Part 3 out of 6
Herbert said, as we sat by the fire one night, that he wished he had
turned his attention to writing poetry like Tennyson's.
The remark was not whimsical, but satirical. Tennyson is a man of
talent, who happened to strike a lucky vein, which he has worked with
cleverness. The adventurer with a pickaxe in Washoe may happen upon
like good fortune. The world is full of poetry as the earth is of
"pay-dirt;" one only needs to know how to "strike" it. An able man
can make himself almost anything that he will. It is melancholy to
think how many epic poets have been lost in the tea-trade, how many
dramatists (though the age of the drama has passed) have wasted their
genius in great mercantile and mechanical enterprises. I know a man
who might have been the poet, the essayist, perhaps the critic, of
this country, who chose to become a country judge, to sit day after
day upon a bench in an obscure corner of the world, listening to
wrangling lawyers and prevaricating witnesses, preferring to judge
his fellow-men rather than enlighten them.
It is fortunate for the vanity of the living and the reputation of
the dead, that men get almost as much credit for what they do not as
for what they do. It was the opinion of many that Burns might have
excelled as a statesman, or have been a great captain in war; and Mr.
Carlyle says that if he had been sent to a university, and become a
trained intellectual workman, it lay in him to have changed the whole
course of British literature! A large undertaking, as so vigorous
and dazzling a writer as Mr. Carlyle must know by this time, since
British literature has swept by him in a resistless and widening
flood, mainly uncontaminated, and leaving his grotesque contrivances
wrecked on the shore with other curiosities of letters, and yet among
the richest of all the treasures lying there.
It is a temptation to a temperate man to become a sot, to hear what
talent, what versatility, what genius, is almost always attributed to
a moderately bright man who is habitually drunk. Such a mechanic,
such a mathematician, such a poet he would be, if he were only sober;
and then he is sure to be the most generous, magnanimous, friendly
soul, conscientiously honorable, if he were not so conscientiously
drunk. I suppose it is now notorious that the most brilliant and
promising men have been lost to the world in this way. It is
sometimes almost painful to think what a surplus of talent and genius
there would be in the world if the habit of intoxication should
suddenly cease; and what a slim chance there would be for the
plodding people who have always had tolerably good habits. The fear
is only mitigated by the observation that the reputation of a person
for great talent sometimes ceases with his reformation.
It is believed by some that the maidens who would make the best wives
never marry, but remain free to bless the world with their impartial
sweetness, and make it generally habitable. This is one of the
mysteries of Providence and New England life. It seems a pity, at
first sight, that all those who become poor wives have the
matrimonial chance, and that they are deprived of the reputation of
those who would be good wives were they not set apart for the high
and perpetual office of priestesses of society. There is no beauty
like that which was spoiled by an accident, no accomplishments--and
graces are so to be envied as those that circumstances rudely
hindered the development of. All of which shows what a charitable
and good-tempered world it is, notwithstanding its reputation for
cynicism and detraction.
Nothing is more beautiful than the belief of the faithful wife that
her husband has all the talents, and could , if he would, be
distinguished in any walk in life; and nothing will be more
beautiful--unless this is a very dry time for signs--than the
husband's belief that his wife is capable of taking charge of any of
the affairs of this confused planet. There is no woman but thinks
that her husband, the green-grocer, could write poetry if he had
given his mind to it, or else she thinks small beer of poetry in
comparison with an occupation or accomplishment purely vegetable. It
is touching to see the look of pride with which the wife turns to her
husband from any more brilliant personal presence or display of wit
than his, in the perfect confidence that if the world knew what she
knows, there would be one more popular idol. How she magnifies his
small wit, and dotes upon the self-satisfied look in his face as if
it were a sign of wisdom! What a councilor that man would make!
What a warrior he would be! There are a great many corporals in
their retired homes who did more for the safety and success of our
armies in critical moments, in the late war, than any of the "high-
cock-a-lorum" commanders. Mrs. Corporal does not envy the
reputation of General Sheridan; she knows very well who really won
Five Forks, for she has heard the story a hundred times, and will
hear it a hundred times more with apparently unabated interest. What
a general her husband would have made; and how his talking talent
would shine in Congress!
HERBERT. Nonsense. There isn't a wife in the world who has not
taken the exact measure of her husband, weighed him and settled him
in her own mind, and knows him as well as if she had ordered him
after designs and specifications of her own. That knowledge,
however, she ordinarily keeps to herself, and she enters into a
league with her husband, which he was never admitted to the secret
of, to impose upon the world. In nine out of ten cases he more than
half believes that he is what his wife tells him he is. At any rate,
she manages him as easily as the keeper does the elephant, with only
a bamboo wand and a sharp spike in the end. Usually she flatters
him, but she has the means of pricking clear through his hide on
occasion. It is the great secret of her power to have him think that
she thoroughly believes in him.
THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH Us. And you call this hypocrisy? I have
heard authors, who thought themselves sly observers of women, call it
HERBERT. Nothing of the sort. It is the basis on which society
rests, the conventional agreement. If society is about to be
overturned, it is on this point. Women are beginning to tell men
what they really think of them; and to insist that the same relations
of downright sincerity and independence that exist between men shall
exist between women and men. Absolute truth between souls, without
regard to sex, has always been the ideal life of the poets.
THE MISTRESS. Yes; but there was never a poet yet who would bear to
have his wife say exactly what she thought of his poetry, any more
than be would keep his temper if his wife beat him at chess; and
there is nothing that disgusts a man like getting beaten at chess by
HERBERT. Well, women know how to win by losing. I think that the
reason why most women do not want to take the ballot and stand out in
the open for a free trial of power, is that they are reluctant to
change the certain domination of centuries, with weapons they are
perfectly competent to handle, for an experiment. I think we should
be better off if women were more transparent, and men were not so
systematically puffed up by the subtle flattery which is used to
MANDEVILLE. Deliver me from transparency. When a woman takes that
guise, and begins to convince me that I can see through her like a
ray of light, I must run or be lost. Transparent women are the truly
dangerous. There was one on ship-board [Mandeville likes to say
that; he has just returned from a little tour in Europe, and he quite
often begins his remarks with "on the ship going over; "the Young
Lady declares that he has a sort of roll in his chair, when he says
it, that makes her sea-sick] who was the most innocent, artless,
guileless, natural bunch of lace and feathers you ever saw; she was
all candor and helplessness and dependence; she sang like a
nightingale, and talked like a nun. There never was such simplicity.
There was n't a sounding-line on board that would have gone to the
bottom of her soulful eyes. But she managed the captain and all the
officers, and controlled the ship as if she had been the helm. All
the passengers were waiting on her, fetching this and that for her
comfort, inquiring of her health, talking about her genuineness, and
exhibiting as much anxiety to get her ashore in safety, as if she had
been about to knight them all and give them a castle apiece when they
came to land.
THE MISTRESS. What harm? It shows what I have always said, that the
service of a noble woman is the most ennobling influence for men.
MANDEVILLE. If she is noble, and not a mere manager. I watched this
woman to see if she would ever do anything for any one else. She
THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see her again? I presume Mandeville
has introduced her here for some purpose.
MANDEVILLE. No purpose. But we did see her on the Rhine; she was
the most disgusted traveler, and seemed to be in very ill humor with
her maid. I judged that her happiness depended upon establishing
controlling relations with all about her. On this Rhine boat, to be
sure, there was reason for disgust. And that reminds me of a remark
that was made.
THE YOUNG LADY. Oh!
MANDEVILLE. When we got aboard at Mayence we were conscious of a
dreadful odor somewhere; as it was a foggy morning, we could see no
cause of it, but concluded it was from something on the wharf. The
fog lifted, and we got under way, but the odor traveled with us, and
increased. We went to every part of the vessel to avoid it, but in
vain. It occasionally reached us in great waves of disagreeableness.
We had heard of the odors of the towns on the Rhine, but we had no
idea that the entire stream was infected. It was intolerable.
The day was lovely, and the passengers stood about on deck holding
their noses and admiring the scenery. You might see a row of them
leaning over the side, gazing up at some old ruin or ivied crag,
entranced with the romance of the situation, and all holding their
noses with thumb and finger. The sweet Rhine! By and by somebody
discovered that the odor came from a pile of cheese on the forward
deck, covered with a canvas; it seemed that the Rhinelanders are so
fond of it that they take it with them when they travel. If there
should ever be war between us and Germany, the borders of the Rhine
would need no other defense from American soldiers than a barricade
of this cheese. I went to the stern of the steamboat to tell a stout
American traveler what was the origin of the odor he had been trying
to dodge all the morning. He looked more disgusted than before, when
he heard that it was cheese; but his only reply was: "It must be a
merciful God who can forgive a smell like that!"
The above is introduced here in order to illustrate the usual effect
of an anecdote on conversation. Commonly it kills it. That talk
must be very well in hand, and under great headway, that an anecdote
thrown in front of will not pitch off the track and wreck. And it
makes little difference what the anecdote is; a poor one depresses
the spirits, and casts a gloom over the company; a good one begets
others, and the talkers go to telling stories; which is very good
entertainment in moderation, but is not to be mistaken for that
unwearying flow of argument, quaint remark, humorous color, and
sprightly interchange of sentiments and opinions, called
The reader will perceive that all hope is gone here of deciding
whether Herbert could have written Tennyson's poems, or whether
Tennyson could have dug as much money out of the Heliogabalus Lode as
Herbert did. The more one sees of life, I think the impression
deepens that men, after all, play about the parts assigned them,
according to their mental and moral gifts, which are limited and
preordained, and that their entrances and exits are governed by a law
no less certain because it is hidden. Perhaps nobody ever
accomplishes all that he feels lies in him to do; but nearly every
one who tries his powers touches the walls of his being occasionally,
and learns about how far to attempt to spring. There are no
impossibilities to youth and inexperience; but when a person has
tried several times to reach high C and been coughed down, he is
quite content to go down among the chorus. It is only the fools who
keep straining at high C all their lives.
Mandeville here began to say that that reminded him of something that
happened when he was on the
But Herbert cut in with the observation that no matter what a man's
single and several capacities and talents might be, he is controlled
by his own mysterious individuality, which is what metaphysicians
call the substance, all else being the mere accidents of the man.
And this is the reason that we cannot with any certainty tell what
any person will do or amount to, for, while we know his talents and
abilities, we do not know the resulting whole, which is he himself.
THE FIRE-TENDER. So if you could take all the first-class qualities
that we admire in men and women, and put them together into one
being, you wouldn't be sure of the result?
HERBERT. Certainly not. You would probably have a monster. It
takes a cook of long experience, with the best materials, to make a
dish " taste good;" and the "taste good" is the indefinable essence,
the resulting balance or harmony which makes man or woman agreeable
or beautiful or effective in the world.
THE YOUNG LADY. That must be the reason why novelists fail so
lamentably in almost all cases in creating good characters. They put
in real traits, talents, dispositions, but the result of the
synthesis is something that never was seen on earth before.
THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, a good character in fiction is an inspiration.
We admit this in poetry. It is as true of such creations as Colonel
Newcome, and Ethel, and Beatrix Esmond. There is no patchwork about
THE YOUNG LADY. Why was n't Thackeray ever inspired to create a
THE FIRE-TENDER. That is the standing conundrum with all the women.
They will not accept Ethel Newcome even. Perhaps we shall have to
admit that Thackeray was a writer for men.
HERBERT. Scott and the rest had drawn so many perfect women that
Thackeray thought it was time for a real one.
THE MISTRESS. That's ill-natured. Thackeray did, however, make
ladies. If he had depicted, with his searching pen, any of us just
as we are, I doubt if we should have liked it much.
MANDEVILLE. That's just it. Thackeray never pretended to make
ideals, and if the best novel is an idealization of human nature,
then he was not the best novelist. When I was crossing the Channel
THE MISTRESS. Oh dear, if we are to go to sea again, Mandeville, I
move we have in the nuts and apples, and talk about our friends.
There is this advantage in getting back to a wood-fire on the hearth,
that you return to a kind of simplicity; you can scarcely imagine any
one being stiffly conventional in front of it. It thaws out
formality, and puts the company who sit around it into easy attitudes
of mind and body,--lounging attitudes,--Herbert said.
And this brought up the subject of culture in America, especially as
to manner. The backlog period having passed, we are beginning to
have in society people of the cultured manner, as it is called, or
polished bearing, in which the polish is the most noticeable thing
about the man. Not the courtliness, the easy simplicity of the
old-school gentleman, in whose presence the milkmaid was as much at
her ease as the countess, but something far finer than this. These
are the people of unruffled demeanor, who never forget it for a
moment, and never let you forget it. Their presence is a constant
rebuke to society. They are never "jolly;" their laugh is never
anything more than a well-bred smile; they are never betrayed into
any enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a sign of inexperience, of ignorance,
of want of culture. They never lose themselves in any cause; they
never heartily praise any man or woman or book; they are superior to
all tides of feeling and all outbursts of passion. They are not even
shocked at vulgarity. They are simply indifferent. They are calm,
visibly calm, painfully calm; and it is not the eternal, majestic
calmness of the Sphinx either, but a rigid, self-conscious
repression. You would like to put a bent pin in their chair when
they are about calmly to sit down.
A sitting hen on her nest is calm, but hopeful; she has faith that
her eggs are not china. These people appear to be sitting on china
eggs. Perfect culture has refined all blood, warmth, flavor, out of
them. We admire them without envy. They are too beautiful in their
manners to be either prigs or snobs. They are at once our models and
our despair. They are properly careful of themselves as models, for
they know that if they should break, society would become a scene of
mere animal confusion.
MANDEVILLE. I think that the best-bred people in the world are the
THE YOUNG LADY. You mean at home.
MANDEVILLE. That's where I saw them. There is no nonsense about a
cultivated English man or woman. They express themselves sturdily
and naturally, and with no subservience to the opinions of others.
There's a sort of hearty sincerity about them that I like. Ages of
culture on the island have gone deeper than the surface, and they
have simpler and more natural manners than we. There is something
good in the full, round tones of their voices.
HERBERT. Did you ever get into a diligence with a growling English-
man who had n't secured the place he wanted?
[Mandeville once spent a week in London, riding about on the tops of
THE MISTRESS. Did you ever see an English exquisite at the San
Carlo, and hear him cry "Bwavo"?
MANDEVILLE. At any rate, he acted out his nature, and was n't afraid
THE FIRE-TENDER. I think Mandeville is right, for once. The men of
the best culture in England, in the middle and higher social classes,
are what you would call good fellows,--easy and simple in manner,
enthusiastic on occasion, and decidedly not cultivated into the
smooth calmness of indifference which some Americans seem to regard
as the sine qua non of good breeding. Their position is so assured
that they do not need that lacquer of calmness of which we were
THE YOUNG LADY. Which is different from the manner acquired by those
who live a great deal in American hotels?
THE MISTRESS. Or the Washington manner?
HERBERT. The last two are the same.
THE FIRE-TENDER. Not exactly. You think you can always tell if a
man has learned his society carriage of a dancing-master. Well, you
cannot always tell by a person's manner whether he is a habitui of
hotels or of Washington. But these are distinct from the perfect
polish and politeness of indifferentism.
Daylight disenchants. It draws one from the fireside, and dissipates
the idle illusions of conversation, except under certain conditions.
Let us say that the conditions are: a house in the country, with some
forest trees near, and a few evergreens, which are Christmas-trees
all winter long, fringed with snow, glistening with ice-pendants,
cheerful by day and grotesque by night; a snow-storm beginning out of
a dark sky, falling in a soft profusion that fills all the air, its
dazzling whiteness making a light near at hand, which is quite lost
in the distant darkling spaces.
If one begins to watch the swirling flakes and crystals, he soon gets
an impression of infinity of resources that he can have from nothing
else so powerfully, except it be from Adirondack gnats. Nothing
makes one feel at home like a great snow-storm. Our intelligent cat
will quit the fire and sit for hours in the low window, watching the
falling snow with a serious and contented air. His thoughts are his
own, but he is in accord with the subtlest agencies of Nature; on
such a day he is charged with enough electricity to run a telegraphic
battery, if it could be utilized. The connection between thought and
electricity has not been exactly determined, but the cat is mentally
very alert in certain conditions of the atmosphere. Feasting his
eyes on the beautiful out-doors does not prevent his attention to the
slightest noise in the wainscot. And the snow-storm brings content,
but not stupidity, to all the rest of the household.
I can see Mandeville now, rising from his armchair and swinging his
long arms as he strides to the window, and looks out and up, with,
"Well, I declare!" Herbert is pretending to read Herbert Spencer's
tract on the philosophy of style but he loses much time in looking at
the Young Lady, who is writing a letter, holding her portfolio in her
lap,--one of her everlasting letters to one of her fifty everlasting
friends. She is one of the female patriots who save the post-office
department from being a disastrous loss to the treasury. Herbert is
thinking of the great radical difference in the two sexes, which
legislation will probably never change; that leads a woman always, to
write letters on her lap and a man on a table,--a distinction which
is commended to the notice of the anti-suffragists.
The Mistress, in a pretty little breakfast-cap, is moving about the
room with a feather-duster, whisking invisible dust from the picture-
frames, and talking with the Parson, who has just come in, and is
thawing the snow from his boots on the hearth. The Parson says the
thermometer is 15deg., and going down; that there is a snowdrift
across the main church entrance three feet high, and that the house
looks as if it had gone into winter quarters, religion and all.
There were only ten persons at the conference meeting last night, and
seven of those were women; he wonders how many weather-proof
Christians there are in the parish, anyhow.
The Fire-Tender is in the adjoining library, pretending to write; but
it is a poor day for ideas. He has written his wife's name about
eleven hundred times, and cannot get any farther. He hears the
Mistress tell the Parson that she believes he is trying to write a
lecture on the Celtic Influence in Literature. The Parson says that
it is a first-rate subject, if there were any such influence, and
asks why he does n't take a shovel and make a path to the gate.
Mandeville says that, by George! he himself should like no better
fun, but it wouldn't look well for a visitor to do it. The
Fire-Tender, not to be disturbed by this sort of chaff, keeps on
writing his wife's name.
Then the Parson and the Mistress fall to talking about the
soup-relief, and about old Mrs. Grumples in Pig Alley, who had a
present of one of Stowe's Illustrated Self-Acting Bibles on
Christmas, when she had n't coal enough in the house to heat her
gruel; and about a family behind the church, a widow and six little
children and three dogs; and he did n't believe that any of them had
known what it was to be warm in three weeks, and as to food, the
woman said, she could hardly beg cold victuals enough to keep the
The Mistress slipped out into the kitchen to fill a basket with
provisions and send it somewhere; and when the Fire-Tender brought in
a new forestick, Mandeville, who always wants to talk, and had been
sitting drumming his feet and drawing deep sighs, attacked him.
MANDEVILLE. Speaking about culture and manners, did you ever notice
how extremes meet, and that the savage bears himself very much like
the sort of cultured persons we were talking of last night?
THE FIRE-TENDER. In what respect?
MANDEVILLE. Well, you take the North American Indian. He is never
interested in anything, never surprised at anything. He has by
nature that calmness and indifference which your people of culture
have acquired. If he should go into literature as a critic, he would
scalp and tomahawk with the same emotionless composure, and he would
do nothing else.
THE FIRE-TENDER. Then you think the red man is a born gentleman of
the highest breeding?
MANDEVILLE. I think he is calm.
THE FIRE-TENDER. How is it about the war-path and all that?
MANDEVILLE. Oh, these studiously calm and cultured people may have
malice underneath. It takes them to give the most effective "little
digs;" they know how to stick in the pine-splinters and set fire to
HERBERT. But there is more in Mandeville's idea. You bring a red
man into a picture-gallery, or a city full of fine architecture, or
into a drawing-room crowded with objects of art and beauty, and he is
apparently insensible to them all. Now I have seen country people,--
and by country people I don't mean people necessarily who live in the
country, for everything is mixed in these days,--some of the best
people in the world, intelligent, honest, sincere, who acted as the
THE MISTRESS. Herbert, if I did n't know you were cynical, I should
say you were snobbish.
HERBERT. Such people think it a point of breeding never to speak of
anything in your house, nor to appear to notice it, however beautiful
it may be; even to slyly glance around strains their notion of
etiquette. They are like the countryman who confessed afterwards
that he could hardly keep from laughing at one of Yankee Hill's
THE YOUNG LADY. Do you remember those English people at our house in
Flushing last summer, who pleased us all so much with their apparent
delight in everything that was artistic or tasteful, who explored the
rooms and looked at everything, and were so interested? I suppose
that Herbert's country relations, many of whom live in the city,
would have thought it very ill-bred.
MANDEVILLE. It's just as I said. The English, the best of them,
have become so civilized that they express themselves, in speech and
action, naturally, and are not afraid of their emotions.
THE PARSON. I wish Mandeville would travel more, or that he had
stayed at home. It's wonderful what a fit of Atlantic sea-sickness
will do for a man's judgment and cultivation. He is prepared to
pronounce on art, manners, all kinds of culture. There is more
nonsense talked about culture than about anything else.
HERBERT. The Parson reminds me of an American country minister I
once met walking through the Vatican. You could n't impose upon him
with any rubbish; he tested everything by the standards of his native
place, and there was little that could bear the test. He had the sly
air of a man who could not be deceived, and he went about with his
mouth in a pucker of incredulity. There is nothing so placid as
rustic conceit. There was something very enjoyable about his calm
superiority to all the treasures of art.
MANDEVILLE. And the Parson reminds me of another American minister,
a consul in an Italian city, who said he was going up to Rome to have
a thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece of his mind.
Ministers seem to think that is their business. They serve it in
such small pieces in order to make it go round.
THE PARSON. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, let's have some music;
nothing else will keep him in good humor till lunch-time.
THE MISTRESS. What shall it be?
THE PARSON. Give us the larghetto from Beethoven's second symphony.
The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Herbert looks at the young
lady. The Parson composes himself for critical purposes. Mandeville
settles himself in a chair and stretches his long legs nearly into
the fire, remarking that music takes the tangles out of him.
After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. It is still
It is difficult to explain the attraction which the uncanny and even
the horrible have for most minds. I have seen a delicate woman half
fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most unseemly of
reptiles, vulgarly known as the "blowing viper" of the Alleghanies.
She would look at it, and turn away with irresistible shuddering and
the utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and again, only
to experience the same spasm of disgust. In spite of her aversion,
she must have relished the sort of electric mental shock that the
sight gave her.
I can no more account for the fascination for us of the stories of
ghosts and "appearances," and those weird tales in which the dead are
the chief characters; nor tell why we should fall into converse about
them when the winter evenings are far spent, the embers are glazing
over on the hearth, and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises
in the house. At such times one's dreams become of importance, and
people like to tell them and dwell upon them, as if they were a link
between the known and unknown, and could give us a clew to that
ghostly region which in certain states of the mind we feel to be more
real than that we see.
Recently, when we were, so to say, sitting around the borders of the
supernatural late at night, MANDEVILLE related a dream of his which
he assured us was true in every particular, and it interested us so
much that we asked him to write it out. In doing so he has curtailed
it, and to my mind shorn it of some of its more vivid and picturesque
features. He might have worked it up with more art, and given it a
finish which the narration now lacks, but I think best to insert it
in its simplicity. It seems to me that it may properly be called,
A NEW "VISION OF SIN"
In the winter of 1850 I was a member of one of the leading colleges
of this country. I was in moderate circumstances pecuniarily,
though I was perhaps better furnished with less fleeting riches than
many others. I was an incessant and indiscriminate reader of books.
For the solid sciences I had no particular fancy, but with mental
modes and habits, and especially with the eccentric and fantastic in
the intellectual and spiritual operations, I was tolerably familiar.
All the literature of the supernatural was as real to me as the
laboratory of the chemist, where I saw the continual struggle of
material substances to evolve themselves into more volatile, less
palpable and coarse forms. My imagination, naturally vivid,
stimulated by such repasts, nearly mastered me. At times I could
scarcely tell where the material ceased and the immaterial began (if
I may so express it); so that once and again I walked, as it seemed,
from the solid earth onward upon an impalpable plain, where I heard
the same voices, I think, that Joan of Arc heard call to her in the
garden at Domremy. She was inspired, however, while I only lacked
exercise. I do not mean this in any literal sense; I only describe a
state of mind. I was at this time of spare habit, and nervous,
excitable temperament. I was ambitious, proud, and extremely
sensitive. I cannot deny that I had seen something of the world, and
had contracted about the average bad habits of young men who have the
sole care of themselves, and rather bungle the matter. It is
necessary to this relation to admit that I had seen a trifle more of
what is called life than a young man ought to see, but at this period
I was not only sick of my experience, but my habits were as correct
as those of any Pharisee in our college, and we had some very
favorable specimens of that ancient sect.
Nor can I deny that at this period of my life I was in a peculiar
mental condition. I well remember an illustration of it. I sat
writing late one night, copying a prize essay,--a merely manual task,
leaving my thoughts free. It was in June, a sultry night, and about
midnight a wind arose, pouring in through the open windows, full of
mournful reminiscence, not of this, but of other summers, --the same
wind that De Quincey heard at noonday in midsummer blowing through
the room where he stood, a mere boy, by the side of his dead sister,-
-a wind centuries old. As I wrote on mechanically, I became conscious
of a presence in the room, though I did not lift my eyes from the
paper on which I wrote. Gradually I came to know that my
grandmother--dead so long ago that I laughed at the idea--was in the
room. She stood beside her old-fashioned spinning-wheel, and quite
near me. She wore a plain muslin cap with a high puff in the crown,
a short woolen gown, a white and blue checked apron, and shoes with
heels. She did not regard me, but stood facing the wheel, with the
left hand near the spindle, holding lightly between the thumb and
forefinger the white roll of wool which was being spun and twisted on
it. In her right hand she held a small stick. I heard the sharp
click of this against the spokes of the wheel, then the hum of the
wheel, the buzz of the spindles as the twisting yarn was teased by
the whirl of its point, then a step backwards, a pause, a step
forward and the running of the yarn upon the spindle, and again a
backward step, the drawing out of the roll and the droning and hum of
the wheel, most mournfully hopeless sound that ever fell on mortal
ear. Since childhood it has haunted me. All this time I wrote, and
I could hear distinctly the scratching of the pen upon the paper.
But she stood behind me (why I did not turn my head I never knew),
pacing backward and forward by the spinning-wheel, just as I had a
hundred times seen her in childhood in the old kitchen on drowsy
summer afternoons. And I heard the step, the buzz and whirl of the
spindle, and the monotonous and dreary hum of the mournful wheel.
Whether her face was ashy pale and looked as if it might crumble at
the touch, and the border of her white cap trembled in the June wind
that blew, I cannot say, for I tell you I did NOT see her. But I
know she was there, spinning yarn that had been knit into hose years
and years ago by our fireside. For I was in full possession of my
faculties, and never copied more neatly and legibly any manuscript
than I did the one that night. And there the phantom (I use the word
out of deference to a public prejudice on this subject) most
persistently remained until my task was finished, and, closing the
portfolio, I abruptly rose. Did I see anything? That is a silly and
ignorant question. Could I see the wind which had now risen
stronger, and drove a few cloud-scuds across the sky, filling the
night, somehow, with a longing that was not altogether born of
In the winter following, in January, I made an effort to give up the
use of tobacco,--a habit in which I was confirmed, and of which I
have nothing more to say than this: that I should attribute to it
almost all the sin and misery in the world, did I not remember that
the old Romans attained a very considerable state of corruption
without the assistance of the Virginia plant.
On the night of the third day of my abstinence, rendered more nervous
and excitable than usual by the privation, I retired late, and later
still I fell into an uneasy sleep, and thus into a dream, vivid,
illuminated, more real than any event of my life. I was at home, and
fell sick. The illness developed into a fever, and then a delirium
set in, not an intellectual blank, but a misty and most delicious
wandering in places of incomparable beauty. I learned subsequently
that our regular physician was not certain to finish me, when a
consultation was called, which did the business. I have the
satisfaction of knowing that they were of the proper school. I lay
sick for three days.
On the morning of the fourth, at sunrise, I died. The sensation was
not unpleasant. It was not a sudden shock. I passed out of my body
as one would walk from the door of his house. There the body lay,--a
blank, so far as I was concerned, and only interesting to me as I was
rather entertained with watching the respect paid to it. My friends
stood about the bedside, regarding me (as they seemed to suppose),
while I, in a different part of the room, could hardly repress a
smile at their mistake, solemnized as they were, and I too, for that
matter, by my recent demise. A sensation (the word you see is
material and inappropriate) of etherealization and imponderability
pervaded me, and I was not sorry to get rid of such a dull, slow mass
as I now perceived myself to be, lying there on the bed. When I
speak of my death, let me be understood to say that there was no
change, except that I passed out of my body and floated to the top of
a bookcase in the corner of the room, from which I looked down. For
a moment I was interested to see my person from the outside, but
thereafter I was quite indifferent to the body. I was now simply
soul. I seemed to be a globe, impalpable, transparent, about six
inches in diameter. I saw and heard everything as before. Of
course, matter was no obstacle to me, and I went easily and quickly
wherever I willed to go. There was none of that tedious process of
communicating my wishes to the nerves, and from them to the muscles.
I simply resolved to be at a particular place, and I was there. It
was better than the telegraph.
It seemed to have been intimated to me at my death (birth I half
incline to call it) that I could remain on this earth for four weeks
after my decease, during which time I could amuse myself as I chose.
I chose, in the first place, to see myself decently buried, to stay
by myself to the last, and attend my own funeral for once. As most
of those referred to in this true narrative are still living, I am
forbidden to indulge in personalities, nor shall I dare to say
exactly how my death affected my friends, even the home circle.
Whatever others did, I sat up with myself and kept awake. I saw the
"pennies" used instead of the "quarters" which I should have
preferred. I saw myself "laid out," a phrase that has come to have
such a slang meaning that I smile as I write it. When the body was
put into the coffin, I took my place on the lid.
I cannot recall all the details, and they are commonplace besides.
The funeral took place at the church. We all rode thither in
carriages, and I, not fancying my place in mine, rode on the outside
with the undertaker, whom I found to be a good deal more jolly than
he looked to be. The coffin was placed in front of the pulpit when
we arrived. I took my station on the pulpit cushion, from which
elevation I had an admirable view of all the ceremonies, and could
hear the sermon. How distinctly I remember the services. I think I
could even at this distance write out the sermon. The tune sung was
of--the usual country selection,--Mount Vernon. I recall the text.
I was rather flattered by the tribute paid to me, and my future was
spoken of gravely and as kindly as possible,--indeed, with remarkable
charity, considering that the minister was not aware of my presence.
I used to beat him at chess, and I thought, even then, of the last
game; for, however solemn the occasion might be to others, it was not
so to me. With what interest I watched my kinsfolks, and neighbors
as they filed past for the last look! I saw, and I remember, who
pulled a long face for the occasion and who exhibited genuine
sadness. I learned with the most dreadful certainty what people
really thought of me. It was a revelation never forgotten.
Several particular acquaintances of mine were talking on the steps as
we passed out.
"Well, old Starr's gone up. Sudden, was n't it? He was a first-rate
"Yes, queer about some things; but he had some mighty good streaks,"
said another. And so they ran on.
Streaks! So that is the reputation one gets during twenty years of
life in this world. Streaks!
After the funeral I rode home with the family. It was pleasanter
than the ride down, though it seemed sad to my relations. They did
not mention me, however, and I may remark, that although I stayed
about home for a week, I never heard my name mentioned by any of the
family. Arrived at home, the tea-kettle was put on and supper got
ready. This seemed to lift the gloom a little, and under the
influence of the tea they brightened up and gradually got more
cheerful. They discussed the sermon and the singing, and the mistake
of the sexton in digging the grave in the wrong place, and the large
congregation. From the mantel-piece I watched the group. They had
waffles for supper,--of which I had been exceedingly fond, but now I
saw them disappear without a sigh.
For the first day or two of my sojourn at home I was here and there
at all the neighbors, and heard a good deal about my life and
character, some of which was not very pleasant, but very wholesome,
doubtless, for me to hear. At the expiration of a week this
amusement ceased to be such for I ceased to be talked of. I realized
the fact that I was dead and gone.
By an act of volition I found myself back at college. I floated into
my own room, which was empty. I went to the room of my two warmest
friends, whose friendship I was and am yet assured of. As usual,
half a dozen of our set were lounging there. A game of whist was
just commencing. I perched on a bust of Dante on the top of the
book-shelves, where I could see two of the hands and give a good
guess at a third. My particular friend Timmins was just shuffling
"Be hanged if it is n't lonesome without old Starr. Did you cut? I
should like to see him lounge in now with his pipe, and with feet on
the mantel-piece proceed to expound on the duplex functions of the
"There--misdeal," said his vis-,a-vis. "Hope there's been no misdeal
for old Starr."
"Spades, did you say?" the talk ran on, "never knew Starr was
"No more was he; stouter than you are, and as brave and plucky as he
was strong. By George, fellows,--how we do get cut down! Last term
little Stubbs, and now one of the best fellows in the class."
"How suddenly he did pop off,--one for game, honors easy,--he was
good for the Spouts' Medal this year, too."
"Remember the joke he played on Prof. A., freshman year? "asked
"Remember he borrowed ten dollars of me about that time," said
Timmins's partner, gathering the cards for a new deal.
"Guess he is the only one who ever did," retorted some one.
And so the talk went on, mingled with whist-talk, reminiscent of me,
not all exactly what I would have chosen to go into my biography, but
on the whole kind and tender, after the fashion of the boys. At
least I was in their thoughts, and I could see was a good deal
regretted,--so I passed a very pleasant evening. Most of those
present were of my society, and wore crape on their badges, and all
wore the usual crape on the left arm. I learned that the following
afternoon a eulogy would be delivered on me in the chapel.
The eulogy was delivered before members of our society and others,
the next afternoon, in the chapel. I need not say that I was
present. Indeed, I was perched on the desk within reach of the
speaker's hand. The apotheosis was pronounced by my most intimate
friend, Timmins, and I must say he did me ample justice. He never
was accustomed to "draw it very mild" (to use a vulgarism which I
dislike) when he had his head, and on this occasion he entered into
the matter with the zeal of a true friend, and a young man who never
expected to have another occasion to sing a public "In Memoriam." It
made my hair stand on end,--metaphorically, of course. From my
childhood I had been extremely precocious. There were anecdotes of
preternatural brightness, picked up, Heaven knows where, of my
eagerness to learn, of my adventurous, chivalrous young soul, and of
my arduous struggles with chill penury, which was not able (as it
appeared) to repress my rage, until I entered this institution, of
which I had been ornament, pride, cynosure, and fair promising bud
blasted while yet its fragrance was mingled with the dew of its
youth. Once launched upon my college days, Timmins went on with all
sails spread. I had, as it were, to hold on to the pulpit cushion.
Latin, Greek, the old literatures, I was perfect master of; all
history was merely a light repast to me; mathematics I glanced at,
and it disappeared; in the clouds of modern philosophy I was wrapped
but not obscured; over the field of light literature I familiarly
roamed as the honey-bee over the wide fields of clover which blossom
white in the Junes of this world! My life was pure, my character
spotless, my name was inscribed among the names of those deathless
few who were not born to die!
It was a noble eulogy, and I felt before he finished, though I had
misgivings at the beginning, that I deserved it all. The effect on
the audience was a little different. They said it was a "strong"
oration, and I think Timmins got more credit by it than I did. After
the performance they stood about the chapel, talking in a subdued
tone, and seemed to be a good deal impressed by what they had heard,
or perhaps by thoughts of the departed. At least they all soon went
over to Austin's and called for beer. My particular friends called
for it twice. Then they all lit pipes. The old grocery keeper was
good enough to say that I was no fool, if I did go off owing him four
dollars. To the credit of human nature, let me here record that the
fellows were touched by this remark reflecting upon my memory, and
immediately made up a purse and paid the bill,--that is, they told
the old man to charge it over to them. College boys are rich in
credit and the possibilities of life.
It is needless to dwell upon the days I passed at college during this
probation. So far as I could see, everything went on as if I were
there, or had never been there. I could not even see the place where
I had dropped out of the ranks. Occasionally I heard my name, but I
must say that four weeks was quite long enough to stay in a world
that had pretty much forgotten me. There is no great satisfaction in
being dragged up to light now and then, like an old letter. The case
was somewhat different with the people with whom I had boarded. They
were relations of mine, and I often saw them weep, and they talked of
me a good deal at twilight and Sunday nights, especially the youngest
one, Carrie, who was handsomer than any one I knew, and not much
older than I. I never used to imagine that she cared particularly
for me, nor would she have done so, if I had lived, but death brought
with it a sort of sentimental regret, which, with the help of a
daguerreotype, she nursed into quite a little passion. I spent most
of my time there, for it was more congenial than the college.
But time hastened. The last sand of probation leaked out of the
glass. One day, while Carrie played (for me, though she knew it not)
one of Mendelssohn's "songs without words," I suddenly, yet gently,
without self-effort or volition, moved from the house, floated in the
air, rose higher, higher, by an easy, delicious, exultant, yet
inconceivably rapid motion. The ecstasy of that triumphant flight!
Groves, trees, houses, the landscape, dimmed, faded, fled away
beneath me. Upward mounting, as on angels' wings, with no effort,
till the earth hung beneath me a round black ball swinging, remote,
in the universal ether. Upward mounting, till the earth, no longer
bathed in the sun's rays, went out to my sight, disappeared in the
blank. Constellations, before seen from afar, I sailed among.
Stars, too remote for shining on earth, I neared, and found to be
round globes flying through space with a velocity only equaled by my
own. New worlds continually opened on my sight; newfields of
everlasting space opened and closed behind me.
For days and days--it seemed a mortal forever--I mounted up the great
heavens, whose everlasting doors swung wide. How the worlds and
systems, stars, constellations, neared me, blazed and flashed in
splendor, and fled away! At length,--was it not a thousand years?--I
saw before me, yet afar off, a wall, the rocky bourn of that country
whence travelers come not back, a battlement wider than I could
guess, the height of which I could not see, the depth of which was
infinite. As I approached, it shone with a splendor never yet beheld
on earth. Its solid substance was built of jewels the rarest, and
stones of priceless value. It seemed like one solid stone, and yet
all the colors of the rainbow were contained in it. The ruby, the
diamond, the emerald, the carbuncle, the topaz, the amethyst, the
sapphire; of them the wall was built up in harmonious combination.
So brilliant was it that all the space I floated in was full of the
splendor. So mild was it and so translucent, that I could look for
miles into its clear depths.
Rapidly nearing this heavenly battlement, an immense niche was
disclosed in its solid face. The floor was one large ruby. Its
sloping sides were of pearl. Before I was aware I stood within the
brilliant recess. I say I stood there, for I was there bodily, in my
habit as I lived; how, I cannot explain. Was it the resurrection of
the body? Before me rose, a thousand feet in height, a wonderful
gate of flashing diamond. Beside it sat a venerable man, with long
white beard, a robe of light gray, ancient sandals, and a golden key
hanging by a cord from his waist. In the serene beauty of his noble
features I saw justice and mercy had met and were reconciled. I
cannot describe the majesty of his bearing or the benignity of his
appearance. It is needless to say that I stood before St. Peter, who
sits at the Celestial Gate.
I humbly approached, and begged admission. St. Peter arose, and
regarded me kindly, yet inquiringly.
"What is your name? " asked he, "and from what place do you come?"
I answered, and, wishing to give a name well known, said I was from
Washington, United States. He looked doubtful, as if he had never
heard the name before.
"Give me," said he, "a full account of your whole life."
I felt instantaneously that there was no concealment possible; all
disguise fell away, and an unknown power forced me to speak absolute
and exact truth. I detailed the events of my life as well as I
could, and the good man was not a little affected by the recital of
my early trials, poverty, and temptation. It did not seem a very
good life when spread out in that presence, and I trembled as I
proceeded; but I plead youth, inexperience, and bad examples.
Have you been accustomed," he said, after a time, rather sadly, "to
break the Sabbath?"
I told him frankly that I had been rather lax in that matter,
especially at college. I often went to sleep in the chapel on
Sunday, when I was not reading some entertaining book. He then asked
who the preacher was, and when I told him, he remarked that I was not
so much to blame as he had supposed.
"Have you," he went on, "ever stolen, or told any lie?"
I was able to say no, except admitting as to the first, usual college
"conveyances," and as to the last, an occasional "blinder" to the
professors. He was gracious enough to say that these could be
overlooked as incident to the occasion.
"Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously and keeping late
This also could be forgiven me as an incident of youth.
"Did you ever," he went on, "commit the crime of using intoxicating
drinks as a beverage?"
I answered that I had never been a habitual drinker, that I had never
been what was called a "moderate drinker," that I had never gone to a
bar and drank alone; but that I had been accustomed, in company with
other young men, on convivial occasions to taste the pleasures of the
flowing bowl, sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the
pains of it, and for months before my demise had refrained from
liquor altogether. The holy man looked grave, but, after reflection,
said this might also be overlooked in a young man.
"What," continued he, in tones still more serious, "has been your
conduct with regard to the other sex?"
I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I pulled from my bosom a
little book like the one Leperello exhibits in the opera of "Don
Giovanni." There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and
inconstancy. I waited long for the decision, but it came in mercy.
"Rise," he cried; "young men will be young men, I suppose. We shall
forgive this also to your youth and penitence."
"Your examination is satisfactory, he informed me," after a pause;
"you can now enter the abodes of the happy."
Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. The key turned in the
lock. The gate swung noiselessly on its hinges a little open. Out
flashed upon me unknown splendors. What I saw in that momentary
gleam I shall never whisper in mortal ears. I stood upon the
threshold, just about to enter.
"Stop! one moment," exclaimed St. Peter, laying his hand on my
shoulder; "I have one more question to ask you."
I turned toward him.
"Young man, did you ever use tobacco?"
"I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime," I faltered, "but..."
"THEN TO HELL WITH YOU!" he shouted in a voice of thunder.
Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was flung, hurled,
from the battlement, down! down! down! Faster and faster I sank in
a dizzy, sickening whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. The
light faded. Dampness and darkness were round about me. As before,
for days and days I rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank
into thickening darkness,--and yet not darkness, but a pale, ashy
light more fearful.
In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall before me. It ran up
and down and on either hand endlessly into the night. It was solid,
black, terrible in its frowning massiveness.
Straightway I alighted at the gate,--a dismal crevice hewn into the
dripping rock. The gate was wide open, and there sat-I knew him at
once; who does not?--the Arch Enemy of mankind. He cocked his eye at
me in an impudent, low, familiar manner that disgusted me. I saw
that I was not to be treated like a gentleman.
"Well, young man," said he, rising, with a queer grin on his face,"
what are you sent here for?
"For using tobacco," I replied.
"Ho!" shouted he in a jolly manner, peculiar to devils, "that's what
most of 'em are sent here for now."
Without more ado, he called four lesser imps, who ushered me within.
What a dreadful plain lay before me! There was a vast city laid out
in regular streets, but there were no houses. Along the streets were
places of torment and torture exceedingly ingenious and disagreeable.
For miles and miles, it seemed, I followed my conductors through
these horrors, Here was a deep vat of burning tar. Here were rows of
fiery ovens. I noticed several immense caldron kettles of boiling
oil, upon the rims of which little devils sat, with pitchforks in
hand, and poked down the helpless victims who floundered in the
liquid. But I forbear to go into unseemly details. The whole scene
is as vivid in my mind as any earthly landscape.
After an hour's walk my tormentors halted before the mouth of an
oven,--a furnace heated seven times, and now roaring with flames.
They grasped me, one hold of each hand and foot. Standing before the
blazing mouth, they, with a swing, and a "one, two, THREE...."
I again assure the reader that in this narrative I have set down
nothing that was not actually dreamed, and much, very much of this
wonderful vision I have been obliged to omit.
Haec fabula docet: It is dangerous for a young man to leave off the
use of tobacco.
I wish I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of the New England
winter. Perhaps I could if I more thoroughly believed in it. But
skepticism comes in with the south wind. When that begins to blow,
one feels the foundations of his belief breaking up. This is only
another way of saying that it is more difficult, if it be not
impossible, to freeze out orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is
to thaw it out; though it is a mere fancy to suppose that this is the
reason why the martyrs, of all creeds, were burned at the stake.
There is said to be a great relaxation in New England of the ancient
strictness in the direction of toleration of opinion, called by some
a lowering of the standard, and by others a raising of the banner of
liberality; it might be an interesting inquiry how much this change
is due to another change,--the softening of the New England winter
and the shifting of the Gulf Stream. It is the fashion nowadays to
refer almost everything to physical causes, and this hint is a
gratuitous contribution to the science of metaphysical physics.
The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England
winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It
is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize
society than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it
filled the silken sails of Cleopatra's galley. It blows over New
England every few days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing
wind. That it brings the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long
enough to almost deceive the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and
to tempt the robin from the secluded evergreen copses, may be
nothing; but it takes the tone out of the mind, and engenders
discontent, making one long for the tropics; it feeds the weakened
imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we know it we
become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden change to
sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from the
plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are
braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.
Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a
fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not
altogether a matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used
to say, in his humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very
good woman, but her "temperature was very different from that of the
other two." The north wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina
of endurance into a man, and it probably would into a woman too if
there were a series of resolutions passed to that effect. The west
wind is hopeful; it has promise and adventure in it, and is, except
to Atlantic voyagers America-bound, the best wind that ever blew.
The east wind is peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling,
and curls one up in the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the
chimney ever smokes, it smokes when the wind sits in that quarter.
The south wind is full of longing and unrest, of effeminate
suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we might say of modern
poetry,--at any rate, modern poetry needs a change of air. I am not
sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds, because of its
sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in spring, when it
comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men "longen to gon on
I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to
do in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying
With Us, beginning,--
"Out of a drifting southern cloud
My soul heard the night-bird cry,"
but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was
exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only
rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can
write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many
poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a
south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very
fortunate when there is not wind enough to finish them. This
emotional poem, if I may so call it, was begun after Herbert went
away. I liked it, and thought it was what is called "suggestive;"
although I did not understand it, especially what the night-bird was;
and I am afraid I hurt the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she
meant Herbert by the "night-bird,"--a very absurd suggestion about
two unsentimental people. She said, "Nonsense;" but she afterwards
told the Mistress that there were emotions that one could never put
into words without the danger of being ridiculous; a profound truth.
And yet I should not like to say that there is not a tender
lonesomeness in love that can get comfort out of a night-bird in a
cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis is the death of sentiment.
But to return to the winds. Certain people impress us as the winds
do. Mandeville never comes in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor
and healthfulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and in his
wholesome way of looking at things. The Parson, you would say, was
the east wind, and only his intimates know that his peevishness is
only a querulous humor. In the fair west wind I know the Mistress
herself, full of hope, and always the first one to discover a bit of
blue in a cloudy sky. It would not be just to apply what I have said
of the south wind to any of our visitors, but it did blow a little
while Herbert was here.
In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual sparkle in it, I
suppose that no luxurious lounging on tropical isles set in tropical
seas compares with the positive happiness one may have before a great
woodfire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), with a veritable
New England winter raging outside. In order to get the highest
enjoyment, the faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a mere
recipient dullness. There are those who prefer a warm bath to a
brisk walk in the inspiring air, where ten thousand keen influences
minister to the sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves.
There are, for instance, a sharpness of horizon outline and a
delicacy of color on distant hills which are wanting in summer, and
which convey to one rightly organized the keenest delight, and a
refinement of enjoyment that is scarcely sensuous, not at all
sentimental, and almost passing the intellectual line into the
I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he said that I was
drawing it altogether too fine; that he experienced sensations of
pleasure in being out in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to
breast a north wind, and that there was a certain inspiration in
sharp outlines and in a landscape in trim winter-quarters, with
stripped trees, and, as it were, scudding through the season under
bare poles; but that he must say that he preferred the weather in
which he could sit on the fence by the wood-lot, with the spring sun
on his back, and hear the stir of the leaves and the birds beginning
A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear he is getting to have
private thoughts about the Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes
the robustness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little
suspicious to hear him express the hope that we shall have an early
I wonder how many people there are in New England who know the glory
and inspiration of a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too,
not only on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame with a rosy
color, which has no suggestion of languor or unsatisfied longing in
it, but on dull days, when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon,
full of threats of storm and the terrors of the gathering night. We
are very busy with our own affairs, but there is always something
going on out-doors worth looking at; and there is seldom an hour
before sunset that has not some special attraction. And, besides, it
puts one in the mood for the cheer and comfort of the open fire at
Probably if the people of New England could have a plebiscitum on
their weather, they would vote against it, especially against winter.
Almost no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests the idea that
most people here were either born in the wrong place, or do not know
what is best for them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any
better satisfied, or would turn out as well, in the tropics.
Everybody knows our virtues,--at least if they believe half we tell
them,--and for delicate beauty, that rare plant, I should look among
the girls of the New England hills as confidently as anywhere, and I
have traveled as far south as New Jersey, and west of the Genesee
Valley. Indeed, it would be easy to show that the parents of the
pretty girls in the West emigrated from New England. And yet--such
is the mystery of Providence--no one would expect that one of the
sweetest and most delicate flowers that blooms, the trailing.
arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable climate, and peep forth
from the edge of a snowbank at that.
It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer that the thousands
of people who are dissatisfied with their climate do not seek a more
congenial one--or stop grumbling. The world is so small, and all
parts of it are so accessible, it has so many varieties of climate,
that one could surely suit himself by searching; and, then, is it
worth while to waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant
surroundings and in a constant friction with that which is
disagreeable? One would suppose that people set down on this little
globe would seek places on it most agreeable to themselves. It must
be that they are much more content with the climate and country upon
which they happen, by the accident of their birth, than they pretend
Home sympathies and charities are most active in the winter. Coming
in from my late walk,--in fact driven in by a hurrying north wind
that would brook no delay,--a wind that brought snow that did not
seem to fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be blown from polar
fields,--I find the Mistress returned from town, all in a glow of
There has been a meeting of a woman's association for Ameliorating
the Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by
paying a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life
Ameliorator,--a sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the
meeting, I believe, "seconded the motion" several times, and is one
of the Vice-Presidents; and this family honor makes me feel almost as
if I were a president of something myself. These little distinctions
are among the sweetest things in life, and to see one's name
officially printed stimulates his charity, and is almost as
satisfactory as being the chairman of a committee or the mover of a
resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and not at all discreditable,
that our little vanity, which is reckoned among our weaknesses, is
thus made to contribute to the activity of our nobler powers.
Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and probably
there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the whisper,
"That's he," "That's she."
There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the
Jews; but they were found to be so much more adept than other people
in ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up.
Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people
who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy
in society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem
to think that the world owes them a living because they are
philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose
condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really
accomplished in the effort for them, it always remains true that the
charitable reap a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful
compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help
another without helping himself
OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR. Why is it that almost all philanthropists
and reformers are disagreeable?
I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person
who comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as
his wife does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner
cup of tea before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you
lock your doors, and only admit visitors through the media of bells
and servants. It is lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is
THE PARSON. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together?
Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They
are agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they
wish to make it as unpleasant to others as possible.
MANDEVILLE. That's a noble view of your fellow-men.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to
be unpleasant people to live with?
THE PARSON. As if the unpleasant people who won't mind their own
business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best
people I know are philanthropists,--I mean the genuine ones, and not
the uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It is not altogether the not minding their own
business. Nobody does that. The usual explanation is, that people
with one idea are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few
persons have more than one idea,--ministers, doctors, lawyers,
teachers, manufacturers, merchants,--they all think the world they
live in is the central one.
MANDEVILLE. And you might add authors. To them nearly all the life
of the world is in letters, and I suppose they would be astonished if
they knew how little the thoughts of the majority of people are
occupied with books, and with all that vast thought circulation which
is the vital current of the world to book-men. Newspapers have
reached their present power by becoming unliterary, and reflecting
all the interests of the world.
THE MISTRESS. I have noticed one thing, that the most popular
persons in society are those who take the world as it is, find the
least fault, and have no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner.
THE YOUNG LADY. And the other kind always appear to me to want a
THE FIRE-TENDER. It seems to me that the real reason why reformers
and some philanthropists are unpopular is, that they disturb our
serenity and make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is only
now and then that a whole people get a spasm of reformatory fervor,
of investigation and regeneration. At other times they rather hate
those who disturb their quiet.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Professional reformers and philanthropists are
insufferably conceited and intolerant.
THE MISTRESS. Everything depends upon the spirit in which a reform
or a scheme of philanthropy is conducted.
MANDEVILLE. I attended a protracted convention of reformers of a
certain evil, once, and had the pleasure of taking dinner with a
tableful of them. It was one of those country dinners accompanied
with green tea. Every one disagreed with every one else, and you
would n't wonder at it, if you had seen them. They were people with
whom good food wouldn't agree. George Thompson was expected at the
convention, and I remember that there was almost a cordiality in the
talk about him, until one sallow brother casually mentioned that
George took snuff,--when a chorus of deprecatory groans went up from
the table. One long-faced maiden in spectacles, with purple ribbons
in her hair, who drank five cups of tea by my count, declared that
she was perfectly disgusted, and did n't want to hear him speak. In
the course of the meal the talk ran upon the discipline of children,
and how to administer punishment. I was quite taken by the remark of
a thin, dyspeptic man who summed up the matter by growling out in a
harsh, deep bass voice, "Punish 'em in love!" It sounded as if he had
said, "Shoot 'em on the spot!"
THE PARSON. I supposed you would say that he was a minister. There
is another thing about those people. I think they are working
against the course of nature. Nature is entirely indifferent to any
reform. She perpetuates a fault as persistently as a virtue.
There's a split in my thumb-nail that has been scrupulously continued
for many years, not withstanding all my efforts to make the nail
resume its old regularity. You see the same thing in trees whose
bark is cut, and in melons that have had only one summer's intimacy
with squashes. The bad traits in character are passed down from
generation to generation with as much care as the good ones. Nature,
unaided, never reforms anything.
MANDEVILLE. Is that the essence of Calvinism?
THE PARSON. Calvinism has n't any essence, it's a fact.
MANDEVILLE. When I was a boy, I always associated Calvinism and
calomel together. I thought that homeopathy--similia, etc.--had done
away with both of them.
OUR NEXT DOOR (rising). If you are going into theology, I'm off..
I fear we are not getting on much with the joyousness of winter. In
order to be exhilarating it must be real winter. I have noticed that
the lower the thermometer sinks the more fiercely the north wind
rages, and the deeper the snow is, the higher rise the spirits of the
community. The activity of the "elements" has a great effect upon
country folk especially; and it is a more wholesome excitement than
that caused by a great conflagration. The abatement of a snow-storm
that grows to exceptional magnitude is regretted, for there is always
the half-hope that this will be, since it has gone so far, the
largest fall of snow ever known in the region, burying out of sight
the great fall of 1808, the account of which is circumstantially and
aggravatingly thrown in our way annually upon the least provocation.
We all know how it reads: "Some said it began at daylight, others
that it set in after sunrise; but all agree that by eight o'clock
Friday morning it was snowing in heavy masses that darkened the air."
The morning after we settled the five--or is it seven?--points of
Calvinism, there began a very hopeful snow-storm, one of those
wide-sweeping, careering storms that may not much affect the city,
but which strongly impress the country imagination with a sense of
the personal qualities of the weather,--power, persistency,
fierceness, and roaring exultation. Out-doors was terrible to those
who looked out of windows, and heard the raging wind, and saw the
commotion in all the high tree-tops and the writhing of the low
evergreens, and could not summon resolution to go forth and breast
and conquer the bluster. The sky was dark with snow, which was not
permitted to fall peacefully like a blessed mantle, as it sometimes
does, but was blown and rent and tossed like the split canvas of a
ship in a gale. The world was taken possession of by the demons of
the air, who had their will of it. There is a sort of fascination in
such a scene, equal to that of a tempest at sea, and without its
attendant haunting sense of peril; there is no fear that the house
will founder or dash against your neighbor's cottage, which is dimly
seen anchored across the field; at every thundering onset there is no
fear that the cook's galley will upset, or the screw break loose and
smash through the side, and we are not in momently expectation of the
tinkling of the little bell to "stop her." The snow rises in
drifting waves, and the naked trees bend like strained masts; but so
long as the window-blinds remain fast, and the chimney-tops do not
go, we preserve an equal mind. Nothing more serious can happen than
the failure of the butcher's and the grocer's carts, unless, indeed,
the little news-carrier should fail to board us with the world's
daily bulletin, or our next-door neighbor should be deterred from
coming to sit by the blazing, excited fire, and interchange the
trifling, harmless gossip of the day. The feeling of seclusion on
such a day is sweet, but the true friend who does brave the storm and
come is welcomed with a sort of enthusiasm that his arrival in
pleasant weather would never excite. The snow-bound in their Arctic
hulk are glad to see even a wandering Esquimau.
On such a day I recall the great snow-storms on the northern New
England hills, which lasted for a week with no cessation, with no
sunrise or sunset, and no observation at noon; and the sky all the
while dark with the driving snow, and the whole world full of the
noise of the rioting Boreal forces; until the roads were obliterated,
the fences covered, and the snow was piled solidly above the first-
story windows of the farmhouse on one side, and drifted before the
front door so high that egress could only be had by tunneling the
After such a battle and siege, when the wind fell and the sun
struggled out again, the pallid world lay subdued and tranquil, and
the scattered dwellings were not unlike wrecks stranded by the
tempest and half buried in sand. But when the blue sky again bent
over all, the wide expanse of snow sparkled like diamond-fields, and
the chimney signal-smokes could be seen, how beautiful was the
picture! Then began the stir abroad, and the efforts to open up
communication through roads, or fields, or wherever paths could be
broken, and the ways to the meeting-house first of all. Then from
every house and hamlet the men turned out with shovels, with the
patient, lumbering oxen yoked to the sleds, to break the roads,
driving into the deepest drifts, shoveling and shouting as if the
severe labor were a holiday frolic, the courage and the hilarity
rising with the difficulties encountered; and relief parties, meeting
at length in the midst of the wide white desolation, hailed each
other as chance explorers in new lands, and made the whole
country-side ring with the noise of their congratulations. There was
as much excitement and healthy stirring of the blood in it as in the
Fourth of July, and perhaps as much patriotism. The boy saw it in
dumb show from the distant, low farmhouse window, and wished he were
a man. At night there were great stories of achievement told by the
cavernous fireplace; great latitude was permitted in the estimation
of the size of particular drifts, but never any agreement was reached
as to the "depth on a level." I have observed since that people are
quite as apt to agree upon the marvelous and the exceptional as upon
By the firelight and the twilight, the Young Lady is finishing a
letter to Herbert,--writing it, literally, on her knees, transforming
thus the simple deed into an act of devotion. Mandeville says that
it is bad for her eyes, but the sight of it is worse for his eyes.
He begins to doubt the wisdom of reliance upon that worn apothegm
about absence conquering love.
Memory has the singular characteristic of recalling in a friend
absent, as in a journey long past, only that which is agreeable.
Mandeville begins to wish he were in New South Wales.
I did intend to insert here a letter of Herbert's to the Young Lady,
--obtained, I need not say, honorably, as private letters which get
into print always are,--not to gratify a vulgar curiosity, but
to show how the most unsentimental and cynical people are affected by
the master passion. But I cannot bring myself to do it. Even in the
interests of science one has no right to make an autopsy of two
loving hearts, especially when they are suffering under a late attack
of the one agreeable epidemic.
All the world loves a lover, but it laughs at him none the less in
his extravagances. He loses his accustomed reticence; he has
something of the martyr's willingness for publicity; he would even
like to show the sincerity of his devotion by some piece of open
heroism. Why should he conceal a discovery which has transformed the
world to him, a secret which explains all the mysteries of nature and
human-ity? He is in that ecstasy of mind which prompts those who
were never orators before to rise in an experience-meeting and pour
out a flood of feeling in the tritest language and the most
conventional terms. I am not sure that Herbert, while in this glow,
would be ashamed of his letter in print, but this is one of the cases
where chancery would step in and protect one from himself by his next
friend. This is really a delicate matter, and perhaps it is brutal
to allude to it at all.
In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in print. Love has
a marvelous power of vivifying language and charging the simplest
words with the most tender meaning, of restoring to them the power
they had when first coined. They are words of fire to those two who
know their secret, but not to others. It is generally admitted that
the best love-letters would not make very good literature.
"Dearest," begins Herbert, in a burst of originality, felicitously
selecting a word whose exclusiveness shuts out all the world but one,
and which is a whole letter, poem, confession, and creed in one
breath. What a weight of meaning it has to carry! There may be
beauty and wit and grace and naturalness and even the splendor of
fortune elsewhere, but there is one woman in the world whose sweet
presence would be compensation for the loss of all else. It is not
to be reasoned about; he wants that one; it is her plume dancing down
the sunny street that sets his heart beating; he knows her form among
a thousand, and follows her; he longs to run after her carriage,
which the cruel coachman whirls out of his sight. It is marvelous to
him that all the world does not want her too, and he is in a panic
when he thinks of it. And what exquisite flattery is in that little
word addressed to her, and with what sweet and meek triumph she
repeats it to herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for
those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out of all the
available world--it is almost as much bliss as it is to choose. "All
that long, long stage-ride from Blim's to Portage I thought of you
every moment, and wondered what you were doing and how you were
looking just that moment, and I found the occupation so charming that
I was almost sorry when the journey was ended." Not much in that!
But I have no doubt the Young Lady read it over and over, and dwelt
also upon every moment, and found in it new proof of unshaken
constancy, and had in that and the like things in the letter a sense
of the sweetest communion. There is nothing in this letter that we
need dwell on it, but I am convinced that the mail does not carry any
other letters so valuable as this sort.
I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this new light
unconsciously gave tone a little to the evening's talk; not that
anybody mentioned him, but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from
the qualities that make one person admired by another to those that
win the love of mankind.
MANDEVILLE. There seems to be something in some persons that wins
them liking, special or general, independent almost of what they do
THE MISTRESS. Why, everybody is liked by some one.
MANDEVILLE. I'm not sure of that. There are those who are
friendless, and would be if they had endless acquaintances. But, to
take the case away from ordinary examples, in which habit and a
thousand circumstances influence liking, what is it that determines
the world upon a personal regard for authors whom it has never seen?
THE FIRE-TENDER. Probably it is the spirit shown in their writings.
THE MISTRESS. More likely it is a sort of tradition; I don't believe
that the world has a feeling of personal regard for any author who
was not loved by those who knew him most intimately.
THE FIRE-TENDFR. Which comes to the same thing. The qualities, the
spirit, that got him the love of his acquaintances he put into his
MANDEVILLE. That does n't seem to me sufficient. Shakespeare has
put everything into his plays and poems, swept the whole range of
human sympathies and passions, and at times is inspired by the
sweetest spirit that ever man had.
THE YOUNG LADY. No one has better interpreted love.
MANDEVILLE. Yet I apprehend that no person living has any personal
regard for Shakespeare, or that his personality affects many,--except
they stand in Stratford church and feel a sort of awe at the thought
that the bones of the greatest poet are so near them.
THE PARSON. I don't think the world cares personally for any mere
man or woman dead for centuries.
MANDEVILLE. But there is a difference. I think there is still
rather a warm feeling for Socrates the man, independent of what he
said, which is little known. Homer's works are certainly better
known, but no one cares personally for Homer any more than for any
OUR NEXT DOOR. Why not go back to Moses? We've got the evening
before us for digging up people.
MANDEVILLE. Moses is a very good illustration. No name of antiquity
is better known, and yet I fancy he does not awaken the same kind of
popular liking that Socrates does.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Fudge! You just get up in any lecture assembly and
propose three cheers for Socrates, and see where you'll be.
Mandeville ought to be a missionary, and read Robert Browning to the
THE FIRE-TENDER. How do you account for the alleged personal regard
THE PARSON. Because the world called Christian is still more than
MANDEVILLE. He was a plain man; his sympathies were with the people;
he had what is roughly known as "horse-sense," and he was homely.
Franklin and Abraham Lincoln belong to his class. They were all
philosophers of the shrewd sort, and they all had humor. It was
fortunate for Lincoln that, with his other qualities, he was homely.
That was the last touching recommendation to the popular heart.
THE MISTRESS. Do you remember that ugly brown-stone statue of St.
Antonio by the bridge in Sorrento? He must have been a coarse saint,
patron of pigs as he was, but I don't know any one anywhere, or the
homely stone image of one, so loved by the people.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Ugliness being trump, I wonder more people don't win.
Mandeville, why don't you get up a "centenary" of Socrates, and put
up his statue in the Central Park? It would make that one of Lincoln
in Union Square look beautiful.
THE PARSON. Oh, you'll see that some day, when they have a museum
there illustrating the "Science of Religion."
THE FIRE-TENDER. Doubtless, to go back to what we were talking of,
the world has a fondness for some authors, and thinks of them with an
affectionate and half-pitying familiarity; and it may be that this
grows out of something in their lives quite as much as anything in
their writings. There seems to be more disposition of personal
liking to Thackeray than to Dickens, now both are dead,--a result
that would hardly have been predicted when the world was crying over
Little Nell, or agreeing to hate Becky Sharp.
THE YOUNG LADY. What was that you were telling about Charles Lamb,
the other day, Mandeville? Is not the popular liking for him
somewhat independent of his writings?
MANDEVILLE. He is a striking example of an author who is loved.
Very likely the remembrance of his tribulations has still something
to do with the tenderness felt for him. He supported no dignity and
permitted a familiarity which indicated no self-appreciation of his
real rank in the world of letters. I have heard that his
acquaintances familiarly called him "Charley."
OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a relief to know that! Do you happen to know
what Socrates was called?
MANDEVILLE. I have seen people who knew Lamb very well. One of them
told me, as illustrating his want of dignity, that as he was going
home late one night through the nearly empty streets, he was met by a
roystering party who were making a night of it from tavern to tavern.
They fell upon Lamb, attracted by his odd figure and hesitating
manner, and, hoisting him on their shoulders, carried him off,
singing as they went. Lamb enjoyed the lark, and did not tell them
who he was. When they were tired of lugging him, they lifted him,
with much effort and difficulty, to the top of a high wall, and left
him there amid the broken bottles, utterly unable to get down. Lamb
remained there philosophically in the enjoyment of his novel
adventure, until a passing watchman rescued him from his ridiculous
THE FIRE-TENDER. How did the story get out?
MANDEVILLE. Oh, Lamb told all about it next morning; and when asked
afterwards why he did so, he replied that there was no fun in it
unless he told it.
The King sat in the winter-house in the ninth month, and there was a
fire on the hearth burning before him . . . . When Jehudi had
read three or four leaves he cut it with the penknife.
That seems to be a pleasant and home-like picture from a not very
remote period,--less than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many
centuries after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very long ago,
for Thebes, in the splendid streets of which Homer wandered and sang
to the kings when Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was
its younger rival, was twelve centuries old when Paris ran away with
I am sorry that the original--and you can usually do anything with
the "original"--does not bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant
picture. I should like to believe that Jehoiakiin--for that was the
singular name of the gentleman who sat by his hearthstone--had just
received the Memphis "Palimpsest," fifteen days in advance of the
date of its publication, and that his secretary was reading to him
that monthly, and cutting its leaves as he read. I should like to
have seen it in that year when Thales was learning astronomy in
Memphis, and Necho was organizing his campaign against Carchemish.
If Jehoiakim took the "Attic Quarterly," he might have read its
comments on the banishment of the Alcmaeonida:, and its gibes at
Solon for his prohibitory laws, forbidding the sale of unguents,
limiting the luxury of dress, and interfering with the sacred rights
of mourners to passionately bewail the dead in the Asiatic manner;
the same number being enriched with contributions from two rising
poets,--a lyric of love by Sappho, and an ode sent by Anacreon from
Teos, with an editorial note explaining that the Maces was not
responsible for the sentiments of the poem.
But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the backlog in his
winter-house had other things to think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was
coming that way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a great
crowd of marauders; and the king had not even the poor choice whether
he would be the vassal of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us,
this is only a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors stalking
across vast historic spaces. It was no doubt a vulgar enough scene
of war and plunder. The great captains of that age went about to
harry each other's territories and spoil each other's cities very
much as we do nowadays, and for similar reasons;--Napoleon the Great
in Moscow, Napoleon the Small in Italy, Kaiser William in Paris,
Great Scott in Mexico! Men have not changed much.
--The Fire-Tender sat in his winter-garden in the third month; there
was a fire on the hearth burning before him. He cut the leaves of
"Scribner's Monthly" with his penknife, and thought of Jehoiakim.
That seems as real as the other. In the garden, which is a room of
the house, the tall callas, rooted in the ground, stand about the
fountain; the sun, streaming through the glass, illumines the
many-hued flowers. I wonder what Jehoiakim did with the mealy-bug on
his passion-vine, and if he had any way of removing the scale-bug
from his African acacia? One would like to know, too, how he treated
the red spider on the Le Marque rose. The record is silent. I do
not doubt he had all these insects in his winter-garden, and the
aphidae besides; and he could not smoke them out with tobacco, for
the world had not yet fallen into its second stage of the knowledge
of good and evil by eating the forbidden tobacco-plant.
I confess that this little picture of a fire on the hearth so many
centuries ago helps to make real and interesting to me that somewhat
misty past. No doubt the lotus and the acanthus from the Nile grew
in that winter-house, and perhaps Jehoiakim attempted--the most
difficult thing in the world the cultivation of the wild flowers from
Lebanon. Perhaps Jehoiakim was interested also, as I am through this
ancient fireplace,--which is a sort of domestic window into the
ancient world,--in the loves of Bernice and Abaces at the court of
the Pharaohs. I see that it is the same thing as the sentiment--
perhaps it is the shrinking which every soul that is a soul has,
sooner or later, from isolation--which grew up between Herbert and
the Young Lady Staying With Us. Jeremiah used to come in to that
fireside very much as the Parson does to ours. The Parson, to be
sure, never prophesies, but he grumbles, and is the chorus in the
play that sings the everlasting ai ai of "I told you so!" Yet we
like the Parson. He is the sprig of bitter herb that makes the
pottage wholesome. I should rather, ten times over, dispense with
the flatterers and the smooth-sayers than the grumblers. But the
grumblers are of two sorts,--the healthful-toned and the whiners.
There are makers of beer who substitute for the clean bitter of the
hops some deleterious drug, and then seek to hide the fraud by some
cloying sweet. There is nothing of this sickish drug in the Parson's
talk, nor was there in that of Jeremiah, I sometimes think there is
scarcely enough of this wholesome tonic in modern society. The
Parson says he never would give a child sugar-coated pills.
Mandeville says he never would give them any. After all, you cannot
help liking Mandeville.
We were talking of this late news from Jerusalem. The Fire-Tender
was saying that it is astonishing how much is telegraphed us from the
East that is not half so interesting. He was at a loss
philosophically to account for the fact that the world is so eager to
know the news of yesterday which is unimportant, and so indifferent
to that of the day before which is of some moment.
MANDEVILLE. I suspect that it arises from the want of imagination.
People need to touch the facts, and nearness in time is contiguity.
It would excite no interest to bulletin the last siege of Jerusalem
in a village where the event was unknown, if the date was appended;
and yet the account of it is incomparably more exciting than that of
the siege of Metz.
OUR NEXT DOOR. The daily news is a necessity. I cannot get along
without my morning paper. The other morning I took it up, and was
absorbed in the telegraphic columns for an hour nearly. I thoroughly
enjoyed the feeling of immediate contact with all the world of
yesterday, until I read among the minor items that Patrick Donahue,
of the city of New York, died of a sunstroke. If he had frozen to
death, I should have enjoyed that; but to die of sunstroke in
February seemed inappropriate, and I turned to the date of the paper.
When I found it was printed in July, I need not say that I lost all
interest in it, though why the trivialities and crimes and accidents,
relating to people I never knew, were not as good six months after
date as twelve hours, I cannot say.
THE FIRE-TENDER. You know that in Concord the latest news, except a
remark or two by Thoreau or Emerson, is the Vedas. I believe the
Rig-Veda is read at the breakfast-table instead of the Boston
THE PARSON. I know it is read afterward instead of the Bible.
MANDEVILLE. That is only because it is supposed to be older. I have
understood that the Bible is very well spoken of there, but it is not
antiquated enough to be an authority.
OUR NEXT DOOR. There was a project on foot to put it into the
circulating library, but the title New in the second part was
HERBERT. Well, I have a good deal of sympathy with Concord as to the
news. We are fed on a daily diet of trivial events and gossip, of
the unfruitful sayings of thoughtless men and women, until our mental
digestion is seriously impaired; the day will come when no one will
be able to sit down to a thoughtful, well-wrought book and assimilate
THE MISTRESS. I doubt if a daily newspaper is a necessity, in the
higher sense of the word.
THE PARSON. Nobody supposes it is to women,--that is, if they can
see each other.
THE MISTRESS. Don't interrupt, unless you have something to say;
though I should like to know how much gossip there is afloat that the
minister does not know. The newspaper may be needed in society, but
how quickly it drops out of mind when one goes beyond the bounds of
what is called civilization. You remember when we were in the depths
of the woods last summer how difficult it was to get up any interest
in the files of late papers that reached us, and how unreal all the
struggle and turmoil of the world seemed. We stood apart, and could
estimate things at their true value.
THE YOUNG LADY. Yes, that was real life. I never tired of the
guide's stories; there was some interest in the intelligence that a
deer had been down to eat the lily-pads at the foot of the lake the
night before; that a bear's track was seen on the trail we crossed
that day; even Mandeville's fish-stories had a certain air of
probability; and how to roast a trout in the ashes and serve him hot
and juicy and clean, and how to cook soup and prepare coffee and heat
dish-water in one tin-pail, were vital problems.
THE PARSON. You would have had no such problems at home. Why will
people go so far to put themselves to such inconvenience? I hate the
woods. Isolation breeds conceit; there are no people so conceited as
those who dwell in remote wildernesses and live mostly alone.
THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I feel humble in the presence of
mountains, and in the vast stretches of the wilderness.
THE PARSON. I'll be bound a woman would feel just as nobody would
expect her to feel, under given circumstances.
MANDEVILLE. I think the reason why the newspaper and the world it
carries take no hold of us in the wilderness is that we become a kind
of vegetable ourselves when we go there. I have often attempted to
improve my mind in the woods with good solid books. You might as
well offer a bunch of celery to an oyster. The mind goes to sleep:
the senses and the instincts wake up. The best I can do when it
rains, or the trout won't bite, is to read Dumas's novels. Their
ingenuity will almost keep a man awake after supper, by the
camp-fire. And there is a kind of unity about them that I like; the
history is as good as the morality.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I always wondered where Mandeville got his historical
THE MISTRESS. Mandeville misrepresents himself in the woods. I
heard him one night repeat "The Vision of Sir Launfal"--(THE
FIRE-TENDER. Which comes very near being our best poem.)--as we were
crossing the lake, and the guides became so absorbed in it that they
forgot to paddle, and sat listening with open mouths, as if it had
been a panther story.
THE PARSON. Mandeville likes to show off well enough. I heard that
he related to a woods' boy up there the whole of the Siege of Troy.
The boy was very much interested, and said "there'd been a man up
there that spring from Troy, looking up timber." Mandeville always
carries the news when he goes into the country.
MANDEVILLE. I'm going to take the Parson's sermon on Jonah next
summer; it's the nearest to anything like news we've had from his
pulpit in ten years. But, seriously, the boy was very well informed.
He'd heard of Albany; his father took in the "Weekly Tribune," and he
had a partial conception of Horace Greeley.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I never went so far out of the world in America yet
that the name of Horace Greeley did n't rise up before me. One of
the first questions asked by any camp-fire is, "Did ye ever see
HERBERT. Which shows the power of the press again. But I have often
remarked how little real conception of the moving world, as it is,
people in remote regions get from the newspaper. It needs to be read
in the midst of events. A chip cast ashore in a refluent eddy tells
no tale of the force and swiftness of the current.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I don't exactly get the drift of that last remark;
but I rather like a remark that I can't understand; like the
landlady's indigestible bread, it stays by you.
HERBERT. I see that I must talk in words of one syllable. The
newspaper has little effect upon the remote country mind, because the
remote country mind is interested in a very limited number of things.
Besides, as the Parson says, it is conceited. The most accomplished
scholar will be the butt of all the guides in the woods, because he
cannot follow a trail that would puzzle a sable (saple the trappers
THE PARSON. It's enough to read the summer letters that people write
to the newspapers from the country and the woods. Isolated from the
activity of the world, they come to think that the little adventures
of their stupid days and nights are important. Talk about that being
real life! Compare the letters such people write with the other
contents of the newspaper, and you will see which life is real.
That's one reason I hate to have summer come, the country letters set
THE MISTRESS. I should like to see something the Parson does n't
hate to have come.
MANDEVILLE. Except his quarter's salary; and the meeting of the
THE FIRE-TENDER. I don't see that we are getting any nearer the
solution of the original question. The world is evidently interested
in events simply because they are recent.
OUR NEXT DOOR. I have a theory that a newspaper might be published
at little cost, merely by reprinting the numbers of years before,
only altering the dates; just as the Parson preaches over his
THE FIRE-TENDER. It's evident we must have a higher order of
news-gatherers. It has come to this, that the newspaper furnishes
thought-material for all the world, actually prescribes from day to
day the themes the world shall think on and talk about. The
occupation of news-gathering becomes, therefore, the most important.
When you think of it, it is astonishing that this department should
not be in the hands of the ablest men, accomplished scholars,
philosophical observers, discriminating selectors of the news of the
world that is worth thinking over and talking about. The editorial
comments frequently are able enough, but is it worth while keeping an
expensive mill going to grind chaff? I sometimes wonder, as I open
my morning paper, if nothing did happen in the twenty-four hours
except crimes, accidents, defalcations, deaths of unknown loafers,
robberies, monstrous births,--say about the level of police-court
OUR NEXT DOOR. I have even noticed that murders have deteriorated;
they are not so high-toned and mysterious as they used to be.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It is true that the newspapers have improved vastly
within the last decade.
HERBERT. I think, for one, that they are very much above the level
of the ordinary gossip of the country.
THE FIRE-TENDER. But I am tired of having the under-world still
occupy so much room in the newspapers. The reporters are rather more
alert for a dog-fight than a philological convention. It must be
that the good deeds of the world outnumber the bad in any given day;
and what a good reflex action it would have on society if they could
be more fully reported than the bad! I suppose the Parson would call
this the Enthusiasm of Humanity.
THE PARSON. You'll see how far you can lift yourself up by your
HERBERT. I wonder what influence on the quality (I say nothing of
quantity) of news the coming of women into the reporter's and
editor's work will have.
OUR NEXT DOOR. There are the baby-shows; they make cheerful reading.
THE MISTRESS. All of them got up by speculating men, who impose upon
the vanity of weak women.
HERBERT. I think women reporters are more given to personal details
and gossip than the men. When I read the Washington correspondence I
am proud of my country, to see how many Apollo Belvederes, Adonises,
how much marble brow and piercing eye and hyacinthine locks, we have
in the two houses of Congress.
THE YOUNG LADY. That's simply because women understand the personal
weakness of men; they have a long score of personal flattery to pay
MANDEVILLE. I think women will bring in elements of brightness,
picturesqueness, and purity very much needed. Women have a power of
investing simple ordinary things with a charm; men are bungling
narrators compared with them.
THE PARSON. The mistake they make is in trying to write, and