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Title: Neither Here Nor There
Author: Herford, Oliver
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          A MIRROR OF FRIVOLITY

                              NEITHER HERE
                                NOR THERE

                             OLIVER HERFORD

       _Author of “The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten,” “This Giddy
                              Globe,” etc._

    ¶ As a humorous commentator upon morals and manners with
      special attention to cats, tutti frutti trees, Bolshevism for
      babies and trouser creases. Mr. Herford leaves nothing to
      be desired. His book is a mirror of engaging frivolity, an
      incisive but good-humored thrust at the follies of the day.
      Here and there a very rich and moving note is struck, as in THE
      BON DIEU’S BIRTHDAY PARTY where one finds in full flower that
      tender fantasy which is the greatest charm of Mr. Herford’s

              GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY _Publishers_ New York



_Other Books of_ OLIVER HERFORD








_With John Cecil Clay_


_With Cleveland Moffett_


_With Ethel Watts Mumford_


                              NEITHER HERE
                                NOR THERE

                             OLIVER HERFORD


                                NEW YORK
                         GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

                            COPYRIGHT, 1922,
                       BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY


                        NEITHER HERE NOR THERE. I


                                TO M. H.

                        On board S.S. _Carmania_
                        Lat. 50° N., Long. 30° W.

                        “NEITHER HERE—NOR THERE”


    THE SECRET                               9

    OUR LEISURE CLASS                       13


    BOLSHEVISM FOR BABIES                   21

    THE TUTTI-FRUTTI TREE                   25

    THOSE BILL BOARDS                       28

    THE LURE OF THE “AD”                    33

    LOOK BEFORE SHE LEAPS                   37

    THE LOW COST OF CABBING                 42

    THE GREAT MATCH BOX MYSTERY             45

    ARE CATS PEOPLE?                        51

    MLLE. FAUTEUIL                          56

    MONEY AND FIREFLIES                     60


    AN OLD-FASHIONED HEAVEN                 68

    ANOTHER LOST ART                        71


    BUNK                                    77

    THE COST OF A PYRAMID                   82


    THE HOBGOBLIN                           92


    PERNICIOUS PEACHES                      99



    A NEW MONROE DOCTRINE                  114

    DO CATS COME BACK?                     117

    THE RUTHLESSNESS OF MR. COBB           120

    MY LAKE                                123

    THE HUNDREDTH AMENDMENT                134

    SAY IT WITH ASTERISKS                  144




Eve was bored. She confided the fact to the Serpent.

“Tell me something new!” she wailed, and the Serpent—he had never seen a
lady cry before—was deeply moved (the Serpent has always been misjudged)
and—there being no National Board of Censors—told her everything he knew.

When he had finished, Eve yawned and looked boreder than ever. “Is _that_
all?” she said.

The Dramatic Critic asks the same question on the first night of a new
Play—“Will there never be an end to these Dormitory Farces,” he moans,
pondering darkly the while how he may transmute its leaden dullness to
the precious gold of a scintillating paragraph.

Father Time has nothing to say on the matter. If you ask him to show you
a new thing, he shrugs his wings and growls, “You can search me.” Things
old and things new are all alike to Father Time.

Peradventure, in the uttermost recess of the Great Pyramid lies a hair of
an unknown color, or a blueprint of the fourth dimension, or better still
the ms. of a new play, or a joke that has never been cracked.

When a Roman bath is unearthed in Kent or a milliner’s shop in Pompeii we
wait breathless to hear of the discovery of a new story, or a new dress
pattern, but always it is the same old skull, the same old amphora.

Even the newness of Fashion is a jest of antiquity.

In an Italian book printed in the sixteenth century is a story of a fool
“who went about the streets naked, carrying a piece of cloth upon his
shoulders. He was asked by some one why he did not dress himself, since
he had the materials. ‘Because’ replied he, ‘I wait to see in what manner
the fashions will end. I do not like to use my cloth for a dress which in
a little time will be of no use to me, on account of some new fashion.’”

There may be a newer version of this story in the ashes of the
Alexandrian library or beneath the ruins of Babylon, but this has at
least the freshness and luster of its four-hundred years. Also it throws
a light, a very searchlight, on the translucent demoiselles of today (see
them shyly run to cover at the mere mention of a searchlight.)

Now we know their guilty secret. Each of them has, hoarded away in a
secret drawer (as money in panicky times) a roll of fine silk or voile,
or panne velvet, or crepe de chine which she is sparing from the scissors
till the Wheel of Fashion shall oscillate with less fury. Then she will
put away the skimpy, flimsy makeshift garments of transformed window
curtains and bath towels, converted _robes de nuit_ and remnants of net
or chiffon she has been vainly trying to hide behind—and then—then alas,
we shall see her no more!



Once—and not so terribly long ago at that—we used to be very fond of
telling ourselves (and our visitors from Europe) that in America we have
no Leisure Class.

That there were people of leisure in our midst, we could not deny, though
we preferred to call them idle rich, but as for a special class whose
whole business in life was to abstain from all useful activity—oh, no!

Even our idle rich, unblest as they are with the hereditary gift for
idling, and untaught save by a brief generation or two of acquired
experience, find the profession of Leisure a strenuous not to say noisy
task, for while those to the leisure born know by the very feel of it
that the habit of idleness is a perfect fit, the newly-idle must look for
confirmation in the mirror of public admiration; hence Publicity, the
blare of the Sunday Supplement.

But taken as a class our idle rich (though it is being rapidly licked or
lick-spittled into shape) is at best an amateur aristocracy of leisure.
For the real thing, for the genuine hunting, sporting, leisure-loving
American aristocracy, we must go back to the aboriginal Red Man.

And how the busybody Puritan hated the Indian! With his air of well-bred
taciturnity, his love of sport, of rest, of nature, and his belief in
a happy Hereafter, the noble Red Man was in every respect his hateful
opposite, yet if any Pilgrim brother had dared even to hint that the
Indian might have points of superiority it would have been the flaming
woodpile for him, or something equally disagreeable in the purifying way.

How different it might have been!

If only the Puritan had been less stuck up and self-righteous, the Red
Man less reserved! If they could but have understood that Nature intended
them for each other, these opposites, these complements of each other.

Why else had Nature brought them together from the ends of the earth?

But alas, Eugenics had not yet been invented and the Puritan and the
Indian just naturally hated each other at first sight and so (like many
another match-maker) Mother Nature slipped up in her calculations, and a
wonderful flower of racial possibility was forever nipped in the bud.

If the Puritan, with his piety and thrift and domesticity and his
doctrine of election and the Noble Red Man, with his love of paint
and syncopated music and dancing and belief in a happy Hereafter, had
overcome their mutual prejudices and instead of warring with flintlocks
and tomahawks, had pursued each other with engagement rings and marriage
licenses, what a grand and glorious race we might be today!

What a land of freedom might be ours!



There has been some discussion of late as to the etiquette of the
revolving door. When a man accompanied by a woman is about to be revolved
in it, which should go first? Some think the man should precede the
woman furnishing the motive power, while she follows idly in the next
compartment. Others hold that the rule “Ladies first” can have no
exception, therefore the man must stand aside and let the female of his
species do the rough work of starting the door’s revolution while the
man, coming after, keeps it going and stops it at the right moment.

“Starting something” is perhaps of all pastimes in the world the one most
popular with the sex we are accustomed to call the gentle sex; one might
almost say that “starting something” is Woman’s prerogative; on the other
hand there is nothing on earth so abhorrent to that same gentle sex as
the thing that is called Consistency; and though she may be perfectly
charmed to start a revolution in South America, or in silk pajamas, or
suffrage, or the rearing of children it does not follow that she will
take kindly to the idea of starting the revolution of a revolving door.

As for the rule “Ladies first,” its application to the etiquette of
doors in general (as distinguished from the revolving variety) is purely
a matter of geography. In some European countries it is the custom,
when entering a room, for the man to precede the woman, and if it be a
closed street or office door, the man will open it and following the
door inward, hold the door open while she passes in. If the door opens
outward the woman naturally enters first, since her companion must
remain outside to hold the door open.

The American rule compelling the woman to precede her escort when
entering a room or building doubtless originated with our ancestor the

On returning to his Apartment with his wife after a hunting expedition
Mr. Hairy K. Stoneaxe would say with a persuasive Neolithic smile (and
gentle shove) “After you my dear,” being rewarded for his politeness
by advance information as to whether there were Megatheriums or
Loxolophodons or an ambuscade of jealous rivals lurking in the darkness
of his stone-upholstered sitting-room.

By all means let the lady go first; by so doing we pay the homage
that is due to her sex and even though there are no Megatheriums of
Loxolophodons in these days—there _may_ be burglars! Only in the case of
a door that must be opened inwards would I suggest an amendment. What
more lamentable sight than that of a gentle lady squeezing precariously
through a half-opened door while her escort, determined that though they
both perish in the attempt, she shall go first, reaches awkwardly past
her shoulder in the frantic endeavor to push back the heavy self-closing
door while at the same time contorting the rest of his person into the
smallest possible compass that she may have room to pass without disaster
to her ninety-dollar hat, not to speak of her elbows and shins.

How much happier—and happiness is the mainspring of etiquette—they would
be, this same pair, if (with a possible “allow me” to calm her fears) the
escort should push boldly the door to its widest openness and holding
it thus with one hand behind his back, with the other press his already
removed hat against his heart as the lady grateful and unruffled sweeps
majestically by.



    “That babies don’t commit such crimes as forgery is true,
    But little sins develop, if you leave them to accrue;
    For anything you know, they’ll represent, if you’re alive,
    A burglary or murder at the age of thirty-five.”

When W. S. Gilbert wrote these lines, he stated in an amusing way a great
truth, for the doctrine of infant depravity and original sin thus lightly
touched upon is, when stripped of its Calvinistic mummery, a recognized
scientific verity.

I sometimes think that if the “highbrow” mothers who turn to books
by long-haired professors with retreating chins for advice in child
training, should study instead the nonsensical wisdom of Gilbert’s book,
they would derive more benefit therefrom. At least it would do them (and
their children) no harm.

I wish as much as that could be said of a book I have lately come
across entitled “Practical Child Training,” by Ray C. Beery (Parent’s
Association). So far from harmless it is, in my opinion, a more fitting
title for it would be “Bolshevism for Babies.”

Obedience, says the author, “is your corner-stone. Therefore lay it
carefully.” And this is how it is laid: “_While you are teaching the
child the first lessons in correct obedience, do not give any commands
either in the lesson or outside except those which the child will be sure
to obey willingly._”

Obedience is to be taught by wheedling and cajolery, which lessons the
clever child will apply in later life as bribery and corruption. The
author denies this in Book I, p. 130, but his denial is so curious it
deserves quoting: “_You would entirely vitiate its principles if in
giving this lesson you should state it to the child like this: ‘If you
do not do thus and so, I will give you no candy._’” Then on the same
page: “_While the thought of candy in the child’s mind causes him to
obey, yet the lesson is planned in such a way that you are not buying

The “five principles of discipline” are embodied in the following story:
The father of a boy sees him and two other boys throwing apples through
a barn window, two of whose panes had been broken. To make a long story
short, the parent, instead of reproving his offspring, says: “Good shot,
Bob! Do you see that post over there? See if you can hit it two out of
three times.” “It would have been unwise for that father (adds the author
of “Practical Child Training”) to say, ‘I’d rather you’d not throw at
that window opening—can’t you sling at something else?’ The latter remark
would suggest that the window was the best target and the boys would have
been dissatisfied at having to stop throwing at it.”

The inference that the boys only needed the father’s objection to an
act on their part to convince them that it was a desirable act would be
ludicrous if it weren’t so immoral.

If you ask me which disgusts me most, the Father or his sons, I should
reply without a moment’s hesitation—the Author of the book!



When the author of the most famous Love Song ever written, cried,
“There is no new thing under the sun,” cigarettes, chewing-gum, the
thermos-bottle and the “snapper” for fastening ladies’ frocks—(an
indispensable thing when one has several hundred wives)—were yet to be

Neither so far as we can learn, had Solomon who knew and could address in
its own language every flower and tree in existence, ever heard of the
Tutti-Frutti Tree.

There is to my certain belief only one tree in existence answering to
that name, and I christened it myself. I am its Godfather.

In the heartmost heart of the fruitful Paradise of New Jersey stands a
small but ancient stone cottage that has come to regard me as its lord,
and on Squire Williams’ estate, whose verdant acres lie just outside my
garden fence, grows the Tutti-Frutti Tree.

Once it was a young Apple Tree. It is still young, but as the result of
a series of sap transfusions it is also several other kinds of tree,
and when it grows up it will bear apples, quinces, two kinds of pears,
peaches and, I believe, plums—almost everything in fact except Water

Some day a future Stevenson will immortalize it in verse something after
this fashion,

    _The Tutti-Frutti Tree so bright,_
    _It gives me fruit with all its might,_
    _Apples, peaches, pears and quinces,_
    _I’m sure we should all be happy as princes._

It’s quite absurd, of course, but just suppose the Tree of Knowledge in
that First Garden has been a Tutti-Frutti Tree instead of an Apple Tree!
With seven separate kinds of fruit to choose from, all equally forbidden
and, for that reason, equally desirable, how could Eve ever have decided
which one to pluck?

And with Eve’s hesitation Sin would have been lost to the world!

Let us give thanks that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was _not_
a Tutti-Frutti Tree.



Every now and again, generally when the warm weather is upon us, somebody
or other starts a heated discussion about something that is of no
particular interest to anybody.

This time it is Mr. Joseph Pennell, the artist, who wails and gnashes his
pen about the terrible bill-board and advertising pictures that deface
the public buildings and thoroughfares of American cities and the public
scenery of the American countryside.

If my opinion were asked I should be tempted to quote the gentle answer
with which the late William D. Howells was wont to turn away argument,
and say to Mr. Pennell, “I think perhaps you are partly right.”

But since I am not on Mr. Pennell’s list of great American artists, a
list, by the way that contains only two names, I am free to say what
I really think, and that is that if the dear old familiar “Ads” were
suddenly to disappear from the streets and cars, I should miss them very

Perhaps I have acquired a taste for them as the dweller near a street
railroad first endures, then tolerates, and at last becomes so completely
habituated to the roaring of wheels and the clang of metal that he is
unable to sleep without their soothing lullaby.

Soothing—that’s what they are, these advertising pictures. They soften
the underground torment of travel in the Subway, they take the place of
the scenery which beguiles the tedium of ordinary travel, and at least
they are, as a rule, more interesting to contemplate than the people
in the opposite seat. Those people are strangers, the people in the
advertisement panels are, many of them, old friends, friends met in
other cars in other cities. Mr. Pennell no doubt would like to see them
thrown off the train, but I am always glad to meet them again, and to
some of them, with whom I have a sort of informal bowing acquaintance, I
mentally take off my hat.

One amiable gentleman in particular I always look for and hail with
delight when I find myself sitting opposite to him. He is an Italian, I
take it, from his appearance, and from Naples, to judge by his accent,
which, though I have never heard his voice, is depicted as plainly as the
nose on his face.

Neither do I know his name, but I call him Signor Pizzicato, for it is
quite evident that nature intended him for an Operatic career. How he
ever came to be a barber, I cannot imagine. Perhaps he sang in the Barber
of Seville and lost his voice and became a realist, as some painters lose
their sense of form and become cubists or futurists. Whatever he should
have been or might have been or was, a barber is what he is now, and I
gaze upon him in fascination as with a priceless gesture of thumb and
forefinger (as if he should pluck an individual mote from a sunbeam) he
extols to his customer and to you, the bouquet so ravishing of the hair
tonic he holds in his other hand, on the sale of which he presumably
receives a large commission.

Then there is that delightful little Miss clad in airy
next-to-nothings—but no, on second thought I shall not introduce you to
her. I fear she is not to be trusted. The last time I sat opposite to her
in a street-car in Cleveland—(or was it in Buffalo)—she caused me to go
five blocks past my destination which happened to be a railway station,
so that I was two blocks late for my train.

All I will tell you about her, gentle reader, is that she has fringed
gentian eyes with a look in them that says quite plainly nothing would
gratify her more than to play the same trick upon you.

All this chatter, I am aware, has nothing to do with Art, that is to say
the “Art of Painting”; that large, severe-looking female you sometimes
see crouched in an uncomfortable position on a still more uncomfortable
cornice of a public building, wearing a laurel wreath and a granite
peplum, and holding in her hand a huge stone palette.

But sometimes this severe female climbs down from her stone perch and
takes a day off, Coney Island-wise, on the billboards and street cars,
and then if she is not always at her best, she is often very amusing.

And just because a goddess isn’t stuck up it doesn’t prove that she isn’t
a goddess—does it?



Kipling once, when sojourning in a far country, complained bitterly of
the thoughtlessness of his friends at home in sending him a batch of
magazines shorn (to save postage) of all the advertisements. Which shows
that the most grown-up of artists may still have the heart of a child.

For my part, if I were forced to make choice between the advertising
pages and the reading matter (so-called), I should in nine periodicals
out of ten choose the former.

To the grown-up child the advertising section of the magazine takes the
place of the Shop-Window of infancy through which, with bulging eyes and
mouth agape, like some mazed minnow staring at the submerged Rhine-Gold,
he once gazed at the tinsel treasure so bitterly beyond his penny’s reach.

And now, just as far out of reach as ever, in the display-window of the
advertising page, the grown-up child gazes at the miraculous Motor-Car
gliding, velvet shod, through palmy solitudes reflecting the rays of the
setting sun with a splendor out-Solomoning Solomon.

Or the “Home Beautiful,” constructed throughout of selected materials of
distinctive quality, and roofed with spark-proof shingles of the most
refined pastel tints, “_just the home you have dreamed about at a price
that will dumfound you! Enclose this coupon with your order._”

Again it is the magical cabinet that brings into your very lap as it were
the Galli-Curci, the Tetrazzini or any other “ini,” “owski” or “elli”
it may please your fancy to pick from its golden perch in the operatic

And what a relief to turn from the magazine pictures of the slick-haired
hero and the slinky heroine of fiction (perpetually _vis-à-vis_
yet always looking past each other)—to turn from these to the very
attractive, intelligent-looking girls of the advertising pages, girls
exquisitely coiffed, gowned and silk-hosed and ever happily employed in
some useful task: this one (in the Paquin “trottoir” of mouse-colored
voile) joyously propelling a vacuum-cleaner, this (in the afternoon
toilette of tricolette) mixing the ingredients for a custard pie in a
forget-me-not-blue Wedgwood bowl, and this, not less lovely than either
of her sisters, polishing a bathtub with some magic powder till it
glistens like a Childs’ restaurant.

Now, any one of these dear girls, on her face alone—not to mention her
graceful carriage and delicately moulded stockings—might without the
least effort in the world have obtained a position as a Star in a Musical
Comedy—with her picture in the _Cosmopolitan_ or _Vanity Fair_ at least
once a fortnight—but she prefers the simple household task, the vacuum
cleaner, the spotless oil-stove, the shining bathtub to the plaudits of
the masses.

And this is only one of the many lessons that are to be learned from the
advertising pages. Who can look at the busy little Dutch lady in the blue
frock and white cap and apron, stick in hand, chasing the Demon Dirt in
street cars, subway and elevated stations, billboards and electric signs,
all over town, all over the continent for that matter—who can look at
the determined back of that fierce little lady (no one has ever seen her
face, save the Demon) without inwardly swearing that wherever Demon Dirt
may show his face, whether it be on the stage, the picture screen or the
printed page of fiction he will do unto him even as doth the Little Dutch
Lady with the big stick—

Or is it a rolling pin?



The Fourteenth of February in Leap Year is a dread-letter day for the
shrinking bachelor and the shy (wife-shy) grass widower.

The butterfly-winged statue of Femininity that, for three happy leapless
years, he worshiped from a safe distance (at the foot of its pedestal),
has come to life, has climbed down from its vestal perch, changed
fearfully from cool quiet marble to something of the consistency of warm
india rubber—from an adorable image to—the female of the species.

And with all the term implies. The butterfly wings of Psyche, iridescent,
like rainbows reflected on mother-of-pearl, have shrivelled and
blackened into the umbrella-ribbed wings of the vampire and the petalled
lips from which could only be thought to issue the maidenly negative
“yes” or the melting affirmative “no”—are twisted into little scarlet
snakes that hiss, “Kisssss me my fool!”

“Look before she leaps!” is the Leap-Year slogan of the shrinking
Bachelor, and it is a perfectly splendid motto, as mottoes go.

But a motto is like a cure for a cold which is only good to cure a cold
that has not yet been caught, and the shrinking one is already as good as
caught and his perfectly splendid slogan is of no more use than an icebox
to an Esquimaux or a fur coat in Hell.

The Leap-Year Bachelor’s only hope is to feign death. Like the Bear in
Æsop, the Female of the Species Human has no use for any but a “live one.”

If he flees he is lost—(or found, according to whether the speech be
given to the male or the female actor of the scene,)—and if he be a grass
widower, he is made hay while the sun shines.

Now whether Providence intended the instinct of flight for the
preservation of the hunted one or as a stimulus to the hunter, will
never be known. With wolves and tigers it works both ways, but with the
leap-year “Vamp” it works pretty much only one way.

And so the gentle bachelor flees and is caught and is lived upon happily
ever after⸺

       *       *       *       *       *

To see a statue come to life must be a terrifying spectacle. Ovid’s tale
of Pygmalion and Galatea is only for those who get their ideas about
artists from magazines to the vacuity of whose contents the face of the
girl on the cover may well serve as an index.

I am quite certain that when Pygmalion saw his perfect marble (perfect to
him anyway) turn to imperfect flesh and blood, the completed result of
months of hard work obliterated—undone—as if it had never been—and in its
place “just a girl,” very sweet and lovely and all that—but compared to
his statue—oh no!

And that is looking at it from its brightest “angle” (as the
motion-picture intellectuals say). As a matter of fact, judging from the
agonizing sensation of the human leg (or arm) when rudely awakened from
dreamless slumber, the process of transmutation from senseless stone to
pulsating flesh must be a very painful one indeed. However pleasing the
countenance of the living Galatea might be under normal conditions its
expression of mingled bewilderment, rage and physical anguish must have
been disconcerting, not to say terrifying, to the sensitive soul of the
sculptor, and anything but consoling for the loss of his hard-won and
cherished handiwork.

I can picture Pygmalion fleeing madly from his studio, not even waiting
for the elevator and vowing by all the gods, then administrating human
affairs, never again to make a wish without touching wood or at least
crossing his fingers.



In the last ten years or so all the necessaries and most of the luxuries
of life have more than doubled in cost—all but one—the Cab—or to be more
accurate, the Taxi-cab.

Perhaps it is because a cab is quite as often a necessity as it is a
luxury and so falls between two schools, the Stoic and Epicurean, that it
is an exception to the rule of rising cost.

Did I say rising cost? If I am not very much mistaken the cost of
cabbing, so far from not rising _has actually fallen_ in the last ten
years, and that brings me to my great invention.

It is a scheme for saving money, a Thrift scheme. It is like this—Every
time you take a street-car (what with the dislocated service and the
abolition of transfers) you are paying nearly twice what you used to pay,
and soon you will be paying even more.

On the other hand, a trip that in a hackney cab, fifteen years ago, cost
you a dollar-fifty, today in a taxicab costs you only seventy-five cents.

Now make a swift calculation—

If you take six cars a day you lose thirty cents. A loss of thirty cents
a day doesn’t seem very much, but in a year, it amounts to a loss of
$109.50 which is not to be treated lightly.

Now if you take six Taxis at an average cost of, say two dollars per
trip, you are saving (let me see, six times two) twelve dollars a day
and twelve dollars a day is four thousand three hundred and eighty
dollars a year, which added to the $109.50 you have saved by not riding
in street-cars makes a grand total of $4489.50! And this is only what
you save by taking six cabs a day. If you took twice as many cabs _you
would save twice that amount_, and if you increased your cabbage to one
hundred per diem (a day) your savings for the first year would amount to
$448,950.50—nearly half a million dollars!

Go over my figures carefully with your wife when she returns from
business this evening—It is a live proposition—Think it over!




I wonder—has any one ever made a psychoanalytical study of the habits of
the Match-box family?

By Match-box family I mean the yellow and black, self-sufficient variety
that arrive from the grocer in packages of a dozen and are at once torn
apart and distributed (like kittens or missionaries) to every point of
the compass.

Each box has its own special territory, and there it should stand, ready
to the last match for any sudden emergency, such as the re-animation of
the just-gone-out pipe, or the finding of the eyeglasses in the dark that
their owner may be able to read the time on his radium-faced wrist-watch,
or a thousand and one things.

There are indeed a thousand and one good and sufficient reasons (apart
from its being its plain duty) why a match-box should always be on the
job, and like the thousand and one cures for rheumatism not one of them
(unless it be a horse-chestnut in the pocket) can be relied upon to work.

I sometimes think “a thousand and one” must be an unlucky number.

The greater the need of its services the less likely is the match-box to
be in that particular place where any number of witnesses will testify
upon oath they had seen it only a moment before.

What is the strikeology of it? Have match-boxes that perverted sense of
humor that finds expression in practical jokes? No, it is nothing like
that. Would that it were! It is something less easy to explain. It is
something sinister—something rather frightening.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am a devout reader of detective stories and with much study of their
methods have come to regard myself as something of a sleuth, in a purely
theoretic way of course; nevertheless I have always hoped some day to put
my theories to the test, and here was the chance. _I would find out where
the match-boxes go_, I would follow their trail to the bitter end, even
if it led to the door of the White House itself!

       *       *       *       *       *

First I made a careful blue-print plan of the flat in which I (and
the match-boxes) live, marking plainly in red ink all the doors,
windows, fire-escapes (fire-escapes are most important); dumbwaiters,
closets, trapdoors (there weren’t any but I put them in to make it more
professional); then—but why go into all the thousand and—there’s that
unlucky number again—the thousand and two minute and uninteresting
details? You would only skip them and turn to the last paragraph to end
the horrible suspense and learn at once what I discovered. * * *


    _Synopsis of Previous Chapter._ Having observed that
    Match-boxes, placed in every room of the house, invariably
    disappear in a few hours, the narrator resolves to solve the
    mystery even though the trail should lead straight to the White
    House in Washington. Accordingly he makes a plan of all the
    rooms, closets, etc., and searches every possible hiding-place,
    but no trace of the Match-boxes is found.

What can have become of them! I have searched every corner of every
room in the house—Stay! There is one room I have overlooked—the Haunted
Room in the West Corridor, haunted by the ghosts of dead cigarettes,
unfinished poems and murdered ideas. It is my study (or studio, as the
occasion may be). With trembling hand on the porcelain door-knob, I pause
to recall the secret combination.

In vain I rack my brain to remember the secret combination of my study
door. Then suddenly it flashes upon me that long ago I wrote it down in
the address book I carried in my pocket.

There are twelve pockets in the suit I am wearing. Fearfully I go through
the twelve pockets and many are the lost treasures and forgotten-to-mail
letters I find, but no Address Book! Wait! there is still another pocket!

With the deliberation of despair I empty the Thirteenth Pocket of its
contents—a broken cigarette, two amalgamated postage stamps, a device for
cleaning pipe bowls, some box-checks for _The Famous Mrs. Fair_, four
rubber bands, a fragment of an Erie time-table and—the Address Book!

On the last page of the Address Book is the Combination, written in a
pale Greek cipher, but still legible, grasping the porcelain door-knob
firmly between my thumb and four fingers I scan the cipher eagerly.
De-coded, it reads as follows—_Twist knob to the right as far as
possible and push door._

       *       *       *       *       *

With heart beating like a typewriter I obeyed the directions to the
letter, and to my intense relief the door yielded and in another moment I
was in the room!

And there, scattered over the surface of my desk like surprised
conspirators, feigning ignorance of one another’s presence, were twelve
yellow Match-boxes!

How they mastered the combination of the door and got into the room, I
shall not attempt to explain. I am only an amateur Detective.

All I know is that Match-boxes, though they be scattered to the ends of
the house (or World), always get together in some one place.

Perhaps it is for safety, they get together.

I have always wondered why they are called Safety Matches.

Perhaps that is the reason!



If a fool be sometimes an angel unawares, may not a foolish query be a
momentous question in disguise? For example, the old riddle: “Why is a
hen?” which is thought by many people to be the silliest question ever
asked, is in reality the most profound. It is the riddle of existence.
It has an answer, to be sure, but though all the wisest men and women
in the world _and_ Mr. H. G. Wells have tried to guess it, the riddle
“Why is a hen?” has never been answered and never will be. So, too, the
question: “Are Cats People?” seemingly so trivial, may be, under certain
conditions, a question of vital importance.

Suppose, now, a rich man dies, leaving all his money to his eldest
son, with the proviso that a certain portion of it shall be spent in
the maintenance of his household as it then existed, all its members
to remain under his roof, and receive the same comfort, attention, or
remuneration they had received in his (the testator’s) lifetime. Then
suppose the son, on coming into his money, and being a hater of cats,
made haste to rid himself of a feline pet that had lived in the family
from early kittenhood, and had been an especial favorite of his father’s.

Thereupon, the second son, being a lover of cats and no hater of money,
sues for possession of the estate on the ground that his brother has
failed to carry out the provisions of his father’s will, in refusing to
maintain the household cat.

The decision of the case depends entirely on the social status of the cat.

Shall the cat be considered as a member of the household? What
constitutes a household anyway?

The definition of “Household” in the Standard Dictionary is as follows:
“_A number of persons living under the same roof._”

If cats are people, then the cat in question is a person and a member of
the household, and for failing to maintain her and provide her with the
comfort and attention to which she has been used, the eldest son loses
his inheritance. Having demonstrated that the question “Are Cats People?”
is anything but a trivial one, I now propose a court of inquiry, to
settle once for all and forever, the social status of _felis domesticus_.

And I propose for the office of judge of that court—myself!

In seconding the proposal and appointing myself judge of the court, I
have been careful to follow political precedent by taking no account
whatever of any qualifications I may or may not have for the office.

For witnesses, I summon (from wherever they may be) two great shades,
to wit: King Solomon, the wisest man of his day, and Noah Webster, the

And I say to Mr. Webster, “Mr. Webster, what are the common terms used to
designate a domestic feline whose Christian name chances to be unknown to
the speaker?” and Mr. Webster answers without a moment’s hesitation:

“Cat, puss, pussy and pussy-cat.”

“And what is the grammatical definition of the above terms?”

“They are called nouns.”

“And what, Mr. Webster, is the accepted definition of a noun?”

“A noun is the name of a person, place or thing.”

“Kindly define the word ‘place’.”

“A particular locality.”

“And ‘thing’.”

“An inanimate object.”

“That will do, Mr. Webster.”

So, according to Mr. Noah Webster, the entity for which the noun cat
stands, must, if not a person, be a locality or an inanimate object!

A cat is surely not a locality, and as for being an inanimate object,
her chance of avoiding such a condition is nine times better even than a

Then a cat _must_ be a person.

Suppose we consult King Solomon.

In the Book of Proverbs, Chapter XXX, verse 26, Solomon says: “The coneys
are but a feeble folk, yet they make their houses in the rocks.”

A coney is a kind of rabbit; folk, according to Mr. Webster, only another
word for people.

That settles it! If the rabbits are people, cats are people.

Long lives to the cat!



It is harder for a table or chair to behave naturally on the stage than
for a camel to be free and easy in a needle’s eye, or for Mr. Rockefeller
to get into Heaven (or Hell?) with the money.

What can be more pathetic than the spectacle of a helpless young chair or
table or settee starting on a stage career shining with gilt varnish and
high ambition to reflect in art’s mirror the drawing-room manners of the
furniture of real life.

Mlle. Fauteuil (that is her stage name, in private life she is just plain
Sofa) is fresh, charming and of the best manufacture. She appears nightly
in a Broadway theater, yet she has attracted no attention. She has
received no press notices.

Certainly this is from no lack of charm on her part. Her legs are
delightful. In the contemplation of their gilded curves, one scarcely
notices that she has no arms or that her back is slightly curved, and her
upholstery, a brocade of the season before last.

In a hushed papièr-mâché voice the property man told me the story of
Mlle. Fauteuil’s persecution—how, at the first rehearsal with scenery,
she occupied a perfectly proper position between the center table and
the bay window, how the Leading Lady insisted on her being moved as she
obstructed that superior person’s path when, after writing the letter,
she crosses to the window to see if her Husband is in the garden.

Mlle. Fauteuil was then transferred to a station between the table and
the fire-place. This was all right, until the scene between the Husband
and Wife, when the Husband walks back and forth (quickly up stage and
slowly down stage), _between the table and the fire-place_.

This time it was not a case of politely requesting the intervention of
the stage-manager.

       *       *       *       *       *

Poor mangled Fauteuil! When she was picked up from the orchestra pit
where he had thrown her it was found that two of her rungs were fractured
and her left castor was broken clean off at the ankle.

After half a day in the hospital without either anesthetics, flowers or
press notices, she reappeared on the left side of the stage, between the
center table and the safe. Here she was conspicuous and happy until it
was found that the Erring Son in his voyage from the window to the safe,
was compelled to take a difficult step to one side to avoid the fauteuil.

Bandied from right to left, up stage and down stage, at last Mlle.
Fauteuil landed in her present obscure position, to the right of the
stairway pillar, where, though miserably obscure, she interferes with
nobody’s stage business.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the interior set as now played there is only one chair with a speaking
part—this is, the Jacobean chair on which the leading man leans when
talking to the ingénue. In the first act, it faces left so that he may
show his favorite profile. In the second act, the chair is reversed
in order that the audience may enjoy his more popular and extensively
photographed left profile.

The moral of this story is that the furniture on the stage must never
appear more intelligent than the actors.



Oh, yes, Money talks. We all know that, and a very noisy talker it is and
very harsh and metallic is its accent. But sometimes money talks in a
whisper, so low that it can hardly be heard.

Then is the time it should be watched, even if spies and dictaphones
must be set upon it. The money whose eloquence, we are told, wished
the shackles of Prohibition on this land of the free, talked with such
a “still small voice” that everybody (except you and me, dear Reader)
mistook it for the voice of conscience.

Speaking of money perhaps you don’t know it, but it is nevertheless true,
that the light given off by one of the many species of Firefly is the
most efficient light known, being produced at about one four-hundredth
part of the cost of the energy which is expended in the candle flame.
That is what William J. Hammer says in his book on Radium, giving as his
authority Professor S. P. Langley and F. W. Very.

And Sir Oliver Lodge says if the secret of the Firefly were known, a
boy turning a crank could furnish sufficient energy to light an entire
electric circuit.

But to the Casual Observer there is only one variety of Firefly.… Like
Wordsworth’s primrose:

    The Firefly with fitful glim
    Is just a Lightning Bug to him
    And it is nothing more.

In reality there are almost as many different kinds of Firefly in the
United States alone as there are varieties of the great American Pickle.

The late Professor Hagen of Harvard College, it is said, when enjoying
the beauties of Nature one night in the company of the Casual Observer,
was aroused from an apparent reverie by the question “Have you noticed
the Fireflies, Professor?”

“Yes,” replied Professor Hagen, “I have already counted thirteen distinct

Another quite different story is told of a well-known English
actress—Cecilia Loftus, if you insist on knowing her name. It was her
first visit to America and Miss Loftus was sitting with another Casual
Observer on the piazza of a country house whose grounds were separated
from the road by a belt of trees.

“Do you see the Fireflies?” said the Casual Observer, pointing toward the

“Fireflies!” exclaimed Cecilia, “why, I thought they were hansom-cab



It may perchance be questioned how long Britannia shall continue to rule
the waves, but that she will ever cease to rule the fashions (the male
fashions, I mean) is beyond the dreams of the boldest tailor or the
maddest hatter.

Nevertheless, every rule has its exception and the Rule of Fashion is no
exception to the rule that rules that every rule has its exception.

Every once in a while, since the invention of trousers, one or another
English King has ruled that the human trouser-crease shall crown the
Eastern and Western slope instead of the Northern and Southern exposure
of the trouser-leg.

The law has never been considered by Parliament, for even the most
radical House of Commons would balk at legislation so subversive of
individual freedom, but by word of mouth, by courier, by post, by cable,
by wireless, by airplane the edict has passed through all the nations and
all the tribes to the trousermost ends of the earth.

And with what result?

With no result whatever. As far as it has been possible to push inquiry,
it is safe to say that no trouserian biped bearing the mark of a lateral
crease has been met with in any quarter of the Globe, or, for that
matter, ever will be.

Strange, is it not, that the Tailors (proverbially the most complacent,
not to say timid, of men) should, without any plan or program or fuss
or demonstration of any sort, unite as one man—or rather one tailor—and
refuse to obey the unlimited monarch of the male fashions of the
civilized world. What is the explanation?

There are two explanations. One is Commercialism.

There is no profit to be made out of a change in the geography of a
trouser-crease. It is purely a matter of self-determination on the part
of the inhabitant of the trousers.

If there were no more financial profit to be gained by the remaking of
the creases in the map of Europe than is to be got out of changing the
trouser-crease, there would be no call for a League of Nations.

Should some inventive tailor (_inventive tailor!_) devise a crease that
could be woven into the very being of the Trouser, then it would be a
very different matter. The slightest variation in the location of the
crease would cause an upheaval in the (I’m tired of the word Trouser)—in
the “Pant” market that would mean millions of dollars to the trade.

As it is there is no money in it.

The other explanation is that the story of King Edward or King George
creasing the Royal Pants in any but the usual place is made out of whole

But let us suppose for a moment (just for the fun of the thing) that in
some possible scheme or caprice of creation there _were_ such a thing as
an inventive tailor.

And the inventive tailor invented a permanent trouser-crease and planted
it on the Eastern and Western frontiers of the trouser-legs.

What would be the probable effect of the innovation on the
trouser-bearing species of the human race?

In that process of advancing alternate trouser-legs we call locomotion do
we not consciously, or unconsciously, follow in the direction indicated
by the point of the crease?

What then would happen if the crease were transferred from the front to
the sides?

The Crab alone of all living creatures exhibits in its legs a formation
that corresponds to the human trouser-crease.

This ridge-like formation or crease occurs in the _side_ of the Crab’s
legs, not in the front as in the human species!

And the slogan of the Crab (as everyone knows) is, “First make sure
you’re right _and then go sideways_.”

Shall we too go sideways?

       *       *       *       *       *

Charlie Chaplin is the only human creature whose feet go East and West
as his face travels North and his trouser-creases are so complicated it
would be difficult to classify them.

Perhaps they hold the secret of his centrifugal orientation, his
inexplicable fascination.

Who knows!



We have to thank an Anglican clergyman, the Rev. G. Vale Owen, for
the latest description of the Future Life of our species. Impelled by
a “gentle, steady but accumulative force” this good man became the
unwilling amanuensis of the spirit of his mother and “other friends” and
has written a description of the houses, trees, bridges, gardens and
people of the other world and their occupations that could scarcely be
improved upon by the most imaginative motion-picture photographer, or
mechanic or scrub-woman or whoever it may be that writes the scenarios.

We of this world are still, after many thousand years of waiting, eager
for the faintest ray of light that may be thrown on the actual conditions
of what we call “the world to come,” or as the Spiritists love to say,
“behind the veil,” but for the tawdry imaginings of the Reverend Mr.
Owen the “Veil” serves only as an opaque screen upon whose surface
they flicker grotesquely like the disorderly apparitions of a cinema

As a Seer this reverend gentleman, without for a moment questioning his
sincerity, is a failure; his narrative, is childish in its crudity and
tedious as a dream told at the breakfast table.

One thing, however, is interesting, and that is to trace as we do,
through the transcendental claptrap of “rainbow brides” and white-winged
angels and the pseudo-scientific jargon of “planes,” “vibrations,”
“spheres,” and “fourth dimension,” the—shall I say humanizing—influence
of the cinema.

For the first time we learn that there are bath tubs in the Heavenly
Mansions—Bathtubs! With hot and cold water, and Dr. Owen does not stop at
bathtubs; he assures us there are also—don’t faint—_water nymphs_! Can’t
you see all Israel clamoring for the picture rights!

Imagine the angelic shade of St. Anthony or Mr. Spurgeon coming
unexpectedly upon a school of water nymphs!

And how is this for a motion-picture “fade out”?

“_As we knelt the whole summit of the hill seemed to become
transparent—we saw right through it and a part of the regions below was
brought out with distinctness. The scene we saw was a dry and barren
plain in semi-darkness and standing, leaning against a rock, was a man of
large stature._”

I strongly suspect that the Reverend Mr. Vale Owen is, like myself (to my
shame confess it), a motion-picture fan!



These are mournful days for the Polite Arts. One by one they are passing
away—the Art of Conversation, the Art of Paying Calls, the Art of Letter

The Art of Conversation is no longer even a subject for conversation. No
one so much as remembers of what it died. Did it languish and fade away
into an Eternal Pause as such a dignified gentleman of the old school as
the Art of Conversation would be expected to do—or was it murdered?

The mystery surrounding the death of the Art of Conversation has never
been properly cleared up. Some think it died of heart failure induced
by the killing modern pace. Others say it starved to death. Others
again, that it was done to death by the chewing-gum trust. For my part,
I believe the Art of Conversation talked itself to death. It died of
obesity—it grew and grew and grew until, when all the world talked there
was nobody left to listen. Then it burst.

No such mystery hangs about the death of the Art of Paying Calls. Here it
was a case of plain every-day murder—and what is more, the murderer still
lives. Millions of electric volts are pumped into him every day, but he
still lives—the more electricity we give him the livelier he grows. He is
the Telephone, and the Telephone is the murderer of the Art of Calling.

Poor old Art of Calling! We shake our heads and murmur perfunctory
regrets—“good old chap,” and all that sort of thing, but really in our
heart of hearts, let me whisper it very low—we don’t really miss him very
much; to tell the truth, we are rather, that is to say, _quite_ glad he
is dead. If anyone of us had had the courage of his conviction he would
have killed him long ago. To speak plainly, the Art of Calling was a
pestiferous tyrant—and he only got what he deserved.



“I often talk to myself,” says Mr. G. K. Chesterton, speaking in defense
of the stage soliloquy. “If a man does not talk to himself it is because
he is not worth talking to.”

The deduction is obvious, but it is based upon false premises. If Mr.
Chesterton is worth talking to, it is certainly not because he talks to
himself. It is impossible to imagine a more foolish waste of energy than
that expended in talking to one’s self. The man who talks to himself is
twice damned (as a fool). First, for wasting speech on an auditor who
knows in advance every word he will utter. Second, for listening to a
speaker whose every word he can foretell before it is uttered.

Mr. Chesterton’s argument, failing as it does to prove that he is worth
talking to, is still less happy as a defense of the stage soliloquy.

A character in a play talks to himself not, as Mr. Chesterton would have
us believe, because he is worth talking to, but to enlighten the audience
on points which the inexpert playwright has otherwise failed to make

The stage soliloquy is only permissible as an indication of the character
of one who talks to himself in real life. For instance, if I wished to
dramatize G. K. Chesterton, since he often talks to himself, I should
have him soliloquize upon the stage. I might make it a double part
with two Mr. Chestertons dressed as the two Dromios. As a stage device
the soliloquy is only a confession of weakness on the part of the
playwright, and has been justly sentenced to death.

Its only hope for a reprieve is to retain (at great expense) an
ex-president or an eminent K. C. who might argue that since the “fourth
wall” of a stage interior is removed in order that the audience may view
the actions of the players, it is therefore permissible to remove the
“fourth wall” of the players’ heads so that the audience may view the
action of their brains.

And the ex-president or the eminent K. C. would probably “get away with



When Alexander the Great cut with his sword the Gordian Knot, which had
baffled all his efforts to untie with honest fingers, it goes without
saying that his impudent performance received the applause of the

As he stood there, his heavy sword still swaying from the impetus of the
stroke and exclaimed with a challenging glare at those before him (and
belike an apprehensive glance over his shoulder), “Did I or did I not
untie that knot?”—whatever might—nay, must have been the unspoken comment
that passed from eye to eye, the answer shouted in unison, was without a
shadow of a doubt the Phrygian equivalent of “You sure did!”

For the Great God Bunk (whose worshipers are born at the rate of one
a minute) is as old as the world itself; and since we have it on good
authority that the world is a stage, even though we do not suspect him
of a hand in its making, we know the old rogue assisted at the first
dress rehearsal famous for all time for the smallness of the cast and the
inexpensiveness of the costuming.

King Gordius, whose genius contrived the unpickable knot, is now
comfortably forgotten, while Alexander who destroyed what he could not
understand, still enjoys uneasy immortality; for what is immortality at
best but the suspended sentence of Oblivion?

And the knot? The hempen hieroglyph that was never solved. When oblivion
has overtaken Alexander and even the name of Gordius is forgotten, the
world, which is surprisingly young for its age, will still babble
wonderingly of the knot that never was and never will be untied.

Another high priest of the Great God Bunk was Christopher Columbus, and
on how frail a foundation rests his immortal fame—nothing more than the
fragile, calcareous container, (and fractured at that) of an unborn
domestic fowl.

Unquestionably the fame of Columbus rests upon his impudent pretense
of balancing an egg by crushing it violently upon the table. To be
sure, Columbus also discovered America, but in that he was only one of
a multitude. At that moment in the world’s history the discovering of
America was, like golf, something between a sport and an obsession,
everybody was discovering America. So common was it, that only a few
of the discoverers are remembered by name, and had it not been for his
famous egg-balancing fraud the name of Christopher Columbus would surely
be among the forgotten ones.

To balance an egg on its apex—though not impossible, is a tedious and
dispiriting task; and even if Columbus had accomplished it honestly
without fracturing the shell, so far from adding to his laurels he might
have lost them altogether. Queen Isabella would never have had the
patience to sit through so long and boresome a performance, and when the
Queen leaves, you know the performance is over.

Indeed, it is quite thinkable that it was the dread of just such an
ending to his audience and the resultant stage fright reacting upon an
excitable sea-faring nature that caused Columbus to break the egg.

The question now asks itself: Has Christopher Columbus, posing as a
clever impostor when in reality only a stage-frightened bungler, obtained
his fame under false pretenses? In unmasking his clandestine honesty do
we but prove him the greater fraud? Bunk only knows!

Queen Dido of Carthage, on the other hand, came by her dishonesty quite
honestly—she inherited it from her royal father’s sister Jezebel.

Yes, Jezebel, the patron sinner of half a world of womankind, was Queen
Dido’s aunt. Good or bad, what was her Aunt Jezebel’s was also Dido’s by
right of inheritance. And none of all the prophets of the Great God Bunk
was greater than this prophetess.

Did she not for certain moneys receive the title to so much land as might
be compassed by the bigness of a bull’s hide.

She did.

Did she not then carve said bull’s hide into fine strips and therewith
enclose enough real estate for the foundation of the city of Carthage?

She did.



If you were suddenly asked, by way of a mental test, what particular
thing or person was most closely associated in your mind with the word
_strong_, you would probably say a giant or an ox unless you had been
listening to a sermon whose text was the sixteenth chapter of Judges,
thirtieth verse, in which case you would be more likely to say Samson,
but the typical example of physical strength, would hardly be an Onion.

And yet the Onion, although, like the proverbial Prophet, it may be
without honor among its fellow vegetables, is regarded by at least one
human outsider as the giant and ox and Samson combined of the vegetable

Whatever your gastronomic leanings may be, let you not be tempted to
think lightly of the Onion.

Though its name be unhallowed when it appears in vulgar consort with
Tripe, and its reek abhorrent in the habitations of the lowly, though it
be viewed with contempt as a poor relation by its kinsman the lily, the
Onion has a glorious past; it has a record of achievement that is second
to none; it was, as I shall presently show, chiefly due to the strength
of Onions that at least one of the great Egyptian Pyramids owed its
existence. Even Samson might envy the record of the Onion!

       *       *       *       *       *

When I tell you that the Pyramids of Egypt, at any rate one of them, was
built by sheer vegetable strength, you may not believe me, but perhaps
you may believe the historian Herodotus.

Herodotus found engraved on one of the Pyramids a complete record of the
exact number of onions, radishes and leeks supplied and consumed by the
workmen who piled its monstrous stones one upon the other.[1]

And how were the Pyramids erected? By some forgotten mechanical farce? No.

According to the late Cope Whitehouse, Engineer and Egyptologist, the
Pyramids were built from the apex downward over the conical hills that
abound in the locality, the interior of the hill being afterwards dug
away to form chambers and galleries. All of which was accomplished by the
unaided physical power of human muscles and sinews.

And whence came this power?

It was derived mainly from the vegetable energy of Onions, leeks and
radishes transmuted by the chemistry of digestion and assimilation to the
muscles and sinews of the slaves employed in building the Pyramid.

Furthermore, Herodotus tells us that with the engraved record of the
onions, leeks and radishes consumed by the slaves, was also the
computation of their cost which amounted to 1,600 talents of silver,
this being the total cost of the vegetable fuel for operating the human
machinery employed in the construction of the Pyramid.

And now let me ask you—what it is, this thing we call Scent, this
mysterious emanation which is the Love Message of the Rose, the Call of
the Sea, the Strength of the Onion?

You don’t know? Neither do I, no more does anybody.

Of all the five recording faculties which we human creatures share
with other animals, the sense of Smell is the most elusive, the most
penetrating. It apprises us of impending peril when all our other wires
of sensation are “busy” or “out of order” and incapable of giving us
warning. It has the mysterious power of reproducing through the “flash
back” we call memory the forgotten records of all of the other four
sense-films, and yet the scientists who can tell us all about light waves
and sound waves, and even make pictures of them, have very little to
say about the movement of the invisible bodies whose impact upon our
consciousness produces the sensation of smell.

The terrific scent-energy hurled forth from the seemingly inexhaustible
storage battery of an Onion or a Tuberose is more of a mystery to our
men of science than is the composition of the crooked light waves from
the planet Mars or the height of the flames of the Corona, measured in a
solar eclipse.

Even Dr. Einstein, to whom the movements of the heavenly bodies are as
simple as is a game of baseball to the average intellect, cannot tell us
whether the scent-atoms hurled from the Onion rush forth in an impeccable
tangent or are pitched in a hyperbolic curve.

[1] _Herod._: 11, 125.



    “On some men the Gods bestow Fortitude,
    On others a disposition for Dancing.”

Thus the poet Hesiod, three thousand years ago, scored with vitriolic
antithesis the Dancing man of his day⸺

And of all the days, for like the poor (and no less deplorable) the
Dancing man is always with us.

The gods had much to answer for in the days of Hesiod, and man had much
to put up with. Anything, good or evil, that befell him, from the measles
to melancholia—from fortitude to dancing—was a gift of the gods, wished
on him as a token of their high esteem, or otherwise. All man had to do
was to accept the gift, and, if it chanced to be boils, as in the case of
Job, he might be thankful it was nothing worse.

Today we view a gift of the gods with distrust. Before giving thanks we
inspect it in the light of Science. We examine it (as a gift horse) in
the mouth. If it is a good gift, such as patience, or an aptitude for
cooking, we nurture and encourage it; if it is an undesirable gift, like
the measles, we eradicate it, or give it to someone else as quickly as

Without knowing it, Hesiod uttered a scientific truth.

That Fortitude and a Disposition to Dance are gifts of the gods is just
as true physiologically as it is poetically speaking.

The Dancing man dances, the man of Fortitude faces a cannon—or a musical
comedy—because he is built that way. In other words, his behavior is due
to certain pathological structural conditions which are inherited.

The behavior of the man of Fortitude is due to the poverty of cerebral
tissue in that part of the brain whose function it is to stimulate the
activity known as imagination. That is to say, he faces the cannon
without the least concern, because he can not imagine what it will be
like to have a cannon explode right in his face.

What then are the pathological conditions in the brain of the Dancing
man that cause him to dance? Unfortunately for the cause of Science, the
brain of the true Dancing man is almost as rare a commodity as Radium.
In the United States alone there is scarcely more than a fraction of an
ounce of this elusive gray tissue. To procure even the minute quantity
necessary for experimental purposes would require the sacrifice of
thousands of Dancing men. This in these days of Antivivisection Hysteria,
is out of the question.

Luckily for Science, there exists in the animal Kingdom another creature
afflicted with the same peculiar tendency to perpetual rotation as the
Dancing man.

It is but one alliterative step from the Dancing man to the Dancing mouse.

The restlessness and almost incessant movement in circles and the
peculiar excitability of the Dancing mouse is attributed by Rawitz,
the famous physiologist, to the _lack of certain senses which compels
the animal to strive through varied movements to use to the greatest
advantage those senses which it does possess_.

Comparative physiologists have discovered that the ability of animals
to regulate the position of the body with respect to external objects
is dependent in a large measure upon the groups of sense organs which
collectively are called the ear.

To quote Rawitz again:

_The waltzing mouse has only one normal canal and that is the anterior
vertical. The horizontal and posterior vertical canals are crippled and
frequently they are grown together._

Panse, on the other hand, expresses his belief that there are unusual
structural conditions in the brain, perhaps in the cerebellum, to which
are due the dance movements.

When the doctors disagree what are we going to do about it?

For my part I am willing to leave it to Cicero—

“_Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit._”



There is a Hobgoblin that stalks in the path of the athletic young
writers of the day and frightens them almost out of their wits.

The Hobgoblin is the third person singular, past tense, of the verb
“Say,” and his name is SAID.

The Hobgoblin SAID does not stalk alone; with him stalk his sisters and
his cousins and his aunts, indeed, all the SAID family except old Gran’ma
QUOTH. Old Gran’ma QUOTH, who is much too old to stalk, stays at home and
dreams of the good old days when she was a verb of fashion, honored and
courted by all the greatest writers of the day.

And when her grandchildren come home in the evening and tell how they
frightened the athletic young writers almost out of their wits, she
nearly bursts her old-fashioned stays, laughing at the drollery of it.
“Egad!” she cries. “An’ I were an hundred years younger, I’d like nought
better than to take a hand myself, and lay my stick about their backs,
the young whippersnappers!”

And I for one, would like to see her do it.

How the SAID family ever became professional Hobgoblins, I can not say.
All I know is that, once a hardworking and highly respected family,
suddenly they found themselves shunned. There was nothing left for them
but to become HOBGOBLINS. Now their only pleasure in life is to see what
funny antics they can make the athletic young writers perform in trying
to escape from them.

And funny they certainly are.

Here are a few specimens from some of our leading “best sellers”:

“To think I have fallen to that!” _grated_ Gilstar with clenched teeth.

“I get rather a good price,” Gilstar _dared_.

“I’ll give you twenty-five dollars,” he _offered_ wildly.

“What are your terms?” he _clucked_.

But why bother about “best sellers,” when you can make almost as funny
ones at home? Here is a home-brewed one:

    “Where are you going to, my pretty maid?”
    “I’m going to the Doctor’s, to ask his aid,
      I caught a cold when I slept in the loft,”
              “Sir,” she coughed,
              “Sir,” she coughed,
      “I’m going to the Doctor’s sir,” she coughed.

    “May I go with you, my pretty maid?”
    “Oh, yes, indeed, if you’re not afraid
      Of catching my cold, I shall be pleased,”
              “Sir,” she sneezed,
              “Sir,” she sneezed,
      “Oh, yes, if you please, kind sir,” she sneezed.

    “Of catching your cold I have no fear,
    For I’ll take no chances, my pretty dear!”
      At this the maiden was sorely ruffled,
              “Sir?” she snuffled,
              “Sir?” she snuffled,
      “What do you mean, kind sir,” she snuffled.

    “I mean I won’t kiss you, my pretty maid!”
    “Nobody asked you, my smart young Blade!”
      In her pocket-handkerchief, large and new,
              “Sir!” she blew,
              “Sir!” she blew,
      “Nobody asked you, sir!” she blew.



On the first of May I took a day off and used the telephone. It is best
to take a day off if you want to get a number these times, and the
number asked for was Spring one, nine, two, two—yes, Spring, Nineteen
Twenty-Two. “There’s no such number,” said Central; “what you want is
Winter 1921.” I assured her that was the last number in the world I
desired, and after a wait of an hour or so she gave me Blizzard 1888 on
a busy wire, comparing notes with Winter 1920, and I began to despair of
ever getting my number.

I rang off and waited. I am a patient person, I waited a whole hour to
allow the wire to cool off. Then I called again and this time I was
rewarded by hearing at the other end of the wire a faint far-off, fuzzy,
mewing sound.

It was the voice of the Pussy-Willow!

It was Lawrence Sterne, wasn’t it? who wrote, “God tempers the wind to
the shorn lamb,” and it is quite a happy thought that the gentle airs
that succeed the blustering winds of March, are a Providential concession
to the tender nurslings of the April fields.

But the Pussy-Willow comes in February and early March and it would
be asking too much to expect Providence to temper the wholesome and
necessary rigors of these months for the sake of the venturesome kittens
of the Willow bough.

Who but Providence (or Mr. Hoover) could ever have thought of the happy
expedient of providing each and every Pussy-Willow, not only in the
United States but also in England, France, Belgium and even Germany, with
a warm fur overcoat!

And I verily believe that if the Pussy-Willows were lodged on the cold
wet ground instead of perched on the high and dry branches, Providence
(or Mr. Hoover) would have seen to it that in addition to fur coats they
were provided with galoshes.



The Pernicious Peaches whereof we speak are never out of season. They
may be seen almost any month of the year on the covers of magazines,
devoted to the moral and social uplift of young girls in general, and the
American young girl in particular.

The February magazine peach crop is usually most abundant—All through the
merry month of Saint Valentine they hang on the news-stands, singly or
in clusters, and Peaches they are to be sure—Peaches in the stupidest,
cheapest, slangiest nonsense of the word.

There they hang to quote the redundant Dr. Roget, F. R. S.—“_simpering,
smirking, sniggling, giggling, ogling, tittering, prinking, preening,
flaunting, flirting, mincing, coquetting, frivoling, attitudinizing,
self-conscious artificial, smug, namby-pamby, sentimental, unnatural,
stagy, shallow, weak, wanting, soft, sappy, spoony, fatuous, idiotic,
imbecile, driveling, blatant, babbling, vacant, foolish, silly,
senseless, addle-pated, giddy, childish, chuckle-headed, puerile_,” and,
what is above all else inexcusable in a peach—mushy.

And these (in journals that set the fashions moral, mental, social and
sartorial) for our young American sister at the most impressionable age
of her life—the age when, whatever may be her dormant possibilities,
she is by her nature irresistibly impelled to pattern herself after
the favorite girl of her class in school, or the favorite actress on
the stage—to copy her coiffure, her dress, her deportment, even the
expression of her face.

And how, you ask, can a young girl be harmed by imitating what, however
vacuous or silly, is after all only an expression?

The answer is, that just as a persistent bend of thought modifies and in
time fixes the expression of the face, so a habitual expression (or lack
of expression) of face influences the bend of thought and, in time, fixes
the character.

If you don’t believe this, dear girl, stand before your looking-glass and
smirk at yourself as hard as you can, until you look (as much as it is
possible for a human girl to look) like a magazine-cover Peach. Then try
to hold the “Peach” look while you recite:

    _The stars of midnight shall be dear_
    _To her; and she shall lean her ear_
        _In many a secret place_
    _Where rivulets dance their wayward round_
    _And beauty born of murmuring sound_
        _Shall pass into her face._

You see it’s impossible! You can’t do it, any more than you can stroke
your head up and down at the same time as you stroke your chest
sideways. Your mouth has come out of curl—the foolish light has gone out
of your eyes. Perhaps (if you really feel what you were reciting) you
look just the least bit solemn. If so, try to hold the solemn look while
you recite the following by a popular song writer:

    _Call me pet names dearest—_
    _Call me a bird_
    _That flies to my breast_
    _At one cherishing word,_
    _That folds its wild wings there_
    _Ne’er dreaming of flight,_
    _That tenderly sings there in loving delight._
    _Oh my sad heart keeps pining_
    _For one fond word,_
    _Call me pet names dearest,_
    _Call me a bird!_

By the time you have finished, your solemn reflection in the glass
will have changed to something almost as idiotic as the “peach” on the
magazine cover.

Without question, the vulgar standards of expression these simpering
sirens are setting for the impressionable young girl of today will
degrade her just as surely as the wholesome, high-bred type of womanhood
evolved by Charles Dana Gibson improved and developed all that was best
in her sister of twenty years ago.

       *       *       *       *       *

The theory that nature imitates art is much older than Oscar Wilde,
who (owing to the carelessness of Mr. Whistler) is supposed to have
originated it.

It is so old that Mr. G. K. Chesterton any moment may rise to dispute it,
and announce to an astonished London that it is Art that imitates Nature;
nevertheless, Nature _does_ imitate Art.

Is it possible that there is method in all this magazine madness? Is it
possible that these magazines being devoted (among other devotions) to
ladies’ attire, fear that too great an improvement in the female of
our species would divert her thoughts from the imbecilities of dress to
higher—and less profitable—things?

Allah forbid!



I sometimes ask myself (when there is no one else to pester) whether
the present tendency toward Primitivism, in Art, Religion, Government,
Conduct and Costume (everything in fact) may not be a sign that the world
is coming, if not already come, to its second childhood, and I invariably
answer myself in the affirmative.

Second Childhood, as of course you know, is the “happy hour” of an old
age whose faculties have diminished to the exact degree that marks the
undeveloped mental and physical attributes of infancy.

Take any baby—not your own, dear reader, yours is an exception I know,
but any common ordinary baby—and I think when you have examined it you
will agree with me that, judged by ultra-modern standards of culture, it
is the most decadent being on earth.

To begin with, the baby’s sociological viewpoint is a mixture of
passionate pessimism and pure unmitigated Anarchism.

Its musical output is a hysterical cacophony with all the exasperating
disregard of consonance and key characteristic of the up-to-date

Its Plastic and Graphic Art (achieved through the accident of
the inverted Porridge bowl or the overturned inkwell) is the
Post-Impressionism of Matisse and Picasso, whose law is the Law of
Moses—“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of
any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or
that is in the water under the earth.”

The Literary Message of the baby is a combination of the styles of
Gertrude Stein, Carl Sandberg and an unassisted Ouija board and is only
to be interpreted through the medium of maternal intuition.

And as for the Art Sartorial, are not the fashions feminine venturing
each successive season a little nearer to that of the newborn babe?

“Well,” says I to myself, “supposing we admit that Modern Culture and
Infancy are identical in expression, and that the World is entering upon
its second childhood; what does it mean⸺ Is it the end of all things or
only a fresh start?”

There you have me! I reply. There are some questions that even I cannot
answer. I give it up.

If, as Dr. Einstein asserts, our planet has been receiving crooked
light-rays all this time, it is a very serious matter and there is no
knowing _what_ may come of it; certainly the Cosmic Light Company ought
to be investigated. But don’t be down-hearted, dear Reader, some day the
Einstein Amendment to the Law of Gravitation may be repealed, and made
retroactive into the bargain; it is all a matter of Relativity and it may
turn out that the Relativity-shoe is on the other foot and that it is the
Earth’s orbit that is on the blink and not the light rays at all.

Perhaps Mr. G. B. Shaw will enlighten us—as a projector of crooked
light-rays, he ought to know something about it.



Once when marooned on a small island in the midst of a turbulent sea of
traffic, latitude Fifth Avenue, longitude Forty-second Street, I asked
the governor of the island, a man of great stature and kingly mien, what
he thought was the origin of the institution known as the Complimentary
Banquet. Checking with an imperious gesture a monstrous traffic wave that
seemed like to engulf us both the next moment, his voice came to me calm
and reassuring above the tumult that surged and roared about us. “If it’s
a wake you do be meaning, sorr, sure it’s as old as Ireland itself, it

And the Traffic Cop was right.

Nearly two thousand years ago Strabo, the Greek geographer, describing
the natives of Ivernia, wrote: “They are more savage than the English,
and enormous eaters, deeming it commendable to devour their deceased

In this, probably the first reference in literature to the Irish wake,
the suggestion that the departed one contributed anything more than the
honor of his company must be taken with a grain of salt. Strabo was an
awful liar, and whole barrels of salt might be used on his “Geography”
without perceptibly affecting its flavor. In all probability the cannibal
touch was nothing more than an unseemly concession to the yellow taste of
the Attic metropolis.

Nevertheless, though he never appeared on the menu, the “departed
relative,” the _sine qua non_ of all festive gatherings, was (as the
social instinct developed among the savage tribes) ever in increasing
demand, and it is to be feared that in smart Ivernian circles it was not
unusual to speed the departing relative in promoting the gaiety of an
otherwise dull season.

Under such conditions it is hardly to be wondered at that in Ivernia, at
that period, personal popularity was the most unpopular thing imaginable,
and what more thinkable than that the reluctant candidate for a
complimentary dinner should feign for the occasion the grewsome condition
necessary for qualification.

With the spread of Christianity, this irksome feat of mimicry on the part
of the Guest of Honor, at first a protective subterfuge, grew to be a
social convention. And irksome indeed it was.

To feign at a banquet by the exercise of self-control a state of
unconsciousness, joyfully achieved by one’s fellow guests through more
convivial channels, was no task for the amateur. Then it was that, puffed
up, comatose, obese, along came the Professional Diner Out. And now,
after nearly two thousand years, what have we to show?

Could the savage rite, described by Strabo, depressing as it must
have been, by any possibility be as gloomy as the Testimonial Banquet
of today? Is the Guest of Honor, sitting at the High Table feigning
unconsciousness, the miserable target for asphyxiating bombs of wit,
of anecdote, and of reminiscence—is he any less to be pitied than
the deceased relative of the Ivernian dinner? Yet we call ourselves
civilized; we think it barbaric to hang a fellow being for anything short
of murder. Why have we not equal consideration for the innocent Guest of
Honor? Why do we not dine him in effigy?

Few of us have forgotten the outrage of 1912 when William Dean Howells
was dragged from his comfortable fireside by Col. Harvey, then the editor
of Harper’s Magazine, who deaf to his cries and entreaties, dined, wined
and flashlighted in the presence of a frenzied mob armed to the teeth
with knives, and forks and spoons.

How much more humane to have dined Mr. Howells in effigy! A waxen image
simulating as far as possible the kindly features of the Great Novelist,
sitting in the place of honor, bowing, even smiling by means of some
ingenious mechanism! This, with a phonograph record of the graceful
speech of acknowledgment, and the ravening public would have gone home
happy and none the wiser. Thus with the dawn of a new era of Humanity,
one more chapter of the ponderous book of martyrs would be closed



When Old Doctor Monroe discovered and patented his famous
anti-monarchical specific, warranted to prevent the spread of Effete
Despotism, Imperialitis and Throne Trouble, why didn’t he invent some
equally Reliable Nostrum to check the epidemic of Old World names that
was spreading like a blight of infantile paralysis among the thousands of
husky young cities then springing up all over the United States? Rome,
Syracuse, Troy, Thebes, Memphis, Ithaca, and a host of others, names dark
and ill ominous to chubby young cities with no evil traditions to live
down to, staining their bright banners with bloody blots and black bars
of sinister tradition where should only be the golden stars and crimson
bars of freedom.

Indian names such as Oshkosh and Kankakee were to be had ready-made for
the asking; but they were few and for the most part too grotesque and
Asiatic sounding for the liking of a serious-minded young republic just
starting out in the city-raising business.

But it is no easy task to find new names for cities, above all names that
are euphonious, and the last place one would expect to find them is the
Medical Dictionary. The names of diseases? And why should that deter us?
If a Rose by any other name will smell as sweet, surely a Rose with any
other smell will at least look and sound as pretty. Good Doctor Watts (or
was it Mr. Wesley?)[2] when adapting tunes for his new hymn-book answered
his critics by exclaiming, “Why should the devil have all the best

Why, indeed! And by the same token, why should the Diseases have all the
prettiest sounding names?

Try one on your city and see if you don’t like it.

Has not Dyspepsia, Maine, an austere dignity about it that no old-world
city name could possibly confer?

Neurasthenia, Kansas, on the other hand, brings up visions of shady
sidewalks, pleasant gardens, and glimpses through slender trees, of a
sun-kissed river. If your doctor should prescribe for you mountain air
and outdoor exercise would you not instantly buy a ticket to Colic,
Vermont? What more catchy name than Measles, Illinois, or Diphtheria,
Wisconsin? Stripped of medical association there is scarcely a name in
all the _materia medica_ that is wholly lacking in euphonistic charm.

Why not bring the matter before a Special Session of Congress? Anything
is better than Persepolis and Pekin—even Tonsilitis, Missouri.

[2] It was Martin Luther.



Certain it is that Cats are disappearing; that is to say the common
friendly Tabbies and Tommies of the town we used to see doing their
morning marketing in the ash cans, or with whom we were wont to pass the
time of day in the neighboring door-yards.

In the last week I have seen only two street cats and only one to speak
to, and that one was a stray orphan kitten who had been adopted by a
kind-hearted bookbinder; the other when I would have accosted her gave me
one strange look and vanished.

I glanced hurriedly down at my shoes as my hands flew instinctively to
my necktie and hat, but the foot-gear were mates (of long standing) and
the hat and tie were each in its proper place; nothing was there about my
attire to shock the sensibilities of the most fastidious feline!

What did it mean? No cat had ever treated me with such discourtesy
before. Then it was that I bethought me of how few of the feline
brotherhood or sisterhood I had seen abroad of late.

Have they been carried off by an epidemic? Do cats catch influenza? or
catalepsy? Has the scrap-market been affected by the high cost of living?
Has the percentage of nutriment in the garbage can diminished to the
vanishing point? Have the mice struck for shorter hours?

As I pondered thus at the corner of a lowly street, there tripped past my
line of vision a fur coat whose opulence and sheen made its background of
untidy brick and stone seem doubly dull and dingy. The motive power of
this unlikely pelt was (as far as could be seen) lisle thread and oxford
ties but I made no further note of the girl; my mind was fixed on the
coat—it was the third of its kind I had observed in as many minutes in
that mean street.

A shiver ran through me; I had seen a ghost, a procession of ghosts. It
was as if a ouija board had suddenly screamed miaou!

And they say cats come back.



One by one the idols of tradition go by the board. William Tell’s
Apple and Paul Revere’s Ride were long ago cast into the trash-basket
of Fiction; even Joan of Arc has been received into the mythology of
Sainthood, and now that hero of our happy childhood, Casablanca, the boy
who stood on the burning deck, is about to be snatched from us by that
reckless iconoclast, Mr. Irvin Cobb.

Like the ruthless Woodman in the poem, Mr. Cobb has struck his axe into
the very roots of this revered tree of our childish belief⸺

According to Cobb, the Casabianca-tree is only a nut tree and a
horsechestnut tree at that. Writing in the _Saturday Evening Post_,
he tells us that Casabianca was nothing more than a “feeble-minded
leatherhead.” If that be so then Barbara Frietchie was a leatherhead,
and Edith Cavell, and all the host of those who gave up or were ready to
give up their lives for that purely imaginary thing, an ideal, and what
_could_ the blessed Evangelist have been thinking of when he wrote “_He
that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal._”
John 12:25.

Exactly two thousand years ago when the city of Pompeii was destroyed
by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a Roman sentinel, another idol of
tradition just such a leatherhead as Casablanca, refused to desert his
post and was burned to death for the very foolish reason that he was “on
duty.” He is there to this day, standing “at attention,” in the shape of
a cast made from the matrix of molten lava that enveloped his living
body and you may call him a leatherhead if you like, but the memory of
his leatherheadedness will endure when sensible people like you, dear
reader, and me and Mr. Cobb are forgotten.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nevertheless there are two sides to every question, and it is quite
possible that Casabianca may have been a perfectly sensible lad, whose
only thought was to disobey his captain and desert his post, but the tar
melting from the heat in the seams of the deck, and adhering to his feet
caused him to stick to the ship. Be that as it may, _I_ shall stick to



Mr. Finchsifter has compared my Lake to a gleaming sapphire reposing on a
corsage of emerald green plush.

I have never seen Mr. Finchsifter’s wife—I do not even know that
Finchsifter is married, but since the emerald plush bosom of his poetic
fancy, stands for miles and miles of heaving Pines and fluttering Laurels
and Finchsifter stands barely four feet six in his stockings, by all the
laws of natural selection the human embodiment of his Brobdingnagian
simile, must be either Mrs. Finchsifter or some not impossible Eve of a
Finchsifter dream Paradise. A colossal counterpart (I picture her), of
the waxen Demi-Goddess in the Finchsifter show window displaying with
revolving impartiality on a faultless neck and bosom the glittering
treasures of India, Africa, Peru, Mexico and Maiden Lane.

To be strictly truthful, I do not know that Mr. Finchsifter’s show window
can boast such a waxen deity as I have described; indeed for all I know
he possesses neither a show window nor the merchandise to advertise
in such a window, but I have as the saying is, a “hunch” that Mr.
Finchsifter’s imagery as applied to my Lake is based on something more
than a mere academic interest in the adornment, textile or lapidarious of
the human form.

And my Lake—in the first place it is not my Lake (but of that later),
neither does it resemble a sapphire any more than the Pines and Laurels
on its bank (save that when agitated they heave or flutter) resemble a
green plush corsage.

If I were asked for an image, I should compare my Lake to an
India-rubber band rather than to a sapphire. In form an elongated
ellipse, it possesses an elasticity of circumference that is little short
of miraculous.

The boastful pedestrian, glowing from his early morning trot around its
shore will tell you it is a good ten miles.

The persistent swain, scheming to lure his Heart’s Desire, high heeled
and reluctant, to the amorous shades of “Lover’s Landing,” tells her,
upon his honor, that it is not more than a mile all the way round. To be
precise, the distance round my Lake is something between a stroll and a
“constitutional”—or to put it relatively about what the circumambulation
of an ocean liner’s deck would be to an athletic inch worm.

As I said before, my Lake is not my Lake. It is nobody’s Lake. Not a
human habitation profanes its bosky shores. The only beings that make
even a pretense of ownership are five starch-white swans that patrol
it from morning till night, turning fitfully this way and that and
probing its depths and shallows with their yellow bills as if seeking
for the missing Deed of title. On certain days when the diamond Lake
is still, and the Pine and Laurel corsage is untroubled by a tremor,
the starch-white company is doubled by five ghostly “understudies” who
reflect their whiteness curve for curve and feather for feather with a
fidelity of inversion that may find its match only in the art of a Shaw
or a Chesterton.

It was on such a day as this that I met Mr. Finchsifter. I had completed
the circuit of the Lake and leaving the wooded path that skirts its
shore ascended through the woods to the level ground above, where on the
further side of a well kept automobile road rises the lofty iron grille
that engirdles for miles the country seat of Barabbas Wolfe, the Sausage
King, typifying at once, by the safe deposit-like thickness of its bars
and the view-inviting openness of its scrollwork, the innate love of
show, tempered by newly acquired exclusiveness of a lord not to the
manor born.

Gazing, in beady eyed appraisal at the neat but somewhat constricted
Italian garden to which the railing at this point invited the eye—stood

In this crowded jungle of spotless stone Lions, tomblike seats and
arches backed by California privet and immature cypresses there was an
irreverent suggestion of the Villa D’Este done into American slang.

He turned hearing my step, “Where is it I have seen it—before?”

“In the movies perhaps”—I ventured.

“That’s it! Thank you very much!” he exclaimed. “I knew I had seen it

After ascertaining my name in reluctant payment for the unsolicited
tender of his own he continued, “but the Lions show better in the
‘pictures’ don’t they? Why didn’t they get them with moss already.”

“With moss?” I queried.

“Sure!” said Finchsifter. “Didn’t you know such a stone Lion comes also
with the moss, the same as the genuine old antique furniture comes with
the real hand-made worm-holes!”

I remembered guiltily how on the occasion of my last visit to Lake towers
when asked by Mrs. Barabbas Wolfe, what I thought of her marble Lions, I
had exclaimed with truthful enthusiasm “Wonderful! But my dear lady _how_
do you keep them so clean?”

We walked on together, and though avoiding as we did so the physical
proximity of my Lake we could not exclude it wholly from our conversation.

It was a passing glitter of the water caught through the pines below us
at a turn in the road that inspired the Diamond-plush simile from which
try as I may, I shall never be able to dissociate the image of my Lake.

Greatly to my surprise I found myself becoming interested in Finchsifter,
and during the luncheon which followed our return to my Bungalow and
the dinner that evening at his hotel, we laid what promised to be the
foundation of a lasting friendship.

To be sure he was a man of many words, but the words of Finchsifter were
well trained words, old family servants that knew their places and never
presumed, or took liberties with the listener.

If a reply or comment were imperative—an adjective caught at random gave
instant clue to what had gone before—even as a single toe joint restores
to the naturalist the forgotten form of the Iohippus.

Finchsifter was a mental rest cure, his talk was soothing as a verbal
brain massage. I conceived that one might form the Finchsifter habit,
in time even become a slave to it as men become slaves to cocaine,
Psychoanalysis, or Taxicabs.

But this was not to be.

As a would-be suicide has been turned from his purpose by the chill of
the water into which he has plunged—so it was by Finchsifter himself
that I was cured of the Finchsifter habit.

It was on the occasion of our second meeting, appointed at the suggestion
of Finchsifter that we take our matutinal walk around the Lake in each
others company.

He greeted me with a delighted smile, exclaiming as he took my hand in
both of his very new saffron gloves.

“I have a great idea found—!—You are a poet? yes? Then you know all about
this Free Verse which I read always about in the magazines? Perhaps you
can yourself make it? Yes?” His face fairly shone with the inner flame of
his project.

I found myself harkening against my will. What possible interest could
Finchsifter have in verse of any kind—let alone free verse. “This will
never do,” I reflected. “If he compels me to listen—then we shall cease
to be friends—I came here to rest. I might as well take the first train
back to New York!” Finchsifter was still talking. Eyeing me keenly as if
mentally debating my trustworthiness—he continued: “If it is sure enough
Free, then it don’t cost nothing.”

“What are you talking about?” I said, recalled abruptly from my own

“Free verse!” cried Finchsifter. “That’s my scheme!—but don’t you tell
it—It is between only ourselves—fifty-fifty—we split everything—_we_
create the demand—we corner the supply, you and me together corner all
the free verse in the United States—in this world for that matter and
sell it for—” Again he hesitated—“If I might ask it—about what does a
Poet get for such a little piece of poetry? The kind that is not free. A
piece so long I mean.”—He measured a sonnet’s width of air between his
thumb and fore-finger—“what do you get for that much?” I told him what
the magazines pay me.

“What! A dollar a line! Gott in Himmel! we make a fortune! That’s what
I tell Rebecca—If we corner all the free verse in the United States
and sell it for no more as five cents a line—we make our fortune! but
a dollar a line!—Himmel!”—he fairly danced for ecstasy and then it
was I made the discovery, by which I lost if not a Fortune at least a

I stood still as the tide of words with its flotsam of tossing gestures,
continued—I heard nothing. I only waited for Finchsifter to subside.

“Am I right!” He gasped at length with what by every law of supply and
demand should have been his latest breath.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”—I replied angrily. “All I know
is we’re walking the wrong way.”

“What do you mean the wrong way?” said Finchsifter.

“The wrong way round the Lake that’s what I mean!”

       *       *       *       *       *

I don’t know how long we stood there arguing the question, I only know
that his mind was inaccessible to reason, persuasion—even bribery, for,
as a last resort, I offered to give him a list of all the best free
verse writers in America if he would only listen to reason—nothing would
move him—Finchsifter had always walked round the lake from right to left
and always would—and what I said about his rubbing its precious plush
corsage the wrong way of the nap was all rot.

I turned on my heel and left him. Half an hour later when we met at
Lover’s Landing which is exactly half way round the Lake we passed
without speaking.

And now I must wait each day until Finchsifter has taken his walk from
right to left round my Lake, taking my walk (from left to right) in the
chill of the evening to pacify the tutelary Goddess by smoothing back her
green plush corsage, which has been rubbed the wrong way by Finchsifter.



After the passage of the Ninety-eighth Amendment making it a misdemeanor
to “_manufacture, sell, own, possess, purchase, nurse, dandle or
otherwise caress or display that effigy of the infant form commonly
known as a Doll_” … the abolition of that feathered symbol of vicarious
maternity, the Stork, followed as a matter of course.

The passage of the Anti-Stork Bill or, to be more accurate, the
Ninety-ninth Amendment, thanks to the tenacity and tact of President
John Quincy Epstein, was the most expeditious piece of legislation put
through by the hundred and fifth Congress.

It must not be forgotten, however, that the introduction of lectures on
obstetrics into the curriculum of the kindergartens had done much to
educate the child vote and that at the time the fate of the Stork was
hanging in the balance, that once esteemed Bird of Prurient Evasion was
already becoming unpopular and well on its way to join the Dodo.

And now the department of government devoted to the cause of Infant
Uplift, having abolished the Mock-Offspring and settled the fate of the
Bird of Nativity, cast about for some new Field of Endeavor.

And what more fitting than that they should light upon that hoary old
imposter masquerading under the several aliases Santa Claus, Saint
Nicholas, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas?

At once the Propaganda was started.

Press agents were engaged, lecture tours arranged, magazines subsidized.

No matter what it might cost, this “Vulture gnawing at the Palladium of
Infant Emancipation” must be destroyed!!

Santa Claus, once, in the memory of living men and women, adored by
children and winked at by their parents, was now branded as an imposter,
a mountebank, a public nuisance, and a perverter of infant intelligence.

Santa Claus was an outlaw from the Commonwealth of Reason.

It was “thumbs down” for Santa!

It may be well to explain right here (since none of the events chronicled
in this History has yet happened) that the movement for the Emancipation
and Self-Determination of Infants, which has now taken such great
strides, had its initiation in the presidential term of Miles Standish
Sovietski when Congress extended the franchise to every child over five
years of age who had made any serious contribution to literature or
higher mathematics.

It was in the same year that President Sovietski signed the Sixty-fourth
Amendment to the Federal Constitution, prohibiting the publication of
fairy tales, and Congress suspended the Limitation-of-Search Act in order
that private libraries and nurseries might be raided without warning and
all copies of the forbidden works summarily seized and destroyed.

Simultaneously with the federal enactment, the states of Washington,
Illinois, Nevada, and Oregon, ever in the advance of any great
intellectual movement, passed laws prohibiting “_the personification
or representation, public or private, in theatre, music hall, club
house, lodge, church fair, schoolhouse, or private residence, of any
supernatural, fairy, or otherwise mythical person or persons or fraction

The passing of a Constitutional Amendment was now an almost every-day
occurrence. Indeed, since the ratification of the Forty-fourth Amendment
prohibiting the use of sarsaparilla as a beverage (coffee and tea had
been legislated out of existence five years earlier) the enactment of
a new Amendment excited little or no comment. Even the Seventy-ninth
Amendment forbidding “_the use of caviar, club sandwiches, and buttonhole
bouquets, except for medicinal purposes_,” received only casual notice in
the Metropolitan Dailies.

The twentieth century was rapidly nearing its close and the political
apathy that for fifty years had been gradually benumbing the Public
morale now threatened to paralyze completely what little still remained
of courage and initiative.

Even the latest work of Bernard Shaw, “A Bird’s-Eye View of the
Infinite,” published (with a five volume preface) on Mr. Shaw’s hundred
and fortieth birthday, aroused so little resentment that his projected
visit to the United States had to be abandoned, in spite of the fact that
“Bean and Soup o’Bean,” written only a week earlier, was acknowledged to
have contributed largely to the triumph of the Seventy-ninth Amendment,
making Vegetarianism compulsory in the United States.

The Hundredth Amendment passed quickly though the earlier stages of
routine and perfunctory debate without any appreciable sign of anything
approaching popular protest.

Here and there a guarded expression such as “Poor old Santa! I’m sorry
he’s got to go!” was voiced, in the privacy of a club, by some elderly
gentleman. Nothing more.

Somewhere, behind Somebody, was a Power that directed and guided—perhaps
threatened. Nobody knew who or what or where it was or in what manner
it worked, but work it did and to such purposes that, after a scant
week of cut and dried speech-making that deceived no one, the Amendment
was submitted unanimously by both houses of Congress and the foregone
conclusion of ratification was all that remained to make the abolition of
Santa Claus an accomplished fact.

Then, inevitably as fish follows soup, followed the ratification.

The Hundredth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,
prohibiting Santa Claus, slipped through the ratification process like an
oil prospectus in a mail chute. There was only one hitch, Rhode Island,
but since Rhode Island had refused to ratify a single one of the last
Seventy-nine Amendments, her action was accepted as part of the program
and a proof of unanimity.

So Santa Claus was abolished?

Not so fast please!—Who’s writing this History anyway?

       *       *       *       *       *

    ’Twas the night before Christmas
    And in the White House
    Not a creature was stirring
    Not even a * * * * *

For the benefit of the clever reader who may have guessed the word left
out in the last line of the above quatrain, I will explain that the
asterisks are used in obedience to a clause of the Ninety-first Amendment
prohibiting, both in speech and print, the use of the word * * * * *
which, as the political emblem of the Free People’s Party (now happily
defunct), came into such contempt that it was made a misdemeanor “_to
print, publish, own, sell, purchase, or consult any book, pamphlet,
catalogue, circular, or dictionary containing the word * * * * *_” It
has been estimated that over eighty million dollars’ worth of Century
and Standard dictionaries were destroyed in the first year of this
Amendment’s operation. The loss in Nursery Rhymes, children’s books, and
Natural Histories is beyond computation.

But to return to the White House.

President John Quincy Epstein had retired to his study on the second
floor shortly before midnight, taking with him the engrossed copy of the
Hundredth Amendment which now only required his Spencerian signature to
expunge the name of Santa Claus forever from the American speech and
language as utterly and irrevocably as the forbidden word * * * * *.

The hours passed in a perfectly orderly manner, like school children at
a fire drill—_one, two, three, four_—without pushing or jostling—_five,
six, seven, eight_—(don’t you think history is much more interesting in
the form of a simple “Outline” like this than spun out in the common
manner?)—_nine, ten_—! At eleven o’clock the door of the President’s
study was burst open by the order of the Vice President, Rebecca
Crabtree, now, by a sudden and mysterious stroke of Fate, herself become
the President of the United States.

For John Quincy Epstein was dead.

How or just when he died will never be known. Always a cold, forbidding
(not to say prohibiting) man, his body when found was still cold—if
anything colder; his watch which should have marked the exact moment of
his demise, was ticking merrily, so the exact moment will forever remain

But Santa Claus still lives and will live forever!

On the massive gold-inlaid-with-ivory desk (a Christmas gift from the
United Department Stores of America), lay a paper, inscribed, and signed
in the President’s handwriting, and sealed with his official seal.

It was the presidential veto of the Hundredth Amendment; and by virtue
of a clause in Amendment Thirty-three “_no Constitutional Amendment
vetoed by the President shall ever be resubmitted to the country nor any
fraction thereof_—”

Santa Claus will live forever! Hurray for Santa Claus!



A vague and terrifying science, astronomy! Only as a subdued though
highly decorative lighting effect can I regard the stellar pageant with

To be sure I have learned to locate the Dipper and Orion and Cassiopeia’s
Chair and a few other popular favorites, but this painful knowledge
was acquired solely for its conversational value on summer evenings at
week-end, house or yachting parties.

Beyond that, all I know about the science of astronomy could be as
accurately demonstrated with the perforations of a colander, held up
to the light, as on the most perfect star map in the Encyclopedia
Britannica. If the truth must be told, I much prefer Asterisks.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a moon and a mariner’s compass and a good road map or chart, the
traveler by land or sea can get along very well without the stars, but
in the trackless mazes of literature and art, how would the wandering
Philistine fare without Asterisks? An anthology or guide of any kind
without Asterisks would be as unthinkable as a Dalmatian dog without
spots or a red-headed boy without freckles.

Imagine yourself in the city of Berlin with a de-stellated Baedeker.
You would make Moses-when-the-light-went-out look like a torchlight

Not that I cite Herr Karl Baedeker as the model of stellar perfection.
Too many stars may prove as demoralizing as too many cooks. Even that
guide, topographer and friend of the tourist is at times bewildering, if
not misleading.

On page 133 of Baedeker’s Berlin, “_Furniture From the Boudoir of Queen
Marie Antoinette_” has two stars, ** while “_Elijah in the Desert_,” on
page 108, has, in addition to all his other troubles, to worry along with
one star.

And that is not the worst of it.

On page 163, “_a well-preserved Archæopteryx in Solnhofen slate_,” to me
by all odds the most interesting object in Berlin, has no star at all! *
* *

But no matter how annoying it is, you must never blame the Asterisks.
They only did as they were told and stood where Herr Baedeker placed
them and, if they did wrong, Herr Baedeker alone was responsible. A good
writer—or editor—is good to his Asterisks, and when he puts them in a
false position we must make due allowance.

If Asterisks could combine and form a protective union, there might be
some hope for them, but a flair for collective bargaining is not in their
nature. That being the case, I suggest the establishment of a Federal
Licensing Bureau empowered to investigate the qualifications of would-be
employers of Asterisks and issue or withhold licenses accordingly.

And it is high time something were done about it.

Only lately there has been brought to my notice a case of so flagrant
a nature that, were there such an institution as a Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Asterisks, I should feel it my duty to call
their attention to it.

To come down to brass tacks, as the saying is, the flagrant case of
cruelty to Asterisks, to which I refer, consists of a fat book, called
“The Best Short Stories of 1921.” Edited by Edward J. O’Brien—Published
by Small Maynard.

Never, I think, were a mob of overworked employees so pitifully huddled
together in an ill-ventilated factory as are the Asterisks in this
Sweatshop of Twaddle.

The Sweatshop proper—if a Sweatshop may be so qualified—is situated
in the rear of the book, occupying about a fifth of its volume, and
consists of:

A Bibliographical Roll of Honor of American Short Stories for 1920 and
1921 in which “_the best stories are indicated by an Asterisk_.”

A Roll of Honor of Foreign Short Stories in American Magazines in which
“_Stories of special excellence are indicated by an Asterisk_.”

Volumes of short stories published in the United States. “_An Asterisk
before a title indicates distinction._”

Volumes of short stories published in England and Ireland. “_An Asterisk
before a title indicates distinction._”

Volumes of Short Stories published in France. “_An Asterisk before a
title, etc._” Follows then a list of articles on the Short Story and last
of all An Index of Short Stories in Books, and here the Asterisks are
forced to work overtime and Mr. O’Brien’s English gets a bit sloppy. He

“_Three Asterisks prefixed to a title indicate_ the more or less
permanent _literary value of the story_.”

“More or less permanent” reminds me of an advertisement I once saw in a
street car: “Face Powder makes your complexion _more irresistible_.” Is
it possible that Mr. O’Brien wrote it?

In the division entitled Magazine Averages, Mr. O’Brien comes another
cropper with “_Three Asterisk stories are of_ somewhat permanent
_literary value_.” Again, in the introduction, “_Sherwood Anderson
has made this year once more the_ most permanent _contribution to the
American Short Story_.”

Mr. O’Brien’s invention of varying degrees of permanence is an important
contribution to science and entitles him to receive at the very least the
Order of the Golden Asterisk of the Second Class with Palms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such, in brief, is the Sweatshop in the rear where the toiling
Asterisks labor in weary shifts of one, two and three, pounding out
asinine averages and percentages of permanency and near-permanency and
plu-permanency with a zeal that would do credit to the framer of a
Volstead Act.

Now let us walk round to the front of the Factory, where in his cosy
business office which he calls the “Introduction” the Foreman of the
works, Mr. Edward J. O’Brien, will tell us in the airy argon of the shop
all about the Fictional Flivvers—in which he is a second-hand dealer—how
they are made, what they are worth and, if permanent, just how long their
permanence will last.

As Foreman O’Brien warms up to his subject he will describe in vitally
pulsating phrases that would drive a movie writer mad with envy, the
convulsion of Nature that attended the birth of the American Short Story.
“_The ever-widening seething maelstrom of cross currents thrusting into
more and more powerful conflict from year to year the contributory
elements brought to a new American culture by the dynamic creative
energies, physical and spiritual, of many races_.”

All of which speechifying translated into plain talk conveys the
astounding information that the hooch of American Fiction is being brewed
in the much-advertised Melting Pot! Well, why couldn’t he say so and be
done with it?

Speaking of the Anglo-Saxon he says: “_The Anglo-Saxon was beginning
to absorb large tracts of other racial fields of memory and to share
the experience of Scandinavian and Russian and German and Italian and
Polish and Irish and African and Asian members of the body politic._” The
Melting Pot again! What did I tell you! Continuing, Mr. O’Brien describes
the process of fermentation as a new chaos set up by tracts of remembered
racial experience interacting upon one another under the tremendous
pressure of our nervous, keen and eager civilization. He doesn’t explain
exactly how a thing so completely lacking in the elements of design as
a chaos should be “set up” to get the best results. All he tells us is
that fresh chaos is good material for American literature, and that our
Mr. Anderson and others are very busy in a half unconscious way, trying
to make “worlds” out of it.

By “worlds” I take it Mr. O’Brien means something vast and vague and
“_vitally compelling_” and “organic” that our Mr. Anderson and others
will fuse into American Fiction “_in artistic crucibles of their own

On the whole, things look pretty bright for the American Short Story,
what with the “fresh living current which flows through the best American
work, and the Psychological and imaginative reality which American
writers have conferred upon it,” and the “seething maelstrom of cross
currents,” and the “dynamic creative energies,” and above all the
_chaos_, the great American Chaos—fresh—unlimited—inexhaustible—ripe
for the “artistic crucible,” in which it is soon to be fused into a new
cosmos of “organic fiction” by the White Headed Boy of the Western World.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the other hand, how gloomy the outlook pictured by Mr. O’Brien for the
Englishman and the Scotchman and the Irishman! “Living at home—writing
out of a background of racial memory and established tradition.” It
fairly gives me the shivers. No wonder their fiction lacks compelling

But wouldn’t you think that with all the Chaos lying round loose in
Europe these days, the Scotchman at least would grab enough of it to
create a bonnie new world of vitally compelling fiction for himself?
That’s what I thought, but it seems I thought wrong. The Foreign Chaos
differs from the Domestic variety in that it is “an end rather than a
beginning, a Chaos in which the Tower of Babel had fallen.”

Once more, to translate the O’Brien speechifying into speech—for the
benefit of readers who are not movie fans—the American brand of Chaos is
fresh and the European Chaos is stale.

The elemental principles underlying all forms of creation are the same,
whether you are creating a short story or a buckwheat cake. The same
dynamic laws must be obeyed.

You may have the very best possible formula for the creation of a
buckwheat cake and the best crucible—I mean the most artistic frying pan
that can be bought; but unless the contributory elements of heat, butter
and eggs are physically and spiritually beyond reproach, your buckwheat
cake will be a failure.

So, too, you may have the most perfect recipe for a short story—from
Mr. O’Brien’s own book—and you may have the most vitally compelling
Psychology—straight from the farm—but if your Chaos be of the European
cold-storage brand instead of the “strictly fresh,” or, better still,
“new-laid” domestic variety, your Short Story will be—like most of those
in Mr. O’Brien’s collection—quite unfit for human consumption.

       *       *       *       *       *

That Mr. O’Brien is a scientist of the first rank has been amply proved
by his startling invention of comparative Permanence—see Roll of
Honor—but, though it is interesting to know that by the use of Asterisks
what was once believed to be the essential characteristic of Permanence
can be modified, I doubt if half of one per cent Permanence will ever
become popular.

But Mr. O’Brien has made another and more practical contribution to

He has computed by means of Asterisks, that thirty-eight short stories by
American authors “would not occupy more space than five novels of average

What a priceless boon to the budding author about to embark upon his
first short story!

All he has to do is to borrow five novels of average length, cut out the
pages and divide the total number into seven equal piles, each one of
which will be seven and three-fifths of the total pile.

Six of these piles he may throw away or return to the friends who loaned
them—or the Public Library, as the case may be. He must then take the
seventh pile and placing the pages end to end on the floor—the roof of
the house will do if the floor be too small—and procuring a strip of
paper of exactly the same length, begin the Story at one end and continue
writing until he reaches the other end.

This will insure the work’s being of the right length for an American
Short Story, and, if Mr. O’Brien’s other two conditions as to “form and
substance” are properly fulfilled, the Story will be quite all right
and may be published—with three Asterisks—in the Roll of Honor for the
following year.

       *       *       *       *       *

The luncheon hour at the O’Brien Sweatshop is devoted to an Efficiency
Drill of all the Asterisks employed.

The Drill lasts an hour and is designed to keep the Asterisks in perfect
physical condition for their arduous work.

First, there is a grand march of Asterisks in varying formations of ones,
twos and threes. This is followed by running matches and exhibitions of
high jumping, wrestling and leaping through hoops.

An exciting game of Roll of Honor closes the exercises.

This is the most violent exercise of all and consists of rolling
blindfold down an inclined plane and landing in a huge pile of short

The Asterisk that picks up the best Short Story, receives as a reward an
honorable mention in the Annual Report.

       *       *       *       *       *

There have been many unkind things said about the late-lamented year
Nineteen Twenty-One, but after inspecting this work of Edward J.
O’Brien’s I am inclined to think that the title proclaiming it to be
a collection of Nineteen Twenty-One’s best Short Stories, is the most
slanderous statement of them all. It is enough to make even the Statue
of Liberty blush!

In no English-speaking country is the Short Story such a recognized
feature of everyday social intercourse as it is in America.

It is almost impossible for two Americans to meet anywhere or at any time
of the day or night without an exchange of Short Stories. Sometimes the
form of the telling is good, sometimes bad. More often it is very bad
form indeed, but two things the Story must have—to “get over”—substance
and brevity.

The same two things are demanded in the written story. I do not include
Form, because Form is essential to Brevity. Artistic Brevity cannot be
achieved without Form.

Substance, to paraphrase the Bard, is such stuff as Stories are made on.
It must be of good weave, or the story will not hold together.

Some of the Stories in the O’Brien collection are of a rotten fabric,
others, while well woven, have a most disagreeable pattern. Others again
are dyed with imported dyes from Kipling, Conrad and Company. At least
one of the stories has no fabric at all, but the weaver—like the Weaver
in the Fairy Tales—has gone through the motions of weaving so plausibly,
not to say impudently, that many, like Mr. O’Brien, are deceived by it.

Mr. O’Brien, defining Substance, tells us that it amounts to nothing
unless it be organic substance “_in which the pulse of life is beating_.”
Thereby he admits that Substance is Stuff, but insists that it must be
Live Stuff!

Mr. O’Brien is mistaken; in one of the finest Short Stories ever written
the Substance of the Story is a Shadow!

The Story is by “Anderson.”

What, _our_ Mr. Anderson?

Great Heavens, no! Hans Christian Andersen.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have not the space to speak in detail of more than one of the Stories
in Mr. O’Brien’s collection, nor will it be necessary; one specimen of
the deadly _Amonita Bulbosa_ in a mess of mushrooms is enough to justify
the partaker thereof in damning the whole dish, if he live to express
any opinion at all; so, if in a collection that claims to be composed of
“Best Short Stories” I find one that is very bad in both Substance and
Form, indeed so bad in Substance that it hardly deserves to be called a
Story at all, I may surely, with perfect justice, damn the whole book as
being false to its title and not what it pretends to be.

But in censuring Mr. Anderson’s story “Brothers,” I am not so much
criticizing the author as admonishing the compiler of “The Best Stories”
for the gross misuse of an Asterisk.

One does not have to be an officer of the S. P. C. A. to rebuke a truck
driver who is abusing a horse that is hitched to a truckload of junk that
is much too heavy for it.

By the same token, I do not pose as a critic when I take Mr. O’Brien to
task for hitching an Asterisk to Sherwood Anderson’s story, “Brothers.”

I should not have noticed the Anderson load of junk, but for the
stupidity of its driver, which annoys me.

It is no way to treat an Asterisk.

       *       *       *       *       *

The kindest thing that can be said of “Brothers” is that its inclusion in
a collection of American Short Stories puts it in a false position. It is
unmistakably American—the mark of the “Melting Pot” is all over it—and I
suppose it is Short, though it takes a lot of patience to read it, but it
is _not_ a story in the accepted sense of the word.

It starts nowhere, it does nothing and it gets nowhere, reminding one
vaguely of the three Japanese monkeys who see nothing, hear nothing and
say nothing.

To apply the O’Brien test, it has no Substance. The weaver went through
the motions of weaving, but he wove nothing. There is no “stuff” here.

Neither has it Form. The material—such as it is—is not shaped “into
the most beautiful and satisfying form by skillful selection and
arrangement.” That is to say, it violates Mr. O’Brien’s own rule.

If I were asked to give the thing a name, I should say that “Brothers”
is a sort of cross between a very dull parody of one of G. S. Street’s
“Episodes” and a grimy but ambitious newspaper “story” touched up with a
dash of that old-fashioned freak of lap-dog literature known as the “Poem
in Prose,” much petted by Turgenieff in the early eighties, a vehicle—if
one may be permitted to change similes in midstream—in which you pay as
you enter and as you leave, both.

You pay as you enter with a soddenly self-conscious rhapsody in G minor,
and you pay as you leave with a tiresome repetition of the same.

When a Story of the O’Brien school begins like that, you feel sure it is
going to lead to something disgusting and you are seldom disappointed,
certainly not in this instance.

It is a sort of elegy on the falling leaves.

Mr. Anderson almost weeps for pity of the falling leaves. Listen to the
patter of the Andersonian tears:

“* * * the yellow, red and golden leaves fall straight down heavily. The
rain beats them brutally down. They are denied a last golden flash across
the sky. In October, leaves should be carried away, out over the plains,
in a wind. They should go dancing away.”

You have a feeling as you read this, that Mr. A. rather fancies it
himself. You can almost hear him say: “I do this fallen-leaf stuff rather
well, if you know what I mean!” and since it is the only pretty bit in
the Story, you hardly blame him for repeating it at the end.

For my part, I am suspicious; I am not from Missouri, but, nevertheless,
I require to be shown.

I ask myself: “Is Mr. Anderson sincere?”

I read further on, and I find that he is not.

This is what I read:

“* * * His arms tightened about the body of the little dog so that it
screamed with pain. I stepped forward and tore the arms away, and the dog
fell to the ground and lay whining. No doubt it had been injured. Perhaps
ribs had been crushed. The old man stared at the dog lying at his feet.”

Nothing more about the little dog until, a few lines further on, Mr.
Anderson shows that the dying agony of a little dog excited only a
passing interest in him. “An hour ago the old man of the house in the
forest went past my door and the little dog was not with him. It may be
that as we talked in the fog he crushed the life out of his companion.
It may be that the dog, like the workman’s wife and her unborn child, is
now dead. The leaves of the trees that line the road before my window are
falling like rain—the yellow, red and golden leaves fall straight down
heavily * * *,” and so on, with a repetition of the opening rhapsody of
grief for the falling leaves.

So, you see, to Sherwood Anderson a falling leaf is a heart-rending
sight, but a falling puppy, even though its ribs be crushed and it scream
with agony, is quite another thing.

No, Mr. Anderson is not sincere.

And if an artist, though he fairly reek with seething dynamic chaos and
vitally compelling psychology, have not sincerity, all the Asterisks in
Mr. O’Brien’s sweatshop will avail him naught.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Neither Here Nor There" ***

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