct radiance of a hickory fire
which is not to be found in the fieriest blasts of a furnace. The
hot air of a furnace is a sirocco; the heat of a wood-fire is only
intense sunshine, like that bottled in Lacrimae Christi. Besides
this, the eye is delighted, the sense of smell is regaled by the
fragrant decomposition, and the ear is pleased with the hissing,
crackling, and singing,--a liberation of so many out-door noises.
Some people like the sound of bubbling in a boiling pot, or the
fizzing of a frying-spider. But there is nothing gross in the
animated crackling of sticks of wood blazing on the earth, not even
if chestnuts are roasting in the ashes. All the senses are
ministered to, and the imagination is left as free as the leaping
tongues of flame.

The attention which a wood-fire demands is one of its best
recommendations. We value little that which costs us no trouble to
maintain. If we had to keep the sun kindled up and going by private
corporate action, or act of Congress, and to be taxed for the support
of customs officers of solar heat, we should prize it more than we
do. Not that I should like to look upon the sun as a job, and have
the proper regulation of its temperature get into politics, where we
already have so much combustible stuff; but we take it quite too much
as a matter of course, and, having it free, do not reckon it among
the reasons for gratitude. Many people shut it out of their houses
as if it were an enemy, watch its descent upon the carpet as if it
were only a thief of color, and plant trees to shut it away from the
mouldering house. All the animals know better than this, as well as
the more simple races of men; the old women of the southern Italian
coasts sit all day in the sun and ply the distaff, as grateful as the
sociable hens on the south side of a New England barn; the slow
tortoise likes to take the sun upon his sloping back, soaking in
color that shall make him immortal when the imperishable part of him
is cut up into shell ornaments. The capacity of a cat to absorb
sunshine is only equaled by that of an Arab or an Ethiopian. They
are not afraid of injuring their complexions.

White must be the color of civilization; it has so many natural
disadvantages. But this is politics. I was about to say that,
however it may be with sunshine, one is always grateful for his
wood-fire, because he does not maintain it without some cost.

Yet I cannot but confess to a difference between sunlight and the
light of a wood-fire. The sunshine is entirely untamed. Where it
rages most freely it tends to evoke the brilliancy rather than the
harmonious satisfactions of nature. The monstrous growths and the
flaming colors of the tropics contrast with our more subdued
loveliness of foliage and bloom. The birds of the middle region
dazzle with their contrasts of plumage, and their voices are for
screaming rather than singing. I presume the new experiments in
sound would project a macaw's voice in very tangled and inharmonious
lines of light. I suspect that the fiercest sunlight puts people, as
well as animals and vegetables, on extremes in all ways. A wood-fire
on the hearth is a kindler of the domestic virtues. It brings in
cheerfulness, and a family center, and, besides, it is artistic.
I should like to know if an artist could ever represent on canvas a
happy family gathered round a hole in the floor called a register.
Given a fireplace, and a tolerable artist could almost create a
pleasant family round it. But what could he conjure out of a
register? If there was any virtue among our ancestors,--and they
labored under a great many disadvantages, and had few of the aids
which we have to excellence of life,--I am convinced they drew it
mostly from the fireside. If it was difficult to read the eleven
commandments by the light of a pine-knot, it was not difficult to get
the sweet spirit of them from the countenance of the serene mother
knitting in the chimney-corner.


When the fire is made, you want to sit in front of it and grow genial
in its effulgence. I have never been upon a throne,--except in
moments of a traveler's curiosity, about as long as a South American
dictator remains on one,--but I have no idea that it compares, for
pleasantness, with a seat before a wood-fire. A whole leisure day
before you, a good novel in hand, and the backlog only just beginning
to kindle, with uncounted hours of comfort in it, has life anything
more delicious? For "novel" you can substitute "Calvin's
Institutes," if you wish to be virtuous as well as happy. Even
Calvin would melt before a wood-fire. A great snowstorm, visible on
three sides of your wide-windowed room, loading the evergreens, blown
in fine powder from the great chestnut-tops, piled up in ever
accumulating masses, covering the paths, the shrubbery, the hedges,
drifting and clinging in fantastic deposits, deepening your sense of
security, and taking away the sin of idleness by making it a
necessity, this is an excellent ground to your day by the fire.

To deliberately sit down in the morning to read a novel, to enjoy
yourself, is this not, in New England (I am told they don't read much
in other parts of the country), the sin of sins? Have you any right
to read, especially novels, until you have exhausted the best part of
the day in some employment that is called practical? Have you any
right to enjoy yourself at all until the fag-end of the day, when you
are tired and incapable of enjoying yourself? I am aware that this
is the practice, if not the theory, of our society,--to postpone the
delights of social intercourse until after dark, and rather late at
night, when body and mind are both weary with the exertions of
business, and when we can give to what is the most delightful and
profitable thing in life, social and intellectual society, only the
weariness of dull brains and over-tired muscles. No wonder we take
our amusements sadly, and that so many people find dinners heavy and
parties stupid. Our economy leaves no place for amusements; we
merely add them to the burden of a life already full. The world is
still a little off the track as to what is really useful.

I confess that the morning is a very good time to read a novel, or
anything else which is good and requires a fresh mind; and I take it
that nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind.
I suppose it is necessary that business should be transacted; though
the amount of business that does not contribute to anybody's comfort
or improvement suggests the query whether it is not overdone. I know
that unremitting attention to business is the price of success, but
I don't know what success is. There is a man, whom we all know, who
built a house that cost a quarter of a million of dollars, and
furnished it for another like sum, who does not know anything more
about architecture, or painting, or books, or history, than he cares
for the rights of those who have not so much money as he has. I
heard him once, in a foreign gallery, say to his wife, as they stood
in front of a famous picture by Rubens: "That is the Rape of the
Sardines!" What a cheerful world it would be if everybody was as
successful as that man! While I am reading my book by the fire, and
taking an active part in important transactions that may be a good
deal better than real, let me be thankful that a great many men are
profitably employed in offices and bureaus and country stores in
keeping up the gossip and endless exchange of opinions among mankind,
so much of which is made to appear to the women at home as
"business." I find that there is a sort of busy idleness among men in
this world that is not held in disrepute. When the time comes that I
have to prove my right to vote, with women, I trust that it will be
remembered in my favor that I made this admission. If it is true, as
a witty conservative once said to me, that we never shall have peace
in this country until we elect a colored woman president, I desire to
be rectus in curia early.


The fireplace, as we said, is a window through which we look out upon
other scenes. We like to read of the small, bare room, with
cobwebbed ceiling and narrow window, in which the poor child of
genius sits with his magical pen, the master of a realm of beauty and
enchantment. I think the open fire does not kindle the imagination
so much as it awakens the memory; one sees the past in its crumbling
embers and ashy grayness, rather than the future. People become
reminiscent and even sentimental in front of it. They used to become
something else in those good old days when it was thought best to
heat the poker red hot before plunging it into the mugs of flip.
This heating of the poker has been disapproved of late years, but I
do not know on what grounds; if one is to drink bitters and gins and
the like, such as I understand as good people as clergymen and women
take in private, and by advice, I do not know why one should not make
them palatable and heat them with his own poker. Cold whiskey out of
a bottle, taken as a prescription six times a day on the sly, is n't
my idea of virtue any more than the social ancestral glass, sizzling
wickedly with the hot iron. Names are so confusing in this world;
but things are apt to remain pretty much the same, whatever we call

Perhaps as you look into the fireplace it widens and grows deep and
cavernous. The back and the jambs are built up of great stones, not
always smoothly laid, with jutting ledges upon which ashes are apt to
lie. The hearthstone is an enormous block of trap rock, with a
surface not perfectly even, but a capital place to crack butternuts
on. Over the fire swings an iron crane, with a row of pot-hooks of
all lengths hanging from it. It swings out when the housewife wants
to hang on the tea-kettle, and it is strong enough to support a row
of pots, or a mammoth caldron kettle on occasion. What a jolly sight
is this fireplace when the pots and kettles in a row are all boiling
and bubbling over the flame, and a roasting spit is turning in front!
It makes a person as hungry as one of Scott's novels. But the
brilliant sight is in the frosty morning, about daylight, when the
fire is made. The coals are raked open, the split sticks are piled
up in openwork criss-crossing, as high as the crane; and when the
flame catches hold and roars up through the interstices, it is like
an out-of-door bonfire. Wood enough is consumed in that morning
sacrifice to cook the food of a Parisian family for a year. How it
roars up the wide chimney, sending into the air the signal smoke and
sparks which announce to the farming neighbors another day cheerfully
begun! The sleepiest boy in the world would get up in his red
flannel nightgown to see such a fire lighted, even if he dropped to
sleep again in his chair before the ruddy blaze. Then it is that the
house, which has shrunk and creaked all night in the pinching cold of
winter, begins to glow again and come to life. The thick frost melts
little by little on the small window-panes, and it is seen that the
gray dawn is breaking over the leagues of pallid snow. It is time to
blow out the candle, which has lost all its cheerfulness in the light
of day. The morning romance is over; the family is astir; and member
after member appears with the morning yawn, to stand before the
crackling, fierce conflagration. The daily round begins. The most
hateful employment ever invented for mortal man presents itself: the
"chores" are to be done. The boy who expects every morning to open
into a new world finds that to-day is like yesterday, but he believes
to-morrow will be different. And yet enough for him, for the day, is
the wading in the snowdrifts, or the sliding on the diamond-sparkling
crust. Happy, too, is he, when the storm rages, and the snow is
piled high against the windows, if he can sit in the warm chimney-
corner and read about Burgoyne, and General Fraser, and Miss McCrea,
midwinter marches through the wilderness, surprises of wigwams, and
the stirring ballad, say, of the Battle of the Kegs:--

"Come, gallants, attend and list a friend
Thrill forth harmonious ditty;
While I shall tell what late befell
At Philadelphia city."

I should like to know what heroism a boy in an old New England
farmhouse--rough-nursed by nature, and fed on the traditions of the
old wars did not aspire to. "John," says the mother, "You'll burn
your head to a crisp in that heat." But John does not hear; he is
storming the Plains of Abraham just now. "Johnny, dear, bring in a
stick of wood." How can Johnny bring in wood when he is in that
defile with Braddock, and the Indians are popping at him from behind
every tree? There is something about a boy that I like, after all.

The fire rests upon the broad hearth; the hearth rests upon a great
substruction of stone, and the substruction rests upon the cellar.
What supports the cellar I never knew, but the cellar supports the
family. The cellar is the foundation of domestic comfort. Into its
dark, cavernous recesses the child's imagination fearfully goes.
Bogies guard the bins of choicest apples. I know not what comical
sprites sit astride the cider-barrels ranged along the walls. The
feeble flicker of the tallow-candle does not at all dispel, but
creates, illusions, and magnifies all the rich possibilities of this
underground treasure-house. When the cellar-door is opened, and the
boy begins to descend into the thick darkness, it is always with a
heart-beat as of one started upon some adventure. Who can forget the
smell that comes through the opened door;--a mingling of fresh earth,
fruit exhaling delicious aroma, kitchen vegetables, the mouldy odor
of barrels, a sort of ancestral air,--as if a door had been opened
into an old romance. Do you like it? Not much. But then I would
not exchange the remembrance of it for a good many odors and perfumes
that I do like.

It is time to punch the backlog and put on a new forestick.



The log was white birch. The beautiful satin bark at once kindled
into a soft, pure, but brilliant flame, something like that of
naphtha. There is no other wood flame so rich, and it leaps up in a
joyous, spiritual way, as if glad to burn for the sake of burning.
Burning like a clear oil, it has none of the heaviness and fatness of
the pine and the balsam. Woodsmen are at a loss to account for its
intense and yet chaste flame, since the bark has no oily appearance.
The heat from it is fierce, and the light dazzling. It flares up
eagerly like young love, and then dies away; the wood does not keep
up the promise of the bark. The woodsmen, it is proper to say, have
not considered it in its relation to young love. In the remote
settlements the pine-knot is still the torch of courtship; it endures
to sit up by. The birch-bark has alliances with the world of
sentiment and of letters. The most poetical reputation of the North
American Indian floats in a canoe made of it; his picture-writing was
inscribed on it. It is the paper that nature furnishes for lovers in
the wilderness, who are enabled to convey a delicate sentiment by its
use, which is expressed neither in their ideas nor chirography. It
is inadequate for legal parchment, but does very well for deeds of
love, which are not meant usually to give a perfect title. With
care, it may be split into sheets as thin as the Chinese paper. It
is so beautiful to handle that it is a pity civilization cannot make
more use of it. But fancy articles manufactured from it are very
much like all ornamental work made of nature's perishable seeds,
leaves, cones, and dry twigs,--exquisite while the pretty fingers are
fashioning it, but soon growing shabby and cheap to the eye. And yet
there is a pathos in "dried things," whether they are displayed as
ornaments in some secluded home, or hidden religiously in bureau
drawers where profane eyes cannot see how white ties are growing
yellow and ink is fading from treasured letters, amid a faint and
discouraging perfume of ancient rose-leaves.

The birch log holds out very well while it is green, but has not
substance enough for a backlog when dry. Seasoning green timber or
men is always an experiment. A man may do very well in a simple, let
us say, country or backwoods line of life, who would come to nothing
in a more complicated civilization. City life is a severe trial.
One man is struck with a dry-rot; another develops season-cracks;
another shrinks and swells with every change of circumstance.
Prosperity is said to be more trying than adversity, a theory which
most people are willing to accept without trial; but few men stand
the drying out of the natural sap of their greenness in the
artificial heat of city life. This, be it noticed, is nothing
against the drying and seasoning process; character must be put into
the crucible some time, and why not in this world? A man who cannot
stand seasoning will not have a high market value in any part of the
universe. It is creditable to the race, that so many men and women
bravely jump into the furnace of prosperity and expose themselves to
the drying influences of city life.

The first fire that is lighted on the hearth in the autumn seems to
bring out the cold weather. Deceived by the placid appearance of the
dying year, the softness of the sky, and the warm color of the
foliage, we have been shivering about for days without exactly
comprehending what was the matter. The open fire at once sets up a
standard of comparison. We find that the advance guards of winter
are besieging the house. The cold rushes in at every crack of door
and window, apparently signaled by the flame to invade the house and
fill it with chilly drafts and sarcasms on what we call the temperate
zone. It needs a roaring fire to beat back the enemy; a feeble one
is only an invitation to the most insulting demonstrations. Our
pious New England ancestors were philosophers in their way. It was
not simply owing to grace that they sat for hours in their barnlike
meeting-houses during the winter Sundays, the thermometer many
degrees below freezing, with no fire, except the zeal in their own
hearts,--a congregation of red noses and bright eyes. It was no
wonder that the minister in the pulpit warmed up to his subject,
cried aloud, used hot words, spoke a good deal of the hot place and
the Person whose presence was a burning shame, hammered the desk as
if he expected to drive his text through a two-inch plank, and heated
himself by all allowable ecclesiastical gymnastics. A few of their
followers in our day seem to forget that our modern churches are
heated by furnaces and supplied with gas. In the old days it would
have been thought unphilosophic as well as effeminate to warm the
meeting-houses artificially. In one house I knew, at least, when it
was proposed to introduce a stove to take a little of the chill from
the Sunday services, the deacons protested against the innovation.
They said that the stove might benefit those who sat close to it, but
it would drive all the cold air to the other parts of the church, and
freeze the people to death; it was cold enough now around the edges.
Blessed days of ignorance and upright living! Sturdy men who served
God by resolutely sitting out the icy hours of service, amid the
rattling of windows and the carousal of winter in the high, windswept
galleries! Patient women, waiting in the chilly house for
consumption to pick out his victims, and replace the color of youth
and the flush of devotion with the hectic of disease! At least, you
did not doze and droop in our over-heated edifices, and die of
vitiated air and disregard of the simplest conditions of organized
life. It is fortunate that each generation does not comprehend its
own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ancestors barbarous.
It is something also that each age has its choice of the death it
will die. Our generation is most ingenious. From our public
assembly-rooms and houses we have almost succeeded in excluding pure
air. It took the race ages to build dwellings that would keep out
rain; it has taken longer to build houses air-tight, but we are on
the eve of success. We are only foiled by the ill-fitting, insincere
work of the builders, who build for a day, and charge for all time.


When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and then settled into
steady radiance, talk begins. There is no place like the chimney-
corner for confidences; for picking up the clews of an old
friendship; for taking note where one's self has drifted, by
comparing ideas and prejudices with the intimate friend of years ago,
whose course in life has lain apart from yours. No stranger puzzles
you so much as the once close friend, with whose thinking and
associates you have for years been unfamiliar. Life has come to mean
this and that to you; you have fallen into certain habits of thought;
for you the world has progressed in this or that direction; of
certain results you feel very sure; you have fallen into harmony with
your surroundings; you meet day after day people interested in the
things that interest you; you are not in the least opinionated, it is
simply your good fortune to look upon the affairs of the world from
the right point of view. When you last saw your friend,--less than a
year after you left college,--he was the most sensible and agreeable
of men; he had no heterodox notions; he agreed with you; you could
even tell what sort of a wife he would select, and if you could do
that, you held the key to his life.

Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day from the antipodes. And
here he sits by the fireplace. I cannot think of any one I would
rather see there, except perhaps Thackery; or, for entertainment,
Boswell; or old, Pepys; or one of the people who was left out of the
Ark. They were talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt's about
whom they would most like to have seen, when Charles Lamb startled
the company by declaring that he would rather have seen Judas
Iscariot than any other person who had lived on the earth. For
myself, I would rather have seen Lamb himself once, than to have
lived with Judas. Herbert, to my great delight, has not changed; I
should know him anywhere,--the same serious, contemplative face, with
lurking humor at the corners of the mouth,--the same cheery laugh and
clear, distinct enunciation as of old. There is nothing so winning
as a good voice. To see Herbert again, unchanged in all outward
essentials, is not only gratifying, but valuable as a testimony to
nature's success in holding on to a personal identity, through the
entire change of matter that has been constantly taking place for so
many years. I know very well there is here no part of the Herbert
whose hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting; but it is an
astonishing reproduction of him,--a material likeness; and now for
the spiritual.

Such a wide chance for divergence in the spiritual. It has been such
a busy world for twenty years. So many things have been torn up by
the roots again that were settled when we left college. There were
to be no more wars; democracy was democracy, and progress, the
differentiation of the individual, was a mere question of clothes; if
you want to be different, go to your tailor; nobody had demonstrated
that there is a man-soul and a woman-soul, and that each is in
reality only a half-soul,--putting the race, so to speak, upon the
half-shell. The social oyster being opened, there appears to be two
shells and only one oyster; who shall have it? So many new canons of
taste, of criticism, of morality have been set up; there has been
such a resurrection of historical reputations for new judgment, and
there have been so many discoveries, geographical, archaeological,
geological, biological, that the earth is not at all what it was
supposed to be; and our philosophers are much more anxious to
ascertain where we came from than whither we are going. In this
whirl and turmoil of new ideas, nature, which has only the single end
of maintaining the physical identity in the body, works on
undisturbed, replacing particle for particle, and preserving the
likeness more skillfully than a mosaic artist in the Vatican; she has
not even her materials sorted and labeled, as the Roman artist has
his thousands of bits of color; and man is all the while doing his
best to confuse the process, by changing his climate, his diet, all
his surroundings, without the least care to remain himself. But the

It is more difficult to get acquainted with Herbert than with an
entire stranger, for I have my prepossessions about him, and do not
find him in so many places where I expect to find him. He is full of
criticism of the authors I admire; he thinks stupid or improper the
books I most read; he is skeptical about the "movements" I am
interested in; he has formed very different opinions from mine
concerning a hundred men and women of the present day; we used to eat
from one dish; we could n't now find anything in common in a dozen;
his prejudices (as we call our opinions) are most extraordinary, and
not half so reasonable as my prejudices; there are a great many
persons and things that I am accustomed to denounce, uncontradicted
by anybody, which he defends; his public opinion is not at all my
public opinion. I am sorry for him. He appears to have fallen into
influences and among a set of people foreign to me. I find that his
church has a different steeple on it from my church (which, to say
the truth, hasn't any). It is a pity that such a dear friend and a
man of so much promise should have drifted off into such general
contrariness. I see Herbert sitting here by the fire, with the old
look in his face coming out more and more, but I do not recognize any
features of his mind,--except perhaps his contrariness; yes, he was
always a little contrary, I think. And finally he surprises me with,
"Well, my friend, you seem to have drifted away from your old notions
and opinions. We used to agree when we were together, but I
sometimes wondered where you would land; for, pardon me, you showed
signs of looking at things a little contrary."

I am silent for a good while. I am trying to think who I am. There
was a person whom I thought I knew, very fond of Herbert, and
agreeing with him in most things. Where has he gone? and, if he is
here, where is the Herbert that I knew?

If his intellectual and moral sympathies have all changed, I wonder
if his physical tastes remain, like his appearance, the same. There
has come over this country within the last generation, as everybody
knows, a great wave of condemnation of pie. It has taken the
character of a "movement!" though we have had no conventions about
it, nor is any one, of any of the several sexes among us, running for
president against it. It is safe almost anywhere to denounce pie,
yet nearly everybody eats it on occasion. A great many people think
it savors of a life abroad to speak with horror of pie, although they
were very likely the foremost of the Americans in Paris who used to
speak with more enthusiasm of the American pie at Madame Busque's
than of the Venus of Milo. To talk against pie and still eat it is
snobbish, of course; but snobbery, being an aspiring failing, is
sometimes the prophecy of better things. To affect dislike of pie is
something. We have no statistics on the subject, and cannot tell
whether it is gaining or losing in the country at large. Its
disappearance in select circles is no test. The amount of writing
against it is no more test of its desuetude, than the number of
religious tracts distributed in a given district is a criterion of
its piety. We are apt to assume that certain regions are
substantially free of it. Herbert and I, traveling north one summer,
fancied that we could draw in New England a sort of diet line, like
the sweeping curves on the isothermal charts, which should show at
least the leading pie sections. Journeying towards the White
Mountains, we concluded that a line passing through Bellows Falls,
and bending a little south on either side, would mark northward the
region of perpetual pie. In this region pie is to be found at all
hours and seasons, and at every meal. I am not sure, however, that
pie is not a matter of altitude rather than latitude, as I find that
all the hill and country towns of New England are full of those
excellent women, the very salt of the housekeeping earth, who would
feel ready to sink in mortification through their scoured kitchen
floors, if visitors should catch them without a pie in the house.
The absence of pie would be more noticed than a scarcity of Bible
even. Without it the housekeepers are as distracted as the
boarding-house keeper, who declared that if it were not for canned
tomato, she should have nothing to fly to. Well, in all this great
agitation I find Herbert unmoved, a conservative, even to the
under-crust. I dare not ask him if he eats pie at breakfast. There
are some tests that the dearest friendship may not apply.

"Will you smoke?" I ask.

"No, I have reformed."

"Yes, of course."

"The fact is, that when we consider the correlation of forces, the
apparent sympathy of spirit manifestations with electric conditions,
the almost revealed mysteries of what may be called the odic force,
and the relation of all these phenomena to the nervous system in man,
it is not safe to do anything to the nervous system that will--"

"Hang the nervous system! Herbert, we can agree in one thing: old
memories, reveries, friendships, center about that:--is n't an open
wood-fire good?"

"Yes," says Herbert, combatively, "if you don't sit before it too


The best talk is that which escapes up the open chimney and cannot be
repeated. The finest woods make the best fire and pass away with the
least residuum. I hope the next generation will not accept the
reports of "interviews" as specimens of the conversations of these
years of grace.

But do we talk as well as our fathers and mothers did? We hear
wonderful stories of the bright generation that sat about the wide
fireplaces of New England. Good talk has so much short-hand that it
cannot be reported,--the inflection, the change of voice, the shrug,
cannot be caught on paper. The best of it is when the subject
unexpectedly goes cross-lots, by a flash of short-cut, to a
conclusion so suddenly revealed that it has the effect of wit. It
needs the highest culture and the finest breeding to prevent the
conversation from running into mere persiflage on the one hand--its
common fate--or monologue on the other. Our conversation is largely
chaff. I am not sure but the former generation preached a good deal,
but it had great practice in fireside talk, and must have talked
well. There were narrators in those days who could charm a circle
all the evening long with stories. When each day brought
comparatively little new to read, there was leisure for talk, and the
rare book and the in-frequent magazine were thoroughly discussed.
Families now are swamped by the printed matter that comes daily upon
the center-table. There must be a division of labor, one reading
this, and another that, to make any impression on it. The telegraph
brings the only common food, and works this daily miracle, that every
mind in Christendom is excited by one topic simultaneously with every
other mind; it enables a concurrent mental action, a burst of
sympathy, or a universal prayer to be made, which must be, if we have
any faith in the immaterial left, one of the chief forces in modern
life. It is fit that an agent so subtle as electricity should be the
minister of it.

When there is so much to read, there is little time for conversation;
nor is there leisure for another pastime of the ancient firesides,
called reading aloud. The listeners, who heard while they looked
into the wide chimney-place, saw there pass in stately procession the
events and the grand persons of history, were kindled with the
delights of travel, touched by the romance of true love, or made
restless by tales of adventure;--the hearth became a sort of magic
stone that could transport those who sat by it to the most distant
places and times, as soon as the book was opened and the reader
began, of a winter's night. Perhaps the Puritan reader read through
his nose, and all the little Puritans made the most dreadful nasal
inquiries as the entertainment went on. The prominent nose of the
intellectual New-Englander is evidence of the constant linguistic
exercise of the organ for generations. It grew by talking through.
But I have no doubt that practice made good readers in those days.
Good reading aloud is almost a lost accomplishment now. It is little
thought of in the schools. It is disused at home. It is rare to
find any one who can read, even from the newspaper, well. Reading is
so universal, even with the uncultivated, that it is common to hear
people mispronounce words that you did not suppose they had ever
seen. In reading to themselves they glide over these words, in
reading aloud they stumble over them. Besides, our every-day books
and newspapers are so larded with French that the ordinary reader is
obliged marcher a pas de loup,--for instance.

The newspaper is probably responsible for making current many words
with which the general reader is familiar, but which he rises to in
the flow of conversation, and strikes at with a splash and an
unsuccessful attempt at appropriation; the word, which he perfectly
knows, hooks him in the gills, and he cannot master it. The
newspaper is thus widening the language in use, and vastly increasing
the number of words which enter into common talk. The Americans of
the lowest intellectual class probably use more words to express
their ideas than the similar class of any other people; but this
prodigality is partially balanced by the parsimony of words in some
higher regions, in which a few phrases of current slang are made to
do the whole duty of exchange of ideas; if that can be called
exchange of ideas when one intellect flashes forth to another the
remark, concerning some report, that "you know how it is yourself,"
and is met by the response of "that's what's the matter," and rejoins
with the perfectly conclusive "that's so." It requires a high degree
of culture to use slang with elegance and effect; and we are yet very
far from the Greek attainment.


The fireplace wants to be all aglow, the wind rising, the night heavy
and black above, but light with sifting snow on the earth, a
background of inclemency for the illumined room with its pictured
walls, tables heaped with books, capacious easy-chairs and their
occupants,--it needs, I say, to glow and throw its rays far through
the crystal of the broad windows, in order that we may rightly
appreciate the relation of the wide-jambed chimney to domestic
architecture in our climate. We fell to talking about it; and, as is
usual when the conversation is professedly on one subject, we
wandered all around it. The young lady staying with us was roasting
chestnuts in the ashes, and the frequent explosions required
considerable attention. The mistress, too, sat somewhat alert, ready
to rise at any instant and minister to the fancied want of this or
that guest, forgetting the reposeful truth that people about a
fireside will not have any wants if they are not suggested. The
worst of them, if they desire anything, only want something hot, and
that later in the evening. And it is an open question whether you
ought to associate with people who want that.

I was saying that nothing had been so slow in its progress in the
world as domestic architecture. Temples, palaces, bridges,
aqueducts, cathedrals, towers of marvelous delicacy and strength,
grew to perfection while the common people lived in hovels, and the
richest lodged in the most gloomy and contracted quarters. The
dwelling-house is a modern institution. It is a curious fact that it
has only improved with the social elevation of women. Men were never
more brilliant in arms and letters than in the age of Elizabeth, and
yet they had no homes. They made themselves thick-walled castles,
with slits in the masonry for windows, for defense, and magnificent
banquet-halls for pleasure; the stone rooms into which they crawled
for the night were often little better than dog-kennels. The
Pompeians had no comfortable night-quarters. The most singular thing
to me, however, is that, especially interested as woman is in the
house, she has never done anything for architecture. And yet woman
is reputed to be an ingenious creature.

HERBERT. I doubt if woman has real ingenuity; she has great
adaptability. I don't say that she will do the same thing twice
alike, like a Chinaman, but she is most cunning in suiting herself to

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, if you speak of constructive, creative
ingenuity, perhaps not; but in the higher ranges of achievement--that
of accomplishing any purpose dear to her heart, for instance--her
ingenuity is simply incomprehensible to me.

HERBERT. Yes, if you mean doing things by indirection.

THE MISTRESS. When you men assume all the direction, what else is
left to us?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see a woman refurnish a house?

THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH US. I never saw a man do it, unless he
was burned out of his rookery.

HERBERT. There is no comfort in new things.

THE FIRE-TENDER (not noticing the interruption). Having set her mind
on a total revolution of the house, she buys one new thing, not too
obtrusive, nor much out of harmony with the old. The husband
scarcely notices it, least of all does he suspect the revolution,
which she already has accomplished. Next, some article that does
look a little shabby beside the new piece of furniture is sent to the
garret, and its place is supplied by something that will match in
color and effect. Even the man can see that it ought to match, and
so the process goes on, it may be for years, it may be forever, until
nothing of the old is left, and the house is transformed as it was
predetermined in the woman's mind. I doubt if the man ever
understands how or when it was done; his wife certainly never says
anything about the refurnishing, but quietly goes on to new

THE MISTRESS. And is n't it better to buy little by little, enjoying
every new object as you get it, and assimilating each article to your
household life, and making the home a harmonious expression of your
own taste, rather than to order things in sets, and turn your house,
for the time being, into a furniture ware-room?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, I only spoke of the ingenuity of it.

THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I never can get acquainted with more
than one piece of furniture at a time.

HERBERT. I suppose women are our superiors in artistic taste, and I
fancy that I can tell whether a house is furnished by a woman or a
man; of course, I mean the few houses that appear to be the result of
individual taste and refinement,--most of them look as if they had
been furnished on contract by the upholsterer.

THE MISTRESS. Woman's province in this world is putting things to

HERBERT. With a vengeance, sometimes. In the study, for example.
My chief objection to woman is that she has no respect for the
newspaper, or the printed page, as such. She is Siva, the destroyer.
I have noticed that a great part of a married man's time at home is
spent in trying to find the things he has put on his study-table.

THE YOUNG LADY. Herbert speaks with the bitterness of a bachelor
shut out of paradise. It is my experience that if women did not
destroy the rubbish that men bring into the house, it would become
uninhabitable, and need to be burned down every five years.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I confess women do a great deal for the appearance
of things. When the mistress is absent, this room, although
everything is here as it was before, does not look at all like the
same place; it is stiff, and seems to lack a soul. When she returns,
I can see that her eye, even while greeting me, takes in the
situation at a glance. While she is talking of the journey, and
before she has removed her traveling-hat, she turns this chair and
moves that, sets one piece of furniture at a different angle,
rapidly, and apparently unconsciously, shifts a dozen little
knick-knacks and bits of color, and the room is transformed. I
couldn't do it in a week.

THE MISTRESS. That is the first time I ever knew a man admit he
couldn't do anything if he had time.

HERBERT. Yet with all their peculiar instinct for making a home,
women make themselves very little felt in our domestic architecture.

THE MISTRESS. Men build most of the houses in what might be called
the ready-made-clothing style, and we have to do the best we can with
them; and hard enough it is to make cheerful homes in most of them.
You will see something different when the woman is constantly
consulted in the plan of the house.

HERBERT. We might see more difference if women would give any
attention to architecture. Why are there no women architects?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Want of the ballot, doubtless. It seems to me that
here is a splendid opportunity for woman to come to the front.

THE YOUNG LADY. They have no desire to come to the front; they would
rather manage things where they are.

THE FIRE-TENDER. If they would master the noble art, and put their
brooding taste upon it, we might very likely compass something in our
domestic architecture that we have not yet attained. The outside of
our houses needs attention as well as the inside. Most of them are
as ugly as money can build.

THE YOUNG LADY. What vexes me most is, that women, married women,
have so easily consented to give up open fires in their houses.

HERBERT. They dislike the dust and the bother. I think that women
rather like the confined furnace heat.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Nonsense; it is their angelic virtue of submission.
We wouldn't be hired to stay all-day in the houses we build.

THE YOUNG LADY. That has a very chivalrous sound, but I know there
will be no reformation until women rebel and demand everywhere the
open fire.

HERBERT. They are just now rebelling about something else; it seems
to me yours is a sort of counter-movement, a fire in the rear.

THE MISTRESS. I'll join that movement. The time has come when woman
must strike for her altars and her fires.

HERBERT. Hear, hear!

THE MISTRESS. Thank you, Herbert. I applauded you once, when you
declaimed that years ago in the old Academy. I remember how
eloquently you did it.

HERBERT. Yes, I was once a spouting idiot.

Just then the door-bell rang, and company came in. And the company
brought in a new atmosphere, as company always does, something of the
disturbance of out-doors, and a good deal of its healthy cheer. The
direct news that the thermometer was approaching zero, with a hopeful
prospect of going below it, increased to liveliness our satisfaction
in the fire. When the cider was heated in the brown stone pitcher,
there was difference of opinion whether there should be toast in it;
some were for toast, because that was the old-fashioned way, and
others were against it, "because it does not taste good" in cider.
Herbert said there, was very little respect left for our forefathers.

More wood was put on, and the flame danced in a hundred fantastic
shapes. The snow had ceased to fall, and the moonlight lay in
silvery patches among the trees in the ravine. The conversation
became worldly.


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