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Title: Journeys to Bagdad
Author: Brooks, Charles S. (Charles Stephen), 1878-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Journeys to Bagdad" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Transcriber's note:

   Words or phrases in italics are enclosed by underscores.

   An underscore is also used in the chapter "Through the
   Scuttle with the Tinman" in the equation
      a=(Dx/2T)f(a, b c T_3)
   to indicate that the "3" is a subscript.




Illustrated with Original Wood-Cuts by Allen Lewis


Yale University Press
New Haven Connecticut
Copyright, 1915, by
Yale University Press
First printed November, 1915, 1000 copies


    The Yale University Press makes grateful acknowledgment to the
    Editors of the _Yale Review_ and of the _New Republic_ for
    permission to include in the present work essays of which they were
    the original publishers.



     I.  Journeys to Bagdad
    II.  The Worst Edition of Shakespeare
   III.  The Decline of Night-Caps
    IV.  Maps and Rabbit-Holes
     V.  Tunes for Spring
    VI.  Respectfully Submitted--To a Mournful Air
   VII.  The Chilly Presence of Hard-headed Persons
  VIII.  Hoopskirts and Other Lively Matter
    IX.  On Traveling
     X.  Through the Scuttle with the Tinman




Are you of that elect who, at certain seasons of the year--perhaps in
March when there is timid promise of the spring or in the days of October
when there are winds across the earth and gorgeous panic of fallen
leaves--are you of that elect who, on such occasion or any occasion else,
feel stirrings in you to be quit of whatever prosy work is yours, to throw
down your book or ledger, or your measuring tape--if such device marks
your service--and to go forth into the world?

I do count myself of this elect. And I will name such stimuli as most set
these stirrings in me. And first of all there is a smell compounded out of
hemp and tar that works pleasantly to my undoing. Now it happens that
there is in this city, down by the river where it flows black with city
stain as though the toes of commerce had been washed therein, a certain
ship chandlery. It is filthy coming on the place, for there is reek from
the river and staleness from the shops--ancient whiffs no wise enfeebled
by their longevity, Nestors of their race with span of seventy lusty
summers. But these smells do not prevail within the chandlery. At first
you see nothing but rope. Besides clothesline and other such familiar and
domestic twistings, there are great cordages scarce kinsmen to them, which
will later put to sea and will whistle with shrill enjoyment at their
release. There are such hooks, swivels, blocks and tackles, such confusion
of ships' devices as would be enough for the building of a sea tale. It
may be fancied that here is Treasure Island itself, shuffled and laid
apart in bits like a puzzle-picture. (For genius, maybe, is but a
nimbleness of collocation of such hitherto unconsidered trifles.) Then you
will go aloft where sails are made, with sailormen squatting about,
bronzed fellows, rheumatic, all with pipes. And through all this shop is
the smell of hemp and tar.

In finer matters I have no nose. It is ridiculous, really, that this very
messenger and forerunner of myself, this trumpeter of my coming, this
bi-nasal fellow in the crow's-nest, should be so deficient. If smells were
bears, how often I would be bit! My nose may serve by way of ornament or
for the sniffing of the heavier odors, yet will fail in the nice detection
of the fainter waftings and olfactory ticklings. Yet how will it dilate on
the Odyssean smell of hemp and tar! And I have no explanation of this, for
I am no sailor. Indeed, at sea I am misery itself whenever perchance "the
ship goes _wop_ (with a wiggle between)." Such wistful glances have I cast
upon the wide freedom of the decks when I leave them on the perilous
adventure of dinner! So this relish of hemp and tar must be a legacy from
a far-off time--a dim atavism, to put it as hard as possible--for I seem
to remember being told that my ancestors were once engaged in buccaneering
or other valiant livelihood.

But here is a peculiar thing. The chandlery gives me no desire to run away
to sea. Rather, the smell of the place urges me indeterminately,
diffusedly, to truantry. It offers me no particular chart. It but cuts my
moorings for whatever winds are blowing. If there be blood of a pirate in
me, it is a shame what faded juice it is. It would flow pink on the
sticking. In mean contrast to skulls, bowie-knives and other red villainy,
my thoughts will be set toward the mild truantry of trudging for an
afternoon in the country. Or it is likely that I'll carry stones for the
castle that I have been this long time building. Were the trick of prosody
in me, I would hew a poem on the spot. Such is my anemia. And yet there is
a touch of valiancy, too, as from the days when my sainted ancestors
sailed with their glass beads from Bristol harbor; the desire of visiting
the sunset, of sailing down on the far side of the last horizon where the
world itself falls off and there is sky with swirl of stars beyond.


In the spring of each year everyone should go to Bagdad--not particularly
to Bagdad, for I shall not dictate in matter of detail--but to any such
town that may happen to be so remote that you are not sure when you look
it up whether it is on page 47 which is Asia, or on page 53 which is
Persia. But Bagdad will serve: For surely, Reader, you have not forgotten
that it was in Bagdad in the surprising reign of Haroun-al-Raschid that
Sinbad the Sailor lived! Nor can it have escaped you that scarce a mule's
back distance--such was the method of computation in those golden
days--lived that prince of medieval plain-clothes men, Ali Baba!

Historically, Bagdad lies in that tract of earth where purple darkens into
night. Geographically, it lies obliquely downward, and is, I compute,
considerably off the southeast corner of my basement. It is such distant
proximity, doubtless, that renders my basement--and particularly its
woodpile, which lies obscurely beyond the laundry--such a shadowy, grim
and altogether mysterious place. If there be any part of the house,
including certain dark corners of the attic, that is fearfully
Mesopotamian after nightfall, it is that woodpile. Even when I sit above,
secure with lights, if by chance I hear tappings from below--such noises
are common on a windy night--I know that it is the African Magician
pounding for the genie, the sound echoing through the hollow earth. It is
matter of doubt whether the iron bars so usual on basement windows serve
chiefly to keep burglars out, or whether their greater service is not
their defense of western Christianity against the invasion from the East
which, except for these bars, would enter here as by a postern. At a
hazard, my suspicion would fall on the iron doors that open inwards in the
base of chimneys. We have been fondly credulous that there is nothing but
ash inside and mere siftings from the fire above; and when, on an
occasion, we reach in with a trowel for a scoop of this wood-ash for our
roses, we laugh at ourselves for our scare of being nabbed. But some day
if by way of experiment you will thrust your head within--it's a small
hole and you will be besmirched beyond anything but a Saturday's
reckoning--you will see that the pit goes off in darkness--_downward_. It
was but the other evening as we were seated about the fire that there came
upward from the basement a gibbering squeak. Then the woodpile fell over,
for so we judged the clatter. Is it fantastic to think that some dark and
muffled Persian, after his dingy tunneling from the banks of the Tigris,
had climbed the pile of wood for a breath of night at the window and, his
foot slipping, the pile fell over? Plainly, we heard him scuttling back to
the ash-pit.

Be these things as they may, when you have arrived in Bagdad--and it is
best that you travel over land and sea--if you be serious in your zest,
you will not be satisfied, but will journey a thousand miles more at the
very least, in whatever direction is steepest. And you will turn the
flanks of seven mountains, with seven villainous peaks thereon. For the
very number of them will put a spell on you. And you will cross running
water, that you leave no scent for the world behind. Such journey would be
the soul of truantry and you should set out upon the road every spring
when the wind comes warm.

Now the medieval pilgrimage in its day, as you very well know, was a most
popular institution. And the reasons are as plentiful as blackberries. But
in the first place and foremost, it came always in the spring. It was like
a tonic, iron for the blood. There were many men who were not a bit pious,
who, on the first warm day when customers were scarce, yawned themselves
into a prodigious holiness. Who, indeed, would resign himself to changing
moneys or selling doves upon the Temple steps when such appeal was in the
air? What cobbler even, bent upon his leather, whose soul would not mount
upon such a summons? Who was it preached the first crusade? There was no
marvel in the business. Did he come down our street now that April's here,
he would win recruits from every house. I myself would care little whether
he were Christian or Mohammedan if only the shrine lay over-seas and deep
within the twistings of the mountains.


If, however, your truantry is domestic, and the scope of the seven seas
with glimpse of Bagdad is too broad for your desire, then your yearning
may direct itself to the spaces just outside your own town. If such myopic
truantry is in you, there is much to be said for going afoot. In these
days when motors are as plentiful as mortgages this may appear but
discontented destitution, the cry of sour grapes. And yet much of the
adventuring of life has been gained afoot. But walking now has fallen on
evil days. It needs but an enlistment of words to show its decadence.
Tramp is such a word. Time was when it signified a straight back and
muscular calves and an appetite, and at nightfall, maybe, pleasant gossip
at the hearth on the affairs of distant villages. There was rhythm in the
sound. But now it means a loafer, a shuffler, a wilted rascal. It is
patched, dingy, out-at-elbows. Take the word vagabond! It ought to be of
innocent repute, for it is built solely from stuff that means to wander,
and wandering since the days of Moses has been practiced by the most
respectable persons. Yet Noah Webster, a most disinterested old gentleman,
makes it clear that a vagabond is a vicious scamp who deserves no better
than the lockup. Doubtless Webster, if at home, would loose his dog did
such a one appear. A wayfarer, also, in former times was but a goer of
ways, a man afoot, whether on pilgrimage or itinerant with his wares and
cart and bell. Does the word not recall the poetry of the older road, the
jogging horse, the bush of the tavern, the crowd about the peddler's pack,
the musician piping to the open window, or the shrine in the hollow? Or
maybe it summons to you a decked and painted Cambyses bellowing his wrath
to an inn-yard.


One would think that the inventor of these scandals was a crutched and
limping fellow, who being himself stunted and dwarfed below the waist was
trying to sneer into disuse all walking the world over, or one who was
paunched by fat living beyond carrying power, larding the lean earth,
fearing lest he sweat himself to death, some Falstaff who unbuttons him
after supper and sleeps on benches after noon. Rather these words should
connote the strong, the self-reliant, the youthful. He is a tramp, we
should say, who relies most on his own legs and resources, who least
cushions himself daintily against jar in his neighbor's tonneau, whose eye
shines out seldomest from the curb for a lift. The wayfarer must go forth
in the open air. He must seek hilltop and wind. He must gather the dust of
counties. His prospects must be of broad fields and the smoking chimneys
of supper.

But the goer afoot must not be conceived as primarily an engine of muscle.
He is the best walker who keeps most widely awake in his five senses. Some
men might as well walk through a railway tunnel. They are so concerned
with the getting there that a black night hangs over them. They plunge
forward with their heads down as though they came of an antique race of
road builders. Should there be mileposts they are busied with them only,
and they will draw dials from their pokes to time themselves. I fell into
this iniquity on a walk in Wales from Bala to Dolgelley. Although I set
out leisurely enough, with an eye for the lake and hills, before many
hours had elapsed I had acquired the milepost habit and walked as if for a
wager. I covered the last twenty miles in less than five hours, and when
the brown stone village came in sight and I had thumped down the last hill
and over the peaked bridge, I was a dilapidated and foot-sore vagrant and
nothing more. To this day Wales for me is the land where one's feet have
the ugly habit of foregathering in the end of the shoes.

Worse still than the athletic walker is he who takes Dame Care out for a
stroll. He forever runs his machinery, plans his business ventures and
introduces his warehouse to the countryside.

Nor must walking be conceived as merely a means of resting. One should set
out refreshed and for this reason morning is the best time. Yours must be
an exultant mood. "Full many a glorious morning have I seen flatter the
mountain-tops with sovereign eye." Your brain is off at a speed that was
impossible in your lack-luster days. You have a flow of thoughts instead
of the miserable trickle that ordinarily serves your business purposes and
keeps you from under the trolley cars.

But all truantry is not in the open air. I know a man who while it is yet
winter will get out his rods and fit them together as he sits before the
fire. Then he will swing his arm forward from the elbow. The table has
become his covert and the rug beyond is his pool. And sometimes even when
the rod is not in his hand he will make the motion forward from the elbow
and will drop his thumb. It will show that he has jumped the seasons and
that he stands to his knees in an August stream.

It was but yesterday on my return from work that I witnessed a sight that
moved me pleasantly to thoughts of truantry. Now, in all points a grocer's
wagon is staid and respectable. Indeed, in its adherence to the business
of the hour we might use it as a pattern. For six days in the week it
concerns itself solely with its errands of mercy--such "whoas" and running
up the kitchen steps with baskets of potatoes--such poundings on the
door--such golden wealth of melons as it dispenses. Though there may be a
kind of gayety in this, yet I'll hazard that in the whole range of
quadricycle life no vehicle is more free from any taint of riotous
conduct. Mark how it keeps its Sabbath in the shed! Yet here was this
sturdy Puritan tied by a rope to a motor-car and fairly bounding down the
street. It was a worse breach than when Noah was drunk within his tent.
Was it an instance of falling into bad company? It was Nym, you remember,
who set Master Slender on to drinking. "And I be drunk again," quoth he,
"I'll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken
knaves." Or rather did not every separate squeak of the grocer's wagon cry
out a truant disposition? After years of repression here was its chance at
last. And with what a joyous rollic, with what a lively clatter, with what
a hilarious reeling, as though in gay defiance of the law of gravity, was
it using its liberty! Had it been a hearse in a runaway, the comedy would
not have been better. If I had been younger I would have pelted after and
climbed in over the tailboard to share the reckless pitch of its

Then there is a truantry that I mention with hesitation, for it comes
close to the heart of my desire, and in such matter particularly I would
not wish to appear a fool to my fellows. The child has this truantry when
he plays at Indian, for he fashions the universe to his desires. But some
men too can lift themselves, though theirs is an intellectual bootstrap,
into a life that moves above these denser airs. Theirs is an intensity
that goes deeper than daydreaming, although it admits distant kinship.
Through what twilight and shadows do such men climb until night and
star-dust are about them! Theirs is the dizzy exaltation of him who mounts
above the world. Alas, in me is no such unfathomable mystery. I but trick
myself. Yet I have my moments. These stones that I carry on the mountain,
what of them? On what windy ridge do I build my castle? It is shrill and
bleak, they say, on the topmost peaks of the Delectable Mountains, so
lower down I have reared its walls. There is no storm in these upland
valleys and the sun sits pleasantly on their southern slopes. But even if
there be unfolded no broad prospect from the devil to the sunrise, there
are pleasant cottages in sight and the smoke of many suppers curling up.

If you happened to have been a freshman at Yale some eighteen years ago
and were at all addicted to canoeing on Lake Whitney, and if, moreover, on
coming off the lake there burned in you a thirst for ginger-beer--as is
common in the gullet of a freshman--doubtless you have gone from the
boathouse to a certain little white building across the road to gratify
your hot desires. When you opened the door, your contemptible person--I
speak with the vocabulary of a sophomore--is proclaimed to all within by
the jangling of a bell. After due interval wherein you busy yourself in an
inspection of the cakes and buns that beam upon you from a show-case--your
nose meanwhile being pressed close against the glass for any slight
blemish that might deflect your decision (for a currant in the dough often
raises an unsavory suspicion and you'll squint to make the matter
sure)--there will appear through a back door a little old man to minister
unto you. You will give no great time to the naming of your drink--for the
fires are hot in you--but will take your bottle to a table. The braver
spirits among you will scorn glasses as effeminate and will gulp the
liquor straight from the bottle with what wickedest bravado you can

Now it is likely that you have done this with a swagger and have called
your servitor "old top" or other playful name. Mark your mistake! You were
in the presence, if you but knew it, of a real author, not a tyro fumbling
for self-expression, but a man with thirty serials to his credit. Shall I
name the periodical? It was the _Golden Hours_, I think. Ginger-beer and
jangling bells were but a fringe upon his darker purpose. His desk was
somewhere in the back of the house, and there he would rise to all the
fury of a South-Sea wreck--for his genius lay in the broader effects. Even
while we simpletons jested feebly and practiced drinking with the open
throat--which we esteemed would be of service when we had progressed to
the heavier art of drinking real beer--even as we munched upon his ginger
cakes, he had left us and was exterminating an army corps in the back
room. He was a little man, pale and stooped, but with a genius for
truantry--a pilgrim of the Bagdad road.

But we move on too high a plane. Most of us are admitted into truantry by
the accidents, merely, of our senses. By way of instance, the sniff of a
rotten apple will set a man off as on seven-league boots to the valleys of
his childhood. The dry rustling of November leaves re-lights the fires of
youth. It was only this afternoon that so slight a circumstance as a ray
of light flashing in my eye provided me an agreeable and unexpected
truantry. It sent me climbing the mountains of the North and in no less
company than that of Brunhilda and a troop of Valkyrs.

It is likely enough that none of you have heard of Long Street. As far as
I am aware it is not known to general fame. It is typically a back street
of the business of a city, that is, the ventages of its buildings are
darkened most often by packing cases and bales. Behind these ventages are
metal shoots. To one uninitiated in the ways of commerce it would appear
that these openings were patterned for the multiform enactment of an Amy
Robsart tragedy, with such devilish deceit are the shoots laid up against
the openings. First the teamster teeters and cajoles the box to the edge
of the dray, then, with a sudden push, he throws it off down the shoot,
from which it disappears with a booming sound. As I recall it was by some
such treachery that Amy Robsart met her death. Be that as it may, all day
long great drays go by with Earls of Leicester on their lofty seats,
prevailing on their horses with stout, Elizabethan language. If there
comes a tangle in the traffic it is then especially that you will hear a
largeness of speech as of spacious and heroic days.

During the meaner hours of daylight it is my privilege to occupy a desk
and chair at a window that overlooks this street. Of the details of my
activity I shall make no mention, such level being far below the flight of
these enfranchised hours of night wherein I write. But in the pauses of
this activity I see below me wagon loads of nails go by and wagon loads of
hammers hard after, to get a crack at them. Then there will be a truck of
saws, as though the planking of the world yearned toward amputation. Or
maybe, at a guess, ten thousand rat-traps will move on down the street.
It's sure they take us for Hamelin Town, and are eager to lay their
ambushment. There is something rather stirring in such prodigious
marshaling, but I hear you ask what this has to do with truantry.

It was near quitting time yesterday that a dray was discharging cases down
a shoot. These cases were secured with metal reinforcement, and this metal
being rubbed bright happened to catch a ray of the sun at such an angle
that it was reflected in my eye. This flash, which was like lightning in
its intensity, together with the roar of the falling case, transported
me--it's monstrous what jumps we take when the fit is on us--to the slopes
of dim mountains in the night, to the heights above Valhalla with the
flash of Valkyrs descending. And the booming of the case upon the
slide--God pity me--was the music. It was thus that I was sent aloft upon
the mountains of the North, into the glare of lightning, with the cry of
Valkyrs above the storm....

But presently there was a voice from the street. "It's the last case
to-night, Sam, you lunk-head. It's quitting time."

The light fades on Long Street. The drays have gone home. The Earls of
Leicester drowse in their own kitchens, or spread whole slices of bread on
their broad, aristocratic palms. Somewhere in the dimmest recesses of
those cluttered buildings ten thousand rat-traps await expectant the
oncoming of the rats. And in your own basement--the shadows having
prospered in the twilight--it is sure (by the beard of the prophet, it is
sure) that the ash-pit door is again ajar and that a pair of eyes gleam
upon you from the darkness. If, on the instant, you will crouch behind the
laundry tubs and will hold your breath--as though a doctor's thermometer
were in your mouth, you with a cold in the head--it's likely that you will
see a Persian climb from the pit, shake the ashes off him, and make for
the vantage of the woodpile, where--the window being barred--he will sigh
his soul for the freedom of the night.





Reader, if by fortunate chance you have a son of tender years--the age is
best from the sixth to the eleventh summer--or in lieu of a son, a nephew,
only a few years in pants--mere shoots of nether garments not yet
descending to the knees--doubtless, if such fortunate chance be yours, you
went on one or more occasions last summer to a circus.

If the true holiday spirit be in you--and you be of other sort, I'll not
chronicle you--you will have come early to the scene for a just
examination of what mysteries and excitements are set forth in the
side-shows. Now if you be a man of humane reasoning, you will stand
lightly on your legs, alert to be pulled this way or that as the nepotic
wish shall direct, whether it be to the fat woman's booth or to the
platform where the thin man sits with legs entwined behind his neck, in
delightful promise of what joy awaits you when you have dropped your
nickel in the box and gone inside. To draw your steps, it is the showman's
privilege to make what blare he please upon the sidewalk; to puff his
cheeks with robustious announcement.

If by further fortunate chance, you are addicted, let us say, in the
quieter hours of winter, to writing of any kind--and for your joy, I pray
that this be so, whether this writing be in massive volumes, or obscure
and unpublished beyond its demerit--if such has been your addiction, you
have found, doubtless, that your case lies much like the fat woman's; that
it is the show you give before the door that must determine what numbers
go within--that, to be plain with you, much thought must be given to the
taking of your title. It must be a most alluring trumpeting, above the din
of rival shows.

So I have named this article with thought of how I might stir your learned
curiosity. I have set scholars' words upon my platform, thereby to make
you think how prodigiously I have stuffed the matter in. And all this
while, my article has to do only with a certain set of Shakespeare in nine
calfskin volumes, edited by a man named John Bell, now long since dead,
which set happens to have stood for several years upon my shelves; also,
how it was disclosed to me that he was the worst of all editors, together
with the reasons thereto and his final acquittal from the charge.

John Bell has stood, for the most part, in unfingered tranquillity, for I
read from a handier, single volume. Only at cleaning times has he been
touched, and then but in the common misery with all my books. Against this
cleaning, which I take to be only a quirk of the female brain, I have
often urged that the great, round earth itself has been subjected to only
one flood, and that even that was a failure, for, despite Noah's
shrewdness at the gangway, villains still persist on it. How then shall my
books profitably endure a deluge both autumn and spring?

Thereafter, when the tempest has spent itself and the waters have returned
from off my shelves, I'll venture in the room. There will be something
different in the sniff of the place, and it will be marvelously picked up.
Yet I can mend these faults. But it does fret me how books will be
standing on their heads. Were certain volumes only singled out to stand
upon their heads, Shaw for one, and others of our moderns, I would suspect
the housemaid of expressing in this fashion a sly and just criticism of
their inverted beliefs. I accused her on one occasion of this subtlety,
but was met by such a vacant stare that I acquitted her at once. However,
as she leaves my solidest authors also on their heads, men beyond the
peradventure of such antics, I must consider it but a part of her
carelessness, for which I have warned her twice. Were it not for her
cunning with griddlecakes, to which I am much affected, I would have
dismissed her before this.

And now this Bell, which has ridden out so many of my floods, is
proclaimed to me a villain. We had got beyond the April freshets and there
was in consequence a soapy smell about. It is clear in my mind that a
street organ had started up a gay tune and that there were sounds of
gathering feet. I was reading at the time, in the green rocker by the
lamp, a life of John Murray, by one whose name I have forgotten, when my
eyes came on the sentence that has shaken me. Bell, it said, Bell of my
own bookshelf, of all the editors of Shakespeare was the worst.

In my agitation I removed my glasses, breathed upon the lenses, and
polished them. Here was one of my familiars accused of something that was
doubtless heinous, although in what particulars I was at a loss to know.
It came on me suddenly. It was like a whispered scandal, sinister in its
lack of detail. All that I had known of Bell was that its publication had
dated from the eighteenth century. Yet its very age had seemed a patent of
respectability. If a thing does not rot and smell in a hundred and forty
years, it would seem to be safe from corruption: it were true peacock. But
here at last from Bell was an unsavory whiff. My flood had abated only a
fortnight since, and here was a stowaway escaped. Bell was proclaimed a
villain. Again had a flood proved itself a failure.


Now, I feel no shame in having an outsider like Murray display to me these
hidden evils; for I owe no inquisitorial duty to my books. There are
people who will not admit a volume to their shelves until they have thrown
it open and laid its contents bare. This is the unmannerly conduct of the
customs wharf. Indeed, it is such scrutiny, doubtless, that induces some
authors to pack their ideas obscurely, thereby to smuggle them. However,
there being now a scandal on my shelves, I must spy into it.

John Murray, wherein I had read the charge, had been such a friendly,
tea-and-gossip book, not the kind to hiss a scandal at you. It was bound
in blue cloth and was a heavy book, so that I held it on a cushion. (And
this device I recommend to others.) It was the kind of book that stays
open at your place, if you leave it for a moment to poke the fire. Some
books will flop a hundred pages, to make you thumb them back and forth,
though whether this be the binder's fault or a deviltry set therein by
their authors I am at a loss to say. But Shaw would be of this kind,
flopping and spry to mix you up. And in general, Shaw's humor is like that
of a shell-man at a country fair--a thimble-rigger. No matter where you
guess that he has placed the bean, you will be always wrong. Even though
you swear that you have seen him slip it under, it's but his cunning to
lead you off. But Murray was not that kind. It would stand at its post,
unhitched, like a family horse.

Here was quandary. I looked at Bell, but God forgive me, it was not with
the old trustfulness. He was on the top shelf but one, just in line with
the eyes, with gilt front winking in the firelight. I had set him thus
conspicuous with intention, because of his calfskin binding, quite old and
worn. A decayed Gibbon, I had thought, proclaims a grandfather. A set of
British Essayists, if disordered, takes you back of the black walnut. To
what length, then, of cultured ancestry must not this Bell give evidence?
(I had bought Bell, secondhand, on Farringdon Road, London, from a cart,
cheap, because a volume was missing.)

And now it seemed he was in some sort a villain. Although shocked, I felt
a secret joy. For somewhat too broadly had Bell smirked his sanctity on
me. When piety has been flaunting over you, you will steal a slim occasion
to proclaim a flaw. There is much human nature goes to the stoning of a
saint. In my ignorance I had set the rogue in the company of the decorous
Lorna Doone and the gentle ladies of Mrs. Gaskell. It is not that I admire
that chaste assembly. But it were monstrous, even so, that I should
neighbor them with this Bell, who, as it appeared, was no better than a
wolf in calf's clothing. It was Little Red Riding Hood, you will recall,
who mistook a wolf for her grandmother. And with what grief do we look on
her unhappy end!

My hand was now raised to drag Bell out by the heels, when I reflected
that what I had heard might be unfounded gossip, mere tattle, and that
before I turned against an old acquaintance, it were well to set an
inquiry afoot. First, however, I put him alongside Herbert Spencer. If it
were Bell's desire to play the grandmother to him, he would find him tough

Bell, John--I looked him up, first in volume Aus to Bis of the
encyclopedia, without finding him, and then successfully in the National
Biography--Bell, John, was a London bookseller. He was born in 1745,
published his edition of Shakespeare in 1774, and after this assault, with
the blood upon him, lived fifty years. This was reassuring. It was then
but a bit of wild oats, no hanging matter. I now went at the question
deeply. Yet I left him awhile with the indigestible Herbert.

It was in 1774 that Bell squirted his dirty ink. In _The Gentleman's
Magazine_ for that year appear mutterings from America, since called the
Boston Tea Party. I set this down to bring the time more warmly to your
mind, for a date alone is but a blurred signpost unless you be a scholar.
And it is advisedly that I quote from this particular periodical, because
its old files can best put the past back upon its legs and set it going.
There is a kind of history-book that sorts the bones and ties them all
about with strings, that sets the past up and bids it walk. Yet it will
not wag a finger. Its knees will clap together, its chest fall in. Such
books are like the scribblings on a tombstone; the ghost below gives not
the slightest squeal of life. But slap it shut and read what was written
hastily at the time on the pages of _The Gentleman's Magazine_, and it
will be as though Gabriel had blown a practice toot among the headstones.
It is then that you will get the gibbering of returning life.

So it was in 1774 that Bell put out his version of Shakespeare. Bell was
not a man of the schools. Caring not a cracked tinkle for learning, it was
not to the folios, nor to any authority that he turned for the texts of
his plays. Instead, he went to Drury Lane and Covent Garden and took their
acting copies. These volumes, then, that catch my firelight hold the very
plays that the crowds of 1774 looked upon. Herein is the Romeo, word for
word, that Lydia Languish sniffled over. Herein is Shylock, not yet with
pathos on him, but a buffoon still, to draw the gallery laugh.

A few nights later, having by grace of God escaped a dinner out, and being
of a consequence in a kindly mood, the scandal, too, having somewhat
abated in my memory, I took down a brown volume and ran my fingers over
its sides and along its yellow edges. Then I made myself comfortable and
opened it up.

There is nothing to-day more degenerate than our title-pages. It is in a
mean spirit that we pinch and starve them. I commend the older kind
wherein, generously ensampled, is the promise of the rich diet that shall
follow. At the circus, I have said, I'll go within that booth that has
most allurement on its canvas front, and where the hawker has the biggest
voice. If a fellow will but swallow a snake upon the platform at the door,
my money is already in my palm. Thus of a book I demand an earnest on the

Bell's title-page is of the right kind. In the profusion and variety of
its letters it is like a printer's sample book, with tall letters and
short letters, dogmatic letters for heaping facts on you and script
letters reclining on their elbows, convalescent in the text. There are
slim letters and again the very progeny of Falstaff. And what flourishes
on the page! It is like a pond after the antics of a skater.

There follows the subscribers' list. It is a Mr. Tickle's set that has
come to me, for his name is on the fly-leaf. But for me and this set of
Bell, Mr. Tickle would seem to have sunk into obscurity. I proclaim him
here, and if there be anywhere at this day younger Tickles, even down to
the merest titillation, may they see these lines and thus take a greeting
from the past.

Then follows an essay on oratory. It made me grin from end to end. Yet, as
on the repeating of a comic story, it is hard to get the sting and rollic
on the tongue. And much quotation on a page makes it like a foundling
hospital--sentences unparented, ideas abandoned of their proper text.
"Where grief is to be expressed," says Bell, "the right hand laid slowly
on the left breast, the head and chest bending forward, is a just
expression of it.... Ardent affection is gained by closing both hands
warmly, at half arm's length, the fingers intermingling, and bringing them
to the breast with spirit.... Folding arms, with a drooping of the head,
describe contemplation." I have put it to you and you can judge it.

Let us consider Bell's marginalia of the plays! Every age has importuned
itself with words. _Reason_ was such a word, and _fraternity_, and
_liberty_. _Efficiency_, maybe, is the latest, though it is sure that when
you want anything done properly, you have to fight for it. It is below the
dignity of my page to put a plumber on it, yet I have endured occasions!
This word _efficiency_, then, comes from our needs and not from our
accomplishment. It is at best a marching song, not a shout of victory. It
is when the house is dirty that the cry goes up for brooms.

So Bell in the notes upon the margins of his pages echoes a world that is
talking about _delicacy_, about _sentiment_, about _equality_. (For a
breeze blows up from France.) It was these words that the eighteenth
century most babbled when it grew old. It had horror for what was low and
vulgar. It wore laces on its doublet front, and though it seldom washed,
it perfumed itself. And all this is in Bell, for his notes are a running
comment of a shallow, puritanistic prig, who had sharp eyes and a gossip's
tongue. This was the time, too, when such words as _blanket_ were not
spoken by young ladies if men were about; for it is a bedroom word and
therefore immoral. Bell objected from the bottom of his silly soul that
Lady Macbeth should soil her mouth with it. "Blanket of the dark," he
says, "is an expression greatly below our author. Curtain is evidently
better." "Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?" Whereat Bell
again complains that Lady Macbeth is "unnecessarily indelicate." "Though
this tragedy," says Bell, "must be allowed a very noble composition, it is
highly reprehensible for exhibiting the chimeras of witchcraft, and still
more so for advancing in several places the principles of fatalism. We
would not wish to see young, unsettled minds to peruse this piece without
proper companions to prevent absurd prejudices."

It must appear from this, that, although one gains no knowledge of
Shakespeare, one does gain a considerable knowledge of Bell and of his
time. And this is just as well. For Bell's light on Shakespeare would be
but a sulphur match the more at carnival time. Indeed, Shakespeare
criticism has been such a pageantry of spluttering candle-ends and
sniffing wicks that it is well that one or two tallow dips leave the
rabble and illuminate the adjacent alleys. It is down such an alley that
Bell's smoking light goes wandering off.

As I read Bell this night, it is as though I listen at the boxes and in
the pit, in that tinkling time of 'seventy-four. The patched Lætitia sits
surrounded by her beaux. It was this afternoon she had the vapors. Next to
her, as dragon over beauty, is a fat dame with "grenadier head-dress."
"The Rivals" has yet to be written. London still hears "The Beggar's
Opera." Lady Macbeth is played in hoopskirts. The Bastille is a tolerably
tight building. Robert Burns is strewn with his first crumbs. It is the
age of omber, of sonnets to Chloe's false ringlets, of odes to red heels
and epics to lap dogs, of tinseled struttings in gilded drawing-rooms. It
was town-and-alley, this age; and though the fields lay daily in their new
creation with sun and shadow on them, together with the minstrelsy of the
winds across them and the still pipings of leaf and water, London, the
while, kept herself in her smudgy convent, her ear tuned only to the
jolting music of her streets, the rough syncope of wheel and voice. Since
then what countless winds have blown across the world, and cloud-wrack!
And this older century is now but a clamor of the memory. What mystery it
is! What were the happenings in that pin-prick of universe called London?
Of all the millions of ant hills this side Orion, what about this one?
London was so certain it was the center of circumambient space.
Tintinnabulate, little Bell!

So you see that the head and front of Bell's villainy was that he was a
little man with an abnormal capacity for gossip. If gossip, then, be a
gallows matter, let Bell unbutton him for the end. On the contrary, if
gossip be but a trifle, here were a case for clement judgment.

In the first place, there is no vice of necessity in gossip. This must be
clearly understood. It is proximity in time and place that makes it
intolerable. A gossip next door may be a nuisance. A gossip in history may
be delightful. No doubt if I had lived in Auchinleck in the days when
Boswell lived at home, I would have thought him a nasty little "skike."
But let him get to London and far off in the revolving years, and I admit
him virtuous.

A gossip seldom dies. The oldest person in every community is a gossip and
there are others still blooming and tender, who we know will live to be
leathery and hard. That the life-insurance actuaries do not recognize this
truth is a shame to their perception. Ancestral lesions should bulk for
them no bigger than any slightest taint of keyhole lassitude. For it is by
thinking of ourselves that we die. It leads to rheums and indigestions and
off we go. And even an ignoble altruism would save us. I know one old lady
who has been preserved to us these thirty years by no other nostrum than a
knot-hole appearing in her garden fence.


It is a matter of doubt whether at the fashionable cures it is the water
that has chief potency; or whether, so many being met together each
morning at the pump, it is not the exchange of these bits of news that
leads to convalescence. It is marvelous how a dull eye lights up if the
bit be spicy. There was a famous cure, I'm told, though I answer not for
the truth of this, closed up for no other reason than that a deeper
scandal being hissed about (a lady's maid affair), all the inmates became
distracted from their own complaints, and so, being made new, departed. To
this day the building stands with broken doors and windows as testament to
the blight such a sudden miracle put on the springs.

This shows, therefore, that gossipry must be judged by its effects. If it
allay the stone or give a pleasant evening it should have reward instead
of punishment. And here had Bell diverted me agreeably for an hour. It is
true he had given me no "chill and arid knowledge" of Shakespeare, but I
had had ample substitute and the clock had struck ten before its time. It
were justice, then, that I cast back the lie on Murray and give Bell full

No sooner was this decision made than I lifted him tenderly from the shelf
where I had sequestered him. Volume seven was on its head, but I set it
upright. Then I stroked its sides and blew upon its top, as is my custom.
At the last I put him on his former shelf in the company of the chaste
Lorna Doone and the gentle ladies of Mrs. Gaskell.

He sits there now, this night, on the top shelf but one, just in line with
the eyes, with gilt front winking in the firelight. A decayed Gibbon, I
had thought, proclaims a grandfather. To what length, then, of cultured
ancestry must not this Bell give evidence?





It sounds like the tinkle of triviality to descend from the stern business
of this present time to write of night-caps: And yet while the discordant
battles are puffing their cheeks upon the rumbling bass pipes, it is
relief if there be intermingled a small, shrill treble--any slightest
squeak outside the general woe.

There was a time when the chief issue of fowl was feather-beds. Some few
tallest and straightest feathers, maybe, were used on women's hats, and a
few of better nib than common were set aside for poets' use--goose
feathers in particular being fashioned properly for the softer flutings,
whether of Love or Spring--but in the main the manifest destiny of a
feather was a feather-bed.

In those days it was not enough that you plunged to the chin in this hot
swarm of feathers, for discretion, in an attempt to ward off from you all
snuffling rheums, coughings, hackings and other fleshly ills, required you
before kicking off the final slippers to shut the windows against what
were believed to be the dank humors of the night. Nor was this enough. You
slept, of course, in a four-post bed; and the curtains had to be pulled
together beyond the peradventure of a cranny. Then as a last prophylaxis
you put on a night-cap. Mr. Pickwick's was tied under the chin like a
sunbonnet and the cords dangled against his chest, but this was a matter
of taste. It was behind such triple rampart that you slept, and were
adjudged safe from the foul contagion of the dark. Consequently your bed
was not exactly like a little boat. Rather it was like a Pullman sleeper,
which, as you will remember, was invented early in the nineteenth century
and stands as a monument to its wisdom.

I have marveled at the ease with which Othello strangled Desdemona.
Further thought gives it explanation. The poor girl was half suffocated
before he laid hands on her. I find also a solution of Macbeth's enigmatic
speech, "Wicked dreams abuse the curtain'd sleep." Any dream that could
get at you through the circumvallation of glass, brocade, cotton and
feathers could be no better than a quadruplicated house-breaker,
compounded out of desperate villainies.

Reader, have you ever purchased a pair of pajamas in London? This is
homely stuff I write, yet there's pathos in it. That jaunty air betokens
the beginning of your search before question and reiteration have dulled
your spirits. Later, there will be less sparkle in your eye. What! Do not
the English wear pajamas? Does not the sex that is bifurcated by day keep
by night to its manly bifurcation? Is not each separate leg swathed in
complete divorcement from its fellow? Or, womanish, do they rest in the
common dormitory of a shirt _de nuit_? The Englishman _does_ wear pajamas,
but the word with him takes on an Icelandic meaning. They are built to the
prescription of an Esquimo. They are woolly, fuzzy and the width of a
finger thick. If I were a night-watchman, "doom'd for a certain term to
walk the night," I should insist on English pajamas to keep me awake. If
Saint Sebastian, who, I take it, wore sackcloth for the glory of his soul,
could have lighted on the pair of pajamas that I bought on Oxford Circus,
his halo would have burned the brighter.

Just how the feathery and billowy nights of our great-grandparents were
changed into the present is too deep for explanation. Perhaps Annie left a
door or window open--such neglect fitting with her other heedlessness--and
notwithstanding this means of entry, it was found in the morning that no
sprite or ooph had got in to pinch the noses of the sleepers. At least,
there was no evidence of such a visitation, unless the snoring that
abounded all the night did proceed from the pinching of the nose (the
nasal orifice being so clamped betwixt the forefinger and the thumb of
these devilish sprites that the breath was denied its proper channel).
Unless snoring was so caused, it is clear that no ooph had clambered
through the window.

Or perhaps some brave man--a brother to him who first ate an oyster--put
up the window out of bravado to snap thereby his fingers at the forms of
darkness, and being found whole and without blemish or mark of witch upon
his throat and without catarrhal snuffling in his nose, of a consequence
the harsh opinion against the night softened.

Or maybe some younger woman threw up her window to listen to the slim
tenor of moonlight passion with such strumming business as
accompanied--tinkling of cithern or mandolin--and so with chin in hand,
she sighed her soul abroad, to the result that the closing was forgotten.
It is like enough that her dreams were all the sweeter for the breeze that
blew across her bed--loaded with the rhythmic memory of the words she had
heard within the night.

It was vanity killed the night-cap. What aldermanic man would risk the
chance of seeing himself in the mirror? What judge, peruked by day, could
so contain his learned locks? What male with waxed moustachios, or with
limpest beard, or chin new-reaped would put his ears in such a compress?
You will recall how Mr. Pickwick snatched his off when he found the lady
in the curl papers in his room. His round face showed red with shame
against the dusky bed-curtains, like the sun peering through the fog.

As for bed-curtains, they served the intrigue of at least five generations
of novelists from Fielding onward. There was not a rogue's tale of the
eighteenth century complete without them. The wrong persons were always
being pinned up inside them. The cause of such confusion started in the
tap, too much negus or an over-drop of pineapple rum with a lemon in it or
a potent drink whose name I have forgotten that was always ordered "and
make it luke, my dear." Then, after such evening, a turn to the left
instead of right, a wrong counting of doors along the passage, the
jiggling of bed-curtains, screams and consternation. It is one of the
seven original plots. Except for clothes-closets, screens and
bed-curtains, Sterne must have gone out of the novel business, Sheridan
have lost fecundity and Dryden starved in a garret. But the moths got into
their red brocade at last and a pretty meal they made.

A sleeping porch is the symbol of the friendly truce between man and the
material universe. The world itself and the void spaces of its wanderings,
together with the elements of our celestial neighborhood, have been viewed
by man with dark suspicion, with rather a squint-eyed prejudice. Let's
take a single case! Winds for a long time have borne bad
reputations--except such anemic collateral as are called zephyrs--but
winds, properly speaking, which are big and strong enough to have rough
chins and beards coming, have been looked upon as roustabouts. What was
mere humor in their behavior has been set down to mischief. If a wind in
playfulness does but shake a casement, or if in frolic it scatters the
ashes across the hearth, or if in liveliness it swishes you as you turn a
corner and drives you aslant across the street, is it right that you set
your tongue to gossip and judge it a son of Belial?

There are persons also--but such sleep indoors--in whose ears the
wind whistles only gloomy tunes. Or if it rise to shrill piping, it
rouses only a fear of chimneys. Thus in both high pitch and low there
is fear in the hearing of it. Into their faces will come a kind of
God-help-the-poor-sailors-in-the-channel look, as in a melodrama when the
paper snowstorm is at its worst and the wind machine is straining at its
straps. One would think that they were afraid the old earth itself might
be buffeted off its course and fall afoul of neighboring planets.

But behold the man whose custom is to sleep upon a porch! At what
slightest hint--the night being yet young, with scarce three yawns gone
round--does he shut his book and screen the fire! With what speed he bolts
the door and puts out the downstairs lights, lest callers catch him in the
business! How briskly does he mount the stairs with fingers already on the
buttons! Then with what scattering of garments he makes him ready, as
though his explosive speed had blown him all to pieces and lodged him
about the room!

Then behold him--such general amputation not having proved
fatal--advancing to the door muffled like a monk! There is a slippered
flight. He dives beneath the covers. (I draw you a winter picture.) You
will see no more of him now than the tip of his nose, rising like a little
Ætna from the waves.

But does _he_ fear the wind as it fumbles around the porch and plays like
a kitten with the awning cords? Bless you, he has become a playmate of the
children of the night--the swaying branches, the stars, the swirl of
leaves--all the romping children of the night. And if there was any fear
at all within the darkness, it has gone to sulk behind the mountains.


But the wind sings a sleepy song and the game's too short. Then the wind
goes round and round the house looking for the leaves--for the wind is a
bit of a nursemaid--and wherever it finds them it tucks them in, under
fences and up against cellar windows where they will be safe until
morning. Then it goes off on other business, for there are other streets
in town and a great many leaves to be attended to.

But the fellow with the periscopic nose above the covers lies on his back
beneath the stars, and contemplation journeys to him from the wide spaces
of the night.




In what pleasurable mystery would we live were it not for maps! If I
chance on the name of a town I have visited, I locate it on a map. I may
not actually get down the atlas and put my finger on the name, but at
least I picture to myself its lines and contour and judge its miles in
inches. And thereby for a thing of ink and cardboard I have banished from
the world its immensity and mystery. But if there were no maps--what then?
By other devices I would have to locate it. I would say that it came at
the end of some particular day's journey; that it lies in the twilight at
the conclusion of twenty miles of dusty road; that it lies one hour
nightward of a blow-out. I would make it neighbor to an appetite gratified
and a thirst assuaged, a cool bath, a lazy evening with starlight and
country sounds. Is not this better than a dot on a printed page?


That is the town, I would say, where we had the mutton chops and where we
heard the bullfrogs on the bridge. Or that town may be circumstanced in
cherry pie, a comical face at the next table, a friendly dog with
hair-trigger tail, or some immortal glass of beer on a bench outside a
road-inn. These things make that town as a flame in the darkness, a flame
on a hillside to overtop my course. Many years can go grinding by without
obliterating the pleasant sight of its flare. Or maybe the town is so
intermingled with dismal memories that no good comes of too particularly
locating it. Then Tony Lumpkin's advice on finding Mr. Hardcastle's house
is enough. "It's a damn'd long, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way." And
let it go at that.

Maps are toadies to the thoroughfares. They shower their attentions on the
wide pavements, holding them up to observation, marking them in red, and
babbling and prattling obsequiously about them, meanwhile snubbing with
disregard all the lanes and bypaths. They are cockney and are interested
in showing only the highroads between cities, and in consequence neglect
all tributary loops and windings. In a word, they are against the jog-trot
countryside and conspire with the signposts against all loitering and

As for me, I do not like a straight thoroughfare. To travel such a road is
like passing a holiday with a man who is going about his business. Idle as
you are, vacant of purpose, alert for distraction, _he_ must keep his eyes
straight ahead and he must attend to the business in hand. I like a road
that is at heart a vagabond, which loiters in the shade and turns its head
on occasion to look around the corner of a hill, which will seek out
obscure villages even though it requires a zigzag course up a hillside,
which follows a river for the very love of its company and humors its
windings, which trots alongside and listens to its ripple and then
crosses, sans bridge, like a schoolboy, with its toes in the water. I love
a road which goes with the easy, rolling gait of a sailor ashore. It has
no thought of time and it accepts all the vagaries of your laziness. I
love a road which weaves itself into eddies of eager traffic before the
door of an inn, and stops a minute at the drinking trough because it has
heard the thirst in your horse's whinny; and afterwards it bends its head
on the hillside for a last look at the kindly spot. Ah, but the vagabond
cannot remain long on the hills. Its best are its lower levels. So down it
dips. The descent is easy for roads and cart wheels and vagabonds and much
else; until in the evening it hears again the murmur of waters, and its
journey has ended.


There is of course some fun in a map that is all wrong. Those, for
example, of the early navigators are worth anybody's time. There is
possibility in one that shows Japan where Long Island ought to be. That
map is human. It makes a correct and proper map no better than a
molly-coddle. There can be fine excitement in learning on the best of
fourteenth century authority that there is no America and that India lies
outside the Pillars of Hercules. The uncharted seas, the _incognova terra_
where lions are (_ubi leones erunt_, as the maps say), these must always
stir us. In my copy of Gulliver are maps of his discoveries. Lilliput lies
off the coast of Sumatra and must now be within sight of the passengers
bound from London to Melbourne if only they had eyes to see it.
Brobdingnag, would you believe it, is a hump on the west coast of America
and cannot be far from San Francisco. That gives one a start. Swift,
writing in 1725 with a world to choose from, selects the Californian coast
as the most remote and unknown for the scene of his fantastical adventure.
It thrusts 1725 into a gray antiquity. And yet there are many buildings in
England still standing that antedate 1725 by many years, some by
centuries. Queen Elizabeth had been dead more than a hundred years.
Canterbury was almost as old and probably in worse repair than it is now,
when Frisco was still Brobdingnag. Can it be that the giant red trees and
the tall bragging of the coast date from its heroic past?

Story-writers have nearly always been the foes of maps, finding in them a
kind of cramping of their mental legs. And in consequence they have struck
upon certain devices for getting off the map and away from its precise and
restricting bigotry. Davy fell asleep. It was Davy, you remember, who grew
drowsy one winter afternoon before the fire and sailed away with the
goblin in his grandfather's clock. Robinson Crusoe was driven off his
bearings by stress of weather at sea. This is a popular device for eluding
the known world. Whenever in your novel you come on a sentence like
this--On the third night it came on to blow and that night and the three
succeeding days and nights we ran close-reefed before the
tempest--whenever you come on a sentence like that, you may know that the
author feels pinched and cramped by civilization, and is going to regale
you with some adventures of his uncharted imagination which are likely to
be worth your attention.

Then there was Sentimental Tommy! Do you remember how he came to find the
Enchanted Street? It happened that there was a parade, "an endless row of
policemen walking in single file, all with the right leg in the air at the
same time, then the left leg. Seeing at once that they were after him,
Tommy ran, ran, ran until in turning a corner he found himself wedged
between two legs. He was of just sufficient size to fill the aperture, but
after a momentary lock he squeezed through, and they proved to be the gate
into an enchanted land." In that lies the whole philosophy of going
without a map. There is magic in the world then. There are surprises. You
do not know what is ahead. And you cannot tell what is about to happen.
You move in a proper twilight of events. After that Tommy went looking for
policemen's legs. Doubtless there were some details of the wizardry that
he overlooked, as never again could he come out on the Enchanted Street in
quite the same fashion. Alice had a different method. She fell down a
rabbit-hole and thereby freed herself from some very irksome lessons and
besides met several interesting people, including a Duchess. Alice may be
considered the very John Cabot of the rabbit-hole. Before her time it was
known only to rabbits, wood-chucks, and dogs on holidays, whose noses are
muddy with poking. But since her time all this is changed. Now it is known
as the portal of adventure. It is the escape from the plane of life into
its third dimension.

Children have the true understanding of maps. They never yield slavishly
to them. If they want a pirates' den they put it where it is handiest,
behind the couch in the sitting-room, just beyond the glimmer of
firelight. If they want an Indian village, where is there a better place
than in the black space under the stairs, where it can be reached without
great fatigue after supper? Farthest Thule may be behind the asparagus
bed. The North Pole itself may be decorated by Annie on Monday afternoon
with the week's wash. From whatever house you hear a child's laugh, if it
be a real child and therefore a great poet, you may know that from the
garret window, even as you pass, Sinbad, adrift on the Indian Ocean, may
be looking for a sail, and that the forty thieves huddle, daggers drawn,
in the coal hole. Then it is a fine thing for a child to run away to
sea--well, really not to sea, but down the street, past gates and gates
and gates, until it comes to the edge of the known and sees a collie or
some such terrible thing. I myself have fine recollection of running away
from a farmhouse. Maybe I did not get more than a hundred paces, but I
looked on some broad heavens, saw a new mystery in the night's shadows,
and just before I became afraid I had a taste of a new life.

To me it is strange that so few people go down rabbit-holes. We cannot be
expected to find the same delight in squeezing our fat selves behind the
couch of evenings, nor can we hope to find that the Chinese Mountains
actually lie beyond our garden fence. We cannot exactly run away either;
after one is twenty, that takes on an ugly and vagrant look, commendable
as it may be on the early marches. Prince Hal is always a more amiable
spectacle than John Falstaff, much as we love the knight. But there are
men, however few, who although they are beyond forty, retain in themselves
a fine zest for adventure. A man who, I am proud to say, is a friend of
mine and who is a devil for work by which he is making himself known in
the world, goes of evenings into the most delightful truantry with his
music. And it isn't only music, it is flowers and pictures and books. Of
course he has an unusual brain and few men can hope to equal him. He is
like Disraeli in that respect, who, it is said, could turn in a flash from
the problem of financing the Suez Canal to the contemplation of the
daffodils nodding along the fence. But do the rest of us try? There are
few men of business, no matter with what singleness of purpose they have
been installing their machinery and counting their nickels, but will admit
that this is but a small part of life. They dream of rabbit-holes, but
they will never go down one. I had dinner recently with a man who by his
honesty and perseverance has built up and maintained a large and
successful business. An orchestra was playing, and when it finished the
man told me that if he could write music like that we had heard he would
devote himself to it. Well, if he has enough desire in him for that
speech, he owes it to himself that he sound his own depths for the
discoveries he may make. It is doubtful if this quest would really lead
him to write music, God forbid; it might however induce him to develop a
latent appreciation until it became in him both a refreshment and a

There are many places uncharted that are worth a visit. Treasure Island is
somewhere on the seas, the still-vex'd Bermoothes feel the wind of some
southern ocean, the coast of Bohemia lies on the furthermost shore of
fairyland--all of these wonderful, like white towers in the mind. But
nearer home, as near as the pirates' den that we built as children, within
sight of our firelight, should come the dreams and thoughts that set us
free from sordidness, that teach our minds versatility and sympathy, that
create for us hobbies and avocations of worth, that rest and refresh us.
If we must be ocean liners all day, plodding between known and monotonous
ports, at least we may be tramp ships at night, cargoed with strange
stuffs and trafficking for lonely and unvisited seas.





  Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!
        Spring, the sweet Spring!

If by any chance you have seen a man in a coat with sagging pockets, and a
cloth hat of the latest fashion but two--a hat which I may say is precious
to him (old friends, old wine, old hats)--emerging from his house just
short of noon, do not lay his belated appearance to any disorder in his
conduct! Certain neighbors at their windows as he passed, raised their
eyes in a manner, if I mistake not, of suspicion that a man should be so
far trespassing on the day, for nine o'clock should be the penny-picker's
latest departure for the vineyard. Thereafter the street belongs to the
women, except for such sprouting and unripe manhood as brings the
groceries, and the hardened villainy that fetches ice and with deep voice
breaks the treble of the neighborhood. But beyond these there are no men
in sight save the pantalooned exception who mows the grass, and with the
whirr of his clicking knives sounds the prelude of the summer. I'll say by
way of no more than a parenthetical flick of notice that his eastern
front, conspicuous from the rear as he bends forward over his machine,
shows a patched and jointed mullionry that is not unlike the tracery of
some cathedral's rounded apse. But I go too far in imagery. Plain speech
is best. I'll waive the gothic touch.

But observe this sluggard who issues from his door! He knows he is
suspected--that the finger is uplifted and the chin is wagging. And so he
takes on a smarter stride with a pretense of briskness, to proclaim
thereby the virtue of having risen early despite his belated appearance,
and what mighty business he has despatched within the morning.

But you will get no clue as to whether he has been closeted with the law,
or whether it is domestic faction--plumbers or others of their ilk (if
indeed plumbers really have any ilk and do not, as I suspect, stand
unbrothered like the humped Richard in the play). Or maybe some swirl of
fancy blew upon him as he was spooning up his breakfast, which he must set
down in an essay before the matter cool. Or an epic may have thumped
within him. Let us hope that his thoughts this cool spring morning have
not been heated to such bloody purpose that he has killed a score of men
upon his page, and that it is with the black gore of the ink-pot on him
that he has called for his boots to face the world. You remember the
fellow who kills him "some six or seven dozens of Scots at a breakfast,
washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want

Such ferocity should not sully this fair May morning, when there are
sounds only of carpet-beating, the tinkle of the man who is out to grind
your knives and the recurrent melody of the connoisseur of rags and
bottles who stands in his cart as he drives his lean and pointed horse. At
the cry of this perfumed Brummel--if you be not gone in years too far--as
often as he prepares to shout the purpose of his quest, you'll put a
question to him, "Hey, there, what do you feed your wife on?" And then his
answer will come pat to your expectation, "Pa-a-a-per Ra-a-a-gs,
Pa-a-a-per Ra-a-a-gs!" If the persistence of youth be in you and the
belief that a jest becomes better with repetition--like beans nine days
cold within the pot--you will shout your question until he turns the
corner and his answer is lost in the noises of the street. "Adieu! Adieu!
thy plaintive anthem fades--"

To this day I think of a rag-picker's wife as dining sparingly out of a
bag--not with her head inside like a horse, but thrusting her scrawny arm
elbow deep to stir the pottage, and sprinkling salt and pepper on for
nicer flavor. Following such preparation she will fork it out like
macaroni, with her head thrown back to present the wider orifice. If her
husband's route lies along the richer streets she will have by way of
tidbit for dessert a piece of chewy velvet, sugared and buttered to a

But what is this jingling racket that comes upon the street? Bless us,
it's a hurdy-gurdy. The hurdy-gurdy, I need hardly tell you, belongs to
the organ family. This family is one of the very oldest and claims
descent, I believe, from the god Pan. However, it accepted Christianity
early and has sent many a son within the church to pipe divinity. But the
hurdy-gurdy--a younger son, wild, and a bit of a pagan like its
progenitor--took to the streets. In its life there it has acquired, among
much rascality, certain charming vices that are beyond the capacity of its
brother in the loft, however much we may admire the deep rumble of his
Sabbath utterance.

The world has denied that chanticleer proclaims the day. But as far as I
know no one has had the insolence to deny the street-organ as the proper
herald of the spring. Without it the seasons would halt. Though science
lay me by the heels, I'll assert that the crocus, which is a pioneer on
the windy borderland of March, would not show its head except on the
sounding of the hurdy-gurdy. I'll not deny that flowers pop up their heads
afield without such call, that the jack-in-the-pulpit speaks its maiden
sermon on some other beckoning of nature. But in the city it is the
hurdy-gurdy that gives notice of the turning of the seasons. On its sudden
blare I've seen the green stalk of the daffodil jiggle. If the tune be of
sufficient rattle and prolonged to the giving of the third nickel, before
the end is reached there will be seen a touch of yellow.

Whether this follows from the same cause as attracts the children to
flatten their noses on the windows and calls them to the curb that they
put their ears close upon the racket that no sweetest sound be lost, is a
deep question and not to be lightly answered. In the sound there is
promise of the days to come when circuses will be loosed upon the land and
elephants will go padding by--with eyes looking around for peanuts. Why
this biggest of all beasts, this creature that looms above you like a
crustaceous dinosaur--to use long words without squinting too closely on
their meaning--why this behemoth with the swishing trunk, should eat
peanuts, contemptible peanuts, lies so deep in nature that the mind turns
dizzy. It is small stuff to feed valor on--a penny's worth of food in such
a mighty hulk. Whatever the lion eats may turn to lion, but the elephant
strains the proverb. He might swallow you instead, breeches, hat and
suspenders--if you be of the older school of dress before the belt came
in--and not so much as cough upon the buttons. And there will be red and
yellow wagons, boarded up seductively, as though they could show you, if
they would, snakes and hyenas. May be it is best, you think--such things
lying in the seeds of time--to lay aside a dime from the budget of the
week, for one can never be sure against the carelessness of parents, and
their jaded appetites.


But the hurdy-gurdy is the call to sterner business also. I know an old
lady who, at the first tinkle from the street, will take off her glasses
with a finality as though she were never to use them again for the light
pleasure of reading, but intended to fill the remainder of her days with
deeper purpose. There is a piece of two-legged villainy in her employ by
the name of William, and even before the changing of the tune, she will
have him rolling up the rugs for the spring cleaning. There is a sour
rhythm in the fellow and he will beat a pretty syncopation on them if the
hurdy-gurdy will but stick to marching time. It is said that he once broke
the fabric of a Kermanshah in his zeal at some crescendo of the _Robert E.
Lee_. But he was lost upon the valse and struck languidly and out of time.

But maybe, Reader, in your youth you have heated a penny above a lamp, and
with treacherous smile you have come before an open window. And when the
son of Italy has grinned and beckoned for your bounty--the penny being
just short of a molten state--you have thrown it to him. He stoops, he
feels.... You have learned by this how much more blessed it is to give
than to receive. Or, to dig deep in the riot of your youth, you have
leased a hurdy-gurdy for a dollar and with other devils of your kind gone
forth to seek your fortune. It's in noisier fashion than when Goldsmith
played the flute through France for board and bed. If you turned the
handle slowly and fast by jerks you attained a rare tempo that drew
attention from even the most stolid windows. But as music it was as

Down the street--it being now noon and the day Monday--Mrs. Y's washing
will be out to dry. Observe her gaunt replica, _cap-a-pie_, as immodest as
an advertisement! In her proper person she is prodigal if she unmask her
beauty to the moon. And in company with this, is the woolen semblance of
her plump husband. Neither of them is shap'd for sportive tricks: But look
upon them when the music starts! Hand in hand upon the line, as is proper
for married folk, heel and toe together, one, two, and a one, two, three.
It is the hurdy-gurdy that calls to life such revelry. The polka has come
to its own again.

Yet despite this evidence that the hurdy-gurdy sets the world to
dancing--like the fiddle in the Turkish tale where even the headsman
forgot his business--despite such evidence there are persons who affect to
despise its melody. These claim such perceptivity of the outer ear and
such fineness of the channels that the tune is but a clack when it gets
inside. God pity such! I'll not write a word of them.

A spring day is at its best about noon. I thrust this in the teeth of
those who prefer the dawn or the coming on of night. At noon there are
more yellow wheels upon the street. The hammering on sheds is at its
loudest as the time for lunch comes near. More grocers' carts are rattling
on their business. There is a better chance that a load of green
wheelbarrows may go by, or a wagon of red rhubarb. Then, too, the air is
so warm that even decrepitude fumbles on the porch and down the steps,
with a cane to poke the weeds.

If you have luck, you may see a "cullud pusson" pushing a whitewash cart
with altruistic intent toward all dusky surfaces except his own. Or maybe
he has nice appreciation of what color contrasts he himself presents when
the work is midway. If he wear the faded memory of a silk hat, it's the
better picture.

But also the schools are out and the joy of life is hissing up a hundred
gullets. Baseball has now a fierceness it lacks at the end of day. There
is wild demand that "Shorty, soak 'er home!" "Butter-fingers!" is a harder
insult. And meanwhile a pop-corn wagon will be whistling a blithe if
monotonous tune in trial if there be pennies in the crowd. Or a waffle may
be purchased if you be a Croesus, ladled exclusively for you and dropped
on the gridiron with a splutter. It is a sweet reward after you have
knocked a three-bagger and stolen home, and is worth a search in all your
eleven pockets for any last penny that may be skulking in the fuzz.

Or perhaps there is such wealth upon your person that there is still a
restless jingle. In such case you will cross the street to a shop that
ministers to the wants of youth. In the window is displayed a box of
marbles--glassies, commonies, and a larger browny adapted to the purpose
of "pugging," by reason of the violence with which it seems to respond to
the impact of your thumb. Then there are baseballs of graded excellence
and seduction. And tops. Time is needed for the choosing of a top. First
you stand tiptoe with nose just above the glass and make your trial
selection. Pay no attention to the color, for that's the way a girl
chooses! Black is good, without womanish taint. Then you wiggle the peg
for its tightness and demand whether it be screwed in like an honest top.
And finally, before putting your money down, you will squint upon its
roundness. Then slam the door and yell your presence to the street!

Or do you come on softer errand? In the rear of the shop is a parlor with
a base-burner and virtuous mottoes on the walls--a cosy room with vases.
And here it is they serve cream-puffs.... For safe transfer you balance
the puff in your fingers and take an enveloping bite, emerging with a
prolonged suck for such particles as may not have come safely across, and
bending forward with stomach held in. I'll leave you in this refreshment;
for if the money hold, you will gobble until the ringing of the bell.

By this time, as you may imagine, the person with the sagging pockets whom
I told you of, has arrived in the center of the city where already he is
practicing such device of penny-picking as he may be master of.






_To any one of several editors._

Dear Sir: I paid a visit to your city several days since and humored
myself with ambitious thoughts in the contemplation of your editorial
windows. I was tempted to rap at your door and request an audience but
modesty held me off. Once by appointment I passed an hour in your office
pleasantly and profitably and even so tardily do I acknowledge your
courtesy and good-nature. But a beggar must choose his streets carefully
and must not be seen too often in a neighborhood as the same door does not
always offer pie. So this time your brass knocker shows no finger-marks of

You did not accept for publication the last paper I sent to you. (You
spread an infinite deal of sorrow in your path.) On its return I re-read
it and now confess to concurrence with your judgment. Something had gone
wrong. It was not as intended. Unlike Cleopatra, age had withered it. Was
I not like a cook whose dinner has been sent back untasted? The best
available ingredients were put into that confection and if it did not
issue from the oven with those savory whiffs that compel appetite, my
stove is at fault. Perhaps some good old literary housewife will tell me,
disconsolate among my pots and pans, how long an idea must be boiled to be
tender and how best to garnish a thought to an editor's taste? And yet,
sir, your manners are excellent. It was Petruchio who cried:

  What's this? Mutton?--
  'Tis burnt; and so is all the meat.
                Where is the rascal cook?

Manners have improved. In pleasant contrast is your courteous note,
signifying the excellence of my proffered pastry, your delight that you
are allowed to sniff and your regret for lack of appetite and abdominal
capacity. Nevertheless, the food came back and I poked at the broken
pieces mournfully. It is a witch's business presiding at the caldron of
these things and there is no magic pottage above my fire.

And yet, kind sir, with your permission I shall continue in my ways and
offer to you from time to time such messes as I have, hoping that some day
your taste will deteriorate to my level or that I shall myself learn the
witchcraft and enter your regard.

Up to this present time only a few of my papers have been asked to stay.
The rest have gone the downward tread of your stair carpet and have passed
into the night. My desk has become a kind of mausoleum of such as have
come home to die, and when I raise its lid a silence falls on me as on one
who visits sacred places.

There is, however, another side of this. Certain it is that thousands of
us who write seek your recognition and regard. Certain it is that your
favorable judgment moves us to elation, and your silence to our merits
urges us to harder endeavors. But for all this, dear sir, and despite your
continued neglect, we are a tolerably happy crew. It may be that our best
things were never published--best, because we enjoyed them most, because
they recall the happiest hours and the finest moods. They bring most
freshly to our memories the influences of books and friends and the
circumstances under which they were written. It is because we lacked the
skill to tame our sensations to our uses, the patience to do well what we
wished to do fast, that you rightly judged them unavailable. We do not
feel rebellious and we admit that you are right. Only we do not care as
much as we did, for most of us are learning to write for the love of the
writing and without an eye on the medal. With no livelihood depending,
with no compulsion of hours or subject, under the free anonymity of sure
rejection, we have worked. It has been a fine world, these hours of study
and reflection, and when we assert that one essay is our best, we are
right, for it has led us to happiness and pleasant thoughts and to an
interpretation of ourselves and the world that moves about us. In these
best moods of ours, we live and think beyond our normal powers and even
come to a distant kinship with men far greater than ourselves. Knowing
this, prudence only keeps us from snapping our fingers at you and marking
each paper, as we finish it, "rejected," without the formality of a trip
to you, and then happily beginning the next. We are learning to be
amateurs and although our names shall never be shouted from the housetops,
we shall be almost as content. Still will there be the morning hours of
study with sunlight across the floor, the winding country roads of autumn
with smells of corn-stacks and burdened vineyards, the fire-lit hours of
evening. Still shall we write in our gardens of a summer afternoon or
change the winter snowstorm that drives against our windows into the
coinage of our thoughts.


We shall be independent and think and write as we please. And although we
enclose stamps for a mournful recessional, please know, dear sir, that
even as you dictate your polite note of refusal, we are hard at it with
another paper.




It is rash business scuttling your own ship. Now as I am in a way a
practical person, which is, I take it, a diminutive state of
hard-headedness, any detraction against hard-headedness must appear as
leveled against myself. Gimlet in hand, deep down amidships, it would look
as if I were squatted and set on my own destruction.

But by hard-headed persons I mean those beyond the ordinary, those so far
gone that a pin-prick through the skull would yield not so much as a drop
of ooze; persons whose brain convolutions did they appear in fright at the
aperture on the insertion of the pin--like a head at a window when there
is a fire on the street--would betray themselves as but a kind of cordage.
Such hard-headedness, you will admit, is of a tougher substance than that
which may beset any of us on an occasion at the price of meat, or on the
recurrent obligations of the too-constant moon.

I am reasonably free from colds. I do not fret myself into a congestion if
a breath comes at me from an open window; or if a swirl of wind puts its
cold fingers down my neck do I lift my collar. Yet the presence of a
thoroughly hard-headed person provokes a sneeze. There is a chilly vapor
off him--a swampish miasma--that puts me in a snuffling state, beyond
poultice and mustard footbaths. No matter how I huddle to the fire, my
thoughts will congeal and my purpose cramp and stiffen. My conceit too
will be but a shriveled bladder.

Several years ago I knew a man of extreme hard-headedness. As I recall, I
was afflicted at the time--indeed, the malady co-existed with his
acquaintance--with a sorry catarrh of the nasal passages. I can remember
still the clearings and snufflings that obtruded in my conversation. For
two winters my complaint was beyond the cunning of the doctors. Despite
local applications and such pills as they thought fit to administer, still
did the snuffling continue. Then on a sudden my friend left town.
Consequent to which and to the amazement of the profession, the springs of
my disease dried up. As this happened at the beginning of the warm days of
summer, I am loath to lay my cure entirely to his withdrawal, yet there
was a nice jointry of time. My acquaintance thereafter dropped to an
infrequent, statistical letter, against which I have in time proofed
myself. But the catarrh has ceased except when some faint thought echoes
from the past, at which again, as in the older days, I am forced to blow a
passage in the channel for verbal navigation.

This man's interest in life was oil. It oozed from the ventages of his
talk. If he looked on the map of this fair world, with its mountains like
caterpillars dozing on the page--for so do maps present themselves to my
fancy--_he_ would see merely the blueprint and huge specification of oil
production and consumption. The dotted cities would suggest no more than
agencies in its distribution, and they would be pegged in many colors--as
is the custom of our business efficiency--by way of base symbolism of
their rank and pretense; the wide oceans themselves would be merely
courses for his tank ships to bustle on and leave a greasy trail. Really,
contrary to my own experience and sudden cure, one might think that such
an oleaginous stream of talk, if directed in atomizer fashion against the
nostrils of the listener, would serve as a healing emulsion for the
complaint I then suffered with.

Be these things as they may, what I can actually vouch for is that when
this fellow had set himself and opened a volley of facts on me, I was
shamed to silence. There was a spaciousness, a planetary sweep and
glittering breadth that shriveled me. The commodity which I dispensed was
but used around the corner, with a key turned upon it at the shadowy end
of day against its intrusion on the night. But his oil, all day long and
all night too, was swishing in its tanks on the course to Zanzibar. And
all the fretted activity of the earth was tributary to his purpose. How
like an untrimmed smoky night-candle did my ambition burn! If I chanced to
think in thousands it was a strain upon me. My cerebrum must have throbbed
itself to pieces upon the addition of another cypher. But he marshaled his
legions and led them up and down, until it dazed me. I was no better than
some cobbler with a fiddle, crooked and intent to the twanging of his E
string, while the great Napoleon thundered by.

The secret channels of the earth and the fullness thereof made a joyful
gurgle in his thoughts. And if he ever wandered in the country and ever
saw a primrose on the river's brim--which I consider unlikely, his
attention being engaged at the moment on figuring the cost of oil barrels,
with special consideration for the price of bungs--if this man ever did
see a primrose, would it have been a yellow primrose to him and nothing
more? Bless your dear eyes, it would have been a compound of
by-products--parafine, wax-candles, cup-grease, lamp-black, beeswax and
peppermint drops--not to mention its proper distillation into such rare
odors as might be sold at so much a bottle to jobbers, and a set price at
retail, with best legal talent to avoid the Sherman Act.

This man has lived--my spleen rises at the thought--in many of the
capitals of Europe. For six months at a time he has walked around one
end of the Louvre on his way home at night without once putting his
head inside. Indeed, it is probable he hasn't noticed the building,
or if he has, thinks it is an arsenal. Now in all humility, and
unbuttoned, as it were, for a spanking by whomsoever shall wish to give
it, I must confess that I myself have no great love for the Louvre,
regarding it somewhat as an endurance test for tired tourists, a kind
of blow-in-the-nozzle-and-watch-the-dial-mount-up contrivance, as at a
country fair. And so I am not sure but that the band playing in the
gardens is a better amusement for a bright afternoon, and that a
nursemaid in uniform with her children--bare-legged tots with fingers
in the sand--that such sight is more worthy of respect than a dead
Duchess painted on the wall. It is but a ritualistic obeisance I have paid
the gods inside. My finer reverence has been for benches in the sun and
the vagabondage of a bus-top.

If ever my friend gets to heaven it will be but another point for
exportation. How closely he will listen for any squeaking of the Pearly
Gates, with a nostrum ready for their dry complaint! When he is once
through and safe (the other pilgrims still coming up the hill--for heaven,
I'm sure, will be set on some wind-swept ridge, with purple distance in
the valleys--) how he will put his ear against the hinge for nice
diagnosis as to the weight of oil that will give best result! How he will
wink upon the gateman that he write his order large!

Reader, I have sent you off upon a wrong direction. I have twisted the
wooden finger at the crossroads. The man of oil does not exist. He is a
piece of fiction with which to point a moral. Pig-iron or cotton-cloth
would have served as well; anything, in fact, whereon, by too close
squinting, one may blunt his sight.

We have all observed a growing tendency in many persons to put, as it
were, electric lights in all the corners and attics of their brains, until
it is too much a rarity to find any one who will admit a twilight in his
whole establishment. This is carrying mental housekeeping too far. I will
confess that I prefer a light at the foot of the back stairs, where the
steps are narrow at the turn, for Annie is precious to us. I will confess,
also, that it is well to have a switch in the kitchen to throw light in
the basement, on the chance that the wood-box may get empty before the
evening has spent itself. There is comfort, too, in not being forced to go
darkling to bed, like Childe Roland to the tower, but to put out the light
from the floor above. But we are carrying this business too far in mental
concerns. Here is properly a place for a rare twilight. It is not well
that a man should always flare himself like a lighted ballroom.

Much of our best mental stuff--if you exclude the harsher grindings of our
business hours--fades in too coarse a light. 'Tis a brocade that for best
preservation must not be hung always in the sun. There must be regions in
you unguessed at--cornered and shadowed places--recesses to be shown at
peep of finger width, yielding only to the knock of fancy, dim
sequesterings tucked obscurely from the noises of the world, where one
must be taken by the hand and led--dusky closets beyond the common use. It
is in such places--your finger on your lips and your feet a-tiptoe on the
stairs--that you will hide away from baser uses the stowage of moonlight
stuff and such other gaseous and delightful foolery as may lie in your





Several months ago I had occasion to go through a deserted "mansion." It
was a gaunt building with long windows and it sat in a great yard. Over
the windows were painted scrolls, like eyebrows lifted in astonishment.
Whatever was the cause of this, it has long since departed, for it is
thirty years since the building was tenanted. It would seem as if it fell
asleep--for so the blinds and the drawn curtains attest--before the lines
of this first astonishment were off its face. I am told that the faces of
men dead in battle show in similar fashion the marks of conflict. But
there is a shocked expression on the face of this house as if a scandal
were on the street. It is crying, as it were, "Fie, shame!" upon its

Inside there are old carpets and curtains which spit dust at you if you
touch them. (Is there not some fabulous animal which does the same,
thereby to escape in the mirk it has itself created?) Most of the
furniture has been removed, but here and there bulky pieces remain, an
antique sideboard, maybe too large to be taken away; like Robinson
Crusoe's boat, too heavy to be launched. In each room is a chandelier for
gas, resplendent as though Louis XV had come again to life, with tinkling
glass pendants and globules interlinked, like enormous Kohinoors.

Down in the kitchen--which is below stairs as in an old English
comedy--you can see the place where the range stood. And there are smoky
streaks upon the walls that may have come from the coals of ancient
feasts. If you sniff, and put your fancy in it--it is an unsavory
thought--it is likely even that you can get the stale smell from such
hospitable preparation.

From the first floor to the second is a flaring staircase with a landing
where opulence can get its breath. And then there is a choice of upward
steps, either to the right or left as your wish shall direct. And on each
side is a balustrade unbroken by posts from top to bottom. Now the first
excitement of my own life was on such a rail, which seemed a funicular
made for my special benefit. The seats of all my early breeches, I have
been told, were worn shiny thereon, like a rubbed apple. These descents
were executed slowly at the turn, but gathered wild speed on the
straight-away. There was slight need for Annie to dust the "balusters."

An old house is strong in its class distinctions. There is a front part
and a back part. To know the front part is to know it in its spacious and
generous moods. But somewhere you will find a door and there will be three
steps behind it, and poof!--you will be prying into the darker life of the
place. In this particular house of which I write, it was as if the back
rooms, the back halls and the innumerable closets had been playing at hide
and seek and had not been told when the game was over, and so still kept
to their hiding places. It is in such obscure closets that a family
skeleton, if it be kept at all, might be kept most safely. There would be
slight hazard of its discovery if the skeleton restrained itself from
clanking, as is the whim of skeletons.

It was in the back part of this house that I came on a closet, where,
after all these years, women's garments were still hanging. A lighted
match--for I am no burglar with a bull's-eye as you might
suspect--displayed to me an array of petticoats--the flounced kind that
gladdened the eye of woman in those remote days--also certain gauzy
matters which the writers of the eighteenth century called by the name of
smocks. Besides these, there were suspended from hooks those sartorial
deceits, those lying mounds of fashion, that false incrustation on the
surface of nature, known as "bustles." Also, there was a hoopskirt curled
upon the floor, and an open barrel with a stowage of books--a novel or two
of E. P. Roe, the poems of John Saxe, a table copy of Whittier in padded
leather, an album with a flourish on the cover--these at the top of the

I choose to trace the connection between the styles of dress and books,
and--where my knowledge serves--to show the effect of political change on
both. For it is written that when Constantinople fell in the fifteenth
century Turkish costumes became the fashion through western Europe--maybe
a flash of eastern color across the shoulders or an oriental buckle for
the shoes. Similarly the Balkan War gave us hints for dress. Many styles
to-day are marks of our kinship with the East. These are mere broken
promptings for your own elaboration. And it seems to sort with this theory
of close relation, that the generation which flared and flounced its
person until nature was no more than a kernel in the midst, which puffed
itself like a muffin with but a finger-point of dough within, should be
the generation that particularly delighted in romantic literature, in
which likewise nature is so prudently wrapped that scarce an ankle can
show itself. It would be a nice inquiry whether the hoopskirt was not
introduced--it was midway in the eighteenth century, I think--at the time
of the first budding of romantic sentiment. The "Man of Feeling" came
after and Anne Radcliffe's novels. Is it not significant also, in these
present days of Russian novels and naked realism, that costume should
advance sympathetically to the edge of modesty?


There is something, however, to be said in favor of romantic books,
despite the horrible examples at the top of this barrel. Perhaps our own
literature shivers in too thin a shift. For once upon a time somewhere
between the age of bustles and ourselves there were writers who ended
their stories "and they were married and lived happily ever after."
Whereas at this present day stories are begun "They were married and
straightway things began to go to the devil." And for my own part I have
read enough of family quarrels. I am tired of the tune upon the triangle
and I am ready for softer flutings. When I visit my neighbors, I want them
to make a decent pretense. It was Charles Lamb who found his married
friends too loving in his presence, but let us not go to extremes! And so,
after I have read a few books of marital complication, I yearn for the
old-fashioned couple in the older books who went hand in hand to old age.
At this minute there is a black book that looks down upon me like a crow.
It is "Crime and Punishment." I read it once when I was ill, and I nearly
died of it. I confess that after a very little acquaintance with such
books I am tempted to sequester them on a top shelf somewhere, beyond
reach of tiptoe, where they may brood upon their banishment and rail
against the world.

Encyclopedias and the tonnage of learning properly take their places on
the lowest shelves, for their lump and mass make a fitting foundation. I
must say, however, that the habit of the dictionary of secreting itself in
the darkest corner of the lowest shelf contributes to general illiteracy.
I have known families wrangle for ten minutes on the meaning of a word
rather than lift this laggard from its depths. Be that as it may, the
novels and poetry should be on the fifth shelf from the bottom, just off
the end of the nose, so to speak.

Now, the vinegar cruet is never the largest vessel in the house. So by
strict analogy, sour books--the kind that bite the temper and snarl upon
your better moods--should be in a small minority. Do not mistake me! I
shall find a place, maybe, for a volume or two of Nietzsche, and all of
Ibsen surely. I would admit _uplift_ too, for my taste is catholic. And
there will be other books of a kind that never rouse a chuckle in you. For
these are necessary if for no more than as alarm clocks to awake us from
our dreaming self-content. But in the main I would not have books too
insistent upon the wrongs of the world and the impossibility of remedy.

I confess to a liking for tales of adventure, for wrecks in the South
Seas, for treasure islands, for pirates with red shirts. Mark you, how a
red shirt lights up a dull page! It is like a scarlet leaf on a gray
November day. Also I have a weakness for the bang of pistols, round oaths
and other desperate rascality. In such stories there is no small mincing.
A villain proclaims himself on his first appearance--unless John Silver be
an exception--and retains his villainy until the rope tightens about his
neck in the last chapter but one; the very last being set aside for the
softer commerce of the hero and heroine.

You will remember that about twenty years ago a fine crop of such stories
came out of the Balkans. At that time it was a dim, unknown land, a kind
of novelists' Coast of Bohemia, an appropriate setting for distressed
princesses. I'll hazard a guess that there was not a peak in all that
district on which there was not some Black Rudolph's castle, not a road
that did not clack romantically with horses' hoofs on bold adventure. But
the wars have changed all this by bringing too sharp a light upon the dim
scenery of this pageantry, and swash-bucklery is all but dead.

To confess the truth, it is in such stories that I like horses best. In
real life I really do not like them at all. I am rather afraid of them as
of strange organisms that I can neither start with ease nor stop with
safety. It is not that I never rode or drove a horse. I have achieved
both. But I don't urge him to deviltry. Instead I humor his whims. Some
horses even I might be fond of. Give me a horse that nears the age of
slippered pantaloon and is, moreover, phlegmatic in his tastes, and then,
as the stories say "with tightened girth and feet well home"--but enough!
I must not be led into boasting.

But in these older stories I love a horse. With what fire do his hoofs
ring out in the flight of elopement! "Pursuit's at the turn. Speed my
brave Dobbin!" And when the Prince has kissed the Princess' hand, you know
that the story is nearly over and that they will live happily ever after.
Of course there is always someone to suggest that Cinderella was never
happy after she left her ashes and pumpkins and went to live in the
palace. But this is idle gossip. Even if there were "occasional
bickerings" between her and the Prince, this is as Lamb says it should be
among "near relations."

I nearly died of "Crime and Punishment." These Russian novelists have too
distressful a point of view. They remind me too painfully of the poem--

    It was dreadful dark
    In that doleful ark
  When the elephants went to bed.

Doubtless if the lights burn high in you, it is well to read such gloom as
is theirs. Perhaps they depict life. These things may be true and if so,
we ought to know them. At the best, theirs is a real attempt "to cleanse
the foul body of the infected world." But if there be a blast without and
driving rain, must we be always running to the door to get it in our face?
Will not one glance in the evening be enough? Shall we be always exposing
ourselves "to feel what wretches feel"? It is true that we are too content
under the suffering of others, but it is true, also, that too few of us
were born under a laughing star. Gray shadows fall too often on our minds.
A sunny road is the best to travel by. Furthermore--and here is a deep
platitude--there is many a man who sobs upon a doleful book, who to the
end of time will blithely underpay his factory girls. His grief upon the
book is diffuse. It ranges across the mountains of the world, but misses
the nicer point of his own conduct. Is this not sentimentally like the
gray yarn hysteria under the spell of which wealthy women clicked their
needles in public places for the soldiers? Let me not underrate the number
of garments that they made--surely a single machine might produce as many
within a week. But there is danger that their work was only a sentimental
expression of their world-grief. I'll sink to depths of practicality and
claim that a pittance from their allowances would have bought more and
better garments in the market.

Perhaps we read too many tragical books. In the decalogue the inheritance
of evil is too strongly visited on the children to the third and fourth
generation, and there is scant sanction as to the inheritance of goodness.
It is the sins of the fathers that live in the children. It is the evil
that men do that lives after them, while the good, alas, is oft interred
with their bones. If a doleful book stirs you up to life, for God's sake
read it! If it wraps you all about as in a winding sheet for death, you
had best have none of it.


I had now burned several matches--and my fingers too--in the inspection of
the closet where the women's garments hung. And it came on me as I poked
the books within the barrel and saw what silly books were there, that
perhaps I have overstated my position. It would be a lighter doom, I
thought, to be rived and shriveled by the lightning flash of a modern
book, even "Crime and Punishment," than stultified by such as were within.

Then, like the lady of the poem

  Having sat me down upon a mound
  To think on life,
  I concluded that my views were sound
  And got me up and turned me round,
  And went me home again.




In old literature life was compared to a journey, and wise men rejoiced to
question old men because, like travelers, they knew the sloughs and
roughnesses of the long road. Men arose with the sun, and toddled forth as
children on the day's journey of their lives, and became strong to endure
the heaviness of noonday. They strived forward during the hours of early
afternoon while their sun's ambition was hot, and then as the heat cooled
they reached the crest of the last hill, and their road dipped gently to
the valley where all roads end. And on into the quiet evening, until, at
last, they lie down in that shadowed valley, and await the long night.

This figure has lost its meaning, for we now travel by rail, and life is
expressed in terms of the railway time-table. As has been said, we leave
and arrive at places, but we no longer travel. Consequently we cannot
understand the hubbub that Marco Polo must have caused among his townsmen
when he swaggered in. He and his crew were bronzed by the sun, were
dressed as Tartars, and could speak their native Italian with difficulty.
To convince the Venetians of their identity, Marco gave a magnificent
entertainment, at which he and his officers received, clad in oriental
dress of red satin. Three times during the banquet they changed their
dress, distributing the discarded garments among their guests. At last,
the rough Tartar clothing worn on their travels was displayed and then
ripped open. Within was a profusion of jewels of the Orient, the gifts of
Kublai Khan of Cathay. The proof was regarded as perfect, and from that
time Marco was acknowledged by his countrymen, and loaded with
distinction. When Drake returned from the Straits of Magellan and,
powdered and beflunkied, told his lies at fashionable London dinners, no
doubt he was believed. And his crew, let loose on the beer-shops, gathered
each his circle of listeners, drank at his admirers' expense, and yarned
far into the night. It was worth one's while to be a traveler in those

But traveling has fallen to the yellow leaf. The greatest traveler is now
the brakeman. Next is he who sells colored cotton. A poor third pursues
health and flees from restlessness. Wise men have ceased to question
travelers, except to inquire of the arrival of trains and of the comfort
of hotels.

To-day I am a thousand miles from home. From my window the world stretches
massive, homewards. Even though I stood on the most distant range of
mountains and looked west, still I would look on a world that contained no
suggestion of home; and if I leaped to that horizon and the next, the
result would be the same--so insignificant would be the relative distance
accomplished. And here I am set down with no knowledge of how I came.
There was a continuous jar and the noise of motion. We passed a barn or
two, I believe, and on one hillside animals were frightened from their
grazing as we passed. There were the cluttered streets of several cities
and villages. There was a prodigious number of telegraph poles going in
the opposite direction, hell-bent as fast as we, which poles considerately
went at half speed through towns, for fear of hitting children. The United
States was once an immense country, and extended quite to the sunset. For
convenience we have reduced its size, and made it but a map of its former
self. Any section of this map can be unrolled and inspected in a day's

In the books for children is the story of the seven-league
boots--wonderful boots, worth a cobbler's fortune. If a prince is escaping
from an ogre, if he is eloping with a princess, if he has an engagement at
the realm's frontier and the wires are down, he straps these boots to his
feet and strides the mountains and spans the valleys. For with the
clicking of the silver buckles he has destroyed the dimensions of space.
Length, breadth and depth are measured for him but in wishes. One wish and
perhaps a snap of the fingers, or an invocation to the devil of
locomotion, and he stands on a mountain-top, the next range of hills blue
in the distance; another wish and another snap and he has leaped the
valley. Wonderful boots, these! Worth a king's ransom. And this prince,
too, as he travels thus dizzily may remember one or two barns, animals
frightened from their grazing, and the cluttered streets nested in the
valley. When he reaches his journey's end he will be just as wise and just
as ignorant as we who now travel by rail in magic, seven-league fashion.
For here I am set down, and all save the last half-mile of my path is lost
in the curve of the mountains. From my window I see the green-covered
mountains, so different from city streets with their horizon of buildings.

I fancy that, on the memorable morning when Aladdin's Palace was set down
in Africa after its magic night's ride from the Chinese capital, a
housemaid must have gone to the window, thrown back the hangings and
looked out, astounded, on the barren mountains, when she expected to see
only the courtyard of the palace and its swarm of Chinese life. She then
recalled that the building rocked gently in the night, and that she heard
a whirling sound as of wind. These were the only evidences of the
devil-guided flight. Now she looked on a new world, and the familiar
pagodas lay far to the east within the eye of the rising sun.

There are summer evenings in my recollection when I have traveled the
skies, landing from the sky's blue sea upon the cloud continent, and
traversing its mountain ranges, its inland lakes, harbors and valleys.
Over the wind-swept ridges I have gone, watching the world-change, seeing

                      the hungry ocean gain
  Advantage on the Kingdom of the shore,
  And the firm soil win of the watery main,
  Increasing store with loss and loss with store.

The greatest traveler that I know is a little man, slightly bent, who
walks with a stick in his garden or sits passive in his library. Other
friends have boasted of travels in the Orient, of mornings spent on the
Athenian Acropolis, of visiting the Theatre of Dionysius, and of hallooing
to the empty seats that re-echoed. They warn me of this and that hotel,
and advise me concerning the journey from London. The usual tale of
travelers is that Athens is a ruin. I have heard it rumored, for instance,
that the Parthenon marbles are in London, and that the Parthenon itself
has suffered from the "wreckful siege of battering days"; that the walls
to Piræus contain hardly one stone left upon another.

And this sets me to thinking, for my friend denies all this with such an
air of sincerity that I am almost inclined to believe his word against all
the others. The Athens he pictures is not ruinous. The Parthenon stands
before him as it left the hand of Phidias. The walls to Piræus stand high
as on that morning, now almost forgotten, when Athens awaited the Spartan
attack. For him the Dionysian Theatre does not echo to tourists' shouts,
but gives forth the sounds of many-voiced Greek life. He knows, too, the
people of Athens. He walked one day with Socrates along the banks of the
Ilissus, and afterwards visited him in his prison when about to drink the
hemlock. It is of the grandeur of Athens and her sons that he speaks, not
of her ruins. The best of his travels is that he buys no tickets of Cook,
nor, indeed, of any one, and when he has seen the cities' sights, his wife
enters and says, "Isn't it time for the bookworm to eat?" So he has his
American supper in the next room overlooking Attica, so to speak.





Yesterday I was on the roof with the tinman. He did not resemble the
tinman of the "Wizard of Oz" or the flaming tinman of "Lavengro," for he
wore a derby hat, had a shiny seat, and smoked a ragged cigar. It was a
flue he was fixing, a thing of metal for the gastronomic whiffs journeying
from the kitchen to the upper airs. There was a vent through the roof with
a cone on top to shed the rain. I watched him from the level cover of a
second-story porch as he scrambled up the shingles. I admire men who can
climb high places and stand upright and unmoved at the gutter's edge. But
their bravado forces on me unpleasantly how closely I am tied because of
dizziness to Mother Earth's apron strings. These fellows who perch on
scaffolds and flaunt themselves on steeple tops are frontiersmen. They
stand as the outposts of this flying globe. Often when I observe a workman
descend from his eagle's nest in the open steel frame of a lofty building,
I look into his face for some trace of exaltation, some message from his
wider horizon. You may remember how they gazed into Alcestis' face when
she returned from the House of Hades, that they might find there a token
of her shadowed journey. It is lucky that I am no taller than six feet; if
ten, giddiness would set in and reversion to type on all fours. An
undizzied man is to me as much of a marvel as one who in his heart of
hearts is not afraid of a horse.

Maybe after all, it is just because I am so cowardly and dizzy that I have
a liking for high places and especially for roofs. Although here my people
have lived for thousands of years on the very rim of things, with the
unimagined miles above them and the glitter of Orion on their windows, so
little have I learned of these verities that I am frightened on my shed
top and the grasses below make me crouch in terror. And yet to my fearful
perceptions there may be pleasures that cannot exist for the accustomed
and jaded senses of the tinman. Could he feel stimulus in Hugo's
description of Paris from the towers of Notre Dame? He is too much the
gargoyle himself for the delights of dizziness.

Quite a little could be said about the creative power of gooseflesh. If
Shakespeare had been a tinman he could not have felt the giddy height and
grandeur of the Dover Cliffs; Ibsen could not have wrought the climbing of
the steeple into the crisis and calamity of "The Master Builder";
Teufelsdröckh could not have uttered his extraordinary night thoughts
above the town of Weissnichtwo; "Prometheus Bound" would have been
impossible. Only one with at least a dram of dizziness could have
conceived an "eagle-baffling mountain, black, wintry, dead, unmeasured."
In the days when we read Jules Verne, was not our chief pleasure found in
his marvelous way of suspending us with swimming senses over some fearful
abyss; wet and slippery crags maybe, and void and blackness before us and
below; and then just to give full measure of fright, a sound of running
water in the depths. Doesn't it raise the hair? Could a tinman have
written it?

But even so, I would like to feel at home on my own roof and have a
slippered familiarity with my slates and spouts. A chimney-sweep in the
old days doubtless had an ugly occupation, and the fear of a sooty death
must have been recurrent to him. But what a sable triumph was his when he
had cleared his awful tunnel and had emerged into daylight, blooming, as
Lamb would say, in his first tender nigritude! "I seem to remember," he
continues, "that a bad sweep was once left in a stack with his brush to
indicate which way the wind blew." After observing the tinman for a while,
I put on rubber shoes and slunk up to the ridgepole, the very watershed of
my sixty-foot kingdom, my legs slanting into the infinities of the North
and South. It sounds unexciting when written, but there I was, astride my
house, up among the vents and exhausts of my former cloistered life, my
head outspinning the weathercock. My Matterhorn had been climbed, "the
pikes of darkness named and stormed." Next winter when I sit below snug by
the fire and hear the wind funneling down the chimney, will not my peace
be deeper because I have known the heights where the tempest blows, and
the rain goes pattering, and the whirling tin cones go mad?

Right now, if I dared, I would climb to the roof again, and I would sit
with my feet over the edge and crane forward and do crazy things just
because I could. Then maybe my neighbors would mistake the point of my
philosophy and lock me up; would sympathize with my fancies as did Sir
Toby and Maria with Malvolio. If one is to escape bread and water in the
basement, one's opinions on such slight things as garters and roofs must
be kept dark. Be a freethinker, if you will, on the devil, the deep sea,
and the sunrise, but repress yourself in the trifles.

I like flat roofs. There is in my town a public library on the top story
of a tall building, and on my way home at night I often stop to read a bit
before its windows. When my eyes leave my book and wander to the view of
the roofs, I fancy that the giant hands of a phrenologist are feeling the
buildings which are the bumps of the city. And listening, I seem to hear
his dictum "Vanity"; for below is the market of fashion. The world has
sunk to ankle height. I sit on the shoulders of the world, above the
tar-and-gravel scum of the city. And at my back are the books--the past,
all that has been, the manners of dress and thought--they too peeping
aslant through these windows. Soon it will be dark and this day also will
be done and burn its ceremonial candles; and the roar from the pavement
will be the roar of yesterday.

Astronomy would have come much later if it had not been for the flat roofs
of the Orient and its glistening nights. In the cloudy North, where the
roofs were thatched or peaked, the philosophers slept indoors tucked to
the chin. But where the nights were hot, men, banished from sleep, watched
the rising of the stars that they might point the hours. They studied the
recurrence of the star patterns until they knew when to look for their
reappearance. It was under a cloudless, breathless sky that the
constellations were named and their measures and orbits allotted. On the
flat roof of some Babylonian temple of Bel came into life astrology,
"foolish daughter of a wise mother," that was to bind the eyes of the
world for nearly two thousand years, the most enduring and the strongest
of superstitions. It was on these roofs, too, that the planets were first
maligned as wanderers, celestial tramps; and this gossip continued until
recent years when at last it appeared that they are bodies of regular and
irreproachable habits, eccentric in appearance only, doing a cosmic beat
with a time-clock at each end, which they have never failed to punch at
the proper moment.

Somewhere, if I could but find it, must exist a diary of one of these
ancient astronomers--and from it I quote in anticipation. "Early this
night to my roof," it runs, "the heavens being bare of clouds (_coelo
aperto_). Set myself to measure the elevation of Sagittarius Alpha with my
new astrolabe sent me by my friend and master, Hafiz, from out Arabia. Did
this night compute the equation a=(Dx/2T)f(a, b c T_3). Thus did I prove
the variations of the ellipse and show Hassan Sabah to be the mule he is.
Then rested, pacing my roof even to the rising of the morning star, which
burned red above the Sultan's turret. To bed, satisfied with this night."

Northern literature has never taken the roof seriously. There have been
many books written from the viewpoint of windows. The study window is
usual. Then there is the college window and the Thrums window. Also there
is a window viewpoint as yet scarcely expressed; that of the boy of
Stevenson's poems with his nose flattened against the glass--convalescence
looking for sailormen with one leg. What is "Un Philosophe sous les Toits"
but a garret and its prospect? But does Souvestre ever go up on the roof?
He contents himself with opening his casement and feeding crumbs to the
birds. Not once does he climb out and scramble around the mansard. On
wintry nights neither his legs nor thoughts join the windy devils that
play tempest overhead. Then again, from Westminster bridges, from country
lanes, from crowded streets, from ships at sea, and mountain tops have
sonnets been thrown to the moon; not once from the roof.

Is not this neglect of the roof the chief reason why we Northerners fear
the night? When darkness is concerned, the cowardice of our poetry is
notorious. It skulks, so to speak, when beyond the glare of the street
lights. I propound it as a question for scholars.

  'Tis now the very witching time of night,
  When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
  Contagion to this world.

Why is the night conceived as the time for the bogey to be abroad?--an

  ... evil thing that walks by night,
  In fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen,
  Blue meager hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost
  That breaks his magic chains at curfew time.

Why does not this slender, cerulean dame keep normal hours and get sleepy
after dinner with the rest of us--and so to bed? Such a baneful thing is
night, "hideous," reeking with cold shivers and gloom, from which morning
alone gives relief.

  Pack, clouds, away! and welcome, day!
  With night we banish sorrow.

Day is jocund that stands on the misty mountain tops.

But we cannot expect the night to be friendly and wag its tail when we
slam against it our doors and, until lately, our windows. Naturally it
takes to ghoulishness. It was in the South where the roofs are flat and
men sleep as friends with the night that it was written, "The heavens
declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handiwork."

I get full of my subject as I write and a kind of rage comes over me as I
think of the wrongs the roof has suffered. It is the only part of the
house that has not kept pace with the times. To say that you have a good
roof is taken as meaning that your roof is tight, that it keeps out the
water, that it excels in those qualities in which it excelled equally
three thousand years ago. What you ought to mean is that you have a roof
that is flat and has things on it that make it livable, where you can
walk, disport yourself, or sleep; a house-top view of your neighbors'
affairs; an airy pleasance with a full sweep of stars; a place to listen
of nights to the drone of the city; a place of observation, and if you are
so inclined, of meditation.

Everything but the roof has been improved. The basement has been coddled
with electric lights until a coal hole is no longer an abode of mystery.
Even the garret, that used to be but a dusty suburb of the house and
lumber room for early Victorian furniture, has been plastered and strewn
with servants' bedrooms.

There _was_ a garret once: somewhat misty now after these twenty years. It
was not daubed to respectability with paint, nor was it furnished forth as
bedrooms; but it was rough-timbered, and resounded with drops when the
dark clouds passed above. On bright days a cheerful light lay along the
floor and dust motes danced in its luminous shaft. And always there was
cobwebbed stillness. But on dark days, when the roof pattered and the
branches of trees scratched the shingles and when windows rattled, a
deeper obscurity crept out of the corners. Yet was there little fear in
the place. This was the front garret where the theatre was, with the
practicable curtain. But when the darker mood was on us, there was the
back garret. It was six steps lower and over it the roof crouched as if to
hide its secrets. The very men that built it must have been lowering,
bearded fellows; for they put into it many corners and niches and black
holes. The wood, too, from which it was fashioned must have been gnarled
and knotted and the nails rusty and crooked. One window cast a narrow
light down the middle of this room, but at both sides was immeasurable
night. When you had stooped in from the sunlight and had accustomed your
eyes to the dimness, you found yourself in an uncertain anchorage of old
furniture, abandoned but offering dusty covert for boys with the light of
brigands in their eyes. A pirates' den lay safe behind the chimney,
protected by a bristling thicket of chairs and table legs, to be
approached only on hands and knees after divers rappings. And back there
in the dark were strange boxes--strange boxes, stout and securely nailed.
But the garret has gone.

Whither have the pirates fled? Maybe some rumor of the great change
reached them in their fastnesses; and then in the light of early dawn, in
single file they climbed the ladder, up through the scuttle. And
straddling the ridgepole with daggers between their teeth, alas, they
became dizzy and toppled down the steep shingles to the gutter, to be
whirled away in the torrent of an April shower. Ah me! Had only the roof
been flat! Then it would have been for them a reservation where they might
have lived on and waited for the sound of children's feet to come again.
Then when those feet had come and the old life had returned, then from
aloft you would hear the old cry of Ship-ahoy, and you would know that at
last your house had again slipped its moorings and was off to Madagascar
or the Straits.

  Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,
  Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
  Shall it be to Africa, asteering of the boat,
  To Providence, or Babylon, or off to Malabar?

So a roof must be more than a cover. The roof of a boat, its deck, is
arranged for occupation and is its best part. Consider the omnibus! Even
it has seats on top, the best seats in fine weather. When Martin
Chuzzlewit went up to London it was on the _top_ of the coach he sat.
Pickwick betook himself, gaiters, small-clothes, and all, to the roof.
Even the immaculate Rollo scorned the inside seats. He sat on top, you may
remember, and sucked oranges to ward off malaria, he and that prince of
roisterers, Uncle George. De Quincey is the authority on mail coaches and
for the roof seats he is all fire and enthusiasm. It happened once, to
continue with De Quincey, that a state coach was presented by His Majesty
George the Third of England, as a gift to the Chinese Emperor. This kind
of vehicle being unknown in Peking, "it became necessary to call a cabinet
council on the grand state question, 'Where was the Emperor to sit?' The
hammer cloth happened to be unusually gorgeous; and partly on that
consideration, but partly also because the box offered the most elevated
seat, was nearest the moon, and undeniably went foremost, it was resolved
by acclamation that the box was the Imperial throne, and for the scoundrel
who drove, he could sit where he could find a perch."

Consider that the summer day has ended and that you are tired with its
rush and heat. Up you must climb to your house-roof. On the rim of the sky
is the blurred light from the steel furnaces at the city's edge and,
paneling this, stands a line of poplars stirring and sounding in the night

  Alone upon the house-top to the North
  I turn and watch the lightnings in the sky.

Is it fanciful to think that into the mind comes a little of the beauty of
the older world when roofs were flat and men meditated under the stars and
saw visions in the night?

Once upon a time I crossed the city of Nuremberg after dark; the market
cleared of all traces of its morning sale, the "Schöner Brunnen" at its
edge, the narrow defile leading to the citadel, the climb at the top. And
then I came to an open parade above the town--"except the Schlosskirche
Weathercock no biped stands so high." The night had swept away all details
of buildings. Nuremberg lay below like a dark etching, the centuries
folded and creased in its obscurities. Then from some gaunt tower came a
peal of bells, the hour maybe, and then an answering peal. "Thus stands
the night," they said; "thus stand the stars." I was in the presence of
Time and its black wings were brushing past me. What star was in the
ascendant, I knew not. And yet in me I felt a throb that came by blind,
circuitous ways from some far-off Chaldean temple, seven-storied in the
night. In me was the blood of the star-gazer, my emotions recalling the
rejected beliefs, the signs and wonders of the heavens. The waves of old
thought had but lately receded from the world; and I, but a chink and
hollow on the beach, had caught my drop of the ebbing ocean.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Journeys to Bagdad" ***

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