PENGUIN PERSONS & PEPPERMINTS
BY WALTER PRICHARD EATON
Essay Index Reprint Series
BOOKS FOR LIBRARIES PRESS FREEPORT, NEW YORK
First Published 1922 Reprinted 1969
STANDARD BOOK NUMBER: 8369-1288-8
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 72-93335
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To My Little Sister who was born just in time to know the old, quiet ways of life in their gentle decline—to know and to love them
Page Author's Foreword ix Penguin Persons 1 Spring Comes to Thumping Dick 18 The Passing of the Stage Sundial 33 On Singing Songs with One Finger 41 The Immorality of Shop-windows 46 A Forgotten American Poet 51 New Poetry and the Lingering Line 65 The Lies We Learn in Our Youth 77 The Bad Manners of Polite People 87 On Giving Up Golf Forever 96 "Grape-Vine" Erudition 108 Business Before Grammar 114 Wood Ashes and Progress 118 The Vacant Room in Drama 128 On Giving an Author a Plot 132 The Twilight Veil 136 Spring in the Garden 154 The Bubble, Reputation 168 The Old House on the Bend 180 Concerning Hat-trees 184 The Shrinking of Kingman's Field 189 Mumblety-peg and Middle Age 209 Barber Shops of Yesterday 229 The Button Box 234 Peppermints 239
It is not a little unfortunate that no one can attempt the essay form nowadays, more especially that type of essay which is personal, reminiscent, "an open letter to whom it may concern," without being accused of trying to write like Charles Lamb. Of course, if we were ever accused of succeeding, that would be another story! There is, to be sure, no doubt that the gentle Elia impressed his form and method on all English writers who followed him, and still reaches out across a century to threaten with his high standards those who still venture into this pleasant and now so neglected field. Such are the rigors of triumphant gentleness. Still—and he would have been the first to recognize the fact—it is rather unfair to demand of every essayist the revelation of a personality like Lamb's. Fundamentally, all literature, even naturalistic drama, is the revelation of a personality, a point of view. But it is the peculiar flavor of the essay that it reveals an author through his chat about himself, his friends, his memories and fancies, in something of the direct manner of a conversation or a letter; and he himself feels, in writing, a delightful sense of intimacy with his future readers. That Lamb was a master of this art like no other, without a visible or probable rival, hardly constitutes a reason for denying to less delightful men and gifted artists the right also to practice it, to put themselves and their intimate little affairs and idiosyncrasies into direct and personal touch with such few readers as they may find. For the readers of his essays are the author's friends in a sense that the readers of his novels or dissertations, or the witnesses of his plays, can never be. There will be no story to hold them, no fictional, independent characters, no ideas nor arguments on high questions of policy. There will be only a joint interest in the minutiae of life. If I like cats and snowstorms, and you like cats and snowstorms, we are likely to come together on that mutual ground, and clasp shadow hands across the page. But if you do not like cats and snowstorms, why then you will not like me, and we needn't bore each other, need we?
The little papers in this volume, issued from the peaceful town of Sewanee atop the Cumberland plateau, between Thumping Dick Hollow and Little Fiery Gizzard Creek, have been written at various times and places in the past fifteen years, many of them while I still dwelt in New York, and babbled o' green fields, many before, and some few after, the outbreak of the Great War. That War, you will perhaps discover, finds in them no reflection. It has been consciously excluded, for though the world can never be the same world again, as we are in no danger of forgetting, there are some things which even war and revolution cannot change, such as the memories of our childhood, the joy of violets in the Spring, the delight in melody, the humor of small dogs, the coo of babies. I have fancied we are sometimes by way of forgetting that. At any rate, of such matters, in hours when he has no thought but to please himself, the essayist chats, and shall chat in the happy years that are to come again, or all our bloodshed has been in vain. If, at the same time, he chances to please an editor also, and then to make a few friends who like what he likes, smiles sympathetically at what makes him smile, why, that is clear again!
This author has been fortunate enough to please several editors in the past, and to all of them, who have given him permission to reprint such papers in this volume as have appeared in their periodicals, he extends his gratitude. They are specifically, the editors of The Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, House and Garden, The Dial, Ainslee's, The Scrap Book, The Boston Transcript and The New York Tribune.
W. P. E.
Twin Fires, Sheffield, Mass.
After all, one knows so little about a man from his printed works! They are the gleanings of his thoughts and investigations, the pick of his mind and heart; and they are at best but an impersonal and partial record of the writer. Even autobiography has something unsatisfactory about it; one feels the narrator is on guard always, as it were, and, aware of an audience cold and of strangers, keeps this back and trims up that to make himself more what he should be (or, in some perverse cases, what he should not be). But probably no man who is worthy of attention sits down to write a letter to a good friend with one eye on posterity and the public. In his intimate correspondence he is off guard. Hence, some day, when he has died, the world comes to know him by fleeting glimpses as he was,—which is almost as near, is it not, as we ever get to knowing one another?—knows him under his little private moods, in the spell of his personal joys and sorrows, sees his flashes of unexpected humor,—even, it may be, his unexpected pettinesses Thus dangerous and thus delightful is it to publish a great man's letters.
Such letters were Ruskin's to Charles Eliot Norton, which Professor Norton has given to the world. No one can fail from those letters to get a more intimate picture of the author of Modern Painters than could ever be imagined out of that work itself, and out of the rest of his works besides, not excepting the wonderful Fors Clavigera; and not only a more intimate, but a different picture, touched with greater whimsicality, and with infinite sadness, too. Not his hard-wrung thoughts and theories, but his moods of the moment—and he was a man rich in the moods of the moment—tell most prominently here. And with how many of these moods can the Ordinary Reader sympathize! Again and again as the Ordinary Reader turns the pages he finds the great man under the thralldom of the same insect cares and annoyances which rule us all, until he realizes as perhaps never before that poet and peasant, genius and scribe, are indeed one in a common humanity, and sighs, with a lurking smile of satisfaction, "So nigh is grandeur to our dust!"
One of the points of convergence between Ruskin and the Ordinary Reader which has appealed to me with peculiar force occurs in a letter from London dated in 1860. "When I begin to think at all," Ruskin writes, "I get into states of disgust and fury at the way the mob is going on (meaning by the mob, chiefly Dukes, crown-princes, and such like persons) that I choke; and have to go to the British Museum and look at Penguins till I get cool. I find Penguins at present the only comfort in life. One feels everything in the world so sympathetically ridiculous; one can't be angry when one looks at a Penguin."
Why, of course one can't! It is absurdly true, when one comes to think of it, this beneficent influence of penguins, stuffed penguins, at that, which cannot even waddle. I dare say few readers ever thought of this peculiar bird (if it is a bird) in just that light before Mr. Ruskin's letter came to view; I'm sure I never did. But few readers will fail to recall at a first reading of the words that picture of a penguin which used to adorn the school geographies, and presently will come to them the old sensation of amusement at the waddly fellow propped up on his impossible feet, the smile will break over their lips, and they will be one in mood with Mr. Ruskin. They may affirm that of course the author was only indulging in a little whimsicality, and they may two thirds believe it, as it is no doubt two thirds true; but just the same, unless I am much mistaken, the image of a penguin will persist in their minds, as it persisted in Ruskin's mind—else how did he come to write of it in this letter?—and they will be the better and the happier for the smile it evokes, as Ruskin was the better and the happier. Indeed, that letter was his cheeriest for months.
For me, however, the image has not faded with the passing of the mood, or rather it has changed into something more abiding. It has assumed, in fact, no less a guise than the human; it has become converted into certain of my friends. I now know these friends, in my thoughts of them, as Penguin Persons. I find they have the same beneficent effect on me, and on others around them, as the penguins on Ruskin. I mean here to sing their praises, for I believe that they and their kind (since everyone enters on his list of friends, as I do, some Penguin Persons) have, even if they do not know it, a mission in the world, an honorable destiny to fulfill. They prevent us from taking life too seriously; they make everything "sympathetically ridiculous"; they are often "as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
But, at the very outset, I would not be misunderstood. I do not mean that a Penguin Person must resemble the amusing bird in physical aspect. There are, I know, certain people, a far more numerous class than is generally supposed, who see in almost everybody a resemblance to some animal, bird, or fish. I am one of these people myself. It is on record as far back as the fourth generation that some one of my successive ancestors had the same unhappy faculty, for it is unhappy, since it imposes on the person who resembles for us a pig, in our thoughts of him, the attributes of that beast, and so on through the natural history catalogue. It is not pleasant to watch a puma kitten sitting beside you in the opera house, especially when your mere brain tells you she is probably a sweet, even-tempered little matron, or to wait in pained expectancy for your large-eared minister to bray, even though you know he will not depart from his measured exposition of sound and sane doctrine. However, the Penguin Persons are such by virtue of their moral and mental attributes solely, of the similar effect they produce on those about them by their personalities. I have never met a man yet who physically resembled a penguin, though I fancy the experience would be interesting.
Still less would I have it understood that Penguin Persons are stupid. Far from it. Dr. Crothers declares, in his Gentle Reader, that he would not like to be neighbor to a wit. "It would be like being in proximity to a live wire," he says. "A certain insulating film of kindly stupidity is needed to give a margin of safety to human intercourse." I do not think that Dr. Crothers could have known a Penguin Person when he wrote that. The Penguin Person is not a wit, there is no barb to his shafts of fun, no uneasiness from his preternatural cleverness, for he is not preternaturally clever. You never feel unable to cope with him, you never feel your mind keyed to an unusual alertness to follow him; you feel, indeed, a sense of comforting superiority, for, after all, you do take the world so much more seriously than he! And yet he is not stupid; he is bright, alert, "kindly," to be sure, but delightfully humorous, deliciously droll. Life with him appears to be one huge joke, and there is an unction about him, a contagion in his point of view, that affects you whether you will or no, and when you are in his presence you cannot take life seriously, either,—you can but laugh with him. He does you good. You say he is "perfectly ridiculous," but you laugh. Then he smiles back at you and cracks another of those absurd remarks of his, and you know he is "sympathetically ridiculous." Perhaps you were out of sorts with life when you met him, but one cannot be angry when one looks at a Penguin Person.
But do you say that the original bird is not like that at all, that he is the most stupid of fellows? Ah! then you have never seen a penguin swim! He is grace and beauty and skill in the water. If it were only his stupidity that made us smile, not he, but the hen, would be the most amusing of God's creatures. It is something more subtle, more personal, than that. It can only be described as Penguinity.
Penguinity! The word is not in the dictionaries; it is beyond the pale of the "purists"; in coining it I am fully aware that I violate the canons of the Harvard English Department, that I fly in the face of philology, waving a red rag. Yet I do it gladly, assertively, for I have confidence that some day, when Penguin Persons have taken their rightful place in the world's estimation, the world will not be able to dispense with my little word, which will then overthrow the dictionary despotism and enter unchallenged the leather strongholds of Webster and Murray.
Yet before that day does come, and to hasten its coming, I would record a tribute to my first and firmest Penguin friend,—my friend and the friend of how many others?—long and lank of limb, thin and high-boned of face, alert, smiling, ridiculous. On the nights when steamships were sunk in the East River, or incipient subways elevated suddenly above ground, or other exciting features of New York life came clamoring for publicity, he would sit calm and smiling, coatless, a corncob pipe between his teeth, and read "copy" with the speed of two ordinary men. The excited night city editor would rush about, shouting orders and countermanding them; reporters would dash in and out; telegraph instruments would buzz; the nerve-wracking whistle of the tube from the composing room would shrill at sudden intervals, causing everybody to start involuntarily each time and to curse with vexation and anger; the irritable night editor, worried lest he miss the outgoing trains with his first edition, would look furtively at the clock at three-minute periods and plunge his grimy hand over his sweating forehead; but the Penguin Person would sit smiling at his place by the "copy" desk, blue pencil in hand, serene amid the Babel. And when the tension was greatest, the strain nerve-breaking to get the big story, in all its complete and coherent details, into the hungry presses that seemed almost visible, though they waited the stroke of one, ten stories down, in the sub-basement, the Penguin Person would sit back in his chair, grin amiably, and say with a drawl, "Hell, ain't it, fellers? D' you know what I'm going to do to-morrow, though? I'm going to put on my asbestos collar, side track some beaut, take her to the theatre, and after the show, thanks to the princely salary I'm paid for keeping split infinitives out of this sheet, I'm going to rush her round to Sherry's or Delmonico's and blow her to a glass of beer and a frankfurter."
Then as if by magic the drawn faces of all his associates would clear, the night editor would laugh and forget to look at the clock, we would resume our toil, momentarily forgetful of the high pressure under which we labored, and working the better for the forgetfulness; and the Penguin Person, the smile still expanding his mouth, would tilt down his chair and work with us, only faster. If he had serious thoughts, he never disclosed them to us—seriously. When he opened his lips we waited always in the expectation of some ridiculous remark, even though it should clothe a platitude or a piece of good, common-sense advice. And we were never disappointed. Life with him was apparently one huge joke, and it came about that when we thought of him or spoke of him among ourselves, it was always with a smile. Yet now he is gone—and what a hole! Other men can do his work as well, if not as quickly. The paper still goes to press and the public sees no change; but we, who worked beside him, see it nightly. By twelve o'clock on a busy night, nervous, drawn faces surround the central desk, and profanity is snapped crossly back and forth. There is no alleviation of cheerful inanity. Presently somebody looks up, remarking, "I wish Bobbie Barton was back." And somebody else replies with profane asperity and lax grammar, "I wish he was!" Bobbie, meanwhile has become a lawyer, and can now afford a whole plate of frankfurters at Delmonico's. But we are the poorer, and, I do not hesitate to declare, the worse men for the loss of his Penguinity.
Then there is David. David is penguinacious by fits and starts, not wholly to be depended on, sometimes needing himself to be cheered with the Penguinity of others, but, when the mood is on him, softly, fantastically ridiculous, like the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll, a sort of Alice in Wonderland person. I should not hesitate to recommend him to Dr. Crothers as a neighbor; indeed I suspect the good doctor is almost such a man himself,—too gentle, too fantastic in humor to suggest, however remotely, a "live wire," and yet how far from being stupid! David's mind works so unexpectedly. You are quite sure you know what he is going to say, and yet he never says it, giving his remark a verbal twist which calls up some absurdly impossible picture, and evokes, not a laugh, but a deep, satisfying smile. There is something quaint and refreshing about such a mind as David's. It does not so much restore one's animal spirits, or one's good nature, as it rejuvenates the springs of fancy, brings back the whimsical imagination of childhood. David will people a room with his airy conceits, as Mr. Barrie peopled Kensington Gardens with Peter Pan and his crew; and it is as impossible not to forget anger and care, not to feel sweeter and fresher, for David's jests, as for The Little White Bird. Only a Penguinity like David's is subtle, a little unworldly, and, like most gracious gifts, fragile. There are days when the world is too much for David, when his jests are silent and his conceits do not assemble. Then it is that he in turn needs the good cheer of another's Penguinity, and it is then my happy privilege to reward him by hunting up Bobbie Barton, if I can, and joining them at a dinner party. Bobbie's Penguinity is based on an inexhaustible fount of animal spirits, he is never anything but a Penguin. He usually has David put to rights by the roast.
The other day, while Bobbie was running on in his ridiculous fashion, in an idiom all his own that even Mr. Ade could not hope to rival, telling, I believe, about some escapade of his at Asbury Park, where he had "put the police force of two men and three niggers out of business" by asking the innocent and unsuspecting chief the difference between a man who had seen Niagara Falls, and one who hadn't, and a ham sandwich, I fell to musing on Ruskin's unhappy lot, who did not know Bobbie, nor apparently anybody like him. Poor Ruskin! After all, there is more pathos than humor in his periodic visits to the penguins. Isolated, from childhood, by parental care, from the common friendships and associations of life, still further isolated in mature years by his own genius and early and lasting intellectual eminence, the wonder is that he was not more unhappy, rather than less. He had few friends, and those few, like Professor Norton, were intellectual companions as well, always ready and eager to debate with him the problems of Art and Life which were forever vexing him. Their companionship must often have been a stimulant—when he needed, perhaps, a narcotic. Their intercourse drove him continually in upon himself, where there was only seething unrest, when he needed so often to be taken completely out of himself, where there was peace. And, in his hours of need, he turned to the Alps, and the penguins. But both were dumb things, after all, that could not quite meet his mood, could not quite satisfy that hunger which is in all of us for the common association of our kind, for the humble jest and cheery laugh of a smiling humanity. Neither of them was Bobbie, who adds personality to the penguin, and satisfies a double need.
Bobbie would not have talked Art with Ruskin, and for a very good reason,—he knows nothing about it. Bobbie would not have cared a snap about his Turners, though he would have been greatly reverent of them for their owner's sake. But Bobbie would have enjoyed tramping over the mountains with him, an eager and alert listener to all his talks about geology and clouds, and ten to one Bobbie would have made friends of every peasant they met, every fellow traveler on the road, and taught Ruskin in turn a good bit about humdrum, picturesque mankind. And he would have made him laugh! Possibly you think it incongruous, impossible, the picture of happy-go-lucky, ridiculous Bobbie, with his slang and his grin and his outlook on life, and Ruskin, the great critic, the master of style, the intellectual giant. But then you reckon without Bobbie's quality of Penguinity, and without Ruskin's humanness. It is alike impossible to withstand the contagion of Bobbie's Penguinity, and to fancy a genius so great that he does not at times yearn for the common walks and the common talks of his humbler fellow creatures. He may not always know how to achieve them, his own greatness may be a barrier he cannot cross, or his temperament and circumstances may hinder; but be sure that he feels the loss, though he may not himself, for all his genius, be quite aware of it. That Ruskin lived in moody isolation, while Shakespeare caroused in an alehouse, does not prove Ruskin the greater man or the deeper seer; it only shows that one knew how to achieve what the other did not,—contact with the everyday, merry world, escape from the awful and everlasting solemnity of life. Ruskin could not achieve it for himself, he did not know how; but Bobbie, all unknown to either of them, would have shown him. Bobbie would have made life for him "sympathetically ridiculous," for Bobbie is a Penguin Person. And Bobbie would have been a living, breathing human being, by his side and ready to aid him, even to creep into his heart; not a stuffed biped on a shelf in a musty museum. Poor Ruskin, how much life robbed him of when it made it impossible for him to win in his youth the careless, unthinking, but undying friendship of a few men like Bobbie, a few Penguin Persons!
Ah, well! "The dice of God are always loaded." Doubtless we must always pay for greatness by isolation, or some more bitter toll. And for our insignificance, in turn, come the Bobbies as reward. It behooves those of us, then, who are insignificant, to appreciate our blessing, to cherish our penguins, the more since we, when "the world is too much with us," when the tyranny of economic conditions oppresses and the wrongness of life seems almost more than we can bear, have not that inward strength, that Titanic defiance, which is the possession of the great, ultimately to fall back upon, and so sorely need to be shown a joke somewhere, anywhere, in the universal scheme, to find something that is "sympathetically ridiculous." That is why the Penguin Persons are sent to us; thus we can see in them the swing of the Emersonian pendulum.
But they are naturally modest, and doubtless have no idea of their mission, further than to realize that "people are glad to have them around," as Bobbie would express it, and that it is "up to them" (in the same idiom) to be cheerful,—not a hard task, since cheeriness sits in their soul. It is awful to think how self-consciousness might ruin the flavor of their Penguinity if they ever were awakened to a realization of the fact that they were involved in anything so serious as the Law of Compensation! Though I do believe that David at his best could make the eternal verities look ridiculous. No, when the Penguin Persons do become aware of their Penguinity, it is in a funny, shamefaced fashion, as if they had been up to boyish tricks their manhood should blush for. Came Bobbie to me the other day and confessed that he had about made up his mind to be "serious."
"Everybody thinks I'm a joke," he said, with a melancholy grin; "they always expect me to say something asinine, and get ready to laugh before I speak. What shall I do?"
"Do!" I cried. "Do what you've been doing, only do it more. Keep right on being a Penguin, and God bless you!"
Bobbie looked perplexed and a little hurt; but I was too wise to explain, and three minutes later he was rattling off some delicious absurdity to my four-year-old hopeful, who had fallen down on his nose and needed comforting—and a handkerchief. Bobbie was supplying the latter from his pocket, and from his penguinacious brain the former was effectively coming in the shape of a description of Rocky Mountain sheep, which, according to Bobbie, have right-side legs much shorter than their left-side legs, so they can run along the mountain slopes without ever falling on their noses.
"But how do they get back?" asks the hopeful, still bleeding, but eager for information.
"They put their heads between their hind legs and run backward," says Bobbie. "They have long necks, you know."
That, of course, may be unnatural history, but it was a very present help in time of trouble. Indeed, it made Bobbie, as well as the boy, forget, and I have heard no more of his dreadful intention to be serious.
Some one—probably it was Emerson—once said, "Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call." It is no small thing, in this grim world, to make people smile, to be absurd for their alleviation, to render all things "sympathetically ridiculous" for a time, to bear in a chalice of mirth the water of Lethe. If one's talent lies that way, why, the call should be clear! The Penguin Person should have no doubt or shame of his vocation, nor should anyone else allow him to. Little Joe Weber, who was on the stage the most perfect example of Penguinity, was as a stage character beloved of all the thousands who saw him. He heard his call and followed his vocation, and honor and wealth and fame are now his. The merry host of Penguin Persons who move outside the radius of the spluttering calcium, whose proscenium is the door frame of a home, may earn neither wealth nor fame by doing as he has done, but they will win no less a reward, for they will have lightened for all around them the burdens of life, they will have smoothed the gathering frown and summoned the forgotten laugh, they will have made of the ridiculous a little religion, and out of Penguinity brought peace.
Spring Comes to Thumping Dick
When the ordinary American who "does things"—atrocious phrase, symbol of our unrecking materialism that does not consider the value of the things done—wants to give a place a name, he affixes his own, or that of his sister-in-law or the congressman from his district. Thus our noblest North American mountain is called McKinley, though it already bore a beautiful Indian name—Denali, "The Great One"; and thus in Glacier Park we find a Lake McDermott, a Lake McDonald, and a Mount Jackson, to contrast painfully with such beautiful titles as Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, Rising Wolf Mountain, and Morning Eagle Falls. The Indians expressed their poetry in their names. The pioneers and the colonial rural Americans expressed, if not poetry, at least a fine, spicy flavor of the local tradition; their names grew out of the place. In the corner of New England where I was born we had a Slab City, a Tearbreeches Hill, a Puddin' P'int—well-flavored names, all of them, descriptive and significant, even the last, which strangers mispronounced Pudding Point. Even in old New York there were once such names rich in historical association as Long Acre Square, now reduced to Times Square to please the vanity or cupidity of a newspaper. But, save the Indians, no body of people on this continent, not even the old-time cowboys and prospectors with their Bright Angel Trail, have ever rivaled the southern highlanders, the mountain folk of the Blue Ridge, the Great Smokies and the Cumberlands, in the bestowal of picturesque titles. It is hard, sometimes, to say whether the southern mountaineers are poets or humorists or realists; they may be one or the other, or all three at once. But they never fail with the inevitable appellation. Not Flaubert with his one right word, not the school "gang" with its nicknames, can equal them.
Thumping Dick Hollow, Milk-sick Hollow, Little Fiery Gizzard Creek, Falling Water Cove, Maniac's Hell, Lost Creek Cove, Jump Off Point, Rainbow Hollow, Slaughterpen Hollow—they come back to me in picturesque array, and with them come back the memories of the gray cabins, the clear bright water on the race, the silent forests, the billows of laurel, the song of the brown thrashers, the shy children in a dusky doorway, the lean pigs not shy at all, the bloodroot underfoot, the soft, hazy sky overhead, the sense that here life was always as it is, and always will be, with no change but the changing seasons. I remember once more how I met the Spring at Thumping Dick, like a dryad dancing through the wood, caught her in the very act of climbing up from the cove below to find a road to take her north. So we loitered together for one whole, blissful day, and when I came back to the college campus I wore her violets in my hat.
But first I must tell you how Thumping Dick Hollow got its name. That is more important even than knowing where it is. Many, many years ago, so long ago that all traces of his cabin have disappeared, a man called Dick dwelt beside the little brown brook which flows through a slight hollow on its way to the cove below. Now, this Dick was averse to over-much effort, unless it were effort connected with the pursuit of bears or panther, and being of an ingenious turn of mind he invented a labor-saving device to pound his corn. (Unfortunately, he still had to grow it himself.) He took a hollow log and pivoted it across the brook, at a little fall, in such a way that the upper end would rest in the water while the lower end projected over the rocks below the falls. Then he fastened a board across the lower half of this lower opening, and underneath the log, also at the lower end, he fixed a pestle. He then placed his mortar on a stone directly beneath. The water, flowing into the hollow log, ran to the lower end and piled up against the board till there was weight enough to tip the entire log down. Then enough ran out to tilt the log back again. Of course, each time the lower end of the log descended the pestle struck a blow in the mortar. All Dick had to do was now and then to empty out his pounded grain and put in a fresh supply. The log kept at its solemn seesaw night and day, its dull thumps resounding through the woods. So Thumping Dick Hollow it is to this day, and being close to Sewanee, Tennessee, instead of New York City, Thumping Dick Hollow it will remain, instead of becoming the Pratt Street section of Elmhurst Manor.
To be precise, it is four miles from Sewanee, and to be more precise, Sewanee is eight miles straight up hill from Cowan, and to be still more precise, Cowan is thirty-five or forty miles from Chattanooga, and now you begin to know where you are. Chattanooga, as you know, is in Tennessee, and sits beside the superb Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, under the shadow of Lookout Mountain, entirely surrounded by freight trains. It runs Schenectady, New York, a close race for the title of the noisiest city in the United States. But after you have taken a west-bound train in the quaint old station of the N. C. & St. L. railroad you pass rapidly into silence, down the gorge of the splendid river, and then into the broken, ragged hills. At Cowan a pig meets you on the platform, with the amiable curiosity of the small-town resident toward the arriving stranger. Here you change to the little branch line which runs north, up the side of the gorge, to the coal mines. Up and up the train climbs, puffing and straining, through a tall forest of hardwoods, and eventually reaches an almost level plateau. Once on this plateau, you lose all sense of mountain country and if you had not been aware of the steep climb to get here, you would not believe that you were on the southern nose of the Cumberland Range. Presently you reach a station—and that is Sewanee.
There are no academic squatters at Sewanee, in their $100,000 cottages, as there are at Princeton. It is too far removed from any cities, in the midst of its timbered mountain domain. There is a little hotel, much frequented in summer, to be sure, but for the most part the town is the university and its preparatory academy, and the university is the town. Here is the Gothic chapel, the ivy-clad scholastic buildings, the tree-shaded campus walks, the wandering groups of hatless boys, the encircling street lined with professors' houses—all the traditional flavor of a college, in a setting of forest. For it is one of the unique charms of Sewanee that a walk of a mile in any direction is a walk back into the ancient order, into the wilderness of the southern mountaineer, into the eighteenth century. A class that studies Shaw's plays in the morning may even catch the vocabulary of Shakespeare in the afternoon, repeated unconsciously by the lips of mountain children in the coves.
The word cove is omnipresent here. Even the mountain folk are called cove-ites. It needs but a short walk to show you why. The lower Cumberlands, on the southern border of Tennessee, are unlike any other mountain region, with a charm all their own, inherent in their topography. Apparently an almost level stretch of timbered country along the little railroad, in reality this level is the plateau top of a great rock wall, a kind of huge mesa extending north and south. If you walk to the edge, you discover that it suddenly falls away with startling abruptness, sometimes in sheer descents of several hundred feet till the top of the ancient shale pile is reached (now covered deep with soil) and then dropping away more gradually with that lovely curve of debris. But nowhere is this Palisade-like wall continuous, and here is where the southern Cumberlands get their unique flavor. The descending water from the plateau top has eroded deep into the precipice every mile or even every half mile, each brook in the course of ages eating far back into the mountain mass, forming a V-shaped depression called a cove, and between two coves thus formed is a reverse [symbol: upside-down V], called a point, always, naturally, composed of the hardest rock, and not infrequently ending in a literal point so sharp that it is like a vast granite bowsprit thrust out into the green plains far below, terminating in a sheer precipice of several hundred feet. Roughly, then, you may visualize this section of the Cumberlands as a giant double-edged saw, a thousand feet thick, laid down across the State, each tooth a "point," each V between the teeth a "cove." Standing far out on one of these rock bowsprits, in the soft, hazy air of the southern mountains, you look over the far valley lands below, you look north and south at the other thrusting bowsprits growing bluer and more mysterious as they recede, you look to left and right down into the timbered green lushness of the coves, where invisible water tinkles.
But the simile of the saw is only a rough one, after all, because erosion is never mathematical, some coves have bitten back far deeper than others, side coves have developed, and if you follow down the mystery of some brown brook, Little Fiery Gizzard Creek, let us say, for love of the name, you may very soon precipitate yourself into such a maze of coves, such a tangle of tough, tearing shrubbery (the term "laurel hell" is the mountaineer as realist), that you will regret, perhaps, the day you abandoned what in this region is euphemistically called a road. But you will hardly forget the view from some inland point, where you look, not out over the Tennessee plains, but over a branching canyon of coves, cut like the Grand Canyon out of an apparent plain, but, unlike that epic of naked magnificence, timbered with great, upstanding hardwoods from floor to rim, a soft, silent, hazy green hole where the forest floor has sunk a thousand feet, to rise again in the smoky distance and melt into the blue. There is no sign of human habitation, though in those coves, where the forest mould is rich to clear and cultivate and the springs are never dry, the cove-ites dwell, stock of the highlanders who are almost a race apart in the fastnesses of our southern Appalachians. They have no roads, only dim trails or footpaths. The protecting forest hides their little clearings. Only a hawk sails on silent wings over the leafy depths, and perhaps the faintest thread of smoke winds up and is lost in the haze of the air, a haze which seems faintly tinged with the all-pervading green.
But I wander as aimlessly as the enchanted visitor to Sewanee, and am by way of forgetting that it was Spring I set out to recapture with my pen—as if one could recapture the vanished Aprils! It was April, to be sure, early April, very cold in the Berkshires, with great, dirty drifts of snow still lingering on the northern sides of walls and hedges, and ice on the pools of a morning. Down here on the Cumberland plateau the trees were still bare, too, and the mornings chill, though you could easily find a blade of grass "big enough to blow," and the brown thrashers sang in the dooryards. But there came a day when the sun rose misty and hot, and I wandered out through the woods, by a dim, sandy cart track, missing the solemn evergreen note of our northern forests but happy in the fragrance of life reviving under last year's leaves—that peculiar odor of the woods in Spring. The little brown brook at Thumping Dick was softly vocal, and it, too, smelled of leaves. After a time I reached a point which jutted out directly over the tops of the trees growing on the debris pile below. These trees were as tall as masts, and as straight, though they were hardwoods, and from my rocky perch I looked through their upper tracery of budding twigs, as through a veil of faint green and red, out on the brown and green plains of Tennessee shining in the sun, or left and right across the canyons of the coves to the stately procession of receding headlands. Then I cast about for a way down into one of the coves, and presently came upon a footpath.
It led down the headwall by sharp switchbacks till it reached the easier declivity below, passed a gushing spring where a tin dipper hung on a twig proclaiming unseen passers, and presently picked up the bed of a tumbling brook. It was when I reached this brook that I was aware of Spring coming up the slope. I could see ahead, and to either side, a considerable distance through the open woods, and, lo! the Judas trees were in flower, stray bursts of purplish pink lighting up the forest floor like bright-robed, wandering dryads. (The mountain folk call this shrub the red-bud.) I loitered on down the brook side, through moist leaf-mould and rocks, while overhead the trees began to cover me with their frail, new foliage, and under foot the forest floor began to burgeon with bloom. Great double bloodroots came first—I stepped suddenly into a garden of them and hastily stooping crushed some juice on my fingers. Next the umbrella tops of the May apple leaves began to push up. There was a great dogwood tree in full bloom beside the path. A hedge-like bank of azaleas were showing bud. Then came the violets, yellow violets, wood violets, but especially the birdfoot variety, with their pink-tinged blue petals ubiquitous amid the leaves. To me this violet is particularly dear, for it was the flower which in my childhood was culled to fill those bright-colored May baskets we hung upon our sweethearts' doors at the festival of Spring, gathering them in the village cemetery, where they grew in great beauty and profusion, quite as Omar would have expected. Now I gathered a handful again, for memory's sake, and stuck them in the band of my hat, before I resumed my journey down the cove.
The first intimation I had of coming habitation was a pig, a lean, black, razor-back pig which grunted at my intrusion beneath his oak tree and went racing off at a great pace, almost gracefully, I might say, for even a pig which wanders on a mountainside develops something of the agility of a wild creature. Not far beyond I came quite suddenly upon such a picture as you may see nowhere in the world but in our southern highlands, in the Spring. Aware of my coming, if I was not aware of their proximity, six tow-headed, bare-footed, single-garmented children, the eldest a girl not over ten, the youngest an infant just able to stand, were ranged in solemn row, like a flight of steps, upon the top of a large flat stone at the edge of a little clearing, in perfect silence watching me approach, the violets and bloodroot blossoms they had been gathering dangling in loose bunches from their hands. Behind them, just across the brook which ran, like a road, in front of the gate, stood a weathered-gray cabin, of rough boards, with a central doorway and windows without sashes. At one end was an outside chimney of field-stone, laid, it seemed, with clay. Surrounding this cabin was a rough picket fence, again of untrimmed boards, with a gate opening on the brook and stepping stones across to the path. In the little compound thus enclosed, and almost overtopping the cabin, were half a dozen peach and plum trees, veritable geyser jets of pink and white bloom. Behind, in a small clearing, was the stubble of last year's corn. Squalid and poor and mean enough a dwelling, a shiftless clearing, a dirty family of children—yes. But under its geyser jets of blossom that little gray cabin was the essence of the picturesque, with the forest wall rising behind it, and behind that the great headwall of the cove. It was weathered and old and primitive and lovely; and the six little shy ragamuffins on the stone, still staring at me with the eyes of timid animals, were—well, they were six little shy ragamuffins, and that is nice enough!
"Hello," said I, "I see you've got the baby out to gather wild flowers, too."
The eldest girl found speech, after an effort. "That ain't the baby," she said, with a show of scorn for my ignorance. "The baby's in the house with maw."
My respect for the capacity of that little cabin was still further increased by this revelation. I asked the eldest girl some questions about the way, finding her directions for spotting a trail in this forest maze remarkably lucid, and went again on my wanderings, my last backward glimpse of the mouse-gray cabin under its pink and white geysers of blossom still showing the six little tow-headed, barefooted youngsters standing like six little patiences on a pedestal, staring after me. But when I had disappeared down the trail I heard from far off, mingling with the murmur of the brook, the shrill sound of childish glee, as they resumed their search for wild flowers. Then it was that Spring smiled, and gave my fingers a little squeeze!
So I wandered on, with Spring for company, all that blissful day, through forests of oak and chestnut where the Judas trees danced, past dogwood thickets and over beds of violets, into unexpected little clearings where always the same gray cabin of rough, weathered boards sat under its geyser jets of pink and white, while shy, pretty children peeped like startled rabbits from the dim doorway and the pig ran off through the woods (when he did not follow me), and finally up the steep slope at the head of a cove again, into the region of the earliest bloodroots, and so to the final shin up the last precipitous wall to the plateau above. As I reached the summit and looked back, I saw the cove was green, and the veil I had gazed through that morning was hazier now; Spring had climbed with me back up the slope and even here on the two-thousand foot rim the trees were bursting into leaf. There was a carpet of brilliant red stonecrop on the rock at my feet. As I came once more to the brook in Thumping Dick I saw a bloodroot on the bank, with the dead leaf it had that day pushed up still clinging to it. Yes—and here was a tiny bed of violets, in a warm, sheltered glade, opening to the sun. I gathered them all, and redecorated my hat. Then I bathed my hot face in the brook and lay listening to a thrasher for a while, as the long shadows of afternoon crept like lean, ghostly fingers through the forest and between me and the sky I could see the lacework of the budding twigs, with here and there a tree that actually showed leaf. No one passed me on the trail. The thrasher and I had the woods all to ourselves, except, of course, for Spring, who sat beside me singing mezza voce, to herself, a song curiously like the ripple of a brook.
At last I rose and followed the dim trail back toward the college, entering the campus as the evening lights were coming on in the dormitory windows, and somewhere a group of boys were singing, not lustily but with the plaintive quality that sometimes steals into the voices of the young and happy at the twilight hour. I tossed my hat on a table, and saw my withered violets falling dejectedly over the band. But I did not care. Back below Thumping Dick was a cove full on the march, coming up the slope, the blue battalions of the Spring. Outside, in the smoky, warm dusk, a thrasher still sang. Spring had left me, for she had far to go, but all the way north I should see the signs where her feet had trod, and when at last I reached once more my northern mountain home, I should find her waiting with a smile, perhaps with just a trillium in her hand to offer me, before she sped on again toward Labrador. But, I thought, I could never know her quite so well again as I had this day; she would not loiter with me quite so familiarly, with her dear, friendly squeeze of my fingers as the childish voices drifted with the brook song down the cove. I had kept tryst with Spring at Thumping Dick, for once the favored of all her myriad lovers.
The Passing of the Stage Sundial
It has been many years since I have seen a sundial on the stage. There was a time when the stage could not get along without them; but styles have changed. "Iram indeed has gone with all his rose," and Eddie Sothern, best beloved of romantic actors in your generation and mine, has written his theatrical memoires, which is the player's method of saying farewell. The Melancholy Tale of Me, he calls them, perhaps because they are not in the least melancholy—a good and sufficient reason. Yet Mr. Sothern strangely neglects the subject of sundials in his book, although they were his prop in how many a play back in the golden Nineties!—the golden, promise-laden, contradictory Nineties, that fin-de-siecle decade when Max Nordau thundered that we were going to the dogs of degeneracy, and we youngsters knew that we were headed not alone for a new heaven, but what is much more important, a new earth.
My school and college days fell entirely in the Nineties, or almost entirely, for I finally emerged with a sheepskin written in Latin I could no longer translate, in June, 1900. I saw my first modern realistic play in 1893, when I was a little junior middler at Phillips Andover. It was Shore Acres, and I have not yet forgotten, after a quarter of a century, the thrill of that revelation. It was almost as if my grandfather's kitchen had been put upon the stage, and with Herne himself to play the leading role, to blow on the frosty pane that he could peer into the night, to bank the fires, tip the stove lids, lock the door, and climb slowly up to bed while the old kitchen, in semi-darkness, seemed like a closing benediction before the downrush of the final curtain, I caught the poetry of the commonplace, I had my first unconscious lesson in literary and dramatic fidelity. And I ended my college days, a much more sophisticated person, championing Pinero and Jones, rushing eagerly to special performances of Ibsen, and ardently admiring the plays of G. B. Shaw, two of which, Arms and the Man and The Devil's Disciple, had been acted in America by Richard Mansfield before the end of the century.
Considering these plays now, and their effect upon me—and not forgetting, either, the passionate admiration, almost the worship, we young men of twenty had in those days for the acting of Mrs. Fiske—it would be easy to infer that the whole period of the Nineties for us youngsters was a period of revolt and forward-urging, that we were crusaders for what Henry Arthur Jones called "the great realities of modern life" in art. Crusaders we were, to be sure. I well remember long debates with my father, a man of old-fashioned tastes in poetry, and a particular fondness for Burns, over the merits of Kipling's poems. (Think of considering Kipling's poems revolutionary! Indeed, think of considering some of them poems!). We debated from still more divergent viewpoints over the novels of d'Annunzio. In college, in my last year or two, some of us even adopted the views of Tolstoy in his What is Art? and under the urge of this new sociological passion we took volunteer classes in night schools. I remember instructing a group of Jewish youths in the principles of oral debate, or, rather, debating the principles of debating with them, for being unblessed with an expensive preparatory school and college education, and being Jews into the bargain, they did not propose to take anything on faith. I used to return to my room in the college Yard wondering just why it was that these working lads, mere "foreigners", of a race infinitely inferior, of course, to the Anglo-Saxon, and without the precious boon of a Harvard training, had so much more real intellectual curiosity and mental grasp than any of us "superior" youths. These classes interfered seriously with my academic work, yet it seems to me now that they were infinitely more profitable.
However, it was a curious paradox of the Nineties that while we were discovering Pinero, Ibsen, Shaw, Tolstoy, we were also reading The Prisoner of Zenda and yielding ourselves with luxurious abandon into the arms of honey-sweet romance. At the very time when the new, realistic drama was leading us out of a pasteboard world into something approximating an intelligent comment on life, the cloak-and-sword drama was having a fine little reactionary renaissance, the calcium moon was shining down on many a gleaming garden and flashing blade, and ears were rapturously strained to catch the murmur of love-laden words. Then it was that the stage sundial flourished in all its glory, generally flooded, to be sure, with moonlight—that peculiar moonlight of the American theatre which turns grease-paint to a horrible magenta—and we youths, with the divine flexibility of imagination only youth can know, responded alike to Hedda Gabler and An Enemy to the King.
Do you remember the sundial, exactly at stage centre, in the latter play? In what dulcet tones, love-laden, the future Hamlet and Macbeth murmured to his lady fair! Even the sword duel in the last act, all over the chamber, across the great bed ripping down the curtains, back and forth with flash of steel and rattle of blade, was not so thrilling as that moonlit scene across the dial plate. My constant companion in those days was a boy who to-day preaches each week from a famous pulpit, with gravity and eloquence. He is a man of substantial parts, on whom life's bitter realities press very hard as he battles to relieve them. Does he now recall, I wonder, how for weeks after we had hung from the gallery rail at An Enemy to the King he even said "Thank you," when somebody passed him a piece of bread, in the deep, long-drawn tones of Sothern's romantic passion? He was a handsome youth, and I know not what mischief he wrought that winter in gentle bosoms, with his vocabulary enlarged and romanticized, his tones colored with emotion, as he sought secluded corners at our dances and practised his new art. Our Tolstoian moods were not for dances, you may be sure! We lived in a dual universe. In one world were sundials and moonlight and the thrill of a woman's eyes; there was slow music and the ache of unfilled desire ever about to be gratified by some hoped-for miracle. In the other world were only facts, hard facts, and the scorn of considering them emotionally, of considering them in any way but with the intellect. I fear in those days our moods did not connect intellect and the fair sex. Perhaps youth never does. And perhaps youth is right, not in thus passing judgment on women, for that is not what is done, but in refusing to surrender any portion of the divine romantic mystery of sex at two-and-twenty to the cold light of reason. When Shaw and Ibsen wrote, they wrote of daily life, and we were learning to accept their contention that it should be written about truthfully. But there was no lie in these other plays, these sundial romances, for they were not daily life, they were ages long ago and far away, they belonged to the Never-Never-Land of romantic fable—of dreams and the heart's desire. There is no such thing as a complete realist at twenty. Or, if there is, he should be interned as an enemy alien.
A generation has passed since the Nineties, and there are no stage sundials any more. Perhaps that is but another way of saying that I am middle-aged, but, upon my word, I do not think so. Do you remember the sundial over which Dolly and Mr. Carter philandered, the one which bore the motto—
Horas non numero nisi serenas?
I reread that dialogue the other day, and captured some of the ancient thrill. No, the real trouble is that a generation of realism, or what has passed for realism on our American stage, has done its deadly work. It has killed romance. That is not at all what realism was intended to do. Indeed, to the larger view, romance is a part of the reality of life. Realism was a reaction against sham and falsity and sentimentalism, and, above all, perhaps, triviality of theme. But the net result, so far as the American drama is concerned, seems to have been the substitution of a realistic setting and dialogue for a false one, and then a continuance of the old sham, sentimentalism, triviality. How else can we account for the success of Mr. Belasco? But the taste engendered by the realistic settings and dialogue has banished the cloak and sword and sundial, stripped romance of its charm and allure; and once stripped of these, it ceases to be romance, for it ceases to reach the heart through the sense of beauty and of mystery. We have succeeded in substituting a chocolate caramel for the apples of Hesperides.
Yet it cannot be that this condition will be permanent. Comes a little play like The Gypsy Trail, wherein even through the realistic setting a strain of romance strikes, and all hearts respond. Youth will not be denied, but, like Sentimental Tommy, will "find a way." It may be that the old dualism of the Nineties was the sane solution, as so many of the modern "art theatre" directors maintain, at least by their practice, and the realistic drama should stick relentlessly to its last, while romance flourishes untroubled by any fetters, in free, fantastic, perhaps poetic, form. I do not know. I only know that the sundial must come back to the stage, not, it may be, as the garden ornament of old, but in some guise to further the dreams and dear delusions of our beauty-hungry hearts. For, as you may have guessed, the sundial is a symbol.
On Singing Songs with One Finger
James Huneker has pointed out that lovers of the drama, who are sound judges as well, too frequently have so little taste in music that they tolerate or even approve the most atrocious noises emitted in the name of musical comedy; while lovers and sound judges of music are quite as often woefully remiss in their knowledge of stagecraft, accepting scenery and stage management in their opera which would put men less skilled in the creation of theatric illusion than David Belasco to the blush.
How true it is that unto him who hath shall be denied, and unto him who hath not shall be given what the other man could use to such advantage! The composer who can both pucker the lips of the gallery-gods and satisfy the ears of the musical critics, how infrequent a visitor on this planet! so that Offenbach and Sullivan must often have suffered from loneliness. The singer who can also act, how rare a song-bird! The interpreter of the lieder of Franz or Schubert or Grieg who will sacrifice vocal display to the composer's meaning, and who has the fineness of soul to grasp and make manifest the mood of the lyric, how welcome a guest! And yet those who could write undying comic music if only they were composers, who could lift the hearts of their hearers into the skies with "Hark, hark, the lark," if only they could sing, are legion in number. How often, in short, like those two in Lord Houghton's poem, are temperament and technique—"strangers yet."
So are they in me, alas! total strangers. From my earliest years I have been filled with the joyous impulse of song, but never were ears more false to the one true pitch than mine, never was voice less commensurate with ambition. My youthful dreams, when they were not of foot-ball or swimming, were all of the Sirens, and I deemed Ulysses, if prudent, none the less a lack-sentiment sort of hero, not inspiring to know, because he stopped his ears to their song. The jeers of my fellows long ago taught me the bitter lesson to keep my melody to myself, but the impulse is still in me to sing, the myriad moods of music are still mine, and I still consider Ulysses the first of the Philistines.
For some time I thought my own case unique, but acquaintance with a music critic who cannot hum a tune, and with a celestial tenor (such tenors are so rare I fear this may be too personal for print) who was the most stupid of men, without the slightest capacity for high passion of any sort, convinced me of my error: and many subsequent conversations with men and women like myself incapacitated by nature for self-expression, as well as much listening to bad singers with good voices, have but forced conviction home. And now, when unfeeling relatives and scoffing friends smile the superior smile of the "musically talented" at sight of my piano which I play with one finger, and at the pile of music upon it, I let them smile, calm in the assurance that songs and instrument are mine by better right, perhaps, than theirs, who can raise voices quite on pitch to the accompaniment of eight fingers and two thumbs.
For, when none of them is by, I play with my one finger the airs of the world's great lieder, and hear from that slight suggestion the songs as they should be sung. As I would rather read Hamlet in my library than see the average actor attempt the part, so I would rather play Der Atlas with one finger, with my own imagination calling forth the tragic power and grief, the superb climax of surprise and thunder, than hear it sung by any man at present on the concert stage. The poignant sadness cross-shot with humor of another of Schubert's songs, The Hurdy Gurdy, vanishes in the concert room, melts hopelessly into the dulcet tones of the young lady soprano, whose friends titter when she is done, "What a pretty song." But my one-fingered rendering—aided in this song by occasional jabs with three fingers of the left hand—brings to my inward ear the pathos of the barrel-organ, heard over the distant hum of a careless city, laden with the sorrow of all the world; brings memories, too, of that consummate singer of songs, Marcella Sembrich. Under the touch of my blunt forefinger the songs of MacDowell distill their delicate melancholy, that in the homes of my friends, where daughters ripple well-dusted piano keys and display expensive voices, yield only treacle and honey. Why should I mind the supercilious smile of my neighbor next door when he occasionally catches me at my unidigital performance, he who is a soloist in a noted church choir, but who, I very well know, prefers The Palms or Over There to Purcell's I'll sail upon the Dog Star, if, indeed, he ever heard the madly melodious boast of the "roaring boy"?
After all, there is nothing wonderful in this. It but shows that the genius which creates and the imagination which appreciates are akin, even as Professor Spingarn has asserted. Even operas and symphonies were composed at a piano. Strauss heard the one hundred and five instruments which are called on to represent the cry of the baby in his Symphonia Domestica all tooting and scraping in the notes his ten fingers evoked from his piano keys. (Personally I should rather have heard them so!) And why cannot I hear at least a simple little song in the melody that my one finger plays? The numerical ratio is in my favor, surely, although my neighbor would doubtless rudely suggest that I am not Richard Strauss. At any rate, for me there is a great joy in singing songs as they ought to be sung, if only with one finger, which has done much to console me for the technical powers nature has so plentifully denied me. I offer the same solution to all others who are in my case, only suggesting that it would be wise of them, perhaps, to learn while they are yet plastic the use of all ten fingers. They will not thereby secure ten times as much enjoyment, but their families will thank them.
The Immorality of Shop-windows
At the heart of morality lies content. That is a statement either optimistic or cynical, as you choose to look at it; but it is a statement of fact. Even the reformer seeks to allay his discontent, which does not arise from the morality in him, but from the immorality in other people. Anybody who has lived with a reformer knows this. Therefore are modern shop-windows—by steel construction made to occupy the maximum amount of space, to assault by breadth and brilliance the most callous eye—one of the most immoral forces in modern city life.
This is especially true of the shop-windows on Fifth Avenue, New York. For these windows, even at night illuminated like silent drawing-rooms vacant of people, expose to the view of the most humble passer on the curb as well as to the pampered rich racing by in motors, the spoils of all the world. Here are paintings by the old masters and the new; rare furniture and marbles from Italian palaces; screens from Japan; jewels and rugs from the Orient; silk stockings, curios, china, bronzes, hats, furs; and again more curios, cabinets, statues, paintings; things rare and beautiful and exotic from every quarter of the globe, "from silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon." And they are not collections, they are not the treasures of some proud house, although they might have been once; they are for sale; they may be bought by anybody—who has the price.
But who has the price? That stout woman riding by in her limousine, with a Pomeranian on her lap instead of a baby? That fifteen-dollar-a-week chorus-girl in a cab, half buried under a two-thousand-dollar chinchilla coat? That elderly man who hobbles goutily out of his club and walks a few short blocks to his house on Murray Hill, "for exercise"? Assuredly, somebody has the price, for the shops are ever open, the allurement of their windows never less. But not you, who gaze hungry-eyed at these beautiful objects, and then go to a Sixth Avenue department store and wonder if you can afford that Persian rug made in Harlem, marked down from $50 to $48.87; or that colonial mahogany bookcase glistening with brand new varnish. Envy gnaws at your heart. And yet you had supposed that yours was a comfortable sort of income—maybe four thousand dollars a year. Your father, on that income, back in a New England suburb, was counted quite a man in the community, and you put on airs. He selected the new minister, and you set the style in socks. But now you are humiliated, embittered. You rave against predatory wealth. Thus shop-windows do make Socialists of us all.
Nor are you able to accept the shop-windows educationally, recalling that when you went to Europe you saw nothing that had not already stared at you through plate-glass on Fifth Avenue—for sale. Who wants to view one of the chairs that a Medici sat in, only to recall that months before he saw its mate in a shop-window at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street; or to contemplate a pious yellow heathen bowed down before the image of Buddha, while the tinkly temple bells are tinkling, only to have rise in his mind the memory of a much larger and more venerable Buddha which used to smile out inscrutably at the crossing of Twenty-ninth Street, below a much sweeter string of tinkly temple bells?
We've a bigger, better Buddha in a cleaner (!), greener (!!) land, Many miles from Mandalay.
There is no romance in an antique, be it god or chair or China plate, when it is exposed for sale in a shop-window. And there is no romance in it amid its native surroundings when you realize that any day it may be carried off and so exposed. Thus do shop-windows destroy romance.
But in the humbler windows off the Avenue there is an equal, if grosser, element of immorality. For these are the windows where price-tags are displayed. The tag has always two prices, the higher marked through with red ink, the lower, for this very reason, calling with a siren voice. The price crossed off is always just beyond your means, the other just within it. "Ah," you think, swallowing the deception with only too great willingness, "what a bargain! It may never come again!" And you enter the fatal door.
Perhaps you struggle first. "Don't buy it," says the inhibition of prudence. "You have more neckties now than you can wear."
"But it's so cheap," says impulse, with the usual sophistry.
And you, poor victim that you are, tugged on and back by warring factions in your brain,—poor refutation of the silly old theological superstitions that there is such a thing as free will,—vacillate on the sidewalk till the battle is over, till your mythical free will is down in the dust. Thus do shop-windows overthrow theology.
Then you enter that shop, and ask for the tie. Or perhaps it is something else, and they haven't your size. You ought to feel glad, relieved. Do you? You do not! You are angry. You feel as if you had lost just so much money, when in reality you have saved it. Thus do shop-windows destroy logic.
This has been a particularly perilous season for the man with a passion for shirts. By some diabolic agreement, all the haberdashers at one and the same time filled their windows with luscious lavenders and faint green stripes and soft silk shirts with comfortable French cuffs, and marking out $2.00 or $3.00, as the case might be, wrote $1.50 or $2.50 below. The song of the shirt was loud in the land, its haunting melody not to be resisted. Is there any lure for a woman in all the fluffy mystery of a January "white sale" comparable to the seduction for a man of a lavender shirt marked down from $2.00 to $1.50? I doubt it. Heaven help the woman if there is! So the unused stock in trunk or bureau drawer accumulates, and the weekly reward for patient toil at an office dribbles away, and the savings-bank is no richer for your deposit—and the shop-windows flare as shamelessly as ever. There is only one satisfaction. The man who sells shirts always has a passion for jewelry. And that keeps him poor, too!
A Forgotten American Poet
I have written the title, "A forgotten American poet," and I shall let it stand, though I am not sure that he was ever well enough known to be spoken of now as forgotten. Ten or a dozen years ago a friend of mine who was working on an anthology of American poetry, at the John Carter Brown library in Providence, wrote to me with great enthusiasm of a poet he had "discovered," and of whom he had never heard before. "His name is Frederick Goddard Tuckerman," my friend said, "and you will not find him in Stedman's anthology, though it seems incredible that Stedman left out anybody or anything. Get a copy of his poems if you can—Ticknor and Fields, 1860."
I sent in my order for the book, to Goodspeed's, and then forgot the incident. But Goodspeed didn't. A year later the book came. Evidently it is an infrequent item at the auctions. The copy I received was a second edition, dated 1864 (which seems to indicate the poems had found some readers), but still in the familiar brown of Ticknor and Fields, matching my first American editions of The Angel in the House. This copy was of special interest because it was a presentation copy from the author to Harriet Beecher Stowe. The leaves had been opened, but if Mrs. Stowe read, she had made no marginal comments. The only addition to the book was an old newspaper clipping pasted in the back—a condensed history of the Beecher family! I read the volume myself with increasing interest and enthusiasm, and at the close I desired to learn more of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, not of the Beechers. Mr. Stedman's complete omission of these poems could only have been explained, I felt, by an equally complete ignorance of their existence. Compared to the poems of Henry T. Tuckerman, included by Stedman, the verses of his unknown cousin were as gold to copper. Why, I wondered, had this man been so completely obliterated by Time, or why had he failed in his life to reach a niche where Time could not utterly efface him?
I wrote to Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who, I discovered, had been a classmate of Tuckerman's at Harvard, and who of course knew practically everybody of consequence in the literary world of his generation. Colonel Higginson was able to supply some data, but not much. Tuckerman was born in 1821, of a rather well-known Boston family. Joseph Tuckerman, philanthropist and early Unitarian clergyman, was his uncle. He was a younger brother of Edward Tuckerman, long famous as a professor of botany at Amherst College, and who gave his name to Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington. Frederick Goddard Tuckerman entered Harvard with the class of 1841, but remained only a year, passing over to the Law School a little later where he secured his LL.B. in 1842, and for a period evidently practised law in Boston. "I remember he came back among us at some kind of gathering during our college course," Colonel Higginson wrote, "and seemed very friendly and cordial to all. I remember him as a refined and gentlemanly fellow, but did not then know him as a poet. I see him put down as a lawyer in Boston (in Adams's Dictionary of American Authors), but I have no recollection of that fact."
It was not until I had written and published in the Forum magazine a little appreciation of his poetry that I learned from his son, now a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts, that Frederick Tuckerman, even as his verses seemed to imply, early moved away from cities to the beautiful valley under the shadow of the Holyoke Range, and there passed his days, evidently the world forgetting, and by the world forgot. He issued his single volume of poems in 1860, when he was thirty-nine, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, but no shadow of that coming contest crosses their pages, as it crossed the pages of Whittier and Emerson, or as it affected the active life of his classmate Colonel Higginson. The second edition, in 1864, was still unaffected by the great struggle. He produced his slender sheaf of poems amid the fields, in quiet introspection, and he might well be accused of a species of Pharisaism, were these poems not so artlessly and passionately sincere, and often so tinged with religious awe. His withdrawal, in his verse, from the life of his times was the act of a natural recluse.
At the time Tuckerman's poems were issued, it is interesting to consider briefly some of the poetic influences which affected the public. The two best-selling poets just then, even in America, were Tennyson and Coventry Patmore, the latter represented, of course, by The Angel in the House. Indeed, the poems of these two sold better than novels! Whitman was hardly yet an influence. Julia Ward Howe had written, and Booth had accepted, a drama in blank verse. Our minor poets still wrote in the style of Pope, and the narrative shared honors with the moral platitude in popular regard. Tennyson, of course, was a great poet, and Patmore no mean one, even at that time, but it is questionable whether the huge popular success of their works, such as The Princess and The Angel in the House, was due to their strictly poetic merits. At any rate, the poetry of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, lacking narrative interest, palatable platitudes, lyric lilt, but being, rather, contemplative, aloof, delicately minor and in many ways curiously modern, must have fallen on ears not attuned to it. He had none of the Bolshevik revolutionary vitality of Whitman, to thrive and grow by the opposition he created. He could have aroused no opposition. It would have been his happy fate to find men and women who could appreciate his delicate observation of nature, his golden bursts of imaginative vigor, his wistful, contemplative melancholy, his disregard of academic form less because it hampered him than because he was careless of anything but the exact image. Such readers it was apparently not his fate to find in sufficient numbers to bring him fame. He was, in a sense, a modern before his time, but without sufficient consciousness of his modernity to fight. He was a mute, inglorious Robert Frost—like Frost for one year a Harvard student, like him retiring to the New England countryside, like him intent chiefly on rendering the commonplace beauty of that countryside into something magical because so true. Only he lacked Frost's dramatic sense, and interest in human problems.
Tuckerman's favorite medium was the sonnet; but a sonnet to him was a thing of fourteen five-foot iambic lines, and there all rules ended. Sometimes he even crowded six feet into a line. It is possible his laxness of form was due to ignorance, but more likely that it was due to a greater interest in his mood than in the "rules" of poetry. Many of his sonnets were in sequence, one flowing into the next. Here are two, thus unified, which show in flashes his sweep of imaginative phrase, and his transcendental bent:
The starry flower, the flower-like stars that fade And brighten with the daylight and the dark— The bluet in the green I faintly mark, The glimmering crags with laurel overlaid, Even to the Lord of light, the Lamp of shade, Shine one to me—the least, still glorious made As crowned moon or heaven's great hierarch. And so, dim grassy flower and night-lit spark, Still move me on and upward for the True; Seeking through change, growth, death, in new and old The full in few, the statelier in the less, With patient pain; always remembering this— His hand, who touched the sod with showers of gold, Stippled Orion on the midnight blue.
And so, as this great sphere (now turning slow Up to the light from that abyss of stars, Now wheeling into gloom through sunset bars) With all its elements of form and flow, And life in life, where crown'd yet blind must go The sensible king—is but a Unity Compressed of motes impossible to know; Which worldlike yet in deep analogy Have distance, march, dimension and degree; So the round earth—which we the world do call— Is but a grain in that which mightiest swells, Whereof the stars of light are particles, As ultimate atoms of one infinite Ball On which God moves, and treads beneath His feet the All!
Turning the page we come on a poem called The Question. "How shall I array my love?" he asks, and ranges the earth for costly jewels and silks from Samarcand; but because his love is a simple New England maid, he rejects them all as unworthy and inappropriate, and closing sings:
The river-riches of the sphere, All that the dark sea-bottoms bear, The wide earth's green convexity, The inexhaustible blue sky, Hold not a prize so proud, so high, That it could grace her, gay or grand, By garden-gale and rose-breath fanned; Or as to-night I saw her stand, Lovely in the meadow land, With a clover in her hand.
Have not these lines a magic simplicity? It seems so to me. They flow rippling and bright to the inevitable finish, and there is no more to say.
Tuckerman's power of close yet magical observation, used not so much in the Tennysonian way (for Tennyson was a close observer, make no mistake about that) as in what we now think of as the modern way, that is, as a part of the realistic record of homely events, with beauty only as a by-product, is well illustrated in the opening lines of a narrative poem called The School Girl, a New England Idyll. Here again a kinship with Frost is seen, rather than with Tuckerman's contemporaries:
The wind, that all the day had scarcely clashed The cornstalks in the sun, as the sun sank Came rolling up the valley like a wave, Broke in the beech and washed among the pine, And ebbed to silence; but at the welcome sound— Leaving my lazy book without a mark, In hopes to lose among the blowing fern The dregs of headache brought from yesternight, And stepping lightly lest the children hear— I from a side door slipped, and crossed a lane With bitter Mayweed lined, and over a field Snapping with grasshoppers, until I came Down where an interrupted brook held way Among the alders. There, on a strutting branch Leaving my straw, I sat and wooed the west, With breast and palms outspread as to a fire.
These powers of observation are again illustrated in a poem of quite different import, called Margites, a lyric of thirteen stanzas, some of which are inexcusably crude. It begins:
I neither plow the field nor sow, Nor hold the spade nor drive the cart, Nor spread the heap, nor hill nor hoe, To keep the barren land in heart.
After four more stanzas in similar vein, comes this bit of magic word-painting, so instinct with our New England Autumn, yet so entirely the work of a realist, with his eye on the object:
But, leaning from my window, chief I mark the Autumn's mellow signs— The frosty air, the yellow leaf, The ladder leaning on the vines.
The maple from his brood of boughs Puts northward out a reddening limb; The mist draws faintly round the house; And all the headland heights are dim.
The poem then continues to its close:
And yet it is the same as when I looked across the chestnut woods, And saw the barren landscape then O'er the red bunch of lilac buds;
And all things seem the same. 'Tis one To lie in sleep, or toil as they Who rise beforetime with the sun, And so keep footstep with their day;
For aimless oaf and wiser fool Work to one end by differing deeds;— The weeds rot in the standing pool; The water stagnates in the weeds;
And all by waste or warfare falls, Has gone to wreck, or crumbling goes, Since Nero planned his golden walls, Or the Cham Cublai built his house.
But naught I reck of change and fray; Watching the clouds at morning driven, The still declension of the day; And, when the moon is just in heaven,
I walk, unknowing where or why; Or idly lie beneath the pine, And bite the dry brown threads, and lie And think a life well lost is mine.
"A life well lost"! The phrase is perhaps pathetically revealing—and prophetic. Or are we stretching the poet's ambitions to be known as a poet? That he published what he wrote indicates a normal desire for recognition, yet it can hardly be doubted, either, that he was an amateur in verse, whose life was rather centred in his contemplative, retiring existence among the fields and hills of Amherst. There may even seem to some a delicate Pharisaism about this sonnet, a Pharisaism removed from the robustness of Thoreau, who would certainly have argued the point with the farmer:
"That boy," the farmer said, with hazel wand Pointing him out, half by the haycock hid, "Though bare sixteen can work at what he's bid From sun till set, to cradle, reap or band." I heard the words, but scarce could understand Whether they claimed a smile or gave me pain; Or was it aught to me, in that green lane, That all day yesterday, the briers amid, He held the plough against the jarring land Steady, or kept his place among the mowers; Whilst other fingers, sweeping for the flowers, Brought from the forest back a crimson stain? Was it a thorn that touched the flesh? or did The poke-berry spit purple on my hand?
Yet, as we have said, Tuckerman was far from Pharisaism of any sort, either of the aesthete or nature-lover. His mind was too genuinely occupied with spiritual problems. Take, for example, this closing sonnet in a sequence depicting the discords of Nature:
Not the round natural word, not the deep mind, The reconcilement holds: the blue abyss Collects it not; our arrows sink amiss; And but in Him may we our import find. The agony to know, the grief, the bliss Of toil, is vain and vain! clots of the sod Gathered in heat and haste, and flung behind, To blind ourselves and others—what but this, Still grasping dust and sowing toward the wind? No more thy meaning seek, thine anguish plead; But leaving straining thought and stammering word Across the barren azure pass to God; Shooting the void in silence, like a bird— A bird that shuts his wings for better speed!
Here, surely, is poetry that would not seem the least among the myriad hosts in Mr. Stedman's hospitable anthology! The rhyme scheme may be quite unorthodox, but the poet's lips have been touched by a coal from the high altar, none the less.
The volume closes with a sonnet sequence which is poignantly intimate; almost it is a diary of the poet's grief for the loss of the woman he loved, and in its stabbing intensity holds a hint of such poems as Patmore's The Azalea. Here is one:
Again, again, ye part in stormy grief From these bare hills and bowers so built in vain, And lips and hearts that will not move again— Pathetic Autumn and the writhled leaf; Dropping away in tears with warning brief: The wind reiterates a wailful strain, And on the skylight beats the restless rain, And vapour drowns the mountain, base and brow. I watch the wet black roofs through mist defined, I watch the raindrops strung along the blind, And my heart bleeds, and all my senses bow In grief; as one mild face, with suffering lined, Comes up in thought: oh, wildly, rain and wind, Mourn on! she sleeps, nor heeds your angry sorrow now.
Such use of pictorial observation as "the raindrops strung along the blind," and "the wet black roofs through mist defined," is something you will look for in vain through the pages of Longfellow, for instance. This is the sonnet of a realist. So, also, is this one, which does not seem to me to deserve oblivion, and certainly so long as my memory retains its power will have that little span of immortality:
My Anna! when for thee my head was bowed, The circle of the world, sky, mountain, main, Drew inward to one spot; and now again Wide Nature narrows to the shell and shroud. In the late dawn they will not be forgot, And evenings early dark; when the low rain Begins at nightfall, though no tempest rave, I know the rain is falling on her grave; The morning views it, and the sunset cloud Points with a finger to that lonely spot; The crops, that up the valley rolling go, Ever toward her slumber bow and blow! I look on the sweeping corn and the surging rye, And with every gust of wind my heart goes by!
It must not be supposed that the predominant note in Tuckerman's poetry is elegiac; rather is it a note of tender, wistful, and scrupulously accurate contemplation of the New England countryside, mingled with spiritual speculation. But as the volume closed with the elegiac poems, and as thereafter no more poems were published, it may be surmised that the poet's will to create was smothered in the poignant ripple of his personal sorrow. Had it not been, and had his pen continued to write, one cannot help wondering how much closer he would have come to the modern note in poetry. That he already felt a tendency to progress from the old metres to freer forms is constantly apparent; and this tendency, combined with his unconsciously scrupulous realism, might well have brought him near to the present. I should like to close this little paper to his memory with one of his lyrics which throws over rhyme altogether, and strictly formal metre, also, though the fetters are still there. It is the stab of grief which comes through to haunt you, the bare simplicity and the woe. Objective it certainly is not, as the modernists maintain they are. Yet the personal note will always be modern, for it has no age. This lyric belongs to you and me to-day, not in the pages of a forgotten book, on the shelves of a dusty library. I would that some of our vers libre practitioners could equal it:
I took from its glass a flower, To lay on her grave with dull, accusing tears; But the heart of the flower fell out as I handled the rose, And my heart is shattered and soon will wither away.
I watch the changing shadows, And the patch of windy sunshine upon the hill, And the long blue woods; and a grief no tongue can tell Breaks at my eyes in drops of bitter rain.
I hear her baby wagon, And the little wheels go over my heart: Oh! when will the light of the darkened house return? Oh! when will she come who made the hills so fair?
I sit by the parlor window, When twilight deepens and winds grow cold without; But the blessed feet no more come up the walk, And my little girl and I cry softly together.
New Poetry and the Lingering Line
I have one grave objection to the "new poetry"—I cannot remember it. Some, to be sure, would say that is no objection at all, but I am not of the number. It would hardly become me, in fact, since I have, in a minor pipe, committed "new poetry" myself on various and sundry occasions, or what I presume it to be, particularly when I didn't have time to write in rhyme or even metre. The new poets may object all they like, but it is easier to put your thought (when you happen to have one) into rhythm than into rhyme and metre. If, indeed, as the vers libre practitioners insist, each idea comes clothed in its own inevitable rhythm, there can be very little trouble about the matter. The poem composes itself, and your chief task will be with the printer! I don't say the rhythmic irregularity is not, perhaps, more suitable for certain effects, or at any rate that it cannot achieve effects of its own; I certainly don't say that it isn't poetry because it does not trip to formal measure. Poetry resides in deeper matters than this. I recall Ibsen's remark when told that the reviewers declared Peer Gynt wasn't poetry. "Very well," said he, "it will be." Since it now indubitably is, one is cautious about questioning the work of the present, such work as Miss Lowell's, for instance. Of course the mere chopping up of unrhythmic prose into capitalized lines without glow, without emotion, is not poetry, any more than the blank verse of the second-rate nineteenth-century "poetic drama," which old Joe Crowell, comedian, described as "good, honest prose set up hind-side foremost." We may eliminate that from the discussion once and for all. But the genuine new poets, who know what they are about, and doubtless why they are about it, I regard with all deference, hailing especially their good fight to free poetry of its ancient inversions, its mincing vocabulary, its thous and thees, its bosky dells and purling streams, its affectations and unrealities, both of speech and subject. But I do say they miss a certain triumphant craftsman's joy at packing precisely what you mean, hard enough to express in unlimited prose, into a fettered, singing line; and I do say that I can't remember what they write.
At least, nobody can dispute this latter statement. He may declare it the fault of my memory, which has been habituated to retain only such lines as have rhyme and metre to help it out. But I hardly think his retort adequate, because, in the first place, the memory is much less amenable to training and much more a matter of fixed capacity and action than certain advertisements in the popular magazines would have the "twenty-dollar-a-week man" believe, and in the second place, because my case, I find, is the case of almost everybody with whom I have talked on the subject. The solution, I believe, is perfectly simple. Nearly anyone can remember a tune; even I can, within limits. At least, I can do better than Tennyson, who could recognize, he said, two tunes; one was "God Save the Queen" and the other wasn't. But when music is broken into independent rhythms, irregular and oddly related phrases, it is only the person exceptionally endowed who can remember it without prolonged study. The very first audience who heard Rigoletto came away humming "Donna e mobile." And the very last audience who heard Pelleas et Melisande came away humming—"Donna e mobile." It is the law. Needless to say, I enjoyed Pelleas et Melisande, but I cannot whistle it. What I recall is a mood, a picture, a vague ecstasy, a hushed terror. It was James Huneker, was it not, who, when asked what he thought of the opera, replied that Mary Garden's hair was superb.