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Title: Imaginary Interviews
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Language: English
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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.

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Imaginary Interviews

W.D. Howells

[Illustration: See page 130

AT THE OPERA]



IMAGINARY INTERVIEWS


W.D. HOWELLS

ILLUSTRATED

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

NEW YORK AND LONDON

1910

Copyright, 1910, by HARPER & BROTHERS

Published October, 1910

_Printed in the United States of America_



CONTENTS


IMAGINARY INTERVIEWS

CHAP.                                                                PAGE

I. THE RESTORATION OF THE EASY CHAIR BY WAY OF
INTRODUCTION                                                           1

II. A YEAR OF SPRING AND A LIFE OF YOUTH                              13

III. SCLEROSIS OF THE TASTES                                          22

IV. THE PRACTICES AND PRECEPTS OF VAUDEVILLE                          32

V. INTIMATIONS OF ITALIAN OPERA                                       44

VI. THE SUPERIORITY OF OUR INFERIORS                                  57

VII. UNIMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN REPUBLICS                               67

VIII. HAVING JUST GOT HOME                                            77

IX. NEW YORK TO THE HOME-COMER'S EYE                                  87

X. CHEAPNESS OF THE COSTLIEST CITY ON EARTH                           97

XI. WAYS AND MEANS OF LIVING IN NEW YORK                             107

XII. THE QUALITY OF BOSTON AND THE QUANTITY OF NEW
YORK                                                                 117

XIII. THE WHIRL OF LIFE IN OUR FIRST CIRCLES                         127

XIV. THE MAGAZINE MUSE                                               137

XV. COMPARATIVE LUXURIES OF TRAVEL                                   146

XVI. QUALITIES WITHOUT DEFECTS                                       156

XVII. A WASTED OPPORTUNITY                                           166

XVIII. A NIECE'S LITERARY ADVICE TO HER UNCLE                        176

XIX. A SEARCH FOR CELEBRITY                                          184

XX. PRACTICAL IMMORTALITY ON EARTH                                   194

XXI. AROUND A RAINY-DAY FIRE                                         204

XXII. THE ADVANTAGES OF QUOTATIONAL CRITICISM                        216

XXIII. READING FOR A GRANDFATHER                                     226

XXIV. SOME MOMENTS WITH THE MUSE                                     236

XXV. A NORMAL HERO AND HEROINE OUT OF WORK                           244


OTHER ESSAYS

CHAP.                                                                PAGE

I. AUTUMN IN THE COUNTRY AND CITY                                    255

II. PERSONAL AND EPISTOLARY ADDRESSES                                264

III. DRESSING FOR HOTEL DINNER                                       274

IV. THE COUNSEL OF LITERARY AGE TO LITERARY YOUTH                    283

V. THE UNSATISFACTORINESS OF UNFRIENDLY CRITICISM                    296

VI. THE FICKLENESS OF AGE                                            306

VII. THE RENEWAL OF INSPIRATION                                      316

VIII. THE SUMMER SOJOURN OF FLORINDO AND LINDORA                     326

IX. TO HAVE THE HONOR OF MEETING                                     338

X. A DAY AT BRONX PARK                                               350



ILLUSTRATIONS


AT THE OPERA                                               _Frontispiece_

FIFTH AVENUE AT THIRTY-FOURTH STREET                       _Facing_ p. 88

FIFTH AVENUE FROM THE TOP OF A MOTOR-BUS                      "        94

CHARLES EMBANKMENT, BELOW HARVARD BRIDGE                      "       120

THE MALL, CENTRAL PARK                                        "       156

BROADWAY AT NIGHT                                             "       256

ELECTION-NIGHT CROWDS                                         "       260

ZOÖLOGICAL GARDENS, BRONX PARK                                "       352



IMAGINARY INTERVIEWS



I

THE RESTORATION OF THE EASY CHAIR BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION


It is not generally known that after forty-two years of constant use the
aged and honored movable which now again finds itself put back in its
old place in the rear of _Harper's Magazine_ was stored in the warehouse
of a certain safety-deposit company, in the winter of 1892. The event
which had then vacated the chair is still so near as to be full of a
pathos tenderly personal to all readers of that magazine, and may not be
lightly mentioned in any travesty of the facts by one who was thought of
for the empty place. He, before putting on the mask and mimic editorial
robes--for it was never the real editor who sat in the Easy Chair,
except for that brief hour when he took it to pay his deep-thought and
deep-felt tribute to its last occupant--stood with bowed face and
uncovered head in that bravest and gentlest presence which, while it
abode with us here, men knew as George William Curtis.

It was, of course, in one of the best of the fireproof warehouses that
the real editor had the Easy Chair stored, and when the unreal editor
went to take it out of storage he found it without trouble in one of
those vast rooms where the more valuable furniture and bric-à-brac are
guarded in a special tutelage. If instinct had not taught him, he would
have known it by its homely fashion, which the first unreal editor had
suggested when he described it as an "old red-backed Easy Chair that has
long been an ornament of our dingy office." That unreality was Mr.
Donald G. Mitchell, the graceful and gracious Ik Marvel, dear to the old
hearts that are still young for his _Dream Life_ and his _Reveries of a
Bachelor_, and never unreal in anything but his pretence of being the
real editor of the magazine. In this disguise he feigned that he had "a
way of throwing" himself back in the Easy Chair, "and indulging in an
easy and careless overlook of the gossiping papers of the day, and in
such chit-chat with chance visitors as kept him informed of the drift of
the town talk, while it relieved greatly the monotony of his office
hours." Not "bent on choosing mere gossip," he promised to be "on the
watch for such topics or incidents as" seemed really important and
suggestive, and to set them "down with all that gloss, and that happy
lack of sequence, which make every-day talk so much better than
every-day writing."

While the actual unreality stood thinking how perfectly the theory and
practice of the Easy Chair for hard upon fifty years had been forecast
in these words, and while the warehouse agent stood waiting his
pleasure, the Easy Chair fetched a long, deep sigh. Sigh one must call
the sound, but it was rather like that soft complaint of the woody
fibres in a table which disembodied spirits are about to visit, and
which continues to exhale from it till their peculiar vocabulary utters
itself in a staccato of muffled taps. No one who has heard that sound
can mistake it for another, and the unreal editor knew at once that he
confronted in the Easy Chair an animate presence.

"How long have I been here?" it asked, like one wakened from a deep
sleep.

"About eight years," said the unreal editor.

"Ah, I remember," the Easy Chair murmured, and, as the unreal editor
bent forward to pluck away certain sprays of foliage that clung to its
old red back, it demanded, "What is that?"

"Some bits of holly and mistletoe."

"Yes," the Easy Chair softly murmured again. "The last essay he wrote in
me was about Christmas. I have not forgotten one word of it all: how it
began, how it went on, and how it ended! 'In the very promise of the
year appears the hectic of its decay.... The question that we have to
ask, forecasting in these summer days the coming of Christmas which
already shines afar off, is this: whether while we praise Christmas as a
day of general joy we take care to keep it so.... Thackeray describes a
little dinner at the Timminses'. A modest couple make themselves
miserable and spend all their little earnings in order to give a dinner
to people for whom they do not care, and who do not care for them....
Christmas is made miserable to the Timminses because they feel that they
must spend lavishly and buy gifts like their richer neighbors.... You
cannot buy Christmas at the shops, and a sign of friendly sympathy costs
little.... Should not the extravagance of Christmas cause every honest
man and woman practically to protest by refusing to yield to the
extravagance?' There!" the Easy Chair broke off from quoting, "that was
Curtis! The kind and reasonable mood, the righteous conscience incarnate
in the studied art, the charming literary allusion for the sake of the
unliterary lesson, the genial philosophy--

                              'not too good
   For human nature's daily food'--

the wisdom alike of the closet and the public square, the large patience
and the undying hopefulness! Do you think," the Easy Chair said, with a
searching severity one would not have expected of it, "that you are fit
to take his place?"

In evasion of this hard question the unreal editor temporized with the
effect of not having heard it. "I believe that he and Mr. Mitchell were
the only writers of your papers till Mr. Alden wrote the last?"

The Easy Chair responded, dryly, "You forget Aldrich."

"If I do, I am the only pebble on the shore of time that does or will,"
retorted the unreal editor. "But he wrote you for only two months. I
well remember what a pleasure he had in it. And he knew how to make his
readers share his pleasure! Still, it was Mr. Mitchell who invented you,
and it was Curtis who characterized you beyond all the rest."

"For a while," said the Easy Chair, with autobiographical relish, "they
wrote me together, but it was not long before Mr. Mitchell left off, and
Curtis kept on alone, and, as you say, he incomparably characterized me.
He had his millennial hopes as well as you. In his youth he trusted in a
time

   'When the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
   And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law,'

and he never lost that faith. As he wrote in one of my best papers, the
famous paper on Brook Farm, 'Bound fast by the brazen age, we can see
that the way back to the age of gold lies through justice, which will
substitute co-operation for competition.' He expected the world to be
made over in the image of heaven some time, but meanwhile he was glad to
help make it even a little better and pleasanter than he found it. He
was ready to tighten a loose screw here and there, to pour a drop of oil
on the rusty machinery, to mend a broken wheel. He was not above putting
a patch on a rift where a whiff of infernal air came up from the
Bottomless Pit--"

"And I also believe in alleviations," the unreal editor interrupted. "I
love justice, but charity is far better than nothing; and it would be
abominable not to do all we can because we cannot at once do everything.
Let us have the expedients, the ameliorations, even the compromises, _en
attendant_ the millennium. Let us accept the provisional, the makeshift.
He who came on Christmas Day, and whose mission, as every Christmas Day
comes to remind us, was the brotherhood, the freedom, the equality of
men, did not He warn us against hastily putting new wine into old
bottles? To get the new bottles ready is slow work: that kind of bottle
must grow; it cannot be made; and in the mean time let us keep our
latest vintages in the vat till we have some vessel proof against their
fermentation. I know that the hope of any such vessel is usually mocked
as mere optimism, but I think optimism is as wise and true as pessimism,
or is at least as well founded; and since the one can no more establish
itself as final truth than the other, it is better to have optimism.
That was always the philosophy of the Easy Chair, and I do not know why
that should be changed. The conditions are not changed."

There was a silence which neither the Easy Chair nor the unreal editor
broke for a while. Then the Chair suggested, "I suppose that there is
not much change in Christmas, at any rate?"

"No," said the unreal editor; "it goes on pretty much as it used. The
Timminses, who give tiresome little dinners which they cannot afford to
dull people who don't want them, are still alive and miserably bent on
heaping reluctant beneficiaries with undesired favors, and spoiling the
simple 'pleasure of the time' with the activities of their fatuous
vanity. Or perhaps you think I ought to bring a hopeful mind even to the
Timminses?"

"I don't see why not," said the Easy Chair. "They are not the architects
of their own personalities."

"Ah, take care, take care!" cried the unreal editor. "You will be saying
next that we are the creatures of our environment; that the Timminses
would be wiser and better if the conditions were not idiotic and
pernicious; and you know what _that_ comes to!"

"No, I am in no danger of that," the Easy Chair retorted. "The Timminses
are no such victims of the conditions. They are of that vast moderately
moneyed class who can perfectly well behave with sense if they will.
Nobody above them or below them asks them to be foolish and wasteful."

"And just now you were making excuses for them!"

"I said they were not the architects of their own personalities; but,
nevertheless, they are masters of themselves. They are really free to
leave off giving little dinners any day they think so. It should be the
moralist's business to teach them to think so."

"And that was what Curtis gladly made his business," the unreal editor
somewhat sadly confessed, with an unspoken regret for his own
difference. More than once it had seemed to him in considering that
rare nature that he differed from most reformers chiefly in loving the
right rather than in hating the wrong; in fact, in not hating at all,
but in pitying and accounting for the wrong as an ancient use corrupted
into an abuse. Involuntarily the words of the real editor in that
beautiful tribute to the high soul they were praising came to the unreal
editor's lips, and he quoted aloud to the Easy Chair: "'His love of
goodness was a passion. He would fain have seen all that was fair and
good, and he strove to find it so; and, finding it otherwise, he strove
to make it so.... With no heart for satire, the discord that fell upon
his sensitive ear made itself felt in his dauntless comment upon social
shams and falsehoods.... But he was a lover of peace, and, ... as he was
the ideal gentleman, the ideal citizen, he was also the ideal reformer,
without eccentricity or exaggeration. However high his ideal, it never
parted company with good sense. He never wanted better bread than could
be made of wheat, but the wheat must be kept good and sound,' and I may
add," the unreal editor broke off, "that he did not hurry the unripe
grain to the hopper. He would not have sent all the horses at once to
the abattoir because they made the city noisy and noisome, but would
first have waited till there were automobiles enough to supply their
place."

The Easy Chair caught at the word. "Automobiles?" it echoed.

"Ah, I forgot how long you have been stored," said the unreal editor,
and he explained as well as he could the new mode of motion, and how
already, with its soft rubber galoshes, the automobile had everywhere
stolen a march upon the iron heels of the horses in the city avenues.

He fancied the Easy Chair did not understand, quite, from the
intelligent air with which it eagerly quitted the subject.

"Well," it said at last, "this isn't such a bad time to live in, after
all, it appears. But for a supreme test of your optimism, now, what good
can you find to say of Christmas? What sermon could you preach on that
hackneyed theme which would please the fancy and gladden the heart of
the readers of a Christmas number, where you should make your first
appearance in the Easy Chair?"

To himself the unreal editor had to own that this was a poser. In his
heart he was sick of Christmas: not of the dear and high event, the
greatest in the memory of the world, which it records and embodies, but
the stale and wearisome Christmas of the Christmas presents, purchased
in rage and bestowed in despair; the Christmas of Christmas fiction; the
Christmas of heavy Christmas dinners and indigestions; the Christmas of
all superfluity and surfeit and sentimentality; the Christmas of the
Timminses and the Tiny Tims. But while he thought of these, by operation
of the divine law which renders all things sensible by their opposites,
he thought of the other kinds of Christmas which can never weary or
disgust: the Christmas of the little children and the simple-hearted and
the poor; and suddenly he addressed himself to the Easy Chair with
unexpected and surprising courage.

"Why should that be so very difficult?" he demanded. "If you look at it
rightly, Christmas is always full of inspiration; and songs as well as
sermons will flow from it till time shall be no more. The trouble with
us is that we think it is for the pleasure of opulent and elderly
people, for whom there can be no pleasures, but only habits. They are
used to having everything, and as joy dwells in novelty it has ceased to
be for them in Christmas gifts and giving and all manner of Christmas
conventions. But for the young to whom these things are new, and for the
poor to whom they are rare, Christmas and Christmasing are sources of
perennial happiness. All that you have to do is to guard yourself from
growing rich and from growing old, and then the delight of Christmas is
yours forever. It is not difficult; it is very simple; for even if years
and riches come upon you in a literal way, you can by a little trying
keep yourself young and poor in spirit. Then you can always rejoice with
the innocent and riot with the destitute.

"I once knew a father," the unreal editor continued, "a most doting and
devoted father, who, when he bent over the beds of his children to bid
them good-night, and found them 'high sorrowful and cloyed,' as the
little ones are apt to be after a hard day's pleasure, used to bid them
'Think about Christmas.' If he offered this counsel on the night, say,
of the 26th of December, and they had to look forward to a whole year
before their hopes of consolation could possibly find fruition, they had
(as they afterward confessed to him) a sense of fatuity if not of
mocking in it. Even on the Fourth of July, after the last cracker had
been fired and the last roman candle spent, they owned that they had
never been able to think about Christmas to an extent that greatly
assuaged their vague regrets. It was not till the following Thanksgiving
that they succeeded in thinking about Christmas with anything like the
entire cheerfulness expected of them."

"I don't see any application in this homily," said the Easy Chair, "or
only an application disastrous to your imaginable postulate that
Christmas is a beneficent and consolatory factor in our lives."

"That is because you have not allowed me to conclude," the unreal editor
protested, when the Easy Chair cut in with,

"There is nothing I would so willingly allow you to do," and "laughed
and shook" as if it had been "Rabelais's easy chair."

The unreal editor thought it best to ignore the untimely attempt at wit.
"The difficulty in this case with both the father and the children was
largely temperamental; but it was chiefly because of a defect in their
way of thinking about Christmas. It was a very ancient error, by no
means peculiar to this amiable family, and it consisted in thinking
about Christmas with reference to one's self instead of others."

"Isn't that rather banal?" the Easy Chair asked.

"Not at all banal," said the unreal editor, resisting an impulse to do
the Easy Chair some sort of violence. At the same time he made his
reflection that if preachers were criticised in that way to their faces
there would shortly be very few saints left in the pulpit. He gave
himself a few moments to recover his temper, and then he went on: "If
Christmas means anything at all, it means anything but one's own
pleasure. Up to the first Christmas Day the whole world had supposed
that it could be happy selfishly, and its children still suppose so. But
there is really no such thing as selfish, as personal happiness."

"Tolstoy," the Easy Chair noted.

"Yes, Tolstoy," the unreal editor retorted. "He more than any other has
brought us back to the knowledge of this truth which came into the world
with Christmas, perhaps because he, more than any other, has tried to
think and to live Christianity. When once you have got this vital truth
into your mind, the whole universe is luminously filled with the
possibilities of impersonal, unselfish happiness. The joy of living is
suddenly expanded to the dimensions of humanity, and you can go on
taking your pleasure as long as there is one unfriended soul and body in
the world.

"It is well to realize this at all times, but it is peculiarly fit to do
so at Christmas-time, for it is in this truth that the worship of Christ
begins. Now, too, is the best time to give the Divine Word form in deed,
to translate love into charity. I do not mean only the material charity
that expresses itself in turkeys and plum-puddings for the poor, but
also that spiritual charity which takes thought how so to amend the
sorrowful conditions of civilization that poverty, which is the
antithesis of fraternity, shall abound less and less.

   'Now is the time, now is the time,
   Now is the hour of golden prime'

for asking one's self, not how much one has given in goods or moneys
during the past year, but how much one has given in thought and will to
remove forever the wrong and shame of hopeless need; and to consider
what one may do in the coming year to help put the poor lastingly beyond
the need of help.

"To despair of somehow, sometime doing this is to sin against the light
of Christmas Day, to confess its ideal a delusion, its practice a
failure. If on no other day of all the three hundred and sixty-five, we
must on this day renew our faith in justice, which is the highest
mercy."

The Easy Chair no longer interrupted, and the unreal editor, having made
his point, went on after the manner of preachers, when they are also
editors, to make it over again, and to repeat himself pitilessly,
unsparingly. He did not observe that the Easy Chair had shrunk forward
until all its leathern seat was wrinkled and its carven top was bent
over its old red back. When he stopped at last, the warehouse agent
asked in whisper,

"What do you want done with it, sir?"

"Oh," said the unreal editor, "send it back to Franklin Square"; and
then, with a sudden realization of the fact, he softly added, "Don't
wake it."

There in Franklin Square, still dreaming, it was set up in the rear of
the magazine, where it has become not only the place, but the stuff of
dreams such as men are made of. From month to month, ever since, its
reveries, its illusions, which some may call deliverances, have gone on
with more and more a disposition to dramatize themselves. It has seemed
to the occupant of the Easy Chair, at times, as if he had suffered with
it some sort of land-change from a sole entity to a multiple personality
in which his several selves conversed with one another, and came and
went unbidden. At first, after a moment of question whether his
imagination was not frequented by the phantoms of delight which in the
flesh had formerly filled his place, whether the spirits which haunted
him in it were not those of Mitchell, of Curtis, of Aldrich, he became
satisfied from their multitude and nature that they were the
subdivisions of his own ego, and as such he has more and more frankly
treated them.



II

A YEAR OF SPRING AND A LIFE OF YOUTH


On one of those fine days which the April of the other year meanly
grudged us, a poet, flown with the acceptance of a quarter-page lyric by
the real editor in the Study next door, came into the place where the
Easy Chair sat rapt in the music of the elevated trains and the vision
of the Brooklyn Bridge towers. "Era la stagione nella quale la rivestita
terra, più che tutto l' altro anno, si mostra bella," he said, without
other salutation, throwing his soft gray hat on a heap of magazines and
newspapers in the corner, and finding what perch he could for himself on
the window-sill.

"What is that?" he of the Easy Chair gruffly demanded; he knew perfectly
well, but he liked marring the bloom on a fellow-creature's joy by a
show of savage ignorance.

"It's the divine beginning of Boccaccio's 'Fiammetta,' it is the very
soul of spring; and it is so inalienably of Boccaccio's own time and
tongue and sun and air that there is no turning it into the language of
another period or climate. What would you find to thrill you in, 'It was
the season in which the reapparelled earth, more than in all the other
year, shows herself fair'? The rhythm is lost; the flow, sweet as the
first runnings of the maple where the woodpecker has tapped it, stiffens
into sugar, the liquid form is solidified into the cake adulterated
with glucose, and sold for a cent as the pure Vermont product."

As he of the Easy Chair could not deny this, he laughed recklessly. "I
understood what your passage from Boccaccio meant, and why you came in
here praising spring in its words. You are happy because you have sold a
poem, probably for more than it is worth. But why do you praise spring?
What do you fellows do it for? You know perfectly well that it is the
most capricious, the most treacherous, the most delusive, deadly,
slatternly, down-at-heels, milkmaid-handed season of the year, without
decision of character or fixed principles, and with only the vaguest
raw-girlish ideals, a red nose between crazy smiles and streaming eyes.
If it did not come at the end of winter, when people are glad of any
change, nobody could endure it, and it would be cast neck and crop out
of the calendar. Fancy spring coming at the end of summer! It would not
be tolerated for a moment, with the contrast of its crude, formless
beauty and the ripe loveliness of August. Every satisfied sense of
happiness, secure and established, would be insulted by its haphazard
promises made only to be broken. 'Rather,' the outraged mortal would
say, 'the last tender hours of autumn, the first deathful-thrilling
snowfall, with all the thoughts of life wandering flake-like through the
dim air--rather these than the recurrence of those impulses and pauses,
those kisses frozen on the lips, those tender rays turning to the lash
of sleet across the face of nature. No, the only advantage spring can
claim over her sister seasons is her novelty, the only reason she can
offer for being the spoiled child of the poets is that nobody but the
poets could keep on fancying that there was any longer the least
originality in her novelty."

The poet attempted to speak, in the little stop he of the Easy Chair
made for taking breath, but he was not suffered to do so.

"Every atom of originality has been drained from the novelty of spring
'in the process of the suns,' and science is rapidly depriving her even
of novelty. What was once supposed to be the spring grass has been found
to be nothing but the fall grass, with the green stealing back into the
withered blades. As for the spring lamb which used to crop the spring
grass, it is now out of the cold-storage where the spring chicken and
the new-laid eggs of yesteryear come from. It is said that there are no
birds in last year's nests, but probably a careful examination would
discover a plentiful hatch of nestlings which have hibernated in the
habitations popularly supposed to be deserted the June before this.
Early spring vegetables are in market throughout the twelvemonth, and
spring flowers abound at the florists' in December and January. There is
no reason why spring should not be absorbed into winter and summer by
some such partition as took place politically in the case of Poland.
Like that unhappy kingdom, she has abused her independence and become a
molestation and discomfort to the annual meteorology. As a season she is
distinctly a failure, being neither one thing nor the other, neither hot
nor cold, a very Laodicean. Her winds were once supposed to be very
siccative, and peculiarly useful in drying the plaster in new houses;
but now the contractors put in radiators as soon as the walls are up,
and the work is done much better. As for the germinative force of her
suns, in these days of intensive farming, when electricity is applied to
the work once done by them, they can claim to have no virtue beyond the
suns of July or August, which most seeds find effective enough. If
spring were absorbed into summer, the heat of that season would be
qualified, and its gentler warmth would be extended to autumn, which
would be prolonged into the winter. The rigors of winter would be much
abated, and the partition of spring among the other seasons would
perform the mystic office of the Gulf Stream in ameliorating our
climate, besides ridding us of a time of most tedious and annoying
suspense. And what should we lose by it?"

The poet seemed not to be answering the Easy Chair directly, but only to
be murmuring to himself, "Youth."

"Youth! Youth!" the Easy Chair repeated in exasperation. "And what is
youth?"

"The best thing in the world."

"For whom is it the best thing?"

This question seemed to give the poet pause. "Well," he said, finally,
with a not very forcible smile, "for itself."

"Ah, there you are!" he of the Easy Chair exclaimed; but he could not
help a forgiving laugh. "In a way you are right. The world belongs to
youth, and so it ought to be the best thing for itself in it. Youth is a
very curious thing, and in that it is like spring, especially like the
spring we have just been having, to our cost. It is the only period of
life, as spring is the only season of the year, that has too much time
on its hands. Yet it does not seem to waste time, as age does, as winter
does; it keeps doing something all the while. The things it does are
apparently very futile and superfluous, some of them, but in the end
something has been accomplished. After a March of whimsical suns and
snows, an April of quite fantastical frosts and thaws, and a May, at
least partially, of cold mists and parching winds, the flowers, which
the florists have been forcing for the purpose, are blooming in the
park; the grass is green wherever it has not had the roots trodden out
of it, and a filmy foliage, like the soft foulard tissues which the
young girls are wearing, drips from the trees. You can say it is all
very painty, the verdure; too painty; but you cannot reject the picture
because of this little mannerism of the painter. To be sure, you miss
the sheeted snows and the dreamy weft of leafless twigs against the
hard, blue sky. Still, now it has come, you cannot deny that the spring
is pretty, or that the fashionable colors which it has introduced are
charming. It is said that these are so charming that a woman of the
worst taste cannot choose amiss among them. In spite of her taste, her
hat comes out a harmonic miracle; her gown, against all her endeavors,
flows in an exquisite symphony of the tender audacities of tint with
which nature mixes her palette; little notes of chiffon, of tulle, of
feather, blow all about her. This is rather a medley of metaphors, to
which several arts contribute, but you get my meaning?" In making this
appeal, he of the Easy Chair saw in the fixed eye of the poet that
remoteness of regard which denotes that your listener has been hearing
very little of what you have been saying.

"Yes," the poet replied with a long breath, "you are right about that
dreamy weft of leafless twigs against the hard, blue sky; and I wonder
if we quite do justice to the beauty of winter, of age, we poets, when
we are so glad to have the spring come."

"I don't know about winter," he of the Easy Chair said, "but in an opera
which the English Lord Chamberlain provisionally suppressed, out of
tenderness for an alliance not eventually or potentially to the
advantage of these States, Mr. William Gilbert has done his duty to the
decline of life, where he sings,

   'There is beauty in extreme old age;
     There's a fascination frantic
     In a ruin that's romantic'

Or, at least no one else has said so much for 'that time of life,' which
another librettist has stigmatized as

   'Bare, ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.'"

"Yes, I know," the poet returned, clinging to the thread of thought on
which he had cast himself loose. "But I believe a great deal more could
be said for age by the poets if they really tried. I am not satisfied of
Mr. Gilbert's earnestness in the passage you quote from the 'Mikado,'
and I prefer Shakespeare's 'bare, ruined choirs.' I don't know but I
prefer the hard, unflattering portrait which Hamlet mockingly draws for
Polonius, and there is something almost caressing in the notion of 'the
lean and slippered pantaloon.' The worst of it is that we old fellows
look so plain to one another; I dare say young people don't find us so
bad. I can remember from my own youth that I thought old men, and
especially old women, rather attractive. I am not sure that we elders
realize the charm of a perfectly bald head as it presents itself to the
eye of youth. Yet, an infant's head is often quite bald."

"Yes, and so is an egg," the Easy Chair retorted, "but there is not the
same winning appeal in the baldness of the superannuated bird which has
evolved from it--eagle or nightingale, parrot or

   Many-wintered crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

Tennyson has done his best in showing us venerable in his picture of

       'the Ionian father of the rest:
   A million wrinkles carved his silver skin,
     A hundred winters snowed upon his breast.'

But who would not rather be Helen than Homer, her face launching a
thousand ships and burning the topless tower of Ilion--fairer than the
evening air and simply but effectively attired in the beauty of a
thousand stars? What poet has ever said things like that of an old man,
even of Methuselah?"

"Yes," the poet sighed. "I suppose you are partly right. Meteorology
certainly has the advantage of humanity in some things. We cannot make
much of age here, and hereafter we can only conceive of its being turned
into youth. Fancy an eternity of sensibility!"

"No, I would rather not!" he of the Easy Chair returned, sharply.
"Besides, it is you who are trying to make age out a tolerable, even a
desirable thing."

"But I have given it up," the poet meekly replied. "The great thing
would be some rearrangement of our mortal conditions so that once a year
we could wake from our dream of winter and find ourselves young. Not
merely younger, but _young_--the genuine article. A tree can do that,
and does it every year, until after a hundred years, or three hundred,
or a thousand, it dies. Why should not a man, or, much more importantly,
a woman, do it? I think we are very much scanted in that respect."

"My dear fellow, if you begin fault-finding with creation, there will be
no end to it. It might be answered that, in this case, you can walk
about and a tree cannot; you can call upon me and a tree cannot. And
other things. Come! the trees have not got it all their own way.
Besides, imagine the discomforts of a human springtime, blowing hot and
blowing cold, freezing, thawing, raining, and drouthing, and never
being sure whether we are young or old, May or December. We should be
such nuisances to one another that we should ask the gods to take back
their gift, and you know very well they cannot."

"Our rejuvenescence would be a matter of temperament, not temperature,"
the poet said, searching the air hopefully for an idea. "I have noticed
this spring that the isothermal line is as crooked as a railroad on the
map of a rival. I have been down in New Hampshire since I saw you, and I
found the spring temperamentally as far advanced there as here in New
York. Of course not as far advanced as in Union Square, but quite as far
as in Central Park. Between Boston and Portsmouth there were bits of
railroad bank that were as green as the sward beside the Mall, and every
now and then there was an enthusiastic maple in the wet lowlands that
hung the air as full of color as any maple that reddened the flying
landscape when I first got beyond the New York suburbs on my way north.
At Portsmouth the birds were singing the same songs as in the Park. I
could not make out the slightest difference."

"With the same note of nervous apprehension in them?"

"I did not observe that. But they were spring songs, certainly."

"Then," the Easy Chair said, "I would rather my winter were turned into
summer, or early autumn, than spring, if there is going to be any change
of the mortal conditions. I like settled weather, the calm of that time
of life when the sins and follies have been committed, the passions
burned themselves out, and the ambitions frustrated so that they do not
bother, the aspirations defeated, the hopes brought low. Then you have
some comfort. This turmoil of vernal striving makes me tired."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the poet assented. "But you cannot have the
seasons out of their order in the rearrangement of the mortal
conditions. You must have spring and you must have summer before you can
have autumn."

"Are those the terms? Then I say, Winter at once! Winter is bad enough,
but I would not go through spring again for any--In winter you can get
away from the cold, with a good, warm book, or a sunny picture, or a
cozy old song, or a new play; but in spring how will you escape the
rawness if you have left off your flannels and let out the furnace? No,
my dear friend, we could not stand going back to youth every year. The
trees can, because they have been used to it from the beginning of time,
but the men could not. Even the women----"

At this moment a beatific presence made itself sensible, and the Easy
Chair recognized the poet's Muse, who had come for him. The poet put the
question to her. "Young?" she said. "Why, you and I are _always_ young,
silly boy! Get your hat, and come over to Long Island City with me, and
see the pussy-willows along the railroad-banks. The mosquitoes are
beginning to sing in the ditches already."



III

SCLEROSIS OF THE TASTES


The other day one of those convertible familiars of the Easy Chair, who

   "Change and pass and come again,"

looked in upon it, after some months' absence, with the effect of having
aged considerably in the interval. But this was only his latest avatar;
he was no older, as he was no younger, than before; to support a fresh
character, he had to put on an appropriate aspect, and having, at former
interviews, been a poet, a novelist, a philosopher, a reformer, a
moralist, he was now merely looking the part of a veteran observer, of a
psychologist grown gray in divining the character of others from his own
consciousness.

"Have you ever noticed," he began, "that the first things we get stiff
in, as we advance in life, are our tastes? We suppose that it is our
joints which feel the premonitions of age; and that because we no longer
wish to dance or play ball or sprint in college races we are in the
earliest stage of that sapless condition when the hinges of the body
grind dryly upon one another, and we lose a good inch of our stature,
through shrinkage, though the spine still holds us steadfastly
upright."

"Well, isn't that so?" the Easy Chair asked, tranquilly.

"It may be so, or it may not be so," the veteran observer replied.
"Ultimately, I dare say, it is so. But what I wish to enforce is the
fact that before you begin to feel the faintest sense of stiffening
joints you are allowing yourself to fall into that voluntary senescence
which I call getting stiff in the tastes. It is something that I think
we ought to guard ourselves against as a sort of mental sclerosis which
must end fatally long before we have reached the patriarchal age which
that unbelieving believer Metchnikoff says we can attain if we fight off
physical sclerosis. He can only negatively teach us how to do this, but
I maintain we can have each of us in our power the remedy against
stiffening tastes."

"I don't see how," the Easy Chair said, more to provoke the sage to
explanation than to express dissent.

"I will teach you how," he said, "if you will allow me to make it a
personal matter, and use you in illustration."

"Why not use yourself?"

"Because that would be egotistical, and the prime ingredient of my
specific against getting stiff in the tastes is that spiritual grace
which is the very antidote, the very antithesis of egotism. Up to a
certain point, a certain time, we are usefully employed in cultivating
our tastes, in refining them, and in defining them. We cannot be too
strenuous in defining them; and, as long as we are young, the
catholicity of youth will preserve us from a bigoted narrowness. In
æsthetic matters--and I imagine we both understand that we are dealing
with these--the youngest youth has no tastes; it has merely appetites.
All is fish that comes to its net; if anything, it prefers the gaudier
of the finny tribes; it is only when it becomes sophisticated that its
appetites turn into tastes, and it begins to appreciate the flavor of
that diseased but pearl-bearing species of oyster which we call genius,
because we have no accurate name for it. With the appreciation of this
flavor comes the overpowering desire for it, the incessant and limitless
search for it. To the desire for it whole literatures owe their
continued existence, since, except for the universal genius-hunger of
youth, the classics of almost all languages would have perished long
ago. When indiscriminate and omnivorous youth has explored those vast
and mostly lifeless seas, it has found that the diseased oyster which
bears the pearls is the rarest object in nature. But having once formed
the taste for it, youth will have no other flavor, and it is at this
moment that its danger of hardening into premature age begins. The
conceit of having recognized genius takes the form of a bigoted denial
of its existence save in the instances recognized. This conceit does not
admit the possibility of error or omission in the search, and it does
not allow that the diseased oyster can transmit its pearl-bearing
qualities and its peculiar flavors; so that the attitude of aging youth,
in the stiffening of its tastes, is one of rejection toward all new
bivalves, or, not to be tediously metaphorical, books."

The veteran observer fell silent at this point, and the Easy Chair
seized the occasion to remark: "Yes, there is something in what you say.
But this stiffening of the tastes, this sclerosis of the mind, is hardly
an infectious disease----"

"Ah, but it _is_ infectious," the veteran observer exclaimed, rousing
himself, "infectious as far as the victim can possibly make it so. He
wishes nothing so much as to impart his opinions in all their rigidity
to everybody else. Take your own case, for instance----"

"No, we would rather not," the Easy Chair interposed.

"But you must make the sacrifice," the veteran observer persisted. "You
will allow that you are extremely opinionated?"

"Not at all."

"Well, then, that you are devoutly conscientious in the tenure of your
æsthetic beliefs?"

"Something like that, yes."

"And you cannot deny that in times past you have tried your best to make
others think with you?"

"It was our duty."

"Well, let it pass for that. It amounted to an effort to make your
mental sclerosis infectious, and it was all the worse because, in you,
the stiffening of the tastes had taken the form of aversions rather than
preferences. You did not so much wish your readers to like your favorite
authors as to hate all the others. At the time when there was a fad for
making lists of The Hundred Best Authors, I always wondered that you
didn't put forth some such schedule."

"We had the notion of doing something of the kind," the Easy Chair
confessed, "but we could not think of more than ten or a dozen really
first-rate authors, and if we had begun to compile a list of the best
authors we should have had to leave out most of their works. Nearly all
the classics would have gone by the board. What havoc we should have
made with the British poets! The Elizabethan dramatists would mostly
have fallen under the ban of our negation, to a play, if not to a man.
Chaucer, but for a few poems, is impossible; Spenser's poetry is
generally duller than the Presidents' messages before Mr. Roosevelt's
time; Milton is a trial of the spirit in three-fourths of his verse;
Wordsworth is only not so bad as Byron, who thought him so much worse;
Shakespeare himself, when he is reverently supposed not to be
Shakespeare, is reading for martyrs; Dante's science and politics
outweigh his poetry a thousandfold, and so on through the whole
catalogue. Among the novelists----"

"No, don't begin on the novelists! Every one knows your heresies there,
and would like to burn you along with the romances which I've no doubt
you would still commit to the flames. I see you are the Bourbon of
criticism; you have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. But why don't
you turn your adamantine immutability to some practical account, and
give the world a list of The Hundred Worst Books?"

"Because a hundred books out of the worst would be a drop out of the
sea; there would remain an immeasurable welter of badness, of which we
are now happily ignorant, and from which we are safe, as long as our
minds are not turned to it by examples."

"Ah," our visitor said, "I see that you are afraid to confess yourself
the popular failure as a critic which you are. You are afraid that if
you made a list of The Hundred Worst Books you would send the classes to
buying them in the most expensive binding, and the masses to taking them
out of all the public libraries."

"There is something in what you say," the Easy Chair confessed. "Our
popular failure as a critic is notorious; it cannot be denied. The stamp
of our disapproval at one time gave a whole order of fiction a currency
that was not less than torrential. The flood of romantic novels which
passed over the land, and which is still to be traced in the tatters of
the rag-doll heroes and heroines caught in the memories of readers along
its course, was undoubtedly the effect of our adverse criticism. No, we
could not in conscience compile and publish a list of The Hundred Worst
Books; it would be contrary, for the reasons you give, to public
morals."

"And don't you think," the observer said, with a Socratic subtlety that
betrayed itself in his gleaming eye, in the joyous hope of seeing his
victim fall into the pit that his own admissions had digged for him,
"and don't you think that it would also bring to you the unpleasant
consciousness of having stiffened in your tastes?"

"It might up to a certain point," we consented. "But we should prefer to
call it confirmed in our convictions. Wherever we have liked or disliked
in literature it has been upon grounds hardly distinguishable from moral
grounds. Bad art is a vice; untruth to nature is the eighth of the seven
deadly sins; a false school in literature is a seminary of crime. We are
speaking largely, of course----"

"It certainly sounds rather tall," our friend sarcastically noted, "and
it sounds very familiar."

"Yes," we went on, "all the ascertained veracities are immutable. One
holds to them, or, rather, they hold to one, with an indissoluble
tenacity. But convictions are in the region of character and are of
remote origin. In their safety one indulges one's self in expectations,
in tolerances, and these rather increase with the lapse of time. We
should say that your theory of the stiffening tastes is applicable to
the earlier rather than the later middle life. We should say that the
tastes if they stiffen at the one period limber at the other; their
forbidding rigidity is succeeded by an acquiescent suppleness. One is
aware of an involuntary hospitality toward a good many authors whom one
would once have turned destitute from the door, or with a dole of
Organized Charity meal-tickets at the best. But in that maturer time
one hesitates, and possibly ends by asking the stranger in, especially
if he is young, or even if he is merely new, and setting before him the
cold potato of a qualified approval. One says to him: 'You know I don't
think you are the real thing quite, but taking you on your own ground
you are not so bad. Come, you shall have a night's lodging at least, and
if you improve, if you show a tendency to change in the right direction,
there is no telling but you may be allowed to stay the week. But you
must not presume; you must not take this frosty welcome for an effect of
fire from the hearth where we sit with our chosen friends.' Ten to one
the stranger does not like this sort of talk, and goes his way--the
wrong way. But, at any rate, one has shown an open mind, a liberal
spirit; one has proved that one has not stiffened in one's tastes; that
one can make hopeful allowances in hopeful cases."

"Such as?" the observer insinuated.

"Such as do not fit the point exactly. Very likely the case may be that
of an old or elderly author. It has been only within a year or two that
we have formed the taste for an English writer, no longer living, save
in his charming books. James Payn was a favorite with many in the middle
Victorian period, but it is proof of the flexibility of our tastes that
we have only just come to him. After shunning Anthony Trollope for fifty
years, we came to him, almost as with a rush, long after our
half-century was past. Now, James Payn is the solace of our autumnal
equinox, and Anthony Trollope we read with a constancy and a recurrence
surpassed only by our devotion to the truth as it is in the fiction of
the Divine Jane; and Jane Austen herself was not an idol of our first or
even our second youth, but became the cult of a time when if our tastes
had stiffened we could have cared only for the most modern of the
naturalists, and those preferably of the Russian and Spanish schools. A
signal proof of their continued suppleness came but the other day when
we acquainted ourselves with the work of the English novelist, Mr. Percy
White, and it was the more signal because we perceived that he had
formed himself upon a method of Thackeray's, which recalled that master,
as the occasional aberrations of Payn and Trollope recall a manner of
him. But it is Thackeray's most artistic method which Mr. White recalls
in his studies of scamps and snobs; he allows them, as Thackeray allows
Barry Lyndon and the rest, to tell their own stories, and in their
unconsciousness of their own natures he finds play for an irony as keen
and graphic as anything in fiction. He deals with the actual English
world, and the pleasure he gave us was such as to make us resolve to
return to Thackeray's vision of his own contemporaneous English world at
the first opportunity. We have not done so yet; but after we have
fortified ourselves with a course of Scott and Dickens, we are confident
of being able to bear up under the heaviest-handed satire of _Vanity
Fair_. As for _The Luck of Barry Lyndon_ and _The Yellowplush Papers_,
and such like, they have never ceased to have their prime delight for
us. But their proportion is quite large enough to survive from any
author for any reader; as we are often saying, it is only in bits that
authors survive; their resurrection is not by the whole body, but here
and there a perfecter fragment. Most of our present likes and dislikes
are of the period when you say people begin to stiffen in their tastes.
We could count the authors by the score who have become our favorites in
that period, and those we have dropped are almost as many. It is not
necessary to say who they all are, but we may remark that we still read,
and read, and read again the poetry of Keats, and that we no longer read
the poetry of Alexander Smith. But it is through the growth of the truly
great upon his mature perception that the aging reader finds novel
excellences in them. It was only the other day that we picked up
Hawthorne's _Scarlet Letter_, and realized in it, from a chance page or
two, a sardonic quality of insurpassable subtlety and reach. This was
something quite new to us in it. We had known the terrible pathos of the
story, its immeasurable tragedy, but that deadly, quiet, pitiless,
freezing irony of a witness holding himself aloof from its course, and
losing, for that page or two, the moralist in the mere observer, was a
revelation that had come to that time of life in us when you think the
tastes stiffen and one refuses new pleasures because they are new."

Our visitor yawned visibly, audibly. "And what is all this you have been
saying? You have made yourself out an extraordinary example of what may
be done by guarding against the stiffening of the tastes after the end
of second youth. But have you proved that there is no such danger? Or
was your idea simply to celebrate yourself? At moments I fancied
something like that."

We owned the stroke with an indulgent smile. "No, not exactly that. The
truth is we have been very much interested by your notion--if it was
yours, which is not altogether probable--and we have been turning its
light upon our own experience, in what we should not so much call
self-celebration as self-exploitation. One uses one's self as the stuff
for knowledge of others, or for the solution of any given problem. There
is no other way of getting at the answers to the questions."

"And what is your conclusion as to my notion, if it is mine?" the
veteran observer asked, with superiority.

"That there is nothing in it. The fact is that the tastes are never so
tolerant, so liberal, so generous, so supple as they are at that time of
life when they begin, according to your notion, to stiffen, to harden,
to contract. We have in this very period formed a new taste--or taken a
new lease of an old one--for reading history, which had been dormant all
through our first and second youth. We expect to see the time when we
shall read the Elizabethan dramatists with avidity. We may not
improbably find a delight in statistics; there must be a hidden charm in
them. We may even form a relish for the vagaries of pseudo-psychology----"

At this point we perceived the veteran observer had vanished and that we
were talking to ourselves.



IV

THE PRACTICES AND PRECEPTS OF VAUDEVILLE


A Friend of the Easy Chair came in the other day after a frost from the
magazine editor which had nipped a tender manuscript in its bloom, and
was received with the easy hospitality we are able to show the rejected
from a function involving neither power nor responsibility.

"Ah!" we breathed, sadly, at the sight of the wilted offering in the
hands of our friend. "What is it he won't take _now_?"

"Wait till I get my second wind," the victim of unrequited literature
answered, dropping into the Easy Chair, from which the occupant had
risen; and he sighed, pensively, "I felt so sure I had got him this
time." He closed his eyes, and leaned his head back against the
uncomfortably carven top of the Easy Chair. It was perhaps his failure
to find rest in it that restored him to animation. "It is a little
thing," he murmured, "on the decline of the vaudeville."

"The decline of the vaudeville?" we repeated, wrinkling our forehead in
grave misgiving. Then, for want of something better, we asked, "Do you
think that is a very dignified subject for the magazine?"

"Why, bless my soul!" the rejected one cried, starting somewhat
violently forward, "what is your magazine itself but vaudeville, with
your contributors all doing their stunts of fiction, or poetry, or
travel, or sketches of life, or articles of popular science and
sociological interest, and I don't know what all! What are your
illustrations but the moving pictures of the kalatechnoscope! Why," he
said, with inspiration, "what are you yourself but a species of Chaser
that comes at the end of the show, and helps clear the ground for the
next month's performance by tiring out the lingering readers?"

"You don't think," we suggested, "you're being rather unpleasant?"

Our friend laughed harshly, and we were glad to see him restored to so
much cheerfulness, at any rate. "I think the notion is a pretty good
fit, though if you don't like to wear it I don't insist. Why should you
object to being likened to those poor fellows who come last on the
programme at the vaudeville? Very often they are as good as the others,
and sometimes, when I have determined to get my five hours' enjoyment to
the last moment before six o'clock, I have had my reward in something
unexpectedly delightful in the work of the Chasers. I have got into
close human relations with them, I and the half-dozen brave spirits who
have stuck it out with me, while the ushers went impatiently about,
clacking the seats back, and picking up the programmes and lost articles
under them. I have had the same sense of kindly comradery with you, and
now and then my patience has been rewarded by you, just as it has been
by the Chasers at the vaudeville, and I've said so to people. I've said:
'You're wrong to put down the magazine the way most of you do before you
get to those departments at the end. Sometimes there are quite good
things in them.'"

"Really," said the unreal editor, "you seem to have had these remarks
left over from your visit to the real editor. We advise you to go back
and repeat them. They may cause him to revise his opinion of your
contribution."

"It's no use my going back. I read finality in his eye before I left
him, and I feel that no compliment, the most fulsome, would move him.
Don't turn me out! I take it all back about your being a Chaser. You are
the first act on the bill for me. I read the magazine like a Chinese
book--from the back. I always begin with the Easy Chair."

"Ah, now you are talking," we said, and we thought it no more than human
to ask, "What is it you have been saying about the vaudeville, anyway?"

The rejected one instantly unfolded his manuscript. "I will just read--"

"No, no!" we interposed. "Tell us about it--give us the general drift.
We never can follow anything read to us."

The other looked incredulous, but he was not master of the situation,
and he resigned himself to the secondary pleasure of sketching the paper
he would so much rather have read.

"Why, you know what an inveterate vaudeville-goer I have always been?"

We nodded. "We know how you are always trying to get us to neglect the
masterpieces of our undying modern dramatists, on the legitimate stage,
and go with you to see the ridiculous stunts you delight in."

"Well, it comes to the same thing. I am an inveterate vaudeville-goer,
for the simple reason that I find better acting in the vaudeville, and
better drama, on the whole, than you ever get, or you generally get, on
your legitimate stage. I don't know why it is so very legitimate. I have
no doubt but the vaudeville, or continuous variety performance, is the
older, the more authentic form of histrionic art. Before the Greek
dramatists, or the longer-winded Sanskrit playwrights, or the
exquisitely conventionalized Chinese and Japanese and Javanese were
heard of, it is probable that there were companies of vaudeville artists
going about the country and doing the turns that they had invented
themselves, and getting and giving the joy that comes of voluntary and
original work, just as they are now. And in the palmiest days of the
Greek tragedy or the Roman comedy, there were, of course, variety shows
all over Athens and Rome where you could have got twice the amusement
for half the money that you would at the regular theatres. While the
openly wretched and secretly rebellious actors whom Euripides and
Terence had cast for their parts were going through rôles they would
never have chosen themselves, the wilding heirs of art at the vaudeville
were giving things of their own imagination, which they had worked up
from some vague inspiration into a sketch of artistic effect. No manager
had foisted upon them his ideals of 'what the people wanted,' none had
shaped their performance according to his own notion of histrionics.
They had each come to him with his or her little specialty, that would
play fifteen or twenty minutes, and had, after trying it before him, had
it rejected or accepted in its entirety. Then, author and actor in one,
they had each made his or her appeal to the public."

"There were no hers on the stage in those days," we interposed.

"No matter," the rejected contributor retorted. "There are now, and that
is the important matter. I am coming to the very instant of actuality,
to the show which I saw yesterday, and which I should have brought my
paper down to mention if it had been accepted." He drew a long breath,
and said, with a dreamy air of retrospect: "It is all of a charming
unity, a tradition unbroken from the dawn of civilization. When I go to
a variety show, and drop my ticket into the chopping-box at the door,
and fastidiously choose my unreserved seat in the best place I can get,
away from interposing posts and persons, and settle down to a long
afternoon's delight, I like to fancy myself a far-fetched phantom of the
past, who used to do the same thing at Thebes or Nineveh as many
thousand years ago as you please. I like to think that I too am an
unbroken tradition, and my pleasure will be such as shaped smiles
immemorially gone to dust."

We made our reflection that this passage was probably out of the
rejected contribution, but we did not say anything, and our visitor went
on.

"And what a lot of pleasure I did get, yesterday, for my fifty cents!
There were twelve stunts on the bill, not counting the kalatechnoscope,
and I got in before the first was over, so that I had the immediate
advantage of seeing a gifted fellow-creature lightly swinging himself
between two chairs which had their outer legs balanced on the tops of
caraffes full of water, and making no more of the feat than if it were a
walk in the Park or down Fifth Avenue. How I respected that man! What
study had gone to the perfection of that act, and the others that he
equally made nothing of! He was simply billed as 'Equilibrist,' when his
name ought to have been blazoned in letters a foot high if they were in
any wise to match his merit. He was followed by 'Twin Sisters,' who, as
'Refined Singers and Dancers,' appeared in sweeping confections of white
silk, with deeply drooping, widely spreading white hats, and
long-fringed white parasols heaped with artificial roses, and sang a
little tropical romance, whose burden was

   'Under the bámboo-trée,'

brought in at unexpected intervals. They also danced this romance with
languid undulations, and before you could tell how or why, they had
disappeared and reappeared in short green skirts, and then shorter white
skirts, with steps and stops appropriate to their costumes, but always,
I am bound to say, of the refinement promised. I can't tell you in what
their refinement consisted, but I am sure it was there, just as I am
sure of the humor of the two brothers who next appeared as 'Singing and
Dancing Comedians' of the coon type. I know that they sang and they
danced, and worked sable pleasantries upon one another with the help of
the pianist, who often helps out the dialogue of the stage in
vaudeville. They were not so good as the next people, a jealous husband
and a pretty wife, who seized every occasion in the slight drama of 'The
Singing Lesson,' and turned it to account in giving their favorite airs.
I like to have a husband disguise himself as a German maestro, and
musically make out why his wife is so zealous in studying with him, and
I do not mind in the least having the sketch close without reason: it
leaves something to my imagination. Two of 'America's Leading Banjoists'
charmed me next, for, after all, there is nothing like the banjo. If one
does not one's self rejoice in its plunking, there are others who do,
and that is enough for my altruistic spirit. Besides, it is America's
leading instrument, and those who excel upon it appeal to the patriotism
which is never really dormant in us. Its close association with color in
our civilization seemed to render it the fitting prelude of the next
act, which consisted of 'Monologue and Songs' by a divine creature in
lampblack, a shirt-waist worn outside his trousers, and an exaggerated
development of stomach. What did he say, what did he sing? I don't know;
I only know that it rested the soul and brain, that it soothed the
conscience, and appeased the hungerings of ambition. Just to sit there
and listen to that unalloyed nonsense was better than to 'sport with
Amaryllis in the shade, or with the tangles of Neæra's hair,' or to be
the object of a votive dinner, or to be forgiven one's sins; there is no
such complete purgation of care as one gets from the real Afro-American
when he is unreal, and lures one completely away from life, while
professing to give his impressions of it. You, with your brute
preferences for literality, will not understand this, and I suppose you
would say I ought to have got a purer and higher joy out of the little
passage of drama, which followed, and I don't know but I did. It was
nothing but the notion of a hapless, half-grown girl, who has run away
from the poorhouse for a half-holiday, and brings up in the dooryard of
an old farmer of the codger type, who knew her father and mother. She at
once sings, one doesn't know why, 'Oh, dear, what can the matter be,'
and she takes out of her poor little carpet-bag a rag-doll, and puts it
to sleep with 'By low, baby,' and the old codger puts the other dolls to
sleep, nodding his head, and kicking his foot out in time, and he ends
by offering that poor thing a home with him. If he had not done it, I do
not know how I could have borne it, for my heart was in my throat with
pity, and the tears were in my eyes. Good heavens! What simple
instruments we men are! The falsest note in all Hamlet is in those words
of his to Guildenstern: 'You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound
me from my lowest note to the top of my compass.... 'S blood, do you
think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?' Guildenstern ought to
have said: 'Much, my lord! Here is an actor who has been summering in
the country, and has caught a glimpse of pathetic fact commoner than the
dust in the road, and has built it up in a bit of drama as artless as a
child would fancy, and yet it swells your heart and makes you cry. Your
mystery? You have no mystery to an honest man. It is only fakes and
frauds who do not understand the soul. The simplest willow whistle is an
instrument more complex than man.' That is what I should have said in
Guildenstern's place if I had had Hamlet with me there at the vaudeville
show.

"In the pretty language of the playbill," the contributor went on, "this
piece was called 'A Pastoral Playlet,' and I should have been willing to
see 'Mandy Hawkins' over again, instead of the 'Seals and Sea Lions,'
next placarded at the sides of the curtain immediately lifted on them.
Perhaps I have seen too much of seals, but I find the range of their
accomplishments limited, and their impatience for fish and lump sugar
too frankly greedy before and after each act. Their banjo-playing is of
a most casual and irrelevant sort; they ring bells, to be sure; in
extreme cases they fire small cannon; and their feat of balancing large
and little balls on their noses is beyond praise. But it may be that the
difficulties overcome are too obvious in their instances; I find myself
holding my breath, and helping them along too strenuously for my
comfort. I am always glad when the curtain goes down on them; their mere
flumping about the stage makes me unhappy; but they are not so bad,
after all, as trained dogs. They were followed by three 'Artistic
European Acrobats,' who compensated and consoled me for the seals, by
the exquisite ease with which they wrought the impossibilities of their
art, in the familiar sack-coats and top-coats of every day. I really
prefer tights and spangles, but I will not refuse impossibilities simply
because they are performed, as our diplomats are instructed to appear at
European courts, in the ordinary dress of a gentleman; it may even add a
poignancy to the pleasure I own so reluctantly.

"There came another pair of 'Singers and Dancers,' and then a 'Trick
Cyclist,' but really I cannot stand trick cycling, now that plain
cycling, glory be! has so nearly gone out. As soon as the cyclist began
to make his wheel rear up on its hind leg and carry him round the stage
in that posture, I went away. But I had had enough without counting him,
though I left the kalatechnoscope, with its shivering and shimmering
unseen. I had had my fill of pleasure, rich and pure, such as I could
have got at no legitimate theatre in town, and I came away opulently
content."

We reflected awhile before we remarked: "Then I don't see what you have
to complain of or to write of. Where does the decline of the vaudeville
come in?"

"Oh," the rejected contributor said, with a laugh, "I forgot that. It's
still so good, when compared with the mechanical drama of the legitimate
theatre, that I don't know whether I can make out a case against it now.
But I think I can, both in quality and quantity. I think the change
began insidiously to steal upon the variety show with the increasing
predominance of short plays. Since they were short, I should not have
minded them so much, but they were always so bad! Still, I could go out,
when they came on, and return for the tramp magician, or the comic
musician, who played upon joints of stovepipe and the legs of
reception-chairs and the like, and scratched matches on his two days'
beard, and smoked a plaintive air on a cigarette. But when the
'playlets' began following one another in unbroken succession, I did not
know what to do. Almost before I was aware of their purpose three of the
leading vaudeville houses threw off the mask, and gave plays that took
up the whole afternoon; and though they professed to intersperse the
acts with what they called 'big vaudeville,' I could not be deceived,
and I simply stopped going. When I want to see a four-act play, I will
go to the legitimate theatre, and see something that I can smell, too.
The influence of the vaudeville has, on the whole, been so elevating and
refining that its audiences cannot stand either the impurity or the
imbecility of the fashionable drama. But now the vaudeville itself is
beginning to decline in quality as well as quantity."

"Not toward immodesty?"

"No, not so much that. But the fine intellectual superiority of the
continuous performance is beginning to suffer contamination from the
plays where there are waits between the acts. I spoke just now of the
tramp magician, but I see him no longer at the variety houses. The comic
musician is of the rarest occurrence; during the whole season I have as
yet heard no cornet solo on a revolver or a rolling-pin. The most
dangerous acts of the trapeze have been withdrawn. The acrobats still
abound, but it is three long years since I looked upon a coon act with
real Afro-Americans in it, or saw a citizen of Cincinnati in a fur
overcoat keeping a silk hat, an open umbrella, and a small wad of paper
in the air with one hand. It is true that the conquest of the vaudeville
houses by the full-fledged drama has revived the old-fashioned stock
companies in many cases, and has so far worked for good, but it is a
doubtful advantage when compared with the loss of the direct inspiration
of the artists who created and performed their stunts."

"Delightful word!" we dreamily noted. "How did it originate?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's probably a perversion of stint, a task or part,
which is also to be found in the dictionary as stent. What does it
matter? There is the word, and there is the thing, and both are
charming. I approve of the stunt because it is always the stuntist's
own. He imagined it, he made it, and he loves it. He seems never to be
tired of it, even when it is bad, and when nobody in the house lends him
a hand with it. Of course, when it comes to that, it has to go, and he
with it. It has to go when it is good, after it has had its day, though
I don't see why it should go; for my part there are stunts I could see
endlessly over again, and not weary of them. Can you say as much of any
play?"

"Gilbert and Sullivan's operas," we suggested.

"That is true. But without the music? And even with the music, the
public won't have them any longer. I would like to see the stunt fully
developed. I should like to have that lovely wilding growth delicately
nurtured into drama as limitless and lawless as life itself, owing no
allegiance to plot, submitting to no rule or canon, but going gayly on
to nothingness as human existence does, full of gleaming lights, and
dark with inconsequent glooms, musical, merry, melancholy, mad, but
never-ending as the race itself."

"You would like a good deal more than you are ever likely to get," we
said; and here we thought it was time to bring our visitor to book
again. "But about the decline of vaudeville?"

"Well, it isn't grovelling yet in the mire with popular fiction, but it
is standing still, and whatever is standing still is going backward, or
at least other things are passing it. To hold its own, the vaudeville
must grab something more than its own. It must venture into regions yet
unexplored. It must seize not only the fleeting moments, but the
enduring moments of experience; it should be wise not only to the whims
and moods, but the passions, the feelings, the natures of men; for it
appeals to a public not sophisticated by mistaken ideals of art, but
instantly responsive to representations of life. Nothing is lost upon
the vaudeville audience, not the lightest touch, not the airiest shadow
of meaning. Compared with the ordinary audience at the legitimate
theatres--"

"Then what you wish," we concluded, "is to elevate the vaudeville."

The visitor got himself out of the Easy Chair, with something between a
groan and a growl. "You mean to kill it."



V

INTIMATIONS OF ITALIAN OPERA


Whether pleasure of the first experience is more truly pleasure than
that which comes rich in associations from pleasures of the past is a
doubt that no hedonistic philosopher seems to have solved yet. We
should, in fact, be sorry if any had, for in that case we should be
without such small occasion as we now have to suggest it in the
forefront of a paper which will not finally pass beyond the suggestion.
When the reader has arrived at our last word we can safely promise him
he will still have the misgiving we set out with, and will be confirmed
in it by the reflection that no pleasure, either of the earliest or the
latest experience, can be unmixed with pain. One will be fresher than
the other; that is all; but it is not certain that the surprise will
have less of disappointment in it than the unsurprise. In the one case,
the case of youth, say, there will be the racial disappointment to count
with, and in the other, the case of age, there will be the personal
disappointment, which is probably a lighter thing. The racial
disappointment is expressed in what used to be called, somewhat
untranslatably, _Weltschmerz_. This was peculiarly the appanage of
youth, being the anticipative melancholy, the pensive foreboding,
distilled from the blighted hopes of former generations of youth. Mixed
with the effervescent blood of the young heart, it acted like a subtle
poison, and eventuated in more or less rhythmical deliriums, in cynical
excesses of sentiment, in extravagances of behavior, in effects which
commonly passed when the subject himself became ancestor, and
transmitted his inherited burden of _Weltschmerz_ to his posterity. The
old are sometimes sad, on account of the sins and follies they have
personally committed and know they will commit again, but for pure
gloom--gloom positive, absolute, all but palpable--you must go to youth.
That is not merely the time of disappointment, it is in itself
disappointment; it is not what it expected to be; and it finds nothing
which confronts it quite, if at all, responsive to the inward vision.
The greatest, the loveliest things in the world lose their iridescence
or dwindle before it. The old come to things measurably prepared to see
them as they are, take them for what they are worth; but the young are
the prey of impassioned prepossessions which can never be the true
measures.

       *       *       *       *       *

The disadvantage of an opening like this is that it holds the same
quality, if not quantity, of disappointment as those other sublime
things, and we earnestly entreat the reader to guard himself against
expecting anything considerable from it. Probably the inexperienced
reader has imagined from our weighty prologue something of signal
importance to follow; but the reader who has been our reader through
thick and thin for many years will have known from the first that we
were not going to deal with anything more vital, say, than a few
emotions and memories, prompted, one night of the other winter, by
hearing one of the old-fashioned Italian operas which a more than
commonly inspired management had been purveying to an over-Wagnered
public. In fact, we had a sense that this sort of reader was there with
us the night we saw "L'Elisir d'Amore," and that it was in his
personality we felt and remembered many things which we could have
fancied personal only to ourselves.

He began to take the affair out of our keeping from the first moment,
when, after passing through the crowd arriving from the snowy street, we
found our way through the distracted vestibule of the opera-house into
the concentred auditorium and hushed ourselves in the presence of the
glowing spectacle of the stage. "Ah, this is the real thing," he
whispered, and he would not let us, at any moment when we could have
done so without molesting our neighbors, censure the introduction of
Alpine architecture in the entourage of an Italian village piazza. "It
is a village at the foot of the Alps probably," he said, "and if not, no
matter. It is as really the thing as all the rest: as the chorus of
peasants and soldiers, of men and women who impartially accompany the
orchestra in the differing sentiments of the occasion; as the rivals who
vie with one another in recitative and aria; as the heroine who holds
them both in a passion of suspense while she weaves the enchantment of
her trills and runs about them; as the whole circumstance of the
divinely impossible thing which defies nature and triumphs over
prostrate probability. What does a little Swiss Gothic matter? The thing
is always opera, and it is always Italy. I was thinking, as we crowded
in there from the outside, with our lives in our hands, through all
those trolleys and autos and carriages and cabs and sidewalk
ticket-brokers, of the first time I saw this piece. It was in Venice,
forty-odd years ago, and I arrived at the theatre in a gondola, slipping
to the water-gate with a waft of the gondolier's oar that was both
impulse and arrest, and I was helped up the sea-weedy, slippery steps
by a beggar whom age and sorrow had bowed to just the right angle for
supporting my hand on the shoulder he lent it. The blackness of the tide
was pierced with the red plunge of a few lamps, and it gurgled and
chuckled as my gondola lurched off and gave way to another; and when I
got to my box--a box was two florins, but I could afford it--I looked
down on just this scene, over a pit full of Austrian officers and
soldiers, and round on a few Venetians darkling in the other boxes and
half-heartedly enjoying the music. It was the most hopeless hour of the
Austrian occupation, and the air was heavy with its oppression and
tobacco, for the officers smoked between the acts. It was only the more
intensely Italian for that; but it was not more Italian than this; and
when I see those impossible people on the stage, and hear them sing, I
breathe an atmosphere that is like the ether beyond the pull of our
planet, and is as far from all its laws and limitations."

       *       *       *       *       *

Our friend continued to talk pretty well through the whole interval
between the first and second acts; and we were careful not to interrupt
him, for from the literary quality of his diction we fancied him talking
for publication, and we wished to take note of every turn of his phrase.

"It's astonishing," he said, "how little art needs in order to give the
effect of life. A touch here and there is enough; but art is so
conditioned that it has to work against time and space, and is obliged
to fill up and round out its own body with much stuff that gives no
sense of life. The realists," he went on, "were only half right."

"Isn't it better to be half right than wrong altogether?" we
interposed.

"I'm not sure. What I wanted to express is that every now and then I
find in very defective art of all kinds that mere _look_ of the real
thing which suffices. A few words of poetry glance from the prose body
of verse and make us forget the prose. A moment of dramatic motive
carries hours of heavy comic or tragic performance. Is any piece of
sculpture or painting altogether good? Or isn't the spectator held in
the same glamour which involved the artist before he began the work, and
which it is his supreme achievement to impart, so that it shall hide all
defects? When I read what you wrote the other month, or the other year,
about the vaudeville shows--?

"Hush!" we entreated. "Don't bring those low associations into this high
presence."

"Why not? It is all the same thing. There is no inequality in the region
of art; and I have seen things on the vaudeville stage which were graced
with touches of truth so exquisite, so ideally fine, that I might have
believed I was getting them at first hand and pure from the
street-corner. Of course, the poor fellows who had caught them from life
had done their worst to imprison them in false terms, to labor them out
of shape, and build them up in acts where anything less precious would
have been lost; but they survived all that and gladdened the soul. I
realized that I should have been making a mistake if I had required any
'stunt' which embodied them to be altogether composed of touches of
truth, of moments of life. We can stand only a very little radium; the
captured sunshine burns with the fires that heat the summers of the
farthest planets; and we cannot handle the miraculous substance as if it
were mere mineral. A touch of truth is perhaps not only all we need, but
all we can endure in any one example of art."

"You are lucky if you get so much," we said, "even at a vaudeville
show."

"Or at an opera," he returned, and then the curtain rose on the second
act. When it fell again, he resumed, as if he had been interrupted in
the middle of a sentence. "What should you say was the supreme moment of
this thing, or was the radioactive property, the very soul? Of course,
it is there where Nemorino drinks the elixir and finds himself freed
from Adina; when he bursts into the joyous song of liberation and gives
that delightful caper

   'Which signifies indifference, indifference,
   Which signifies indifference,'

and which not uncommonly results from a philter composed entirely of
claret. When Adina advances in the midst of his indifference and breaks
into the lyrical lament

   'Neppur mi guarda!'

she expresses the mystery of the sex which can be best provoked to love
by the sense of loss, and the vital spark of the opera is kindled. The
rest is mere incorporative material. It has to be. In other conditions
the soul may be disembodied, and we may have knowledge of it without the
interposition of anything material; but if there are spiritual bodies as
there are material bodies, still the soul may wrap itself from other
souls and emit itself only in gleams. But putting all that aside, I
should like to bet that the germ, the vital spark of the opera, felt
itself life, felt itself flame, first of all in that exquisite moment of
release which Nemorino's caper conveys. Till then it must have been
rather blind groping, with nothing better in hand than that old,
worn-out notion of a love-philter. What will you bet?"

"We never bet," we virtuously replied. "We are principled against it in
all cases where we feel sure of losing; though in this case we could
never settle it, for both composer and librettist are dead."

"Yes, isn't it sad that spirits so gay should be gone from a world that
needs gayety so much? That is probably the worst of death; it is so
indiscriminate," the reader thoughtfully observed.

"But aren't you," we asked, "getting rather far away from the question
whether the pleasure of experience isn't greater than the pleasure of
inexperience--whether later operas don't give more joy than the first?"

"Was that the question?" he returned. "I thought it was whether Italian
opera was not as much at home in exile as in its native land."

"Well, make it that," we responded, tolerantly.

"Oh no," he met us half-way. "But it naturalizes itself everywhere. They
have it in St. Petersburg and in Irkutsk, for all I know, and certainly
in Calcutta and Australia, the same as in Milan and Venice and Naples,
or as here in New York, where everything is so much at home, or so
little. It's the most universal form of art."

"Is it? Why more so than sculpture or painting or architecture?"

Our demand gave the reader pause. Then he said: "I think it is more
immediately universal than the other forms of art. These all want time
to denationalize themselves. It is their nationality which first
authorizes them to be; but it takes decades, centuries sometimes, for
them to begin their universal life. It seems different with operas.
'Cavalleria Rusticana' was as much at home with us in its first year as
'L'Elisir d'Amore' is now in its sixtieth or seventieth."

"But it isn't," we protested, "denationalized. What can be more
intensely Italian than an Italian opera is anywhere?"

"You're right," the reader owned, as the reader always must, if honest,
in dealing with the writer. "It is the operatic audience, not the opera,
which is denationalized when the opera becomes universal. We are all
Italians here to-night. I only wish we were in our native land,
listening to this musical peal of ghostly laughter from the past."

       *       *       *       *       *

The reader was silent a moment while the vast house buzzed and murmured
and babbled from floor to roof. Perhaps the general note of the
conversation, if it could have been tested, would have been found
voluntary rather than spontaneous; but the sound was gay, and there
could be no question of the splendor of the sight. We may decry our own
almost as much as we please, but there is a point where we must cease to
depreciate ourselves; even for the sake of evincing our superiority to
our possessions, we must not undervalue some of them. One of these is
the Metropolitan Opera House, where the pride of wealth, the vanity of
fashion, the beauty of youth, and the taste and love of music fill its
mighty cup to the brim in the proportions that they bear to one another
in the community. Wherever else we fail of our ideal, there we surely
realize it on terms peculiarly our own. Subjectively the scene is
intensely responsive to the New York spirit, and objectively it is most
expressive of the American character in that certain surface effect of
thin brilliancy which remains with the spectator the most memorable
expression of its physiognomy.

No doubt something like this was in the reader's mind when he resumed,
with a sigh: "It's rather pathetic how much more magnificently Italian
opera has always been circumstanced in exile than at home. It had to
emigrate in order to better its fortunes; it could soon be better seen
if not heard outside of Italy than in its native country. It was only
where it could be purely conventional as well as ideal that it could
achieve its greatest triumphs. It had to make a hard fight for its
primacy among the amusements that flatter the pride as well as charm the
sense. You remember how the correspondents of Mr. Spectator wrote to him
in scorn of the affected taste of 'the town' when the town in London
first began to forsake the theatre and to go to the opera?"

"Yes, they were very severe on the town for pretending to a pleasure
imparted in a language it could not understand a word of. They had all
the reason on their side, and they needed it; but the opera is
independent of reason, and the town felt that for its own part it could
dispense with reason, too. The town can always do that. It would not go
seriously or constantly to English opera, though ever so much invited to
do so, for all the reasons, especially the patriotic reasons. Isn't it
strange, by-the-way, how English opera is a fashion, while Italian opera
remains a passion? We had it at its best, didn't we, in the Gilbert and
Sullivan operas, which were the most charming things in the world; but
they charmed only for a while, and it may be doubted whether they ever
greatly charmed the town. The manager of the Metropolitan replaces
German with Italian opera, and finds his account in it, but could he
find his account in it if he put on 'The Mikado' instead of 'L'Elisir
d'Amore'? If he did so, the town would not be here. Why?"

The reader did not try to answer at once. He seemed to be thinking, but
perhaps he was not; other readers may judge from his reply, which, when
it came, was this: "There seems to be something eternally as well as
universally pleasing in Italian opera; but what the thing is, or how
much of a thing it is, I wouldn't undertake to say. Possibly the fault
of English opera is its actuality. It seizes upon a contemporaneous mood
or fad, and satirizes it; but the Italian opera at its lightest deals
with a principle of human nature, and it is never satirical; it needn't
be, for it is as independent of the morals as of the reasons. It isn't
obliged, by the terms of its existence, to teach, any more than it is
obliged to convince. It's the most absolute thing in the world; and from
its unnatural height it can stoop at will in moments of enrapturing
naturalness without ever losing poise. Wasn't that delightful where
Caruso hesitated about his encore, and then, with a shrug and a waft of
his left hand to the house, went off in order to come back and give his
aria with more effect? That was a touch of naturalness not in the scheme
of the opera."

"Yes, but it was more racial, more personal, than natural. It was
delicious, but we are not sure we approved of it."

"Ah, in Italian opera you're not asked to approve; you're only desired
to enjoy!"

"Well, then that bit of racial personality was of the effect of
actuality, and it jarred."

"Perhaps you're right," the reader sighed, but he added: "It was
charming; yes, it made itself part of the piece. Nemorino would have
done just as Caruso did."

At the last fall of the curtain the reader and the writer rose in
unison, a drop of that full tide of life which ebbed by many channels
out of the vast auditorium, and in two or three minutes left it dry.
They stayed in their duplex personality to glance at the silken
evanescences from the boxes, and then, being in the mood for the best
society, they joined the shining presences in the vestibule where these
waited for their carriages and automobiles. Of this company the
interlocutors felt themselves so inseparably part that they could with
difficulty externate themselves so far as to observe that it was of the
quality of "the town" which had gone to Italian opera from the first.

In Mr. Spectator's time the town would have been lighted by the smoky
torches of linkboys to its chairs; now it was called to its electric
autos in the blaze of a hundred incandescent bulbs; but the difference
was not enough to break the tradition. There was something in the aspect
of that patrician throng, as it waited the turn of each, which struck
the reader and writer jointly as a novel effect from any American crowd,
but which the writer scarcely dares intimate to the general reader, for
the general reader is much more than generally a woman, and she may not
like it. Perhaps we can keep it from offending by supposing that the
fact can be true only of the most elect socially, but in any case the
fact seemed to be that the men were handsomer than the women. They were
not only handsomer, but they were sweller (if we may use a comparative
hitherto unachieved) in look, and even in dress.

How this could have happened in a civilization so peculiarly devoted as
ours to the evolution of female beauty and style is a question which
must be referred to scientific inquiry. It does not affect the vast
average of woman's loveliness and taste among us in ranks below the
very highest; this remains unquestioned and unquestionable; and perhaps,
in the given instance, it was an appearance and not a fact, or perhaps
the joint spectator was deceived as to the supreme social value of those
rapidly dwindling and dissolving groups.

The reader and the writer were some time in finding their true level,
when they issued into the common life of the street, and they walked
home as much like driving home as they could. On the way the reader, who
was so remotely lost in thought that the writer could scarcely find him,
made himself heard in a musing suspiration: "There was something
missing. Can you think what it was?"

"Yes, certainly; there was no ballet."

"Ah, to be sure: no ballet! And there used always to be a ballet! You
remember," the reader said, "how beatific it always was to have the
minor coryphees subside in nebulous ranks on either side of the stage,
and have the great planetary splendor of the _prima ballerina_ come
swiftly floating down the centre to the very footlights, beaming right
and left? Ah, there's nothing in life now like that radiant moment! But
even that was eclipsed when she rose on tiptoe and stubbed it down the
scene on the points of her slippers, with the soles of her feet showing
vertical in the act. Why couldn't we have had that to-night? Yes, we
have been cruelly wronged."

"But you don't give the true measure of our injury. You forget that
supreme instant when the master-spirit of the ballet comes skipping
suddenly forward, and leaping into the air with calves that exchange a
shimmer of kisses, and catches the _prima ballerina_ at the waist, and
tosses her aloft, and when she comes down supports her as she bends this
way and that way, and all at once stiffens for her bow to the house.
Think of our having been defrauded of that!"

"Yes, we have been wickedly defrauded." The reader was silent for a
while, and then he said: "I wonder if anybody except the choreographic
composer ever knew what the story of any ballet was? Were you ever able
to follow it?"

"Certainly not. It is bad enough following the opera. All that one
wishes to do in one case is to look, just as in the other case all one
wishes to do is to listen. We would as lief try to think out the full
meaning of a Browning poem in the pleasure it gave us, as to mix our joy
in the opera or the ballet with any severe question of their purport."



VI

THE SUPERIORITY OF OUR INFERIORS


The satirical reader introduced himself with a gleam in his eye which
kindled apprehension in the unreal editor's breast, and perhaps roused
in him a certain guilty self-consciousness.

"I didn't know," the reader said, "that you were such a well-appointed
_arbiter elegantiarum_."

"Meaning our little discourse last month on the proper form of
addressing letters?" the editor boldly grappled with the insinuation.
"Oh yes; etiquette is part of our function. We merely hadn't got round
to the matter before. You liked our remarks?"

"Very much," our visitor said, with the fine irony characteristic of
him. "All the more because I hadn't expected that sort of thing of you.
What I have expected of you hitherto was something more of the major
morality."

"But the large-sized morals did not enter into that scheme. We deal at
times with the minor morality, too, if the occasion demands, as we have
suggested. You should not have been surprised to find politeness, as
well as righteousness, advocated or applauded here. Naturally, of
course, we prefer the larger-sized morals as questions for discussion.
Had you one of the larger-sized questions of morality to present?"

"I was thinking it was a larger-sized question of manners."

"For example."

"The experience of one of those transatlantic celebrities who seem to be
rather multiplying upon us of late, and who come here with a
proclamation of their worship of American women ready to present, as if
in print, to the swarming interviewers on the pier, and who then proceed
to find fault with our civilization on every other point, almost before
they drive up to their hotels."

"But isn't that rather an old story?"

"I suppose it is rather old, but it always interests us; we are never
free from that longing for a flattered appearance in the eyes of others
which we so seldom achieve. This last, or next to last, celebrity--in
the early winter it is impossible to fix their swift succession--seems
to have suffered amaze at the rude behavior of some dairymaids in the
milk-room of the lady who was showing the celebrity over her premises. I
didn't understand the situation very clearly. The lady must have been a
lady farmer, in order to have a milk-room with dairymaids in it; but in
any case the fact is that when the lady entered with the celebrity the
maids remained seated, where they were grouped together, instead of
rising and standing in the presence of their superiors, as they would
have done in the hemisphere that the celebrity came from."

"Well, what came of it?"

"Oh, nothing. It was explained to the celebrity that the maids did not
rise because they felt themselves as good as their mistress and her
guest, and saw no reason for showing them a servile deference: that this
was the American ideal."

"In the minds of those Swedish, Irish, English, Polish, German, or
Bohemian dairymaids," we murmured, dreamily, and when our reader roused
us from our muse with a sharp "What?" we explained, "Of course they
were not American dairymaids, for it stands to reason that if they were
dairymaids they could not be Americans, or if Americans they could not
be dairymaids."

"True," our friend assented, "but all the same you admit that they were
behaving from an American ideal?"

"Yes."

"Well, that ideal is what the celebrity objects to. The celebrity
doesn't like it--on very high grounds."

"The grounds of social inequality, the inferiority of those who work to
those who pay, and the right of the superiors to the respect of the
inferiors?"

"No, the politeness due from one class to another."

"Such as lives between classes in Europe, we suppose. Well, that is very
interesting. Is it of record that the lady and her guest, on going into
the milk-room where the dairymaids remained rudely seated, bowed or
nodded to them or said, 'Good-day, young ladies'?"

"No, that is not of record."

"Their human quality, their human equality, being altogether out of the
question, was probably in no wise recognized. Why, then, should they
have recognized the human quality of their visitors?" Our satirical
reader was silent, and we went on. "There is something very droll in all
that. We suppose you have often been vexed, or even outraged, by the
ingratitude of the waiter whom you had given a handsome tip, over and
above the extortionate charge of the house, and who gathered up your
quarter or half-dollar and slipped it into his pocket without a word, or
even an inarticulate murmur, of thanks?"

"Often. Outraged is no word for it."

"Yes," we assented, feeling our way delicately. "Has it ever happened
that in the exceptional case where the waiter has said, 'Thank you very
much,' or the like, you have responded with a cordial, 'You're welcome,'
or, 'Not at all'?"

"Certainly not."

"Why not?"

"Because--because--those are terms of politeness between--"

Our friend hesitated, and we interrogatively supplied the word, "Equals?
There are always difficulties between unequals. But try this, some day,
and see what a real gratitude you will get from the waiter. It isn't
infallible, but the chances are he will feel that you have treated him
like a man, and will do or say something to show his feeling: he will
give a twitch to your under-coat when he has helped you on with your
top-coat, which will almost pull you over. We have even tried saying
'You are welcome' to a beggar. It's astonishing how they like it.
By-the-way, have you the habit of looking at your waiter when he comes
to take your order; or do you let him stand facing you, without giving
him a glance above the lower button of his poor, greasy waistcoat?"

"No, the theory is that he is part of the mechanism of the
establishment."

"That is the theory. But it has its inconveniences. We ourselves used to
act upon it, but often, when we found him long in bringing our order, we
were at a loss which waiter to ask whether it would be ready some time
during the evening; and occasionally we have blown up the wrong waiter,
who did not fail to bring us to shame for our error."

"They do look so confoundedly alike," our visitor said, thoughtfully.

"We others look confoundedly alike to them, no doubt. If they studied us
as little as we study them, if they ignored us as contemptuously as we
do them, upon the theory that we, too, are part of the mechanism, the
next man would be as likely as we to get our dinner."

"They are paid to study us," our visitor urged.

"Ah, _paid_! The intercourse of unequals is a commercial transaction,
but when the inferiors propose to make it purely so the superiors
object: they want something to boot, something thrown in, some show of
respect, some appearance of gratitude. Perhaps those dairymaids did not
consider that they were paid to stand up when their employer and the
visiting celebrity came into the milk-room, and so, unless they were
civilly recognized--we don't say they weren't in this case--they thought
they would do some of the ignoring, too. It is surprising how much the
superiors think they ought to get for their money from the inferiors in
that commercial transaction. For instance, they think they buy the right
to call their inferiors by their first names, but they don't think they
sell a similar right with regard to themselves. They call them Mary and
John, but they would be surprised and hurt if the butler and waitress
addressed them as Mary and John. Yet there is no _reason_ for their
surprise. Do you remember in that entrancing and edifying comedy of
'Arms and the Man'--Mr. Bernard Shaw's very best, as we think--the wild
Bulgarian maid calls the daughter of the house by her Christian name?
'But you mustn't do that,' the mother of the house instructs her. 'Why
not?' the girl demands. '_She calls me Louka._'"

"Capital!" our friend agreed. "But, of course, Shaw doesn't mean it."

"You never can tell whether he means a thing or not. We think he meant
in this case, as Ibsen means in all cases, that you shall look where you
stand."

Our satirist seemed to have lost something of his gayety. "Aren't you
taking the matter a little too seriously?"

"Perhaps. But we thought you wanted us to be more serious than we were
about addressing letters properly. This is the larger-sized morality,
the real No. 11 sort, and you don't like it, though you said you
expected it of us."

"Oh, but I do like it, though just at present I hadn't expected it. But
if you're in earnest you must admit that the lower classes with us are
abominably rude. Now, I have the fancy--perhaps from living on the
Continent a good deal in early life, where I formed the habit--of saying
good-morning to the maid or the butler when I come down. But they never
seem to like it, and I can't get a good-morning back unless I dig it out
of them. I don't want them to treat me as a superior; I only ask to be
treated as an equal."

"We have heard something like that before, but we doubt it. What you
really want is to have your condescension recognized; they _feel_ that,
if they don't _know_ it. Besides, their manners have been formed by
people who don't ask good-morning from them; they are so used to being
treated as if they were not there that they cannot realize they _are_
there. We have heard city people complain of the wane of civility among
country people when they went to them in the summer to get the good of
their country air. They say that the natives no longer salute them in
meeting, but we never heard that this happened when they first saluted
the natives. Try passing the time of day with the next farmer you meet
on a load of wood, and you will find that the old-fashioned civility is
still to be had for the asking. But it won't be offered without the
asking; the American who thinks from your dress and address that you
don't regard him as an equal will not treat you as one at the risk of a
snub; and he is right. As for domestics--or servants, as we insolently
call them--their manners are formed on their masters', and are often
very bad. But they are not always bad. We, too, have had that fancy of
yours for saying good-morning when we come down; it doesn't always work,
but it oftener works than not. A friend of ours has tried some such
civility at others' houses: at his host's house when the door was opened
to him, arriving for dinner, and he was gloomily offered a tiny envelope
with the name of the lady he was to take out. At first it surprised, but
when it was imagined to be well meant it was apparently liked; in
extreme cases it led to note of the weather; the second or third time at
the same house it established something that would have passed, with the
hopeful spectator, for a human relation. Of course, you can't carry this
sort of thing too far. You can be kind, but you must not give the notion
that you do not know your place."

"Ah! You draw the line," our friend exulted. "I thought so. But where?"

"At the point where you might have the impression that you respected
butlers, when you merely loved your fellow-men. You see the difference?"

"But isn't loving your fellow-men enough? Why should you respect
butlers?"

"To be sure. But come to think of it, why shouldn't you? What is it in
domestic employ that degrades, that makes us stigmatize it as 'service'?
As soon as you get out-of-doors the case changes. You must often have
seen ladies fearfully snubbed by their coachmen; and as for chauffeurs,
who may kill you or somebody else at any moment, the mental attitude of
the average automobilaire toward them must be one of abject deference.
But there have been some really heroic, some almost seraphic, efforts to
readjust the terms of a relation that seems to have something
essentially odious in it. In the old times, the times of the simple life
now passed forever, when the daughter of one family 'lived out' in
another, she ate with the family and shared alike with them. She was
their help, but she became their hindrance when she insisted upon the
primitive custom after 'waiting at table' had passed the stage when the
dishes were all set down, and the commensals 'did their own stretching.'
Heroes and seraphs did their utmost to sweeten and soften the situation,
but the unkind tendency could not be stayed. The daughter of the
neighbor who 'lived out' became 'the hired girl,' and then she became
the waitress, especially when she was of neighbors beyond seas; and then
the game was up. Those who thought humanely of the predicament and
wished to live humanely in it tried one thing and tried another. That
great soul of H.D.L., one of the noblest and wisest of our economic
reformers, now gone to the account which any might envy him, had a usage
which he practised with all guests who came to his table. Before they
sat down he or his wife said, looking at the maid who was to serve the
dinner, 'This is our friend, Miss Murphy'; and then the guests were
obliged in some sort to join the host and hostess in recognizing the
human quality of the attendant. It was going rather far, but we never
heard that any harm came of it. Some thought it rather odd, but most
people thought it rather nice."

"And you advocate the general adoption of such a custom?" our friend
asked, getting back to the sarcasm of his opening note. "Suppose a
larger dinner, a fashionable dinner, with half a dozen men waiters?
That sort of thing might do at the table of a reformer, which only the
more advanced were invited to; but it wouldn't work with the average
retarded society woman or clubman."

"What good thing works with _them_?" we retorted, spiritedly. "But no,
the custom would not be readily adopted even among enlightened thinkers.
We do not insist upon it; the men and the maids might object; they might
not like knowing the kind of people who are sometimes asked to quite
good houses. To be sure, they are not obliged to recognize them out of
the house."

"But what," our friend asked, "has all this got to do with the question
of 'the decent respect' due from domestics, as you prefer to call them,
to their employers?"

"As in that case of the dairymaids which we began with? But why was any
show of respect due from them? Was it nominated in the bond that for
their four or five dollars a week they were to stand up when their
'mistress' and her 'company' entered the room? Why, in fine, should any
human being respect another, seeing what human beings generally are? We
may love one another, but _respect_! No, those maids might, and probably
did, love their mistress; but they felt that they could show their love
as well sitting down as standing up. They would not stand up to show
their love for one another."

"Then you think there is some love lost between the master and man or
mistress and maid nowadays," our beaten antagonist feebly sneered.

"The masters and mistresses may not, but the men and maids may, have
whole treasures of affection ready to lavish at the first sign of a
desire for it; they do not say so, for they are not very articulate. In
the mean time the masters and mistresses want more than they have paid
for. They want honor as well as obedience, respect as well as love, the
sort of thing that money used to buy when it was worth more than it is
now. Well, they won't get it. They will get it less and less as time
goes on. Whatever the good new times may bring, they won't bring back
the hypocritical servility of the good old times. They--"

We looked round for our visiting reader, but he had faded back into the
millions of readers whom we are always addressing in print.



VII

UNIMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN REPUBLICS


A visitor of the Easy Chair who seemed to have no conception of his
frequency, and who was able to supply from his imagination the welcome
which his host did not always hurry to offer him, found a place for
himself on the window-sill among the mistaken MSS. sent in the delusion
that the editor of the Chair was the editor of the magazine.

"I have got a subject for you," he said.

"Have you ever heard," we retorted, "of carrying coals to Newcastle?
What made you think we wanted a subject?"

"Merely that perfunctory air of so many of your disquisitions. I should
think you would feel the want yourself. Your readers all feel it for
you."

"Well, we can tell you," we said, "that there could be no greater
mistake. We are turning away subjects from these premises every day.
They come here, hat in hand, from morning till night, asking to be
treated; and after dark they form a Topic Line at our door, begging for
the merest pittance of a notice, for the slightest allusion, for the
most cursory mention. Do you know that there are at least two hundred
thousand subjects in this town out of a job now? If you have got a
subject, you had better take it to the country press; the New York
magazines and reviews are overstocked with them; the newspapers,
morning and evening, are simply inundated with subjects; subjects are
turned down every Sunday in the pulpits; they cannot get standing-room
in the theatres. Why, we have just this moment dismissed a subject of
the first interest. Have you heard how at a late suffrage meeting one
lady friend of votes for women declared herself an admirer of monarchies
because they always gave women more recognition, more honor, than
republics?"

"No, I haven't," our visitor said.

"Well, it happened," we affirmed. "But every nook and cranny of our
brain was so full of subjects that we simply could not give this a
moment's consideration, and we see that all the other editors in New
York were obliged to turn the cold shoulder to it, though they must have
felt, as we did, that it was of prime importance."

From a position of lounging ease our visitor sat up, and began to nurse
one of his knees between his clasped hands. "But if," he asked, "you had
been able to consider the subject, what should you have said?"

"There are a great many ways of considering a subject like that," we
replied. "We might have taken the serious attitude, and inquired how far
the female mind, through the increasing number of Anglo-American
marriages in our international high life, has become honeycombed with
monarchism. We might have held that the inevitable effect of such
marriages was to undermine the republican ideal at the very source of
the commonwealth's existence, and by corrupting the heart of American
motherhood must have weakened the fibre of our future citizenship to the
point of supinely accepting any usurpation that promised ranks and
titles and the splendor of court life."

"Wouldn't you have been rather mixing your metaphors?" our visitor
asked, with an air of having followed us over a difficult country.

"In a cause like that, no patriotic publicist would have minded mixing
his metaphors. He would have felt that the great thing was to keep his
motives pure; and in treating such a subject our motives would have
remained the purest, whatever became of our metaphors. At the same time
this would not have prevented our doing justice to the position taken by
that friend of votes for women. We should have frankly acknowledged that
there was a great deal to be said for it, and that republics had
hitherto been remiss in not officially acknowledging the social primacy
of woman, but, in fact, distinctly inviting her to a back seat in public
affairs. We should then have appealed to our thoughtful readers to give
the matter their most earnest attention, and with the conservatism of
all serious inquirers we should have urged them to beware of bestowing
the suffrage on a class of the community disposed so boldly to own its
love of the splendors of the state. Would it be sage, would it be safe,
to indulge with democratic equality a sex which already had its eyes on
the flattering inequality of monarchy? Perhaps at this point we should
digress a little and mention Montesquieu, whose delightful _Spirit of
Laws_ we have lately been reading. We should remind the reader, who
would like to think he had read him too, how Montesquieu distinguishes
between the principles on which the three sorts of government are
founded: civic virtue being the base of a republic, honor the ruling
motive in the subjects of a monarchy, and fear the dominant passion in
the slaves of a despotism. Then we should ask whether men were prepared
to intrust the reins of government to women when they had received this
timely intimation that women were more eager to arrive splendidly than
to bring the car of state in safety to the goal. How long would it be,
we should poignantly demand, before in passing from the love of civic
virtue to the ambition of honor, we should sink in the dread of power?"

Our visitor was apparently not so deeply impressed by the treatment of
the subject here outlined as we had been intending and expecting he
should be. He asked, after a moment, "Don't you think that would be
rather a heavy-handed way of dealing with the matter?"

"Oh," we returned, "we have light methods of treating the weightiest
questions. There is the semi-ironical vein, for instance, which you must
have noticed a good deal in us, and perhaps it would be better suited to
the occasion."

"Yes?" our visitor suggested.

"Yes," we repeated. "In that vein we should question at the start
whether any such praise of monarchy had been spoken, and then we should
suppose it had, and begin playfully to consider what the honors and
distinctions were that women had enjoyed under monarchy. We should make
a merit at the start of throwing up the sponge for republics. We should
own they had never done the statesmanlike qualities of women justice. We
should glance, but always a little mockingly, at the position of woman
in the Greek republics, and contrast, greatly to the republican
disadvantage, her place in the democracy of Athens with that she held in
the monarchy of Sparta. We should touch upon the fact that the Athenian
women were not only not in politics, but were not even in society,
except a class which could be only fugitively mentioned, and we should
freely admit that the Spartan women were the heroic inspiration of the
men in all the virtues of patriotism at home as well as in the field. We
should recognize the sort of middle station women held in the Roman
republic, where they were not shut up in the almost Oriental seclusion
of Athenian wives, nor invited to a share in competitive athletics like
the Spartan daughters. We should note that if a Spartan mother had the
habit of bidding her son return with his shield or on it, a Roman mother
expressed a finer sense of her importance in the state when she
intimated that it was enough for her to be the parent of the Gracchi.
But we should not insist upon our point, which, after all, would not
prove that the decorative quality of women in public life was recognized
in Rome as it always has been in monarchies, and we should recur to the
fact that this was the point which had been made against all republics.
Coming down to the Italian republics, we should have to own that Venice,
with her ducal figurehead, had practically a court at which women shone
as they do in monarchies; while in Florence, till the Medici established
themselves in sovereign rule, women played scarcely a greater part than
in Athens. It was only with the Medici that we began to hear of such
distinguished ladies as Bianca Cappello; and in the long, commonplace
annals of the Swiss commonwealth we should be able to recall no female
name that lent lustre to any epoch. We should contrast this poverty with
the riches of the French monarchy, adorned with the memories of Agnes
Sorel, of Diane de Poitiers, of Madame de Montespan, of Madame de
Pompadour, following one another in brilliant succession, and sharing
not only the glory but the authority of the line of princes whose
affections they ruled. Of course, we should have to use an ironical
gravity in concealing their real quality and the character of the courts
where they flourished; and in comparing the womanless obscurity of the
English Commonwealth with the feminine effulgence of the Restoration,
we should seek a greater effect in our true aim by concealing the name
and nature of the ladies who illustrated the court of Charles II."

"And what would your true aim be?" our visitor pressed, with an unseemly
eagerness which we chose to snub by ignoring it.

"As for the position of women in despotisms," we continued, "we should
confess that it seemed to be as ignobly subordinate as that of women in
republics. They were scarcely more conspicuous than the Citizenesses who
succeeded in the twilight of the One and Indivisible the marquises and
comtesses and duchesses of the Ancien Régime, unless they happened, as
they sometimes did, to be the head of the state. Without going back to
the semi-mythical Semiramis, we should glance at the characters of
Cleopatra and certain Byzantine usurpresses, and with a look askance at
the two empresses of Russia, should arrive at her late imperial majesty
of China. The poor, bad Isabella of Spain would concern us no more than
the great, good Victoria of England, for they were the heads of
monarchies and not of despotisms; but we should subtly insinuate that
the reigns of female sovereigns were nowhere adorned by ladies of the
distinction so common as hardly to be distinction in the annals of kings
and emperors. What famous beauty embellished the court of Elizabeth or
either Mary? Even Anne's Mrs. Masham was not a shining personality, and
her Sarah of Marlborough was only a brilliant shrew.

"At this point we should digress a little, but we should pursue our
inquiry in the same satirical tenor. We hope we are not of those
moralists who assume a merit in denouncing the international marriages
which have brought our women, some to think tolerantly and some to
think favorably of a monarchy as affording greater scope for their
social genius. But we should ask, with the mock-seriousness befitting
such a psychological study, how it was that, while American girls
married baronets and viscounts and earls and dukes, almost none, if any,
of their brothers married the sisters or daughters of such noblemen. It
could not be that they were not equally rich and therefore equally
acceptable, and could it be that they made it a matter of conscience not
to marry ladies of title? Were our men, then, more patriotic than our
women? Were men naturally more republican than women?

"This question would bring us to the pass where we should more or less
drop the mocking mask. We should picture a state of things in which we
had actually arrived at a monarchy of our own, with a real sovereign and
a nobility and a court, and the rest of the tradition. With a sudden
severity we should ask where, since they could not all be of the highest
rank, our women would consent to strike the procession of precedence?
How, with their inborn and inbred notions of the deference due their
sex, with that pride of womanhood which our republican chivalry has
cherished in them, they would like, when they went to court, to stand,
for hours perhaps, while a strong young man, or a fat old man, or a
robust man in the prime of life, remained seated in the midst of them?
Would it flatter their hopes of distinction to find the worst scenes of
trolley-car or subway transit repeated at the highest social function in
the land, with not even a hanging-strap to support their weariness,
their weakness, or, if we must say it, their declining years? Would the
glory of being part of a spectacle testifying in our time to the
meanness and rudeness of the past be a compensation for the aching legs
and breaking backs under the trailing robes and the nodding plumes of a
court dress?"

"That would be a telling stroke," our visitor said, "but wouldn't it be
a stroke retold? It doesn't seem to me very new."

"No matter," we said. "The question is not what a thing is, but how it
is done. You asked how we should treat a given subject, and we have
answered."

"And is that all you could make of it?"

"By no means. As subjects are never exhausted, so no subject is ever
exhausted. We could go on with this indefinitely. We could point out
that the trouble was, with us, not too much democracy, but too little;
that women's civic equality with men was perhaps the next step, and not
the social inequality among persons of both sexes. Without feeling that
it affected our position, we would acknowledge that there was now
greater justice for women in a monarchy like Great Britain than in a
republic like the United States; with shame we would acknowledge it; but
we would never admit that it was so because of the monarchism of the
first or the republicanism of the last. We should finally be very
earnest with this phase of our subject, and we should urge our fair
readers to realize that citizenship was a duty as well as a right. We
should ask them before accepting the suffrage to consider its
responsibilities and to study them in the self-sacrificing attitude of
their husbands and fathers, or the brothers of one another, toward the
state. We should make them observe that the actual citizen was not
immediately concerned with the pomps and glories of public life; that
parties and constituencies were not made up of one's fellow-aristocrats,
but were mostly composed of plebeians very jealous of any show of
distinction, and that, in spite of the displeasures of political
association with them, there was no present disposition in American men
to escape to monarchy from them. We cannot, we should remind them, all
be of good family; that takes time, or has taken it; and without good
family the chances of social eminence, or even prominence, are small at
courts. Distinction is more evenly distributed in a democracy like ours;
everybody has a chance at it. To be sure, it is not the shining honor
bestowed by kings, but when we remember how often the royal hand needs
washing we must feel that the honor from it may have the shimmer of
putrescence. This is, of course, the extreme view of the case; and the
condition of the royal hand is seldom scrutinized by those who receive
or those who witness the honor bestowed. But the honor won from one's
fellow-citizens is something worth having, though it is not expressed in
a ribbon or a title. Such honor, it seems probable, will soon be the
reward of civic virtue in women as well as men, and we hope women will
not misprize it. The great end to be achieved for them by the suffrage
is self-government, but with this goes the government of others, and
that is very pleasant. The head of our state may be a woman, chosen at
no far-distant election; and though it now seems droll to think of a
woman being president, it will come in due time to seem no more so than
for a woman to be a queen or an empress. At any rate, we must habituate
our minds to the idea; we must realize it with the hope it implies that
no woman will then care socially to outshine her sister; at the most she
will be emulous of her in civic virtue, the peculiar grace and glory of
republics. We understand that this is already the case in New Zealand
and Colorado and Wyoming. It is too soon, perhaps, to look for the
effect of suffrage on the female character in Denmark; it may be mixed,
because there the case is complicated by the existence of a king, which
may contaminate that civic virtue by the honor which is the moving
principle in a monarchy. And now," we turned lightly to our visitor,
"what is the topic you wish us to treat?"

"Oh," he said, rising, "you have put it quite out of my head; I've been
so absorbed in what you were saying. But may I ask just where in your
treatment of the theme your irony ends?"

"Where yours begins," we neatly responded.



VIII

HAVING JUST GOT HOME


The air of having just got home from Europe was very evident in the
friend who came to interview himself with us the other day. It was not,
of course, so distinguishing as it would have been in an age of less
transatlantic travel, but still, as we say, it was evident, and it lent
him a superiority which he could not wholly conceal. His superiority, so
involuntary, would, if he had wished to dissemble, have affirmed itself
in the English cut of his clothes and in the habit of his top-hat, which
was so newly from a London shop as not yet to have lost the whiteness of
its sweat-band. But his difference from ourselves appeared most in a
certain consciousness of novel impressions, which presently escaped from
him in the critical tone of his remarks.

"Well," we said, with our accustomed subtlety, "how do you find your
fellow-savages on returning to them after a three months' absence?"

"Don't ask me yet," he answered, laying his hat down on a pile of
rejected MSS., delicately, so as not to dim the lustre of its nap. "I am
trying to get used to them, and I have no doubt I shall succeed in time.
But I would rather not be hurried in my opinions."

"You find some relief from the summer's accumulation of sky-scrapers
amid the aching void of our manners?" we suggested.

"Oh, the fresh sky-scrapers are not so bad. You won't find the English
objecting to them half so much as some of our own fellows. But you are
all right about the aching void of manners. That is truly the bottomless
pit with us."

"You think we get worse?"

"I don't say that, exactly. How could we?"

"It might be difficult."

"I will tell you what," he said, after a moment's muse. "There does not
seem to be so much an increase of bad manners, or no manners, as a
diffusion. The foreigners who come to us in hordes, but tolerably civil
hordes, soon catch the native unmannerliness, and are as rude as the
best of us, especially the younger generations. The older people,
Italians, Czechs, Poles, Greeks, Assyrians, or whatever nationalities
now compose those hordes, remain somewhat in the tradition of their home
civility; but their children, their grandchildren, pick up our
impoliteness with the first words of our language, or our slang, which
they make their adoptive mother-tongue long before they realize that it
is slang. When they do realize it, they still like it better than
language, and as no manners are easier than manners, they prefer the
impoliteness they find waiting them here. I have no doubt that their
morals improve; we have morals and to spare. They learn to carry pistols
instead of knives; they shoot instead of stabbing."

"Have you been attacked with any particular type of revolver since your
return?" we inquired, caustically.

"I have been careful not to give offence."

"Then why are you so severe upon your fellow-savages, especially the
minors of foreign extraction?"

"I was giving the instances which I supposed I was asked for; and I am
only saying that I have found our manners merely worse quantitatively,
or in the proportion of our increasing population. But this prompt
succession of the new Americans to the heritage of the old Americans is
truly grievous. They must so soon outnumber us, three to one, ten to
one, twenty, fifty, and they must multiply our incivilities in
geometrical ratio. At Boston, where I landed--"

"Oh, you landed at Boston!" we exclaimed, as if this accounted for
everything; but we were really only trying to gain time. "If you had
landed at New York, do you think your sensibilities would have suffered
in the same degree?" We added, inconsequently enough, "We always
supposed that Boston was exemplary in the matters you are complaining
of."

"And when you interrupted me, with a want of breeding which is no doubt
national rather than individual, I was going on to say that I found much
alleviation from a source whose abundant sweetness I had forgotten. I
moan the sort of caressing irony which has come to be the most
characteristic expression of our native kindliness. There can be no
doubt of our kindliness. Whatever we Americans of the old race-suicidal
stock are not, we are kind; and I think that our expression of our most
national mood has acquired a fineness, a delicacy, with our people of
all degrees, unknown to any other irony in the world. Do you remember
_The House with the Green Shutters_--I can never think of the book
without a pang of personal grief for the too-early death of the
author--how the bitter, ironical temper of the Scotch villagers is
realized? Well, our ironical temper is just the antithesis of that. It
is all sweetness, but it is of the same origin as that of those terrible
villagers: it comes from that perfect, that familiar understanding,
that penetrating reciprocal intelligence, of people who have lived
intimately in one another's lives, as people in small communities do. We
are a small community thrown up large, as they say of photographs; we
are not so much a nation as a family; we each of us know just what any
other, or all others, of us intend to the finest shade of meaning, by
the lightest hint."

"Ah!" we breathed, quite as if we were a character in a novel which had
inspired the author with a new phrase. "Now you are becoming
interesting. Should you mind giving a few instances?"

"Well, that is not so easy. But I may say that the friendly ironies
began for us as soon as we were out of the more single-minded keeping of
the ship's stewards, who had brought our hand-baggage ashore, and, after
extracting the last shilling of tip from us, had delivered us over to
the keeping of the customs officers. It began with the joking tone of
the inspectors, who surmised that we were not trying to smuggle a great
value into the country, and with their apologetic regrets for bothering
us to open so many trunks. They implied that it was all a piece of
burlesque, which we were bound mutually to carry out for the
gratification of a Government which enjoyed that kind of thing. They
indulged this whim so far as to lift out the trays, to let the
Government see that there was nothing dutiable underneath, where they
touched or lifted the contents with a mocking hand, and at times carried
the joke so far as to have some of the things removed. But they helped
put them back with a smile for the odd taste of the Government. I do not
suppose that an exasperating duty was ever so inexasperatingly
fulfilled."

"Aren't you rather straining to make out a case? We have heard of
travellers who had a very different experience."

"At New York, yes, where we are infected with the foreign singleness
more than at Boston. Perhaps a still livelier illustration of our
ironical temperament was given me once before when I brought some things
into Boston. There were some Swiss pewters, which the officers joined me
for a moment in trying to make out were more than two hundred years old;
but failing, jocosely levied thirty per cent. ad valorem on them; and
then in the same gay spirit taxed me twenty per cent. on a medallion of
myself done by an American sculptor, who had forgotten to verify an
invoice of it before the American consul at the port of shipment."

"It seems to us," we suggested, "that this was a piece of dead earnest."

"The fact was earnest," our friend maintained, "but the spirit in which
it was realized was that of a brotherly persuasion that I would see the
affair in its true light, as a joke that was on me. It was a joke that
cost me thirty dollars."

"Still, we fail to see the irony of the transaction."

"Possibly," our friend said, after a moment's muse, "I am letting my
sense of another incident color the general event too widely. But before
I come to that I wish to allege some proofs of the national irony which
I received on two occasions when landing in New York. On the first of
these occasions the commissioner who came aboard the steamer, to take
the sworn declaration of the passengers that they were not smugglers,
recognized my name as that of a well-known financier who had been abroad
for a much-needed rest, and personally welcomed me home in such terms
that I felt sure of complete exemption from the duties levied on others.
When we landed I found that this good friend had looked out for me to
the extent of getting me the first inspector, and he had guarded my
integrity to the extent of committing me to a statement in severalty of
the things my family had bought abroad, so that I had to pay
twenty-eight dollars on my daughter's excess of the hundred dollars
allowed free, although my wife was bringing in only seventy-five
dollars' value, and I less than fifty."

"You mean that you had meant to lump the imports and escape the tax
altogether?" we asked.

"Something like that."

"And the officer's idea of caressing irony was to let you think you
could escape equally well by being perfectly candid?"

"Something like that."

"And what was the other occasion?"

"Oh, it was when I had a letter to the customs officer, and he said it
would be all right, and then furnished me an inspector who opened every
piece of my baggage just as if I had been one of the wicked."

We could not help laughing, and our friend grinned appreciatively. "And
what was that supreme instance of caressing irony which you experienced
in Boston?" we pursued.

"Ah, _there_ is something I don't think you can question. But I didn't
experience it; I merely observed it. We were coming down the stairs to
take our hack at the foot of the pier, and an elderly lady who was
coming down with us found the footing a little insecure. The man in
charge bade her be careful, and then she turned upon him in severe
reproof, and scolded him well. She told him that he ought to have those
stairs looked after, for otherwise somebody would be killed one of these
days. 'Well, ma'am,' he said, 'I shouldn't like that. I was in a
railroad accident once. But I tell you what you do. The next time you
come over here, you just telephone me, and I'll have these steps fixed.
Or, I'll tell you: you just write me a letter and let me know exactly
how you want 'em fixed, and I'll see to it myself.'"

"That was charming," we had to own, "and it was of an irony truly
caressing, as you say. Do you think it was exactly respectful?"

"It was affectionate, and I think the lady liked it as much as any of
us, or as the humorist himself."

"Yes, it was just so her own son might have joked her," we assented.
"But tell us, Croesus," we continued, in the form of Socratic dialogue,
"did you find at Boston that multiple unmannerliness which you say is
apparent from the vast increase of adoptive citizens? We have been in
the habit of going to Boston when we wished to refresh our impression
that we had a native country; when we wished to find ourselves in the
midst of the good old American faces, which were sometimes rather
arraigning in their expression, but not too severe for the welfare of a
person imaginably demoralized by a New York sojourn."

Our friend allowed himself time for reflection. "I don't think you could
do that now with any great hope of success. I should say that the
predominant face in Boston now was some type of Irish face. You know
that the civic affairs of Boston are now in the hands of the Irish. And
with reason, if the Irish are in the majority."

"In New York it has long been the same without the reason," we dreamily
suggested.

"In Boston," our friend went on, without regarding us, "the Catholics
outvote the Protestants, and not because they vote oftener, but because
there are more of them."

"And the heavens do not fall?"

"It is not a question of that; it is a question of whether the Irish are
as amiable and civil as the Americans, now they are on top."

"We always supposed they were one of the most amiable and civil of the
human races. Surely you found them so?"

"I did at Queenstown, but at Boston I had not the courage to test the
fact. I would not have liked to try a joke with one of them as I would
at Queenstown, or as I would at Boston with an American. Their faces did
not arraign me, but they forbade me. It was very curious, and I may have
misread them."

"Oh, probably not," we lightly mocked. "They were taking it out of you
for ages of English oppression; they were making you stand for the Black
Cromwell."

"Oh, very likely," our friend said, in acceptance of our irony, because
he liked irony so much. "But, all the same, I thought it a pity, as I
think it a pity when I meet a surly Italian here, who at home would be
so sweet and gentle. It is somehow our own fault. We have spoiled them
by our rudeness; they think it is American to be as rude as the
Americans. They mistake our incivility for our liberty."

"There is something in what you say," we agreed, "if you will allow us
to be serious. They are here in our large, free air, without the
parasites that kept them in bounds in their own original habitat. We
must invent some sort of culture which shall be constructive and not
destructive, and will supply the eventual good without the provisional
evil."

"Then we must go a great way back, and begin with our grandfathers, with
the ancestors who freed us from Great Britain, but did not free
themselves from the illusion that equality resides in incivility and
honesty in bluntness. That was something they transmitted to us intact,
so that we are now not only the best-hearted but the worst-mannered of
mankind. If our habitual carriage were not rubber-tired by irony, we
should be an intolerable offence, if not to the rest of the world, at
least to ourselves. By-the-way, since I came back I have been reading a
curious old book by James Fenimore Cooper, which I understand made a
great stir in its day. Do you know it?--_Home as Found?_"

"We know it as one may know a book which one has not read. It pretty
nearly made an end of James Fenimore Cooper, we believe. His
fellow-countrymen fell on him, tooth and nail. We didn't take so kindly
to criticism in those days as we do now, when it merely tickles the fat
on our ribs, and we respond with the ironic laughter you profess to like
so much. What is the drift of the book besides the general censure?"

"Oh, it is the plain, dull tale of an American family returning home
after a long sojourn in Europe so high-bred that you want to kill them,
and so superior to their home-keeping countrymen that, vulgarity for
vulgarity, you much prefer the vulgarity of the Americans who have not
been away. The author's unconsciousness of the vulgarity of his
exemplary people is not the only amusing thing in the book. They arrive
for a short stay in New York before they go to their country-seat
somewhere up the State, and the sketches of New York society as it was
in the third or fourth decade of the nineteenth century are certainly
delightful: society was then so exactly like what it is now in spirit.
Of course, it was very provincial, but society is always and everywhere
provincial. One thing about it then was different from what it is now: I
mean the attitude of the stay-at-homes toward the been-abroads. They
revered them and deferred to them, and they called them Hajii, or
travellers, in a cant which must have been very common, since George
William Curtis used the same Oriental term for his _Howadji in Syria_
and his _Nile Notes of a Howadji_."

"We must read it," we said, with the readiness of one who never intends
to read the book referred to. "What you say of it is certainly very
suggestive. But how do you account for the decay of the reverence and
deference in which the Hajii were once held?"

"Well, they may have overworked their superiority."

"Or?" we prompted.

"The stay-at-homes may have got onto the been-abroads in a point where
we all fail, unless we have guarded ourselves very scrupulously."

"And that is?"

"There is something very vulgarizing for Americans in the European
atmosphere, so that we are apt to come back worse-mannered than we went
away, and vulgarer than the untravelled, in so far as it is impoliter to
criticise than to be criticised."

"And is that why your tone has been one of universal praise for your
countrymen in the present interview?"

Our friend reached for his hat, smoothed a ruffled edge of the crown,
and blew a speck of dust from it. "One reasons to a conclusion," he
said, "not from it."



IX

NEW YORK TO THE HOME-COMER'S EYE


Our friend came in with challenge in his eye, and though a month had
passed, we knew, as well as if it were only a day, that he had come to
require of us the meaning in that saying of ours that New York derived
her inspiration from the future, or would derive it, if she ever got it.

"Well," he said, "have you cleared your mind yet sufficiently to 'pour
the day' on mine? Or hadn't you any meaning in what you said? I've
sometimes suspected it."

The truth is that we had not had very much meaning of the sort that you
stand and deliver, though we were aware of a large, vague wisdom in our
words. But we perceived that our friend had no intention of helping us
out, and on the whole we thought it best to temporize.

"In the first place," we said, "we should like to know what impression
New York made on you when you arrived here, if there was any room left
on your soul-surface after the image of Boston had been imprinted
there."

No man is unwilling to expatiate concerning himself, even when he is
trying to corner a fellow-man. This principle of human nature perhaps
accounts for the frequent failure of thieves to catch thieves, in spite
of the proverb; the pursuit suggests somehow the pleasures of
autobiography, and while they are reminded of this and that the suspects
escape the detectives. Our friend gladly paused to reply:

"I wish I could say! It was as unbeautiful as it could be, but it was
wonderful! Has anybody else ever said that there is no place like it? On
some accounts I am glad there isn't; one place of the kind is enough;
but what I mean is that I went about all the next day after arriving
from Boston, with Europe still in my brain, and tried for something
suggestive of some other metropolis, and failed. There was no question
of Boston, of course; that was clean out of it after my first glimpse of
Fifth Avenue in taxicabbing hotelward from the Grand Central Station.
But I tried with Berlin, and found it a drearier Boston; with Paris, and
found it a blonder and blither Boston; with London, and found it
sombrely irrelevant and incomparable. New York is like London only in
not being like any other place, and it is next to London in magnitude.
So far, so good; but the resemblance ends there, though New York is
oftener rolled in smoke, or mist, than we willingly allow to Londoners.
Both, however, have an admirable quality which is not beauty. One might
call the quality picturesque immensity in London, and in New York one
might call it--"

He compressed his lips, and shut his eyes to a fine line for the greater
convenience of mentally visioning.

"What?" we impatiently prompted.

"I was going to say, sublimity. What do you think of sublimity?"

"We always defend New York against you. We accept sublimity. How?"

"I was thinking of the drive up or down Fifth Avenue, the newer Fifth
Avenue, which has risen in marble and Indiana limestone from the
brownstone and brick of a former age, the Augustan Fifth Avenue which
has replaced that old Lincolnian Fifth Avenue. You get the effect best
from the top of one of the imperial motor-omnibuses which have replaced
the consular two-horse stages; and I should say that there was more
sublimity to the block between Sixteenth Street and Sixtieth than in the
other measures of the city's extent."

[Illustration: FIFTH AVENUE AT THIRTY-FOURTH STREET]

"This is very gratifying to us as a fond New-Yorker; but why leave out
of the reach of sublimity the region of the sky-scrapers, and the
spacious, if specious, palatiality of the streets on the upper West
Side?"

"I don't, altogether," our friend replied. "Especially I don't leave out
the upper West Side. That has moments of being even beautiful. But there
is a point beyond which sublimity cannot go; and that is about the
fifteenth story. When you get a group of those sky-scrapers, all soaring
beyond this point, you have, in an inverted phase, the unimpressiveness
which Taine noted as the real effect of a prospect from the summit of a
very lofty mountain. The other day I found myself arrested before a
shop-window by a large photograph labelled 'The Heart of New York.' It
was a map of that region of sky-scrapers which you seem to think not
justly beyond the scope of attributive sublimity. It was a horror; it
set my teeth on edge; it made me think of scrap-iron--heaps, heights,
pinnacles of scrap-iron. Don't ask me why scrap-iron! Go and look at
that photograph and you will understand. Below those monstrous cliffs
the lower roofs were like broken foot-hills; the streets were chasms,
gulches, gashes. It looked as if there had been a conflagration, and the
houses had been burned into the cellars; and the eye sought the
nerve-racking tangle of pipe and wire which remains among the ruins
after a great fire. Perhaps this was what made me think of
scrap-iron--heaps, heights, pinnacles of it. No, there was no sublimity
there. Some astronomers have latterly assigned bounds to immensity, but
the sky-scrapers go beyond these bounds; they are primordial, abnormal."

"You strain for a phrase," we said, "as if you felt the essential
unreality of your censure. Aren't you aware that mediæval Florence,
mediæval Siena, must have looked, with their innumerable towers, like
our sky-scrapered New York? They must have looked quite like it."

"And very ugly. It was only when those towers, which were devoted to
party warfare as ours are devoted to business warfare, were levelled,
that Florence became fair and Siena superb. I should not object to a New
York of demolished sky-scrapers. They would make fine ruins; I would
like to see them as ruins. In fact, now I think of it, 'The Heart of New
York' reminded me of the Roman Forum. I wonder I didn't think of that
before. But if you want sublimity, the distinguishing quality of New
York, as I feel it more and more, while I talk of it, you must take that
stretch of Fifth Avenue from a motor-bus top."

"But that stretch of Fifth Avenue abounds in sky-scrapers!" we lamented
the man's inconsistency.

"Sky-scrapers in subordination, yes. There is one to every other block.
There is that supreme sky-scraper, the Flatiron. But just as the
Flatiron, since the newspapers have ceased to celebrate its pranks with
men's umbrellas, and the feathers and flounces and 'tempestuous
petticoats' of the women, has sunk back into a measurable inconspicuity,
so all the other tall buildings have somehow harmonized themselves with
the prospect and no longer form the barbarous architectural chaos of
lower New York. I don't object to their being mainly business houses and
hotels; I think that it is much more respectable than being palaces or
war-like eminences, Guelf or Ghibelline; and as I ride up-town in my
motor-bus, I thrill with their grandeur and glow with their
condescension. Yes, they condescend; and although their tall white
flanks climb in the distance, they seem to sink on nearer approach, and
amiably decline to disfigure the line of progress, or to dwarf the
adjacent edifices. Down-town, in the heart of New York, poor old Trinity
looks driven into the ground by the surrounding heights and bulks; but
along my sublime upper Fifth Avenue there is spire after spire that does
not unduly dwindle, but looks as if tenderly, reverently, protected by
the neighboring giants. They are very good and kind giants, apparently.
But the acme of the sublimity, the quality in which I find my fancy
insisting more and more, is in those two stately hostelries, the Gog and
Magog of that giant company, which guard the approach to the Park like
mighty pillars, the posts of vast city gates folded back from them."

"Come!" we said. "This is beginning to be something like."

"In November," our friend said, taking breath for a fresh spurt of
praise, "there were a good many sympathetic afternoons which lent
themselves to motor-bus progress up that magnificent avenue, and if you
mounted to your place on top, about three o'clock, you looked up or down
the long vista of blue air till it turned mirk at either vanishing-point
under a sky of measureless cloudlessness. That dimness, almost smokiness
at the closes of the prospect, was something unspeakably rich. It made
me think, quite out of relation or relevance, of these nobly mystical
lines of Keats:

   'His soul shall know the sadness of her night,
   And be among her cloudy trophies hung.'"

We closed our eyes in the attempt to grope after him. "Explain, O
Howadji!"

"I would rather not, as you say when you can't," he replied. "But I will
come down a little nearer earth, if you prefer. Short of those visionary
distances there are features of the prospect either way in which I
differently rejoice. One thing is the shining black roofs of the cabs,
moving and pausing like processions of huge turtles up and down the
street; obeying the gesture of the mid-stream policemen where they stand
at the successive crossings to stay them, and floating with the coming
and going tides as he drops his inhibitory hand and speeds them in the
continuous current. That is, of course, something you get in greater
quantity, though not such intense quality, in a London 'block,' but
there is something more fluent, more mercurially impatient, in a New
York street jam, which our nerves more vividly partake. Don't ask me to
explain! I would rather not!" he said, and we submitted.

He went on to what seemed an unjustifiable remove from the point.
"Nothing has struck me so much, after a half-year's absence, in this
novel revelation of sublimity in New York, as the evident increase on
the street crowds. The city seems to have grown a whole new population,
and the means of traffic and transportation have been duplicated in
response to the demand of the multiplying freights and feet." Our friend
laughed in self-derision, as he went on. "I remember when we first
began to have the electric trolleys--"

"Trams, we believe you call them," we insinuated.

"Not when I'm on this side," he retorted, and he resumed: "I used to be
afraid to cross the avenues where they ran. At certain junctions I
particularly took my life in my hand, and my 'courage in both hands.'
Where Sixth Avenue flows into Fifty-ninth Street, and at Sixth Avenue
and Thirty-fourth Street, and at Dead Man's Curve (he has long been
resuscitated) on Fourteenth Street, I held my breath till I got over
alive, and I blessed Heaven for my safe passage at Forty-second and
Twenty-third streets, and at divers places on Third Avenue. Now I regard
these interlacing iron currents with no more anxiety than I would so
many purling brooks, with stepping-stones in them to keep my feet from
the wet: they are like gentle eddies--soft, clear, slow tides--where one
may pause in the midst at will, compared with the deadly expanses of
Fifth Avenue, with their rush of all manner of vehicles over the smooth
asphalt surface. There I stand long at the brink; I look for a policeman
to guide and guard my steps; I crane my neck forward from my coign of
vantage and count the cabs, the taxicabs, the carriages, the private
automobiles, the motor-buses, the express-wagons, and calculate my
chances. Then I shrink back. If it is a corner where there is no
policeman to bank the tides up on either hand and lead me over, I wait
for some bold, big team to make the transit of the avenue from the
cross-street, and then in its lee I find my way to the other side. As
for the trolleys, I now mock myself of them, as Thackeray's Frenchmen
were said to say in their peculiar English. (I wonder if they really
did?) It is the taxicabs that now turn my heart to water. It is
astonishing how they have multiplied--they have multiplied even beyond
the ratio of our self-reduplicating population. There are so many
already that this morning I read in my paper of a trolley-car striking a
horse-cab! The reporter had written quite unconsciously, just as he used
to write horseless carriage. Yes, the motor-cab is now the type, the
norm, and the horse-cab is the--the--the----"

He hesitated for the antithesis, and we proposed "Abnorm?"

"_Say_ abnorm! It is hideous, but I don't know that it is wrong. Where
was I?"

"You had got quite away from the sublimity of New York, which upon the
whole you seemed to attribute to the tall buildings along Fifth Avenue.
We should like you to explain again why, if 'The Heart of New York,'
with its sky-scrapers, made you think of scrap-iron, the Flatiron
soothed your lacerated sensibilities?"

[Illustration: FIFTH AVENUE FROM THE TOP OF A MOTOR-BUS]

"The Flatiron is an incident, an accent merely, in the mighty music of
the Avenue, a happy discord that makes for harmony. It is no longer
nefarious, or even mischievous, now the reporters have got done
attributing a malign meteorological influence to it. I wish I could say
as much for the white marble rocket presently soaring up from the east
side of Madison Square, and sinking the beautiful reproduction of the
Giralda tower in the Garden half-way into the ground. As I look at this
pale yellowish brown imitation of the Seville original, it has a pathos
which I might not make you feel. But I would rather not look away from
Fifth Avenue at all. It is astonishing how that street has assumed and
resumed all the larger and denser life of the other streets. Certain of
the avenues, like Third and Sixth, remain immutably and
characteristically noisy and ignoble; and Fifth Avenue has not
reduced them to insignificance as it has Broadway. That is now a
provincial High Street beside its lordlier compeer; but I remember when
Broadway stormed and swarmed with busy life. Why, I remember the
party-colored 'buses which used to thunder up and down; and I can fancy
some Rip Van Winkle of the interior returning to the remembered terrors
and splendors of that mighty thoroughfare, and expecting to be killed at
every crossing--I can fancy such a visitor looking round in wonder at
the difference and asking the last decaying survivor of the famous
Broadway Squad what they had done with Broadway from the Battery to
Madison Square. Beyond that, to be sure, there is a mighty flare of
electrics blazoning the virtues of the popular beers, whiskeys, and
actresses, which might well mislead my elderly revisitor with the belief
that Broadway was only taken in by day, and was set out again after dark
in its pristine--I think pristine is the word; it used to be--glory. But
even by night that special length of Broadway lacks the sublimity of
Fifth Avenue, as I see it or imagine it from my motor-bus top. _I_ knew
Fifth Avenue in the Lincolnian period of brick and brownstone, when it
had a quiet, exclusive beauty, the beauty of the unbroken sky-line and
the regularity of facade which it has not yet got back, and may never
get. You will get some notion of it still in Madison Avenue, say from
Twenty-eighth to Forty-second streets, and perhaps you will think it was
dull as well as proud. It is proud now, but it is certainly not dull.
There is something of columnar majesty in the lofty flanks of these tall
shops and hotels as you approach them, which makes you think of some
capital decked for a national holiday. But in Fifth Avenue it is always
holiday--"

"Enough of streets!" we cried, impatiently. "Now, what of men? What of
that heterogeneity for which New York is famous, or infamous? You
noticed the contrasting Celtic and Pelasgic tribes in Boston. What of
them here, with all the tribes of Israel, lost and found, and the
'sledded Polack,' the Czech, the Hun, the German, the Gaul, the Gothic
and Iberian Spaniard, and the swart stranger from our sister continent
to the southward, and the islands of the seven seas, who so sorely
outnumber us?"

Our friend smiled thoughtfully. "Why, that is very curious! Do you know
that in Fifth Avenue the American type seems to have got back its old
supremacy? It is as if no other would so well suit with that sublimity!
I have not heard that race-suicide has been pronounced by the courts
amenable to our wise State law against _felo de se_, but in the modern
Fifth Avenue it is as if our stirp had suddenly reclaimed its old-time
sovereignty. I don't say that there are not other faces, other tongues
than ours to be seen, heard, there; far from it! But I do say it is a
sense of the American face, the American tongue, which prevails. Once
more, after long exile in the streets of our own metropolis, you find
yourself in an American city. Your native features, your native accents,
have returned in such force from abroad, or have thronged here in such
multitude from the prospering Pittsburgs, Cincinnatis, Chicagos, St.
Louises, and San Franciscos of the West, that you feel as much at home
in Fifth Avenue as you would in Piccadilly, or in the Champs Elysées, or
on the Pincian Hill. Yes, it is very curious."

"Perhaps," we suggested, after a moment's reflection, "it isn't true."



X

CHEAPNESS OF THE COSTLIEST CITY ON EARTH


"One of my surprises on Getting Back," the more or less imaginary
interlocutor who had got back from Europe said in his latest visit to
the Easy Chair, "is the cheapness of the means of living in New York."

At this the Easy Chair certainly sat up. "Stay not a moment, Howadji,"
we exclaimed, "in removing our deep-seated prepossession that New York
is the most expensive place on the planet."

But instead of instantly complying our friend fell into a smiling muse,
from which he broke at last to say: "I have long been touched by the
pathos of a fact which I believe is not yet generally known. Do you know
yourself, with the searching knowledge which is called feeling it in
your bones, that a good many Southerners and Southerly Westerners make
this town their summer resort?" We intimated that want of penetrating
statistics which we perceived would gratify him, and he went on. "They
put up at our hotels which in the 'anguish of the solstice' they find
invitingly vacant. As soon as they have registered the clerk recognizes
them as Colonel, or Major, or Judge, but gives them the rooms which no
amount of family or social prestige could command in the season, and
there they stay, waking each day from unmosquitoed nights to iced-melon
mornings, until a greater anguish is telegraphed forward by the
Associated Press. Then they turn their keys in their doors, and flit to
the neighboring Atlantic or the adjacent Catskills, till the solstice
recovers a little, and then they return to their hotel and resume their
life in the city, which they have almost to themselves, with its parks
and drives and roof-gardens and vaudevilles, unelbowed by the three or
four millions of natives whom we leave behind us when we go to Europe,
or Newport, or Bar Harbor, or the Adirondacks. Sometimes they take
furnished flats along the Park, and settle into a greater permanency
than their hotel sojourn implies. They get the flats at about half the
rent paid by the lessees who sublet them, but I call it pathetic that
they should count it joy to come where we should think it misery to
stay. Still, everything is comparative, and I suppose they are as
reasonably happy in New York as I am in my London lodgings in the London
season, where I sometimes stifle in a heat not so pure and clear as that
I have fled from."

"Very well," we said, dryly, "you have established the fact that the
Southerners come here for the summer and live in great luxury; but what
has that to do with the cheapness of living in New York, which you began
by boasting?"

"Ah, I was coming back to that," the Howadji said, with a glow of
inspiration. "I have been imagining, in the relation which you do not
see, that New York can be made the inexpensive exile of its own children
as it has been made the summer home of those sympathetic Southerners. If
I can establish the fact of its potential cheapness, as I think I can, I
shall deprive them of some reasons for going abroad, though I'm not sure
they will thank me, when the reasons for Europe are growing fewer and
fewer. Culture can now be acquired almost as advantageously here as
there. Except for the 'monuments,' in which we include all ancient and
modern masterpieces in the several arts, we have no excuse for going to
Europe, and even in these masterpieces Europe is coming to us so
increasingly in every manner of reproduction that we allege the
monuments almost in vain. The very ruins of the past are now so
accurately copied in various sorts of portable plasticity that we may
know them here with nearly the same emotion as on their own ground. The
education of their daughters which once availed with mothers willing to
sacrifice themselves and their husbands to the common good, no longer
avails. The daughters know the far better time they will have at home,
and refuse to go, as far as daughters may, and in our civilization this,
you know, is very far. But it was always held a prime reason and
convincing argument that Dresden, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and even London,
were so much cheaper than New York that it was a waste of money to stay
at home."

"Well, wasn't it?" we impatiently demanded.

"I will not say, for I needn't, as yet. There were always at the same
time philosophers who contended that if we lived in those capitals as we
lived at home, they would be dearer than New York. But what is really
relevant is the question whether New York isn't cheaper now."

"We thought it had got past a question with you. We thought you began by
saying that New York _is_ cheaper."

"I can't believe I was so crude," the Howadji returned, with a fine
annoyance. "That is the conclusion you have characteristically jumped to
without looking before you leap. I was going to approach the fact much
more delicately, and I don't know but what by your haste you have
shattered my ideal of the conditions. But I'll own that the great
stumbling-block to my belief that the means of living in New York are
cheaper than in the European capitals is that the house rents here are
so incomparably higher than they are there. But I must distinguish and
say that I mean flat-rents, for, oddly enough, flats are much dearer
than houses. You can get a very pretty little house, in a fair quarter,
with plenty of light and a good deal of sun, for two-thirds and
sometimes one-half what you must pay for a flat with the same number of
rooms, mostly dark or dim, and almost never sunny. Of course, a house is
more expensive and more difficult to 'run,' but even with the cost of
the greater service and of the furnace heat the rent does not reach that
of a far less wholesome and commodious flat. There is one thing to be
said in favor of a flat, however, and that is the women are in favor of
it. The feminine instinct is averse to stairs; the sex likes to be
safely housed against burglars, and when it must be left alone, it
desires the security of neighbors, however strange the neighbors may be;
it likes the authority of a janitor, the society of an elevator-boy. It
hates a lower door, an area, an ash-barrel, and a back yard. But if it
were willing to confront all these inconveniences, it is intimately, it
is osseously, convinced that a house is not cheaper than a flat. As a
matter of fact, neither a house nor a flat is cheap enough in New York
to bear me out in my theory that New York is no more expensive than
those Old World cities. To aid efficiently in my support I must invoke
the prices of provisions, which I find, by inquiry at several markets on
the better avenues, have reverted to the genial level of the earlier
nineteen-hundreds, before the cattle combined with the trusts to send
them up. I won't prosily rehearse the quotations of beef, mutton, pork,
poultry, and fish; they can be had at any dealer's on demand; and they
will be found less, on the whole, than in London, less than in Paris,
less even than in Rome. They are greater no doubt than the prices in our
large Western cities, but they are twenty per cent. less than the prices
in Boston, and in the New England towns which hang upon Boston's favor
for their marketing. I do not know how or why it is that while we wicked
New-Yorkers pay twenty-five cents for our beefsteak, these righteous
Bostonians should have to pay thirty, for the same cut and quality. Here
I give twenty-eight a pound for my Java coffee; in the summer I live
near an otherwise delightful New Hampshire town where I must give
thirty-eight. It is strange that the siftings of three kingdoms, as the
Rev. Mr. Higginson called his fellow-Puritans, should have come in their
great-grandchildren to a harder fate in this than the bran and shorts
and middlings of such harvestings as the fields of Ireland and Italy, of
Holland and Hungary, of Poland and Transylvania and Muscovy afford.
Perhaps it is because those siftings have run to such a low percentage
of the whole New England population that they must suffer, along with
the refuse of the mills--the Mills of the Gods--abounding in our city
and its dependencies.

"I don't know how much our housekeepers note the fall of the prices in
their monthly bills, but in browsing about for my meals, as I rather
like to do, I distinctly see it in the restaurant rates. I don't mean
the restaurants to which the rich or reckless resort, but those modester
places which consult the means of the careful middle class to which I
belong. As you know, I live ostensibly at the Hotel Universe. I have a
room there, and that is my address----"

"We know," we derisively murmured. "So few of our visitors can afford
it."

"I can't afford it myself," our friend said. "But I save a little by
breakfasting there, and lunching and dining elsewhere. Or, I did till
the eggs got so bad that I had to go out for my breakfast, too. Now I
get perfect eggs, of the day before, for half the price that the
extortionate hens laying for the Universe exact for their last week's
product. At a very good Broadway hotel, which simple strangers from
Europe think first class, I get a 'combination' breakfast of fresh eggs,
fresh butter, and fresh rolls, with a pot of blameless Souchong or
Ceylon tea, for thirty cents; if I plunge to the extent of a baked
apple, I pay thirty-five. Do you remember what you last paid in Paris or
Rome for coffee, rolls, and butter?"

"A franc fifty," we remembered.

"And in London for the same with eggs you paid one and six, didn't you?"

"Very likely," we assented.

"Well, then, you begin to see. There are several good restaurants quite
near that good hotel where I get the same combination breakfast for the
same price; and if I go to one of those shining halls which you find in
a score of places, up and down Broadway and the side streets, I get it
for twenty-five cents. But though those shining halls glare at you with
roofs and walls of stainless tile and glass, and tables of polished
marble, their bill of fare is so inflexibly adjusted to the general
demand that I cannot get Souchong or Ceylon tea for any money; I can
only get Oolong; otherwise I must take a cup of their excellent coffee.
If I wander from my wonted breakfast, I can get almost anything in the
old American range of dishes for five or ten cents a portion, and the
quality and quantity are both all I can ask. As I have learned upon
inquiry, the great basal virtues of these places are good eggs and good
butter: I like to cut from the thick slice of butter under the perfect
cube of ice, better than to have my butter pawed into balls or cut into
shavings, as they serve your butter in Europe. But I prefer having a
small table to myself, with my hat and overcoat vis-à-vis on the chair
opposite, as I have it at that good hotel. In those shining halls I am
elbowed by three others at my polished marble table; but if there were
more room I should never object to the company. It is the good, kind,
cleanly, comely American average, which is the best company in the
world, with a more than occasional fine head, and faces delicately
sculptured by thought and study. I address myself fearlessly to the old
and young of my own sex, without ever a snub such as I might get from
the self-respectful maids or matrons who resort to the shining halls,
severally or collectively, if I ventured upon the same freedom with
them. I must say that my commensals lunch or dine as wisely as I do for
the most part, but sometimes I have had to make my tacit criticisms; and
I am glad that I forbore one night with a friendly young man at my
elbow, who had just got his order of butter-cakes--"

"Butter-cakes?" we queried.

"That is what they call a rich, round, tumid product of the griddle,
which they serve very hot, and open to close again upon a large lump of
butter. For two of those cakes and his coffee my unknown friend paid
fifteen cents, and made a supper, after which I should not have needed
to break my fast the next morning. But he fearlessly consumed it, and
while he ate he confided that he was of a minor clerical employ in one
of the great hotels near by, and when I praised our shining hall and its
guests he laughed and said he came regularly, and he always saw people
there who were registered at his hotel: they found it good and they
found it cheap. I suppose you know that New York abounds in tables
d'hôte of a cheapness unapproached in the European capitals?"

We said we had heard so; at the same time we tried to look as if we
always dined somewhere in society, but Heaven knows whether we
succeeded.

"The combination breakfast is a form of table d'hôte; and at a very
attractive restaurant in a good place I have seen such a
breakfast--fruit, cereal, eggs, rolls, and coffee--offered for fifteen
cents. I have never tried it, not because I had not the courage, but
because I thought thirty cents cheap enough; those who do not I should
still hold worthy of esteem if they ate the fifteen-cent breakfast. I
have also seen placarded a 'business men's lunch' for fifteen cents,
which also I have not tried; I am not a business man. I make bold to
say, however, that I often go for my lunch or my dinner to a certain
Italian place on a good avenue, which I will not locate more definitely
lest you should think me a partner of the enterprise, for fifty and
sixty cents, '_vino compreso_.' The material is excellent, and the
treatment is artistic; the company of a simple and self-respectful
domesticity which I think it an honor to be part of: fathers and mothers
of families, aunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents. I do not deny a Merry
Widow hat here and there, but the face under it, though often fair and
young, is not a Merry Widow face. Those people all look as kind and
harmless as the circle which I used to frequent farther down-town at a
fifty-cent French table d'hôte, but with a _bouillabaisse_ added which I
should not, but for my actual experiences, have expected to buy for any
money. But there are plenty of Italian and French tables d'hôte for the
same price all over town. If you venture outside of the Latin race, you
pay dearer and you fare worse, unless you go to those shining halls
which I have been praising. If you go to a German place, you get grosser
dishes and uncouth manners for more money; I do not know why that
amiable race should be so dear and rude in its feeding-places, but that
is my experience."

"You wander, you wander!" we exclaimed. "Why should we care for your
impressions of German cooking and waiting, unless they go to prove or
disprove that living in New York is cheaper than in the European
capitals?"

"Perhaps I was going to say that even those Germans are not so dear as
they are in the fatherland, though rude. They do not tend much if at all
to tables d'hôte, but the Italians and the French who do, serve you a
better meal for a lower price than you would get in Paris, or Rome, or
Naples. There the prevalent ideal is five francs, with neither wine nor
coffee included. I'll allow that the cheap table d'hôte is mainly the
affair of single men and women, and does not merit the consideration
I've given it. If it helps a young couple to do with one maid, or with
none, instead of two, it makes for cheapness of living. Service is
costly and it is greedy, and except in large households its diet is the
same as the family's, so that anything which reduces it is a great
saving. But the table d'hôte which is cheap for one or two is not cheap
for more, and it is not available if there are children. Housing and
raw-provisioning and serving are the main questions, and in Europe the
first and last are apparently much less expensive. Marketing is
undoubtedly cheaper with us, and if you count in what you get with the
newness, the wholesomeness, and handiness of an American flat, the rent
is not so much greater than that of a European flat, with its elementary
bareness. You could not, here, unless you descended from the apartment
to the tenement, hire any quarter where you would not be supplied with
hot and cold water, with steam heating, with a bath-room, and all the
rest of it."

"But," we said, "you are showing that we are more comfortably housed
than the Europeans, when you should be treating the fact of relative
cheapness."

"I was coming to that even in the matter of housing--"

"It is too late to come to it in this paper. You have now talked three
thousand words, and that is the limit. You must be silent for at least
another month."

"But if I have something important to say at this juncture? If I may not
care to recur to the subject a month hence? If I may have returned to
Europe by that time?"

"Then you can the better verify your statistics. But the rule in this
place is inflexible. Three thousand words, neither more nor less. The
wisdom of Solomon would be blue-pencilled if it ran to more."



XI

WAYS AND MEANS OF LIVING IN NEW YORK


The Howadji, or the Hajii, us people called his sort in the days of
_Home as Found_, was prompt to the hour when his month's absence was up,
and he began without a moment's delay: "But of course the lion in the
way of my thesis that New York is comparatively cheap is the rent, the
rent of flats or houses in the parts of the town where people of gentle
tastes and feelings are willing to live. Provisions are cheap;
furnishings of all kinds are cheap; service, especially when you mainly
or wholly dispense with it, is cheap, for one maid here will do the work
of two abroad, and if the mistress of the house does her own work she
can make the modern appliances her handmaids at no cost whatever. It is
ridiculous, in fact, leaving all those beautiful and ingenious helps in
housework to the hirelings who work only twice as hard with them for
more wages than the hirelings of countries where they don't exist."

"Don't be so breathless," we interposed. "You will only be allowed to
talk three thousand words, whether you talk fast or slow, and you might
as well take your ease."

"That is true," the Howadji reflected. "But I am full of my subject, and
I have the feeling that I am getting more out, even if I can't get more
in, by talking fast. The rent question itself," he hurried on, "has
been satisfactorily solved of late in the new invention of co-operative
housing which you may have heard of."

We owned that we had, with the light indifference of one whom matters of
more money or less did not concern, and our friend went on.

"The plan was invented, you know, by a group of artists who imagined
putting up a large composite dwelling in a street where the cost of land
was not absolutely throat-cutting, and finishing it with tasteful
plainness in painted pine and the like, but equipping it with every
modern convenience in the interest of easier housekeeping. The
characteristic and imperative fact of each apartment was a vast and
lofty studio whose height was elsewhere divided into two floors, and so
gave abundant living-rooms in little space. The proprietorial group may
have been ten, say, but the number of apartments was twice as many, and
the basic hope was to let the ten other apartments for rents which would
carry the expense of the whole, and house the owners at little or no
cost. The curious fact is that this apparently too simple-hearted plan
worked. The Philistines, as the outsiders may be called, liked being
near the self-chosen people; they liked the large life-giving studio
which imparted light and air to the two floors of its rearward division,
and they eagerly paid the sustaining rents. The fortunate experience of
one æsthetic group moved others to like enterprises; and now there are
eight or ten of these co-operative studio apartment-houses in different
parts of the town."

"With the same fortunate experience for the owners?" we queried, with
suppressed sarcasm.

"Not exactly," our friend assented to our intention. "The successive
groups have constantly sought more central, more desirable, more
fashionable situations. They have built not better than they knew, for
that could not be, but costlier, and they have finished in hard woods,
with marble halls and marbleized hall-boys, and the first expense has
been much greater; but actual disaster has not yet followed; perhaps it
is too soon; we must not be impatient; but what has already happened is
what happens with other beautiful things that the æsthetic invent. It
has happened notoriously with all the most lovable and livable summer
places which the artists and authors find out and settle themselves
cheaply and tastefully in. The Philistines, a people wholly without
invention, a cuckoo tribe incapable of self-nesting, stumble upon those
joyous homes by chance, or by mistaken invitation. They submit meekly
enough at first to be sub-neighbors ruled in all things by the genius of
the place; but once in, they begin to lay their golden eggs in some
humble cottage, and then they hatch out broods of palatial villas
equipped with men and maid servants, horses, carriages, motors, yachts;
and if the original settlers remain it is in a helpless inferiority, a
broken spirit, and an overridden ideal. This tragical history is the
same at Magnolia, and at York Harbor, and at Dublin, and at Bar Harbor;
even at Newport itself; the co-operative housing of New York is making a
like history. It is true that the Philistines do not come in and
dispossess the autochthonic groups; these will not sell to them; but
they have imagined doing on a sophisticated and expensive scale what the
æsthetics have done simply and cheaply. They are buying the pleasanter
sites, and are building co-operatively; though they have already
eliminated the studio and the central principle, and they build for the
sole occupancy of the owners. But the cost of their housing then is such
that it puts them out of the range of our inquiry as their riches has
already put them beyond the range of our sympathy. It still remains for
any impecunious group to buy the cheaper lots, and build simpler houses
on the old studio principle, with rents enough to pay the cost of
operation, and leave the owners merely the interest and taxes, with the
eventual payment of these also by the tenants. Some of the studio
apartments are equipped with restaurants, and the dwellers need only do
such light housekeeping as ladies may attempt without disgrace, or too
much fatigue."

"Or distraction from their duties to society," we suggested.

"It depends upon what you mean by society; it's a very general and
inexact term. If you mean formal dinners, dances, parties, receptions,
and all that, the lightest housekeeping would distract from the duties
to it; but if you mean congenial friends willing to come in for tea in
the afternoon, or to a simple lunch, or not impossibly a dinner, light
housekeeping is not incompatible with a conscientious recognition of
society's claims. I think of two ladies, sisters, one younger and one
older than the other, who keep house not lightly, but in its full weight
of all the meals, for their father and brother, and yet are most
gracefully and most acceptably in the sort of society which Jane Austen
says is, if not good, the best: the society of gifted, cultivated,
travelled, experienced, high-principled people, capable of respecting
themselves and respecting their qualities wherever they find them in
others. These ladies do not pretend to 'entertain,' but their table is
such that they are never afraid to ask a friend to it. In a moment, if
there is not enough or not good enough, one of them conjures something
attractive out of the kitchen, and you sit down to a banquet. The
sisters are both of that gentle class of semi-invalids whose presence
in our civilization enables us to support the rudeness of the general
health. They employ æsthetically the beautiful alleviations with which
science has rescued domestic drudgery from so much of the primal curse;
it is a pleasure to see them work; it is made so graceful, so charming,
that you can hardly forbear taking hold yourself."

"But you do forbear," we interposed; "and do you imagine that their
example is going to prevail with the great average of impecunious
American housewives, or sisters, or daughters?"

"No, they will continue to 'keep a girl' whom they will enslave to the
performance of duties which they would be so much better for doing
themselves, both in body and mind, for that doing would develop in them
the hospitable soul of those two dear ladies. They will be in terror of
the casual guest, knowing well that they cannot set before him things
fit to eat. They have no genius for housekeeping, which is one with
home-making: they do not love it, and those ladies do love it in every
detail, so that their simple flat shines throughout with a lustre which
pervades the kitchen and the parlor and the chamber alike. It is the
one-girl household, or the two-girl, which makes living costly because
it makes living wasteful; it is not the luxurious establishments of the
rich which are to blame for our banishment to the mythical cheapness of
Europe."

We were not convinced by the eloquence which had overheated our friend,
and we objected: "But those ladies you speak of give their whole lives
to housekeeping, and ought cheapness to be achieved at such an expense?"

"In the first place, they don't; and, if they do, what do the one-girl
or the two-girl housekeepers give their lives to? or, for the matter of
that, the ten or twenty girl housekeepers? The ladies of whom I speak
have always read the latest book worth reading; they have seen the
picture which people worth while are talking of; they know through that
best society which likes a cup of their tea all the æsthetic gossip of
the day; they are part of the intellectual movement, that part which
neither the arts nor the letters can afford to ignore; they help to make
up the polite public whose opinions are the court of final appeal."

"They strike us," we said, stubbornly, "as rather romantic."

"Ah, there you are! Well, they _are_ romantic--romantic like a gentle
poem, like an idyllic tale; but I deny that they are romanticistic.
Their whole lives deal with realities, the every-other-day as well as
the every-day realities. But the lives of those others who make all life
costly by refusing their share of its work dwell in a web of threadbare
fictions which never had any color of truth in this country. They are
trying to imitate poor imitations, to copy those vulgar copies of the
European ideal which form the society-page's contribution to the history
of our contemporary civilization."

We were so far moved as to say, "We think we see what you mean," and our
friend went on.

"Speaking of civilization, do you know what a genial change the tea-room
is working in our morals and manners? There are many interesting phases
of its progress among us, and not the least interesting of these is its
being so largely the enterprise of ladies who must not only save money,
but must earn money, in order to live, not cheaply, but at all. Their
fearlessness in going to work has often the charm of a patrician past,
for many of them are Southern women who have come to New York to repair
their broken fortunes. The tea-room has offered itself as a graceful
means to this end, and they have accepted its conditions, which are
mainly the more delicate kinds of cookery, with those personal and
racial touches in which Southern women are so expert. But there are
tea-rooms managed by Western women, if I may judge from the accents
involuntarily overheard in their talk at the telephone. The tea of the
tea-room means lunch, too, and in some places breakfast and dinner, or
rather supper, on much the plan of the several Women's Exchanges; but
these are mostly of New England inspiration and operation, and their
cooking has a Northern quality. They, as well as the tea-rooms, leave
something to be desired in cheapness, though they might be dearer; in
some you get tea for fifteen cents, in others a no better brew for
twenty-five. But they are all charmingly peaceful, and when at the noon
hour they overflow with conversation, still there is a prevailing sense
of quiet, finely qualified by the feminine invention and influence. Mere
men are allowed to frequent these places, not only under the protection
of women, but also quite unchaperoned, and when one sees them gently
sipping their Souchong or Oolong, and respectfully munching their
toasted muffins or their chicken-pie, one remembers with tender
gratitude how recently they would have stood crooking their elbows at
deleterious bars, and visiting the bowls of cheese and shredded fish and
crackers to which their drink freed them, while it enslaved them to the
witchery of those lurid ladies contributed by art to the evil
attractions of such places: you see nowhere else ladies depicted with so
little on, except in the Paris salon. The New York tea-rooms are not yet
nearly so frequent as in London, but I think they are on the average
cosier, and on the whole I cannot say that they are dearer. They really
cheapen the midday meal to many who would otherwise make it at hotels
and restaurants, and, so far as they contribute to the spread of the
afternoon-tea habit, they actually lessen the cost of living: many
guests can now be fobbed off with tea who must once have been asked to
lunch."

"But," we suggested, "isn't that cheapness at the cost of shabbiness,
which no one can really afford?"

"No, I don't think so. Whatever lightens hospitality of its cumbrousness
makes for civilization, which is really more compatible with a refined
frugality than with an unbridled luxury. If every à-la-carte restaurant,
in the hotels and out of them, could be replaced by tea-rooms, and for
the elaborate lunches and dinners of private life the informality and
simplicity of the afternoon tea were substituted, we should all be
healthier, wealthier, and wiser; and I should not be obliged to protract
this contention for the superior cheapness of New York."

"But, wait!" we said. "There is something just occurs to us. If you
proved New York the cheapest great city in the world, wouldn't it tend
to increase our population even beyond the present figure, which you
once found so deplorable?"

"No, I imagine not. Or, rather, it would add to our population only
those who desire to save instead of those who desire to waste. We should
increase through the new-comers in virtuous economy, and not as now in
spendthrift vainglory. In the end the effect would be the same for
civilization as if we shrank to the size of Boston."

"You will have to explain a little, Howadji," we said, "if you expect us
to understand your very interesting position."

"Why, you know," he answered, with easy superiority, "that now our
great influx is of opulent strangers who have made a good deal of money,
and of destitute strangers willing to help them live on it. The last we
needn't take account of; they are common to all cities in all ages; but
the first are as new as any phenomenon can be in a world of such
tiresome tautologies as ours. They come up from our industrial
provinces, eager to squander their wealth in the commercial metropolis;
they throw down their purses as the heroes of old threw down their
gantlets for a gage of battle, and they challenge the local champions of
extortion to take them up. It is said that they do not want a seasonable
or a beautiful thing; they want a costly thing. If, for instance, they
are offered a house or an apartment at a rental of ten or fifteen
thousand, they will not have it; they require a rental of fifteen or
twenty thousand, so that it may be known, 'back home,' that they are
spending that much for rent in New York, and the provincial imagination
taxed to proportion the cost of their living otherwise to such a sum.
You may say that it is rather splendid, but you cannot deny that it is
also stupid."

"Stupid, no; but barbaric, yes," we formulated the case. "It is
splendid, as barbaric pearls and gold are splendid."

"But you must allow that nothing could be more mischievous. When next we
go with our modest incomes against these landlords, they suppose that we
too want rentals of fifteen thousand, whereas we would easily be
satisfied with one of fifteen hundred or a thousand. The poor fellows'
fancy is crazed by those prodigals, and we must all suffer for their
madness. The extravagance of the new-comers does not affect the price of
provisions so much, or of clothes; the whole population demands food and
raiment within the general means, however much it must exceed its means
in the cost of shelter. The spendthrifts cannot set the pace for such
expenditures, no matter how much they lavish on their backs and--"

"Forbear!" we cried. "Turning from the danger we have saved you from,
you will say, we suppose, that New York would be the cheapest of the
great cities if it were not for the cost of shelter."

"Something like that," he assented.

"But as we understand, that difficulty is to be solved by co-operative,
or composite, housing?"

"Something like that," he said again, but there was a note of misgiving
in his voice.

"What is the 'out'?" we asked.

"There is no 'out,'" he said, with a deep, evasive sigh.



XII

THE QUALITY OF BOSTON AND THE QUANTITY OF NEW YORK


Later in the summer, or earlier in the fall, than when we saw him newly
returned from Europe, that friend whom the veteran reader will recall as
having so brashly offered his impressions of the national complexion and
temperament looked in again on the Easy Chair.

"Well," we said, "do you wish to qualify, to hedge, to retract? People
usually do after they have been at home as long as you."

"But I do not," he said. He took his former seat, but now laid on the
heap of rejected MSS., not the silken cylinder he had so daintily poised
there before, but a gray fedora that fell carelessly over in lazy curves
and hollows. "I wish to modify by adding the effect of further
observation and adjusting it to my first conclusions. Since I saw you I
have been back to Boston; in fact, I have just come from there."

We murmured some banality about not knowing a place where one could
better come from than Boston. But he brushed it by without notice.

"To begin with, I wish to add that I was quite wrong in finding the
typical Boston face now prevalently Celtic."

"You call that adding?" we satirized.

He ignored the poor sneer.

"My earlier observation was correct enough, but it was a result of that
custom which peoples the hills, the shores, and the sister continent in
summer with the New-Englanders of the past, and leaves their capital to
those New-Englanders of the future dominantly represented by the Irish.
At the time of my second visit the exiles had returned, and there were
the faces again that, instead of simply forbidding me, arraigned me and
held me guilty till I had proved myself innocent."

"Do you think," we suggested, "that you would find this sort of
indictment in them if you had a better conscience?"

"Perhaps not. And I must own I did not find them so accusing when I
could study them in their contemplation of some more important subject
than myself. One such occasion for philosophizing them distinctly
offered itself to my chance witness when an event of the last
seriousness had called some hundreds of them together. One sees strong
faces elsewhere; I have seen them assembled especially in England; but I
have never seen such faces as those Boston faces, so intense, so full of
a manly dignity, a subdued yet potent personality, a consciousness as
far as could be from self-consciousness. I found something finely
visionary in it all, as if I were looking on a piece of multiple
portraiture such as you see in those Dutch paintings of companies at
Amsterdam, for instance. It expressed purity of race, continuity of
tradition, fidelity to ideals such as no other group of faces would now
express. You might have had the like at Rome, at Athens, at Florence, at
Amsterdam, in their prime, possibly in the England of the resurgent
parliament, though there it would have been mixed with a fanaticism
absent in Boston. You felt that these men no doubt had their
limitations, but their limitations were lateral, not vertical."

"Then why," we asked, not very relevantly, "don't you go and live in
Boston?"

"It wouldn't make me such a Bostonian if I did; I should want a
half-dozen generations behind me for that. Besides, I feel my
shortcomings less in New York."

"You are difficult. Why not fling yourself into the tide of joy here,
instead of shivering on the brink in the blast of that east wind which
you do not even find regenerative? Why not forget our inferiority, since
you cannot forgive it? Or do you think that by being continually
reminded of it we can become as those Bostonians are? Can we reduce
ourselves, by repenting, from four millions to less than one, and by
narrowing our phylacteries achieve the unlimited Bostonian verticality,
and go as deep and as high?"

"No," our friend said. "Good as they are, we can only be better by being
different. We have our own message to the future, which we must deliver
as soon as we understand it."

"Is it in Esperanto?"

"It is at least polyglot. But you are taking me too seriously. I wished
merely to qualify my midsummer impressions of a prevailing Celtic Boston
by my autumnal impressions of a persisting Puritanic Boston. But it is
wonderful how that strongly persistent past still characterizes the
present in every development. Even those Irish faces which I wouldn't
have ventured a joke with were no doubt sobered by it; and when the
Italians shall come forward to replace them it will be with no laughing
Pulcinello masks, but visages as severe as those that first challenged
the wilderness of Massachusetts Bay, and made the Three Hills tremble
to their foundations."

"It seems to us that you are yielding to rhetoric a little, aren't you?"
we suggested.

"Perhaps I am. But you see what I mean. And I should like to explain
further that I believe the Celtic present and the Pelasgic future will
rule Boston in their turn as the Puritanic past learned so admirably to
rule it: by the mild might of irony, by the beneficent power which, in
the man who sees the joke of himself enables him to enter brotherly into
the great human joke, and be friends with every good and kind thing."

"Could you be a little more explicit?"

"I would rather not for the moment. But I should like to make you
observe that the Boston to be has more to hope and less to fear from the
newer Americans than this metropolis where these are so much more
heterogeneous. Here salvation must be of the Jews among the swarming
natives of the East Side; but in Boston there is no reason why the
artistic instincts of the Celtic and Pelasgic successors of the Puritans
should not unite in that effect of beauty which is an effect of truth,
and keep Boston the first of our cities in good looks as well as good
works. With us here in New York a civic job has the chance of turning
out a city joy, but it is a fighting chance. In Boston there is little
doubt of such a job turning out a joy. The municipality of Boston has
had almost the felicity of Goldsmith--it has touched nothing which it
has not adorned. Wherever its hand has been laid upon Nature, Nature has
purred in responsive beauty. They used to talk about the made land in
Boston, but half Boston is the work of man, and it shows what the
universe might have been if the Bostonians had been taken into the
confidence of the Creator at the beginning. The Back Bay was only the
suggestion of what has since been done; and I never go to Boston without
some new cause for wonder. There is no other such charming union of
pleasaunce and residence as the Fenways; the system of parks is a garden
of delight; and now the State has taken up the work, no doubt at the
city's suggestion, and, turning from the land to the water, has laid a
restraining touch on the tides of the sea, which, ever since the moon
entered on their management, have flowed and ebbed through the channel
of the Charles. The State has dammed the river; the brine of the ocean
no longer enters it, but it feeds itself full of sweet water from the
springs in the deep bosom of the country. The Beacon Street houses back
upon a steadfast expanse as fresh as the constant floods of the Great
Lakes."

[Illustration: CHARLES EMBANKMENT, BELOW HARVARD BRIDGE]

"And we dare say that it looks as large as Lake Superior to Boston eyes.
What do they call their dam? The Charlesea?"

"You may be sure they will call it something tasteful and fit," our
friend responded, in rejection of our feeble mockery. "Charlesea would
not be bad. But what I wish to make you observe is that all which has
yet been done for beauty in Boston has been done from the unexhausted
instinct of it in the cold heart of Puritanism, where it 'burns frore
and does the effect of fire.' As yet the Celtic and Pelasgic agencies
have had no part in advancing the city. The first have been content with
voting themselves into office, and the last with owning their masters
out-of-doors; for the Irish are the lords, and the Italians are the
landlords. But when these two gifted races, with their divinely
implanted sense of art, shall join forces with the deeply conscienced
taste of the Puritans, what mayn't we expect Boston to be?"

"And what mayn't we expect New York to be on the same terms, or, say,
when the Celtic and Pelasgic and Hebraic and Slavic elements join with
the old Batavians, in whom the love of the artistic is by right also
native? Come! Why shouldn't we have a larger Boston here?"

"Because we are _too_ large," our friend retorted, undauntedly. "When
graft subtly crept among the nobler motives which created the park
system of Boston the city could turn for help to the State and get it;
but could our city get help from our State? Our city is too big to
profit by that help; our State too small to render it. The commonwealth
of Massachusetts is creating a new Garden of Eden on the banks of the
Charlesea; but what is the State of New York doing to emparadise the
shores of the Hudson?"

"All the better for us, perhaps," we stubbornly, but not very sincerely,
contended, "if we have to do our good works ourselves."

"Yes, if we do them. But shall they remain undone if we don't do them?
The city of New York is so great that it swings the State of New York.
The virtues that are in each do not complement one another, as the
virtues of Boston and Massachusetts do. Where shall you find, in our
house or in our grounds, the city and the State joining to an effect of
beauty? When you come to New York, what you see of grandeur is the work
of commercialism; what you see of grandeur in Boston is the work of
civic patriotism. We hire the arts to build and decorate the homes of
business; the Bostonians inspire them to devote beauty and dignity to
the public pleasure and use. No," our friend concluded with irritating
triumph, "we are too vast, too many, for the finest work of the civic
spirit. Athens could be beautiful--Florence, Venice, Genoa were--but
Rome, which hired or enslaved genius to create beautiful palaces,
temples, columns, statues, could only be immense. She could only huddle
the lines of Greek loveliness into a hideous agglomeration, and lose
their effect as utterly as if one should multiply Greek noses and Greek
chins, Greek lips and Greek eyes, Greek brows and Greek heads of violet
hair, in one monstrous visage. No," he exulted, in this mortifying image
of our future ugliness, "when a city passes a certain limit of space and
population, she adorns herself in vain. London, the most lovable of the
mighty mothers of men, has not the charm of Paris, which, if one cannot
quite speak of her virgin allure, has yet a youth and grace which lend
themselves to the fondness of the arts. Boston is fast becoming of the
size of Paris, but if I have not misread her future she will be careful
not to pass it, and become as New York is."

We were so alarmed by this reasoning that we asked in considerable
dismay: "But what shall we do? We could not help growing; perhaps we
wished to overgrow; but is there no such thing as ungrowing? When the
fair, when the sex which we instinctively attribute to cities, finds
itself too large in its actuality for a Directoire ideal, there are
means, there are methods, of reduction. Is there no remedy, then, for
municipal excess of size? Is there no harmless potion or powder by which
a city may lose a thousand inhabitants a day, as the superabounding fair
loses a pound of beauty? Is there nothing for New York analogous to
rolling on the floor, to the straight-front corset, to the sugarless,
starchless diet? Come, you must not deny us all hope! How did Boston
manage to remain so small? What elixirs, what exercises, did she take or
use? Surely she did not do it all by reading and thinking!" Our friend
continued somewhat inexorably silent, and we pursued: "Do you think
that by laying waste our Long Island suburbs, by burning the whole
affiliated Jersey shore, by strangling the Bronx, as it were, in its
cradle, and by confining ourselves rigidly to our native isle of
Manhattan, we could do something to regain our lost opportunity? We
should then have the outline of a fish; true, a nondescript fish; but
the fish was one of the Greek ideals of the female form." He was silent
still, and we gathered courage to press on. "As it is, we are not
altogether hideous. We doubt whether there are not more beautiful
buildings in New York now than there are in Boston; and as for statues,
where are the like there of our Macmonnies Hale, of our Saint-Gaudens
Farragut and Sherman, of our Ward Indian Hunter?"

"The Shaw monument blots them all out," our friend relentlessly
answered. "But these are merely details. Our civic good things are
accidental. Boston's are intentional. That is the great, the vital
difference."

It did not occur to us that he was wrong, he had so crushed us under
foot. But, with the trodden worm's endeavor to turn, we made a last
appeal. "And with the sky-scraper itself we still expect to do
something, something stupendously beautiful. Say that we have lost our
sky-line! What shall we not have of grandeur, of titanic loveliness,
when we have got a sky-scraper-line?"

It seemed to us that here was a point which he could not meet; and, in
fact, he could only say, whether in irony or not, "I would rather not
think."

We were silent, and, upon the reflection to which our silence invited
us, we found that we would rather not ourselves think of the image we
had invoked. We preferred to take up the question at another point.

"Well," we said, "in your impressions of Bostonian greatness we suppose
that you received the effect of her continued supremacy in authors as
well as authorship, in artists as well as art? You did not meet Emerson
or Longfellow or Lowell or Prescott or Holmes or Hawthorne or Whittier
about her streets, but surely you met their peers, alive and in the
flesh?"

"No," our friend admitted, "not at every corner. But what I did meet was
the effect of those high souls having abode there while on the earth.
The great Boston authors are dead, and the great Boston artists are
worse--they have come to New York; they have not even waited to die. But
whether they have died, or whether they have come to New York, they have
left their inspiration in Boston. In one sense the place that has known
them shall know them no more forever; but in another sense it has never
ceased to know them. I can't say how it is, exactly, but though you
don't see them in Boston, you feel them. But here in New York--our dear,
immense, slattern mother--who feels anything of the character of her
great children? Who remembers in these streets Bryant or Poe or Hallock
or Curtis or Stoddard or Stedman, or the other poets who once dwelt in
them? Who remembers even such great editors as Greeley or James Gordon
Bennett or Godkin or Dana? What malignant magic, what black art, is it
that reduces us all to one level of forgottenness when we are gone, and
even before we are gone? Have those high souls left their inspiration
here, for common men to breathe the breath of finer and nobler life
from? I won't abuse the millionaires who are now our only great figures;
even the millionaires are gone when they go. They die, and they leave no
sign, quite as if they were so many painters and poets. You can recall
some of their names, but not easily. No, if New York has any hold upon
the present from the past, it isn't in the mystical persistence of such
spirits among us."

"Well," we retorted, hardily, "we have no need of them. It is the high
souls of the future which influence us."

Our friend looked at us as if he thought there might be something in
what we said. "Will you explain?" he asked.

"Some other time," we consented.



XIII

THE WHIRL OF LIFE IN OUR FIRST CIRCLES


One of those recurrent selves who frequent the habitat of the Easy
Chair, with every effect of exterior identities, looked in and said,
before he sat down, and much before he was asked to sit down, "Are you
one of those critics of smart or swell society (or whatever it's called
now) who despise it because they can't get into it, or one of those
censors who won't go into it because they despise it?"

"Your question," we replied, "seems to be rather offensive, but we don't
know that it's voluntarily so, and it's certainly interesting. On your
part, will you say what has prompted you, just at the moment, to accost
us with this inquiry?" Before he could answer, we hastened to add:
"By-the-way, what a fine, old-fashioned, gentlemanly word _accost_ is!
People used to accost one another a great deal in polite literature.
'Seeing her embarrassment from his abrupt and vigorous stare, he thus
accosted her.' Or, 'Embarrassed by his fixed and penetrating regard, she
timidly accosted him.' It seems to us that we remember a great many
passages like these. Why has the word gone out? It was admirably fitted
for such junctures, and it was so polished by use that it slipped from
the pen without any effort of the brain, and--"

"I have no time for idle discussions of a mere literary nature," our
other self returned. "I am very full of the subject which I have sprung
upon you, and which I see you are trying to shirk."

"Not at all," we smilingly retorted. "We will answer you according to
your folly without the least reluctance. We are not in smart or swell
society because we cannot get in; but at the same time we would not get
in if we could, because we despise it too much. We wonder," we
continued, speculatively, "why we always suspect the society satirist of
suffering from a social snub? It doesn't in the least follow. Was Pope,
when he invited his S'in' John to

                     'leave all meaner things
   To low ambition and the pride of kings'

goaded to magnanimity by a slight from royalty? Was Mr. Benson when he
came over here from London excluded from the shining first circles of
New York and Newport, which are apparently reflected with such brilliant
fidelity in _The Relentless City_, and was he wreaking an unworthy
resentment in portraying our richly moneyed, blue-blooded society to the
life? How are manners ever to be corrected with a smile if the smile is
always suspected of being an agonized grin, the contortion of the
features by the throes of a mortified spirit? Was George William Curtis
in his amusing but unsparing _Potiphar Papers_--"

"Ah, now you are shouting!" our other self exclaimed.

"Your slang is rather antiquated," we returned, with grave severity.
"But just what do you mean by it in this instance?"

"I mean that manners are never corrected with a smile, whether of
compassion or of derision. The manners that are bad, that are silly,
that are vulgar, that are vicious, go on unchastened from generation to
generation. Even the good manners don't seem to decay: simplicity,
sincerity, kindness, don't really go out, any more than the other
things, and fortunately the other things are confined only to a small
group in every civilization, to the black sheep of the great,
whity-brown or golden-fleeced human family."

"What has all this vague optimism to do with the _Potiphar Papers_ and
smart society and George William Curtis?" we brought the intruder
sharply to book.

"A great deal, especially the part relating to the continuity of bad
manners. I've just been reading an extremely clever little book by a new
writer, called _New York Society on Parade_, which so far as its basal
facts are concerned might have been written by the writer of 'Our Best
Society' and the other _Potiphar Papers_. The temperament varies from
book to book; Mr. Ralph Pulitzer has a neater and lighter touch than
George William Curtis; his book is more compact, more directly and
distinctly a study, and it is less alloyed with the hopes of society
reform which could be more reasonably indulged fifty-six years ago. Do
you remember when 'Our Best Society' came out in the eldest _Putnam's
Magazine_, that phoenix of monthlies which has since twice risen from
its ashes? Don't pretend that our common memory doesn't run back to the
year 1853! We have so many things in common that I can't let you
disgrace the firm by any such vain assumption of extreme youth!"

"Why should we assume it? The Easy Chair had then been three years
firmly on its legs, or its rockers, and the succession of great spirits,
now disembodied, whom its ease invited, were all more or less in mature
flesh. We remember that paper on 'Our Best Society' vividly, and we
recall the shock that its facts concerning the Upper Ten Thousand of New
York imparted to the innocent, or at least the virtuous, Lower Twenty
Millions inhabiting the rest of the United States. Do you mean to say
that the Four Hundred of this day are no better than the Ten Thousand of
that? Has nothing been gained for quality by that prodigious reduction
in quantity?"

"On the contrary, the folly, the vanity, the meanness, the
heartlessness, the vulgarity, have only been condensed and concentrated,
if we are to believe Mr. Pulitzer; and I don't see why we should doubt
him. Did you say you hadn't seen his very shapely little study? It
takes, with all the unpitying sincerity of a kodak, the likeness of our
best society in its three most characteristic aspects; full-face at
dinner, three-quarters-face at the opera, and profile at a ball, where
proud beauty hides its face on the shoulder of haughty commercial or
financial youth, and moneyed age dips its nose in whatever symbolizes
the Gascon wine in the paternal library. Mr. Pulitzer makes no attempt
at dramatizing his persons. There is no ambitious Mrs. Potiphar with a
longing for fashionable New York worlds to conquer, yet with a secret
heartache for the love of her country girlhood; no good, kind, sordid
Potiphar bewildered and bedevilled by the surroundings she creates for
him; no soft Rev. Cream Cheese, tenderly respectful of Mammon while
ritually serving God; no factitious Ottoman of a Kurz Pasha, laughingly
yet sadly observant of us playing at the forms of European society.
Those devices of the satirist belonged to the sentimentalist mood of the
Thackerayan epoch. But it is astonishing how exactly history repeats
itself in the facts of the ball in 1910 from the ball of 1852. The
motives, the _personnel_, almost the _matériel_, the incidents, are the
same. I should think it would amuse Mr. Pulitzer, imitating nature from
his actual observation, to find how essentially his study is the same
with that of Curtis imitating nature fifty-seven years ago. There is
more of nature in bulk, not in variety, to be imitated now, but as Mr.
Pulitzer studies it in the glass of fashion, her mean, foolish, selfish
face is the same. He would find in the sketches of the Mid-Victorian
satirist all sorts of tender relentings and generous hopes concerning
the 'gay' New York of that time which the Early Edwardian satirist
cannot indulge concerning the gay New York of this time. It seems as if
we had really gone from bad to worse, not qualitatively--we
couldn't--but quantitatively. There is more money, there are more men,
more women, but otherwise our proud world is the proud world of 1853."

"You keep saying the same thing with 'damnable iterance,'" we remarked.
"Don't you suppose that outside of New York there is now a vast society,
as there was then, which enjoys itself sweetly, kindly, harmlessly? Is
there no gentle Chicago or kind St. Louis, no pastoral Pittsburg, no
sequestered Cincinnati, no bucolic Boston, no friendly Philadelphia,
where 'the heart that is humble may look for' disinterested pleasure in
the high-society functions of the day or night? Does New York set the
pace for all these places, and are dinners given there as here, not for
the delight of the guests, but as the dire duty of the hostesses? Do the
inhabitants of those simple sojourns go to the opera to be seen and not
to hear? Do they follow on to balls before the piece is done only to
bear the fardels of ignominy heaped upon them by the german's leaders,
or to see their elders and fatters getting all the beautiful and costly
favors while their own young and gracile loveliness is passed slighted
by because they give no balls where those cruel captains can hope to
shine in the van? It seems to us that in our own far prime--now
well-nigh lost in the mists of antiquity--life was ordered kindlier;
that dinners and opera-parties and dances were given

   'To bless and never to ban.'"

"Very likely, on the low society level on which our joint life moved,"
our other self replied, with his unsparing candor. "You know we were a
country village, city-of-the-second-class personality. Even in the
distant epoch painted in the _Potiphar Papers_ the motives of New York
society were the same as now. It was not the place where birth and rank
and fame relaxed or sported, as in Europe, or where ardent innocence
played and feasted as in the incorrupt towns of our interior. If Curtis
once represented it rightly, it was the same ridiculous, hard-worked,
greedy, costly, stupid thing which Mr. Pulitzer again represents it."

"And yet," we mused aloud, "this is the sort of thing which the
'unthinking multitude' who criticise, or at least review, books are
always lamenting that our fiction doesn't deal with. Why, in its
emptiness and heaviness, its smartness and dulness, it would be the
death of our poor fiction!"

"Well, I don't know," our counterpart responded. "If our fiction took it
on the human ground, and ascertained its inner pathos, its real
lamentableness, it might do a very good thing with those clubmen and
society girls and _grandes dames_. But that remains to be seen. In the
mean time it is very much to have such a study of society as Mr.
Pulitzer has given us. For the most part it is 'satire with no pity in
it,' but there's here and there a touch of compassion, which moves the
more because of its rarity. When the author notes that here and there a
pretty dear finds herself left with no one to take her out to supper at
the ball, his few words wring the heart. 'These poor victims of their
sex cannot, like the men, form tables of their own. All that each can do
is to disappear as swiftly and as secretly as possible, hurrying home in
humiliation for the present and despair for the future.'"

"Do such cruel things really happen in our best society?" we palpitated,
in an anguish of sympathy.

"Such things and worse," our other self responded, "as when in the
german the fair débutante sees the leader advancing toward her with a
splendid and costly favor, only to have him veer abruptly off to bestow
it on some fat elderling who is going to give the next ball. But Mr.
Pulitzer, though he has these spare intimations of pity, has none of the
sentiment which there is rather a swash of in the _Potiphar Papers_.
It's the difference between the Mid-Victorian and the Early Edwardian
point of view. Both satirists are disillusioned, but in the page of
Curtis there is

   'The tender grace of a day that is dead'

and the soft suffusion of hope for better things, while in the page of
Mr. Pulitzer there is no such qualification of the disillusion. Both are
enamoured of the beauty of those daughters of Mammon, and of the
distinction of our iron-clad youth, the athletic, well-groomed,
well-tailored worldlings who hurry up-town from their banks and brokers'
offices and lawyers' offices to the dinners and opera-boxes and dances
of fashion. 'The girls and women are of a higher average of beauty than
any European ball-room could produce. The men, too, are generally well
built, tall, and handsome, easily distinguishable from the waiters,' Mr.
Pulitzer assures us."

"Well, oughtn't that to console?" we defied our other self. "Come! It's
a great thing to be easily distinguishable from the waiters, when the
waiters are so often disappointed 'remittance men' of good English
family, or the scions of Continental nobility. We mustn't ask
everything."

"No, and apparently the feeding is less gross than it was in Curtis's
less sophisticated time. Many of the men seem still to smoke and booze
throughout the night with the host in his 'library,' but the dancing
youth don't get drunk as some of them did at Mrs. Potiphar's supper, and
people don't throw things from their plates under the table."

"Well, why do you say, then, that there is no change for the better in
our best society, that there is no hope for it?"

"Did I say that? If I did, I will stick to it. We must let our best
society be as it now imagines itself. I don't suppose that in all that
gang of beautiful, splendid, wasteful, expensively surfeited people
there are more than two or three young men of intellectual prowess or
spiritual distinction, though there must be some clever and brilliant
toadies of the artist variety. In fact, Mr. Pulitzer says as much
outright; and it is the hard lot of some of the arts to have to tout for
custom among the vulgar ranks of our best society."

"Very well, then," we said, with considerable resolution, "we must change
the popular ideal of the best society. We must have a four hundred made up
of the most brilliant artists, authors, doctors, professors, scientists,
musicians, actors, and ministers, with their wives, daughters, and
sisters, who will walk to one another's dinners, or at worst go by
trolley, and occupy the cheaper seats at the opera, and dance in small
and early assemblages, and live in seven-room-with-bath flats. Money must
not count at all in the choice of these elect and beautiful natures. The
question is, how shall we get the dense, unenlightened masses to regard
them as the best society; how teach the reporters to run after them, and
the press to chronicle their entertainments, engagements, marriages,
divorces, voyages to and from Europe, and the other facts which now so
dazzle the common fancy when it finds them recorded in the society
intelligence of the newspapers?"

"Yes, as General Sherman said when he had once advocated the restriction
of the suffrage and had been asked how he was going to get the consent
of the majority whose votes he meant to take away--'yes, that is the
devil of it.'"

We were silent for a time, and then we suggested, "Don't you think that
a beginning could be made by those real élite we have decided on
refusing to let associate with what now calls itself our best society?"

"But hasn't our _soi-disant_ best society already made that beginning
for its betters by excluding them?" our other self responded.

"There is something in what you say," we reluctantly assented, "but by
no means everything. The beginning you speak of has been made at the
wrong end. The true beginning of society reform must be made by the
moral, æsthetic, and intellectual superiors of fashionable society as we
now have it. The _grandes dames_ must be somehow persuaded that to be
really swell, really smart, or whatever the last word for the thing is,
they must search _Who's Who in New York_ for men and women of the most
brilliant promise and performance and invite them. They must not search
the banks and brokers' offices and lawyers' offices for their
dancing-men, but the studios, the editorial-rooms, the dramatic
agencies, the pulpits, for the most gifted young artists, assignment
men, interviewers, actors, and preachers, and apply to the labor-unions
for the cleverest and handsomest artisans; they must look up the most
beautiful and intelligent girl-students of all the arts and sciences,
and department stores for cultivated and attractive salesladies. Then,
when all such people have received cards to dinners or dances, it will
only remain for them to have previous engagements, and the true
beginning is made. Come! You can't say the thing is impossible."

"Not impossible, no," our complementary self replied. "But difficult."



XIV

THE MAGAZINE MUSE


Two aging if not aged poets, one much better if not much older than the
other, were talking of the Muse as she was in their day and of the Muse
as she is in this. At the end, their common mind was that she was a far
more facile Muse formerly than she is now. In other words, as the elder
and better poet put it, they both decided that many, many pieces of
verse are written in these times, and hidden away in the multitude of
the magazines, which in those times would have won general recognition
if not reputation for the authors; they would have been remembered from
month to month, and their verses copied into the newspapers from the two
or three periodicals then published, and, if they were not enabled to
retire upon their incomes, they would have been in the enjoyment of a
general attention beyond anything money can buy at the present day. This
conclusion was the handsomer in the two poets, because they had nothing
to gain and something to lose by it if their opinion should ever become
known. It was in a sort the confession of equality, and perhaps even
inferiority, which people do not make, unless they are obliged to it, in
any case. But these poets were generous even beyond their unenvious
tribe, and the younger, with a rashness which his years measurably
excused, set about verifying his conviction in a practical way, perhaps
the only practical way.

He asked his publishers to get him all the American magazines published;
and has the home-keeping reader any notion of the vastness of the sea on
which this poet had embarked in his daring exploration? His publishers
sent him a list of some eighty-two monthly periodicals in all kinds,
which, when he had begged them to confine it to the literary kind, the
æsthetic kind only, amounted to some fifty. By far the greater number of
these, he found, were published in New York, but two were from
Philadelphia, one from Boston, one from Indianapolis, and one even from
Chicago; two were from the Pacific Slope generally. That is to say, in
this city there are issued every month about forty-five magazines
devoted to belles-lettres, of varying degrees of excellence, not always
connoted by their varying prices. Most of them are of the ten-cent
variety, and are worth in most cases ten cents, and in a few cases
twenty-five or thirty-five cents, quite like those which ask such sums
for themselves. The cheapest are not offensive to the eye altogether, as
they lie closed on the dealer's counter, though when you open them you
find them sometimes printed on paper of the wood-pulp, wood-pulpy sort,
and very loathly to the touch. Others of the cheapest present their
literature on paper apparently as good as that of the dearest; and as it
is not always money which buys literary value, especially from the
beginners in literature, there seemed every reason for the poet to hope
that there would be as good poetry in the one sort as in the other. In
his generous animation, he hoped to find some good poetry on the
wood-pulp paper just as in the Golden Age he might have found it carved
by amorous shepherds on the bark of trees.

He promised himself a great and noble pleasure from his verification of
the opinion he shared with that elder and better poet, and if his
delight must be mixed with a certain feeling of reserved superiority, it
could hardly be less a delight for that reason. In turning critic, the
friendliest critic, he could not meet these dear and fair young poets on
their own level, but he could at least keep from them, and from himself
as much as possible, the fact that he was looking down on them. All the
magazines before him were for the month of January, and though it was
possible that they might have shown a certain exhaustion from their
extraordinary efforts in their Christmas numbers, still there was a
chance of the overflow of riches from those numbers which would trim the
balance and give them at least the average poetic value. At this point,
however, it ought to be confessed that the poet, or critic, was never so
willing a reader as writer of occasional verse, and it cannot be denied
that there was some girding up of the loins for him before the grapple
with that half-hundred of magazines. Though he took them at their
weakest point, might they not be too much for him?

He fetched a long breath, and opened first that magazine, _clarum et
venerabile nomen_, from which he might reasonably expect the greatest
surprises of merit in the verse. There were only two pieces, and neither
seemed to him of the old-time quality, but neither was such as he would
himself have perhaps rejected if he had been editor. Then he plunged at
the heap, and in a fifteen-cent magazine of recent renown he found among
five poems a good straight piece of realistic characterization which did
much to cheer him. In this, a little piece of two stanzas, the author
had got at the heart of a good deal of America. In another cheap
magazine, professing to be devoted wholly to stories, he hoped for a
breathing-space, and was tasked by nothing less familiar than Swift's
versification of a well-known maxim of La Rouchefoucauld. In a ten-cent
magazine which is too easily the best of that sort, he found two pieces
of uncommon worth, which opened the way so promisingly, indeed, for
happier fortunes that he was not as much surprised as he might later
have been in finding five poems, all good, in one of the four greater,
or at least dearer, magazines. One of these pieces was excellent
landscape, and another a capital nature piece; if a third was somewhat
strained, it was also rather strong, and a fourth had the quiet which it
is hard to know from repose. Two poems in another of the high-priced
magazines were noticeable, one for sound poetic thinking, and the other
as very truthfully pathetic. The two in a cheap magazine, by two
Kentucky poets, a song and a landscape, were one genuinely a song, and
the other a charming communion with nature. In a pair of periodicals
devoted to outdoor life, on the tamer or wilder scale, there were three
poems, one celebrating the delights of a winter camp, which he found
simple, true in feeling, and informal in phrasing; another full of the
joy of a country ride, very songy, very blithe, and original; and a
third a study of scenery which it realized to the mind's eye, with some
straining in the wording, but much felicity in the imagining. A
Mid-Western magazine had an excellent piece by a poet of noted name, who
failed to observe that his poem ended a stanza sooner than he did. In a
periodical devoted to short stories, or abandoned to them, there were
two good pieces, one of them delicately yet distinctly reproducing
certain poetic aspects of New York, and giving the sense of a fresh
talent. Where the critic would hardly have looked for them, in a
magazine of professed fashion and avowed smartness, he came upon three
pieces, one sweet and fine, one wise and good, one fresh and well
turned. A newer periodical, rather going in for literary quality, had
one fine piece, with a pretty surprise in it, and another touched with
imaginative observation.

The researches of the critic carried him far into the night, or at least
hours beyond his bedtime, and in the dreamy mood in which he finally
pursued them he was more interested in certain psychological conditions
of his own than in many of the verses. Together with a mounting aversion
to the work, he noted a growing strength for it. He could dispatch a
dozen poems in almost as many minutes, and not slight them, either; but
he no longer jumped to his work. He was aware of trying to cheat himself
in it, of pretending that the brief space between titles in the table of
contents, which naturally implied a poem, sometimes really indicated a
short bit of prose. He would run his eye hastily over an index, and seek
to miss rather than find the word "poem" repeated after a title, and
when this ruse succeeded he would go back to the poem he had skipped
with the utmost unwillingness. If his behavior was sinful, he was duly
punished for it, in the case of a magazine which he took up well toward
midnight, rejoicing to come upon no visible sign of poetry in it. But
his glance fell to a grouping of titles in a small-print paragraph at
the bottom of the page, and he perceived, on close inspection, that
these were all poems, and that there were eighteen of them.

He calculated, roughly, that he had read from eighty-five to a hundred
poems before he finished; after a while he ceased to take accurate count
as he went on, but a subsequent review of the magazines showed that his
guess was reasonably correct. From this review it appeared that the
greater number of the magazines published two poems in each month, while
several published but one, and several five or seven or four. Another
remarkable fact was that the one or two in the more self-denying were as
bad as the whole five or seven or nine or eighteen of those which had
more freely indulged themselves in verse. Yet another singular feature
of the inquiry was that one woman had a poem in five or six of the
magazines, and, stranger yet, always a good poem, so that no editor
would have been justified in refusing it. There was a pretty frequent
recurrence of names in the title-pages, and mostly these names were a
warrant of quality, but not always of the author's best quality. The
authorship was rather equally divided between the sexes, and the poets
were both young and old, or as old as poets ever can be.

When the explorer had returned from the search, which covered apparently
a great stretch of time, but really of space, he took his notes and went
with them to that elder friend of his whose generous enthusiasm had
prompted his inquiry. Together they looked them over and discussed the
points evolved. "Then what is your conclusion?" the elder of the two
demanded. "Do you still think I was right, or have you come to a
different opinion?"

"Oh, how should I safely confess that I am of a different opinion? You
would easily forgive me, but what would all those hundred poets whom I
thought not so promising as you believed do to my next book? Especially
what would the poetesses?"

"There is something in that. But you need not be explicit. If you differ
with me, you can generalize. What, on the whole, was the impression you
got? Had none of the pieces what we call distinction, for want of a
better word or a clearer idea?"

"I understand. No, I should say, not one; though here and there one
nearly had it--so nearly that I held my breath from not being quite
sure. But, on the other hand, I should say that there was a good deal of
excellence, if you know what that means."

"I can imagine," the elder poet said. "It is another subterfuge. What do
you really intend?"

"Why, that the level was pretty high. Never so high as the sky, but
sometimes as high as the sky-scraper. There was an occasional tallness,
the effect, I think, of straining to be higher than the thought or the
feeling warranted. And some of the things had a great deal of
naturalness."

"Come! That isn't so bad."

"But naturalness can be carried to a point where it becomes affectation.
This happened in some cases where I thought I was going to have some
pleasure of the simplicity, but found at last that the simplicity was a
pose. Sometimes there was a great air of being untrammelled. But there
is such a thing as being informal, and there is such a thing as being
unmannerly."

"Yes?"

"I think that in the endeavor to escape from convention our poets have
lost the wish for elegance, which was a prime charm of the Golden Age.
Technically, as well as emotionally, they let themselves loose too much,
and the people of the Golden Age never let themselves loose. There is
too much Nature in them, which is to say, not enough; for, after all, in
her little æsthetic attempts, Nature is very modest."

The elder poet brought the younger sharply to book. "Now you are
wandering. Explain again."

"Why, when you and I were young--you were always and always will be
young--"

"None of that!"

"It seemed to me that we wished to be as careful of the form as the most
formal of our poetic forebears, and that we would not let the smallest
irregularity escape us in our study to make the form perfect. We cut out
the tall word; we restrained the straining; we tried to keep the wording
within the bounds of the dictionary; we wished for beauty in our work so
much that our very roughness was the effect of hammering; the grain we
left was where we had used the file to produce it."

"Was it? And you say that with these new fellows it isn't so?"

"Well, what do you say to such a word as 'dankening,' which occurred in
a very good landscape?"

"One such word in a hundred poems?"

"One such word in a million would have been too many. It made me feel
that they would all have liked to say 'dankening,' or something of the
sort. And in the new poets, on other occasions, I have found faulty
syntax, bad rhymes, limping feet. The editors are to blame for that,
when it happens. The editor who printed 'dankening' was more to blame
than the poet who wrote it, and loved the other ugly word above all his
other vocables." The elder poet was silent, and the other took fresh
courage. "Yes, I say it! You were wrong in your praise of the present
magazine verse at the cost of that in our day. When we were commencing
poets, the young or younger reputations were those of Stedman, of Bayard
Taylor, of the Stoddards, of Aldrich, of Celia Thaxter, of Rose Terry,
of Harriet Prescott, of Bret Harte, of Charles Warren Stoddard, of the
Piatts, of Fitz James O'Brien, of Fitzhugh Ludlow, of a dozen more, whom
the best of the newest moderns cannot rival. These were all delicate and
devoted and indefatigable artists and lovers of form. It cannot do the
later generation any good to equal them with ours."

"There is something in what you say." The elder poet was silent for a
time. Then he asked, "Out of the hundred poems you read in your fifty
magazines, how many did you say were what you would call good?"

His junior counted up, and reported, "About twenty-four."

"Well, don't you call that pretty fair, in a hundred? I do. Reflect that
these were all the magazines of one month, and it is probable that there
will be as many good poems in the magazines of every month in the year.
That will give us two hundred and eighty-eight good poems during 1907.
Before the first decade of the new century is ended, we shall have had
eleven hundred and fifty-two good magazine poems. Do you suppose that as
many good magazine poems were written during the last four years of the
first decade of the eighteenth century? Can you name as many yourself?"

"Certainly not. Nobody remembers the magazine poems of that time, and
nobody will remember the poems of the four years ending the present
decade."

"Do you mean to say that not one of them is worth remembering?"

The younger poet paused a moment. Then he said, with the air of a
cross-examined witness, "Under advice of counsel, I decline to answer."



XV

COMPARATIVE LUXURIES OF TRAVEL


On a night well toward its noon, many years ago, a friend of the Easy
Chair (so close as to be at the same time its worst enemy) was walking
wearily up and down in the station at Portland, Maine, and wondering if
the time for his train to start would ever come, and, if the time did
come, whether his train would really take advantage of that opportunity
to leave Portland. It was, of course, a night train, and of course he
had engaged a lower berth in the sleeping-car; there are certain things
that come by nature with the comfortable classes to which the friend of
the Easy Chair belonged. He would no more have thought of travelling in
one of the empty day coaches side-tracked in the station than he would
have thought of going by stage, as he could remember doing in his
boyhood. He stopped beside the cars and considered their potential
passengers with amaze and compassion; he laughed at the notion of his
being himself one of them; and, when he turned his back on them, he was
arrested by the sight of an elderly pair looking from the vantage of the
platform into the interior of a lighted Pullman parlor-car which, for
reasons of its own, was waiting in luminous detachment apart from the
day coaches. There was something engaging in the gentle humility of the
elderly pair who peered into the long, brilliant saloon with an effect
not so much of ignorance as of inexperience. They were apparently not so
rustic as they were what another friend of the Easy Chair calls
villaginous; and they seemed not of the commonest uninformed
villaginosity, but of general intelligence such as comes of reading and
thinking of many modern things which one has never seen. As the
eavesdropper presently made out from a colloquy unrestrained by
consciousness of him, they had never seen a parlor-car before, except
perhaps as it flashed by their meek little home depot with the rest of
some express train that never stopped there.

"It _is_ splendid, John," the woman said, holding by the man's arm while
she leaned forward to the window which she tiptoed to reach with her
eager eyes.

"I guess it's all of that," the man consented, sadly.

"I presume we sha'n't ever go in one," she suggested.

"Not likely," he owned, in the same discouraged tone.

They were both silent for a time. Then the woman said, with a deep,
hopeless aspiration, "Dear! I wish I could see inside one, once!"

The man said nothing, and if he shared her bold ambition he made no
sign.

The eavesdropper faltered near their kind backs, wishing for something
more from them which should give their souls away, but they remained
silently standing there, and he did not somehow feel authorized to make
them reflect that, if the car was lighted up, it must be open, and that
the friendly porter somewhere within would not mind letting them look
through it under his eye. Perhaps they did reflect, and the woman was
trying to embolden the man to the hardy venture. In the end they did not
attempt it, but they turned away with another sigh from the woman which
found its echo in the eavesdropper's heart. Doubtless if they had
penetrated that splendid interior without having paid for seats, it
would, in some fine, mystical sort, have pauperized them; it would have
corrupted them; they would have wished after that always to travel in
such cars, when clearly they could not afford it; very possibly it might
have led to their moral if not financial ruin. So he tried to still his
bosom's ache, but he could never quite forget that gentle pair with
their unrequited longing, and the other day they came almost the first
thing into his mind when he read that a great German steamship company
had some thoughts of putting on a train of Pullman cars from the port of
arrival to the mercantile metropolis which was the real end of their
ships' voyages. He thought, whimsically, perversely, how little
difference it would make to that pair, how little to those measureless
most whose journeys shall end in heaven, where Pullman passengers, or
even passengers by the ordinary European first-class cars, may be only
too glad to meet them. He gave a looser rein to his thoughts and
considered how very little the ordinary necessities of life, such as
Pullman cars and taxicabs and electric radiators and non-storage
chickens and unsalted butter concern the great mass of the saints, who
would find them the rarest luxuries, and could hardly be imagined
coveting them; and then from this wild revery he fell to asking himself
whether a Pullman train would be such a great advance or advantage over
the old-fashioned European first-class carriages in which he had been so
long content to travel with the native nobility. Self-brought to book on
this point, he had to own that he had once had moments of thinking in a
German second-class car that he would not change to an American Pullman
if he could for even less than a third more money. He recalled a
pleasant run from Crewe to Edinburgh in a third-class English car, when
he never once thought of a Pullman car except to think it was no better.
To be sure, this was after two-thirds of his third-class
fellow-passengers had got out, and he was left to the sole enjoyment of
two-thirds of the seats. It is the luxury of space which your more money
buys you in England, where no one much lower than a duke or a prime
minister now goes first class for a long haul. For short hauls it is
different, and on the Continent it is altogether different. There you
are often uncomfortably crowded in the first-class carriages, and
doubtless would be in a Pullman if there were any, so that if you are
wise, or only well informed, you will give the guard a shilling to
telegraph before leaving London and get you a number on the Rapide from
Calais to Paris.

It is astonishing how quickly knowledge of any such advisable precaution
spreads among even such arrogantly stupid people as first-class
passengers ordinarily are. By the time a certain train had started for
Dover with that friend of the Easy Chair's already mentioned, every soul
in his first-class compartment had telegraphed ahead, and when they
arrived in Calais the earliest Englishman who got past the customs ran
ahead and filled the racks of the carriage with his hand-baggage, so
that the latest Frenchman was obliged to jump up and down and scream,
and perhaps swear in his strange tongue, before he could find room for
his valise, and then calm down and show himself the sweetest and
civilest of men, and especially the obedient humble servant of the
Englishman who had now made a merit of making way for his bag.

At this point the fable teaches that money will not buy everything in
European travel, though some Americans imagine it will. It will not,
for instance, buy comfort or decency, though it will secure privacy in a
French sleeper between Paris and Marseilles either way. For an
augmentation of forty-five francs, or nine dollars, on the price of a
first-class ticket, it will buy you a berth in a small pen which you
must share with another animal, and be tossed hither and yon, night
long, as in the berth of a Bermuda steamer. Second-class passengers in
France or Italy cannot buy a berth in a sleeper for any money, and they
may go hang or stand, for all the International Sleeping-Car Company
cares; and this suggests the question whether in our own free and equal
land the passengers in the ordinary day coaches are ever invited, by the
first call or the last, to share the hospitalities of our dining-cars;
or are these restricted to the proud stomachs of the Pullman passengers?

No, no; the privacy of a French sleeping-car is all very well, but for
decency give our friend a good, old-fashioned Pullman sleeper at a third
the money, with its curtains swaying with the motion of the car and
muting the long-drawn, loud-drawn breathing of the serried sleepers
behind them. To be sure, in the morning, when stooping backs begin to
round the curtains out, and half-shod feet to thrust into the narrow
gangway between them, the effect is of a familiarity, an intimacy; but
so much trust, so much brotherly kindness goes with it all that you
could not call it indecency, though certainly you could not claim it
privacy. It only proves, as that friend of ours was saying, that money
cannot buy everything, and that, if you expect the Pullman parlor-cars
to be an improvement on the German first-class cars, you will be
disappointed, probably. First-class cars vary much all over Europe; even
second-class cars do. In Austria they are not nearly so good as in
Germany, and in Italy--poor, dear Italy!--they are worse still. That is
because, the enemies of socialism say, the roads are state roads, or
because, the friends of socialism say, the expropriated companies have
dumped their worn-out rolling-stock on the commonwealth, which must bear
the shame of it with the stranger. Between these clashing claims we will
not put our blade. All we say is that Italian railroad travel is as bad
as heart could wish--the heart that loves Italy and holds dear the
memory of the days when there were few railroads, if any, there, and one
still went by diligence or _vettura_. The only absolutely _good_
railroad travel is in England, where the corridor car imagined from the
Pullman has realized the most exacting ideal of the traveller of any
class. In the matter of dining-cars we have stood still (having attained
perfection at a bound), while the English diner has shot ahead in
simplicity and quality of refection. With us a dollar buys more dinner
than you wish or like; with them three shillings pay for an elegant
sufficiency, and a tip of sixpence purchases an explicit gratitude from
the waiter which a quarter is often helpless to win from his dark
antitype with us. The lunch served on the steamer train from London to
Liverpool leaves the swollen, mistimed dinner on the Boston express--

"But what about that 5 P.M. breakfast which you got, no longer ago than
last September, on the express between Salisbury and Exeter?" our friend
exults to ask; and we condescend to answer with forced candor:

Yes, that was rather droll. No Englishman would dream of ordering
afternoon tea consisting of chops, boiled potatoes, and a pot of
souchong, and, if we chose to do so, we took a serious chance. But
starvation will drive one to anything; we had had nothing to eat since
leaving Salisbury three hours before, and in the English air this is
truly famine. Besides, the amiable agent who came to our compartment for
our order pledged his word that those potatoes should be ready in twenty
minutes; and so they were, and so were the chops, and so, of course, was
the tea. What he had failed to specify was that the dining-car had been
left, by divers defections at the junctions passed, the last car in our
train, and that it was now straining at its leash in wild leaps and
bounds. One reached it by passing through more corridor cars than there
are Pullmans and day coaches in a west-bound Lake Shore train, and when
one arrived one reeled and flounced into one's seat by such athletics as
one uses in a Bermuda steamer (or did use in the old fifteen-hundred-ton
kind) crossing the Gulf Stream. When once comparatively secure in one's
chair, the combat with the lunch began. Mrs. Siddons would have been at
home there, for there was nothing for it but to stab the potatoes, and
all one's cunning of fence was needed to hold one's own with the chops.
But how delicious they were! How the first mealed and the last melted in
the mouth; and the tea, when once poured from the dizzy height at which
the pot had to be held, and the wild whirl in which the cup had to be
caught to the lips, how it cheered without inebriating, and how the
spirit rose to meet it! The waiter, dancing and swaying like any ship's
steward, served the stray Americans with as much respectful gravity as
if they had been county-family English and he had been for generations
in their service. He did not deprecate the capers of the car, but only
casually owned that, when it happened to be the last in the train, it
did pitch about a bit, sir.

No, England is the only country where you can get the whole worth of
your money in railroad travel, and the well-to-do sinner can enjoy the
comfort which must be his advance recompense in this world for the
happiness he cannot warrantably count upon in the next. That steamer
train of Pullmans in Germany will never contest the palm with the
English corridor train; nor will our palatial, porterless depots vie
with the simplest of these English wayside stations, where the soft
endearments of the railway servants penetrate to the very interior of
the arriving stranger's compartment and relieve him of all anxiety for
his hand-baggage. Then the cloak-room, that refuge of temporary sojourn,
where his baggage remains in the porter's charge till it is put back
into the train, who will contend that our parcels' windows, with their
high counters fencing the depositor from the grim youths standing like
receiving and paying tellers within, compare with the English
cloak-room? Its very name descends from the balls and assemblies of the
past, and graces the public enjoyment of its convenience with something
of the courtesy and dignity of the exclusive pleasures of the upper
classes; it brings to one sense a vision of white shoulders bent over
trim maids slippering slim feet, and to another the faint, proud odors
of flowers that withered a hundred years ago.

But what vain concession is this to the outworn ideals of a state and a
condition justly superseded! How far we have got from that gentle pair
with whom we began peering into the parlor-car in Portland, Maine! To
such as they it will matter little whether Pullman cars are or are not
put on that steamer train in North Germany. A great danger is that the
vast horde of Americans who travel will forget the immeasurable majority
who remain at home, and will lose in their sophistication the
heaven-glimpsing American point of view. It is very precious, that point
of view, and the foreigner who wins it is a happier man than the native
who purse-proudly puts it away. When we part with the daily habit of
trolleys and begin to think in cabs and taxicabs; when we pass the line
of honest day coaches and buy a seat in the parlor-car; when we turn
from pie, or baked beans, and coffee at the refreshment-counter and keep
our hunger for the table d'hôte of the dining-car; when we buy a room in
the steamboat in disdain of the berth that comes with our ticket; when
we refuse to be one of four or even two in the cabin of the simpler
steamers and will not go abroad on any vessel of less than twenty or
thirty thousand tons, with small, separate tables and tuxedos in the
saloon; when we forsake the clothing-store with its democratic misfit
for all figures and order our suits in London, then we begin to barter
away our birthright of republican simplicity, and there is soon nothing
for us but a coronet by marriage in the family or a quarter-section of
public land in northwestern Canada.

There has been altogether too much talk (some of it, we contritely own,
has been ours) of the comparative comforts and discomforts of life for
the better-to-do in Europe and America. In the demand for Pullman trains
between our port of arrival and the end of our journey when we go to the
Continent for a much-needed rest, we are apt to forget the
fellow-citizens whom we saw across the impassable barrier dividing our
first class from them on the steamer, and who will find the second-class
German cars quite good enough for them, and better than our day coaches
at home. If we cannot remember these, then let us remember those for
whom Pullmans are not good enough and who spurn the dust of our summer
ways in their automobiles, and leave the parlor-cars to our lower-class
vulgarity. Such people take their automobiles to Europe with them, and
would not use that possible Pullman train if they found it waiting for
them at the port of arrival in Germany. What is the use? It will soon
not be an affair of automobiles, but of aeroplanes, at the ports of
European arrival, and a Pullman train will look sadly strange and old to
the debarking passengers. No one will want to take it, as no one would
now want to take a bicycle, or even a "bicycle built for two." These
things are all comparative; there is nothing positive, nothing ultimate
in the luxuries, the splendors of life. Soon the last word in them takes
on a vulgarity of accent; and Distinction turns from them "with sick and
scornful looks averse," and listens for the

          "airy tongues that syllable men's names
   On sands and shores and desert wildernesses."

Simplicity, at the furthest possible remove from all complexity, will be
the next word--the word that follows the last, the woman's word.



XVI

QUALITIES WITHOUT DEFECTS


They had got to that point in their walk and talk where the talk might
be best carried forward by arresting the walk; and they sat down on a
bench of the Ramble in Central Park, and provisionally watched a man
feeding a squirrel with peanuts. The squirrel had climbed up the leg of
the man's trousers and over the promontory above, and the man was
holding very still, flattered by the squirrel's confidence, and anxious
not to frighten it away by any untoward movement; if the squirrel had
been a child bestowing its first intelligent favors upon him the man
could not have been prouder. He was an old fellow, one of many who
pamper the corrupt rodents of the Park, and reduce them from their
native independence to something like the condition of those pauper
wards of the nation on our Indian Reservations, to whom a blurred image
of the chase offers itself at stated intervals in the slaughter of the
Government's dole of beef-cattle.

The friend to whom this imperfect parallel occurred recalled his
thoughts from it and said, with single reference to the man and the
squirrel: "I suppose that's an expression of the sort of thing we've
been talking about. Kindness to animals is an impulse, isn't it, of the
'natural piety' embracing the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood
of man?"

[Illustration: THE MALL, CENTRAL PARK]

"I don't think it's quite so modern as that formulation," the other
friend questioned. "I was thinking it was very eighteenth-century; part
of the universal humanitarian movement of the time when the master began
to ask himself whether the slave was not also a man and a brother, and
the philanthropist visited the frightful prisons of the day and
remembered those in bonds as bound with them."

"Yes, you may say that," the first allowed. "But benevolence toward dumb
creatures originated very much further back than the eighteenth century.
There was St. Francis of Assisi, you know, who preached to the birds,
didn't he? and Walter von der Vogelweide, who pensioned them. And
several animals--cats, crocodiles, cows, and the like--enjoyed a good
deal of consideration among the Egyptians. The serpent used to have a
pretty good time as a popular religion. And what about the Stoics? They
were rather kind to animals, weren't they? Why should Pliny's Doves have
come down to us in mosaic if he cultivated them solely for the sake of
broiled squabs? It's true that the modern Roman, before the extension of
the S.P.C.A. to his city, used his horse cruelly upon the perfectly
unquestionable ground that the poor beast was not a Christian."

"I don't remember about the Stoics exactly," the second friend mused
aloud; and the first let this go, though they both understood that very
likely he not only did not remember, but had never known. "They had so
many virtues that they must have been kind to brutes, but I taste
something more Cowperian, more Wordsworthian, than Marcus-Aurelian in
our own kindness. These poets taught me, so far as I could learn, not
to

                    'enter on my list of friends the man
   Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm,'

and

   'Never to mix my pleasure or my pride
   With sorrow of the meanest thing that breathes.'"

"Yes, but I don't like giving up the Stoics; we may have to come back to
their ground if things keep on going the way they have gone for the last
generation. The Stoics had a high ideal of duty; it's hard to see that
the Christian ideal is higher, though they taught themselves to be
proudly good, and we (if we may still say we when we say Christians) are
always trying to teach ourselves to be humbly good."

"What do you mean," the second of the friends demanded, "by coming back
to their ground?"

"Why," the first responded, picking up a twig that opportunely dropped
at his feet, and getting out his knife to whittle it, "I suppose they
were the first agnostics, and we who don't so much deny the Deity as
ignore Him----"

"I see," the second answered, sadly. "But aren't you throwing up the
sponge for faith rather prematurely? The power of believing has a
tremendous vitality. I heard a Catholic once say to a Protestant friend,
'You know the Church has outlived schisms much older than yours.' And
inside of Protestantism as well as Catholicism there is a tremendous
power of revival. We have seen it often. After an age of unbelief an age
of belief is rather certain to follow."

"Well, well, I'm willing. I'm no more agnostic than you are. I should
be glad of an age of faith for the rest to my soul, if for no other
reason. I was harking back to the Stoics not only because they were good
to animals, if they were good, but because they seemed to have the same
barren devotion to duty which has survived my faith as well as my creed.
But why, if I neither expect happiness nor dread misery, should I still
care to do my duty? And I certainly always do."

"What, always?"

"Well, nearly always."

The friends laughed together, and the first said, "What a pity the
Gilbertian humor has gone out so; you can't adapt it to a daily need any
longer without the risk of not being followed."

The other sighed. "Nearly everything goes out, except duty. If that went
out, I don't think I should have much pleasure in life."

"No, you would be dead, without the hope of resurrection. If there is
anything comes direct from the Creative Force, from

   'La somma sapienza e il primo amore,'

it is the sense of duty, 'the moral law within us,' which Kant divined
as unmistakably delivered from God to man. I use the old terminology."

"Don't apologize. It still serves our turn; I don't know that anything
else serves it yet. And you make me think of what dear old M.D.
C----told me shortly after his wife died. He had wished, when they both
owned that the end was near, to suggest some comfort in the hope of
another life, to clutch at that straw to save his drowning soul; but she
stopped him. She said, 'There is nothing but duty, the duty we have
wished to do and tried to do.'"

The friends were silent in the pathos of the fact, and then the first
said, "I suppose we all wish to do our duty, even when we don't try or
don't try hard enough."

The other conjectured, "Perhaps, after all, it's a question of strength;
wickedness is weakness."

"That formula won't always serve; still, it will serve in a good many
cases; possibly most. It won't do to preach it, though."

"No, we must cultivate strength of character. I wonder how?"

"Well, your Stoics--"

"_My_ Stoics?"

"_Anybody's_ Stoics--did it by self-denial. When they saw a pleasure
coming their way they sidestepped it; they went round the corner, and
let it go by while they recruited their energies. Then when they saw a
duty coming they stepped out and did it."

"It seems very simple. But aren't you rather cynical?"

"That's what people call one when one puts ethics picturesquely. But
perhaps I've rather overdone it about the Stoics. Perhaps they wouldn't
have refused to enjoy a pleasure at their own expense, at their cost in
some sort of suffering to themselves. They really seem to have invented
the Christian ideal of duty."

"And a very good thing. It may be all that will be left of Christianity
in the end, if the Christian hope of reward goes as the Christian fear
of punishment has gone. It seems to have been all there was of it in the
beginning."

The second of the friends said at this, "I don't know that I should go
so far as that."

The first returned, "Well, I don't know that I should ask you. I don't
know that I go that far myself," he said, and then they laughed
together again.

The man who was feeding the squirrel seemed to have exhausted his stock
of peanuts, and he went away. After some hesitation the squirrel came
toward the two friends and examined their countenances with a beady,
greedy eye. He was really glutted with peanuts, and had buried the last
where he would forget it, after having packed it down in the ground with
his paws.

"No, no," the first of the friends said to the squirrel; "we are on the
way back to being Stoics and practising the more self-denying virtues.
You won't get any peanuts out of us. For one thing, we haven't got any."

"There's a boy," the second friend dreamily suggested, "down by the
boat-house with a basketful."

"But I am teaching this animal self-denial. He will be a nobler squirrel
all the rest of his life for not having the peanuts he couldn't get.
That's like what I always try to feel in my own case. It's what I call
character-building. Get along!"

The squirrel, to which the last words were addressed, considered a
moment. Then it got along, after having inspected the whittlings at the
feet of the friends to decide whether they were edible.

"I thought," the second of the friends said, "that your humanity
included kindness to animals."

"I am acting for this animal's best good. I don't say but that, if the
peanut-boy had come by with his basket, I shouldn't have yielded to my
natural weakness and given the little brute a paper of them to bury. He
seems to have been rather a saving squirrel--when he was gorged."

The mellow sunlight of the November day came down through the tattered
foliage, and threw the shadows of the friends on the path where they
sat, with their soft hats pulled over their foreheads. They were silent
so long that when the second of them resumed their conversation he had
to ask, "Where were we?"

"Cultivating force of character in squirrels."

"I thought we had got by that."

"Then we had come round to ourselves again."

"Something like that," the first friend reluctantly allowed.

"What a vicious circle! It seems to me that our first duty, if that's
what you mean, is to get rid of ourselves."

"Whom should we have left? Other people? We mustn't pamper their egotism
in chastising our own. We must use a great deal of caution in doing our
duty. If I really loved that squirrel, if I were truly kind to animals,
if I studied their best good, as disagreeable friends say they study
ours, I should go after him and give him a hickory-nut that would wear
down his teeth as nature intended; civilization is undermining the
health of squirrels by feeding them peanuts, which allow their teeth to
overgrow."

"That is true. Isn't it doing something of the same sort in other ways
for all of us? If I hadn't lost my teeth so long ago, I'm sure I should
feel them piercing from one jaw to another in their inordinate
development. It's duty that keeps down the overgrowths that luxury
incites. By-the-way, what set you thinking so severely about duty this
beautiful Sunday morning? The neglected duty of going to church?"

"Ah, I call going to church a pleasure. No, I suppose it was an effect,
a reverberation, of the tumult of my struggle to vote for the right man
on Tuesday, when I knew that I was throwing my vote away if I did vote
for him."

"But you voted for him?"

The first friend nodded.

"Which man was it?"

"What's the use? He was beaten--

   'That is all you know or need to know.'"

"Of course he was beaten if it was your duty to vote for him," the
second friend mused. "How patient the Creator must be with the result of
His counsel to His creatures! He keeps on communing, commanding, if we
are to believe Kant. It is His one certain way to affirm and corroborate
Himself. Without His perpetual message to the human conscience, He does
not recognizably exist; and yet more than half the time His mandate
sends us to certain defeat, to certain death. It's enough to make one go
in for the other side. Of course, we have to suppose that the same voice
which intimates duty to us intimates duty to them?"

"And that they would like to obey it, if they could consistently with
other interests and obligations?"

"Yes, they juggle with their sense of it; they pretend that the Voice
does not mean exactly what it says. They get out of it that way."

"And the great, vital difference between ourselves and them is that we
promptly and explicitly obey it; we don't palter with it in the
slightest; 'we don't bandy words with our sovereign,' as Doctor Johnson
said. I wonder," the speaker added, with the briskness of one to whom a
vivid thought suddenly occurs, "how it would work if one went and did
exactly the contrary of what was intimated to the human conscience?"

"That's not a new idea. There are people who habitually do so, or,
rather, to whom an inverted moral law is delivered."

"You mean the people who beat you at the polls last Tuesday?"

"No, I mean the people in the asylums, some of them. They are said to
hear the voice that bids us do right commanding them to do wrong. 'Thou
shalt kill,' they hear it say, 'thou shalt steal, thou shalt bear false
witness, thou shalt commit adultery, thou shalt not honor thy father and
thy mother,' and so on through the Decalogue, with the inhibition thrown
off or put on, as the case may be."

"How very hideous!" the second friend exclaimed. "It's like an emanation
from the Pit. I mean the Pit that used to be. It's been abolished."

"And a very good thing. The noises from it went far to drown the voice
of God, and bewildered some men so that they did not rightly know what
the voice was saying. Now when people hear a voice bidding them do evil,
we know what to do with them."

"And you think that the fellows who outvoted you on Tuesday heard the
same voice that you heard; and they disobeyed it?"

"Ah, it's hard to say. We haven't got to the bottom of such things yet.
Perhaps they disobeyed the voice provisionally, expecting to make a
satisfactory explanation later on. Or perhaps they had put their civic
consciences in the keeping of others, who gave them an official
interpretation of the command, with instructions not to take it
literally."

"That's very interesting," the second friend said. "Then it's your idea
that no one really prefers to do wrong?"

"Not outside of the asylums. And even there they can plead authority.
No, no, no! In a world pretty full of evil there isn't any purely
voluntary evil among the sane. When the 'wicked,' as we call them, do
wrong, it is provisionally only; they mean to do right presently and
make it up with the heavenly powers. As long as an evil-doer lives he
means to cease some time to do evil. He may put it off too long, or
until he becomes ethically unsound. You know Swedenborg found that the
last state of sinners was insanity."

"Dreadful!"

"But I've always thought very few reached that state. There's this
curious thing about it all: we are not only ethically prompted by that
inner voice, we are æsthetically prompted; it's a matter of taste as
well as of conduct, too. The virtues are so clean, the vices so
repulsively dirty. Justice is beautifully symmetrical; injustice is so
shapeless, so unbalanced. Truth is such a pure line; falsehood is so out
of drawing. The iniquities make you uncomfortable. The arts deny them."

The second friend drew a long breath. "Then I don't see why there are so
many."

"Well," the first friend suggested, "there seems to be a difficulty.
Some say that they have to be employed as antitheses; we can't get on
without them, at least at this stage of the proceedings. Perhaps we
shall advance so far that we shall be able to use historical or
accomplished evil for the contrasts by which we shall know actual good."

"I don't see how you make that out."

"Why, there are already some regions of the globe where the summer does
not require the antithesis of winter for its consciousness. Perhaps in
the moral world there will yet be a condition in which right shall not
need to contrast itself with wrong. We are still meteorologically very
imperfect."

"And how do you expect to bring the condition about? By our always doing
our duty?"

"Well, we sha'n't by not doing it."



XVII

A WASTED OPPORTUNITY


The Easy Chair saw at once that its friend was full of improving
conversation, and it let him begin without the least attempt to stay
him; anything of the kind, in fact, would have been a provocation to
greater circumstance in him. He said:

"It was Christmas Eve, and I don't know whether he arrived by chance or
design at a time when the heart is supposed to be softest and the mind
openest. It's a time when, unless you look out, you will believe
anything people tell you and do anything they ask you. I must say I was
prepossessed by his appearance; he was fair and slender, and he looked
about thirty-five years old; and when he said at once that he would not
deceive me, but would confess that he was just out of the penitentiary
of a neighboring State where he had been serving a two years' sentence,
I could have taken him in my arms. Even if he had not pretended that he
had the same surname as myself, I should have known him for a brother,
and though I suspected that he was wrong in supposing that his surname
was at all like mine, I was glad that he had sent it in, and so piqued
my curiosity that I had him shown up, instead of having my pampered
menial spurn him from my door, as I might if he had said his name was
Brown, Jones, or Robinson."

"We dare say you have your self-justification," we put in at this point,
"but you must own that it doesn't appear in what you are saying. As a
good citizen, with the true interests of the poor at heart, you would
certainly have had your pampered menial spurn him from your door. His
being of your name, or claiming to be so, had nothing to do with his
merit or want of it."

"Oh, I acknowledge that, and I'll own that there was something in his
case, as he stated it, that appealed to my fancy even more than his
community of surname appealed to my family affection. He said he was a
Scotchman, which I am not, and that he had got a job on a
cattle-steamer, to work his way back to his native port. The steamer
would sail on Monday, and it was now Friday night, and the question
which he hesitated, which he intimated, in terms so tacit that I should
not call them an expression of it, was how he was to live till Monday."

"He left the calculation entirely to me, which he might not have done if
he had known what a poor head I had for figures, and I entered into it
with a reluctance which he politely ignored. I had some quite new
two-dollar notes in my pocket-book, the crisp sort, which rustle in
fiction when people take them out to succor the unfortunate or bribe the
dishonest, and I thought I would give him one if I could make it go
round for him till his steamer sailed. I was rather sorry for its being
fresh, but I had no old, shabby, or dirty notes such as one gives to
cases of dire need, you know."

"No, we don't know. We so seldom give paper at all; we prefer to give
copper."

"Well, that is right; one ought to give copper if the need is very
pressing; if not so pressing, one gives small silver, and so on up. But
here was an instance which involved a more extended application of
alms. 'You know,' I told him, while I was doing my sum in mental
arithmetic, 'there are the Mills hotels, where you can get a bed for
twenty-five cents; I don't remember whether they throw in breakfast or
not.' I felt a certain squalor in my attitude, which was not relieved by
the air of gentle patience with which he listened, my poor namesake, if
not kinsman; we were both at least sons of Adam. He looked not only
gentle, but refined; I made my reflection that this was probably the
effect of being shut up for two years where the winds were not allowed
to visit him roughly, and the reflection strengthened me to say, 'I
think two dollars will tide you over till Monday.' I can't say whether
he thought so, too, but he did not say he did not think so. He left it
quite to me, and I found another mathematical difficulty. There were
three nights' lodging to be paid for, and then he would have a dollar
and a quarter for food. I often spend as much as that on a single lunch,
including a quarter to the waiter, and I wouldn't have liked making it
pay for three days' board. But I didn't say so; I left the question
entirely to him, and he said nothing.

"In fact, he was engaged in searching himself for credentials, first in
one pocket, and then in another; but he found nothing better than a
pawn-ticket, which he offered me. 'What's this?' I asked. 'My overcoat,'
he said, and I noted that he had borrowed a dollar and a half on it. I
did not like that; it seemed to me that he was taking unfair advantage
of me, and I said, 'Oh, I think you can get along without your
overcoat.' I'm glad to think now that it hadn't begun to snow yet, and
that I had no prescience of the blizzard--what the papers fondly called
the Baby Blizzard (such a pretty fancy of theirs!)--which was to begin
the next afternoon, wasn't making the faintest threat from the moonlit
sky then. He said, 'It's rather cold,' but I ignored his position. At
the same time, I gave him a quarter."

"That was magnificent, but it was not political economy," we commented.
"You should have held to your irrefutable argument that he could get
along without his overcoat. You should have told him that he would not
need it on shipboard."

"Well, do you know," our friend said, "I really did tell him something
like that, and it didn't seem to convince him, though it made me
ashamed. I suppose I was thinking how he could keep close to the
reading-room fire, and I did not trouble to realize that he would not be
asked to draw up his chair when he came in from looking after the
cattle."

"It would have been an idle compliment, anyway," we said. "You can't
draw up the reading-room chairs on shipboard; they're riveted down."

"I remembered afterward. But still I was determined not to take his
overcoat out of pawn, and he must have seen it in my eye. He put back
his pawn-ticket, and did not try to produce any other credentials. I had
noticed that the ticket did not bear the surname we enjoyed in common; I
said to myself that the name of Smith, which it did bear, must be the
euphemism of many who didn't wish to identify themselves with their
poverty even to a pawnbroker. But I said to him, 'Here!' and I pulled
open my table drawer, and took from it a small envelope full of English
coins, which I had been left stranded with on several returns from
Europe; the inhuman stewards had failed to relieve me of them; and as I
always vow, when I have got through our customs, that I will never go to
Europe again, I had often wondered what I should do with those coins. I
now took out the largest and handsomest of them: 'Do you know what that
is?' 'Yes,' he said; 'it's two shillings and sixpence--what we call a
half-crown.' His promptness restored my faith in him; I saw that he must
be what he said; undoubtedly he had been in the penitentiary; very
likely our name was the same; an emotion of kinship stirred in my heart.
'Here!' I said, and I handed him the coin; it did not seem so bad as
giving him more American money. 'They can change that on the ship for
you. I guess you can manage now till Monday,' and my confidence in
Providence diffused such a genial warmth through my steam-heated
apartment that I forgot all about his overcoat. I wish I could forget
about it now."

We felt that we ought to say something to comfort a man who owned his
excess of beneficence. "Oh, you mustn't mind giving him so much money.
We can't always remember our duty to cut the unfortunate as close as we
ought. Another time you will do better. Come! Cheer up!"

Our friend did not seem entirely consoled by our amiability. In fact, he
seemed not to notice it. He heaved a great sigh in resuming: "He
appeared to think I was hinting that it was time for him to go, for he
got up from the lounge where I had thoughtlessly had the decency to make
him sit down, and went out into the hall, thanking me as I followed him
to the door. I was sorry to let him go; he had interested me somehow
beyond anything particularly appealing in his personality; in fact, his
personality was rather null than otherwise, as far as that asserted any
claim; such a mere man and brother! Before he put his hand on my
door-knob a belated curiosity stirred in me, which I tried, as
delicately as I could, to appease. 'Was your trouble something about
the'--I was going to say the ladies, but that seemed too mawkish, and I
boldly outed with--'women?' 'Oh no,' he said, meekly; 'it was just
cloth, a piece of cloth,' 'Breaking and entering?' I led on. 'Well, not
exactly, but--it came to grand larceny,' and I might have fancied a
touch of mounting self-respect in his confession of a considerable
offence.

"I didn't know exactly what to say, so I let myself off with a little
philosophy: 'Well, you see, it didn't pay, exactly,' 'Oh no,' he said,
sadly enough, and he went out."

Our friend was silent at this point, and we felt that we ought to
improve the occasion in his behalf. "Well, there you lost a great
opportunity. You ought to have rubbed it in. You ought to have made him
reflect upon the utter folly of his crime. You ought to have made him
realize that for a ridiculous value of forty, or fifty, or seventy-five
dollars, he had risked the loss of his liberty for two years, and not
only his liberty, but his labor, for he had come out of the penitentiary
after two years of hard work as destitute as he went in; he had not even
the piece of cloth to show for it all. Yes, you lost a great
opportunity."

Our friend rose from the dejected posture in which he had been sitting,
and blazed out--we have no milder word for it--blazed out in a sort of
fiery torrent which made us recoil: "Yes, I lost that great opportunity,
and I lost a greater still. I lost the opportunity of telling that
miserable man that, thief for thief, and robber for robber, the State
which had imprisoned him for two years, and then cast him out again
without a cent of pay for the wages he had been earning all that
dreadful time, was a worse thief and a worse robber than he! I ought to
have told him that in so far as he had been cheated of his wages by the
law he was the victim, the martyr of an atrocious survival of
barbarism. Oh, I have thought of it since with shame and sorrow! I was
sending him out into the cold that was gathering for the Baby Blizzard
without the hope of his overcoat, but since then I have comforted myself
by considering how small my crime was compared with that of the State
which had thrown him destitute upon the world after the two years' labor
it had stolen from him. At the lowest rate of wages for unskilled labor,
it owed him at least a thousand dollars, or, with half subtracted for
board and lodging, five hundred. It was his delinquent debtor in that
sum, and it had let him loose to prey upon society in my person because
it had defrauded him of the money he had earned."

"But, our dear friend!" we entreated, "don't you realize that this
theft, this robbery, this fraud, as you call it, was part of the
sanative punishment which the State had inflicted upon him?"

"And you don't think two years' prison, two years' slavery, was sanative
enough without the denial of his just compensation?"

We perceived that it would be useless to argue with a man in this
truculent mood, and we silently forbore to urge that the vision of
destitution which the criminal must have before his eyes, advancing hand
in hand with liberty to meet him at the end of his term when his prison
gates opened into the world which would not feed, or shelter, or clothe,
or in any wise employ him, would be a powerful deterrent from future
crime, and act as one of the most efficient agencies of virtue which the
ingenuity of the law has ever invented. But our silence did not wholly
avail us, for our poor misguided friend went on to say:

"Suppose he had a wife and children--he may have had several of both,
for all I know--dependent on him, would it have been particularly
sanative for them to be deprived of his earnings, too?"

"We cannot answer these sophistries," we were exasperated into replying.
"All that we can say is that anything else--anything like what you call
justice to the criminal, the prisoner--would disrupt society," and we
felt that disrupt was a word which must carry conviction to the densest
understanding. It really appeared to do so in this case, for our friend
went away without more words, leaving behind him a manuscript, which we
mentally rejected, while seeing our way to use the material in it for
the present essay; it is the well-known custom of editors to employ in
this way the ideas of rejected contributors.

A few days later we met our friend, and as we strolled beside him in the
maniacal hubbub of the New York streets, so favorable to philosophic
communion, we said, "Well, have you met your namesake since you came to
his rescue against the robber State, or did he really sail on the
cattle-steamer, as he said he was going to do?"

Our friend gave a vague, embarrassed laugh. "He didn't sail, exactly, at
least not on that particular steamer. The fact is, I have just parted
from him at my own door--the outside of it. It appears that the
authorities of that particular line wished to take advantage of him by
requiring him to pay down a sum of money as a guarantee of good faith,
and that he refused to do so--not having the money, for one reason. I
did not understand the situation exactly, but this was not essential to
his purpose, which made itself evident through a good deal of irrelevant
discourse. Since I had seen him, society had emulated the State in the
practice of a truly sanative attitude toward him. At the place where he
went to have his half-crown changed into American money they would only
give him forty cents for it, but he was afterward assured by an
acquaintance that the current rate was sixty cents. In fact, a
half-crown is worth a little more."

"Well, what can you expect of money-changers?" we returned, consolingly.
"And what is going to become of your unhappy beneficiary now?"

"Why, according to his report, fortune has smiled, or half-smiled, as
the novelists say, upon him. He has found a berth on another line of
cattle-steamers, where they don't require a deposit as a guarantee of
good faith. In fact, the head steward has taken a liking to him, and he
is going out as one of the table-stewards instead of one of the
herdsmen; I'm not sure that herdsmen is what they call them."

We laughed sardonically. "And do you believe he is really going?"

Our friend sighed heavily. "Well, I don't believe he's coming back. I
only gave him the loose change I had in my pocket, and I don't think it
will support him so handsomely to the end of the week that he will wish
to call upon me for more."

We were both silent, just as the characters are in a novel till the
author can think what to make them say next. Then we asked, "And you
still think he had been in the penitentiary?"

"I don't see why he should have said so if he wasn't."

"Well, then," we retorted bitterly, again like a character in fiction,
"you have lost another great opportunity: not a moral opportunity this
time, but an æsthetic opportunity. You could have got him to tell you
all about his life in prison, and perhaps his whole career leading up to
it, and you could have made something interesting of it. You might have
written a picaresque novel or a picaresque short story, anyway."

Our friend allowed, with a mortified air, "It was rather a break."

"You threw away the chance of a lifetime. Namesakes who have been in
jail don't turn up every day. In his intimate relation to you, he would
have opened up, he would have poured out his whole heart to you. Think
of the material you have lost."

We thought of it ourselves, and with mounting exasperation. When we
reflected that he would probably have put it into his paper, and when we
reflected that we could have given so much more color to our essay, we
could not endure it. "Well, good-day," we said, coldly; "we are going
down this way."

Our friend shook hands, lingeringly, absently. Then he came to himself
with a mocking laugh. "Well, perhaps he wasn't, after all, what he
said."



XVIII

A NIECE'S LITERARY ADVICE TO HER UNCLE


A Veteran Novelist, who was also an intimate friend of the Easy Chair's,
sat before his desk pensively supporting his cheek in his left hand
while his right toyed with the pen from which, for the moment at least,
fiction refused to flow. His great-niece, who seemed such a
contradiction in terms, being as little and vivid personally as she was
nominally large and stately, opened the door and advanced upon him.

"Do I disturb you, uncle?" she asked; she did not call him great-uncle,
because that, she rightly said, was ridiculous; and now, as part of the
informality, she went on without waiting for him to answer, "Because,
you know, you wanted me to tell you what I thought of your last story;
and I've just read it."

"Oh yes!" the Veteran Novelist assented brightly, hiding his struggle to
recall which story it was. "Well?"

"Well," she said, firmly but kindly, "you want me to be frank with you,
don't you?"

"By all means, my dear. It's very good of you to read my story." By this
time, he had, with the help of the rather lean volume into which his
publishers had expanded a long-short story, and which she now held
intensely clasped to her breast, really remembered.

"Not at all!" she said. She sat down very elastically in the chair on
the other side of his desk, and as she talked she accented each of her
emotions by a spring from the cushioned seat. "In the first place," she
said, with the effect of coming directly to business, "I suppose you
know yourself that it couldn't be called virile."

"No?" he returned. "What is virile?"

"Well, I can't explain, precisely; but it's something that all the
critics say of a book that is very strong, don't you know; and
masterful; and relentless; and makes you feel as if somebody had taken
you by the throat; and shakes you up awfully; and seems to throw you
into the air, and trample you under foot."

"Good heavens, my dear!" the Veteran Novelist exclaimed. "I hope I'm a
gentleman, even when I'm writing a novel."

"Your being a gentleman has nothing to do with it, uncle!" she said,
severely, for she thought she perceived a disposition in the Veteran
Novelist to shuffle. "You can't be virile and at the same time remember
that you are a gentleman. Lots of _women_ write virile books."

"Ladies?" the novelist asked.

"Don't I say that has nothing to do with it? If you wish to grip the
reader's attention you must let yourself go, whether you're a gentleman
or a lady. Of course," she relented, "your book's very idyllic, and
delightful, and all that; but," she resumed, severely, "do you think an
honest critic could say there was not a dull page in it from cover to
cover?"

The novelist sighed. "I'm sure I don't know. They seem to say it--in the
passages quoted in the advertisements--of all the books published.
Except mine," he added, sadly.

"Well, we will pass that point," his great-niece relented again. "I
didn't intend to wound your feelings, uncle."

"Oh, you haven't. I suppose I _am_ a little too easy-going at times."

"Yes, that is it. One can't say dull; but too easy-going. No faithful
critic could begin a notice of your book with such a passage as: 'Have
you read it? No? Then hop, skip, and jump, and get it. Don't wait to
find your hat or drink your coffee. March! It's going like the wind, and
you must kite if you want one of the first edition of fifty thousand!'
Now that," his great-niece ended, fondly, "is what I should like every
critic to say of your book, uncle."

The Veteran Novelist reflected for a moment. Then he said, more
spiritedly, "I don't believe _I_ should, my dear."

"Then you _must_; that's all. But that's a small thing. What I really
wonder at is that, with all your experience, you are not more of a
stylist."

"Stylist?"

"Yes. I don't believe there's an epigram in your book from beginning to
end. That's the reason the critics don't quote any brilliant sentences
from it, and the publishers can't advertise it properly. It makes me mad
to find the girls repeating other authors' sayings, and I never catch a
word from a book of yours, though you've been writing more than a
century."

"Not quite so long, my dear, I think; though very, very long. But just
what do you mean by style?"

"Well, you ought to say even the simplest things in a distinguished way;
and here, all through, I find you saying the most distinguished things
in the simplest way. But I won't worry you about things that are not
vital. I'll allow, for the sake of argument, that you can't have
virility if you remember that you are a gentleman even when you are
writing fiction. But you _can_ have _passion_. Why don't you?"

"Don't I? I thought--"

"Not a speck of it--not a single speck! It's rather a delicate point,
and I don't exactly know how to put it, but, if you want me to be frank,
I must." She looked at her great-uncle, and he nodded encouragement. "I
don't believe there's a single place where he crushes her to his heart,
or presses his lips to hers in a long kiss. He kisses her cheek once,
but I don't call that anything. Why, in lots of the books, nowadays, the
girls themselves cling to the men in a close embrace, or put their
mouths tenderly to theirs--Well, of course, it sounds rather disgusting,
but in your own earlier books, I'm sure there's more of it--of passion.
Isn't there? Think!"

The Veteran Novelist tried to think. "To tell you the truth, my dear, I
can't remember. I hope there was, and there always will be, love, and
true love, in my novels--the kind that sometimes ends in happy marriage,
but is always rather shy of showing itself off to the reader in caresses
of any kind. I think passion can be intimated, and is better so than
brutally stated. If you have a lot of hugging and kissing--"

"Uncle!"

"--How are your lovers different from those poor things in the Park that
make you ashamed as you pass them?"

"The police ought to put a stop to it. They are perfectly disgraceful!"

"And they ought to put a stop to it in the novels. It's not only
indecent, but it's highly insanitary. Nice people don't want you to kiss
their children, nowadays, and yet they expect us novelists to supply
them with passion of the most demonstrative sort in our fiction. Among
the Japanese, who are now one of the great world-powers, kissing is
quite unknown in real life. I don't know the Japanese fiction very well,
but I doubt whether there's a single kiss, or double, in it. I believe
that a novel full of intense passion could be written without the help
of one embrace from beginning to end."

"Uncle!" the girl vividly exclaimed, "why don't you _do_ it? It would be
the greatest success! Just give them the wink, somehow, at the
start--just hint that there was the greatest kind of passion going on
all the time and never once showing itself, and the girls would be
raving about it. Why _don't_ you do it, uncle? You know I do so want
you, for once, to write the most popular book of the month!"

"I want to do it myself, my dear. But as to my writing a book full of
suppressed passion, that's a story in itself."

"Tell it!" she entreated.

"The Easy Chair wouldn't give me room for it. But I'll tell you
something else. When I was a boy I had a knack at versing, which came
rather in anticipation of the subjects to use it on. I exhausted Spring
and Morning and Snow and Memory, and the whole range of mythological
topics, and then I had my knack lying idle. I observed that there was
one subject that the other poets found inexhaustible, but somehow I felt
myself disqualified for treating it. How could I sing of Love when I had
never been in love? For I didn't count those youthful affairs when I was
only in the Third Reader and the first part of the Arithmetic. I went
about trying to be in love, as a matter of business; but I couldn't
manage it. Suddenly it managed itself; and then I found myself worse
disqualified than ever. I didn't want to mention it; either to myself
or to her, much less to the world at large. It seemed a little too
personal."

"Oh, uncle! How funny you are!"

"Do you think so? I didn't think it much fun then, and I don't now. Once
I didn't know what love was, and now I've forgotten!"

"No such thing, uncle! You write about it beautifully, even if you're
not very virile or epigrammatic or passionate. I won't let you say so."

"Well, then, my dear, if I haven't forgotten, I'm not interested. You
see, I know so much more about it than my lovers do. I can't take their
point of view any longer. To tell you the truth, I don't care a rap
whether they get married or not. In that story there, that you've been
reading, I got awfully tired of the girl. She was such a fool, and the
fellow was a perfect donkey."

"But he was the dearest donkey in the world! I wanted to h--shake hands
with him, and I wanted to kiss--yes, kiss!--_her_, she was such a
lovable fool."

"You're very kind to say so, my dear, but you can't keep on making
delightful idiots go down with the public. That was what I was thinking
when you came in and found me looking so dismal. I had stopped in the
middle of a most exciting scene because I had discovered that I was
poking fun at my lovers."

"And here I," the girl lamented, "didn't take the slightest notice, but
began on you with the harshest criticisms!"

"I didn't mind. I dare say it was for my good."

"I'm sure I meant it so, uncle. And what are you going to do about it?"

"Well, I must get a new point of view."

"Yes?"

"I must change my ground altogether. I can't pretend any longer to be
the contemporary of my lovers, or to have the least sympathy with their
hopes and fears. If I were to be perfectly honest with them, I should
tell them, perhaps, that disappointed love was the best thing that could
happen to either of them, but, if they insisted on happiness, that a
good broken engagement promised more of it than anything else I could
think of."

"That is true," the girl sighed. "There are a great many unhappy
marriages. Of course, people would say it was _rather_ pessimistic,
wouldn't they?"

"People will say anything. One mustn't mind them. But now I'll tell you
what I've been thinking all the time we've been talking."

"Well? I knew you were not thinking of _my_ nonsense!"

"It was very good nonsense, as nonsense goes, my dear. What I've been
thinking is that I must still have the love interest in my books, and
have it the main interest, but I must treat it from the vantage-ground
of age; it must be something I look back upon, and a little down upon."

"I see what you mean," the girl dissentingly assented.

"I must be in the whole secret--the secret, not merely of my lovers'
love, but the secret of love itself. I must know, and I must subtly
intimate, that it doesn't really matter to anybody how their affair
turns out; for in a few years, twenty or thirty years, it's a thousand
to one that they won't care anything about it themselves. I must
maintain the attitude of the sage, dealing not unkindly but truthfully
with the situation."

"It would be rather sad," the girl murmured. "But one likes sad things."

"When one is young, one does; when one is old, one likes true things.
But, of course, my love-stories would be only for those who have
outlived love. I ought to be fair with my readers, and forewarn them
that my story was not for the young, the hopeful, the happy."

The girl jumped to her feet and stood magnificent. "Uncle! It's grand!"

He rose, too. "What is?" he faltered.

"The idea! Don't you see? You can have the publisher announce it as a
story for the disillusioned, the wretched, and the despairing, and that
would make every girl want it, for that's what every girl thinks she is,
and they would talk to the men about it, and then _they_ would want it,
and it would be the book of the month! Don't say another word. Oh, you
dear!" In spite of the insanitary nature of the action, she caught her
uncle round the neck, and kissed him on his bald spot, and ran out of
the room. She opened the door to call back: "Don't lose a single minute.
Begin it _now_!"

But the Veteran Novelist sank again into his chair in the posture in
which she had surprised him.



XIX

A SEARCH FOR CELEBRITY


We lately received a publication which has interested us somewhat out of
proportion to its size. It is called _The Way into Print_, but it does
not treat, as the reader might rashly suppose, of the best method of
getting your name into the newspapers, either as a lady who is giving a
dinner to thirteen otherwise unknown persons, or is making a coming-out
tea for her débutante daughter, or had a box full of expensively
confectioned friends at the opera or the vaudeville, or is going to read
a paper at a woman's club, or is in any sort figuring in the thousand
and one modern phases of publicity; it does not even advise her guests
or hearers how to appear among those present, or those who were invited
and did not come, or those who would not have come if they had been
invited. Its scope is far more restricted, yet its plane is infinitely
higher, its reach incomparably further. The Print which it proposes to
lead the Way into is that print where the elect, who were once few and
are now many, are making the corridors of time resound to their
footsteps, as poets, essayists, humorists, or other literary forms of
immortality. Their procession, which from the point of the impartial
spectator has been looking more and more like a cake-walk in these later
years, is so increasingly the attraction of young-eyed ambition that
nothing interests a very large class of people more than advice for the
means of joining it, and it is this advice which the publication in
point supplies: supplies, we must say, with as much good sense and good
feeling as is consistent with an office which does not seem so dignified
as we could wish.

Inevitably the adviser must now and then stoop to the folly of the
aspirant, inevitably he must use that folly from time to time with
wholesome severity, but he does not feel himself equal to the work
unaided. Our sudden national expansion, through the irresistible force
of our imaginative work, into an intellectual world-power has thrust a
responsibility upon the veterans of a simpler time which they may not
shirk, and the author of _The Way into Print_ calls upon them to share
his task. He is not satisfied with the interesting chapters contributed
by younger authors who are in the act of winning their spurs, but he
appeals to those established in the public recognition to do their part
in aiding us to hold our conquest through the instruction and discipline
of those who must take their places when they put their armor off. He
does this by means of a letter, almost an open letter, addressed
personally to each veteran by means of the substitution of his
typewritten name for that of some other veteran, but not differenced in
the terms of the ensuing appeal to his kindness or his conscience. He
puts himself upon a broad humanitarian ground, and asks that the
typewritten author, who, he assumes, is "prominently before the public,"
shall answer certain questions to which the appellant owns that he has
already received hundreds of replies.

By an odd mischance one of his half-open letters found its way to the
Easy Chair, and, although that judgment-seat felt relieved from the
sense of anything like a lonely prominence before the public by the
very multitude of those similarly consulted, it did not remain as Easy
as it would have liked under the erring attribution of prominence. Yet
to have refused to help in so good a work would not have been in its
nature, and it lost as little time as possible in summoning a real
author of prominence to consider the problems so baffling to a mere
editorial effigy; for, as we ought to explain, the _de facto_ editor is
to be found in the Study next door, and never in the Easy Chair. The
author prominently before the public came at once, for that kind of
author has very little to do, and is only too happy to respond to calls
like that of the friend of rising authorship. Most of his time is spent
at symposiums, imagined by the Sunday editions of the newspapers, to
consider, decide the question whether fig-paste is truly a health-food;
or whether, in view of a recent colossal gift for educational purposes,
the product of the Standard Oil Company was the midnight oil which
Shakespeare had in mind when he spoke of the scholar wasting it; or
something of that kind. His mind is whetted to the sharpest edge by its
employment with these problems, and is in prime condition for such
simple practical inquiries as those proposed by the letter we had
received. But, of course, he put on an air of great hurry, and spoke of
the different poems, novels, essays, and sketches which he had laid
aside to oblige us, and begged us to get down to business at once.

"We wish nothing better than to do so," we said, to humor him, "for we
know you are a very busy man, and we will not keep you a moment longer
than is absolutely necessary. Would you like to have all the questions
at once, or would you rather study them one after another?"

He said he thought he could better give an undivided mind to each if he
had them one at a time, and so we began with the first:

"'1. Would you advise the young story-writer to study the old masters in
literature or the stories in the current magazines, in order to meet the
demands of the current editors?'"

"Will you read that again?" the author prominently before the public
demanded, but when we had read it a second time it seemed only to plunge
him deeper into despair. He clutched his revered head with both hands,
and but for an opportune baldness would probably have torn his hair. He
murmured, huskily, "Do you think you have got it right?"

We avoided the response "Sure thing" by an appropriate circumlocution,
and then he thundered back: "How in--nature--is a young writer to
forecast the demands of current editors? If an editor is worth his
salt--his Attic salt--he does not know himself what he wants, except by
the eternal yearning of the editorial soul for something new and good.
If he has any other demands, he is not a current editor, he is a
stagnant editor. Is it possible that there is a superstition to the
contrary?"

"Apparently."

"Then that would account for many things. But go on."

"Go on yourself. You have not answered the question."

"Oh, by all means," the author sardonically answered; "if the current
editor has demands beyond freshness and goodness, let the young writer
avoid the masters in literature and study the stories in the current
magazines."

"You are not treating the matter seriously," we expostulated.

"Yes, I am--seriously, sadly, even tragically. I could not have imagined
a condition of things so bad, even with the results all round us. Let us
have the second question of your correspondent."

"Here it is: '2. Has the unknown writer an equal chance with the
well-known author, provided his work is up to the standard of the
latter's?'"

"Of the latter's?--of the latter's?--of the latter's?" Our friend
whispered the phrase to himself before he groaned out: "What a frightful
locution! Really, really, it is more than I can bear!"

"For the cause you ought to bear anything. What do you really think?"

"Why, if the former's work is as good as the latter's, why isn't the
former's chance as good if the current editor's demands are for the same
kind in the former's case as in the latter's? If the latter's aim is to
meet the imaginary demands of the stagnant editor, then the former's
work ought to be as attractive as the latter's. Ha, ha, ha!"

He laughed wildly, and in order to recall him to himself we read the
third question: "'3. Which is the more acceptable--a well-told story
with a weak plot, or a poorly told story with a strong plot?'"

"Oh, but that is a conundrum, pure and simple!" the author protested.
"It is a poor parody on the old End-man pleasantry, 'Would you rather be
as foolish as you look, or look as foolish as you are?' You are making
it up!"

"We assure you we are not. It is no more a conundrum than the others.
Come: question!"

"Well, in the first place, I should like to know what a plot is.
Something that has occurred to you primarily as an effect from your
experience or observation? Or something you have carpentered out of the
old stuff of your reading, with a wooden hero and heroine reciprocally
dying for each other, and a wooden villain trying to foil them?"

"You had better ask a current editor or a stagnant. Do you confess
yourself posed by this plain problem? Do you give it up?"

"For the present. Perhaps I may gather light from the next question."

"Then here it is: '4. What do you consider the primary weakness in the
average stories or verses of the old writers?"

"Oh, that is easy. The same as in the average stories and verses of the
younger writers--absence of mind."

"Are you sure you are not shirking? Cannot you give a categorical
answer--something that will really help some younger writer to take the
place which you are now more or less fraudulently holding? The younger
writers will cheerfully allow that the trouble is absence of mind, but
what line of reading would you suggest which would turn this into
presence of mind?"

"There is none, except to have themselves newly ancestored. Presence of
mind as well as absence of mind is something derived; you cannot acquire
it."

"We think you might be a little less sardonic. Now here is the next
problem: '5. What are the successful author's necessary qualifications
in the matters of natural ability, education, life as he sees it and
lives it, technical training, etc?'"

"This will be the death of me!" the prominent author lamented. "Couldn't
I skip that one?"

"It seems to cover some of the most important points. We do not think
your self-respect will allow you to skip it. At any rate, make an effort
to answer it."

Thus challenged, the prominent author pulled himself together. "Oh," he
said, sadly, "which of us knows whether he has natural ability or not,
and what is education, and what is life as one sees it, and what is
technical training? Do these poor young fellows think that one is tall
or short by taking thought? It is the same as that, it seems to me; or
if you prefer a mystical solution, I should say, if you have a longing,
from your earliest consciousness, to write poetry or fiction, and cannot
keep from doing it for any long time together, you are possibly born
with a gift for it. But this may be altogether a mistake; it may be the
effect of your early and incessant scribblings on the minds of
spectators wholly incompetent to judge of your abilities, such as your
fond parents. This must rather often happen if we can judge from what
nine-tenths of what is called literature is composed of. If your longing
to write is the real thing, or is not, still education will not help or
hinder you in doing it. No man was ever yet taught any art. He may be
taught a trade, and that is what most of the versing and prosing is, I
suppose. If you have the gift, you will technically train yourself: that
is, you will learn how to be simple and clear and honest. Charm you will
have got from your great-grandfather or great-grandmother; and life,
which is only another sort of school, will not qualify you to depict
life; but if you do not want to depict life, you will perhaps be able to
meet the demands of what our friend calls the current editors."

Here the prominent author rose, but we stayed him with a gesture. "There
is another question, the last: '6. Do you care to convey any hints or
suggestions gleaned from your personal experiences in the climb to
success that may make easier the gaining of the heights for the
beginner?"

The prominent author roared with laughter. "Read that again!" But when
we had done so, he became grave, even sorrowful. "Is it really true,
then, as we seem to see, that there is a large body of young people
taking up literature as a business? The thing that all my life I have
fondly dreamed was an art, dear and almost holy! Are they going into it
for the money there is in it? And am I, in my prominence--more or less
fraudulent, as you say--an incentive to them to persevere in their
enterprises? Is that what one has to come to after a life of
conscientious devotion to--an ideal? Come, old friend, say it isn't so
bad as that! It is? Then"--the prominent author paused and sank weakly
into the chair from which he had risen--"perhaps I have been dreaming
all these years; but in my dream it seems to me that everything outside
of myself which seemed to hinder me has really helped me. There has been
no obstacle in my way which if I were at the bottom of the hill, where I
might very rightfully be, I would have removed. I am glad that the climb
to success, as your friend calls it, has been hard and long, and I bless
God for my difficulties and backsets, all of them. Sometimes they seemed
cruel; they filled me with despair and shame; but there was not one that
did not make me stronger and fitter for my work, if I was fit for it.
You know very well that in this art of ours we need all the strength we
can get from our overthrows. There is no training that can ever make the
true artist's work easy to him, and if he is a true artist he will
suspect everything easily done as ill done. What comes hard and slow and
hopelessly, that is the thing which when we look at it we find is the
thing that was worth doing. I had my downs with my ups, and when I was
beginning the downs outnumbered the ups ten to one. For one manuscript
accepted, and after the days of many years printed, I had a dozen
rejected and rejected without delay. But every such rejection helped me.
In some cases I had to swallow the bitter dose and own that the editor
was right; but the bitter was wholesome. In other cases I knew that he
was wrong, and then I set my teeth, and took my courage in both hands,
and tried and tried with that rejected manuscript till the divinely
appointed editor owned that I was right. But these are the commonplaces
of literary biography. I don't brag of them; and I have always tried to
keep my head in such shape that even defeat has not swelled it beyond
the No. 7 I began with. Why should I be so wicked as to help another and
a younger man over the bad places? If I could only gain his confidence I
should like to tell him that these are the places that will strengthen
his heart for the climb. But if he has a weak heart, he had better try
some other road. There! I have given you all the 'hints and suggestions
from my experience' that I can think of, and now let me go."

Once more he rose, and once more we stayed him. "Yes," we said, "no
doubt you think you have spoken honestly and faithfully, but you have
addressed yourself to the wrong audience. You have spoken to artists,
born and self-made, but artists can always manage without help. Your
help was invoked in behalf of artisans, of adventurers, of speculators.
What was wanted of you was a formula for the fabrication of gold bricks
which would meet the demands of current dealers in that sort of wares."

"But if I have never made gold bricks myself, or not knowingly?"

"Ah, that is what you say! But do you suppose anybody will believe you?"

The prominent author put on the hat which he flattered himself was a
No. 7, but which we could plainly see was a No. 12, and said, with an
air of patronizing compassion, "You have sat here so long in your
cushioned comfort, looking out on the publishing world, that you have
become corrupt, cynical, pessimistic."



XX

PRACTICAL IMMORTALITY ON EARTH


The talk at a dinner given by the Easy Chair to some of its most valued
friends was of the life after death, and it will not surprise any
experienced observer to learn that the talk went on amid much unserious
chatter, with laughing irrelevancies more appropriate to the pouring of
champagne, and the changing of plates, than to the very solemn affair in
hand. It may not really have been so very solemn. Nobody at table took
the topic much to heart apparently. The women, some of them, affected an
earnest attention, but were not uncheerful; others frankly talked of
other things; some, at the farther end of the table, asked what a given
speaker was saying; the men did not, in some cases, conceal that they
were bored.

"No," the first speaker said, after weighing the pros and cons, "for my
part, I don't desire it. When I am through, here, I don't ask to begin
again elsewhere."

"And you don't expect to?" his closest listener inquired.

"And I don't expect to."

"It is curious," the closest listener went on, "how much our beliefs are
governed by our wishes in this matter. When we are young and are still
hungering for things to happen, we have a strong faith in immortality.
When we are older, and the whole round of things, except death, has
happened, we think it very likely we shall not live again. It seems to
be the same with peoples; the new peoples believe, the old peoples
doubt. It occurs to very, very few men to be convinced, as a friend of
mine has been convinced against the grain, of the reality of the life
after death. I will not say by what means he was convinced, for that is
not pertinent; but he was fully convinced, and he said to me:
'Personally, I would rather not live again, but it seems that people do.
The facts are too many; the proofs I have had are irresistible; and I
have had to give way to them in spite of my wish to reject them.'"

"Yes," the first speaker said, "that is certainly an uncommon
experience. You think that if I were perfectly honest, I should envy him
his experience? Well, then, honestly, I don't."

"No," the other rejoined, "I don't know that I accuse your sincerity.
But, may I ask, what are your personal objections to immortality?"

"It wouldn't be easy to say. If I could have had my way, I would not
have been at all. Speaking selfishly, as we always do when we speak
truly, I have not had a great deal of happiness, though I have had a
good deal of fun. But things seem to wear out. I like to laugh, and I
have laughed, in my time, consumedly. But I find that the laugh goes out
of the specific instances of laughability, just as grieving goes out of
grief. The thing that at the first and third time amused me enormously
leaves me sad at the fourth, or at least unmoved. You see, I can't trust
immortality to be permanently interesting. The reasonable chances are
that in the lapse of a few æons I should find eternity hanging heavy on
my hands. But it isn't that, exactly, and it would be hard to say what
my objection to immortality exactly is. It would be simpler to say what
it _really_ is. It is personal, temperamental, congenital. I was born, I
suspect, an indifferentist, as far as this life is concerned, and as to
another life, I have an acquired antipathy."

"That is curious, but not incredible, and of course not inconceivable,"
the closest listener assented.

"I'm not so sure of that," a light skirmisher broke his silence for the
first time. "Do you mean to say," he asked of the first speaker, "that
you would not mind being found dead in your bed to-morrow morning, and
that you would rather like it if that were actually the end of you?"

The first speaker nodded his head over the glass he had just emptied,
and having swallowed its contents hastily, replied, "Precisely."

"Then you have already, at your age, evolved that 'instinct of death,'
which Metchnikoff, in his strange book, thinks the race will come to
when men begin living rightly, and go living on to a hundred and fifty
years or more, as they once did."

"Who is Metchnikoff, and what is the name of his strange book?" the
light skirmisher cut in.

"He's the successor of Pasteur in the Pasteur Institute at Paris, and
his book is called _The Nature of Man_."

"That blighting book!" One of the women who had caught on to the drift
of the talk contributed this anguished suspiration.

"Blighting? Is it blighting?" the first speaker parleyed.

"Don't you call it blighting," she returned, "to be told not only that
you are the descendant of an anthropoid ape--we had got used to
that--but of an anthropoid ape gone wrong?"

"Sort of simian degenerate," the light skirmisher formulated the case.
"We are merely apes in error."

The closest listener put this playfulness by. "What seems to me a
fundamental error of that book is its constant implication of a constant
fear of death. I can very well imagine, or I can easily allow, that we
are badly made, and that there are all sorts of 'disharmonies,' as
Metchnikoff calls them, in us; but my own experience is that we are not
all the time thinking about death and dreading it, either in earlier or
later life, and that elderly people think less about it, if anything,
than younger people. His contention for an average life four or five
times longer than the present average life seems to be based upon an
obscure sense of the right of a man to satisfy that instinct of life
here on earth which science forbids him to believe he shall satisfy
hereafter."

"Well, I suppose," the first speaker said, "that Metchnikoff may err in
his premises through a temperamental 'disharmony' of Russian nature
rather than of less specific human nature. The great Russian authors
seem to recognize that perpetual dread of death in themselves and their
readers which we don't recognize in ourselves or our Occidental friends
and neighbors. Other people don't think of death so much as he supposes,
and when they do they don't dread it so much. But I think he is still
more interestingly wrong in supposing that the young are less afraid of
death than the old because they risk their lives more readily. That is
not from indifference to death, it is from inexperience of life; they
haven't learned yet the dangers which beset it and the old have; that is
all."

"I don't know but you're right," the first speaker said. "And I couldn't
see the logic of Metchnikoff's position in regard to the 'instinct of
death' which he expects us to develop after we have lived, say, a
hundred and thirty or forty years, so that at a hundred and fifty we
shall be glad to go, and shall not want anything but death after we die.
The apparent line of his argument is that in youth we have not the
instinct of life so strongly but that we willingly risk life. Then,
until we live to a hundred and thirty or forty or so, we have the
instinct of life so strongly that we are anxious to shun death; lastly
the instinct of death grows in us and we are eager to lay down life. I
don't see how or why this should be. As a matter of fact, children dread
death far more than men who are not yet old enough to have developed the
instinct of it. Still, it's a fascinating and suggestive book."

"But not enough so to console us for the precious hope of living again
which it takes away so pitilessly," said the woman who had followed the
talk.

"Is that such a very precious hope?" the first speaker asked.

"I know you pretend not," she said, "but I don't believe you."

"Then you think that the dying, who almost universally make a good end,
are buoyed up by that hope?"

"I don't see why they shouldn't be. I know it's the custom for
scientific people to say that the resignation of the dying is merely
part of the general sinking and so is just physical; but they can't
prove that. Else why should persons who are condemned to death be just
as much resigned to it as the sick and even more exalted?"

"Ah," the light skirmisher put in, "some of the scientific people
dispose of that point very simply. They say it's self-hypnotism."

"Well, but they can't prove that, either," she retorted. Then she went
on: "Besides, the dying are not almost universally willing to die.
Sometimes they are very unwilling: and they seem to be unwilling because
they have no hope of living again. Why wouldn't it be just as reasonable
to suppose that we could evolve the instinct of death by believing in
the life hereafter as by living here a hundred and fifty years? For the
present, it's as easy to do the one as the other."

"But not for the future," the first speaker said. "As you suggest, it
may be just as reasonable to think we can evolve the instinct of death
by faith as by longevity, but it isn't as scientific."

"What M. Metchnikoff wants is the scientific certainty--which we can
have only by beginning to live a century and a half apiece--that the
coming man will not be afraid to die." This, of course, was from the
light skirmisher.

The woman contended, "The coming man may be scientifically resigned if
he prefers, but the going man, the _gone_ man, was rapturously ready to
die, in untold thousands of martyrdoms, because he believed that he
should live again."

The first speaker smiled compassionately, and perhaps also a little
patronizingly. "I'm not sure that you have met the point exactly.
Metchnikoff denies, on the basis of scientific knowledge, that it is
possible for a man, being dead, to live again. In those two extremely
interesting chapters of his, which treat of the 'Religious Remedies' and
the 'Philosophical Remedies' for the 'disharmonies of the human
constitution,' he is quite as unsparing of the sages as of the saints.
The Christians and the Buddhists fare no worse than Plato and the
Stoics; the last are no less unscientific than the first in his view,
and no less fallacious. What he asks is not that we shall be resigned or
enraptured in view of death, but that we shall physically desire it
when we are tired of living, just as we physically desire sleep when we
are tired of waking."

"And to that end," the light skirmisher said, "he asks nothing but that
we shall live a hundred and fifty years."

"No, he asks that we shall live such natural lives that we shall die
natural deaths, which are voluntary deaths. He contends that most of us
now die accidental and violent deaths."

The woman who had caught on demanded, "Why does he think we could live a
century and a half?"

"From analogies in the lives of other animals and from the facts of our
constitution. He instances the remarkable cases of longevity recorded in
the Bible."

"I think he's very inconsistent," his pursuer continued. "The Bible says
men lived anywhere from a hundred to nine hundred years, and he thinks
it quite possible. The Bible says that men live after death, and he
thinks that's impossible."

"Well, have you ever met a man who had lived after death?" the first
speaker asked.

"No. Have you ever met a man two hundred years old? If it comes to
undeniable proof there is far more proof of ghosts than of
bicentenarians."

"Very well, then, I get out of it by saying that I don't believe in
either."

"And leave Metchnikoff in the lurch!" the light skirmisher reproached
him. "You don't believe in the instinct of death! And I was just going
to begin living to a hundred and fifty and dying voluntarily by leaving
off cheese. Now I will take some of the Gorgonzola."

Everybody laughed but the first speaker and the woman who had caught on;
they both looked rather grave, and the closest listener left off
laughing soonest.

"We can't be too grateful to science for its devotion to truth. But
isn't it possible for it to overlook one kind of truth in looking for
another? Isn't it imaginable that when a certain anthropoid ape went
wrong and blundered into a man, he also blundered into a soul, and as a
slight compensation for having involuntarily degenerated from his
anthropoid ancestor, came into the birthright of eternal life?"

"It's imaginable," the first speaker granted. "But science leaves
imagining things to religion and philosophy."

"Ah, that's just where you're mistaken!" the woman who had caught on
exclaimed. "Science does nothing but imagine things!"

"Well, not quite," the light skirmisher mocked.

She persisted unheeding: "First the suggestion from the mystical
somewhere--the same _where_, probably, that music and pictures and
poetry come from; then the hypothesis; then the proof; then the
established fact. Established till some new scientist comes along and
knocks it over."

"It would be very interesting if some one would proceed hypothetically
concerning the soul and its immortality, as the scientific people do in
their inquiries concerning the origin of man, electricity, disease, and
the rest."

"Yes," the light skirmisher agreed. "Why doesn't some fellow bet himself
that he has an undying soul and then go on to accumulate the proofs?"
The others seemed now to have touched bottom in the discussion, and he
launched a random inquiry upon the general silence. "By-the-way, I
wonder why women are so much more anxious to live again than men, as a
general thing."

"Because they don't feel," one of them at table ventured, "that they
have had a fair chance here."

"Oh! I thought maybe they felt that they hadn't had their say."

"Is it quite certain," the closest listener asked, "that they _are_ more
anxious to live again than men?" He looked round at the ladies present,
and at first none of them answered; perhaps because they feared the men
would think them weak if they owned to a greater longing than themselves
for immortality.

Finally the woman who had caught on said: "I don't know whether it's so
or not; and I don't think it matters. But I don't mind saying that I
long to live again; I am not ashamed of it. I don't think very much of
myself; but I'm interested in living. Then"--she dropped her voice a
little--"there are some I should like to see again. I have known
people--characters--natures--that I can't believe are wasted. And those
that were dear to us and that we have lost--"

She stopped, and the first speaker now looked at her with a compassion
unalloyed by patronage, and did not ask, as he might, "What has all that
to do with it?"

In fact, a sympathetic silence possessed the whole company. It was
broken at last by the closest listener's saying: "After all, I don't
know that Metchnikoff's book is so very blighting. It's certainly a very
important book, and it produces a reaction which may be wholesome or
unwholesome as you choose to think. And no matter what we believe, we
must respect the honesty of the scientific attitude in regard to a
matter that has been too much abandoned to the emotions, perhaps. In all
seriousness I wish some scientific man would apply the scientific method
to finding out the soul, as you"--he turned to the light
skirmisher--"suggest. Why shouldn't it be investigated?"

Upon this invitation the light skirmisher tried to imagine some
psychological experiments which should bear a certain analogy to those
of the physicists, but he failed to keep the level of his suggestion.

"As I said," the closest listener remarked, "he produces a secondary
state of revolt which is desirable, for in that state we begin to
inquire not only where we stand, but where _he_ stands."

"And what is your conclusion as to his place in the inquiry?"

"That it isn't different from yours or mine, really. We all share the
illusion of the race from the beginning that somehow our opinion of the
matter affects its reality. I should distinguish so far as to say that
we think we believe, and he thinks he knows. For my own part, I have the
impression that he has helped my belief."

The light skirmisher made a desperate effort to retrieve himself: "Then
a few more books like his would restore the age of faith."



XXI

AROUND A RAINY-DAY FIRE


A number of the Easy Chair's friends were sitting round the fire in the
library of a country-house. The room was large and full of a soft,
flattering light. The fire was freshly kindled, and flashed and crackled
with a young vivacity, letting its rays frolic over the serried bindings
on the shelves, the glazed pictures on the walls, the cups of
after-luncheon coffee in the hands of the people, and the tall jugs and
pots in the tray left standing on the library table. It was summer, but
a cold rain was falling forbiddingly without. No one else could come,
and no one could wish to go. The conditions all favored a just
self-esteem, and a sense of providential preference in the accidental
assemblage of those people at that time and place.

The talk was rather naturally, though not necessarily, of books, and one
of the people was noting that children seemed to like short stories
because their minds had not the strength to keep the facts of a whole
book. The effort tired them, and they gave it up, not because a book did
not interest them, but because it exhausted their little powers. They
were good for a leap, or a dash, or a short flight in literature, even
very high literature, but they had not really the force for anything
covering greater time and space.

Another declared this very suggestive, and declared it in such a way
that the whole company perceived he had something behind his words, and
besought him to say what he meant. He did so, as well as he could, after
protesting that it was not very novel, or if so, perhaps not very
important, and if it was important, perhaps it was not true. They said
they would take the chances; and then he said that it was merely a
notion which had occurred to him at the moment concerning the new
reading of the new reading public, whether it might not be all juvenile
literature, adapted in mature terms to people of physical adolescence
but of undeveloped thinking and feeling: not really feeble-minded youth,
but æsthetically and intellectually children, who might presently grow
into the power of enjoying and digesting food for men. By-and-by they
might gather fortitude for pleasure in real literature, in fiction which
should not be a travesty of the old fairy-tales, or stories of
adventures among giants and robbers and pirates, or fables with human
beings speaking from the motives and passions of animals. He mentioned
fiction, he said, because the new reading of the new reading public
seemed to be nearly altogether fiction.

All this had so much the effect of philosophical analysis that those
comfortable people were lulled into self-approving assent; and putting
themselves altogether apart from the new reading public, they begged him
to say what he meant. He answered that there was nothing more phenomenal
in the modern American life; and he paid a pretty tribute to their
ignorance in owning that he was not surprised they knew nothing of that
public. He promised that he would try to define it, and he began by
remarking that it seemed to be largely composed of the kind of persons
who at the theatre audibly interpret the action to one another. The
present company must have heard them?

His listeners again assented. Was the new reading public drawn from the
theatre-going, or more definitely speaking, the matinée class?

There was something odd, there, the philosopher returned. The matinée
class was as large as ever: larger; while the new reading public,
perfectly interchangeable with it in its intellectual pleasure and
experiences, had suddenly outnumbered it a thousandfold. The popular
novel and the popular play were so entirely of one fibre and texture,
and so easily convertible, that a new novel was scarcely in every one's
bread-trough before it was on the boards of all the theatres. This led
some to believe that we were experiencing a revival of the drama, and
that if we kept on having authors who sold half a million copies we
could not help having a Shakespeare by-and-by: he must follow.

One of those listening asked, But how had these people begun so
instantaneously to form themselves into this new innumerable reading
public? If they were of that quality of mind which requires the
translation of an unmistakable meaning from the players to the
playgoers, they must find themselves helpless when grappling in solitude
with the sense of a book. Why did not they go increasingly to the
theatre instead of turning so overwhelmingly to the printed word?

The philosopher replied that they had not now begun to do this, but only
seemed to have begun, since there really was no beginning in anything.
The readers had always been in the immense majority, because they could
read anywhere, and they could see plays only in the cities and towns. If
the theatre were universal, undoubtedly they would prefer plays, because
a play makes far less draft upon the mental capacities or energies than
the silliest book; and what seemed their effort to interpret it to one
another might very well be the exchange of their delight in it. The
books they preferred were of the nature of poor plays, full of "easy
things to understand," cheap, common incidents, obvious motives, and
vulgar passions, such as had been used a thousand times over in
literature. They were fitted for the new reading public for this reason;
the constant repetition of the same characters, events, scenes, plots,
gave their infantile minds the pleasure which children find in having a
story told over and over in exactly the same terms. The new reading
public would rebel against any variance, just as children do.

The most of the company silently acquiesced, or at least were silent,
but one of them made the speaker observe that he had not told them what
this innumerable unreasoning multitude had read before the present
plague of handsome, empty, foolish duodecimos had infested everybody's
bread-trough.

The philosopher said the actual interior form of non-literary literature
was an effect of the thin spread of our literary culture, and outwardly
was the effect of the thick spread of our material prosperity. The
dollar-and-a-half novel of to-day was the dime novel of yesterday in an
avatar which left its essence unchanged. It was even worse, for it was
less sincerely and forcibly written, and it could not be so quickly worn
out and thrown away. Its beauty of paper, print, and binding gave it a
claim to regard which could not be ignored, and established for it a
sort of right to lie upon the table, and then stand upon the shelf,
where it seemed to relate itself to genuine literature, and to be of the
same race and lineage. As for this vast new reading public, it was the
vast old reading public with more means in its pocket of satisfying its
crude, childish taste. Its head was the same empty head.

There was a sort of dreadful finality in this, and for a while no one
spoke. Then some one tried in vain to turn the subject, while the
philosopher smiled upon the desolation he had made; and then one of that
sex which when satisfied of the truth likes to have its "sense of
satisfaction ache" through the increase of conviction, asked him why the
English reading public, which must be so much more cultivated than our
new reading public, seemed to like the same sort of puerile effects in
works of imagination, the stirring incidents, the well-worn plots, the
primitive passions, and the robustious incentives. He owned the fact,
but he contended that the fact, though interesting, was not so
mysterious as it appeared at first sight. It could be explained that the
English had never taken the imagination very seriously, and that in
their dense, close civilization, packed tight with social, political,
and material interests, they asked of the imagination chiefly excitement
and amusement. They had not turned to it for edification or instruction,
for that thrill of solemn joy which comes of vital truth profoundly seen
and clearly shown. For this reason when all Europe besides turned her
face to the light, some decades ago, in the pages of the great prose
poets who made the age illustrious, England preferred the smoky links
and dancing camp-fires which had pleased her immature fancy, and kept
herself well in the twilight of the old ideal of imagination as the
mother of unrealities. There could be no doubt, the philosopher thought,
that the recrudescence which her best wits recognized as the effects of
this perversity, was the origin of the preposterous fiction which we now
feed to the new reading public, and which we think must somehow be right
because it was hers and is ours, and has the sanction of race and
tradition.

It was not, he continued, a thing to shed the tear of unavailing regret
for, though it was not a transitory phase, or a state of transition, for
the condition that now existed had always existed. The new reading
public was larger than ever before not merely because there was a fresh
demand for reading, but because more people were lettered and moneyed
and leisured, and did not know what otherwise to do with themselves. It
was quite simple, and the fact was less to be regretted in itself than
for an indirect result which might be feared from it. He paused at this,
in order to be asked what this result was, and being promptly asked he
went on.

It was, he said, the degradation of authorship as a calling, in the
popular regard. He owned that in the past authorship had enjoyed too
much honor in the reverence and affection of the world: not always,
indeed, but at certain times. As long as authors were the clients and
dependents of the great, they could not have been the objects of a
general interest or honor. They had then passed the stage when the
simple poet or story-teller was wont to

                        --sit upon the ground,
   And tell sad stories of the deaths of kings,

to wondering and admiring circles of simple listeners, and they had not
yet come to that hour of authorship when it reverted to the peasantry,
now turned people, and threw itself upon the people's generous
acceptance and recognition for bread and fame. But when that hour came,
it brought with it the honor of a reverent and persistent curiosity
concerning literature and the literary life, which the philosopher said
he was afraid could not survive the actual superabundance of authors and
the transformation of the novelist into the artisan. There seemed, he
pursued, a fixed formula for the manufacture of a work of fiction, to be
studied and practised like any other. Literature was degraded from an
art to a poor sort of science, in the practical application of which
thousands were seen prospering; for the immense output of our press
represented the industry of hundreds and thousands. A book was
concocted, according to a patent recipe, advertised, and sold like any
other nostrum, and perhaps the time was already here when it was no
longer more creditable to be known as the author of a popular novel than
as the author of a popular medicine, a Pain-killer, a Soothing Syrup, a
Vegetable Compound, a Horse Liniment, or a Germicide. Was it possible,
he asked, for a reader of the last book selling a hundred thousand
copies to stand in the loving or thrilling awe of the author that we
used to feel for Longfellow and Tennyson, for Emerson and Carlyle, for
Hawthorne and George Eliot, for Irving and Scott, or for any of their
great elders or youngers? He repeated that perhaps authorship had worked
its worshippers too hard, but there was no doubt that their worship was
a genuine devotion. For at least a hundred and fifty years it had been
eagerly offered in a full acceptance of the Schiller superstition that
at the sharing of the earth the poet, representing authorship, had been
so much preoccupied with higher things that he had left the fleshpots
and the loaves and fishes to others, and was to be compensated with a
share of the divine honors paid to Jove himself. From Goethe to Carlyle,
what a long roll of gods, demigods, and demisemigods it was! It might
have been bad for the deities, and the philosopher rather thought it
was, but burning incense on the different shrines was an excellent thing
for the votaries, and kept them out of all sorts of mischiefs, low
pleasures, and vain amusements. Whether that was really so or not, the
doubt remained whether authorship was not now a creed outworn. Did
tender maids and virtuous matrons still cherish the hope of some day
meeting their literary idols in the flesh? Did generous youth aspire to
see them merely at a distance, and did doting sires teach their children
that it was an epoch-making event when a great poet or novelist visited
the country; or when they passed afar, did they whip some favored boy,
as the father of Benvenuto Cellini whipped him at sight of a salamander
in the fire that he might not forget the prodigy? Now that the earth had
been divided over again, and the poet in his actual guise of novelist
had richly shared in its goods with the farmer, the noble, the merchant,
and the abbot, was it necessary or even fair that he should be the guest
of heaven? In other words, now that every successful author could keep
his automobile, did any one want his autograph?

In the silence that fell upon the company at these words, the ticking of
the clock under its classic pediment on the mantel was painfully
audible, and had the effect of intimating that time now had its innings
and eternity was altogether out of it. Several minutes seemed to pass
before any one had the courage to ask whether the degradation of
authorship was not partially the result of the stand taken by the
naturalists in Zola, who scorned the name of art for his calling and
aspired to that of science. The hardy adventurer who suggested this
possibility said that it was difficult to imagine the soul stirred to
the same high passion by the botanist, the astronomer, the geologist,
the electrician, or even the entomologist as in former times by the
poet, the humorist, the novelist, or the playwright. If the fictionist
of whatever sort had succeeded in identifying himself with the
scientist, he must leave the enjoyment of divine honors to the pianist,
the farce-comedian, the portrait-painter, the emotional actor, and the
architect, who still deigned to practise an art.

The philosopher smiled, and owned that this was very interesting, and
opened up a fresh field of inquiry. The first question there was whether
the imaginative author were not rather to blame for not having gone far
enough in the scientific direction in the right scientific fashion than
for having taken that course at all. The famous reproach of poetry made
by Huxley, that it was mostly "sensual caterwauling," might well have
given the singer pause in striking the sympathetic catgut of his lyre:
perhaps the strings were metallic; but no matter. The reproach had a
justice in it that must have stung, and made the lyrist wish to be an
atomic theorist at any cost. In fact, at that very moment science had,
as it were, caught the bread out of fiction's mouth, and usurped the
highest functions of imagination. In almost every direction of its
recent advance it had made believe that such and such a thing was so,
and then proceeded to prove it. To this method we owed not only the
possession of our present happy abundance of microbes in every sort, but
our knowledge of the universe in almost every respect. Science no longer
waited for the apple to fall before inferring a law of gravitation, but
went about with a stick knocking fruit off every bough in the hope that
something suggestive would come of it. On make-believes of all kinds it
based the edifices of all kinds of eternal veracities. It behooved
poetry, or fiction, which was radically the same, to return to its
earliest and simplest devices if it would find itself in the embrace of
science, and practise the make-beliefs of its infancy. Out of so many
there were chances of some coming true if they were carried far enough
and long enough. In fact, the hypothetical method of science had
apparently been used in the art of advertising the works in which the
appetite of the new reading public was flattered. The publishers had
hypothesized from the fact of a population of seventy millions, the
existence of an immense body of raw, coarse minds, untouched by taste or
intelligence, and boldly addressed the new fiction to it. As in many
suppositions of science their guess proved true.

Then why, the hardy listener who had spoken before inquired, was not
make-believe the right method for the author, if it was the right method
for the scientist and the publisher? Why should not the novelist
hypothesize cases hitherto unknown to experience, and then go on by
persistent study to find them true? It seemed to this inquirer that the
mistake of fiction, when it refused longer to be called an art and
wished to be known as a science, was in taking up the obsolescent
scientific methods, and in accumulating facts, or human documents, and
deducing a case from them, instead of boldly supposing a case, as the
new science did, and then looking about for occurrences to verify it.

The philosopher said, Exactly; this was the very thing he was contending
for. The documents should be collected in support of the hypothesis; the
hypothesis should not be based on documents already collected. First the
inference, then the fact; was not that the new scientific way? It looked
like it; and it seemed as if the favorite literature of the new reading
public were quite in the spirit of the new science. Its bold events, its
prodigious characters, its incredible motives, were not they quite of
the nature of the fearless conjecture which imagined long and short
electric waves and then spread a mesh of wire to intercept them and
seize their message?

The hardy inquirer demanded: Then if so, why despise the literature of
the new reading public? Why despise the new reading public, anyway?

The philosopher responded that he despised nothing, not even a thing so
unphilosophical as modern science. He merely wished his interpellant to
observe again that the unification of the literary spirit and the
scientific spirit was degrading the literary man to the level of the
scientific man. He thought this was bad for the small remnant of
mankind, who in default of their former idolatry might take to the
worship of themselves. Now, however bad a writer might be, it was always
well for the reader to believe him better than himself. If we had not
been brought up in this superstition, what would have become of the
classics of all tongues? But for this, what was to prevent the present
company from making a clearance of three-fourths of the surrounding
shelves and feeding that dying flame on the hearth?

At this the host, who had been keeping himself in a modest abeyance,
came forward and put some sticks on the fire. He said he would like to
see any one touch his bindings; which seemed to be his notion of books.
Nobody minded him; but one of those dutyolators, who abound in a certain
sex, asked the philosopher what he thought we ought to do for the
maintenance of author-worship among us.

He answered, he had not thought of that; his mind had been fixed upon
the fact of its decay. But perhaps something could be done by looking up
the author whose book had sold least during the season, and asking him
candidly whether he would not like to be paid the divine honors now
going begging from one big seller to another; for the decay of
author-worship must be as much from the indifference of the authors as
from the irreverence of the readers. If such a low-selling author did
not seem to regard it as rather invidious, then pay him the divine
honors; it might be a wholesome and stimulating example; but perhaps we
should afterward have the demigod on our hands. Something might be
safelier done by writing, as with the present company, and inquiring
into "the present condition of polite learning." This would keep the
sacred flame alive, and give us the comfort of refined association in an
exquisite moment of joy from the sense of our superiority to other
people. That, after all, was the great thing.

The company drew a little closer round the fire. The rain beat upon the
panes, and the wind swept the wet leaves against them, while each
exhaled a sigh of aspiration not unmixed with a soft regret.



XXII

THE ADVANTAGES OF QUOTATIONAL CRITICISM


The talk round the Easy Chair one day was of that strange passion for
reading which has of late possessed the public, and the contagion or
infection by which it has passed to hundreds of thousands who never read
before; and then the talk was of how this prodigious force might be
controlled and turned in the right way: not suffered to run to waste
like water over the dam, but directed into channels pouring upon wheels
that turn the mills of the gods or something like that. There were, of
course, a great many words; in fact, talk is composed of words, and the
people at that luncheon were there for talking as well as eating, and
they did not mind how many words they used. But the sum of their words
was the hope, after a due season of despair, that the present passion
for reading might be made to eventuate in more civilization than it
seemed to be doing, if it could be brought back to good literature,
supposing it was ever there in great strength, and the question was how
to do this.

One of the company said he had lately been reading a good many books of
Leigh Hunt's, and after everybody had interrupted with "Delightful!"
"Perfectly charming!" and the like, he went on to observe that one of
the chief merits of Hunt seemed to be his aptness in quotation. That, he
remarked, was almost a lost art with critics, who had got to thinking
that they could tell better what an author was than the author himself
could. Like every other power disused, the power of apt quotation had
died, and there were very few critics now who knew how to quote: not one
knew, as Hunt, or Lamb, or Hazlitt, or the least of the great
quotational school of critics, knew. These had perhaps overworked their
gift, and might have been justly accused, as they certainly were
accused, of misleading the reader and making him think that the poets,
whose best they quoted, putting the finest lines in italics so that they
could not be missed, were as good throughout as in the passages given.
It was this sense of having abused innocence, or ignorance, which led to
the present reaction in criticism no doubt, and yet the present reaction
was an error. Suppose that the poets whose best was given by quotation
were not altogether as good as that? The critics never pretended they
were; they were merely showing how very good these poets could be, and
at the same time offering a delicate pleasure to the reader, who could
not complain that his digestion was overtaxed by the choice morsels. If
his pleasure in them prompted him to go to the entire poet quoted, in
the hope of rioting gluttonously upon him, the reader was rightly served
in one sense. In another, he was certainly not misserved or his time
wasted. It would be hard for him to prove that he could have employed it
more profitably.

Everybody, more or less, now sat up, and he who had the eye and ear of
the table went on to remark that he had not meant to make a defence of
the extinct school of quotational criticism. What he really meant to do
was to suggest a way out of the present situation in which the new
multitude of voracious readers were grossly feeding upon such
intellectual husks as swine would not eat, and imagining themselves
nourished by their fodder. There might be some person present who could
improve upon his suggestion, but his notion, as he conceived it, was
that something might be done in the line of quotational criticism to
restore the great poets to the public favor, for he understood that good
authors were now proportionately less read than they once were. He
thought that a pity: and the rest of the company joined in asking him
how he proposed to employ the quotational method for his purpose.

In answering he said that he would not go outside of the English
classics, and he would, for the present, deal only with the greatest of
these. He took it for granted that those listening were all agreed that
mankind would be advantaged in their minds or manners by a more or less
familiar acquaintance with Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton,
Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Burns, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley,
Keats, Tennyson, and Browning; he himself did not mind adding Scott to
the list, whose poetry he found much better than his prose. To bring
about an acquaintance which might very profitably ripen into intimacy,
he would have each of these poets treated in the whole measure of his
work as many or most of them had been topically or partially treated by
the quotational critics. Some one here made him observe that he was
laying out rather a large piece of work, and to this he answered, Not at
all; the work had been already done. Asked then, somewhat derisively,
why it need be done over again, he explained, with a modesty and
patience which restored him to the regard he had lost by the derision
(all had impartially united in it), that though the work had already
been done, there needed some slight additions to it which would easily
fit it to his purpose. He was not thinking of going in for one of those
dreadful series of books which seemed the dismay alike of publisher and
reader, and required rewriting of matter more than enough rewritten. In
fact, he said, that for his purpose the writing was done fully and
probably better than it could be done again, and it was only the reading
and quoting that demanded editorial attention.

Another said he did not see how that could be, and the inventor of the
brave scheme, which was still _in petto_, said that he would try to show
him. We had, he contended, only too great riches in the criticisms of
the poets open to our choice, but suppose we took Spenser and let Lowell
introduce him to us. There would be needed a very brief biographical
note, and then some able hand to intersperse the criticism with passages
from Spenser, or with amplifications of the existing quotations, such as
would give a full notion of the poet's scope and quality. The story of
each of his poems could be given in a few words, where the poems
themselves could not be given even in part, and with the constant help
of the critic the reader could be possessed of a luminous idea of the
poet, such as he probably could not get by going to him direct, though
this was not to be deprecated, but encouraged, after the preparatory
acquaintance. The explanatory and illustrative passages could be
interpolated in the text of the criticism without interrupting the
critic, and something for Spenser might thus be done on the scale of
what Addison did for Milton. It was known how those successive papers in
the _Spectator_ had rehabilitated one of the greatest English poets, or,
rather, rehabilitated the English public, and restored the poet and the
public to each other. They formed almost an ideal body of criticism, and
if they did not embody all that the reader need know of Milton, they
embodied so much that he could no longer feel himself ignorant of
Milton. In fact, they possessed him of a high degree of Miltonian
culture, which was what one wanted to have with respect to any poet.
They might be extended with still greater quotation, and if something
more yet were needed the essay on Milton which made Macaulay's
reputation might be employed as a vessel to catch the overrunnings of
the precious ichor.

Who could not wish to know the poetry of Keats as we already knew his
life through the matchless essay of Lowell? That might be filled out
with the most striking passages of his poetry, simply let in at
appropriate places, without breaking the flow of that high discourse,
and forming a rich accompaniment which could leave no reader unpleasured
or uninstructed. The passages given from the poet need not be relevant
to the text of the critic; they might be quite irrelevant and serve the
imaginable end still better. For instance, some passages might be given
in the teeth of the critic, and made to gainsay what he had been saying.
This would probably send the reader, if he was very much perplexed, to
the poet himself, which was the imaginable end. He might be disappointed
one way or he might be disappointed the other way, but in the mean while
he would have passed his time, and he would have instructed if he had
not amused himself.

It would be very interesting to take such a criticism as that of Lowell
on Dryden and give not only the fine things from him, but the things
that counted for the critic in his interesting contention that Dryden
failed of being a prime poet because of the great weight of prose in
him, and very good prose; or, as the critic charmingly put it, he had
wings that helped him run along the ground, but did not enable him to
fly. It would be most valuable for us to see how Dryden was a great
literary man, but not one of the greatest poets, and yet must be ranked
as a great poet. If the balance inclined now toward this opinion, and
now against it, very possibly the reader would find himself impelled to
turn to the poet's work, and again the imaginable end would be served.

A listener here asked why the talker went chiefly to Lowell for the
illustration of his theory, and was frankly answered, For the same
reason that he had first alluded to Leigh Hunt: because he had lately
been reading him. It was not because he had not read any other
criticism, or not that he entirely admired Lowell's; in fact, he often
found fault with that. Lowell was too much a poet to be a perfect
critic. He was no more the greatest sort of critic than Dryden was the
greatest sort of poet. To turn his figure round, he had wings that
lifted him into the air when he ought to be running along the ground.

The company laughed civilly at this piece of luck, and then they asked,
civilly still, if Leigh Hunt had not done for a great many poets just
what he was proposing to have done. What about the treatment of the
poets and the quotations from them in the volumes on _Wit and Humor,
Imagination and Fancy_, _A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla_, and the rest?
The talker owned that there was a great deal about these which was to
his purpose, but, upon the whole, the criticism was too desultory and
fragmentary, and the quotation was illustrative rather than
representative, and so far it was illusory. He had a notion that Hunt's
stories from the Italian poets were rather more in the line he would
have followed, but he had not read these since he was a boy, and he was
not prepared to answer for them.

One of the company said that she had read those Italian poets in Leigh
Hunt's version of them when she was a girl, and it had had the effect of
making her think she had read the poets themselves, and she had not
since read directly Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, or Tasso. She regarded
that as an irreparable injury, and she doubted whether, if the great
English poets could be introduced in that manner, very many people would
pursue their acquaintance for themselves. They would think they were
familiar with them already.

Yes, the talker assented, if that were the scheme, but it was not; or,
at least, it was only part of the scheme. The scheme was to give the
ever-increasing multitude of readers a chance to know something of the
best literature. If they chose to pursue the acquaintance, very good; if
they chose not to pursue the acquaintance, still very good; they could
not have made it at all without being somewhat refined and enlightened.
He felt very much about it as he felt about seeing Europe, which some
people left unseen because they could not give all the time to it they
would like. He always said to such people, Go if they could only be gone
a month. A day in Rome, or London, or Paris, was a treasure such as a
lifetime at home could not lay up; an hour of Venice or Florence was
precious; a moment of Milan or Verona, of Siena or Mantua, was beyond
price. So you could not know a great poet so little as not to be
enriched by him. A look from a beautiful woman, or a witty word from a
wise one, distinguished and embellished the life into which it fell, so
that it could never afterward be so common as it was before.

Why, it was asked from a silence in which all the ladies tried to think
whether the speaker had her in mind or not, and whether he ought really
to be so personal, why could not Mr. Morley's _English Men of Letters_
series be used to carry out the scheme proposed; and its proposer said
he had nothing to say against that, except perhaps that the frames might
be too much for the pictures. He would rather choose a critical essay,
as he had intimated, for the frame of each picture; in this sort of
thing we had an endless choice, both new and old. If he had any
preference it would be for the older-fashioned critics, like Hazlitt or
perhaps like De Quincey; he was not sure, speaking without the book,
whether De Quincey treated authors so much as topics, but he had the
sense of wonderful things in him about the eighteenth-century poets:
things that made you think you knew them, and that yet made you burn to
be on the same intimate terms with them as De Quincey himself.

His method of knowing the poets through the critics, the sympathetic
critics, who were the only real critics, would have the advantage of
acquainting the reader with the critics as well as the poets. The
critics got a good deal of ingratitude from the reader generally, and
perhaps in their character of mere reviewers they got no more than they
merited, but in their friendly function of ushers to the good things,
even the best things, in the authors they were studying, they had a
claim upon him which he could not requite too generously. They acted the
part of real friends, and in the high company where the reader found
himself strange and alone, they hospitably made him at home. Above all
other kinds of writers, they made one feel that he was uttering the good
things they said. Of course, for the young reader, there was the danger
of his continuing always to think their thoughts in their terms, but
there were also great chances that he would begin by-and-by to think
his own thoughts in terms of his own.

The more quotational the critics were, the better. For himself the
speaker said that he liked that old custom of printing the very finest
things in italics when it came to citing corroborative passages. It had
not only the charm of the rococo, the pathos of a bygone fashion, but it
was of the greatest use. No one is the worse for having a great beauty
pointed out in the author one is reading or reading from. Sometimes one
does not see the given beauty at first, and then he has the pleasure of
puzzling it out; sometimes he never sees it, and then his life is
sublimed with an insoluble conundrum. Sometimes, still, he sees what the
critic means, and disagrees with him. In this case he is not likely to
go to the end of his journey without finding a critic whom he agrees
with about the passage in question.

After all, however, it was asked by one that had not spoken before (with
that fine air of saying a novel thing which people put on who have not
spoken before), would not the superficial knowledge of the poets
imparted by quotational criticism result in a sort of pseudo-culture
which would be rather worse than nothing, a kind of intellectual plated
ware or æsthetic near-silk?

The talker said he thought not, and that he had already touched upon
some such point in what he had said about going to Europe for a few
months. He offered the opinion that there was no such thing as
pseudo-culture; there was culture or there was not; and the reader of a
quotational criticism, if he enjoyed the quotations, became, so far,
cultivated. It could not be said that he knew the poets treated of, but
neither could it be said that he was quite ignorant of them. As a
matter of fact, he did know them in a fashion, through a mind larger and
clearer than his own.

For this reason the talker favored the reading of criticism, especially
the kind of criticism that quoted. He would even go so far as to say
that there was no just and honest criticism without quotation. The
critic was bound to make out his case, or else abdicate his function,
and he could not make out his case, either for or against an author,
without calling him to testify. Therefore, he was in favor of
quotational criticism, for fairness' sake, as well as for his pleasure;
and it was for the extension of it that he now contended. He was not
sure that he wished to send the reader to the authors quoted in all
cases. The reader could get through the passages cited a pretty good
notion of the authors' quality, and as for their quantity, that was
often made up of commonplaces or worse. In the case of the old poets,
and most of the English classics, there was a great deal of filth which
the reader would be better for not taking into his mind and which the
most copiously quotational critics would hardly offer him. If any one
said that without the filth one could not get a fair idea of those
authors, he should be disposed to distinguish, and to say that without
the filth one could not get a fair idea of their age, but of themselves,
yes. Their beauty and their greatness were personal to them; even their
dulness might be so; but their foulness was what had come off on them
from living at periods when manners were foul.



XXIII

READING FOR A GRANDFATHER


A young girl (much respected by the Easy Chair) who had always had the
real good of her grandfather at heart, wished to make him a Christmas
present befitting his years and agreeable to his tastes. She thought,
only to dismiss them for their banality, of a box of the finest cigars,
of a soft flannel dressing-gown, a bath robe of Turkish towelling
embroidered by herself, of a velvet jacket, and of a pair of house
shoes. She decided against some of these things because he did not
smoke, because he never took off his walking coat and shoes till he went
to bed, and because he had an old bath robe made him by her grandmother,
very short and very scant (according to her notion at the chance moments
when she had surprised him in it), from which neither love nor money
could part him; the others she rejected for the reason already assigned.
Little or nothing remained, then, but to give him books, and she was
glad that she was forced to this conclusion because, when she reflected,
she realized that his reading seemed to be very much neglected, or at
least without any lift of imagination or any quality of modernity in it.
As far as she had observed, he read the same old things over and over
again, and did not know at all what was now going on in the great world
of literature. She herself was a famous reader, and an authority about
books with other girls, and with the young men who asked her across the
afternoon tea-cups whether she had seen this or that new book, and
scrabbled round, in choosing between cream and lemon, to hide the fact
that they had not seen it themselves. She was therefore exactly the
person to select a little library of the latest reading for an old
gentleman who was so behind the times as her grandfather; but before she
plunged into the mad vortex of new publications she thought she would
delicately find out his preferences, or if he had none, would try to
inspire him with a curiosity concerning these or those new books.

"Now, grandfather," she began, "you know I always give you a Christmas
present."

"Yes, my dear," the old gentleman patiently assented, "I know you do.
You are very thoughtful."

"Not at all. If there is anything I hate, it is being thoughtful. What I
like is being spontaneous."

"Well, then, my dear, I don't mind saying you are very spontaneous."

"And I detest surprises. If any one wishes to make a lasting enemy of
me, let him surprise me. So I am going to tell you now what I am going
to give you. Do you like that?"

"I like everything you do, my child."

"Well, this time you will like it better than ever. I am going to give
you books. And in order not to disappoint you by giving you books that
you have read before, I want to catechise you a little. Shall you mind
it?"

"Oh no, but I'm afraid you won't find me very frank."

"I shall make you be. If you are not frank, there is no fun in not
surprising you, or in not giving you books that you have read."

"There is something in that," her grandfather assented. "But now,
instead of finding out what I have read, or what I like, why not tell me
what I ought to read and to like? I think I have seen a vast deal of
advice to girls about their reading: why shouldn't the girls turn the
tables and advise their elders? I often feel the need of advice from
girls on all sorts of subjects, and you would find me very grateful, I
believe."

The girl's eyes sparkled and then softened toward this docile ancestor.
"Do you really mean it, grandfather? It would be fun if you did."

"But I should want it to be serious, my dear. I should be glad if your
good counsel could include the whole conduct of life, for I am sensible
sometimes of a tendency to be silly and wicked, which I am sure you
could help me to combat."

"Oh, grandfather," said the girl, tenderly, "you know that isn't true!"

"Well, admit for the sake of argument that it isn't. My difficulty in
regard to reading remains, and there you certainly could help me. At
moments it seems to me that I have come to the end of my line."

The old gentleman's voice fell, and she could no longer suspect him of
joking. So she began, "Why, what have you been reading last?"

"Well, my dear, I have been looking into the _Spectator_ a little."

"The London _Spectator_? Jim says they have it at the club, and he
swears by it. But I mean, what books; and that's a weekly newspaper, or
a kind of review, isn't it?"

"The _Spectator_ I mean was a London newspaper, and it was a kind of
review, but it was a daily. Is it possible that you've never heard of
it?" The young girl shook her head thoughtfully, regretfully, but upon
the whole not anxiously; she was not afraid that any important thing in
literature had escaped her. "But you've heard of Addison, and Steele,
and Pope, and Swift?"

"Oh yes, we had them at school, when we were reading _Henry Esmond_;
they all came into that. And I remember, now: Colonel Esmond wrote a
number of the _Spectator_ for a surprise to Beatrix; but I thought it
was all a make-up."

"And you don't know about Sir Roger de Coverley?"

"Of course I do! It's what the English call the Virginia Reel. But why
do you ask? I thought we were talking about your reading. I don't see
how you could get an old file of a daily newspaper, but if it amuses
you! _Is_ it so amusing?"

"It's charming, but after one has read it as often as I have one begins
to know it a little too well."

"Yes; and what else have you been reading?"

"Well, Leigh Hunt a little lately. He continues the old essayist
tradition, and he is gently delightful."

"Never heard of him!" the girl frankly declared.

"He was a poet, too, and he wrote the _Story of Rimini_--about Paolo and
Francesca, you know."

"Oh, there you're away off, grandfather! Mr. Philips wrote about _them_;
and that horrid D'Annunzio. Why, Duse gave D'Annunzio's play last
winter! What are you thinking of?"

"Perhaps I am wandering a little," the grandfather meekly submitted, and
the girl had to make him go on.

"Do you read poetry a great deal?" she asked, and she thought if his
taste was mainly for poetry, it would simplify the difficulty of
choosing the books for her present.

"Well, I'm rather returning to it. I've been looking into Crabbe of
late, and I have found him full of a quaint charm."

"Crabbe? I never heard of him!" she owned as boldly as before, for if he
had been worth hearing of, she knew that she would have heard of him.
"Don't you like Kipling?"

"Yes, when he is not noisy. I think I prefer William Watson among your
very modern moderns."

"Why, is _he_ living yet? I thought he wrote ten or fifteen years ago!
You don't call _him_ modern! You like Stevenson, don't you? He's a great
stylist; everybody says he is, and so is George Meredith. You must like
_him_?"

"He's a great intellect, but a little of him goes almost as long a way
as a little of Browning. I think I prefer Henry James."

"Oh yes, he's just coming up. He's the one that has distinction. But the
people who write _like_ him are a great deal more popular. They have all
his distinction, and they don't tax your mind so much. But don't let's
get off on novelists or there's no end to it. Who are really your
favorite poets?"

"Well, I read Shakespeare rather often, and I read Dante by fits and
starts; and I do not mind Milton from time to time. I like Wordsworth,
and I like Keats a great deal better; every now and then I take up
Cowper with pleasure, and I have found myself going back to Pope with
real relish. And Byron; yes, Byron! But I shouldn't advise your reading
_Don Juan_."

"That's an opera, isn't it? What they call 'Don Giovanni.' I never heard
of any such poem."

"That shows how careful you have been of your reading."

"Oh, we read everything nowadays--if it's up to date; and if _Don Juan_
had been, you may be sure I would have heard of it. I suppose you like
Tennyson, and Longfellow, and Emerson, and those _old_ poets?"

"Are they old? They used to be so new! Yes, I like them, and I like
Whittier and some things of Bryant's."

At the last two names the girl looked vague, but she said: "Oh yes, I
suppose so. And I suppose you like the old dramatists?"

"Some of them--Marlowe, and Beaumont and Fletcher: a few of their plays.
But I can't stand most of the Elizabethans; I can't stand Ben Jonson at
all."

"Oh yes--'Rasselas.' I can't stand him either, grandfather. I'm quite
with you about Ben Jonson. 'Too much Johnson,' you know."

The grandfather looked rather blank. "Too _different_ Johnsons, I think,
my dear. But perhaps you didn't mean the Elizabethans; perhaps you mean
the dramatists of the other Johnson's time. Well, I like Sheridan pretty
well, though his wit strikes me as mechanical, and I really prefer
Goldsmith; in his case, I prefer his _Vicar of Wakefield_, and his poems
to his plays. Plays are not very easy reading, unless they are the very
best. Shakespeare's are the only plays that one _wants_ to read."

The young girl held up her charming chin, with the air of keeping it
above water too deep for her. "And Ibsen?" she suggested. "I hope you
despise Ibsen as much as I do. He's clear gone out now, thank goodness!
Don't you think _Ghosts_ was horrid?"

"It's dreadful, my dear; but I shouldn't say it was horrid. No, I don't
despise Ibsen; and I have found Mr. Pinero's plays good reading."

"Oh," the girl said, getting her foot on the ground. "'The Gay Lord
Quex'; Miss Vanbrugh was _great_ in that. But now don't get off on the
theatre, grandfather, or there will be no end to it. Which of the old,
_old_ poets--before Burns or Shelley even--do you like?"

"Well, when I was a boy, I read Chaucer, and liked him very much; and
the other day when I was looking over Leigh Hunt's essays, I found a
number of them about Chaucer with long, well-chosen extracts; and I
don't know when I've found greater pleasure in poetry. If I must have a
favorite among the old poets, I will take Chaucer. Of course, Spenser is
rather more modern."

"Yes, but I can't bear his agnosticism, can you? And I hate metaphysics,
anyway."

The grandfather looked bewildered; then he said, "Now, I'm afraid we are
getting too much Spenser."

The girl went off at a tangent. "Don't you just _love_ Mr. Gillette in
'Sherlock Holmes'? There's a play I should think you would like to read!
They say there's a novel been made out of it. I wish I could get hold of
it for you. Well, go on, grandfather!"

"No, my dear, it's for you to go on. But don't you think you've
catechised me sufficiently about my reading? You must find it very
old-fashioned."

"No, not at all. I like old things myself. The girls are always laughing
at me because I read George Eliot, and Dickens, and Thackeray, and
Charles Reade, and Wilkie Collins, and those back numbers. But I should
say, if I said anything, that you were rather deficient in fiction,
grandfather. You seem to have read everything but novels."

"Is that so? I was afraid I had read nothing but novels. I----"

"Tell me what novels you have read," she broke in upon him
imperatively. "The ones you consider the greatest."

The grandfather had to think. "It is rather a long list--so long that
I'm ashamed of it. Perhaps I'd better mention only the very greatest,
like _Don Quixote_, and _Gil Blas_, and _Wilhelm Meister_, and _The
Vicar of Wakefield_, and _Clarissa Harlowe_, and _Emma_, and _Pride and
Prejudice_, and _The Bride of Lammermoor_, and _I Promessi Sposi_, and
_Belinda_, and _Frankenstein_, and _Chartreuse de Parme_, and _César
Birotteau_, and _The Last Days of Pompeii_, and _David Copperfield_, and
_Pendennis_, and _The Scarlet Letter_, and _Blithedale Romance_, and
_The Cloister and the Hearth_, and _Middlemarch_, and _Smoke_, and
_Fathers and Sons_, and _A Nest of Nobles_, and _War and Peace_, and
_Anna Karénina_, and _Resurrection_, and _Dona Perfecta_, and _Marta y
Maria_, and _I Malavoglia_, and _The Return of the Native_, and
_L'Assomoir_, and _Madame Bovary_, and _The Awkward Age_, and _The
Grandissimes_--and most of the other books of the same authors. Of
course, I've read many more perhaps as great as these, that I can't
think of at the moment."

The young girl listened, in a vain effort to follow her agile ancestor
in and out of the labyrinths of his favorite fiction, most of which she
did not recognize by the names he gave and some of which she believed to
be very shocking, in a vague association of it with deeply moralized,
denunciatory criticisms which she had read of the books or the authors.
Upon the whole, she was rather pained by the confession which his
reading formed for her grandfather, and she felt more than ever the
necessity of undertaking his education, or at least his reform, in
respect to it. She was glad now that she had decided to give him books
for a Christmas present, for there was no time like Christmas for good
resolutions, and if her grandfather was ever going to turn over a new
leaf, this was the very hour to help him do it.

She smiled very sweetly upon him, so as not to alarm him too much, and
said she had never been so much interested as in knowing what books he
really liked. But as he had read all those he named--

"Oh, dozens of times!" he broke in.

--Then perhaps he would leave it to her to choose an entirely new list
for him, so that he could have something freshly entertaining; she did
not like to say more edifying for fear of hurting his feelings, and
taking his silence for consent she went up and kissed him on his bald
head and ran away to take the matter under immediate advisement. Her
notion then was to look over several lists of the world's best hundred
books which she had been keeping by her, but when she came to compare
them, she found that they contained most of the books he had mentioned,
besides many others. It would never do to give him any one of these
libraries of the best hundred books for this reason, and for the reason
that a hundred books would cost more of her grandfather's money than she
felt justified in spending on him at a season when she had to make so
many other presents.

Just when she was at her wit's end, a sudden inspiration seized her. She
pinned on her hat, and put on her new winter jacket, and went out and
bought the last number of _The Bookworm_. At the end of this periodical
she had often got suggestions for her own reading, and she was sure that
she should find there the means of helping her poor grandfather to a
better taste in literature than he seemed to have. So she took the
different letters from Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Cincinnati, New
Orleans, Cleveland, Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, and up-town and
down-town in New York, giving the best-selling books of the month in all
those places, and compiled an eclectic list from them, which she gave to
her bookseller with orders to get them as nearly of the same sizes and
colors as possible. He followed her instructions with a great deal of
taste and allowed her twenty-five per cent. off, which she applied
toward a wedding-present she would have to give shortly. In this way she
was able to provide her grandfather for the new year with reading that
everybody was talking about, and that brought him up to date with a
round turn.



XXIV

SOME MOMENTS WITH THE MUSE


Among the many letters which the Easy Chair has received after its
conference on the state of poetry, one of most decided note was from a
writer confessing herself of the contrary-minded. "I love some children,
but not childhood in general merely because it is childhood. So I love
some poems rather than poetry in general just because it is poetry.... I
object to the tinkle. I object to the poetic license which performs a
Germanic divorce between subject and verb, so that instead of a complete
thought which can be mastered before another is set before the brain,
there is a twist in the grammatical sequence that requires a conscious
effort of will to keep the original thread. The world is too busy to do
this; reading must be a relaxation, not a study.... When poetry conforms
in its mental tone to the spirit of the times; when it reflects the life
and more or less the common thought of the day, then more of the common
people will read it."

There were other things in this letter which seemed to us of so much
importance that we submitted it as a whole to a Woman's Club of our
acquaintance. The nine ladies composing the club were not all literary,
but they were all of æsthetic pursuits, and together they brought a good
deal of culture to bear on the main points of the letter. They were not
quite of one mind, but they were so far agreed that what they had to say
might be fairly regarded as a consensus of opinion. We will not attempt
to report their remarks at any length--they ran to all lengths--but in
offering a résumé of what they variously said to a sole effect, we will
do what we can to further the cause they joined in defending.

The Muses--for we will no longer conceal that this Woman's Club was
composed of the tuneful Nine--acknowledged that there was a great deal
in what their contrary-minded sister said. They did not blame her one
bit for the way she felt; they would have felt just so themselves in her
place; but being as it were professionally dedicated to the beautiful in
all its established forms, they thought themselves bound to direct her
attention to one or two aspects of the case which she had apparently
overlooked. They were only sorry that she was not there to take her own
part; and they confessed, in her behalf, that it _was_ ridiculous for
poetry to turn the language upside down, and to take it apart and put it
together wrong-end to, as it did. If anybody spoke the language so, or
in prose wrote it so, they would certainly be a fool; but the Muses
wished the sister to observe that every art existed by its convention,
or by what in the moral world Ibsen would call its life-lie. If you
looked at it from the colloquial standpoint, music was the absurdest
thing in the world. In the orchestral part of an opera, for instance,
there were more repetitions than in the scolding of the worst kind of
shrew, and if you were to go about singing what you had to say, and
singing it over and over, and stretching it out by runs and trills, or
even expressing yourself in _recitativo secco_, it would simply set
people wild. In painting it was worse, if anything: you had to make
believe that things two inches high were life-size, and that there were
relief and distance where there was nothing but a flat canvas, and that
colors which were really like nothing in nature were natural. As for
sculpture, it was too laughable for anything, whether you took it in
bas-reliefs with persons stuck onto walls, half or three-quarters out,
or in groups with people in eternal action; or in single figures,
standing on one leg or holding out arms that would drop off if they were
not supported by stone pegs; or sitting down outdoors bareheaded where
they would take their deaths of cold, or get sun-struck, or lay up
rheumatism to beat the band, in the rain and snow and often without a
stitch of clothes on.

All this and more the Muses freely conceded to the position of the
contrary-minded correspondent of the Easy Chair, and having behaved so
handsomely, they felt justified in adding that her demand seemed to them
perfectly preposterous. It was the very essence and office of poetry
_not_ to conform to "the mental tone and spirit of the times"; and
though it might very well reflect the life, it must not reflect "the
common thought of the day" upon pain of vulgarizing and annulling
itself. Poetry was static in its nature, and its business was the
interpretation of enduring beauty and eternal veracity. If it stooped in
submission to any such expectation as that expressed, and dedicated
itself to the crude vaticination of the transitory emotions and
opinions, it had better turn journalism at once. It had its law, and its
law was distinction of ideal and elevation of tendency, no matter what
material it dealt with. It might deal with the commonest, the cheapest
material, but always in such a way as to dignify and beautify the
material.

Concerning the first point, that modern poetry was wrong to indulge all
those inversions, those translocations, those ground and lofty
syntactical tumblings which have mainly constituted poetic license, the
ladies again relented, and allowed that there was much to say for what
our correspondent said. In fact, they agreed, or agreed as nearly as
nine ladies could, that it was perhaps time that poetry should, as it
certainly might, write itself straightforwardly, with the verb in its
true English place, and the adjective walking soberly before the noun;
shunning those silly elisions like _ne'er_ and _o'er_, and, above all,
avoiding the weak and loathly omission of the definite article. Of the
tinkle, by which they supposed the contrary-minded sister meant the
rhyme, they said they could very well remember when there was no such
thing in poetry; their native Greek had got on perfectly well without
it, and even those poets at second-hand, the Romans. They observed that
though Dante used it, Shakespeare did not, and Milton did not, in their
greatest works; and a good half of the time the first-rate moderns
managed very well with blank verse.

The Easy Chair did not like to dissent from these ladies, both because
they were really great authorities and because it is always best to
agree with ladies when you can. Besides, it would not have seemed quite
the thing when they were inclining to this favorable view of their
sister's contrary-mindedness, to take sides against her. In short, the
Easy Chair reserved its misgivings for some such very intimate occasion
as this, when it could impart them without wounding the susceptibilities
of others, or risking a painful snub for itself. But it appeared to the
Chair that the Muses did not go quite far enough in justifying the
convention, or the life-lie, by which poetry, as a form, existed. They
could easily have proved that much of the mystical charm which
differences poetry from prose resides in its license, its syntactical
acrobatics, its affectations of diction, its elisions, its rhymes. As a
man inverting his head and looking at the landscape between his legs
gets an entirely new effect on the familiar prospect, so literature
forsaking the wonted grammatical attitudes really achieves something
richly strange by the novel and surprising postures permissible in
verse. The phrases, the lines, the stanzas which the ear keeps lingering
in its porches, loath to let them depart, are usually full of these
licenses. They have a witchery which could be as little proved as
denied; and when any poet proposes to forego them, and adhere rigidly to
the law of prose in his rhythm, he practises a loyalty which is a sort
of treason to his calling and will go far toward undoing him.

While the ladies of that club were talking, some such thoughts as these
were in our mind, suggested by summer-long reading of a dear, delightful
poet, altogether neglected in these days, who deserves to be known again
wherever reality is prized or simplicity is loved. It is proof, indeed,
how shallow was all the debate about realism and romanticism that the
poetic tales of George Crabbe were never once alleged in witness of the
charm which truth to condition and character has, in whatever form. But
once, long before that ineffectual clamor arose, he was valued as he
should be still. Edmund Burke was the first to understand his purpose
and appreciate his work. He helped the poet not only with praises but
with pounds till he could get upon his feet. He introduced Crabbe's
verse to his great friends, to Doctor Johnson, who perceived at once
that he would go far; to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who felt the
brother-artist in him; to the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, whose oaths were
harder than his heart toward the fearlessy fearful young singer. The
sympathy and admiration of the highest and the best followed him through
his long life to his death. The great Mr. Fox loved him and his rhyme,
and wished his tales to be read to him on the bed he never left alive.
Earl Grey, Lord Holland, and the brilliant Canning wrote him letters of
cordial acclaim; Walter Scott, the generous, the magnanimous, hailed him
brother, and would always have his books by him; none of his poems
appeared without the warmest welcome, the most discriminating and
applausive criticism from Jeffrey, the first critic of his long day.

Crabbe had not only this exquisitely intelligent hearing, but he was
accepted on his own terms, as a poet who saw so much beauty in simple
and common life that he could not help painting it. He painted it in
pieces of matchless fidelity to the fact, with nothing of flattery, but
everything of charm in the likeness. His work is the enduring witness of
persons, circumstances, customs, experiences utterly passed from the
actual world, but recognizably true with every sincere reader. These
tales of village life in England a hundred years ago are of an absolute
directness and frankness. They blink nothing of the sordid, the mean,
the vicious, the wicked in that life, from which they rarely rise in
some glimpse of the state of the neighboring gentry, and yet they abound
in beauty that consoles and encourages. They are full of keen analysis,
sly wit, kindly humor, and of a satire too conscientious to bear the
name; of pathos, of compassion, of reverence, while in unaffected
singleness of ideal they are unsurpassed.

Will our contrary-minded correspondent believe that these studies, these
finished pictures, which so perfectly "reflect the common life ... of
the day," are full of the license, the tinkle, the German divorce of
verb and subject, the twisted grammatical sequence which her soul
abhors in verse? Crabbe chose for his vehicle the heroic couplet in
which English poetry had jog-trotted ever since the time of Pope, as it
often had before; and he made it go as like Pope's couplet as he could,
with the same cæsura, the same antithetical balance, the same feats of
rhetoric, the same inversions, and the same closes of the sense in each
couplet. The most artificial and the most natural poets were at one in
their literary convention. Yet such was the freshness of Crabbe's
impulse, such his divine authority to deal with material unemployed in
English poetry before, that you forget all the affectations of the
outward convention, or remember them only for a pleasure in the
quaintness of their use for his purposes. How imperishable, anyway, is
the interest of things important to the spirit, the fancy, and how
largely does this interest lie in the freshness of the mind bringing
itself to the things, how little in the novelty of the things! The
demand for strangeness in the things themselves is the demand of the
sophisticated mind: the mind which has lost its simplicity in the
process of continuing unenlightened. It is this demand which betrays the
mediocre mind of the Anglo-Saxon race, the sophistication of the English
mind, and the obfuscation (which is sophistication at second-hand) of
the American mind. The non-imaginative person is nowhere so much at home
as in a voluntary exile; and this may be why it was sometime said that
travel is the fool's paradise. For such a person to realize anything the
terms are that he shall go abroad, either into an alien scene or into a
period of the past; then he can begin to have some pleasure. He must
first of all get away from himself, and he is not to be blamed for that;
any one else would wish to get away from him. His exaction is not a
test of merit; it is merely the clew to a psychological situation which
is neither so novel nor so important as to require of our hard-worked
civilization the production of an order of more inspired criticism than
it has worried along with hitherto.



XXV

A NORMAL HERO AND HEROINE OUT OF WORK


They sat together on a bench in the Park, far enough apart to
distinguish themselves from the many other pairs who were but too
obviously lovers. It could not be said quite that these two were
actually lovers; but there was an air of passionate provisionality over
and around them, a light such as in springtime seems to enfold the tree
before it takes the positive color of bud or blossom; and, with an eye
for literary material that had rarely failed him, he of the Easy Chair
perceived that they were a hero and heroine of a kind which he instantly
felt it a great pity he should not have met oftener in fiction of late.
As he looked at them he was more and more penetrated by a delicate
pathos in the fact that, such as he saw them, they belonged in their
fine sort to the great host of the Unemployed. No one else might have
seen it, but he saw, with that inner eye of his, which compassion
suffused but did not obscure, that they were out of a job, and he was
not surprised when he heard the young girl fetch a muted sigh and then
say: "No, they don't want us any more. I don't understand why; it is
very strange; but it is perfectly certain."

"Yes, there's no doubt of that," the young man returned, in a despair
tinged with resentment.

She was very pretty and he was handsome, and they were both tastefully
dressed, with a due deference to fashion, yet with a personal
qualification of the cut and color of their clothes which, if it
promised more than it could fulfil in some ways, implied a modest
self-respect, better than the arrogance of great social success or
worldly splendor. She could have been the only daughter of a widowed
father in moderate circumstances; or an orphan brought up by a careful
aunt, or a duteous sister in a large family of girls, with whom she
shared the shelter of a wisely ordered, if somewhat crowded, home; or
she could have been a serious student of any of the various arts and
sciences which girls study now in an independence compatible with true
beauty of behavior. He might have been a young lawyer or doctor or
business man; or a painter or architect; or a professor in some college
or a minister in charge of his first parish. What struck the observer in
them and pleased him was that they seemed of that finer American average
which is the best, and, rightly seen, the most interesting phase of
civilized life yet known.

"I sometimes think," the girl resumed, in the silence of her companion,
"that I made a mistake in my origin or my early education. It's a great
disadvantage, in fiction nowadays, for a girl to speak grammatically, as
I always do, without any trace of accent or dialect. Of course, if I had
been high-born or low-born in the olden times, somewhere or other, I
shouldn't have to be looking for a place now; or if I had been unhappily
married, or divorced, or merely separated from my husband, the
story-writers would have had some use for me. But I have tried always to
be good and nice and lady-like, and I haven't been in a short story for
ages."

"Is it so bad as that?" the young man asked, sadly.

"Quite. If I could only have had something askew in my heredity, I know
lots of authoresses who would have jumped at me. I can't do anything
wildly adventurous in the Middle Ages or the Revolutionary period,
because I'm so afraid; but I know that in the course of modern life I've
always been fairly equal to emergencies, and I don't believe that I
should fail in case of trouble, or that if it came to poverty I should
be ashamed to share the deprivations that fell to my lot. I don't think
I'm very selfish; I would be willing to stay in town all summer if an
author wanted me, and I know I could make it interesting for his
readers. I could marry an English nobleman if it was really necessary,
and, if I didn't like to live in England because I was fond of my own
country, I believe I could get him to stay here half the time with me;
and that would appeal to a large class. I don't know whether I would
care to be rescued a great deal; it would depend upon what it was from.
But I could stand a great deal of pain if need be, and I hope that if it
came to anything like right or wrong I should act conscientiously. In
society, I shouldn't mind any amount of dancing or dining or teaing, and
I should be willing to take my part in the lighter athletics. But," she
ended, as she began, with a sigh, "I'm not wanted."

"Yes, I see what you mean," the young man said, with a thoughtful knot
between his brows. "I'm not wanted myself, at present, in the short
stories; but in the last dozen or so where I had an engagement I
certainly didn't meet you; and it is pleasant to be paired off in a
story with a heroine who has the instincts and habits of a lady. Of
course, a hero is only something in an author's fancy, and I've no right
to be exacting; but it does go against me to love a girl who ropes
cattle, or a woman who has a past, or a husband, or something of the
kind. I always do my best for the author, but I can't forget that I'm a
gentleman, and it's difficult to win a heroine when the very idea of her
makes you shudder. I sometimes wonder how the authors would like it
themselves if they had to do what they expect of us in that way. They're
generally very decent fellows, good husbands and fathers, who have
married lady-like girls and wouldn't think of associating with a shady
or ignorant person."

"The authoresses are quite as inconsistent," the professional heroine
rejoined. "They wouldn't speak to the kind of young men whom they expect
a heroine to be passionately in love with. They must know how very oddly
a girl feels about people who are outside of the world she's been
brought up in. It isn't enough that a man should be very noble at heart
and do grand things, or save your life every now and then, or be
masterful and use his giant will to make you in love with him. I don't
see why they can't let one have, now and then, the kind of husbands they
get for themselves. For my part, I should like always to give my heart
to a normal, sensible, well-bred, conscientious, agreeable man who could
offer me a pleasant home--I wouldn't mind the suburbs; and I could work
with him and work for him till I dropped--the kind of man that the real
world seems to be so full of. I've never had a fair chance to show what
was in me; I've always been placed in such a false position. Now I have
no position at all, not even a false one!"

Her companion was silent for a while. Then he said: "Yes, they all seem,
authors and authoresses both, to lose sight of the fact that the
constitution of our society is more picturesque, more dramatic, more
poetical than any in the world. We can have the play of all the passions
and emotions in ordinary, innocent love-making that other peoples can
have only on the worst conditions; and yet the story-writers won't avail
themselves of the beauty that lies next to their hands. They go abroad
for impossible circumstances, or they want to bewitch ours with the
chemistry of all sorts of eccentric characters, exaggerated incentives,
morbid propensities, pathological conditions, or diseased psychology. As
I said before, I know I'm only a creature of the storyteller's fancy,
and a creature out of work at that; but I believe I was imagined in a
good moment--I'm sure _you_ were--and I should like an engagement in an
honest, wholesome situation. I think I could do creditable work in it."

"I _know_ you could," the heroine rejoined, fervently, almost tenderly,
so that it seemed to the listener there was an involuntary
_rapprochement_ of their shadowy substances on the bench where they
floated in a sitting posture. "I don't want to be greedy; I believe in
living and letting live. I think the abnormal has just as good a right
to be in the stories as the normal; but why shut the normal out
altogether? What I should like to ask the short-story writers is whether
they and their readers are so bored with themselves and the people they
know in the real world that they have no use for anything like its
average in their fiction. It's impossible for us to change--"

"I shouldn't wish _you_ to change," the hero said, so fondly that the
witness trembled for something more demonstrative.

"Thank you! But what I mean is, couldn't _they_ change a little?
Couldn't they give us another trial? They've been using the abnormal, in
some shape or other, so long that I should think they would find a hero
and heroine who simply fell in love at a dance or a dinner, or in a
house-party or at a picnic, and worked out their characters to each
other, through the natural worry and difficulty, and pleasure and
happiness, till they got married--a relief from, well, the other thing.
I'm sure if they offered me the chance, I could make myself attractive
to their readers, and I believe I should have the charm of novelty."

"You would have more than the charm of novelty," the hero said, and the
witness trembled again for the _convenances_ which one so often sees
offended on the benches in the Park. But then he remembered that these
young people were avowedly nice, and that they were morally incapable of
misbehavior. "And for a time, at least, I believe you--I believe _we_,
for I must necessarily be engaged with you--would succeed. The
difficulty would be to get the notion of our employment to the authors."
It was on the listener's tongue to say that he thought he could manage
that, when the hero arrested him with the sad misgiving, "But they would
say we were commonplace, and that would kill the chance of our ever
having a run."

A tremendous longing filled the witness, a potent desire to rescue this
engaging pair from the dismay into which they fell at the fatal word.
"No, no!" he conjured them. "_Not_ commonplace. A judicious paragraph
anticipative of your reappearance could be arranged, in which you could
be hailed as the _normal_ hero and heroine, and greeted as a grateful
relief from the hackneyed freaks and deformities of the prevalent short
story, or the impassioned paper-doll pattern of the mediæval men and
maidens, or the spotted and battered figures of the studies in morbid
analysis which pass for fiction in the magazines. We must get that
luminous word _normal_ before the reading public at once, and you will
be rightly seen in its benign ray and recognized from the start--yes! in
_advance_ of the start--for what you are: types of the loveliness of
our average life, the fairest blossoms of that faith in human nature
which has flourished here into the most beautiful and glorious
civilization of all times. With us the average life is enchanting, the
normal is the exquisite. Have patience, have courage; your time is
coming again!"

It seemed to him that the gentle shapes wavered in his vehement breath,
and he could not realize that in their alien realm they could not have
heard a word he uttered. They remained dreamily silent, as if he had not
spoken, and then the heroine said: "Perhaps we shall have to wait for a
new school of short-story writers before we can get back into the
magazines. Some beginner _must_ see in us what has always pleased: the
likeness to himself or herself, the truth to nature, the loyalty to the
American ideal of happiness. He will find that we easily and probably
_end well_, and that we're a consolation and refuge for readers, who can
take heart from our happy dénouements, when they see a family
resemblance in us, and can reasonably hope that if they follow our
examples they will share our blessings. Authors can't really enjoy
themselves in the company of those degenerates, as _I_ call them.
They're mostly as young and right-principled and well-behaved as
ourselves, and, if they could get to know us, we should be the best of
friends. They would realize that there was plenty of harmless fun, as
well as love, in the world, and that there was lots of good-luck."

"Like ours, now, with no work and no prospect of it?" he returned, in
his refusal to be persuaded, yet ready to be comforted.

Having set out on that road, she would not turn back; she persisted,
like any woman who is contraried, no matter how far she ends from her
first position: "Yes, like ours now. For this is probably the dark hour
before the dawn. We must wait."

"And perish in the mean time?"

"Oh, we shall not perish," she responded, heroinically. "It's not for
nothing that we are immortal," and as she spoke she passed her
translucent hand through his arm, and, rising, they drifted off together
and left the emissary of the Easy Chair watching them till they mixed
with the mists under the trees in the perspective of the Mall.



OTHER ESSAYS



I

AUTUMN IN THE COUNTRY AND CITY


In the morning the trees stood perfectly still: yellow, yellowish-green,
crimson, russet. Not a pulse of air stirred their stricken foliage, but
the leaves left the spray and dripped silently, vertically down, with a
faint, ticking sound. They fell like the tears of a grief which is too
inward for any other outward sign; an absent grief, almost
self-forgetful. By-and-by, softly, very softly, as Nature does things
when she emulates the best Art and shuns the showiness and noisiness of
the second-best, the wind crept in from the leaden sea, which turned
iron under it, corrugated iron. Then the trees began to bend, and
writhe, and sigh, and moan; and their leaves flew through the air, and
blew and scuttled over the grass, and in an hour all the boughs were
bare. The summer, which had been living till then and dying, was now
dead.

That was the reason why certain people who had been living with it, and
seemed dying in it, were now in a manner dead with it, so that their
ghosts were glad to get back to town, where the ghosts of thousands and
hundreds of thousands of others were hustling in the streets and the
trolleys and subways and elevateds, and shops and factories and offices,
and making believe to be much more alive than they were in the country.
Yet the town, the haunt of those harassed and hurried spectres, who are
not without their illusory hilarity, their phantasmal happiness, has a
charm which we of the Easy Chair always feel, on first returning to it
in the autumn, and which the representative of the family we are
imagining finds rather an impassioned pleasure in. He came on to New
York, while the others lingered in a dim Bostonian limbo, and he amused
himself very well, in a shadowy sort, looking at those other shades who
had arrived in like sort, or different, and were there together with him
in those fine days just preceding the election; after which the season
broke in tears again, and the autumn advanced another step toward
winter.

There is no moment of the New York year which is more characteristic of
it than that mid-autumnal moment, which the summer and the winter are
equally far from. Mid-May is very well, and the weather then is perfect,
but that is a moment pierced with the unrest of going or getting ready
to go away. The call of the eld in Europe, or the call of the wild in
Newport, has already depopulated our streets of what is richest and
naturally best in our city life; the shops, indeed, show a fevered
activity in the near-richest and near-best who are providing for their
summer wants at mountain or sea-shore; but the theatres are closing like
fading flowers, and shedding their chorus-girls on every outward breeze;
the tables d'hôte express a relaxed enterprise in the nonchalance of the
management and service; the hotels yawn wearily from their hollow rooms;
the greengroceries try to mask the barrenness of their windows in a show
of tropic or semi-tropic fruits; the provision-men merely disgust with
their retarded displays of butcher's meats and poultry.

[Illustration: BROADWAY AT NIGHT]

But with what a difference the mid-autumn of the town welcomes its
returners! Ghosts, we have called them, mainly to humor a figure we
began with, but they are ghosts rather in the meaning of _revenants_,
which is a good meaning enough. They must be a very aged or very stupid
sort of _revenants_ if their palingenetic substance does not thrill at
the first nightly vision of Broadway, of that fairy flare of electric
lights, advertising whiskeys and actresses and beers, and luring the
beholder into a hundred hotels and theatres and restaurants. It is now
past the hour of roof-gardens with their songs and dances, but the
vaudeville is in full bloom, and the play-houses are blossoming in the
bills of their new comedies and operas and burlesques. The pavements are
filled, but not yet crowded, with people going to dinner at the tables
d'hôte; the shop windows glitter and shine, and promise a delight for
the morrow which the morrow may or may not realize.

But as yet the town is not replete to choking, as it will be later, when
those who fancy they constitute the town have got back to it from their
Europes, their Newports, their Bar Harbors, their Lenoxes, their
Tuxedos, weary of scorning delights and living laborious days in that
round of intellectual and moral events duly celebrated in the society
news of the Sunday papers. Fifth Avenue abounds in automobiles but does
not yet super-abound; you do not quite take your life in your hand in
crossing the street at those corners where there is no policeman's hand
to put it in. Everywhere are cars, carts, carriages; and the motorist
whirs through the intersecting streets and round the corners, bent on
suicide or homicide, and the kind old trolleys and hansoms that once
seemed so threatening have almost become so many arks of safety from the
furious machines replacing them. But a few short years ago the passer on
the Avenue could pride himself on a count of twenty automobiles in his
walk from Murray Hill to the Plaza; now he can easily number hundreds,
without an emotion of self-approval.

But their abundance is only provisional, a mere forecast of the
superabundance to come. All things are provisional, all sights, all
sounds, and this forms the peculiar charm of the hour, its haunting and
winning charm. If you take the omnibus-top to be trundled whiningly up
to one of the farther east-side entrances of the Park, and then dismount
and walk back to the Plaza through it, you are even more keenly aware of
the suspensive quality of the time. The summer, which you left for dead
by mountain or sea-shore, stirs with lingering consciousness in the
bland air of the great pleasance. Many leaves are yet green on the
trees, and where they are not green and not there they are gay on the
grass under the trees. There are birds, not, to be sure, singing, but
cheerfully chirping; and there are occasional blazons of courageous
flowers; the benches beside the walks, which the northern blasts will
soon sweep bare, are still kept by the lovers and loafers who have
frequented them ever since the spring, and by the nurses, who cumber the
footway before them with their perambulators. The fat squirrels waddle
over the asphalt, and cock the impudent eye of the sturdy beggar at the
passer whom they suspect of latent peanuts; it is high carnival of the
children with hoops and balls; it is the supreme moment of the
saddle-donkeys in the by-paths, and the carriage-goats in the Mall, and
of the rowboats on the ponds, which presently will be withdrawn for
their secret hibernation, where no man can find them out. When the first
snow flies, even while it is yet poising for flight in the dim pits of
air, all these delights will have vanished, and the winter, which will
claim the city for its own through a good four months, will be upon it.

Always come back, therefore, if you must come at all, about the
beginning of November, and if you can manage to take in Election Day,
and especially Election Night, it will not be a bad notion. New York has
five saturnalia every year: New Year's Night, Decoration Day, Fourth of
July, Election Night, and Thanksgiving, and not the least of these is
Election Night. If it is a right first Tuesday of November, the daytime
wind will be veering from west to south and back, sun and cloud will
equally share the hours between them, and a not unnatural quiet, as of
political passions hushed under the blanket of the Australian ballot,
will prevail. The streets will be rather emptied than filled, and the
litter of straw and scrap-paper, and the ordure and other filth of the
great slattern town, will blow agreeably about under your feet and into
your eyes and teeth. But with the falling of the night there will be a
rise of the urban spirits; the sidewalks will thicken with citizens of
all ages and sexes and nations; and if you will then seek some large
centre for the cinematographic dissemination of the election news, you
will find yourself one of a multitude gloating on the scenes of comedy
and tragedy thrown up on the canvas to stay your impatience for the
returns. Along the curbstones are stationed wagons for the sale of the
wind and string instruments, whose raw, harsh discords of whistling and
twanging will begin with the sight of the vote from the first precinct.
Meantime policemen, nervously fondling their clubs in their hands, hang
upon the fringes of the crowd, which is yet so good-natured that it
seems to have no impulse but to lift children on its shoulders and put
pretty girls before it, and caress old women and cripples into favorable
positions, so that they may see better. You will wish to leave it before
the clubbing begins, and either go home to the slumbers which the
whistling and twanging will duly attend; or join the diners going into
or coming out of the restaurants, or the throngs strolling down into the
fairy realms of Broadway, under the flare of the whiskeys and the
actresses.

At such a time it is best to be young, but it is not so very bad to be
old, for the charm of the hour, the air, and the place is such that even
the heart of age must rise a little at it. What the night may really be,
if it is not positively raining, you "do not know or need to know."
Those soft lamps overhead, which might alike seem let garlanding down
from the vault above or flowering up from the gulfs below out of a still
greater pyrotechnic richness, supply the defect, if there is any, of
moon and stars. Only the air is actual, the air of the New York night,
which is as different from that of the London night as from that of the
Paris night, or, for all we know, the St. Petersburg night. At times we
have fancied in its early autumnal tones something Florentine, something
Venetian, but, after all, it is not quite either, even when the tones of
these are crudest. It is the subtlest, the most penetrating expression
of the New York temperament; but what that is, who shall say? That
mystic air is haunted little from the past, for properly speaking there
never was a city so unhistorical in temperament. A record of civic
corruption, running back to the first servants of the Dutch Companies,
does not constitute municipal history, and our part in national events
from the time we felt the stirrings of national consciousness has not
been glorious, as these have not been impressive. Of New York's present
at any given moment you wish to say in her patient-impatient slang,
"Forget it, forget it." There remains only the future from which she can
derive that temperamental effect in her night air; but, again, what
that is, who shall say? If any one were so daring, he might say it was
confidence modified by anxiety; a rash expectation of luck derived from
immunity for past transgression; the hopes of youth shot with youth's
despairs: not sweet, innocent youth, but youth knowing and experienced,
though not unwilling to shun evil because of the bad morrow it sometimes
brings. No other city under the sun, we doubt, is so expressive of that
youth: that modern youth, able, agile, eager, audacious; not the youth
of the poets, but the youth of the true, the grim realists.

[Illustration: ELECTION-NIGHT CROWDS]

Something, a faint, faint consciousness of this, visits even the sad
heart of age on any New York night when it is not raining too hard, and
one thinks only of getting indoors, where all nights are alike. But
mostly it comes when the autumn is dreaming toward winter in that
interlude of the seasons which we call Indian Summer. It is a stretch of
time which we have handsomely bestowed upon our aborigines, in
compensation for the four seasons we have taken from them, like some of
those Reservations which we have left them in lieu of the immeasurable
lands we have alienated. It used to be longer than it is now; it used to
be several weeks long; in the sense of childhood, it was almost months.
It is still qualitatively the same, and it is more than any other time
expressive of the New York temperament, perhaps because we have honored
in the civic ideal the polity of our Indian predecessors, and in Tammany
and its recurrently triumphant braves, have kept their memory green. But
if this is not so, the spiritual fact remains, and under the sky of the
Election Night you _feel_ New York as you do in no other hour. The sense
extends through the other autumn nights till that night, sure to come,
when the pensive weather breaks in tears, and the next day it rains and
rains, and the streets stream with the flood, and the dull air reeks
with a sort of inner steam, hot, close, and sticky as a brother: a
brother whose wants are many and whose resources are few. The morning
after the storm, there will be a keen thrill in the air, keen but
wholesome and bracing as a good resolution and not necessarily more
lasting. The asphalt has been washed as clean as a renovated conscience,
and the city presses forward again to the future in which alone it has
its being, with the gay confidence of a sinner who has forgiven himself
his sins and is no longer sorry for them.

After that interlude, when the streets of the Advanced Vaudeville, which
we know as New York, begin again and continue till the Chasers come in
late May, there will be many other sorts of weather, but none so
characteristic of her. There will be the sort of weather toward the end
of January, when really it seems as if nothing else could console him
for the intolerable freezing and thawing, the snow upon snow, the rain
upon rain, the winds that soak him and the winds that shrivel him, and
the suns that mock him from a subtropic sky through subarctic air. We
foresee him then settling into his arm-chair, while the wind whistles as
naturally as the wind in the theatre around the angles of his lofty
flat, and drives the snow of the shredded paper through the air or beats
it in soft clots against the pane. He turns our page, and as he catches
our vague drift, before yielding himself wholly to its allure, he
questions, as readers like to do, whether the writer is altogether right
in his contention that the mid-autumnal moment is the most
characteristic moment of the New York year. Is not the mid-winter moment
yet more characteristic? He conjures up, in the rich content of his
indoor remoteness, the vision of the vile street below his flat, banked
high with the garnered heaps of filthy snow, which alternately freeze
and thaw, which the rain does not wash nor the wind blow away, and which
the shredded-paper flakes are now drifting higher. He sees the
foot-passers struggling under their umbrellas toward the avenues where
the reluctant trolleys pause jarringly for them, and the elevated trains
roar along the trestle overhead; where the saloon winks a wicked eye on
every corner; where the signs of the whiskeys and actresses flare
through the thickened night; and the cab tilts and rocks across the
trolley rails, and the crowds of hotel-sojourners seek the shelter of
the theatres, and all is bleak and wet and squalid. In more respectful
vision he beholds the darkened mansions of the richest and best, who
have already fled the scene of their brief winter revel and are forcing
the spring in their Floridas, their Egypts, their Rivieras. He himself
remains midway between the last fall and the next spring; and perhaps he
decides against the writer, as the perverse reader sometimes will, and
holds that this hour of suspense and misgiving is the supreme, the
duodecimal hour of the metropolitan dial. He may be right; who knows?
New York's hours are all characteristic; and the hour whose mystical
quality we have been trying to intimate is already past, and we must
wait another year before we can put it to the test again; wait till the
trees once more stand perfectly still: yellow, yellowish-green, crimson,
russet, and the wind comes up and blows them bare, and yet another
summer is dead, and the mourners, the ghosts, the _revenants_ have once
more returned to town.



II

PERSONAL AND EPISTOLARY ADDRESSES


A constant reader of the Easy Chair has come to it with a difficulty
which, at the generous Christmas-tide, we hope his fellow-readers will
join us in helping solve: they may, if they like, regard it as a merry
jest of the patron saint of the day, a sort of riddle thrown upon the
table at the general feast for each to try his wits upon

   "Across the walnuts and the wine."

"How," this puzzled spirit has asked, "shall I address a friend of mine
who, besides being a person of civil condition, with a right to the
respect that we like to show people of standing in directing our letters
to them, has the distinction of being a doctor of philosophy, of
letters, and of laws by the vote of several great universities? Shall I
greet him as, say, Smythe Johnes, Esq., or Dr. Smythe Johnes, or Smythe
Johnes, Ph.D., Litt.D., LL.D., or simply Mr. Smythe Johnes?"

Decidedly, we should answer, to begin with, _not_ "Mr. Smythe Johnes" if
you wish to keep the finest bloom on your friendship with any man who
knows the world. He will much prefer being addressed simply "Smythe
Johnes," with his street and number, for he feels himself classed by
your "Mr. Smythe Johnes" with all those Mr. Smythe Johneses whom he
loves and honors in their quality of tradesmen and working-men, but
does not hold of quite the same social rank as himself. After our revolt
in essentials from the English in the eighteenth century, we are now
conforming more and more in the twentieth to their usages in
non-essentials, and the English always write Smythe Johnes, Esq., or Dr.
Smythe Johnes or the like, unless Mr. Smythe Johnes is in trade or below
it. They, indeed, sometimes carry their scruple so far that they will
address him as Mr. Smythe Johnes at his place of business, and Smythe
Johnes, Esq., at his private residence.

The English, who like their taffy thick and slab, and who, if one of
them happens to be the Earl of Tolloller, are not richly enough
satisfied to be so accosted by letter, but exact some such address as
The Right Honorable the Earl of Tolloller, all like distinctions in
their taffy, and are offended if you give them a commoner sort than they
think their due. But the Americans, who pretend to a manlier
self-respect, had once pretty generally decided upon Mr. Smythe Johnes
as the right direction for his letters. They argued that Esquire was the
proper address for lawyers, apparently because lawyers are so commonly
called Squire in the simpler life. In the disuse of the older form of
Armiger they forgot that _inter arma silent leges_, and that Esquire was
logically as unfit for lawyers as for civil doctors, divines, or
mediciners. He of the Easy Chair, when an editor long ago, yielded to
the prevalent American misrendering for a time, and indiscriminately
addressed all his contributors as "Mr." One of them, the most liberal of
them in principle, bore the ignominy for about a year, and then he
protested. After that the young editor (he was then almost as young as
any one now writing deathless fiction) indiscriminately addressed his
contributors as Esq. Yet he had an abiding sense of the absurdity in
directing letters to John G. Whittier, Esq., for if the poet was truly a
Friend and an abhorrer of war, he could not be hailed Armiger without
something like insult.

With doctors of divinity the question is not so vexing or vexed; but it
is said that of late a lion is rising in the way of rightly addressing
doctors of medicine. If you wish to be attended by a physician who pays
all visits after nightfall in evening dress, it is said that you are now
to write Smythe Johnes, M.D., Esq., and not Dr. Smythe Johnes, as
formerly. In England, the source of all our ceremonial woes, you cannot
call a surgeon "doctor" without offence; he is Mr. Smythe Johnes when
spoken to, but whether he is Mr. Smythe Johnes through the post, Heaven
knows.

It is a thousand pities that when we cut ourselves off from that
troubled source politically, we did not dam it up in all the things of
etiquette. We indeed struck for freedom and sense at the very highest
point, and began at once to write George Washington, President, as we
still write William H. Taft, President. The Chief Magistrate is offered
no taffy in our nation, or perhaps the word President is held to be
taffy enough and to spare; for only the Governor of Massachusetts is
legally even so much as Excellency. Yet by usage you are expected to
address all ambassadors and ministers as Excellencies, and all persons
in public office from members of Congress and of the Cabinet down to the
lowest legislative or judicial functionaries as Honorables. This
simplifies the task of directing envelopes to them, and, if a man once
holds military rank in any peace establishment, he makes life a little
easier for his correspondents by remaining General, or Captain, or
Admiral, or Commander. You cannot Mister him, and you cannot Esquire
him, and there is, therefore, no question as to what you shall
superscribe him.

A score of years ago two friends, now, alas! both doctors of philosophy,
of letters, and of laws, agreed to superscribe their letters simply
Smythe Johnes and Johnes Smythe respectively, without any vain prefix or
affix. They kept up this good custom till in process of time they went
to Europe for prolonged sojourns, and there corrupted their manners, so
that when they came home they began addressing each other as Esq., and
have done so ever since. Neither is any the better for the honors they
exchange on the envelopes they do not look at, and doubtless if mankind
could be brought to the renunciation of the vain prefixes and affixes
which these friends once disused the race would be none the worse for
it, but all the better. One prints Mr. Smythe Johnes on one's
visiting-card because it passes through the hands of a menial who is not
to be supposed for a moment to announce plain Smythe Johnes; but it is
the United States post-office which delivers the letters of Smythe
Johnes, and they can suffer no contamination from a service which
conveys the letters of plain William H. Taft to him with merely the
explanatory affix of President, lest they should go to some other
William H. Taft.

Undoubtedly the address of a person by the name with which he was
christened can convey no shadow of disrespect. The Society of Friends
understood this from the beginning, and they felt that they were wanting
in no essential civility when they refused name-honor as well as
hat-honor to all and every. They remained covered in the highest
presences, and addressed each by his Christian name, without conveying
slight; so that a King and Queen of England, who had once questioned
whether they could suffer themselves to be called Thy Majesty instead
of Your Majesty by certain Quakers, found it no derogation of their
dignity to be saluted as Friend George and Friend Charlotte. The signory
of the proudest republic in the world held that their family names were
of sufficiency to which titles could add nothing, and the Venetian who
called himself Loredano, or Gradenigo, or Morosini, or Renier, or
Rezzonico did not ask to be called differently. In our own day a lady of
the ancient and splendid family of the Peruzzi in Florence denied that
the title of count existed in it or need exist: "Ognuno può essere
conte: Peruzzi, no." ("Any one may be a count; but not a Peruzzi.") In
like manner such names as Lincoln and Franklin, and Washington and
Grant, and Longfellow and Bryant could have gained nothing by Mr. before
them or Esq. after them. Doctor Socrates or Doctor Seneca would not have
descended to us in higher regard with the help of these titles; and
Rear-Admiral Themistocles or Major-General Epaminondas could not have
had greater glory from the survival of parchments so directed to them.

The Venetian nobles who disdained titles came in process of time to be
saluted as Illustrissimo; but in process of time this address when used
orally began to shed its syllables till Illustrissimo became
Lustrissimo, and then Strissimo, and at last Striss, when perhaps the
family name again sufficed. So with us, Doctor has familiarly become
"Doc," and Captain, "Cap," until one might rather have no title at all.
Mr. itself is a grotesque malformation of a better word, and Miss is a
silly shortening of the fine form of Mistress. This, pronounced Misses,
can hardly add dignity to the name of the lady addressed, though
doubtless it cannot be disused till we are all of the Society of
Friends. The popular necessity has resulted in the vulgar vocative use
of Lady, but the same use of Gentleman has not even a vulgar success,
though it is not unknown. You may say, with your hand on the bell-strap,
"Step lively, lady," but you cannot say, "Step lively, gentleman," and
the fine old vocative "Sir" is quite obsolete. We ourselves remember it
on the tongues of two elderly men who greeted each other with "Sir!" and
"Sir!" when they met; and "Step lively, sir," might convey the same
delicate regard from the trolley conductor as "Step lively, lady." Sir
might look very well on the back of a letter; Smythe Johnes, Sir, would
on some accounts be preferable to Smythe Johnes, Esq., and, oddly
enough, it would be less archaic.

Such of our readers as have dined with the late Queen or the present
King of England will recall how much it eased the yoke of ceremony to
say to the sovereign, "Yes, ma'am," or "Yes, sir," as the use is,
instead of your Majesty. But to others you cannot say "Yes, ma'am," or
"Yes, sir," unless you are in that station of life to which you would be
very sorry it had pleased God to call you. Yet these forms seem
undeniably fit when used by the young to their elders, if the difference
of years is great enough.

The difficulty remains, however. You cannot as yet write on an envelope,
Smythe Johnes, Sir, or Mary Johnes, Lady; and, in view of this fact, we
find ourselves no nearer the solution of our constant reader's
difficulty than we were at first. The Socialists, who wish to simplify
themselves and others, would address Mr. Johnes as Comrade Smythe
Johnes, but could they address Mrs. Johnes as Comradess? We fancy not;
besides, Comrade suggests arms and bloodshed, which is hardly the
meaning of the red flag of brotherhood, and at the best Comrade looks
affected and sounds even more so. Friend would be better, but orally, on
the lips of non-Quakers, it has an effect of patronage, though no one
could rightly feel slight in a letter addressed to him as Friend Smythe
Johnes.

It is wonderful to consider how the ancients apparently got on without
the use of any sort of prefix or affix to their names on the roll of
parchment or fold of papyrus addressed to them. For all we know, Cæsar
was simply C. Julius Cæsar to his correspondents, and Pericles was yet
more simply Pericles to the least of his fellow-citizens. These
historical personages may have had the number of their houses inscribed
on their letters; or Pericles might have had Son of Xanthippus added to
his name for purposes of identification; but apparently he managed quite
as well as our Presidents, without anything equivalent to Excellency or
Hon. or Mr. or Esq. To be sure, with the decline of

   "The glory that was Greece
   And the grandeur that was Rome,"

name-honors crept in more and more. It was then not only politer but
much safer to address your petition To the Divine Domitian, or To the
Divine Nero, than to greet those emperors by the mere given names which
were not yet Christian; probably it would not have been enough to add
Cæsar to the last name, though Cæsar seems to have finally served the
turn of Esq., for all the right that the emperors had to bear it. In the
Eastern Empire, we are not ready to say what was the correct style for
imperial dignitaries; but among the sovereigns who divided the Roman
state and inherited its splendor, some rulers came to be sacred
majesties, though this is still a sensible remove from divine.

However, our present difficulty is with that vast average who in common
parlance are Mr. and Mrs. Smythe Johnes. How shall they be styled on the
backs of their letters? How shall Mrs. Smythe Johnes especially, in
signing herself Mary Johnes, indicate that she is not Miss Mary but Mrs.
Smythe Johnes? When she is left a widow, how soon does she cease to be
Mrs. Smythe Johnes and become Mrs. Mary? Is it requisite to write in the
case of any literary doctorate, Smythe Johnes, LL.D., or Litt.D., or
Ph.D., or is it sufficient to write Dr. before his name? In the case of
a divine, do you put Rev. Dr. before the name, or Rev. before it and
D.D. after it? These are important questions, or, if they are not
important, they are at least interesting. Among the vast mass of
unceremonied, or call it unmannered, Americans the receiver of a letter
probably knows no better than the sender how it should be addressed; but
in the rarer case in which he does know, his self-respect or his
self-love is wounded if it is misaddressed. It is something like having
your name misspelled, though of course not so bad as that, quite; and
every one would be glad to avoid the chance of it.

The matter is very delicate and can hardly be managed by legislation, as
it was on the point of our pen to suggest it should be. The first French
Republic, one and indivisible, decreed a really charming form of
address, which could be used without offence to the self-love or the
self-respect of any one. Citoyen for all men and Citoyenne for all women
was absolutely tasteful, modest, and dignified; but some things, though
they are such kindred things, cannot be done as well as others. The same
imaginative commonwealth invented a decimal chronology, and a new era,
very handy and very clear; but the old week of seven days came back and
replaced the week of ten days, and the Year of our Lord resumed the
place of the Year of the Republic, as Monsieur and Madame returned
victorious over Citoyen and Citoyenne. Yet the reform of weights and
measures, when once established, continued, and spread from France to
most other countries--to nearly all, indeed, less stupid than Great
Britain and the United States--so that the whole civilized world now
counts in grammes and metres. What can be the fine difference? Here is a
pretty inquiry for the psychologist, who has an opportunity to prove
himself practically useful. Is it that grammes and metres are less
personal than week-days and addresses? That can hardly be, or else the
Society of Friends could not have so absolutely substituted First Day
and Second Day, etc., for the old heathen names of our week-days, and
could not have successfully refused all name-honor whatsoever in
addressing their fellow-mortals.

But titles have come back full-tide in the third French Republic, one
and indivisible, so that anybody may wear them, though the oldest
nobility are officially and legally known only by their Christian and
family names, without any prefix. This is practically returning to
Citoyen and Citoyenne, and it almost gives us the courage to suggest the
experiment of Citizen and Citizenne as a proper address on the letters
of American republicans. The matter might be referred to a Board,
something like that of the Simplified Spelling Board, though we should
not like to be included in a committee whose members must be prepared to
take their lives in their hands, or, short of death, to suffer every
manner of shame at the hands of our journalists and their
correspondents. Short of the adoption of Citizen and Citizenne, we have
no choice but to address one another by our given names and surnames
merely, unless we prefer to remain in our present confusion of Mr. and
Esq. In a very little while, we dare say, no lady or gentleman would
mind being so addressed on his or her letters; but perhaps some men and
women might. Now that we no longer use pets names so much, except among
the very highest of our noblesse, where there are still Jimmies and
Mamies, we believe, plain Gladys Smythe or Reginald Johnes would be the
usual superscription. Such an address could bring no discomfort to the
recipient (a beautiful word, very proper in this connection), and if it
could once be generally adopted it would save a great deal of anxiety.
The lady's condition could be indicated by the suffix Spinster, in the
case of her being single; if married, the initials of her husband's
given names could be added.



III

DRESSING FOR HOTEL DINNER


Among the high excitements of a recent winter in New York was one of
such convulsive intensity that in the nature of things it could not last
very long. It affected the feminine temperament of our public with
hysterical violence, but left the community the calmer for its throes,
and gently, if somewhat pensively, smiling in a permanent ignorance of
the event. No outside observer would now be able to say, offhand,
whether a certain eminent innkeeper had or had not had his way with his
customers in the matter not only of what they should eat or drink, but
what they should wear when dining in a place which has been described as
"supplying exclusiveness to the lower classes." It is not even certain
just how a crucial case was brought to the notice of this authority;
what is certain is that his instant judgment was that no white male
citizen frequenting his proud tavern should sit at dinner there unless
clothed in a dress-coat, or at least in the smoking-jacket known to us
as a Tuxedo; at breakfast or at luncheon, probably, the guest, the
paying guest, could sufficiently shine in the reflected glory of the
lustrous evening wear of the waiters. No sooner was the innkeeper's
judgment rendered than a keen thrill of resentment, or at least
amusement, ran through the general breast. From every quarter the
reporters hastened to verify the fact at first-hand, and then to submit
it to the keeper of every other eminent inn or eating-house in the city
and learn his usage and opinion. These to a man disavowed any such
hard-and-fast rule. Though their paying guests were ordinarily gentlemen
of such polite habits as to be incapable of dining in anything but a
dress-coat or a Tuxedo, yet their inns and eating-houses were not barred
against those who chose to dine in a frock or cutaway or even a sacque.
It is possible that the managers imagined themselves acquiring merit
with that large body of our vulgar who demand exclusiveness by their
avowal of a fine indifference or an enlightened tolerance in the matter.
But at this distance of time no one can confidently say how the incident
was closed with respect to the pre-eminent innkeeper and his proud
tavern. Whether the wayfarer, forced by the conditions of travel upon
the company of the exclusive vulgar, may now dine there in the public
banqueting-hall in his daytime raiment, or must take his evening meal in
his room, with a penalty in the form of an extra charge for service,
nowise appears.

What is apparent from the whole affair is that the old ideal of one's
inn, as a place where one shall take one's ease, has perished in the
evolution of the magnificent American hotel which we have been
maliciously seeking to minify in the image of its Old World germ. One
may take one's ease in one's hotel only if one is dressed to the mind of
the hotel-keeper, or perhaps finally the head waiter. But what is more
important still is that probably the vast multitude of the moneyed
vulgar whose exclusiveness is supplied to them in such a place dictate,
tacitly at least, the Draconian policy of the management. No innkeeper
or head waiter, no matter of how patrician an experience or prejudice,
would imagine a measure of such hardship to wayfarers willing to pay for
the simple comfort of their ancestors at the same rate as their
commensals stiffly shining in the clothes of convention. The management
might have its conception of what a hotel dining-room should look like,
with an unbroken array of gentlemen in black dress-coats and ladies in
white shoulders all feeding as superbly as if they were not paying for
their dinners, or as if they had been severally asked for the pleasure
of their company two weeks before; and the picture would doubtless be
marred by figures of people in cutaways and high necks, to a degree
intolerable to the artistic sense. But it is altogether impossible that
the management would exact a conformity to the general effect which was
not desired by the vast majority of its paying guests. What might well
have seemed a break on the part of the pre-eminent innkeeper when he
cited as a precedent for his decision the practice of the highest hotels
in London was really no break, but a stroke of the finest juridical
acumen. Nothing could have gone further with the vast majority of his
paying guests than some such authority, for they could wish nothing so
much, in the exclusiveness supplied them, as the example of the real
characters in the social drama which they were impersonating. They had
the stage and the scenery; they had spared no expense in their
costuming; they had anxiously studied their parts, and for the space of
their dinner-hour they had the right to the effect of aristocratic
society, which they were seeking, unmarred by one discordant note. After
that hour, let it be a cramped stall in the orchestra of another
theatre, or let it be an early bed in a cell of their colossal
columbary, yet they would have had their dinner-hour when they shone
primarily just like the paying guests in the finest English hotel, and
secondarily just like the non-paying guests at the innumerable dinners
of the nobility and gentry in a thousand private houses in London.

Our aim is always high, and they would be right to aim at nothing lower
than this in their amateur dramatics. But here we have a question which
we have been holding back by main force from the beginning, and which
now persists in precipitating itself in our peaceful page. It is a
question which merits wider and closer study than we can give it, and it
will, we hope, find an answer such as we cannot supply in the wisdom of
the reader. It presented itself to the mind of Eugenio in a recent
experience of his at a famous seaside resort which does not remit its
charm even in the heart of winter, and which with the first tremor of
the opening spring allures the dweller among the sky-scrapers and the
subways with an irresistible appeal. We need not further specify the
place, but it is necessary to add that it draws not only the jaded or
sated New-Yorker, but the more eager and animated average of well-to-do
people from every part of their country who have got bored out with
their happy homes and want a few days' or a few weeks' change. One may
not perhaps meet a single distinguished figure on its famous promenade,
or at least more distinguished than one's own; with the best will in the
world to find such figures, Eugenio could count but three or four: a
tall, alert, correct man or two; an electly fashioned, perfectly set-up,
dominant woman or so, whose bearing expressed the supremacy of a set in
some unquestionable world. But there was obvious riches aplenty, and
aplenty of the kind wholesomeness of the good, true, intelligent, and
heaven-bound virtue of what we must begin to call our middle class,
offensive as the necessity may be. Here and there the effect of
champagne in the hair, which deceived no one but the wearer, was to be
noted; here and there, high-rolling, a presence with the effect of
something more than champagne in the face loomed in the perspective
through the haze of a costly cigar. But by far, immensely far, the
greater number of his fellow-frequenters of the charming promenade were
simple, domestic, well-meaning Americans like Eugenio himself, of a
varying simplicity indeed, but always of a simplicity. They were the
stuff with which his fancy (he never presumed to call it his
imagination) had hitherto delighted to play, fondly shaping out of the
collective material those lineaments and expressions which he hoped
contained a composite likeness of his American day and generation. The
whole situation was most propitious, and yet he found himself moving
through it without one of the impulses which had been almost lifelong
with him. As if in some strange paralysis, some obsession by a demon of
indifference unknown before, he was bereft of the will to realize these
familiar protagonists of his plain dramas. He knew them, of course; he
knew them all too well; but he had not the wish to fit the likest of
them with phrases, to costume them for their several parts, to fit them
into the places in the unambitious action where they had so often
contributed to the modest but inevitable catastrophe.

The experience repeated itself till he began to take himself by the
collar and shake himself in the dismay of a wild conjecture. What had
befallen him? Had he gone along, young, eager, interested, delighted
with his kind for half a century of æsthetic consciousness, and now had
he suddenly lapsed into the weariness and apathy of old age? It is
always, short of ninety, too soon for that, and Eugenio was not yet
quite ninety. Was his mind, then, prematurely affected? But was not this
question itself proof that his mind was still importunately active? If
that was so, why did not he still wish to make his phrases about his
like, to reproduce their effect in composite portraiture? Eugenio fell
into a state so low that nothing but the confession of his perplexity
could help him out; and the friend to whom he owned his mystifying, his
all but appalling, experience did not fail him in his extremity. "No,"
he wrote back, "it is not that you have seen all these people, and that
they offer no novel types for observation, but even more that they
illustrate the great fact that, in the course of the last twenty years,
society in America has reached its goal, has 'arrived,' and is creating
no new types. On the contrary, it is obliterating some of the best which
were clearly marked, and is becoming more and more one rich, dead level
of mediocrity, broken here and there by solitary eminences, some of
which are genuine, some only false peaks without solid rock
foundations."

Such a view of his case must be immediately and immensely consoling, but
it was even more precious to Eugenio for the suggestion from which his
fancy--never imagination--began to play forward with the vivacity of
that of a youth of sixty, instead of a middle-aged man of eighty-five.
If all this were true--and its truth shone the more distinctly from a
ground of potential dissent--was not there the stuff in the actual
conditions from which a finer artist than he could ever hope to be, now
that the first glow of his prime was past, might fashion an image of our
decadence, or our arrest, so grandly, so perfectly dull and
uninteresting, that it would fix all the after-ages with the sovereign
authority of a masterpiece? Here, he tremblingly glowed to realize, was
opportunity, not for him, indeed, but for some more modern, more
divinely inspired lover of the mediocre, to eternize our typelessness
and establish himself among the many-millioned heirs of fame. It had
been easy--how easy it had been!--to catch the likeness of those
formative times in which he had lived and wrought; but the triumph and
the reward of the new artist would be in proportion to the difficulty of
seizing the rich, self-satisfied, ambitionless, sordid commonplace of a
society wishing to be shut up in a steam-heated, electric-lighted palace
and fed fat in its exclusiveness with the inexhaustible inventions of an
overpaid chef. True, the strong, simple days of the young republic, when
men forgot themselves in the struggle with the wild continent, were
past; true, the years were gone when the tremendous adventure of tearing
from her heart the iron and the gold which were to bind her in lasting
subjection gave to fiction industrial heroes fierce and bold as those of
classic fable or mediæval romance. But there remained the days of the
years which shall apparently have no end, but shall abound forever in an
inexhaustible wealth of the sort wishing not so much to rise itself as
to keep down and out all suggestion of the life from which it sprang.

The sort of type which would represent this condition would be vainly
sought in any exceptionally opulent citizen of that world. He would
have, if nothing else, the distinction of his unmeasured millions, which
would form a poetry, however sordid; the note of the world we mean is
indistinction, and the protagonist of the fiction seeking to portray its
fads and characters must not have more than two or three millions at the
most. He, or better she, were better perhaps with only a million, or a
million and a half, or enough to live handsomely in eminent inns, either
at home or abroad, with that sort of insolent half-knowledge to which
culture is contemptible; which can feel the theatre, but not literature;
which has passed from the horse to the automobile; which has its moral
and material yacht, cruising all social coasts and making port in none
where there is not a hotel or cottage life as empty and exclusive as its
own. Even in trying to understate the sort, one overstates it. Nothing
could be more untrue to its reality than the accentuation of traits
which in the arrivals of society elsewhere and elsewhen have marked the
ultimation of the bourgeois spirit. Say that the Puritan, the Pilgrim,
the Cavalier, and the Merchant Adventurer have come and gone; say that
the Revolutionist Patriot, the Pioneer and the Backwoodsman and the
Noble Savage have come and gone; say that the Slaveholder and the Slave
and the Abolitionist and the Civil Warrior have come and gone; say that
the Miner, the Rancher, the Cowboy, and the sardonically humorous
Frontiersman have come and gone; say that the simple-hearted,
hard-working, modest, genial Homemakers have come and gone; say that the
Captain of Industry has come and gone, and the world-wide Financier is
going: what remains for actuality-loving art to mould into shapes of
perdurable beauty? Obviously, only the immeasurable mass of a prosperity
sunken in a self-satisfaction unstirred by conscience and unmoved by
desire. But is that a reason why art should despair? Rather it is a
reason why it should rejoice in an opportunity occurring not more than
once in the ages to seize the likeness and express the significance of
Arrival, the arrival of a whole civilization. To do this, art must
refine and re-refine upon itself; it must use methods of unapproached
delicacy, of unimagined subtlety and celerity. It is easy enough to
catch the look of the patrician in the upper air, of the plebeian
underfoot, but to render the image of a world-bourgeoisie, compacted in
characters of undeniable verisimilitude, that will be difficult, but it
will be possible, and the success will be of an effulgence such as has
never yet taken the eyes of wonder.

We should not be disposed to deny the artist, dedicated to this high
achievement by his love of the material not less than by his peculiar
gift, the range of a liberal idealism. We would not have him bound by
any precedent or any self-imposed law of literality. If he should see
his work as a mighty historical picture, or series of such pictures, we
should not gainsay him his conception or bind him rather to any _genre_
result. We ourselves have been evolving here the notion of some large
allegory which should bear the relation to all other allegories that
Bartholdi's colossus of Liberty bears to all other statues, and which
should carry forward the story and the hero, or the heroine, to some
such supreme moment as that when, amid the approving emotion of an
immense hotel dining-room, all in _décolletée_ and _frac paré_, the old,
simple-lived American, wearing a sack-coat and a colored shirt, shall be
led out between the eminent innkeeper and the head waiter and delivered
over to the police to be conducted in ignominy to the nearest Italian
table d'hôte. The national character, on the broad level of equality
which fiction once delighted to paint, no longer exists, but if a
deeper, a richer, a more enduring monotony replaces it, we have no fear
but some genius will arrive and impart the effect of the society which
has arrived.



IV

THE COUNSEL OF LITERARY AGE TO LITERARY YOUTH


As Eugenio--we will call him Eugenio: a fine impersonal name--grew
older, and became, rightfully or wrongfully, more and more widely known
for his writings, he found himself increasingly the subject of appeal
from young writers who wished in their turn to become, rightfully or
wrongfully, more and more widely known. This is not, indeed, stating the
case with the precision which we like. His correspondents were young
enough already, but they were sometimes not yet writers; they had only
the ambition to be writers. Our loose formulation of the fact, however,
will cover all its meaning, and we will let it go that they were young
writers, for, whether they were or not, they all wished to know one
thing: namely, how he did it.

What, they asked in varying turns, was his secret, his recipe for making
the kind of literature which had made him famous: they did stint their
phrase, and they said famous. That always caused Eugenio to blush, at
first with shame and then with pleasure; whatever one's modesty, one
likes to be called famous, and Eugenio's pleasure in their flatteries
was so much greater than his shame that he thought only how to return
them the pleasure unmixed with the shame. His heart went out to those
generous youths, who sometimes confessed themselves still in their
teens, and often of the sex which is commonly most effective with the
fancy while still in its teens. It seemed such a very little thing to
show them the way to do what he had done, and, while disclaiming any
merit for it, to say why it was the best possible way. If they had
grouped him with other widely known writers in their admiration, he
never imagined directing his correspondents to those others' methods; he
said to himself that he did not understand them, and at bottom he felt
that it would have been better taste in the generous youths to have left
them out of the question.

In the end he never answered his correspondents in the handsome way he
had fancied. Generally he did not answer them at all, or, if he did, he
put them off with some such cheap excuse as advising them to be sure
they had something to say, and then to say it as simply and clearly as
they could. He knew very well that this was begging the question; that
the question was how to be artistic, graceful, charming, and whatever
else they said he himself was. If he was aware of not being all that, he
was aware also of having tried to be it; of having sought from the
beginning to captivate the reader's fancy as well as convince his
reason. He had never been satisfied with being plain and direct; he had
constantly wished to amuse as well as edify, and following the line of
beauty, as that of the least resistance, had been his practice if not
his precept. If he counselled his correspondents otherwise, he would be
uncandid, and when he had imagined putting them off in that fashion he
was more ashamed than he had been with their praise.

Yet, upon reflection, he perceived that what they asked was impossible.
If ever he had a formula he had lost it; he was no longer in his own
secret, if ever he had been. All that he could have said with perfect
honesty would have been that he had never found any royal road to
literature; that to his experience there was not even a common highway;
that there were only byways; private paths over other people's grounds;
easements beaten out by feet that had passed before, and giving by a
subsequent overgrowth of turf or brambles a deceitful sense of discovery
to the latest-comer.

His correspondents would not have liked that. He knew that what they
wanted was his measure of the old success in some new way, which they
could feel their own after it had been shown them. But the only secret
that he was still in was the very open one of working hard at whatever
he had in hand, and this he suspected they would have scorned sharing
with him. He could have said that if you want to keep three or five
balls in the air at once you must learn how by practising; but they knew
that as well as he; what they asked was being enabled to do it
themselves from _his_ having practised.

The perception of this fact made Eugenio very sad, and he asked himself
if the willingness to arrive only after you had got there had gone out
of the world and left nothing but the ambition to be at this point or
that without the trouble of having reached it. He smiled as he recalled
the stock criticism of the connoisseur in _The Vicar of Wakefield_, that
the picture would have been better if the painter had taken more pains;
but he did not smile gayly: there seemed to him a sum of pathetic wisdom
in the saying which might well weigh down the blithest spirit. It had
occurred to him in connection with an old essay of Hazlitt's, which he
had been reading, on the comparative methods of English and French
painters in their work. The essayist held, almost literally, that the
French pictures were better because the French painters had taken more
pains, and taken especial pains in the least interesting parts of their
pictures. He was dealing more specifically with copying, but his words
applied to the respective schools in their highest work, and he could
only save his patriotic pride, so far as he might, by saying: "Courage
is pure will without regard to consequences, and this the English have
in perfection. Poetry is our element, for the essence of poetry is will
and passion. The English fail as a people in the fine arts, namely,
because the end with them absorbs the means."

Eugenio knew nothing practically and very little theoretically of
painting; but it appeared to him that what Hazlitt said was of equal
force with respect to the fine art of literature; and that in his own
American field the English race failed, as far as it had failed, for the
same reason as that given by Hazlitt for its failure in painting. In his
mind he went further than Hazlitt, or came short of him, in refusing the
consolation of our race's superiority in poetry because it was will and
passion. As far as they had excelled in that, it was because they had
tried hard and not neglected the means for the end. Where they had
excelled most, it was quite imaginable that the poem would still have
been better if the poet had taken more pains. In the case of prose, he
thought we failed of the end because we were impatient of the means, and
as elderly men will, he accused the present of being more hasty and
indifferent to form than the past. He recalled the time when he was
apprentice in the art in which he could not yet call himself a master
workman, and thought how he tried to make what he did beautiful, and
fashioned his work with tireless pains after some high model. Perhaps
the young writers of this time were striving as earnestly; but he could
not see it, or thought he could not. He fancied their eyes dazzled by
the images of easy success, instead of taken with the glory of a thing
beautifully done. He remembered, with fond emotion, how once his soul
had glowed over some "cunning'st pattern of excelling nature," and had
been filled with longing to learn from it the art of surprising some
other mood or aspect of nature and making that loveliness or grandeur
his own. He had talked with other youths who were trying at the same
time to do good work, and he remembered that they too were trying in the
same way; and now, long after, he fancied that their difference from the
youth of the present day was in their willingness to strive for
perfection in the means and to let the end take care of itself. The end
could no more justify bad means in æsthetics than in ethics; in fact,
without the carefully studied means there could be no artistic result.
If it was true that the young writers of the present expected a high
result from hurried or neglected processes, they could have only the
results that Eugenio saw around him. If they admired these, and were
coming to him for the secret of achieving them, they were coming to the
wrong shop.

Yet he did not harshly blame them. He remembered how he, too, when he
had been impatient of the means, had once fancied postponing them to the
end. That was in the days which were mainly filled for him with the
business of writing fiction, and when the climax of his story seemed
always threatening to hide itself from him or to elude his grasp. There
were times when it changed to some other end or took a different
significance from that it had primarily had. Then he had said to himself
that if he could only write the end first, or boldly block it out as it
first presented itself, and afterward go back and write in the events
and characters leading up to it, he would have an effect glorified by
all the fervor of his primal inspiration. But he never did that, or
even tried to do it. Perhaps, when he came to consider it more
carefully, it appeared impossible; perhaps it approved itself ridiculous
without experiment. His work of art, such as it was, was a growth from
all his thinking and feeling about it; and without that it could no more
eventuate in a climax than a tree could ripen fruit without the
preliminaries of striking its roots into the ground, coming of the age
to bear, and then some springtime budding, putting out leaves, breaking
into blossom, and setting its young apples, or whatever else it was
going to bear. The fruit it bore would be according to its kind, and he
might have been mistakenly expecting to grow peaches from an apple stock
when he was surprised to find apples on it, or the end of his novel
turning out other than he had forecast it.

In literature the reader's affair is with results, but the author's with
processes. Eugenio had realized this more and more distinctly, and, as
he now reflected on the appeals of those fond young correspondents of
his, it occurred to him that their confusion as to literary methods and
manners lay in their being still readers so largely and so little
authors as yet. They were dealing with the end, in their mistaken minds,
and not with the means, as they supposed. The successes which dazzled
them might very well have been written backward in some such fashion as
he had once imagined, for the end was the main thing with them, and was
the end of the story as well as the end of the book. But the true story
never ends. The close of the book is simply the point at which the
author has stopped, and, if he has stopped wisely, the reader takes up
the tale and goes on with it in his own mind.

As for the variance of the close from the forecast of it, Eugenio was
less and less dismayed by that, when in the course of time he looked
more closely at his own life and the lives of other men. Only on some
spiritual terms was there the fulfilment of forecast in them, and the
more art resembled life the less responsive it was to any hard-and-fast
design. He perceived that to find the result changing from the purpose
might very well be a proof of vitality in it, an evidence of unconscious
insight, the sort of inspiration that comes to crown faithful work with
unimagined beauty. He looked round at the great works of literary art,
and he believed that he saw in them the escape from implicit obedience
to a first intention. Only in the inferior things, the mechanical
things, could he discern obedience. In something supreme, like _Hamlet_,
say, there was everything to make him think that the processes had
educated Shakespeare as to the true nature of his sublime endeavor and
had fixed the terms of its close. Probably the playwright started with
the notion of making Hamlet promptly kill his stepfather, rescue Ophelia
from the attempt to climb out over the stream on a willow branch,
forgive his erring mother as more sinned against than sinning, welcome
Laertes back to Denmark, and with the Ghost of his father blessing the
whole group, and Polonius with his arm in a sling, severely but not
fatally wounded, form the sort of stage picture, as the curtain went
down, that has sent audiences home, dissolved in happy tears, from so
many theatres. But Shakespeare, being a dramatist as well as a
playwright, learned from Hamlet himself that Hamlet could not end as he
had meant him to end. Hamlet, in fact, could not really end at all, and,
in the sort of anticlimax in which the tragedy closes, he must rise from
death, another and a truer ghost than the buried majesty of Denmark, and
walk the world forever.

Could Eugenio, however, advise his youthful correspondents to work so
reckless of their original conceptions as Shakespeare had probably done?
The question was serious; it put him upon his conscience, and he decided
that at the most he could not do more than urge them, with all the
earnestness of his nature, to write their _Hamlets_ from the beginning
forward, and never from the ending backward, even in their own minds. He
saw that if he were to answer them collectively (and he certainly did
not intend to answer them severally) he must say that their only hope of
producing an effective whole was through indefatigable work upon every
part. Make each smallest detail beautiful, and despise none because it
seemed to perform a poor and lowly office in the assemblage of the
parts. Let these youths be sure that they could not know the meaning of
any design from imagining it, but only from expressing it, and that the
true result could come only from the process. They could not hope to
outdo Shakespeare and foreknow their respective _Hamlets_; they must
slowly make their _Hamlets_' acquaintance by living with them.

If Eugenio's correspondents were dashed by this hard saying, he thought
he might raise their spirits by adding that they would find compensation
for their slow, arduous toil in particulars from a fact which he had
noted in his own case. A thing well done looks always very much better
in the retrospect than could have been hoped. A good piece of work would
smile radiantly upon them when it was accomplished. Besides, after a
certain experience in doing, they would learn that the greatest
happiness which could come to them from their work would be through the
perfecting of details. This would make their performance a succession of
little victories which alone could constitute the great ultimate
triumph.

"But style, but style!" they might return. "What about style? That was
one of the miracles we asked you the sleight of, and are you going to
say nothing about that? Or did you mean style, in your talk about
perfecting details? Do you want us to take infinite pains in acquiring a
style?"

"By no means," Eugenio was prepared to declare in the event of this
come-back. "Do not think about style. If you do your work well,
patiently, faithfully, truly, style will infallibly be added unto you.
That is the one thing you must _not_ try for. If you try for style, you
will be like a man thinking about his clothes or his manners. You will
be self-conscious, which is the fatal opposite of being yourself. You
will be yourself when you are lost in your work, and then you will come
into the only style that is proper to you: the beauty and the grace that
any sort of workman has in the exercise of his craft. You will then
have, without seeking it, your own swing of phrase, your own turn of
expression, your own diction, and these will be your style by which
every reader will know you. But if you have a manner which you have
borrowed or imitated, people will see that it is second-hand and no
better than something shop-worn or cast off. Besides, style is a thing
that has been grossly overvalued in the general appraisal of literary
qualities. The stylists are not the greatest artists, the supreme
artists. Who would think of Shakespeare as a stylist, or Tolstoy, or
Dante?"

Eugenio thought he could count upon a vanity in his correspondents so
dense as not to be pierced by any irony. In fact, it could not be said
that, though he felt the pathos of their appeals, he greatly respected
the motives which actuated them in writing to him. They themselves
respected their motives because they did not know them as he did, but
probably they did not pity themselves so much as he pitied them. He
realized that they turned to him from a literary remoteness which they
did not realize, and it was very natural that they should turn for help
outside their circumstance; but Eugenio had not lived to his age without
learning that many natural impulses are mistaken if not wrong. He
reflected sadly that those far-off solitaries could alone burst their
circumstance and find their way out of it. He perceived that they could
do this only by their own devout and constant toil in the line of their
aspiration. But would it avail to tell them so?

One of the knowledges of a period of life which we will call the riper
maturity is that we need all the accumulated vigilance of the past to
secure us from the ever-besetting dangers of the present: the dangers of
indolence, of slovenly performance, of indistinct vision, of weakening
conscience in our work. We need every atom of force, every particle of
the stored electricity of youth, to keep us going in later years. While
we are still young we are aware of an environing and pervading censure,
coming from the rivalry, the envy, the generous emulation, the approval,
the disapproval, the love, the hate of all those who witness our
endeavor. No smallest slip, no slightest defect will be lost upon this
censure, equally useful whether sympathetic or antipathetic. But as we
grow old we are sensible of a relaxing, a lifting, a withdrawal of the
environing and pervading censure. We have become the objects of a
compassionate toleration or a contemptuous indifference; it no longer
matters greatly to the world whether we do our work well or ill. But if
we love our work as we ought till we die, it should matter more than
ever to us whether we do it well or ill. We have come to the most
perilous days of our years when we are tempted not so much to slight our
work as to spare our nerves, in which the stored electricity is lower
and scanter than it was, and to let a present feeble performance blight
the fame of strenuous achievements in the past. We may then make our
choice of two things--stop working; stop going, cease to move, to
exist--or gather at each successive effort whatever remains of habit, of
conscience, of native force, and put it into effect till our work, which
we have not dropped, drops us.

Should Eugenio address these hard sayings to his appealing, his
palpitating correspondents? He found himself on the point of telling
them that of all the accumulated energies which could avail them when
they came of his age, or were coming of it, there was none that would
count for so much as the force of habit; and what could be more banal
than that? It would not save it from banality if he explained that he
meant the habit of loving the very best one can do, and doing that and
not something less. It would still be banal to say that now in their
youth was the only time they would have to form the habit of tirelessly
doing their best at every point, and that they could not buy or beg or
borrow such a habit for the simple reason that nobody who had it could
sell or give or lend it.

Besides, as Eugenio very well perceived, his correspondents were not
only young now, but were always intending to be so. He remembered how it
used to be with himself, and that was how it used to be. He saw
abundance of old, or older, people about him, but he himself
instinctively expected to live on and on, without getting older, and to
hive up honey from experience without the beeswax which alone they
seemed to have stored from the opening flowers of the past. Yet, in due
course of time, he found himself an old or older man simply through
living on and on and not dying earlier. Upon the whole, he liked it and
would not have gone back and died earlier if he could. But he felt that
it would be useless trying to convince his youthful correspondents that,
whether they liked it or not, they too would grow old, or older, if they
lived. How, then, teach them by precept, if they would not learn by
universal example, that unless they were to be very miserable old men,
and even miserable old women, they must have the habit of work? How
instruct them further that unless they had the habit of good work,
patient, faithful, fine work, the habit which no one can buy, beg, or
borrow, because no one can sell, give, or lend it, they were worse than
idle, cumberers of the earth, with no excuse for being above it?

If he had set out to do that, they might have retorted upon him that he
was making a petty personal matter of art, which was not only so much
longer than life, but so much wider, deeper, and higher. In this event
he saw that he would have nothing for it but to confirm his
correspondents in their disappointment with him by declaring that art
_was_ a personal matter, and that though longer, it was not wider,
deeper, or higher than life, and could not be. It might be mysterious in
being personal, but it was not necessarily petty. It would be great if
the artist was so, but not otherwise; it could be fine on no other
terms. There was a theory and an appearance that it existed somehow
apart from the artist and that it made him. But the fact was he made it,
partly wittingly, partly unwittingly; and it had no being except in his
achievement. The power of imagining a work of art was the gift of
nature, as being long or short, dark or fair was. The concern of him it
was given to was how, after he found it out, to make the most of his
gift. It had no power to make much or little of him. If he cherished it
and served it, when he had made sure of it, by fulfilling the law that
its possession imposed, then it would rise up in something he had done
and call him master.

But how could Eugenio make such things--so true and yet so
self-contradictory, so mutually repellent--clear to these simple-hearted
young correspondents of his? The more he thought of the matter, the more
he resolved to do nothing about it.



V

THE UNSATISFACTORINESS OF UNFRIENDLY CRITICISM


It was the experience of Eugenio that the criticisms of his books, when
they were unfriendly, presented a varying offence, rather than a
cumulative offence, as the years wore on. The criticisms of one's books
are always hard to bear if they are unfavorable, but he thought that
displeasure for displeasure the earlier refusal to allow him certain
merits was less displeasing than the later consent to take these merits
for granted. To be taken for granted in any wise is to be limited. It is
tantamount to having it said of one that, yes, one has those virtues,
but one has no others. It comes also to saying that one has, of course,
the defects of one's virtues; though Eugenio noted that, when certain
defects of his were taken for granted, it did not so distinctly and
immediately follow that he was supposed to have the virtues of these.

Now, Eugenio's theory of himself was that he was not limited, and that,
if he modestly stopped short of infinity, it was because he chose. He
had a feeling of always breaking new ground; and he did not like being
told that he was tilling the old glebe and harvesting the same crops, or
that in the little garden-ground where he let his fancy play he was
culling flowers of such familiar tint and scent that they seemed to be
the very flowers he had picked thirty or forty years before. What made
it harder to endure suggestion of this sort was that in his feeling of
always breaking new ground there was an inner sense, or fear, or doubt,
that perhaps it was not really virgin soil he was turning up, but merely
the sod of fields which had lain fallow a year or two or had possibly
been cropped the season before.

The misgiving was forced upon him by certain appearances in the work of
other veteran authors. When he took up the last book of some lifelong
favorite, no matter how great a master he knew him still to be, he could
not help seeing that the poor old master was repeating himself, though
he would not have phrased the case in such brutal terms. Then the chill
wonder how long he could hope to escape the like fate pierced him, and
for a moment he could not silence the question whether it might not have
already befallen him. In another moment he knew better, and was justly
aggrieved with the next reviewer who took things in him for granted,
quite as offensively if they were merits as if they were defects. It was
vital to him to be always breaking new ground, and, if at times it
seemed to him that he had turned this or that furrow before, he said to
himself that it was merely one of those intimations of pre-existence
which are always teasing us here with the sense of experience in
circumstances absolutely novel; and he hoped that no one else would
notice the coincidence.

He was, indeed, tolerably safe from the chance, for it is one of the
conditions of literary criticism that the reviewers shall be nearly
always young persons. They, if they alone are capable of the cruelties
they sometimes practise, are alone capable of the enthusiasms which
supply publishers with quotable passages for their advertisements, and
which lift authors' hearts in pride and joy. It is to their advantage
that they generally bring to the present work of a veteran author an
ignorance of all that he has done before, and have the zest for it which
the performance of a novice inspires. They know he is not a novice, of
course, and they recognize his book as that of a veteran, but they
necessarily treat it as representative of his authorship. Of course, if
it is his twentieth or thirtieth book, or his fortieth or fiftieth, it
is merely one of a long series which fully represents him. Even these
collectively represent him inadequately as long as he is adding to them,
if he has the habit, like Eugenio, of always breaking new ground. The
reviewer, however, is probably much newer than the ground which the
established author breaks in his last book, and, coming to it in his
generous ignorance, which he has to conceal under a mask of smiling
omniscience, he condemns or praises it without reference to the work
which has gone before it and which it is merely part of, though of
course it has entirety enough of a sort to stand alone. If the author
has broken ground in the direction of a new type of heroine, the
reviewer, by the conditions of his calling, is all but obliged to say
that here is one of those enchanting girls whom the author in question
has endeared to generations of readers; or one of those tedious prudes
for whom his name is a synonyme. If, after many psychological romances,
the author has stepped down to the level of actual life, he is praised
or blamed for the vital or servile naturalism of his work; or if the
contrary is the case, he has to read of himself as doing something
habitual and entirely characteristic of him. In vain, so far as that
acute young critic is concerned, has he broken new ground. But if he has
with much compunction consciously turned his furrows in a field tilled
before, he stands a fair chance of being hailed at the outset of a new
career.

He cannot openly complain, and if he could the critic cannot help being
what he is. If the critic were older and more versed in the veteran
author, he might not like him so well, and he could not, at any rate,
bring the fresh interest to his work which the young reviewer brings.
What Eugenio would really wish would be to have each successive book of
his given for review to some lifelong admirer, some dear and faithful
friend, all the better for not being an acquaintance, who had liked him
from the beginning and was intimately versed in all his work. Such a
critic would know that Eugenio was always breaking new ground, and that
he was never more true to this inherent tendency than when he seemed to
be ploughing the same old furrows in the same old fields. Such a critic
would be alert to detect those fine differences of situation which
distinguish a later from an earlier predicament. He would note with
unfailing perspicacity the shades of variance which constitute Florindo
an essentially novel character when presented under the name of Lindoro,
or Floribella a fresh delight when she reappears as Doralinda. Even when
he could not deny that these persons were in themselves one and the
same, he would be able to make the reader observe that the new light
thrown upon them by the author's ever-renascent art revealed in familiar
creations traits of mind and charms of spirit unimagined before. He
would insist that, if not new, they were newer, because being more fully
ascertained they were truer. He would boldly recur to the personages in
Eugenio's former books whom they reminded one of, and, studying them in
contrast, would convince the reader that the increasing purpose of the
author in the treatment of the well-known types had been to reveal the
infinite variety of character which lay hid in each and every human
type.

Some such reviewer, Eugenio thought, all journals pretending to literary
authority ought to keep on their staff for the comfort of veteran
authors and for the dispensation of that more delicate and sympathetic
justice which their case required. It might be well enough to use a pair
of ordinary steelyards, or even hay-scales, in weighing out the rewards
and punishments of younger authors, but some such sensitive balance as
only the sympathetic nerves of equal years, and, if possible, equal
intelligence, could adjust ought to be used in ascertaining the merits
of a veteran author.

In his frankest self-consciousness, Eugenio did not say a veteran author
like himself, and he did not insist exclusively upon a veteran critic
for his behoof. There were times when he thought that a young critic,
coming in the glow of adolescence and the freshness of knowledge won
from the recent study of all his works, might be better fitted to
appreciate the qualities of the latest. He quite rejected the notion,
when it came to business, with which he had sometimes played, of an
author reviewing his own books, and this apart from his sense of its
immodesty. In the course of his experience he had known of but one
really great author who had done this, and then had done it upon the
invitation of an editor of rare if somewhat wilful perspicacity, who
invited the author to do it on the ground that no one else could do it
so well. But though he would not have liked to be his own reviewer,
because it was not seemly, he chiefly feared that if put upon his honor,
as he would be in such a case, he must deal with his work so damagingly
as to leave little or nothing of it. He might make the reputation of a
great critic, but in doing execution upon his own shortcomings he might
be the means of destroying himself as a great author.

After all, authors are not the self-satisfied generation they must
often seem to the public which has tried to spoil them with praise.
There is much in doing a thing which makes a man modest in regard to the
way he has done it. Even if he knows that he has done it well, if the
testimony of all his faculties is to that effect, there is somehow the
lurking sense that it was not he who really did it, but that there is a
power, to turn Matthew Arnold's phrase to our use, "not ourselves, that
works for" beauty as well as righteousness, and that it was this
mystical force which wrought through him to the exquisite result. If you
come to the second-best results, to the gold so alloyed that you may
confidently stamp it your own, do you wish to proclaim it the precious
metal without alloy? Do you wish to declare that it is to all intents
and purposes quite as good as pure gold, or even better? Do you hold
yourself quit of the duty of saying that it is second-best, that it is
something mixed with copper or nickel, and of the value of oroide, say?
You cannot bring yourself to this extreme of candor, and what right,
then, have you to recognize that something else is fine gold when it is
really so? Ought not you to feign that it is only about thirteen carats
when it is actually eighteen?

Considerations like these always stayed Eugenio when it came to the
point of deciding whether he would care to be his own reviewer, but the
desire to be adequately reviewed still remained with him, a fond longing
amid repeated disappointments. An author often feels that he has got too
much praise, though he never has got all he wants. "Why don't they
clap?" Doctor Holmes once whimsically demanded, speaking of his
audiences in those simple early days when he went about lecturing like
Emerson and Alcott and other saints and sages of New England. "Do they
think I can't stand it? Why don't they give me three times three? I can
stand it very well." An author may sometimes think he is fulsomely
praised and may even feel a sort of disgust for the slab adulation
trowelled upon him, but his admirer need not fear being accused of
insincerity. He may confidently count upon being regarded as a fine
fellow who has at worst gone wrong in the right direction. It ought,
therefore, to be a very simple matter to content a veteran author in the
article of criticism, but somehow it is not.

Perhaps the trouble is in the nature of criticism, which, unwillingly
enough, no doubt, assumes to be and to do more than it can. Its
convention is that it is an examination of a book and a report upon its
qualities. But it is not such a report, and it cannot be in the limits
assigned it, which are the only tolerable limits with the reader. The
author would not mind if the critic's report were physically
commensurate with his book; but, of course, the reader could not stand
that; and, generous as they are, other authors might complain.
Sometimes, as it is, they think that any one of their number who gets
something like a good report from a critic is getting more than his
deserts. Yet authors, though a difficult, are not an impossible
generation. Few of them would allow that they are even unreasonable with
regard to criticism, and they would probably hail any improvement in its
theories and methods with gratitude.

As criticism cannot be an adequate report upon the qualities of a book,
even a book which has not been examined, why should it assume to do more
than talk about it and talk all the better for being merely tentative
and altogether unfinal? Nobody can really be authoritative concerning
anything, for there is no one whose wisdom will not be disputed by
others of the wise. The best way, then, might be for a reviewer to go
round collecting sentiment and opinion about the book he means to talk
of, and then to give as many qualifying varieties of impression as the
general unhandsomeness of human nature will allow him to give when they
differ from his own impression. On the terms of the old and still
accepted convention of criticism, Eugenio had himself done a vast deal
of reviewing, an amount of it, in fact, that he could not consider
without amaze, and in all this reviewing he had not once satisfied
himself with his work. Never once had he written a criticism which
seemed to him adequate, or more than an approximation to justice, even
when he had most carefully, almost prayerfully, examined the work he
reported upon. He was aware of writing from this mood or that, of
feeling hampered by editorial conditions, of becoming impatient or
jaded, and finally employing the hay-scales when he ought to have used
the delicate balances with which one weighs out life-giving elixirs or
deadly poisons. But he used to imagine that if he could have put himself
in the attitude of easy discussion or light comment, instead of the
judicial pose he felt obliged to take, he could have administered a far
finer and more generous measure of justice. In these moments he used to
wonder whether something stated and organized in the way of intelligent
talk about books might not be substituted for the conventional verdicts
and sentences of the courts of criticism.

In this notion he proceeded upon a principle evolved from his own
experience in fields far from the flinty and sterile ranges of
criticism. He had not only done much reviewing in those days, but he had
already written much in the kinds which he could not, in his modesty,
bring himself to call "creative," though he did not mind others calling
it so. Whatever had been the shortcomings of the conventional reports
upon his work, it was his glad experience that nothing he said or meant,
not the slightest intention or airiest intimation in his books, was ever
wholly lost. Somewhere, some one, somehow had caught it, liked it,
remembered it, and had by a happy inspiration written him of it, it
might be diffident, it might be confident, of his pleasure in the
recognition.

Such recognition was always more precious than the reports of the
conventional critics, though if these were favorable the author was glad
of them, as of any good that the gods gave. But what struck Eugenio was
that such recognition was the real, the very, the vital criticism, and
that if it could be evoked in behalf of others, in its sincerity, it
might be helpful to the cause of literature far beyond anything that the
courts of criticism could do or effect in its behalf. After all, as he
said to himself, an author wrote for his readers and not for his
critics, for pleasure and not for judgment; and if he could be assured
publicly, as he sometimes was assured privately, that nothing he did was
lost, he might be encouraged to keep on doing his best. Why, indeed,
should not there be a critical journal embodying in a species of
fragrant bouquet the flowers of thought and emotion springing up in the
brains and bosoms of readers responsive to the influence of a new book?
Such readers would have only to suppose themselves addressing the author
direct, and the thing could be done. It might be done in another way by
the authors contributing the praises privately sent him. In a time when
personal letters to authors are constantly quoted in advertisements,
this might not seem so immodest as in some earlier literary condition.

In the mean time the question of what shall be done for veteran authors
who are always breaking new ground still remains, and it is complicated
by a fact of psychological import for the reader as well as the author.
What first gives an author his hold upon the reader is not the novelty
of his theme, but a pleasing, it may be a painfully pleasing, quality
which in its peculiar variation must be called his personal quality. It
is the sense of this in each of his successive books which deepens his
hold upon the reader, and not the style, or the characters, or the
intrigue. As long as this personal quality delights, he is new whether
he breaks new ground or not, or he is newly welcome. With his own
generation, with the readers who began young with him and have grown old
with him, he is always safe. But there is danger for him with the
readers who begin young with him after he has grown old. It is they who
find his tales twice told and himself hackneyed, unless they have been
trained to like his personal quality by their elders. This might be
difficult, but it is not impossible, and ought not it to be the glad,
the grateful care of such elders?



VI

THE FICKLENESS OF AGE


All forms of literature probably hold a great deal more meaning than
people commonly get out of them; but prose may be likened to a cup which
one can easily see to the bottom of, though it is often deeper and
fuller than it looks; while verse is the fount through which thought and
feeling continually bubble from the heart of things. The sources that
underlie all life may be finding vent in a rhyme where the poet imagined
he was breathing some little, superficial vein of his own; but in the
reader he may unawares have reached the wells of inmost passion and
given them release. The reader may himself live with a certain verse and
be aware of it now and then merely as a teasing iterance that

   "From some odd corner of the mind
   Beats time to nothing in the brain."

But suddenly some experience, or perhaps the exfoliation of the outer
self through the falling away of the withered years, shall open to him
its vital and cosmical significance. He shall know then that it is not
an idle whisper of song, but a message to his soul from the senate where
the immortals gather in secular counsel and muse the wisdom of all the
centuries since humanity came to its earliest consciousness. The bearer
of the message may not have known it in the translation which it wears
to the receiver; each must read it in his own tongue and read meaning
into it; perhaps it always takes two to make a poet, and singer and
listener are the twin spheres that form one star.

A valued correspondent of ours, one of those whose letters are oftener
than we should like to own fraught with the suggestion of our most
fortunate inspirations, believes himself to have been recently the
confidant of the inner sense of certain lines in a familiar poem of
Longfellow's. Its refrain had, from the first reading, chanted in the
outer chamber of his ear, but suddenly, the other day, it sang to his
soul with a newly realized purport in the words,

   "A boy's will is the wind's will,
   And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

The words are, as the poet promptly declares, the burden of a Lapland
song, which "is haunting his memory still," which "murmurs and whispers
still," which "is singing and saying still," which "is mournful" and
"sweet" and "fitful" and "fatal" and "strange" and "beautiful." Yet he
seems not to have known, as our friend now thinks he himself knows, that
they express a difference, unrecognized hitherto, between youth and age,
and rightfully attribute to the young a steadfastness and persistence in
objects and ideals formerly supposed the distinguishing qualities of the
old. In other words, they have precipitated into his consciousness a
truth unwittingly held in solution by both the poets in their verse. Or,
if it was conveyed to him by their sensible connivance, he is the first
who has been made its repository. Or, if he cannot claim an exclusive
property in the revelation, it is now his, in his turn, by that sad
right of seniority whose advantages are not ours till there are few or
none left to contest them with us. One has not been promoted to them
because of any merit or achievement; one has simply lived into them; and
how much of one has died in the process of survival! The lines speak to
our friend's age a language which his youth could not have understood,
and it is because he is no longer young that he perceives how long the
thoughts of youth were and how brief the thoughts of age.

He had always fancied that his later years should be a time of repose in
the faiths, loves, and joys through which he realized himself. But
nothing apparently was farther from the fact. Such length of thoughts as
he had, such abiding pleasures, such persistent hopes, were from his
youth; and the later sort were as the leaves of the tree to the tree
itself. He put them forth at the beginning of an epoch, a season, and
they dropped from him at the close. In as great bitterness as is
consonant with his temperament he has asked us why youth should ever
have been deemed fickle and age constant when so precisely the contrary
is true. Youth, he owns, is indeed full of vain endeavors and of
enterprises that come to nothing, but it is far more fixed than age in
its aspirations. His aspirations change now with such rapidity that they
seem different not only from year to year, but from month to month, from
day to day. He has not merely discarded his old ideals, he loathes them.
He used to like going out to dinner, above all things; and he was fond
of lunches, even of afternoon teas; but in a day, in an hour, such
delights became wearinesses and vexations of spirit. Formerly he enjoyed
travel with all its necessary concomitants. It amused him to check his
baggage and depart from stations, to arrive at hotels and settle himself
in new rooms; the very domiciliation in sleeping-cars or the
domestication in diners had a charm which was apparently perennial; a
trip in a river-boat was rapture; an ocean voyage was ecstasy. The
succession of strange faces, new minds, was an unfailing interest, and
there was no occurrence, in or out of the ordinary, which did not give
him release from self and form a true recreation. The theatre does not
amuse him now, though the time has been, and lately, for the curtain,
when it rose on a play, new or old, to lift his spirit with it and to
hold him entranced till its fall. As for the circus, he once rejoiced in
all its feats; performing elephants could not bore him, nor acts of
horsemanship stale its infinite variety. But the time has come abruptly
when the smell of the sawdust, or the odor of the trodden weed, mixed
with the aroma of ice-cold lemonade, is a stench in his nostrils.

These changes of ideal have occurred, not through the failure of any
powers that he can note in himself, but as part of the great change from
youth to age, which he thinks is far greater morally than physically. He
is still fairly strong; he has not lost his appetite or the teeth to
gratify it; he can walk his miles, always rather two than ten, and rest
refreshed from them; except that he does not like to kill things, he
could trudge the whole day through fields and woods with his gun on his
shoulder; though he does not golf, and cannot know whether or no it
would bore him, he likes to wield the axe and the scythe in the groves
and meadows of his summer place. When he stretches himself on the breast
of the mother alike of flesh and grass, it is with a delicious sense of
her restorative powers and no fear of rheumatism. If he rests a little
longer than he once used, he is much more rested when he rises from his
repose.

His body rejoices still in its experiences, but not his soul: it is not
interested; it does not care to have known its experiences or wish to
repeat them. For this reason he thinks that it is his spirit which is
superannuated, while its "muddy vesture of decay" is in very tolerable
repair. His natural man is still comparatively young, and lives on in
the long, long thoughts of youth; but his supernatural man has aged,
with certain moral effects which alarm his doubts of the pleasures he
once predicated of eternity. "If it is going to be like _this_ with me!"
he says to himself, and shrinks from supplying the responsive clause of
his conditional.

But mainly his mind turns upon itself in contemplation of its earthly
metamorphoses, in which it hardly knows itself for the mind of the same
man. Its apprehensions are for the time when, having exhausted all the
differences, it shall care for none; but meanwhile it is interested in
noting the absurdity of that conventional view of age as the period of
fixed ideals. It may be the period of fixed habits, of those helpless
iterances which imply no intentions or purposes; but it is not the
period in which the mind continues in this or that desire and strives
for its fulfilment. The same poet who sang at second hand those words of
the Lapland song,

   "The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,"

erred, to our friend's sense, in singing of

   "The young heart hot and restless,
   And the old subdued and slow."

He believes the reverse would rightly characterize the heart of youth
and the heart of age. Age is not slow in its mental motions; it is
hurried and anxious, with that awful mystical apprehension of the
swift-coming moment when time shall be no more and nothing but eternity
shall be left. It is not subdued; its heart is hot with rebellion
against the inevitable. But for youth there is no inevitable; there is
no conclusion, no catastrophe, which it may not hope to escape; and, so
it is patient of chances, it is glad of them. Its heart is not restless;
it is quite at peace in the bosom which is secure of all the time there
is.

Our friend believes that a variety of popular superstitions will fall at
the recognition of the truth in this matter, and none more finally than
that which attributes to the junior partner the unhappiness of those
marriages in which youth and crabbed age try to live together. In such
hazardous unions the junior partner is, for some unexplained reason, of
the sex which has the repute of a generic fickleness as well as the
supposed volatility of its fewer years. Probably repute wrongs it as
much in one respect as in the other, but our friend contends only for
greater justice to it in the last. In the light that he has come into,
he holds that where such unions are unhappy, though they may have been
formed with a fair appearance of affection, it is the senior partner who
is to blame if blame may ever be attached to involuntary change. It is
the senior partner who has wearied first of the companionship and wished
for release with the impatience natural to age. This is intolerant of
the annoyances which seem inherent in every union of the kind, and
impatient of those differences of temperament which tell far more than
any disparities of age, and which exist even where there are no such
disparities. The intolerance, the impatience, is not more characteristic
of the husband where he is the elder than of the wife in the much fewer
instances of her seniority. In the unions where two old people join
their faltering destinies, the risks of unhappiness are, logically,
doubled; and our friend holds it a grotesque folly to expect anything
else of marriages in which two lovers, disappointed of each other in
their youth, attempt to repair the loss in their age. Where any such
survive into later life, with the passion of earlier life still rife in
their hearts, he argues that they had much better remain as they are,
for in such a belated union as they aspire to the chances are
overwhelmingly against them.

Very probably, like other discoverers, he is too much impressed with the
value of his divination. It is something that, at any rate, can appeal
for recognition only to the aged or the aging. With these we could
imagine it bringing a certain consolation, a relief from vain regret, an
acquittal from self-accusation. If one has suddenly changed for no
apparent reason, one must be glad to find a reason in the constitution
of things, and to attribute one's fickleness to one's time of life.
Youth's errors have possibly been too much condoned upon grounds where
age could more justly base its defence. It may be more reckless than
age, but it is not nearly so rash. It keeps thinking its long, long
thoughts and questioning the conclusions to which age eagerly hobbles or
hurls itself from its crutches. Youth is deliberate, for it has plenty
of time, while, as our friend notes, age has little but eternity before
it. Not youth, but age, leaps from life's trolley while it is still in
motion, or, after mismeasuring the time and space, limps impatiently
before it and is rolled under its fender. You may see physical proof of
this difference, our friend insists, in the behavior of two people, one
young and one old, at any street-crossing; and why should so many old
ladies fall on the stairs, but that they are apt to precipitate
themselves wildly from landings where young girls linger to dream yet
one dream more before they glide slowly down to greet the young men who
would willingly wait years for them?

The distrust of eternity at which our friend hints is perhaps the
painfulest of his newly discovered differences between youth and age.
Resting so serenely as it does in practically unlimited time, with
ideals and desires which scarcely vary from year to year, youth has no
fears of infinity. It is not afraid but it shall have abundant
occupation in the æons before it, or that its emotions or volitions
shall first be exhausted. Its blithe notion of immortality is that it is
immortal youth. It has no conception of age, and could not imagine an
eternity of accomplished facts. It is, perhaps, for this reason that
doubt of immortality never really comes to youth. One of the few things
which our friend still believes is that every sceptic who deals honestly
with his only history must be aware of an hour, almost a moment, of
waning youth, when the vague potentiality of disbelief became a living
doubt, thence-forward to abide with him till death resolve it. Endless
not-being is unthinkable before that time, as after it endless being is
unthinkable. Yet this unthinkable endless being is all that is left to
age, and it is in the notion of it alone that age can get back to the
long, long thoughts in which is surcease from unrest. Our old friend may
accuse us of proposing the most impossible of paradoxes when we invite
him to take refuge from his whirling ideals, not in an unavailing
endeavor to renew the conditions of youth in time, but in the forecast
of youth in eternity. We think that the error of his impatience, his
despair with the state he has come to here, is largely if not wholly
through his failure to realize that he is not going to wake up old in
some other being, but young, and that the capacity of long, long
thoughts will be renewed in him with the renewal of his life. The
restlessness of age, its fickleness, its volatility, is the expression
of immense fatigue. It tosses from side to side and tries for this and
that like a sick man from sheer weakness; or, rather, if the reader
prefers another image, it is like some hapless wild thing caught by
rising floods on a height of land which they must soon submerge, and
running incessantly hither and thither as the water more narrowly hems
it in.

Undoubtedly the mutability of age in its ideals has been increased of
late by the restriction of human hope to the years which remain, few and
brief to the longest earthly life, by the sciences which provisionally
darken counsel. When these shall have penetrated to a point where they
can discern the light, they will "pour the day" on the dim orbs of age
and illumine the future with new hope. Then doubting age can enter into
the rest now forbidden it and take its repose between illimitable
horizons in the long, long thoughts of eternal youth. We speak here in
behalf of the sceptic, the agnostic few. For the many who have not lost
their hope because they have never lost their faith, doubtless all the
trouble of change which disquiets our friend will seem something
temperamental merely, and not something essential or inseparable from
human nature. Their thoughts have remained long, their ideals steadfast,
because they have not lost the most precious jewel of their youth--the
star of trust and hope which

   "Flames in the forehead of the morning sky."

These are the most enviable of their kind, and there are signs that
their turn may be coming once more in the primacy to which their numbers
have always entitled them. Only the other day we were reading a paper by
a man of that science which deals with life on strictly physical lines,
and drawing from it an immense consolation because it reaffirmed that
the soul has not only its old excuse for being in the unthinkability of
an automatic universe and the necessity of an intentional first cause,
but with Evolution, in the regard of some scientists, tottering on its
throne, and Natural Selection entering the twilight into which the elder
pagan deities have vanished, is newly warranted in claiming existence as
that indestructible life-property or organizing power which
characterizes kind through kind from everlasting to everlasting. In this
consolation we seemed well on our way back to the encounter of a human
spirit such as used to be rapt to heaven or cast into hell for very
disproportionate merits or demerits; but we were supported for the
meeting by the probability that in the fortunate event the spirit would
be found issuing from all the clouds of superstition, and when it was
reconstituted in the universal belief, that the time, with eternity in
its train, would have returned for fitly hailing it in the apostrophe of
the Addisonian Cato:

   "But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
   Unhurt amidst the war of elements,
   The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds."



VII

THE RENEWAL OF INSPIRATION


There comes a time in the experience of perhaps every stated purveyor of
intellectual food when the stock he has long been drawing upon seems
finally exhausted. There is not a grain left in the barns where he had
garnered up the harvests of the past; there is not a head of wheat to be
found in the fields where he had always been able to glean something; if
he shakes the tree of knowledge in the hope of a nut to crack or a
frozen-thaw to munch, nothing comes down but a shower of withered
leaves. His condition is what, in the parlance of his vocation, he calls
being out of a subject, and it is what may happen to him equally whether
he is preaching twice a Sunday from the pulpit, or writing leaders every
day for a prominent journal, or merely contributing a monthly essay to a
magazine. As the day or hour or moment approaches when he must give
forth something from his destitution, he envies the hungriest of his
auditors or readers who do not yet know that there is nothing in him to
appease their famine. There is only the barren will to give which only a
miracle can transform into a vitalizing bounty.

Yet is not this miracle always wrought? When did a pulpit ever fail of a
sermon, or a journal of a leading article, or a magazine of its stated
essay? The fact might argue the very contrary of the appearance and
convince the desperate purveyor that what he mistook for hopeless need
was choice which mocked him with a myriad alternatives. From cover to
cover the Scripture is full of texts; every day brings forth its
increase of incident; the moral and social and æsthetical world is open
on every side to polite inquiry and teems with inspiring suggestion. If
ever the preacher or editor or essayist fancies he has exhausted these
resources, he may well pause and ask whether it is not himself that he
has exhausted. There may be wanting the eye to see the riches which lie
near or far, rather than the riches which are always inviting the eye.

A curious trait of the psychology of this matter is that it is oftener
the young eye than the old which lacks the visual force. When Eugenio
was beginning author and used to talk with other adolescent immortals of
the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of their high calling, the dearth of
subjects was the cause of much misgiving and even despair among them.
Upon a certain occasion one of that divine company, so much diviner than
any of the sort now, made bold to affirm: "I feel that I have got my
technique perfect. I believe that my poetic art will stand the test of
any experiment in the handling of verse, and now all that I want is a
subject." It seemed a great hardship to the others, and they felt it the
more keenly because every one of them was more or less in the same case.
They might have none of them so frankly owned their fitness for their
work as the one who had spoken, but they were all as deeply aware of it;
and if any subject had appeared above the horizon there could have been
no question among them except as to which should first mount his winged
steed and ride it down. It did not occur to any of them that the want of
a subject was the defect of their art, and that until they were
equipped with the eye that never fails to see occasion for song all
round the heavens they were not yet the champions of poetry which they
fancied themselves. He who had uttered their common belief sufficiently
proved afterward, in the range of things he did, that he had ultimately
come into possession of the highest of the poetic gifts, the poetic
vision of life, and that he had completed his art at a point where it
had been most imperfect before, when he supposed it so perfect. As soon
as he ceased looking for subjects, which were mainly the conventional
themes of verse, the real and vital subjects began looking for him.

Eugenio himself, on his lower level, had something of the same
experience. When he first began those inventions in prose which long
seemed to him worthy of the best that his kindest friends said of them,
he had great trouble in contriving facts sufficiently wonderful for the
characters who were to deal with them, and characters high and noble
enough to deal with the great and exalted facts. On one hand or the
other his scheme was always giving out. The mirage of fancy which
painted itself so alluringly before him faded on his advance and left
him planted heavy-footed in the desert sands. In other words, he was
always getting out of a subject. In the intervals between his last
fiction and his next, when his friends supposed he was purposely letting
his mind lie fallow (and perhaps willingly acquiesced in the rest they
were sharing with him), he was really in an anguish of inquiry for
something on which to employ his powers; he was in a state of
excruciating activity of which the incessant agitation of the atoms in
the physical world is but a faint image; his repose was the mask of
violent vibrations, of volcanic emotions, which required months to clear
themselves in the realization of some ideal altogether disproportioned
to the expenditure of energy which had been tacitly taking place. At
these periods it seemed to him that his lot had been cast in a world
where he was himself about the only interesting fact, and from which
every attractive subject had been removed before he came into it.

He could never tell just how or when all this changed, and a little ray,
very faint and thin at first, stole in upon his darkness and broadened
to an effulgence which showed his narrow circle a boundless universe
thronged with the most available passions, interests, motives,
situations, catastrophes and dénouements, and characters eagerly fitting
themselves with the most appropriate circumstances. As nearly as he
could make out, his liberation to this delightful cosmos took place
through his gradual perception that human nature was of a vast equality
in the important things, and had its difference only in trifles. He had
but to take other men in the same liberal spirit that he took himself to
find them all heroes; he had but to take women at their own estimate to
find them all heroines, if not divinely beautiful, then interesting,
fascinating, irresistibly better than beautiful. The situation was
something like this; it will not do to give away his whole secret; but
the reader needs only a hint in order to understand how in his new mind
Eugenio was overwhelmed with subjects.

After this illumination of his the only anxiety he had was concerning
his ability to produce all the masterpieces he felt himself capable of
in the short time allotted to the longest-lived writer. He was aware of
a duty to the material he had discovered, and this indeed sometimes
weighed upon him. However, he took courage from the hope that others
would seize his point of view and be able to carry on the work of
producing masterpieces indefinitely. They could never use up all the
subjects, any more than men can exhaust the elements of the aluminium
which abound in every piece of the common earth; but, in their constant
reliance upon every-day life as the true and only source of surprise and
delight in art, they could never be in the terrible despair which had
afflicted him from time to time before his illumination.

Doubtless there is an overruling Providence in this matter which we may
not distrust without accusing the order which has not yet failed in the
due succession of the seasons and the days and nights. While we are
saying it is never going to rain, it rains; or when it seems as if
nature were finally frozen up, a thaw begins; when we feel that the dark
will not end, the dawn is already streaking the east. If the preacher
thinks that the old texts are no longer applicable to life, there is
suddenly reported an outbreak of vice in the city which puts him in mind
of Sodom and Gomorrah; or the opportune flight of a defaulter furnishes
material for a homily which searches the consciences of half the
congregation with the words of the commandment against stealing. The
journalist wakes in heavy-eyed despair, but he finds from the papers on
his breakfast-table that there has been a revolution in South America,
or that the Socialists have been doing something in Belgium almost too
bad even for Socialists as the capitalists imagine them, and his heart
rises again. Even the poor magazine essayist, who has lived through the
long month in dread of the hour when his copy shall be due, is not
forbidden his reprieve. He may not have anything to say, but he
certainly has something to say it about. The world is always as
interesting to-day as it was yesterday, and probably to-morrow will not
be so dull as it promises.

One reason for the disability of the essayist, as distinguished from the
preacher or the journalist, is that he does not give himself range
enough. Expecting to keep scrupulously to one subject, he cannot put his
hand on a theme which he is sure will hold out under him to the end.
Once it was not so. The essayists of antiquity were the most vagariously
garrulous people imaginable. There was not one of them who, to our small
acquaintance with them, kept to his proposition or ended anywhere in
sight of it. Aristotle, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, they talk
of anything but the matter in hand, after mentioning it; and when you
come down to the moderns, for instance, to such a modern as Montaigne,
you find him wandering all over the place. He has no sooner stated his
subject than he begins to talk about something else; it reminds him
(like Lincoln) of a story which has nothing to do with it; and that
story reminds him of another, and so on, till the original thesis is
left flapping in the breeze somewhere at the vanishing-point in the
tortuous perspective and vainly signalling the essayist back. It was the
same, or nearly the same, with the English essayists quite down to the
beginning of the last century, when they began to cease being. The
writers in the _Spectator_, the _Guardian_, the _Tatler_, the _Rambler_,
and the rest, contrived to keep a loose allegiance to the stated topic,
because they treated it so very briefly, and were explicitly off to
something else in the next page or two with a fresh text. But if we come
to such delightful masters of the art as Lamb and Leigh Hunt and De
Quincey and Hazlitt, it will not be easy, opening at any chance point,
to make out what they are talking about. They are apparently talking
about everything else in the world but the business they started with.
But they are always talking delightfully, and that is the great matter
with any sort of talker.

When the reviewers began to supplant the essayists, they were even more
contemptuously indifferent to the obligations of constancy. Their text
was nominally some book, but almost as soon as they had named it they
shut it and went off on the subject of it, perhaps, or perhaps not. It
was for the most part lucky for the author that they did so, for their
main affair with the author was to cuff him soundly for his ignorance
and impudence, and then leave him and not return to him except for a few
supplementary cuffs at the close, just to show that they had not
forgotten him. Macaulay was a notorious offender in this sort; though
why do we say offender? Was not he always delightful? He was and he is,
though we no longer think him a fine critic; and he meant to be just, or
as just as any one could be with a man whom one differed from in the
early Victorian period.

But Macaulay certainly did not keep harking back to his text, if ever he
returned to it at all. His instinct was that a preacher's concern was
with his text, but not an essayist's or a reviewer's, and he was right
enough. The essayist certainly has no such obligation or necessity. His
reader can leave him at any moment, unless he is very interesting, and
it does not matter where they part company. In fact, it might be argued
that the modern fidelity to its subject is one of the chief evidences or
causes of the essay's decay. The essayist tries to make a mechanical
conscience perform the duty of that fine spiritual freedom in which the
essay once had its highest effect with the reader, and in his dull
loyalty to the stated thesis he is superficial as well as tiresome.

The true subject is not one subject only, but many. It is like that
pungent bulb whose odorous energy increases with exfoliation, and
remains a potent fragrance in the air after the bulb has substantially
ceased to be under the fingers. The error of the modern essayist is to
suppose that he can ever have a single subject in hand; he has a score,
he has a hundred, as his elders and betters all know; and what he
mistakes for his destitution is really his superfluity. If he will be
honest (as he may with difficulty be), must not he recognize that what
seems a search for one theme is a hesitation between many pressing
forward for his choice? If he will make this admission we believe he
will be nearer the fact, and he will be a much more respectable figure
than he could feel himself in blindly fumbling about for a single
thesis. Life is never, and in nothing, the famine, perhaps, that we
imagine it. Much more probably it is a surfeit, and what we suppose are
the pangs of hunger are really the miseries of repletion. More people
are suffering from too much than from too little. Especially are the
good things here in a demoralizing profusion. Ask any large employer of
labor, and he will tell you that what ails the working-classes is an
excess of pianos and buggies and opera-boxes. Ask any workman what ails
his employer, and he will say that it is the ownership of the earth,
with a mortgage on planetary space. Both are probably right, or at least
one is as right as the other.

When we have with difficulty made our selection from the divine
redundancy of the ideal world, and so far as we could have reduced
ourselves to the penury of a sole possession, why do not we turn our
eyes to the example of Nature in not only bringing forth a hundred or a
thousand fold of the kind of seed planted, but in accompanying its
growth with that of an endless variety of other plants, all coming to
bear in a like profusion? Observe that wise husbandwoman (this is not
the contradiction in terms it seems), how when her business is
apparently a hay harvest, she mingles myriads of daisies and milkweed
and wild carrot and redtop with the grass, and lets her fancy riot all
round the meadow in a broidery of blackberries and asters and dogroses
and goldenrod. She never works without playing; and she plays even while
man is working--plays so graciously and winningly that it takes the
heart with joy. Who has ever looked upon an old-world wheat-field, where
poppies and vetches are frolicking among the ears, and begrudged Nature
her pastime? No one, we will venture, but the owner of the field, who is
perhaps also too much of a philosopher to grieve over it. In the ideal
world it is much the same. There, too, art having chosen a kind brings
it to bear with all the other kinds which have been lurking in the
unconscious soil of the mind and only waiting tilth for any purpose
before springing up in company with the selected seed. This is what
makes the poets and novelists and dramatists so much more profitable
reading than the moralists. From whom, indeed, has the vital wisdom of
the race been garnered? Not from those hard, ethical masters who have
sought to narrow culture to the business of growing precepts, but from
the genial teachers who have inculcated amusement and breathed into the
unwary mind some inspiration which escaped as unconsciously from
themselves. Which philosopher or sage of them all has instructed mankind
a hundredth part as much as Shakespeare, who supposed himself to be
merely providing diversion for the patrons of the Globe Theatre?

It follows, if not directly, then a long way about, from what we have
been saying, that the real artist is never at a loss for a subject. His
trouble is too many themes, not too few; and, having chosen among them,
his error will be in an iron sequence rather than in a desultory
progression. He is to arrive, if at all, laden with the spoil of the
wayside, and bringing with him the odor of the wild flowers carpeting or
roofing the by-paths; if he is a little bothered by the flowering
brambles which have affectionately caught at him in his course, that
does not greatly matter; or, at least, it is better than coming back to
his starting-point in boots covered with the mud of the high-road or
coat powdered with its dust. The sauntering ease, the excursive delays,
will be natural to the poet or the novelist, who is born to them; but
the essayist must in a manner make them his own, if he would be an
artist and survive among the masters, which there has been some doubt of
his doing. It should be his care to shun every appearance of continuity;
only in the practice of the fitful, the capricious, the desultory, can
he hope to emulate the effects of the creative. With any other ideal he
cannot hope to be fit company for the high minds who have furnished
mankind with quotations. But for the prevalence of the qualities which
we have been urging the essayist to cultivate, in the essays of Bacon,
it is not probable that any one would ever have fancied that Bacon wrote
Shakespeare.



VIII

THE SUMMER SOJOURN OF FLORINDO AND LINDORA


At the moment of this writing, everybody is hurrying into the country,
eager to escape the horrors of summer in the city; at the moment when it
becomes that reading we hope for, everybody will be hurrying into the
city, eager to escape the horrors of summer in the country. At either
moment the experiences of Florindo and Lindora should have a certain
interest.

Florindo and Lindora are a married pair, still comparatively happy after
forty years of wedded life, who have spent the part or the whole of each
hot season out of town, sometimes in the hills, sometimes by the sea,
sometimes in Europe. Their acquaintance with either form of sojourn, if
not exhaustive, is so comprehensive that it might be cited as
encyclopædic.

The first season or so they did not think of shutting up their house in
the city, or doing more than taking, the latter part of August, a trip
to Niagara or Saratoga or Cape May or Lake George, or some of those
simple, old-fashioned resorts whose mere mention brings a sense of
pre-existence, with a thrill of fond regret, to the age which can no
longer be described as middle and is perhaps flattered by the epithet of
three-quartering. No doubt people go to those places yet, but Florindo
and Lindora have not been to any of them for so many summers that they
can hardly realize them as still open: for them they were closed in the
earliest of the eighteen-seventies.

After that, say the third summer of their marriage, it appeared to
Lindora essential to take board somewhere for the whole summer, at such
an easy distance that Florindo could run up or down or out every
Saturday afternoon and stay Sunday with her and the children; for there
had now begun to be children, who could not teethe in town, and for whom
the abundance of pure milk, small fruits, and fresh vegetables promised
with the shade and safety of the farm was really requisite. She kept the
house in town still open, as before, or rather half-open, for she left
only the cook in it to care for her husband, and do the family wash,
sent to and fro by express, while she took the second girl with her as
maid. In the first days of September, when the most enterprising of the
fresh vegetables were beginning to appear on the table, and the
mosquitoes were going, and the smell of old potatoes in the cellar and
rats in the walls was airing out, and she was getting used to the
peculiar undulations of her bed, she took the little teethers back to
town with her; and when she found her husband in the comfortable
dimensions of their own house, with melons and berries and tender steak,
and rich cream (such as never comes on "pure milk"), and hot and cold
baths, and no flies, she could not help feeling that he had been very
selfish. Now she understood, at least, why he never failed on Monday
morning to wake in time for the stage to carry him to the station, and
she said, No more farm-board for her if she knew it.

In those idyllic days, while they were making their way, and counting
the cost of every step as if it were the proverbial first step, the next
step for Lindora was a large boarding-house for the summer. She tried
it first in the country, and she tried it next at the seaside, with the
same number of feet of piazza in both cases, and with no distinct
difference except in the price. It was always dearer at the seaside, but
if it had been better she should not have thought it so dear. Yet, as it
was dearer, she could not help thinking it was better; and there was the
beach for the teethers to dig in, and there was an effect of superior
fashion in the gossipers on the piazza, one to every three of the three
hundred feet of the piazza, rocking and talking, and guessing at the
yachts in the offing, and then bathing and coming out to lie on the sand
and dry their hair.

At the farm she had paid seven dollars a week for herself, and
half-price for the children; at the country boarding-house she had paid
ten for herself, and again half-price for the children; at the seaside
boarding-house the rate for her was fourteen dollars, and nine for the
children and the maid. Everybody on the piazza said it was very cheap,
but to Lindora it was so dear that she decided for Florindo that they
could not go on keeping the house open and the cook in it just for him,
as the expressage on the wash took away all the saving in that. If she
allowed him to sleep in the house, he could pick up his meals for much
less than they now cost. They must not burn their candle at both ends;
he must put out his end. There was reason in this, because now Florindo
was sometimes kept so late at business that he could not get the last
train Saturday night for the beach, and he missed the Sunday with his
family on which she counted so much. Thinking these things over during
the ensuing winter, she began to divine, toward spring, that the only
thing for the teethers, and the true way for Florindo, was for her to
get away from the city to a good distance, where there would be a real
change of air, and that a moderate hotel in the White Mountains or the
Adirondacks was the only hopeful guess at their problem. If Florindo
could not come for Sunday when they were off only an hour or two, it
would be no worse for them to be seven or eight hours off. Florindo
agreed the more easily because he had now joined a club, where he got
his meals as comfortably as at home and quite as economically, counting
in the cook. He could get a room also at the club, and if they shut the
house altogether, and had it wired by the burglar-insurance company,
they would be cutting off a frightful drain.

It was, therefore, in the interest of clearly ascertained economy that
Lindora took her brood with her to a White Mountain hotel, where she
made a merit of getting board for seventeen dollars and a half a week,
when so many were paying twenty and twenty-five. Florindo came up twice
during the summer, and stayed a fortnight each time, and fished, and
said that it had been a complete rest. On the way back to town Lindora
stopped for October in one of those nice spring-and-fall places where
you put in the half-season which is so unwholesome in the city after a
long summer in the country, and afterward she always did this.
Fortunately, Florindo was prospering, and he could afford the increased
cost of this method of saving. The system was practised with great
success for four or five years, and then, suddenly, it failed.

Lindora was tired of always going to the same place, sick and tired;
and, as far as she could see, all those mountain-places were the same
places. She could get no good of the air if she bored herself; the nice
people did not go to hotels so much now, anyway, and the children were
dreadful, no fit associates for the teethers, who had long ceased to
teethe but needed a summer outing as much as ever. A series of seasons
followed when the married pair did not know where to go, in the person
of the partner who represented them, and they had each spring a
controversy vividly resembling a quarrel, but which was really not a
quarrel, because the Dear knew that if it were not for the children
Lindora would only be too glad never to leave their own house winter or
summer, but just to stick there, year out and year in. Then, at least,
she could look a little after Florindo, who had lived so much at the
club that he had fairly forgotten he _had_ a wife and children. The
trouble was all with Florindo, anyway; he cared more for his business
than his family, much; if he did not, he could have managed somehow to
spend the summers with them. Other men did it, and ran down once a
month, or once a fortnight, to put things in shape, and then came back.

Sleeping on a midnight view of her hard case, Lindora woke one morning
with an inspiration; it might not be too much to call it a revelation.
She wondered at herself, she was ashamed of herself, for not having
thought of it before. Europe, of course, was the only solution. Once in
Europe, you need not worry about where to go, for you could go anywhere.
Europe was everywhere, and you had your choice of the Swiss mountains,
where every breath made another person of you, or the Italian lakes with
their glorious scenery, or the English lakes with their literary
associations, or Scheveningen and all Holland, or Étretât, or Ostend, or
any of those thousands of German baths where you could get over whatever
you had, and the children could pick up languages with tutors, and the
life was so amusing. Going to Europe was excuse enough in itself for
Florindo to leave his business, and, if he could not be gone more than
one summer, he could place her and the children out there till their
health and education were completed, and they could all return home
when it was time for the girls to think of coming out and the boys of
going to college.

Florindo, as she expected, had not a reasonable word to say against a
scheme that must commend itself to any reasonable man. In fact, he
scarcely opposed it. He said he had begun to feel a little run down, and
he had just been going to propose Europe himself as the true solution.
She gladly gave him credit for the idea, and said he had the most
inventive mind she ever heard of. She agreed without a murmur to the
particular German baths which the doctor said would be best for him,
because she just knew that the waters would be good for all of them; and
when he had taken his cure the family made his after-cure with him, and
they had the greatest fun, after the after-cure, in travelling about
Germany. They got as far down as the Italian lakes in the early autumn,
and by the time Florindo had to go back the rest were comfortably
settled in Paris for the winter.

As a solution Europe was perfect, but it was not perpetual. After three
years the bottom seemed to fall out, as Florindo phrased it, and the
family came home to face the old fearful problem of where to spend the
summer. Lindora knew where not to spend it, but her wisdom ended there,
and when a friend who was going to Europe offered them her furnished
cottage at a merely nominal rent, Lindora took it because she could not
think of anything else. They all found it so charming that after that
summer she never would think again of hotels or any manner of boarding.
They hired cottages, at rents not so nominal as at first, but not so
very extravagant if you had not to keep the city rent going, too; and it
finally seemed best to buy a cottage, and stop the leak of the rent,
however small it was. Lindora did not count the interest on the
purchase-money, or the taxes, or the repairs, or the winter care-taking.

She was now living, and is still living, as most of her contemporaries
and social equals are living, not quite free of care, but free of
tiresome associations, cramped rooms, bad beds, and bad food, with an
environment which you can perfectly control if you are willing to pay
the price. The situation is ideal to those without, and, if not ideal to
those within, it is nevertheless the best way of spending the hot season
known to competitive civilization. What is most interesting to the
student of that civilization is the surprisingly short time in which it
has been evolved. Half a century ago it was known only to some of the
richest people. A few very old and opulent families in New York had
country-places on the Hudson; in Boston the same class had summer houses
at Nahant or in Pepperell. The wealthy planters of the South came North
to the hotels of Saratoga, Lake George, and Niagara, whither the vast
majority of the fashionable Northern people also resorted. In the West
it was the custom to leave home for a summer trip up the lakes or down
the St. Lawrence. But this was the custom only for the very
sophisticated, and even now in the West people do not summer outside of
their winter homes to at all the same extent as in the East.

The experience of Florindo and Lindora is easily parallelable in that of
innumerable other married pairs of American race, who were the primitive
joke of the paragrapher and the caricaturist when the day of
farm-boarding began. Though the sun of that day has long set for
Florindo and Lindora, it seems to be still at the zenith for most young
couples beginning life on their forgotten terms, and the joke holds in
its pristine freshness with the lowlier satirists, who hunt the city
boarder in the country and the seaside boarding-houses. The Florindos
and the Lindoras of a little greater age and better fortune abound in
the summer hotels at the beaches and in the mountains, though at the
more worldly watering-places the cottagers have killed off the hotels,
as the graphic parlance has it. The hotels nowhere, perhaps, flourish in
their old vigor; except for a brief six weeks, when they are fairly
full, they languish along the rivers, among the hills, and even by the
shores of the mournful and misty Atlantic.

The summer cottage, in fine, is what Florindo and Lindora have typically
come to in so many cases that it may be regarded as the typical
experience of the easily circumstanced American of the East, if not of
the West. The slightest relaxation of the pressure of narrow domestic
things seems to indicate it, and the reader would probably be astonished
to find what great numbers of people, who are comparatively poor, have
summer cottages, though the cottage in most cases is perhaps as much
below the dignity of a real cottage as the sumptuous villas of Newport
are above it. Summer cottages with the great average of those who have
them began in the slightest and simplest of shanties, progressing toward
those simulacra of houses aptly called shells, and gradually arriving at
picturesque structures, prettily decorated, with all the modern
conveniences, in which one may spend two-thirds of the year and more of
one's income than one has a quiet conscience in.

It would not be so bad, if one could live in them simply, as Lindora
proposed doing when she made Florindo buy hers for her, but the graces
of life cannot be had for nothing, or anything like nothing, and when
you have a charming cottage, and are living on city terms in it, you
have the wish to have people see you doing it. This ambition leads to
endless and rather aimless hospitality, so that some Lindoras have been
known, after keeping a private hotel in their cottages for a series of
summers, to shut them or let them, and go abroad for a much-needed rest,
leaving their Florindos to their clubs as in the days of their youth, or
even allowing them to live in their own houses with their cooks.

Nothing in this world, it seems, is quite what we want it to be; we
ourselves are not all that we could wish; and, whatever shape our
summering takes, the crumpled rose-leaf is there to disturb our repose.
The only people who have no crumpled rose-leaves under them are those
who have no repose, but stay striving on amid the heat of the city while
the prey of the crumpled rose-leaf is suffering among the hills or by
the sea. Those home-keeping Sybarites, composing seven-eighths of our
urban populations, immune from the anguish of the rose-leaf, form
themselves the pang of its victims in certain extreme cases; the thought
of them poisons the pure air, and hums about the sleepless rest-seeker
in the resorts where there are no mosquitoes. There are Florindos, there
are Lindoras, so sensitively conscienced that, in the most picturesque,
the most prettily appointed and thoroughly convenienced cottages, they
cannot forget their fellow-mortals in the summer hotels, in the
boarding-houses by sea or shore, in the farms where they have small
fruits, fresh vegetables, and abundance of milk and eggs; yes, they even
remember those distant relations who toil and swelter in the offices,
the shops, the streets, the sewers; and they are not without an
unavailing shame for their own good-fortune.

But is it really their good-fortune? They would not exchange it for the
better fortune of the home-keepers, and yet it seems worse than that of
people less voluntarily circumstanced. There is nothing left for
Florindo and Lindora to try, except spending the summer on a yacht,
which they see many other Florindos and Lindoras doing. Even these gay
voyagers, or gay anchorers (for they seem most of the time to be moored
in safe harbors), do not appear altogether to like their lot, or to be
so constantly contented with it but that they are always coming off in
boats to dine at the neighboring hotels. Doubtless a yacht has a
crumpled rose-leaf under it, and possibly the keelless hull of the
houseboat feels the irk of a folded petal somewhere.

Florindo and Lindora are not spoiled, she is sure of that in her own
case, for she has never been unreasonably exacting of circumstance. She
has always tried to be more comfortable than she found herself, but that
is the condition of progress, and it is from the perpetual endeavor for
the amelioration of circumstance that civilization springs. The fault
may be with Florindo, in some way that she cannot see, but it is
certainly not with her, and, if it is not with him, then it is with the
summer, which is a season so unreasonable that it will not allow itself
to be satisfactorily disposed of. In town it is intolerable; in the
mountains it is sultry by day and all but freezing by night; at the
seaside it is cold and wet or dry and cold; there are flies and
mosquitoes everywhere but in Europe, and, with the bottom once out of
Europe, you cannot go there without dropping through. In Lindora's
experience the summer has had the deceitful effect of owning its riddle
read at each new conjecture, but, having exhausted all her practical
guesses, she finds the summer still the mute, inexorable sphinx for
which neither farm-board, boarding-houses, hotels, European sojourn, nor
cottaging is the true answer.

Sometimes Florindo or Lindora is out of all patience with the summer,
and in a despair which she is careful to share with Florindo, as far as
she can make him a partner of it. But as it is his business to provide
the means of each new condition, and hers to prove it impossible, he is
not apt to give way so fully as she. He tells her that their trouble is
that they have always endeavored to escape an ordeal which if frankly
borne might not have been so bad, and he has tried to make her believe
that some of the best times he has had in summer have been when he was
too busy to think about it. She retorts that she is busy, too, from
morning till night, without finding the least relief from the summer
ordeal or forgetting it a single moment.

The other day he came home from the club with a beaming face, and told
her that he had just heard of a place where the summer was properly
disposed of, and she said that they would go there at once, she did not
care where it was.

"Well, I don't know," he answered. "There would have to be two opinions,
I believe."

"Why?" she demanded, sharply. "Where is it?"

"In the other world. Fanshawe, the Swedenborgian, was telling me about
it. In one of the celestial heavens--there seem to be seven of them--it
appears that all the four seasons are absorbed into one, as all the
different ages are absorbed into a sort of second youth. This sole
season is neither hot nor cold, but has the quality of a perpetual
springtime. How would you like that?"

Lindora was too vexed with him to make any answer, and he was sorry. He,
too, felt the trouble of the summer more than he would allow, and he
would willingly have got away from it if he could. Lindora's impatience
with it amused him, but it is doubtful if in the moment of his greatest
amusement with her impatience he had any glimpse of that law of the
universal life by which no human creature is permitted to escape a due
share of the responsibilities and burdens of the common lot, or realized
that to seek escape from them is a species of immorality which is
unfailingly punished like any other sin, in and from itself.



IX

TO HAVE THE HONOR OF MEETING


As the winter deepens and darkens, the people who have time and money to
waste, and who are always seeking opportunities for squandering both,
find none so gracious and graceful as giving dinners to other people who
have time and money to waste. The prime condition of such dinners is
that neither host nor guest shall need them. The presence of a person
who actually wanted meat and drink would imply certain insuperable
disqualifications. The guest must have the habit of dining, with the
accumulated indifference to dinners and the inveterate inability to deal
peptically with them which result from the habit of them. Your true
diner must be well on in middle life, for though the young may eat and
drink together and apparently dine, it is of the gray head difficultly
bowed over the successive courses, and the full form of third youth
straining its silken calyx and bursting all too richly out above it,
that the vision presents itself when one thinks of dinners and diners.

After all the exclusions are made, dinner is still a theme so large that
one poor Easy Chair paper could not compass it, or do more than attach
itself here and there to its expanse. In fact, it was only one kind of
dinner we had in mind at the beginning, and that was the larger or
smaller public dinner. There the process of exclusion is carried yet a
step further, and the guests are all men, and for the most part elderly
men. The exceptional public dinners where women are asked need not be
counted; and at other public dinners they do not seem eager to throng
the galleries, where they are handsomely privileged to sit, looking
down, among the sculptured and frescoed arabesques, on the sea of bald
heads and shirt-fronts that surge about the tables below, and showing
like dim, décolleté angels to the bleared vision raised to them from the
floor. As they are not expected to appear till the smoking and speaking
have begun, they grow fainter and fainter through the clouds of tobacco
and oratory, and it is never known to the diners whether they abuse the
chary hospitality of coffee and ices offered them in their skyey height,
where from time to time the sympathetic ear may hear them softly
gasping, gently coughing.

It is a pity that none of these witnesses of a large public dinner has
recorded her bird's-eye impression of it at the interesting moment when
their presence is suffered or desired. All those gray or bald heads, and
all those bulging shirt-fronts, must look alike at the first glance, and
it can be only to carefuler scrutiny that certain distinctions of
projecting whiskers and mustaches pronounce themselves. The various
figures, lax or stiff in their repletion, must more or less repeat one
another, and the pudgy hands, resting heavily on the tables' edges or
planted on their owners' thighs, must seem of a very characterless
monotony. The poor old fellows ranked in serried sameness at the tables
slanted or curved from the dais where the chairman and the speakers sit
must have one effect of wishing themselves at home in bed.

What do they really think of it, those angels, leaning over and looking
down on it? Does it strike them with envy, with admiration? Does it
seem one of the last effects of a high and noble civilization? To their
"finer female sense," what is the appeal of that evanescing spectacle,
as the noise of the cheering and the laughing and the clapping of hands
rises to them at some more rocket-like explosion of oratory? Is the
oratory mainly of the same quality to those supernal intelligences as
the fading spectacle? None of them has said, and we may have still the
hope that the whole affair may have seemed to them the splendid and
graceful ceremonial which it appears in the illustrations of the next
day's papers.

The speaking is perhaps not always so good as it seems to the mellowed
tolerance of the listener, when it begins after all those courses of
meat and drink, but not perhaps always so bad as he thinks it when, the
morning following, he wakes "high sorrowful and cloyed," and has not yet
read the reports of it. In confidence, however, it may be owned that it
is apt rather to be bad than good. If what has led up to it has softened
the critical edge of the listener, it has not sharpened the critical
edge of the speaker, and they meet on the common ground where any
platitude passes, where a farrago of funny stories serves the purpose of
coherent humor, where any feeble flash of wit lights up the obscurity as
with an electric radiance, where any slightest trickle or rinsing of
sentiment refreshes "the burning forehead and the parching tongue" like
a gush of genuine poetry. The mere reputation of the speaker goes a
great way, almost the whole way; and, especially if he is a comic
speaker, he might rise up and sit down without a word and yet leave his
hearers the sense of having been richly amused. If he does more, if he
really says something droll, no matter how much below the average of the
give and take of common talk, the listener's gratitude is frantic. It
is so eager, it so outruns utterance, that it is not strange the
after-dinner speech should be the favorite field of the fake-humorist,
who reaps a full and ever-ripened harvest in it, and prospers on to a
celebrity for brilliancy which there is little danger of his ever
forfeiting so long as he keeps there.

The fake-humorous speaker has an easier career than even the
fake-eloquent speaker. Yet at any given dinner the orator who passes out
mere elocution to his hearers has a success almost as instant and
splendid as his clowning brother. It is amazing what things people will
applaud when they have the courage of one another's ineptitude. They
will listen, after dinner, to anything but reason. They prefer also the
old speakers to new ones; they like the familiar taps of humor, of
eloquence; if they have tasted the brew before, they know what they are
going to get. The note of their mood is tolerance, but tolerance of the
accustomed, the expected; not tolerance of the novel, the surprising.
They wish to be at rest, and what taxes their minds molests their
intellectual repose. They do not wish to climb any great heights to
reach the level of the orator. Perhaps, after all, they are difficult in
their torpidity.

The oratory seems to vary less throughout any given dinner than from
dinner to dinner, and it seems better or worse according as the dinner
is occasional or personal. The occasional dinner is in observance of
some notable event, as the Landing of the Pilgrims, or the Surrender of
Cornwallis, or the Invention of Gunpowder, or the Discovery of America.
Its nature invites the orator to a great range of talk; he may browse at
large in all the fields of verbiage without seeming to break bounds. It
rests with him, of course, to decide whether he will talk too long, for
the danger that he may do so cannot be guarded from the outside. The
only good after-dinner speaker is the man who likes to speak, and the
man who likes to speak is always apt to speak too much. The hapless
wretch whom the chairman drags to his feet in a cold perspiration of
despair, and who blunders through half a dozen mismated sentences,
leaving out whatever he meant to say, is not to be feared; he is to be
pitied from the bottom of one's soul. But the man whose words come
actively to the support of his thoughts, and whose last word suggests to
him another thought, he is the speaker to be feared, and yet not feared
the worst of all. There is another speaker more dreadful still, who
thinks as little standing as sitting, and whose words come reluctantly,
but who keeps on and on in the vain hope of being able to say something
before he stops, and so cannot stop.

The speaking at the occasional dinner, however, is much more in the
control of the chairman than the speaking at the personal dinner. The
old fashion of toasts is pretty well past, but the chairman still
appoints, more or less, the subject of the speaker he calls up. He may
say, if the dinner is in honor of the Invention of Gunpowder, "We have
with us to-night a distinguished soldier who has burned a good deal of
gunpowder in his time; and I am sure we should all like to hear from
General Jones something of his experience with the new smokeless
explosives." Or if it is the Discovery of America they are
commemorating, he may call to his feet some representatively venerable
citizen, with a well-earned compliment to his antiquity, and the
humorous suggestion that he was personally knowing to the landing of
Columbus. Then General Jones, or the venerable citizen, will treat at
his pleasure of any subject under heaven, after having made his manners
to that given him by the chairman and professed his unfitness to handle
it.

At the personal dinner, the speaker must in decency stick for a while at
least to his text, which is always the high achievement of the honored
guest, in law, letters, medicine, arms, drainage, dry-goods,
poultry-farming, or whatever. He must not, at once, turn his back on the
honored guest and talk of other things; and when sometimes he does so it
seems rude.

The menu laid before the diner at this sort of dinner may report a
variety of food for the others, but for the honored guest the sole
course is taffy, with plenty of drawn butter in a lordly dish. The
honored guest is put up beside the chairman, with his mouth propped open
for the taffy, and before the end he is streaming drawn butter from
every limb. The chairman has poured it over him with a generous ladle in
his opening speech, and each speaker bathes him with it anew from the
lordly dish. The several speakers try to surpass one another in the
application, searching out some corner or crevice of his personality
which has escaped the previous orators, and filling it up to
overflowing. The listeners exult with them in their discoveries, and
roar at each triumph of the sort: it is apparently a proof of brilliant
intuition when a speaker seizes upon some forgotten point in the honored
guest's character or career and drenches it with drawn butter.

To what good end do men so flatter and befool one of their harmless
fellows? What is there in the nature of literary or agricultural
achievement which justifies the outrage of his modest sense of
inadequacy? It is a preposterous performance, but it does not reach the
climax of its absurdity till the honored guest rises, with his mouth
filled with taffy, and, dripping drawn butter all over the place,
proceeds to ladle out from the lordly dish, restored to its place
before the chairman, a portion for each of the preceding speakers. He
may not feel quite like doing it. In their fierce rivalry of adulation,
some of them, in order to give fresh flavor to the taffy, may have
mingled a little vinegar with it. One may have said that the bantams of
the honored guest were not perhaps as small as some other bantams, but
that the colossal size of his shanghais was beyond parallel. Another may
have hinted, for the purpose of superiorly praising his masterly
treatment of the pip, that the diet of his hens was not such as to
impart to their eggs the last exquisite flavor demanded by the pampered
palate of the epicure. Another yet may have admitted that the honored
guest had not successfully grappled with the great question of how to
make hens lay every working-day of the year, and he may have done this
in order to heighten his grand climax that the man who teaches a hen to
lay an egg with two yolks where she laid eggs of but one yolk before is
a greater benefactor to the human race than all the inventors of all the
missiles of modern warfare. Such a poultry-farmer, he may have declared,
preparatory to taking his seat amid thunders of applause, is to other
poultry-farmers what the poet who makes the songs of a people is to the
boss who makes their laws. This sentiment may have been met with a
furore of acceptance, all the other guests leaning forward to look at
the honored guest and concentrate their applause upon him, as they
clapped and cheered, and one fine fellow springing to his feet and
shouting, "Here's to the man who made two-yolk eggs grow where one-yolk
eggs grew before."

Yet these artfully studied qualifications of the cloying sweet may have
been all of the taste of wormwood to the honored guest, who cared
nothing for his easy triumph with shanghais and the pip and these
two-yolk eggs, but prided himself on his bantams and his hen-food, and
was clinging to the hope that his discoveries in the higher education
would teach hens to observe the legal holidays if they could not be
taught to lay on every working-day, and was trusting to keep his measure
of failure a secret from the world. It would not do, however, to betray
anything of his vexation. That would be ungracious and ungrateful, and
so he must render back taffy for taffy, drawn butter for drawn butter,
till the whole place sticks and reeks with it.

Of course, the reader--especially if he has never been asked to a
personal dinner of this sort--will be saying that the fault is not with
the solemnity or its nature, but with the taste of those who conduct the
ceremony. He will no doubt be thinking that if he were ever made the
object of such a solemnity, or the chairman, or the least of the
speakers, he would manage differently. Very likely he will allege the
example of the Greeks, as we have it recorded in the accounts of the
banquet offered to Themistocles after the battle of Salamis, and the
supper given to Æschylus on the hundredth performance of the _OEdipus_
of Sophocles.

The supper has always been considered rather a refinement upon the
banquet, in taste, as it was offered to the venerable poet not upon the
occasion of any achievement of his own, but in recognition of the
prolonged triumph of his brother dramatist, in which it was assumed that
he would feel a generous interest. The banquet to Themistocles was more
in the nature of a public rejoicing, for it celebrated a victory due as
much to the valor of all the Greeks as to the genius of the admiral; and
it could, therefore, be made more directly a compliment to him. Even
under these circumstances, however, the guest of the evening occupied an
inconspicuous place at the reporters' table, while he was represented
on the chairman's right by the bust of Poseidon, hastily modelled for
the occasion by Praxiteles, and dedicated to Themistocles, who was a
plain man, but whose portrait, even if he had been handsome, it was
thought would not have looked well in such a position at a time when
portrait-statuary was unknown. The only direct allusion to him was in
the opening toast, "The Dewey of Our Day," which was drunk sitting, the
guests rising from their recumbent postures in honor of it. The
chairman's opening address was almost wholly a plea for the enlargement
of the Athenian navy: the implication that the republic had been saved,
in spite of its inefficient armament, was accepted as the finest
possible compliment to the guest of the evening. The note of all the
other speeches was their exquisite impersonality. They got further and
further from the occasion of the evening, until the effort of
Demosthenes closed the speaking with a scathing denunciation of the
machine politicians who had involved the Athenians in a war with Persia
to further the interests of Sparta. It was held that this was the
noblest tribute which could be paid to the genius of the man who had
brought them safely out of it. As the company broke up, Diogenes with
his lantern approached Themistocles, who was giving the reporters copies
of the speech he had not been asked to deliver, and, after examining his
countenance with a sigh of disappointment, accompanied him home as far
as his own tub; Athens at that time being imperfectly lighted, and the
reform government having not yet replaced the street names wantonly
obliterated under the régime of the Thirty Tyrants.

At the supper to Æschylus the tablets of the menu were inscribed with
verses from the elder poet ingeniously chosen for their imaginable
reference to the masterpiece of the younger, whose modesty was
delicately spared at every point. It was a question whether the
committee managing the affair had not perhaps gone too far in giving the
supper while Sophocles was away from Athens staging the piece at
Corinth; but there was no division of opinion as to the taste with which
some of the details had been studied. It was considered a stroke of
inspiration to have on the speaker's left, where Sophocles would have
sat if he had been present at a supper given to Æschylus, the sitting
figure of Melpomene, crowned with rosemary for remembrance. No allusion
was made to Æschylus during the evening, after his health had been
proposed by the chairman and drunk in silence, but a great and exquisite
surprise was reserved for him in the matter of the speeches that
followed. By prior agreement among the speakers they were all ostensibly
devoted to the examination of the _OEdipus_ and the other dramas of
Sophocles, which in his absence were very frankly dealt with. But the
unsparing criticism of their defects was made implicitly to take the
character of appreciation of the Æschylus tragedies, whose good points
were all turned to the light without open mention of them. This afforded
the aged poet an opportunity of magnanimously defending his younger
_confrère_, and he rose to the occasion, beaming, as some one said, from
head to foot and oozing self-satisfaction at every pore. He could not
put from him the compliments not ostensibly directed at him, but he
could and did take up the criticisms of the Sophoclean drama, point by
point, and refute them in the interest of literature, with a masterly
elimination of himself and his own part in it. A Roman gentleman present
remarked that he had seen nothing like it, for sincere deprecation,
since Cæsar had refused the thrice-offered crown on the Lupercal; and
the effect was that intended throughout--the supreme honor of Æschylus
in the guise of a tribute to Sophocles. The note of the whole affair was
struck by the comic poet Aristophanes, whom the chairman called upon to
make the closing speech of the evening, and who merely sat up long
enough to quote the old Attic proverb, "Gentlemen, there are many ways
to kill a dog besides choking him to death with butter," and then lay
down again amid shrieks of merriment from the whole company.

There is, perhaps, a middle course between the American and Athenian
ways of recognizing achievement in the arts or interests, or of
commemorating great public events. This would probably derive from each
certain advantages, or at least the ancient might temper the modern
world to a little more restraint than it now practises in the
celebration of private worth, especially. The public events may be more
safely allowed to take care of themselves, though it is to be questioned
whether it is well for any people to make overmuch of themselves. They
cannot do it without making themselves ridiculous, and perhaps making
themselves sick of what little real glory there is in any given affair;
they will have got that so inextricably mixed up with the vainglory that
they will have to reject the one to free themselves from the humiliating
memory of the other.

There is nothing that so certainly turns to shame in the retrospect as
vainglory, and this is what the personal dinner is chiefly supposed to
inspire in the victim of it. If he is at all honest with himself, and he
probably is before he can have done anything worthy of notice, he knows
perfectly well that he has not merited all if any of the fond flatteries
with which he is heaped, as he sits helpless with meat and drink, and
suffers under them with the fatuous smile which we all have seen and
which some of us have worn. But as the flatterers keep coming on and on,
each with his garland of tuberoses or sunflowers, he begins to think
that there must be some fire where there is so much smoke, and to feel
the glow of the flame which he is not able exactly to locate. He burns
in sympathy with his ardent votaries, he becomes inevitably a partner in
his own apotheosis. It is the office of the sad, cold morrow, and the
sadder and colder after-morrows, to undo this illusion, to compress his
head to the measure of his hat, to remove the drawn butter from his
soul.

They may never wholly succeed, but this is not probable, and it is not
against a permanent _folie des grandeurs_ that we need seek to guard the
victim of a personal dinner. We have, indeed, so much faith in the
ultimate discretion of the race that we should be quite willing to
intrust the remarkable man himself with the office of giving himself a
public dinner when he felt that his work merited signal recognition. In
this way the whole affair could be kept within bounds. He could strike
the note, he could set the pace, in his opening address; and, having
appointed the speakers, with a full knowledge of their honesty and
subordination, he could trust the speeches to be sane and temperate. In
calling the speakers successively up, he could protest against anything
that seemed excessive eulogy in the words already spoken, and could
invite a more modest estimate of his qualities and achievements in the
speeches to follow.



X

A DAY AT BRONX PARK


In the beginning of the season which is called Silly in the world of
journalism, because the outer vacuity then responds to the inner, and
the empty brain vainly interrogates the empty environment for something
to write of, two friends of the Easy Chair offered to spend a holiday in
search of material for a paper. The only conditions they made were that
the Easy Chair should not exact material of weight or importance, but
should gratefully accept whatever they brought back to it, and make the
most of it. On these terms they set out on their labor of love.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time the sun had quitted the face of the vast apartment-house on
which the day habitually broke, and had gone about its business of
lighting and heating the city roofs and streets, the holiday companions
were well on their way up the Third Avenue Elevated toward that region
of the Bronx which, in all their New York years, they had never yet
visited. They exulted at each stop and start of the train in the long
succession of streets which followed so fast upon one another that the
guards gave up trying to call them out as a hundred-and-so-many, and
simply said Fifty-fifth, and Sixty-sixth, and Seventy-seventh Street.
This slight of their duty to the public comported agreeably with the
slip-shod effectiveness of the whole apparatus of the New York life:
the rows and rows of shops, the rows and rows of flats, the rows and
rows of back yards with miles of wash flying in the soft May wind,
which, probably, the people in the open car ahead felt almost a gale.

When the train got as far as the composite ugliness of the ships and
tugs and drawbridges of Harlem River, the companions accepted the
ensemble as picturesqueness, and did not require beauty of it. Once they
did get beauty in a certain civic building which fronted the track and
let fall a double stairway from its level in a way to recall the Spanish
Steps and to get itself likened to the Trinità de' Monti at Rome.

It was, of course, like that only in their fond remembrance, but this
was not the only Roman quality in their cup of pleasure that day; and
they did not care to inquire whether it was merely the flavoring extract
of fancy, or was a genuine infusion from the Italian sky overhead, the
classic architectural forms, the loosely straggling grass, the flowering
woods, the rapture of the birds, the stretches of the river, the
tumbling rapids, which so delicately intoxicated them. There was a
certain fountain gave a peculiar authenticity to their pleasure, as of
some assurance blown in the bottle from which their joy-draught was
poured. Nowhere else but in Rome could they have imagined such a group
of bronze men and maidens and web-footed horses struggling so bravely,
so aimlessly (except to show their figures), in a shallow bowl from
which the water spilled so unstintedly over white marble brims beginning
to paint themselves palely green.

At the end of their glad day this fountain came last of the things that
made Bronx Park such a paradise for eight hours; though it might have
been their first delight if they had taken one way about instead of
another in their tour of the large, easy pleasance. But suddenly at
half-past eleven they found themselves ravenously hungry, and demanded
to be driven to the best restaurant by the shortest way that the mild
youth whom they fell to at once inside the park gate could find.

He had the very horse he ought to have had--old, weary, infirm, decently
hiding its disabilities under a blanket, and, when this was stripped
away, confessing them in a start so reluctant that they had to be
explained as the stiffness natural to any young, strong, and fresh horse
from resting too long. It did, in fact, become more animated as time
went on, and perhaps it began to take an interest in the landscape left
so charmingly wild wherever it could be. It apparently liked being alive
there with its fares, kindred spirits, who could appreciate the privacy
of a bland Monday after the popular outing of the day before. Almost
nobody else was in the park. For a time they noted only a young fellow
with a shut book in his hand taking his way up a woody slope and fading
into a green shadow; but presently they came to a grassy point running
down to the road, where, under a tree, there was a young mother sitting
with an open book in her lap, and, a little way from her outstretched
little foot, her baby asleep in the smallest of go-carts--the
collapsible sort that you can fold and carry in the cars and then unfold
for use when you come to the right place. The baby had a white
sunbonnet, and a thick fringe of her straw-colored hair came out over
her forehead under it, and when the companions smiled together at the
baby, and the horse intelligently faltered, the young mother fluttered
the idle leaves of her book with her hand and smiled back at them, and
took the credit of the little one, not unkindly, yet proudly. They
said it was all as nice as it could be, and they were still so content
in her and her baby that, when they had to drive out of the park to
cross a street to the section where the restaurant and the menagerie
were, they waited deferentially for a long, long funeral to get by. They
felt pity for the bereaved, and then admiration for people who could
afford to have so many carriages; and they made their driver ask the
mounted policeman whose funeral it was. He addressed the policeman by
name, and the companions felt included in the circle of an acquaintance
where a good deal of domesticity seemed to prevail. The policeman would
not join in the conjecture that it was some distinguished person; he did
not give his reasons; and the pair began to fret at their delay, and
mentally to hurry that poor unknown underground--so short is our
patience with the dead! When at last their driver went up round the
endless queue of hacks, it suddenly came to an end, and they were again
in the park and among the cages and pens and ranges of the animals, in
the midst of which their own restaurant appeared. An Italian band of
mandolins and guitars was already at noonday softly murmuring and
whimpering in the corner of the veranda where the tables were set; and
they got an amiable old waiter, whose fault it was not if spring-lamb
matures so early in the summer of its brief term as to seem
last-fall-lamb. There is no good reason either to suppose he did not
really believe in the pease. But why will pease that know they have been
the whole winter in the can pretend to be just out of the pod? Doubtless
it is for every implication that all vegetation is of one ichor with
humanity; but the waiter was honester than the pease. He telephoned for
two wheeled chairs, and then said he had countermanded them because
they would be half an hour coming; but again he telephoned, for by this
time the pair had learned that they might drive into the zoological
grounds, but not drive round them; and they saw from the window the sun
smoking hot on the asphalt paths their feet must press.

[Illustration: ZOÖLOGICAL GARDENS, BRONX PARK]

While the chairs lingered on the way, they went to get what comfort they
could from the bears, whose house was near at hand. They might well have
learned patience here from a bear trying to cope with a mocking cask in
a pool. He pushed it under the water with his paw and held it hard down;
when he turned away as if _that_ cask were done for, there it was
bobbing about on the surface, and he had to down it again and hold it
under till life seemed extinct. At last he gave it up and left it
floating in triumph, but one could infer with what perseverance he would
renew the struggle presently.

There might have been too many bears; but this was the fault of all
their fellow-captives except perhaps the elephants. One cannot really
have enough of elephants; and one would have liked a whole herd of
giraffes, and a whole troop of gnus would not have glutted one's
pleasure in their goat-faces, cow-heads, horse-tails, and pig-feet. But
why so many snakes of a kind? Why such a multiplicity of crocodiles? Why
even more than one of that special pattern of Mexican iguana which
looked as if cut out of zinc and painted a dull Paris green? Why, above
all, so many small mammals?

Small mammals was the favorite phrase of the friendly colored chairman,
who by this time had appeared with an old-soldier comrade and was
pushing the companions about from house to house and cage to cage. Small
mammals, he warned them, were of an offensive odor, and he was right;
but he was proud of them and of such scientific knowledge of them as he
had. The old soldier did not pretend to have any such knowledge. He fell
into a natural subordination, and let his colored superior lead the way
mostly, though he asserted the principle that this is a white man's
country by pushing first to the lions' house instead of going to the
flying-cage, as his dark comrade instructed him.

It was his sole revolt. "But what," we hear the reader asking, "is the
flying-cage?" We have not come to that yet; we are lingering still at
the lions' house, where two of the most amiable lions in the world
smilingly illustrate the effect of civilization in such of their savage
species as are born in the genial captivity of Bronx Park. We are
staying a moment in the cool stone stable of the elephants and the
rhinoceroses and the hippopotamuses; we are fondly clinging to the wires
of the cages where the hermit-thrushes, snatched from their loved
solitude and mixed with an indiscriminate company of bolder birds, tune
their angelic notes only in a tentative staccato; we are standing rapt
before the awful bell-bird ringing his sharp, unchanging, unceasing
peal, as unconscious of us as if he had us in the heart of his tropical
forest; we are waiting for the mighty blue Brazilian macaw to catch our
names and syllable them to the shrieking, shrilling, snarling society of
parrots trapezing and acrobating about him; we are even stopping to see
the white peahen wearing her heart out and her tail out against her
imprisoning wires; we are delaying to let the flying-cage burst upon us
in the unrivalled immensity promised. That is, we are doing all this in
the personalities of those holiday companions, who generously found the
cage as wide and high as their chair-men wished, and gratefully gloated
upon its pelicans and storks and cranes and swans and wild geese and
wood-ducks and curlews and sea-pigeons, and gulls, and whatever other
water-fowl soars and swims. It was well, they felt, to have had this
kept for the last, with its great lesson of a communistic captivity in
which all nations of men might be cooped together in amity and equality,
instead of being, as now, shut up each in his own cell of need and fear.

Not having come in an automobile, the companions were forced by an
invidious regulation to find their carriage outside the gate of the
Concourse; but neither the horse nor the driver seemed to feel the
slight of the discrimination. They started off to complete the round of
the park with all their morning cheerfulness and more; for they had now
added several dollars to their tariff of charges by the delay of their
fares, and they might well be gayer. Their fares did not refuse to share
their mood, and when they crossed the Bronx and came into the region of
the walks and drives they were even gayer than their horse and man.
These were more used to the smooth level of the river where it stretched
itself out between its meadowy shores and mirrored the blue heaven,
rough with dusky white clouds, in its bosom; they could not feel, as
their fares did, the novelty in the beauty of that hollow, that wide
grassy cup by which they drove, bathed in the flowery and blossomy
sweetness that filled it to its wood-bordered brim.

But what is the use of counting one by one the joys of a day so richly
jewelled with delight? Rather let us heap them at once in the reader's
lap and not try to part the recurrence of the level-branched dogwoods in
bloom; the sunny and the shadowy reaches of the woods still in the
silken filminess of their fresh young leaves; the grass springing
slenderly, tenderly on the unmown slopes of the roadsides, or giving up
its life in spicy sweetness from the scythe; the gardeners pausing from
their leisurely employ, and once in the person of their foreman touching
their hats to the companions; the wistaria-garlanded cottage of the
keeper of the estate now ceded to the city; the Gothic stable of the
former proprietor looking like a Gothic chapel in its dell; the stone
mansion on its height opening to curiosity a vague collection of
minerals, and recalling with its dim, hardwood interior the ineffectual
state of a time already further outdated than any colonial prime; the
old snuff-mill of the founders, hard by; the dam breaking into foam in
the valley below; the rustic bridge crossing from shore to shore, with
steel-engraving figures leaning on its parapet and other steel-engraving
presences by the water's brink.

The supreme charm is that you are so free to all things in that generous
park; that you may touch them and test them by every sense; that you may
stray among the trees, and lie down upon the grass, and possess yourself
indiscriminately of them quite as if they were your own.

They are indeed yours in the nobler sense of public proprietorship which
will one day, no doubt, supersede all private ownership. You have your
share of the lands and waters, the birds in the cages and the beasts,
from the lions and elephants in their palaces, and the giraffes freely
browsing and grazing in their paddock, down to the smallest of the small
mammals giving their odor in their pens. You have as much right as
another to the sculptures (all hand-carved, as your colored chairman
will repeatedly tell you) on the mansions of the lordlier brutes, and
there is none to dispute your just portion of the Paris-green zinc
iguana, for you have helped pay for them all.

The key-word of this reflection makes you anxious to find whether your
driver will make you pay him too much, but when you tot up the hours by
his tariff, and timidly suggest that it will be so many dollars and
offer him a bill for the same, he surprises you by saying, No, he owes
you fifty cents on that; and paying it back.

Such at least was the endearing experience of the companions at the end
of their day's pleasure. Not that it was really the end, for there was
the airy swoop homeward in the Elevated train, through all that ugly
picturesqueness of bridges and boats and blocks of buildings, with the
added interest of seeing the back-flying streets below now full of
children let loose from school for the afternoon, and possessing the
roadways and sidewalks as if these, too, were common property like the
park. It seemed to the companions that the children increased toward the
shabbier waterside, and decreased wherever the houses looked better,
through that mystical law of population by which poverty is richer than
prosperity is in children. They could see them yelling and screaming at
their games, though they could not hear them, and they yelled and
screamed the louder to the eye because they were visibly for the
greatest part boys. If they were the offspring of alien parents, they
might be a proof of American decay; but, on the other hand, the
preponderance of boys was in repair of that disproportion of the sexes
which in the east of these States is such a crying evil.

Perhaps it was the behavior of the child in the opposite seat which made
the companions think of girls as a crying evil; the mental operations
are so devious and capricious; but this child was really a girl. She was
a pretty child and prettily dressed, with a little face full of a
petulant and wilful charm, which might well have been too much for her
weak, meek young mother. She wanted to be leaning more than half out of
the window and looking both ways at once, and she fought away the feebly
restraining hands with sharp, bird-like shrieks, so that the companions
expected every moment to see her succeed in dashing herself to death,
and suffered many things from their fear. When it seemed as if nothing
could save them, the guard came in and told the weak, meek mother that
the child must not lean out of the window. Instantly, such is the force
of all constituted authority among us, the child sat down quietly in her
mother's lap, and for the rest of the journey remained an example to
angels, so that the companions could rejoice as much in her goodness as
in her loveliness. She became, indeed, the crown of their happy day, a
day so happy that now in the faint air of August it is hard to believe
it even of May.


THE END





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