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´╗┐Title: Backlog Studies
Author: Warner, Charles Dudley
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Backlog Studies" ***

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By Charles Dudley Warner



The fire on the hearth has almost gone out in New England; the
hearth has gone out; the family has lost its center; age ceases to be
respected; sex is only distinguished by a difference between millinery
bills and tailors' bills; there is no more toast-and-cider; the young
are not allowed to eat mince-pies at ten o'clock at night; half a cheese
is no longer set to toast before the fire; you scarcely ever see in
front of the coals a row of roasting apples, which a bright little girl,
with many a dive and start, shielding her sunny face from the fire with
one hand, turns from time to time; scarce are the gray-haired sires who
strop their razors on the family Bible, and doze in the chimney-corner.
A good many things have gone out with the fire on the hearth.

I do not mean to say that public and private morality have vanished
with the hearth. A good degree of purity and considerable happiness are
possible with grates and blowers; it is a day of trial, when we are all
passing through a fiery furnace, and very likely we shall be purified
as we are dried up and wasted away. Of course the family is gone, as an
institution, though there still are attempts to bring up a family round
a "register." But you might just as well try to bring it up by hand, as
without the rallying-point of a hearthstone. Are there any homesteads
nowadays? Do people hesitate to change houses any more than they do
to change their clothes? People hire houses as they would a masquerade
costume, liking, sometimes, to appear for a year in a little fictitious
stone-front splendor above their means. Thus it happens that so many
people live in houses that do not fit them. I should almost as soon
think of wearing another person's clothes as his house; unless I could
let it out and take it in until it fitted, and somehow expressed my own
character and taste. But we have fallen into the days of conformity. It
is no wonder that people constantly go into their neighbors' houses by
mistake, just as, in spite of the Maine law, they wear away each other's
hats from an evening party. It has almost come to this, that you might
as well be anybody else as yourself.

Am I mistaken in supposing that this is owing to the discontinuance of
big chimneys, with wide fireplaces in them? How can a person be attached
to a house that has no center of attraction, no soul in it, in the
visible form of a glowing fire, and a warm chimney, like the heart in
the body? When you think of the old homestead, if you ever do, your
thoughts go straight to the wide chimney and its burning logs. No wonder
that you are ready to move from one fireplaceless house into another.
But you have something just as good, you say. Yes, I have heard of
it. This age, which imitates everything, even to the virtues of
our ancestors, has invented a fireplace, with artificial, iron, or
composition logs in it, hacked and painted, in which gas is burned, so
that it has the appearance of a wood-fire. This seems to me blasphemy.
Do you think a cat would lie down before it? Can you poke it? If
you can't poke it, it is a fraud. To poke a wood-fire is more solid
enjoyment than almost anything else in the world. The crowning human
virtue in a man is to let his wife poke the fire. I do not know how any
virtue whatever is possible over an imitation gas-log. What a sense of
insincerity the family must have, if they indulge in the hypocrisy of
gathering about it. With this center of untruthfulness, what must the
life in the family be? Perhaps the father will be living at the rate of
ten thousand a year on a salary of four thousand; perhaps the mother,
more beautiful and younger than her beautified daughters, will rouge;
perhaps the young ladies will make wax-work. A cynic might suggest
as the motto of modern life this simple legend,--"just as good as
the real." But I am not a cynic, and I hope for the rekindling of
wood-fires, and a return of the beautiful home light from them. If
a wood-fire is a luxury, it is cheaper than many in which we indulge
without thought, and cheaper than the visits of a doctor, made necessary
by the want of ventilation of the house. Not that I have anything
against doctors; I only wish, after they have been to see us in a way
that seems so friendly, they had nothing against us.

My fireplace, which is deep, and nearly three feet wide, has a broad
hearthstone in front of it, where the live coals tumble down, and a
pair of gigantic brass andirons. The brasses are burnished, and shine
cheerfully in the firelight, and on either side stand tall shovel and
tongs, like sentries, mounted in brass. The tongs, like the two-handed
sword of Bruce, cannot be wielded by puny people. We burn in it hickory
wood, cut long. We like the smell of this aromatic forest timber, and
its clear flame. The birch is also a sweet wood for the hearth, with
a sort of spiritual flame and an even temper,--no snappishness. Some
prefer the elm, which holds fire so well; and I have a neighbor who uses
nothing but apple-tree wood,--a solid, family sort of wood, fragrant
also, and full of delightful suggestions. But few people can afford to
burn up their fruit trees. I should as soon think of lighting the fire
with sweet-oil that comes in those graceful wicker-bound flasks from
Naples, or with manuscript sermons, which, however, do not burn well, be
they never so dry, not half so well as printed editorials.

Few people know how to make a wood-fire, but everybody thinks he or
she does. You want, first, a large backlog, which does not rest on the
andirons. This will keep your fire forward, radiate heat all day, and
late in the evening fall into a ruin of glowing coals, like the last
days of a good man, whose life is the richest and most beneficent at the
close, when the flames of passion and the sap of youth are burned out,
and there only remain the solid, bright elements of character. Then
you want a forestick on the andirons; and upon these build the fire of
lighter stuff. In this way you have at once a cheerful blaze, and the
fire gradually eats into the solid mass, sinking down with increasing
fervor; coals drop below, and delicate tongues of flame sport along the
beautiful grain of the forestick. There are people who kindle a fire
underneath. But these are conceited people, who are wedded to their own
way. I suppose an accomplished incendiary always starts a fire in the
attic, if he can. I am not an incendiary, but I hate bigotry. I don't
call those incendiaries very good Christians who, when they set fire to
the martyrs, touched off the fagots at the bottom, so as to make them
go slow. Besides, knowledge works down easier than it does up. Education
must proceed from the more enlightened down to the more ignorant strata.
If you want better common schools, raise the standard of the colleges,
and so on. Build your fire on top. Let your light shine. I have seen
people build a fire under a balky horse; but he wouldn't go, he'd be a
horse-martyr first. A fire kindled under one never did him any good. Of
course you can make a fire on the hearth by kindling it underneath, but
that does not make it right. I want my hearthfire to be an emblem of the
best things.


It must be confessed that a wood-fire needs as much tending as a pair of
twins. To say nothing of fiery projectiles sent into the room, even by
the best wood, from the explosion of gases confined in its cells, the
brands are continually dropping down, and coals are being scattered
over the hearth. However much a careful housewife, who thinks more
of neatness than enjoyment, may dislike this, it is one of the chief
delights of a wood-fire. I would as soon have an Englishman without
side-whiskers as a fire without a big backlog; and I would rather have
no fire than one that required no tending,--one of dead wood that
could not sing again the imprisoned songs of the forest, or give out in
brilliant scintillations the sunshine it absorbed in its growth. Flame
is an ethereal sprite, and the spice of danger in it gives zest to the
care of the hearth-fire. Nothing is so beautiful as springing, changing
flame,--it was the last freak of the Gothic architecture men to
represent the fronts of elaborate edifices of stone as on fire, by
the kindling flamboyant devices. A fireplace is, besides, a private
laboratory, where one can witness the most brilliant chemical
experiments, minor conflagrations only wanting the grandeur of cities on
fire. It is a vulgar notion that a fire is only for heat. A chief value
of it is, however, to look at. It is a picture, framed between the
jambs. You have nothing on your walls, by the best masters (the poor
masters are not, however, represented), that is really so fascinating,
so spiritual. Speaking like an upholsterer, it furnishes the room.
And it is never twice the same. In this respect it is like the
landscape-view through a window, always seen in a new light, color, or
condition. The fireplace is a window into the most charming world I ever
had a glimpse of.

Yet direct heat is an agreeable sensation. I am not scientific enough
to despise it, and have no taste for a winter residence on Mount
Washington, where the thermometer cannot be kept comfortable even by
boiling. They say that they say in Boston that there is a satisfaction
in being well dressed which religion cannot give. There is certainly a
satisfaction in the direct radiance of a hickory fire which is not to be
found in the fieriest blasts of a furnace. The hot air of a furnace is
a sirocco; the heat of a wood-fire is only intense sunshine, like that
bottled in Lacrimae Christi. Besides this, the eye is delighted, the
sense of smell is regaled by the fragrant decomposition, and the ear is
pleased with the hissing, crackling, and singing,--a liberation of
so many out-door noises. Some people like the sound of bubbling in a
boiling pot, or the fizzing of a frying-spider. But there is nothing
gross in the animated crackling of sticks of wood blazing on the earth,
not even if chestnuts are roasting in the ashes. All the senses are
ministered to, and the imagination is left as free as the leaping
tongues of flame.

The attention which a wood-fire demands is one of its best
recommendations. We value little that which costs us no trouble to
maintain. If we had to keep the sun kindled up and going by private
corporate action, or act of Congress, and to be taxed for the support of
customs officers of solar heat, we should prize it more than we do. Not
that I should like to look upon the sun as a job, and have the proper
regulation of its temperature get into politics, where we already have
so much combustible stuff; but we take it quite too much as a matter
of course, and, having it free, do not reckon it among the reasons for
gratitude. Many people shut it out of their houses as if it were an
enemy, watch its descent upon the carpet as if it were only a thief of
color, and plant trees to shut it away from the mouldering house. All
the animals know better than this, as well as the more simple races of
men; the old women of the southern Italian coasts sit all day in the sun
and ply the distaff, as grateful as the sociable hens on the south side
of a New England barn; the slow tortoise likes to take the sun upon his
sloping back, soaking in color that shall make him immortal when the
imperishable part of him is cut up into shell ornaments. The capacity
of a cat to absorb sunshine is only equaled by that of an Arab or an
Ethiopian. They are not afraid of injuring their complexions.

White must be the color of civilization; it has so many natural
disadvantages. But this is politics. I was about to say that, however it
may be with sunshine, one is always grateful for his wood-fire, because
he does not maintain it without some cost.

Yet I cannot but confess to a difference between sunlight and the light
of a wood-fire. The sunshine is entirely untamed. Where it rages most
freely it tends to evoke the brilliancy rather than the harmonious
satisfactions of nature. The monstrous growths and the flaming colors
of the tropics contrast with our more subdued loveliness of foliage and
bloom. The birds of the middle region dazzle with their contrasts of
plumage, and their voices are for screaming rather than singing. I
presume the new experiments in sound would project a macaw's voice
in very tangled and inharmonious lines of light. I suspect that the
fiercest sunlight puts people, as well as animals and vegetables, on
extremes in all ways. A wood-fire on the hearth is a kindler of the
domestic virtues. It brings in cheerfulness, and a family center, and,
besides, it is artistic. I should like to know if an artist could ever
represent on canvas a happy family gathered round a hole in the floor
called a register. Given a fireplace, and a tolerable artist could
almost create a pleasant family round it. But what could he conjure out
of a register? If there was any virtue among our ancestors,--and they
labored under a great many disadvantages, and had few of the aids which
we have to excellence of life,--I am convinced they drew it mostly from
the fireside. If it was difficult to read the eleven commandments by the
light of a pine-knot, it was not difficult to get the sweet spirit
of them from the countenance of the serene mother knitting in the


When the fire is made, you want to sit in front of it and grow genial in
its effulgence. I have never been upon a throne,--except in moments of a
traveler's curiosity, about as long as a South American dictator remains
on one,--but I have no idea that it compares, for pleasantness, with a
seat before a wood-fire. A whole leisure day before you, a good novel
in hand, and the backlog only just beginning to kindle, with uncounted
hours of comfort in it, has life anything more delicious? For "novel"
you can substitute "Calvin's Institutes," if you wish to be virtuous
as well as happy. Even Calvin would melt before a wood-fire. A great
snowstorm, visible on three sides of your wide-windowed room, loading
the evergreens, blown in fine powder from the great chestnut-tops, piled
up in ever accumulating masses, covering the paths, the shrubbery, the
hedges, drifting and clinging in fantastic deposits, deepening your
sense of security, and taking away the sin of idleness by making it a
necessity, this is an excellent ground to your day by the fire.

To deliberately sit down in the morning to read a novel, to enjoy
yourself, is this not, in New England (I am told they don't read much
in other parts of the country), the sin of sins? Have you any right to
read, especially novels, until you have exhausted the best part of the
day in some employment that is called practical? Have you any right to
enjoy yourself at all until the fag-end of the day, when you are
tired and incapable of enjoying yourself? I am aware that this is the
practice, if not the theory, of our society,--to postpone the delights
of social intercourse until after dark, and rather late at night, when
body and mind are both weary with the exertions of business, and when
we can give to what is the most delightful and profitable thing in life,
social and intellectual society, only the weariness of dull brains and
over-tired muscles. No wonder we take our amusements sadly, and that so
many people find dinners heavy and parties stupid. Our economy leaves no
place for amusements; we merely add them to the burden of a life already
full. The world is still a little off the track as to what is really

I confess that the morning is a very good time to read a novel, or
anything else which is good and requires a fresh mind; and I take it
that nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind. I
suppose it is necessary that business should be transacted; though the
amount of business that does not contribute to anybody's comfort or
improvement suggests the query whether it is not overdone. I know that
unremitting attention to business is the price of success, but I don't
know what success is. There is a man, whom we all know, who built a
house that cost a quarter of a million of dollars, and furnished it for
another like sum, who does not know anything more about architecture,
or painting, or books, or history, than he cares for the rights of those
who have not so much money as he has. I heard him once, in a foreign
gallery, say to his wife, as they stood in front of a famous picture
by Rubens: "That is the Rape of the Sardines!" What a cheerful world it
would be if everybody was as successful as that man! While I am reading
my book by the fire, and taking an active part in important transactions
that may be a good deal better than real, let me be thankful that
a great many men are profitably employed in offices and bureaus and
country stores in keeping up the gossip and endless exchange of opinions
among mankind, so much of which is made to appear to the women at home
as "business." I find that there is a sort of busy idleness among men
in this world that is not held in disrepute. When the time comes that
I have to prove my right to vote, with women, I trust that it will be
remembered in my favor that I made this admission. If it is true, as a
witty conservative once said to me, that we never shall have peace in
this country until we elect a colored woman president, I desire to be
rectus in curia early.


The fireplace, as we said, is a window through which we look out upon
other scenes. We like to read of the small, bare room, with cobwebbed
ceiling and narrow window, in which the poor child of genius sits with
his magical pen, the master of a realm of beauty and enchantment.
I think the open fire does not kindle the imagination so much as it
awakens the memory; one sees the past in its crumbling embers and ashy
grayness, rather than the future. People become reminiscent and even
sentimental in front of it. They used to become something else in those
good old days when it was thought best to heat the poker red hot before
plunging it into the mugs of flip. This heating of the poker has been
disapproved of late years, but I do not know on what grounds; if one
is to drink bitters and gins and the like, such as I understand as good
people as clergymen and women take in private, and by advice, I do not
know why one should not make them palatable and heat them with his own
poker. Cold whiskey out of a bottle, taken as a prescription six times
a day on the sly, is n't my idea of virtue any more than the social
ancestral glass, sizzling wickedly with the hot iron. Names are so
confusing in this world; but things are apt to remain pretty much the
same, whatever we call them.

Perhaps as you look into the fireplace it widens and grows deep and
cavernous. The back and the jambs are built up of great stones, not
always smoothly laid, with jutting ledges upon which ashes are apt to
lie. The hearthstone is an enormous block of trap rock, with a surface
not perfectly even, but a capital place to crack butternuts on. Over
the fire swings an iron crane, with a row of pot-hooks of all lengths
hanging from it. It swings out when the housewife wants to hang on
the tea-kettle, and it is strong enough to support a row of pots, or a
mammoth caldron kettle on occasion. What a jolly sight is this fireplace
when the pots and kettles in a row are all boiling and bubbling over
the flame, and a roasting spit is turning in front! It makes a person
as hungry as one of Scott's novels. But the brilliant sight is in the
frosty morning, about daylight, when the fire is made. The coals are
raked open, the split sticks are piled up in openwork criss-crossing, as
high as the crane; and when the flame catches hold and roars up through
the interstices, it is like an out-of-door bonfire. Wood enough is
consumed in that morning sacrifice to cook the food of a Parisian family
for a year. How it roars up the wide chimney, sending into the air the
signal smoke and sparks which announce to the farming neighbors another
day cheerfully begun! The sleepiest boy in the world would get up in his
red flannel nightgown to see such a fire lighted, even if he dropped
to sleep again in his chair before the ruddy blaze. Then it is that the
house, which has shrunk and creaked all night in the pinching cold of
winter, begins to glow again and come to life. The thick frost melts
little by little on the small window-panes, and it is seen that the gray
dawn is breaking over the leagues of pallid snow. It is time to blow out
the candle, which has lost all its cheerfulness in the light of day. The
morning romance is over; the family is astir; and member after member
appears with the morning yawn, to stand before the crackling, fierce
conflagration. The daily round begins. The most hateful employment ever
invented for mortal man presents itself: the "chores" are to be done.
The boy who expects every morning to open into a new world finds that
to-day is like yesterday, but he believes to-morrow will be different.
And yet enough for him, for the day, is the wading in the snowdrifts, or
the sliding on the diamond-sparkling crust. Happy, too, is he, when the
storm rages, and the snow is piled high against the windows, if he can
sit in the warm chimney-corner and read about Burgoyne, and General
Fraser, and Miss McCrea, midwinter marches through the wilderness,
surprises of wigwams, and the stirring ballad, say, of the Battle of the

   "Come, gallants, attend and list a friend
   Thrill forth harmonious ditty;
   While I shall tell what late befell
   At Philadelphia city."

I should like to know what heroism a boy in an old New England
farmhouse--rough-nursed by nature, and fed on the traditions of the old
wars did not aspire to. "John," says the mother, "You'll burn your head
to a crisp in that heat." But John does not hear; he is storming the
Plains of Abraham just now. "Johnny, dear, bring in a stick of wood."
How can Johnny bring in wood when he is in that defile with Braddock,
and the Indians are popping at him from behind every tree? There is
something about a boy that I like, after all.

The fire rests upon the broad hearth; the hearth rests upon a great
substruction of stone, and the substruction rests upon the cellar. What
supports the cellar I never knew, but the cellar supports the family.
The cellar is the foundation of domestic comfort. Into its dark,
cavernous recesses the child's imagination fearfully goes. Bogies guard
the bins of choicest apples. I know not what comical sprites sit astride
the cider-barrels ranged along the walls. The feeble flicker of the
tallow-candle does not at all dispel, but creates, illusions, and
magnifies all the rich possibilities of this underground treasure-house.
When the cellar-door is opened, and the boy begins to descend into the
thick darkness, it is always with a heart-beat as of one started upon
some adventure. Who can forget the smell that comes through the opened
door;--a mingling of fresh earth, fruit exhaling delicious aroma,
kitchen vegetables, the mouldy odor of barrels, a sort of ancestral
air,--as if a door had been opened into an old romance. Do you like it?
Not much. But then I would not exchange the remembrance of it for a good
many odors and perfumes that I do like.

It is time to punch the backlog and put on a new forestick.



The log was white birch. The beautiful satin bark at once kindled into
a soft, pure, but brilliant flame, something like that of naphtha. There
is no other wood flame so rich, and it leaps up in a joyous, spiritual
way, as if glad to burn for the sake of burning. Burning like a clear
oil, it has none of the heaviness and fatness of the pine and the
balsam. Woodsmen are at a loss to account for its intense and yet
chaste flame, since the bark has no oily appearance. The heat from it
is fierce, and the light dazzling. It flares up eagerly like young love,
and then dies away; the wood does not keep up the promise of the
bark. The woodsmen, it is proper to say, have not considered it in its
relation to young love. In the remote settlements the pine-knot is still
the torch of courtship; it endures to sit up by. The birch-bark has
alliances with the world of sentiment and of letters. The most poetical
reputation of the North American Indian floats in a canoe made of it;
his picture-writing was inscribed on it. It is the paper that nature
furnishes for lovers in the wilderness, who are enabled to convey a
delicate sentiment by its use, which is expressed neither in their ideas
nor chirography. It is inadequate for legal parchment, but does very
well for deeds of love, which are not meant usually to give a perfect
title. With care, it may be split into sheets as thin as the Chinese
paper. It is so beautiful to handle that it is a pity civilization
cannot make more use of it. But fancy articles manufactured from it are
very much like all ornamental work made of nature's perishable seeds,
leaves, cones, and dry twigs,--exquisite while the pretty fingers are
fashioning it, but soon growing shabby and cheap to the eye. And yet
there is a pathos in "dried things," whether they are displayed as
ornaments in some secluded home, or hidden religiously in bureau drawers
where profane eyes cannot see how white ties are growing yellow and ink
is fading from treasured letters, amid a faint and discouraging perfume
of ancient rose-leaves.

The birch log holds out very well while it is green, but has not
substance enough for a backlog when dry. Seasoning green timber or men
is always an experiment. A man may do very well in a simple, let us say,
country or backwoods line of life, who would come to nothing in a more
complicated civilization. City life is a severe trial. One man is struck
with a dry-rot; another develops season-cracks; another shrinks and
swells with every change of circumstance. Prosperity is said to be more
trying than adversity, a theory which most people are willing to accept
without trial; but few men stand the drying out of the natural sap
of their greenness in the artificial heat of city life. This, be it
noticed, is nothing against the drying and seasoning process; character
must be put into the crucible some time, and why not in this world? A
man who cannot stand seasoning will not have a high market value in any
part of the universe. It is creditable to the race, that so many men and
women bravely jump into the furnace of prosperity and expose themselves
to the drying influences of city life.

The first fire that is lighted on the hearth in the autumn seems to
bring out the cold weather. Deceived by the placid appearance of the
dying year, the softness of the sky, and the warm color of the foliage,
we have been shivering about for days without exactly comprehending what
was the matter. The open fire at once sets up a standard of comparison.
We find that the advance guards of winter are besieging the house. The
cold rushes in at every crack of door and window, apparently signaled
by the flame to invade the house and fill it with chilly drafts and
sarcasms on what we call the temperate zone. It needs a roaring fire
to beat back the enemy; a feeble one is only an invitation to the
most insulting demonstrations. Our pious New England ancestors were
philosophers in their way. It was not simply owing to grace that
they sat for hours in their barnlike meeting-houses during the winter
Sundays, the thermometer many degrees below freezing, with no fire,
except the zeal in their own hearts,--a congregation of red noses and
bright eyes. It was no wonder that the minister in the pulpit warmed up
to his subject, cried aloud, used hot words, spoke a good deal of the
hot place and the Person whose presence was a burning shame, hammered
the desk as if he expected to drive his text through a two-inch plank,
and heated himself by all allowable ecclesiastical gymnastics. A few of
their followers in our day seem to forget that our modern churches are
heated by furnaces and supplied with gas. In the old days it would
have been thought unphilosophic as well as effeminate to warm the
meeting-houses artificially. In one house I knew, at least, when it was
proposed to introduce a stove to take a little of the chill from the
Sunday services, the deacons protested against the innovation. They said
that the stove might benefit those who sat close to it, but it would
drive all the cold air to the other parts of the church, and freeze the
people to death; it was cold enough now around the edges. Blessed days
of ignorance and upright living! Sturdy men who served God by resolutely
sitting out the icy hours of service, amid the rattling of windows and
the carousal of winter in the high, windswept galleries! Patient women,
waiting in the chilly house for consumption to pick out his victims, and
replace the color of youth and the flush of devotion with the hectic
of disease! At least, you did not doze and droop in our over-heated
edifices, and die of vitiated air and disregard of the simplest
conditions of organized life. It is fortunate that each generation
does not comprehend its own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our
ancestors barbarous. It is something also that each age has its choice
of the death it will die. Our generation is most ingenious. From our
public assembly-rooms and houses we have almost succeeded in excluding
pure air. It took the race ages to build dwellings that would keep out
rain; it has taken longer to build houses air-tight, but we are on the
eve of success. We are only foiled by the ill-fitting, insincere work of
the builders, who build for a day, and charge for all time.


When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and then settled into steady
radiance, talk begins. There is no place like the chimney-corner for
confidences; for picking up the clews of an old friendship; for taking
note where one's self has drifted, by comparing ideas and prejudices
with the intimate friend of years ago, whose course in life has lain
apart from yours. No stranger puzzles you so much as the once close
friend, with whose thinking and associates you have for years been
unfamiliar. Life has come to mean this and that to you; you have fallen
into certain habits of thought; for you the world has progressed in
this or that direction; of certain results you feel very sure; you
have fallen into harmony with your surroundings; you meet day after day
people interested in the things that interest you; you are not in the
least opinionated, it is simply your good fortune to look upon the
affairs of the world from the right point of view. When you last saw
your friend,--less than a year after you left college,--he was the most
sensible and agreeable of men; he had no heterodox notions; he agreed
with you; you could even tell what sort of a wife he would select, and
if you could do that, you held the key to his life.

Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day from the antipodes. And
here he sits by the fireplace. I cannot think of any one I would rather
see there, except perhaps Thackery; or, for entertainment, Boswell; or
old, Pepys; or one of the people who was left out of the Ark. They were
talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt's about whom they would most
like to have seen, when Charles Lamb startled the company by declaring
that he would rather have seen Judas Iscariot than any other person
who had lived on the earth. For myself, I would rather have seen Lamb
himself once, than to have lived with Judas. Herbert, to my great
delight, has not changed; I should know him anywhere,--the same serious,
contemplative face, with lurking humor at the corners of the mouth,--the
same cheery laugh and clear, distinct enunciation as of old. There is
nothing so winning as a good voice. To see Herbert again, unchanged
in all outward essentials, is not only gratifying, but valuable as a
testimony to nature's success in holding on to a personal identity,
through the entire change of matter that has been constantly taking
place for so many years. I know very well there is here no part of the
Herbert whose hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting; but it is
an astonishing reproduction of him,--a material likeness; and now for
the spiritual.

Such a wide chance for divergence in the spiritual. It has been such
a busy world for twenty years. So many things have been torn up by the
roots again that were settled when we left college. There were to be no
more wars; democracy was democracy, and progress, the differentiation
of the individual, was a mere question of clothes; if you want to be
different, go to your tailor; nobody had demonstrated that there is
a man-soul and a woman-soul, and that each is in reality only a
half-soul,--putting the race, so to speak, upon the half-shell. The
social oyster being opened, there appears to be two shells and only one
oyster; who shall have it? So many new canons of taste, of criticism,
of morality have been set up; there has been such a resurrection of
historical reputations for new judgment, and there have been so many
discoveries, geographical, archaeological, geological, biological, that
the earth is not at all what it was supposed to be; and our philosophers
are much more anxious to ascertain where we came from than whither we
are going. In this whirl and turmoil of new ideas, nature, which has
only the single end of maintaining the physical identity in the body,
works on undisturbed, replacing particle for particle, and preserving
the likeness more skillfully than a mosaic artist in the Vatican; she
has not even her materials sorted and labeled, as the Roman artist has
his thousands of bits of color; and man is all the while doing his
best to confuse the process, by changing his climate, his diet, all his
surroundings, without the least care to remain himself. But the mind?

It is more difficult to get acquainted with Herbert than with an entire
stranger, for I have my prepossessions about him, and do not find him
in so many places where I expect to find him. He is full of criticism
of the authors I admire; he thinks stupid or improper the books I most
read; he is skeptical about the "movements" I am interested in; he has
formed very different opinions from mine concerning a hundred men and
women of the present day; we used to eat from one dish; we could n't
now find anything in common in a dozen; his prejudices (as we call
our opinions) are most extraordinary, and not half so reasonable as
my prejudices; there are a great many persons and things that I am
accustomed to denounce, uncontradicted by anybody, which he defends; his
public opinion is not at all my public opinion. I am sorry for him. He
appears to have fallen into influences and among a set of people foreign
to me. I find that his church has a different steeple on it from my
church (which, to say the truth, hasn't any). It is a pity that such a
dear friend and a man of so much promise should have drifted off into
such general contrariness. I see Herbert sitting here by the fire,
with the old look in his face coming out more and more, but I do not
recognize any features of his mind,--except perhaps his contrariness;
yes, he was always a little contrary, I think. And finally he surprises
me with, "Well, my friend, you seem to have drifted away from your old
notions and opinions. We used to agree when we were together, but I
sometimes wondered where you would land; for, pardon me, you showed
signs of looking at things a little contrary."

I am silent for a good while. I am trying to think who I am. There was
a person whom I thought I knew, very fond of Herbert, and agreeing with
him in most things. Where has he gone? and, if he is here, where is the
Herbert that I knew?

If his intellectual and moral sympathies have all changed, I wonder if
his physical tastes remain, like his appearance, the same. There has
come over this country within the last generation, as everybody knows,
a great wave of condemnation of pie. It has taken the character of a
"movement!" though we have had no conventions about it, nor is any one,
of any of the several sexes among us, running for president against it.
It is safe almost anywhere to denounce pie, yet nearly everybody eats
it on occasion. A great many people think it savors of a life abroad to
speak with horror of pie, although they were very likely the foremost
of the Americans in Paris who used to speak with more enthusiasm of
the American pie at Madame Busque's than of the Venus of Milo. To talk
against pie and still eat it is snobbish, of course; but snobbery, being
an aspiring failing, is sometimes the prophecy of better things.
To affect dislike of pie is something. We have no statistics on the
subject, and cannot tell whether it is gaining or losing in the country
at large. Its disappearance in select circles is no test. The amount of
writing against it is no more test of its desuetude, than the number of
religious tracts distributed in a given district is a criterion of its
piety. We are apt to assume that certain regions are substantially free
of it. Herbert and I, traveling north one summer, fancied that we could
draw in New England a sort of diet line, like the sweeping curves on the
isothermal charts, which should show at least the leading pie sections.
Journeying towards the White Mountains, we concluded that a line passing
through Bellows Falls, and bending a little south on either side, would
mark northward the region of perpetual pie. In this region pie is to
be found at all hours and seasons, and at every meal. I am not sure,
however, that pie is not a matter of altitude rather than latitude, as
I find that all the hill and country towns of New England are full of
those excellent women, the very salt of the housekeeping earth, who
would feel ready to sink in mortification through their scoured kitchen
floors, if visitors should catch them without a pie in the house. The
absence of pie would be more noticed than a scarcity of Bible even.
Without it the housekeepers are as distracted as the boarding-house
keeper, who declared that if it were not for canned tomato, she should
have nothing to fly to. Well, in all this great agitation I find Herbert
unmoved, a conservative, even to the under-crust. I dare not ask him
if he eats pie at breakfast. There are some tests that the dearest
friendship may not apply.

"Will you smoke?" I ask.

"No, I have reformed."

"Yes, of course."

"The fact is, that when we consider the correlation of forces, the
apparent sympathy of spirit manifestations with electric conditions, the
almost revealed mysteries of what may be called the odic force, and the
relation of all these phenomena to the nervous system in man, it is not
safe to do anything to the nervous system that will--"

"Hang the nervous system! Herbert, we can agree in one thing: old
memories, reveries, friendships, center about that:--is n't an open
wood-fire good?"

"Yes," says Herbert, combatively, "if you don't sit before it too long."


The best talk is that which escapes up the open chimney and cannot be
repeated. The finest woods make the best fire and pass away with the
least residuum. I hope the next generation will not accept the reports
of "interviews" as specimens of the conversations of these years of

But do we talk as well as our fathers and mothers did? We hear wonderful
stories of the bright generation that sat about the wide fireplaces
of New England. Good talk has so much short-hand that it cannot be
reported,--the inflection, the change of voice, the shrug, cannot be
caught on paper. The best of it is when the subject unexpectedly
goes cross-lots, by a flash of short-cut, to a conclusion so suddenly
revealed that it has the effect of wit. It needs the highest culture and
the finest breeding to prevent the conversation from running into mere
persiflage on the one hand--its common fate--or monologue on the
other. Our conversation is largely chaff. I am not sure but the former
generation preached a good deal, but it had great practice in fireside
talk, and must have talked well. There were narrators in those days who
could charm a circle all the evening long with stories. When each day
brought comparatively little new to read, there was leisure for
talk, and the rare book and the in-frequent magazine were thoroughly
discussed. Families now are swamped by the printed matter that comes
daily upon the center-table. There must be a division of labor, one
reading this, and another that, to make any impression on it. The
telegraph brings the only common food, and works this daily miracle,
that every mind in Christendom is excited by one topic simultaneously
with every other mind; it enables a concurrent mental action, a burst
of sympathy, or a universal prayer to be made, which must be, if we
have any faith in the immaterial left, one of the chief forces in modern
life. It is fit that an agent so subtle as electricity should be the
minister of it.

When there is so much to read, there is little time for conversation;
nor is there leisure for another pastime of the ancient firesides,
called reading aloud. The listeners, who heard while they looked into
the wide chimney-place, saw there pass in stately procession the events
and the grand persons of history, were kindled with the delights of
travel, touched by the romance of true love, or made restless by tales
of adventure;--the hearth became a sort of magic stone that could
transport those who sat by it to the most distant places and times, as
soon as the book was opened and the reader began, of a winter's night.
Perhaps the Puritan reader read through his nose, and all the little
Puritans made the most dreadful nasal inquiries as the entertainment
went on. The prominent nose of the intellectual New-Englander
is evidence of the constant linguistic exercise of the organ for
generations. It grew by talking through. But I have no doubt that
practice made good readers in those days. Good reading aloud is almost
a lost accomplishment now. It is little thought of in the schools. It is
disused at home. It is rare to find any one who can read, even from the
newspaper, well. Reading is so universal, even with the uncultivated,
that it is common to hear people mispronounce words that you did not
suppose they had ever seen. In reading to themselves they glide over
these words, in reading aloud they stumble over them. Besides, our
every-day books and newspapers are so larded with French that the
ordinary reader is obliged marcher a pas de loup,--for instance.

The newspaper is probably responsible for making current many words with
which the general reader is familiar, but which he rises to in the
flow of conversation, and strikes at with a splash and an unsuccessful
attempt at appropriation; the word, which he perfectly knows, hooks him
in the gills, and he cannot master it. The newspaper is thus widening
the language in use, and vastly increasing the number of words which
enter into common talk. The Americans of the lowest intellectual class
probably use more words to express their ideas than the similar class
of any other people; but this prodigality is partially balanced by the
parsimony of words in some higher regions, in which a few phrases of
current slang are made to do the whole duty of exchange of ideas; if
that can be called exchange of ideas when one intellect flashes forth
to another the remark, concerning some report, that "you know how it is
yourself," and is met by the response of "that's what's the matter," and
rejoins with the perfectly conclusive "that's so." It requires a high
degree of culture to use slang with elegance and effect; and we are yet
very far from the Greek attainment.


The fireplace wants to be all aglow, the wind rising, the night heavy
and black above, but light with sifting snow on the earth, a background
of inclemency for the illumined room with its pictured walls, tables
heaped with books, capacious easy-chairs and their occupants,--it needs,
I say, to glow and throw its rays far through the crystal of the broad
windows, in order that we may rightly appreciate the relation of the
wide-jambed chimney to domestic architecture in our climate. We fell to
talking about it; and, as is usual when the conversation is professedly
on one subject, we wandered all around it. The young lady staying with
us was roasting chestnuts in the ashes, and the frequent explosions
required considerable attention. The mistress, too, sat somewhat alert,
ready to rise at any instant and minister to the fancied want of this or
that guest, forgetting the reposeful truth that people about a fireside
will not have any wants if they are not suggested. The worst of them,
if they desire anything, only want something hot, and that later in the
evening. And it is an open question whether you ought to associate with
people who want that.

I was saying that nothing had been so slow in its progress in the
world as domestic architecture. Temples, palaces, bridges, aqueducts,
cathedrals, towers of marvelous delicacy and strength, grew to
perfection while the common people lived in hovels, and the richest
lodged in the most gloomy and contracted quarters. The dwelling-house
is a modern institution. It is a curious fact that it has only improved
with the social elevation of women. Men were never more brilliant in
arms and letters than in the age of Elizabeth, and yet they had no
homes. They made themselves thick-walled castles, with slits in the
masonry for windows, for defense, and magnificent banquet-halls for
pleasure; the stone rooms into which they crawled for the night were
often little better than dog-kennels. The Pompeians had no comfortable
night-quarters. The most singular thing to me, however, is that,
especially interested as woman is in the house, she has never done
anything for architecture. And yet woman is reputed to be an ingenious

HERBERT. I doubt if woman has real ingenuity; she has great
adaptability. I don't say that she will do the same thing twice
alike, like a Chinaman, but she is most cunning in suiting herself to

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, if you speak of constructive, creative ingenuity,
perhaps not; but in the higher ranges of achievement--that of
accomplishing any purpose dear to her heart, for instance--her ingenuity
is simply incomprehensible to me.

HERBERT. Yes, if you mean doing things by indirection.

THE MISTRESS. When you men assume all the direction, what else is left
to us?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see a woman refurnish a house?

THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH US. I never saw a man do it, unless he was
burned out of his rookery.

HERBERT. There is no comfort in new things.

THE FIRE-TENDER (not noticing the interruption). Having set her mind
on a total revolution of the house, she buys one new thing, not too
obtrusive, nor much out of harmony with the old. The husband scarcely
notices it, least of all does he suspect the revolution, which she
already has accomplished. Next, some article that does look a little
shabby beside the new piece of furniture is sent to the garret, and its
place is supplied by something that will match in color and effect. Even
the man can see that it ought to match, and so the process goes on, it
may be for years, it may be forever, until nothing of the old is left,
and the house is transformed as it was predetermined in the woman's
mind. I doubt if the man ever understands how or when it was done; his
wife certainly never says anything about the refurnishing, but quietly
goes on to new conquests.

THE MISTRESS. And is n't it better to buy little by little, enjoying
every new object as you get it, and assimilating each article to your
household life, and making the home a harmonious expression of your own
taste, rather than to order things in sets, and turn your house, for the
time being, into a furniture ware-room?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, I only spoke of the ingenuity of it.

THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I never can get acquainted with more than
one piece of furniture at a time.

HERBERT. I suppose women are our superiors in artistic taste, and I
fancy that I can tell whether a house is furnished by a woman or a
man; of course, I mean the few houses that appear to be the result of
individual taste and refinement,--most of them look as if they had been
furnished on contract by the upholsterer.

THE MISTRESS. Woman's province in this world is putting things to

HERBERT. With a vengeance, sometimes. In the study, for example. My
chief objection to woman is that she has no respect for the newspaper,
or the printed page, as such. She is Siva, the destroyer. I have noticed
that a great part of a married man's time at home is spent in trying to
find the things he has put on his study-table.

THE YOUNG LADY. Herbert speaks with the bitterness of a bachelor shut
out of paradise. It is my experience that if women did not destroy the
rubbish that men bring into the house, it would become uninhabitable,
and need to be burned down every five years.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I confess women do a great deal for the appearance of
things. When the mistress is absent, this room, although everything is
here as it was before, does not look at all like the same place; it is
stiff, and seems to lack a soul. When she returns, I can see that her
eye, even while greeting me, takes in the situation at a glance.
While she is talking of the journey, and before she has removed her
traveling-hat, she turns this chair and moves that, sets one piece of
furniture at a different angle, rapidly, and apparently unconsciously,
shifts a dozen little knick-knacks and bits of color, and the room is
transformed. I couldn't do it in a week.

THE MISTRESS. That is the first time I ever knew a man admit he couldn't
do anything if he had time.

HERBERT. Yet with all their peculiar instinct for making a home, women
make themselves very little felt in our domestic architecture.

THE MISTRESS. Men build most of the houses in what might be called the
ready-made-clothing style, and we have to do the best we can with them;
and hard enough it is to make cheerful homes in most of them. You will
see something different when the woman is constantly consulted in the
plan of the house.

HERBERT. We might see more difference if women would give any attention
to architecture. Why are there no women architects?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Want of the ballot, doubtless. It seems to me that here
is a splendid opportunity for woman to come to the front.

THE YOUNG LADY. They have no desire to come to the front; they would
rather manage things where they are.

THE FIRE-TENDER. If they would master the noble art, and put their
brooding taste upon it, we might very likely compass something in our
domestic architecture that we have not yet attained. The outside of our
houses needs attention as well as the inside. Most of them are as ugly
as money can build.

THE YOUNG LADY. What vexes me most is, that women, married women, have
so easily consented to give up open fires in their houses.

HERBERT. They dislike the dust and the bother. I think that women rather
like the confined furnace heat.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Nonsense; it is their angelic virtue of submission. We
wouldn't be hired to stay all-day in the houses we build.

THE YOUNG LADY. That has a very chivalrous sound, but I know there will
be no reformation until women rebel and demand everywhere the open fire.

HERBERT. They are just now rebelling about something else; it seems to
me yours is a sort of counter-movement, a fire in the rear.

THE MISTRESS. I'll join that movement. The time has come when woman must
strike for her altars and her fires.

HERBERT. Hear, hear!

THE MISTRESS. Thank you, Herbert. I applauded you once, when you
declaimed that years ago in the old Academy. I remember how eloquently
you did it.

HERBERT. Yes, I was once a spouting idiot.

Just then the door-bell rang, and company came in. And the company
brought in a new atmosphere, as company always does, something of the
disturbance of out-doors, and a good deal of its healthy cheer. The
direct news that the thermometer was approaching zero, with a hopeful
prospect of going below it, increased to liveliness our satisfaction in
the fire. When the cider was heated in the brown stone pitcher, there
was difference of opinion whether there should be toast in it; some
were for toast, because that was the old-fashioned way, and others were
against it, "because it does not taste good" in cider. Herbert said
there, was very little respect left for our forefathers.

More wood was put on, and the flame danced in a hundred fantastic
shapes. The snow had ceased to fall, and the moonlight lay in silvery
patches among the trees in the ravine. The conversation became worldly.



Herbert said, as we sat by the fire one night, that he wished he had
turned his attention to writing poetry like Tennyson's.

The remark was not whimsical, but satirical. Tennyson is a man of
talent, who happened to strike a lucky vein, which he has worked with
cleverness. The adventurer with a pickaxe in Washoe may happen upon like
good fortune. The world is full of poetry as the earth is of "pay-dirt;"
one only needs to know how to "strike" it. An able man can make himself
almost anything that he will. It is melancholy to think how many epic
poets have been lost in the tea-trade, how many dramatists (though
the age of the drama has passed) have wasted their genius in great
mercantile and mechanical enterprises. I know a man who might have been
the poet, the essayist, perhaps the critic, of this country, who chose
to become a country judge, to sit day after day upon a bench in
an obscure corner of the world, listening to wrangling lawyers and
prevaricating witnesses, preferring to judge his fellow-men rather than
enlighten them.

It is fortunate for the vanity of the living and the reputation of the
dead, that men get almost as much credit for what they do not as for
what they do. It was the opinion of many that Burns might have excelled
as a statesman, or have been a great captain in war; and Mr. Carlyle
says that if he had been sent to a university, and become a trained
intellectual workman, it lay in him to have changed the whole course of
British literature! A large undertaking, as so vigorous and dazzling a
writer as Mr. Carlyle must know by this time, since British
literature has swept by him in a resistless and widening flood, mainly
uncontaminated, and leaving his grotesque contrivances wrecked on the
shore with other curiosities of letters, and yet among the richest of
all the treasures lying there.

It is a temptation to a temperate man to become a sot, to hear what
talent, what versatility, what genius, is almost always attributed to a
moderately bright man who is habitually drunk. Such a mechanic, such a
mathematician, such a poet he would be, if he were only sober; and
then he is sure to be the most generous, magnanimous, friendly soul,
conscientiously honorable, if he were not so conscientiously drunk. I
suppose it is now notorious that the most brilliant and promising men
have been lost to the world in this way. It is sometimes almost painful
to think what a surplus of talent and genius there would be in the world
if the habit of intoxication should suddenly cease; and what a slim
chance there would be for the plodding people who have always had
tolerably good habits. The fear is only mitigated by the observation
that the reputation of a person for great talent sometimes ceases with
his reformation.

It is believed by some that the maidens who would make the best wives
never marry, but remain free to bless the world with their impartial
sweetness, and make it generally habitable. This is one of the mysteries
of Providence and New England life. It seems a pity, at first sight,
that all those who become poor wives have the matrimonial chance, and
that they are deprived of the reputation of those who would be good
wives were they not set apart for the high and perpetual office of
priestesses of society. There is no beauty like that which was spoiled
by an accident, no accomplishments--and graces are so to be envied as
those that circumstances rudely hindered the development of. All
of which shows what a charitable and good-tempered world it is,
notwithstanding its reputation for cynicism and detraction.

Nothing is more beautiful than the belief of the faithful wife that her
husband has all the talents, and could, if he would, be distinguished in
any walk in life; and nothing will be more beautiful--unless this is
a very dry time for signs--than the husband's belief that his wife is
capable of taking charge of any of the affairs of this confused planet.
There is no woman but thinks that her husband, the green-grocer, could
write poetry if he had given his mind to it, or else she thinks small
beer of poetry in comparison with an occupation or accomplishment purely
vegetable. It is touching to see the look of pride with which the
wife turns to her husband from any more brilliant personal presence or
display of wit than his, in the perfect confidence that if the world
knew what she knows, there would be one more popular idol. How she
magnifies his small wit, and dotes upon the self-satisfied look in his
face as if it were a sign of wisdom! What a councilor that man would
make! What a warrior he would be! There are a great many corporals
in their retired homes who did more for the safety and success of
our armies in critical moments, in the late war, than any of the
"high-cock-a-lorum" commanders. Mrs. Corporal does not envy the
reputation of General Sheridan; she knows very well who really won Five
Forks, for she has heard the story a hundred times, and will hear it a
hundred times more with apparently unabated interest. What a general
her husband would have made; and how his talking talent would shine in

HERBERT. Nonsense. There isn't a wife in the world who has not taken
the exact measure of her husband, weighed him and settled him in her own
mind, and knows him as well as if she had ordered him after designs and
specifications of her own. That knowledge, however, she ordinarily keeps
to herself, and she enters into a league with her husband, which he was
never admitted to the secret of, to impose upon the world. In nine out
of ten cases he more than half believes that he is what his wife tells
him he is. At any rate, she manages him as easily as the keeper does the
elephant, with only a bamboo wand and a sharp spike in the end. Usually
she flatters him, but she has the means of pricking clear through his
hide on occasion. It is the great secret of her power to have him think
that she thoroughly believes in him.

THE YOUNG LADY STAYING WITH Us. And you call this hypocrisy? I have
heard authors, who thought themselves sly observers of women, call it

HERBERT. Nothing of the sort. It is the basis on which society rests,
the conventional agreement. If society is about to be overturned, it is
on this point. Women are beginning to tell men what they really think of
them; and to insist that the same relations of downright sincerity and
independence that exist between men shall exist between women and men.
Absolute truth between souls, without regard to sex, has always been the
ideal life of the poets.

THE MISTRESS. Yes; but there was never a poet yet who would bear to have
his wife say exactly what she thought of his poetry, any more than
he would keep his temper if his wife beat him at chess; and there is
nothing that disgusts a man like getting beaten at chess by a woman.

HERBERT. Well, women know how to win by losing. I think that the reason
why most women do not want to take the ballot and stand out in the open
for a free trial of power, is that they are reluctant to change the
certain domination of centuries, with weapons they are perfectly
competent to handle, for an experiment. I think we should be better
off if women were more transparent, and men were not so systematically
puffed up by the subtle flattery which is used to control them.

MANDEVILLE. Deliver me from transparency. When a woman takes that guise,
and begins to convince me that I can see through her like a ray of
light, I must run or be lost. Transparent women are the truly dangerous.
There was one on ship-board [Mandeville likes to say that; he has just
returned from a little tour in Europe, and he quite often begins his
remarks with "on the ship going over;" the Young Lady declares that
he has a sort of roll in his chair, when he says it, that makes her
sea-sick] who was the most innocent, artless, guileless, natural bunch
of lace and feathers you ever saw; she was all candor and helplessness
and dependence; she sang like a nightingale, and talked like a nun.
There never was such simplicity. There was n't a sounding-line on board
that would have gone to the bottom of her soulful eyes. But she managed
the captain and all the officers, and controlled the ship as if she had
been the helm. All the passengers were waiting on her, fetching this
and that for her comfort, inquiring of her health, talking about her
genuineness, and exhibiting as much anxiety to get her ashore in safety,
as if she had been about to knight them all and give them a castle
apiece when they came to land.

THE MISTRESS. What harm? It shows what I have always said, that the
service of a noble woman is the most ennobling influence for men.

MANDEVILLE. If she is noble, and not a mere manager. I watched this
woman to see if she would ever do anything for any one else. She never

THE FIRE-TENDER. Did you ever see her again? I presume Mandeville has
introduced her here for some purpose.

MANDEVILLE. No purpose. But we did see her on the Rhine; she was the
most disgusted traveler, and seemed to be in very ill humor with her
maid. I judged that her happiness depended upon establishing controlling
relations with all about her. On this Rhine boat, to be sure, there was
reason for disgust. And that reminds me of a remark that was made.


MANDEVILLE. When we got aboard at Mayence we were conscious of a
dreadful odor somewhere; as it was a foggy morning, we could see no
cause of it, but concluded it was from something on the wharf. The
fog lifted, and we got under way, but the odor traveled with us, and
increased. We went to every part of the vessel to avoid it, but in vain.
It occasionally reached us in great waves of disagreeableness. We had
heard of the odors of the towns on the Rhine, but we had no idea that
the entire stream was infected. It was intolerable.

The day was lovely, and the passengers stood about on deck holding their
noses and admiring the scenery. You might see a row of them leaning over
the side, gazing up at some old ruin or ivied crag, entranced with the
romance of the situation, and all holding their noses with thumb and
finger. The sweet Rhine! By and by somebody discovered that the odor
came from a pile of cheese on the forward deck, covered with a canvas;
it seemed that the Rhinelanders are so fond of it that they take it
with them when they travel. If there should ever be war between us
and Germany, the borders of the Rhine would need no other defense from
American soldiers than a barricade of this cheese. I went to the stern
of the steamboat to tell a stout American traveler what was the origin
of the odor he had been trying to dodge all the morning. He looked more
disgusted than before, when he heard that it was cheese; but his only
reply was: "It must be a merciful God who can forgive a smell like


The above is introduced here in order to illustrate the usual effect
of an anecdote on conversation. Commonly it kills it. That talk must be
very well in hand, and under great headway, that an anecdote thrown in
front of will not pitch off the track and wreck. And it makes little
difference what the anecdote is; a poor one depresses the spirits,
and casts a gloom over the company; a good one begets others, and the
talkers go to telling stories; which is very good entertainment in
moderation, but is not to be mistaken for that unwearying flow of
argument, quaint remark, humorous color, and sprightly interchange of
sentiments and opinions, called conversation.

The reader will perceive that all hope is gone here of deciding whether
Herbert could have written Tennyson's poems, or whether Tennyson could
have dug as much money out of the Heliogabalus Lode as Herbert did. The
more one sees of life, I think the impression deepens that men, after
all, play about the parts assigned them, according to their mental and
moral gifts, which are limited and preordained, and that their entrances
and exits are governed by a law no less certain because it is hidden.
Perhaps nobody ever accomplishes all that he feels lies in him to do;
but nearly every one who tries his powers touches the walls of his being
occasionally, and learns about how far to attempt to spring. There are
no impossibilities to youth and inexperience; but when a person has
tried several times to reach high C and been coughed down, he is quite
content to go down among the chorus. It is only the fools who keep
straining at high C all their lives.

Mandeville here began to say that that reminded him of something that
happened when he was on the--

But Herbert cut in with the observation that no matter what a man's
single and several capacities and talents might be, he is controlled by
his own mysterious individuality, which is what metaphysicians call the
substance, all else being the mere accidents of the man. And this is the
reason that we cannot with any certainty tell what any person will do or
amount to, for, while we know his talents and abilities, we do not know
the resulting whole, which is he himself. THE FIRE-TENDER. So if you
could take all the first-class qualities that we admire in men and
women, and put them together into one being, you wouldn't be sure of the

HERBERT. Certainly not. You would probably have a monster. It takes a
cook of long experience, with the best materials, to make a dish "taste
good;" and the "taste good" is the indefinable essence, the resulting
balance or harmony which makes man or woman agreeable or beautiful or
effective in the world.

THE YOUNG LADY. That must be the reason why novelists fail so lamentably
in almost all cases in creating good characters. They put in real
traits, talents, dispositions, but the result of the synthesis is
something that never was seen on earth before.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Oh, a good character in fiction is an inspiration.
We admit this in poetry. It is as true of such creations as Colonel
Newcome, and Ethel, and Beatrix Esmond. There is no patchwork about

THE YOUNG LADY. Why was n't Thackeray ever inspired to create a noble

THE FIRE-TENDER. That is the standing conundrum with all the women. They
will not accept Ethel Newcome even. Perhaps we shall have to admit that
Thackeray was a writer for men.

HERBERT. Scott and the rest had drawn so many perfect women that
Thackeray thought it was time for a real one.

THE MISTRESS. That's ill-natured. Thackeray did, however, make ladies.
If he had depicted, with his searching pen, any of us just as we are, I
doubt if we should have liked it much.

MANDEVILLE. That's just it. Thackeray never pretended to make ideals,
and if the best novel is an idealization of human nature, then he was
not the best novelist. When I was crossing the Channel--

THE MISTRESS. Oh dear, if we are to go to sea again, Mandeville, I move
we have in the nuts and apples, and talk about our friends.


There is this advantage in getting back to a wood-fire on the hearth,
that you return to a kind of simplicity; you can scarcely imagine any
one being stiffly conventional in front of it. It thaws out formality,
and puts the company who sit around it into easy attitudes of mind and
body,--lounging attitudes,--Herbert said.

And this brought up the subject of culture in America, especially as to
manner. The backlog period having passed, we are beginning to have in
society people of the cultured manner, as it is called, or polished
bearing, in which the polish is the most noticeable thing about the man.
Not the courtliness, the easy simplicity of the old-school gentleman, in
whose presence the milkmaid was as much at her ease as the countess,
but something far finer than this. These are the people of unruffled
demeanor, who never forget it for a moment, and never let you forget it.
Their presence is a constant rebuke to society. They are never "jolly;"
their laugh is never anything more than a well-bred smile; they
are never betrayed into any enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a sign of
inexperience, of ignorance, of want of culture. They never lose
themselves in any cause; they never heartily praise any man or woman
or book; they are superior to all tides of feeling and all outbursts
of passion. They are not even shocked at vulgarity. They are simply
indifferent. They are calm, visibly calm, painfully calm; and it is
not the eternal, majestic calmness of the Sphinx either, but a rigid,
self-conscious repression. You would like to put a bent pin in their
chair when they are about calmly to sit down.

A sitting hen on her nest is calm, but hopeful; she has faith that her
eggs are not china. These people appear to be sitting on china eggs.
Perfect culture has refined all blood, warmth, flavor, out of them. We
admire them without envy. They are too beautiful in their manners to be
either prigs or snobs. They are at once our models and our despair. They
are properly careful of themselves as models, for they know that if they
should break, society would become a scene of mere animal confusion.

MANDEVILLE. I think that the best-bred people in the world are the

THE YOUNG LADY. You mean at home.

MANDEVILLE. That's where I saw them. There is no nonsense about a
cultivated English man or woman. They express themselves sturdily and
naturally, and with no subservience to the opinions of others. There's a
sort of hearty sincerity about them that I like. Ages of culture on the
island have gone deeper than the surface, and they have simpler and
more natural manners than we. There is something good in the full, round
tones of their voices.

HERBERT. Did you ever get into a diligence with a growling English-man
who had n't secured the place he wanted?

[Mandeville once spent a week in London, riding about on the tops of

THE MISTRESS. Did you ever see an English exquisite at the San Carlo,
and hear him cry "Bwavo"?

MANDEVILLE. At any rate, he acted out his nature, and was n't afraid to.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I think Mandeville is right, for once. The men of the
best culture in England, in the middle and higher social classes,
are what you would call good fellows,--easy and simple in manner,
enthusiastic on occasion, and decidedly not cultivated into the smooth
calmness of indifference which some Americans seem to regard as the sine
qua non of good breeding. Their position is so assured that they do not
need that lacquer of calmness of which we were speaking.

THE YOUNG LADY. Which is different from the manner acquired by those who
live a great deal in American hotels?

THE MISTRESS. Or the Washington manner?

HERBERT. The last two are the same.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Not exactly. You think you can always tell if a man
has learned his society carriage of a dancing-master. Well, you cannot
always tell by a person's manner whether he is a habitui of hotels or
of Washington. But these are distinct from the perfect polish and
politeness of indifferentism.


Daylight disenchants. It draws one from the fireside, and dissipates the
idle illusions of conversation, except under certain conditions. Let us
say that the conditions are: a house in the country, with some forest
trees near, and a few evergreens, which are Christmas-trees all winter
long, fringed with snow, glistening with ice-pendants, cheerful by
day and grotesque by night; a snow-storm beginning out of a dark
sky, falling in a soft profusion that fills all the air, its dazzling
whiteness making a light near at hand, which is quite lost in the
distant darkling spaces.

If one begins to watch the swirling flakes and crystals, he soon gets an
impression of infinity of resources that he can have from nothing else
so powerfully, except it be from Adirondack gnats. Nothing makes one
feel at home like a great snow-storm. Our intelligent cat will quit the
fire and sit for hours in the low window, watching the falling snow
with a serious and contented air. His thoughts are his own, but he is in
accord with the subtlest agencies of Nature; on such a day he is charged
with enough electricity to run a telegraphic battery, if it could be
utilized. The connection between thought and electricity has not been
exactly determined, but the cat is mentally very alert in certain
conditions of the atmosphere. Feasting his eyes on the beautiful
out-doors does not prevent his attention to the slightest noise in the
wainscot. And the snow-storm brings content, but not stupidity, to all
the rest of the household.

I can see Mandeville now, rising from his armchair and swinging his long
arms as he strides to the window, and looks out and up, with, "Well, I
declare!" Herbert is pretending to read Herbert Spencer's tract on the
philosophy of style but he loses much time in looking at the Young Lady,
who is writing a letter, holding her portfolio in her lap,--one of her
everlasting letters to one of her fifty everlasting friends. She is one
of the female patriots who save the post-office department from being
a disastrous loss to the treasury. Herbert is thinking of the great
radical difference in the two sexes, which legislation will probably
never change; that leads a woman always, to write letters on her lap and
a man on a table,--a distinction which is commended to the notice of the

The Mistress, in a pretty little breakfast-cap, is moving about the room
with a feather-duster, whisking invisible dust from the picture-frames,
and talking with the Parson, who has just come in, and is thawing the
snow from his boots on the hearth. The Parson says the thermometer is 15
deg., and going down; that there is a snowdrift across the main church
entrance three feet high, and that the house looks as if it had gone
into winter quarters, religion and all. There were only ten persons at
the conference meeting last night, and seven of those were women; he
wonders how many weather-proof Christians there are in the parish,

The Fire-Tender is in the adjoining library, pretending to write; but
it is a poor day for ideas. He has written his wife's name about eleven
hundred times, and cannot get any farther. He hears the Mistress tell
the Parson that she believes he is trying to write a lecture on the
Celtic Influence in Literature. The Parson says that it is a first-rate
subject, if there were any such influence, and asks why he does n't take
a shovel and make a path to the gate. Mandeville says that, by George!
he himself should like no better fun, but it wouldn't look well for a
visitor to do it. The Fire-Tender, not to be disturbed by this sort of
chaff, keeps on writing his wife's name.

Then the Parson and the Mistress fall to talking about the soup-relief,
and about old Mrs. Grumples in Pig Alley, who had a present of one of
Stowe's Illustrated Self-Acting Bibles on Christmas, when she had n't
coal enough in the house to heat her gruel; and about a family behind
the church, a widow and six little children and three dogs; and he did
n't believe that any of them had known what it was to be warm in
three weeks, and as to food, the woman said, she could hardly beg cold
victuals enough to keep the dogs alive.

The Mistress slipped out into the kitchen to fill a basket with
provisions and send it somewhere; and when the Fire-Tender brought in
a new forestick, Mandeville, who always wants to talk, and had been
sitting drumming his feet and drawing deep sighs, attacked him.

MANDEVILLE. Speaking about culture and manners, did you ever notice how
extremes meet, and that the savage bears himself very much like the sort
of cultured persons we were talking of last night?

THE FIRE-TENDER. In what respect?

MANDEVILLE. Well, you take the North American Indian. He is never
interested in anything, never surprised at anything. He has by nature
that calmness and indifference which your people of culture have
acquired. If he should go into literature as a critic, he would scalp
and tomahawk with the same emotionless composure, and he would do
nothing else.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Then you think the red man is a born gentleman of the
highest breeding?

MANDEVILLE. I think he is calm.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How is it about the war-path and all that?

MANDEVILLE. Oh, these studiously calm and cultured people may have
malice underneath. It takes them to give the most effective "little
digs;" they know how to stick in the pine-splinters and set fire to

HERBERT. But there is more in Mandeville's idea. You bring a red man
into a picture-gallery, or a city full of fine architecture, or into
a drawing-room crowded with objects of art and beauty, and he is
apparently insensible to them all. Now I have seen country people,--and
by country people I don't mean people necessarily who live in the
country, for everything is mixed in these days,--some of the best people
in the world, intelligent, honest, sincere, who acted as the Indian

THE MISTRESS. Herbert, if I did n't know you were cynical, I should say
you were snobbish.

HERBERT. Such people think it a point of breeding never to speak of
anything in your house, nor to appear to notice it, however beautiful it
may be; even to slyly glance around strains their notion of etiquette.
They are like the countryman who confessed afterwards that he could
hardly keep from laughing at one of Yankee Hill's entertainments.

THE YOUNG LADY. Do you remember those English people at our house in
Flushing last summer, who pleased us all so much with their apparent
delight in everything that was artistic or tasteful, who explored the
rooms and looked at everything, and were so interested? I suppose that
Herbert's country relations, many of whom live in the city, would have
thought it very ill-bred.

MANDEVILLE. It's just as I said. The English, the best of them, have
become so civilized that they express themselves, in speech and action,
naturally, and are not afraid of their emotions.

THE PARSON. I wish Mandeville would travel more, or that he had stayed
at home. It's wonderful what a fit of Atlantic sea-sickness will do for
a man's judgment and cultivation. He is prepared to pronounce on art,
manners, all kinds of culture. There is more nonsense talked about
culture than about anything else.

HERBERT. The Parson reminds me of an American country minister I once
met walking through the Vatican. You could n't impose upon him with any
rubbish; he tested everything by the standards of his native place, and
there was little that could bear the test. He had the sly air of a man
who could not be deceived, and he went about with his mouth in a pucker
of incredulity. There is nothing so placid as rustic conceit. There was
something very enjoyable about his calm superiority to all the treasures
of art.

MANDEVILLE. And the Parson reminds me of another American minister, a
consul in an Italian city, who said he was going up to Rome to have a
thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece of his mind. Ministers
seem to think that is their business. They serve it in such small pieces
in order to make it go round.

THE PARSON. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, let's have some music;
nothing else will keep him in good humor till lunch-time.

THE MISTRESS. What shall it be?

THE PARSON. Give us the larghetto from Beethoven's second symphony.

The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Herbert looks at the young
lady. The Parson composes himself for critical purposes. Mandeville
settles himself in a chair and stretches his long legs nearly into the
fire, remarking that music takes the tangles out of him.

After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. It is still snowing.


It is difficult to explain the attraction which the uncanny and even
the horrible have for most minds. I have seen a delicate woman half
fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most unseemly of
reptiles, vulgarly known as the "blowing viper" of the Alleghanies. She
would look at it, and turn away with irresistible shuddering and the
utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and again, only to
experience the same spasm of disgust. In spite of her aversion, she must
have relished the sort of electric mental shock that the sight gave her.

I can no more account for the fascination for us of the stories of
ghosts and "appearances," and those weird tales in which the dead are
the chief characters; nor tell why we should fall into converse about
them when the winter evenings are far spent, the embers are glazing over
on the hearth, and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises in the
house. At such times one's dreams become of importance, and people like
to tell them and dwell upon them, as if they were a link between the
known and unknown, and could give us a clew to that ghostly region which
in certain states of the mind we feel to be more real than that we see.

Recently, when we were, so to say, sitting around the borders of the
supernatural late at night, MANDEVILLE related a dream of his which he
assured us was true in every particular, and it interested us so much
that we asked him to write it out. In doing so he has curtailed it, and
to my mind shorn it of some of its more vivid and picturesque features.
He might have worked it up with more art, and given it a finish
which the narration now lacks, but I think best to insert it in its
simplicity. It seems to me that it may properly be called,


In the winter of 1850 I was a member of one of the leading colleges of
this country. I was in moderate circumstances pecuniarily, though I was
perhaps better furnished with less fleeting riches than many others.
I was an incessant and indiscriminate reader of books. For the solid
sciences I had no particular fancy, but with mental modes and habits,
and especially with the eccentric and fantastic in the intellectual and
spiritual operations, I was tolerably familiar. All the literature of
the supernatural was as real to me as the laboratory of the chemist,
where I saw the continual struggle of material substances to evolve
themselves into more volatile, less palpable and coarse forms. My
imagination, naturally vivid, stimulated by such repasts, nearly
mastered me. At times I could scarcely tell where the material ceased
and the immaterial began (if I may so express it); so that once and
again I walked, as it seemed, from the solid earth onward upon an
impalpable plain, where I heard the same voices, I think, that Joan
of Arc heard call to her in the garden at Domremy. She was inspired,
however, while I only lacked exercise. I do not mean this in any literal
sense; I only describe a state of mind. I was at this time of spare
habit, and nervous, excitable temperament. I was ambitious, proud, and
extremely sensitive. I cannot deny that I had seen something of the
world, and had contracted about the average bad habits of young men who
have the sole care of themselves, and rather bungle the matter. It is
necessary to this relation to admit that I had seen a trifle more of
what is called life than a young man ought to see, but at this period
I was not only sick of my experience, but my habits were as correct as
those of any Pharisee in our college, and we had some very favorable
specimens of that ancient sect.

Nor can I deny that at this period of my life I was in a peculiar mental
condition. I well remember an illustration of it. I sat writing late one
night, copying a prize essay,--a merely manual task, leaving my thoughts
free. It was in June, a sultry night, and about midnight a wind arose,
pouring in through the open windows, full of mournful reminiscence, not
of this, but of other summers,--the same wind that De Quincey heard at
noonday in midsummer blowing through the room where he stood, a mere
boy, by the side of his dead sister,--a wind centuries old. As I wrote
on mechanically, I became conscious of a presence in the room, though I
did not lift my eyes from the paper on which I wrote. Gradually I came
to know that my grandmother--dead so long ago that I laughed at
the idea--was in the room. She stood beside her old-fashioned
spinning-wheel, and quite near me. She wore a plain muslin cap with a
high puff in the crown, a short woolen gown, a white and blue checked
apron, and shoes with heels. She did not regard me, but stood facing the
wheel, with the left hand near the spindle, holding lightly between the
thumb and forefinger the white roll of wool which was being spun and
twisted on it. In her right hand she held a small stick. I heard the
sharp click of this against the spokes of the wheel, then the hum of the
wheel, the buzz of the spindles as the twisting yarn was teased by the
whirl of its point, then a step backwards, a pause, a step forward and
the running of the yarn upon the spindle, and again a backward step,
the drawing out of the roll and the droning and hum of the wheel, most
mournfully hopeless sound that ever fell on mortal ear. Since childhood
it has haunted me. All this time I wrote, and I could hear distinctly
the scratching of the pen upon the paper. But she stood behind me (why
I did not turn my head I never knew), pacing backward and forward by the
spinning-wheel, just as I had a hundred times seen her in childhood in
the old kitchen on drowsy summer afternoons. And I heard the step, the
buzz and whirl of the spindle, and the monotonous and dreary hum of the
mournful wheel. Whether her face was ashy pale and looked as if it might
crumble at the touch, and the border of her white cap trembled in the
June wind that blew, I cannot say, for I tell you I did NOT see her. But
I know she was there, spinning yarn that had been knit into hose years
and years ago by our fireside. For I was in full possession of my
faculties, and never copied more neatly and legibly any manuscript than
I did the one that night. And there the phantom (I use the word out
of deference to a public prejudice on this subject) most persistently
remained until my task was finished, and, closing the portfolio,
I abruptly rose. Did I see anything? That is a silly and ignorant
question. Could I see the wind which had now risen stronger, and drove
a few cloud-scuds across the sky, filling the night, somehow, with a
longing that was not altogether born of reminiscence?

In the winter following, in January, I made an effort to give up the
use of tobacco,--a habit in which I was confirmed, and of which I have
nothing more to say than this: that I should attribute to it almost all
the sin and misery in the world, did I not remember that the old Romans
attained a very considerable state of corruption without the assistance
of the Virginia plant.

On the night of the third day of my abstinence, rendered more nervous
and excitable than usual by the privation, I retired late, and later
still I fell into an uneasy sleep, and thus into a dream, vivid,
illuminated, more real than any event of my life. I was at home, and
fell sick. The illness developed into a fever, and then a delirium set
in, not an intellectual blank, but a misty and most delicious wandering
in places of incomparable beauty. I learned subsequently that our
regular physician was not certain to finish me, when a consultation was
called, which did the business. I have the satisfaction of knowing that
they were of the proper school. I lay sick for three days.

On the morning of the fourth, at sunrise, I died. The sensation was not
unpleasant. It was not a sudden shock. I passed out of my body as one
would walk from the door of his house. There the body lay,--a blank,
so far as I was concerned, and only interesting to me as I was rather
entertained with watching the respect paid to it. My friends stood about
the bedside, regarding me (as they seemed to suppose), while I, in
a different part of the room, could hardly repress a smile at their
mistake, solemnized as they were, and I too, for that matter, by
my recent demise. A sensation (the word you see is material and
inappropriate) of etherealization and imponderability pervaded me, and
I was not sorry to get rid of such a dull, slow mass as I now perceived
myself to be, lying there on the bed. When I speak of my death, let me
be understood to say that there was no change, except that I passed out
of my body and floated to the top of a bookcase in the corner of the
room, from which I looked down. For a moment I was interested to see my
person from the outside, but thereafter I was quite indifferent to
the body. I was now simply soul. I seemed to be a globe, impalpable,
transparent, about six inches in diameter. I saw and heard everything as
before. Of course, matter was no obstacle to me, and I went easily and
quickly wherever I willed to go. There was none of that tedious process
of communicating my wishes to the nerves, and from them to the muscles.
I simply resolved to be at a particular place, and I was there. It was
better than the telegraph.

It seemed to have been intimated to me at my death (birth I half incline
to call it) that I could remain on this earth for four weeks after my
decease, during which time I could amuse myself as I chose.

I chose, in the first place, to see myself decently buried, to stay by
myself to the last, and attend my own funeral for once. As most of those
referred to in this true narrative are still living, I am forbidden to
indulge in personalities, nor shall I dare to say exactly how my death
affected my friends, even the home circle. Whatever others did, I sat
up with myself and kept awake. I saw the "pennies" used instead of the
"quarters" which I should have preferred. I saw myself "laid out," a
phrase that has come to have such a slang meaning that I smile as I
write it. When the body was put into the coffin, I took my place on the

I cannot recall all the details, and they are commonplace besides. The
funeral took place at the church. We all rode thither in carriages,
and I, not fancying my place in mine, rode on the outside with the
undertaker, whom I found to be a good deal more jolly than he looked to
be. The coffin was placed in front of the pulpit when we arrived. I
took my station on the pulpit cushion, from which elevation I had an
admirable view of all the ceremonies, and could hear the sermon.
How distinctly I remember the services. I think I could even at this
distance write out the sermon. The tune sung was of--the usual country
selection,--Mount Vernon. I recall the text. I was rather flattered
by the tribute paid to me, and my future was spoken of gravely and as
kindly as possible,--indeed, with remarkable charity, considering that
the minister was not aware of my presence. I used to beat him at chess,
and I thought, even then, of the last game; for, however solemn the
occasion might be to others, it was not so to me. With what interest
I watched my kinsfolks, and neighbors as they filed past for the last
look! I saw, and I remember, who pulled a long face for the occasion
and who exhibited genuine sadness. I learned with the most dreadful
certainty what people really thought of me. It was a revelation never

Several particular acquaintances of mine were talking on the steps as we
passed out.

"Well, old Starr's gone up. Sudden, was n't it? He was a first-rate

"Yes, queer about some things; but he had some mighty good streaks,"
said another. And so they ran on.

Streaks! So that is the reputation one gets during twenty years of life
in this world. Streaks!

After the funeral I rode home with the family. It was pleasanter than
the ride down, though it seemed sad to my relations. They did not
mention me, however, and I may remark, that although I stayed about
home for a week, I never heard my name mentioned by any of the family.
Arrived at home, the tea-kettle was put on and supper got ready. This
seemed to lift the gloom a little, and under the influence of the tea
they brightened up and gradually got more cheerful. They discussed the
sermon and the singing, and the mistake of the sexton in digging
the grave in the wrong place, and the large congregation. From the
mantel-piece I watched the group. They had waffles for supper,--of which
I had been exceedingly fond, but now I saw them disappear without a

For the first day or two of my sojourn at home I was here and there at
all the neighbors, and heard a good deal about my life and character,
some of which was not very pleasant, but very wholesome, doubtless, for
me to hear. At the expiration of a week this amusement ceased to be such
for I ceased to be talked of. I realized the fact that I was dead and

By an act of volition I found myself back at college. I floated into my
own room, which was empty. I went to the room of my two warmest friends,
whose friendship I was and am yet assured of. As usual, half a dozen
of our set were lounging there. A game of whist was just commencing. I
perched on a bust of Dante on the top of the book-shelves, where I could
see two of the hands and give a good guess at a third. My particular
friend Timmins was just shuffling the cards.

"Be hanged if it is n't lonesome without old Starr. Did you cut? I
should like to see him lounge in now with his pipe, and with feet on the
mantel-piece proceed to expound on the duplex functions of the soul."

"There--misdeal," said his vis-a-vis. "Hope there's been no misdeal for
old Starr."

"Spades, did you say?" the talk ran on, "never knew Starr was sickly."

"No more was he; stouter than you are, and as brave and plucky as he was
strong. By George, fellows,--how we do get cut down! Last term little
Stubbs, and now one of the best fellows in the class."

"How suddenly he did pop off,--one for game, honors easy,--he was good
for the Spouts' Medal this year, too."

"Remember the joke he played on Prof. A., freshman year?" asked another.

"Remember he borrowed ten dollars of me about that time," said Timmins's
partner, gathering the cards for a new deal.

"Guess he is the only one who ever did," retorted some one.

And so the talk went on, mingled with whist-talk, reminiscent of me, not
all exactly what I would have chosen to go into my biography, but on the
whole kind and tender, after the fashion of the boys. At least I was in
their thoughts, and I could see was a good deal regretted,--so I passed
a very pleasant evening. Most of those present were of my society, and
wore crape on their badges, and all wore the usual crape on the left
arm. I learned that the following afternoon a eulogy would be delivered
on me in the chapel.

The eulogy was delivered before members of our society and others,
the next afternoon, in the chapel. I need not say that I was present.
Indeed, I was perched on the desk within reach of the speaker's hand.
The apotheosis was pronounced by my most intimate friend, Timmins, and
I must say he did me ample justice. He never was accustomed to "draw it
very mild" (to use a vulgarism which I dislike) when he had his head,
and on this occasion he entered into the matter with the zeal of a true
friend, and a young man who never expected to have another occasion
to sing a public "In Memoriam." It made my hair stand on
end,--metaphorically, of course. From my childhood I had been extremely
precocious. There were anecdotes of preternatural brightness, picked
up, Heaven knows where, of my eagerness to learn, of my adventurous,
chivalrous young soul, and of my arduous struggles with chill penury,
which was not able (as it appeared) to repress my rage, until I entered
this institution, of which I had been ornament, pride, cynosure, and
fair promising bud blasted while yet its fragrance was mingled with the
dew of its youth. Once launched upon my college days, Timmins went
on with all sails spread. I had, as it were, to hold on to the pulpit
cushion. Latin, Greek, the old literatures, I was perfect master of; all
history was merely a light repast to me; mathematics I glanced at, and
it disappeared; in the clouds of modern philosophy I was wrapped but not
obscured; over the field of light literature I familiarly roamed as
the honey-bee over the wide fields of clover which blossom white in the
Junes of this world! My life was pure, my character spotless, my name
was inscribed among the names of those deathless few who were not born
to die!

It was a noble eulogy, and I felt before he finished, though I had
misgivings at the beginning, that I deserved it all. The effect on the
audience was a little different. They said it was a "strong" oration,
and I think Timmins got more credit by it than I did. After the
performance they stood about the chapel, talking in a subdued tone, and
seemed to be a good deal impressed by what they had heard, or perhaps by
thoughts of the departed. At least they all soon went over to Austin's
and called for beer. My particular friends called for it twice. Then
they all lit pipes. The old grocery keeper was good enough to say that
I was no fool, if I did go off owing him four dollars. To the credit of
human nature, let me here record that the fellows were touched by this
remark reflecting upon my memory, and immediately made up a purse and
paid the bill,--that is, they told the old man to charge it over to
them. College boys are rich in credit and the possibilities of life.

It is needless to dwell upon the days I passed at college during this
probation. So far as I could see, everything went on as if I were there,
or had never been there. I could not even see the place where I had
dropped out of the ranks. Occasionally I heard my name, but I must say
that four weeks was quite long enough to stay in a world that had pretty
much forgotten me. There is no great satisfaction in being dragged up to
light now and then, like an old letter. The case was somewhat different
with the people with whom I had boarded. They were relations of mine,
and I often saw them weep, and they talked of me a good deal at
twilight and Sunday nights, especially the youngest one, Carrie, who was
handsomer than any one I knew, and not much older than I. I never used
to imagine that she cared particularly for me, nor would she have done
so, if I had lived, but death brought with it a sort of sentimental
regret, which, with the help of a daguerreotype, she nursed into quite a
little passion. I spent most of my time there, for it was more congenial
than the college.

But time hastened. The last sand of probation leaked out of the glass.
One day, while Carrie played (for me, though she knew it not) one of
Mendelssohn's "songs without words," I suddenly, yet gently, without
self-effort or volition, moved from the house, floated in the air, rose
higher, higher, by an easy, delicious, exultant, yet inconceivably rapid
motion. The ecstasy of that triumphant flight! Groves, trees, houses,
the landscape, dimmed, faded, fled away beneath me. Upward mounting, as
on angels' wings, with no effort, till the earth hung beneath me a round
black ball swinging, remote, in the universal ether. Upward mounting,
till the earth, no longer bathed in the sun's rays, went out to my
sight, disappeared in the blank. Constellations, before seen from afar,
I sailed among stars, too remote for shining on earth, I neared, and
found to be round globes flying through space with a velocity only
equaled by my own. New worlds continually opened on my sight; newfields
of everlasting space opened and closed behind me.

For days and days--it seemed a mortal forever--I mounted up the great
heavens, whose everlasting doors swung wide. How the worlds and systems,
stars, constellations, neared me, blazed and flashed in splendor, and
fled away! At length,--was it not a thousand years?--I saw before me,
yet afar off, a wall, the rocky bourn of that country whence travelers
come not back, a battlement wider than I could guess, the height of
which I could not see, the depth of which was infinite. As I approached,
it shone with a splendor never yet beheld on earth. Its solid substance
was built of jewels the rarest, and stones of priceless value. It
seemed like one solid stone, and yet all the colors of the rainbow were
contained in it. The ruby, the diamond, the emerald, the carbuncle,
the topaz, the amethyst, the sapphire; of them the wall was built up in
harmonious combination. So brilliant was it that all the space I floated
in was full of the splendor. So mild was it and so translucent, that I
could look for miles into its clear depths.

Rapidly nearing this heavenly battlement, an immense niche was disclosed
in its solid face. The floor was one large ruby. Its sloping sides were
of pearl. Before I was aware I stood within the brilliant recess. I say
I stood there, for I was there bodily, in my habit as I lived; how, I
cannot explain. Was it the resurrection of the body? Before me rose, a
thousand feet in height, a wonderful gate of flashing diamond. Beside
it sat a venerable man, with long white beard, a robe of light gray,
ancient sandals, and a golden key hanging by a cord from his waist. In
the serene beauty of his noble features I saw justice and mercy had met
and were reconciled. I cannot describe the majesty of his bearing or the
benignity of his appearance. It is needless to say that I stood before
St. Peter, who sits at the Celestial Gate.

I humbly approached, and begged admission. St. Peter arose, and regarded
me kindly, yet inquiringly.

"What is your name?" asked he, "and from what place do you come?"

I answered, and, wishing to give a name well known, said I was from
Washington, United States. He looked doubtful, as if he had never heard
the name before.

"Give me," said he, "a full account of your whole life."

I felt instantaneously that there was no concealment possible; all
disguise fell away, and an unknown power forced me to speak absolute and
exact truth. I detailed the events of my life as well as I could,
and the good man was not a little affected by the recital of my early
trials, poverty, and temptation. It did not seem a very good life when
spread out in that presence, and I trembled as I proceeded; but I plead
youth, inexperience, and bad examples.

"Have you been accustomed," he said, after a time, rather sadly, "to
break the Sabbath?"

I told him frankly that I had been rather lax in that matter, especially
at college. I often went to sleep in the chapel on Sunday, when I was
not reading some entertaining book. He then asked who the preacher was,
and when I told him, he remarked that I was not so much to blame as he
had supposed.

"Have you," he went on, "ever stolen, or told any lie?"

I was able to say no, except admitting as to the first, usual college
"conveyances," and as to the last, an occasional "blinder" to the
professors. He was gracious enough to say that these could be overlooked
as incident to the occasion.

"Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously and keeping late


This also could be forgiven me as an incident of youth.

"Did you ever," he went on, "commit the crime of using intoxicating
drinks as a beverage?"

I answered that I had never been a habitual drinker, that I had never
been what was called a "moderate drinker," that I had never gone to a
bar and drank alone; but that I had been accustomed, in company with
other young men, on convivial occasions to taste the pleasures of the
flowing bowl, sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the
pains of it, and for months before my demise had refrained from liquor
altogether. The holy man looked grave, but, after reflection, said this
might also be overlooked in a young man.

"What," continued he, in tones still more serious, "has been your
conduct with regard to the other sex?"

I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I pulled from my bosom
a little book like the one Leperello exhibits in the opera of "Don
Giovanni." There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and inconstancy.
I waited long for the decision, but it came in mercy.

"Rise," he cried; "young men will be young men, I suppose. We shall
forgive this also to your youth and penitence."

"Your examination is satisfactory, he informed me," after a pause; "you
can now enter the abodes of the happy."

Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. The key turned in the
lock. The gate swung noiselessly on its hinges a little open. Out
flashed upon me unknown splendors. What I saw in that momentary gleam
I shall never whisper in mortal ears. I stood upon the threshold, just
about to enter.

"Stop! one moment," exclaimed St. Peter, laying his hand on my shoulder;
"I have one more question to ask you."

I turned toward him.

"Young man, did you ever use tobacco?"

"I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime," I faltered, "but..."

"THEN TO HELL WITH YOU!" he shouted in a voice of thunder.

Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was flung, hurled, from
the battlement, down! down! down! Faster and faster I sank in a dizzy,
sickening whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. The light faded.
Dampness and darkness were round about me. As before, for days and days
I rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank into thickening
darkness,--and yet not darkness, but a pale, ashy light more fearful.

In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall before me. It ran up and
down and on either hand endlessly into the night. It was solid, black,
terrible in its frowning massiveness.

Straightway I alighted at the gate,--a dismal crevice hewn into the
dripping rock. The gate was wide open, and there sat-I knew him at once;
who does not?--the Arch Enemy of mankind. He cocked his eye at me in an
impudent, low, familiar manner that disgusted me. I saw that I was not
to be treated like a gentleman.

"Well, young man," said he, rising, with a queer grin on his face, "what
are you sent here for?"

"For using tobacco," I replied.

"Ho!" shouted he in a jolly manner, peculiar to devils, "that's what
most of 'em are sent here for now."

Without more ado, he called four lesser imps, who ushered me within.
What a dreadful plain lay before me! There was a vast city laid out in
regular streets, but there were no houses. Along the streets were places
of torment and torture exceedingly ingenious and disagreeable. For miles
and miles, it seemed, I followed my conductors through these horrors,
Here was a deep vat of burning tar. Here were rows of fiery ovens. I
noticed several immense caldron kettles of boiling oil, upon the rims
of which little devils sat, with pitchforks in hand, and poked down the
helpless victims who floundered in the liquid. But I forbear to go into
unseemly details. The whole scene is as vivid in my mind as any earthly

After an hour's walk my tormentors halted before the mouth of an
oven,--a furnace heated seven times, and now roaring with flames. They
grasped me, one hold of each hand and foot. Standing before the blazing
mouth, they, with a swing, and a "one, two, THREE...."

I again assure the reader that in this narrative I have set down nothing
that was not actually dreamed, and much, very much of this wonderful
vision I have been obliged to omit.

Haec fabula docet: It is dangerous for a young man to leave off the use
of tobacco.



I wish I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of the New England winter.
Perhaps I could if I more thoroughly believed in it. But skepticism
comes in with the south wind. When that begins to blow, one feels the
foundations of his belief breaking up. This is only another way of
saying that it is more difficult, if it be not impossible, to freeze out
orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is to thaw it out; though it is
a mere fancy to suppose that this is the reason why the martyrs, of all
creeds, were burned at the stake. There is said to be a great relaxation
in New England of the ancient strictness in the direction of toleration
of opinion, called by some a lowering of the standard, and by others a
raising of the banner of liberality; it might be an interesting inquiry
how much this change is due to another change,--the softening of the New
England winter and the shifting of the Gulf Stream. It is the fashion
nowadays to refer almost everything to physical causes, and this hint is
a gratuitous contribution to the science of metaphysical physics.

The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England
winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It
is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize society
than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it filled the
silken sails of Cleopatra's galley. It blows over New England every few
days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing wind. That it brings
the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long enough to almost deceive
the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and to tempt the robin from the
secluded evergreen copses, may be nothing; but it takes the tone out of
the mind, and engenders discontent, making one long for the tropics; it
feeds the weakened imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we
know it we become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden
change to sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from
the plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are
braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.

Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a
fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not altogether a
matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used to say, in his
humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very good woman, but her
"temperature was very different from that of the other two." The north
wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina of endurance into a
man, and it probably would into a woman too if there were a series of
resolutions passed to that effect. The west wind is hopeful; it has
promise and adventure in it, and is, except to Atlantic voyagers
America-bound, the best wind that ever blew. The east wind is
peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling, and curls one up in
the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the chimney ever smokes, it smokes
when the wind sits in that quarter. The south wind is full of longing
and unrest, of effeminate suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we
might say of modern poetry,--at any rate, modern poetry needs a change
of air. I am not sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds,
because of its sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in
spring, when it comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men
"longen to gon on pilgrimages."

I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to do
in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying With
Us, beginning,--

   "Out of a drifting southern cloud
   My soul heard the night-bird cry,"

but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was
exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only
rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can
write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many
poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a
south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very fortunate
when there is not wind enough to finish them. This emotional poem, if
I may so call it, was begun after Herbert went away. I liked it,
and thought it was what is called "suggestive;" although I did not
understand it, especially what the night-bird was; and I am afraid I
hurt the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she meant Herbert by the
"night-bird,"--a very absurd suggestion about two unsentimental people.
She said, "Nonsense;" but she afterwards told the Mistress that there
were emotions that one could never put into words without the danger
of being ridiculous; a profound truth. And yet I should not like to say
that there is not a tender lonesomeness in love that can get comfort out
of a night-bird in a cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis is the
death of sentiment.

But to return to the winds. Certain people impress us as the winds do.
Mandeville never comes in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor and
healthfulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and in his
wholesome way of looking at things. The Parson, you would say, was the
east wind, and only his intimates know that his peevishness is only a
querulous humor. In the fair west wind I know the Mistress herself, full
of hope, and always the first one to discover a bit of blue in a cloudy
sky. It would not be just to apply what I have said of the south wind to
any of our visitors, but it did blow a little while Herbert was here.


In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual sparkle in it, I
suppose that no luxurious lounging on tropical isles set in tropical
seas compares with the positive happiness one may have before a great
woodfire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), with a veritable
New England winter raging outside. In order to get the highest
enjoyment, the faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a mere
recipient dullness. There are those who prefer a warm bath to a brisk
walk in the inspiring air, where ten thousand keen influences minister
to the sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves. There are,
for instance, a sharpness of horizon outline and a delicacy of color
on distant hills which are wanting in summer, and which convey to one
rightly organized the keenest delight, and a refinement of enjoyment
that is scarcely sensuous, not at all sentimental, and almost passing
the intellectual line into the spiritual.

I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he said that I was drawing
it altogether too fine; that he experienced sensations of pleasure in
being out in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to breast a north
wind, and that there was a certain inspiration in sharp outlines and
in a landscape in trim winter-quarters, with stripped trees, and, as it
were, scudding through the season under bare poles; but that he must say
that he preferred the weather in which he could sit on the fence by
the wood-lot, with the spring sun on his back, and hear the stir of the
leaves and the birds beginning their housekeeping.

A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear he is getting to have
private thoughts about the Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes the
robustness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little suspicious to
hear him express the hope that we shall have an early spring.

I wonder how many people there are in New England who know the glory and
inspiration of a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too, not only
on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame with a rosy color, which
has no suggestion of languor or unsatisfied longing in it, but on dull
days, when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon, full of threats of
storm and the terrors of the gathering night. We are very busy with
our own affairs, but there is always something going on out-doors worth
looking at; and there is seldom an hour before sunset that has not some
special attraction. And, besides, it puts one in the mood for the cheer
and comfort of the open fire at home.

Probably if the people of New England could have a plebiscitum on their
weather, they would vote against it, especially against winter. Almost
no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests the idea that most
people here were either born in the wrong place, or do not know what is
best for them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any better satisfied,
or would turn out as well, in the tropics. Everybody knows our
virtues,--at least if they believe half we tell them,--and for delicate
beauty, that rare plant, I should look among the girls of the New
England hills as confidently as anywhere, and I have traveled as far
south as New Jersey, and west of the Genesee Valley. Indeed, it would be
easy to show that the parents of the pretty girls in the West emigrated
from New England. And yet--such is the mystery of Providence--no one
would expect that one of the sweetest and most delicate flowers that
blooms, the trailing arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable
climate, and peep forth from the edge of a snowbank at that.

It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer that the thousands
of people who are dissatisfied with their climate do not seek a more
congenial one--or stop grumbling. The world is so small, and all parts
of it are so accessible, it has so many varieties of climate, that one
could surely suit himself by searching; and, then, is it worth while to
waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant surroundings and in
a constant friction with that which is disagreeable? One would suppose
that people set down on this little globe would seek places on it most
agreeable to themselves. It must be that they are much more content with
the climate and country upon which they happen, by the accident of their
birth, than they pretend to be.


Home sympathies and charities are most active in the winter. Coming
in from my late walk,--in fact driven in by a hurrying north wind that
would brook no delay,--a wind that brought snow that did not seem to
fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be blown from polar fields,--I
find the Mistress returned from town, all in a glow of philanthropic

There has been a meeting of a woman's association for Ameliorating the
Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by paying
a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life Ameliorator,--a
sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the meeting, I believe,
"seconded the motion" several times, and is one of the Vice-Presidents;
and this family honor makes me feel almost as if I were a president
of something myself. These little distinctions are among the sweetest
things in life, and to see one's name officially printed stimulates
his charity, and is almost as satisfactory as being the chairman of a
committee or the mover of a resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and
not at all discreditable, that our little vanity, which is reckoned
among our weaknesses, is thus made to contribute to the activity of our
nobler powers. Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and
probably there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the
whisper, "That's he," "That's she."

There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the Jews;
but they were found to be so much more adept than other people in
ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up.
Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people
who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy in
society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem
to think that the world owes them a living because they are
philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose
condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really accomplished
in the effort for them, it always remains true that the charitable reap
a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful compensations of
this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping

OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR. Why is it that almost all philanthropists and
reformers are disagreeable?

I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person who
comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as his wife
does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner cup of tea
before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you lock your doors,
and only admit visitors through the media of bells and servants. It is
lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is honest.

THE PARSON. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together?
Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They are
agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they wish to
make it as unpleasant to others as possible.

MANDEVILLE. That's a noble view of your fellow-men.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to be
unpleasant people to live with?

THE PARSON. As if the unpleasant people who won't mind their own
business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best
people I know are philanthropists,--I mean the genuine ones, and not the
uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It is not altogether the not minding their own
business. Nobody does that. The usual explanation is, that people with
one idea are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few persons
have more than one idea,--ministers, doctors, lawyers, teachers,
manufacturers, merchants,--they all think the world they live in is the
central one.

MANDEVILLE. And you might add authors. To them nearly all the life of
the world is in letters, and I suppose they would be astonished if they
knew how little the thoughts of the majority of people are occupied with
books, and with all that vast thought circulation which is the vital
current of the world to book-men. Newspapers have reached their present
power by becoming unliterary, and reflecting all the interests of the

THE MISTRESS. I have noticed one thing, that the most popular persons in
society are those who take the world as it is, find the least fault, and
have no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner.

THE YOUNG LADY. And the other kind always appear to me to want a dinner.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It seems to me that the real reason why reformers and
some philanthropists are unpopular is, that they disturb our serenity
and make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is only now and then
that a whole people get a spasm of reformatory fervor, of investigation
and regeneration. At other times they rather hate those who disturb
their quiet.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Professional reformers and philanthropists are
insufferably conceited and intolerant.

THE MISTRESS. Everything depends upon the spirit in which a reform or a
scheme of philanthropy is conducted.

MANDEVILLE. I attended a protracted convention of reformers of a certain
evil, once, and had the pleasure of taking dinner with a tableful of
them. It was one of those country dinners accompanied with green tea.
Every one disagreed with every one else, and you would n't wonder at
it, if you had seen them. They were people with whom good food wouldn't
agree. George Thompson was expected at the convention, and I remember
that there was almost a cordiality in the talk about him, until one
sallow brother casually mentioned that George took snuff,--when a chorus
of deprecatory groans went up from the table. One long-faced maiden in
spectacles, with purple ribbons in her hair, who drank five cups of tea
by my count, declared that she was perfectly disgusted, and did n't
want to hear him speak. In the course of the meal the talk ran upon the
discipline of children, and how to administer punishment. I was quite
taken by the remark of a thin, dyspeptic man who summed up the matter
by growling out in a harsh, deep bass voice, "Punish 'em in love!" It
sounded as if he had said, "Shoot 'em on the spot!"

THE PARSON. I supposed you would say that he was a minister. There is
another thing about those people. I think they are working against the
course of nature. Nature is entirely indifferent to any reform. She
perpetuates a fault as persistently as a virtue. There's a split in
my thumb-nail that has been scrupulously continued for many years, not
withstanding all my efforts to make the nail resume its old regularity.
You see the same thing in trees whose bark is cut, and in melons that
have had only one summer's intimacy with squashes. The bad traits in
character are passed down from generation to generation with as much
care as the good ones. Nature, unaided, never reforms anything.

MANDEVILLE. Is that the essence of Calvinism?

THE PARSON. Calvinism has n't any essence, it's a fact.

MANDEVILLE. When I was a boy, I always associated Calvinism and calomel
together. I thought that homeopathy--similia, etc.--had done away with
both of them.

OUR NEXT DOOR (rising). If you are going into theology, I'm off..


I fear we are not getting on much with the joyousness of winter. In
order to be exhilarating it must be real winter. I have noticed that the
lower the thermometer sinks the more fiercely the north wind rages, and
the deeper the snow is, the higher rise the spirits of the community.
The activity of the "elements" has a great effect upon country folk
especially; and it is a more wholesome excitement than that caused by
a great conflagration. The abatement of a snow-storm that grows to
exceptional magnitude is regretted, for there is always the half-hope
that this will be, since it has gone so far, the largest fall of snow
ever known in the region, burying out of sight the great fall of 1808,
the account of which is circumstantially and aggravatingly thrown in our
way annually upon the least provocation. We all know how it reads: "Some
said it began at daylight, others that it set in after sunrise; but
all agree that by eight o'clock Friday morning it was snowing in heavy
masses that darkened the air."

The morning after we settled the five--or is it seven?--points
of Calvinism, there began a very hopeful snow-storm, one of those
wide-sweeping, careering storms that may not much affect the city,
but which strongly impress the country imagination with a sense of the
personal qualities of the weather,--power, persistency, fierceness, and
roaring exultation. Out-doors was terrible to those who looked out of
windows, and heard the raging wind, and saw the commotion in all the
high tree-tops and the writhing of the low evergreens, and could not
summon resolution to go forth and breast and conquer the bluster. The
sky was dark with snow, which was not permitted to fall peacefully
like a blessed mantle, as it sometimes does, but was blown and rent and
tossed like the split canvas of a ship in a gale. The world was taken
possession of by the demons of the air, who had their will of it. There
is a sort of fascination in such a scene, equal to that of a tempest at
sea, and without its attendant haunting sense of peril; there is no fear
that the house will founder or dash against your neighbor's cottage,
which is dimly seen anchored across the field; at every thundering onset
there is no fear that the cook's galley will upset, or the screw break
loose and smash through the side, and we are not in momently expectation
of the tinkling of the little bell to "stop her." The snow rises in
drifting waves, and the naked trees bend like strained masts; but so
long as the window-blinds remain fast, and the chimney-tops do not go,
we preserve an equal mind. Nothing more serious can happen than the
failure of the butcher's and the grocer's carts, unless, indeed, the
little news-carrier should fail to board us with the world's daily
bulletin, or our next-door neighbor should be deterred from coming to
sit by the blazing, excited fire, and interchange the trifling, harmless
gossip of the day. The feeling of seclusion on such a day is sweet, but
the true friend who does brave the storm and come is welcomed with a
sort of enthusiasm that his arrival in pleasant weather would never
excite. The snow-bound in their Arctic hulk are glad to see even a
wandering Esquimau.

On such a day I recall the great snow-storms on the northern New England
hills, which lasted for a week with no cessation, with no sunrise or
sunset, and no observation at noon; and the sky all the while dark with
the driving snow, and the whole world full of the noise of the rioting
Boreal forces; until the roads were obliterated, the fences covered,
and the snow was piled solidly above the first-story windows of the
farmhouse on one side, and drifted before the front door so high that
egress could only be had by tunneling the bank.

After such a battle and siege, when the wind fell and the sun struggled
out again, the pallid world lay subdued and tranquil, and the scattered
dwellings were not unlike wrecks stranded by the tempest and half buried
in sand. But when the blue sky again bent over all, the wide expanse of
snow sparkled like diamond-fields, and the chimney signal-smokes could
be seen, how beautiful was the picture! Then began the stir abroad,
and the efforts to open up communication through roads, or fields, or
wherever paths could be broken, and the ways to the meeting-house
first of all. Then from every house and hamlet the men turned out with
shovels, with the patient, lumbering oxen yoked to the sleds, to break
the roads, driving into the deepest drifts, shoveling and shouting as
if the severe labor were a holiday frolic, the courage and the hilarity
rising with the difficulties encountered; and relief parties, meeting at
length in the midst of the wide white desolation, hailed each other as
chance explorers in new lands, and made the whole country-side ring with
the noise of their congratulations. There was as much excitement and
healthy stirring of the blood in it as in the Fourth of July, and
perhaps as much patriotism. The boy saw it in dumb show from the
distant, low farmhouse window, and wished he were a man. At night there
were great stories of achievement told by the cavernous fireplace;
great latitude was permitted in the estimation of the size of particular
drifts, but never any agreement was reached as to the "depth on a
level." I have observed since that people are quite as apt to agree upon
the marvelous and the exceptional as upon simple facts.


By the firelight and the twilight, the Young Lady is finishing a letter
to Herbert,--writing it, literally, on her knees, transforming thus the
simple deed into an act of devotion. Mandeville says that it is bad for
her eyes, but the sight of it is worse for his eyes. He begins to doubt
the wisdom of reliance upon that worn apothegm about absence conquering

Memory has the singular characteristic of recalling in a friend absent,
as in a journey long past, only that which is agreeable. Mandeville
begins to wish he were in New South Wales.

I did intend to insert here a letter of Herbert's to the Young
Lady,--obtained, I need not say, honorably, as private letters which get
into print always are,--not to gratify a vulgar curiosity, but to show
how the most unsentimental and cynical people are affected by the master
passion. But I cannot bring myself to do it. Even in the interests
of science one has no right to make an autopsy of two loving hearts,
especially when they are suffering under a late attack of the one
agreeable epidemic.

All the world loves a lover, but it laughs at him none the less in his
extravagances. He loses his accustomed reticence; he has something of
the martyr's willingness for publicity; he would even like to show the
sincerity of his devotion by some piece of open heroism. Why should he
conceal a discovery which has transformed the world to him, a secret
which explains all the mysteries of nature and humanity? He is in that
ecstasy of mind which prompts those who were never orators before to
rise in an experience-meeting and pour out a flood of feeling in the
tritest language and the most conventional terms. I am not sure that
Herbert, while in this glow, would be ashamed of his letter in print,
but this is one of the cases where chancery would step in and protect
one from himself by his next friend. This is really a delicate matter,
and perhaps it is brutal to allude to it at all.

In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in print. Love has a
marvelous power of vivifying language and charging the simplest words
with the most tender meaning, of restoring to them the power they had
when first coined. They are words of fire to those two who know their
secret, but not to others. It is generally admitted that the best
love-letters would not make very good literature. "Dearest," begins
Herbert, in a burst of originality, felicitously selecting a word whose
exclusiveness shuts out all the world but one, and which is a whole
letter, poem, confession, and creed in one breath. What a weight of
meaning it has to carry! There may be beauty and wit and grace and
naturalness and even the splendor of fortune elsewhere, but there is one
woman in the world whose sweet presence would be compensation for the
loss of all else. It is not to be reasoned about; he wants that one; it
is her plume dancing down the sunny street that sets his heart beating;
he knows her form among a thousand, and follows her; he longs to run
after her carriage, which the cruel coachman whirls out of his sight. It
is marvelous to him that all the world does not want her too, and he is
in a panic when he thinks of it. And what exquisite flattery is in that
little word addressed to her, and with what sweet and meek triumph she
repeats it to herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for
those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out of all the available
world--it is almost as much bliss as it is to choose. "All that long,
long stage-ride from Blim's to Portage I thought of you every moment,
and wondered what you were doing and how you were looking just that
moment, and I found the occupation so charming that I was almost sorry
when the journey was ended." Not much in that! But I have no doubt the
Young Lady read it over and over, and dwelt also upon every moment, and
found in it new proof of unshaken constancy, and had in that and the
like things in the letter a sense of the sweetest communion. There is
nothing in this letter that we need dwell on it, but I am convinced that
the mail does not carry any other letters so valuable as this sort.

I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this new light unconsciously
gave tone a little to the evening's talk; not that anybody mentioned
him, but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from the qualities
that make one person admired by another to those that win the love of

MANDEVILLE. There seems to be something in some persons that wins them
liking, special or general, independent almost of what they do or say.

THE MISTRESS. Why, everybody is liked by some one.

MANDEVILLE. I'm not sure of that. There are those who are friendless,
and would be if they had endless acquaintances. But, to take the case
away from ordinary examples, in which habit and a thousand circumstances
influence liking, what is it that determines the world upon a personal
regard for authors whom it has never seen?

THE FIRE-TENDER. Probably it is the spirit shown in their writings.

THE MISTRESS. More likely it is a sort of tradition; I don't believe
that the world has a feeling of personal regard for any author who was
not loved by those who knew him most intimately.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Which comes to the same thing. The qualities, the
spirit, that got him the love of his acquaintances he put into his

MANDEVILLE. That does n't seem to me sufficient. Shakespeare has put
everything into his plays and poems, swept the whole range of human
sympathies and passions, and at times is inspired by the sweetest spirit
that ever man had.

THE YOUNG LADY. No one has better interpreted love.

MANDEVILLE. Yet I apprehend that no person living has any personal
regard for Shakespeare, or that his personality affects many,--except
they stand in Stratford church and feel a sort of awe at the thought
that the bones of the greatest poet are so near them.

THE PARSON. I don't think the world cares personally for any mere man or
woman dead for centuries.

MANDEVILLE. But there is a difference. I think there is still rather a
warm feeling for Socrates the man, independent of what he said, which is
little known. Homer's works are certainly better known, but no one cares
personally for Homer any more than for any other shade.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Why not go back to Moses? We've got the evening before us
for digging up people.

MANDEVILLE. Moses is a very good illustration. No name of antiquity
is better known, and yet I fancy he does not awaken the same kind of
popular liking that Socrates does.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Fudge! You just get up in any lecture assembly and
propose three cheers for Socrates, and see where you'll be. Mandeville
ought to be a missionary, and read Robert Browning to the Fijis.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How do you account for the alleged personal regard for

THE PARSON. Because the world called Christian is still more than half

MANDEVILLE. He was a plain man; his sympathies were with the people; he
had what is roughly known as "horse-sense," and he was homely. Franklin
and Abraham Lincoln belong to his class. They were all philosophers of
the shrewd sort, and they all had humor. It was fortunate for Lincoln
that, with his other qualities, he was homely. That was the last
touching recommendation to the popular heart.

THE MISTRESS. Do you remember that ugly brown-stone statue of St.
Antonio by the bridge in Sorrento? He must have been a coarse saint,
patron of pigs as he was, but I don't know any one anywhere, or the
homely stone image of one, so loved by the people.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Ugliness being trump, I wonder more people don't win.
Mandeville, why don't you get up a "centenary" of Socrates, and put up
his statue in the Central Park? It would make that one of Lincoln in
Union Square look beautiful.

THE PARSON. Oh, you'll see that some day, when they have a museum there
illustrating the "Science of Religion."

THE FIRE-TENDER. Doubtless, to go back to what we were talking of,
the world has a fondness for some authors, and thinks of them with an
affectionate and half-pitying familiarity; and it may be that this
grows out of something in their lives quite as much as anything in
their writings. There seems to be more disposition of personal liking
to Thackeray than to Dickens, now both are dead,--a result that would
hardly have been predicted when the world was crying over Little Nell,
or agreeing to hate Becky Sharp.

THE YOUNG LADY. What was that you were telling about Charles Lamb,
the other day, Mandeville? Is not the popular liking for him somewhat
independent of his writings?

MANDEVILLE. He is a striking example of an author who is loved. Very
likely the remembrance of his tribulations has still something to do
with the tenderness felt for him. He supported no dignity and permitted
a familiarity which indicated no self-appreciation of his real rank in
the world of letters. I have heard that his acquaintances familiarly
called him "Charley."

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a relief to know that! Do you happen to know what
Socrates was called?

MANDEVILLE. I have seen people who knew Lamb very well. One of them told
me, as illustrating his want of dignity, that as he was going home late
one night through the nearly empty streets, he was met by a roystering
party who were making a night of it from tavern to tavern. They fell
upon Lamb, attracted by his odd figure and hesitating manner, and,
hoisting him on their shoulders, carried him off, singing as they went.
Lamb enjoyed the lark, and did not tell them who he was. When they were
tired of lugging him, they lifted him, with much effort and difficulty,
to the top of a high wall, and left him there amid the broken bottles,
utterly unable to get down. Lamb remained there philosophically in the
enjoyment of his novel adventure, until a passing watchman rescued him
from his ridiculous situation.

THE FIRE-TENDER. How did the story get out?

MANDEVILLE. Oh, Lamb told all about it next morning; and when asked
afterwards why he did so, he replied that there was no fun in it unless
he told it.



The King sat in the winter-house in the ninth month, and there was a
fire on the hearth burning before him.... When Jehudi had read three or
four leaves he cut it with the penknife.

That seems to be a pleasant and home-like picture from a not very remote
period,--less than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many centuries
after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very long ago, for Thebes,
in the splendid streets of which Homer wandered and sang to the kings
when Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was its younger rival,
was twelve centuries old when Paris ran away with Helen.

I am sorry that the original--and you can usually do anything with
the "original"--does not bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant
picture. I should like to believe that Jehoiakim--for that was the
singular name of the gentleman who sat by his hearthstone--had just
received the Memphis "Palimpsest," fifteen days in advance of the date
of its publication, and that his secretary was reading to him that
monthly, and cutting its leaves as he read. I should like to have seen
it in that year when Thales was learning astronomy in Memphis, and Necho
was organizing his campaign against Carchemish. If Jehoiakim took the
"Attic Quarterly," he might have read its comments on the banishment
of the Alcmaeonida, and its gibes at Solon for his prohibitory laws,
forbidding the sale of unguents, limiting the luxury of dress, and
interfering with the sacred rights of mourners to passionately bewail
the dead in the Asiatic manner; the same number being enriched with
contributions from two rising poets,--a lyric of love by Sappho, and an
ode sent by Anacreon from Teos, with an editorial note explaining that
the Maces was not responsible for the sentiments of the poem.

But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the backlog in his
winter-house had other things to think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was coming
that way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a great crowd of
marauders; and the king had not even the poor choice whether he would
be the vassal of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us, this is only
a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors stalking across vast historic
spaces. It was no doubt a vulgar enough scene of war and plunder. The
great captains of that age went about to harry each other's territories
and spoil each other's cities very much as we do nowadays, and for
similar reasons;--Napoleon the Great in Moscow, Napoleon the Small in
Italy, Kaiser William in Paris, Great Scott in Mexico! Men have not
changed much;--The Fire-Tender sat in his winter-garden in the third
month; there was a fire on the hearth burning before him. He cut
the leaves of "Scribner's Monthly" with his penknife, and thought of

That seems as real as the other. In the garden, which is a room of the
house, the tall callas, rooted in the ground, stand about the fountain;
the sun, streaming through the glass, illumines the many-hued flowers. I
wonder what Jehoiakim did with the mealy-bug on his passion-vine, and
if he had any way of removing the scale-bug from his African acacia? One
would like to know, too, how he treated the red spider on the Le Marque
rose. The record is silent. I do not doubt he had all these insects in
his winter-garden, and the aphidae besides; and he could not smoke them
out with tobacco, for the world had not yet fallen into its second stage
of the knowledge of good and evil by eating the forbidden tobacco-plant.

I confess that this little picture of a fire on the hearth so many
centuries ago helps to make real and interesting to me that somewhat
misty past. No doubt the lotus and the acanthus from the Nile grew in
that winter-house, and perhaps Jehoiakim attempted--the most difficult
thing in the world the cultivation of the wild flowers from Lebanon.
Perhaps Jehoiakim was interested also, as I am through this ancient
fireplace,--which is a sort of domestic window into the ancient
world,--in the loves of Bernice and Abaces at the court of the Pharaohs.
I see that it is the same thing as the sentiment--perhaps it is the
shrinking which every soul that is a soul has, sooner or later, from
isolation--which grew up between Herbert and the Young Lady Staying With
Us. Jeremiah used to come in to that fireside very much as the Parson
does to ours. The Parson, to be sure, never prophesies, but he grumbles,
and is the chorus in the play that sings the everlasting ai ai of "I
told you so!" Yet we like the Parson. He is the sprig of bitter herb
that makes the pottage wholesome. I should rather, ten times over,
dispense with the flatterers and the smooth-sayers than the grumblers.
But the grumblers are of two sorts,--the healthful-toned and the
whiners. There are makers of beer who substitute for the clean bitter of
the hops some deleterious drug, and then seek to hide the fraud by some
cloying sweet. There is nothing of this sickish drug in the Parson's
talk, nor was there in that of Jeremiah, I sometimes think there is
scarcely enough of this wholesome tonic in modern society. The Parson
says he never would give a child sugar-coated pills. Mandeville says he
never would give them any. After all, you cannot help liking Mandeville.


We were talking of this late news from Jerusalem. The Fire-Tender was
saying that it is astonishing how much is telegraphed us from the East
that is not half so interesting. He was at a loss philosophically to
account for the fact that the world is so eager to know the news of
yesterday which is unimportant, and so indifferent to that of the day
before which is of some moment.

MANDEVILLE. I suspect that it arises from the want of imagination.
People need to touch the facts, and nearness in time is contiguity. It
would excite no interest to bulletin the last siege of Jerusalem in a
village where the event was unknown, if the date was appended; and yet
the account of it is incomparably more exciting than that of the siege
of Metz.

OUR NEXT DOOR. The daily news is a necessity. I cannot get along without
my morning paper. The other morning I took it up, and was absorbed in
the telegraphic columns for an hour nearly. I thoroughly enjoyed the
feeling of immediate contact with all the world of yesterday, until
I read among the minor items that Patrick Donahue, of the city of New
York, died of a sunstroke. If he had frozen to death, I should have
enjoyed that; but to die of sunstroke in February seemed inappropriate,
and I turned to the date of the paper. When I found it was printed in
July, I need not say that I lost all interest in it, though why the
trivialities and crimes and accidents, relating to people I never knew,
were not as good six months after date as twelve hours, I cannot say.

THE FIRE-TENDER. You know that in Concord the latest news, except
a remark or two by Thoreau or Emerson, is the Vedas. I believe the
Rig-Veda is read at the breakfast-table instead of the Boston journals.

THE PARSON. I know it is read afterward instead of the Bible.

MANDEVILLE. That is only because it is supposed to be older. I have
understood that the Bible is very well spoken of there, but it is not
antiquated enough to be an authority.

OUR NEXT DOOR. There was a project on foot to put it into the
circulating library, but the title New in the second part was considered

HERBERT. Well, I have a good deal of sympathy with Concord as to the
news. We are fed on a daily diet of trivial events and gossip, of
the unfruitful sayings of thoughtless men and women, until our mental
digestion is seriously impaired; the day will come when no one will be
able to sit down to a thoughtful, well-wrought book and assimilate its

THE MISTRESS. I doubt if a daily newspaper is a necessity, in the higher
sense of the word.

THE PARSON. Nobody supposes it is to women,--that is, if they can see
each other.

THE MISTRESS. Don't interrupt, unless you have something to say; though
I should like to know how much gossip there is afloat that the minister
does not know. The newspaper may be needed in society, but how quickly
it drops out of mind when one goes beyond the bounds of what is called
civilization. You remember when we were in the depths of the woods last
summer how difficult it was to get up any interest in the files of late
papers that reached us, and how unreal all the struggle and turmoil of
the world seemed. We stood apart, and could estimate things at their
true value.

THE YOUNG LADY. Yes, that was real life. I never tired of the guide's
stories; there was some interest in the intelligence that a deer had
been down to eat the lily-pads at the foot of the lake the night before;
that a bear's track was seen on the trail we crossed that day; even
Mandeville's fish-stories had a certain air of probability; and how to
roast a trout in the ashes and serve him hot and juicy and clean, and
how to cook soup and prepare coffee and heat dish-water in one tin-pail,
were vital problems.

THE PARSON. You would have had no such problems at home. Why will people
go so far to put themselves to such inconvenience? I hate the woods.
Isolation breeds conceit; there are no people so conceited as those who
dwell in remote wildernesses and live mostly alone.

THE YOUNG LADY. For my part, I feel humble in the presence of mountains,
and in the vast stretches of the wilderness.

THE PARSON. I'll be bound a woman would feel just as nobody would expect
her to feel, under given circumstances.

MANDEVILLE. I think the reason why the newspaper and the world it
carries take no hold of us in the wilderness is that we become a kind of
vegetable ourselves when we go there. I have often attempted to improve
my mind in the woods with good solid books. You might as well offer a
bunch of celery to an oyster. The mind goes to sleep: the senses and the
instincts wake up. The best I can do when it rains, or the trout won't
bite, is to read Dumas's novels. Their ingenuity will almost keep a man
awake after supper, by the camp-fire. And there is a kind of unity about
them that I like; the history is as good as the morality.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I always wondered where Mandeville got his historical

THE MISTRESS. Mandeville misrepresents himself in the woods. I heard him
one night repeat "The Vision of Sir Launfal"--(THE FIRE-TENDER. Which
comes very near being our best poem.)--as we were crossing the lake, and
the guides became so absorbed in it that they forgot to paddle, and sat
listening with open mouths, as if it had been a panther story.

THE PARSON. Mandeville likes to show off well enough. I heard that he
related to a woods' boy up there the whole of the Siege of Troy. The
boy was very much interested, and said "there'd been a man up there that
spring from Troy, looking up timber." Mandeville always carries the news
when he goes into the country.

MANDEVILLE. I'm going to take the Parson's sermon on Jonah next summer;
it's the nearest to anything like news we've had from his pulpit in ten
years. But, seriously, the boy was very well informed. He'd heard of
Albany; his father took in the "Weekly Tribune," and he had a partial
conception of Horace Greeley.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I never went so far out of the world in America yet that
the name of Horace Greeley did n't rise up before me. One of the first
questions asked by any camp-fire is, "Did ye ever see Horace?"

HERBERT. Which shows the power of the press again. But I have often
remarked how little real conception of the moving world, as it is,
people in remote regions get from the newspaper. It needs to be read in
the midst of events. A chip cast ashore in a refluent eddy tells no tale
of the force and swiftness of the current.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I don't exactly get the drift of that last remark; but
I rather like a remark that I can't understand; like the landlady's
indigestible bread, it stays by you.

HERBERT. I see that I must talk in words of one syllable. The newspaper
has little effect upon the remote country mind, because the remote
country mind is interested in a very limited number of things. Besides,
as the Parson says, it is conceited. The most accomplished scholar will
be the butt of all the guides in the woods, because he cannot follow a
trail that would puzzle a sable (saple the trappers call it).

THE PARSON. It's enough to read the summer letters that people write
to the newspapers from the country and the woods. Isolated from the
activity of the world, they come to think that the little adventures of
their stupid days and nights are important. Talk about that being real
life! Compare the letters such people write with the other contents of
the newspaper, and you will see which life is real. That's one reason I
hate to have summer come, the country letters set in.

THE MISTRESS. I should like to see something the Parson does n't hate to
have come.

MANDEVILLE. Except his quarter's salary; and the meeting of the American

THE FIRE-TENDER. I don't see that we are getting any nearer the solution
of the original question. The world is evidently interested in events
simply because they are recent.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I have a theory that a newspaper might be published at
little cost, merely by reprinting the numbers of years before, only
altering the dates; just as the Parson preaches over his sermons.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It's evident we must have a higher order of
news-gatherers. It has come to this, that the newspaper furnishes
thought-material for all the world, actually prescribes from day to day
the themes the world shall think on and talk about. The occupation of
news-gathering becomes, therefore, the most important. When you think of
it, it is astonishing that this department should not be in the hands
of the ablest men, accomplished scholars, philosophical observers,
discriminating selectors of the news of the world that is worth thinking
over and talking about. The editorial comments frequently are able
enough, but is it worth while keeping an expensive mill going to grind
chaff? I sometimes wonder, as I open my morning paper, if nothing did
happen in the twenty-four hours except crimes, accidents, defalcations,
deaths of unknown loafers, robberies, monstrous births,--say about the
level of police-court news.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I have even noticed that murders have deteriorated; they
are not so high-toned and mysterious as they used to be.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It is true that the newspapers have improved vastly
within the last decade.

HERBERT. I think, for one, that they are very much above the level of
the ordinary gossip of the country.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But I am tired of having the under-world still occupy
so much room in the newspapers. The reporters are rather more alert for
a dog-fight than a philological convention. It must be that the good
deeds of the world outnumber the bad in any given day; and what a good
reflex action it would have on society if they could be more fully
reported than the bad! I suppose the Parson would call this the
Enthusiasm of Humanity.

THE PARSON. You'll see how far you can lift yourself up by your

HERBERT. I wonder what influence on the quality (I say nothing of
quantity) of news the coming of women into the reporter's and editor's
work will have.

OUR NEXT DOOR. There are the baby-shows; they make cheerful reading.

THE MISTRESS. All of them got up by speculating men, who impose upon the
vanity of weak women.

HERBERT. I think women reporters are more given to personal details
and gossip than the men. When I read the Washington correspondence I am
proud of my country, to see how many Apollo Belvederes, Adonises, how
much marble brow and piercing eye and hyacinthine locks, we have in the
two houses of Congress.

THE YOUNG LADY. That's simply because women understand the personal
weakness of men; they have a long score of personal flattery to pay off

MANDEVILLE. I think women will bring in elements of brightness,
picturesqueness, and purity very much needed. Women have a power
of investing simple ordinary things with a charm; men are bungling
narrators compared with them.

THE PARSON. The mistake they make is in trying to write, and especially
to "stump-speak," like men; next to an effeminate man there is nothing
so disagreeable as a mannish woman.

HERBERT. I heard one once address a legislative committee. The knowing
air, the familiar, jocular, smart manner, the nodding and winking
innuendoes, supposed to be those of a man "up to snuff," and au fait in
political wiles, were inexpressibly comical. And yet the exhibition
was pathetic, for it had the suggestive vulgarity of a woman in man's
clothes. The imitation is always a dreary failure.

THE MISTRESS. Such women are the rare exceptions. I am ready to defend
my sex; but I won't attempt to defend both sexes in one.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I have great hope that women will bring into the
newspaper an elevating influence; the common and sweet life of society
is much better fitted to entertain and instruct us than the exceptional
and extravagant. I confess (saving the Mistress's presence) that the
evening talk over the dessert at dinner is much more entertaining and
piquant than the morning paper, and often as important.

THE MISTRESS. I think the subject had better be changed.

MANDEVILLE. The person, not the subject. There is no entertainment
so full of quiet pleasure as the hearing a lady of cultivation and
refinement relate her day's experience in her daily rounds of calls,
charitable visits, shopping, errands of relief and condolence. The
evening budget is better than the finance minister's.

OUR NEXT DOOR. That's even so. My wife will pick up more news in six
hours than I can get in a week, and I'm fond of news.

MANDEVILLE. I don't mean gossip, by any means, or scandal. A woman of
culture skims over that like a bird, never touching it with the tip of a
wing. What she brings home is the freshness and brightness of life. She
touches everything so daintily, she hits off a character in a sentence,
she gives the pith of a dialogue without tediousness, she mimics without
vulgarity; her narration sparkles, but it does n't sting. The picture
of her day is full of vivacity, and it gives new value and freshness to
common things. If we could only have on the stage such actresses as we
have in the drawing-room!

THE FIRE-TENDER. We want something more of this grace, sprightliness,
and harmless play of the finer life of society in the newspaper.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder Mandeville does n't marry, and become a
permanent subscriber to his embodied idea of a newspaper.

THE YOUNG LADY. Perhaps he does not relish the idea of being unable to
stop his subscription.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Parson, won't you please punch that fire, and give us
more blaze? we are getting into the darkness of socialism.


Herbert returned to us in March. The Young Lady was spending the winter
with us, and March, in spite of the calendar, turned out to be a winter
month. It usually is in New England, and April too, for that matter. And
I cannot say it is unfortunate for us. There are so many topics to be
turned over and settled at our fireside that a winter of ordinary length
would make little impression on the list. The fireside is, after all,
a sort of private court of chancery, where nothing ever does come to a
final decision. The chief effect of talk on any subject is to strengthen
one's own opinions, and, in fact, one never knows exactly what he does
believe until he is warmed into conviction by the heat of attack and
defence. A man left to himself drifts about like a boat on a calm lake;
it is only when the wind blows that the boat goes anywhere.

Herbert said he had been dipping into the recent novels written by
women, here and there, with a view to noting the effect upon literature
of this sudden and rather overwhelming accession to it. There was a good
deal of talk about it evening after evening, off and on, and I can only
undertake to set down fragments of it.

HERBERT. I should say that the distinguishing feature of the literature
of this day is the prominence women have in its production. They figure
in most of the magazines, though very rarely in the scholarly and
critical reviews, and in thousands of newspapers; to them we are
indebted for the oceans of Sunday-school books, and they write the
majority of the novels, the serial stories, and they mainly pour out the
watery flood of tales in the weekly papers. Whether this is to result in
more good than evil it is impossible yet to say, and perhaps it would be
unjust to say, until this generation has worked off its froth, and women
settle down to artistic, conscientious labor in literature.

THE MISTRESS. You don't mean to say that George Eliot, and Mrs. Gaskell,
and George Sand, and Mrs. Browning, before her marriage and severe
attack of spiritism, are less true to art than contemporary men
novelists and poets.

HERBERT. You name some exceptions that show the bright side of the
picture, not only for the present, but for the future. Perhaps genius
has no sex; but ordinary talent has. I refer to the great body of
novels, which you would know by internal evidence were written by women.
They are of two sorts: the domestic story, entirely unidealized, and as
flavorless as water-gruel; and the spiced novel, generally immoral in
tendency, in which the social problems are handled, unhappy marriages,
affinity and passional attraction, bigamy, and the violation of the
seventh commandment. These subjects are treated in the rawest manner,
without any settled ethics, with little discrimination of eternal right
and wrong, and with very little sense of responsibility for what is set
forth. Many of these novels are merely the blind outbursts of a nature
impatient of restraint and the conventionalities of society, and are as
chaotic as the untrained minds that produce them.

MANDEVILLE. Don't you think these novels fairly represent a social
condition of unrest and upheaval?

HERBERT. Very likely; and they help to create and spread abroad the
discontent they describe. Stories of bigamy (sometimes disguised by
divorce), of unhappy marriages, where the injured wife, through an
entire volume, is on the brink of falling into the arms of a sneaking
lover, until death kindly removes the obstacle, and the two souls, who
were born for each other, but got separated in the cradle, melt and
mingle into one in the last chapter, are not healthful reading for maids
or mothers.


THE FIRE-TENDER. The most disagreeable object to me in modern literature
is the man the women novelists have introduced as the leading character;
the women who come in contact with him seem to be fascinated by his
disdainful mien, his giant strength, and his brutal manner. He is broad
across the shoulders, heavily moulded, yet as lithe as a cat; has an
ugly scar across his right cheek; has been in the four quarters of the
globe; knows seventeen languages; had a harem in Turkey and a Fayaway in
the Marquesas; can be as polished as Bayard in the drawing-room, but is
as gloomy as Conrad in the library; has a terrible eye and a withering
glance, but can be instantly subdued by a woman's hand, if it is not
his wife's; and through all his morose and vicious career has carried a
heart as pure as a violet.

THE MISTRESS. Don't you think the Count of Monte Cristo is the elder
brother of Rochester?

THE FIRE-TENDER. One is a mere hero of romance; the other is meant for a
real man.

MANDEVILLE. I don't see that the men novel-writers are better than the

HERBERT. That's not the question; but what are women who write so large
a proportion of the current stories bringing into literature? Aside
from the question of morals, and the absolutely demoralizing manner
of treating social questions, most of their stories are vapid and weak
beyond expression, and are slovenly in composition, showing neither
study, training, nor mental discipline.

THE MISTRESS. Considering that women have been shut out from the
training of the universities, and have few opportunities for the wide
observation that men enjoy, isn't it pretty well that the foremost
living writers of fiction are women?

HERBERT. You can say that for the moment, since Thackeray and Dickens
have just died. But it does not affect the general estimate. We
are inundated with a flood of weak writing. Take the Sunday-school
literature, largely the product of women; it has n't as much character
as a dried apple pie. I don't know what we are coming to if the presses
keep on running.

OUR NEXT DOOR. We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful
time; I'm glad I don't write novels.


OUR NEXT DOOR. I tried a Sunday-school book once; but I made the good
boy end in the poorhouse, and the bad boy go to Congress; and the
publisher said it wouldn't do, the public wouldn't stand that sort of
thing. Nobody but the good go to Congress.

THE MISTRESS. Herbert, what do you think women are good for?

OUR NEXT DOOR. That's a poser.

HERBERT. Well, I think they are in a tentative state as to literature,
and we cannot yet tell what they will do. Some of our most brilliant
books of travel, correspondence, and writing on topics in which their
sympathies have warmly interested them, are by women. Some of them are
also strong writers in the daily journals.

MANDEVILLE. I 'm not sure there's anything a woman cannot do as well as
a man, if she sets her heart on it.

THE PARSON. That's because she's no conscience.

CHORUS. O Parson!

THE PARSON. Well, it does n't trouble her, if she wants to do anything.
She looks at the end, not the means. A woman, set on anything, will walk
right through the moral crockery without wincing. She'd be a great deal
more unscrupulous in politics than the average man. Did you ever see a
female lobbyist? Or a criminal? It is Lady Macbeth who does not falter.
Don't raise your hands at me! The sweetest angel or the coolest devil is
a woman. I see in some of the modern novels we have been talking of the
same unscrupulous daring, a blindness to moral distinctions, a constant
exaltation of a passion into a virtue, an entire disregard of the
immutable laws on which the family and society rest. And you ask lawyers
and trustees how scrupulous women are in business transactions!

THE FIRE-TENDER. Women are often ignorant of affairs, and, besides, they
may have a notion often that a woman ought to be privileged more than
a man in business matters; but I tell you, as a rule, that if men
would consult their wives, they would go a deal straighter in business
operations than they do go.

THE PARSON. We are all poor sinners. But I've another indictment against
the women writers. We get no good old-fashioned love-stories from them.
It's either a quarrel of discordant natures one a panther, and the other
a polar bear--for courtship, until one of them is crippled by a railway
accident; or a long wrangle of married life between two unpleasant
people, who can neither live comfortably together nor apart. I suppose,
by what I see, that sweet wooing, with all its torturing and delightful
uncertainty, still goes on in the world; and I have no doubt that the
majority of married people live more happily than the unmarried. But
it's easier to find a dodo than a new and good love-story.

MANDEVILLE. I suppose the old style of plot is exhausted. Everything in
man and outside of him has been turned over so often that I should think
the novelists would cease simply from want of material.

THE PARSON. Plots are no more exhausted than men are. Every man is a new
creation, and combinations are simply endless. Even if we did not have
new material in the daily change of society, and there were only a
fixed number of incidents and characters in life, invention could not be
exhausted on them. I amuse myself sometimes with my kaleidoscope, but
I can never reproduce a figure. No, no. I cannot say that you may not
exhaust everything else: we may get all the secrets of a nature into a
book by and by, but the novel is immortal, for it deals with men.

The Parson's vehemence came very near carrying him into a sermon; and
as nobody has the privilege of replying to his sermons, so none of the
circle made any reply now.

Our Next Door mumbled something about his hair standing on end, to hear
a minister defending the novel; but it did not interrupt the general
silence. Silence is unnoticed when people sit before a fire; it would be
intolerable if they sat and looked at each other.

The wind had risen during the evening, and Mandeville remarked, as they
rose to go, that it had a spring sound in it, but it was as cold as
winter. The Mistress said she heard a bird that morning singing in the
sun a spring song, it was a winter bird, but it sang.


We have been much interested in what is called the Gothic revival. We
have spent I don't know how many evenings in looking over Herbert's
plans for a cottage, and have been amused with his vain efforts to cover
with Gothic roofs the vast number of large rooms which the Young Lady
draws in her sketch of a small house.

I have no doubt that the Gothic, which is capable of infinite
modification, so that every house built in that style may be as
different from every other house as one tree is from every other, can be
adapted to our modern uses, and will be, when artists catch its spirit
instead of merely copying its old forms. But just now we are taking the
Gothic very literally, as we took the Greek at one time, or as we should
probably have taken the Saracenic, if the Moors had not been colored.
Not even the cholera is so contagious in this country as a style of
architecture which we happen to catch; the country is just now broken
out all over with the Mansard-roof epidemic.

And in secular architecture we do not study what is adapted to our
climate any more than in ecclesiastic architecture we adopt that which
is suited to our religion.

We are building a great many costly churches here and there, we
Protestants, and as the most of them are ill adapted to our forms of
worship, it may be necessary and best for us to change our religion in
order to save our investments. I am aware that this would be a grave
step, and we should not hasten to throw overboard Luther and the right
of private judgment without reflection. And yet, if it is necessary to
revive the ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, not in its spirit (that
we nowhere do), but in the form which served another age and another
faith, and if, as it appears, we have already a great deal of money
invested in this reproduction, it may be more prudent to go forward than
to go back. The question is, "Cannot one easier change his creed than
his pew?"

I occupy a seat in church which is an admirable one for reflection, but
I cannot see or hear much that is going on in what we like to call the
apse. There is a splendid stone pillar, a clustered column, right in
front of me, and I am as much protected from the minister as Old Put's
troops were from the British, behind the stone wall at Bunker's Hill. I
can hear his voice occasionally wandering round in the arches overhead,
and I recognize the tone, because he is a friend of mine and an
excellent man, but what he is saying I can very seldom make out. If
there was any incense burning, I could smell it, and that would be
something. I rather like the smell of incense, and it has its holy
associations. But there is no smell in our church, except of bad
air,--for there is no provision for ventilation in the splendid and
costly edifice. The reproduction of the old Gothic is so complete that
the builders even seem to have brought over the ancient air from one
of the churches of the Middle Ages,--you would declare it had n't been
changed in two centuries.

I am expected to fix my attention during the service upon one man, who
stands in the centre of the apse and has a sounding-board behind him in
order to throw his voice out of the sacred semicircular space (where the
altar used to stand, but now the sounding-board takes the place of
the altar) and scatter it over the congregation at large, and send it
echoing up in the groined roof I always like to hear a minister who is
unfamiliar with the house, and who has a loud voice, try to fill the
edifice. The more he roars and gives himself with vehemence to the
effort, the more the building roars in indistinguishable noise and
hubbub. By the time he has said (to suppose a case), "The Lord is in
his holy temple," and has passed on to say, "let all the earth keep
silence," the building is repeating "The Lord is in his holy temple"
from half a dozen different angles and altitudes, rolling it and
growling it, and is not keeping silence at all. A man who understands
it waits until the house has had its say, and has digested one passage,
before he launches another into the vast, echoing spaces. I am expected,
as I said, to fix my eye and mind on the minister, the central point
of the service. But the pillar hides him. Now if there were several
ministers in the church, dressed in such gorgeous colors that I could
see them at the distance from the apse at which my limited income
compels me to sit, and candles were burning, and censers were swinging,
and the platform was full of the sacred bustle of a gorgeous ritual
worship, and a bell rang to tell me the holy moments, I should not mind
the pillar at all. I should sit there, like any other Goth, and enjoy
it. But, as I have said, the pastor is a friend of mine, and I like
to look at him on Sunday, and hear what he says, for he always says
something worth hearing. I am on such terms with him, indeed we all are,
that it would be pleasant to have the service of a little more social
nature, and more human. When we put him away off in the apse, and set
him up for a Goth, and then seat ourselves at a distance, scattered
about among the pillars, the whole thing seems to me a trifle unnatural.
Though I do not mean to say that the congregations do not "enjoy their
religion" in their splendid edifices which cost so much money and are
really so beautiful.

A good many people have the idea, so it seems, that Gothic architecture
and Christianity are essentially one and the same thing. Just as many
regard it as an act of piety to work an altar cloth or to cushion a
pulpit. It may be, and it may not be.

Our Gothic church is likely to prove to us a valuable religious
experience, bringing out many of the Christian virtues. It may have
had its origin in pride, but it is all being overruled for our good. Of
course I need n't explain that it is the thirteenth century ecclesiastic
Gothic that is epidemic in this country; and I think it has attacked the
Congregational and the other non-ritual churches more violently than any
others. We have had it here in its most beautiful and dangerous forms. I
believe we are pretty much all of us supplied with a Gothic church now.
Such has been the enthusiasm in this devout direction, that I should not
be surprised to see our rich private citizens putting up Gothic churches
for their individual amusement and sanctification. As the day will
probably come when every man in Hartford will live in his own mammoth,
five-story granite insurance building, it may not be unreasonable to
expect that every man will sport his own Gothic church. It is beginning
to be discovered that the Gothic sort of church edifice is fatal to
the Congregational style of worship that has been prevalent here in
New England; but it will do nicely (as they say in Boston) for private

There isn't a finer or purer church than ours any where, inside and
outside Gothic to the last. The elevation of the nave gives it even that
"high-shouldered" appearance which seemed more than anything else to
impress Mr. Hawthorne in the cathedral at Amiens. I fancy that for
genuine high-shoulderness we are not exceeded by any church in the city.
Our chapel in the rear is as Gothic as the rest of it,--a beautiful
little edifice. The committee forgot to make any more provision for
ventilating that than the church, and it takes a pretty well-seasoned
Christian to stay in it long at a time. The Sunday-school is held there,
and it is thought to be best to accustom the children to bad air before
they go into the church. The poor little dears shouldn't have the
wickedness and impurity of this world break on them too suddenly. If the
stranger noticed any lack about our church, it would be that of a spire.
There is a place for one; indeed, it was begun, and then the builders
seem to have stopped, with the notion that it would grow itself from
such a good root. It is a mistake however, to suppose that we do not
know that the church has what the profane here call a "stump-tail"
appearance. But the profane are as ignorant of history as they are of
true Gothic. All the Old World cathedrals were the work of centuries.
That at Milan is scarcely finished yet; the unfinished spires of the
Cologne cathedral are one of the best-known features of it. I doubt if
it would be in the Gothic spirit to finish a church at once. We can tell
cavilers that we shall have a spire at the proper time, and not a minute
before. It may depend a little upon what the Baptists do, who are to
build near us. I, for one, think we had better wait and see how high the
Baptist spire is before we run ours up. The church is everything that
could be desired inside. There is the nave, with its lofty and beautiful
arched ceiling; there are the side aisles, and two elegant rows of stone
pillars, stained so as to be a perfect imitation of stucco; there is
the apse, with its stained glass and exquisite lines; and there is an
organ-loft over the front entrance, with a rose window. Nothing was
wanting, so far as we could see, except that we should adapt ourselves
to the circumstances; and that we have been trying to do ever since. It
may be well to relate how we do it, for the benefit of other inchoate

It was found that if we put up the organ in the loft, it would hide the
beautiful rose window. Besides, we wanted congregational singing, and
if we hired a choir, and hung it up there under the roof, like a cage of
birds, we should not have congregational singing. We therefore left
the organ-loft vacant, making no further use of it than to satisfy our
Gothic cravings. As for choir,--several of the singers of the church
volunteered to sit together in the front side-seats, and as there was no
place for an organ, they gallantly rallied round a melodeon,--or perhaps
it is a cabinet organ,--a charming instrument, and, as everybody knows,
entirely in keeping with the pillars, arches, and great spaces of a real
Gothic edifice. It is the union of simplicity with grandeur, for which
we have all been looking. I need not say to those who have ever heard a
melodeon, that there is nothing like it. It is rare, even in the finest
churches on the Continent. And we had congregational singing. And it
went very well indeed. One of the advantages of pure congregational
singing, is that you can join in the singing whether you have a voice
or not. The disadvantage is, that your neighbor can do the same. It is
strange what an uncommonly poor lot of voices there is, even among good
people. But we enjoy it. If you do not enjoy it, you can change your
seat until you get among a good lot.

So far, everything went well. But it was next discovered that it was
difficult to hear the minister, who had a very handsome little desk in
the apse, somewhat distant from the bulk of the congregation; still, we
could most of us see him on a clear day. The church was admirably built
for echoes, and the centre of the house was very favorable to them. When
you sat in the centre of the house, it sometimes seemed as if three or
four ministers were speaking.

It is usually so in cathedrals; the Right Reverend So-and-So is
assisted by the very Reverend Such-and-Such, and the good deal Reverend
Thus-and-Thus, and so on. But a good deal of the minister's voice
appeared to go up into the groined arches, and, as there was no one up
there, some of his best things were lost. We also had a notion that some
of it went into the cavernous organ-loft. It would have been all right
if there had been a choir there, for choirs usually need more preaching,
and pay less heed to it, than any other part of the congregation. Well,
we drew a sort of screen over the organ-loft; but the result was not
as marked as we had hoped. We next devised a sounding-board,--a sort of
mammoth clamshell, painted white,--and erected it behind the minister.
It had a good effect on the minister. It kept him up straight to his
work. So long as he kept his head exactly in the focus, his voice
went out and did not return to him; but if he moved either way, he was
assailed by a Babel of clamoring echoes. There was no opportunity for
him to splurge about from side to side of the pulpit, as some do. And if
he raised his voice much, or attempted any extra flights, he was liable
to be drowned in a refluent sea of his own eloquence. And he could
hear the congregation as well as they could hear him. All the coughs,
whispers, noises, were gathered in the wooden tympanum behind him, and
poured into his ears.

But the sounding-board was an improvement, and we advanced to bolder
measures; having heard a little, we wanted to hear more. Besides, those
who sat in front began to be discontented with the melodeon. There are
depths in music which the melodeon, even when it is called a cabinet
organ, with a colored boy at the bellows, cannot sound. The melodeon was
not, originally, designed for the Gothic worship. We determined to have
an organ, and we speculated whether, by erecting it in the apse, we
could not fill up that elegant portion of the church, and compel the
preacher's voice to leave it, and go out over the pews. It would of
course do something to efface the main beauty of a Gothic church; but
something must be done, and we began a series of experiments to test the
probable effects of putting the organ and choir behind the minister. We
moved the desk to the very front of the platform, and erected behind
it a high, square board screen, like a section of tight fence round the
fair-grounds. This did help matters. The minister spoke with more ease,
and we could hear him better. If the screen had been intended to stay
there, we should have agitated the subject of painting it. But this was
only an experiment.

Our next move was to shove the screen back and mount the volunteer
singers, melodeon and all, upon the platform,--some twenty of them
crowded together behind the minister. The effect was beautiful. It
seemed as if we had taken care to select the finest-looking people in
the congregation,--much to the injury of the congregation, of course, as
seen from the platform. There are few congregations that can stand
this sort of culling, though ours can endure it as well as any; yet it
devolves upon those of us who remain the responsibility of looking as
well as we can.

The experiment was a success, so far as appearances went, but when the
screen went back, the minister's voice went back with it. We could not
hear him very well, though we could hear the choir as plain as day. We
have thought of remedying this last defect by putting the high screen in
front of the singers, and close to the minister, as it was before. This
would make the singers invisible,--"though lost to sight, to memory
dear,"--what is sometimes called an "angel choir," when the singers (and
the melodeon) are concealed, with the most subdued and religious effect.
It is often so in cathedrals.

This plan would have another advantage. The singers on the platform, all
handsome and well dressed, distract our attention from the minister,
and what he is saying. We cannot help looking at them, studying all the
faces and all the dresses. If one of them sits up very straight, he is
a rebuke to us; if he "lops" over, we wonder why he does n't sit up; if
his hair is white, we wonder whether it is age or family peculiarity; if
he yawns, we want to yawn; if he takes up a hymn-book, we wonder if he
is uninterested in the sermon; we look at the bonnets, and query if that
is the latest spring style, or whether we are to look for another; if
he shaves close, we wonder why he doesn't let his beard grow; if he has
long whiskers, we wonder why he does n't trim 'em; if she sighs, we feel
sorry; if she smiles, we would like to know what it is about. And,
then, suppose any of the singers should ever want to eat fennel, or
peppermints, or Brown's troches, and pass them round! Suppose the
singers, more or less of them, should sneeze!

Suppose one or two of them, as the handsomest people sometimes will,
should go to sleep! In short, the singers there take away all our
attention from the minister, and would do so if they were the homeliest
people in the world. We must try something else.

It is needless to explain that a Gothic religious life is not an idle



Perhaps the clothes question is exhausted, philosophically. I cannot
but regret that the Poet of the Breakfast-Table, who appears to have
an uncontrollable penchant for saying the things you would like to
say yourself, has alluded to the anachronism of "Sir Coeur de Lion
Plantagenet in the mutton-chop whiskers and the plain gray suit."

A great many scribblers have felt the disadvantage of writing after
Montaigne; and it is impossible to tell how much originality in others
Dr. Holmes has destroyed in this country. In whist there are some men
you always prefer to have on your left hand, and I take it that
this intuitive essayist, who is so alert to seize the few remaining
unappropriated ideas and analogies in the world, is one of them.

No doubt if the Plantagenets of this day were required to dress in a
suit of chain-armor and wear iron pots on their heads, they would be as
ridiculous as most tragedy actors on the stage. The pit which recognizes
Snooks in his tin breastplate and helmet laughs at him, and Snooks
himself feels like a sheep; and when the great tragedian comes
on, shining in mail, dragging a two-handed sword, and mouths the
grandiloquence which poets have put into the speech of heroes, the
dress-circle requires all its good-breeding and its feigned love of the
traditionary drama not to titter.

If this sort of acting, which is supposed to have come down to us from
the Elizabethan age, and which culminated in the school of the Keans,
Kembles, and Siddonses, ever had any fidelity to life, it must have
been in a society as artificial as the prose of Sir Philip Sidney. That
anybody ever believed in it is difficult to think, especially when we
read what privileges the fine beaux and gallants of the town took behind
the scenes and on the stage in the golden days of the drama. When a part
of the audience sat on the stage, and gentlemen lounged or reeled across
it in the midst of a play, to speak to acquaintances in the audience,
the illusion could not have been very strong.

Now and then a genius, like Rachel as Horatia, or Hackett as
Falstaff, may actually seem to be the character assumed by virtue of a
transforming imagination, but I suppose the fact to be that getting
into a costume, absurdly antiquated and remote from all the habits and
associations of the actor, largely accounts for the incongruity and
ridiculousness of most of our modern acting. Whether what is called the
"legitimate drama" ever was legitimate we do not know, but the advocates
of it appear to think that the theatre was some time cast in a
mould, once for all, and is good for all times and peoples, like the
propositions of Euclid. To our eyes the legitimate drama of to-day is
the one in which the day is reflected, both in costume and speech, and
which touches the affections, the passions, the humor, of the present
time. The brilliant success of the few good plays that have been written
out of the rich life which we now live--the most varied, fruitful, and
dramatically suggestive--ought to rid us forever of the buskin-fustian,
except as a pantomimic or spectacular curiosity.

We have no objection to Julius Caesar or Richard III. stalking about in
impossible clothes, and stepping four feet at a stride, if they want to,
but let them not claim to be more "legitimate" than "Ours" or "Rip Van
Winkle." There will probably be some orator for years and years to come,
at every Fourth of July, who will go on asking, Where is Thebes? but
he does not care anything about it, and he does not really expect an
answer. I have sometimes wished I knew the exact site of Thebes, so that
I could rise in the audience, and stop that question, at any rate. It is
legitimate, but it is tiresome.

If we went to the bottom of this subject, I think we should find that
the putting upon actors clothes to which they are unaccustomed makes
them act and talk artificially, and often in a manner intolerable.

An actor who has not the habits or instincts of a gentleman cannot be
made to appear like one on the stage by dress; he only caricatures and
discredits what he tries to represent; and the unaccustomed clothes and
situation make him much more unnatural and insufferable than he would
otherwise be. Dressed appropriately for parts for which he is fitted,
he will act well enough, probably. What I mean is, that the clothes
inappropriate to the man make the incongruity of him and his part more
apparent. Vulgarity is never so conspicuous as in fine apparel, on or
off the stage, and never so self-conscious. Shall we have, then, no
refined characters on the stage? Yes; but let them be taken by men
and women of taste and refinement and let us have done with this
masquerading in false raiment, ancient and modern, which makes nearly
every stage a travesty of nature and the whole theatre a painful
pretension. We do not expect the modern theatre to be a place of
instruction (that business is now turned over to the telegraphic
operator, who is making a new language), but it may give amusement
instead of torture, and do a little in satirizing folly and kindling
love of home and country by the way.

This is a sort of summary of what we all said, and no one in particular
is responsible for it; and in this it is like public opinion. The
Parson, however, whose only experience of the theatre was the endurance
of an oratorio once, was very cordial in his denunciation of the stage

MANDEVILLE. Yet, acting itself is delightful; nothing so entertains
us as mimicry, the personation of character. We enjoy it in private.
I confess that I am always pleased with the Parson in the character of
grumbler. He would be an immense success on the stage. I don't know but
the theatre will have to go back into the hands of the priests, who once
controlled it.

THE PARSON. Scoffer!

MANDEVILLE. I can imagine how enjoyable the stage might be, cleared of
all its traditionary nonsense, stilted language, stilted behavior, all
the rubbish of false sentiment, false dress, and the manners of
times that were both artificial and immoral, and filled with living
characters, who speak the thought of to-day, with the wit and culture
that are current to-day. I've seen private theatricals, where all the
performers were persons of cultivation, that....

OUR NEXT DOOR. So have I. For something particularly cheerful, commend
me to amateur theatricals. I have passed some melancholy hours at them.

MANDEVILLE. That's because the performers acted the worn stage plays,
and attempted to do them in the manner they had seen on the stage. It is
not always so.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I suppose Mandeville would say that acting has got into
a mannerism which is well described as stagey, and is supposed to
be natural to the stage; just as half the modern poets write in a
recognized form of literary manufacture, without the least impulse from
within, and not with the purpose of saying anything, but of turning out
a piece of literary work. That's the reason we have so much poetry
that impresses one like sets of faultless cabinet-furniture made by

THE PARSON. But you need n't talk of nature or naturalness in acting or
in anything. I tell you nature is poor stuff. It can't go alone. Amateur
acting--they get it up at church sociables nowadays--is apt to be as
near nature as a school-boy's declamation. Acting is the Devil's art.

THE MISTRESS. Do you object to such innocent amusement?

MANDEVILLE. What the Parson objects to is, that he isn't amused.

THE PARSON. What's the use of objecting? It's the fashion of the day to
amuse people into the kingdom of heaven.

HERBERT. The Parson has got us off the track. My notion about the stage
is, that it keeps along pretty evenly with the rest of the world; the
stage is usually quite up to the level of the audience. Assumed dress
on the stage, since you were speaking of that, makes people no more
constrained and self-conscious than it does off the stage.

THE MISTRESS. What sarcasm is coming now?

HERBERT. Well, you may laugh, but the world has n't got used to good
clothes yet. The majority do not wear them with ease. People who only
put on their best on rare and stated occasions step into an artificial

OUR NEXT DOOR. I wonder if that's the reason the Parson finds it so
difficult to get hold of his congregation.

HERBERT. I don't know how else to account for the formality and vapidity
of a set "party," where all the guests are clothed in a manner to
which they are unaccustomed, dressed into a condition of vivid
self-consciousness. The same people, who know each other perfectly
well, will enjoy themselves together without restraint in their ordinary
apparel. But nothing can be more artificial than the behavior of
people together who rarely "dress up." It seems impossible to make the
conversation as fine as the clothes, and so it dies in a kind of inane
helplessness. Especially is this true in the country, where people have
not obtained the mastery of their clothes that those who live in the
city have. It is really absurd, at this stage of our civilization, that
we should be so affected by such an insignificant accident as dress.
Perhaps Mandeville can tell us whether this clothes panic prevails in
the older societies.

THE PARSON. Don't. We've heard it; about its being one of the
Englishman's thirty-nine articles that he never shall sit down to dinner
without a dress-coat, and all that.

THE MISTRESS. I wish, for my part, that everybody who has time to eat
a dinner would dress for that, the principal event of the day, and do
respectful and leisurely justice to it.

THE YOUNG LADY. It has always seemed singular to me that men who work
so hard to build elegant houses, and have good dinners, should take so
little leisure to enjoy either.

MANDEVILLE. If the Parson will permit me, I should say that the chief
clothes question abroad just now is, how to get any; and it is the same
with the dinners.


It is quite unnecessary to say that the talk about clothes ran into the
question of dress-reform, and ran out, of course. You cannot converse on
anything nowadays that you do not run into some reform. The Parson says
that everybody is intent on reforming everything but himself. We are all
trying to associate ourselves to make everybody else behave as we do.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Dress reform! As if people couldn't change their clothes
without concert of action. Resolved, that nobody should put on a clean
collar oftener than his neighbor does. I'm sick of every sort of reform.
I should like to retrograde awhile. Let a dyspeptic ascertain that he
can eat porridge three times a day and live, and straightway he insists
that everybody ought to eat porridge and nothing else. I mean to get
up a society every member of which shall be pledged to do just as he

THE PARSON. That would be the most radical reform of the day. That
would be independence. If people dressed according to their means, acted
according to their convictions, and avowed their opinions, it would
revolutionize society.

OUR NEXT DOOR. I should like to walk into your church some Sunday and
see the changes under such conditions.

THE PARSON. It might give you a novel sensation to walk in at any time.
And I'm not sure but the church would suit your retrograde ideas.
It's so Gothic that a Christian of the Middle Ages, if he were alive,
couldn't see or hear in it.

HERBERT. I don't know whether these reformers who carry the world on
their shoulders in such serious fashion, especially the little fussy
fellows, who are themselves the standard of the regeneration they seek,
are more ludicrous than pathetic.

THE FIRE-TENDER. Pathetic, by all means. But I don't know that they
would be pathetic if they were not ludicrous. There are those reform
singers who have been piping away so sweetly now for thirty years, with
never any diminution of cheerful, patient enthusiasm; their hair growing
longer and longer, their eyes brighter and brighter, and their faces, I
do believe, sweeter and sweeter; singing always with the same
constancy for the slave, for the drunkard, for the snufftaker, for the
suffragist,--"There'sa-good-time-com-ing-boys (nothing offensive is
intended by 'boys,' it is put in for euphony, and sung pianissimo, not
to offend the suffragists), it's-almost-here." And what a brightening up
of their faces there is when they say, "it's-al-most-here," not doubting
for a moment that "it's" coming tomorrow; and the accompanying melodeon
also wails its wheezy suggestion that "it's-al-most-here," that
"good-time" (delayed so long, waiting perhaps for the invention of the
melodeon) when we shall all sing and all play that cheerful instrument,
and all vote, and none shall smoke, or drink, or eat meat, "boys." I
declare it almost makes me cry to hear them, so touching is their faith
in the midst of a jeer-ing world.

HERBERT. I suspect that no one can be a genuine reformer and not be
ridiculous. I mean those who give themselves up to the unction of the

THE MISTRESS. Does n't that depend upon whether the reform is large or

THE FIRE-TENDER. I should say rather that the reforms attracted to them
all the ridiculous people, who almost always manage to become the most
conspicuous. I suppose that nobody dare write out all that was ludicrous
in the great abolition movement. But it was not at all comical to those
most zealous in it; they never could see--more's the pity, for thereby
they lose much--the humorous side of their performances, and that is why
the pathos overcomes one's sense of the absurdity of such people.

THE YOUNG LADY. It is lucky for the world that so many are willing to be

HERBERT. Well, I think that, in the main, the reformers manage to look
out for themselves tolerably well. I knew once a lean and faithful agent
of a great philanthropic scheme, who contrived to collect every year for
the cause just enough to support him at a good hotel comfortably.

THE MISTRESS. That's identifying one's self with the cause.

MANDEVILLE. You remember the great free-soil convention at Buffalo, in
1848, when Van Buren was nominated. All the world of hope and discontent
went there, with its projects of reform. There seemed to be no doubt,
among hundreds that attended it, that if they could get a resolution
passed that bread should be buttered on both sides, it would be so
buttered. The platform provided for every want and every woe.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I remember. If you could get the millennium by
political action, we should have had it then.

MANDEVILLE. We went there on the Erie Canal, the exciting and
fashionable mode of travel in those days. I was a boy when we began the
voyage. The boat was full of conventionists; all the talk was of what
must be done there. I got the impression that as that boat-load went
so would go the convention; and I was not alone in that feeling. I
can never be grateful enough for one little scrubby fanatic who was on
board, who spent most of his time in drafting resolutions and reading
them privately to the passengers. He was a very enthusiastic, nervous,
and somewhat dirty little man, who wore a woolen muffler about his
throat, although it was summer; he had nearly lost his voice, and could
only speak in a hoarse, disagreeable whisper, and he always carried
a teacup about, containing some sticky compound which he stirred
frequently with a spoon, and took, whenever he talked, in order to
improve his voice. If he was separated from his cup for ten minutes, his
whisper became inaudible. I greatly delighted in him, for I never saw
any one who had so much enjoyment of his own importance. He was fond
of telling what he would do if the convention rejected such and such
resolutions. He'd make it hot for them. I did n't know but he'd make
them take his mixture. The convention had got to take a stand on
tobacco, for one thing. He'd heard Gid-dings took snuff; he'd see.
When we at length reached Buffalo he took his teacup and carpet-bag of
resolutions and went ashore in a great hurry. I saw him once again in
a cheap restaurant, whispering a resolution to another delegate, but he
did n't appear in the convention. I have often wondered what became of

OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably he's consul somewhere. They mostly are.

THE FIRE-TENDER. After all, it's the easiest thing in the world to sit
and sneer at eccentricities. But what a dead and uninteresting world it
would be if we were all proper, and kept within the lines! Affairs would
soon be reduced to mere machinery. There are moments, even days, when
all interests and movements appear to be settled upon some universal
plan of equilibrium; but just then some restless and absurd person
is inspired to throw the machine out of gear. These individual
eccentricities seem to be the special providences in the general human

HERBERT. They make it very hard work for the rest of us, who are
disposed to go along peaceably and smoothly.

MANDEVILLE. And stagnate. I 'm not sure but the natural condition
of this planet is war, and that when it is finally towed to
its anchorage--if the universe has any harbor for worlds out of
commission--it will look like the Fighting Temeraire in Turner's

HERBERT. There is another thing I should like to understand: the
tendency of people who take up one reform, perhaps a personal
regeneration in regard to some bad habit, to run into a dozen other
isms, and get all at sea in several vague and pernicious theories and

MANDEVILLE. Herbert seems to think there is safety in a man's being
anchored, even if it is to a bad habit.

HERBERT. Thank you. But what is it in human nature that is apt to carry
a man who may take a step in personal reform into so many extremes?

OUR NEXT DOOR. Probably it's human nature.

HERBERT. Why, for instance, should a reformed drunkard (one of the
noblest examples of victory over self) incline, as I have known the
reformed to do, to spiritism, or a woman suffragist to "pantarchism"
(whatever that is), and want to pull up all the roots of society, and
expect them to grow in the air, like orchids; or a Graham-bread disciple
become enamored of Communism?

MANDEVILLE. I know an excellent Conservative who would, I think, suit
you; he says that he does not see how a man who indulges in the theory
and practice of total abstinence can be a consistent believer in the
Christian religion.

HERBERT. Well, I can understand what he means: that a person is bound
to hold himself in conditions of moderation and control, using and not
abusing the things of this world, practicing temperance, not retiring
into a convent of artificial restrictions in order to escape the full
responsibility of self-control. And yet his theory would certainly wreck
most men and women. What does the Parson say?

THE PARSON. That the world is going crazy on the notion of individual
ability. Whenever a man attempts to reform himself, or anybody else,
without the aid of the Christian religion, he is sure to go adrift, and
is pretty certain to be blown about by absurd theories, and shipwrecked
on some pernicious ism.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I think the discussion has touched bottom.


I never felt so much the value of a house with a backlog in it as during
the late spring; for its lateness was its main feature. Everybody was
grumbling about it, as if it were something ordered from the tailor, and
not ready on the day. Day after day it snowed, night after night it blew
a gale from the northwest; the frost sunk deeper and deeper into the
ground; there was a popular longing for spring that was almost a prayer;
the weather bureau was active; Easter was set a week earlier than the
year before, but nothing seemed to do any good. The robins sat under the
evergreens, and piped in a disconsolate mood, and at last the bluejays
came and scolded in the midst of the snow-storm, as they always do scold
in any weather. The crocuses could n't be coaxed to come up, even with
a pickaxe. I'm almost ashamed now to recall what we said of the weather
only I think that people are no more accountable for what they say of
the weather than for their remarks when their corns are stepped on.

We agreed, however, that, but for disappointed expectations and the
prospect of late lettuce and peas, we were gaining by the fire as much
as we were losing by the frost. And the Mistress fell to chanting the
comforts of modern civilization.

THE FIRE-TENDER said he should like to know, by the way, if our
civilization differed essentially from any other in anything but its

HERBERT. We are no nearer religious unity.

THE PARSON. We have as much war as ever.

MANDEVILLE. There was never such a social turmoil.

THE YOUNG LADY. The artistic part of our nature does not appear to have

THE FIRE-TENDER. We are quarreling as to whether we are in fact
radically different from the brutes.

HERBERT. Scarcely two people think alike about the proper kind of human

THE PARSON. Our poetry is made out of words, for the most part, and not
drawn from the living sources.

OUR NEXT DOOR. And Mr. Cumming is uncorking his seventh phial. I never
felt before what barbarians we are.

THE MISTRESS. Yet you won't deny that the life of the average man is
safer and every way more comfortable than it was even a century ago.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But what I want to know is, whether what we call
our civilization has done any thing more for mankind at large than to
increase the ease and pleasure of living? Science has multiplied wealth,
and facilitated intercourse, and the result is refinement of manners and
a diffusion of education and information. Are men and women essentially
changed, however? I suppose the Parson would say we have lost faith, for
one thing.

MANDEVILLE. And superstition; and gained toleration.

HERBERT. The question is, whether toleration is anything but

THE PARSON. Everything is tolerated now but Christian orthodoxy.

THE FIRE-TENDER. It's easy enough to make a brilliant catalogue of
external achievements, but I take it that real progress ought to be in
man himself. It is not a question of what a man enjoys, but what he can
produce. The best sculpture was executed two thousand years ago.
The best paintings are several centuries old. We study the finest
architecture in its ruins. The standards of poetry are Shakespeare,
Homer, Isaiah, and David. The latest of the arts, music, culminated in
composition, though not in execution, a century ago.

THE MISTRESS. Yet culture in music certainly distinguishes the
civilization of this age. It has taken eighteen hundred years for
the principles of the Christian religion to begin to be practically
incorporated in government and in ordinary business, and it will take a
long time for Beethoven to be popularly recognized; but there is growth
toward him, and not away from him, and when the average culture has
reached his height, some other genius will still more profoundly and
delicately express the highest thoughts.

HERBERT. I wish I could believe it. The spirit of this age is expressed
by the Calliope.

THE PARSON. Yes, it remained for us to add church-bells and cannon to
the orchestra.

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a melancholy thought to me that we can no longer
express ourselves with the bass-drum; there used to be the whole of the
Fourth of July in its patriotic throbs.

MANDEVILLE. We certainly have made great progress in one art,--that of

THE YOUNG LADY. And in the humane alleviations of the miseries of war.

THE FIRE-TENDER. The most discouraging symptom to me in our undoubted
advance in the comforts and refinements of society is the facility
with which men slip back into barbarism, if the artificial and external
accidents of their lives are changed. We have always kept a fringe of
barbarism on our shifting western frontier; and I think there never was
a worse society than that in California and Nevada in their early days.

THE YOUNG LADY. That is because women were absent.

THE FIRE-TENDER. But women are not absent in London and New York, and
they are conspicuous in the most exceptionable demonstrations of social
anarchy. Certainly they were not wanting in Paris. Yes, there was a city
widely accepted as the summit of our material civilization. No city was
so beautiful, so luxurious, so safe, so well ordered for the comfort
of living, and yet it needed only a month or two to make it a kind of
pandemonium of savagery. Its citizens were the barbarians who destroyed
its own monuments of civilization. I don't mean to say that there was
no apology for what was done there in the deceit and fraud that preceded
it, but I simply notice how ready the tiger was to appear, and how
little restraint all the material civilization was to the beast.

THE MISTRESS. I can't deny your instances, and yet I somehow feel that
pretty much all you have been saying is in effect untrue. Not one of
you would be willing to change our civilization for any other. In your
estimate you take no account, it seems to me, of the growth of charity.

MANDEVILLE. And you might add a recognition of the value of human life.

THE MISTRESS. I don't believe there was ever before diffused everywhere
such an element of good-will, and never before were women so much
engaged in philanthropic work.

THE PARSON. It must be confessed that one of the best signs of the times
is woman's charity for woman. That certainly never existed to the same
extent in any other civilization.

MANDEVILLE. And there is another thing that distinguishes us, or is
beginning to. That is, the notion that you can do something more with a
criminal than punish him; and that society has not done its duty when
it has built a sufficient number of schools for one class, or of decent
jails for another.

HERBERT. It will be a long time before we get decent jails.

MANDEVILLE. But when we do they will begin to be places of education and
training as much as of punishment and disgrace. The public will provide
teachers in the prisons as it now does in the common schools.

THE FIRE-TENDER. The imperfections of our methods and means of selecting
those in the community who ought to be in prison are so great, that
extra care in dealing with them becomes us. We are beginning to learn
that we cannot draw arbitrary lines with infallible justice. Perhaps
half those who are convicted of crimes are as capable of reformation as
half those transgressors who are not convicted, or who keep inside the
statutory law.

HERBERT. Would you remove the odium of prison?

THE FIRE-TENDER. No; but I would have criminals believe, and society
believe, that in going to prison a man or woman does not pass an
absolute line and go into a fixed state.

THE PARSON. That is, you would not have judgment and retribution begin
in this world.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Don't switch us off into theology. I hate to go up in a
balloon, or see any one else go.

HERBERT. Don't you think there is too much leniency toward crime and
criminals, taking the place of justice, in these days?

THE FIRE-TENDER. There may be too much disposition to condone the crimes
of those who have been considered respectable.

OUR NEXT DOOR. That is, scarcely anybody wants to see his friend hung.

MANDEVILLE. I think a large part of the bitterness of the condemned
arises from a sense of the inequality with which justice is
administered. I am surprised, in visiting jails, to find so few
respectable-looking convicts.

OUR NEXT DOOR. Nobody will go to jail nowadays who thinks anything of

THE FIRE-TENDER. When society seriously takes hold of the reformation
of criminals (say with as much determination as it does to carry an
election) this false leniency will disappear; for it partly springs from
a feeling that punishment is unequal, and does not discriminate enough
in individuals, and that society itself has no right to turn a man over
to the Devil, simply because he shows a strong leaning that way. A part
of the scheme of those who work for the reformation of criminals is
to render punishment more certain, and to let its extent depend upon
reformation. There is no reason why a professional criminal, who won't
change his trade for an honest one, should have intervals of freedom in
his prison life in which he is let loose to prey upon society. Criminals
ought to be discharged, like insane patients, when they are cured.

OUR NEXT DOOR. It's a wonder to me, what with our multitudes of statutes
and hosts of detectives, that we are any of us out of jail. I never
come away from a visit to a State-prison without a new spasm of fear and
virtue. The faculties for getting into jail seem to be ample. We want
more organizations for keeping people out.

MANDEVILLE. That is the sort of enterprise the women are engaged in, the
frustration of the criminal tendencies of those born in vice. I believe
women have it in their power to regenerate the world morally.

THE PARSON. It's time they began to undo the mischief of their mother.

THE MISTRESS. The reason they have not made more progress is that they
have usually confined their individual efforts to one man; they are now
organizing for a general campaign.

THE FIRE-TENDER. I'm not sure but here is where the ameliorations of the
conditions of life, which are called the comforts of this civilization,
come in, after all, and distinguish the age above all others. They have
enabled the finer powers of women to have play as they could not in a
ruder age. I should like to live a hundred years and see what they will

HERBERT. Not much but change the fashions, unless they submit themselves
to the same training and discipline that men do.

I have no doubt that Herbert had to apologize for this remark afterwards
in private, as men are quite willing to do in particular cases; it is
only in general they are unjust. The talk drifted off into general and
particular depreciation of other times. Mandeville described a picture,
in which he appeared to have confidence, of a fight between an Iguanodon
and a Megalosaurus, where these huge iron-clad brutes were represented
chewing up different portions of each other's bodies in a forest of the
lower cretaceous period. So far as he could learn, that sort of thing
went on unchecked for hundreds of thousands of years, and was typical of
the intercourse of the races of man till a comparatively recent period.
There was also that gigantic swan, the Plesiosaurus; in fact, all the
early brutes were disgusting. He delighted to think that even the lower
animals had improved, both in appearance and disposition.

The conversation ended, therefore, in a very amicable manner, having
been taken to a ground that nobody knew anything about.



Can you have a backlog in July? That depends upon circumstances.

In northern New England it is considered a sign of summer when the
housewives fill the fireplaces with branches of mountain laurel, and,
later, with the feathery stalks of the asparagus. This is often, too,
the timid expression of a tender feeling, under Puritanic repression,
which has not sufficient vent in the sweet-william and hollyhock at the
front door. This is a yearning after beauty and ornamentation which has
no other means of gratifying itself.

In the most rigid circumstances, the graceful nature of woman thus
discloses itself in these mute expressions of an undeveloped taste. You
may never doubt what the common flowers growing along the pathway to the
front door mean to the maiden of many summers who tends them;--love and
religion, and the weariness of an uneventful life. The sacredness of the
Sabbath, the hidden memory of an unrevealed and unrequited affection,
the slow years of gathering and wasting sweetness, are in the smell
of the pink and the sweet-clover. These sentimental plants breathe
something of the longing of the maiden who sits in the Sunday evenings
of summer on the lonesome front doorstone, singing the hymns of the
saints, and perennial as the myrtle that grows thereby.

Yet not always in summer, even with the aid of unrequited love and
devotional feeling, is it safe to let the fire go out on the hearth, in
our latitude. I remember when the last almost total eclipse of the sun
happened in August, what a bone-piercing chill came over the world.
Perhaps the imagination had something to do with causing the chill from
that temporary hiding of the sun to feel so much more penetrating
than that from the coming on of night, which shortly followed. It
was impossible not to experience a shudder as of the approach of the
Judgment Day, when the shadows were flung upon the green lawn, and we
all stood in the wan light, looking unfamiliar to each other. The
birds in the trees felt the spell. We could in fancy see those spectral
camp-fires which men would build on the earth, if the sun should slow
its fires down to about the brilliancy of the moon. It was a great
relief to all of us to go into the house, and, before a blazing
wood-fire, talk of the end of the world.

In New England it is scarcely ever safe to let the fire go out; it is
best to bank it, for it needs but the turn of a weather-vane at any
hour to sweep the Atlantic rains over us, or to bring down the chill of
Hudson's Bay. There are days when the steam ship on the Atlantic glides
calmly along under a full canvas, but its central fires must always be
ready to make steam against head-winds and antagonistic waves. Even
in our most smiling summer days one needs to have the materials of a
cheerful fire at hand. It is only by this readiness for a change that
one can preserve an equal mind. We are made provident and sagacious by
the fickleness of our climate. We should be another sort of people if
we could have that serene, unclouded trust in nature which the Egyptian
has. The gravity and repose of the Eastern peoples is due to the
unchanging aspect of the sky, and the deliberation and regularity of the
great climatic processes. Our literature, politics, religion, show
the effect of unsettled weather. But they compare favorably with the
Egyptian, for all that.


You cannot know, the Young Lady wrote, with what longing I look back to
those winter days by the fire; though all the windows are open to this
May morning, and the brown thrush is singing in the chestnut-tree, and
I see everywhere that first delicate flush of spring, which seems too
evanescent to be color even, and amounts to little more than a suffusion
of the atmosphere. I doubt, indeed, if the spring is exactly what it
used to be, or if, as we get on in years [no one ever speaks of "getting
on in years" till she is virtually settled in life], its promises and
suggestions do not seem empty in comparison with the sympathies and
responses of human friendship, and the stimulation of society. Sometimes
nothing is so tiresome as a perfect day in a perfect season.

I only imperfectly understand this. The Parson says that woman is always
most restless under the most favorable conditions, and that there is no
state in which she is really happy except that of change. I suppose this
is the truth taught in what has been called the "Myth of the Garden."
Woman is perpetual revolution, and is that element in the world which
continually destroys and re-creates. She is the experimenter and the
suggester of new combinations. She has no belief in any law of eternal
fitness of things. She is never even content with any arrangement of her
own house. The only reason the Mistress could give, when she
rearranged her apartment, for hanging a picture in what seemed the most
inappropriate place, was that it had never been there before. Woman has
no respect for tradition, and because a thing is as it is is sufficient
reason for changing it. When she gets into law, as she has come into
literature, we shall gain something in the destruction of all our vast
and musty libraries of precedents, which now fetter our administration
of individual justice. It is Mandeville's opinion that women are not
so sentimental as men, and are not so easily touched with the unspoken
poetry of nature; being less poetical, and having less imagination, they
are more fitted for practical affairs, and would make less failures in
business. I have noticed the almost selfish passion for their flowers
which old gardeners have, and their reluctance to part with a leaf or a
blossom from their family. They love the flowers for themselves. A woman
raises flowers for their use. She is destruct-ion in a conservatory.
She wants the flowers for her lover, for the sick, for the poor, for the
Lord on Easter day, for the ornamentation of her house. She delights in
the costly pleasure of sacrificing them. She never sees a flower but she
has an intense but probably sinless desire to pick it.

It has been so from the first, though from the first she has been
thwarted by the accidental superior strength of man. Whatever she has
obtained has been by craft, and by the same coaxing which the sun uses
to draw the blossoms out of the apple-trees. I am not surprised to learn
that she has become tired of indulgences, and wants some of the original
rights. We are just beginning to find out the extent to which she
has been denied and subjected, and especially her condition among the
primitive and barbarous races. I have never seen it in a platform of
grievances, but it is true that among the Fijians she is not, unless a
better civilization has wrought a change in her behalf, permitted to eat
people, even her own sex, at the feasts of the men; the dainty enjoyed
by the men being considered too good to be wasted on women. Is anything
wanting to this picture of the degradation of woman? By a refinement of
cruelty she receives no benefit whatever from the missionaries who are
sent out by--what to her must seem a new name for Tantalus--the American

I suppose the Young Lady expressed a nearly universal feeling in her
regret at the breaking up of the winter-fireside company. Society needs
a certain seclusion and the sense of security. Spring opens the doors
and the windows, and the noise and unrest of the world are let in. Even
a winter thaw begets a desire to travel, and summer brings longings
innumerable, and disturbs the most tranquil souls. Nature is, in fact, a
suggester of uneasiness, a promoter of pilgrimages and of excursions
of the fancy which never come to any satisfactory haven. The summer in
these latitudes is a campaign of sentiment and a season, for the most
part, of restlessness and discontent. We grow now in hot-houses roses
which, in form and color, are magnificent, and appear to be full of
passion; yet one simple June rose of the open air has for the Young
Lady, I doubt not, more sentiment and suggestion of love than a
conservatory full of them in January. And this suggestion, leavened as
it is with the inconstancy of nature, stimulated by the promises which
are so often like the peach-blossom of the Judas-tree, unsatisfying by
reason of its vague possibilities, differs so essentially from the more
limited and attainable and home-like emotion born of quiet intercourse
by the winter fireside, that I do not wonder the Young Lady feels as if
some spell had been broken by the transition of her life from in-doors
to out-doors. Her secret, if secret she has, which I do not at all know,
is shared by the birds and the new leaves and the blossoms on the fruit
trees. If we lived elsewhere, in that zone where the poets pretend
always to dwell, we might be content, perhaps I should say drugged, by
the sweet influences of an unchanging summer; but not living elsewhere,
we can understand why the Young Lady probably now looks forward to the
hearthstone as the most assured center of enduring attachment.

If it should ever become the sad duty of this biographer to write of
disappointed love, I am sure he would not have any sensational story to
tell of the Young Lady. She is one of those women whose unostentatious
lives are the chief blessing of humanity; who, with a sigh heard only
by herself and no change in her sunny face, would put behind her all the
memories of winter evenings and the promises of May mornings, and give
her life to some ministration of human kindness with an assiduity that
would make her occupation appear like an election and a first choice.
The disappointed man scowls, and hates his race, and threatens
self-destruction, choosing oftener the flowing bowl than the dagger, and
becoming a reeling nuisance in the world. It would be much more manly in
him to become the secretary of a Dorcas society.

I suppose it is true that women work for others with less expectation
of reward than men, and give themselves to labors of self-sacrifice with
much less thought of self. At least, this is true unless woman goes into
some public performance, where notoriety has its attractions, and mounts
some cause, to ride it man-fashion, when I think she becomes just as
eager for applause and just as willing that self-sacrifice should
result in self-elevation as man. For her, usually, are not those
unbought--presentations which are forced upon firemen, philanthropists,
legislators, railroad-men, and the superintendents of the moral
instruction of the young. These are almost always pleasing and
unexpected tributes to worth and modesty, and must be received with
satisfaction when the public service rendered has not been with a view
to procuring them. We should say that one ought to be most liable to
receive a "testimonial" who, being a superintendent of any sort, did not
superintend with a view to getting it. But "testimonials" have become
so common that a modest man ought really to be afraid to do his simple
duty, for fear his motives will be misconstrued. Yet there are instances
of very worthy men who have had things publicly presented to them. It
is the blessed age of gifts and the reward of private virtue. And the
presentations have become so frequent that we wish there were a little
more variety in them. There never was much sense in giving a gallant
fellow a big speaking-trumpet to carry home to aid him in his
intercourse with his family; and the festive ice-pitcher has become a
too universal sign of absolute devotion to the public interest. The lack
of one will soon be proof that a man is a knave. The legislative cane
with the gold head, also, is getting to be recognized as the sign of the
immaculate public servant, as the inscription on it testifies, and the
steps of suspicion must ere-long dog him who does not carry one. The
"testimonial" business is, in truth, a little demoralizing, almost as
much so as the "donation;" and the demoralization has extended even to
our language, so that a perfectly respectable man is often obliged to
see himself "made the recipient of" this and that. It would be much
better, if testimonials must be, to give a man a barrel of flour or a
keg of oysters, and let him eat himself at once back into the ranks of
ordinary men.


We may have a testimonial class in time, a sort of nobility here in
America, made so by popular gift, the members of which will all be able
to show some stick or piece of plated ware or massive chain, "of which
they have been the recipients." In time it may be a distinction not to
belong to it, and it may come to be thought more blessed to give than
to receive. For it must have been remarked that it is not always to the
cleverest and the most amiable and modest man that the deputation comes
with the inevitable ice-pitcher (and "salver to match"), which has in it
the magic and subtle quality of making the hour in which it is received
the proudest of one's life. There has not been discovered any method of
rewarding all the deserving people and bringing their virtues into the
prominence of notoriety. And, indeed, it would be an unreasonable world
if there had, for its chief charm and sweetness lie in the excellences
in it which are reluctantly disclosed; one of the chief pleasures
of living is in the daily discovery of good traits, nobilities, and
kindliness both in those we have long known and in the chance passenger
whose way happens for a day to lie with ours. The longer I live the more
I am impressed with the excess of human kindness over human hatred, and
the greater willingness to oblige than to disoblige that one meets at
every turn. The selfishness in politics, the jealousy in letters,
the bickering in art, the bitterness in theology, are all as nothing
compared to the sweet charities, sacrifices, and deferences of private
life. The people are few whom to know intimately is to dislike. Of
course you want to hate somebody, if you can, just to keep your powers
of discrimination bright, and to save yourself from becoming a mere mush
of good-nature; but perhaps it is well to hate some historical person
who has been dead so long as to be indifferent to it. It is more
comfortable to hate people we have never seen. I cannot but think that
Judas Iscariot has been of great service to the world as a sort of
buffer for moral indignation which might have made a collision nearer
home but for his utilized treachery. I used to know a venerable and most
amiable gentleman and scholar, whose hospitable house was always overrun
with wayside ministers, agents, and philanthropists, who loved their
fellow-men better than they loved to work for their living; and he, I
suspect, kept his moral balance even by indulgence in violent but most
distant dislikes. When I met him casually in the street, his first
salutation was likely to be such as this: "What a liar that Alison was!
Don't you hate him?" And then would follow specifications of historical
inveracity enough to make one's blood run cold. When he was thus
discharged of his hatred by such a conductor, I presume he had not a
spark left for those whose mission was partly to live upon him and other
generous souls.

Mandeville and I were talking of the unknown people, one rainy night by
the fire, while the Mistress was fitfully and interjectionally playing
with the piano-keys in an improvising mood. Mandeville has a good deal
of sentiment about him, and without any effort talks so beautifully
sometimes that I constantly regret I cannot report his language. He has,
besides, that sympathy of presence--I believe it is called magnetism
by those who regard the brain as only a sort of galvanic battery--which
makes it a greater pleasure to see him think, if I may say so, than to
hear some people talk.

It makes one homesick in this world to think that there are so many rare
people he can never know; and so many excellent people that scarcely any
one will know, in fact. One discovers a friend by chance, and cannot but
feel regret that twenty or thirty years of life maybe have been spent
without the least knowledge of him. When he is once known, through him
opening is made into another little world, into a circle of culture
and loving hearts and enthusiasm in a dozen congenial pursuits, and
prejudices perhaps. How instantly and easily the bachelor doubles his
world when he marries, and enters into the unknown fellowship of the to
him continually increasing company which is known in popular language as
"all his wife's relations."

Near at hand daily, no doubt, are those worth knowing intimately, if one
had the time and the opportunity. And when one travels he sees what a
vast material there is for society and friendship, of which he can never
avail himself. Car-load after car-load of summer travel goes by one at
any railway-station, out of which he is sure he could choose a score of
life-long friends, if the conductor would introduce him. There are
faces of refinement, of quick wit, of sympathetic kindness,--interesting
people, traveled people, entertaining people,--as you would say in
Boston, "nice people you would admire to know," whom you constantly meet
and pass without a sign of recognition, many of whom are no doubt your
long-lost brothers and sisters. You can see that they also have their
worlds and their interests, and they probably know a great many "nice"
people. The matter of personal liking and attachment is a good deal due
to the mere fortune of association. More fast friendships and pleasant
acquaintanceships are formed on the Atlantic steamships between those
who would have been only indifferent acquaintances elsewhere, than one
would think possible on a voyage which naturally makes one as selfish as
he is indifferent to his personal appearance. The Atlantic is the only
power on earth I know that can make a woman indifferent to her personal

Mandeville remembers, and I think without detriment to himself, the
glimpses he had in the White Mountains once of a young lady of whom
his utmost efforts could give him no further information than her name.
Chance sight of her on a passing stage or amid a group on some mountain
lookout was all he ever had, and he did not even know certainly whether
she was the perfect beauty and the lovely character he thought her. He
said he would have known her, however, at a great distance; there was to
her form that command of which we hear so much and which turns out to be
nearly all command after the "ceremony;" or perhaps it was something in
the glance of her eye or the turn of her head, or very likely it was a
sweet inherited reserve or hauteur that captivated him, that filled
his days with the expectation of seeing her, and made him hasten to the
hotel-registers in the hope that her name was there recorded. Whatever
it was, she interested him as one of the people he would like to know;
and it piqued him that there was a life, rich in friendships, no doubt,
in tastes, in many noblenesses, one of thousands of such, that must be
absolutely nothing to him,--nothing but a window into heaven momentarily
opened and then closed. I have myself no idea that she was a countess
incognito, or that she had descended from any greater heights than those
where Mandeville saw her, but I have always regretted that she went her
way so mysteriously and left no glow, and that we shall wear out the
remainder of our days without her society. I have looked for her name,
but always in vain, among the attendants at the rights-conventions,
in the list of those good Americans presented at court, among those
skeleton names that appear as the remains of beauty in the morning
journals after a ball to the wandering prince, in the reports of railway
collisions and steamboat explosions. No news comes of her. And so
imperfect are our means of communication in this world that, for
anything we know, she may have left it long ago by some private way.


The lasting regret that we cannot know more of the bright, sincere, and
genuine people of the world is increased by the fact that they are all
different from each other. Was it not Madame de Sevigne who said she
had loved several different women for several different qualities? Every
real person--for there are persons as there are fruits that have no
distinguishing flavor, mere gooseberries--has a distinct quality, and
the finding it is always like the discovery of a new island to the
voyager. The physical world we shall exhaust some day, having a written
description of every foot of it to which we can turn; but we shall never
get the different qualities of people into a biographical dictionary,
and the making acquaintance with a human being will never cease to be an
exciting experiment. We cannot even classify men so as to aid us much in
our estimate of them. The efforts in this direction are ingenious, but
unsatisfactory. If I hear that a man is lymphatic or nervous-sanguine, I
cannot tell therefrom whether I shall like and trust him. He may produce
a phrenological chart showing that his knobby head is the home of all
the virtues, and that the vicious tendencies are represented by holes
in his cranium, and yet I cannot be sure that he will not be as
disagreeable as if phrenology had not been invented. I feel sometimes
that phrenology is the refuge of mediocrity. Its charts are almost as
misleading concerning character as photographs. And photography may be
described as the art which enables commonplace mediocrity to look like
genius. The heavy-jowled man with shallow cerebrum has only to incline
his head so that the lying instrument can select a favorable focus, to
appear in the picture with the brow of a sage and the chin of a poet.
Of all the arts for ministering to human vanity the photographic is the
most useful, but it is a poor aid in the revelation of character. You
shall learn more of a man's real nature by seeing him walk once up the
broad aisle of his church to his pew on Sunday, than by studying his
photograph for a month.

No, we do not get any certain standard of men by a chart of their
temperaments; it will hardly answer to select a wife by the color of her
hair; though it be by nature as red as a cardinal's hat, she may be
no more constant than if it were dyed. The farmer who shuns all the
lymphatic beauties in his neighborhood, and selects to wife the most
nervous-sanguine, may find that she is unwilling to get up in the winter
mornings and make the kitchen fire. Many a man, even in this scientific
age which professes to label us all, has been cruelly deceived in
this way. Neither the blondes nor the brunettes act according to the
advertisement of their temperaments. The truth is that men refuse to
come under the classifications of the pseudo-scientists, and all our
new nomenclatures do not add much to our knowledge. You know what to
expect--if the comparison will be pardoned--of a horse with certain
points; but you wouldn't dare go on a journey with a man merely upon the
strength of knowing that his temperament was the proper mixture of the
sanguine and the phlegmatic. Science is not able to teach us concerning
men as it teaches us of horses, though I am very far from saying that
there are not traits of nobleness and of meanness that run through
families and can be calculated to appear in individuals with absolute
certainty; one family will be trusty and another tricky through all
its members for generations; noble strains and ignoble strains are
perpetuated. When we hear that she has eloped with the stable-boy and
married him, we are apt to remark, "Well, she was a Bogardus." And when
we read that she has gone on a mission and has died, distinguishing
herself by some extraordinary devotion to the heathen at Ujiji, we think
it sufficient to say, "Yes, her mother married into the Smiths." But
this knowledge comes of our experience of special families, and stands
us in stead no further.

If we cannot classify men scientifically and reduce them under a kind
of botanical order, as if they had a calculable vegetable development,
neither can we gain much knowledge of them by comparison. It does not
help me at all in my estimate of their characters to compare Mandeville
with the Young Lady, or Our Next Door with the Parson. The wise man does
not permit himself to set up even in his own mind any comparison of
his friends. His friendship is capable of going to extremes with many
people, evoked as it is by many qualities. When Mandeville goes into
my garden in June I can usually find him in a particular bed of
strawberries, but he does not speak disrespectfully of the others.
When Nature, says Mandeville, consents to put herself into any sort of
strawberry, I have no criticisms to make, I am only glad that I have
been created into the same world with such a delicious manifestation of
the Divine favor. If I left Mandeville alone in the garden long enough,
I have no doubt he would impartially make an end of the fruit of all the
beds, for his capacity in this direction is as all-embracing as it is in
the matter of friendships. The Young Lady has also her favorite patch of
berries. And the Parson, I am sorry to say, prefers to have them picked
for him the elect of the garden--and served in an orthodox manner. The
straw-berry has a sort of poetical precedence, and I presume that no
fruit is jealous of it any more than any flower is jealous of the rose;
but I remark the facility with which liking for it is transferred to the
raspberry, and from the raspberry (not to make a tedious enumeration) to
the melon, and from the melon to the grape, and the grape to the pear,
and the pear to the apple. And we do not mar our enjoyment of each by

Of course it would be a dull world if we could not criticise our
friends, but the most unprofitable and unsatisfactory criticism is that
by comparison. Criticism is not necessarily uncharitableness, but a
wholesome exercise of our powers of analysis and discrimination. It is,
however, a very idle exercise, leading to no results when we set the
qualities of one over against the qualities of another, and disparage by
contrast and not by independent judgment. And this method of procedure
creates jealousies and heart-burnings innumerable.

Criticism by comparison is the refuge of incapables, and especially is
this true in literature. It is a lazy way of disposing of a young poet
to bluntly declare, without any sort of discrimination of his defects
or his excellences, that he equals Tennyson, and that Scott never wrote
anything finer. What is the justice of damning a meritorious novelist
by comparing him with Dickens, and smothering him with thoughtless and
good-natured eulogy? The poet and the novelist may be well enough,
and probably have qualities and gifts of their own which are worth the
critic's attention, if he has any time to bestow on them; and it is
certainly unjust to subject them to a comparison with somebody else,
merely because the critic will not take the trouble to ascertain what
they are. If, indeed, the poet and novelist are mere imitators of
a model and copyists of a style, they may be dismissed with such
commendation as we bestow upon the machines who pass their lives in
making bad copies of the pictures of the great painters. But the critics
of whom we speak do not intend depreciation, but eulogy, when they say
that the author they have in hand has the wit of Sydney Smith and the
brilliancy of Macaulay. Probably he is not like either of them, and may
have a genuine though modest virtue of his own; but these names
will certainly kill him, and he will never be anybody in the popular
estimation. The public finds out speedily that he is not Sydney Smith,
and it resents the extravagant claim for him as if he were an impudent
pretender. How many authors of fair ability to interest the world have
we known in our own day who have been thus sky-rocketed into notoriety
by the lazy indiscrimination of the critic-by-comparison, and then have
sunk into a popular contempt as undeserved! I never see a young aspirant
injudiciously compared to a great and resplendent name in literature,
but I feel like saying, My poor fellow, your days are few and full
of trouble; you begin life handicapped, and you cannot possibly run a
creditable race.

I think this sort of critical eulogy is more damaging even than that
which kills by a different assumption, and one which is equally common,
namely, that the author has not done what he probably never intended
to do. It is well known that most of the trouble in life comes from our
inability to compel other people to do what we think they ought, and it
is true in criticism that we are unwilling to take a book for what it
is, and credit the author with that. When the solemn critic, like a
mastiff with a ladies' bonnet in his mouth, gets hold of a light piece
of verse, or a graceful sketch which catches the humor of an hour for
the entertainment of an hour, he tears it into a thousand shreds. It
adds nothing to human knowledge, it solves none of the problems of
life, it touches none of the questions of social science, it is not a
philosophical treatise, and it is not a dozen things that it might have
been. The critic cannot forgive the author for this disrespect to him.
This isn't a rose, says the critic, taking up a pansy and rending it; it
is not at all like a rose, and the author is either a pretentious idiot
or an idiotic pretender. What business, indeed, has the author to send
the critic a bunch of sweet-peas, when he knows that a cabbage would be
preferred,--something not showy, but useful?

A good deal of this is what Mandeville said and I am not sure that it
is devoid of personal feeling. He published, some years ago, a little
volume giving an account of a trip through the Great West, and a very
entertaining book it was. But one of the heavy critics got hold of it,
and made Mandeville appear, even to himself, he confessed, like an
ass, because there was nothing in the volume about geology or mining
prospects, and very little to instruct the student of physical
geography. With alternate sarcasm and ridicule, he literally basted
the author, till Mandeville said that he felt almost like a depraved
scoundrel, and thought he should be held up to less execration if he had
committed a neat and scientific murder.

But I confess that I have a good deal of sympathy with the critics.
Consider what these public tasters have to endure! None of us, I fancy,
would like to be compelled to read all that they read, or to take into
our mouths, even with the privilege of speedily ejecting it with a
grimace, all that they sip. The critics of the vintage, who pursue their
calling in the dark vaults and amid mouldy casks, give their opinion,
for the most part, only upon wine, upon juice that has matured and
ripened into development of quality. But what crude, unrestrained,
unfermented--even raw and drugged liquor, must the literary taster put
to his unwilling lips day after day!



It was my good fortune once to visit a man who remembered the rebellion
of 1745. Lest this confession should make me seem very aged, I will add
that the visit took place in 1851, and that the man was then one hundred
and thirteen years old. He was quite a lad before Dr. Johnson drank Mrs.
Thrale's tea. That he was as old as he had the credit of being, I have
the evidence of my own senses (and I am seldom mistaken in a person's
age), of his own family, and his own word; and it is incredible that so
old a person, and one so apparently near the grave, would deceive about
his age.

The testimony of the very aged is always to be received without
question, as Alexander Hamilton once learned. He was trying a land-title
with Aaron Burr, and two of the witnesses upon whom Burr relied were
venerable Dutchmen, who had, in their youth, carried the surveying
chains over the land in dispute, and who were now aged respectively one
hundred and four years and one hundred and six years. Hamilton gently
attempted to undervalue their testimony, but he was instantly put down
by the Dutch justice, who suggested that Mr. Hamilton could not be aware
of the age of the witnesses.

My old man (the expression seems familiar and inelegant) had indeed an
exaggerated idea of his own age, and sometimes said that he supposed he
was going on four hundred, which was true enough, in fact; but for the
exact date, he referred to his youngest son,--a frisky and humorsome
lad of eighty years, who had received us at the gate, and whom we had at
first mistaken for the veteran, his father. But when we beheld the old
man, we saw the difference between age and age. The latter had settled
into a grizzliness and grimness which belong to a very aged and stunted
but sturdy oak-tree, upon the bark of which the gray moss is thick and
heavy. The old man appeared hale enough, he could walk about, his sight
and hearing were not seriously impaired, he ate with relish, and his
teeth were so sound that he would not need a dentist for at least
another century; but the moss was growing on him. His boy of eighty
seemed a green sapling beside him.

He remembered absolutely nothing that had taken place within thirty
years, but otherwise his mind was perhaps as good as it ever was, for he
must always have been an ignoramus, and would never know anything if
he lived to be as old as he said he was going on to be. Why he was
interested in the rebellion of 1745 I could not discover, for he of
course did not go over to Scotland to carry a pike in it, and he only
remembered to have heard it talked about as a great event in the Irish
market-town near which he lived, and to which he had ridden when a boy.
And he knew much more about the horse that drew him, and the cart in
which he rode, than he did about the rebellion of the Pretender.

I hope I do not appear to speak harshly of this amiable old man, and if
he is still living I wish him well, although his example was bad in some
respects. He had used tobacco for nearly a century, and the habit has
very likely been the death of him. If so, it is to be regretted. For
it would have been interesting to watch the process of his gradual
disintegration and return to the ground: the loss of sense after sense,
as decaying limbs fall from the oak; the failure of discrimination, of
the power of choice, and finally of memory itself; the peaceful wearing
out and passing away of body and mind without disease, the natural
running down of a man. The interesting fact about him at that time was
that his bodily powers seemed in sufficient vigor, but that the mind
had not force enough to manifest itself through his organs. The complete
battery was there, the appetite was there, the acid was eating the zinc;
but the electric current was too weak to flash from the brain. And yet
he appeared so sound throughout, that it was difficult to say that
his mind was not as good as it ever had been. He had stored in it very
little to feed on, and any mind would get enfeebled by a century's
rumination on a hearsay idea of the rebellion of '45.

It was possible with this man to fully test one's respect for age, which
is in all civilized nations a duty. And I found that my feelings were
mixed about him. I discovered in him a conceit in regard to his long
sojourn on this earth, as if it were somehow a credit to him. In the
presence of his good opinion of himself, I could but question the real
value of his continued life, to himself or to others. If he ever had any
friends he had outlived them, except his boy; his wives--a century of
them--were all dead; the world had actually passed away for him. He hung
on the tree like a frost-nipped apple, which the farmer has neglected to
gather. The world always renews itself, and remains young. What relation
had he to it?

I was delighted to find that this old man had never voted for George
Washington. I do not know that he had ever heard of him. Washington may
be said to have played his part since his time. I am not sure that he
perfectly remembered anything so recent as the American Revolution. He
was living quietly in Ireland during our French and Indian wars, and he
did not emigrate to this country till long after our revolutionary and
our constitutional struggles were over. The Rebellion Of '45 was the
great event of the world for him, and of that he knew nothing.

I intend no disrespect to this man,--a cheerful and pleasant enough
old person,--but he had evidently lived himself out of the world, as
completely as people usually die out of it. His only remaining value
was to the moralist, who might perchance make something out of him.
I suppose if he had died young, he would have been regretted, and his
friends would have lamented that he did not fill out his days in the
world, and would very likely have called him back, if tears and prayers
could have done so. They can see now what his prolonged life amounted
to, and how the world has closed up the gap he once filled while he
still lives in it.

A great part of the unhappiness of this world consists in regret for
those who depart, as it seems to us, prematurely. We imagine that if
they would return, the old conditions would be restored. But would it be
so? If they, in any case, came back, would there be any place for them?
The world so quickly readjusts itself after any loss, that the return
of the departed would nearly always throw it, even the circle most
interested, into confusion. Are the Enoch Ardens ever wanted?


A popular notion akin to this, that the world would have any room for
the departed if they should now and then return, is the constant
regret that people will not learn by the experience of others, that one
generation learns little from the preceding, and that youth never will
adopt the experience of age. But if experience went for anything, we
should all come to a standstill; for there is nothing so discouraging to
effort. Disbelief in Ecclesiastes is the mainspring of action. In that
lies the freshness and the interest of life, and it is the source of
every endeavor.

If the boy believed that the accumulation of wealth and the acquisition
of power were what the old man says they are, the world would very soon
be stagnant. If he believed that his chances of obtaining either were as
poor as the majority of men find them to be, ambition would die within
him. It is because he rejects the experience of those who have preceded
him, that the world is kept in the topsy-turvy condition which we all
rejoice in, and which we call progress.

And yet I confess I have a soft place in my heart for that rare
character in our New England life who is content with the world as he
finds it, and who does not attempt to appropriate any more of it to
himself than he absolutely needs from day to day. He knows from the
beginning that the world could get on without him, and he has never had
any anxiety to leave any result behind him, any legacy for the world to
quarrel over.

He is really an exotic in our New England climate and society, and his
life is perpetually misunderstood by his neighbors, because he shares
none of their uneasiness about getting on in life. He is even called
lazy, good-for-nothing, and "shiftless,"--the final stigma that we put
upon a person who has learned to wait without the exhausting process of

I made his acquaintance last summer in the country, and I have not in
a long time been so well pleased with any of our species. He was a man
past middle life, with a large family. He had always been from boyhood
of a contented and placid mind, slow in his movements, slow in his
speech. I think he never cherished a hard feeling toward anybody, nor
envied any one, least of all the rich and prosperous about whom he liked
to talk. Indeed, his talk was a good deal about wealth, especially about
his cousin who had been down South and "got fore-handed" within a few
years. He was genuinely pleased at his relation's good luck, and pointed
him out to me with some pride. But he had no envy of him, and he evinced
no desire to imitate him. I inferred from all his conversation about
"piling it up" (of which he spoke with a gleam of enthusiasm in his
eye), that there were moments when he would like to be rich himself; but
it was evident that he would never make the least effort to be so, and I
doubt if he could even overcome that delicious inertia of mind and body
called laziness, sufficiently to inherit.

Wealth seemed to have a far and peculiar fascination for him, and I
suspect he was a visionary in the midst of his poverty. Yet I suppose he
had--hardly the personal property which the law exempts from execution.
He had lived in a great many towns, moving from one to another with his
growing family, by easy stages, and was always the poorest man in the
town, and lived on the most niggardly of its rocky and bramble-grown
farms, the productiveness of which he reduced to zero in a couple of
seasons by his careful neglect of culture. The fences of his hired
domain always fell into ruins under him, perhaps because he sat on
them so much, and the hovels he occupied rotted down during his placid
residence in them. He moved from desolation to desolation, but carried
always with him the equal mind of a philosopher. Not even the occasional
tart remarks of his wife, about their nomadic life and his serenity in
the midst of discomfort, could ruffle his smooth spirit.

He was, in every respect, a most worthy man, truthful, honest,
temperate, and, I need not say, frugal; and he had no bad
habits,--perhaps he never had energy enough to acquire any. Nor did
he lack the knack of the Yankee race. He could make a shoe, or build
a house, or doctor a cow; but it never seemed to him, in this brief
existence, worth while to do any of these things. He was an excellent
angler, but he rarely fished; partly because of the shortness of days,
partly on account of the uncertainty of bites, but principally because
the trout brooks were all arranged lengthwise and ran over so much
ground. But no man liked to look at a string of trout better than he
did, and he was willing to sit down in a sunny place and talk about
trout-fishing half a day at a time, and he would talk pleasantly and
well too, though his wife might be continually interrupting him by a
call for firewood.

I should not do justice to his own idea of himself if I did not add that
he was most respectably connected, and that he had a justifiable though
feeble pride in his family. It helped his self-respect, which no ignoble
circumstances could destroy. He was, as must appear by this time, a most
intelligent man, and he was a well-informed man; that is to say, he read
the weekly newspapers when he could get them, and he had the average
country information about Beecher and Greeley and the Prussian war
("Napoleon is gettin' on't, ain't he?"), and the general prospect of
the election campaigns. Indeed, he was warmly, or rather luke-warmly,
interested in politics. He liked to talk about the inflated currency,
and it seemed plain to him that his condition would somehow be improved
if we could get to a specie basis. He was, in fact, a little troubled
by the national debt; it seemed to press on him somehow, while his
own never did. He exhibited more animation over the affairs of the
government than he did over his own,--an evidence at once of his
disinterestedness and his patriotism. He had been an old abolitionist,
and was strong on the rights of free labor, though he did not care to
exercise his privilege much. Of course he had the proper contempt for
the poor whites down South. I never saw a person with more correct
notions on such a variety of subjects. He was perfectly willing that
churches (being himself a member), and Sunday-schools, and missionary
enterprises should go on; in fact, I do not believe he ever opposed
anything in his life. No one was more willing to vote town taxes and
road-repairs and schoolhouses than he. If you could call him spirited at
all, he was public-spirited.

And with all this he was never very well; he had, from boyhood, "enjoyed
poor health." You would say he was not a man who would ever catch
anything, not even an epidemic; but he was a person whom diseases would
be likely to overtake, even the slowest of slow fevers. And he was n't
a man to shake off anything. And yet sickness seemed to trouble him no
more than poverty. He was not discontented; he never grumbled. I am not
sure but he relished a "spell of sickness" in haying-time.

An admirably balanced man, who accepts the world as it is, and evidently
lives on the experience of others. I have never seen a man with less
envy, or more cheerfulness, or so contented with as little reason for
being so. The only drawback to his future is that rest beyond the grave
will not be much change for him, and he has no works to follow him.


This Yankee philosopher, who, without being a Brahmin, had, in an
uncongenial atmosphere, reached the perfect condition of Nirvina,
reminded us all of the ancient sages; and we queried whether a world
that could produce such as he, and could, beside, lengthen a man's years
to one hundred and thirteen, could fairly be called an old and
worn-out world, having long passed the stage of its primeval poetry and
simplicity. Many an Eastern dervish has, I think, got immortality
upon less laziness and resignation than this temporary sojourner in
Massachusetts. It is a common notion that the world (meaning the people
in it) has become tame and commonplace, lost its primeval freshness and
epigrammatic point. Mandeville, in his argumentative way, dissents from
this entirely. He says that the world is more complex, varied, and a
thousand times as interesting as it was in what we call its youth, and
that it is as fresh, as individual and capable of producing odd and
eccentric characters as ever. He thought the creative vim had not in any
degree abated, that both the types of men and of nations are as sharply
stamped and defined as ever they were.

Was there ever, he said, in the past, any figure more clearly cut and
freshly minted than the Yankee? Had the Old World anything to show more
positive and uncompromising in all the elements of character than the
Englishman? And if the edges of these were being rounded off, was there
not developing in the extreme West a type of men different from all
preceding, which the world could not yet define? He believed that the
production of original types was simply infinite.

Herbert urged that he must at least admit that there was a freshness of
legend and poetry in what we call the primeval peoples that is wanting
now; the mythic period is gone, at any rate.

Mandeville could not say about the myths. We couldn't tell what
interpretation succeeding ages would put upon our lives and history and
literature when they have become remote and shadowy. But we need not go
to antiquity for epigrammatic wisdom, or for characters as racy of the
fresh earth as those handed down to us from the dawn of history. He
would put Benjamin Franklin against any of the sages of the mythic or
the classic period. He would have been perfectly at home in ancient
Athens, as Socrates would have been in modern Boston. There might have
been more heroic characters at the siege of Troy than Abraham Lincoln,
but there was not one more strongly marked individually; not one his
superior in what we call primeval craft and humor. He was just the man,
if he could not have dislodged Priam by a writ of ejectment, to have
invented the wooden horse, and then to have made Paris the hero of some
ridiculous story that would have set all Asia in a roar.

Mandeville said further, that as to poetry, he did not know much
about that, and there was not much he cared to read except parts of
Shakespeare and Homer, and passages of Milton. But it did seem to him
that we had men nowadays, who could, if they would give their minds to
it, manufacture in quantity the same sort of epigrammatic sayings and
legends that our scholars were digging out of the Orient. He did not
know why Emerson in antique setting was not as good as Saadi. Take for
instance, said Mandeville, such a legend as this, and how easy it would
be to make others like it:

The son of an Emir had red hair, of which he was ashamed, and wished
to dye it. But his father said: "Nay, my son, rather behave in such a
manner that all fathers shall wish their sons had red hair."

This was too absurd. Mandeville had gone too far, except in the opinion
of Our Next Door, who declared that an imitation was just as good as an
original, if you could not detect it. But Herbert said that the closer
an imitation is to an original, the more unendurable it is. But nobody
could tell exactly why.

The Fire-Tender said that we are imposed on by forms. The nuggets of
wisdom that are dug out of the Oriental and remote literatures would
often prove to be only commonplace if stripped of their quaint setting.
If you gave an Oriental twist to some of our modern thought, its value
would be greatly enhanced for many people.

I have seen those, said the Mistress, who seem to prefer dried fruit to
fresh; but I like the strawberry and the peach of each season, and for
me the last is always the best.

Even the Parson admitted that there were no signs of fatigue or decay in
the creative energy of the world; and if it is a question of Pagans, he
preferred Mandeville to Saadi.


It happened, or rather, to tell the truth, it was contrived,--for I have
waited too long for things to turn up to have much faith in "happen,"
that we who have sat by this hearthstone before should all be together
on Christmas eve. There was a splendid backlog of hickory just beginning
to burn with a glow that promised to grow more fiery till long past
midnight, which would have needed no apology in a loggers' camp,--not so
much as the religion of which a lady (in a city which shall be nameless)
said, "If you must have a religion, this one will do nicely."

There was not much conversation, as is apt to be the case when people
come together who have a great deal to say, and are intimate enough to
permit the freedom of silence. It was Mandeville who suggested that we
read something, and the Young Lady, who was in a mood to enjoy her own
thoughts, said, "Do." And finally it came about that the Fire Tender,
without more resistance to the urging than was becoming, went to his
library, and returned with a manuscript, from which he read the story of


Not that it is my uncle, let me explain. It is Polly's uncle, as I
very well know, from the many times she has thrown him up to me, and
is liable so to do at any moment. Having small expectations myself, and
having wedded Polly when they were smaller, I have come to feel the full
force, the crushing weight, of her lightest remark about "My Uncle in
India." The words as I write them convey no idea of the tone in which
they fall upon my ears. I think it is the only fault of that estimable
woman, that she has an "uncle in India" and does not let him quietly
remain there. I feel quite sure that if I had an uncle in Botany Bay, I
should never, never throw him up to Polly in the way mentioned. If
there is any jar in our quiet life, he is the cause of it; all along of
possible "expectations" on the one side calculated to overawe the other
side not having expectations. And yet I know that if her uncle in India
were this night to roll a barrel of "India's golden sands," as I feel
that he any moment may do, into our sitting-room, at Polly's feet, that
charming wife, who is more generous than the month of May, and who has
no thought but for my comfort in two worlds, would straightway make
it over to me, to have and to hold, if I could lift it, forever and
forever. And that makes it more inexplicable that she, being a woman,
will continue to mention him in the way she does.

In a large and general way I regard uncles as not out of place in this
transitory state of existence. They stand for a great many possible
advantages. They are liable to "tip" you at school, they are resources
in vacation, they come grandly in play about the holidays, at which
season mv heart always did warm towards them with lively expectations,
which were often turned into golden solidities; and then there is always
the prospect, sad to a sensitive mind, that uncles are mortal, and, in
their timely taking off, may prove as generous in the will as they
were in the deed. And there is always this redeeming possibility in a
niggardly uncle. Still there must be something wrong in the character of
the uncle per se, or all history would not agree that nepotism is such a
dreadful thing.

But, to return from this unnecessary digression, I am reminded that the
charioteer of the patient year has brought round the holiday time. It
has been a growing year, as most years are. It is very pleasant to see
how the shrubs in our little patch of ground widen and thicken and bloom
at the right time, and to know that the great trees have added a laver
to their trunks. To be sure, our garden,--which I planted under Polly's
directions, with seeds that must have been patented, and I forgot to
buy the right of, for they are mostly still waiting the final
resurrection,--gave evidence that it shared in the misfortune of the
Fall, and was never an Eden from which one would have required to have
been driven. It was the easiest garden to keep the neighbor's pigs and
hens out of I ever saw. If its increase was small its temptations
were smaller, and that is no little recommendation in this world of
temptations. But, as a general thing, everything has grown, except our
house. That little cottage, over which Polly presides with grace enough
to adorn a palace, is still small outside and smaller inside; and if it
has an air of comfort and of neatness, and its rooms are cozy and sunny
by day and cheerful by night, and it is bursting with books, and not
unattractive with modest pictures on the walls, which we think do well
enough until my uncle--(but never mind my uncle, now),--and if, in the
long winter evenings, when the largest lamp is lit, and the chestnuts
glow in embers, and the kid turns on the spit, and the house-plants are
green and flowering, and the ivy glistens in the firelight, and Polly
sits with that contented, far-away look in her eyes that I like to see,
her fingers busy upon one of those cruel mysteries which have delighted
the sex since Penelope, and I read in one of my fascinating law-books,
or perhaps regale ourselves with a taste of Montaigne,--if all this is
true, there are times when the cottage seems small; though I can never
find that Polly thinks so, except when she sometimes says that she does
not know where she should bestow her uncle in it, if he should suddenly
come back from India.

There it is, again. I sometimes think that my wife believes her uncle
in India to be as large as two ordinary men; and if her ideas of him are
any gauge of the reality, there is no place in the town large enough
for him except the Town Hall. She probably expects him to come with his
bungalow, and his sedan, and his palanquin, and his elephants, and his
retinue of servants, and his principalities, and his powers, and his
ha--(no, not that), and his chowchow, and his--I scarcely know what

Christmas eve was a shiny cold night, a creaking cold night, a placid,
calm, swingeing cold night.

Out-doors had gone into a general state of crystallization. The
snow-fields were like the vast Arctic ice-fields that Kane looked on,
and lay sparkling under the moonlight, crisp and Christmasy, and all
the crystals on the trees and bushes hung glistening, as if ready, at a
breath of air, to break out into metallic ringing, like a million silver
joy-bells. I mentioned the conceit to Polly, as we stood at the window,
and she said it reminded her of Jean Paul. She is a woman of most
remarkable discernment.

Christmas is a great festival at our house in a small way. Among the
many delightful customs we did not inherit from our Pilgrim Fathers,
there is none so pleasant as that of giving presents at this season.
It is the most exciting time of the year. No one is too rich to receive
something, and no one too poor to give a trifle. And in the act of
giving and receiving these tokens of regard, all the world is kin for
once, and brighter for this transient glow of generosity. Delightful
custom! Hard is the lot of childhood that knows nothing of the visits
of Kriss Kringle, or the stockings hung by the chimney at night; and
cheerless is any age that is not brightened by some Christmas gift,
however humble. What a mystery of preparation there is in the preceding
days, what planning and plottings of surprises! Polly and I keep up the
custom in our simple way, and great is the perplexity to express the
greatest amount of affection with a limited outlay. For the excellence
of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value. As we
stood by the window that night, we wondered what we should receive this
year, and indulged in I know not what little hypocrisies and deceptions.

I wish, said Polly, "that my uncle in India would send me a camel's-hair
shawl, or a string of pearls, each as big as the end of my thumb."

"Or a white cow, which would give golden milk, that would make butter
worth seventy-five cents a pound," I added, as we drew the curtains, and
turned to our chairs before the open fire.

It is our custom on every Christmas eve--as I believe I have somewhere
said, or if I have not, I say it again, as the member from Erin might
remark--to read one of Dickens's Christmas stories. And this night,
after punching the fire until it sent showers of sparks up the chimney,
I read the opening chapter of "Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings," in my best
manner, and handed the book to Polly to continue; for I do not so much
relish reading aloud the succeeding stories of Mr. Dickens's annual
budget, since he wrote them, as men go to war in these days, by
substitute. And Polly read on, in her melodious voice, which is almost
as pleasant to me as the Wasser-fluth of Schubert, which she often plays
at twilight; and I looked into the fire, unconsciously constructing
stories of my own out of the embers. And her voice still went on, in a
sort of running accompaniment to my airy or fiery fancies.

"Sleep?" said Polly, stopping, with what seemed to me a sort of crash,
in which all the castles tumbled into ashes.

"Not in the least," I answered brightly, "never heard anything more
agreeable." And the reading flowed on and on and on, and I looked
steadily into the fire, the fire, fire, fi....

Suddenly the door opened, and into our cozy parlor walked the most
venerable personage I ever laid eyes on, who saluted me with great
dignity. Summer seemed to have burst into the room, and I was conscious
of a puff of Oriental airs, and a delightful, languid tranquillity. I
was not surprised that the figure before me was clad in full turban,
baggy drawers, and a long loose robe, girt about the middle with a rich
shawl. Followed him a swart attendant, who hastened to spread a rug upon
which my visitor sat down, with great gravity, as I am informed they
do in farthest Ind. The slave then filled the bowl of a long-stemmed
chibouk, and, handing it to his master, retired behind him and began to
fan him with the most prodigious palm-leaf I ever saw. Soon the fumes of
the delicate tobacco of Persia pervaded the room, like some costly aroma
which you cannot buy, now the entertainment of the Arabian Nights is

Looking through the window I saw, if I saw anything, a palanquin at our
door, and attendant on it four dusky, half-naked bearers, who did not
seem to fancy the splendor of the night, for they jumped about on the
snow crust, and I could see them shiver and shake in the keen air. Oho!
thought! this, then, is my uncle from India!

"Yes, it is," now spoke my visitor extraordinary, in a gruff, harsh

"I think I have heard Polly speak of you," I rejoined, in an attempt
to be civil, for I did n't like his face any better than I did his
voice,--a red, fiery, irascible kind of face.

"Yes I've come over to O Lord,--quick, Jamsetzee, lift up that
foot,--take care. There, Mr. Trimings, if that's your name, get me a
glass of brandy, stiff."

I got him our little apothecary-labeled bottle and poured out enough to
preserve a whole can of peaches. My uncle took it down without a wink,
as if it had been water, and seemed relieved. It was a very pleasant
uncle to have at our fireside on Christmas eve, I felt.

At a motion from my uncle, Jamsetzee handed me a parcel which I saw
was directed to Polly, which I untied, and lo! the most wonderful
camel's-hair shawl that ever was, so fine that I immediately drew it
through my finger-ring, and so large that I saw it would entirely cover
our little room if I spread it out; a dingy red color, but splendid
in appearance from the little white hieroglyphic worked in one corner,
which is always worn outside, to show that it cost nobody knows how many
thousands of dollars.

"A Christmas trifle for Polly. I have come home--as I was saying when
that confounded twinge took me--to settle down; and I intend to make
Polly my heir, and live at my ease and enjoy life. Move that leg a
little, Jamsetzee."

I meekly replied that I had no doubt Polly would be delighted to see her
dear uncle, and as for inheriting, if it came to that, I did n't know
any one with a greater capacity for that than she.

"That depends," said the gruff old smoker, "how I like ye. A fortune,
scraped up in forty years in Ingy, ain't to be thrown away in a minute.
But what a house this is to live in!"; the uncomfortable old relative
went on, throwing a contemptuous glance round the humble cottage. "Is
this all of it?"

"In the winter it is all of it," I said, flushing up; "but in the
summer, when the doors and windows are open, it is as large as anybody's
house. And," I went on, with some warmth, "it was large enough just
before you came in, and pleasant enough. And besides," I said, rising
into indignation, "you can not get anything much better in this city
short of eight hundred dollars a year, payable first days of January,
April, July, and October, in advance, and my salary...."

"Hang your salary, and confound your impudence and your seven-by-nine
hovel! Do you think you have anything to say about the use of my money,
scraped up in forty years in Ingy? THINGS HAVE GOT TO BE CHANGED!" he
burst out, in a voice that rattled the glasses on the sideboard.

I should think they were. Even as I looked into the little fireplace it
enlarged, and there was an enormous grate, level with the floor, glowing
with seacoal; and a magnificent mantel carved in oak, old and brown; and
over it hung a landscape, wide, deep, summer in the foreground with all
the gorgeous coloring of the tropics, and beyond hills of blue and far
mountains lying in rosy light. I held my breath as I looked down the
marvelous perspective. Looking round for a second, I caught a glimpse of
a Hindoo at each window, who vanished as if they had been whisked off by
enchantment; and the close walls that shut us in fled away. Had cohesion
and gravitation given out? Was it the "Great Consummation" of the year
18-? It was all like the swift transformation of a dream, and I pinched
my arm to make sure that I was not the subject of some diablerie.

The little house was gone; but that I scarcely minded, for I had
suddenly come into possession of my wife's castle in Spain. I sat in a
spacious, lofty apartment, furnished with a princely magnificence. Rare
pictures adorned the walls, statues looked down from deep niches,
and over both the dark ivy of England ran and drooped in graceful
luxuriance. Upon the heavy tables were costly, illuminated volumes;
luxurious chairs and ottomans invited to easy rest; and upon the ceiling
Aurora led forth all the flower-strewing daughters of the dawn in
brilliant frescoes. Through the open doors my eyes wandered into
magnificent apartment after apartment. There to the south, through
folding-doors, was the splendid library, with groined roof, colored
light streaming in through painted windows, high shelves stowed with
books, old armor hanging on the walls, great carved oaken chairs about a
solid oaken table, and beyond a conservatory of flowers and plants with
a fountain springing in the center, the splashing of whose waters I
could hear. Through the open windows I looked upon a lawn, green with
close-shaven turf, set with ancient trees, and variegated with parterres
of summer plants in bloom. It was the month of June, and the smell of
roses was in the air.

I might have thought it only a freak of my fancy, but there by the
fireplace sat a stout, red-faced, puffy-looking man, in the ordinary
dress of an English gentleman, whom I had no difficulty in recognizing
as my uncle from India.

"One wants a fire every day in the year in this confounded climate,"
remarked that amiable old person, addressing no one in particular.

I had it on my lips to suggest that I trusted the day would come when he
would have heat enough to satisfy him, in permanent supply. I wish now
that I had.

I think things had changed. For now into this apartment, full of the
morning sunshine, came sweeping with the air of a countess born, and a
maid of honor bred, and a queen in expectancy, my Polly, stepping with
that lofty grace which I always knew she possessed, but which she never
had space to exhibit in our little cottage, dressed with that elegance
and richness that I should not have deemed possible to the most Dutch
duchess that ever lived, and, giving me a complacent nod of recognition,
approached her uncle, and said in her smiling, cheery way, "How is the
dear uncle this morning?" And, as she spoke, she actually bent down and
kissed his horrid old cheek, red-hot with currie and brandy and all the
biting pickles I can neither eat nor name, kissed him, and I did not
turn into stone.

"Comfortable as the weather will permit, my darling!"--and again I did
not turn into stone.

"Wouldn't uncle like to take a drive this charming morning?" Polly

Uncle finally grunted out his willingness, and Polly swept away again to
prepare for the drive, taking no more notice of me than if I had been a
poor assistant office lawyer on a salary. And soon the carriage was at
the door, and my uncle, bundled up like a mummy, and the charming Polly
drove gayly away.

How pleasant it is to be married rich, I thought, as I arose and
strolled into the library, where everything was elegant and prim and
neat, with no scraps of paper and piles of newspapers or evidences of
literary slovenness on the table, and no books in attractive disorder,
and where I seemed to see the legend staring at me from all the walls,
"No smoking." So I uneasily lounged out of the house. And a magnificent
house it was, a palace, rather, that seemed to frown upon and bully
insignificant me with its splendor, as I walked away from it towards

And why town? There was no use of doing anything at the dingy office.
Eight hundred dollars a year! It wouldn't keep Polly in gloves, let
alone dressing her for one of those fashionable entertainments to which
we went night after night. And so, after a weary day with nothing in
it, I went home to dinner, to find my uncle quite chirruped up with
his drive, and Polly regnant, sublimely engrossed in her new world of
splendor, a dazzling object of admiration to me, but attentive and even
tender to that hypochondriacal, gouty old subject from India.

Yes, a magnificent dinner, with no end of servants, who seemed to
know that I couldn't have paid the wages of one of them, and plate and
courses endless. I say, a miserable dinner, on the edge of which seemed
to sit by permission of somebody, like an invited poor relation, who
wishes he had sent a regret, and longing for some of those nice little
dishes that Polly used to set before me with beaming face, in the dear
old days.

And after dinner, and proper attention to the comfort for the night of
our benefactor, there was the Blibgims's party. No long, confidential
interviews, as heretofore, as to what she should wear and what I should
wear, and whether it would do to wear it again. And Polly went in one
coach, and I in another. No crowding into the hired hack, with all the
delightful care about tumbling dresses, and getting there in good order;
and no coming home together to our little cozy cottage, in a pleasant,
excited state of "flutteration," and sitting down to talk it all over,
and "Was n't it nice?" and "Did I look as well as anybody?" and "Of
course you did to me," and all that nonsense. We lived in a grand way
now, and had our separate establishments and separate plans, and I used
to think that a real separation couldn't make matters much different.
Not that Polly meant to be any different, or was, at heart; but, you
know, she was so much absorbed in her new life of splendor, and perhaps
I was a little old-fashioned.

I don't wonder at it now, as I look back. There was an army of
dressmakers to see, and a world of shopping to do, and a houseful of
servants to manage, and all the afternoon for calls, and her dear, dear
friend, with the artless manners and merry heart of a girl, and the
dignity and grace of a noble woman, the dear friend who lived in the
house of the Seven Gables, to consult about all manner of important
things. I could not, upon my honor, see that there was any place for me,
and I went my own way, not that there was much comfort in it.

And then I would rather have had charge of a hospital ward than take
care of that uncle. Such coddling as he needed, such humoring of whims.
And I am bound to say that Polly could n't have been more dutiful to him
if he had been a Hindoo idol. She read to him and talked to him, and
sat by him with her embroidery, and was patient with his crossness, and
wearied herself, that I could see, with her devoted ministrations.

I fancied sometimes she was tired of it, and longed for the old homely
simplicity. I was. Nepotism had no charms for me. There was nothing that
I could get Polly that she had not. I could surprise her with no little
delicacies or trifles, delightedly bought with money saved for the
purpose. There was no more coming home weary with office work and being
met at the door with that warm, loving welcome which the King of England
could not buy. There was no long evening when we read alternately from
some favorite book, or laid our deep housekeeping plans, rejoiced in a
good bargain or made light of a poor one, and were contented and merry
with little. I recalled with longing my little den, where in the
midst of the literary disorder I love, I wrote those stories for the
"Antarctic" which Polly, if nobody else, liked to read. There was
no comfort for me in my magnificent library. We were all rich and in
splendor, and our uncle had come from India. I wished, saving his soul,
that the ship that brought him over had foundered off Barnegat Light. It
would always have been a tender and regretful memory to both of us. And
how sacred is the memory of such a loss!

Christmas? What delight could I have in long solicitude and ingenious
devices touching a gift for Polly within my means, and hitting the
border line between her necessities and her extravagant fancy? A drove
of white elephants would n't have been good enough for her now, if each
one carried a castle on his back.

"--and so they were married, and in their snug cottage lived happy ever
after."--It was Polly's voice, as she closed the book.

"There, I don't believe you have heard a word of it," she said half

"Oh, yes, I have," I cried, starting up and giving the fire a jab with
the poker; "I heard every word of it, except a few at the close I was
thinking"--I stopped, and looked round.

"Why, Polly, where is the camel's-hair shawl?"

"Camel's-hair fiddlestick! Now I know you have been asleep for an hour."

And, sure enough, there was n't any camel's-hair shawl there, nor any
uncle, nor were there any Hindoos at our windows.

And then I told Polly all about it; how her uncle came back, and we were
rich and lived in a palace and had no end of money, but she didn't seem
to have time to love me in it all, and all the comfort of the little
house was blown away as by the winter wind. And Polly vowed, half in
tears, that she hoped her uncle never would come back, and she wanted
nothing that we had not, and she wouldn't exchange our independent
comfort and snug house, no, not for anybody's mansion. And then and
there we made it all up, in a manner too particular for me to mention;
and I never, to this day, heard Polly allude to My Uncle in India.

And then, as the clock struck eleven, we each produced from the place
where we had hidden them the modest Christmas gifts we had prepared for
each other, and what surprise there was! "Just the thing I needed." And,
"It's perfectly lovely." And, "You should n't have done it." And, then,
a question I never will answer, "Ten? fifteen? five? twelve?" "My dear,
it cost eight hundred dollars, for I have put my whole year into it, and
I wish it was a thousand times better."

And so, when the great iron tongue of the city bell swept over the snow
the twelve strokes that announced Christmas day, if there was anywhere a
happier home than ours, I am glad of it!

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