BY SAMUEL McCHORD CROTHERS
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY SAMUEL MCCHORD CROTHERS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published November 1912
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By Samuel M. Crothers
HUMANLY SPEAKING. AMONG FRIENDS. BY THE CHRISTMAS FIRE. THE PARDONER'S WALLET. THE ENDLESS LIFE. THE GENTLE READER. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES: THE AUTOCRAT AND HIS FELLOW BOARDERS. With Portrait. MISS MUFFET'S CHRISTMAS PARTY. Illustrated.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
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IN THE HANDS OF A RECEIVER
THE CONTEMPORANEOUSNESS OF ROME
THE AMERICAN TEMPERAMENT
THE UNACCUSTOMED EARS OF EUROPE
THE TORYISM OF TRAVELERS
THE OBVIOUSNESS OF DICKENS
THE SPOILED CHILDREN OF CIVILIZATION
ON REALISM AS AN INVESTMENT
TO A CITIZEN OF THE OLD SCHOOL
The author wishes to express his thanks to the Editors of the Atlantic Monthly and the Century Magazine for their courtesy in permitting the publication in this volume of certain essays which have appeared in their magazines.
"Humanly speaking, it is impossible." So the old theologian would say when denying any escape from his own argument. His logical machine was going at full speed, and the grim engineer had no notion of putting on the brakes. His was a non-stop train and there was to be no slowing-down till he reached the terminus.
But in the middle of the track was an indubitable fact. By all the rules of argumentation it had no business to be there, trespassing on the right of way. But there it was! We trembled to think of the impending collision.
But the collision between the argument and the fact never happened. The "humanly speaking" was the switch that turned the argument safely on a parallel track, where it went whizzing by the fact without the least injury to either. Many things which are humanly speaking impossible are of the most common occurrence and the theologian knew it.
It is only by the use of this saving clause that one may safely moralize or generalize or indulge in the mildest form of prediction. Strictly speaking, no one has a right to express any opinion about such complex and incomprehensible aggregations of humanity as the United States of America or the British Empire. Humanly speaking, they both are impossible. Antecedently to experience the Constitution of Utopia as expounded by Sir Thomas More would be much more probable. It has a certain rational coherence. If it existed at all it would hang together, being made out of whole cloth. But how does the British Empire hold together? It seems to be made of shreds and patches. It is full of anomalies and temporary makeshifts. Why millions of people, who do not know each other, should be willing to die rather than to be separated from each other, is something not easily explained. Nevertheless the British Empire exists, and, through all the changes which threaten it, grows in strength.
The perils that threaten the United States of America are so obvious that anybody can see them. So far as one can see, the Republic ought to have been destroyed long ago by political corruption, race prejudice, unrestricted immigration and the growth of monopolies. The only way to account for its present existence is that there is something about it that is not so easily seen. Disease is often more easily diagnosed than health. But we should remember that the Republic is not out of danger. It is a very salutary thing to bring its perils to the attention of the too easy-going citizens. It is well to have a Jeremiah, now and then, to speak unwelcome truths.
But even Jeremiah, when he was denouncing the evils that would befall his country, had a saving clause in his gloomy predictions. All manner of evils would befall them unless they repented, and humanly speaking he was of the opinion that they couldn't repent. Said he: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." Nevertheless this did not prevent him from continually exhorting them to do good, and blaming them when they didn't do it. Like all great moral teachers he acted on the assumption that there is more freedom of will than seemed theoretically possible. It was the same way with his views of national affairs. Jeremiah's reputation is that of a pessimist. Still, when the country was in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and he was in prison for predicting it, he bought a piece of real estate which was in the hands of the enemy. He considered it a good investment. "I subscribed the deed and sealed it, and called witnesses and weighed him the money in the balances." Then he put the deeds in an earthen vessel, "that they may continue many days." For in spite of the panic that his own words had caused, he believed that the market would come up again. "Houses and vineyards shall yet be bought in this land." If I were an archaeologist with a free hand, I should like to dig in that field in Anathoth in the hope of finding the earthen jar with the deed which Hanameel gave to his cousin Jeremiah, for a plot of ground that nobody else would buy.
It is the moralists and the reformers who have after all the most cheerful message for us. They are all the time threatening us, yet for our own good. They see us plunging heedlessly to destruction. They cry, "Look out!" They often do not themselves see the way out, but they have a well-founded hope that we will discover a way when our attention is called to an imminent danger. The fact that the race has survived thus far is an evidence that its instinct for self-preservation is a strong one. It has a wonderful gift for recovering after the doctors have given it up.
The saving clause is a great help to those idealists who are inclined to look unwelcome facts in the face. It enables them to retain faith in their ideals, and at the same time to hold on to their intellectual self-respect.
There are idealists of another sort who know nothing of their struggles and self-contradictions. Having formed their ideal of what ought to be, they identify it with what is. For them belief in the existence of good is equivalent to the obliteration of evil. Their world is equally good in all its parts, and is to be viewed in all its aspects with serene complacency.
Now this is very pleasant for a time, especially if one is tired and needs a complete rest. But after a while it becomes irksome, and one longs for a change, even if it should be for the worse. We are floating on a sea of beneficence, in which it is impossible for us to sink. But though one could not easily drown in the Dead Sea, one might starve. And when goodness is of too great specific gravity it is impossible to get on in it or out of it. This is disconcerting to one of an active disposition. It is comforting to be told that everything is completely good, till you reflect that that is only another way of saying that nothing can be made any better, and that there is no use for you to try.
Now the idealist of the sterner sort insists on criticizing the existing world. He refuses to call good evil or evil good. The two things are, in his judgment, quite different. He recognizes the existence of good, but he also recognizes the fact that there is not enough of it. This he looks upon as a great evil which ought to be remedied. And he is glad that he is alive at this particular juncture, in a world in which there is yet room for improvement.
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Besides the ordinary Christian virtues I would recommend to any one, who would fit himself to live happily as well as efficiently, the cultivation of that auxiliary virtue or grace which Horace Walpole called "Serendipity." Walpole defined it in a letter to Sir Horace Mann: "It is a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you; you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called 'The Three Princes of Serendip.' As their Highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.... Now do you understand Serendipity?" In case the reader does not understand, Walpole goes on to define "Serendipity" as "accidental sagacity (for you must know that no discovery you are looking for comes under this description)."
I am inclined to think that in such a world as this, where our hold on all good is precarious, a man should be on the lookout for dangers. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for all that is worth having. But when, prepared for the worst, he goes forward, his journey will be more pleasant if he has also a "serendipitaceous" mind. He will then, by a sort of accidental sagacity, discover that what he encounters is much less formidable than what he feared. Half of his enemies turn out to be friends in disguise, and half of the other half retire at his approach. After a while such words as "impracticable" and "impossible" lose their absoluteness and become only synonyms for the relatively difficult. He has so often found a way out, where humanly speaking there was none, that he no longer looks upon a logical dilemma as a final negation of effort.
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The following essays were written partly at home and partly abroad. They therefore betray the influence of some of the mass movements of the day. Anyone with even a little leisure from his own personal affairs must realize that we are living in one of the most stirring times in human history. Everywhere the old order is changing. Everywhere there are confused currents both of thought and feeling.
That the old order is passing is obvious enough. That a new order is arising, and that it is on the whole beneficent, is not merely a pious hope. It is more than this: it is a matter of observation to any one with a moderate degree of "Serendipity."
IN THE HANDS OF A RECEIVER
It sometimes happens that a business man who is in reality solvent becomes temporarily embarrassed. His assets are greater than his liabilities, but they are not quick enough to meet the situation. The liabilities have become mutinous and bear down upon him in a threatening mob. If he had time to deal with them one by one, all would be well; but he cannot on the instant mobilize his forces.
Under such circumstances the law allows him to surrender, not to the mob, but to a friendly power which shall protect the interests of all concerned. He goes into the hands of a receiver, who will straighten out his affairs for him. I can imagine the relief which would come to one who could thus get rid, for a while, of his harassing responsibilities, and let some one else do the worrying.
In these days some of the best people I know are in this predicament in regard to their moral and social affairs. These friends of mine have this peculiarity, that they are anxious to do their duty. Now, in all generations, there have been persons who did their duty, according to their lights. But in these days it happens that a new set of lights has been turned on suddenly, and we all see more duties than we had bargained for. In the glare we see an army of creditors, each with an overdue bill in hand. Each demands immediate payment, and shakes his head when we suggest that he call again next week. We realize that our moral cash in hand is not sufficient for the crisis. If all our obligations must be met at once, there will be a panic in which most of our securities will be sacrificed.
We are accustomed to grumble over the increase in the cost of living. But the enhancement of price in the necessities of physical life is nothing compared to the increase in the cost of the higher life.
There are those now living who can remember when almost any one could have the satisfaction of being considered a good citizen and neighbor. All one had to do was to attend to one's own affairs and keep within the law. He would then be respected by all, and would deserve the most eulogistic epitaph when he came to die. By working for private profit he could have the satisfaction of knowing that all sorts of public benefits came as by-products of his activity.
But now all such satisfactions are denied. To be a good citizen you must put your mind on the job, and it is no easy one. You must be up and doing. And when you are doing one good thing there will be keen-eyed critics who will ask why you have not been doing other things which are much more important; and they will sternly demand of you, "What do you mean by such criminal negligence?"
What we call the awakening of the social conscience marks an important step in progress, But, like all progress, it involves hardship to individuals. For the higher moral classes, the saints and the reformers, it is the occasion of wholehearted rejoicing. It is just what they have, all the while, been trying to bring about. But I confess to a sympathy for the middle class, morally considered, the plain people, who feel the pinch. They have invested their little all in the old-fashioned securities, and when these are depreciated they feel that there is nothing to keep the wolf from the door. After reading a few searching articles in the magazines they feel that, so far from being excellent citizens, they are little better than enemies of society. I am not pleading for the predatory rich, but only for the well-meaning persons in moderately comfortable circumstances, whose predatoriness has been suddenly revealed to them.
Many of the most conscientious persons go about with an habitually apologetic manner. They are rapidly acquiring the evasive air of the conscious criminal. It is only a very hardened philanthropist, or an unsophisticated beginner in good works, who can look a sociologist in the eye. Most persons, when they do one thing, begin to apologize for not doing something else. They are like a one-track railroad that has been congested with traffic. They are not sure which train has the right of way, and which should go on the siding. Progress is a series of rear-end collisions.
There is little opportunity for self-satisfaction. The old-fashioned private virtues which used to be exhibited with such innocent pride as family heirlooms are now scrutinized with suspicion. They are subjected to rigid tests to determine their value as public utilities.
Perhaps I may best illustrate the need of some receivership by drawing attention to the case of my friend the Reverend Augustus Bagster.
Bagster is not by nature a spiritual genius; he is only a modern man who is sincerely desirous of doing what is expected of him. I do not think that he is capable of inventing a duty, but he is morally impressionable, and recognizes one when it is pointed out to him. A generation ago such a man would have lived a useful and untroubled life in a round of parish duties. He would have been placidly contented with himself and his achievements. But when he came to a city pulpit he heard the Call of the Modern. The multitudinous life around him must be translated into immediate action. His conscience was not merely awakened: it soon reached a state of persistent insomnia.
When he told me that he had preached a sermon on the text, "Let him that stole steal no more," I was interested. But shortly after, he told me that he could not let go of that text. It was a live wire. He had expanded the sermon into a course on the different kinds of stealing. He found few things that did not come under the category of Theft. Spiritual goods as well as material might be stolen. If a person possessed a cheerful disposition, you should ask, "How did he get it?"
"It seems to me," I said, "that a cheerful disposition is one of the things where possession is nine tenths of the law. I don't like to think of such spiritual wealth as ill-gotten."
"I am sorry," said Bagster, "to see that your sympathies are with the privileged classes."
Several weeks ago I received a letter which revealed his state of mind:—
"I believe that you are acquainted with the Editor of the 'Atlantic Monthly.' I suppose he means well, but persons in his situation are likely to cater to mere literature. I hope that I am not uncharitable, but I have a suspicion that our poets yield sometimes to the desire to please. They are perhaps unconscious of the subtle temptation. They are not sufficiently direct and specific in their charges. I have been reading Walt Whitman's 'Song of Joys.' The subject does not attract me, but I like the way in which it is treated. There is no beating around the bush. The poet is perfectly fearless, and will not let any guilty man escape.
"'O the farmer's joys! Ohioans, Illinoisans, Wisconsonese, Kanadians, Iowans, Kansans, Oregonese joys.'
"That is the way one should write if he expects to get results. He should point to each individual and say, 'Thou art the man.'
"I am no poet,—though I am painfully conscious that I ought to be one,—but I have written what I call, 'The Song of Obligations.' I think it may arouse the public. In such matters we ought to unite as good citizens. You might perhaps drop a postal card, just to show where you stand."
THE SONG OF OBLIGATIONS
"O the citizen's obligations. The obligation of every American citizen to see that every other American citizen does his duty, and to be quick about it. The janitor's duties, the Board of Health's duties, the milkman's duties, resting upon each one of us individually with the accumulated weight of every cubic foot of vitiated air, and multiplied by the number of bacteria in every cubic centimeter of milk. The motorman's duties, and the duty of every spry citizen not to allow himself to be run over by the motorman. The obligation of teachers in the public schools to supply their pupils with all the aptitudes and graces formerly supposed to be the result of heredity and environment. The duty of each teacher to consult daily a card catalogue of duties, beginning with Apperception and Adenoids and going on to Vaccination, Ventilation, and the various vivacious variations on the three R's. The obligation resting upon the well-to-do citizen not to leave for his country place, but to remain in the city in order to give the force of his example, in his own ward, to a safe and sane Fourth of July. The obligation resting upon every citizen to write to his Congressman. The obligation to speak to one's neighbor who may think he is living a moral life, and who yet has never written to his Congressman. The obligation to attend hearings at the State House. The obligation to protest against the habit of employees at the State House of professing ignorance of the location of the committee-room where the hearings are to be held; also to protest against the habit of postponing the hearings after one has at great personal inconvenience come to the State House in order to protest. The duty of doing your Christmas shopping early enough in July to allow the shop-girls to enjoy their summer vacation. The duty of knowing what you are talking about, and of talking about all the things you ought to know about. The obligation of feeling that it is a joy and a privilege to live in a country where eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and where even if you have the price you don't get all the liberty you pay for."
I was a little troubled over this effusion, as it seemed to indicate that Bagster had reached the limit of elasticity. A few days later I received a letter asking me to call upon him. I found him in a state of uncertainty over his own condition.
"I want you," he said, "to listen to the report my stenographer has handed me, of an address which I gave day before yesterday. I have been doing some of my most faithful work recently, going from one meeting to another and helping in every good cause. But at this meeting I had a rare sensation of freedom of utterance. I had the sense of liberation from the trammels of time and space. It was a realization of moral ubiquity. All the audiences I had been addressing seemed to flow together into one audience, and all the good causes into one good cause. Incidentally I seemed to have solved the Social Question. But now that I have the stenographic report I am not so certain."
"Read it," I said.
He began to read, but the confidence of his pulpit tone, which was one of the secrets of his power, would now and then desert him, and he would look up to me as if waiting for an encouraging "Amen."
"Your secretary, when she called me up by telephone, explained to me the object of your meeting. It is an object with which I deeply sympathize. It is Rest. You stand for the idea of poise and tranquillity of spirit. You would have a place for tranquil meditation. The thought I would bring to you this afternoon is this: We are here not to be doing, but to be.
"But of course the thought at once occurs to us, How can we be considering the high cost of the necessaries of life? It will be seen at once that the question is at bottom an economic one. You must have a living wage, and how can there be a living wage unless we admit the principle of collective bargaining. It is because I believe in the principle of collective bargaining that I have come here to-night to say to you working-men that I believe this strike is justifiable.
"I must leave to other speakers many interesting aspects of this subject, and confine myself to the aspect which the committee asked me to consider more in detail, namely, Juvenile Delinquency in its relation to Foreign Immigration. The relation is a real one. Statistics prove that among immigrants the proportion of the juvenile element is greater than among the native-born. This increase in juvenility gives opportunity for juvenile delinquency from which many of our American communities might otherwise be free. But is the remedy to be found in the restriction of immigration? My opinion is that the remedy is to be found only in education.
"It is our interest in education that has brought us together on this bright June morning. Your teacher tells me that this is the largest class that has ever graduated from this High School, You may well be proud. Make your education practical. Learn to concentrate, that is the secret of success. There are those who will tell you to concentrate on a single point. I would go even further. Concentrate on every point.
"I admit, as the gentleman who has preceded me has pointed out, that concentration in cities is a great evil. It is an evil that should be counteracted. As I was saying last evening to the Colonial Dames,—Washington, if he had done nothing else, would be remembered to-day as the founder of the Order of the Cincinnati. The figure of Cincinnatus at the plough appeals powerfully to American manhood. Many a time in after years Cincinnatus wished that he had never left that plough. Often amid the din of battle he heard the voice saying to him, 'Back to the Land!'
"It was the same voice I seemed to hear when I received the letter of your secretary asking me to address this grange. As I left the smoke of the city behind me and looked up at your granite hills, I said, 'Here is where they make men!' As I have been partaking of the bountiful repast prepared by the ladies of the grange, your chairman has been telling me something about this community. It is a grand community to live in. Here are no swollen fortunes; here industry, frugality, and temperance reign. These are the qualities which have given New England its great place in the councils of the nation. I know there are those who say that it is the tariff that has given it that place; but they do not know New England. There are those at this table who can remember the time when eighty-two ruddy-cheeked boys and girls trooped merrily to the little red schoolhouse under the hill. In the light of such facts as these, who can be a pessimist?
"But I must not dwell upon the past; the Boy Scouts of America prepare for the future. I am reminded that I am not at this moment addressing the Boy Scouts of America,—they come to-morrow at the same hour,—but the principle is the same. Even as the Boy Scouts of America look only at the future, so do you. We must not linger fondly on the days when cows grazed on Boston Common. The purpose of this society is to save Boston Common. That the Common has been saved many times before is true; but is that any reason why we should falter now? 'New occasions teach new duties.' Let us not be satisfied with a supetficial view. While fresh loam is being scattered on the surface, commercial interests and the suburban greed to get home quick are striking at the vitals of the Common. Citizens of Boston, awake!
"Your pastor had expected to be with you this evening, but he has at the last moment discovered that he has two other engagements, each of them of long standing. He has therefore asked me to take his place in this interesting course of lectures on Church History. The subject of the lecture for the evening is—and if I am mistaken some one will please correct me—Ulphilas, or Christianity among the Goths. I cannot treat this subject from that wealth of historical information possessed by your pastor; but I can at least speak from the heart. I feel that it is well for us to turn aside from the questions of the day, for the quiet consideration of such a character as Ulphilas.
"Ulphilas seems to me to be one of those characters we ought all to know more about. I shall not weary you by discussing the theology of Ulphilas or the details of his career. It would seem more fitting that these things should be left for another occasion. I shall proceed at once to the main lesson of his life. As briefly as possible let me state the historical situation that confronted him. It is immaterial for us to inquire where the Goths were at that time, or what they were doing. It is sufficient for us to know that the Goths at that time were pagans, mere heathen. Under those circumstances what did Ulphilas do? He went to the Goths. That one act reveals his character. If in the remaining moments of this lecture I can enforce the lesson for us of that one act, I shall feel that my coming here has not been in vain.
"But some one who has followed my argument thus far may say, 'All that you have said is true, lamentably true; but what has it to do with the Advancement of Woman?' I answer, it is the Advancement of Woman."
"How do you make that out?" I asked.
Bagster looked vaguely troubled. "There is no such thing as an isolated moral phenomenon," he said, as if he were repeating something from a former sermon; "when you attempt to remedy one evil you find it related to a whole moral series. But perhaps I did not make the connection plain. My address doesn't seem to be as closely reasoned as it did when I was delivering it. Does it seem to you to be cogent?"
"Cogent is not precisely the word I would use. But it seems earnest."
"Thank you," said Bagster. "I always try to be earnest. It's hard to be earnest about so many things. I am always afraid that I may not give to all an equal emphasis."
"And now that you have stopped for a moment," I suggested, "perhaps you would be willing to skip to the last page. When I read a story I am always anxious to get to the end. I should like to know how your address comes out,—if it does come out."
Bagster turned over a dozen pages and read in a more animated manner.
"Your chairman has the reputation of making the meetings over which he presides brisk and crisp. He has given me just a minute and a half in which to tell what the country expects of this Federation of Young People. I shall not take all the time. I ask you to remember two letters—E and N. What does the country expect this Federation to do? E—everything. When does the country expect you to do it? N—now. Remember these two letters—E and N. Young people, I thank you for your attention.
"The hour is late. You, my young brother, have listened to a charge in which your urgent duties have been fearlessly declared to you. When you have performed these duties, others will be presented to you. And now, in token of our confidence in you, I give you the right hand of fellowship.
"And do you know," said Bagster, "that when I reached to give him the right hand of fellowship, he wasn't there."
We sat in silence for some time. At last he asked, hesitatingly, "What do you think of it? In your judgment is it organic or functional?"
"I do not think it is organic. I am afraid that your conscience has been over-functioning of late, and needs a rest. I know a nook in the woods of New Hampshire, under the shadow of Mount Chocorua, where you might go for six months while your affairs are in the hands of a receiver. I can't say that you would find everything satisfactory, even there. The mountain is not what it used to be. It is decadent, geologically speaking, and it suffered a good deal during the last glacial period. But you can't do much about it in six months. You might take it just as it is,—some things have to be taken that way.
"You will start to-morrow morning and begin your life of temporary irresponsibility. You will have to give up your problems for six months, but you may rest assured that they will keep. You will go by Portsmouth, where you will have ten minutes for lunch. Take that occasion for a leisurely meal. A card will be handed to you assuring you that 'The bell will ring one minute before the departure of the train. You can't get left.' Hold that thought: you can't get left; the railroad authorities say so."
"Did you ever try it," asked Bagster.
"Once," I answered.
"And did you get left?"
"Portsmouth," I said, "is a beautiful old town. I had always wanted to see it. You can see a good deal of Portsmouth in an afternoon."
* * * * *
The predicament in which my friend Bagster finds himself is a very common one. It is no longer true that the good die young; they become prematurely middle-aged. In these days conscience doth make neurasthenics of us all. Now it will not do to flout conscience, and by shutting our eyes to the urgencies and complexities of life purchase for ourselves a selfish calm. Neither do we like the idea of neurasthenia.
My notion is that the twentieth-century man is morally solvent, though he is temporarily embarrassed. He will find himself if he is given sufficient time. In the mean time it is well for him to consider the nature of his embarrassment. He has discovered that the world is "so full of a number of things," and he is disappointed that he is not as "happy as kings"—that is, as kings in the fairy books. Perhaps "sure enough" kings are not as happy as the fairy-book royalties, and perhaps the modern man is only experiencing the anxieties that belong to his new sovereignty over the world.
There are tribes which become confused when they try to keep in mind more than three or four numbers. It is the same kind of confusion which comes when we try to look out for more than Number One. We mean well, but we have not the facilities for doing it easily. In fact, we are not so civilized as we sometimes think.
For example, we have never carried out to its full extent the most important invention that mankind has ever made—money. Money is a device for simplifying life by providing a means of measuring our desires, and gratifying a number of them without confusion.
Money is a measure, not of commodities, but of states of mind. The man in the street expresses a profound philosophy when he says, "I feel like thirty cents." That is all that "thirty cents" means. It is a certain amount of feeling.
You see an article marked "$1.50." You pass by unmoved. The next day you see it on the bargain counter marked "98 cents," and you say, "Come to my arms," and carry it home. You did not feel like a dollar and a half toward it, but you did feel exactly like ninety-eight cents.
It is because of this wonderful measure of value that we are able to deal with a multitude of diverse articles without mental confusion.
I am asked to stop at the department store and discover in that vast aggregation of goods a skein of silk of a specified shade, and having found it bring it safely home. Now, I am not fitted for such an adventure. Left to my own devices I should be helpless.
But the way is made easy for me. The floorwalker meets me graciously, and without chiding me for not buying the things I do not want, directs me to the one thing which would gratify my modest desire. I find myself in a little place devoted to silk thread, and with no other articles to molest me or make me afraid. The world of commodities is simplified to fit my understanding. I feel all the gratitude of the shorn lamb for the tempered wind.
At the silken shrine stands a Minerva who imparts her wisdom and guides my choice. The silk thread she tells me is equivalent to five cents. Now, I have not five cents, but only a five-dollar bill. She does not act on the principle of taking all that the traffic will bear. She sends the five-dollar bill through space, and in a minute or two she gives me the skein and four dollars and ninety-five cents, and I go out of the store a free man. I have no misgivings and no remorse because I did not buy all the things I might have bought. No one reproached me because I did not buy a four-hundred-dollar pianola. Thanks to the great invention, the transaction was complete in itself. Five cents represented one choice, and I had in my pocket ninety-nine choices which I might reserve for other occasions.
But there are some things which, as we say, money cannot buy. In all these things of the higher life we have no recognized medium of exchange. We are still in the stage of primitive barter. We must bring all our moral goods with us, and every transaction involves endless dickering. If we express an appreciation for one good thing, we are at once reproached by all the traffickers in similar articles for not taking over bodily their whole stock in trade.
For example, you have a desire for culture. You haven't the means to indulge in very much, but you would like a little. You are immediately beset by all the eager Matthew Arnolds who have heard of your desire, and they insist that you should at once devote yourself to the knowledge of the best that has been known and said in the world. All this is very fine, but you don't see how you can afford it. Isn't there a little of a cheaper quality that they could show you? Perhaps the second best would serve your purpose. At once you are covered with reproaches for your philistinism.
You had been living a rather prosaic life and would like to brighten it up with a little poetry. What you would really like would be a modest James Whitcomb Riley's worth of poetry. But the moment you express the desire the University Extension lecturer insists that what you should take is a course of lectures on Dante. No wonder that you conclude that a person in your circumstances will have to go without any poetry at all.
It is the same way with efforts at social righteousness. You find it difficult to engage in one transaction without being involved in others that you are not ready for. You are interested in a social reform that involves collective action. At once you are told that it is socialistic. You do not feel that it is any worse for that, and you are quite willing to go on. But at once your socialistic friends present you with the whole programme of their party. It is all or nothing. When it is presented in that way you are likely to become discouraged and fall back on nothing.
Now, if we had a circulating medium you would express the exact state of your desires somewhat in this way: "Here is my moral dollar. I think I will take a quarter's worth of Socialism, and twelve and a half cents' worth of old-time Republicanism, and twelve and a half cents of genuine Jeffersonian democracy, if there is any left, and a quarter's worth of miscellaneous insurgency. Let me see, I have a quarter left. Perhaps I may drop in to-morrow and see if you have anything more that I want."
The sad state of my good friend Bagster arises from the fact that he can't do one good thing without being confused by a dozen other things which are equally good. He feels that he is a miserable sinner because his moral dollar is not enough to pay the national debt.
But though we have not yet been able adequately to extend the notion of money to the affairs of the higher life, there have been those who have worked on the problem.
That was what Socrates had in mind. The Sophists talked eloquently about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; but they dealt in these things in the bulk. They had no way of dividing them into sizable pieces for everyday use. Socrates set up in Athens as a broker in ideas. He dealt on the curb. He measured one thing in terms of another, and tried to supply a sufficient amount of change for those who were not ashamed to engage in retail trade.
Socrates draws the attention of Phaedrus to the fact that when we talk of iron and silver the same objects are present to our minds, "but when any one speaks of justice and goodness, there is every sort of disagreement, and we are at odds with one another and with ourselves."
What we need to do he says is to have an idea that is big enough to include all the particular actions or facts. Then, in order to do business, we must be able to divide this so that it may serve our convenience. This is what Socrates called Philosophy.
"I am a great lover," he said, "of the processes of division and generalization; they help me to speak and think. And if I find any man who is able to see unity and plurality in nature, him I follow, and walk in his steps as if he were a god."
Even in the Forest of Arden life was not so simple as at first it seemed. The shepherd's life which "in respect of itself was a good life" was in other respects quite otherwise. Its unity seemed to break up into a confusing plurality. Honest Touchstone, in trying to reconcile the different points of view, blurted out the test question, "Hast any philosophy in thee, Shepherd?" After Bagster has communed with Chocorua for six months, I shall put that question to him.
THE CONTEMPORANEOUSNESS OF ROME
"You here, Bagster?" I exclaimed, as in the Sistine Chapel I saw an anxious face gazing down into a mirror in which were reflected the dimmed glories of the ceiling. There was an anxiety as of one who was seeking the Truth of Art at the bottom of the well.
One who is in the habit of giving unsolicited advice is likely to take for granted that his advice has been acted upon, even though experience should teach him that this is seldom the case. I had sagely counseled Bagster to go to the New Hampshire woods, in order to recuperate after his multifarious labors. I was therefore surprised to find him playing truant in Rome.
My salutation did not at first cause him to look up. He only made a mysterious sign with his hand. It was evidently a gesture which he had recently learned, and was practiced as a sort of exorcism.
"I am not going to sell you cameos or post cards," I explained.
When he recognized a familiar face, Bagster forgot all about the Last Judgment, and we were soon out-of-doors and he was telling me about himself.
"I meant to go to Chocorua as you suggested, but the congregation advised otherwise, so I came over here. It seemed the better thing to do. Up in New Hampshire you can't do much but rest, but here you can improve your taste and collect a good deal of homiletic material. So I've settled down in Rome. I want to have time to take it all in."
"Do you begin to feel rested?" I asked.
"Not yet. It's harder work than I thought it would be. There's so much to take in, and it's all so different. I don't know how to arrange my material. What I want to do, in the first place, is to have a realizing sense of being in Rome. What's the use of being here unless you are here in the spirit?
"What I mean is that I should like to feel as I did when I went to Mount Vernon. It was one of those dreamy autumn days when the leaves were just turning. There was the broad Potomac, and the hospitable Virginia mansion. I had the satisfying sense that I was in the home of Washington. Everything seemed to speak of Washington. He filled the whole scene. It was a great experience. Why can't I feel that way about the great events that happened down there?"
We were by this time on the height of the Janiculum near the statue of Garibaldi. Bagster made a vague gesture toward the city that lay beneath us. There seemed to be something in the scene that worried him. "I can't make it seem real," he said. "I have continually to say to myself, 'That is Rome, Italy, and not Rome, New York.' I can't make the connection between the place and the historical personages I have read about. I can't realize that the Epistle to the Romans was written to the people who lived down there. Just back of that new building is the very spot where Romulus would have lived if he had ever existed. On those very streets Scipio Africanus walked, and Caesar and Cicero and Paul and Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus and Belisarius, and Hildebrand and Michelangelo, and at one time or another about every one you ever heard of. And how many people came to get emotions they couldn't get anywhere else! There was Goethe. How he felt! He took it all in. And there was Shelley writing poetry in the Baths of Caracalla. And there was Gibbon."
"But we can't all expect to be Shelleys or even Gibbons," I suggested.
"I know it," said Bagster, ruefully. "But if one has only a little vessel, he ought to fill it. But somehow the historical associations crowd each other out. When I left home I bought Hare's 'Walks in Rome.' I thought I would take a walk a day as long as they lasted. It seemed a pleasant way of combining physical and intellectual exercise. But do you know, I could not keep up those walks. They were too concentrated for my constitution. I wasn't equal to them. Out in California they used to make wagers with the stranger that he couldn't eat a broiled quail every day for ten days. I don't see why he couldn't, but it seemed that the thought of to-morrow's quail, and the feeling that it was compulsory, turned him against what otherwise might have been a pleasure. It's so with the 'Walks.' It's appalling to think that every morning you have to start out for a constitutional, and be confronted with the events of the last twenty-five centuries. The events are piled up one on another. There they are, and here you are, and what are you going to do about them?"
"I suppose that there isn't much that you can do about them," I remarked.
"But we ought to do what we can," said Bagster. "When I do have an emotion, something immediately turns up to contradict it. It's like wandering through a big hotel, looking for your room, when you are on the wrong floor. Here you are as likely as not to find yourself in the wrong century. In Rome everything turns out, on inquiry, to be something else. There's something impressive about a relic if it's the relic of one thing. But if it's the relic of a dozen different kinds of things it's hard to pick out the appropriate emotion. I find it hard to adjust my mind to these composite associations."
"Now just look at this," he said, opening his well-thumbed Baedeker: "'Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (Pl. D. 4), erected on the ruins of Domitian's temple of Minerva, the only mediaeval Gothic church in Rome. Begun A.D., 1280; was restored and repainted in 1848-55. It contains several admirable works of art, in particular Michelangelo's Christ.'"
"It's that sort of thing that gets on my nerves. The Virgin and Minerva and Domitian and Michelangelo are all mixed together, and then everything is restored and repainted in 1848. And just round the corner from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the Pantheon. The inscription on the porch says that it was built by Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus. I try to take that in. But when I have partially done that, I learn that the building was struck by lightning and entirely rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian.
"That information comes like the call of the conductor to change cars, just as one has comfortably settled down on the train. We must forget all about Agrippa and Augustus, and remember that this building was built by Hadrian. But it turns out that in 609 Boniface turned it into a Christian church. Which Boniface? The Pantheon was adorned with bronze columns. If you wish to see them you must go to St. Peter's, where they are a part of the high altar. So Baedeker says, but I'm told that isn't correct either. When you go inside you see that you must let by-gones be by-gones. You are confronted with the tomb of Victor Emmanuel and set to thinking on the recent glories of the House of Savoy. Really to appreciate the Pantheon you must be well-posted in nineteenth-century history. You keep up this train of thought till you happen to stumble on the tomb of Raphael. That, of course, is what you ought to have come to see in the first place.
"When you look at the column of Trajan you naturally think of Trajan, you follow the spiral which celebrates his victories, till you come to the top of the column; and there stands St. Peter as if it were his monument. You meditate on the column of Marcus Aurelius, and look up and see St. Paul in the place of honor.
"I must confess that I have had difficulty about the ruins. Brick, particularly in this climate, doesn't show its age. I find it hard to distinguish between a ruin and a building in the course of construction. When I got out of the station I saw a huge brick building across the street, which had been left unfinished as if the workmen had gone on strike. I learned that it was the remains of the Baths of Diocletian. Opening a door I found myself in a huge church, which had a long history I ought to have known something about, but didn't.
"Now read this, and try to take it in: 'Returning to the Cancelleria, we proceed to the Piazza Campo de' Fiori, where the vegetable market is held in the morning, and where criminals were formerly executed. The bronze statue of the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned here as a heretic in 1600, was erected in 1889. To the east once lay the Theatre of Pompey. Behind it lay the Porticus of Pompey where Caesar was murdered, B.C. 44.'
"It economizes space to have the vegetable market and the martyrdom of Giordano Bruno and the assassination of Julius Caesar all close together. But they are too close. The imagination hasn't room to turn round. Especially as the market-women are very much alive and cannot conceive that any one would come into the Piazza unless he intended to buy vegetables. Somehow the great events you have read about don't seem to have impressed themselves on the neighborhood. At any rate, you are conscious that you are the only person in the Piazza Campo de' Fiori who is thinking about Giordano Bruno or Julius Caesar; while the price of vegetables is as intensely interesting as it was in the year 1600 A.D. or in 44 B.C.
"How am I to get things in their right perspective? When I left home I had a pretty clear and connected idea of history. There was a logical sequence. One period followed another. But in these walks in Rome the sequence is destroyed. History seems more like geology than like logic, and the strata have all been broken up by innumerable convulsions of nature. The Middle Ages were not eight or ten centuries ago; they are round the next block. A walk from the Quirinal to the Vatican takes you from the twentieth century to the twelfth. And one seems as much alive as the other. You may go from schools where you have the last word in modern education, to the Holy Stairs at the Lateran, where you will see the pilgrims mounting on their knees as if Luther and his protest had never happened. Or you can, in five minutes, walk from the Renaissance period to 400 B.C.
"When I was in the theological seminary I had a very clear idea of the difference between Pagan Rome and Christian Rome. When Constantine came, Christianity was established. It was a wonderful change and made everything different. But when you stroll across from the Arch of Titus to the Arch of Constantine you wonder what the difference was. The two things look so much alike. And in the Vatican that huge painting of the triumph of Constantine over Maxentius doesn't throw much light on the subject. Suppose the pagan Maxentius had triumphed over Constantine, what difference would it have made in the picture?
"They say that seeing is believing, but here you see so many things that are different from what you have always believed. The Past doesn't seem to be in the past, but in the present. There is an air of contemporaneousness about everything. Do you remember that story of Jules Verne about a voyage to the moon? When the voyagers got a certain distance from the earth they couldn't any longer drop things out of the balloon. The articles they threw out didn't fall down. There wasn't any down; everything was round about. Everything they had cast out followed them. That's the way Rome makes you feel about history. That which happened a thousand years ago is going on still. You can't get rid of it. The Roman Republic is a live issue, and so is the Roman Empire, and so is the Papacy.
"The other day they found a ruined Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli, and began to restore it. New Italy is delighted at this confirmation of its claims to sovereignty in North Africa. The newspapers treat Marcus Aurelius as only a forerunner of Giolitti. By the way, I never heard of Giolitti till I came over here. But it seems that he is a very great man. But when ancient and modern history are mixed up it's hard to do any clear thinking. And when you do get a clear thought you find out that it isn't true. You know Dr. Johnson said something to the effect that that man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose feelings would not grow warmer among the ruins of Rome. Marathon is a simple proposition. But when one is asked to warm his enthusiasm by means of the Roman monuments, he naturally asks, 'Enthusiasm over what?' Of course, I don't mean to give up. I'm faint though pursuing. But I'm afraid that Rome is not a good place to rest in."
"I'm afraid not," I said, "if you insist on keeping on thinking. It is not a good place in which to rest your mind."
I think Bagster is not the first person who has found intellectual difficulty here. Rome exists for the confusion of the sentimental traveler. Other cities deal tenderly with our preconceived ideas of them. There is one simple impression made upon the mind. Once out of the railway station and in a gondola, and we can dream our dream of Venice undisturbed. There is no doge at present, but if there were one we should know where to place him. The city still furnishes the proper setting for his magnificence. And London with all its vastness has, at first sight, a familiar seeming. The broad and simple outlines of English history make it easy to reconceive the past.
But Rome is disconcerting. The actual refuses to make terms with the ideal. It is a vast storehouse of historical material, but the imagination is baffled in the attempt to put the material together.
When Scott was in Rome his friend "advised him to wait to see the procession of Corpus Domini, and hear the Pope
Saying the high, high mass All on St. Peter's day.
He smiled and said that these things were more poetical in the description than in reality, and that it was all the better for him not to have seen it before he wrote about it."
Sir Walter's instinct was a true one. Rome is not favorable to historical romance. Its atmosphere is eminently realistic. The historical romancer is flying through time as the air-men fly through space. But the air-men complain that they sometimes come upon what they call "air holes." The atmosphere seems suddenly to give way under them. In Rome the element of Time on which the imagination has been flying seems to lose its usual density. We drop through a Time-hole, and find ourselves in an inglorious anachronism.
I am not sure that Bagster has had a more difficult time than his predecessors, who have attempted to assort their historical material. For in the days before historical criticism was invented, the history of Rome was very luxuriant. "Seeing Rome" was a strenuous undertaking, if one tried to be intelligent.
There was an admirable little guide-book published in the twelfth century called "Mirabilia Urbis Romae." One can imagine the old-time tourist with this mediaeval Baedeker in hand, issuing forth, resolved to see Rome in three days. At the end of the first day his courage would ooze away as he realized the extent of his ignorance. With a hurried look at the guide-book and a glance at the varied assortment of ruins, he would try to get his bearings. All the worthies of sacred and profane history would be passing by in swift procession.
"After the sons of Noah built the tower of confusion, Noah with all his sons came to Italy. And not far from the place where Rome now is they founded a city in his name, where he brought his travail and life to an end." To come to the city of Noah was worth a long journey. Just think of actually standing on the spot where Shem, Ham, and Japhet soothed the declining years of their father! It was hard to realize it all. And it appears that Japhet, always an enterprising person, built a city of his own on the Palatine Hill. There is the Palatine, somewhat cluttered up with modern buildings of the Caesars, but essentially, in its outlines, as Japhet saw it.
But there were other pioneers to be remembered. "Saturn, being shamefully entreated by his son Jupiter," founded a city on the Capitoline Hill. One wonders what Shem, Ham, and Japhet thought of this, and whether their sympathies were with Jupiter who was seeking to get a place in the sun.
It is hard to understand the complicated politics of the day. At any rate, a short time after, Hercules came with a band of Argives and established a rival civic centre. In the meantime, Janus had become mixed up with Roman history and was working manfully for the New Italy. On very much the same spot "Tibris, King of the Aborigines" built a city, which must be carefully distinguished from those before mentioned.
All this happened before Romulus appeared upon the scene. One with a clear and comprehensive understanding of this early history might enjoy his first morning's walk in Rome. But to the middle-aged pilgrim from the West Riding of Yorkshire, who had come to Rome merely to see the tomb of St. Peter, it was exhausting.
But perhaps mediaeval tradition did not form a more confusing atmosphere than the sentimental admiration of a later day. In the early part of the nineteenth century a writer begins a book on Rome in this fashion: "I have ventured to hope that this work may be a guide to those who visit this wonderful city, which boasts at once the noblest remains of antiquity, and the most faultless works of art; which possesses more claims to interest than any other city; which has in every age stood foremost in the world; which has been the light of the earth in ages past, the guiding star through the long night of ignorance, the fountain of civilization to the whole Western world, and which every nation reverences as the common nurse, preceptor, and parent."
This notion of Rome as the venerable parent of civilization, to be approached with tenderly reverential feelings, was easier to hold a hundred years ago than it is to-day. There was nothing to contradict it. One might muse on "the grandeur that was Rome," among picturesque ruins covered with flowering weeds. But now a Rome that is obtrusively modern claims attention. And it is not merely that the modern world is here, but that our view of antiquity is modernized. We see it, not through the mists of time, but as a contemporary might.
When Ferrero published his history we were startled by his realistic treatment. It was as if we were reading a newspaper and following the course of current events. Caesar and Pompey and Cicero were treated as if they were New York politicians. Where we had expected to see stately figures in togas we were made to see hustling real-estate speculators, and millionaires, and labor leaders, and ward politicians, who were working for the prosperity of the city and, incidentally, for themselves. It was all very different from our notions of classic times which we had imbibed from our Latin lessons in school. But it is the impression which Rome itself makes upon the mind.
One afternoon, among the vast ruins of Hadrian's Villa, I tried to picture the villa as it was when its first owner walked among the buildings which his whim had created. The moment Hadrian himself appeared upon the scene, antiquity seemed an illusion. How ultra-modern he was, this man whom his contemporaries called "a searcher out of strange things"! These ruins could not by the mere process of time become venerable, for they were in their very nature novelties. They were the playthings of a very rich man. There they lie upon the ground like so many broken toys. They are just such things as an enormously rich man would make to-day if he had originality enough to think of them. Why should not Hadrian have a Vale of Tempe and a Greek theatre and a Valley of Canopus, and ever so many other things which he had seen in his travels, reproduced on his estate near Tivoli?
An historian of the Empire says: "The character of Hadrian was in the highest degree complex, and this presents to the student a series of apparently unreconciled contrasts which have proved so hard for many modern historians to resolve. A thorough soldier and yet the inaugurator of a peace policy, a 'Greekling' as his Roman subjects called him, and saturated with Hellenic ideas, and yet a lover of Roman antiquity; a poet and an artist, but with a passion for business and finance; a voluptuary determined to drain the cup of human experience and, at the same time, a ruler who labored strenuously for the well-being of his subjects; such were a few of the diverse parts which Hadrian played."
It is evident that the difficulty with the historians who find these unreconciled contrasts is that they try to treat Hadrian as an "ancient" rather than as a modern. The enormously rich men who are at present most in the public eye present the same contradictions. Hadrian was a thorough man of the world. There was nothing venerable about him, though much that was interesting and admirable.
Now what a man of the world is to a simple character like a saint or a hero, that Rome has been to cities of the simpler sort. It has been a city of the world. It has been cosmopolitan. "Urbs et orbis" suggests the historic fact. The fortunes of the city have become inextricably involved in the fortunes of the world.
A part of the confusion of the traveler comes from the fact that the Roman city and the Roman world are not clearly distinguished one from the other. The New Testament writer distinguishes between Jerusalem as a geographical fact and Jerusalem as a spiritual ideal. There has been, he says, a Jerusalem that belongs to the Jews, but there is also Jerusalem which belongs to humanity, which is free, which is "the mother of us all."
So there has been a local Rome with its local history. And there has been the greater Rome that has impressed itself on the imagination of the world. Since the destruction of Carthage the meaning of the word "Roman" has been largely allegorical. It has stood for the successive ideas of earthly power and spiritual authority.
Rome absorbed the glory of deeds done elsewhere. Battles were fought in far-off Asia and Africa. But the battlefield did not become the historic spot. The victor must bring his captives to Rome for his triumph. Here the pomp of war could be seen, on a carefully arranged stage, and before admiring thousands. It was the triumph rather than the battle that was remembered. All the interest culminated at this dramatic moment. Rome thus became, not the place where history was made, but the place where it was celebrated. Here the trumpets of fame perpetually sounded.
This process continued after the Empire of the Caesars passed away. The continuity of Roman history has been psychological. Humanity has "held a thought." Rome became a fixed idea. It exerted an hypnotic influence over the barbarians who had overcome all else. The Holy Roman Empire was a creation of the Germanic imagination, and yet it was a real power. Many a hard-headed Teutonic monarch crossed the Alps at the head of his army to demand a higher sanction for his own rule of force. When he got himself crowned in the turbulent city on the Tiber he felt that something very important had happened. Just how important it was he did not fully realize till he was back among his own people and saw how much impressed they were by his new dignities.
Hans Christian Andersen begins one of his stories with the assertion, "You must know that the Emperor of China is a Chinaman and that all whom he has about him are Chinamen also." The assertion is so logical in form that we are inclined to accept it without question. Then we remember that in Hans Christian Andersen's day, and for a long time before, the Emperor of China was not a Chinaman and the great grievance was that Chinamen were the very people he would not have about him.
When we speak of the Roman Catholic Church, we jump at the conclusion that it is the church of the Romans and that the people of Rome have had the most to do with its extension. This theory has nothing to recommend it but its extreme verbal simplicity. As a matter of fact, Rome has never been noted for its pious zeal. Such warmth as it has had has been imparted to it by the faithful who have been drawn from other lands; as, according to some theorists, the sun's heat is kept up by a continuous shower of meteors falling into it.
To-day, the Roman Church is more conscious of its strength in Massachusetts than it is near the Vatican. At the period when the Papacy was at its height, and kings and emperors trembled before it in England and in Germany, the Popes had a precarious hold on their own city. Rome was a religious capital rather than a religious centre. It did not originate new movements. Missionaries of the faith have not gone forth from it, as they went from Ireland. It is not in Rome that we find the places where the saints received their spiritual illuminations, and fought the good fight, and gathered their disciples. Rome was the place to which they came for judgment, as Paul did when he appealed to Caesar. Here heretics were condemned, and here saints, long dead, were canonized. Neither the doctrines nor the institutions of the Catholic Church originated here. Rome was the mint, not the mine. That which received the Roman stamp passed current throughout the world.
In the political struggle for the New Italy, Rome had the same symbolic character. Mazzini was never so eloquent as when portraying the glories of the free Rome that was to be recognized, indeed, as the mother of us all. The Eternal City, he believed, was to be the regenerating influence, not only for Europe but for all the world. All the romantic enthusiasm of Garibaldi flamed forth at the sight of Rome. All other triumphs signified nothing till Rome was the acknowledged capital of Italy. Silently and steadily Cavour worked toward the same end. And at last Rome gathered to herself the glory of the heroes who were not her own children.
If we recognize the symbolic and representative character of Roman history, we can begin to understand the reason for the bewilderment which comes to the traveler who attempts to realize it in imagination. Roman history is not, like the tariff, a local issue. The most important events in that history did not occur here at all, though they were here commemorated. So it happens that every nation finds here its own, and reinforces its traditions. In the Middle Ages, the Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, found much to interest him. In Rome were to be found two brazen pillars of Solomon's Temple, and there was a crypt where Titus hid the holy vessels taken from Jerusalem. There was also a statue of Samson and another of Absalom.
The worthy Benjamin doubtless felt the same thrill that I did when looking up at the ceiling of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. I was told that it was gilded with the first gold brought from America. The statement, that the church was founded on this spot because of a vision that came to Pope Liberius in the year 305 A.D., left me unmoved. It was of course a long time ago; but then, I had no mental associations with Pope Liberius, and there was no encyclopaedia at hand in which I might look him up. Besides, "the church was reerected by Sixtus III in the year 432, and was much altered in the twelfth century." But the gold on the ceiling was a different matter. That was romantically historical. It came from America in the heroic age. I thought of the Spanish galleons that brought it over, and of Columbus and Cortes and Alvarado. After that, to go into the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore was like taking a trip to Mexico.
In the course of my daily walks, I passed the Church of Santa Pudenziana, said to be the oldest in Rome, and recently modernized. It is on the spot where Pudens, the host of St. Peter, is said to have lived with his daughters Praxedis and Pudentiana. This is interesting, but the English-speaking traveler is likely to pass by Pudaentiana's church, and seek out the church of her sister St. Praxed. And this not for the sake of St. Praxed or her father Pudens or even of his guest St. Peter, but for the sake of a certain English poet who had visited the church once.
Close to the Porta San Paolo is the great tomb of the Roman magnate, Gaius Cestius, which was built before the birth of Christ. One can hardly miss seeing it, because it is near one of the most sacred pilgrimage places of Rome, the grave of John Keats.
Each traveler makes his own Rome; and the memories which he takes away are the memories which he brought with him.
As for my friend Bagster, now that he has come to Rome, I hope he may stay long enough to allow it to produce a more tranquilizing effect upon him. When he gives up the attempt to take it all in by an intellectual and moral effort, he may, as the saying is, "relax."
There is no other place in which one may so readily learn the meaning of that misused word "urbanity." Urbanity is the state of mind adapted to a city, as rusticity is adapted to the country. In each case the perfection of the adaptation is evidenced by a certain ease of manner in the presence of the environment. There is an absence of fret and worry over what is involved in the situation. A countryman does not fret over dust or mud; he knows that they are forms of the good earth out of which he makes his living. He may grumble at the weather, but he is not surprised at it, and he is ready to make the best of it.
This adaptation to nature is easy for us, for we are rustics by inheritance. Our ancestors lived in the open, and kept their flocks and were mighty hunters long before towns were ever thought of. So when we go into the woods in the spring, our self-consciousness leaves us and we speedily make ourselves at home. We take things for granted, and are not careful about trifles. A great many things are going on, but the multiplicity does not distract us. We do not need to understand.
For we have primal sympathies which are very good substitutes for intelligence. We do not worry because nature does not get on faster with her work. When we go out on the hills on a spring morning, as our forbears did ten thousand years ago, it does not fret us to consider that things are going on very much as they did then. The sap is mounting in the trees; the wild flowers are pushing out of the sod; the free citizens of the woods are pursuing their vocations without regard to our moralities. A great deal is going on, but nothing has come to a dramatic culmination.
Our innate rusticity makes us accept all this in the spirit in which it is offered to us. It is nature's way and we like it, because we are used to it. We take what is set before us and ask no questions. It is spring. We do not stop to inquire as to whether this spring is an improvement on last spring or on the spring of the year 400 B.C. There is a timelessness about our enjoyment. We are not thinking of events set in a chronological order, but of a process which loses nothing by reason of repetition.
Our attitude toward a city is usually quite different. We are not at our ease. We are querulous and anxious, and our interest takes a feverish turn. For the cities of our Western world are new-fangled contrivances which we are not used to, and we are worried as we try to find out whether they will work. These aggregations of humanity have not existed long enough to seem to belong to the nature of things. It is exciting to be invited to "see Seattle grow," but the exhibition does not yield a "harvest of a quiet eye." If Seattle should cease to grow while we are looking at it, what should we do then?
But with Rome it is different. Here is a city which has been so long in existence that we look upon it as a part of nature. It is not accidental or artificial. Nothing can happen to it but what has happened already. It has been burned with fire, it has been ravaged by the sword, it has been ruined by luxury, it has been pillaged by barbarians and left for dead. And here it is to-day the scene of eager life. Pagans, Christians, reformers, priests, artists, soldiers, honest workmen, idlers, philosophers, saints, were here centuries ago. They are here to-day. They have continuously opposed each other, and yet no species has been exterminated. Their combined activities make the city.
When one comes to feel the stirring of primal sympathies for the manifold life of the city, as he does for the manifold life of the woods, Rome ceases to be distracting. The old city is like the mountain which has withstood the hurts of time, and remains for us, "the grand affirmer of the present tense."
THE AMERICAN TEMPERAMENT
Stopping at some selected spot on the mountain road, the stage-driver will direct the stranger's attention to a projecting mass of rock which bears some resemblance to a human countenance. There is the "Old Man of the Mountains," or the "Old Woman," as the case may be.
If the stranger be of a docile disposition he will see what he is told to see. But he will be content with the vague suggestion and will not push the analogy too far. The similitude is strictly confined to the locality. It is enough if from a single point the mountain seems almost human. From any other point it will seem to be merely mountainous.
A similar caution is necessary in regard to the resemblances between a nation and an individual. When we talk of a national character or temperament, we are using an interesting and bold figure of speech. We speak of millions of people as if they were one. Of course, a nation is not one kind of person; it is composed of many kinds of persons. These persons are diverse in character. All Scotchmen are not canny, nor all Irishmen happy-go-lucky. Those who know a great many Chinamen are acquainted with those who are idealists with little taste for plodding industry. It is only the outsider who is greatly impressed by the family resemblance. To the more analytic mind of the parent each child is, in a most remarkable degree, different from the others.
When we take such typical characters as John Bull and Brother Jonathan as representing actual Englishmen or Americans, we put ourselves in the way of contradiction. They are not good likenesses. An English writer says: "As the English, a particularly quick-witted race, tinged with the colors of romance, have long cherished a false pride in their reputed stolidity, and have accepted with pleasant equanimity the figure of John Bull as their national signboard, though he does not resemble them, so Americans plume themselves on the thought that they are dying of nervous energy."
There is much truth in this. One may stand at Charing Cross and watch the hurrying crowds and only now and then catch sight of any one who suggests the burly John Bull of tradition. The type is not a common one, at least among city dwellers.
But when we attribute a temperament to a nation, we do not necessarily mean that all the people are alike. We only mean that there are certain ways of thinking and feeling that are common to those who have had the same general experience. The national temperament is manifested not so much in what the people are as in what they admire and instinctively appreciate.
Let us accept the statement that the English are a quick-witted and romantic people who have accepted with pleasant equanimity the reputation for being quite otherwise. Why should they do this? Why should they take pride in their reputed stolidity rather than in their actual cleverness. Here is a temperamental peculiarity that is worth looking into.
John Bull may be a myth, but Englishmen have been the mythmakers. They have for generations delighted in picturing him. He represents a combination of qualities which they admire. Dogged, unimaginative, well-meaning, honest, full of whimsical prejudices, and full of common sense, he is loved and honored by those who are much more brilliant than he.
John Bull is not a composite photograph of the inhabitants of the British Isles. He is not an average man. He is a totem. When an Indian tribe chooses a fox or a bear as a totem, they must not be taken too literally. But the symbol has a real meaning. It indicates that there are some qualities in these animals that they admire. They have proved valuable in the tribal struggle for existence.
Those who belong to the cult of John Bull take him as the symbol of that which has been most vital and successful in the island story. England has had more than its share of men of genius. It has had its artists, its wits, its men of quick imagination. But these have not been the builders of the Empire, or those who have sustained it in the hours of greatest need. Men of a slower temper, more solid than brilliant, have been the nation's main dependence. "It's dogged as does it." On many a hard-fought field men of the bull-dog breed have with unflinching tenacity held their own. In times of revolution they have maintained order, and never yielded to a threat. Had they been more sensitive they would have failed. Their foibles have been easily forgiven and their virtues have been gratefully recognized.
When we try to form an idea of that which is most distinctive in the American temperament, we need not inquire what Americans actually are. The answer to that question would be a generalization as wide as humanity. They are of all kinds. Among the ninety-odd millions of human beings inhabiting the territory of the United States are representatives of all the nations of the Old World, and they bring with them their ancestral traits.
But we may ask, When these diverse peoples come together on common ground, what sort of man do they choose as their symbol? There is a typical character understood and appreciated by all. In every caricature of Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan we can detect the lineaments of the American frontiersman.
James Russell Lowell, gentleman and scholar that he was, describes a type of man unknown to the Old World:—
"This brown-fisted rough, this shirt-sleeved Cid, This backwoods Charlemagne of Empires new. Who meeting Caesar's self would slap his back, Call him 'Old Horse' and challenge to a drink."
Mr. Lowell bore no resemblance to this brown-fisted rough. He would not have slapped Caesar on the back, and he would have resented being himself greeted in such an unconventional fashion. Nevertheless he was an American and was able to understand that a man might be capable of such improprieties and at the same time be a pillar of the State. It tickled his fancy to think of a fellow citizen meeting the imperial Roman on terms of hearty equality.
"My lungs draw braver air, my breast dilates With ampler manhood, and I face both worlds."
Dickens, with all his boisterous humor and democratic sympathies, could not interpret Jefferson Brick and Lafayette Kettle and the other expansive patriots whom he met on his travels. Their virtues were as a sealed book to him. Their boastful familiarity was simply odious.
To understand Lowell's exhilaration one must enter into the spirit of American history. It has been the history of what has been done by strong men who owed nothing to the refinements of civilization. The interesting events have taken place not at the centre, but on the circumference of the country. The centrifugal force has always been the strongest. There has been no capital to which ambitious youths went up to seek their fortune. In each generation they have gone to the frontier where opportunities awaited them. There they encountered, on the rough edges of society, rough-and-ready men in whom they recognized their natural superiors. These men, rude of speech and of manner, were resourceful, bold, far-seeing. They were conscious of their power. They were laying the foundations of cities and of states and they knew it. They were as boastful as Homeric heroes, and for the same reason. There was in them a rude virility that found expression in word as well as in deed.
Davy Crockett, coon-hunter, Indian fighter, and Congressman, was a great man in his day. It does not detract from his worth that he was well aware of the fact. There was no false modesty about this backwoods Charlemagne. He wrote of himself, "If General Jackson, Black Hawk, and me were to travel through the United States we would bring out, no matter what kind of weather, more people to see us than any other three people now living among the fifteen millions now inhabiting the United States. And what would it be for? As I am one of the persons mentioned I would not press the question further. What I am driving at is this. When a man rises from a low degree to a place he ain't used to, such a man starts the curiosity of the world to know how he got along."
Davy Crockett understood the temper of his fellow citizens. A man who rises by his own exertions from a low position to "a place he ain't used to" is not only an object of curiosity, but he elicits enthusiastic admiration. Any awkwardness which he exhibits in the position which he has achieved is overlooked. We are anxious to know how he got along.
Every country has its self-made men, but usually they are made to feel very uncomfortable. They are accounted intruders in circles reserved for the choicer few. But in America they are assured of a sympathetic audience when they tell of the way they have risen in the world. There is no need for them to apologize for any lack of early advantages, for they are living in a self-made country. We are in the habit of giving the place of honor to the beginner rather than to the continuer. For the finisher the time is not ripe.
The most vivid impressions of Americans have always been anticipatory. They have felt themselves borne along by a resistless current, and that current has, on the whole, been flowing in the right direction. They have never been confronted with ruins that tell that the land they inhabit has seen better days. Yesterday is vague; To-day may be uncertain; To-morrow is alluring; and the Day after to-morrow is altogether glorious. George Herbert pictured religion as standing on tiptoe waiting to pass to the American strand. Not only religion but every other good thing has assumed that attitude of expectant curiosity.
Even Cotton Mather could not avoid a tone of pious boastfulness when he narrated the doings of New England. Everything was remarkable. New England had the most remarkable providences, the most remarkable painful preachers, the most remarkable heresies, the most remarkable witches. Even the local devils were in his judgment more enterprising than those of the old country. They had to be in order to be a match for the New England saints.
The staid Judge Sewall, after a study of the prophecies, was of the opinion that America was the only country in which they could be adequately fulfilled. Here was a field large enough for those future battles between good and evil which enthralled the Puritan imagination. To be sure, it would be said, there isn't much just now to attract the historian whose mind dwells exclusively on the past. But to one who dips into the future it is thrilling. Here is the battlefield of Armageddon. Some day we shall see "the spirits of devils working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Just when that might take place might be uncertain but where it would take place was to them more obvious.
In the days of small things the settlers in the wilderness had large thoughts. They felt themselves to be historical characters, as indeed they were. They were impressed by the magnitude of the country and by the importance of their relation to it. Their language took on a cosmic breadth.
Ethan Allen could not have assumed a more masterful tone if he had had an Empire at his back instead of undisciplined bands of Green Mountain Boys. Writing to the Continental Congress, he declares that unless the demands of Vermont are complied with "we will retire into the fastnesses of our Green Mountains and will wage eternal warfare against Hell, the Devil, and Human Nature in general." And Ethan Allen meant it.
The love of the superlative is deeply seated in the American mind. It is based on no very careful survey of the existing world. It is a conclusion to which it is easy to jump. I remember one week, traveling through the Mississippi Valley, stopping every night in some town that had something which was advertised as the biggest in the world. On Friday I reached a sleepy little village which seemed the picture of contented mediocrity. Here, thought I, I shall find no bigness to molest me or make me afraid. But when I sat down to write a letter on the hotel stationery I was confronted with the statement, "This is the biggest little hotel in the State."
When one starts a tune it is safer to start it rather low, so as not to come to grief on the upper notes. In discussing the American temperament it is better to start modestly. Instead of asking what excellent qualities we find in ourselves, we should ask what do other nations most dislike in us. We can then have room to rise to better things. There is a family resemblance between the worst and the best of any national group. Kipling, in his lines "To an American," may set the tune for us. It is not too high. His American is boastful, careless, and irrationally optimistic.
"Enslaved, illogical, elate, He greets the embarrassed gods, nor fears To shake the iron hand of Fate Or match with Destiny for beers."
A person who would offer to shake hands with Fate is certainly lacking in a fine sense of propriety. His belief in equality makes him indifferent to the note of distinction. "He dubs his dreary brethren kings." Of course they are not kings, but that makes no difference. It makes little difference whether anything corresponds to the name he chooses to give to it. For there is
"A cynic devil in his blood That bids him mock his hurrying soul."
This impression of a mingling of optimism, cynicism, and hurry is one which is often made upon those who are suddenly plunged into American society. In any company of Americans who are discussing public affairs the stranger is struck by what seems the lack of logical connection between the statements of facts and the judgments passed upon them. The facts may be most distressing and yet nobody seems much distressed, still less is any one depressed. The city government is in the hands of grafters, the police force is corrupt, the prices of the necessaries of life are extortionate, the laws on the statute book are not enforced, and new laws are about to be enacted that are foolish in the extreme. Vast numbers of undesirable aliens are coming into the country and bringing with them ideas that are opposed to the fundamental principles of the republic. All this is told with an air of illogical elation. The conversation is interspersed with anecdotes of the exploits of good-natured rascals. These are received with smiles or tolerant laughter. Everyone seems to have perfect confidence that the country is a grand and glorious place to live in, and that all will come out well in the end.
Is this an evidence of a cynic humor in the blood, or is it a manifestation of childish optimism? Let us frankly answer that it may be one or the other or both. There are cynics and sentimentalists who are the despair of all who are seriously working for better citizenship. But the chances are that the men to whom our stranger was listening were neither cynics nor sentimentalists, but idealists who had the American temperament.
Among those who laughed good-naturedly over the temporary success of the clever rascal may have been those who had been giving their energies to the work of prevention of just such misdeeds. They are reformers with a shrewd twinkle in their eyes. They take a keen intellectual pleasure in their work, and are ready to give credit to any natural talent in their antagonist. If they are inclined to take a cheerful view of the whole situation it is because they are in the habit of looking at the situation as a whole. The predominance of force is actually on their side and they see no reason to doubt the final result. They have learned the meaning of the text, "Fret not thyself because of evildoers." In fact the evildoer may not have done so much harm as one might think. Nor is he really such a hopeless character. There is good stuff in him, and he yet may be used for many good purposes. They laugh best who laugh last, and their good-natured laughter was anticipatory. There are forces working for righteousness which they have experienced. On the whole things are moving in the right direction and they can afford to be cheerful.
This is the kind of experience which comes to those who are habitually dealing with crude materials rather than with finished products. They cannot afford to be fastidious; they learn to take things as they come and make the best of them. The doctrine that things are not as they seem is a cheerful one, to a person who is accustomed to dealing with things which turn out to be better than at first they seemed. The unknown takes on a friendly guise and awakens a pleasant curiosity. That is the experience of generations of pioneers and prospectors. They have found a continent full of resources awaking men of courage and industry. The opportunities were there; all that was needed was the ability to recognize them when they appeared in disguise.
And the human problem has been the same as the material one. Europe has sent to America not the finished products of her schools and her courts, but millions of people for whom she had no room. They were in the rough; they had to be made over into a new kind of citizen. This material has often been of the most unpromising appearance. It has often seemed to superficial observers that little could be made of it. But the attempt has been made. And those who have worked with it, putting skill and patience into their work, have been agreeably surprised. They have come to see the highest possibilities in the commonest lumps of clay.
The satisfaction that is taken in the common man is not in what he is at the present moment, but in what he has shown himself capable of becoming. Give him a chance and all the graces may be his. The American idealist admits that many of his fellow citizens may be rather dreary brethren, but so were many of the kings of whom nothing is remembered but their names and dates. Only now and then is one seen who is every inch a king. But such a person is a proof of what may be accomplished. It may take a long time for the rank and file to catch up with their leaders. But where the few are to-day the many will be to-morrow; for they are all travelling the same road.