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The Poet at the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

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This etext was produced by David Widger


by Oliver Wendell Holmes


In this, the third series of Breakfast-Table conversations, a slight
dramatic background shows off a few talkers and writers, aided by
certain silent supernumeraries. The machinery is much like that of
the two preceding series. Some of the characters must seem like old
acquaintances to those who have read the former papers. As I read
these over for the first time for a number of years, I notice one
character; presenting a class of beings who have greatly multiplied
during the interval which separates the earlier and later
Breakfast-Table papers,--I mean the scientific specialists. The
entomologist, who confines himself rigidly to the study of the
coleoptera, is intended to typify this class. The subdivision of
labor, which, as we used to be told, required fourteen different
workmen to make a single pin, has reached all branches of knowledge.
We find new terms in all the Professions, implying that special
provinces have been marked off, each having its own school of
students. In theology we have many curious subdivisions; among the
rest eschatology, that is to say, the geography, geology, etc., of
the "undiscovered country;" in medicine, if the surgeon who deals
with dislocations of the right shoulder declines to meddle with a
displacement on the other side, we are not surprised, but ring the
bell of the practitioner who devotes himself to injuries of the left

On the other hand, we have had or have the encyclopaedic
intelligences like Cuvier, Buckle, and more emphatically Herbert
Spencer, who take all knowledge, or large fields of it, to be their
province. The author of "Thoughts on the Universe" has something in
common with these, but he appears also to have a good deal about him
of what we call the humorist; that is, an individual with a somewhat
heterogeneous personality, in which various distinctly human elements
are mixed together, so as to form a kind of coherent and sometimes
pleasing whole, which is to a symmetrical character as a breccia is
to a mosaic.

As for the Young Astronomer, his rhythmical discourse may be taken as
expressing the reaction of what some would call "the natural man"
against the unnatural beliefs which he found in that lower world to
which be descended by day from his midnight home in the firmament.

I have endeavored to give fair play to the protest of gentle and
reverential conservatism in the letter of the Lady, which was not
copied from, but suggested by, one which I received long ago from a
lady bearing an honored name, and which I read thoughtfully and with
profound respect.

December, 1882.


It is now nearly twenty years since this book was published. Being
the third of the Breakfast-Table series, it could hardly be expected
to attract so much attention as the earlier volumes. Still, I had no
reason to be disappointed with its reception. It took its place with
the others, and was in some points a clearer exposition of my views
and feelings than either of the other books, its predecessors. The
poems "Homesick in Heaven" and the longer group of passages coming
from the midnight reveries of the Young Astronomer have thoughts in
them not so fully expressed elsewhere in my writings.

The first of these two poems is at war with our common modes of
thought. In looking forward to rejoining in a future state those
whom we have loved on earth,--as most of us hope and many of us
believe we shall,--we are apt to forget that the same individuality
is remembered by one relative as a babe, by another as an adult in
the strength of maturity, and by a third as a wreck with little left
except its infirmities and its affections. The main thought of this
poem is a painful one to some persons. They have so closely
associated life with its accidents that they expect to see their
departed friends in the costume of the time in which they best
remember them, and feel as if they should meet the spirit of their
grandfather with his wig and cane, as they habitually recall him to

The process of scientific specialization referred to and illustrated
in this record has been going on more actively than ever during these
last twenty years. We have only to look over the lists of the
Faculties and teachers of our Universities to see the subdivision of
labor carried out as never before. The movement is irresistible; it
brings with it exactness, exhaustive knowledge, a narrow but complete
self-satisfaction, with such accompanying faults as pedantry,
triviality, and the kind of partial blindness which belong to
intellectual myopia. The specialist is idealized almost into
sublimity in Browning's "Burial of the Grammarian." We never need
fear that he will undervalue himself. To be the supreme authority on
anything is a satisfaction to self-love next door to the precious
delusions of dementia. I have never pictured a character more
contented with himself than the "Scarabee" of this story.

BEVERLY FARMS, MASS., August 1, 1891.

O. W. H.





The idea of a man's "interviewing" himself is rather odd, to be sure.
But then that is what we are all of us doing every day. I talk half
the time to find out my own thoughts, as a school-boy turns his
pockets inside out to see what is in them. One brings to light all
sorts of personal property he had forgotten in his inventory.

--You don't know what your thoughts are going to be beforehand? said
the "Member of the Haouse," as he calls himself.

--Why, of course I don't. Bless your honest legislative soul, I
suppose I have as many bound volumes of notions of one kind and
another in my head as you have in your Representatives' library up
there at the State House. I have to tumble them over and over, and
open them in a hundred places, and sometimes cut the leaves here and
there, to find what I think about this and that. And a good many
people who flatter themselves they are talking wisdom to me, are only
helping me to get at the shelf and the book and the page where I
shall find my own opinion about the matter in question.

--The Member's eyes began to look heavy.

--It 's a very queer place, that receptacle a man fetches his talk
out of. The library comparison does n't exactly hit it. You stow
away some idea and don't want it, say for ten years. When it turns
up at last it has got so jammed and crushed out of shape by the other
ideas packed with it, that it is no more like what it was than a
raisin is like a grape on the vine, or a fig from a drum like one
hanging on the tree. Then, again, some kinds of thoughts breed in
the dark of one's mind like the blind fishes in the Mammoth Cave. We
can't see them and they can't see us; but sooner or later the
daylight gets in and we find that some cold, fishy little negative
has been spawning all over our beliefs, and the brood of blind
questions it has given birth to are burrowing round and under and
butting their blunt noses against the pillars of faith we thought the
whole world might lean on. And then, again, some of our old beliefs
are dying out every year, and others feed on them and grow fat, or
get poisoned as the case may be. And so, you see, you can't tell
what the thoughts are that you have got salted down, as one may say,
till you run a streak of talk through them, as the market people run
a butterscoop through a firkin.

Don't talk, thinking you are going to find out your neighbor, for you
won't do it, but talk to find out yourself. There is more of you--
and less of you, in spots, very likely--than you know.

--The Member gave a slight but unequivocal start just here. It does
seem as if perpetual somnolence was the price of listening to other
people's wisdom. This was one of those transient nightmares that one
may have in a doze of twenty seconds. He thought a certain imaginary
Committee of Safety of a certain imaginary Legislature was proceeding
to burn down his haystack, in accordance with an Act, entitled an Act
to make the Poor Richer by making the Rich Poorer. And the chairman
of the committee was instituting a forcible exchange of hats with
him, to his manifest disadvantage, for he had just bought him a new
beaver. He told this dream afterwards to one of the boarders.

There was nothing very surprising, therefore, in his asking a
question not very closely related to what had gone before.

--Do you think they mean business?

--I beg your pardon, but it would be of material assistance to me in
answering your question if I knew who "they" might happen to be.

--Why, those chaps that are setting folks on to burn us all up in our
beds. Political firebugs we call 'em up our way. Want to substitoot
the match-box for the ballot-box. Scare all our old women half to

--Oh--ah--yes--to be sure. I don't believe they say what the papers
put in their mouths any more than that a friend of mine wrote the
letter about Worcester's and Webster's Dictionaries, that he had
to disown the other day. These newspaper fellows are half asleep
when they make up their reports at two or three o'clock in the
morning, and fill out the speeches to suit themselves. I do remember
some things that sounded pretty bad,--about as bad as nitro-
glycerine, for that matter. But I don't believe they ever said 'em,
when they spoke their pieces, or if they said 'em I know they did n't
mean 'em. Something like this, wasn't it? If the majority didn't do
something the minority wanted 'em to, then the people were to burn up
our cities, and knock us down and jump on our stomachs. That was
about the kind of talk, as the papers had it; I don't wonder it
scared the old women.

--The Member was wide awake by this time.

--I don't seem to remember of them partickler phrases, he said.

--Dear me, no; only levelling everything smack, and trampling us
under foot, as the reporters made it out. That means FIRE, I take
it, and knocking you down and stamping on you, whichever side of your
person happens to be uppermost. Sounded like a threat; meant, of
course, for a warning. But I don't believe it was in the piece as
they spoke it,--could n't have been. Then, again, Paris wasn't to
blame,--as much as to say--so the old women thought--that New York or
Boston would n't be to blame if it did the same thing. I've heard of
political gatherings where they barbecued an ox, but I can't think
there 's a party in this country that wants to barbecue a city. But
it is n't quite fair to frighten the old women. I don't doubt there
are a great many people wiser than I am that would n't be hurt by a
hint I am going to give them. It's no matter what you say when you
talk to yourself, but when you talk to other people, your business is
to use words with reference to the way in which those other people
are like to understand them. These pretended inflammatory speeches,
so reported as to seem full of combustibles, even if they were as
threatening as they have been represented, would do no harm if read
or declaimed in a man's study to his books, or by the sea-shore to
the waves. But they are not so wholesome moral entertainment for the
dangerous classes. Boys must not touch off their squibs and crackers
too near the powder-magazine. This kind of speech does n't help on
the millennium much.

--It ain't jest the thing to grease your ex with ile o' vitrul, said
the Member.

--No, the wheel of progress will soon stick fast if you do. You
can't keep a dead level long, if you burn everything down flat to
make it. Why, bless your soul, if all the cities of the world were
reduced ashes, you'd have a new set of millionnaires in a couple of
years or so, out of the trade in potash. In the mean time, what is
the use of setting the man with the silver watch against the man with
the gold watch, and the man without any watch against them both?

--You can't go agin human natur', said the Member

--You speak truly. Here we are travelling through desert together
like the children of Israel. Some pick up more manna and catch more
quails than others and ought to help their hungry neighbors more than
they do; that will always be so until we come back to primitive
Christianity, the road to which does not seem to be via Paris, just
now; but we don't want the incendiary's pillar of a cloud by day and
a pillar of fire by night to lead us in the march to civilization,
and we don't want a Moses who will smite rock, not to bring out water
for our thirst, but petroleum to burn us all up with.

--It is n't quite fair to run an opposition to the other funny
speaker, Rev. Petroleum V. What 's-his-name,--spoke up an anonymous

--You may have been thinking, perhaps, that it was I,--I, the Poet,
who was the chief talker in the one-sided dialogue to which you have
been listening. If so, you were mistaken. It was the old man in the
spectacles with large round glasses and the iron-gray hair. He does
a good deal of the talking at our table, and, to tell the truth, I
rather like to hear him. He stirs me up, and finds me occupation in
various ways, and especially, because he has good solid prejudices,
that one can rub against, and so get up and let off a superficial
intellectual irritation, just as the cattle rub their backs against a
rail (you remember Sydney Smith's contrivance in his pasture) or
their sides against an apple-tree (I don't know why they take to
these so particularly, but you will often find the trunk of an apple-
tree as brown and smooth as an old saddle at the height of a cow's
ribs). I think they begin rubbing in cold blood, and then, you know,
l'appetit vient en mangeant, the more they rub the more they want to.
That is the way to use your friend's prejudices. This is a sturdy-
looking personage of a good deal more than middle age, his face
marked with strong manly furrows, records of hard thinking and square
stand-up fights with life and all its devils. There is a slight
touch of satire in his discourse now and then, and an odd way of
answering one that makes it hard to guess how much more or less he
means than he seems to say. But he is honest, and always has a
twinkle in his eye to put you on your guard when he does not mean to
be taken quite literally. I think old Ben Franklin had just that
look. I know his great-grandson (in pace!) had it, and I don't doubt
he took it in the straight line of descent, as he did his grand

The Member of the Haouse evidently comes from one of the lesser
inland centres of civilization, where the flora is rich in
checkerberries and similar bounties of nature, and the fauna lively
with squirrels, wood-chucks, and the like; where the leading
sportsmen snare patridges, as they are called, and "hunt" foxes with
guns; where rabbits are entrapped in "figgery fours," and trout
captured with the unpretentious earth-worm, instead of the gorgeous
fly; where they bet prizes for butter and cheese, and rag-carpets
executed by ladies more than seventy years of age; where whey wear
dress-coats before dinner, and cock their hats on one side when they
feel conspicuous and distinshed; where they say--Sir to you in their
common talk and have other Arcadian and bucolic ways which are highly
unobjectionable, but are not so much admired in cities, where the
people are said to be not half so virtuous.

There is with us a boy of modest dimensions, not otherwise especially
entitled to the epithet, who ought be six or seven years old, to
judge by the gap left by his front milk teeth, these having resigned
in favor of their successors, who have not yet presented their
credentials. He is rather old for an enfant terrible, and quite too
young to have grown into the bashfulness of adolescence; but he has
some of the qualities of both these engaging periods of development,
The member of the Haouse calls him "Bub," invariably, such term I
take to be an abbreviation of "Beelzeb," as "bus" is the short form
of "omnibus." Many eminently genteel persons, whose manners make
them at home anywhere, being evidently unaware of true derivation of
this word, are in the habit of addressing all unknown children by one
of the two terms, "bub" and "sis," which they consider endears them
greatly to the young people, and recommends them to the acquaintance
of their honored parents, if these happen to accompany them. The
other boarders commonly call our diminutive companion That Boy. He
is a sort of expletive at the table, serving to stop gaps, taking the
same place a washer does that makes a loose screw fit, and contriving
to get driven in like a wedge between any two chairs where there is a
crevice. I shall not call that boy by the monosyllable referred to,
because, though he has many impish traits at present, he may become
civilized and humanized by being in good company. Besides, it is a
term which I understand is considered vulgar by the nobility and
gentry of the Mother Country, and it is not to be found in Mr.
Worcester's Dictionary, on which, as is well known, the literary men
of this metropolis are by special statute allowed to be sworn in
place of the Bible. I know one, certainly, who never takes his oath
on any other dictionary, any advertising fiction to the contrary,

I wanted to write out my account of some of the other boarders, but a
domestic occurrence--a somewhat prolonged visit from the landlady,
who is rather too anxious that I should be comfortable broke in upon
the continuity of my thoughts, and occasioned--in short, I gave up
writing for that day.

--I wonder if anything like this ever happened.
Author writing,

"To be, or not to be: that is the question
Whether 't is nobl--"

--"William, shall we have pudding to-day, or flapjacks?"

--"Flapjacks, an' it please thee, Anne, or a pudding, for that
matter; or what thou wilt, good woman, so thou come not betwixt me
and my thought."

--Exit Mistress Anne, with strongly accented closing of the door and
murmurs to the effect: "Ay, marry, 't is well for thee to talk as if
thou hadst no stomach to fill. We poor wives must swink for our
masters, while they sit in their arm-chairs growing as great in the
girth through laziness as that ill-mannered fat man William hath writ
of in his books of players' stuff. One had as well meddle with a
porkpen, which hath thorns all over him, as try to deal with William
when his eyes be rolling in that mad way."

William--writing once more--after an exclamation in strong English of
the older pattern,--

"Whether 't is nobler--nobler--nobler--"

To do what? O these women! these women! to have puddings or
flapjacks! Oh!--

"Whether 't is nobler--in the mind--to suffer
The slings--and arrows--of--"

Oh! Oh! these women! I will e'en step over to the parson's and have a
cup of sack with His Reverence for methinks Master Hamlet hath forgot
that which was just now on his lips to speak.

So I shall have to put off making my friends acquainted with the
other boarders, some of whom seem to me worth studying and
describing. I have something else of a graver character for my
readers. I am talking, you know, as a poet; I do not say I deserve
the name, but I have taken it, and if you consider me at all it must
be in that aspect. You will, therefore, be willing to run your eyes
over a few pages read, of course by request, to a select party of the



My birthplace, the home of my childhood and earlier and later
boyhood, has within a few months passed out of the ownership of my
family into the hands of that venerable Alma Mater who seems to have
renewed her youth, and has certainly repainted her dormitories. In
truth, when I last revisited that familiar scene and looked upon the
flammantia mania of the old halls, "Massachusetts" with the dummy
clock-dial, "Harvard" with the garrulous belfry, little "Holden" with
the sculptured unpunishable cherub over its portal, and the rest of
my early brick-and-mortar acquaintances, I could not help saying to
myself that I had lived to see the peaceable establishment of the Red
Republic of Letters.

Many of the things I shall put down I have no doubt told before in a
fragmentary way, how many I cannot be quite sure, as I do not very
often read my own prose works. But when a man dies a great deal is
said of him which has often been said in other forms, and now this
dear old house is dead to me in one sense, and I want to gather up my
recollections and wind a string of narrative round them, tying them
up like a nosegay for the last tribute: the same blossoms in it I
have often laid on its threshold while it was still living for me.

We Americans are all cuckoos,--we make our homes in the nests of
other birds. I have read somewhere that the lineal descendants of
the man who carted off the body of William Rufus, with Walter
Tyrrel's arrow sticking in it, have driven a cart (not absolutely the
same one, I suppose) in the New Forest, from that day to this. I
don't quite understand Mr. Ruskin's saying (if he said it) that he
couldn't get along in a country where there were no castles, but I do
think we lose a great deal in living where there are so few permanent
homes. You will see how much I parted with which was not reckoned in
the price paid for the old homestead.

I shall say many things which an uncharitable reader might find fault
with as personal. I should not dare to call myself a poet if I did
not; for if there is anything that gives one a title to that name, it
is that his inner nature is naked and is not ashamed. But there are
many such things I shall put in words, not because they are personal,
but because they are human, and are born of just such experiences as
those who hear or read what I say are like to have had in greater or
less measure. I find myself so much like other people that I often
wonder at the coincidence. It was only the other day that I sent out
a copy of verses about my great-grandmother's picture, and I was
surprised to find how many other people had portraits of their great-
grandmothers or other progenitors, about which they felt as I did
about mine, and for whom I had spoken, thinking I was speaking for
myself only. And so I am not afraid to talk very freely with you, my
precious reader or listener. You too, Beloved, were born somewhere
and remember your birthplace or your early home; for you some house
is haunted by recollections; to some roof you have bid farewell.
Your hand is upon mine, then, as I guide my pen. Your heart frames
the responses to the litany of my remembrance. For myself it is a
tribute of affection I am rendering, and I should put it on record
for my own satisfaction, were there none to read or to listen.

I hope you will not say that I have built a pillared portico of
introduction to a humble structure of narrative. For when you look
at the old gambrel-roofed house, you will see an unpretending
mansion, such as very possibly you were born in yourself, or at any
rate such a place of residence as your minister or some of your well-
to-do country cousins find good enough, but not at all too grand for
them. We have stately old Colonial palaces in our ancient village,
now a city, and a thriving one,--square-fronted edifices that stand
back from the vulgar highway, with folded arms, as it were; social
fortresses of the time when the twilight lustre of the throne reached
as far as our half-cleared settlement, with a glacis before them in
the shape of a long broad gravel-walk, so that in King George's time
they looked as formidably to any but the silk-stocking gentry as
Gibraltar or Ehrenbreitstein to a visitor without the password. We
forget all this in the kindly welcome they give us to-day; for some
of them are still standing and doubly famous, as we all know. But
the gambrel-roofed house, though stately enough for college
dignitaries and scholarly clergymen, was not one of those old Tory,
Episcopal-church-goer's strongholds. One of its doors opens directly
upon the green, always called the Common; the other, facing the
south, a few steps from it, over a paved foot-walk, on the other side
of which is the miniature front yard, bordered with lilacs and
syringas. The honest mansion makes no pretensions. Accessible,
companionable, holding its hand out to all, comfortable, respectable,
and even in its way dignified, but not imposing, not a house for his
Majesty's Counsellor, or the Right Reverend successor of Him who had
not where to lay his head, for something like a hundred and fifty
years it has stood in its lot, and seen the generations of men come
and go like the leaves of the forest. I passed some pleasant hours,
a few years since, in the Registry of Deeds and the Town Records,
looking up the history of the old house. How those dear friends of
mine, the antiquarians, for whose grave councils I compose my
features on the too rare Thursdays when I am at liberty to meet them,
in whose human herbarium the leaves and blossoms of past generations
are so carefully spread out and pressed and laid away, would listen
to an expansion of the following brief details into an Historical

The estate was the third lot of the eighth "Squadron" (whatever that
might be), and in the year 1707 was allotted in the distribution of
undivided lands to "Mr. ffox," the Reverend Jabez Fox of Woburn, it
may be supposed, as it passed from his heirs to the first Jonathan
Hastings; from him to his son, the long remembered College Steward;
from him in the year 1792 to the Reverend Eliphalet Pearson,
Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental languages in Harvard College,
whose large personality swam into my ken when I was looking forward
to my teens; from him the progenitors of my unborn self.

I wonder if there are any such beings nowadays as the great
Eliphalet, with his large features and conversational basso profundo,
seemed to me. His very name had something elephantine about it, and
it seemed to me that the house shook from cellar to garret at his
footfall. Some have pretended that he had Olympian aspirations, and
wanted to sit in the seat of Jove and bear the academic thunderbolt
and the aegis inscribed Christo et Ecclesiae. It is a common
weakness enough to wish to find one's self in an empty saddle; Cotton
Mather was miserable all his days, I am afraid, after that entry in
his Diary: "This Day Dr. Sewall was chosen President, for his Piety."

There is no doubt that the men of the older generation look bigger
and more formidable to the boys whose eyes are turned up at their
venerable countenances than the race which succeeds them, to the same
boys grown older. Everything is twice as large, measured on a three-
year-olds three-foot scale as on a thirty-year-olds six-foot scale;
but age magnifies and aggravates persons out of due proportion. Old
people are a kind of monsters to little folks; mild manifestations of
the terrible, it may be, but still, with their white locks and ridged
and grooved features, which those horrid little eyes exhaust of their
details, like so many microscopes not exactly what human beings ought
to be. The middle-aged and young men have left comparatively faint
impressions in my memory, but how grandly the procession of the old
clergymen who filled our pulpit from time to time, and passed the day
under our roof, marches before my closed eyes! At their head the
most venerable David Osgood, the majestic minister of Medford, with
massive front and shaggy over-shadowing eyebrows; following in the
train, mild-eyed John Foster of Brighton, with the lambent aurora of
a smile about his pleasant mouth, which not even the "Sabbath" could
subdue to the true Levitical aspect; and bulky Charles Steams of
Lincoln, author of "The Ladies' Philosophy of Love. A Poem. 1797"
(how I stared at him! he was the first living person ever pointed out
to me as a poet); and Thaddeus Mason Harris of Dorchester (the same
who, a poor youth, trudging along, staff in hand, being then in a
stress of sore need, found all at once that somewhat was adhering to
the end of his stick, which somewhat proved to be a gold ring of
price, bearing the words, "God speed thee, Friend!"), already in
decadence as I remember him, with head slanting forward and downward
as if looking for a place to rest in after his learned labors; and
that other Thaddeus, the old man of West Cambridge, who outwatched
the rest so long after they had gone to sleep in their own
churchyards, that it almost seemed as if he meant to sit up until the
morning of the resurrection; and bringing up the rear, attenuated but
vivacious little Jonathan Homer of Newton, who was, to look upon, a
kind of expurgated, reduced and Americanized copy of Voltaire, but
very unlike him in wickedness or wit. The good-humored junior member
of our family always loved to make him happy by setting him
chirruping about Miles Coverdale's Version, and the Bishop's Bible,
and how he wrote to his friend Sir Isaac (Coffin) about something or
other, and how Sir Isaac wrote back that he was very much pleased
with the contents of his letter, and so on about Sir Isaac, ad
libitum,--for the admiral was his old friend, and he was proud of
him. The kindly little old gentleman was a collector of Bibles, and
made himself believe he thought he should publish a learned
Commentary some day or other; but his friends looked for it only in
the Greek Calends,--say on the 31st of April, when that should come
round, if you would modernize the phrase. I recall also one or two
exceptional and infrequent visitors with perfect distinctness:
cheerful Elijah Kellogg, a lively missionary from the region of the
Quoddy Indians, with much hopeful talk about Sock Bason and his
tribe; also poor old Poor-house-Parson Isaac Smith, his head going
like a China mandarin, as he discussed the possibilities of the
escape of that distinguished captive whom he spoke of under the name,
if I can reproduce phonetically its vibrating nasalities of "General
Mmbongaparty,"--a name suggestive to my young imagination of a
dangerous, loose-jointed skeleton, threatening us all like the armed
figure of Death in my little New England Primer.

I have mentioned only the names of those whose images come up
pleasantly before me, and I do not mean to say anything which any
descendant might not read smilingly. But there were some of the
black-coated gentry whose aspect was not so agreeable to me. It is
very curious to me to look back on my early likes and dislikes, and
see how as a child I was attracted or repelled by such and such
ministers, a good deal, as I found out long afterwards, according to
their theological beliefs. On the whole, I think the old-fashioned
New England divine softening down into Arminianism was about as
agreeable as any of them. And here I may remark, that a mellowing
rigorist is always a much pleasanter object to contemplate than a
tightening liberal, as a cold day warming up to 32 Fahrenheit is much
more agreeable than a warm one chilling down to the same temperature.
The least pleasing change is that kind of mental hemiplegia which now
and then attacks the rational side of a man at about the same period
of life when one side of the body is liable to be palsied, and in
fact is, very probably, the same thing as palsy, in another form.
The worst of it is that the subjects of it never seem to suspect that
they are intellectual invalids, stammerers and cripples at best, but
are all the time hitting out at their old friends with the well arm,
and calling them hard names out of their twisted mouths.

It was a real delight to have one of those good, hearty, happy,
benignant old clergymen pass the Sunday, with us, and I can remember.
some whose advent made the day feel almost like "Thanksgiving." But
now and then would come along a clerical visitor with a sad face and
a wailing voice, which sounded exactly as if somebody must be lying
dead up stairs, who took no interest in us children, except a painful
one, as being in a bad way with our cheery looks, and did more to
unchristianize us with his woebegone ways than all his sermons were
like to accomplish in the other direction. I remember one in
particular, who twitted me so with my blessings as a Christian child,
and whined so to me about the naked black children who, like the
"Little Vulgar Boy," "had n't got no supper and hadn't got no ma,"
and hadn't got no Catechism, (how I wished for the moment I was a
little black boy!) that he did more in that one day to make me a
heathen than he had ever done in a month to make a Christian out of
an infant Hottentot. What a debt we owe to our friends of the left
centre, the Brooklyn and the Park Street and the Summer street
ministers; good, wholesome, sound-bodied, one-minded, cheerful-
spirited men, who have taken the place of those wailing poitrinaires
with the bandanna handkerchiefs round their meagre throats and a
funeral service in their forlorn physiognomies! I might have been a
minister myself, for aught I know, if this clergyman had not looked
and talked so like an undertaker.

All this belongs to one of the side-shows, to which I promised those
who would take tickets to the main exhibition should have entrance
gratis. If I were writing a poem you would expect, as a matter of
course, that there would be a digression now and then.

To come back to the old house and its former tenant, the Professor of
Hebrew and other Oriental languages. Fifteen years he lived with his
family under its roof. I never found the slightest trace of him
until a few years ago, when I cleaned and brightened with pious hands
the brass lock of "the study," which had for many years been covered
with a thick coat of paint. On that I found scratched; as with a
nail or fork, the following inscription:

Only that and nothing more, but the story told itself. Master Edward
Pearson, then about as high as the lock, was disposed to immortalize
himself in monumental brass, and had got so far towards it, when a
sudden interruption, probably a smart box on the ear, cheated him of
his fame, except so far as this poor record may rescue it. Dead long
ago. I remember him well, a grown man, as a visitor at a later
period; and, for some reason, I recall him in the attitude of the
Colossus of Rhodes, standing full before a generous wood-fire, not
facing it, but quite the contrary, a perfect picture of the content
afforded by a blazing hearth contemplated from that point of view,
and, as the heat stole through his person and kindled his emphatic
features, seeming to me a pattern of manly beauty. What a statue
gallery of posturing friends we all have in our memory! The old
Professor himself sometimes visited the house after it had changed
hands. Of course, my recollections are not to be wholly trusted, but
I always think I see his likeness in a profile face to be found among
the illustrations of Rees's Cyclopaedia. (See Plates, Vol. IV.,
Plate 2, Painting, Diversities of the Human Face, Fig. 4.)

And now let us return to our chief picture. In the days of my
earliest remembrance, a row of tall Lombardy poplars mounted guard on
the western side of the old mansion. Whether, like the cypress,
these trees suggest the idea of the funeral torch or the monumental
spire, whether their tremulous leaves make wits afraid by sympathy
with their nervous thrills, whether the faint balsamic smell of their
foliage and their closely swathed limbs have in them vague hints of
dead Pharaohs stiffened in their cerements, I will guess; but they
always seemed to me to give an of sepulchral sadness to the house
before which stood sentries. Not so with the row of elms which you
may see leading up towards the western entrance. I think the
patriarch of them all went over in the great gale of 1815; I know I
used to shake the youngest of them with my hands, stout as it is now,
with a trunk that would defy the bully of Crotona, or the strong man
whose liaison with the Lady Delilah proved so disastrous.

The College plain would be nothing without its elms. As the long
hair of a woman is a glory to her, are these green tresses that bank
themselves against sky in thick clustered masses the ornament and the
pride of the classic green. You know the "Washington elm," or if you
do not, you had better rekindle our patriotism by reading the
inscription, which tells you that under its shadow the great leader
first drew his sword at the head of an American army. In a line with
that you may see two others: the coral fan, as I always called it
from its resemblance in form to that beautiful marine growth, and a
third a little farther along. I have heard it said that all three
were planted at the same time, and that the difference of their
growth is due to the slope of the ground,--the Washington elm being
lower than either of the others. There is a row of elms just in
front of the old house on the south. When I was a child the one at
the southwest corner was struck by lightning, and one of its limbs
and a long ribbon of bark torn away. The tree never fully recovered
its symmetry and vigor, and forty years and more afterwards a second
thunderbolt crashed upon it and set its heart on fire, like those of
the lost souls in the Hall of Eblis. Heaven had twice blasted it,
and the axe finished what the lightning had begun.

The soil of the University town is divided into patches of sandy and
of clayey ground. The Common and the College green, near which the
old house stands, are on one of the sandy patches. Four curses are
the local inheritance: droughts, dust, mud, and canker-worms. I
cannot but think that all the characters of a region help to modify
the children born in it. I am fond of making apologies for human
nature, and I think I could find an excuse for myself if I, too, were
dry and barren and muddy-witted and "cantankerous,"--disposed to get
my back up, like those other natives of the soil.

I know this, that the way Mother Earth treats a boy shapes out a kind
of natural theology for him. I fell into Manichean ways of thinking
from the teaching of my garden experiences. Like other boys in the
country, I had my patch of ground, to which, in the spring-time, I
entrusted the seeds furnished me, with a confident trust in their
resurrection and glorification in the better world of summer. But I
soon found that my lines had fallen in a place where a vegetable
growth had to run the gauntlet of as many foes and dials as a
Christian pilgrim. Flowers would not Blow; daffodils perished like
criminals in their cone demned caps, without their petals ever seeing
daylight; roses were disfigured with monstrous protrusions through
their very centres,--something that looked like a second bud pushing
through the middle of the corolla; lettuces and cabbages would not
head; radishes knotted themselves until they looked like
centenerians' fingers; and on every stem, on every leaf, and both
sides of it, and at the root of everything that dew, was a
professional specialist in the shape of grub, caterpillar, aphis, or
other expert, whose business it was to devour that particular part,
and help order the whole attempt at vegetation. Such experiences
must influence a child born to them. A sandy soil, where nothing
flourishes but weeds and evil beasts of small dimensions, must breed
different qualities in its human offspring from one of those fat and
fertile spots which the wit whom I have once before noted described
so happily that, if I quoted the passage, its brilliancy would spoil
one of my pages, as a diamond breastpin sometimes kills the social
effect of the wearer, who might have passed for a gentleman without
it. Your arid patch of earth should seem to the natural birthplace
of the leaner virtues and the abler vices,--of temperance and the
domestic proprieties on the one hand, with a tendency to light
weights in groceries and provisions, and to clandestine abstraction
from the person on the other, as opposed to the free hospitality, the
broadly planned burglaries, and the largely conceived homicides of
our rich Western alluvial regions. Yet Nature is never wholly
unkind. Economical as she was in my unparadised Eden, hard as it was
to make some of my floral houris unveil, still the damask roses
sweetened the June breezes, the bladed and plumed flower-de-luces
unfolded their close-wrapped cones, and larkspurs and lupins, lady's
delights,--plebeian manifestations of the pansy,--self-sowing
marigolds, hollyhocks, the forest flowers of two seasons, and the
perennial lilacs and syringas,--all whispered to' the winds blowing
over them that some caressing presence was around me.

Beyond the garden was "the field," a vast domain of four acres or
thereabout, by the measurement of after years, bordered to the north
by a fathomless chasm,--the ditch the base-ball players of the
present era jump over; on the east by unexplored territory; on the
south by a barren enclosure, where the red sorrel proclaimed liberty
and equality under its drapeau rouge, and succeeded in establishing a
vegetable commune where all were alike, poor, mean, sour, and
uninteresting; and on the west by the Common, not then disgraced by
jealous enclosures, which make it look like a cattle-market. Beyond,
as I looked round, were the Colleges, the meeting-house, the little
square market-house, long vanished; the burial-ground where the dead
Presidents stretched their weary bones under epitaphs stretched out
at as full length as their subjects; the pretty church where the
gouty Tories used to kneel on their hassocks; the district
schoolhouse, and hard by it Ma'am Hancock's cottage, never so called
in those days, but rather "tenfooter"; then houses scattered near and
far, open spaces, the shadowy elms, round hilltops in the distance,
and over all the great bowl of the sky. Mind you, this was the WORLD,
as I first knew it; terra veteribus cognita, as Mr. Arrowsmith would
have called it, if he had mapped the universe of my infancy:

But I am forgetting the old house again in the landscape. The worst
of a modern stylish mansion is, that it has no place for ghosts. I
watched one building not long since. It had no proper garret, to
begin with, only a sealed interval between the roof and attics, where
a spirit could not be accommodated, unless it were flattened out like
Ravel, Brother, after the millstone had fallen on him. There was not
a nook or a corner in the whole horse fit to lodge any respectable
ghost, for every part was as open to observation as a literary man's
character and condition, his figure and estate, his coat and his
countenance, are to his (or her) Bohemian Majesty on a tour of
inspection through his (or her) subjects' keyholes.

Now the old house had wainscots, behind which the mice were always
scampering and squeaking and rattling down the plaster, and enacting
family scenes and parlor theatricals. It had a cellar where the cold
slug clung to the walls, and the misanthropic spider withdrew from
the garish day; where the green mould loved to grow, and the long
white potato-shoots went feeling along the floor, if haply they might
find the daylight; it had great brick pillars, always in a cold sweat
with holding up the burden they had been aching under day and night
far a century and more; it had sepulchral arches closed by rough
doors that hung on hinges rotten with rust, behind which doors, if
there was not a heap of bones connected with a mysterious
disappearance of long ago, there well might have been, for it was
just the place to look for them. It had a garret; very nearly such a
one as it seems to me one of us has described in one of his books;
but let us look at this one as I can reproduce it from memory. It
has a flooring of laths with ridges of mortar squeezed up between
them, which if you tread on you will go to--the Lord have mercy on
you! where will you go to?--the same being crossed by narrow bridges
of boards, on which you may put your feet, but with fear and
trembling. Above you and around you are beams and joists, on some of
which you may see, when the light is let in, the marks of the
conchoidal clippings of the broadaxe, showing the rude way in which
the timber was shaped as it came, full of sap, from the neighboring
forest. It is a realm of darkness and thick dust, and shroud-like
cobwebs and dead things they wrap in their gray folds. For a garret
is like a seashore, where wrecks are thrown up and slowly go to
pieces. There is the cradle which the old man you just remember was
rocked in; there is the ruin of the bedstead he died on; that ugly
slanting contrivance used to be put under his pillow in the days when
his breath came hard; there is his old chair with both arms gone,
symbol of the desolate time when he had nothing earthly left to lean
on; there is the large wooden reel which the blear-eyed old deacon
sent the minister's lady, who thanked him graciously, and twirled it
smilingly, and in fitting season bowed it out decently to the limbo
of troublesome conveniences. And there are old leather portmanteaus,
like stranded porpoises, their mouths gaping in gaunt hunger for the
food with which they used to be gorged to bulging repletion; and old
brass andirons, waiting until time shall revenge them on their paltry
substitutes, and they shall have their own again, and bring with them
the fore-stick and the back-log of ancient days; and the empty churn,
with its idle dasher, which the Nancys and Phoebes, who have left
their comfortable places to the Bridgets and Norahs, used to handle
to good purpose; and the brown, shaky old spinning-wheel, which was
running, it may be, in the days when they were hinging the Salem

Under the dark and haunted garret were attic chambers which
themselves had histories. On a pane in the northeastern chamber may
be read these names:

"John Tracy," "Robert Roberts," "Thomas Prince;" "Stultus" another
hand had added. When I found these names a few years ago (wrong side
up, for the window had been reversed), I looked at once in the
Triennial to find them, for the epithet showed that they were
probably students. I found them all under the years 1771 and 1773.
Does it please their thin ghosts thus to be dragged to the light of
day? Has "Stultus" forgiven the indignity of being thus

The southeast chamber was the Library Hospital. Every scholar should
have a book infirmary attached his library. There should find a
peaceable refuge the many books, invalids from their birth, which are
sent "with the best regards of the Author"; the respected, but
unpresentable cripples which have lost cover; the odd volumes of
honored sets which go mourning all their days for their lost brother;
the school-books which have been so often the subjects of assault and
battery, that they look as if the police must know them by heart;
these and still more the pictured story-books, beginning with Mother
Goose (which a dear old friend of mine has just been amusing his
philosophic leisure with turning most ingeniously and happily into
the tongues of Virgil and Homer), will be precious mementos by and
by, when children and grandchildren come along. What would I not
give for that dear little paper-bound quarto, in large and most
legible type, on certain pages of which the tender hand that was the
shield of my infancy had crossed out with deep black marks something
awful, probably about BEARS, such as once tare two-and-forty of us
little folks for making faces, and the very name of which made us
hide our heads under the bedclothes.

I made strange acquaintances in that book infirmary up in the
southeast attic. The "Negro Plot" at New York helped to implant a
feeling in me which it took Mr. Garrison a good many years to root
out. "Thinks I to Myself," an old novel, which has been attributed
to a famous statesman, introduced me to a world of fiction which was
not represented on the shelves of the library proper, unless perhaps
by Coelebs in Search of a Wife, or allegories of the bitter tonic
class, as the young doctor that sits on the other side of the table
would probably call them. I always, from an early age, had a keen
eye for a story with a moral sticking out of it, and gave it a wide
berth, though in my later years I have myself written a couple of
"medicated novels," as one of my dearest and pleasantest old friends
wickedly called them, when somebody asked her if she had read the
last of my printed performances. I forgave the satire for the
charming esprit of the epithet. Besides the works I have mentioned,
there was an old, old Latin alchemy book, with the manuscript
annotations of some ancient Rosicrucian, in the pages of which I had
a vague notion that I might find the mighty secret of the Lapis
Philosophorum, otherwise called Chaos, the Dragon, the Green Lion,
the Quinta Essentia, the Soap of Sages, the Vinegar of Philosophers,
the Dew of Heavenly Grace, the Egg, the Old Man, the Sun, the Moon,
and by all manner of odd aliases, as I am assured by the plethoric
little book before me, in parchment covers browned like a meerschaum
with the smoke of furnaces and the thumbing of dead gold seekers, and
the fingering of bony-handed book-misers, and the long intervals of
dusty slumber on the shelves of the bouquiniste; for next year it
will be three centuries old, and it had already seen nine generations
of men when I caught its eye (Alchemiae Doctrina) and recognized it
at pistol-shot distance as a prize, among the breviaries and Heures
and trumpery volumes of the old open-air dealer who exposed his
treasures under the shadow of St. Sulpice. I have never lost my
taste for alchemy since I first got hold of the Palladium Spagyricum
of Peter John Faber, and sought--in vain, it is true--through its
pages for a clear, intelligible, and practical statement of how I
could turn my lead sinkers and the weights of tall kitchen clock into
good yellow gold, specific gravity 19.2, and exchangeable for
whatever I then wanted, and for many more things than I was then
aware of. One of the greatest pleasures of childhood found in the
mysteries which it hides from the skepticism of the elders, and works
up into small mythologies of its own. I have seen all this played
over again in adult life,--the same delightful bewilderment semi-
emotional belief in listening to the gaseous praises of this or that
fantastic system, that I found in the pleasing mirages conjured up
for me by the ragged old volume I used to pore over in the southeast

The rooms of the second story, the chambers of birth and death, are
sacred to silent memories.

Let us go down to the ground-floor. I should have begun with this,
but that the historical reminiscences of the old house have been
recently told in a most interesting memoir by a distinguished student
of our local history. I retain my doubts about those "dents" on the
floor of the right-hand room, "the study" of successive occupants,
said to have been made by the butts of the Continental militia's
firelocks, but this was the cause to which the story told me in
childhood laid them. That military consultations were held in that
room when the house was General Ward's headquarters, that the
Provincial generals and colonels and other men of war there planned
the movement which ended in the fortifying of Bunker's Hill, that
Warren slept in the house the night before the battle, that President
Langdon went forth from the western door and prayed for God's
blessing on the men just setting forth on their bloody expedition,--
all these things have been told, and perhaps none of them need be

But now for fifty years and more that room has been a meeting-ground
for the platoons and companies which range themselves at the
scholar's word of command. Pleasant it is to think that the
retreating host of books is to give place to a still larger army of
volumes, which have seen service under the eye of a great commander.
For here the noble collection of him so freshly remembered as our
silver-tongued orator, our erudite scholar, our honored College
President, our accomplished statesman, our courtly ambassador, are to
be reverently gathered by the heir of his name, himself not unworthy
to be surrounded by that august assembly of the wise of all ages and
of various lands and languages.

Could such a many-chambered edifice have stood a century and a half
and not have had its passages of romance to bequeath their lingering
legends to the after-time? There are other names on some of the
small window-panes, which must have had young flesh-and-blood owners,
and there is one of early date which elderly persons have whispered
was borne by a fair woman, whose graces made the house beautiful in
the eyes of the youth of that time. One especially--you will find
the name of Fortescue Vernon, of the class of 1780, in the Triennial
Catalogue--was a favored visitor to the old mansion; but he went over
seas, I think they told me, and died still young, and the name of the
maiden which is scratched on the windowpane was never changed. I am
telling the story honestly, as I remember it, but I may have colored
it unconsciously, and the legendary pane may be broken before this
for aught I know. At least, I have named no names except the
beautiful one of the supposed hero of the romantic story.

It was a great happiness to have been born in an old house haunted by
such recollections, with harmless ghosts walking its corridors, with
fields of waving grass and trees and singing birds, and that vast
territory of four or five acres around it to give a child the sense
that he was born to a noble principality. It has been a great
pleasure to retain a certain hold upon it for so many years; and
since in the natural course of things it must at length pass into
other hands, it is a gratification to see the old place making itself
tidy for a new tenant, like some venerable dame who is getting ready
to entertain a neighbor of condition. Not long since a new cap of
shingles adorned this ancient mother among the village--now city--
mansions. She has dressed herself in brighter colors than she has
hitherto worn, so they tell me, within the last few days. She has
modernized her aspects in several ways; she has rubbed bright the
glasses through which she looks at the Common and the Colleges; and
as the sunsets shine upon her through the flickering leaves or the
wiry spray of the elms I remember from my childhood, they will
glorify her into the aspect she wore when President Holyoke, father
of our long since dead centenarian, looked upon her in her youthful

The quiet corner formed by this and the neighboring residences has
changed less than any place I can remember. Our kindly, polite,
shrewd, and humorous old neighbor, who in former days has served the
town as constable and auctioneer, and who bids fair to become the
oldest inhabitant of the city, was there when I was born, and is
living there to-day. By and by the stony foot of the great
University will plant itself on this whole territory, and the private
recollections which clung so tenaciously and fondly to the place and
its habitations will have died with those who cherished them.

Shall they ever live again in the memory of those who loved them here
below? What is this life without the poor accidents which made it
our own, and by which we identify ourselves? Ah me! I might like to
be a winged chorister, but still it seems to me I should hardly be
quite happy if I could not recall at will the Old House with the Long
Entry, and the White Chamber (where I wrote the first verses that
made me known, with a pencil, stans pede in uno, pretty, nearly), and
the Little Parlor, and the Study, and the old books in uniforms as
varied as those of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company used
to be, if my memory serves me right, and the front yard with the
Star-of-Bethlehems growing, flowerless, among the grass, and the dear
faces to be seen no more there or anywhere on this earthly place of

I have told my story. I do not know what special gifts have been
granted or denied me; but this I know, that I am like so many others
of my fellow-creatures, that when I smile, I feel as if they must;
when I cry, I think their eyes fill; and it always seems to me that
when I am most truly myself I come nearest to them and am surest of
being listened to by the brothers and sisters of the larger family
into which I was born so long ago. I have often feared they might be
tired of me and what I tell them. But then, perhaps, would come a
letter from some quiet body in some out-of-the-way place, which
showed me that I had said something which another had often felt but
never said, or told the secret of another's heart in unburdening my
own. Such evidences that one is in the highway of human experience
and feeling lighten the footsteps wonderfully. So it is that one is
encouraged to go on writing as long as the world has anything that
interests him, for he never knows how many of his fellow-beings he
may please or profit, and in how many places his name will be spoken
as that of a friend.

In the mood suggested by my story I have ventured on the poem that
follows. Most people love this world more than they are willing to
confess, and it is hard to conceive ourselves weaned from it so as to
feel no emotion at the thought of its most sacred recollections, even
after a sojourn of years, as we should count the lapse of earthly
time,--in the realm where, sooner or later, all tears shall be wiped
away. I hope, therefore, the title of my lines will not frighten
those who are little accustomed to think of men and women as human
beings in any state but the present.



Go seek thine earth-born sisters,--thus the Voice
That all obey,--the sad and silent three;
These only, while the hosts of heaven rejoice,
Smile never: ask them what their sorrows be:

And when the secret of their griefs they tell,
Look on them with thy mild, half-human eyes;
Say what thou wast on earth; thou knowest well;
So shall they cease from unavailing sighs.


--Why thus, apart,--the swift-winged herald spake,--
Sit ye with silent lips and unstrung lyres
While the trisagion's blending chords awake
In shouts of joy from all the heavenly choirs?


--Chide not thy sisters,--thus the answer came;--
Children of earth, our half-weaned nature clings
To earth's fond memories, and her whispered name
Untunes our quivering lips, our saddened strings;

For there we loved, and where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts,
Though o'er us shine the jasper-lighted dome:--

The chain may lengthen, but it never parts!

Sometimes a sunlit sphere comes rolling by,
And then we softly whisper,--can it be?
And leaning toward the silvery orb, we try
To hear the music of its murmuring sea;

To catch, perchance, some flashing glimpse of green,
Or breathe some wild-wood fragrance, wafted through
The opening gates of pearl, that fold between
The blinding splendors and the changeless blue.


--Nay, sister, nay! a single healing leaf
Plucked from the bough of yon twelve-fruited tree,
Would soothe such anguish,--deeper stabbing grief
Has pierced thy throbbing heart--


---Ah, woe is me!
I from my clinging babe was rudely torn;
His tender lips a loveless bosom pressed
Can I forget him in my life new born?
O that my darling lay upon my breast!


--And thou?


I was a fair and youthful bride,

The kiss of love still burns upon my cheek,
He whom I worshipped, ever at my side,--
Him through the spirit realm in vain I seek.

Sweet faces turn their beaming eyes on mine;
Ah! not in these the wished-for look I read;
Still for that one dear human smile I pine;
Thou and none other!--is the lover's creed.


--And whence thy sadness in a world of bliss
Where never parting comes, nor mourner's tear?
Art thou, too, dreaming of a mortal's kiss
Amid the seraphs of the heavenly sphere?


--Nay, tax not me with passion's wasting fire;
When the swift message set my spirit free,
Blind, helpless, lone, I left my gray-haired sire;
My friends were many, he had none save me.

I left him, orphaned, in the starless night;
Alas, for him no cheerful morning's dawn!
I wear the ransomed spirit's robe of white,
Yet still I hear him moaning, She is gone!


--Ye know me not, sweet sisters?--All in vain
Ye seek your lost ones in the shapes they wore;
The flower once opened may not bud again,
The fruit once fallen finds the stem no more.

Child, lover, sire,--yea, all things loved below,
Fair pictures damasked on a vapor's fold,
Fade like the roseate flush, the golden glow,
When the bright curtain of the day is rolled.

I was the babe that slumbered on thy breast.
--And, sister, mine the lips that called thee bride.
--Mine were the silvered locks thy hand caressed,
That faithful hand, my faltering footstep's guide!

Each changing form, frail vesture of decay,
The soul unclad forgets it once hath worn,
Stained with the travel of the weary day,
And shamed with rents from every wayside thorn.

To lie, an infant, in thy fond embrace,
To come with love's warm kisses back to thee,
To show thine eyes thy gray-haired father's face,
Not Heaven itself could grant; this may not be!

Then spread your folded wings, and leave to earth
The dust once breathing ye have mourned so long,
Till Love, new risen, owns his heavenly birth,
And sorrow's discords sweeten into song!


I am going to take it for granted now and henceforth, in my report of
what was said and what was to be seen at our table, that I have
secured one good, faithful, loving reader, who never finds fault, who
never gets sleepy over my pages, whom no critic can bully out of a
liking for me, and to whom I am always safe in addressing myself. My
one elect may be man or woman, old or young, gentle or simple, living
in the next block or on a slope of Nevada, my fellow-countryman or an
alien; but one such reader I shall assume to exist and have always in
my thought when I am writing.

A writer is so like a lover! And a talk with the right listener is
so like an arm-in-arm walk in the moonlight with the soft heartbeat
just felt through the folds of muslin and broadcloth! But it takes
very little to spoil everything for writer, talker, lover. There are
a great many cruel things besides poverty that freeze the genial
current of the soul, as the poet of the Elegy calls it. Fire can
stand any wind, but is easily blown out, and then come smouldering
and smoke, and profitless, slow combustion without the cheerful blaze
which sheds light all round it. The one Reader's hand may shelter
the flame; the one blessed ministering spirit with the vessel of oil
may keep it bright in spite of the stream of cold water on the other
side doing its best to put it out.

I suppose, if any writer, of any distinguishable individuality, could
look into the hearts of all his readers, he might very probably find
one in his parish of a thousand or a million who honestly preferred
him to any other of his kind. I have no doubt we have each one of
us, somewhere, our exact facsimile, so like us in all things except
the accidents of condition, that we should love each other like a
pair of twins, if our natures could once fairly meet. I know I have
my counterpart in some State of this Union. I feel sure that there
is an Englishman somewhere precisely like myself. (I hope he does
not drop his h's, for it does not seem to me possible that the Royal
Dane could have remained faithful to his love for Ophelia, if she had
addressed him as 'Amlet.) There is also a certain Monsieur, to me at
this moment unknown, and likewise a Herr Von Something, each of whom
is essentially my double. An Arab is at this moment eating dates, a
mandarin is just sipping his tea, and a South-Sea-Islander (with
undeveloped possibilities) drinking the milk of a cocoa-nut, each one
of whom, if he had been born in the gambrel-roofed house, and
cultivated my little sand-patch, and grown up in "the study" from
the height of Walton's Polyglot Bible to that of the shelf which held
the Elzevir Tacitus and Casaubon's Polybius, with all the complex
influences about him that surrounded me, would have been so nearly
what I am that I should have loved him like a brother,--always
provided that I did not hate him for his resemblance to me, on the
same principle as that which makes bodies in the same electric
condition repel each other.

For, perhaps after all, my One Reader is quite as likely to be not
the person most resembling myself, but the one to whom my nature is
complementary. Just as a particular soil wants some one element to
fertilize it, just as the body in some conditions has a kind of
famine--for one special food, so the mind has its wants, which do not
always call for what is best, but which know themselves and are as
peremptory as the salt-sick sailor's call for a lemon or a raw
potato, or, if you will, as those capricious "longings," which have a
certain meaning, we may suppose, and which at any rate we think it
reasonable to satisfy if we can.

I was going to say something about our boarders the other day when I
got run away with by my local reminiscences. I wish you to
understand that we have a rather select company at the table of our

Our Landlady is a most respectable person, who has seen better days,
of course,--all landladies have,--but has also, I feel sure, seen a
good deal worse ones. For she wears a very handsome silk dress on
state occasions, with a breastpin set, as I honestly believe, with
genuine pearls, and appears habitually with a very smart cap, from
under which her gray curls come out with an unmistakable expression,
conveyed in the hieratic language of the feminine priesthood, to the
effect that while there is life there is hope. And when I come to
reflect on the many circumstances which go to the making of
matrimonial happiness, I cannot help thinking that a personage of her
present able exterior, thoroughly experienced in all the domestic
arts which render life comfortable, might make the later years of
some hitherto companionless bachelor very endurable, not to say

The condition of the Landlady's family is, from what I learn, such as
to make the connection I have alluded to, I hope with delicacy,
desirable for incidental as well as direct reasons, provided a
fitting match could be found. I was startled at hearing her address
by the familiar name of Benjamin the young physician I have referred
to, until I found on inquiry, what I might have guessed by the size
of his slices of pie and other little marks of favoritism, that he
was her son. He has recently come back from Europe, where he has
topped off his home training with a first-class foreign finish. As
the Landlady could never have educated him in this way out of the
profits of keeping boarders, I was not surprised when I was told that
she had received a pretty little property in the form of a bequest
from a former boarder, a very kind-hearted, worthy old gentleman who
had been long with her and seen how hard she worked for food and
clothes for herself and this son of hers, Benjamin Franklin by his
baptismal name. Her daughter had also married well, to a member of
what we may call the post-medical profession, that, namely, which
deals with the mortal frame after the practitioners of the healing
art have done with it and taken their leave. So thriving had this
son-in-law of hers been in his business, that his wife drove about in
her own carriage, drawn by a pair of jet-black horses of most
dignified demeanor, whose only fault was a tendency to relapse at
once into a walk after every application of a stimulus that quickened
their pace to a trot; which application always caused them to look
round upon the driver with a surprised and offended air, as if he had
been guilty of a grave indecorum.

The Landlady's daughter had been blessed with a number of children,
of great sobriety of outward aspect, but remarkably cheerful in their
inward habit of mind, more especially on the occasion of the death of
a doll, which was an almost daily occurrence, and gave them immense
delight in getting up a funeral, for which they had a complete
miniature outfit. How happy they were under their solemn aspect!
For the head mourner, a child of remarkable gifts, could actually
make the tears run down her cheeks,--as real ones as if she had been
a grown person following a rich relative, who had not forgotten his
connections, to his last unfurnished lodgings.

So this was a most desirable family connection for the right man to
step into,--a thriving, thrifty mother-in-law, who knew what was
good for the sustenance of the body, and had no doubt taught it to
her daughter; a medical artist at hand in case the luxuries of the
table should happen to disturb the physiological harmonies; and in
the worst event, a sweet consciousness that the last sad offices
would be attended to with affectionate zeal, and probably a large
discount from the usual charges.

It seems as if I could hardly be at this table for a year, if I
should stay so long, without seeing some romance or other work itself
out under my eyes; and I cannot help thinking that the Landlady is to
be the heroine of the love-history like to unfold itself. I think I
see the little cloud in the horizon, with a silvery lining to it,
which may end in a rain of cards tied round with white ribbons.
Extremes meet, and who so like to be the other party as the elderly
gentleman at the other end of the table, as far from her now as the
length of the board permits? I may be mistaken, but I think this is
to be the romantic episode of the year before me. Only it seems so
natural it is improbable, for you never find your dropped money just
where you look for it, and so it is with these a priori matches.

This gentleman is a tight, tidy, wiry little man, with a small, brisk
head, close-cropped white hair, a good wholesome complexion, a quiet,
rather kindly face, quick in his movements, neat in his dress, but
fond of wearing a short jacket over his coat, which gives him the
look of a pickled or preserved schoolboy. He has retired, they say,
from a thriving business, with a snug property, suspected by some to
be rather more than snug, and entitling him to be called a
capitalist, except that this word seems to be equivalent to highway
robber in the new gospel of Saint Petroleum. That he is economical
in his habits cannot be denied, for he saws and splits his own wood,
for exercise, he says,--and makes his own fires, brushes his own
shoes, and, it is whispered, darns a hole in a stocking now and
then,--all for exercise, I suppose. Every summer he goes out of town
for a few weeks. On a given day of the month a wagon stops at the
door and takes up, not his trunks, for he does not indulge in any
such extravagance, but the stout brown linen bags in which he packs
the few conveniences he carries with him.

I do not think this worthy and economical personage will have much to
do or to say, unless he marries the Landlady. If he does that, he
will play a part of some importance,--but I don't feel sure at all.
His talk is little in amount, and generally ends in some compact
formula condensing much wisdom in few words, as that a man, should
not put all his eggs in one basket; that there are as good fish in
the sea as ever came out of it; and one in particular, which he
surprised me by saying in pretty good French one day, to the effect
that the inheritance of the world belongs to the phlegmatic people,
which seems to me to have a good deal of truth in it.

The other elderly personage, the old man with iron-gray hair and
large round spectacles, sits at my right at table. He is a retired
college officer, a man of books and observation, and himself an
author. Magister Artium is one of his titles on the College
Catalogue, and I like best to speak of him as the Master, because he
has a certain air of authority which none of us feel inclined to
dispute. He has given me a copy of a work of his which seems to me
not wanting in suggestiveness, and which I hope I shall be able to
make some use of in my records by and by. I said the other day that
he had good solid prejudices, which is true, and I like him none the
worse for it; but he has also opinions more or less original,
valuable, probable, fanciful; fantastic, or whimsical, perhaps, now
and then; which he promulgates at table somewhat in the tone of
imperial edicts. Another thing I like about him is, that he takes a
certain intelligent interest in pretty much everything that interests
other people. I asked him the other day what he thought most about
in his wide range of studies.

--Sir,--said he,--I take stock in everything that concerns anybody.
Humani nihil,--you know the rest. But if you ask me what is my
specialty, I should say, I applied myself more particularly to the
contemplation of the Order of Things.

--A pretty wide subject,--I ventured to suggest.

--Not wide enough, sir,--not wide enough to satisfy the desire of a
mind which wants to get at absolute truth, without reference to the
empirical arrangements of our particular planet and its environments.
I want to subject the formal conditions of space and time to a new
analysis, and project a possible universe outside of the Order of
Things. But I have narrowed myself by studying the actual facts of
being. By and by--by and by--perhaps--perhaps. I hope to do some
sound thinking in heaven--if I ever get there,--he said seriously,
and it seemed to me not irreverently.

--I rather like that,--I said. I think your telescopic people are,
on the whole, more satisfactory than your microscopic ones.

--My left-hand neighbor fidgeted about a little in his chair as I
said this. But the young man sitting not far from the Landlady, to
whom my attention had been attracted by the expression of his eyes,
which seemed as if they saw nothing before him, but looked beyond
everything, smiled a sort of faint starlight smile, that touched me
strangely; for until that moment he had appeared as if his thoughts
were far away, and I had been questioning whether he had lost friends
lately, or perhaps had never had them, he seemed so remote from our
boarding-house life. I will inquire about him, for he interests me,
and I thought he seemed interested as I went on talking.

--No,--I continued,--I don't want to have the territory of a man's
mind fenced in. I don't want to shut out the mystery of the stars
and the awful hollow that holds them. We have done with those
hypaethral temples, that were open above to the heavens, but we can
have attics and skylights to them. Minds with skylights,--yes,--
stop, let us see if we can't get something out of that.

One-story intellects, two--story intellects, three story intellects
with skylights. All fact--collectors, who have no aim beyond their
facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize,
using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-
story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination comes
from above, through the skylight. There are minds with large ground
floors, that can store an infinite amount of knowledge; some
librarians, for instance, who know enough of books to help other
people, without being able to make much other use of their knowledge,
have intellects of this class. Your great working lawyer has two
spacious stories; his mind is clear, because his mental floors are
large, and he has room to arrange his thoughts so that he can get at
them,--facts below, principles above, and all in ordered series;
poets are often narrow below, incapable of clear statement, and with
small power of consecutive reasoning, but full of light, if sometimes
rather bare of furniture, in the attics.

--The old Master smiled. I think he suspects himself of a three-
story intellect, and I don't feel sure that he is n't right.

--Is it dark meat or white meat you will be helped to?--said the
Landlady, addressing the Master.

--Dark meat for me, always,--he answered. Then turning to me, he
began one of those monologues of his, such as that which put the
Member of the Haouse asleep the other day.

--It 's pretty much the same in men and women and in books and
everything, that it is in turkeys and chickens. Why, take your
poets, now, say Browning and Tennyson. Don't you think you can say
which is the dark-meat and which is the white-meat poet? And so of
the people you know; can't you pick out the full-flavored, coarse-
fibred characters from the delicate, fine-fibred ones? And in the
same person, don't you know the same two shades in different parts of
the character that you find in the wing and thigh of a partridge? I
suppose you poets may like white meat best, very probably; you had
rather have a wing than a drumstick, I dare say.

--Why, yes,--said I,--I suppose some of us do. Perhaps it is because
a bird flies with his white-fleshed limbs and walks with the dark-
fleshed ones. Besides, the wing-muscles are nearer the heart than
the leg-muscles.

I thought that sounded mighty pretty, and paused a moment to pat
myself on the back, as is my wont when I say something that I think
of superior quality. So I lost my innings; for the Master is apt to
strike in at the end of a bar, instead of waiting for a rest, if I
may borrow a musical phrase. No matter, just at this moment, what he
said; but he talked the Member of the Haouse asleep again.

They have a new term nowadays (I am speaking to you, the Reader) for
people that do a good deal of talking; they call them
"conversationists," or "conversationalists "; talkists, I suppose,
would do just as well. It is rather dangerous to get the name of
being one of these phenomenal manifestations, as one is expected to
say something remarkable every time one opens one's mouth in company.
It seems hard not to be able to ask for a piece of bread or a tumbler
of water, without a sensation running round the table, as if one were
an electric eel or a torpedo, and couldn't be touched without giving
a shock. A fellow is n't all battery, is he? The idea that a
Gymnotus can't swallow his worm without a coruscation of animal
lightning is hard on that brilliant but sensational being. Good talk
is not a matter of will at all; it depends--you know we are all half-
materialists nowadays--on a certain amount of active congestion of
the brain, and that comes when it is ready, and not before. I saw a
man get up the other day in a pleasant company, and talk away for
about five minutes, evidently by a pure effort of will. His person
was good, his voice was pleasant, but anybody could see that it was
all mechanical labor; he was sparring for wind, as the Hon. John
Morrissey, M. C., would express himself. Presently,--

Do you,--Beloved, I am afraid you are not old enough,--but do you
remember the days of the tin tinder-box, the flint, and steel?
Click! click! click!--Al-h-h! knuckles that time! click! click!
CLICK! a spark has taken, and is eating into the black tinder, as a
six-year-old eats into a sheet of gingerbread.

Presently, after hammering away for his five minutes with mere words,
the spark of a happy expression took somewhere among the mental
combustibles, and then for ten minutes we had a pretty, wandering,
scintillating play of eloquent thought, that enlivened, if it did not
kindle, all around it. If you want the real philosophy of it, I will
give it to you. The chance thought or expression struck the nervous
centre of consciousness, as the rowel of a spur stings the flank of a
racer. Away through all the telegraphic radiations of the nervous
cords flashed the intelligence that the brain was kindling, and must
be fed with something or other, or it would burn itself to ashes.

And all the great hydraulic engines poured in their scarlet blood,
and the fire kindled, and the flame rose; for the blood is a stream
that, like burning rock-oil, at once kindles, and is itself the fuel.
You can't order these organic processes, any more than a milliner can
make a rose. She can make something that looks like a rose, more or
less, but it takes all the forces of the universe to finish and
sweeten that blossom in your button-hole; and you may be sure that
when the orator's brain is in a flame, when the poet's heart is in a
tumult, it is something mightier than he and his will that is dealing
with him! As I have looked from one of the northern windows of the
street which commands our noble estuary,--the view through which is a
picture on an illimitable canvas and a poem in innumerable cantos,--I
have sometimes seen a pleasure-boat drifting along, her sail
flapping, and she seeming as if she had neither will nor aim. At her
stern a man was laboring to bring her head round with an oar, to
little purpose, as it seemed to those who watched him pulling and
tugging. But all at once the wind of heaven, which had wandered all
the way from Florida or from Labrador, it may be, struck full upon
the sail, and it swelled and rounded itself, like a white bosom that
had burst its bodice, and--

--You are right; it is too true! but how I love these pretty
phrases! I am afraid I am becoming an epicure in words, which is a
bad thing to be, unless it is dominated by something infinitely
better than itself. But there is a fascination in the mere sound of
articulated breath; of consonants that resist with the firmness of a
maid of honor, or half or wholly yield to the wooing lips; of vowels
that flow and murmur, each after its kind; the peremptory b and p,
the brittle k, the vibrating r, the insinuating s, the feathery f,
the velvety v, the bell-voiced m, the tranquil broad a, the
penetrating e, the cooing u, the emotional o, and the beautiful
combinations of alternate rock and stream, as it were, that they give
to the rippling flow of speech,--there is a fascination in the
skilful handling of these, which the great poets and even prose-
writers have not disdained to acknowledge and use to recommend their
thought. What do you say to this line of Homer as a piece of
poetical full-band music? I know you read the Greek characters with
perfect ease, but permit me, just for my own satisfaction, to put it
into English letters:--

Aigle pamphanoosa di' aitheros ouranon ike!

as if he should have spoken in our poorer phrase of

Splendor far shining through ether to heaven ascending.

That Greek line, which I do not remember having heard mention of as
remarkable, has nearly every consonantal and vowel sound in the
language. Try it by the Greek and by the English alphabet; it is a
curiosity. Tell me that old Homer did not roll his sightless
eyeballs about with delight, as he thundered out these ringing
syllables! It seems hard to think of his going round like a hand-
organ man, with such music and such thought as his to earn his bread
with. One can't help wishing that Mr. Pugh could have got at him for
a single lecture, at least, of the "Star Course," or that he could
have appeared in the Music Hall, "for this night only."

--I know I have rambled, but I hope you see that this is a delicate
way of letting you into the nature of the individual who is,
officially, the principal personage at our table. It would hardly do
to describe him directly, you know. But you must not think, because
the lightning zigzags, it does not know where to strike.

I shall try to go through the rest of my description of our boarders
with as little of digression as is consistent with my nature. I
think we have a somewhat exceptional company. Since our Landlady has
got up in the world, her board has been decidedly a favorite with
persons a little above the average in point of intelligence and
education. In fact, ever since a boarder of hers, not wholly unknown
to the reading public, brought her establishment into notice, it has
attracted a considerable number of literary and scientific people,
and now and then a politician, like the Member of the House of
Representatives, otherwise called the Great and General Court of the
State of Massachusetts. The consequence is, that there is more
individuality of character than in a good many similar
boardinghouses, where all are business-men, engrossed in the same
pursuit of money-making, or all are engaged in politics, and so
deeply occupied with the welfare of the community that they can think
and talk of little else.

At my left hand sits as singular-looking a human being as I remember
seeing outside of a regular museum or tent-show. His black coat
shines as if it had been polished; and it has been polished on the
wearer's back, no doubt, for the arms and other points of maximum
attrition are particularly smooth and bright. Round shoulders,--
stooping over some minute labor, I suppose. Very slender limbs, with
bends like a grasshopper's; sits a great deal, I presume; looks as if
he might straighten them out all of a sudden, and jump instead of
walking. Wears goggles very commonly; says it rests his eyes, which
he strains in looking at very small objects. Voice has a dry creak,
as if made by some small piece of mechanism that wanted oiling. I
don't think he is a botanist, for he does not smell of dried herbs,
but carries a camphorated atmosphere about with him, as if to keep
the moths from attacking him. I must find out what is his particular
interest. One ought to know something about his immediate neighbors
at the table. This is what I said to myself, before opening a
conversation with him. Everybody in our ward of the city was in a
great stir about a certain election, and I thought I might as well
begin with that as anything.

--How do you think the vote is likely to go tomorrow?--I said.

--It isn't to-morrow,--he answered,--it 's next month.

--Next month!--said I.---Why, what election do you mean?

--I mean the election to the Presidency of the Entomological Society,
sir,--he creaked, with an air of surprise, as if nobody could by any
possibility have been thinking of any other. Great competition, sir,
between the dipterists and the lepidopterists as to which shall get
in their candidate. Several close ballotings already; adjourned for
a fortnight. Poor concerns, both of 'em. Wait till our turn comes.

--I suppose you are an entomologist?--I said with a note of

-Not quite so ambitious as that, sir. I should like to put my eyes
on the individual entitled to that name! A society may call itself
an Entomological Society, but the man who arrogates such a broad
title as that to himself, in the present state of science, is a
pretender, sir, a dilettante, an impostor! No man can be truly
called an entomologist, sir; the subject is too vast for any single
human intelligence to grasp.

--May I venture to ask,--I said, a little awed by his statement and
manner,--what is your special province of study?

I am often spoken of as a Coleopterist,--he said,--but I have no
right to so comprehensive a name. The genus Scarabaeus is what I
have chiefly confined myself to, and ought to have studied
exclusively. The beetles proper are quite enough for the labor of
one man's life. Call me a Scarabaeist if you will; if I can prove
myself worthy of that name, my highest ambition will be more than

I think, by way of compromise and convenience, I shall call him the
Scarabee. He has come to look wonderfully like those creatures,--the
beetles, I mean,---by being so much among them. His room is hung
round with cases of them, each impaled on a pin driven through him,
something as they used to bury suicides. These cases take the place
for him of pictures and all other ornaments. That Boy steals into
his room sometimes, and stares at them with great admiration, and has
himself undertaken to form a rival cabinet, chiefly consisting of
flies, so far, arranged in ranks superintended by an occasional

The old Master, who is a bachelor, has a kindly feeling for this
little monkey, and those of his kind.

--I like children,--he said to me one day at table,--I like 'em, and
I respect 'em. Pretty much all the honest truth-telling there is in
the world is done by them. Do you know they play the part in the
household which the king's jester, who very often had a mighty long
head under his cap and bells, used to play for a monarch? There 's
no radical club like a nest of little folks in a nursery. Did you
ever watch a baby's fingers? I have, often enough, though I never
knew what it was to own one.---The Master paused half a minute or
so,--sighed,--perhaps at thinking what he had missed in life,--looked
up at me a little vacantly. I saw what was the matter; he had lost
the thread of his talk.

--Baby's fingers,--I intercalated.

-Yes, yes; did you ever see how they will poke those wonderful little
fingers of theirs into every fold and crack and crevice they can get
at? That is their first education, feeling their way into the solid
facts of the material world. When they begin to talk it is the same
thing over again in another shape. If there is a crack or a flaw in
your answer to their confounded shoulder-hitting questions, they will
poke and poke until they have got it gaping just as the baby's
fingers have made a rent out of that atom of a hole in his pinafore
that your old eyes never took notice of. Then they make such fools
of us by copying on a small scale what we do in the grand manner. I
wonder if it ever occurs to our dried-up neighbor there to ask
himself whether That Boy's collection of flies is n't about as
significant in the Order of Things as his own Museum of Beetles?

--I couldn't help thinking that perhaps That Boy's questions about
the simpler mysteries of life might have a good deal of the same kind
of significance as the Master's inquiries into the Order of Things.

--On my left, beyond my next neighbor the Scarabee, at the end of the
table, sits a person of whom we know little, except that he carries
about him more palpable reminiscences of tobacco and the allied
sources of comfort than a very sensitive organization might find
acceptable. The Master does not seem to like him much, for some
reason or other,--perhaps he has a special aversion to the odor of
tobacco. As his forefinger shows a little too distinctly that he
uses a pen, I shall compliment him by calling him the Man of Letters,
until I find out more about him.

--The Young Girl who sits on my right, next beyond the Master, can
hardly be more than nineteen or twenty years old. I wish I could
paint her so as to interest others as much as she does me. But she
has not a profusion of sunny tresses wreathing a neck of alabaster,
and a cheek where the rose and the lily are trying to settle their
old quarrel with alternating victory. Her hair is brown, her cheek
is delicately pallid, her forehead is too ample for a ball-room
beauty's. A single faint line between the eyebrows is the record of
long--continued anxious efforts to please in the task she has chosen,
or rather which has been forced upon her. It is the same line of
anxious and conscientious effort which I saw not long since on the
forehead of one of the sweetest and truest singers who has visited
us; the same which is so striking on the masks of singing women
painted upon the facade of our Great Organ,--that Himalayan home of
harmony which you are to see and then die, if you don't live where
you can see and hear it often. Many deaths have happened in a
neighboring large city from that well-known complaint, Icterus
Invidiosorum, after returning from a visit to the Music Hall. The
invariable symptom of a fatal attack is the Risus Sardonicus.--But
the Young Girl. She gets her living by writing stories for a
newspaper. Every week she furnishes a new story. If her head aches
or her heart is heavy, so that she does not come to time with her
story, she falls behindhand and has to live on credit. It sounds
well enough to say that "she supports herself by her pen," but her
lot is a trying one; it repeats the doom of the Danaides. The
"Weekly Bucket" has no bottom, and it is her business to help fill
it. Imagine for one moment what it is to tell a tale that must flow
on, flow ever, without pausing; the lover miserable and happy this
week, to begin miserable again next week and end as before; the
villain scowling, plotting, punished; to scowl, plot, and get
punished again in our next; an endless series of woes and busses,
into each paragraph of which the forlorn artist has to throw all the
liveliness, all the emotion, all the graces of style she is mistress
of, for the wages of a maid of all work, and no more recognition or
thanks from anybody than the apprentice who sets the types for the
paper that prints her ever-ending and ever-beginning stories. And
yet she has a pretty talent, sensibility, a natural way of writing,
an ear for the music of verse, in which she sometimes indulges to
vary the dead monotony of everlasting narrative, and a sufficient
amount of invention to make her stories readable. I have found my
eyes dimmed over them oftener than once, more with thinking about
her, perhaps, than about her heroes and heroines. Poor little body!
Poor little mind! Poor little soul! She is one of that great
company of delicate, intelligent, emotional young creatures, who are
waiting, like that sail I spoke of, for some breath of heaven to fill
their white bosoms,--love, the right of every woman; religious
emotion, sister of love, with the same passionate eyes, but cold,
thin, bloodless hands,--some enthusiasm of humanity or divinity; and
find that life offers them, instead, a seat on a wooden bench, a
chain to fasten them to it, and a heavy oar to pull day and night.
We read the Arabian tales and pity the doomed lady who must amuse her
lord and master from day to day or have her head cut off; how much
better is a mouth without bread to fill it than no mouth at all to
fill, because no head? We have all round us a weary-eyed company of
Scheherezades! This is one of them, and I may call her by that name
when it pleases me to do so.

The next boarder I have to mention is the one who sits between the
Young Girl and the Landlady. In a little chamber into which a small
thread of sunshine finds its way for half an hour or so every day
during a month or six weeks of the spring or autumn, at all other
times obliged to content itself with ungilded daylight, lives this
boarder, whom, without wronging any others of our company, I may
call, as she is very generally called in the household, The Lady. In
giving her this name it is not meant that there are no other ladies
at our table, or that the handmaids who serve us are not ladies, or
to deny the general proposition that everybody who wears the
unbifurcated garment is entitled to that appellation. Only this lady
has a look and manner which there is no mistaking as belonging to a
person always accustomed to refined and elegant society. Her style
is perhaps a little more courtly and gracious than some would like.
The language and manner which betray the habitual desire of pleasing,
and which add a charm to intercourse in the higher social circles,
are liable to be construed by sensitive beings unused to such
amenities as an odious condescension when addressed to persons of
less consideration than the accused, and as a still more odious--you
know the word--when directed to those who are esteemed by the world
as considerable person ages. But of all this the accused are
fortunately wholly unconscious, for there is nothing so entirely
natural and unaffected as the highest breeding.

From an aspect of dignified but undisguised economy which showed
itself in her dress as well as in her limited quarters, I suspected a
story of shipwrecked fortune, and determined to question our
Landlady. That worthy woman was delighted to tell the history of her
most distinguished boarder. She was, as I had supposed, a
gentlewoman whom a change of circumstances had brought down from her
high estate.

--Did I know the Goldenrod family?--Of course I did.---Well, the
Lady, was first cousin to Mrs. Midas Goldenrod. She had been here in
her carriage to call upon her,--not very often.---Were her rich
relations kind and helpful to her?--Well, yes; at least they made her
presents now and then. Three or four years ago they sent her a
silver waiter, and every Christmas they sent her a boquet,--it must
cost as much as five dollars, the Landlady thought.

--And how did the Lady receive these valuable and useful gifts?

--Every Christmas she got out the silver waiter and borrowed a glass
tumbler and filled it with water, and put the boquet in it and set it
on the waiter. It smelt sweet enough and looked pretty for a day or
two, but the Landlady thought it wouldn't have hurt 'em if they'd
sent a piece of goods for a dress, or at least a pocket-handkercher
or two, or something or other that she could 'a' made some kind of
use of; but beggars must n't be choosers; not that she was a beggar,
for she'd sooner die than do that if she was in want of a meal of
victuals. There was a lady I remember, and she had a little boy and
she was a widow, and after she'd buried her husband she was dreadful
poor, and she was ashamed to let her little boy go out in his old
shoes, and copper-toed shoes they was too, because his poor little
ten--toes--was a coming out of 'em; and what do you think my
husband's rich uncle,--well, there now, it was me and my little
Benjamin, as he was then, there's no use in hiding of it,--and what
do you think my husband's uncle sent me but a plaster of Paris image
of a young woman, that was,--well, her appearance wasn't respectable,
and I had to take and wrap her up in a towel and poke her right into
my closet, and there she stayed till she got her head broke and
served her right, for she was n't fit to show folks. You need n't
say anything about what I told you, but the fact is I was desperate
poor before I began to support myself taking boarders, and a lone
woman without her--her--

The sentence plunged into the gulf of her great remembered sorrow,
and was lost to the records of humanity.

--Presently she continued in answer to my questions: The Lady was not
very sociable; kept mostly to herself. The Young Girl (our
Scheherezade) used to visit her sometimes, and they seemed to like
each other, but the Young Girl had not many spare hours for visiting.
The Lady never found fault, but she was very nice in her tastes, and
kept everything about her looking as neat and pleasant as she could.

---What did she do?--Why, she read, and she drew pictures, and she
did needlework patterns, and played on an old harp she had; the gilt
was mostly off, but it sounded very sweet, and she sung to it
sometimes, those old songs that used to be in fashion twenty or
thirty years ago, with words to 'em that folks could understand.

Did she do anything to help support herself ?--The Landlady couldn't
say she did, but she thought there was rich people enough that ought
to buy the flowers and things she worked and painted.

All this points to the fact that she was bred to be an ornamental
rather than what is called a useful member of society. This is all
very well so long as fortune favors those who are chosen to be the
ornamental personages; but if the golden tide recedes and leaves them
stranded, they are more to be pitied than almost any other class. "I
cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed."

I think it is unpopular in this country to talk much about gentlemen
and gentlewomen. People are touchy about social distinctions, which
no doubt are often invidious and quite arbitrary and accidental, but
which it is impossible to avoid recognizing as facts of natural
history. Society stratifies itself everywhere, and the stratum which
is generally recognized as the uppermost will be apt to have the
advantage in easy grace of manner and in unassuming confidence, and
consequently be more agreeable in the superficial relations of life.
To compare these advantages with the virtues and utilities would be
foolish. Much of the noblest work in life is done by ill-dressed,
awkward, ungainly persons; but that is no more reason for
undervaluing good manners and what we call high-breeding, than the
fact that the best part of the sturdy labor of the world is done by
men with exceptionable hands is to be urged against the use of Brown
Windsor as a preliminary to appearance in cultivated society.

I mean to stand up for this poor lady, whose usefulness in the world
is apparently problematical. She seems to me like a picture which
has fallen from its gilded frame and lies, face downward, on the
dusty floor. The picture never was as needful as a window or a door,
but it was pleasant to see it in its place, and it would be pleasant
to see it there again, and I, for one, should be thankful to have the
Lady restored by some turn of fortune to the position from which she
has been so cruelly cast down.

--I have asked the Landlady about the young man sitting near her, the
same who attracted my attention the other day while I was talking, as
I mentioned. He passes most of his time in a private observatory, it
appears; a watcher of the stars. That I suppose gives the peculiar
look to his lustrous eyes. The Master knows him and was pleased to
tell me something about him.

You call yourself a Poet,--he said,--and we call you so, too, and so
you are; I read your verses and like 'em. But that young man lives
in a world beyond the imagination of poets, let me tell you. The
daily home of his thought is in illimitable space, hovering between
the two eternities. In his contemplations the divisions of time run
together, as in the thought of his Maker. With him also,--I say it
not profanely,--one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years
as one day.

This account of his occupation increased the interest his look had
excited in me, and I have observed him more particularly and found
out more about him. Sometimes, after a long night's watching, he
looks so pale and worn, that one would think the cold moonlight had
stricken him with some malign effluence such as it is fabled to send
upon those who sleep in it. At such times he seems more like one who
has come from a planet farther away from the sun than our earth, than
like one of us terrestrial creatures. His home is truly in the
heavens, and he practises an asceticism in the cause of science
almost comparable to that of Saint Simeon Stylites. Yet they tell me
he might live in luxury if he spent on himself what he spends on
science. His knowledge is of that strange, remote character, that it
seems sometimes almost superhuman. He knows the ridges and chasms of
the moon as a surveyor knows a garden-plot he has measured. He
watches the snows that gather around the poles of Mars; he is on the
lookout for the expected comet at the moment when its faint stain of
diffused light first shows itself; he analyzes the ray that comes
from the sun's photosphere; he measures the rings of Saturn; he
counts his asteroids to see that none are missing, as the shepherd
counts the sheep in his flock. A strange unearthly being; lonely,
dwelling far apart from the thoughts and cares of the planet on which
he lives,--an enthusiast who gives his life to knowledge; a student
of antiquity, to whom the records of the geologist are modern pages
in the great volume of being, and the pyramids a memorandum of
yesterday, as the eclipse or occultation that is to take place
thousands of years hence is an event of to-morrow in the diary
without beginning and without end where he enters the aspect of the
passing moment as it is read on the celestial dial.

In very marked contrast with this young man is the something more
than middle-aged Register of Deeds, a rusty, sallow, smoke-dried
looking personage, who belongs to this earth as exclusively as the
other belongs to the firmament. His movements are as mechanical as
those of a pendulum,--to the office, where he changes his coat and
plunges into messuages and building-lots; then, after changing his
coat again, back to our table, and so, day by day, the dust of years
gradually gathering around him as it does on the old folios that fill
the shelves all round the great cemetery of past transactions of
which he is the sexton.

Of the Salesman who sits next him, nothing need be said except that
he is good-looking, rosy, well-dressed, and of very polite manners,
only a little more brisk than the approved style of carriage permits,
as one in the habit of springing with a certain alacrity at the call
of a customer.

You would like to see, I don't doubt, how we sit at the table, and I
will help you by means of a diagram which shows the present
arrangement of our seats.

4 3 2 1 14 13
| O O O O O O |
| |
5 | O Breakfast-Table O |12
| |
| O O O O O O |
6 7 8 9 10 11

1. The Poet.
2. The Master Of Arts.
3. The Young Girl (Scheherezade).
4. The Lady.
5. The Landlady.
6. Dr. B. Franklin.
7. That Boy.
8. The Astronomer.
9. The Member of the Haouse.
10. The Register of Deeds.
11. The Salesman.
12. The Capitalist.
13. The Man of Letters(?).
14. The Scarabee.

Our young Scheherezade varies her prose stories now and then, as I
told you, with compositions in verse, one or two of which she has let
me look over. Here is one of them, which she allowed me to copy. It
is from a story of hers, "The Sun-Worshipper's Daughter," which you
may find in the periodical before mentioned, to which she is a
contributor, if your can lay your hand upon a file of it. I think
our Scheherezade has never had a lover in human shape, or she would
not play so lightly with the firebrands of the great passion.


Kiss mine eyelids, beauteous Morn,
Blushing into life new-born!
Lend me violets for my hair,
And thy russet robe to wear,
And thy ring of rosiest hue
Set in drops of diamond dew!

Kiss my cheek, thou noontide ray,
From my Love so far away!
Let thy splendor streaming down
Turn its pallid lilies brown,
Till its darkening shades reveal
Where his passion pressed its seal!

Kiss my lips, thou Lord of light,
Kiss my lips a soft good night!
Westward sinks thy golden car;
Leave me but the evening star,
And my solace that shall be,
Borrowing all its light from thee!


The old Master was talking about a concert he had been to hear.
--I don't like your chopped music anyway. That woman--she had more
sense in her little finger than forty medical societies--Florence
Nightingale--says that the music you pour out is good for sick folks,
and the music you pound out isn't. Not that exactly, but something
like it. I have been to hear some music-pounding. It was a young
woman, with as many white muslin flounces round her as the planet
Saturn has rings, that did it. She--gave the music-stool a twirl or
two and fluffed down on to it like a whirl of soap-suds in a hand-
basin. Then she pushed up her cuffs as if she was going to fight for
the champion's belt. Then she worked her wrists and her hands, to
limber 'em, I suppose, and spread out her fingers till they looked as
though they would pretty much cover the key-board, from the growling
end to the little squeaky one. Then those two hands of hers made a
jump at the keys as if they were a couple of tigers coming down on a
flock of black and white sheep, and the piano gave a great howl as if
its tail had been trod on. Dead stop,--so still you could hear your
hair growing. Then another jump, and another howl, as if the piano
had two tails and you had trod on both of 'em at once, and, then a
grand clatter and scramble and string of jumps, up and down, back and
forward, one hand over the other, like a stampede of rats and mice
more than like anything I call music. I like to hear a woman sing,

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