As We Go
by Charles Dudley Warner
1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


By Charles Dudley Warner

CONTENTS: (28 short studies)



We are so much accustomed to kings and queens and other privileged persons of that sort in this world that it is only on reflection that we wonder how they became so. The mystery is not their continuance, but how did they get a start? We take little help from studying the bees —originally no one could have been born a queen. There must have been not only a selection, but an election, not by ballot, but by consent some way expressed, and the privileged persons got their positions because they were the strongest, or the wisest, or the most cunning. But the descendants of these privileged persons hold the same positions when they are neither strong, nor wise, nor very cunning. This also is a mystery. The persistence of privilege is an unexplained thing in human affairs, and the consent of mankind to be led in government and in fashion by those to whom none of the original conditions of leadership attach is a philosophical anomaly. How many of the living occupants of thrones, dukedoms, earldoms, and such high places are in position on their own merits, or would be put there by common consent? Referring their origin to some sort of an election, their continuance seems to rest simply on forbearance. Here in America we are trying a new experiment; we have adopted the principle of election, but we have supplemented it with the equally authoritative right of deposition. And it is interesting to see how it has worked for a hundred years, for it is human nature to like to be set up, but not to like to be set down. If in our elections we do not always get the best—perhaps few elections ever did—we at least do not perpetuate forever in privilege our mistakes or our good hits.

The celebration in New York, in 1889, of the inauguration of Washington was an instructive spectacle. How much of privilege had been gathered and perpetuated in a century? Was it not an occasion that emphasized our republican democracy? Two things were conspicuous. One was that we did not honor a family, or a dynasty, or a title, but a character; and the other was that we did not exalt any living man, but simply the office of President. It was a demonstration of the power of the people to create their own royalty, and then to put it aside when they have done with it. It was difficult to see how greater honors could have been paid to any man than were given to the President when he embarked at Elizabethport and advanced, through a harbor crowded with decorated vessels, to the great city, the wharves and roofs of which were black with human beings —a holiday city which shook with the tumult of the popular welcome. Wherever he went he drew the swarms in the streets as the moon draws the tide. Republican simplicity need not fear comparison with any royal pageant when the President was received at the Metropolitan, and, in a scene of beauty and opulence that might be the flowering of a thousand years instead of a century, stood upon the steps of the "dais" to greet the devoted Centennial Quadrille, which passed before him with the courageous five, 'Imperator, morituri te salutamus'. We had done it—we, the people; that was our royalty. Nobody had imposed it on us. It was not even selected out of four hundred. We had taken one of the common people and set him up there, creating for the moment also a sort of royal family and a court for a background, in a splendor just as imposing for the passing hour as an imperial spectacle. We like to show that we can do it, and we like to show also that we can undo it. For at the banquet, where the Elected ate his dinner, not only in the presence of, but with, representatives of all the people of all the States, looked down on by the acknowledged higher power in American life, there sat also with him two men who had lately been in his great position, the centre only a little while ago, as he was at the moment, of every eye in the republic, now only common citizens without a title, without any insignia of rank, able to transmit to posterity no family privilege. If our hearts swelled with pride that we could create something just as good as royalty, that the republic had as many men of distinguished appearance, as much beauty, and as much brilliance of display as any traditional government, we also felicitated ourselves that we could sweep it all away by a vote and reproduce it with new actors next day.

It must be confessed that it was a people's affair. If at any time there was any idea that it could be controlled only by those who represented names honored for a hundred years, or conspicuous by any social privilege, the idea was swamped in popular feeling. The names that had been elected a hundred years ago did not stay elected unless the present owners were able to distinguish themselves. There is nothing so to be coveted in a country as the perpetuity of honorable names, and the "centennial" showed that we are rich in those that have been honorably borne, but it also showed that the century has gathered no privilege that can count upon permanence.

But there is another aspect of the situation that is quite as serious and satisfactory. Now that the ladies of the present are coming to dress as ladies dressed a hundred years ago, we can make an adequate comparison of beauty. Heaven forbid that we should disparage the women of the Revolutionary period! They looked as well as they could under all the circumstances of a new country and the hardships of an early settlement. Some of them looked exceedingly well—there were beauties in those days as there were giants in Old Testament times. The portraits that have come down to us of some of them excite our admiration, and indeed we have a sort of tradition of the loveliness of the women of that remote period. The gallant men of the time exalted them. Yet it must be admitted by any one who witnessed the public and private gatherings of April, 1889, in New York, contributed to as they were by women from every State, and who is unprejudiced by family associations, that the women of America seem vastly improved in personal appearance since the days when George Washington was a lover: that is to say, the number of beautiful women is greater in proportion to the population, and their beauty and charm are not inferior to those which have been so much extolled in the Revolutionary time. There is no doubt that if George Washington could have been at the Metropolitan ball he would have acknowledged this, and that while he might have had misgivings about some of our political methods, he would have been more proud than ever to be still acknowledged the Father of his Country.


A fair correspondent—has the phrase an old-time sound?—thinks we should pay more attention to men. In a revolutionary time, when great questions are in issue, minor matters, which may nevertheless be very important, are apt to escape the consideration they deserve. We share our correspondent's interest in men, but must plead the pressure of circumstances. When there are so many Woman's Journals devoted to the wants and aspirations of women alone, it is perhaps time to think of having a Man's journal, which should try to keep his head above-water in the struggle for social supremacy. When almost every number of the leading periodicals has a paper about Woman—written probably by a woman —Woman Today, Woman Yesterday, Woman Tomorrow; when the inquiry is daily made in the press as to what is expected of woman, and the new requirements laid upon her by reason of her opportunities, her entrance into various occupations, her education—the impartial observer is likely to be confused, if he is not swept away by the rising tide of femininity in modern life.

But this very superiority of interest in the future of women is a warning to man to look about him, and see where in this tide he is going to land, if he will float or go ashore, and what will be his character and his position in the new social order. It will not do for him to sit on the stump of one of his prerogatives that woman has felled, and say with Brahma, "They reckon ill who leave me out," for in the day of the Subjection of Man it may be little consolation that he is left in.

It must be confessed that man has had a long inning. Perhaps it is true that he owed this to his physical strength, and that he will only keep it hereafter by intellectual superiority, by the dominance of mind. And how in this generation is he equipping himself for the future? He is the money-making animal. That is beyond dispute. Never before were there such business men as this generation can show—Napoleons of finance, Alexanders of adventure, Shakespeares of speculation, Porsons of accumulation. He is great in his field, but is he leaving the intellectual province to woman? Does he read as much as she does? Is he becoming anything but a newspaper-made person? Is his mind getting to be like the newspaper? Speaking generally of the mass of business men—and the mass are business men in this country—have they any habit of reading books? They have clubs, to be sure, but of what sort? With the exception of a conversation club here and there, and a literary club, more or less perfunctory, are they not mostly social clubs for comfort and idle lounging, many of them known, as other workmen are, by their "chips"? What sort of a book would a member make out of "Chips from my Workshop"? Do the young men, to any extent, join in Browning clubs and Shakespeare clubs and Dante clubs? Do they meet for the study of history, of authors, of literary periods, for reading, and discussing what they read? Do they in concert dig in the encyclopaedias, and write papers about the correlation of forces, and about Savonarola, and about the Three Kings? In fact, what sort of a hand would the Three Kings suggest to them? In the large cities the women's clubs, pursuing literature, art, languages, botany, history, geography, geology, mythology, are innumerable. And there is hardly a village in the land that has not from one to six clubs of young girls who meet once a week for some intellectual purpose. What are the young men of the villages and the cities doing meantime? How are they preparing to meet socially these young ladies who are cultivating their minds? Are they adapting themselves to the new conditions? Or are they counting, as they always have done, on the adaptability of women, on the facility with which the members of the bright sex can interest themselves in base-ball and the speed of horses and the chances of the "street"? Is it comfortable for the young man, when the talk is about the last notable book, or the philosophy of the popular poet or novelist, to feel that laughing eyes are sounding his ignorance?

Man is a noble creation, and he has fine and sturdy qualities which command the admiration of the other sex, but how will it be when that sex, by reason of superior acquirements, is able to look down on him intellectually? It used to be said that women are what men wish to have them, that they endeavored to be the kind of women who would win masculine admiration. How will it be if women have determined to make themselves what it pleases them to be, and to cultivate their powers in the expectation of pleasing men, if they indulge any such expectation, by their higher qualities only? This is not a fanciful possibility. It is one that young men will do well to ponder. It is easy to ridicule the literary and economic and historical societies, and the naive courage with which young women in them attack the gravest problems, and to say that they are only a passing fashion, like decorative art and a mode of dress. But a fashion is not to be underestimated; and when a fashion continues and spreads like this one, it is significant of a great change going on in society. And it is to be noticed that this fashion is accompanied by other phenomena as interesting. There is scarcely an occupation, once confined almost exclusively to men, in which women are not now conspicuous. Never before were there so many women who are superior musicians, performers themselves and organizers of musical societies; never before so many women who can draw well; never so many who are successful in literature, who write stories, translate, compile, and are acceptable workers in magazines and in publishing houses; and never before were so many women reading good books, and thinking about them, and talking about them, and trying to apply the lessons in them to the problems of their own lives, which are seen not to end with marriage. A great deal of this activity, crude much of it, is on the intellectual side, and must tell strongly by-and-by in the position of women. And the young men will take notice that it is the intellectual force that must dominate in life.


It seems hardly worth while to say that this would be a more interesting country if there were more interesting people in it. But the remark is worth consideration in a land where things are so much estimated by what they cost. It is a very expensive country, especially so in the matter of education, and one cannot but reflect whether the result is in proportion to the outlay. It costs a great many thousands of dollars and over four years of time to produce a really good base-ball player, and the time and money invested in the production of a society young woman are not less. No complaint is made of the cost of these schools of the higher education; the point is whether they produce interesting people. Of course all women are interesting. It has got pretty well noised about the world that American women are, on the whole, more interesting than any others. This statement is not made boastfully, but simply as a market quotation, as one might say. They are sought for; they rule high. They have a "way"; they know how to be fascinating, to be agreeable; they unite freedom of manner with modesty of behavior; they are apt to have beauty, and if they have not, they know how to make others think they have. Probably the Greek girls in their highest development under Phidias were never so attractive as the American girls of this period; and if we had a Phidias who could put their charms in marble, all the antique galleries would close up and go out of business.

But it must be understood that in regard to them, as to the dictionaries, it is necessary to "get the best." Not all women are equally interesting, and some of those on whom most educational money is lavished are the least so. It can be said broadly that everybody is interesting up to a certain point. There is no human being from whom the inquiring mind cannot learn something. It is so with women. Some are interesting for five minutes, some for ten, some for an hour; some are not exhausted in a whole day; and some (and this shows the signal leniency of Providence) are perennially entertaining, even in the presence of masculine stupidity. Of course the radical trouble of this world is that there are not more people who are interesting comrades, day in and day out, for a lifetime. It is greatly to the credit of American women that so many of them have this quality, and have developed it, unprotected, in free competition with all countries which have been pouring in women without the least duty laid upon their grace or beauty. We, have a tariff upon knowledge—we try to shut out all of that by a duty on books; we have a tariff on piety and intelligence in a duty on clergymen; we try to exclude art by a levy on it; but we have never excluded the raw material of beauty, and the result is that we can successfully compete in the markets of the world.

This, however, is a digression. The reader wants to know what this quality of being interesting has to do with girls' schools. It is admitted that if one goes into a new place he estimates the agreeableness of it according to the number of people it contains with whom it is a pleasure to converse, who have either the ability to talk well or the intelligence to listen appreciatingly even if deceivingly, whose society has the beguiling charm that makes even natural scenery satisfactory. It is admitted also that in our day the burden of this end of life, making it agreeable, is mainly thrown upon women. Men make their business an excuse for not being entertaining, or the few who cultivate the mind (aside from the politicians, who always try to be winning) scarcely think it worth while to contribute anything to make society bright and engaging. Now if the girls' schools and colleges, technical and other, merely add to the number of people who have practical training and knowledge without personal charm, what becomes of social life? We are impressed with the excellence of the schools and colleges for women —impressed also with the co-educating institutions. There is no sight more inspiring than an assemblage of four or five hundred young women attacking literature, science, and all the arts. The grace and courage of the attack alone are worth all it costs. All the arts and science and literature are benefited, but one of the chief purposes that should be in view is unattained if the young women are not made more interesting, both to themselves and to others. Ability to earn an independent living may be conceded to be important, health is indispensable, and beauty of face and form are desirable; knowledge is priceless, and unselfish amiability is above the price of rubies; but how shall we set a value, so far as the pleasure of living is concerned, upon the power to be interesting? We hear a good deal about the highly educated young woman with reverence, about the emancipated young woman with fear and trembling, but what can take the place of the interesting woman? Anxiety is this moment agitating the minds of tens of thousands of mothers about the education of their daughters. Suppose their education should be directed to the purpose of making them interesting women, what a fascinating country this would be about the year 1900.


Give the men a chance. Upon the young women of America lies a great responsibility. The next generation will be pretty much what they choose to make it; and what are they doing for the elevation of young men? It is true that there are the colleges for men, which still perform a good work—though some of them run a good deal more to a top-dressing of accomplishments than to a sub-soiling of discipline—but these colleges reach comparatively few. There remain the great mass who are devoted to business and pleasure, and only get such intellectual cultivation as society gives them or they chance to pick up in current publications. The young women are the leisure class, consequently—so we hear—the cultivated class. Taking a certain large proportion of our society, the women in it toil not, neither do they spin; they do little or no domestic work; they engage in no productive occupation. They are set apart for a high and ennobling service—the cultivation of the mind and the rescue of society from materialism. They are the influence that keeps life elevated and sweet—are they not? For what other purpose are they set apart in elegant leisure? And nobly do they climb up to the duties of their position. They associate together in esoteric, intellectual societies. Every one is a part of many clubs, the object of which is knowledge and the broadening of the intellectual horizon. Science, languages, literature, are their daily food. They can speak in tongues; they can talk about the solar spectrum; they can interpret Chaucer, criticise Shakespeare, understand Browning. There is no literature, ancient or modern, that they do not dig up by the roots and turn over, no history that they do not drag before the club for final judgment. In every little village there is this intellectual stir and excitement; why, even in New York, readings interfere with the german;—['Dances', likely referring to the productions of the Straus family in Vienna. D.W.]—and Boston! Boston is no longer divided into wards, but into Browning "sections."

All this is mainly the work of women. The men are sometimes admitted, are even hired to perform and be encouraged and criticised; that is, men who are already highly cultivated, or who are in sympathy with the noble feminization of the age. It is a glorious movement. Its professed object is to give an intellectual lift to society. And no doubt, unless all reports are exaggerated, it is making our great leisure class of women highly intellectual beings. But, encouraging as this prospect is, it gives us pause. Who are these young women to associate with? with whom are they to hold high converse? For life is a two-fold affair. And meantime what is being done for the young men who are expected to share in the high society of the future? Will not the young women by-and-by find themselves in a lonesome place, cultivated away beyond their natural comrades? Where will they spend their evenings? This sobering thought suggests a duty that the young women are neglecting. We refer to the education of the young men. It is all very well for them to form clubs for their own advancement, and they ought not to incur the charge of selfishness in so doing; but how much better would they fulfill their mission if they would form special societies for the cultivation of young men!—sort of intellectual mission bands. Bring them into the literary circle. Make it attractive for them. Women with their attractions, not to speak of their wiles, can do anything they set out to do. They can elevate the entire present generation of young men, if they give their minds to it, to care for the intellectual pursuits they care for. Give the men a chance, and——

Musing along in this way we are suddenly pulled up by the reflection that it is impossible to make an unqualified statement that is wholly true about anything. What chance have I, anyway? inquires the young man who thinks sometimes and occasionally wants to read. What sort of leading-strings are these that I am getting into? Look at the drift of things. Is the feminization of the world a desirable thing for a vigorous future? Are the women, or are they not, taking all the virility out of literature? Answer me that. All the novels are written by, for, or about women—brought to their standard. Even Henry James, who studies the sex untiringly, speaks about the "feminization of literature." They write most of the newspaper correspondence—and write it for women. They are even trying to feminize the colleges. Granted that woman is the superior being; all the more, what chance is there for man if this sort of thing goes on? Are you going to make a race of men on feminine fodder? And here is the still more perplexing part of it. Unless all analysis of the female heart is a delusion, and all history false, what women like most of all things in this world is a Man, virile, forceful, compelling, a solid rock of dependence, a substantial unfeminine being, whom it is some satisfaction and glory and interest to govern and rule in the right way, and twist round the feminine finger. If women should succeed in reducing or raising—of course raising—men to the feminine standard, by feminizing society, literature, the colleges, and all that, would they not turn on their creations—for even the Bible intimates that women are uncertain and go in search of a Man? It is this sort of blind instinct of the young man for preserving himself in the world that makes him so inaccessible to the good he might get from the prevailing culture of the leisure class.


Those who are anxious about the fate of Christmas, whether it is not becoming too worldly and too expensive a holiday to be indulged in except by the very poor, mark with pleasure any indications that the true spirit of the day—brotherhood and self-abnegation and charity—is infusing itself into modern society. The sentimental Christmas of thirty years ago could not last; in time the manufactured jollity got to be more tedious and a greater strain on the feelings than any misfortune happening to one's neighbor. Even for a day it was very difficult to buzz about in the cheery manner prescribed, and the reaction put human nature in a bad light. Nor was it much better when gradually the day became one of Great Expectations, and the sweet spirit of it was quenched in worry or soured in disappointment. It began to take on the aspect of a great lottery, in which one class expected to draw in reverse proportion to what it put in, and another class knew that it would only reap as it had sowed. The day, blessed in its origin, and meaningless if there is a grain of selfishness in it, was thus likely to become a sort of Clearing-house of all obligations and assume a commercial aspect that took the heart out of it—like the enormous receptions for paying social debts which take the place of the old-fashioned hospitality. Everybody knew, meantime, that the spirit of good-will, the grace of universal sympathy, was really growing in the world, and that it was only our awkwardness that, by striving to cram it all for a year into twenty-four hours, made it seem a little farcical. And everybody knows that when goodness becomes fashionable, goodness is likely to suffer a little. A virtue overdone falls on t'other side. And a holiday that takes on such proportions that the Express companies and the Post-office cannot handle it is in danger of a collapse. In consideration of these things, and because, as has been pointed out year after year, Christmas is becoming a burden, the load of which is looked forward to with apprehension—and back on with nervous prostration—fear has been expressed that the dearest of all holidays in Christian lands would have to go again under a sort of Puritan protest, or into a retreat for rest and purification. We are enabled to announce for the encouragement of the single-minded in this best of all days, at the close of a year which it is best not to characterize, that those who stand upon the social watch-towers in Europe and America begin to see a light—or, it would be better to say, to perceive a spirit—in society which is likely to change many things, and; among others, to work a return of Christian simplicity. As might be expected in these days, the spirit is exhibited in the sex which is first at the wedding and last in the hospital ward. And as might have been expected, also, this spirit is shown by the young woman of the period, in whose hands are the issues of the future. If she preserve her present mind long enough, Christmas will become a day that will satisfy every human being, for the purpose of the young woman will pervade it. The tendency of the young woman generally to simplicity, of the American young woman to a certain restraint (at least when abroad), to a deference to her elders, and to tradition, has been noted. The present phenomenon is quite beyond this, and more radical. It is, one may venture to say, an attempt to conform the inner being to the outward simplicity. If one could suspect the young woman of taking up any line not original, it might be guessed that the present fashion (which is bewildering the most worldly men with a new and irresistible fascination) was set by the self-revelations of Marie Bashkirtseff. Very likely, however, it was a new spirit in the world, of which Marie was the first publishing example. Its note is self-analysis, searching, unsparing, leaving no room for the deception of self or of the world. Its leading feature is extreme candor. It is not enough to tell the truth (that has been told before); but one must act and tell the whole truth. One does not put on the shirt front and the standing collar and the knotted cravat of the other sex as a mere form; it is an act of consecration, of rigid, simple come-out-ness into the light of truth. This noble candor will suffer no concealments. She would not have her lover even, still more the general world of men, think she is better, or rather other, than she is. Not that she would like to appear a man among men, far from that; but she wishes to talk with candor and be talked to candidly, without taking advantage of that false shelter of sex behind which women have been accused of dodging. If she is nothing else, she is sincere, one might say wantonly sincere. And this lucid, candid inner life is reflected in her dress. This is not only simple in its form, in its lines; it is severe. To go into the shop of a European modiste is almost to put one's self into a truthful and candid frame of mind. Those leave frivolous ideas behind who enter here. The 'modiste' will tell the philosopher that it is now the fashion to be severe; in a word, it is 'fesch'. Nothing can go beyond that. And it symbolizes the whole life, its self-examination, earnestness, utmost candor in speech and conduct.

The statesman who is busy about his tariff and his reciprocity, and his endeavor to raise money like potatoes, may little heed and much undervalue this advent of candor into the world as a social force. But the philosopher will make no such mistake. He knows that they who build without woman build in vain, and that she is the great regenerator, as she is the great destroyer. He knows too much to disregard the gravity of any fashionable movement. He knows that there is no power on earth that can prevent the return of the long skirt. And that if the young woman has decided to be severe and candid and frank with herself and in her intercourse with others, we must submit and thank God.

And what a gift to the world is this for the Christmas season! The clear-eyed young woman of the future, always dear and often an anxiety, will this year be an object of enthusiasm.


The American man only develops himself and spreads himself and grows "for all he is worth" in the Great West. He is more free and limber there, and unfolds those generous peculiarities and largenesses of humanity which never blossomed before. The "environment" has much to do with it. The great spaces over which he roams contribute to the enlargement of his mental horizon. There have been races before who roamed the illimitable desert, but they traveled on foot or on camelback, and were limited in their range. There was nothing continental about them, as there is about our railway desert travelers, who swing along through thousands of miles of sand and sage-bush with a growing contempt for time and space. But expansive and great as these people have become under the new conditions, we have a fancy that the development of the race has only just begun, and that the future will show us in perfection a kind of man new to the world. Out somewhere on the Santa Fe route, where the desert of one day was like the desert of the day before, and the Pullman car rolls and swings over the wide waste beneath the blue sky day after day, under its black flag of smoke, in the early gray of morning, when the men were waiting their turns at the ablution bowls, a slip of a boy, perhaps aged seven, stood balancing himself on his little legs, clad in knicker-bockers, biding his time, with all the nonchalance of an old campaigner. "How did you sleep, cap?" asked a well-meaning elderly gentleman. "Well, thank you," was the dignified response; "as I always do on a sleeping-car." Always does? Great horrors! Hardly out of his swaddling-clothes, and yet he always sleeps well in a sleeper! Was he born on the wheels? was he cradled in a Pullman? He has always been in motion, probably; he was started at thirty miles an hour, no doubt, this marvelous boy of our new era. He was not born in a house at rest, but the locomotive snatched him along with a shriek and a roar before his eyes were fairly open, and he was rocked in a "section," and his first sensation of life was that of moving rapidly over vast arid spaces, through cattle ranges and along canons. The effect of quick and easy locomotion on character may have been noted before, but it seems that here is the production of a new sort of man, the direct product of our railway era. It is not simply that this boy is mature, but he must be a different and a nobler sort of boy than one born, say, at home or on a canal-boat; for, whether he was born on the rail or not, he belongs to the railway system of civilization. Before he gets into trousers he is old in experience, and he has discounted many of the novelties that usually break gradually on the pilgrim in this world. He belongs to the new expansive race that must live in motion, whose proper home is the Pullman (which will probably be improved in time into a dustless, sweet-smelling, well-aired bedroom), and whose domestic life will be on the wing, so to speak. The Inter-State Commerce Bill will pass him along without friction from end to end of the Union, and perhaps a uniform divorce law will enable him to change his marital relations at any place where he happens to dine. This promising lad is only a faint intimation of what we are all coming to when we fully acquire the freedom of the continent, and come into that expansiveness of feeling and of language which characterizes the Great West. It is a burst of joyous exuberance that comes from the sense of an illimitable horizon. It shows itself in the tender words of a local newspaper at Bowie, Arizona, on the death of a beloved citizen: "'Death loves a shining mark,' and she hit a dandy when she turned loose on Jim." And also in the closing words of a New Mexico obituary, which the Kansas Magazine quotes: "Her tired spirit was released from the pain-racking body and soared aloft to eternal glory at 4.30 Denver time." We die, as it were, in motion, as we sleep, and there is nowhere any boundary to our expansion. Perhaps we shall never again know any rest as we now understand the term—rest being only change of motion—and we shall not be able to sleep except on the cars, and whether we die by Denver time or by the 90th meridian, we shall only change our time. Blessed be this slip of a boy who is a man before he is an infant, and teaches us what rapid transit can do for our race! The only thing that can possibly hinder us in our progress will be second childhood; we have abolished first.


We are quite in the electric way. We boast that we have made electricity our slave, but the slave whom we do not understand is our master. And before we know him we shall be transformed. Mr. Edison proposes to send us over the country at the rate of one hundred miles an hour. This pleases us, because we fancy we shall save time, and because we are taught that the chief object in life is to "get there" quickly. We really have an idea that it is a gain to annihilate distance, forgetting that as a matter of personal experience we are already too near most people. But this speed by rail will enable us to live in Philadelphia and do business in New York. It will make the city of Chicago two hundred miles square. And the bigger Chicago is, the more important this world becomes. This pleasing anticipation—that of traveling by lightning, and all being huddled together—is nothing to the promised universal illumination by a diffused light that shall make midnight as bright as noonday. We shall then save all the time there is, and at the age of thirty-five have lived the allotted seventy years, and long, if not for 'Gotterdammerung', at least for some world where, by touching a button, we can discharge our limbs of electricity and take a little repose. The most restless and ambitious of us can hardly conceive of Chicago as a desirable future state of existence.

This, however, is only the external or superficial view of the subject; at the best it is only symbolical. Mr. Edison is wasting his time in objective experiments, while we are in the deepest ignorance as to our electric personality or our personal electricity. We begin to apprehend that we are electric beings, that these outward manifestations of a subtile form are only hints of our internal state. Mr. Edison should turn his attention from physics to humanity electrically considered in its social condition. We have heard a great deal about affinities. We are told that one person is positive and another negative, and that representing socially opposite poles they should come together and make an electric harmony, that two positives or two negatives repel each other, and if conventionally united end in divorce, and so on. We read that such a man is magnetic, meaning that he can poll a great many votes; or that such a woman thrilled her audience, meaning probably that they were in an electric condition to be shocked by her. Now this is what we want to find out—to know if persons are really magnetic or sympathetic, and how to tell whether a person is positive or negative. In politics we are quite at sea. What is the good of sending a man to Washington at the rate of a hundred miles an hour if we are uncertain of his electric state? The ideal House of Representatives ought to be pretty nearly balanced—half positive, half negative. Some Congresses seem to be made up pretty much of negatives. The time for the electrician to test the candidate is before he is put in nomination, not dump him into Congress as we do now, utterly ignorant of whether his currents run from his heels to his head or from his head to his heels, uncertain, indeed, as to whether he has magnetism to run in at all. Nothing could be more unscientific than the process and the result.

In social life it is infinitely worse. You, an electric unmarried man, enter a room full of attractive women. How are you to know who is positive and who is negative, or who is a maiden lady in equilibrium, if it be true, as scientists affirm, that the genus old maid is one in whom the positive currents neutralize the negative currents? Your affinity is perhaps the plainest woman in the room. But beauty is a juggling sprite, entirely uncontrolled by electricity, and you are quite likely to make a mistake. It is absurd the way we blunder on in a scientific age. We touch a button, and are married. The judge touches another button, and we are divorced. If when we touched the first button it revealed us both negatives, we should start back in horror, for it is only before engagement that two negatives make an affirmative. That is the reason that some clergymen refuse to marry a divorced woman; they see that she has made one electric mistake, and fear she will make another. It is all very well for the officiating clergyman to ask the two intending to commit matrimony if they have a license from the town clerk, if they are of age or have the consent of parents, and have a million; but the vital point is omitted. Are they electric affinities? It should be the duty of the town-clerk, by a battery, or by some means to be discovered by electricians, to find out the galvanic habit of the parties, their prevailing electric condition. Temporarily they may seem to be in harmony, and may deceive themselves into the belief that they are at opposite poles equidistant from the equator, and certain to meet on that imaginary line in matrimonial bliss. Dreadful will be the awakening to an insipid life, if they find they both have the same sort of currents. It is said that women change their minds and their dispositions, that men are fickle, and that both give way after marriage to natural inclinations that were suppressed while they were on the good behavior that the supposed necessity of getting married imposes. This is so notoriously true that it ought to create a public panic. But there is hope in the new light. If we understand it, persons are born in a certain electrical condition, and substantially continue in it, however much they may apparently wobble about under the influence of infirm minds and acquired wickedness. There are, of course, variations of the compass to be reckoned with, and the magnet may occasionally be bewitched by near and powerful attracting objects. But, on the whole, the magnet remains the same, and it is probable that a person's normal electric condition is the thing in him least liable to dangerous variation. If this be true, the best basis for matrimony is the electric, and our social life would have fewer disappointments if men and women went about labeled with their scientifically ascertained electric qualities.


Can a husband open his wife's letters? That would depend, many would say, upon what kind of a husband he is. But it cannot be put aside in that flippant manner, for it is a legal right that is in question, and it has recently been decided in a Paris tribunal that the husband has the, right to open the letters addressed to his wife. Of course in America an appeal would instantly be taken from this decision, and perhaps by husbands themselves; for in this world rights are becoming so impartially distributed that this privilege granted to the husband might at once be extended to the wife, and she would read all his business correspondence, and his business is sometimes various and complicated. The Paris decision must be based upon the familiar formula that man and wife are one, and that that one is the husband. If a man has the right to read all the letters written to his wife, being his property by reason of his ownership of her, why may he not have a legal right to know all that is said to her? The question is not whether a wife ought to receive letters that her husband may not read, or listen to talk that he may not hear, but whether he has a sort of lordship that gives him privileges which she does not enjoy. In our modern notion of marriage, which is getting itself expressed in statute law, marriage is supposed to rest on mutual trust and mutual rights. In theory the husband and wife are still one, and there can nothing come into the life of one that is not shared by the other; in fact, if the marriage is perfect and the trust absolute, the personality of each is respected by the other, and each is freely the judge of what shall be contributed to the common confidence; and if there are any concealments, it is well believed that they are for the mutual good. If every one were as perfect in the marriage relation as those who are reading these lines, the question of the wife's letters would never arise. The man, trusting his wife, would not care to pry into any little secrets his wife might have, or bother himself about her correspondence; he would know, indeed, that if he had lost her real affection, a surveillance of her letters could not restore it.

Perhaps it is a modern notion that marriage is a union of trust and not of suspicion, of expectation of faithfulness the more there is freedom. At any rate, the tendency, notwithstanding the French decision, is away from the common-law suspicion and tyranny towards a higher trust in an enlarged freedom. And it is certain that the rights cannot all be on one side and the duties on the other. If the husband legally may compel his wife to show him her letters, the courts will before long grant the same privilege to the wife. But, without pressing this point, we hold strongly to the sacredness of correspondence. The letters one receives are in one sense not his own. They contain the confessions of another soul, the confidences of another mind, that would be rudely treated if given any sort of publicity. And while husband and wife are one to each other, they are two in the eyes of other people, and it may well happen that a friend will desire to impart something to a discreet woman which she would not intrust to the babbling husband of that woman. Every life must have its own privacy and its own place of retirement. The letter is of all things the most personal and intimate thing. Its bloom is gone when another eye sees it before the one for which it was intended. Its aroma all escapes when it is first opened by another person. One might as well wear second-hand clothing as get a second-hand letter. Here, then, is a sacred right that ought to be respected, and can be respected without any injury to domestic life. The habit in some families for the members of it to show each other's letters is a most disenchanting one. It is just in the family, between persons most intimate, that these delicacies of consideration for the privacy of each ought to be most respected. No one can estimate probably how much of the refinement, of the delicacy of feeling, has been lost to the world by the introduction of the postal-card. Anything written on a postal-card has no personality; it is banal, and has as little power of charming any one who receives it as an advertisement in the newspaper. It is not simply the cheapness of the communication that is vulgar, but the publicity of it. One may have perhaps only a cent's worth of affection to send, but it seems worth much more when enclosed in an envelope. We have no doubt, then, that on general principles the French decision is a mistake, and that it tends rather to vulgarize than to retain the purity and delicacy of the marriage relation. And the judges, so long even as men only occupy the bench, will no doubt reverse it when the logical march of events forces upon them the question whether the wife may open her husband's letters.


Foreign critics have apologized for real or imagined social and literary shortcomings in this country on the ground that the American people have little leisure. It is supposed that when we have a leisure class we shall not only make a better showing in these respects, but we shall be as agreeable—having time to devote to the art of being agreeable—as the English are. But we already have a considerable and increasing number of people who can command their own time if we have not a leisure class, and the sociologist might begin to study the effect of this leisureliness upon society. Are the people who, by reason of a competence or other accidents of good-fortune, have most leisure, becoming more agreeable? and are they devoting themselves to the elevation of the social tone, or to the improvement of our literature? However this question is answered, a strong appeal might be made to the people of leisure to do not only what is expected of them by foreign observers, but to take advantage of their immense opportunities. In a republic there is no room for a leisure class that is not useful. Those who use their time merely to kill it, in imitation of those born to idleness and to no necessity of making an exertion, may be ornamental, but having no root in any established privilege to sustain them, they will soon wither away in this atmosphere, as a flower would which should set up to be an orchid when it does not belong to the orchid family. It is required here that those who are emancipated from the daily grind should vindicate their right to their position not only by setting an example of self-culture, but by contributing something to the general welfare. It is thought by many that if society here were established and settled as it is elsewhere, the rich would be less dominated by their money and less conscious of it, and having leisure, could devote themselves even more than they do now to intellectual and spiritual pursuits.

Whether these anticipations will ever be realized, and whether increased leisure will make us all happy, is a subject of importance; but it is secondary, and in a manner incidental, to another and deeper matter, which may be defined as the responsibility of attractiveness. And this responsibility takes two forms the duty of every one to be attractive, and the danger of being too attractive. To be winning and agreeable is sometimes reckoned a gift, but it is a disposition that can be cultivated; and, in a world so given to grippe and misapprehension as this is, personal attractiveness becomes a duty, if it is not an art, that might be taught in the public schools. It used to be charged against New Englanders that they regarded this gift as of little value, and were inclined to hide it under a bushel, and it was said of some of their neighbors in the Union that they exaggerated its importance, and neglected the weightier things of the law. Indeed, disputes have arisen as to what attractiveness consisted in—some holding that beauty or charm of manner (which is almost as good) and sweetness and gayety were sufficient, while others held that a little intelligence sprinkled in was essential. But one thing is clear, that while women were held to strict responsibility in this matter, not stress enough was laid upon the equal duty of men to be attractive in order to make the world agreeable. Hence it is, probably, that while no question has been raised as to the effect of the higher education upon the attractiveness of men, the colleges for girls have been jealously watched as to the effect they were likely to have upon the attractiveness of women. Whether the college years of a young man, during which he knows more than he will ever know again, are his most attractive period is not considered, for he is expected to develop what is in him later on; but it is gravely questioned whether girls who give their minds to the highest studies are not dropping those graces of personal attractiveness which they will find it difficult to pick up again. Of course such a question as this could never arise except in just such a world as this is. For in an ideal world it could be shown that the highest intelligence and the highest personal charm are twins. If, therefore, it should turn out, which seems absurd, that college-educated girls are not as attractive as other women with less advantages, it will have to be admitted that something is the matter with the young ladies, which is preposterous, or that the system is still defective. For the postulate that everybody ought to be attractive cannot be abandoned for the sake of any system. Decision on this system cannot be reached without long experience, for it is always to be remembered that the man's point of view of attractiveness may shift, and he may come to regard the intellectual graces as supremely attractive; while, on the other hand, the woman student may find that a winning smile is just as effective in bringing a man to her feet, where he belongs, as a logarithm.

The danger of being too attractive, though it has historic illustration, is thought by many to be more apparent than real. Merely being too attractive has often been confounded with a love of flirtation and conquest, unbecoming always in a man, and excused in a woman on the ground of her helplessness. It could easily be shown that to use personal attractiveness recklessly to the extent of hopeless beguilement is cruel, and it may be admitted that woman ought to be held to strict responsibility for her attractiveness. The lines are indeed hard for her. The duty is upon her in this poor world of being as attractive as she can, and yet she is held responsible for all the mischief her attractiveness produces. As if the blazing sun should be called to account by people with weak eyes.


The month of February in all latitudes in the United States is uncertain. The birth of George Washington in it has not raised it in public esteem. In the North, it is a month to flee from; in the South, at best it is a waiting month—a month of rain and fickle skies. A good deal has been done for it. It is the month of St. Valentine, it is distinguished by the leap-year addition of a day, and ought to be a favorite of the gentle sex; but it remains a sort of off period in the year. Its brevity recommends it, but no one would take any notice of it were it not for its effect upon character. A month of rigid weather is supposed to brace up the moral nature, and a month of gentleness is supposed to soften the asperities of the disposition, but February contributes to neither of these ends. It is neither a tonic nor a soother; that is, in most parts of our inexplicable land. We make no complaint of this. It is probably well to have a period in the year that tests character to the utmost, and the person who can enter spring through the gate of February a better man or woman is likely to adorn society the rest of the year.

February, however, is merely an illustration of the effect of weather upon the disposition. Persons differ in regard to their sensitiveness to cloudy, rainy, and gloomy days. We recognize this in a general way, but the relation of temper and disposition to the weather has never been scientifically studied. Our observation of the influence of climate is mostly with regard to physical infirmities. We know the effect of damp weather upon rheumatics, and of the east wind upon gouty subjects, but too little allowance is made for the influence of weather upon the spirits and the conduct of men. We know that a long period of gloomy weather leads to suicides, and we observe that long-continued clouds and rain beget "crossness" and ill-temper, and we are all familiar with the universal exhilaration of sunshine and clear air upon any company of men and women. But the point we wish to make is that neither society nor the law makes any allowance for the aberrations of human nature caused by dull and unpleasant weather. And this is very singular in this humanitarian age, when excuse is found for nearly every moral delinquency in heredity or environment, that the greatest factor of discontent and crookedness, the weather, should be left out of consideration altogether. The relation of crime to the temperature and the humidity of the atmosphere is not taken into account. Yet crime and eccentricity of conduct are very much the result of atmospheric conditions, since they depend upon the temper and the spirit of the community. Many people are habitually blue and down-hearted in sour weather; a long spell of cloudy, damp, cold weather depresses everybody, lowers hope, tends to melancholy; and people when they are not cheerful are more apt to fall into evil ways, as a rule, than when they are in a normal state of good-humor. And aside from crimes, the vexation, the friction, the domestic discontent in life, are provoked by bad weather. We should like to have some statistics as to incompatibility between married couples produced by damp and raw days, and to know whether divorces are more numerous in the States that suffer from a fickle climate than in those where the climate is more equable. It is true that in the Sandwich Islands and in Egypt there is greater mental serenity, less perturbation of spirit, less worry, than in the changeable United States. Something of this placidity and resignation to the ills inevitable in human life is due to an even climate, to the constant sun and the dry air. We cannot hope to prevent crime and suffering by statistics, any more than we have been able to improve our climate (which is rather worse now than before the scientists took it in charge) by observations and telegraphic reports; but we can, by careful tabulation of the effects of bad weather upon the spirits of a community, learn what places in the Union are favorable to the production of cheerfulness and an equal mind. And we should lift a load of reprobation from some places which now have a reputation for surliness and unamiability. We find the people of one place hospitable, lighthearted, and agreeable; the people of another place cold, and morose, and unpleasant. It would be a satisfaction to know that the weather is responsible for the difference. Observation of this sort would also teach us doubtless what places are most conducive to literary production, what to happy homes and agreeing wives and husbands. All our territory is mapped out as to its sanitary conditions; why not have it colored as to its effect upon the spirits and the enjoyment of life? The suggestion opens a vast field of investigation.


There used to be a notion going round that it would be a good thing for people if they were more "self-centred." Perhaps there was talk of adding a course to the college curriculum, in addition to that for training the all-competent "journalist," for the self-centring of the young. To apply the term to a man or woman was considered highly complimentary. The advisers of this state of mind probably meant to suggest a desirable equilibrium and mental balance; but the actual effect of the self-centred training is illustrated by a story told of Thomas H. Benton, who had been described as an egotist by some of the newspapers. Meeting Colonel Frank Blair one day, he said: "Colonel Blair, I see that the newspapers call me an egotist. I wish you would tell me frankly, as a friend, if you think the charge is true." "It is a very direct question, Mr. Benton," replied Colonel Blair, "but if you want my honest opinion, I am compelled to say that I think there is some foundation for the charge." "Well, sir," said Mr. Benton, throwing his head back and his chest forward, "the difference between me and these little fellows is that I have an EGO!" Mr. Benton was an interesting man, and it is a fair consideration if a certain amount of egotism does not add to the interest of any character, but at the same time the self-centred conditions shut a person off from one of the chief enjoyments to be got out of this world, namely, a recognition of what is admirable in others in a toleration of peculiarities. It is odd, almost amusing, to note how in this country people of one section apply their local standards to the judgment of people in other sections, very much as an Englishman uses his insular yardstick to measure all the rest of the world. It never seems to occur to people in one locality that the manners and speech of those of another may be just as admirable as their own, and they get a good deal of discomfort out of their intercourse with strangers by reason of their inability to adapt themselves to any ways not their own. It helps greatly to make this country interesting that nearly every State has its peculiarities, and that the inhabitants of different sections differ in manner and speech. But next to an interesting person in social value, is an agreeable one, and it would add vastly to the agreeableness of life if our widely spread provinces were not so self-centred in their notion that their own way is the best, to the degree that they criticise any deviation from it as an eccentricity. It would be a very nice world in these United States if we could all devote ourselves to finding out in communities what is likable rather than what is opposed to our experience; that is, in trying to adapt ourselves to others rather than insisting that our own standard should measure our opinion and our enjoyment of them.

When the Kentuckian describes a man as a "high-toned gentleman" he means exactly the same that a Bostonian means when, he says that a man is a "very good fellow," only the men described have a different culture, a different personal flavor; and it is fortunate that the Kentuckian is not like the Bostonian, for each has a quality that makes intercourse with him pleasant. In the South many people think they have said a severe thing when they say that a person or manner is thoroughly Yankee; and many New Englanders intend to express a considerable lack in what is essential when they say of men and women that they are very Southern. When the Yankee is produced he may turn out a cosmopolitan person of the most interesting and agreeable sort; and the Southerner may have traits and peculiarities, growing out of climate and social life unlike the New England, which are altogether charming. We talked once with a Western man of considerable age and experience who had the placid mind that is sometimes, and may more and more become, the characteristic of those who live in flat countries of illimitable horizons, who said that New Yorkers, State and city, all had an assertive sort of smartness that was very disagreeable to him. And a lady of New York (a city whose dialect the novelists are beginning to satirize) was much disturbed by the flatness of speech prevailing in Chicago, and thought something should be done in the public schools to correct the pronunciation of English. There doubtless should be a common standard of distinct, rounded, melodious pronunciation, as there is of good breeding, and it is quite as important to cultivate the voice in speaking as in singing, but the people of the United States let themselves be immensely irritated by local differences and want of toleration of sectional peculiarities. The truth is that the agreeable people are pretty evenly distributed over the country, and one's enjoyment of them is heightened not only by their differences of manner, but by the different, ways in which they look at life, unless he insists upon applying everywhere the yardstick of his own locality. If the Boston woman sets her eyeglasses at a critical angle towards the 'laisser faire' flow of social amenity in New Orleans, and the New Orleans woman seeks out only the prim and conventional in Boston, each may miss the opportunity to supplement her life by something wanting and desirable in it, to be gained by the exercise of more openness of mind and toleration. To some people Yankee thrift is disagreeable; to others, Southern shiftlessness is intolerable. To some travelers the negro of the South, with his tropical nature, his capacity for picturesque attitudes, his abundant trust in Providence, is an element of restfulness; and if the chief object of life is happiness, the traveler may take a useful hint from the race whose utmost desire, in a fit climate, would be fully satisfied by a shirt and a banana-tree. But to another traveler the dusky, careless race is a continual affront.

If a person is born with an "Ego," and gets the most enjoyment out of the world by trying to make it revolve about himself, and cannot make-allowances for differences, we have nothing to say except to express pity for such a self-centred condition; which shuts him out of the never-failing pleasure there is in entering into and understanding with sympathy the almost infinite variety in American life.


Sometimes the world seems very old. It appeared so to Bernard of Cluny in the twelfth century, when he wrote:

"The world is very evil, The times are waning late."

There was a general impression among the Christians of the first century of our era that the end was near. The world must have seemed very ancient to the Egyptians fifteen hundred years before Christ, when the Pyramid of Cheops was a relic of antiquity, when almost the whole circle of arts, sciences, and literature had been run through, when every nation within reach had been conquered, when woman had been developed into one of the most fascinating of beings, and even reigned more absolutely than Elizabeth or Victoria has reigned since: it was a pretty tired old world at that time. One might almost say that the further we go back the older and more "played out" the world appears, notwithstanding that the poets, who were generally pessimists of the present, kept harping about the youth of the world and the joyous spontaneity of human life in some golden age before their time. In fact, the world is old in spots—in Memphis and Boston and Damascus and Salem and Ephesus. Some of these places are venerable in traditions, and some of them are actually worn out and taking a rest from too much civilization—lying fallow, as the saying is. But age is so entirely relative that to many persons the landing of the Mayflower seems more remote than the voyage of Jason, and a Mayflower chest a more antique piece of furniture than the timbers of the Ark, which some believe can still be seen on top of Mount Ararat. But, speaking generally, the world is still young and growing, and a considerable portion of it unfinished. The oldest part, indeed, the Laurentian Hills, which were first out of water, is still only sparsely settled; and no one pretends that Florida is anything like finished, or that the delta of the Mississippi is in anything more than the process of formation. Men are so young and lively in these days that they cannot wait for the slow processes of nature, but they fill up and bank up places, like Holland, where they can live; and they keep on exploring and discovering incongruous regions, like Alaska, where they can go and exercise their juvenile exuberance.

In many respects the world has been growing younger ever since the Christian era. A new spirit came into it then which makes youth perpetual, a spirit of living in others, which got the name of universal brotherhood, a spirit that has had a good many discouragements and set-backs, but which, on the whole, gains ground, and generally works in harmony with the scientific spirit, breaking down the exclusive character of the conquests of nature. What used to be the mystery and occultism of the few is now general knowledge, so that all the playing at occultism by conceited people now seems jejune and foolish. A little machine called the instantaneous photograph takes pictures as quickly and accurately as the human eye does, and besides makes them permanent. Instead of fooling credulous multitudes with responses from Delphi, we have a Congress which can enact tariff regulations susceptible of interpretations enough to satisfy the love of mystery of the entire nation. Instead of loafing round Memnon at sunrise to catch some supernatural tones, we talk words into a little contrivance which will repeat our words and tones to the remotest generation of those who shall be curious to know whether we said those words in jest or earnest. All these mysteries made common and diffused certainly increase the feeling of the equality of opportunity in the world. And day by day such wonderful things are discovered and scattered abroad that we are warranted in believing that we are only on the threshold of turning to account the hidden forces of nature. There would be great danger of human presumption and conceit in this progress if the conceit were not so widely diffused, and where we are all conceited there is no one to whom it will appear unpleasant. If there was only one person who knew about the telephone he would be unbearable. Probably the Eiffel Tower would be stricken down as a monumental presumption, like that of Babel, if it had not been raised with the full knowledge and consent of all the world.

This new spirit, with its multiform manifestations, which came into the world nearly nineteen hundred years ago, is sometimes called the spirit of Christmas. And good reasons can be given for supposing that it is. At any rate, those nations that have the most of it are the most prosperous, and those people who have the most of it are the most agreeable to associate with. Know all men by these Presents, is an old legal form which has come to have a new meaning in this dispensation. It is by the spirit of brotherhood exhibited in giving presents that we know the Christmas proper, only we are apt to take it in too narrow a way. The real spirit of Christmas is the general diffusion of helpfulness and good-will. If somebody were to discover an elixir which would make every one truthful, he would not, in this age of the world, patent it. Indeed, the Patent Office would not let him make a corner on virtue as he does in wheat; and it is not respectable any more among the real children of Christmas to make a corner in wheat. The world, to be sure, tolerates still a great many things that it does not approve of, and, on the whole, Christmas, as an ameliorating and good-fellowship institution, gains a little year by year. There is still one hitch about it, and a bad one just now, namely, that many people think they can buy its spirit by jerks of liberality, by costly gifts. Whereas the fact is that a great many of the costliest gifts in this season do not count at all. Crumbs from the rich man's table don't avail any more to open the pearly gates even of popular esteem in this world. Let us say, in fine, that a loving, sympathetic heart is better than a nickel-plated service in this world, which is surely growing young and sympathetic.


In Autumn the thoughts lightly turn to Age. If the writer has seemed to be interested, sometimes to the neglect of other topics, in the American young woman, it was not because she is interested in herself, but because she is on the way to be one of the most agreeable objects in this lovely world. She may struggle against it; she may resist it by all the legitimate arts of the coquette and the chemist; she may be convinced that youth and beauty are inseparable allies; but she would have more patience if she reflected that the sunset is often finer than the sunrise, commonly finer than noon, especially after a stormy day. The secret of a beautiful old age is as well worth seeking as that of a charming young maidenhood. For it is one of the compensations for the rest of us, in the decay of this mortal life, that women, whose mission it is to allure in youth and to tinge the beginning of the world with romance, also make the end of the world more serenely satisfactory and beautiful than the outset. And this has been done without any amendment to the Constitution of the United States; in fact, it is possible that the Sixteenth Amendment would rather hinder than help this gracious process. We are not speaking now of what is called growing old gracefully and regretfully, as something to be endured, but as a season to be desired for itself, at least by those whose privilege it is to be ennobled and cheered by it. And we are not speaking of wicked old women. There is a unique fascination—all the novelists recognize it—in a wicked old woman; not very wicked, but a woman of abundant experience, who is perfectly frank and a little cynical, and delights in probing human nature and flashing her wit on its weaknesses, and who knows as much about life as a club man is credited with knowing. She may not be a good comrade for the young, but she is immensely more fascinating than a semi-wicked old man. Why, we do not know; that is one of the unfathomable mysteries of womanhood. No; we have in mind quite another sort of woman, of which America has so many that they are a very noticeable element in all cultivated society. And the world has nothing more lovely. For there is a loveliness or fascination sometimes in women between the ages of sixty and eighty that is unlike any other—a charm that woos us to regard autumn as beautiful as spring.

Perhaps these women were great beauties in their day, but scarcely so serenely beautiful as now when age has refined all that was most attractive. Perhaps they were plain; but it does not matter, for the subtle influence of spiritualized-intelligence has the power of transforming plainness into the beauty of old age. Physical beauty is doubtless a great advantage, and it is never lost if mind shines through it (there is nothing so unlovely as a frivolous old woman fighting to keep the skin-deep beauty of her youth); the eyes, if the life has not been one of physical suffering, usually retain their power of moving appeal; the lines of the face, if changed, may be refined by a certain spirituality; the gray hair gives dignity and softness and the charm of contrast; the low sweet voice vibrates to the same note of femininity, and the graceful and gracious are graceful and gracious still. Even into the face and bearing of the plain woman whose mind has grown, whose thoughts have been pure, whose heart has been expanded by good deeds or by constant affection, comes a beauty winning and satisfactory in the highest degree.

It is not that the charm of the women of whom we speak is mainly this physical beauty; that is only incidental, as it were. The delight in their society has a variety of sources. Their interest in life is broader than it once was, more sympathetically unselfish; they have a certain philosophical serenity that is not inconsistent with great liveliness of mind; they have got rid of so much nonsense; they can afford to be truthful—and how much there is to be learned from a woman who is truthful! they have a most delicious courage of opinion, about men, say, and in politics, and social topics, and creeds even. They have very little any longer to conceal; that is, in regard to things that should be thought about and talked about at all. They are not afraid to be gay, and to have enthusiasms. At sixty and eighty a refined and well-bred woman is emancipated in the best way, and in the enjoyment of the full play of the richest qualities of her womanhood. She is as far from prudery as from the least note of vulgarity. Passion, perhaps, is replaced by a great capacity for friendliness, and she was never more a real woman than in these mellow and reflective days. And how interesting she is—adding so much knowledge of life to the complex interest that inheres in her sex! Knowledge of life, yes, and of affairs; for it must be said of these ladies we have in mind that they keep up with the current thought, that they are readers of books, even of newspapers—for even the newspaper can be helpful and not harmful in the alembic of their minds.

Let not the purpose of this paper be misunderstood. It is not to urge young women to become old or to act like old women. The independence and frankness of age might not be becoming to them. They must stumble along as best they can, alternately attracting and repelling, until by right of years they join that serene company which is altogether beautiful. There is a natural unfolding and maturing to the beauty of old age. The mission of woman, about which we are pretty weary of hearing, is not accomplished by any means in her years of vernal bloom and loveliness; she has equal power to bless and sweeten life in the autumn of her pilgrimage. But here is an apologue: The peach, from blossom to maturity, is the most attractive of fruits. Yet the demands of the market, competition, and fashion often cause it to be plucked and shipped while green. It never matures, though it may take a deceptive richness of color; it decays without ripening. And the last end of that peach is worse than the first.


On one of the most charming of the many wonderfully picturesque little beaches on the Pacific coast, near Monterey, is the idlest if not the most disagreeable social group in the world. Just off the shore, farther than a stone's-throw, lies a mass of broken rocks. The surf comes leaping and laughing in, sending up, above the curving green breakers and crests of foam, jets and spirals of water which flash like silver fountains in the sunlight. These islets of rocks are the homes of the sea-lion. This loafer of the coast congregates here by the thousand. Sometimes the rocks are quite covered, the smooth rounded surface of the larger one presenting the appearance at a distance of a knoll dotted with dirty sheep. There is generally a select knot of a dozen floating about in the still water under the lee of the rock, bobbing up their tails and flippers very much as black driftwood might heave about in the tide. During certain parts of the day members of this community are off fishing in deep water; but what they like best to do is to crawl up on the rocks and grunt and bellow, or go to sleep in the sun. Some of them lie half in water, their tails floating and their ungainly heads wagging. These uneasy ones are always wriggling out or plunging in. Some crawl to the tops of the rocks and lie like gunny bags stuffed with meal, or they repose on the broken surfaces like masses of jelly. When they are all at home the rocks have not room for them, and they crawl on and over each other, and lie like piles of undressed pork. In the water they are black, but when they are dry in the sun the skin becomes a dirty light brown. Many of them are huge fellows, with a body as big as an ox. In the water they are repulsively graceful; on the rocks they are as ungainly as boneless cows, or hogs that have lost their shape in prosperity. Summer and winter (and it is almost always summer on this coast) these beasts, which are well fitted neither for land nor water, spend their time in absolute indolence, except when they are compelled to cruise around in the deep water for food. They are of no use to anybody, either for their skin or their flesh. Nothing could be more thoroughly disgusting and uncanny than they are, and yet nothing more fascinating. One can watch them—the irresponsible, formless lumps of intelligent flesh—for hours without tiring. I scarcely know what the fascination is. A small seal playing by himself near the shore, floating on and diving under the breakers, is not so very disagreeable, especially if he comes so near that you can see his pathetic eyes; but these brutes in this perpetual summer resort are disgustingly attractive. Nearly everything about them, including their voice, is repulsive. Perhaps it is the absolute idleness of the community that makes it so interesting. To fish, to swim, to snooze on the rocks, that is all, for ever and ever. No past, no future. A society that lives for the laziest sort of pleasure. If they were rich, what more could they have? Is not this the ideal of a watering-place life?

The spectacle of this happy community ought to teach us humility and charity in judgment. Perhaps the philosophy of its attractiveness lies deeper than its 'dolce far niente' existence. We may never have considered the attraction for us of the disagreeable, the positive fascination of the uncommonly ugly. The repulsive fascination of the loathly serpent or dragon for women can hardly be explained on theological grounds. Some cranks have maintained that the theory of gravitation alone does not explain the universe, that repulsion is as necessary as attraction in our economy. This may apply to society. We are all charmed with the luxuriance of a semi-tropical landscape, so violently charmed that we become in time tired of its overpowering bloom and color. But what is the charm of the wide, treeless desert, the leagues of sand and burnt-up chaparral, the distant savage, fantastic mountains, the dry desolation as of a world burnt out? It is not contrast altogether. For this illimitable waste has its own charm; and again and again, when we come to a world of vegetation, where the vision is shut in by beauty, we shall have an irrepressible longing for these wind-swept plains as wide as the sea, with the ashy and pink horizons. We shall long to be weary of it all again—its vast nakedness, its shimmering heat, its cold, star-studded nights. It seems paradoxical, but it is probably true, that a society composed altogether of agreeable people would become a terrible bore. We are a "kittle" lot, and hard to please for long. We know how it is in the matter of climate. Why is it that the masses of the human race live in the most disagreeable climates to be found on the globe, subject to extremes of heat and cold, sudden and unprovoked changes, frosts, fogs, malarias? In such regions they congregate, and seem to like the vicissitudes, to like the excitement of the struggle with the weather and the patent medicines to keep alive. They hate the agreeable monotony of one genial day following another the year through. They praise this monotony, all literature is full of it; people always say they are in search of the equable climate; but they continue to live, nevertheless, or try to live, in the least equable; and if they can find one spot more disagreeable than another there they build a big city. If man could make his ideal climate he would probably be dissatisfied with it in a month. The effect of climate upon disposition and upon manners needs to be considered some day; but we are now only trying to understand the attractiveness of the disagreeable. There must be some reason for it; and that would explain a social phenomenon, why there are so many unattractive people, and why the attractive readers of these essays could not get on without them.

The writer of this once traveled for days with an intelligent curmudgeon, who made himself at all points as prickly as the porcupine. There was no getting on with him. And yet when he dropped out of the party he was sorely missed. He was more attractively repulsive than the sea-lion. It was such a luxury to hate him. He was such a counter-irritant, such a stimulant; such a flavor he gave to life. We are always on the lookout for the odd, the eccentric, the whimsical. We pretend that we like the orderly, the beautiful, the pleasant. We can find them anywhere—the little bits of scenery that please the eye, the pleasant households, the group of delightful people. Why travel, then? We want the abnormal, the strong, the ugly, the unusual at least. We wish to be startled and stirred up and repelled. And we ought to be more thankful than we are that there are so many desolate and wearisome and fantastic places, and so many tiresome and unattractive people in this lovely world.


There must be something very good in human nature, or people would not experience so much pleasure in giving; there must be something very bad in human nature, or more people would try the experiment of giving. Those who do try it become enamored of it, and get their chief pleasure in life out of it; and so evident is this that there is some basis for the idea that it is ignorance rather than badness which keeps so many people from being generous. Of course it may become a sort of dissipation, or more than that, a devastation, as many men who have what are called "good wives" have reason to know, in the gradual disappearance of their wardrobe if they chance to lay aside any of it temporarily. The amount that a good woman can give away is only measured by her opportunity. Her mind becomes so trained in the mystery of this pleasure that she experiences no thrill of delight in giving away only the things her husband does not want. Her office in life is to teach him the joy of self-sacrifice. She and all other habitual and irreclaimable givers soon find out that there is next to no pleasure in a gift unless it involves some self-denial.

Let one consider seriously whether he ever gets as much satisfaction out of a gift received as out of one given. It pleases him for the moment, and if it is useful, for a long time; he turns it over, and admires it; he may value it as a token of affection, and it flatters his self-esteem that he is the object of it. But it is a transient feeling compared with that he has when he has made a gift. That substantially ministers to his self-esteem. He follows the gift; he dwells upon the delight of the receiver; his imagination plays about it; it will never wear out or become stale; having parted with it, it is for him a lasting possession. It is an investment as lasting as that in the debt of England. Like a good deed, it grows, and is continually satisfactory. It is something to think of when he first wakes in the morning—a time when most people are badly put to it for want of something pleasant to think of. This fact about giving is so incontestably true that it is a wonder that enlightened people do not more freely indulge in giving for their own comfort. It is, above all else, amazing that so many imagine they are going to get any satisfaction out of what they leave by will. They may be in a state where they will enjoy it, if the will is not fought over; but it is shocking how little gratitude there is accorded to a departed giver compared to a living giver. He couldn't take the property with him, it is said; he was obliged to leave it to somebody. By this thought his generosity is always reduced to a minimum. He may build a monument to himself in some institution, but we do not know enough of the world to which he has gone to know whether a tiny monument on this earth is any satisfaction to a person who is free of the universe. Whereas every giving or deed of real humanity done while he was living would have entered into his character, and would be of lasting service to him—that is, in any future which we can conceive.

Of course we are not confining our remarks to what are called Christmas gifts—commercially so called—nor would we undertake to estimate the pleasure there is in either receiving or giving these. The shrewd manufacturers of the world have taken notice of the periodic generosity of the race, and ingeniously produce articles to serve it, that is, to anticipate the taste and to thwart all individuality or spontaneity in it. There is, in short, what is called a "line of holiday goods," fitting, it may be supposed, the periodic line of charity. When a person receives some of these things in the blessed season of such, he is apt to be puzzled. He wants to know what they are for, what he is to do with them. If there are no "directions" on the articles, his gratitude is somewhat tempered. He has seen these nondescripts of ingenuity and expense in the shop windows, but he never expected to come into personal relations to them. He is puzzled, and he cannot escape the unpleasant feeling that commerce has put its profit-making fingers into Christmas. Such a lot of things seem to be manufactured on purpose that people may perform a duty that is expected of them in the holidays. The house is full of these impossible things; they occupy the mantelpieces, they stand about on the tottering little tables, they are ingenious, they are made for wants yet undiscovered, they tarnish, they break, they will not "work," and pretty soon they look "second-hand." Yet there must be more satisfaction in giving these articles than in receiving them, and maybe a spice of malice—not that of course, for in the holidays nearly every gift expresses at least kindly remembrance—but if you give them you do not have to live with them. But consider how full the world is of holiday goods—costly goods too—that are of no earthly use, and are not even artistic, and how short life is, and how many people actually need books and other indispensable articles, and how starved are many fine drawing-rooms, not for holiday goods, but for objects of beauty.

Christmas stands for much, and for more and more in a world that is breaking down its barriers of race and religious intolerance, and one of its chief offices has been supposed to be the teaching of men the pleasure there is in getting rid of some of their possessions for the benefit of others. But this frittering away a good instinct and tendency in conventional giving of manufactures made to suit an artificial condition is hardly in the line of developing the spirit that shares the last crust or gives to the thirsty companion in the desert the first pull at the canteen. Of course Christmas feeling is the life of trade and all that, and we will be the last to discourage any sort of giving, for one can scarcely disencumber himself of anything in his passage through this world and not be benefited; but the hint may not be thrown away that one will personally get more satisfaction out of his periodic or continual benevolence if he gives during his life the things which he wants and other people need, and reserves for a fine show in his will a collected but not selected mass of holiday goods.


The idea of the relation of climate to happiness is modern. It is probably born of the telegraph and of the possibility of rapid travel, and it is more disturbing to serenity of mind than any other. Providence had so ordered it that if we sat still in almost any region of the globe except the tropics we would have, in course of the year, almost all the kinds of climate that exist. The ancient societies did not trouble themselves about the matter; they froze or thawed, were hot or cold, as it pleased the gods. They did not think of fleeing from winter any more than from the summer solstice, and consequently they enjoyed a certain contentment of mind that is absent from modern life. We are more intelligent, and therefore more discontented and unhappy. We are always trying to escape winter when we are not trying to escape summer. We are half the time 'in transitu', flying hither and thither, craving that exact adaptation of the weather to our whimsical bodies promised only to the saints who seek a "better country." There are places, to be sure, where nature is in a sort of equilibrium, but usually those are places where we can neither make money nor spend it to our satisfaction. They lack either any stimulus to ambition or a historic association, and we soon find that the mind insists upon being cared for quite as much as the body.

How many wanderers in the past winter left comfortable homes in the United States to seek a mild climate! Did they find it in the sleet and bone-piercing cold of Paris, or anywhere in France, where the wolves were forced to come into the villages in the hope of picking up a tender child? If they traveled farther, were the railway carriages anything but refrigerators tempered by cans of cooling water? Was there a place in Europe from Spain to Greece, where the American could once be warm —really warm without effort—in or out of doors? Was it any better in divine Florence than on the chill Riviera? Northern Italy was blanketed with snow, the Apennines were white, and through the clean streets of the beautiful town a raw wind searched every nook and corner, penetrating through the thickest of English wraps, and harder to endure than ingratitude, while a frosty mist enveloped all. The traveler forgot to bring with him the contented mind of the Italian. Could he go about in a long cloak and a slouch hat, curl up in doorways out of the blast, and be content in a feeling of his own picturesqueness? Could he sit all day on the stone pavement and hold out his chilblained hand for soldi? Could he even deceive himself, in a palatial apartment with a frescoed ceiling, by an appearance of warmth in two sticks ignited by a pine cone set in an aperture in one end of the vast room, and giving out scarcely heat enough to drive the swallows from the chimney? One must be born to this sort of thing in order to enjoy it. He needs the poetic temperament which can feel in January the breath of June. The pampered American is not adapted to this kind of pleasure. He is very crude, not to say barbarous, yet in many of his tastes, but he has reached one of the desirable things in civilization, and that is a thorough appreciation of physical comfort. He has had the ingenuity to protect himself in his own climate, but when he travels he is at the mercy of customs and traditions in which the idea of physical comfort is still rudimentary. He cannot warm himself before a group of statuary, or extract heat from a canvas by Raphael, nor keep his teeth from chattering by the exquisite view from the Boboli Gardens. The cold American is insensible to art, and shivers in the presence of the warmest historical associations. It is doubtful if there is a spot in Europe where he can be ordinarily warm in winter. The world, indeed, does not care whether he is warm or not, but it is a matter of great importance to him. As he wanders from palace to palace—and he cannot escape the impression that nothing is good enough for him except a palace—he cannot think of any cottage in any hamlet in America that is not more comfortable in winter than any palace he can find. And so he is driven on in cold and weary stretches of travel to dwell among the French in Algeria, or with the Jews in Tunis, or the Moslems in Cairo. He longs for warmth as the Crusader longed for Jerusalem, but not short of Africa shall he find it. The glacial period is coming back on Europe.

The citizens of the great republic have a reputation for inordinate self-appreciation, but we are thinking that they undervalue many of the advantages their ingenuity has won. It is admitted that they are restless, and must always be seeking something that they have not at home. But aside from their ability to be warm in any part of their own country at any time of the year, where else can they travel three thousand miles on a stretch in a well-heated—too much heated—car, without change of car, without revision of tickets, without encountering a customhouse, without the necessity of stepping outdoors either for food or drink, for a library, for a bath—for any item, in short, that goes to the comfort of a civilized being? And yet we are always prating of the superior civilization of Europe. Nay, more, the traveler steps into a car—which is as comfortable as a house—in Boston, and alights from it only in the City of Mexico. In what other part of the world can that achievement in comfort and convenience be approached?

But this is not all as to climate and comfort. We have climates of all sorts within easy reach, and in quantity, both good and bad, enough to export more in fact than we need of all sorts. If heat is all we want, there are only three or four days between the zero of Maine and the 80 deg. of Florida. If New England is inhospitable and New York freezing, it is only a matter of four days to the sun and the exhilarating air of New Mexico and Arizona, and only five to the oranges and roses of that semi-tropical kingdom by the sea, Southern California. And if this does not content us, a day or two more lands us, without sea-sickness, in the land of the Aztecs, where we can live in the temperate or the tropic zone, eat strange fruits, and be reminded of Egypt and Spain and Italy, and see all the colors that the ingenuity of man has been able to give his skin. Fruits and flowers and sun in the winter-time, a climate to lounge and be happy in—all this is within easy reach, with the minimum of disturbance to our daily habits. We started out, when we turned our backs on the Old World, with the declaration that all men are free, and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of an agreeable climate. We have yet to learn, it seems, that we can indulge in that pursuit best on our own continent. There is no winter climate elsewhere to compare with that found in our extreme Southwest or in Mexico, and the sooner we put this fact into poetry and literature, and begin to make a tradition of it, the better will it be for our peace of mind and for our children. And if the continent does not satisfy us, there lie the West Indies within a few hours' sail, with all the luxuriance and geniality of the tropics. We are only half emancipated yet. We are still apt to see the world through the imagination of England, whose literature we adopted, or of Germany. To these bleak lands Italy was a paradise, and was so sung by poets who had no conception of a winter without frost. We have a winter climate of another sort from any in Europe; we have easy and comfortable access to it. The only thing we need to do now is to correct our imagination, which has been led astray. Our poets can at least do this for us by the help of a quasi-international copyright.


In times past there have been expressed desire and fear that there should be an American aristocracy, and the materials for its formation have been a good deal canvassed. In a political point of view it is of course impossible, but it has been hoped by many, and feared by more, that a social state might be created conforming somewhat to the social order in European countries. The problem has been exceedingly difficult. An aristocracy of derived rank and inherited privilege being out of the question, and an aristocracy of talent never having succeeded anywhere, because enlightenment of mind tends to liberalism and democracy, there was only left the experiment of an aristocracy of wealth. This does very well for a time, but it tends always to disintegration, and it is impossible to keep it exclusive. It was found, to use the slang of the dry-goods shops, that it would not wash, for there were liable to crowd into it at any moment those who had in fact washed for a living. An aristocracy has a slim tenure that cannot protect itself from this sort of intrusion. We have to contrive, therefore, another basis for a class (to use an un-American expression), in a sort of culture or training, which can be perpetual, and which cannot be ordered for money, like a ball costume or a livery.

1  2     Next Part
Home - Random Browse