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Other Books by the Author
PARNASSUS ON WHEELS
THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP
SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE
THE ROCKING HORSE
HIDE AND SEEK
TRAVELS IN PHILADELPHIA
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Illustrated by Walter Jack Duncan
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1920
Copyright, 1920, by Doubleday, Page & Company All Rights Reserved, Including That of Translation into Foreign Languages, Including the Scandinavian
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THREE MEN
HULBERT FOOTNER EUGENE SAXTON WILLIAM ROSE BENET
BECAUSE, IF I MENTIONED ONLY ONE OF THEM, I WOULD HAVE TO WRITE BOOKS TO INSCRIBE TO THE OTHER TWO
Sir Thomas Browne said that Eve was "edified out of the rib of Adam." This little book was edified (for the most part) out of the ribs of two friendly newspapers, The New York Evening Post and The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. To them, and to The Bookman, Everybody's, and The Publishers' Weekly, I am grateful for permission to reprint.
Tristram Shandy said, "When a man is hemm'd in by two indecorums, and must commit one of 'em let him chuse which he will, the world will blame him." Now it is one indecorum to let this collection of small sketches go out (as they do) unrevised and just as they assaulted the defenceless reader of the daily prints; and the other indecorum would be to take fragments of this kind too gravely, and attempt by more careful disposition of their pallid members to arrange them into some appearance of painless decease. As Gilbert Chesterton said (I wish I could say, on a similar occasion): "Their vices are too vital to be improved with a blue pencil, or with anything I can think of, except dynamite."
These sketches gave me pain to write; they will give the judicious patron pain to read; therefore we are quits. I think, as I look over their slattern paragraphs, of that most tragic hour—it falls about 4 P. M. in the office of an evening newspaper—when the unhappy compiler tries to round up the broodings of the day and still get home in time for supper. And yet perhaps the will-to-live is in them, for are they not a naked exhibit of the antics a man will commit in order to earn a living? In extenuation it may be pleaded that none of them are so long that they may not be mitigated by an accompanying pipe of tobacco.
Roslyn, Long Island, July, 1920.
On Making Friends 3
Thoughts on Cider 10
One-Night Stands 18
The Owl Train 25
Safety Pins 29
Confessions of a "Colyumist" 34
Surf Fishing 48
The First Commencement Address 60
The Downfall of George Snipe 63
Meditations of a Bookseller 66
If Buying a Meal Were Like Buying a House 71
Adventures in High Finance 74
On Visiting Bookshops 78
A Discovery 83
Silas Orrin Howes 91
Joyce Kilmer 97
Tales of Two Cities 109
I. Philadelphia: An Early Train Ridge Avenue The University and the Urchin Pine Street Pershing in Philadelphia Fall Fever Two Days Before Christmas In West Philadelphia Horace Traubel
II. New York: The Anatomy of Manhattan Vesey Street Brooklyn Bridge Three Hours for Lunch Passage from Some Memoirs First Lessons in Clowning House Hunting Long Island Revisited On Being in a Hurry Confessions of a Human Globule Notes on a Fifth Avenue Bus Sunday Morning Venison Pasty Grand Avenue, Brooklyn
On Waiting for the Curtain to Go Up 236
Musings of John Mistletoe 240
The World's Most Famous Oration 242
On Laziness 244
Teaching the Prince to Take Notes 249
A City Notebook 253
On Going to Bed 270
ON MAKING FRIENDS
Considering that most friendships are made by mere hazard, how is it that men find themselves equipped and fortified with just the friends they need? We have heard of men who asserted that they would like to have more money, or more books, or more pairs of pyjamas; but we have never heard of a man saying that he did not have enough friends. For, while one can never have too many friends, yet those one has are always enough. They satisfy us completely. One has never met a man who would say, "I wish I had a friend who would combine the good humour of A, the mystical enthusiasm of B, the love of doughnuts which is such an endearing quality in C, and who would also have the habit of giving Sunday evening suppers like D, and the well-stocked cellar which is so deplorably lacking in E." No; the curious thing is that at any time and in any settled way of life a man is generally provided with friends far in excess of his desert, and also in excess of his capacity to absorb their wisdom and affectionate attentions.
There is some pleasant secret behind this, a secret that none is wise enough to fathom. The infinite fund of disinterested humane kindliness that is adrift in the world is part of the riddle, the insoluble riddle of life that is born in our blood and tissue. It is agreeable to think that no man, save by his own gross fault, ever went through life unfriended, without companions to whom he could stammer his momentary impulses of sagacity, to whom he could turn in hours of loneliness. It is not even necessary to know a man to be his friend. One can sit at a lunch counter, observing the moods and whims of the white-coated pie-passer, and by the time you have juggled a couple of fried eggs you will have caught some grasp of his philosophy of life, seen the quick edge and tang of his humour, memorized the shrewdness of his worldly insight and been as truly stimulated as if you had spent an evening with your favourite parson.
If there were no such thing as friendship existing to-day, it would perhaps be difficult to understand what it is like from those who have written about it. We have tried, from time to time, to read Emerson's enigmatic and rather frigid essay. It seems that Emerson must have put his cronies to a severe test before admitting them to the high-vaulted and rather draughty halls of his intellect. There are fine passages in his essay, but it is intellectualized, bloodless, heedless of the trifling oddities of human intercourse that make friendship so satisfying. He seems to insist upon a sterile ceremony of mutual self-improvement, a kind of religious ritual, a profound interchange of doctrines between soul and soul. His friends (one gathers) are to be antisepticated, all the poisons and pestilence of their faulty humours are to be drained away before they may approach the white and icy operating table of his heart. "Why insist," he says, "on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, or know his wife and family?" And yet does not the botanist like to study the flower in the soil where it grows?
Polonius, too, is another ancient supposed to be an authority on friendship. The Polonius family must have been a thoroughly dreary one to live with; we have often thought that poor Ophelia would have gone mad anyway, even if there had been no Hamlet. Laertes preaches to Ophelia; Polonius preaches to Laertes. Laertes escaped by going abroad, but the girl had to stay at home. Hamlet saw that pithy old Polonius was a preposterous and orotund ass. Polonius's doctrine of friendship—"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel"—was, we trow, a necessary one in his case. It would need a hoop of steel to keep them near such a dismal old sawmonger.
Friendships, we think, do not grow up in any such carefully tended and contemplated fashion as Messrs. Emerson and Polonius suggest. They begin haphazard. As we look back on the first time we saw our friends we find that generally our original impression was curiously astray. We have worked along beside them, have consorted with them drunk or sober, have grown to cherish their delicious absurdities, have outrageously imposed on each other's patience—and suddenly we awoke to realize what had happened. We had, without knowing it, gained a new friend. In some curious way the unseen border line had been passed. We had reached the final culmination of Anglo-Saxon regard when two men rarely look each other straight in the eyes because they are ashamed to show each other how fond they are. We had reached the fine flower and the ultimate test of comradeship—that is, when you get a letter from one of your "best friends," you know you don't need to answer it until you get ready to.
Emerson is right in saying that friendship can't be hurried. It takes time to ripen. It needs a background of humorous, wearisome, or even tragic events shared together, a certain tract of memories shared in common, so that you know that your own life and your companion's have really moved for some time in the same channel. It needs interchange of books, meals together, discussion of one another's whims with mutual friends, to gain a proper perspective. It is set in a rich haze of half-remembered occasions, sudden glimpses, ludicrous pranks, unsuspected observations, midnight confidences when heart spoke to candid heart.
The soul preaches humility to itself when it realizes, startled, that it has won a new friend. Knowing what a posset of contradictions we all are, it feels a symptom of shame at the thought that our friend knows all our frailties and yet thinks us worth affection. We all have cause to be shamefast indeed; for whereas we love ourselves in spite of our faults, our friends often love us even on account of our faults, the highest level to which attachment can go. And what an infinite appeal there is in their faces! How we grow to cherish those curious little fleshy cages—so oddly sculptured—which inclose the spirit within. To see those faces, bent unconsciously over their tasks—each different, each unique, each so richly and queerly expressive of the lively and perverse enigma of man, is a full education in human tolerance. Privately, one studies his own ill-modeled visnomy to see if by any chance it bespeaks the emotions he inwardly feels. We know—as Hamlet did—the vicious mole of nature in us, the o'ergrowth of some complexion that mars the purity of our secret resolutions. Yet—our friends have passed it over, have shown their willingness to take us as we are. Can we do less than hope to deserve their generous tenderness, granted before it was earned?
The problem of education, said R. L. S., is two-fold—"first to know, then to utter." Every man knows what friendship means, but few can utter that complete frankness of communion, based upon full comprehension of mutual weakness, enlivened by a happy understanding of honourable intentions generously shared. When we first met our friends we met with bandaged eyes. We did not know what journeys they had been on, what winding roads their spirits had travelled, what ingenious shifts they had devised to circumvent the walls and barriers of the world. We know these now, for some of them they have told us; others we have guessed. We have watched them when they little dreamed it; just as they (we suppose) have done with us. Every gesture and method of their daily movement have become part of our enjoyment of life. Not until a time comes for saying good-bye will we ever know how much we would like to have said. At those times one has to fall back on shrewder tongues. You remember Hilaire Belloc:
From quiet homes and first beginning Out to the undiscovered ends, There's nothing worth the wear of winning But laughter, and the love of friends.
THOUGHTS ON CIDER
Our friend Dove Dulcet, the poet, came into our kennel and found us arm in arm with a deep demijohn of Chester County cider. We poured him out a beaker of the cloudy amber juice. It was just in prime condition, sharpened with a blithe tingle, beaded with a pleasing bubble of froth. Dove looked upon it with a kindled eye. His arm raised the tumbler in a manner that showed this gesture to be one that he had compassed before. The orchard nectar began to sluice down his throat.
Dove is one who has faced many and grievous woes. His Celtic soul peers from behind cloudy curtains of alarm. Old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago fume in the smoke of his pipe. His girded spirit sees agrarian unrest in the daffodil and industrial riot in a tin of preserved prunes. He sees the world moving on the brink of horror and despair. Sweet dalliance with a baked bloater on a restaurant platter moves him to grief over the hard lot of the Newfoundland fishing fleet. Six cups of tea warm him to anguish over the peonage of Sir Thomas Lipton's coolies in Ceylon. Souls in perplexity cluster round him like Canadian dimes in a cash register in Plattsburgh, N. Y. He is a human sympathy trust. When we are on our deathbed we shall send for him. The perfection of his gentle sorrow will send us roaring out into the dark, and will set a valuable example to the members of our family.
But it is the rack of clouds that makes the sunset lovely. The bosomy vapours of Dove's soul are the palette upon which the decumbent sun of his spirit casts its vivid orange and scarlet colours. His joy is the more perfect to behold because it bursts goldenly through the pangs of his tender heart. His soul is like the infant Moses, cradled among dark and prickly bullrushes; but anon it floats out upon the river and drifts merrily downward on a sparkling spate.
It has nothing to do with Dove, but we will here interject the remark that a pessimist overtaken by liquor is the cheeriest sight in the world. Who is so extravagantly, gloriously, and irresponsibly gay?
Dove's eyes beaconed as the cider went its way. The sweet lingering tang filled the arch of his palate with a soft mellow cheer. His gaze fell upon us as his head tilted gently backward. We wish there had been a painter there—someone like F. Walter Taylor—to rush onto canvas the gorgeous benignity of his aspect. It would have been a portrait of the rich Flemish school. Dove's eyes were full of a tender emotion, mingled with a charmed and wistful surprise. It was as though the poet was saying he had not realized there was anything so good left on earth. His bearing was devout, religious, mystical. In one moment of revelation (so it appeared to us as we watched) Dove looked upon all the profiles and aspects of life, and found them of noble outline. Not since the grandest of Grand Old Parties went out of power has Dove looked less as though he felt the world were on the verge of an abyss. For several moments revolution and anarchy receded, profiteers were tamed, capital and labour purred together on a mattress of catnip, and the cosmos became a free verse poem. He did not even utter the customary and ungracious remark of those to whom cider potations are given: "That'll be at its best in about a week." We apologized for the cider being a little warmish from standing (discreetly hidden) under our desk. Douce man, he said: "I think cider, like ale, ought not to be drunk too cold. I like it just this way." He stood for a moment, filled with theology and metaphysics. "By gracious," he said, "it makes all the other stuff taste like poison." Still he stood for a brief instant, transfixed with complete bliss. It was apparent to us that his mind was busy with apple orchards and autumn sunshine. Perhaps he was wondering whether he could make a poem out of it. Then he turned softly and went back to his job in a life insurance office.
As for ourself, we then poured out another tumbler, lit a corncob pipe, and meditated. Falstaff once said that he had forgotten what the inside of a church looked like. There will come a time when many of us will perhaps have forgotten what the inside of a saloon looked like, but there will still be the consolation of the cider jug. Like the smell of roasting chestnuts and the comfortable equatorial warmth of an oyster stew, it is a consolation hard to put into words. It calls irresistibly for tobacco; in fact the true cider toper always pulls a long puff at his pipe before each drink, and blows some of the smoke into the glass so that he gulps down some of the blue reek with his draught. Just why this should be, we know not. Also some enthusiasts insist on having small sugared cookies with their cider; others cry loudly for Reading pretzels. Some have ingenious theories about letting the jug stand, either tightly stoppered or else unstoppered, until it becomes "hard." In our experience hard cider is distressingly like drinking vinegar. We prefer it soft, with all its sweetness and the transfusing savour of the fruit animating it. At the peak of its deliciousness it has a small, airy sparkle against the roof of the mouth, a delicate tactile sensation like the feet of dancing flies. This, we presume, is the 4-1/2 to 7 per cent of sin with which fermented cider is credited by works of reference. There are pedants and bigots who insist that the jug must be stoppered with a corncob. For our own part, the stopper does not stay in the neck long enough after the demijohn reaches us to make it worth while worrying about this matter. Yet a nice attention to detail may prove that the cob has some secret affinity with cider, for a Missouri meerschaum never tastes so well as after three glasses of this rustic elixir.
That ingenious student of social niceties, John Mistletoe, in his famous Dictionary of Deplorable Facts—a book which we heartily commend to the curious, for he includes a long and most informing article on cider, tracing its etymology from the old Hebrew word shaker meaning "to quaff deeply"—maintains that cider should only be drunk beside an open fire of applewood logs:
And preferably on an evening of storm and wetness, when the swish and sudden pattering of rain against the panes lend an added agreeable snugness to the cheerful scene within, where master and dame sit by the rosy hearth frying sausages in a pan laid on the embers.
This reminds one of the anecdote related by ex-Senator Beveridge in his Life of John Marshall. Justice Story told his wife that the justices of the Supreme Court were of a self-denying habit, never taking wine except in wet weather. "But it does sometimes happen that the Chief Justice will say to me, when the cloth is removed, 'Brother Story, step to the window and see if it does not look like rain.' And if I tell him that the sun is shining brightly, Judge Marshall will sometimes reply, 'All the better, for our jurisdiction extends over so large a territory that the doctrine of chances makes it certain that it must be raining somewhere.'"
Our own theory about cider is that the time to drink it is when it reaches you; and if it hails from Chester County, so much the better.
We remember with gusto a little soliloquy on cider delivered by another friend of ours, as we both stood in a decent ordinary on Fulton Street, going through all the motions of jocularity and cheer. Cider (he said) is our refuge and strength. Cider, he insisted, drawing from his pocket a clipping much tarnished with age, is a drink for men of reason and genteel nurture; a drink for such as desire to drink pleasantly, amiably, healthily, and with perseverance and yet retain the command and superintendence of their faculties. I have here (he continued) a clipping sent me by an eminent architect in the great city of Philadelphia (a city which it is a pleasure for me to contemplate by reason of the beauty and virtue of its women, the infinite vivacity and good temper of its men, the rectitudinal disposition of its highways)—I have here (he exclaimed) a clipping sent me by an architect of fame, charming parts, and infinite cellarage, explaining the virtues of cider. Cider, this clipping asserts, produces a clearness of the complexion. It brightens the eye, particularly in women, conducing to the composition of generous compliment and all the social suavity that endears the intercourse of the sexes. Longevity, this extract maintains, is the result of application to good cider. The Rev. Martin Johnson, vicar of Dilwyn, in Herefordshire, from 1651 to 1698 (he read from his clipping), wrote:
This parish, wherein sider is plentiful, hath many people that do enjoy this blessing of long life; neither are the aged bedridden or decrepit as elsewhere; next to God, wee ascribe it to our flourishing orchards, first that the bloomed trees in spring do not only sweeten but purify the ambient air; next, that they yield us plenty of rich and winy liquors, which do conduce very much to the constant health of our inhabitants. Their ordinary course is to breakfast and sup with toast and sider through the whole Lent; which heightens their appetites and creates in them durable strength to labour.
There was a pause, and our friend (he is a man of girth and with a brow bearing all the candor of a life of intense thought) leaned against the mahogany counter.
That is very fine, we said, draining our chalice, and feeling brightness of eye, length of years, and durable strength to labour added to our person. In the meantime (we said) why do you not drink the rich and winy liquor which your vessel contains?
He folded up his clipping and put it away with a sigh.
I always have to read that first, he said, to make the damned stuff palatable. It will be ten years, he said, before the friend who sent me that clipping will have to drink any cider.
To those looking for an exhilarating vacation let us commend a week of "trouping" on one-night stands with a theatrical company, which mirthful experience has just been ours. We went along in the very lowly capacity of co-author, which placed us somewhat beneath the stage hands as far as dignity was concerned; and we flatter ourself that we have learned our station and observe it with due humility. The first task of the director who stages a play is to let the author know where he gets off. This was accomplished in our case by an argument concerning a speech in the play where one of the characters remarks, "I propose to send a mental message to Eliza." This sounds (we contend) quite a harmless sentiment, but the director insisted that the person speaking, being an Englishman of studious disposition, would not say anything so inaccurate. "He would use much more correct language," said the director. "He ought to say 'I purpose to send.'" We balked mildly at this. "All right," said our mentor. "The trouble with you is you don't know any English. I'll send you a copy of the Century dictionary."
This gentleman carried purism to almost extravagant lengths. He objected to the customary pronunciation of "jew's-harp," insisting that the word should be "juice-harp," and instructing the actor who mentioned this innocent instrument of melody to write it down so in his script. When the dress rehearsal came round, he was surveying the "set" for the first act with considerable complacence. This scenery was intended to represent a very ancient English inn at Stratford-on-Avon, and one of the authors was heard to remark softly that it looked more like a broker's office on Wall Street. But the director was unshaken. "There's an old English inn up at Larchmont," said he, "and this looks a good deal like it, so I guess we're all right."
Let any one who imagines the actor's life is one of bevo and skittles sally along with a new play on its try-out in the one-night circuit. When one sees the delightful humour, fortitude, and high spirits with which the players face their task he gains a new respect for the profession. It is with a sense of shame that the wincing author hears his lines repeated night after night—lines that seem to him to have grown so stale and disreputably stupid, and which the ingenuity of the players contrives to instill with life. With a sense of shame indeed does he reflect that because one day long ago he was struck with a preposterous idea, here are honest folk depending on it to earn daily bread and travelling on a rainy day on a local train on the Central New England Railway; here are 800 people in Saratoga Springs filing into a theatre with naive expectation on their faces. Amusing things happen faster than he can stay to count them. A fire breaks out in a cigar store a few minutes before theatre time. It is extinguished immediately, but half the town has rushed down to see the excitement. The cigar store is almost next door to the theatre, and the crowd sees the lighted sign and drops in to give the show the once-over, thus giving one a capacity house. Then there are the amusing accidents that happen on the stage, due to the inevitable confusion of one-night stands with long jumps each day, when scenery and props arrive at the theatre barely in time to be set up. In the third act one of the characters has to take his trousers out of a handbag. He opens the bag, but by some error no garments are within. Heavens! has the stage manager mixed up the bags? He has only one hope. The girlish heroine's luggage is also on the stage, and our comedian dashes over and finds his trousers in her bag. This casts a most sinister imputation on the adorable heroine, but our friend (blessings on him) contrives it so delicately that the audience doesn't get wise. Then doors that are supposed to be locked have a habit of swinging open, and the luckless heroine, ready to say furiously to the hero, "Will you unlock the door?" finds herself facing an open doorway and has to invent a line to get herself off the stage.
Going on the road is a very humanizing experience and one gathers a considerable respect for the small towns one visits. They are so brisk, so proud in their local achievements, so prosperous and so full of attractive shop-windows. When one finds in Johnstown, N. Y., for instance, a bookshop with almost as well-assorted a stock as one would see here in Philadelphia; or in Gloversville and Newburgh public libraries that would be a credit to any large city, one realizes the great tide of public intelligence that has risen perceptibly in recent years. At the hotel in Gloversville the proprietress assured us that "an English duke" had just left who told her that he preferred her hotel to the Biltmore in New York. We rather wondered about this English duke, but we looked him up on the register and found that he was Sir H. Urnick of Fownes Brothers, the glove manufacturers, who have a factory in Gloversville. But then, being a glove manufacturer, he may have been kidding her, as the low comedian of our troupe observed. But the local pride of the small town is a genial thing. It may always be noted in the barber shops. The small-town barber knows his customers and when a strange face appears to be shaved on the afternoon when the bills are announcing a play, he puts two and two together. "Are you with that show?" he asks; and being answered in the affirmative (one naturally would not admit that one is merely there in the frugal capacity of co-author, and hopes that he will imagine that such a face might conceivably belong to the low comedian) he proceeds to expound the favourite doctrine that this is a wise burg. "Yes," he says, "folks here are pretty cagy. If your show can get by here you needn't worry about New York. Believe me, if you get a hand here you can go right down to Broadway. I always take in the shows, and I've heard lots of actors say this town is harder to please than any place they ever played."
One gets a new viewpoint on many matters by a week of one-night stands. Theatrical billboards, for instance. We had always thought, in a vague kind of way, that they were a defacement to a town and cluttered up blank spaces in an unseemly way. But when you are trouping, the first thing you do, after registering at the hotel, is to go out and scout round the town yearning for billboards and complaining because there aren't enough of them. You meet another member of the company on the same errand and say, "I don't see much paper out," this being the technical phrase. You both agree that the advance agent must be loafing. Then you set out to see what opposition you are playing against, and emit groans on learning that "The Million Dollar Doll in Paris" is also in town, or "Harry Bulger's Girly Show" will be there the following evening, or Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties in Person. "That's the kind of stuff they fall for," said the other author mournfully, and you hustle around to the box office to see whether the ticket rack is still full of unsold pasteboard.
At this time of year, when all the metropolitan theatres are crowded and there are some thirty plays cruising round in the offing waiting for a chance to get into New York and praying that some show now there will "flop," one crosses the trail of many other wandering troupes that are battering about from town to town. In remote Johnstown, N. Y., which can only be reached by trolley and where there is no hotel (but a very fine large theatre) one finds that Miss Grace George is to be the next attraction. On the train to Saratoga one rides on the same train with the Million Dollar Doll, and those who have seen her "paper" on the billboards in Newburgh or Poughkeepsie keep an attentive optic open for the lady herself to see how nearly she lives up to her lithographs. And if the passerby should see a lighted window in the hotel glimmering at two in the morning, he will probably aver that there are some of those light-hearted "show people" carousing over a flagon of Virginia Dare. Little does he suspect that long after the tranquil thespians have gone to their well-earned hay, the miserable authors of the trying-out piece may be vigiling together, trying to dope out a new scene for the third act. The saying is not new, but it comes frequently to the lips of the one-night stander—It's a great life if you don't weaken.
THE OWL TRAIN
Across the cold moonlit landscapes, while good folk are at home curling their toes in the warm bottom of the bed, the Owl trains rumble with a gentle drone, neither fast nor slow.
There are several Owl trains with which we have been familiar. One, rather aristocratic of its kind, is the caravan of sleeping cars that leaves New York at midnight and deposits hustling business men of the most aggressive type at the South Station, Boston. After a dissolute progress full of incredible jerks and jolts these pilgrims reach this dampest, darkest, and most Arctic of all terminals about the time the morning codfish begins to warm his bosom on the gridirons of the sacred city. Another, a terrible nocturnal prowler, slips darkly away from Albany about 1 A. M., and rambles disconsolately and with shrill wailings along the West Shore line. Below the grim Palisades of the Hudson it wakes painful echoes. Its first six units, as far as one can see in the dark, are blind express cars, containing milk cans and coffins. We once boarded it at Kingston, and after uneasy slumber across two facing seats found ourself impaled upon Weehawken three hours later. There one treads dubiously upon a ferryboat in the fog and brume of dawn, ungluing eyelids in the bleak dividing pressure of the river breeze.
But the Owl train we propose to celebrate is the vehicle that departs modestly from the crypt of the Pennsylvania Station in New York at half-past midnight and emits blood-shot wanderers at West Philadelphia at 3:16 in the morning. The railroad company, which thinks these problems out with nice care, lulls the passengers into unconsciousness of their woes not only by a gentle and even gait, a progress almost tender in its carefully modulated repression of speed, but also by keeping the cars at such an amazing heat that the victims promptly fade into a swoon. Nowhere will you see a more complete abandonment to the wild postures of fatigue and despair than in the pathetic sprawl of these human forms upon the simmering plush settees. A hot eddy of some varnish-tinctured vapour—certainly not air—rises from under the seats and wraps the traveller in a nightmarish trance. Occasionally he starts wildly from his dream and glares frightfully through the misted pane. It is the custom of the trainmen, who tiptoe softly through the cars, never to disturb their clients by calling out the names of stations. When New Brunswick is reached many think that they have arrived at West Philadelphia, or (worse still) have been carried on to Wilmington. They rush desperately to the bracing chill of the platform to learn where they are. There is a mood of mystery about this Owl of ours. The trainmen take a quaint delight in keeping the actual whereabouts of the caravan a merciful secret.
Oddly assorted people appear on this train. Occasional haughty revellers, in evening dress and opera capes, appear among the humbler voyagers. For a time they stay on their dignity: sit bravely upright and talk with apparent intelligence. Then the drowsy poison of that stifled atmosphere overcomes them, too, and they fall into the weakness of their brethren. They turn over the opposing seat, elevate their nobler shins, and droop languid heads over the ticklish plush chair-back. Strange aliens lie spread over the seats. Nowhere will you see so many faces of curious foreign carving. It seems as though many desperate exiles, who never travel by day, use the Owl for moving obscurely from city to city. This particular train is bound south to Washington, and at least half its tenants are citizens of colour. Even the endless gayety of our dusky brother is not proof against the venomous exhaustion of that boxed-in suffocation. The ladies of his race are comfortably prepared for the hardships of the route. They wrap themselves in huge fur coats and all have sofa cushions to recline on. Even in an all-night session of Congress you will hardly note so complete an abandonment of disillusion, weariness, and cynical despair as is written upon the blank faces all down the aisle. Even the will-power of a George Creel or a Will H. Hays would droop before this three-hour ordeal. Professor Einstein, who talks so delightfully of discarding Time and Space, might here reconsider his theories if he brooded, baking gradually upward, on the hot green plush.
This genial Owl is not supposed to stop at North Philadelphia, but it always does. By this time Philadelphia passengers are awake and gathered in the cold vestibules, panting for escape. Some of them, against the rules of the train, manage to escape on the North Philadelphia platform. The rest, standing huddled over the swaying couplings, find the leisurely transit to West Philadelphia as long as the other segments of the ride put together. Stoically, and beyond the power of words, they lean on one another. At last the train slides down a grade. In the dark and picturesque tunnel of the West Philadelphia station, through thick mists of steam where the glow of the fire box paints the fog a golden rose, they grope and find the ancient stairs. Then they stagger off to seek a lonely car or a night-hawk taxi.
Ligature of infancy, healing engine of emergency, base and mainstay of our civilization—we celebrate the safety pin.
What would we do without safety pins? Is it not odd to think, looking about us on our fellowmen (bearded realtors, ejaculating poets, plump and ruddy policemen, even the cheerful dusky creature who runs the elevator and whistles "Oh, What a Pal Was Mary" as the clock draws near 6 P. M.)—all these were first housed and swaddled and made seemly with a paper of safety pins. How is it that the inventor who first conferred this great gift on the world is not known by name for the admiration and applause of posterity? Was it not the safety pin that made the world safe for infancy?
There will be some, mayhap, to set up the button as rival to the safety pin in service to humanity. But our homage bends toward the former. Not only was it our shield and buckler when we were too puny and impish to help ourselves, but it is also (now we are parent) symbol of many a hard-fought field, where we have campaigned all over the white counterpane of a large bed to establish an urchin in his proper gear, while he kicked and scrambled, witless of our dismay. It is fortunate, pardee, that human memory does not extend backward to the safety pin era—happily the recording carbon sheet of the mind is not inserted on the roller of experience until after the singular humiliations of earliest childhood have passed. Otherwise our first recollection would doubtless be of the grimly flushed large face of a resolute parent, bending hotly downward in effort to make both ends meet while we wambled and waggled in innocent, maddening sport. In those days when life was (as George Herbert puts it) "assorted sorrows, anguish of all sizes," the safety pin was the only thing that raised us above the bandar-log. No wonder the antique schoolmen used to enjoy computing the number of angels that might dance on the point of a pin. But only archangels would be worthy to pirouette on a safety pin, which is indeed mightier than the sword. When Adam delved and Eve did spin, what did they do for a safety pin?
Great is the stride when an infant passes from the safety pin period to the age of buttons. There are three ages of human beings in this matter: (1) Safety pins, (2) Buttons, (3) Studs, or (for females) Hooks and Eyes. Now there is an interim in the life of man when he passes away from safety pins, and, for a season, knows them not—save as mere convenience in case of breakdown. He thinks of them, in his antic bachelor years, as merely the wrecking train of the sartorial system, a casual conjunction for pyjamas, or an impromptu hoist for small clothes. Ah! with humility and gratitude he greets them again later, seeing them at their true worth, the symbol of integration for the whole social fabric. Women, with their intuitive wisdom, are more subtle in this subject. They never wholly outgrow safety pins, and though they love to ornament them with jewellery, precious metal, and enamels, they are naught but safety pins after all. Some ingenious philosopher could write a full tractate on woman in her relation to pins—hairpins, clothes pins, rolling pins, hatpins.
Only a bachelor, as we have implied, scoffs at pins. Hamlet remarked, after seeing the ghost, and not having any Sir Oliver Lodge handy to reassure him, that he did not value his life at a pin's fee. Pope, we believe, coined the contemptuous phrase, "I care not a pin." The pin has never been done justice in the world of poetry. As one might say, the pin has had no Pindar. Of course there is the old saw about see a pin and pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck. This couplet, barbarous as it is in its false rhyme, points (as Mother Goose generally does) to a profound truth. When you see a pin, you must pick it up. In other words, it is on the floor, where pins generally are. Their instinctive affinity for terra firma makes one wonder why they, rather than the apple, did not suggest the law of gravitation to someone long before Newton.
Incidentally, of course, the reason why Adam and Eve were forbidden to pick the apple was that it was supposed to stay on the tree until it fell, and Adam would then have had the credit of spotting the principle of gravitation.
Much more might be said about pins, touching upon their curious capacity for disappearing, superstitions concerning them, usefulness of hatpins or hairpins as pipe-cleaners, usefulness of pins to schoolboys, both when bent for fishing and when filed to an extra point for use on the boy in the seat in front (honouring him in the breech, as Hamlet would have said) and their curious habits of turning up in unexpected places, undoubtedly caught by pins in their long association with the lovelier sex. But of these useful hyphens of raiment we will merely conclude by saying that those interested in the pin industry will probably emigrate to England, for we learn from the Encyclopaedia Britannica that in that happy island pins are cleaned by being boiled in weak beer. Let it not be forgotten, however, that of all kinds, the safety is the King Pin.
CONFESSIONS OF A "COLYUMIST"
I can not imagine any pleasant job so full of pangs, or any painful job so full of pleasures, as the task of conducting a newspaper column.
The colyumist, when he begins his job, is disheartened because nobody notices it. He soon outgrows this, and is disheartened because too many people notice it, and he imagines that all see the paltriness of it as plainly as he does. There is nothing so amazing to him as to find that any one really enjoys his "stuff." Poor soul, he remembers how he groaned over it at his desk. He remembers the hours he sat with lack-lustre eye and addled brain, brooding at the sluttish typewriter. He remembers the flush of shame that tingled him as he walked sadly homeward, thinking of some atrocious inanity he had sent upstairs to the composing-room. It is a job that engenders a healthy humility.
I had always wanted to have a try at writing a column. Heaven help me, I think I had an idea that I was born for the job. I may as well be candid. There was a time when I seriously thought of inserting the following ad in a Philadelphia newspaper. I find a memorandum of it in my scrap-book:
HUMORIST: Young and untamed, lineal descendent of Eugene Field, Frank Stockton, and Francois Rabelais, desires to run a column in a Philadelphia newspaper. A guaranteed circulation-getter.
Said Humorist can also supply excellent veins of philosophy, poetry, satire, uplift, glad material and indiscriminate musings. Remarkable opportunity for any newspaper desiring a really unusual editorial feature. Address HUMORIST, etc.
So besotted was I, I would have paid to have this printed if I had not been counselled by an older and wiser head.
I instance this to show that the colyumist is likely to begin his job with the conception that it is to be a perpetual uproar of mirth and high spirits. This lasts about a week. He then learns, in secret, to take it rather seriously. He has to deal with the most elusive and grotesque material he knows—his own mind; and the unhappy creature, everlastingly probing himself in the hope of discovering what is so rare in minds (a thought), is likely to end in a ferment of bitterness. The happiest times in life are when one can just live along and enjoy things as they happen. If you have to be endlessly speculating, watching, and making mental notes, your brain-gears soon get a hot box. The original of all paragraphers—Ecclesiastes—came very near ending as a complete cynic; though in what F. P. A. would call his "lastline," he managed to wriggle into a more hopeful mood.
The first valuable discovery that the colyumist is likely to make is that all minds are very much the same. The doctors tell us that all patent medicines are built on a stock formula—a sedative, a purge, and a bitter. If you are to make steady column-topers out of your readers, your daily dose must, as far as possible, average up to that same prescription. If you employ the purge all the time, or the sedative, or the acid, your clients will soon ask for something with another label.
Don Marquis once wrote an admirable little poem called "A Colyumist's Prayer." Mr. Marquis, who is the king of all colyumists, realizes that there is what one may call a religious side in colyumizing. It is hard to get the colyumist to admit this, for he fears spoofing worse than the devil; but it is eminently true. If I were the owner of a newspaper, I think I would have painted up on the wall of the local room the following words from Isaiah, the best of all watchwords for all who write:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
The most painful privilege of the colyumist's job is the number of people who drop in to see him, usually when he is imprecating his way toward the hour of going to press. This is all a part of the great and salutary human instinct against work. When people see a man toiling, they have an irresistible impulse to crowd round and stop him. They seem to imagine that he has been put there on purpose to help them solve their problems, to find a job for their friend from Harrisburg, or to tell them how to find a publisher for their poems. Unhappily, their victim being merely human, is likely to grow a bit snappish under infliction. Yet now and then he gets a glimpse into a human vexation so sincere, so honest, and so moving that he turns away from the typewriter with a sigh. He wonders how one dare approach the chronicling of this muddled panorama with anything but humility and despair. Frank Harris once said of Oscar Wilde: "If England insists on treating her criminals like this, she doesn't deserve to have any." Similarly, if the public insists on bringing its woes to its colyumists, it doesn't deserve to have any colyumists. Then the battered jester turns again to his machine and ticks off something like this:
We have heard of ladies who have been tempted beyond their strength. We have also seen some who have been strengthened beyond their temptation.
Of course there are good days, too. (This is not one of them.) Days when the whole course of the news seems planned for the benefit of the chaffish and irreverent commentator. When Governor Hobby of Texas issues a call for the state cavalry. When one of your clients drops in, in the goodness of his heart, to give you his own definition of a pessimist—a pessimist, he says, is a man who wears both belt and suspenders. When a big jewellery firm in the city puts out a large ad—
Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company Watches for Women Of Superior Design and Perfection of Movement
all that one needs to do to that is to write over it the caption
SO DO WE ALL
and pass on to the next paragraph.
The more a colyumist is out on the streets, making himself the reporter of the moods and oddities of men, the better his stuff will be. It seems to me that his job ought to be good training for a novelist, as it teaches him a habit of human sensitiveness. He becomes filled with an extraordinary curiosity about the motives and purposes of the people he sees. The other afternoon I was very much struck by the unconscious pathos of a little, gentle-eyed old man who was standing on Chestnut Street studying a pocket notebook. His umbrella leaned against a shop-window, on the sill of which he had laid a carefully rolled-up newspaper. By his feet was a neat leather brief-case, plumply filled with contents not discernible. There he stood (a sort of unsuccessful Cyrus Curtis), very diminutive, his gray hair rather long abaft his neck, his yellowish straw hat (with curly brim) tilted backward as though in perplexity, his timid and absorbed blue eyes poring over his memorandum-book which was full of pencilled notes. He had a slightly unkempt, brief beard and whiskers, his cheek-bones pinkish, his linen a little frayed. There was something strangely pathetic about him, and I would have given much to have been able to speak to him. I halted at a window farther down the street and studied him; then returned to pass him again, and watched him patiently. He stood quite absorbed, and was still there when I went on.
That is just one of the thousands of vivid little pictures one sees on the city streets day by day. To catch some hint of the meaning of all this, to present a few scrawled notes of the amazing interest and colour of the city's life, this is the colyumist's task as I see it. It is a task not a whit less worthy, less painful, or less baffling than that of the most conscientious novelist. And it is carried on in surroundings of extraordinary stimulation and difficulty. It is heart-racking to struggle day by day, amid incessant interruption and melee, to snatch out of the hurly-burly some shreds of humour or pathos or (dare one say?) beauty, and phrase them intelligibly.
But it is fun. One never buys a package of tobacco, crosses a city square, enters a trolley car or studies a shop-window without trying, in a baffled, hopeless way, to peer through the frontage of the experience, to find some glimmer of the thoughts, emotions, and meanings behind. And in the long run such a habit of inquiry must bear fruit in understanding and sympathy. Joseph Conrad (who seems, by the way, to be more read by newspaper men than any other writer) put very nobly the pinnacle of all scribblers' dreams when he said that human affairs deserve the tribute of "a sigh which is not a sob, a smile which is not a grin."
So much, with apology, for the ideals of the colyumist, if he be permitted to speak truth without fear of mockery. Of course in the actual process and travail of his job you will find him far different. You may know him by a sunken, brooding eye; clothing marred by much tobacco, and a chafed and tetchy humour toward the hour of five P. M. Having bitterly schooled himself to see men as paragraphs walking, he finds that his most august musings have a habit of stewing themselves down to some ferocious or jocular three-line comment. He may yearn desperately to compose a really thrilling poem that will speak his passionate soul; to churn up from the typewriter some lyric that will rock with blue seas and frantic hearts; he finds himself allaying the frenzy with some jovial sneer at Henry Ford or a yell about the High Cost of Living. Poor soul, he is like one condemned to harangue the vast, idiotic world through a keyhole, whence his anguish issues thin and faint. Yet who will say that all his labour is wholly vain? Perhaps some day the government will crown a Colyumist Laureate, some majestic sage with ancient patient blue eyes and a snowy beard nobly stained with nicotine, whose utterances will be heeded with shuddering respect. All minor colyumists will wear robes and sandals; they will be an order of scoffing friars; people will run to them on crowded streets to lay before them the sorrows and absurdities of men. And in that day
The meanest paragraph that blows will give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for sneers.
Man, we suspect, is the only animal capable of persuading himself that his hardships are medicine to the soul, of flattering himself into a conviction that some mortal spasm was a fortifying discipline.
Having just moved our household goods for the fourth time in four years, we now find ourself in the singular state of trying to believe that the horrors of the event have added to our supply of spiritual resignation. Well, let us see.
The brutal task of taking one's home on trek is (we can argue) a stirring tonic, a kind of private rehearsal of the Last Judgment, when the sheep shall be divided from the shoats. What could be a more convincing reminder of the instability of man's affairs than the harrowing upheaval of our cherished properties? Those dark angels, the moving men, how heartless they seem in their brisk and resolute dispassion—yet how exactly they prefigure the implacable sternness of the ultimate shepherds. A strange life is theirs, taking them day after day into the bosom of homes prostrated by the emigrating throe. Does this matter-of-fact bearing conceal an infinite tenderness, a pity that dare not show itself for fear of unmanly collapse? Are they secretly broken by the sight of the desolate nursery, the dismantled crib, the forgotten clockwork monkey lying in a corner of the cupboard where the helpless Urchin laid it with care before he and his smaller sister were deported, to be out of the way in the final storm? Does the o'ermastering pathos of a modest household turned inside out, its tender vitals displayed to the passing world, wring their breasts? Stoic men, if so, they well conceal their pangs.
They have one hopelessly at a disadvantage. In the interval that always elapses before the arrival of the second van, there is a little social chat and utterance of reminiscences. There is a lively snapping of matchheads on thumbnails, and seated at ease in the debris of the dismantled living room our friends will tell of the splendour of some households they have moved before. The thirty-eight barrels of gilt porcelain, the twenty cases of oil paintings, the satin-wood grand piano that their spines twinge to recall. Once our furnitures were moved by a crew of lusty athletes who had previously done the same for Mr. Ivy Lee, and while we sat in shamed silence we heard the tale of Mr. Lee's noble possessions. Of what avail would it have been for us to protest that we love our stuff as much as Mr. Lee did his? No, we had a horrid impulse to cry apology, and beg them to hurl the things into the van anyhow, just to end the agony.
This interval of social chat being prolonged by the blizzard, the talk is likely to take a more ominous turn. We are told how, only last week, a sister van was hit by a train at a crossing and carried a hundred yards on the engine pilot. Two of the men were killed, though one of these lived from eleven o'clock Saturday morning until eleven o'clock Monday night. How, after hearing this, can one ask what happened to the furniture, even if one is indecent enough to think of it? Then one learns of another of the fleet, stalled in a drift on the way to Harrisburg, and hasn't been heard from for forty-eight hours. Sitting in subdued silence, one remembers something about "moving accidents by flood and field," and thanks fortune that these pitiful oddments are only going to a storage warehouse, not to be transported thence until the kindly season of spring.
But packing for storage instead of for moving implies subtler and more painful anguishes. Here indeed we have a tonic for the soul, for election must be made among one's belongings: which are to be stored, and which to accompany? Take the subject of books for instance. Horrid hesitation: can we subsist for four or five months on nothing but the "Oxford Book of English Verse" and Boswell's Johnson? Suppose we want to look up a quotation, in those late hours of the night when all really worthwhile reading is done? Our memory is knitted with a wide mesh. Suppose we want to be sure just what it was that Shakespeare said happened to him in his "sessions of sweet silent thought," what are we going to do? We will have to fall back on the customary recourse of the minor poet—if you can't remember one of Shakespeare's sonnets, at least you can write one of your own instead. Speaking of literature, it is a curious thing that the essayists have so neglected this topic of moving. It would be pleasant to know how the good and the great have faced this peculiarly terrible crisis of domestic affairs. When the Bard himself moved back to Stratford after his years in London, what did he think about it? How did he get all his papers packed up, and did he, in mere weariness, destroy the half-done manuscripts of plays? Charles Lamb moved round London a good deal; did he never write of his experience? We like to think of Emerson: did he ever move, and if so, how did he behave when the fatal day came? Did he sit on a packing case and utter sepulchral aphorisms? Think of Lord Bacon and how he would have crystallized the matter in a phrase.
Of course in bachelor days moving may be a huge lark, a humorous escapade. We remember some high-spirited young men, three of them, who were moving their chattels from rooms on Twenty-first Street to a flat on Irving Place. Frugality was their necessary watchword, and they hired a pushcart in which to transport the dunnage. It was necessary to do this on Sunday, and one of the trio, more sensitive than the others, begged that they should rise and accomplish the public shame early in the morning, before the streets were alive. In particular, he begged, let the route be chosen to avoid a certain club on Gramercy Park where he had many friends, and where he was loath to be seen pushing his humble intimacies. The others, scenting sport, and brazenly hardy of spirit, contrived to delay the start on one pretext or another until the middle of the forenoon. Then, by main force, ignoring his bitter protest, they impelled the staggering vehicle, grossly overloaded, past the very door of the club my friend had wished to avoid. Here, by malicious inspiration, they tilted the wain to one side and strewed the paving with their property. They skipped nimbly round the corner, and with highly satisfactory laughter watched their blushing partner labouring dismally to collect the fragments. Some of his friends issuing from the club lent a hand, and the joy of the conspirators was complete.
But to the family man, moving is no such airy picnic. Sadly he goes through the last dismal rites and sees the modest fragments of his dominion hustled toward the cold sepulture of a motor van. Before the toughened bearing of the hirelings he doubts what manner to assume. Shall he stand at the front door and exhort them to particular care with each sentimental item, crying "Be careful with that little chair; that's the one the Urchin uses when he eats his evening prunes!" Or shall he adopt a gruesome sarcasm, hoping to awe them by conveying the impression that even if the whole van should be splintered in collision, he can get more at the nearest department store? Whatever policy he adopts, they will not be much impressed. For, when we handed our gratuity, not an ungenerous one, to the driver, asking him to divide it among the gang, we were startled to hear them burst into loud screams of mirth. We asked, grimly, the cause. It appeared that during the work one of our friends, apparently despairing of any pourboire appropriate to his own conceptions of reward, had sold his share of the tip to the driver for fifteen cents. We are not going to say how much he lost by so doing. But this gamble put the driver in such a good humour that we believe he will keep away from railroad crossings.
All day long you see them stand thigh-deep in the surf, fishing. Up on the beach each one has a large basket containing clams for bait, extra hooks and leaders, a little can of oil for the reel, and any particular doo-dads dear to the heart of the individual fisherman. And an old newspaper, all ready to protect the anticipated catch from the rays of the sun.
Some of them wear bathing suits; others rubber hip-boots, or simply old clothes that won't mind getting wet. If they are very full of swank they will have a leather belt with a socket to hold the butt of the rod. Every now and then you will see them pacing backward up the beach, reeling in the line. They will mutter something about a big strike that time, and he got away with the bait. With zealous care they spear some more clam on the hook, twisting it over and over the barb so as to be firmly impaled. Then, with careful precision, they fling the line with its heavy pyramid sinker far out beyond the line of breakers.
There they stand. What do they think about, one wonders? But what does any one think about when fishing? That is one of the happy pastimes that don't require much thinking. The long ridges of surf crumble about their knees and the sun and keen vital air lull them into a cheerful drowse of the faculties. Do they speculate on the never-ending fascination of the leaning walls of water, the rhythmical melody of the rasp and hiss of the water? Do they watch that indescribable beauty of the breaking wave, a sight as old as humankind and yet never so described that one who has not seen it could picture it?
The wave gathers height and speed as it moves toward the sand. It seems to pull itself together for the last plunge. The first wave that ever rolled up to a beach probably didn't break. It just slid. It was only the second wave that broke—curled over in that curious way. For our theory—which may be entirely wrong—is that the breaking is due to the undertow of previous waves. After a wave sprawls up on the beach, it runs swiftly back. This receding undercurrent—you can feel it very strongly if you are swimming just in front of a large wave about to break—digs in beneath the advancing hill of water. It cuts away the foundations of that hill, which naturally topples over at the crest.
The wave of water leans and hangs for a delaying instant. The actual cascade may begin at one end and run along the length of the ridge; it may begin at both ends and twirl inward, meeting in the middle; it may (but very rarely) begin in the middle and work outward. As the billow is at its height, before it combs over, the fisherman sees the sunlight gleaming through it—an ecstasy of perfect lucid green, with the glimmer of yellow sand behind. Then, for a brief moment—so brief that the details can never be memorized—he sees a clear crystal screen of water falling forward. Another instant, and it is all a boil of snowy suds seething about his legs. He may watch it a thousand times, a million times; it will never be old, never wholly familiar. Colour varies from hour to hour, from day to day. Sometimes blue or violet, sometimes green-olive or gray. The backwash tugs at his boots, hollowing out little channels under his feet. The sun wraps him round like a mantle; the salt crusts and thickens in his hair. And then, when he has forgotten everything save the rhythm of the falling waves, there comes a sudden tug——
He reels in, and a few curious bathers stand still in the surf to see what he has got. They are inclined to be scornful. It is such a little fish! One would think that such a vast body of water would be ashamed to yield only so small a prize. Never mind. He has compensations they wot not of. Moreover—although he would hardly admit it himself—the fishing business is only a pretext. How else could a grown man with grizzled hair have an excuse to stand all day paddling in the surf?
Once in a while, when the name of R. L. S. is mentioned in conversation, someone says to us: "Ah well, you're one of the Stevenson idolators, aren't you?" And this is said with a curious air of cynical superiority, as of one who has experienced all these things and is superbly tolerant of the shallow mind that can still admire Tusitala. His work (such people will generally tell you) was brilliant but "artificial" ... and for the true certificated milk of the word one must come along to such modern giants as Dreiser and Hergesheimer and Cabell. For these artists, each in his due place, we have only the most genial respect. But when the passion of our youth is impugned as "idolatry" we feel in our spirit an intense weariness. We feel the pacifism of the wise and secretive mind that remains tacit when its most perfect inward certainties are assailed. One does not argue, for there are certain things not arguable. One shrugs. After all, what human gesture more eloquent (or more satisfying to the performer) than the shrug?
There is a little village on the skirts of the Forest of Fontainebleau (heavenly region of springtime and romance!) where the crystal-green eddies of the Loing slip under an old gray bridge with sharp angled piers of stone. Near the bridge is a quiet little inn, one of the many happy places in that country long frequented by artists for painting and "villegiature." Behind the inn is a garden beside the river-bank. The salle a manger, as in so many of those inns at Barbizon, Moret, and the other Fontainebleau villages, is panelled and frescoed with humorous and high-spirited impromptus done by visiting painters.
In the summer of 1876 an anxious rumour passed among the artist colonies. It was said that an American lady and her two children had arrived at Grez, and the young bohemians who regarded this region as their own sacred retreat were startled and alarmed. Were their chosen haunts to be invaded by tourists—and tourists of the disturbing sex? Among three happy irresponsibles this humorous anxiety was particularly acute. One of the trio was sent over to Grez as a scout, to spy out the situation and report. The emissary went, and failed to return. A second explorer was dispatched to study the problem. He, too, was swallowed up in silence. The third, impatiently waiting tidings from his faithless friends, set out to make an end of this mystery. He reached the inn at dusk: it was a gentle summer evening; the windows were open to the tender air; lamps were lit within, and a merry party sat at dinner. Through the open window the suspicious venturer saw the recreant ambassadors, gay with laughter. And there, sitting in the lamplight, was the American lady—a slender, thoughtful enchantress with eyes as dark and glowing as the wine. Thus it was that Robert Louis Stevenson first saw Fanny Osbourne.
A few days later Mrs. Osbourne's eighteen-year-old daughter Isobel wrote in a letter: "There is a young Scotchman here, a Mr. Stevenson. He is such a nice-looking ugly man, and I would rather listen to him talk than read the most interesting book.... Mama is ever so much better and is getting prettier every day."
"The Life of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson," written by her sister Mrs. Sanchez (the mother of "little Louis Sanchez on the beach at Monterey" remembered by lovers of "A Child's Garden of Verses") is a book that none of the so-called idolaters will want to overlook. The romantic excitements of R. L. S.'s youth were tame indeed compared to those of Fanny Van de Grift. R. L. S. had been thrilled enough by a few nights spent in the dark with the docile ass of the Cevennes; but here was one, sprung from sober Philadelphia blood, born in Indianapolis and baptized by Henry Ward Beecher, who had pioneered across the fabled Isthmus, lived in the roaring mining camps of Nevada, worked for a dressmaker in Frisco, and venturously taken her young children to Belgium and France to study art. She had been married at seventeen, had already once thought herself to be a widow in fact by the temporary disappearance of her first husband; and was now, after enduring repeated infidelities, prepared to make herself a widow in law. Daring horse woman, a good shot, a supreme cook, artist, writer, and a very Gene Stratton Porter among flowers, fearless, beautiful, and of unique charm—where could another woman have been found so marvellously gifted to be the wife of a romancer? It seems odd that Philadelphia and Edinburgh, the two most conservatively minded cities of the Anglo-Saxon earth, should have combined to produce this, the most radiant pair of adventurers in our recent annals.
The reading of this delightful book has taken us back into the very pang and felicity of our first great passion—our idolatry, if you will—which we are proud here and now to re-avow. When was there ever a happier or more wholesome worship for a boy than the Stevenson mania on which so many of this generation grew up? We were the luckier in that our zeal was shared in all its gusto and particularity by a lean, long-legged, sallow-faced, brown-eyed eccentric (himself incredibly Stevensonian in appearance) with whom we lay afield in our later teens, reading R. L. S. aloud by the banks of a small stream which we vowed should become famous in the world of letters. And so it has, though not by our efforts, which was what we had designed; for at the crystal headwater of that same creek was penned "The Amenities of Book Collecting," that enchanting volume of bookish essays which has swelled the correspondence of a Philadelphia business man to insane proportions, and even brought him offers from three newspapers to conduct a book page. It seems appropriate to the present chronicler that in a quiet library overlooking the clear fount and origin of dear Darby Creek there are several of the most cherished association volumes of R. L. S.—we think particularly of the "Child's Garden of Verses" which he gave to Cummy, and the manuscript of little "Smoutie's" very first book, the "History of Moses."
* * * * *
Was there ever a more joyous covenant of affection than that of Mifflin McGill and ourself in our boyish madness for Tusitala? It is a happy circumstance, we say, for a youth, before the multiplying responsibilities of maturity press upon him, to pour out his enthusiasm in an obsession such as that; and when this passion can be shared and doubled and knitted in partnership with an equally freakish, insane, and innocent idiot (such as our generously mad friend Mifflin) admirable adventures are sure to follow. The quest begun on Darby Creek took us later on an all-summer progress among places in England and Scotland hallowed to us by association with R. L. S. Never, in any young lives past or to come, could there be an instant of purer excitement and glory than when, after bicycling hotly all day with the blue outline of Arthur's Seat apparently always receding before us, we trundled grimly into Auld Reekie and set out for the old Stevenson home at 17 Heriot Row, halting only to bestow our pneumatic steeds in the nearest and humblest available hostelry. There (for we found the house empty and "To Let") we sat on the doorstep evening by evening, smoking in the long northern twilight and spinning our youthful dreams. This lust for hunting out our favourite author's footsteps even led one of the pair to a place perhaps never visited by any other Stevensonian pilgrim—old Cockfield Rectory, in Suffolk, where Mrs. Sitwell and Sidney Colvin first met the bright-eyed Scotch boy in 1873. The tracker of footprints remembers how kind were the then occupants of the old rectory, and how, in a daze of awe, he trod the green and tranquil lawn and hastened to visit a cottage near by where there was an ancient rustic who had been coachman at the rectory when R. L. S. stayed there, fabled to retain some pithy recollection. Alas, the Suffolk ancient, eager enough to share tobacco and speech, would only mull over his memories of a previous rector, describing how it had fallen to him to prepare the good man for burial; how he smiled in death and his cheeks were as rosy as a babe's.
It would take many pages to narrate all the bypaths and happy excursions trod by these simple youths in their quest of the immortal Louis. The memories come bustling, and one knows not where to stop. The supreme adventure, for one of the pair, lay in the kindness of Sir Sidney Colvin. To this prince of gentlemen and scholars one of these lads wrote, sending his letter (with subtle cunning) from a village in Suffolk only a few miles from Sir Sidney's boyhood home. He calculated that this might arouse the interest of Sir Sidney, whom he knew to be cruelly badgered with letters from enthusiasts; and fortune turned in his favour, granting him numerous ecstatic visits to Sir Sidney and Lady Colvin and much unwarranted generosity. But, since our mind has been turned in this direction by Mrs. Sanchez's book, it might be appropriate to add that one of the most thrilling moments in the crusade was a season of April days spent beside the green and stripling Loing, in the forest of Fontainebleau region, visiting those lovely French villages where R. L. S. roamed as a young man, crowned by an afternoon at Grez. One remembers the old gray bridge across the eddying water, and the door of the inn where the young pilgrim lingered, trying to visualize scenes of thirty-five years before.
It is not mere idolatry when the hearts of the young are haunted by such spells. There was some real divinity behind the enchantment, some marvellous essence that made all roads Tusitala trod the Road of Loving Hearts. In these matters we would trust the simple Samoans to come nearer the truth than our cynic friend in Greenwich Village. The magic of that great name abides unimpaired.
THE FIRST COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
(Delivered to Cain and Abel, the first graduating class of the Garden of Eden Normal School.)
My young friends—It is a privilege to be permitted to address you this morning, for I am convinced that never in the world's history did the age beckon with so eager a gesture to the young men on the threshold of active life. Never indeed in the past, and certainly never in the future, was there or will there be a time more deeply fraught with significance. And as I gaze upon your keen faces it seems almost as though the world had amassed all the problems that now confront us merely in order to give you tasks worthy of your prowess.
The world, I think I may safely say, is smaller now than ever before. The recent invention of young women, something quite new in the way of a social problem, has introduced a hitherto undreamed-of complexity into human affairs. The extreme rapidity with which ideas and thoughts now circulate, due to the new invention of speech, makes it probable that what is said in Eden to-day will be known in the land of Nod within a year. The greatest need is plainly for big-visioned and purposeful men, efficient men, men with forward-looking minds. I hope you will pattern after your admirable father in this respect; he truly was a forward-looking man, for he had nothing to look back on.
You are aware, however, that your father has had serious problems to deal with, and it is well that you should consider those problems in the light of the experiences you are about to face. One of his most perplexing difficulties would never have come upon him if he had not fallen into a deep sleep. I counsel you, therefore, be wary not to overslumber. The prizes of life always come to those who press resolutely on, undaunted by fatigue and discouragement. Another of your father's failings was probably due to the fact that he was never a small boy and thus had no chance to work the deviltry out of his system. You yourselves have been abundantly blessed in this regard. I think I may say that here, in our Normal Academy, you have had an almost ideal playground to work off those boyish high spirits, to perpetrate those mischievous pranks that the world expects of its young. Remember that you are now going out into the mature work of life, where you will encounter serious problems.
As you wend your way from these accustomed shades into the full glare of public life you will do so, I hope, with the consciousness that the eyes of the world are upon you. The sphere of activity in which you may find yourselves called upon to perform may be restricted, but you will remember that not failure but low aim is base. You will hold a just balance between the conflicting tendencies of radicalism and conservatism. You will endeavour to secure for labour its due share in the profits of labour. You will not be forgetful that all government depends in the last resort on the consent of the governed. These catch words in the full flush of your youth you may be inclined to dismiss as truisms, but I assure you that 10,000 years from now men will be uttering them with the same air of discovery.
It is my great pleasure to confer upon you both the degree of bachelor of arts and to pray that you may never bring discredit upon your alma mater.
THE DOWNFALL OF GEORGE SNIPE
George Snipe was an ardent book-lover, and sat in the smoking car in a state of suspended ecstasy. He had been invited out to Mandrake Park to visit the library of Mr. Genial Girth, the well-known collector of rare autographed books. Devoted amateur of literature as he was, George's humble career rarely brought him into contact with bookish treasures, and a tremulous excitement swam through his brain as he thought of the glories he was about to see. In his devout meditation the train carried him a station beyond his alighting place, and he ran frantically back through the well-groomed suburban countryside in order to reach Mr. Girth's home on time.
They went through the library together. Mr. Girth displayed all his fascinating prizes with generous good nature, and George grew excited. The palms of his hands were clammy with agitation. All round the room, encased in scarlet slip-covers of tooled morocco, on fireproof shelves, were the priceless booty of the collector. Here was Charles Lamb's "Essays of Elia," inscribed by the author to the woman he loved. Here was a copy of "Paradise Lost," signed by John Milton. Here was a "Hamlet" given by Shakespeare to Bacon with the inscription, "Dear Frank, don't you wish you could have written something like this?" Here was the unpublished manuscript of a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here was a note written by Doctor Johnson to the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese, refusing to pay a bill and accusing the tavern-keeper of profiteering. Here were volumes autographed by Goldsmith, Keats, Shelley, Poe, Byron, DeFoe, Swift, Dickens, Thackeray, and all the other great figures of modern literature.
Poor George's agitation became painful. His head buzzed as he surveyed the faded signatures of all these men who had become the living figures of his day-dreams. His eye rolled wildly in its orbit. Just then Mr. Girth was called out of the room, and left George alone among the treasures.
Just at what instant the mania seized him we shall never know. There were a pen and an inkpot on the table, and the frenzied lover of books dipped the quill deep in the dark blue fluid. He ran eagerly to the shelves. The first volume he saw was a copy of "Lorna Doone." In it he wrote "Affectionately yours, R. D. Blackmore." Then came Longfellow's poems. He scrawled "With deep esteem, Henry W. Longfellow" on the flyleaf. Then three volumes of Macaulay's "History of England." In the first he jotted "I have always wanted you to have these admirable books, T. B. M." In "The Mill on the Floss" he wrote "This comes to you still warm from the press, George Eliot." The next book happened to be a copy of Edgar Guest's poems. In this he inscribed "You are the host I love the best, This is my boast, Yours, Edgar Guest." In a copy of Browning's Poems he wrote "To my dear and only wife, Elizabeth, from her devoted Robert." In a pamphlet reprint of the Gettysburg Speech he penned "This is straight stuff, A. Lincoln." But perhaps his most triumphant exploit was signing a copy of the Rubaiyat thus: "This book is given to the Anti-Saloon League of Naishapur by that thorn in their side, O. Khayyam."
By the time the ambulance reached Mr. Girth's home George was completely beyond control. He was taken away screaming because he had not had a chance to autograph a copy of the "Songs of Solomon."
MEDITATIONS OF A BOOKSELLER
(Roger Mifflin loquitur)
I had a pleasant adventure to-day. A free verse poet came in to see me, wanted me to buy some copies of "The Pagan Anthology." I looked over the book, to which he himself had contributed some pieces. I advised him to read Tennyson. I wish you could have seen his face.
If you want to see a really good anthology (I said) have a look at Pearsall Smith's "Treasury of English Prose," just out. The only thing that surprises me is that Mr. Smith didn't include some free verse in it. The best thing about free verse is that it is often awfully good prose.
It's a superb clear night: a milky pallor washed in the blue: a white moon overhead: stars rare but brilliant, one in the south twinkles and flutters like a tiny flower stirred by faint air. The wind is "a cordial of incredible virtue" (Emerson)—sharp and chill, but with a milder tincture. To-day, though brisk and snell on the streets, the sunshine had a lively vigour, a generous quality, a promissory note of the equinox. I felt it from first rising this morning—the old demiurge at work! As I sat in the bathtub (when a man is fifty he may be pardoned for taking a warm bath on winter mornings) my mind fell upon the desire of wandering: it occurred to me that a spread of legs in the vital air would be richly repaid. The windows called me: as soon as shirt and trousers were on, I was at the sill peering out over Gissing Street. Later, even through closed panes, the chink of milk bottles on the pavement below seemed to rise with a clearer, merrier note. Setting out for some tobacco about 8:30, I stopped to study the ice-man's great blocks of silvery translucence, lying along the curb by a big apartment house. "Artificial" ice, I suppose: it was interesting to see, in the meridian of each cake, a kind of silvery fracture or membrane, with the grain of air-bubbles tending outward therefrom—showing, no doubt, if one knew the mechanics of refrigeration, just how the freezing proceeded. Even in so humble a thing as a block of ice are these harmonic and lovely patterns, the seal of Nature's craft, inscrutable, inimitable. I might have made a point of this in talking to that free verse poet. I'm glad I didn't, however: he would have had some tedious reply, convincing to himself. That's the trouble with replies: they are always convincing to the replier. As a friend of mine used to say, one good taciturn deserves another.
I was thinking, as I took a parcel of laundry up to the Chinaman on McFee Street just now, it would be interesting to write a book dealing solely, candidly, exactly, and fully with the events, emotions, and thoughts of just one day in a man's life. If one could do that, in a way to carry conviction, assent, and reality, to convey to the reader's senses a recognition of genuine actual human being, one might claim to be a true artist.
I have found an admirable book for reading in bed—this little anthology of prose, collected by Pearsall Smith. He knows what good prose is, having written some of the daintiest bits of our time in his "Trivia," a book with which I occasionally delight a truly discerning customer. What a fascination there is in good prose—"the cool element of prose" as Milton calls it—a sort of fluid happiness of the mind, unshaken by the violent pangs of great poetry. I am not subtle enough to describe it, but in the steadily cumulating satisfaction of first-class prose there seems to be something that speaks direct to the brain, unmarred by the claims of the senses, the emotions. I meditate much, ignorantly and fumblingly, on the modes and purposes of writing. It is so simple—"Fool!" said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write!"—all that is needful is to tell what happens; and yet how hard it is to summon up that necessary candor. Every time I read great work I see the confirmation of what I grope for. How vivid, straight, and cleanly it seems when done: merely the outward utterance of "what the mind at home, in the spacious circuits of her musing, hath liberty to propose to herself." Let a man's mind depart from his audience; let him have no concern whether to shock or to please. Let him carry no consideration save to utter, with unsparing fidelity, what passes in his own spirit. One can trust the brain to do its part. All that is needed is honourable frankness: not to be ashamed to open our hearts, to speak our privy weakness, our inward exulting. Then the pain and perplexity, or the childish satisfactions, of our daily life are the true material of the writer's art, and that which is sown in weakness may be raised in power. Curious indeed that in this life, brief and precariously enjoyed, men should so set their hearts on building a permanence in words: something to stand, in the lovely stability of ink and leaden types, as our speech out of silence to those who follow on. Indefensible absurdity, and yet the secret and impassioned dream of those who write!
I was about to say that, for the writing of anything truly durable, the first requisite is plenty of silence. Then I recall Dr. Johnson's preface to his Dictionary—"written not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amid inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow."
IF BUYING A MEAL WERE LIKE BUYING A HOUSE
between A. B., an innkeeper, organized and existing under the laws of good cooking, party of the first part, and C. D., party of the second part, witnesseth:
That the said party of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of $1.50, lawful money of the United States, paid by the said party of the second part, does hereby grant and release unto the said C. D., and his heirs, administrators, and assigns forever,
All that certain group, parcels, or allotments of food, viands, or victuals, situate or to be spread, served, and garnished upon the premises of said A. B., shown and known and commonly designed as one square meal, table d'hote, together with the drinking water, napkin, ash tray, finger-bowl and hat-and-coat-hanging privileges or easements appurtenant thereto,
And Together With the rights, privileges, and opportunities (as an easement additionally appurtenant to the meal above nominated) to partake, eat, enjoy, and be nourished upon said victuals, and to call for extra pats, parcels, or portions of butter.
Subject to the following restrictions, to wit: That neither the party of the second part, nor his heirs, executors, or assigns, will feast immoderately upon onions, to the confusion of his neighbours; nor will the said C. D. or his guests smoke any form of tobacco other than cigars and cigarettes, the instrument commonly known as a pipe being offensive to the head waiter (a man of delicate nurture); nor will said party of the second part covet, retain, nor seek to remove any knives, forks, spoons, or other tableware whatsoever; nor is anything said or implied or otherwise intimated in this covenant to be construed as permitting the party of the second part to carry on loud laughter, song, carnival, nor social uproar; nor unnecessarily, further than is tactful for the procurement of expeditious attention, to endear himself to or otherwise cajole, compliment, and ingratiate the waitress.
And Furthermore, that title to said Meal does not pass until the party of the second part has conveyed, of his mansuetude and proper charity, a gratuity, fee, honorarium, lagniappe, pourboire, easement or tip of not less than 15 per cent of the price of said Meal; which easement, while customarily spoken of as a free-will grant or gratuity, is to be constructively regarded as an entail and a necessary encumbrance upon said Meal.
And the said party of the first part covenants with the said party of the second part as follows: That the said C. D. is seized of the said Meal in fee simple, and shall quietly enjoy said Meal subject to the covenants and restrictions and encumbrances hereinbefore set out, subject to the good pleasure of the Head Waiter.
In Witness Whereof these presents are signed,
ADVENTURES IN HIGH FINANCE
There is no way in which one can so surely arouse the suspicions of bankers as by trying to put some money in their hands. We went round to a near-by bank hoping to open an account. As we had formerly dealt with an uptown branch of the same institution, and as the cheque we wanted to deposit bore the name of a quite well-known firm, we thought all would be easy. But no; it seemed that there was no convincing way to identify ourself. Hopefully we pulled out a stack of letters, but these were waved aside. We began to feel more and more as though we had come with some sinister intent. We started to light our pipe, and then it occurred to us that perhaps that would be regarded as the gesture of a hardened cracksman, seeking to appear at his ease. We wondered if, in all our motions, we were betraying the suspicious conduct of the professional embezzler. Perhaps the courteous banker was putting us through some Freudian third degree ... in these days when the workings of the unconscious are so shrewdly canvassed, was there anything abominable in the cellar of our soul which we were giving away without realizing ... had we not thought to ourself, as we entered the door, well, this is a fairly decent cheque to start an account with, but we won't keep our balance anywhere near that figure ... perhaps our Freudian banker had spotted that thought and was sending for a psychological patrol wagon ... well, how could we identify ourself? Did we know any one who had an account in that branch? No.
We thought of a friend of ours who banked at another branch of this bank, not far away. The banker called him up and whispered strangely over the phone. We were asked to take off our hat. Apparently our friend was describing us. We hoped that he was saying "stout" rather than "fat." But it seemed that the corroboration of our friend only increased our host's precaution. Perhaps he thought it was a carefully worked-out con game, in which our friend was a confederate. We signed our name several times, on little cards, with a desperate attempt to appear unconcerned. In spite of our best efforts, we could not help thinking that each time we wrote it we must be looking as though we were trying to remember how we had written it the last time. Still the banker hesitated. Then he called up our friend again. He asked him if he would know our voice over the phone. Our friend said he would. We spoke to our friend, with whom we had eaten lunch a few minutes before. He asked, to identify us, what we had had for lunch. Horrible instant! For a moment we could not remember. The eyes of the banker and his assistant were glittering upon us. Then we spoke glibly enough. "An oyster patty," we said; "two cups of tea, and a rice pudding which we asked for cold, but which was given us hot."
Our friend asserted, to the banker, that we were undeniably us, and indeed the homely particularity of the luncheon items had already made incision in his hardened bosom. He smiled radiantly at us and gave us a cheque book. Then he told us we couldn't draw against our account until the original cheque had passed through the Clearing House, and sent a youth back to the office with us so that we could be unmistakably identified.