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Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells by William Dean Howells

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misery that we should wish rather to weep over them than to reproach them
with their better fortune, or what appeared so.


For most people choice is a curse, and it is this curse that the summer
brings upon great numbers who would not perhaps otherwise be afflicted.
They are not in the happy case of those who must stay at home; their hard
necessity is that they can go away, and try to be more agreeably placed
somewhere else; but although I say they are in great numbers, they are an
infinitesimal minority of the whole bulk of our population. Their bane
is not, in its highest form, that of the average American who has no
choice of the kind; and when one begins to speak of the summer problem,
one must begin at once to distinguish. It is the problem of the East
rather than of the West (where people are much more in the habit of
staying at home the year round), and it is the problem of the city and
not of the country. I am not sure that there is one practical farmer in
the whole United States who is obliged to witness in his household those
sad dissensions which almost separate the families of professional men as
to where and how they shall pass the summer. People of this class, which
is a class with some measure of money, ease, and taste, are commonly of
varying and decided minds, and I once knew a family of the sort whose
combined ideal for their summer outing was summed up in the simple desire
for society and solitude, mountain-air and sea-bathing. They spent the
whole months of April, May, and June in a futile inquiry for a resort
uniting these attractions, and on the first of July they drove to the
station with no definite point in view. But they found that they could
get return tickets for a certain place on an inland lake at a low figure,
and they took the first train for it. There they decided next morning to
push on to the mountains, and sent their baggage to the station, but
before it was checked they changed their minds, and remained two weeks
where they were. Then they took train for a place on the coast, but in
the cars a friend told them they ought to go to another place; they
decided to go there, but before arriving at the junction they decided
again to keep on. They arrived at their original destination, and the
following day telegraphed for rooms at a hotel farther down the coast.
The answer came that there were no rooms, and being by this time ready to
start, they started, and in due time reported themselves at the hotel.
The landlord saw that something must be done, and he got them rooms, at a
smaller house, and 'mealed' them (as it used to be called at Mt. Desert)
in his own. But upon experiment of the fare at the smaller house they
liked it so well that they resolved to live there altogether, and they
spent a summer of the greatest comfort there, so that they would hardly
come away when the house closed in the fall.

This was an extreme case, and perhaps such a venture might not always
turn out so happily; but I think that people might oftener trust
themselves to Providence in these matters than they do. There is really
an infinite variety of pleasant resorts of all kinds now, and one could
quite safely leave it to the man in the ticket-office where one should
go, and check one's baggage accordingly. I think the chances of an
agreeable summer would be as good in that way as in making a hard-and-
fast choice of a certain place and sticking to it. My own experience is
that in these things chance makes a very good choice for one, as it does
in most non-moral things.


A joke dies hard, and I am not sure that the life is yet quite out of the
kindly ridicule that was cast for a whole generation upon the people who
left their comfortable houses in town to starve upon farm-board or stifle
in the narrow rooms of mountain and seaside hotels. Yet such people were
in the right, and their mockers were in the wrong, and their patient
persistence in going out of town for the summer in the face of severe
discouragements has multiplied indefinitely the kinds of summer resorts,
and reformed them altogether. I believe the city boarding-house remains
very much what it used to be; but I am bound to say that the country
boarding-house has vastly improved since I began to know it. As for the
summer hotel, by steep or by strand, it leaves little to be complained of
except the prices. I take it for granted, therefore, that the out-of-
town summer has come to stay, for all who can afford it, and that the
chief sorrow attending it is that curse of choice, which I have already
spoken of.

I have rather favored chance than choice, because, whatever choice you
make, you are pretty sure to regret it, with a bitter sense of
responsibility added, which you cannot feel if chance has chosen for you.
I observe that people who own summer cottages are often apt to wish they
did not, and were foot-loose to roam where they listed, and I have been
told that even a yacht is not a source of unmixed content, though so
eminently detachable. To great numbers Europe looks from this shore like
a safe refuge from the American summer problem; and yet I am not sure
that it is altogether so; for it is not enough merely to go to Europe;
one has to choose where to go when one has got there. A European city is
certainly always more tolerable than an American city, but one cannot
very well pass the summer in Paris, or even in London. The heart there,
as here, will yearn for some blessed seat

"Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,"

and still, after your keel touches the strand of that alluring old world,
you must buy your ticket and register your trunk for somewhere in


It is truly a terrible stress, this summer problem, and, as I say, my
heart aches much more for those who have to solve it and suffer the
consequences of their choice than for those who have no choice, but must
stay the summer through where their work is, and be humbly glad that they
have any work to keep them there. I am not meaning now, of course,
business men obliged to remain in the city to earn the bread--or, more
correctly, the cake--of their families in the country, or even their
clerks and bookkeepers, and porters and messengers, but such people as I
sometimes catch sight of from the elevated trains (in my reluctant
midsummer flights through the city), sweltering in upper rooms over
sewing-machines or lap-boards, or stewing in the breathless tenement
streets, or driving clangorous trucks, or monotonous cars, or bending
over wash-tubs at open windows for breaths of the no-air without.
These all get on somehow, and at the end of the summer they have not to
accuse themselves of folly in going to one place rather than another.
Their fate is decided for them, and they submit to it; whereas those who
decide their fate are always rebelling against it. They it is whom I am
truly sorry for, and whom I write of with tears in my ink. Their case is
hard, and it will seem all the harder if we consider how foolish they
will look and how flat they will feel at the judgment-day, when they are
asked about their summer outings. I do not really suppose we shall be
held to a very strict account for our pleasures because everybody else
has not enjoyed them, too; that would be a pity of our lives; and yet
there is an old-fashioned compunction which will sometimes visit the
heart if we take our pleasures ungraciously, when so many have no
pleasures to take. I would suggest, then, to those on whom the curse of
choice between pleasures rests, that they should keep in mind those who
have chiefly pains to their portion in life.

I am not, I hope, urging my readers to any active benevolence, or
counselling them to share their pleasures with others; it has been
accurately ascertained that there are not pleasures enough to go round,
as things now are; but I would seriously entreat them to consider whether
they could not somewhat alleviate the hardships of their own lot at the
sea-side or among the mountains, by contrasting it with the lot of others
in the sweat-shops and the boiler-factories of life. I know very well
that it is no longer considered very good sense or very good morality to
take comfort in one's advantages from the disadvantages of others, and
this is not quite what I mean to teach. Perhaps I mean nothing more than
an overhauling of the whole subject of advantages and disadvantages,
which would be a light and agreeable occupation for the leisure of the
summer outer. It might be very interesting, and possibly it might be
amusing, for one stretched upon the beach or swaying in the hammock to
inquire into the reasons for his or her being so favored, and it is not
beyond the bounds of expectation that a consensus of summer opinion on
this subject would go far to enlighten the world upon a question that has
vexed the world ever since mankind was divided into those who work too
much and those who rest too much.


A study of New York civilization in 1849 has lately come into my hands,
with a mortifying effect, which I should like to share with the reader,
to my pride of modernity. I had somehow believed that after half a
century of material prosperity, such as the world has never seen before,
New York in 1902 must be very different from New York in 1849, but if I
am to trust either the impressions of the earlier student or my own, New
York is essentially the same now that it was then. The spirit of the
place has not changed; it is as it was, splendidly and sordidly
commercial. Even the body of it has undergone little or no alteration;
it was as shapeless, as incongruous; as ugly when the author of 'New York
in Slices' wrote as it is at this writing; it has simply grown, or
overgrown, on the moral and material lines which seem to have been
structural in it from the beginning. He felt in his time the same
vulgarity, the same violence, in its architectural anarchy that I have
felt in my time, and he noted how all dignity and beauty perished, amid
the warring forms, with a prescience of my own affliction, which deprives
me of the satisfaction of a discoverer and leaves me merely the sense of
being rather old-fashioned in my painful emotions.


I wish I could pretend that my author philosophized the facts of his New
York with something less than the raw haste of the young journalist; but
I am afraid I must own that 'New York in Slices' affects one as having
first been printed in an evening paper, and that the writer brings to the
study of the metropolis something like the eager horror of a country
visitor. This probably enabled him to heighten the effect he wished to
make with readers of a kindred tradition, and for me it adds a certain
innocent charm to his work. I may make myself better understood if I say
that his attitude towards the depravities of a smaller New York is much
the same as that of Mr. Stead towards the wickedness of a much larger
Chicago. He seizes with some such avidity upon the darker facts of the
prisons, the slums, the gambling-houses, the mock auctions, the toughs
(who then called themselves b'hoys and g'hals), the quacks, the theatres,
and even the intelligence offices, and exploits their iniquities with a
ready virtue which the wickedest reader can enjoy with him.

But if he treated of these things alone, I should not perhaps have
brought his curious little book to the polite notice of my readers.
He treats also of the press, the drama, the art, and, above all,
"the literary soirees" of that remote New York of his in a manner to make
us latest New-Yorkers feel our close proximity to it. Fifty-odd years
ago journalism had already become "the absorbing, remorseless, clamorous
thing" we now know, and very different from the thing it was when
"expresses were unheard of, and telegraphs were uncrystallized from the
lightning's blue and fiery film." Reporterism was beginning to assume
its present importance, but it had not yet become the paramount
intellectual interest, and did not yet "stand shoulder to shoulder" with
the counting-room in authority. Great editors, then as now, ranked great
authors in the public esteem, or achieved a double primacy by uniting
journalism and literature in the same personality. They were often the
owners as well as the writers of their respective papers, and they
indulged for the advantage of the community the rancorous rivalries,
recriminations, and scurrilities which often form the charm, if not the
chief use, of our contemporaneous journals. Apparently, however,
notarially authenticated boasts of circulation had not yet been made the
delight of their readers, and the press had not become the detective
agency that it now is, nor the organizer and distributer of charities.

But as dark a cloud of doubt rested upon its relations to the theatre as
still eclipses the popular faith in dramatic criticism. "How can you
expect," our author asks, "a frank and unbiassed criticism upon the
performance of George Frederick Cooke Snooks . . . when the editor or
reporter who is to write it has just been supping on beefsteak and stewed
potatoes at Windust's, and regaling himself on brandy-and-water cold,
without, at the expense of the aforesaid George Frederick Cooke Snooks?"
The severest censor of the press, however, would hardly declare now that
"as to such a thing as impartial and independent criticism upon theatres
in the present state of the relations between editors, reporters,
managers, actors--and actresses--the thing is palpably out of the
question," and if matters were really at the pass hinted, the press has
certainly improved in fifty years, if one may judge from its present
frank condemnations of plays and players. The theatre apparently has
not, for we read that at that period "a very great majority of the
standard plays and farces on the stage depend mostly for their piquancy
and their power of interesting an audience upon intrigues with married
women, elopements, seductions, bribery, cheating, and fraud of every
description . . . . Stage costume, too, wherever there is half a
chance, is usually made as lascivious and immodest as possible; and a
freedom and impropriety prevails among the characters of the piece which
would be kicked out of private society the instant it would have the
audacity to make its appearance there."


I hope private society in New York would still be found as correct if not
quite so violent; and I wish I could believe that the fine arts were
presently in as flourishing a condition among us as they were in 1849.
That was the prosperous day of the Art Unions, in which the artists
clubbed their output, and the subscribers parted the works among
themselves by something so very like raffling that the Art Unions were
finally suppressed under the law against lotteries. While they lasted,
however, they had exhibitions thronged by our wealth, fashion, and
intellect (to name them in the order they hold the New York mind), as our
private views now are, or ought to be; and the author "devotes an entire
number" of his series "to a single institution"--fearless of being
accused of partiality by any who rightly appreciate the influences of the
fine arts upon the morals and refinement of mankind.

He devotes even more than an entire number to literature; for, besides
treating of various literary celebrities at the "literary soirees," he
imagines encountering several of them at the high-class restaurants.
At Delmonico's, where if you had "French and money" you could get in that
day "a dinner which, as a work of art, ranks with a picture by
Huntington, a poem by Willis, or a statue by Powers," he meets such a
musical critic as Richard Grant White, such an intellectual epicurean as
N. P. Willis, such a lyric poet as Charles Fenno Hoffman. But it would
be a warm day for Delmonico's when the observer in this epoch could
chance upon so much genius at its tables, perhaps because genius among us
has no longer the French or the money. Indeed, the author of 'New York
in Slices' seems finally to think that he has gone too far, even for his
own period, and brings himself up with the qualifying reservation that if
Willis and Hoffman never did dine together at Delmonico's, they ought to
have done so. He has apparently no misgivings as to the famous musical
critic, and he has no scruple in assembling for us at his "literary
soiree" a dozen distinguished-looking men and "twice as many women....
listening to a tall, deaconly man, who stands between two candles held by
a couple of sticks summoned from the recesses of the back parlor, reading
a basketful of gilt-edged notes. It is . . . the annual Valentine
Party, to which all the male and female authors have contributed for the
purpose of saying on paper charming things of each other, and at which,
for a few hours, all are gratified with the full meed of that praise
which a cold world is chary of bestowing upon its literary cobweb-

It must be owned that we have no longer anything so like a 'salon' as
this. It is, indeed, rather terrible, and it is of a quality in its
celebrities which may well carry dismay to any among us presently
intending immortality. Shall we, one day, we who are now in the rich
and full enjoyment of our far-reaching fame, affect the imagination of
posterity as these phantoms of the past affect ours? Shall we, too,
appear in some pale limbo of unimportance as thin and faded as "John
Inman, the getter-up of innumerable things for the annuals and
magazines," or as Dr. Rufus Griswold, supposed for picturesque purposes
to be "stalking about with an immense quarto volume under his arm . . .
an early copy of his forthcoming 'Female Poets of America'"; or as Lewis
Gaylord Clark, the "sunnyfaced, smiling" editor of the Knickerbocker
Magazine, "who don't look as if the Ink-Fiend had ever heard of him,"
as he stands up to dance a polka with "a demure lady who has evidently
spilled the inkstand over her dress"; or as "the stately Mrs. Seba Smith,
bending aristocratically over the centre-table, and talking in a bright,
cold, steady stream, like an antique fountain by moonlight"; or as "the
spiritual and dainty Fanny Osgood, clapping her hands and crowing like a
baby," where she sits "nestled under a shawl of heraldic devices, like a
bird escaped from its cage"; or as Margaret Fuller, "her large, gray eyes
Tamping inspiration, and her thin, quivering lip prophesying like a

I hope not; I earnestly hope not. Whatever I said at the outset,
affirming the persistent equality of New York characteristics and
circumstances, I wish to take back at this point; and I wish to warn
malign foreign observers, of the sort who have so often refused to see us
as we see ourselves, that they must not expect to find us now grouped in
the taste of 1849. Possibly it was not so much the taste of 1849 as the
author of 'New York in Slices' would have us believe; and perhaps any one
who trusted his pictures of life among us otherwise would be deceived by
a parity of the spirit in which they are portrayed with that of our
modern "society journalism."


There is, of course, almost a world's difference between England and the
Continent anywhere; but I do not recall just now any transition between
Continental countries which involves a more distinct change in the
superficial aspect of things than the passage from the Middle States into
New England. It is all American, but American of diverse ideals; and you
are hardly over the border before you are sensible of diverse effects,
which are the more apparent to you the more American you are. If you
want the contrast at its sharpest you had better leave New York on a
Sound boat; for then you sleep out of the Middle State civilization and
wake into the civilization of New England, which seems to give its stamp
to nature herself. As to man, he takes it whether native or alien; and
if he is foreign-born it marks him another Irishman, Italian, Canadian,
Jew, or negro from his brother in any other part of the United States.


When you have a theory of any kind, proofs of it are apt to seek you out,
and I, who am rather fond of my faith in New England's influence of this
sort, had as pretty an instance of it the day after my arrival as I could
wish. A colored brother of Massachusetts birth, as black as a man can
well be, and of a merely anthropoidal profile, was driving me along shore
in search of a sea-side hotel when we came upon a weak-minded young
chicken in the road. The natural expectation is that any chicken in
these circumstances will wait for your vehicle, and then fly up before it
with a loud screech; but this chicken may have been overcome by the heat
(it was a land breeze and it drew like the breath of a furnace over the
hay-cocks and the clover), or it may have mistimed the wheel, which
passed over its head and left it to flop a moment in the dust and then
fall still. The poor little tragedy was sufficiently distressful to me,
but I bore it well, compared with my driver. He could hardly stop
lamenting it; and when presently we met a young farmer, he pulled up.
"You goin' past Jim Marden's?" "Yes." "Well, I wish you'd tell him I
just run over a chicken of his, and I killed it, I guess. I guess it was
a pretty big one." "Oh no," I put in, "it was only a broiler. What do
you think it was worth?" I took out some money, and the farmer noted the
largest coin in my hand; "About half a dollar, I guess." On this I put
it all back in my pocket, and then he said, "Well, if a chicken don't
know enough to get out of the road, I guess you ain't to blame."
I expressed that this was my own view of the case, and we drove on. When
we parted I gave the half-dollar to my driver, and begged him not to let
the owner of the chicken come on me for damages; and though he chuckled
his pleasure in the joke, I could see that he was still unhappy, and I
have no doubt that he has that pullet on his conscience yet, unless he
has paid for it. He was of a race which elsewhere has so immemorially
plundered hen-roosts that chickens are as free to it as the air it
breathes, without any conceivable taint of private ownership. But the
spirit of New England had so deeply entered into him that the imbecile
broiler of another, slain by pure accident and by its own contributory
negligence, was saddening him, while I was off in my train without a pang
for the owner and with only an agreeable pathos for the pullet.


The instance is perhaps extreme; and, at any rate, it has carried me in a
psychological direction away from the simpler differences which I meant
to note in New England. They were evident as soon as our train began to
run from the steamboat landing into the country, and they have
intensified, if they have not multiplied, themselves as I have penetrated
deeper and deeper into the beautiful region. The land is poorer than the
land to the southward--one sees that at once; the soil is thin, and often
so thickly burdened with granite bowlders that it could never have borne
any other crop since the first Puritans, or Pilgrims, cut away the
primeval woods and betrayed its hopeless sterility to the light. But
wherever you come to a farm-house, whether standing alone or in one of
the village groups that New England farm-houses have always liked to
gather themselves into, it is of a neatness that brings despair, and of a
repair that ought to bring shame to the beholder from more easy-going
conditions. Everything is kept up with a strenuous virtue that imparts
an air of self-respect to the landscape, which the bleaching and
blackening stone walls, wandering over the hill-slopes, divide into wood
lots of white birch and pine, stony pastures, and little patches of
potatoes and corn. The mowing-lands alone are rich; and if the New
England year is in the glory of the latest June, the breath of the clover
blows honey--sweet into the car windows, and the fragrance of the new-cut
hay rises hot from the heavy swaths that seem to smoke in the sun.

We have struck a hot spell, one of those torrid mood of continental
weather which we have telegraphed us ahead to heighten our suffering by
anticipation. But the farmsteads and village houses are safe in the
shade of their sheltering trees amid the fluctuation of the grass that
grows so tall about them that the June roses have to strain upward to get
themselves free of it. Behind each dwelling is a billowy mass of
orchard, and before it the Gothic archway of the elms stretches above the
quiet street. There is no tree in the world so full of sentiment as the
American elm, and it is nowhere so graceful as in these New England
villages, which are themselves, I think, the prettiest and wholesomest of
mortal sojourns. By a happy instinct, their wooden houses are all
painted white, to a marble effect that suits our meridional sky, and the
contrast of their dark-green shutters is deliciously refreshing. There
was an evil hour, the terrible moment of the aesthetic revival now
happily past, when white walls and green blinds were thought in bad
taste, and the village houses were often tinged a dreary ground color, or
a doleful olive, or a gloomy red, but now they have returned to their
earlier love. Not the first love; that was a pale buff with white trim;
but I doubt if it were good for all kinds of village houses; the eye
rather demands the white. The pale buff does very well for large
colonial mansions, like Lowell's or Longfellow's in Cambridge; but when
you come, say, to see the great square houses built in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire; early in this century, and painted white, you find that white,
after all, is the thing for our climate, even in the towns.

In such a village as my colored brother drove me through on the way to
the beach it was of an absolute fitness; and I wish I could convey a due
sense of the exquisite keeping of the place. Each white house was more
or less closely belted in with a white fence, of panels or pickets; the
grassy door-yards glowed with flowers, and often a climbing rose
embowered the door-way with its bloom. Away backward or sidewise
stretched the woodshed from the dwelling to the barn, and shut the whole
under one cover; the turf grew to the wheel-tracks of the road-way, over
which the elms rose and drooped; and from one end of the village to the
other you could not, as the saying is, find a stone to throw at a dog.
I know Holland; I have seen the wives of Scheveningen scrubbing up for
Sunday to the very middle of their brick streets, but I doubt if Dutch
cleanliness goes so far without, or comes from so deep a scruple within,
as the cleanliness of New England. I felt so keenly the feminine quality
of its motive as I passed through that village, that I think if I had
dropped so much as a piece of paper in the street I must have knocked at
the first door and begged the lady of the house (who would have opened it
in person after wiping her hands from her work, taking off her apron, and
giving a glance at herself in the mirror and at me through the window
blind) to report me to the selectmen in the interest of good morals.


I did not know at once quite how to reconcile the present foulness of the
New England capital with the fairness of the New England country; and I
am still somewhat embarrassed to own that after New York (even under the
relaxing rule of Tammany) Boston seemed very dirty when we arrived there.
At best I was never more than a naturalized Bostonian; but it used to
give me great pleasure--so penetratingly does the place qualify even the
sojourning Westerner--to think of the defect of New York in the virtue
that is next to godliness; and now I had to hang my head for shame at the
mortifying contrast of the Boston streets to the well-swept asphalt which
I had left frying in the New York sun the afternoon before. Later,
however, when I began to meet the sort of Boston faces I remembered so
well--good, just, pure, but set and severe, with their look of challenge,
of interrogation, almost of reproof--they not only ignored the
disgraceful untidiness of the streets, but they convinced me of a state
of transition which would leave the place swept and garnished behind it;
and comforted me against the litter of the winding thoroughfares and
narrow lanes, where the dust had blown up against the brick walls, and
seemed permanently to have smutched and discolored them.

In New York you see the American face as Europe characterizes it; in
Boston you see it as it characterizes Europe; and it is in Boston that
you can best imagine the strenuous grapple of the native forces which all
alien things must yield to till they take the American cast. It is
almost dismaying, that physiognomy, before it familiarizes itself anew;
and in the brief first moment while it is yet objective, you ransack your
conscience for any sins you may have committed in your absence from it
and make ready to do penance for them. I felt almost as if I had brought
the dirty streets with me, and were guilty of having left them lying
about, so impossible were they with reference to the Boston face.

It is a face that expresses care, even to the point of anxiety, and it
looked into the window of our carriage with the serious eyes of our
elderly hackman to make perfectly sure of our destination before we drove
away from the station. It was a little rigorous with us, as requiring us
to have a clear mind; but it was not unfriendly, not unkind, and it was
patient from long experience. In New York there are no elderly hackmen;
but in Boston they abound, and I cannot believe they would be capable of
bad faith with travellers. In fact, I doubt if this class is anywhere as
predatory as it is painted; but in Boston it appears to have the public
honor in its keeping. I do not mean that it was less mature, less self-
respectful in Portsmouth, where we were next to arrive; more so it could
not be; an equal sense of safety, of ease, began with it in both places,
and all through New England it is of native birth, while in New York it
is composed of men of many nations, with a weight in numbers towards the
Celtic strain. The prevalence of the native in New England helps you
sensibly to realize from the first moment that here you are in America as
the first Americans imagined and meant it; and nowhere in New England is
the original tradition more purely kept than in the beautiful old seaport
of New Hampshire. In fact, without being quite prepared to defend a
thesis to this effect, I believe that Portsmouth is preeminently
American, and in this it differs from Newburyport and from Salem, which
have suffered from different causes an equal commercial decline, and,
though among the earliest of the great Puritan towns after Boston, are
now largely made up of aliens in race and religion; these are actually
the majority, I believe, in Newburyport.


The adversity of Portsmouth began early in the century, but before that
time she had prospered so greatly that her merchant princes were able to
build themselves wooden palaces with white walls and green shutters, of a
grandeur and beauty unmatched elsewhere in the country. I do not know
what architect had his way with them, though his name is richly worth
remembrance, but they let him make them habitations of such graceful
proportion and of such delicate ornament that they have become shrines of
pious pilgrimage with the young architects of our day who hope to house
our well-to-do people fitly in country or suburbs. The decoration is
oftenest spent on a porch or portal, or a frieze of peculiar refinement;
or perhaps it feels its way to the carven casements or to the delicate
iron-work of the transoms; the rest is a simplicity and a faultless
propriety of form in the stately mansions which stand under the arching
elms, with their gardens sloping, or dropping by easy terraces behind
them to the river, or to the borders of other pleasances. They are all
of wood, except for the granite foundations and doorsteps, but the stout
edifices rarely sway out of the true line given them, and they look as if
they might keep it yet another century.

Between them, in the sun-shotten shade, lie the quiet streets, whose
gravelled stretch is probably never cleaned because it never needs
cleaning. Even the business streets, and the quaint square which gives
the most American of towns an air so foreign and Old Worldly, look as if
the wind and rain alone cared for them; but they are not foul, and the
narrower avenues, where the smaller houses of gray, unpainted wood crowd
each other, flush upon the pavements, towards the water--side, are
doubtless unvisited by the hoe or broom, and must be kept clean by a New
England conscience against getting them untidy.

When you get to the river-side there is one stretch of narrow, high-
shouldered warehouses which recall Holland, especially in a few with
their gables broken in steps, after the Dutch fashion. These, with their
mouldering piers and grass-grown wharves, have their pathos, and the
whole place embodies in its architecture an interesting record of the
past, from the time when the homesick exiles huddled close to the water's
edge till the period of post-colonial prosperity, when proud merchants
and opulent captains set their vast square houses each in its handsome
space of gardened ground.

My adjectives might mislead as to size, but they could not as to beauty,
and I seek in vain for those that can duly impart the peculiar charm of
the town. Portsmouth still awaits her novelist; he will find a rich
field when he comes; and I hope he will come of the right sex, for it
needs some minute and subtle feminine skill, like that of Jane Austen, to
express a fit sense of its life in the past. Of its life in the present
I know nothing. I could only go by those delightful, silent houses, and
sigh my longing soul into their dim interiors. When now and then a young
shape in summer silk, or a group of young shapes in diaphanous muslin,
fluttered out of them, I was no wiser; and doubtless my elderly fancy
would have been unable to deal with what went on in them. Some girl of
those flitting through the warm, odorous twilight must become the
creative historian of the place; I can at least imagine a Jane Austen now
growing up in Portsmouth.


If Miss Jewett were of a little longer breath than she has yet shown
herself in fiction, I might say the Jane Austen of Portsmouth was already
with us, and had merely not yet begun to deal with its precious material.
One day when we crossed the Piscataqua from New Hampshire into Maine, and
took the trolley-line for a run along through the lovely coast country,
we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of her own people, who are a
little different sort of New-Englanders from those of Miss Wilkins. They
began to flock into the car, young maidens and old, mothers and
grandmothers, and nice boys and girls, with a very, very few farmer youth
of marriageable age, and more rustic and seafaring elders long past it,
all in the Sunday best which they had worn to the graduation exercises at
the High School, where we took them mostly up. The womenkind were in a
nervous twitter of talk and laughter, and the men tolerantly gay beyond
their wont, "passing the time of day" with one another, and helping the
more tumultuous sex to get settled in the overcrowded open car. They
courteously made room for one another, and let the children stand between
their knees, or took them in their laps, with that unfailing American
kindness which I am prouder of than the American valor in battle,
observing in all that American decorum which is no bad thing either. We
had chanced upon the high and mighty occasion of the neighborhood year,
when people might well have been a little off their balance, but there
was not a boisterous note in the subdued affair. As we passed the
school-house door, three dear, pretty maids in white gowns and white
slippers stood on the steps and gently smiled upon our company. One
could see that they were inwardly glowing and thrilling with the
excitement of their graduation, but were controlling their emotions to a
calm worthy of the august event, so that no one might ever have it to say
that they had appeared silly.

The car swept on, and stopped to set down passengers at their doors or
gates, where they severally left it, with an easy air as of private
ownership, into some sense of which the trolley promptly flatters people
along its obliging lines. One comfortable matron, in a cinnamon silk,
was just such a figure as that in the Miss Wilkins's story where the
bridegroom fails to come on the wedding-day; but, as I say, they made me
think more of Miss Jewett's people. The shore folk and the Down-Easters
are specifically hers; and these were just such as might have belonged in
'The Country of the Pointed Firs', or 'Sister Wisby's Courtship', or
'Dulham Ladies', or 'An Autumn Ramble', or twenty other entrancing tales.
Sometimes one of them would try her front door, and then, with a bridling
toss of the head, express that she had forgotten locking it, and slip
round to the kitchen; but most of the ladies made their way back at once
between the roses and syringas of their grassy door-yards, which were as
neat and prim as their own persons, or the best chamber in their white-
walled, green-shuttered, story-and-a-half house, and as perfectly kept as
the very kitchen itself.

The trolley-line had been opened only since the last September, but in an
effect of familiar use it was as if it had always been there, and it
climbed and crooked and clambered about with the easy freedom of the
country road which it followed. It is a land of low hills, broken by
frequent reaches of the sea, and it is most amusing, most amazing, to see
how frankly the trolley-car takes and overcomes its difficulties. It
scrambles up and down the little steeps like a cat, and whisks round a
sharp and sudden curve with a feline screech, broadening into a loud
caterwaul as it darts over the estuaries on its trestles. Its course
does not lack excitement, and I suppose it does not lack danger; but as
yet there have been no accidents, and it is not so disfiguring as one
would think. The landscape has already accepted it, and is making the
best of it; and to the country people it is an inestimable convenience.
It passes everybody's front door or back door, and the farmers can get
themselves or their produce (for it runs an express car) into Portsmouth
in an hour, twice an hour, all day long. In summer the cars are open,
with transverse seats, and stout curtains that quite shut out a squall of
wind or rain. In winter the cars are closed, and heated by electricity.
The young motorman whom I spoke with, while we waited on a siding to let
a car from the opposite direction get by, told me that he was caught out
in a blizzard last Winter, and passed the night in a snowdrift. "But the
cah was so wa'm, I neva suff'ed a mite."

"Well," I summarized, "it must be a great advantage to all the people
along the line."

"Well, you wouldn't 'a' thought so, from the kick they made."

"I suppose the cottagers"--the summer colony--"didn't like the noise."

"Oh yes; that's what I mean. The's whe' the kick was. The natives like
it. I guess the summa folks 'll like it, too."

He looked round at me with enjoyment of his joke in his eye, for we both
understood that the summer folks could not help themselves, and must bow
to the will of the majority.


The other day, a friend of mine, who professes all the intimacy of a bad
conscience with many of my thoughts and convictions, came in with a bulky
book under his arm, and said, "I see by a guilty look in your eye that
you are meaning to write about spring."

"I am not," I retorted, "and if I were, it would be because none of the
new things have been said yet about spring, and because spring is never
an old story, any more than youth or love."

"I have heard something like that before," said my friend, "and I
understand. The simple truth of the matter is that this is the fag-end
of the season, and you have run low in your subjects. Now take my advice
and don't write about spring; it will make everybody hate you, and will
do no good. Write about advertising." He tapped the book under his arm
significantly. "Here is a theme for you."


He had no sooner pronounced these words than I began to feel a weird and
potent fascination in his suggestion. I took the book from him and
looked it eagerly through. It was called Good Advertising, and it was
written by one of the experts in the business who have advanced it almost
to the grade of an art, or a humanity.

"But I see nothing here," I said, musingly, "which would enable a self-
respecting author to come to the help of his publisher in giving due hold
upon the public interest those charming characteristics of his book which
no one else can feel so penetratingly or celebrate so persuasively."

"I expected some such objection from you," said my friend. "You will
admit that there is everything else here?"

"Everything but that most essential thing. You know how we all feel
about it: the bitter disappointment, the heart-sickening sense of
insufficiency that the advertised praises of our books give us poor
authors. The effect is far worse than that of the reviews, for the
reviewer is not your ally and copartner, while your publisher--"

"I see what you mean," said my friend. "But you must have patience.
If the author of this book can write so luminously of advertising in
other respects, I am sure he will yet be able to cast a satisfactory
light upon your problem. The question is, I believe, how to translate
into irresistible terms all that fond and exultant regard which a writer
feels for his book, all his pervasive appreciation of its singular
beauty, unique value, and utter charm, and transfer it to print, without
infringing upon the delicate and shrinking modesty which is the
distinguishing ornament of the literary spirit?"

"Something like that. But you understand."

"Perhaps a Roentgen ray might be got to do it," said my friend,
thoughtfully, "or perhaps this author may bring his mind to bear upon it
yet. He seems to have considered every kind of advertising except book-

"The most important of all!" I cried, impatiently.

"You think so because you are in that line. If you were in the line of
varnish, or bicycles, or soap, or typewriters, or extract of beef, or of

"Still I should be interested in book--advertising, because it is the
most vital of human interests."

"Tell me," said my friend, "do you read the advertisements of the books
of rival authors?"

"Brother authors," I corrected him.

"Well, brother authors."

I said, No, candidly, I did not; and I forbore to add that I thought them
little better than a waste of the publishers' money.


My friend did not pursue his inquiry to my personal disadvantage, but
seemed to prefer a more general philosophy of the matter.

"I have often wondered," he said, "at the enormous expansion of
advertising, and doubted whether it was not mostly wasted. But my
author, here, has suggested a brilliant fact which I was unwittingly
groping for. When you take up a Sunday paper"--I shuddered, and my
friend smiled intelligence--" you are simply appalled at the miles of
announcements of all sorts. Who can possibly read them? Who cares even
to look at them? But if you want something in particular--to furnish a
house, or buy a suburban place, or take a steamer for Europe, or go, to
the theatre--then you find out at once who reads the advertisements, and
cares to look at them. They respond to the multifarious wants of the
whole community. You have before you the living operation of that law of
demand and supply which it has always been such a bore to hear about.
As often happens, the supply seems to come before the demand; but that's
only an appearance. You wanted something, and you found an offer to meet
your want."

"Then you don't believe that the offer to meet your want suggested it?"

"I see that my author believes something of the kind. We may be full of
all sorts of unconscious wants which merely need the vivifying influence
of an advertisement to make them spring into active being; but I have a
feeling that the money paid for advertising which appeals to potential
wants is largely thrown away. You must want a thing, or think you want
it; otherwise you resent the proffer of it as a kind of impertinence."

"There are some kinds of advertisements, all the same, that I read
without the slightest interest in the subject matter. Simply the beauty
of the style attracts me."

"I know. But does it ever move you to get what you don't want?"

"Never; and I should be glad to know what your author thinks of that sort
of advertising: the literary, or dramatic, or humorous, or quaint."

"He doesn't contemn it, quite. But I think he feels that it may have had
its day. Do you still read such advertisements with your early zest?"

"No; the zest for nearly everything goes. I don't care so much for
Tourguenief as I used. Still, if I come upon the jaunty and laconic
suggestions of a certain well-known clothing-house, concerning the
season's wear, I read them with a measure of satisfaction. The
advertising expert--"

"This author calls him the adsmith."

"Delightful! Ad is a loathly little word, but we must come to it. It's
as legitimate as lunch. But as I was saying, the adsmith seems to have
caught the American business tone, as perfectly as any of our novelists
have caught the American social tone."

"Yes," said my friend, "and he seems to have prospered as richly by it.
You know some of those chaps make fifteen or twenty thousand dollars by
adsmithing. They have put their art quite on a level with fiction

"Perhaps it is a branch of fiction."

"No; they claim that it is pure fact. My author discourages the
slightest admixture of fable. The truth, clearly and simply expressed,
is the best in an ad.

"It is best in a wof, too. I am always saying that."


"Well, work of fiction. It's another new word, like lunch or ad."

"But in a wof," said my friend, instantly adopting it, "my author
insinuates that the fashion of payment tempts you to verbosity, while in
an ad the conditions oblige you to the greatest possible succinctness.
In one case you are paid by the word; in the other you pay by the word.
That is where the adsmith stands upon higher moral ground than the

"I should think your author might have written a recent article in
'The ---------, reproaching fiction with its unhallowed gains."

"If you mean that for a sneer, it is misplaced. He would have been
incapable of it. My author is no more the friend of honesty in
adsmithing than he is of propriety, He deprecates jocosity in
apothecaries and undertakers, not only as bad taste, but as bad business;
and he is as severe as any one could be upon ads that seize the attention
by disgusting or shocking the reader.

"He is to be praised for that, and for the other thing; and I shouldn't
have minded his criticising the ready wofsmith. I hope he attacks the
use of display type, which makes our newspapers look like the poster-
plastered fences around vacant lots. In New York there is only one paper
whose advertisements are not typographically a shock to the nerves."

"Well," said my friend, "he attacks foolish and ineffective display."

"It is all foolish and ineffective. It is like a crowd of people trying
to make themselves heard by shouting each at the top of his voice.
A paper full of display advertisements is an image of our whole congested
and delirious state of competition; but even in competitive conditions it
is unnecessary, and it is futile. Compare any New York paper but one
with the London papers, and you will see what I mean. Of course I refer
to the ad pages; the rest of our exception is as offensive with pictures
and scare heads as all the rest. I wish your author could revise his
opinions and condemn all display in ads."

"I dare say he will when he knows what you think," said my friend, with
imaginable sarcasm.


"I wish," I went on, "that he would give us some philosophy of the
prodigious increase of advertising within the last twenty-five years, and
some conjecture as to the end of it all. Evidently, it can't keep on
increasing at the present rate. If it does, there will presently be no
room in the world for things; it will be filled up with the
advertisements of things."

"Before that time, perhaps," my friend suggested, "adsmithing will have
become so fine and potent an art that advertising will be reduced in
bulk, while keeping all its energy and even increasing its

"Perhaps," I said, "some silent electrical process will be contrived, so
that the attractions of a new line of dress-goods or the fascination of a
spring or fall opening may be imparted to a lady's consciousness without
even the agency of words. All other facts of commercial and industrial
interest could be dealt with in the same way. A fine thrill could be
made to go from the last new book through the whole community, so that
people would not willingly rest till they had it. Yes, one can see an
indefinite future for advertising in that way. The adsmith may be the
supreme artist of the twentieth century. He may assemble in his grasp,
and employ at will, all the arts and sciences."

"Yes," said my friend, with a sort of fall in his voice, "that is very
well. But what is to become of the race when it is penetrated at every
pore with a sense of the world's demand and supply?"

"Oh, that is another affair. I was merely imagining the possible
resources of invention in providing for the increase of advertising while
guarding the integrity of the planet. I think, very likely, if the thing
keeps on, we shall all go mad; but then we shall none of us be able to
criticise the others. Or possibly the thing may work its own cure. You
know the ingenuity of the political economists in justifying the egotism
to which conditions appeal. They do not deny that these foster greed and
rapacity in merciless degree, but they contend that when the wealth-
winner drops off gorged there is a kind of miracle wrought, and good
comes of it all. I never could see how; but if it is true, why shouldn't
a sort of ultimate immunity come back to us from the very excess and
invasion of the appeals now made to us, and destined to be made to us
still more by the adsmith? Come, isn't there hope in that?"

"I see a great opportunity for the wofsmith in some such dream," said my
friend. "Why don't you turn it to account?"

"You know that isn't my line; I must leave that sort of wofsmithing to
the romantic novelist. Besides, I have my well-known panacea for all the
ills our state is heir to, in a civilization which shall legislate
foolish and vicious and ugly and adulterate things out of the possibility
of existence. Most of the adsmithing is now employed in persuading
people that such things are useful, beautiful, and pure. But in any
civilization they shall not even be suffered to be made, much less
foisted upon the community by adsmiths."

"I see what you mean," said my friend; and he sighed gently. "I had much
better let you write about spring."


A late incident in the history of a very widespread English novelist,
triumphantly closed by the statement of his friend that the novelist had
casually failed to accredit a given passage in his novel to the real
author, has brought freshly to my mind a curious question in ethics.
The friend who vindicated the novelist, or, rather, who contemptuously
dismissed the matter, not only confessed the fact of adoption, but
declared that it was one of many which could be found in the novelist's
works. The novelist, he said, was quite in the habit of so using
material in the rough, which he implied was like using any fact or idea
from life, and he declared that the novelist could not bother to answer
critics who regarded these exploitations as a sort of depredation. In a
manner he brushed the impertinent accusers aside, assuring the general
public that the novelist always meant, at his leisure, and in his own
way, duly to ticket the flies preserved in his amber.


When I read this haughty vindication, I thought at first that if the case
were mine I would rather have several deadly enemies than such a friend
as that; but since, I have not been so sure. I have asked myself upon a
careful review of the matter whether plagiarism may not be frankly
avowed, as in nowise dishonest, and I wish some abler casuist would take
the affair into consideration and make it clear for me. If we are to
suppose that offences against society disgrace the offender, and that
public dishonor argues the fact of some such offence, then apparently
plagiarism is not such an offence; for in even very flagrant cases it
does not disgrace. The dictionary, indeed, defines it as "the crime of
literary theft"; but as no penalty attaches to it, and no lasting shame,
it is hard to believe it either a crime or a theft; and the offence, if
it is an offence (one has to call it something, and I hope the word is
not harsh), is some such harmless infraction of the moral law as white-

The much-perverted saying of Moliere, that he took his own where he found
it, is perhaps in the consciousness of those who appropriate the things
other people have rushed in with before them. But really they seem to
need neither excuse nor defence with the impartial public if they are
caught in the act of reclaiming their property or despoiling the rash
intruder upon their premises. The novelist in question is by no means
the only recent example, and is by no means a flagrant example. While
the ratification of the treaty with Spain was pending before the Senate
of the United States, a member of that body opposed it in a speech almost
word for word the same as a sermon delivered in New York City only a few
days earlier and published broadcast. He was promptly exposed by the
parallel-column system; but I have never heard that his standing was
affected or his usefulness impaired by the offence proven against him. A
few years ago an eminent divine in one of our cities preached as his own
the sermon of a brother divine, no longer living; he, too, was detected
and promptly exposed by the parallel-column system, but nothing whatever
happened from the exposure. Every one must recall like instances, more
or less remote. I remember one within my youthfuller knowledge of a
journalist who used as his own all the denunciatory passages of
Macaulay's article on Barrere, and applied them with changes of name to
the character and conduct of a local politician whom he felt it his duty
to devote to infamy. He was caught in the fact, and by means of the
parallel column pilloried before the community. But the community did
not mind it a bit, and the journalist did not either. He prospered on
amid those who all knew what he had done, and when he removed to another
city it was to a larger one, and to a position of more commanding
influence, from which he was long conspicuous in helping shape the
destinies of the nation.

So far as any effect from these exposures was concerned, they were as
harmless as those exposures of fraudulent spiritistic mediums which from
time to time are supposed to shake the spiritistic superstition to its
foundations. They really do nothing of the kind; the table-tippings,
rappings, materializations, and levitations keep on as before; and I do
not believe that the exposure of the novelist who has been the latest
victim of the parallel column will injure him a jot in the hearts or
heads of his readers.


I am very glad of it, being a disbeliever in punishments of all sorts.
I am always glad to have sinners get off, for I like to get off from my
own sins; and I have a bad moment from my sense of them whenever
another's have found him out. But as yet I have not convinced myself
that the sort of thing we have been considering is a sin at all, for it
seems to deprave no more than it dishonors; or that it is what the
dictionary (with very unnecessary brutality) calls a "crime" and a
"theft." If it is either, it is differently conditioned, if not
differently natured, from all other crimes and thefts. These may be more
or less artfully and hopefully concealed, but plagiarism carries
inevitable detection with it. If you take a man's hat or coat out of his
hall, you may pawn it before the police overtake you; if you take his
horse out of his stable, you may ride it away beyond pursuit and sell it;
if you take his purse out of his pocket, you may pass it to a pal in the
crowd, and easily prove your innocence. But if you take his sermon, or
his essay, or even his apposite reflection, you cannot escape discovery.
The world is full of idle people reading books, and they are only too
glad to act as detectives; they please their miserable vanity by showing
their alertness, and are proud to hear witness against you in the court
of parallel columns. You have no safety in the obscurity of the author
from whom you take your own; there is always that most terrible reader,
the reader of one book, who knows that very author, and will the more
indecently hasten to bring you to the bar because he knows no other, and
wishes to display his erudition. A man may escape for centuries and yet
be found out. In the notorious case of William Shakespeare the offender
seemed finally secure of his prey; and yet one poor lady, who ended in a
lunatic asylum, was able to detect him at last, and to restore the goods
to their rightful owner, Sir Francis Bacon.

In spite, however, of this almost absolute certainty of exposure,
plagiarism goes on as it has always gone on; and there is no probability
that it will cease as long as there are novelists, senators, divines, and
journalists hard pressed for ideas which they happen not to have in mind
at the time, and which they see going to waste elsewhere. Now and then
it takes a more violent form and becomes a real mania, as when the
plagiarist openly claims and urges his right to a well-known piece of
literary property. When Mr. William Allen Butler's famous poem of
"Nothing to Wear" achieved its extraordinary popularity, a young girl
declared and apparently quite believed that she had written it and lost
the MS. in an omnibus. All her friends apparently believed so, too; and
the friends of the different gentlemen and ladies who claimed the
authorship of "Beautiful Snow" and "Rock Me to Sleep" were ready to
support them by affidavit against the real authors of those pretty
worthless pieces.

From all these facts it must appear to the philosophic reader that
plagiarism is not the simple "crime" or "theft" that the lexicographers
would have us believe. It argues a strange and peculiar courage on the
part of those who commit it or indulge it, since they are sure of having
it brought home to them, for they seem to dread the exposure, though it
involves no punishment outside of themselves. Why do they do it, or,
having done it, why do they mind it, since the public does not? Their
temerity and their timidity are things almost irreconcilable, and the
whole position leaves one quite puzzled as to what one would do if one's
own plagiarisms were found out. But this is a mere question of conduct,
and of infinitely less interest than that of the nature or essence of the
thing itself.


The question whether the fiction which gives a vivid impression of
reality does truly represent the conditions studied in it, is one of
those inquiries to which there is no very final answer. The most
baffling fact of such fiction is that its truths are self-evident;
and if you go about to prove them you are in some danger of shaking the
convictions of those whom they have persuaded. It will not do to affirm
anything wholesale concerning them; a hundred examples to the contrary
present themselves if you know the ground, and you are left in doubt of
the verity which you cannot gainsay. The most that you can do is to
appeal to your own consciousness, and that is not proof to anybody else.
Perhaps the best test in this difficult matter is the quality of the art
which created the picture. Is it clear, simple, unaffected? Is it true
to human experience generally? If it is so, then it cannot well be false
to the special human experience it deals with.


Not long ago I heard of something which amusingly, which pathetically,
illustrated the sense of reality imparted by the work of one of our
writers, whose art is of the kind I mean. A lady was driving with a
young girl of the lighter-minded civilization of New York through one of
those little towns of the North Shore in Massachusetts, where the small;
wooden houses cling to the edges of the shallow bay, and the schooners
slip, in and out on the hidden channels of the salt meadows as if they
were blown about through the tall grass. She tried to make her feel the
shy charm of the place, that almost subjective beauty, which those to the
manner born are so keenly aware of in old-fashioned New England villages;
but she found that the girl was not only not looking at the sad-colored
cottages, with their weather-worn shingle walls, their grassy door-yards
lit by patches of summer bloom, and their shutterless windows with their
close-drawn shades, but she was resolutely averting her eyes from them,
and staring straightforward until she should be out of sight of them
altogether. She said that they were terrible, and she knew that in each
of them was one of those dreary old women, or disappointed girls, or
unhappy wives, or bereaved mothers, she had read of in Miss Wilkins's

She had been too little sensible of the humor which forms the relief of
these stories, as it forms the relief of the bare, duteous,
conscientious, deeply individualized lives portrayed in them; and no
doubt this cannot make its full appeal to the heart of youth aching for
their stoical sorrows. Without being so very young, I, too, have found
the humor hardly enough at times, and if one has not the habit of
experiencing support in tragedy itself, one gets through a remote New
England village, at nightfall, say, rather limp than otherwise, and in
quite the mood that Miss Wilkins's bleaker studies leave one in. At mid-
day, or in the bright sunshine of the morning, it is quite possible to
fling off the melancholy which breathes the same note in the fact and the
fiction; and I have even had some pleasure at such times in identifying
this or, that one-story cottage with its lean-to as a Mary Wilkins house
and in placing one of her muted dramas in it. One cannot know the people
of such places without recognizing her types in them, and one cannot know
New England without owning the fidelity of her stories to New England
character, though, as I have already suggested, quite another sort of
stories could be written which should as faithfully represent other
phases of New England village life.

To the alien inquirer, however, I should be by no means confident that
their truth would evince itself, for the reason that human nature is
seldom on show anywhere. I am perfectly certain of the truth of Tolstoy
and Tourguenief to Russian life, yet I should not be surprised if I went
through Russia and met none of their people. I should be rather more
surprised if I went through Italy and met none of Verga's or Fogazzaro's,
but that would be because I already knew Italy a little. In fact, I
suspect that the last delight of truth in any art comes only to the
connoisseur who is as well acquainted with the subject as the artist
himself. One must not be too severe in challenging the truth of an
author to life; and one must bring a great deal of sympathy and a great
deal of patience to the scrutiny. Types are very backward and shrinking
things, after all; character is of such a mimosan sensibility that if you
seize it too abruptly its leaves are apt to shut and hide all that is
distinctive in it; so that it is not without some risk to an author's
reputation for honesty that he gives his readers the impression of his


The difficulty with characters in fiction is that the reader there finds
them dramatized; not only their actions, but also their emotions are
dramatized; and the very same sort of persons when one meets them in real
life are recreantly undramatic. One might go through a New England
village and see Mary Wilkins houses and Mary Wilkins people, and yet not
witness a scene nor hear a word such as one finds in her tales. It is
only too probable that the inhabitants one met would say nothing quaint
or humorous, or betray at all the nature that she reveals in them; and
yet I should not question her revelation on that account. The life of
New England, such as Miss Wilkins deals with, and Miss Sarah O. Jewett,
and Miss Alice Brown, is not on the surface, or not visibly so, except to
the accustomed eye. It is Puritanism scarcely animated at all by the
Puritanic theology. One must not be very positive in such things, and I
may be too bold in venturing to say that while the belief of some New
Englanders approaches this theology the belief of most is now far from
it; and yet its penetrating individualism so deeply influenced the New
England character that Puritanism survives in the moral and mental make
of the people almost in its early strength. Conduct and manner conform
to a dead religious ideal; the wish to be sincere, the wish to be just,
the wish to be righteous are before the wish to be kind, merciful,
humble. A people are not a chosen people for half a dozen generations
without acquiring a spiritual pride that remains with them long after
they cease to believe themselves chosen. They are often stiffened in the
neck and they are often hardened in the heart by it, to the point of
making them angular and cold; but they are of an inveterate
responsibility to a power higher than themselves, and they are
strengthened for any fate. They are what we see in the stories which,
perhaps, hold the first place in American fiction.

As a matter of fact, the religion of New England is not now so
Puritanical as that of many parts of the South and West, and yet the
inherited Puritanism stamps the New England manner, and differences it
from the manner of the straightest sects elsewhere. There was, however,
always a revolt against Puritanism when Puritanism was severest and
securest; this resulted in types of shiftlessness if not wickedness,
which have not yet been duly studied, and which would make the fortune of
some novelist who cared to do a fresh thing. There is also a
sentimentality, or pseudo-emotionality (I have not the right phrase for
it), which awaits full recognition in fiction. This efflorescence from
the dust of systems and creeds, carried into natures left vacant by the
ancestral doctrine, has scarcely been noticed by the painters of New
England manners. It is often a last state of Unitarianism, which
prevailed in the larger towns and cities when the Calvinistic theology
ceased to be dominant, and it is often an effect of the spiritualism so
common in New England, and, in fact, everywhere in America. Then, there
is a wide-spread love of literature in the country towns and villages
which has in great measure replaced the old interest in dogma, and which
forms with us an author's closest appreciation, if not his best. But as
yet little hint of all this has got into the short stories, and still
less of that larger intellectual life of New England, or that exalted
beauty of character which tempts one to say that Puritanism was a
blessing if it made the New-Englanders what they are; though one can
always be glad not to have lived among them in the disciplinary period.
Boston, the capital of that New England nation which is fast losing
itself in the American nation, is no longer of its old literary primacy,
and yet most of our right thinking, our high thinking, still begins
there, and qualifies the thinking of the country at large. The good
causes, the generous causes, are first befriended there, and in a
wholesome sort the New England culture, as well as the New England
conscience, has imparted itself to the American people.

Even the power of writing short stories, which we suppose ourselves to
have in such excellent degree, has spread from New England. That is,
indeed, the home of the American short story, and it has there been
brought to such perfection in the work of Miss Wilkins, of Miss Jewett,
of Miss Brown, and of that most faithful, forgotten painter of manners,
Mrs. Rose Terry Cook, that it presents upon the whole a truthful picture
of New England village life in some of its more obvious phases. I say
obvious because I must, but I have already said that this is a life which
is very little obvious; and I should not blame any one who brought the
portrait to the test of reality, and found it exaggerated, overdrawn, and
unnatural, though I should be perfectly sure that such a critic was


One of the things always enforcing itself upon the consciousness of the
artist in any sort is the fact that those whom artists work for rarely
care for their work artistically. They care for it morally, personally,
partially. I suspect that criticism itself has rather a muddled
preference for the what over the how, and that it is always haunted by a
philistine question of the material when it should, aesthetically
speaking, be concerned solely with the form.


The other night at the theatre I was witness of a curious and amusing
illustration of my point. They were playing a most soul-filling
melodrama, of the sort which gives you assurance from the very first that
there will be no trouble in the end, but everything will come out just as
it should, no matter what obstacles oppose themselves in the course of
the action. An over-ruling Providence, long accustomed to the exigencies
of the stage, could not fail to intervene at the critical moment in
behalf of innocence and virtue, and the spectator never had the least
occasion for anxiety. Not unnaturally there was a black-hearted villain
in the piece; so very black-hearted that he seemed not to have a single
good impulse from first to last. Yet he was, in the keeping of the stage
Providence, as harmless as a blank cartridge, in spite of his deadly
aims. He accomplished no more mischief, in fact, than if all his intents
had been of the best; except for the satisfaction afforded by the
edifying spectacle of his defeat and shame, he need not have been in the
play at all; and one might almost have felt sorry for him, he was so
continually baffled. But this was not enough for the audience, or for
that part of it which filled the gallery to the roof. Perhaps he was
such an uncommonly black-hearted villain, so very, very cold-blooded in
his wickedness that the justice unsparingly dealt out to him by the
dramatist could not suffice. At any rate, the gallery took such a vivid
interest in his punishment that it had out the actor who impersonated the
wretch between all the acts, and hissed him throughout his deliberate
passage across the stage before the curtain. The hisses were not at all
for the actor, but altogether for the character. The performance was
fairly good, quite as good as the performance of any virtuous part in the
piece, and easily up to the level of other villanous performances (I
never find much nature in them, perhaps because there is not much nature
in villany itself; that is, villany pure and simple); but the mere
conception of the wickedness this bad man had attempted was too much for
an audience of the average popular goodness. It was only after he had
taken poison, and fallen dead before their eyes, that the spectators
forbore to visit him with a lively proof of their abhorrence; apparently
they did not care to "give him a realizing sense that there was a
punishment after death," as the man in Lincoln's story did with the dead


The whole affair was very amusing at first, but it has since put me upon
thinking (I like to be put upon thinking; the eighteenth-century
essayists were) that the attitude of the audience towards this deplorable
reprobate is really the attitude of most readers of books, lookers at
pictures and statues, listeners to music, and so on through the whole
list of the arts. It is absolutely different from the artist's attitude,
from the connoisseur's attitude; it is quite irreconcilable with their
attitude, and yet I wonder if in the end it is not what the artist works
for. Art is not produced for artists, or even for connoisseurs; it is
produced for the general, who can never view it otherwise than morally,
personally, partially, from their associations and preconceptions.

Whether the effect with the general is what the artist works for or not,
he, does not succeed without it. Their brute liking or misliking is the
final test; it is universal suffrage that elects, after all. Only, in
some cases of this sort the polls do not close at four o'clock on the
first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, but remain open
forever, and the voting goes on. Still, even the first day's canvass is
important, or at least significant. It will not do for the artist to
electioneer, but if he is beaten, he ought to ponder the causes of his
defeat, and question how he has failed to touch the chord of universal
interest. He is in the world to make beauty and truth evident to his
fellowmen, who are as a rule incredibly stupid and ignorant of both, but
whose judgment he must nevertheless not despise. If he can make
something that they will cheer, or something that they will hiss, he may
not have done any great thing, but if he has made something that they
will neither cheer nor hiss, he may well have his misgivings, no matter
how well, how finely, how truly he has done the thing.

This is very humiliating, but a tacit snub to one's artist-pride such as
one gets from public silence is not a bad thing for one. Not long ago I
was talking about pictures with a painter, a very great painter, to my
thinking; one whose pieces give me the same feeling I have from reading
poetry; and I was excusing myself to him with respect to art, and perhaps
putting on a little more modesty than I felt. I said that I could enjoy
pictures only on the literary side, and could get no answer from my soul
to those excellences of handling and execution which seem chiefly to
interest painters. He replied that it was a confession of weakness in a
painter if he appealed merely or mainly to technical knowledge in the
spectator; that he narrowed his field and dwarfed his work by it; and
that if he painted for painters merely, or for the connoisseurs of
painting, he was denying his office, which was to say something clear and
appreciable to all sorts of men in the terms of art. He even insisted
that a picture ought to tell a story.

The difficulty in humbling one's self to this view of art is in the ease
with which one may please the general by art which is no art. Neither
the play nor the playing that I saw at the theatre when the actor was
hissed for the wickedness of the villain he was personating, was at all
fine; and yet I perceived, on reflection, that they had achieved a
supreme effect. If I may be so confidential, I will say that I should be
very sorry to have written that piece; yet I should be very proud if, on
the level I chose and with the quality I cared for, I could invent a
villain that the populace would have out and hiss for his surpassing
wickedness. In other words, I think it a thousand pities whenever an
artist gets so far away from the general, so far within himself or a
little circle of amateurs, that his highest and best work awakens no
response in the multitude. I am afraid this is rather the danger of the
arts among us, and how to escape it is not so very plain. It makes one
sick and sorry often to see how cheaply the applause of the common people
is won. It is not an infallible test of merit, but if it is wanting to
any performance, we may be pretty sure it is not the greatest


The paradox lies in wait here, as in most other human affairs, to
confound us, and we try to baffle it, in this way and in that. We talk,
for instance, of poetry for poets, and we fondly imagine that this is
different from talking of cookery for cooks. Poetry is not made for
poets; they have enough poetry of their own, but it is made for people
who are not poets. If it does not please these, it may still be poetry,
but it is poetry which has failed of its truest office. It is none the
less its truest office because some very wretched verse seems often to do

The logic of such a fact is not that the poet should try to achieve this
truest office of his art by means of doggerel, but that he should study
how and where and why the beauty and the truth he has made manifest are
wanting in universal interest, in human appeal. Leaving the drama out of
the question, and the theatre which seems now to be seeking only the
favor of the dull rich, I believe that there never was a time or a race
more open to the impressions of beauty and of truth than ours. The
artist who feels their divine charm, and longs to impart it, has now and
here a chance to impart it more widely than ever artist had in the world
before. Of course, the means of reaching the widest range of humanity
are the simple and the elementary, but there is no telling when the
complex and the recondite may not universally please. 288

The art is to make them plain to every one, for every one has them in
him. Lowell used to say that Shakespeare was subtle, but in letters a
foot high.

The painter, sculptor, or author who pleases the polite only has a
success to be proud of as far as it goes, and to be ashamed of that it
goes no further. He need not shrink from giving pleasure to the vulgar
because bad art pleases them. It is part of his reason for being that he
should please them, too; and if he does not it is a proof that he is
wanting in force, however much he abounds in fineness. Who would not
wish his picture to draw a crowd about it? Who would not wish his novel
to sell five hundred thousand copies, for reasons besides the sordid love
of gain which I am told governs novelists? One should not really wish it
any the less because chromos and historical romances are popular.

Sometime, I believe, the artist and his public will draw nearer together
in a mutual understanding, though perhaps not in our present conditions.
I put that understanding off till the good time when life shall be more
than living, more even than the question of getting a living; but in the
mean time I think that the artist might very well study the springs of
feeling in others; and if I were a dramatist I think I should quite
humbly go to that play where they hiss the villain for his villany, and
inquire how his wickedness had been made so appreciable, so vital, so
personal. Not being a dramatist, I still cannot indulge the greatest
contempt of that play and its public.


No thornier theme could well be suggested than I was once invited to
consider by an Englishman who wished to know how far American politicians
were scholars, and how far American authors took part in politics. In my
mind I first revolted from the inquiry, and then I cast about, in the
fascination it began to have for me, to see how I might handle it and
prick myself least. In a sort, which it would take too long to set
forth, politics are very intimate matters with us, and if one were to
deal quite frankly with the politics of a contemporary author, one might
accuse one's self of an unwarrantable personality. So, in what I shall
have to say in answer to the question asked me, I shall seek above all
things not to be quite frank.


My uncandor need not be so jealously guarded in speaking of authors no
longer living. Not to go too far back among these, it is perfectly safe
to say that when the slavery question began to divide all kinds of men
among us, Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Curtis, Emerson, and Bryant more
or less promptly and openly took sides against slavery. Holmes was very
much later in doing so, but he made up for his long delay by his final
strenuousness; as for Hawthorne, he was, perhaps, too essentially a
spectator of life to be classed with either party, though his
associations, if not his sympathies, were with the Northern men who had
Southern principles until the civil war came. After the war, when our
political questions ceased to be moral and emotional and became economic
and sociological, literary men found their standing with greater
difficulty. They remained mostly Republicans, because the Republicans
were the anti-slavery party, and were still waging war against slavery in
their nerves.

I should say that they also continued very largely the emotional
tradition in politics, and it is doubtful if in the nature of things the
politics of literary men can ever be otherwise than emotional. In fact,
though the questions may no longer be so, the politics of vastly the
greater number of Americans are so. Nothing else would account for the
fact that during the last ten or fifteen years men have remained
Republicans and remained Democrats upon no tangible issues except of
office, which could practically concern only a few hundreds or thousands
out of every million voters. Party fealty is praised as a virtue, and
disloyalty to party is treated as a species of incivism next in
wickedness to treason. If any one were to ask me why then American
authors were not active in American politics, as they once were, I should
feel a certain diffidence in replying that the question of other people's
accession to office was, however emotional, unimportant to them as
compared with literary questions. I should have the more diffidence
because it might be retorted that literary men were too unpractical for
politics when they did not deal with moral issues.

Such a retort would be rather mild and civil, as things go, and might
even be regarded as complimentary. It is not our custom to be tender
with any one who doubts if any actuality is right, or might not be
bettered, especially in public affairs. We are apt to call such a one
out of his name and to punish him for opinions he has never held. This
may be a better reason than either given why authors do not take part in
politics with us. They are a thin-skinned race, fastidious often, and
always averse to hard knocks; they are rather modest, too, and distrust
their fitness to lead, when they have quite a firm faith in their
convictions. They hesitate to urge these in the face of practical
politicians, who have a confidence in their ability to settle all affairs
of State not surpassed even by that of business men in dealing with
economic questions.

I think it is a pity that our authors do not go into politics at least
for the sake of the material it would yield them; but really they do not.
Our politics are often vulgar, but they are very picturesque; yet, so
far, our fiction has shunned them even more decidedly than it has shunned
our good society--which is not picturesque or apparently anything but a
tiresome adaptation of the sort of drama that goes on abroad under the
same name. In nearly the degree that our authors have dealt with our
politics as material, they have given the practical politicians only too
much reason to doubt their insight and their capacity to understand the
mere machinery, the simplest motives, of political life.


There are exceptions, of course, and if my promise of reticence did not
withhold me I might name some striking ones. Privately and
unprofessionally, I think our authors take as vivid an interest in public
affairs as any other class of our citizens, and I should be sorry to
think that they took a less intelligent interest. Now and then, but only
very rarely, one of them speaks out, and usually on the unpopular side.
In this event he is spared none of the penalties with which we like to
visit difference of opinion; rather they are accumulated on him.

Such things are not serious, and they are such as no serious man need
shrink from, but they have a bearing upon what I am trying to explain,
and in a certain measure they account for a certain attitude in our
literary men. No one likes to have stones, not to say mud, thrown at
him, though they are not meant to hurt him badly and may be partly thrown
in joke. But it is pretty certain that if a man not in politics takes
them seriously, he will have more or less mud, not to say stones, thrown
at him. He might burlesque or caricature them, or misrepresent them,
with safety; but if he spoke of public questions with heart and
conscience, he could not do it with impunity, unless he were authorized
to do so by some practical relation to them. I do not mean that then he
would escape; but in this country, where there were once supposed to be
no classes, people are more strictly classified than in any other.
Business to the business man, law to the lawyer, medicine to the
physician, politics to the politician, and letters to the literary man;
that is the rule. One is not expected to transcend his function, and
commonly one does not. We keep each to his last, as if there were not
human interests, civic interests, which had a higher claim than the last
upon our thinking and feeling. The tendency has grown upon us severally
and collectively through the long persistence of our prosperity; if
public affairs were going ill, private affairs were going so well that we
did not mind the others; and we Americans are, I think, meridional in our
improvidence. We are so essentially of to-day that we behave as if to-
morrow no more concerned us than yesterday. We have taught ourselves to
believe that it will all come out right in the end so long that we have
come to act upon our belief; we are optimistic fatalists.


The turn which our politics have taken towards economics, if I may so
phrase the rise of the questions of labor and capital, has not largely
attracted literary men. It is doubtful whether Edward Bellamy himself,
whose fancy of better conditions has become the abiding faith of vast
numbers of Americans, supposed that he was entering the field of
practical politics, or dreamed of influencing elections by his hopes of
economic equality. But he virtually founded the Populist party, which,
as the vital principle of the Democratic party, came so near electing its
candidate for the Presidency some years ago; and he is to be named first
among our authors who have dealt with politics on their more human side
since the days of the old antislavery agitation. Without too great
disregard of the reticence concerning the living which I promised myself,
I may mention Dr. Edward Everett Hale and Colonel Thomas Wentworth
Higginson as prominent authors who encouraged the Nationalist movement
eventuating in Populism, though they were never Populists. It may be
interesting to note that Dr. Hale and Colonel Higginson, who later came
together in their sociological sympathies, were divided by the schism of
1884, when the first remained with the Republicans and the last went off
to the Democrats. More remotely, Colonel Higginson was anti slavery
almost to the point of Abolitionism, and he led a negro regiment in the
war. Dr. Hale was of those who were less radically opposed to slavery
before the war, but hardly so after it came. Since the war a sort of
refluence of the old anti-slavery politics carried from his moorings in
Southern tradition Mr. George W. Cable, who, against the white sentiment
of his section, sided with the former slaves, and would, if the indignant
renunciation of his fellow-Southerners could avail, have consequently
ceased to be the first of Southern authors, though he would still have
continued the author of at least one of the greatest American novels.

If I must burn my ships behind me in alleging these modern instances, as
I seem really to be doing, I may mention Mr. R. W. Gilder, the poet, as
an author who has taken part in the politics of municipal reform, Mr.
Hamlin Garland has been known from the first as a zealous George man, or
single-taxer. Mr. John Hay, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, and Mr. Henry Cabot
Lodge are Republican politicians, as well as recognized literary men.
Mr. Joel Chandler Harris, when not writing Uncle Remus, writes political
articles in a leading Southern journal. Mark Twain is a leading anti-


I am not sure whether I have made out a case for our authors or against
them; perhaps I have not done so badly; but I have certainly not tried to
be exhaustive; the exhaustion is so apt to extend from the subject to the
reader, and I wish to leave him in a condition to judge for himself
whether American literary men take part in American politics or not.
I think they bear their share, in the quieter sort of way which we hope
(it may be too fondly) is the American way. They are none of them
politicians in the Latin sort. Few, if any, of our statesmen have come
forward with small volumes of verse in their hands as they used to do in
Spain; none of our poets or historians have been chosen Presidents of the
republic as has happened to their French confreres; no great novelist of
ours has been exiled as Victor Hugo was, or atrociously mishandled as
Zola has been, though I have no doubt that if, for instance, one had once
said the Spanish war wrong he would be pretty generally 'conspue'.
They have none of them reached the heights of political power, as several
English authors have done; but they have often been ambassadors,
ministers, and consuls, though they may not often have been appointed for
political reasons. I fancy they discharge their duties in voting rather
faithfully, though they do not often take part in caucuses or

As for the other half of the question--how far American politicians are
scholars--one's first impulse would be to say that they never were so.
But I have always had an heretical belief that there were snakes in
Ireland; and it may be some such disposition to question authority that
keeps me from yielding to this impulse. The law of demand and supply
alone ought to have settled the question in favor of the presence of the
scholar in our politics, there has been such a cry for him among us for
almost a generation past. Perhaps the response has not been very direct,
but I imagine that our politicians have never been quite so destitute of
scholarship as they would sometimes make appear. I do not think so many
of them now write a good style, or speak a good style, as the politicians
of forty, or fifty, or sixty years ago; but this may be merely part of
the impression of the general worsening of things, familiar after middle
life to every one's experience, from the beginning of recorded time. If
something not so literary is meant by scholarship, if a study of finance,
of economics, of international affairs is in question, it seems to go on
rather more to their own satisfaction than that of their critics. But
without being always very proud of the result, and without professing to
know the facts very profoundly, one may still suspect that under an
outside by no means academic there is a process of thinking in our
statesmen which is not so loose, not so unscientific, and not even so
unscholarly as it might be supposed. It is not the effect of specific
training, and yet it is the effect of training. I do not find that the
matters dealt with are anywhere in the world intrusted to experts; and in
this sense scholarship has not been called to the aid of our legislation
or administration; but still I should not like to say that none of our
politicians were scholars. That would be offensive, and it might not be
true. In fact, I can think of several whom I should be tempted to call
scholars if I were not just here recalled to a sense of my purpose not to
deal quite frankly with this inquiry.


It has been the belief of certain kindly philosophers that if the one
half of mankind knew how the other half lived, the two halves might be
brought together in a family affection not now so observable in human
relations. Probably if this knowledge were perfect, there would still be
things, to bar the perfect brotherhood; and yet the knowledge itself is
so interesting, if not so salutary as it has been imagined, that one can
hardly refuse to impart it if one has it, and can reasonably hope, in the
advantage of the ignorant, to find one's excuse with the better informed.


City and country are still so widely apart in every civilization that one
can safely count upon a reciprocal strangeness in many every-day things.
For instance, in the country, when people break up house-keeping, they
sell their household goods and gods, as they did in cities fifty or a
hundred years ago; but now in cities they simply store them; and vast
warehouses in all the principal towns have been devoted to their storage.
The warehouses are of all types, from dusty lofts over stores, and
ammoniacal lofts over stables, to buildings offering acres of space, and
carefully planned for the purpose. They are more or less fire-proof,
slow-burning, or briskly combustible, like the dwellings they have
devastated. But the modern tendency is to a type where flames do not
destroy, nor moth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. Such a
warehouse is a city in itself, laid out in streets and avenues, with the
private tenements on either hand duly numbered, and accessible only to
the tenants or their order. The aisles are concreted, the doors are
iron, and the roofs are ceiled with iron; the whole place is heated by
steam and lighted by electricity. Behind the iron doors, which in the
New York warehouses must number hundreds of thousands, and throughout all
our other cities, millions, the furniture of a myriad households is
stored--the effects of people who have gone to Europe, or broken up
house-keeping provisionally or definitively, or have died, or been
divorced. They are the dead bones of homes, or their ghosts, or their
yet living bodies held in hypnotic trances; destined again in some future
time to animate some house or flat anew. In certain cases the spell
lasts for many years, in others for a few, and in others yet it prolongs
itself indefinitely.

I may mention the case of one owner whom I saw visiting the warehouse to
take out the household stuff that had lain there a long fifteen years.
He had been all that while in Europe, expecting any day to come home and
begin life again, in his own land. That dream had passed, and now he was
taking his stuff out of storage and shipping it to Italy. I did not envy
him his feelings as the parts of his long-dead past rose round him in
formless resurrection. It was not that they were all broken or defaced.
On the contrary, they were in a state of preservation far more
heartbreaking than any decay. In well-managed storage warehouses the
things are handled with scrupulous care, and they are so packed into the
appointed rooms that if not disturbed they could suffer little harm in
fifteen or fifty years. The places are wonderfully well kept, and if you
will visit them, say in midwinter, after the fall influx of furniture has
all been hidden away behind the iron doors of the several cells, you
shall find their far-branching corridors scrupulously swept and dusted,
and shall walk up and down their concrete length with some such sense of
secure finality as you would experience in pacing the aisle of your
family vault.

That is what it comes to. One may feign that these storage warehouses
are cities, but they are really cemeteries: sad columbaria on whose
shelves are stowed exanimate things once so intimately of their owners'
lives that it is with the sense of looking at pieces and bits of one's
dead self that one revisits them. If one takes the fragments out to fit
them to new circumstance, one finds them not only uncomformable and
incapable, but so volubly confidential of the associations in which they
are steeped, that one wishes to hurry them back to their cell and lock it
upon them forever. One feels then that the old way was far better, and
that if the things had been auctioned off, and scattered up and down, as
chance willed, to serve new uses with people who wanted them enough to
pay for them even a tithe of their cost, it would have been wiser.
Failing this, a fire seems the only thing for them, and their removal to
the cheaper custody of a combustible or slow-burning warehouse the best
recourse. Desperate people, aging husbands and wives, who have attempted
the reconstruction of their homes with these

"Portions and parcels of the dreadful past"

have been known to wish for an earthquake, even, that would involve their
belongings in an indiscriminate ruin.


In fact, each new start in life should be made with material new to you,
if comfort is to attend the enterprise. It is not only sorrowful but it
is futile to store your possessions, if you hope to find the old
happiness in taking them out and using them again. It is not that they
will not go into place, after a fashion, and perform their old office,
but that the pang they will inflict through the suggestion of the other
places where they served their purpose in other years will be only the
keener for the perfection with which they do it now. If they cannot be
sold, and if no fire comes down from heaven to consume them, then they
had better be stored with no thought of ever taking them out again.

That will be expensive, or it will be inexpensive, according to the sort
of storage they are put into. The inexperienced in such matters may be
surprised, and if they have hearts they may be grieved, to learn that the
fire-proof storage of the furniture of the average house would equal the
rent of a very comfortable domicile in a small town, or a farm by which a
family's living can be earned, with a decent dwelling in which it can be
sheltered. Yet the space required is not very great; three fair-sized
rooms will hold everything; and there is sometimes a fierce satisfaction
in seeing how closely the things that once stood largely about, and
seemed to fill ample parlors and chambers, can be packed away. To be
sure they are not in their familiar attitudes; they lie on their sides or
backs, or stand upon their heads; between the legs of library or dining
tables are stuffed all kinds of minor movables, with cushions, pillows,
pictures, cunningly adjusted to the environment; and mattresses pad the
walls, or interpose their soft bulk between pieces of furniture that
would otherwise rend each other. Carpets sewn in cotton against moths,
and rugs in long rolls; the piano hovering under its ample frame a whole
brood of helpless little guitars, mandolins, and banjos, and supporting
on its broad back a bulk of lighter cases to the fire-proof ceiling of
the cell; paintings in boxes indistinguishable outwardly from their
companioning mirrors; barrels of china and kitchen utensils, and all the
what-not of householding and house-keeping contribute to the repletion.

There is a science observed in the arrangement of the various effects;
against the rear wall and packed along the floor, and then in front of
and on top of these, is built a superstructure of the things that may be
first wanted, in case of removal, or oftenest wanted in some exigency of
the homeless life of the owners, pending removal. The lightest and
slightest articles float loosely about the door, or are interwoven in a
kind of fabric just within, and curtaining the ponderous mass behind.
The effect is not so artistic as the mortuary mosaics which the Roman
Capuchins design with the bones of their dead brethren in the crypt of
their church, but the warehousemen no doubt have their just pride in it,
and feel an artistic pang in its provisional or final disturbance.

It had better never be disturbed, for it is disturbed only in some futile
dream of returning to the past; and we never can return to the past on
the old terms. It is well in all things to accept life implicitly, and
when an end has come to treat it as the end, and not vainly mock it as a
suspense of function. When the poor break up their homes, with no
immediate hope of founding others, they must sell their belongings
because they cannot afford to pay storage on them. The rich or richer
store their household effects, and cheat themselves with the illusion
that they are going some time to rehabilitate with them just such a home
as they have dismantled. But the illusion probably deceives nobody so
little as those who cherish the vain hope. As long as they cherish it,
however--and they must cherish it till their furniture or themselves fall
to dust--they cannot begin life anew, as the poor do who have kept
nothing of the sort to link them to the past. This is one of the
disabilities of the prosperous, who will probably not be relieved of it
till some means of storing the owner as well as the' furniture is
invented. In the immense range of modern ingenuity, this is perhaps not
impossible. Why not, while we are still in life, some sweet oblivious
antidote which shall drug us against memory, and after time shall elapse
for the reconstruction of a new home in place of the old, shall repossess
us of ourselves as unchanged as the things with which we shall again
array it? Here is a pretty idea for some dreamer to spin into the filmy
fabric of a romance, and I handsomely make a present of it to the first
comer. If the dreamer is of the right quality he will know how to make
the reader feel that with the universal longing to return to former
conditions or circumstances it must always be a mistake to do so, and he
will subtly insinuate the disappointment and discomfort of the stored
personality in resuming its old relations. With that just mixture of the
comic and pathetic which we desire in romance, he will teach convincingly
that a stored personality is to be desired only if it is permanently
stored, with the implication of a like finality in the storage of its

Save in some signal exception, a thing taken out of storage cannot be
established in its former function without a sense of its comparative
inadequacy. It stands in the old place, it serves the old use, and yet
a new thing would be better; it would even in some subtle wise be more
appropriate, if I may indulge so audacious a paradox; for the time is
new, and so will be all the subconscious keeping in which our lives are
mainly passed. We are supposed to have associations with the old things
which render them precious, but do not the associations rather render
them painful? If that is true of the inanimate things, how much truer it
is of those personalities which once environed and furnished our lives!
Take the article of old friends, for instance: has it ever happened to
the reader to witness the encounter of old friends after the lapse of
years? Such a meeting is conventionally imagined to be full of tender
joy, a rapture that vents itself in manly tears, perhaps, and certainly
in womanly tears. But really is it any such emotion? Honestly is not it
a cruel embarrassment, which all the hypocritical pretences cannot hide?
The old friends smile and laugh, and babble incoherently at one another,
but are they genuinely glad? Is not each wishing the other at that end
of the earth from which he came? Have they any use for each other such
as people of unbroken associations have?

I have lately been privy to the reunion of two old comrades who are bound
together more closely than most men in a community of interests,
occupations, and ideals. During a long separation they had kept account
of each other's opinions as well as experiences; they had exchanged
letters, from time to time, in which they opened their minds fully to
each other, and found themselves constantly in accord. When they met
they made a great shouting, and each pretended that he found the other
just what he used to be. They talked a long, long time, fighting the
invisible enemy which they felt between them. The enemy was habit, the
habit of other minds and hearts, the daily use of persons and things
which in their separation they had not had in common. When the old
friends parted they promised to meet every day, and now, since their
lines had been cast in the same places again, to repair the ravage of the
envious years, and become again to each other all that they had ever
been. But though they live in the same town, and often dine at the same
table, and belong to the same club, yet they have not grown together
again. They have grown more and more apart, and are uneasy in each
other's presence, tacitly self-reproachful for the same effect which
neither of them could avert or repair. They had been respectively in
storage, and each, in taking the other out, has experienced in him the
unfitness which grows upon the things put away for a time and reinstated
in a former function.


I have not touched upon these facts of life, without the purpose of
finding some way out of the coil. There seems none better than the
counsel of keeping one's face set well forward, and one's eyes fixed
steadfastly upon the future. This is the hint we will get from nature if
we will heed her, and note how she never recurs, never stores or takes
out of storage. Fancy rehabilitating one's first love: how nature would
mock at that! We cannot go back and be the men and women we were, any
more than we can go back and be children. As we grow older, each year's
change in us is more chasmal and complete. There is no elixir whose
magic will recover us to ourselves as we were last year; but perhaps we
shall return to ourselves more and more in the times, or the eternity, to
come. Some instinct or inspiration implies the promise of this, but only
on condition that we shall not cling to the life that has been ours, and
hoard its mummified image in our hearts. We must not seek to store
ourselves, but must part with what we were for the use and behoof of
others, as the poor part with their worldly gear when they move from one
place to another. It is a curious and significant property of our
outworn characteristics that, like our old furniture, they will serve
admirably in the life of some other, and that this other can profitably
make them his when we can no longer keep them ours, or ever hope to
resume them. They not only go down to successive generations, but they
spread beyond our lineages, and serve the turn of those whom we never
knew to be within the circle of our influence.

Civilization imparts itself by some such means, and the lower classes are
clothed in the cast conduct of the upper, which if it had been stored
would have left the inferiors rude and barbarous. We have only to think
how socially naked most of us would be if we had not had the beautiful
manners of our exclusive society to put on at each change of fashion when
it dropped them.

All earthly and material things should be worn out with use, and not
preserved against decay by any unnatural artifice. Even when broken and
disabled from overuse they have a kind of respectability which must
commend itself to the observer, and which partakes of the pensive grace
of ruin. An old table with one leg gone, and slowly lapsing to decay in
the woodshed, is the emblem of a fitter order than the same table, with
all its legs intact, stored with the rest of the furniture from a broken
home. Spinning-wheels gathering dust in the garret of a house that is
itself falling to pieces have a dignity that deserts them when they are
dragged from their refuge, and furbished up with ribbons and a tuft of
fresh tow, and made to serve the hollow occasions of bric-a-brac, as they
were a few years ago. A pitcher broken at the fountain, or a battered
kettle on a rubbish heap, is a venerable object, but not crockery and
copper-ware stored in the possibility of future need. However carefully
handed down from one generation to another, the old objects have a
forlorn incongruity in their successive surroundings which appeals to the
compassion rather than the veneration of the witness.

It was from a truth deeply mystical that Hawthorne declared against any
sort of permanence in the dwellings of men, and held that each generation
should newly house itself. He preferred the perishability of the wooden
American house to the durability of the piles of brick or stone which in
Europe affected him as with some moral miasm from the succession of sires
and sons and grandsons that had died out of them. But even of such
structures as these it is impressive how little the earth makes with the
passage of time. Where once a great city of them stood, you shall find a
few tottering walls, scarcely more mindful of the past than "the cellar
and the well" which Holmes marked as the ultimate monuments, the last
witnesses, to the existence of our more transitory habitations. It is
the law of the patient sun that everything under it shall decay, and if
by reason of some swift calamity, some fiery cataclysm, the perishable
shall be overtaken by a fate that fixes it in unwasting arrest, it cannot
be felt that the law has been set aside in the interest of men's
happiness or cheerfulness. Neither Pompeii nor Herculaneum invites the
gayety of the spectator, who as he walks their disinterred thoroughfares
has the weird sense of taking a former civilization out of storage, and
the ache of finding it wholly unadapted to the actual world. As far as
his comfort is concerned, it had been far better that those cities had
not been stored, but had fallen to the ruin that has overtaken all their


No, good friend, sir or madam, as the case may be, but most likely madam:
if you are about to break up your household for any indefinite period,
and are not so poor that you need sell your things, be warned against
putting them in storage, unless of the most briskly combustible type.
Better, far better, give them away, and disperse them by that means to a
continuous use that shall end in using them up; or if no one will take
them, then hire a vacant lot, somewhere, and devote them to the flames.
By that means you shall bear witness against a custom that insults the
order of nature, and crowds the cities with the cemeteries of dead homes,
where there is scarcely space for the living homes. Do not vainly fancy
that you shall take your stuff out of storage and find it adapted to the
ends that it served before it was put in. You will not be the same, or
have the same needs or desire, when you take it out, and the new place
which you shall hope to equip with it will receive it with cold
reluctance, or openly refuse it, insisting upon forms and dimensions that
render it ridiculous or impossible. The law is that nothing taken out of
storage is the same as it was when put in, and this law, hieroglyphed in
those rude 'graffiti' apparently inscribed by accident in the process of
removal, has only such exceptions as prove the rule.

The world to which it has returned is not the same, and that makes all
the difference. Yet, truth and beauty do not change, however the moods
and fashions change. The ideals remain, and these alone you can go back
to, secure of finding them the same, to-day and to-morrow, that they were
yesterday. This perhaps is because they have never been in storage, but
in constant use, while the moods and fashions have been put away and
taken out a thousand times. Most people have never had ideals, but only
moods and fashions, but such people, least of all, are fitted to find in
them that pleasure of the rococo which consoles the idealist when the old
moods and fashions reappear.


There was not much promise of pleasure in the sodden afternoon of a mid-
March day at Pittsburg, where the smoke of a thousand foundry chimneys
gave up trying to rise through the thick, soft air, and fell with the
constant rain which it dyed its own black. But early memories stirred
joyfully in the two travellers in whose consciousness I was making my
tour, at sight of the familiar stern-wheel steamboat lying beside the
wharf boat at the foot of the dilapidated levee, and doing its best to
represent the hundreds of steamboats that used to lie there in the old
days. It had the help of three others in its generous effort, and the
levee itself made a gallant pretence of being crowded with freight, and
succeeded in displaying several saturated piles of barrels and
agricultural implements on the irregular pavement whose wheel-worn
stones, in long stretches, were sunken out of sight in their parent mud.
The boats and the levee were jointly quite equal to the demand made upon
them by the light-hearted youngsters of sixty-five and seventy, who were
setting out on their journey in fulfilment of a long-cherished dream, and
for whom much less freight and much fewer boats would have rehabilitated
the past.

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