Of divers Ingredients, Discreetly Blended & Seasoned
And merrily embellished by WALTER JACK DUNCAN
Printed at Garden City, New York, by Doubleday, Page & Co'y and are to be sold by All Worthy Booksellers, together with Other Works by the Same Author, thus modestly offered to your Attention
Copyright, 1921, by Doubleday, Page & Company
All Rights Reserved, Including That Of Translation Into Foreign Languages, Including The Scandinavian
Copyright, 1910, by Public Ledger Company Copyright, 1920, 1921, by the New York Evening Post, Inc. Copyright, 1920, by the Outlook Company Copyright, 1921, By the Atlantic Monthly Company
Printed at Garden City, N.Y., U.S.A.
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BOOKS BY CHRISTOPHER MORLEY
PARNASSUS ON WHEELS THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP SHANDYGAFF MINCE PIE PIPEFULS KATHLEEN TALES FROM A ROLLTOP DESK SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE THE ROCKING HORSE HIDE AND SEEK CHIMNEYSMOKE TRAVELS IN PHILADELPHIA PLUM PUDDING
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THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO
DAVID WILLIAM BONE DON MARQUIS SIMEON STRUNSKY
MEMBERS OF THE THREE HOURS FOR LUNCH CLUB
Almost all these sketches were originally published in the New York Evening Post and the Literary Review. One comes from The Outlook, one from The Atlantic Monthly, one from the Haverford Alumni Quarterly, and one from the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. The author is indebted to these publishers for permission to reprint.
Roslyn, Long Island July, 1921
The Perfect Reader The Autogenesis of a Poet The Old Reliable In Memoriam, Francis Barton Gummere Adventures at Lunch Time Secret Transactions of the Three Hours for Lunch Club Initiation Creed of the Three Hours for Lunch Club A Preface to the Profession of Journalism Fulton Street, and Walt Whitman McSorley's A Portrait Going to Philadelphia Our Tricolour Tie The Club of Abandoned Husbands West Broadway The Rudeness of Poets 1100 Words Some Inns The Club in Hoboken The Club at Its Worst A Suburban Sentimentalist Gissing A Dialogue At the Gasthof zum Ochsen Mr. Conrad's New Preface The Little House Tadpoles Magic in Salamis Consider the Commuter The Permanence of Poetry Books of the Sea Fallacious Meditations on Criticism Letting Out the Furnace By the Fireplace A City Note-Book Thoughts in the Subway Dempsey vs. Carpentier A Letter to a Sea Captain
THE PERFECT READER
On Christmas Eve, while the Perfect Reader sits in his armchair immersed in a book—so absorbed that he has let the fire go out—I propose to slip gently down the chimney and leave this tribute in his stocking. It is not a personal tribute. I speak, on behalf of the whole fraternity of writers, this word of gratitude—and envy.
No one who has ever done any writing, or has any ambition toward doing so, can ever be a Perfect Reader. Such a one is not disinterested. He reads, inevitably, in a professional spirit. He does not surrender himself with complete willingness of enjoyment. He reads "to see how the other fellow does it"; to note the turn of a phrase, the cadence of a paragraph; carrying on a constant subconscious comparison with his own work. He broods constantly as to whether he himself, in some happy conjuncture of quick mind and environing silence and the sudden perfect impulse, might have written something like that. He is (poor devil) confessedly selfish. On every page he is aware of his own mind running with him, tingling him with needle-pricks of conscience for the golden chapters he has never written. And so his reading is, in a way, the perfection of exquisite misery—and his writing also. When he writes, he yearns to be reading; when he reads, he yearns to be writing.
But the Perfect Reader, for whom all fine things are written, knows no such delicate anguish. When he reads, it is without any arriere pensee, any twingeing consciousness of self. I like to think of one Perfect Reader of my acquaintance. He is a seafaring man, and this very evening he is in his bunk, at sea, the day's tasks completed. Over his head is a suitable electric lamp. In his mouth is a pipe with that fine wine-dark mahogany sheen that resides upon excellent briar of many years' service. He has had (though I speak only by guess) a rummer of hot toddy to celebrate the greatest of all Evenings. At his elbow is a porthole, brightly curtained with a scrap of clean chintz, and he can hear the swash of the seas along his ship's tall side. And now he is reading. I can see him reading. I know just how his mind feels! Oh, the Perfect Reader! There is not an allusion that he misses; in all those lovely printed words he sees the subtle secrets that a lesser soul would miss. He (bless his heart!) is not thinking how he himself would have written it; his clear, keen, outreaching mind is intent only to be one in spirit with the invisible and long-dead author. I tell you, if there is anywhere a return of the vanished, it is then, at such moments, over the tilted book held by the Perfect Reader.
And how quaint it is that he should diminish himself so modestly. "Of course" (he says), "I'm only a Reader, and I don't know anything about writing——" Why, you adorable creature, You are our court of final appeal, you are the one we come to, humbly, to know whether, anywhere in our miserable efforts to set out our unruly hearts in parallel lines, we have done an honest thing. What do we care for what (most of) the critics say? They (we know only too well) are not criticising us, but, unconsciously, themselves. They skew their own dreams into their comment, and blame us for not writing what they once wanted to. You we can trust, for you have looked at life largely and without pettifogging qualms. The parallel lines of our eager pages meet at Infinity—that is, in the infinite understanding and judgment of the Perfect Reader.
The enjoyment of literature is a personal communion; it cannot be outwardly instilled. The utmost the critic can do is read the marriage service over the reader and the book. The union is consummated, if at all, in secret. But now and then there comes up the aisle a new Perfect Reader, and all the ghosts of literature wait for him, starry-eyed, by the altar. And as long as there are Perfect Readers, who read with passion, with glory, and then speed to tell their friends, there will always be, ever and anon, a Perfect Writer.
And so, dear Perfect Reader, a Merry Christmas to you and a New Year of books worthy your devotion! When you revive from that book that holds you in spell, and find this little note on the cold hearth, I hope you may be pleased.
THE AUTOGENESIS OF A POET
The mind trudges patiently behind the senses. Day by day a thousand oddities and charms outline themselves tenderly upon consciousness, but it may be long before understanding comes with brush and colour to fill in the tracery. One learns nothing until he rediscovers it for himself. Every now and then, in reading, I have come across something which has given me the wild surmise of pioneering mingled with the faint magic of familiarity—for instance, some of the famous dicta of Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley about poetry. I realized, then, that a teacher had told me these things in my freshman year at college—fifteen years ago. I jotted them down at that time, but they were mere catchwords. It had taken me fifteen years of vigorous living to overhaul those catchwords and fill them with a meaning of my own. The two teachers who first gave me some suspicion of what lies in the kingdom of poetry—who gave "so sweet a prospect into the way as will entice any man to enter into it"—are both dead. May I mention their names?—Francis B. Gummere and Albert Elmer Hancock, both of Haverford College. I cannot thank them as, now, I would like to. For I am (I think) approaching a stage where I can somewhat understand and relish the things of which they spoke. And I wonder afresh at the patience and charity of those who go on lecturing, unabated in zest, to boys of whom one in ten may perhaps, fifteen years later, begin to grasp their message.
In so far as any formal or systematic discipline of thought was concerned, I think I may say my education was a complete failure. For this I had only my own smattering and desultory habit of mind to blame and also a vivid troublesome sense of the beauty of it all. The charm of the prismatic fringe round the edges made juggling with the lens too tempting, and a clear persistent focus was never attained. Considered (oddly enough) by my mates as the pattern of a diligent scholar, I was in reality as idle as the idlest of them, which is saying much; though I confess that my dilettantism was not wholly disreputable. My mind excellently exhibited the Heraclitean doctrine: a constant flux of information passed through it, but nothing remained. Indeed, my senses were so continually crammed with new enchanting impressions, and every field of knowledge seemed so alluring, it was not strange I made little progress in any.
* * * * *
Perhaps it was unfortunate that both in America and in England I found myself in a college atmosphere of extraordinary pictorial charm. The Arcadian loveliness of the Haverford campus and the comfortable simplicity of its routine; and then the hypnotizing beauty and curiosity and subtle flavour of Oxford life (with its long, footloose, rambling vacations)—these were aptly devised for the exercise of the imagination, which is often a gracious phrase for loafing. But these surroundings were too richly entertaining, and I was too green and soft and humorous (in the Shakespearean sense) to permit any rational continuous plan of study. Like the young man to whom Coleridge addressed a poem of rebuke, I was abandoned, a greater part of the time, to "an Indolent and Causeless Melancholy"; or to its partner, an excessive and not always tasteful mirth. I spent hours upon hours, with little profit, in libraries, flitting aimlessly from book to book. With something between terror and hunger I contemplated the opposite sex. In short, I was discreditable and harmless and unlovely as the young Yahoo can be. It fills me with amazement to think that my preceptors must have seen, in that ill-conditioned creature, some shadow of human semblance, or how could they have been so uniformly kind?
Our education—such of it as is of durable importance—comes haphazard. It is tinged by the enthusiasms of our teachers, gleaned by suggestions from our friends, prompted by glimpses and footnotes and margins. There was a time, I think, when I hung in tender equilibrium among various possibilities. I was enamoured of mathematics and physics: I went far enough in the latter to be appointed undergraduate assistant in the college laboratory. I had learned, by my junior year, exploring the charms of integral calculus, that there is no imaginable mental felicity more serenely pure than suspended happy absorption in a mathematical problem. Of course I attained no higher than the dregs of the subject; on that grovelling level I would still (in Billy Sunday's violent trope) have had to climb a tree to look a snake in the eye; but I could see that for the mathematician, if for any one, Time stands still withal; he is winnowed of vanity and sin. French, German, and Latin, and a hasty tincture of Xenophon and Homer (a mere lipwash of Helicon) gave me a zeal for philology and the tongues. I was a member in decent standing of the college classical club, and visions of life as a professor of languages seemed to me far from unhappy. A compulsory course in philosophy convinced me that there was still much to learn; and I had a delicious hallucination in which I saw myself compiling a volume of commentaries on the various systems of this queen of sciences. "The Grammar of Agnostics," I think it was to be called: it would be written in a neat and comely hand on thousands of pages of pure white foolscap: I saw myself adding to it night by night, working ohne Hast, ohne Rast. And there were other careers, too, as statesman, philanthropist, diplomat, that I considered not beneath my horoscope. I spare myself the careful delineation of these projects, though they would be amusing enough.
But beneath these preoccupations another influence was working its inward way. My paramount interest had always been literary, though regarded as a gentle diversion, not degraded to a bread-and-butter concern. Ever since I had fallen under the superlative spell of R.L.S., in whom the cunning enchantment of the written word first became manifest, I had understood that books did not grow painlessly for our amusement, but were the issue of dexterous and intentional skill. I had thus made a stride from Conan Doyle, Cutcliffe Hyne, Anthony Hope, and other great loves of my earliest teens; those authors' delicious mysteries and picaresques I took for granted, not troubling over their method; but in Stevenson, even to a schoolboy the conscious artifice and nicety of phrase were puzzingly apparent. A taste for literature, however, is a very different thing from a determination to undertake the art in person as a means of livelihood. It takes brisk stimulus and powerful internal fevers to reduce a healthy youth to such a contemplation. All this is a long story, and I telescope it rigorously, thus setting the whole matter, perhaps, in a false proportion. But the central and operative factor is now at hand.
* * * * *
There was a certain classmate of mine (from Chicago) whose main devotion was to scientific and engineering studies. But since his plan embraced only two years at college before "going to work," he was (in the fashion traditionally ascribed to Chicago) speeding up the cultural knick-knacks of his education. So, in our freshman year, he was attending a course on "English Poets of the Nineteenth Century," which was, in the regular schedule of things, reserved for sophomores (supposedly riper for matters of feeling). Now I was living in a remote dormitory on the outskirts of the wide campus (that other Eden, demi-paradise, that happy breed of men, that little world!) some distance from the lecture halls and busy heart of college doings. It was the custom of those quartered in this colonial and sequestered outpost to make the room of some central classmate a base for the day, where books might be left between lectures, and so on. With the Chicagoan, whom we will call "J——," I had struck up a mild friendship; mostly charitable on his part, I think, as he was from the beginning one of the most popular and influential men in the class, whereas I was one of the rabble. So it was, at any rate; and often in the evening, returning from library or dining hall on the way to my distant Boeotia, I would drop in at his room, in a lofty corner of old Barclay Hall, to pick up note-books or anything else I might have left there.
What a pleasant place is a college dormitory at night! The rooms with their green-hooded lights and boyish similarity of decoration, the amiable buzz and stir of a game of cards under festoons of tobacco smoke, the wiry tinkle of a mandolin distantly heard, sudden clatter subsiding again into a general humming quiet, the happy sense of solitude in multitude, these are the partial ingredients of that feeling no alumnus ever forgets. In his pensive citadel, my friend J—— would be sitting, with his pipe (one of those new "class pipes" with inlaid silver numerals, which appear among every college generation toward Christmas time of freshman year). In his lap would be the large green volume ("British Poets of the Nineteenth Century," edited by Professor Curtis Hidden Page) which was the textbook of that sophomore course. He was reading Keats. And his eyes were those of one who has seen a new planet swim into his ken. I don't know how many evenings we spent there together. Probably only a few. I don't recall just how we communed, or imparted to one another our juvenile speculations. But I plainly remember how he would sit beside his desk-lamp and chuckle over the Ode to a Nightingale. He was a quizzical and quickly humorous creature, and Keats's beauties seemed to fill him not with melancholy or anguish, but with a delighted prostration of laughter. The "wormy circumstance" of the Pot of Basil, the Indian Maid nursing her luxurious sorrow, the congealing Beads-man and the palsied beldame Angela—these and a thousand quaintnesses of phrase moved him to a gush of glorious mirth. It was not that he did not appreciate the poet, but the unearthly strangeness of it all, the delicate contradiction of laws and behaviours known to freshmen, tickled his keen wits and emotions until they brimmed into puzzled laughter. "Away! Away!" he would cry—
For I will fly to thee, Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retards—
and he would shout with merriment. Beaded bubbles winking at the brim; Throbbing throats' long, long melodious moan; Curious conscience burrowing like a mole; Emprison her soft hand and let her rave; Men slugs and human serpentry; Bade her steep her hair in weird syrops; Poor weak palsy-stricken churchyard thing; Shut her pure sorrow-drops with glad exclaim—such lines were to him a constant and exhilarating excitement. In the very simplicity and unsophistication of his approach to the poet was a virgin naivete of discernment that an Edinburgh Reviewer would rarely attain. Here, he dimly felt, was the great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy, ... aye, to all the mazy world Of silvery enchantment.
And in line after line of Endymion, as we pored over them together, he found the clear happiness of a magic that dissolved everything into lightness and freedom. It is agreeable to remember this man, preparing to be a building contractor, who loved Keats because he made him laugh. I wonder if the critics have not too insistently persuaded us to read our poet in a black-edged mood? After all, his nickname was "Junkets."
* * * * *
So it was that I first, in any transcending sense, fell under the empire of a poet. Here was an endless fountain of immortal drink: here was a history potent to send a young mind from its bodily tenement. The pleasure was too personal to be completely shared; for the most part J—— and I read not together, but each by each, he sitting in his morris chair by the desk, I sprawled upon his couch, reading, very likely, different poems, but communicating, now and then, a sudden discovery. Probably I exaggerate the subtlety of our enjoyment, for it is hard to review the unself-scrutinizing moods of freshmanhood. It would be hard, too, to say which enthusiast had the greater enjoyment: he, because these glimpses through magic casements made him merry; I, because they made me sad. Outside, the snow sparkled in the pure winter night; the long lance windows of the college library shone yellow-panelled through the darkness, and there would be the occasional interruption of light-hearted classmates. How perfectly it all chimed into the mood of St. Agnes' Eve! The opening door would bring a gust of lively sound from down the corridor, a swelling jingle of music, shouts from some humorous "rough-house" (probably those sophomores on the floor below)—
The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet Affray his ears, though but in dying tone— The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
It did not take very long for J—— to work through the fifty pages of Keats reprinted in Professor Hidden Page's anthology; and then he, a lone and laughing faun among that pack of stern sophomores—so flewed, so sanded, out of the Spartan kind, crook-knee'd and dewlapped like Thessalian bulls—sped away into thickets of Landor, Tennyson, the Brownings. There I, an unprivileged and unsuspected hanger-on, lost their trail, returning to my own affairs. For some reason—I don't know just why—I never "took" that course in Nineteenth Century Poets, in the classroom at any rate. But just as Mr. Chesterton, in his glorious little book, "The Victorian Age in Literature," asserts that the most important event in English history was the event that never happened at all (you yourself may look up his explanation) so perhaps the college course that meant most to me was the one I never attended. What it meant to those sophomores of the class of 1909 is another gentle speculation. Three years later, when I was a senior, and those sophomores had left college, another youth and myself were idly prowling about a dormitory corridor where some of those same sophomores had previously lodged. An unsuspected cupboard appeared to us, and rummaging in it we found a pile of books left there, forgotten, by a member of that class. It was a Saturday afternoon, and my companion and I had been wondering how we could raise enough cash to go to town for dinner and a little harmless revel. To shove those books into a suitcase and hasten to Philadelphia by trolley was the obvious caper; and Leary's famous old bookstore ransomed the volumes for enough money to provide an excellent dinner at Lauber's, where, in those days, the thirty-cent bottle of sour claret was considered the true, the blushful Hippocrene. But among the volumes was a copy of Professor Page's anthology which had been used by one of J——'s companions in that poetry course. This seemed to me too precious to part with, so I retained it; still have it; and have occasionally studied the former owner's marginal memoranda. At the head of The Eve of St. Agnes he wrote: "Middle Ages. N. Italy. Guelph, Guibilline." At the beginning of Endymion he recorded: "Keats tries to be spiritualized by love for celestials." Against Sleep and Poetry: "Desultory. Genius in the larval state." The Ode on a Grecian Urn, he noted: "Crystallized philosophy of idealism. Embalmed anticipation." The Ode on Melancholy: "Non-Gothic. Not of intellect or disease. Emotions."
Darkling I listen to these faint echoes from a vanished lecture room, and ponder. Did J—— keep his copy of the book, I wonder, and did he annotate it with lively commentary of his own? He left college at the end of our second year, and I have not seen or heard from him these thirteen years. The last I knew—six years ago—he was a contractor in an Ohio city; and (is this not significant?) in a letter written then to another classmate, recalling some waggishness of our own sophomore days, he used the phrase "Like Ruth among the alien corn."
In so far as one may see turning points in a tangle of yarn, or count dewdrops on a morning cobweb, I may say that a few evenings with my friend J—— were the decisive vibration that moved one more minor poet toward the privilege and penalty of Parnassus. One cannot nicely decipher such fragile causes and effects. It was a year later before the matter became serious enough to enforce abandoning library copies of Keats and buying an edition of my own. And this, too, may have been not unconnected with the gracious influence of the other sex as exhibited in a neighbouring athenaeum; and was accompanied by a gruesome spate of florid lyrics: some (happily) secret, and some exposed with needless hardihood in a college magazine. The world, which has looked leniently upon many poetical minorities, regards such frenzies with tolerant charity and forgetfulness. But the wretch concerned may be pardoned for looking back in a mood of lingering enlargement. As Sir Philip Sidney put it, "Self-love is better than any gilding to make that seem gorgeous wherein ourselves be parties."
* * * * *
There is a vast deal of nonsense written and uttered about poetry. In an age when verses are more noisily and fluently circulated than ever before, it might seem absurd to plead in the Muse's defence. Yet poetry and the things poets love are pitifully weak to-day. In essence, poetry is the love of life—not mere brutish tenacity of sensation, but a passion for all the honesties that make life free and generous and clean. For two thousand years poets have mocked and taunted the cruelties and follies of men, but to what purpose? Wordsworth said: "In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs, in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time." Sometimes it seems as though "things violently destroyed," and the people who destroy them, are too strong for the poets. Where, now, do we see any cohesive binding together of humanity? Are we nearer these things than when Wordsworth and Coleridge walked and talked on the Quantock Hills or on that immortal road "between Porlock and Linton"? Hardy writes "The Dynasts," Joseph Conrad writes his great preface to "The Nigger of the Narcissus," but do the destroyers hear them? Have you read again, since the War, Gulliver's "Voyage to the Houyhnhnms," or Herman Melville's "Moby Dick"? These men wrote, whether in verse or prose, in the true spirit of poets; and Swift's satire, which the text-book writers all tell you is so gross and savage as to suggest the author's approaching madness, seems tender and suave by comparison with what we know to-day.
Poetry is the log of man's fugitive castaway soul upon a doomed and derelict planet. The minds of all men plod the same rough roads of sense; and in spite of much knavery, all win at times "an ampler ether, a diviner air." The great poets, our masters, speak out of that clean freshness of perception. We hear their voices—
I there before thee, in the country that well thou knowest, Already arrived am inhaling the odorous air.
So it is not vain, perhaps, to try clumsily to tell how this delicious uneasiness first captured the spirit of one who, if not a poet, is at least a lover of poetry. Thus he first looked beyond the sunset; stood, if not on Parnassus, tiptoe upon a little hill. And overhead a great wind was blowing.
THE OLD RELIABLE
"Express train stalled in a snowdrift," said one. "The irascible old white-haired gentleman in the Pullman smoker; the good-natured travelling salesman; the wistful young widow in the day coach, with her six-year-old blue-eyed little daughter. A coal-black Pullman porter who braves the shrieking gale to bring in a tree from the copse along the track. Red-headed brakeman (kiddies of his own at home), frostbitten by standing all night between the couplings, holding parts of broken steampipe together so the Pullman car will keep warm. Young widow and her child, of course, sleeping in the Pullman; white-haired old gentleman vacates his berth in their favour. Good-natured travelling salesman up all night, making cigar-band decorations for the Tree, which is all ready in the dining car in the morning——"
* * * * *
"Old English inn on a desolate moor," said another. "Bright fire of coals in the coffee room, sporting prints, yellow old newspaper cutting framed on the mantelpiece describing gruesome murder committed in the house in 1760. Terrible night of storm—sleet tingling on the panes; crimson curtains fluttering in the draught; roads crusted with ice; savoury fumes of roast goose, plum pudding, and brandy. Pretty chambermaid in evident anxiety about something; guest tries to kiss her in the corridor; she's too distrait to give the matter proper attention. She has heard faint agonized cries above the howling of the gale——"
* * * * *
"I like the sound of hymns," ventured a third. "Frosty vestibule of fashionable church, rolling thunders of the organ, fringes of icicles silvered by moonlight, poor old Salvation Army Santa Claus shivering outside and tinkling his pathetic little bell. Humane note: those scarlet Christmas robes of the Army not nearly as warm as they look. Hard-hearted vestryman, member of old Knickerbocker family, always wears white margins on his vest, suddenly touched by compassion, empties the collection plate into Santa's bucket. Santa hurries off to the S.A. headquarters crying 'The little ones will bless you for this.' Vestryman accused of having pocketed the collection, dreadful scandal, too proud to admit what he had done with it——"
* * * * *
"Christmas Eve in the Ambrose Channel," cried a fourth. "A blizzard blowing. The pilot boat, sheathed with ice, wallowing in the teeth of the blinding storm, beats her way up to the lee of the great liner. The pilot, suddenly taken ill, lies gasping on the sofa of the tiny cabin. Impossible for him to take the great liner into port; 2,000 passengers eager to get home for Christmas. But who is this gallant little figure darting up the rope ladder with fluttering skirts? The pilot's fourteen-year-old daughter. 'I will take the Nausea to her berth! I've spent all my life in the Bay, and know every inch of the channel.' Rough quartermaster weeps as she takes the wheel from his hands. 'Be easy in your mind, Captain,' she says; 'but before the customs men come aboard tell me one thing—have you got that bottle of Scotch for my Daddy?'"
* * * * *
"Big New York department store," insisted the fifth. "Beautiful dark-haired salesgirl at the silk stocking counter. Her slender form trembles with fatigue, but she greets all customers with brave, sweet courtesy. Awful crush, every one buying silk stockings. Kindly floorwalker, sees she is overtaxed, suggests she leave early. Dark girl refuses; says she must be faithful to the Christmas spirit; moreover, she daren't face the evening battle on the subway. Handsome man comes to the counter to buy. Suddenly a scream, a thud, horrified outcries. Hold back the crowd! Call a physician! No good; handsome man, dead, murdered. Dark-haired girl, still holding the fatal hat-pin, taken in custody, crying hysterically 'When he gave me his name, I couldn't help it. He's the one who has caused all the trouble!' Floorwalker reverently covers the body with a cloth, then looks at the name on the sales slip. 'Gosh,' he cries, aghast, 'it's Coles Phillips!'"
* * * * *
The gathering broke up, and the five men strolled out into the blazing August sunshine. The sultry glow of midsummer beat down upon them, but their thoughts were far away. They were five popular authors comparing notes on the stories they were writing for the Christmas magazines.
IN MEMORIAM FRANCIS BARTON GUMMERE
I often wonder what inward pangs of laughter or despair he may have felt as he sat behind the old desk in Chase Hall and watched us file in, year after year! Callow, juvenile, ignorant, and cocksure—grotesquely confident of our own manly fulness of worldly savoir—an absurd rabble of youths, miserable flint-heads indeed for such a steel! We were the most unpromising of all material for the scholar's eye; comfortable, untroubled middle-class lads most of us, to whom study was neither a privilege nor a passion, but only a sober and decent way of growing old enough to enter business.
We did not realize how accurately—and perhaps a trifle grimly—the strong, friendly face behind the desk was searching us and sizing us up. He knew us for what we were—a group of nice boys, too sleek, too cheerfully secure, to show the ambition of the true student. There was among us no specimen of the lean and dogged crusader of learning that kindles the eye of the master: no fanatical Scot, such as rejoices the Oxford or Cambridge don; no liquid-orbed and hawk-faced Hebrew with flushed cheek bones, such as sets the pace in the class-rooms of our large universities. No: we were a hopelessly mediocre, well-fed, satisfied, and characteristically Quakerish lot. As far as the battle for learning goes, we were pacifists—conscientious objectors.
It is doubtful whether any really great scholar ever gave the best years of his life to so meagrely equipped a succession of youngsters! I say this candidly, and it is well it should be said, for it makes apparent the true genius of Doctor Gummere's great gift. He turned this following of humble plodders into lovers and zealots of the great regions of English letters. There was something knightly about him—he, the great scholar, who would never stoop to scoff at the humblest of us. It might have been thought that his shining gifts were wasted in a small country college, where not one in fifty of his pupils could follow him into the enchanted lands of the imagination where he was fancy-free. But it was not so. One may meet man after man, old pupils of his, who have gone on into the homely drudging rounds of business, the law, journalism—men whose faces will light up with affection and remembrance when Doctor Gummere's name is mentioned. We may have forgotten much of our Chaucer, our Milton, our Ballads—though I am sure we have none of us forgotten the deep and thrilling vivacity of his voice reciting:
O where hae ye been, Lord Randal, my son? O where hae ye been, my handsome young man? I hae been to the wild wood; mither, make my bed soon, For I'm weary wi' hunting and fain wald lie doun.
But what we learned from him lay in the very charm of his personality. It was a spell that no one in his class-room could escape. It shone from his sparkling eye; it spoke in his irresistible humour; it moved in every line of that well-loved face, in his characteristic gesture of leaning forward and tilting his head a little to one side as he listened, patiently, to whatever juvenile surmises we stammered to express. It was the true learning of which his favourite Sir Philip Sidney said:
This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly we call learning, under what name soever it come forth or to what immediate end soever it be directed, the final end is to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by their clay lodgings, can be capable of.
Indeed, just to listen to him was a purifying of wit, an enriching of memory, an enabling of judgment, an enlarging of imagination. He gave us "so sweet a prospect into the way as will entice any man to enter into it."
He moved among all human contacts with unerring grace. He was never the teacher, always the comrade. It was his way to pretend that we knew far more than we did; so with perfect courtesy and gravity, he would ask our opinion on some matter of which we knew next to nothing; and we knew it was only his exquisiteness of good manners that impelled the habit; and we knew he knew the laughableness of it; yet we adored him for it. He always suited his strength to our weakness; would tell us things almost with an air of apology for seeming to know more than we; pretending that we doubtless had known it all along, but it had just slipped our memory. Marvellously he set us on our secret honour to do justice to this rare courtesy. To fail him in some task he had set became, in our boyish minds, the one thing most abhorrent in dealing with such a man—a discourtesy. He was a man of the rarest and most delicate breeding, the finest and truest gentleman we had known. Had he been nothing else, how much we would have learnt from that alone.
What a range, what a grasp, there was in his glowing, various mind! How open it was on all sides, how it teemed with interests, how different from the scholar of silly traditional belief! We used to believe that he could have taught us history, science, economics, philosophy—almost anything; and so indeed he did. He taught us to go adventuring among masterpieces on our own account, which is the most any teacher can do. Luckiest of all were those who, on one pretext or another, found their way to his fireside of an evening. To sit entranced, smoking one of his cigars,[*] to hear him talk of Stevenson, Meredith, or Hardy—(his favourites among the moderns) to marvel anew at the infinite scope and vivacity of his learning—this was to live on the very doorsill of enchantment. Homeward we would go, crunching across the snow to where Barclay crowns the slope with her evening blaze of lights, one glimpse nearer some realization of the magical colours and tissues of the human mind, the rich perplexity and many-sided glamour of life.
[* It was characteristic of him that he usually smoked Robin Hood, that admirable 5-cent cigar, because the name, and the picture of an outlaw on the band, reminded him of the 14th century Ballads he knew by heart.]
It is strange (as one reviews all the memories of that good friend and master) to think that there is now a new generation beginning at Haverford that will never know his spell. There is a heavy debt on his old pupils. He made life so much richer and more interesting for us. Even if we never explored for ourselves the fields of literature toward which he pointed, his radiant individuality remains in our hearts as a true exemplar of what scholarship can mean. We can never tell all that he meant to us. Gropingly we turn to little pictures in memory. We see him crossing Cope Field in the green and gold of spring mornings, on his way to class. We see him sitting on the verandah steps of his home on sunny afternoons, full of gay and eager talk on a thousand diverse topics. He little knew, I think, how we hung upon his words. I can think of no more genuine tribute than this: that in my own class—which was a notoriously cynical and scoffish band of young sophisters—when any question of religious doubt or dogma arose for discussion among some midnight group, someone was sure to say, "I wish I knew what Doctor Gummere thought about it!" We felt instinctively that what he thought would have been convincing enough for us.
He was a truly great man. A greater man than we deserved, and there is a heavy burden upon us to justify the life that he gave to our little college. He has passed into the quiet and lovely tradition that surrounds and nourishes that place we all love so well. Little by little she grows, drawing strength and beauty from human lives around her, confirming herself in honour and remembrance. The teacher is justified by his scholars. Doctor Gummere might have gone elsewhere, surrounded by a greater and more ambitiously documented band of pupils. He whom we knew as the greatest man we had ever seen, moved little outside the world of learning. He gave himself to us, and we are the custodians of his memory.
Every man who loved our vanished friend must know with what realization of shamed incapacity one lays down the tributary pen. He was so strong, so full of laughter and grace, so truly a man, his long vacation still seems a dream, and we feel that somewhere on the well-beloved campus we shall meet him and feel that friendly hand. In thinking of him I am always reminded of that fine old poem of Sir Henry Wotton, a teacher himself, the provost of Eton, whose life has been so charmingly written by another Haverfordian—(Logan Pearsall Smith).
THE CHARACTER OF A HAPPY LIFE
How happy is he born and taught That serveth not another's will; Whose armour is his honest thought, And simple truth his utmost skill!
Whose passions not his masters are; Whose soul is still prepared for death Not tied unto the world by care Of public fame or private breath;
Who envies none that chance doth raise, Nor vice; who never understood How deepest wounds are given by praise; Nor rules of state, but rules of good;
Who hath his life from rumours freed; Whose conscience is his strong retreat; Whose state can neither flatterers feed, Nor ruin make oppressors great;
Who God doth late and early pray More of His grace than gifts to lend; And entertains the harmless day With a well-chosen book or friend;
This man is freed from servile bands Of hope to rise or fear to fall: Lord of himself, though not of lands, And having nothing, yet hath all.
Such was the Happy Man as Sir Henry Wotton described him. Such, I think, was the life of our friend. I think it must have been a happy life, for he gave so much happiness to others.
ADVENTURES AT LUNCH TIME
This window by which we sit is really very trying to our spirit. On a clear fluid blue day the sunlight pours over the cliffs and craggy coves and angles of the great buildings round St. Paul's churchyard. We can see the temptation of being a cubist painter as we study all those intersecting planes of light and shadow. Across the way, on Fulton Street, above the girl in a green hat who is just now ingurgitating a phial of orangeade, there are six different roof levels, rising like steps toward the gold lightning bolts of the statue on top of the Telephone and Telegraph Building. Each of these planes carries its own particular impact of light or shadow. The sunshine seems to flow like an impalpable cataract over the top of the Hudson Terminal, breaking and shining in a hundred splashes and pools of brightness among the stone channels below. Far down the course of Church Street we can see the top floors of the Whitehall Building. We think of the little gilt ball that darts and dances so merrily in the fountain jet in front of that building. We think of the merry mercators of the Whitehall Club sitting at lunch on the cool summit of that great edifice. We think of the view as seen from there, the olive-coloured gleam of the water, the ships and tugs speckled about the harbour. And, looking down, we can see a peaceful gentleman sitting on a bench in St. Paul's graveyard, reading a book. We think seriously of writing a note, "What are you reading?" and weighting it with an inkwell and hurling it down to him. This window continually draws our mind outward and sets us speculating, when we ought to be answering letters or making inquiries of coal dealers as to whether there is any chance of getting a supply for next winter.
* * * * *
On such a day, having in mind that we ought to write another chapter of our book "How to Spend Three Hours at Lunch Time," we issued forth with Endymion to seek refreshment. It was a noontide to stir even the most carefully fettered bourgeois to impulses of escapade and foray. What should we do? At first we had some thought of showing to Endymion the delightful subterranean passage that leads from the cathedral grottoes of the Woolworth Building to the City Hall subway station, but we decided we could not bear to leave the sunlight. So we chose a path at random and found ourselves at the corner of Beekman and Gold streets.
Now our intention was to make tracks toward Hanover Square and there to consider the world as viewed over the profile of a slab of cheesecake; but on viewing the agreeable old house at the corner of Gold Street—"The Old Beekman, Erected 1827," once called the Old Beekman Halfway House, but now the Old Beekman Luncheonette—no hungry man in his senses could pass without tarrying. A flavour of comely and respectable romance was apparent in this pleasant place, with its neat and tight-waisted white curtains in the upstairs windows and an outdoor stairway leading up to the second floor. Inside, at a table in a cool, dark corner, we dealt with hot dogs and cloudy cider in a manner beyond criticism. The name Luncheonette does this fine tavern serious injustice: there is nothing of the feminine or the soda fountain about it: it is robust, and we could see by the assured bearing of some well-satisfied habitues that it is an old landmark in that section.
But the brisk air and tempting serenity of the day made it seem emphatically an occasion for two lunches, and we passed on, along Pearl Street, in the bright checkerboard of sunbeams that slip through the trestles of the "L." It was cheerful to see that the same old Spanish cafes are still there, though we were a little disappointed to see that one of them has moved from its old-time quarters, where that fine brass-bound stairway led up from the street, to a new and gaudy palace on the other side. We also admired the famous and fascinating camp outfitting shop at 208 Pearl Street, which apparently calls itself WESTMINSTER ABBEY: but that is not the name of the shop but of the proprietor. We have been told that Mr. Abbey's father christened him so, intending him to enter the church. In the neighbourhood of Cliff and Pearl streets we browsed about enjoying the odd and savoury smells. There are all sorts of aromas in that part of the city, coffee and spices, drugs, leather, soap, and cigars. There was one very sweet, pervasive, and subtle smell, a caressing harmony for the nostril, which we pursued up and down various byways. Here it would quicken and grow almost strong enough for identification; then again it would become faint and hardly discernible. It had a rich, sweet oily tang, but we were at a loss to name it. We finally concluded that it was the bouquet of an "odourless disinfectant" that seemed to have its headquarters near by. In one place some bales of dried and withered roots were being loaded on a truck: they gave off a faint savour, which was familiar but baffling. On inquiry, these were sarsaparilla. Endymion was pleased with a sign on a doorway: "Crude drugs and spices and essential oils." This, he said, was a perfect Miltonic line.
Hanover Square, however, was the apex of our pilgrimage. To come upon India House is like stepping back into the world of Charles Lamb. We had once lunched in the clubrooms upstairs with a charming member and we had never forgotten the old seafaring prints, the mustard pots of dark blue glass, the five-inch mutton chops, the Victorian contour of the waiter's waistcoat of green and yellow stripe. This time we fared toward the tavern in the basement, where even the outsider may penetrate, and were rejoiced by a snug table in the corner. Here we felt at once the true atmosphere of lunching, which is at its best when one can get in a corner, next to some old woodwork rubbed and shiny with age. Shandygaff, we found, was not unknown to the servitor; and the cider that we saw Endymion beaming upon was a blithe, clear yellow, as merry to look at as a fine white wine. Very well, very well indeed, we said to ourselves; let the world revolve; in the meantime, what is that printed in blackface type upon the menu? We have looked upon the faces of many men, we have endured travail and toil and perplexity, we have written much rot and suffered much inward shame to contemplate it; but in the meantime (we said, gazing earnestly upon the face of Endymion), in the meantime, we repeated, and before destiny administers that final and condign chastisement that we ripely merit, let us sit here in the corner of the India House and be of good cheer. And at this point, matters being so, and a second order of butter being already necessary, the waiter arrived with the Spanish omelet.
Homeward by the way of South Street, admiring the slender concave bows of fine ships—the Mexico and the Santa Marta, for instance—and privily wondering what were our chances of smelling blue water within the next quinquennium, we passed in mild and placid abandonment. On Burling Slip, just where in former times there used to hang a sign KIPLING BREW (which always interested us), we saw a great, ragged, burly rogue sitting on a doorstep. He had the beard of a buccaneer, the placid face of one at ease with fortune. He hitched up his shirt and shifted from one ham to another with supreme and sunkissed contentment. And Endymion, who sees all things as the beginnings of heavenly poems, said merrily: "As I was walking on Burling Slip, I saw a seaman without a ship."
SECRET TRANSACTIONS OF THE THREE HOURS FOR LUNCH CLUB
The doctor having been elected a member of the club, a meeting was held to celebrate the event. Bowling Green, Esq., secretary, was instructed to prepare carefully confidential minutes. Weather: fair and tepid. Wind: N.N.E. Course laid: From starting line at a Church Street bookshop, where the doctor bought a copy of "Limbo," by Aldous Huxley, to Pier 56, N.R. Course made good: the same.
The doctor was in excellent form. On the Fourteenth Street car a human being was arguing fiercely and loudly with the conductor about some controversial matter touching upon fares and destinations. The clamour was great. Said the doctor, adjusting his eye-glass and gazing with rebuke toward the disputants: "I will be gratified when this tumult subsides." The doctor has been added to the membership of the club in order to add social tone to the gathering. His charm is infinite; his manners are of a delicacy and an aplomb. His speech, when he is of waggish humour, carries a tincture of Queen Anne phraseology that is subtle and droll. A man, indeed! L'extreme de charme, as M. Djer-Kiss loves to say what time he woos the public in the theatre programmes.
The first thrill was when Bowling Green, Esq., secretary, cast an eye upward as the club descended from the Fourteenth Street sharabang, and saw, over the piers, the tall red funnels of the Aquitania. This is going to be great doings, said he to himself. O Cunard Line funnels! What is there that so moves the heart?
Bowling Green, Esq., confesses that it is hard to put these minutes into cold and calculated narrative. Among ships and seafaring concerns his heart is too violently stirred to be quite maitre de soi.
The club moved forward. Welcomed by the suave commissionaire of the Cunard Line, it was invited to rise in the elevator. On the upper floor of the pier the members ran to the windows. There lay the Aquitania at her pier. The members' hearts were stirred. Even the doctor, himself a hardened man of the sea, showed a brilliant spark of emotion behind his monocular attic window. A ship in dock—and what a ship! A ship at a city pier, strange sight. It is like a lion in a circus cage. She, the beauty, the lovely living creature of open azure and great striding ranges of the sea, she that needs horizons and planets for her fitting perspective, she that asks the snow and silver at her irresistible stern, she that persecutes the sunset across the purple curves of the longitudes—tied up stiff and dead in the dull ditch of a dockway. The upward slope of that great bow, it was never made to stand still against a dusty pier-end.
The club proceeded and found itself in a little eddy of pure Scotland. The Columbia was just in from Glasgow—had docked only an hour before. The doctor became very Scots in a flash. "Aye, bonny!" was his reply to every question asked him by Mr. Green, the diligent secretary. The secretary was addressed as "lad." A hat now became a "bonnet." The fine stiff speech of Glasgow was heard on every side, for the passengers were streaming through the customs. Yon were twa bonny wee brithers, aiblins ten years old, that came marching off, with bare knees and ribbed woollen stockings and little tweed jackets. O Scotland, Scotland, said our hairt! The wund blaws snell frae the firth, whispered the secretary to himself, keeking about, but had not the courage to utter it.
Here the secretary pauses on a point of delicacy. It was the purpose of the club to visit Capt. David W. Bone of the Columbia, but the captain is a modest man, and one knows not just how much of our admiration of him and his ship he would care to see spread upon the minutes. Were Mr. Green such a man as the captain, would he be lowering himself to have any truck with journalists and such petty folk? Mr. Green would not. Mark you: Captain Bone is the master of an Atlantic liner, a veteran of the submarine-haunted lanes of sea, a writer of fine books (have you, lovers of sea tales, read "The Brassbounder" and "Broken Stowage"?) a collector of first editions, a man who stood on the bridge of the flagship at Harwich and watched the self-defiled U-boats slink in and come to a halt at the international code signal MN (Stop instantly!)—"Ha," said Mr. Green, "Were I such a man, I would pass by like shoddy such pitifuls as colyumists." But he was a glad man no less, for he knew the captain was bigger of heart. Besides, he counted on the exquisite tact of the doctor to see him through. Indeed, even the stern officials of the customs had marked the doctor as a man exceptional. And as the club stood patiently among the outward flux of authentic Glasgow, came the captain himself and welcomed them aboard.
Across immaculate decks, and in the immortal whiff, indefinable, of a fine ship just off the high seas, trod the beatified club. A ship, the last abiding place in a mannerless world of good old-fashioned caste, and respect paid upward with due etiquette and discipline through the grades of rank. The club, for a moment, were guests of the captain; deference was paid to them. They stood in the captain's cabin (sacred words). "Boy!" cried the captain, in tones of command. Not as one speaks to office boys in a newspaper kennel, in a voice of entreaty. The boy appeared: a curly-headed, respectful stripling. A look of respect: how well it sits upon youth. "Boy!" said the captain—but just what the captain said is not to be put upon vulgar minutes. Remember, pray, the club was upon British soil.
In the saloon sat the club, and their faces were the faces of men at peace, men harmonious and of delicate cheer. The doctor, a seafaring man, talked the lingo of imperial mariners: he knew the right things to say: he carried along the humble secretary, who gazed in melodious mood upon the jar of pickled onions. At sea Mr. Green is of lurking manners: he holds fast to his bunk lest worse befall; but a ship in port is his empire. Scotch broth was before them—pukka Scotch broth, the doctor called it; and also the captain and the doctor had some East Indian name for the chutney. The secretary resolved to travel and see the world. Curried chicken and rice was the word: and, not to exult too cruelly upon you (O excellent friends!), let us move swiftly over the gooseberry tart. There was the gooseberry tart, and again, a few minutes later, it was not there. All things have their appointed end. "Boy!" said the captain. (Must I remind you, we were on imperial soil.) Is it to be said that the club rose to the captain's cabin once more, and matters of admirable purport were tastefully discussed, as is the habit of us mariners?
"The drastic sanity of the sea"—it is a phrase from a review of one of the captain's own books, "Merchantmen-at-Arms," which this club (so it runs upon the minutes), as lovers of sea literature, officially hope may soon be issued on this side also. It is a phrase, if these minutes are correct, from a review written by H.M. Tomlinson, another writer of the sea, of whom we have spoken before, and may, in God's providence, again. "The drastic sanity of the sea" was the phrase that lingered in our mind as we heard the captain talk of books and of discipline at sea and of the trials imposed upon shipmasters by the La Follette act. (What, the club wondered inwardly, does Mr. La Follette know of seafaring?) "The drastic sanity of the sea!" We thought of other sailors we had known, and how they had found happiness and simplicity in the ordered combat with their friendly enemy. A virtue goes out of a ship (Joseph Conrad said, in effect) when she touches her quay. Her beauty and purpose are, for the moment, dulled and dimmed. But even there, how much she brings us. How much, even though we do not put it into words, the faces and accents of our seafaring friends give us in the way of plain wisdom and idealism. And the secretary, as he stepped aboard the hubbub of a subway train, was still pondering "the drastic sanity of the sea."
Allured by the published transactions of the club, our friend Lawton presented himself at the headquarters toward lunch time and announced himself as a candidate for membership. An executive session was hastily convened. Endymion broke the news to the candidate that initiates in this select organization are expected to entertain the club at luncheon. To the surprise of the club, our genial visitor neither shrank nor quailed. His face was bland and his bearing ambitious in the extreme. Very well, he said; as long as it isn't the Beaux Arts cafe.
The itinerary of the club for this day had already been arranged by the secretary. The two charter members, plus the high-spirited acolyte, made their way along West Street toward the Cortlandt Street ferry. It was plain from the outset that fortune had favoured the organization with a new member of the most sparkling quality. Every few yards a gallant witticism fell from him. Some of these the two others were able to juggle and return, but many were too flashing for them to cope with. In front of the ferry house lay a deep and quaggish puddle of slime, crossable only by ginger-footed work upon sheets of tin. Endymion rafted his tenuous form across with a delicate straddle of spidery limbs. The secretary followed, with a more solid squashing technique. "Ha," cried the new member; "grace before meat!" Endymion and the secretary exchanged secret glances. Lawton, although he knew it not, was elected from that moment.
The ritual of the club, while stern toward initiates, is not brutal. Since you are bursar for the lunch, said the secretary, I will buy the ferry tickets, and he did so. On the boat these carefree men gazed blithely upon the shipping. "Little did I think," said Lawton, "that I was going for a sea voyage." "That," said the club, "is the kind of fellows we are. Whimsical. As soon as we think of a thing, we don't do it."
"Is that the Leviathan up there?" said one of the members, pointing toward a gray hull on the Hoboken horizon. No one knew, but the secretary was reminded of an adventure during the war. "One time I was crossing on this ferry," he said, "and the Leviathan passed right by us. It was just at dusk and her camouflage was wonderful. Her blotches and stripes were so arranged that from a little distance, in the twilight, she gave the impression of a much smaller vessel, going the other way. All her upper works seemed to fade out in the haze and she became a much smaller ship." "That would be a wonderful plan for some of these copious dowagers one sees," said the irreverent Lawton. "Yes," we said; "instead of a stout lady going in to dinner, you would see a slim flapper coming out."
Something was then said about a good friend of the club who had at one time worked for the Y.M.C.A. "What is he doing now?" asked one. "He's with Grace and Company," said the secretary. The candidate was unabashed. "Think," he said, "of a Y.M.C.A. man getting grace at last."
The club found the Jersey City terminal much as usual, and to our surprise the candidate kept up his courage nobly as he was steered toward the place of penance, being the station lunch counter. The club remembered this as a place of excellent food in days gone by, when trains from Philadelphia stopped here instead of at the Penn. Station. Placing the host carefully in the middle, the three sat down at the curving marble slab. The waiters immediately sensed that something unusual was toward. Two dashed up with courteous attentions. It was surmised by the club that the trio had happened to sit at a spot where the jurisdictions of two waiters met. Both the wings of the trio waved the waiters toward the blushing novice, making it plain that upon him lay all responsibility. "It is obvious," remarked the secretary, "that you, Lawton, are right on the boundary line where two waiters meet. You will have to tip them both."
The new member was game. "Well," he said, without a trace of nervousness; "what'll you have?" The choice fell upon breast of lamb. The secretary asked for iced tea. Endymion, more ruthless, ordered ginger ale. When the ginger ale came, Lawton, still waggish, observed the label, which was one of the many imitations of a well-known brand. "The man who invented the diamond-shaped label," said Lawton, "was certainly a pathfinder in the wilderness of the ginger ale business. This ginger ale," said Lawton, tasting it, "is carefully warmed, like old claret."
The club sought to keep their host's mind off the painful topic of viands. "Sitting here makes one feel as though he ought to be going to take a train somewhere," said one. "Yes, the express for Weehawken," said the vivacious host. From this it was only a step to speaking of Brooklyn. The secretary explained that the club had outlined a careful itinerary in that borough for proximate pursuit. Lawton told that he had at one time written an essay on the effect of Brooklyn on the dialogue of the American drama. "It is the butt end of Long Island," he cried, with cruel mirth. Lovers of Brooklyn in the club nearly blackballed him for this.
With ice cream and cottage pudding, the admirable menu proceeded. The waiters conferred secretly together. They carefully noted the cheerful carving of the host's brow. They will know him again. A man who bursts in suddenly upon a railroad lunch counter and pays for three such meals, here is an event in the grim routine! But perhaps the two charter members were feeling pangs of conscience. "Come," they said, "at least let us split the ginger ale checks." But Lawton was seeing it through. Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as our host to the cashier we hurried. The secretary bought a penny box of matches and lit the great man's cigarette for him. Endymion, equally stirred, ran to buy the ferry tickets for the return voyage. "This time," he said, "I will be the ferry godmother."
On the homeward passage a little drowse fell upon the two charter members. They had lunched more richly than was their wont. "Oh, these distressing, heavy lunches!" as Aldous Huxley cries in one of his poems. But Lawton was still of bright vivacity. At that time the club was perturbed by the coming Harding-Cox election. "Which of the vice-presidents are you going to vote for?" he cried, and then said: "It looks to me like Debs or dubs."
Endymion and the secretary looked at each other solemnly. The time had come. "I, Endymion," said the chairman, "take thee, Lawton, to have and to hold, as a member of the club."
And the secretary tenderly pronounced the society's formula for such occasions: "There is no inanition in an initiation."
CREED OF THE THREE HOURS FOR LUNCH CLUB
It has been suggested that the Three Hours for Lunch Club is an immoral institution; that it is founded upon an insufficient respect for the devotions of industry; that it runs counter to the form and pressure of the age; that it encourages a greedy and rambling humour in the young of both sexes; that it even punctures, in the bosoms of settled merchants and rotarians, that capsule of efficiency and determination by which Great Matters are Put Over. It has been said, in short, that the Three Hours for Lunch Club should be more clandestine and reticent about its truancies.
Accordingly, it seems good to us to testify concerning Lunches and the philosophy of Lunching.
There are Lunches of many kinds. The Club has been privileged to attend gatherings of considerable lustre; occasions when dishes of richness and curiosity were dissected; when the surroundings were not devoid of glamour and surreptitious pomp. The Club has been convened in many different places: in resorts of pride and in low-ceiled reeky taphouses; in hotels where those clear cubes of unprofitable ice knock tinklingly in the goblets; in the brightly tinted cellars of Greenwich Village; in the saloons of ships. But the Club would give a false impression of its mind and heart if it allowed any one to suppose that Food is the chief object of its quest. It is true that Man, bitterly examined, is merely a vehicle for units of nourishing combustion; but on those occasions when the Club feels most truly Itself it rises above such considerations.
The form and pressure of the time (to repeat Hamlet's phrase) is such that thoughtful men—and of such the Club is exclusively composed: men of great heart, men of nice susceptibility—are continually oppressed by the fumbling, hasty, and insignificant manner in which human contacts are accomplished. Let us even say, masculine contacts: for the first task of any philosopher being to simplify his problem so that he can examine it clearly and with less distraction, the Club makes a great and drastic purge by sweeping away altogether the enigmatic and frivolous sex and disregarding it, at any rate during the hours of convivial session. The Club is troubled to note that in the intolerable rabies and confusion of this business life men meet merely in a kind of convulsion or horrid passion of haste and perplexity. We see, ever and often, those in whose faces we discern delightful and considerable secrets, messages of just import, grotesque mirth, or improving sadness. In their bearing and gesture, even in hours of haste and irritation, the Club (with its trained and observant eye) notes the secret and rare sign of Thought. Such men are marked by an inexorable follow-up system. Sooner or later their telephones ring; secretaries and go-betweens are brushed aside; they are bidden to appear at such and such a time and place; no excuses are accepted. Then follow the Consolations of Intercourse. Conducted with "shattering candour" (as one has said who is in spirit a member of this Club, though not yet, alas, inducted), the meetings may sometimes resolve themselves into a ribaldry, sometimes into a truthful pursuit of Beauty, sometimes into a mere logomachy. But in these symposiums, unmarred by the crude claim of duty, the Club does with single-minded resolve pursue the only lasting satisfaction allowed to humanity, to wit, the sympathetic study of other men's minds.
This is clumsily said: but we have seen moments when eager and honourable faces round the board explained to us what we mean. There is but one indefeasible duty of man, to say out the truth that is in his heart. The way of life engendered by a great city and a modern civilization makes it hard to do so. It is the function of the Club to say to the City and to Life Itself: "Stand back! Fair play! We see a goodly matter inditing in our friend's spirit. We will take our ease and find out what it is."
For this life of ours (asserts the Club) is curiously compounded of Beauty and Dross. You ascend the Woolworth Building, let us say—one of man's noblest and most poetic achievements. And at the top, what do you find, just before going out upon that gallery to spread your eye upon man's reticulated concerns? Do you find a little temple or cloister for meditation, or any way of marking in your mind the beauty and significance of the place? No, a man in uniform will thrust into your hand a booklet of well-intentioned description (but of unapproachable typographic ugliness) and you will find before you a stall for the sale of cheap souvenirs, ash trays, and hideous postcards. In such ways do things of Beauty pass into the custody of those unequipped to understand them.
The Club thinks that the life of this city, brutally intense and bewildering, has yet a beauty and glamour and a secret word to the mind, so subtle that it cannot be closely phrased, but so important that to miss it is to miss life itself. And to forfeit an attempt to see, understand, and mutually communicate this loveliness is to forfeit that burning spark that makes men's spirits worth while. To such halting meditations the Club devotes its aspirations undistressed by humorous protest. If this be treason...!
A PREFACE TO THE PROFESSION OF JOURNALISM
(BEING AN ANSWER TO A LETTER FROM A COLLEGE STUDENT, ASKING ADVICE AS TO TAKING UP WRITING AS A CAREER)
Your inquiry is congenial, and I feel guilty of selfishness in answering it in this way. But he must be a poor workman, whether artisan or artist, who does not welcome an excuse now and then for shutting out the fascinating and maddening complexity of this shining world to concentrate his random wits on some honest and self-stimulating expression of his purpose.
There are exceptions to every rule; but writing, if undertaken as a trade, is subject to the conditions of all other trades. The apprentice must begin with task-work; he must please his employers before he can earn the right to please himself. Not only that, he must have ingenuity and patience enough to learn how editors are pleased; but he will be startled, I think, if he studies their needs, to see how eager they are to meet him half way. This necessary docility is in the long run, a wholesome physic, because, if our apprentice has any gallantry of spirit, it will arouse in him an exhilarating irritation, that indignation which is said to be the forerunner of creation. It will mean, probably, a period—perhaps short, perhaps long, perhaps permanent—of rather meagre and stinted acquaintance with the genial luxuries and amenities of life; but (such is the optimism of memory) a period that he will always look back upon as the happiest of all. It is well for our apprentice if, in this season, he has a taste for cheap tobacco and a tactful technique in borrowing money.
The deliberate embrace of literature as a career involves very real dangers. I mean dangers to the spirit over and above those of the right-hand trouser pocket. For, let it be honestly stated, the business of writing is solidly founded on a monstrous and perilous egotism. Himself, his temperament, his powers of observation and comment, his emotions and sensibilities and ambitions and idiocies—these are the only monopoly the writer has. This is his only capital, and with glorious and shameless confidence he proposes to market it. Let him make the best of it. Continually stooping over the muddy flux of his racing mind, searching a momentary flash of clearness in which he can find mirrored some delicate beauty or truth, he tosses between the alternatives of self-grandeur and self-disgust. It is a painful matter, this endless self-scrutiny. We are all familiar with the addled ego of literature—the writer whom constant self-communion has made vulgar, acid, querulous, and vain. And yet it is remarkable that of so many who meddle with the combustible passions of their own minds so few are blown up. The discipline of living is a fine cooling-jacket for the engine.
It is essential for our apprentice to remember that, though he begin with the vilest hack-work—writing scoffing paragraphs, or advertising pamphlets, or freelance snippets for the papers—that even in hack-work quality shows itself to those competent to judge; and he need not always subdue his gold to the lead in which he works. Moreover, conscience and instinct are surprisingly true and sane. If he follows the suggestions of his own inward, he will generally be right. Moreover again, no one can help him as much as he can help himself. There is no job in the writing world that he cannot have if he really wants it. Writing about something he intimately knows is a sound principle. Hugh Walpole, that greatly gifted novelist, taught school after leaving Cambridge, and very sensibly began by writing about school-teaching. If you care to see how well he did it, read "The Gods and Mr. Perrin." I would propose this test to the would-be writer: Does he feel, honestly, that he could write as convincingly about his own tract of life (whatever it may be) as Walpole wrote about that boys' school? If so, he has a true vocation for literature.
The first and most necessary equipment of any writer, be he reporter, advertising copy-man, poet, or historian, is swift, lively, accurate observation. And since consciousness is a rapid, shallow river which we can only rarely dam up deep enough to go swimming and take our ease, it is his positive need (unless he is a genius who can afford to let drift away much of his only source of gold) to keep a note-book handy for the sieving and skimming of this running stream. Samuel Butler has good advice on this topic. Of ideas, he says, you must throw salt on their tails or they fly away and you never see their bright plumage again. Poems, stories, epigrams, all the happiest freaks of the mind, flit by on wings and at haphazard instants. They must be caught in air. In this respect one thinks American writers ought to have an advantage over English, for American trousers are made with hip-pockets, in which a small note-book may so comfortably caress the natural curvature of man.
Fancy is engendered in the eyes, said Shakespeare, and is with gazing fed. By fancy he meant (I suppose) love; but imagination is also so engendered. Close, constant, vivid, and compassionate gazing at the ways of mankind is the laboratory manual of literature. But for most of us we may gaze until our eyeballs twitch with weariness; unless we seize and hold the flying picture in some steadfast memorandum, the greater part of our experience dissolves away with time. If a man has thought sufficiently about the arduous and variously rewarded profession of literature to propose seriously to follow it for a living, he will already have said these things to himself, with more force and pungency. He may have satisfied himself that he has a necessary desire for "self-expression," which is a parlous state indeed, and the cause of much literary villainy. The truly great writer is more likely to write in the hope of expressing the hearts of others than his own. And there are other desires, too, most legitimate, that he may feel. An English humorist said recently in the preface to his book: "I wrote these stories to satisfy an inward craving—not for artistic expression, but for food and drink." But I cannot conscientiously advise any man to turn to writing merely as a means of earning his victual unless he should, by some cheerful casualty, stumble upon a trick of the You-know-me-Alfred sort, what one might call the Attabuoyant style. If all you want is a suggestion as to some honest way of growing rich, the doughnut industry is not yet overcrowded; and people will stand in line to pay twenty-two cents for a dab of ice-cream smeared with a trickle of syrup.
To the man who approaches writing with some decent tincture of idealism it is well to say that he proposes to use as a trade what is, at its best and happiest, an art and a recreation. He proposes to sell his mental reactions to the helpless public, and he proposes not only to enjoy himself by so doing, but to be handsomely recompensed withal. He cannot complain that in days when both honesty and delicacy of mind are none too common we ask him to bring to his task the humility of the tradesman, the joy of the sportsman, the conscience of the artist.
And if he does so, he will be in a condition to profit by these fine words of George Santayana, said of the poet, but applicable to workers in every branch of literature:
"He labours with his nameless burden of perception, and wastes himself in aimless impulses of emotion and reverie, until finally the method of some art offers a vent to his inspiration, or to such part of it as can survive the test of time and the discipline of expression.... Wealth of sensation and freedom of fancy, which make an extraordinary ferment in his ignorant heart, presently bubble over into some kind of utterance."
FULTON STREET, AND WALT WHITMAN
At the suggestion of Mr. Christopher Clarke, the Three Hours for Lunch Club made pilgrimage to the old seafaring tavern at No. 2 Fulton Street, and found it to be a heavenly place, with listing brass-shod black walnut stairs and the equally black and delightful waiter called Oliver, who (said Mr. Clarke) has been there since 1878.
But the club reports that the swordfish steak, of which it partook as per Mr. Clarke's suggestion, did not appeal so strongly to its taste. Swordfish steak, we feel, is probably a taste acquired by long and diligent application. At the first trial it seemed to the club a bit too reptilian in flavour. The club will go there again, and will hope to arrive in time to grab one of those tables by the windows, looking out over the docks and the United Fruit Company steamer which is so appropriately named the Banan; but it is the sense of the meeting that swordfish steak is not in its line.
The club retorts to Mr. Clarke by asking him if he knows the downtown chophouse where one may climb sawdusted stairs and sit in a corner beside a framed copy of the New-York Daily Gazette of May 1, 1789, at a little table incised with the initials of former habitues, and hold up toward the light a glass of the clearest and most golden and amberlucent cider known to mankind, and before attacking a platter of cold ham and Boston beans, may feel that smiling sensation of a man about to make gradual and decent advances toward a ripe and ruddy appetite.
Fulton Street has always been renowned for its taverns. The Old Shakespeare Tavern used to be there, as is shown by the tablet at No. 136 commemorating the foundation of the Seventh Regiment. The club has always intended to make more careful exploration of Dutch Street, the little alley that runs off Fulton Street on the south side, not far from Broadway. There is an eating place on this byway, and the organization plans to patronize it, in order to have an excuse for giving itself the sub-title of the Dutch Street Club. The more famous eating houses along Fulton Street are known to all: the name of at least one of them has a genial Queen Anne sound. And only lately a very seemly coffee house was established not far from Fulton and Nassau. We must confess our pleasure in the fact that this place uses as its motto a footnote from The Spectator—"Whoever wished to find a gentleman commonly asked not where he resided, but which coffee house he frequented."
Among the many things to admire along Fulton Street (not the least of which are Dewey's puzzling perpetually fluent grape-juice bottle, and the shop where the trained ferrets are kept, for chasing out rats, mice, and cockroaches from your house, the sign says) we vote for that view of the old houses along the south side of the street, where it widens out toward the East River. This vista of tall, leaning chimneys seems to us one of the most agreeable things in New York, and we wonder whether any artist has ever drawn it. As our colleague Endymion suggested, it would make a fine subject for Walter Jack Duncan. In the eastern end of this strip of fine old masonry resides the seafaring tavern we spoke of above; formerly known as Sweet's, and a great place of resort (we are told) for Brooklynites in the palmy days before the Bridge was opened, when they used to stop there for supper before taking the Fulton Ferry across the perilous tideway.
The Fulton Ferry—dingy and deserted now—is full of fine memories. The old waiting room, with its ornate carved ceiling and fine, massive gas brackets, peoples itself, in one's imagination, with the lively and busy throngs of fifty and sixty years ago. "My life then (1850-60) was curiously identified with Fulton Ferry, already becoming the greatest in the world for general importance, volume, variety, rapidity, and picturesqueness." So said Walt Whitman. It is a curious experience to step aboard one of the boats in the drowsy heat of a summer afternoon and take the short voyage over to the Brooklyn slip, underneath one of the huge piers of the Bridge. A few heavy wagons and heat-oppressed horses are almost the only other passengers. Not far away from the ferry, on the Brooklyn side, are the three charmingly named streets—Cranberry, Orange, and Pineapple—which are also so lastingly associated with Walt Whitman's life. It strikes us as odd, incidentally, that Walt, who loved Brooklyn so much, should have written a phrase so capable of humorous interpretation as the following: "Human appearances and manners—endless humanity in all its phases—Brooklyn also." This you will find in Walt's Prose Works, which is (we suppose) one of the most neglected of American classics.
But Fulton Street, Manhattan—in spite of its two greatest triumphs: Evelyn Longman Batchelder's glorious figure of "Lightning," and the strictly legal "three grains of pepsin" which have been a comfort to so many stricken invalids—is a mere byway compared to Fulton Street, Brooklyn, whose long bustling channel may be followed right out into the Long Island pampas. At the corner of Fulton and Cranberry streets "Leaves of Grass" was set up and printed, Walt Whitman himself setting a good deal of the type. Ninety-eight Cranberry Street, we have always been told, was the address of Andrew and James Rome, the printers. The house at that corner is still numbered 98. The ground floor is occupied by a clothing store, a fruit stand, and a barber shop. The building looks as though it is probably the same one that Walt knew. Opposite it is a sign where the comparatively innocent legend BEN'S PURE LAGER has been deleted.
The pilgrim on Fulton Street will also want to have a look at the office of the Brooklyn Eagle, that famous paper which has numbered among its employees two such different journalists as Walt Whitman and Edward Bok. There are many interesting considerations to be drawn from the two volumes of Walt's writings for the Eagle, which were collected (under the odd title "The Gathering of the Forces") by Cleveland Rodgers and John Black. We have always been struck by the complacent naivete of Walt's judgments on literature (written, perhaps, when he was in a hurry to go swimming down at the foot of Fulton Street). Such remarks as the following make us ponder a little sadly. Walt wrote:
We are no admirer of such characters as Doctor Johnson. He was a sour, malicious, egotistical man. He was a sycophant of power and rank, withal; his biographer narrates that he "always spoke with rough contempt of popular liberty." His head was educated to the point of plus, but for his heart, might still more unquestionably stand the sign minus. He insulted his equals ... and tyrannized over his inferiors. He fawned upon his superiors, and, of course, loved to be fawned upon himself.... Nor were the freaks of this man the mere "eccentricities of genius"; they were probably the faults of a vile, low nature. His soul was a bad one.
The only possible comment on all this is that it is absurd, and that evidently Walt knew very little about the great Doctor. One of the curious things about Walt—and there is no man living who admires him more than we do—is that he requires to be forgiven more generously than any other great writer. There is no one who has ever done more grotesquely unpardonable things than he—and yet, such is the virtue of his great, saline simplicity, one always pardons them. As a book reviewer, to judge from the specimens rescued from the Eagle files by his latest editors, he was uniquely childish.
Noting the date of Walt's blast on Doctor Johnson (December 7, 1846), it is doubtful whether we can attribute the irresponsibility of his remarks to a desire to go swimming.
The editors of this collection venture the suggestion that the lighter pieces included show Walt as "not devoid of humour." We fear that Walt's waggishness was rather heavily shod. Here is a sample of his light-hearted paragraphing (the italics are his):—
Carelessly knocking a man's eye out with a broken axe, may be termed a bad axe-i-dent.
It was in Leon Bazalgette's "Walt Whitman" that we learned of Walt's only really humorous achievement; and even then the humour was unconscious. It seems that during the first days of his life as a journalist in New York, Walt essayed to compromise with Mannahatta by wearing a frock coat, a high hat, and a flower in his lapel. We regret greatly that no photo of Walt in this rig has been preserved, for we would like to have seen the gentle misery of his bearing.
This afternoon we have been thinking how pleasant it would be to sit at one of those cool tables up at McSorley's and write our copy there. We have always been greatly allured by Dick Steele's habit of writing his Tatler at his favourite tavern. You remember his announcement, dated April 12, 1709:
All accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-house; poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; learning, under the title of The Grecian; foreign and domestic news, you will have from Saint James's Coffee-house; and what else I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own apartment.
Sir Dick—would one speak of him as the first colyumist?—continued by making what is, we suppose, one of the earliest references in literature to the newspaper man's "expense account." But the expenses of the reporter two centuries ago seem rather modest. Steele said:
I once more desire my reader to consider that as I cannot keep an ingenious man to go daily to Will's under twopence each day, merely for his charges; to White's under sixpence; nor to The Grecian, without allowing him some plain Spanish, to be as able as others at the learned table; and that a good observer cannot speak with even Kidney[*] at Saint James's without clean linen: I say, these considerations will, I hope, make all persons willing to comply with my humble request of a penny-a-piece.
[* Evidently the bus boy.]
But what we started to say was that if, like Dick Steele, we were in the habit of dating our stuff from various inns around the town, our choice for a quiet place in which to compose items of "gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment" would be McSorley's—"The Old House at Home"—up on Seventh Street. We had feared that this famous old cabin of cheer might have gone west in the recent evaporation; but rambling round in the neighbourhood of the Cooper Union we saw its familiar doorway with a shock of glad surprise. After all, there is no reason why the old-established houses should not go on doing a good business on a Volstead basis. It has never been so much a question of what a man drinks as the atmosphere in which he drinks it. Atrocious cleanliness and glitter and raw naked marble make the soda fountains a disheartening place to the average male. He likes a dark, low-ceilinged, and not too obtrusively sanitary place to take his ease. At McSorley's is everything that the innocent fugitive from the world requires. The great amiable cats that purr in the back room. The old pictures and playbills on the walls. The ancient clocks that hoarsely twang the hours. We cannot imagine a happier place to sit down with a pad of paper and a well-sharpened pencil than at that table in the corner by the window. Or the table just under that really lovely little portrait of Robert Burns—would there be any more propitious place in New York at which to fashion verses? There would be no interruptions, such as make versifying almost impossible in a newspaper office. The friendly bartenders in their lilac-coloured shirts are wise and gracious men. They would not break in upon one's broodings. Every now and then, while the hot sun smote the awnings outside, there would be another china mug of that one-half-of-1-per-cent. ale, which seems to us very good. We repeat: we don't care so much what we drink as the surroundings among which we drink it. We are not, if you will permit the phrase, sot in our ways. We like the spirit of McSorley's, which is decent, dignified, and refined. No club has an etiquette more properly self-respecting.
One does not go to McSorley's without a glimpse at that curious old red pile Bible House. It happened this way: Our friend Endymion was back from his vacation and we were trying to celebrate it in modest fashion. We were telling him all the things that had happened since he went away—that Bob Holliday had had a fortieth birthday, and Frank Shay had published his bibliography of Walt Whitman, and all that sort of thing; and in our mutual excitement Endymion whisked too swiftly round a corner and caught his jacket on a sharp door-latch and tore it. Inquiring at Astor Place's biggest department store as to where we could get it mended, they told us to go to "Mr. Wright the weaver" on the sixth floor of Bible House, and we did so. On our way back, avoiding the ancient wire rope elevator (we know only one other lift so delightfully mid-Victorian, viz., one in Boston, that takes you upstairs to see Edwin Edgett, the gentle-hearted literary editor of the Boston Transcript), we walked down the stairs, peeping into doorways in great curiosity. The whole building breathed a dusky and serene quaintness that pricks the imagination. It is a bit like the shop in Edinburgh (on the corner of the Leith Walk and Antigua Street, if we remember) that R.L.S. described in "A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured"—"it was dark and smelt of Bibles." We looked in at the entrance to the offices of the Christian Herald. The Bowling Green thought that what he saw was two young ladies in close and animated converse; but Endymion insisted that it was one young lady doing her hair in front of a large mirror. "Quite a pretty little picture," said Endymion. We argued about this as we went down the stairs. Finally we went back to make sure. Endymion was right. Even in the darkness of Bible House, we agreed, romance holds sway. And then we found a book shop on the ground floor of Bible House. One of our discoveries there was "Little Mr. Bouncer," by Cuthbert Bede—a companion volume to "Mr. Verdant Green."
But Dick Steele's idea of writing his column from different taverns round the city is rather gaining ground in our affections. There would be no more exciting way of spending a fortnight or so than in taking a walking tour through the forests of New York, camping for the night wherever we happened to find ourself at dark, Adam-and-Evesdropping as we went, and giving the nearest small boy fifty cents to take our copy down to the managing editor. Some of our enterprising clients, who are not habitual commuters and who live in a state of single cussedness, might try it some time.
The only thing we missed at McSorley's, we might add, was the old-time plate of onions. But then we were not there at lunch time, and the pungent fruit may have been hidden away in the famous tall ice box. Hutchins Hapgood once said, in an article about McSorley's in Harper's Weekly: "The wives of the men who frequent McSorley's always know where their husbands have been. There is no mistaking a McSorley onion." He was right. The McSorley onion—"rose among roots"—was sui generis. It had a reach and authenticity all its own.
We have said a good deal, now and then, about some of the taverns and chophouses we enjoy; but the one that tingles most strongly in our bosom is one that doesn't exist. That is the chophouse that might be put in the cellar of that glorious old round-towered building at 59 Ann Street.
As you go along Ann Street, you will come, between numbers 57 and 61, to an old passage-way running down to a curious courtyard, which is tenanted mostly by carpenters and iron-workers, and by a crowded store which seems to be a second-hand ship-chandlery, for old sea-boots, life preservers, fenders, ship's lanterns, and flags hang on the wall over the high stairway. In the cellars are smithies where you will see the bright glare of a forge and men with faces gleaming in tawny light pulling shining irons out of the fire. The whole place is too fascinating to be easily described. That round-tower house is just our idea of the right place for a quiet tavern or club, where one would go in at lunch time, walk over a sawdusted floor to a table bleached by many litres of slopovers, light a yard of clay, and call for a platter of beefsteak pie. The downtown region is greatly in need of the kind of place we have in mind, and if any one cares to start a chophouse in that heavenly courtyard, the Three Hours for Lunch Club pledges itself to attend regularly.
"My idea of life," said my friend S——, "would be to have a nice lawn running down to the water, several deck-chairs, plenty of tobacco, and three or four of us to sit there all day long and listen to B—— talk."
I suppose that B——,—I wish I could name him, but it would be an indecency to do so, for part of his charm is his complete unconsciousness of the affection, and even adoration, of the little group of younger men who call themselves his "fans"—I suppose that B——'s talk is as nearly Johnsonian in virtue and pungency as any spoken wisdom now hearable in this country. To know him is, in the absolute truth of that enduring phrase, a liberal education. To his simplicity, his valorous militancy for truth, he joins the mind of a great scholar, the placable spirit of an eager child.
I said "Johnsonian"—yet even in the great Doctor as we have him recorded there were a certain truculence and vehemence that are a little foreign to B——'s habit. Fearless champion as he is, there is always a gentleness about him. Even when his voice deepens and he is well launched on a long argument, he is never brutally dogmatic, never cruelly discourteous.
The beauty of B——'s talk, the quality that would make it a delight to listen to him all a summer afternoon, is that he gives, unconsciously, a perfect exhibition of a perfect process, a great mind in motion. His mind is too full, too crowded, too ratiocinative, for easy and frugal utterance. Sometimes, unless one is an acute listener, he is almost incoherent in his zeal to express all the phases and facets of the thought that flashes upon him. And yet, if one could (unknown to him) have a stenographer behind the arras to take it all down, so that his argument could be analyzed at leisure, it would show its anatomical knitting and structure. Do you remember how Burke's speech on Conciliation was parsed and sub-headed in the preface to the school-texts? Just so, in I and II and III, A. B. and C, ([alpha]), ([beta]), and ([gamma]), i, ii, and iii, we could articulate the strict and bony logic that vertebrates B——'s talk. Reservations, exceptions, qualifications, parentheses, sub-clauses, and humorous paraphrases swim upon him as he goes, and he deals with each as it comes. Sometimes, one thinks, he has lost the spine of the discourse, is mazed in a ganglion of nerves and sinews. But no! give him time and back he comes to the marrow of his theme!
What a happiness this is to listen to—he (bless his heart) now and then apologizing for his copiousness, little dreaming that we are all better men for hearing him; that his great gray head and clear kindly eye ("His mild and magnificent eye": whose is that phrase?) are to us a symbol of Socratic virtue and power; that there is not one of us who, after an hour or so with him, does not depart with private resolutions of honour and fidelity to wisdom. How he irrigates his subject, whatever it is.
I'll tell you who Time gallops withal! It is when B—— sits down at a corner table of some chophouse, and (the rest of us seeing to it that the meal gets ordered, and now and then saying something about the food so that he will remember to eat) we marvel to watch the glow and business of a mind so great paired with a heart so simple.
"My idea is this," he says, "subject to an exception which I will state in a moment." Taking up his exception, he makes it so lucid, so pregnant, so comprehensive, so irresistible, that it seems to us the whole and satisfying dogma; and then, suddenly turning it inside-outward, he reveals the seams, and we remember that it was only a trifling nexus in the rational series. He returns to his main thesis, and other counterpoising arguments occur to him. He outlines them, with delicious AEsopian sagacity. "Of course this analysis is only quantitative, not qualitative," he says. "But I will now restate my position with all the necessary reservations, and we'll see if it will hold water."
We smile, and look at each other slyly, in the sheer happiness of enjoying a perfect work of art. He must be a mere quintain, a poor lifeless block, who does not revel in such an exhibition, where those two rare qualities of mind—honesty and agility—are locked in one.
Of course—it is hardly necessary to say—we do not always agree with everything he says. But we could not disagree with him; for we see that his broad, shrewd, troubled spirit could take no other view, arising out of the very multitude and swarm and pressure of his thought. Those who plod diligently and narrowly along a country lane may sometimes reach the destination less fatigued than the more conscientious and passionate traveller who quarters the fields and beats the bounds, intent to leave no covert unscrutinized. But in him we see and love and revere something rare and precious, not often found in our present way of life; in matters concerning the happiness of others, a devoted spirit of unrivalled wisdom; in those pertaining to himself, a child's unblemished innocence. The perplexities of others are his daily study; his own pleasures, a constant surprise.