By Thomas Bailey Aldrich
TO FRANCIS BARTLETT
THESE miscellaneous notes and essays are called Ponkapog Papers not simply because they chanced, for the most part, to be written within the limits of the old Indian Reservation, but, rather, because there is something typical of their unpretentiousness in the modesty with which Ponkapog assumes to being even a village. The little Massachusetts settlement, nestled under the wing of the Blue Hills, has no illusions concerning itself, never mistakes the cackle of the bourg for the sound that echoes round the world, and no more thinks of rivalling great centres of human activity than these slight papers dream of inviting comparison between themselves and important pieces of literature. Therefore there seems something especially appropriate in the geographical title selected, and if the author's choice of name need further excuse, it is to be found in the alluring alliteration lying ready at his hand.
REDMAN FARM, Ponkapog, 1903.
LEAVES FROM A NOTE BOOK
FLEABODY AND OTHER QUEER NAMES
A NOTE ON "L'AIGLON"
PLOT AND CHARACTER
THE CRUELTY OF SCIENCE
LEIGH HUNT AND BARRY CORNWALL
WRITERS AND TALKERS
ON EARLY RISING
UN POETE MANQUE
THE MALE COSTUME OF THE PERIOD
ON A CERTAIN AFFECTATION
THE AUTOGRAPH HUNTER
LEAVES FROM A NOTE BOOK
IN his Memoirs, Kropotkin states the singular fact that the natives of the Malayan Archipelago have an idea that something is extracted from them when their likenesses are taken by photography. Here is the motive for a fantastic short story, in which the hero—an author in vogue or a popular actor—might be depicted as having all his good qualities gradually photographed out of him. This could well be the result of too prolonged indulgence in the effort to "look natural." First the man loses his charming simplicity; then he begins to pose in intellectual attitudes, with finger on brow; then he becomes morbidly self-conscious, and finally ends in an asylum for incurable egotists. His death might be brought about by a cold caught in going out bareheaded, there being, for the moment, no hat in the market of sufficient circumference to meet his enlarged requirement.
THE evening we dropped anchor in the Bay of Yedo the moon was hanging directly over Yokohama. It was a mother-of-pearl moon, and might have been manufactured by any of the delicate artisans in the Hanchodori quarter. It impressed one as being a very good imitation, but nothing more. Nammikawa, the cloisonne-worker at Tokio, could have made a better moon.
I NOTICE the announcement of a new edition of "The Two First Centuries of Florentine Literature," by Professor Pasquale Villari. I am not acquainted with the work in question, but I trust that Professor Villari makes it plain to the reader how both centuries happened to be first.
THE walking delegates of a higher civilization, who have nothing to divide, look upon the notion of property as a purely artificial creation of human society. According to these advanced philosophers, the time will come when no man shall be allowed to call anything his. The beneficent law which takes away an author's rights in his own books just at the period when old age is creeping upon him seems to me a handsome stride toward the longed-for millennium.
SAVE US from our friends—our enemies we can guard against. The well-meaning rector of the little parish of Woodgates, England, and several of Robert Browning's local admirers have recently busied themselves in erecting a tablet to the memory of "the first known forefather of the poet." This lately turned up ancestor, who does not date very far back, was also named Robert Browning, and is described on the mural marble as "formerly footman and butler to Sir John Bankes of Corfe Castle." Now, Robert Browning the poet had as good right as Abou Ben Adhem himself to ask to be placed on the list of those who love their fellow men; but if the poet could have been consulted in the matter he probably would have preferred not to have that particular footman exhumed. However, it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Sir John Bankes would scarcely have been heard of in our young century if it had not been for his footman. As Robert stood day by day, sleek and solemn, behind his master's chair in Corfe Castle, how little it entered into the head of Sir John that his highly respectable name would be served up to posterity—like a cold relish—by his own butler! By Robert!
IN the east-side slums of New York, somewhere in the picturesque Bowery district, stretches a malodorous little street wholly given over to long-bearded, bird-beaked merchants of ready-made and second-hand clothing. The contents of the dingy shops seem to have revolted, and rushed pell-mell out of doors, and taken possession of the sidewalk. One could fancy that the rebellion had been quelled at this point, and that those ghastly rows of complete suits strung up on either side of the doorways were the bodies of the seditious ringleaders. But as you approach these limp figures, each dangling and gyrating on its cord in a most suggestive fashion, you notice, pinned to the lapel of a coat here and there, a strip of paper announcing the very low price at which you may become the happy possessor. That dissipates the illusion.
POLONIUS, in the play, gets killed—and not any too soon. If it only were practicable to kill him in real life! A story—to be called The Passing of Polonius—in which a king issues a decree condemning to death every long-winded, didactic person in the kingdom, irrespective of rank, and is himself instantly arrested and decapitated. The man who suspects his own tediousness is yet to be born.
WHENEVER I take up Emerson's poems I find myself turning automatically to his Bacchus. Elsewhere, in detachable passages embedded in mediocre verse, he rises for a moment to heights not reached by any other of our poets; but Bacchus is in the grand style throughout. Its texture can bear comparison with the world's best in this kind. In imaginative quality and austere richness of diction what other verse of our period approaches it? The day Emerson wrote Bacchus he had in him, as Michael Drayton said of Marlowe, "those brave translunary things that the first poets had."
IMAGINE all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell!
No man has ever yet succeeded in painting an honest portrait of himself in an autobiography, however sedulously he may have set to work about it. In spite of his candid purpose he omits necessary touches and adds superfluous ones. At times he cannot help draping his thought, and the least shred of drapery becomes a disguise. It is only the diarist who accomplishes the feat of self-portraiture, and he, without any such end in view, does it unconsciously. A man cannot keep a daily record of his comings and goings and the little items that make up the sum of his life, and not inadvertently betray himself at every turn. He lays bare his heart with a candor not possible to the selfconsciousness that inevitably colors premeditated revelation. While Pepys was filling those small octavo pages with his perplexing cipher he never once suspected that he was adding a photographic portrait of himself to the world's gallery of immortals. We are more intimately acquainted with Mr. Samuel Pepys, the inner man—his little meannesses and his large generosities—then we are with half the persons we call our dear friends.
THE young girl in my story is to be as sensitive to praise as a prism is to light. Whenever anybody praises her she breaks into colors.
IN the process of dusting my study, the other morning, the maid replaced an engraving of Philip II. of Spain up-side down on the mantel-shelf, and his majesty has remained in that undignified posture ever since. I have no disposition to come to his aid. My abhorrence of the wretch is as hearty as if he had not been dead and—otherwise provided for these last three hundred years. Bloody Mary of England was nearly as merciless, but she was sincere and uncompromising in her extirpation of heretics.
Philip II., whose one recorded hearty laugh was occasioned by the news of the St. Bartholomew massacre, could mask his fanaticism or drop it for the time being, when it seemed politic to do so. Queen Mary was a maniac; but the successor of Torquemada was the incarnation of cruelty pure and simple, and I have a mind to let my counterfeit presentment of him stand on its head for the rest of its natural life. I cordially dislike several persons, but I hate nobody, living or dead, excepting Philip II. of Spain. He appears to give me as much trouble as Charles I. gave the amiable Mr. Dick.
AMONG the delightful men and women whom you are certain to meet at an English country house there is generally one guest who is supposed to be preternaturally clever and amusing—"so very droll, don't you know." He recites things, tells stories in costermonger dialect, and mimics public characters. He is a type of a class, and I take him to be one of the elementary forms of animal life, like the acalephae. His presence is capable of adding a gloom to an undertaker's establishment. The last time I fell in with him was on a coaching trip through Devon, and in spite of what I have said I must confess to receiving an instant of entertainment at his hands. He was delivering a little dissertation on "the English and American languages." As there were two Americans on the back seat—it seems we term ourselves "Amurricans"—his choice of subject was full of tact. It was exhilarating to get a lesson in pronunciation from a gentleman who said boult for bolt, called St. John Sin' Jun, and did not know how to pronounce the beautiful name of his own college at Oxford. Fancy a perfectly sober man saying Maudlin for Magdalen! Perhaps the purest English spoken is that of the English folk who have resided abroad ever since the Elizabethan period, or thereabouts.
EVERY one has a bookplate these days, and the collectors are after it. The fool and his bookplate are soon parted. To distribute one's ex libris is inanely to destroy the only significance it has, that of indicating the past or present ownership of the volume in which it is placed.
WHEN an Englishman is not highly imaginative he is apt to be the most matter-of-fact of mortals. He is rarely imaginative, and seldom has an alert sense of humor. Yet England has produced the finest of humorists and the greatest of poets. The humor and imagination which are diffused through other peoples concentrate themselves from time to time in individual Englishmen.
THIS is a page of autobiography, though not written in the first person: Many years ago a noted Boston publisher used to keep a large memorandum-book on a table in his personal office. The volume always lay open, and was in no manner a private affair, being the receptacle of nothing more important than hastily scrawled reminders to attend to this thing or the other. It chanced one day that a very young, unfledged author, passing through the city, looked in upon the publisher, who was also the editor of a famous magazine. The unfledged had a copy of verses secreted about his person. The publisher was absent, and young Milton, feeling that "they also serve who only stand and wait," sat down and waited. Presently his eye fell upon the memorandum-book, lying there spread out like a morning newspaper, and almost in spite of himself he read: "Don't forget to see the binder," "Don't forget to mail E——- his contract," "Don't forget H——-'s proofs," etc. An inspiration seized upon the youth; he took a pencil, and at the tail of this long list of "don't forgets" he wrote: "Don't forget to accept A 's poem." He left his manuscript on the table and disappeared. That afternoon when the publisher glanced over his memoranda, he was not a little astonished at the last item; but his sense of humor was so strong that he did accept the poem (it required a strong sense of humor to do that), and sent the lad a check for it, though the verses remain to this day unprinted. That kindly publisher was wise as well as kind.
FRENCH novels with metaphysical or psychological prefaces are always certain to be particularly indecent.
I HAVE lately discovered that Master Harry Sandford of England, the priggish little boy in the story of "Sandford and Merton," has a worthy American cousin in one Elsie Dinsmore, who sedately pirouettes through a seemingly endless succession of girls' books. I came across a nest of fifteen of them the other day. This impossible female is carried from infancy up to grandmotherhood, and is, I believe, still leisurely pursuing her way down to the tomb in an ecstatic state of uninterrupted didacticism. There are twenty-five volumes of her and the granddaughter, who is also christened Elsie, and is her grandmother's own child, with the same precocious readiness to dispense ethical instruction to her elders. An interesting instance of hereditary talent!
H——-'s intellect resembles a bamboo—slender, graceful, and hollow. Personally, he is long and narrow, and looks as if he might have been the product of a rope-walk. He is loosely put together, like an ill-constructed sentence, and affects me like one. His figure is ungrammatical.
AMERICAN humor is nearly as ephemeral as the flowers that bloom in the spring. Each generation has its own crop, and, as a rule, insists on cultivating a new kind. That of 1860, if it were to break into blossom at the present moment, would probably be left to fade upon the stem.
Humor is a delicate shrub, with the passing hectic flush of its time. The current-topic variety is especially subject to very early frosts, as is also the dialectic species. Mark Twain's humor is not to be classed with the fragile plants; it has a serious root striking deep down into rich earth, and I think it will go on flowering indefinitely.
I HAVE been imagining an ideal critical journal, whose plan should involve the discharge of the chief literary critic and the installment of a fresh censor on the completion of each issue. To place a man in permanent absolute control of a certain number of pages, in which to express his opinions, is to place him in a position of great personal danger, It is almost inevitable that he should come to overrate the importance of those opinions, to take himself with far too much seriousness, and in the end adopt the dogma of his own infallibility. The liberty to summon this or that man-of-letters to a supposititious bar of justice is apt to beget in the self-appointed judge an exaggerated sense of superiority. He becomes impatient of any rulings not his, and says in effect, if not in so many words: "I am Sir Oracle, and when I ope my lips let no dog bark." When the critic reaches this exalted frame of mind his slight usefulness is gone.
AFTER a debauch of thunder-shower, the weather takes the pledge and signs it with a rainbow.
I LIKE to have a thing suggested rather than told in full. When every detail is given, the mind rests satisfied, and the imagination loses the desire to use its own wings. The partly draped statue has a charm which the nude lacks. Who would have those marble folds slip from the raised knee of the Venus of Melos? Hawthorne knew how to make his lovely thought lovelier by sometimes half veiling it.
I HAVE just tested the nib of a new pen on a slight fancy which Herrick has handled twice in the "Hesperides." The fancy, however, is not Herrick's; it is as old as poetry and the exaggeration of lovers, and I have the same privilege as another to try my fortune with it:
UP ROOS THE SONNE, AND UP ROOS EMELYE CHAUCER
When some hand has partly drawn The cloudy curtains of her bed, And my lady's golden head Glimmers in the dusk like dawn, Then methinks is day begun. Later, when her dream has ceased And she softly stirs and wakes, Then it is as when the East A sudden rosy magic takes From the cloud-enfolded sun, And full day breaks!
Shakespeare, who has done so much to discourage literature by anticipating everybody, puts the whole matter into a nutshell:
But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
THERE is a phrase spoken by Hamlet which I have seen quoted innumerable times, and never once correctly. Hamlet, addressing Horatio, says:
Give me that man That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart.
The words italicized are invariably written "heart of hearts"—as if a person possessed that organ in duplicate. Perhaps no one living, with the exception of Sir Henry Irving, is more familiar with the play of Hamlet than my good friend Mr. Bram Stoker, who makes his heart plural on two occasions in his recent novel, "The Mystery of the Sea." Mrs. Humphry Ward also twice misquotes the passage in "Lady Rose's Daughter."
BOOKS that have become classics—books that ave had their day and now get more praise than perusal—always remind me of venerable colonels and majors and captains who, having reached the age limit, find themselves retired upon half pay.
WHETHER or not the fretful porcupine rolls itself into a ball is a subject over which my friend John Burroughs and several brother naturalists have lately become as heated as if the question involved points of theology. Up among the Adirondacks, and in the very heart of the region of porcupines, I happen to have a modest cottage. This retreat is called The Porcupine, and I ought by good rights to know something about the habits of the small animal from which it derives its name. Last winter my dog Buster used to return home on an average of three times a month from an excursion up Mt. Pisgah with his nose stuck full of quills, and he ought to have some concrete ideas on the subject. We two, then, are prepared to testify that the porcupine in its moments of relaxation occasionally contracts itself into what might be taken for a ball by persons not too difficult to please in the matter of spheres. But neither Buster nor I—being unwilling to get into trouble—would like to assert that it is an actual ball. That it is a shape with which one had better not thoughtlessly meddle is a conviction that my friend Buster stands ready to defend against all comers.
WORDSWORTH'S characterization of the woman in one of his poems as "a creature not too bright or good for human nature's daily food" has always appeared to me too cannibalesque to be poetical. It directly sets one to thinking of the South Sea islanders.
THOUGH Iago was not exactly the kind of person one would select as a superintendent for a Sunday-school, his advice to young Roderigo was wisdom itself—"Put money in thy purse." Whoever disparages money disparages every step in the progress of the human race. I listened the other day to a sermon in which gold was personified as a sort of glittering devil tempting mortals to their ruin. I had an instant of natural hesitation when the contribution-plate was passed around immediately afterward. Personally, I believe that the possession of gold has ruined fewer men than the lack of it. What noble enterprises have been checked and what fine souls have been blighted in the gloom of poverty the world will never know. "After the love of knowledge," says Buckle, "there is no one passion which has done so much good to mankind as the love of money."
DIALECT tempered with slang is an admirable medium of communication between persons who have nothing to say and persons who would not care for anything properly said.
DR. HOLMES had an odd liking for ingenious desk-accessories in the way of pencil-sharpeners, paper-weights, penholders, etc. The latest contrivances in this fashion—probably dropped down to him by the inventor angling for a nibble of commendation—were always making one another's acquaintance on his study table. He once said to me: "I 'm waiting for somebody to invent a mucilage-brush that you can't by any accident put into your inkstand. It would save me frequent moments of humiliation."
THE deceptive Mr. False and the volatile Mrs. Giddy, who figure in the pages of seventeenth and eighteenth century fiction, are not tolerated in modern novels and plays. Steal the burglar and Palette the artist have ceased to be. A name indicating the quality or occupation of the bearer strikes us as a too transparent device. Yet there are such names in contemporary real life. That of our worthy Adjutant-General Drum may be instanced. Neal and Pray are a pair of deacons who linger in the memory of my boyhood. Sweet the confectioner and Lamb the butcher are individuals with whom I have had dealings. The old-time sign of Ketchum & Cheetam, Brokers, in Wall Street, New York, seems almost too good to be true. But it was once, if it is not now, an actuality.
I HAVE observed that whenever a Boston author dies, New York immediately becomes a great literary centre.
THE possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man. There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks.
EVERY living author has a projection of himself, a sort of eidolon, that goes about in near and remote places making friends or enemies for him among persons who never lay eyes upon the writer in the flesh. When he dies, this phantasmal personality fades away, and the author lives only in the impression created by his own literature. It is only then that the world begins to perceive what manner of man the poet, the novelist, or the historian really was. Not until he is dead, and perhaps some long time dead, is it possible for the public to take his exact measure. Up to that point contemporary criticism has either overrated him or underrated him, or ignored him altogether, having been misled by the eidolon, which always plays fantastic tricks with the writer temporarily under its dominion. It invariably represents him as either a greater or a smaller personage than he actually is. Presently the simulacrum works no more spells, good or evil, and the deception is unveiled. The hitherto disregarded author is recognized, and the idol of yesterday, which seemed so important, is taken down from his too large pedestal and carted off to the dumping-ground of inadequate things. To be sure, if he chances to have been not entirely unworthy, and on cool examination is found to possess some appreciable degree of merit, then he is set up on a new slab of appropriate dimensions. The late colossal statue shrinks to a modest bas-relief. On the other hand, some scarcely noticed bust may suddenly become a revered full-length figure. Between the reputation of the author living and the reputation of the same author dead there is ever a wide discrepancy.
A NOT too enchanting glimpse of Tennyson is incidentally given by Charles Brookfield, the English actor, in his "Random Recollections." Mr. Brookfield's father was, on one occasion, dining at the Oxford and Cambridge Club with George Venables, Frank Lushington, Alfred Tennyson, and others. "After dinner," relates the random recollector, "the poet insisted upon putting his feet on the table, tilting back his chair more Americano. There were strangers in the room, and he was expostulated with for his uncouthness, but in vain. 'Do put down your feet!' pleaded his host. 'Why should I?' retorted Tennyson. 'I 'm very comfortable as I am.' 'Every one's staring at you,' said another. 'Let 'em stare,' replied the poet, placidly. 'Alfred,' said my father, 'people will think you're Longfellow.' Down went the feet." That more Americano of Brookfield the younger is delicious with its fine insular flavor, but the holding up of Longfellow—the soul of gentleness, the prince of courtesy—as a bugaboo of bad manners is simply inimitable. It will take England years and years to detect the full unconscious humor of it.
GREAT orators who are not also great writers become very indistinct historical shadows to the generations immediately following them. The spell vanishes with the voice. A man's voice is almost the only part of him entirely obliterated by death. The violet of his native land may be made of his ashes, but nature in her economy seems to have taken no care of his intonations, unless she perpetuates them in restless waves of air surging about the poles. The well-graced actor who leaves no perceptible record of his genius has a decided advantage over the mere orator. The tradition of the player's method and presence is associated with works of enduring beauty. Turning to the pages of the dramatist, we can picture to ourselves the greatness of Garrick or Siddons in this or that scene, in this or that character. It is not so easy to conjure up the impassioned orator from the pages of a dry and possibly illogical argument in favor of or against some long-ago-exploded measure of government. The laurels of an orator who is not a master of literary art wither quickly.
ALL the best sands of my life are somehow getting into the wrong end of the hour-glass. If I could only reverse it! Were it in my power to do so, would I?
SHAKESPEARE is forever coming into our affairs—putting in his oar, so to speak—with some pat word or sentence. The conversation, the other evening, had turned on the subject of watches, when one of the gentlemen present, the manager of a large watch-making establishment, told us a rather interesting fact. The component parts of a watch are produced by different workmen, who have no concern with the complex piece of mechanism as a whole, and possibly, as a rule, understand it imperfectly. Each worker needs to be expert in only his own special branch. When the watch has reached a certain advanced state, the work requires a touch as delicate and firm as that of an oculist performing an operation. Here the most skilled and trustworthy artisans are employed; they receive high wages, and have the benefit of a singular indulgence. In case the workman, through too continuous application, finds himself lacking the steadiness of nerve demanded by his task, he is allowed without forfeiture of pay to remain idle temporarily, in order that his hand may recover the requisite precision of touch. As I listened, Hamlet's courtly criticism of the grave-digger's want of sensibility came drifting into my memory. "The hand of little employment hath the daintier sense," says Shakespeare, who has left nothing unsaid.
IT was a festival in honor of Dai Butsu or some one of the auxiliary deities that preside over the destinies of Japland. For three days and nights the streets of Tokio—where the squat little brown houses look for all the world as if they were mimicking the favorite sitting posture of the Japanese—were crowded with smiling holiday makers, and made gay with devices of tinted tissue paper, dolphins, devils, dragons, and mythical winged creatures which at night amiably turned themselves into lanterns. Garlands of these, arranged close together, were stretched across the streets from ridgepoles to ridgepole, and your jinrikisha whisked you through interminable arbors of soft illumination. The spectacle gave one an idea of fairyland, but then all Japan does that.
A land not like ours, that land of strange flowers, Of daemons and spooks with mysterious powers— Of gods who breathe ice, who cause peach-blooms and rice And manage the moonshine and turn on the showers.
Each day has its fair or its festival there, And life seems immune to all trouble and care— Perhaps only seems, in that island of dreams, Sea-girdled and basking in magical air.
They've streets of bazaars filled with lacquers and jars, And silk stuffs, and sword-blades that tell of old wars; They've Fuji's white cone looming up, bleak and lone, As if it were trying to reach to the stars.
They've temples and gongs, and grim Buddhas in throngs, And pearl-powdered geisha with dances and songs: Each girl at her back has an imp, brown or black, And dresses her hair in remarkable prongs.
On roadside and street toddling images meet, And smirk and kotow in a way that is sweet; Their obis are tied with particular pride, Their silken kimonos hang scant to the feet.
With purrs like a cat they all giggle and chat, Now spreading their fans, and now holding them flat; A fan by its play whispers, "Go now!" or "Stay!" "I hate you!" "I love you!"—a fan can say that! Beneath a dwarf tree, here and there, two or three Squat coolies are sipping small cups of green tea; They sputter, and leer, and cry out, and appear Like bad little chessmen gone off on a spree.
At night—ah, at night the long streets are a sight, With garlands of soft-colored lanterns alight— Blue, yellow, and red twinkling high overhead, Like thousands of butterflies taking their flight.
Somewhere in the gloom that no lanterns illume Stand groups of slim lilies and jonquils in bloom; On tiptoe, unseen 'mid a tangle of green, They offer the midnight their cups of perfume.
At times, sweet and clear from some tea-garden near, A ripple of laughter steals out to your ear; Anon the wind brings from a samisen's strings The pathos that's born of a smile and a tear.
THE difference between an English audience and a French audience at the theatre is marked. The Frenchman brings down a witticism on the wing. The Briton pauses for it to alight and give him reasonable time for deliberate aim. In English playhouses an appreciable number of seconds usually precede the smile or the ripple of laughter that follows a facetious turn of the least fineness. I disclaim all responsibility for this statement of my personal observation, since it has recently been indorsed by one of London's most eminent actors.
AT the next table, taking his opal drops of absinthe, was a French gentleman with the blase aspect of an empty champagne-bottle, which always has the air of saying: "I have lived!"
WE often read of wonderful manifestations of memory, but they are always instances of the faculty working in some special direction. It is memory playing, like Paganini, on one string. No doubt the persons performing the phenomenal feats ascribed to them have forgotten more than they remember. To be able to repeat a hundred lines of verse after a single reading is no proof of a retentive mind, excepting so far as the hundred lines go. A man might easily fail under such a test, and yet have a good memory; by which I mean a catholic one, and that I imagine to be nearly the rarest of gifts. I have never met more than four or five persons possessing it. The small boy who defined memory as "the thing you forget with" described the faculty as it exists and works in the majority of men and women.
THE survival in publishers of the imitative instinct is a strong argument in support of Mr. Darwin's theory of the descent of man. One publisher no sooner brings out a new style of book-cover than half a dozen other publishers fall to duplicating it.
THE cavalry sabre hung over the chimney-place with a knot of violets tied to the dinted guard, there being no known grave to decorate. For many a year, on each Decoration Day, a sorrowful woman had come and fastened these flowers there. The first time she brought her offering she was a slender girl, as fresh as her own violets. It is a slender figure still, but there are threads of silver in the black hair.
FORTUNATE was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who in early youth was taught "to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing"—especially the fine writing. Simplicity is art's last word.
The man is clearly an adventurer. In the seventeenth century he would have worn huge flintlock pistols stuck into a wide leather belt, and been something in the seafaring line. The fellow is always smartly dressed, but where he lives and how he lives are as unknown as "what song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women." He is a man who apparently has no appointment with his breakfast and whose dinner is a chance acquaintance. His probable banker is the next person. A great city like this is the only geography for such a character. He would be impossible in a small country town, where everybody knows everybody and what everybody has for lunch.
I HAVE been seeking, thus far in vain, for the proprietor of the saying that "Economy is second or third cousin to Avarice." I went rather confidently to Rochefoucauld, but it is not among that gentleman's light luggage of cynical maxims.
THERE is a popular vague impression that butchers are not allowed to serve as jurors on murder trials. This is not really the case, but it logically might be. To a man daily familiar with the lurid incidents of the abattoir, the summary extinction of a fellow creature (whether the victim or the criminal) can scarcely seem a circumstance of so serious moment as to another man engaged in less strenuous pursuits. WE do not, and cannot, read many of the novels that most delighted our ancestors. Some of our popular fiction is doubtless as poor, but poor with a difference. There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite. There is ragtime literature as well as ragtime music for the many.
G——- is a man who had rather fail in a great purpose than not accomplish it in precisely his own way. He has the courage of his conviction and the intolerance of his courage. He is opposed to the death penalty for murder, but he would willingly have any one electrocuted who disagreed with him on the subject.
I HAVE thought of an essay to be called "On the Art of Short-Story Writing," but have given it up as smacking too much of the shop. It would be too intime, since I should have to deal chiefly with my own ways, and so give myself the false air of seeming to consider them of importance. It would interest nobody to know that I always write the last paragraph first, and then work directly up to that, avoiding all digressions and side issues. Then who on earth would care to be told about the trouble my characters cause me by talking too much? They will talk, and I have to let them; but when the story is finished, I go over the dialogue and strike out four fifths of the long speeches. I fancy that makes my characters pretty mad.
THIS is the golden age of the inventor. He is no longer looked upon as a madman or a wizard, incontinently to be made away with. Two or three centuries ago Marconi would not have escaped a ropeless end with his wireless telegraphy. Even so late as 1800, the friends of one Robert Fulton seriously entertained the luminous idea of hustling the poor man into an asylum for the unsound before he had a chance to fire up the boiler of his tiny steamboat on the Hudson river. In olden times the pillory and the whipping-post were among the gentler forms of encouragement awaiting the inventor. If a man devised an especially practical apple-peeler he was in imminent danger of being peeled with it by an incensed populace. To-day we hail with enthusiasm a scientific or a mechanical discovery, and stand ready to make a stock company of it.
A MAN is known by the company his mind keeps. To live continually with noble books, with "high-erected thoughts seated in the heart of courtesy," teaches the soul good manners.
THE unconventional has ever a morbid attraction for a certain class of mind. There is always a small coterie of highly intellectual men and women eager to give welcome to whatever is eccentric, obscure, or chaotic. Worshipers at the shrine of the Unpopular, they tingle with a sense of tolerant superiority when they say: "Of course this is not the kind of thing you would like." Sometimes these impressionable souls almost seem to make a sort of reputation for their fetish.
I HEAR that B——- directed to have himself buried on the edge of the pond where his duckstand was located, in order that flocks of migrating birds might fly over his grave every autumn. He did not have to die, to become a dead shot. A comrade once said of him: "Yes, B——- is a great sportsman. He has peppered everything from grouse in North Dakota to his best friend in the Maine woods."
WHEN the novelist introduces a bore into his novel he must not let him bore the reader. The fellow must be made amusing, which he would not be in real life. In nine cases out of ten an exact reproduction of real life would prove tedious. Facts are not necessarily valuable, and frequently they add nothing to fiction. The art of the realistic novelist sometimes seems akin to that of the Chinese tailor who perpetuated the old patch on the new trousers. True art selects and paraphrases, but seldom gives a verbatim translation.
THE last meeting I had with Lowell was in the north room of his house at Elmwood, the sleeping-room I had occupied during a two years' tenancy of the place in his absence abroad. He was lying half propped up in bed, convalescing from one of the severe attacks that were ultimately to prove fatal. Near the bed was a chair on which stood a marine picture in aquarelle—a stretch of calm sea, a bit of rocky shore in the foreground, if I remember, and a vessel at anchor. The afternoon sunlight, falling through the window, cast a bloom over the picture, which was turned toward Lowell. From time to time, as he spoke, his eyes rested thoughtfully on the water-color. A friend, he said, had just sent it to him. It seemed to me then, and the fancy has often haunted me since, that that ship, in the golden haze, with topsails loosened, was waiting to bear his spirit away.
CIVILIZATION is the lamb's skin in which barbarism masquerades. If somebody has already said that, I forgive him the mortification he causes me. At the beginning of the twentieth century barbarism can throw off its gentle disguise, and burn a man at the stake as complacently as in the Middle Ages.
WHAT is slang in one age sometimes goes into the vocabulary of the purist in the next. On the other hand, expressions that once were not considered inelegant are looked at askance in the period following. The word "brass" was formerly an accepted synonym for money; but at present, when it takes on that significance, it is not admitted into genteel circles of language. It may be said to have seen better days, like another word I have in mind—a word that has become slang, employed in the sense which once did not exclude it from very good society. A friend lately informed me that he had "fired" his housekeeper—that is, dismissed her. He little dreamed that he was speaking excellent Elizabethan.
THE "Journal des Goncourt" is crowded with beautiful and hideous things, like a Japanese Museum.
"AND she shuddered as she sat, still silent, on her seat, and he saw that she shuddered." This is from Anthony Trollope's novel, "Can You Forgive Her?" Can you forgive him? is the next question.
A LITTLE thing may be perfect, but perfection is not a little thing. Possessing this quality, a trifle "no bigger than an agate-stone on the forefinger of an alderman" shall outlast the Pyramids. The world will have forgotten all the great masterpieces of literature when it forgets Lovelace's three verses to Lucasta on his going to the wars. More durable than marble or bronze are the words, "I could not love thee, deare, so much, loved I not honor more."
I CALLED on the dear old doctor this afternoon to say good-by. I shall probably not find him here when I come back from the long voyage which I have in front of me. He is very fragile, and looks as though a puff of wind would blow him away. He said himself, with his old-time cheerfulness, that he was attached to this earth by only a little piece of twine. He has perceptibly failed since I saw him a month ago; but he was full of the wise and radiant talk to which all the world has listened, and will miss. I found him absorbed in a newly made card-catalogue of his library. "It was absurd of me to have it done," he remarked. "What I really require is a little bookcase holding only two volumes; then I could go from one to the other in alternation and always find each book as fresh as if I never had read it." This arraignment of his memory was in pure jest, for the doctor's mind was to the end like an unclouded crystal. It was interesting to note how he studied himself, taking his own pulse, as it were, and diagnosing his own case in a sort of scientific, impersonal way, as if it were somebody else's case and he were the consulting specialist. I intended to spend a quarter of an hour with him, and he kept me three hours. I went there rather depressed, but I returned home leavened with his good spirits, which, I think, will never desert him, here or hereafter. To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent—that is to triumph over old age.
THE thing one reads and likes, and then forgets, is of no account. The thing that stays, and haunts one, and refuses to be forgotten, that is the sincere thing. I am describing the impression left upon me by Mr. Howells's blank-verse sketch called "Father and Mother: A Mystery"—a strangely touching and imaginative piece of work, not unlike in effect to some of Maeterlinck's psychical dramas. As I read on, I seemed to be standing in a shadow cast by some half-remembered experience of my own in a previous state of existence. When I went to bed that night I had to lie awake and think it over as an event that had actually befallen me. I should call the effect weird, if the word had not lately been worked to death. The gloom of Poe and the spirituality of Hawthorne touch cold finger-tips in those three or four pages.
FOR a character-study—a man made up entirely of limitations. His conservatism and negative qualities to be represented as causing him to attain success where men of conviction and real ability fail of it.
A DARK, saturnine man sat opposite me at table on board the steamer. During the entire run from Sandy Hook to Fastnet Light he addressed no one at meal-times excepting his table steward. Seated next to him, on the right, was a vivacious gentleman, who, like Gratiano in the play, spoke "an infinite deal of nothing." He made persistent and pathetic attempts to lure his silent neighbor (we had christened him "William the Silent") into conversation, but a monosyllable was always the poor result—until one day. It was the last day of the voyage. We had stopped at the entrance to Queenstown harbor to deliver the mails, and some fish had been brought aboard. The vivacious gentleman was in a high state of excitement that morning at table. "Fresh fish!" he exclaimed; "actually fresh! They seem quite different from ours. Irish fish, of course. Can you tell me, sir," he inquired, turning to his gloomy shipmate, "what kind of fish these are?" "Cork soles," said the saturnine man, in a deep voice, and then went on with his breakfast.
LOWELL used to find food for great mirth in General George P. Morris's line,
"Her heart and morning broke together."
Lowell's well-beloved Dr. Donne, however, had an attack of the same platitude, and possibly inoculated poor Morris. Even literature seems to have its mischief-making bacilli. The late "incomparable and ingenious Dean of St. Paul's" says,
"The day breaks not, it is my heart."
I think Dr. Donne's case rather worse than Morris's. Chaucer had the malady in a milder form when he wrote:
"Up roos the sonne, and up roos Emelye."
The charming naivete of it!
SITTING in Ellen Terry's dressing-room at the Lyceum Theatre one evening during that lady's temporary absence on the stage, Sarah Bernhardt picked up a crayon and wrote this pretty word on the mirror—Dearling, mistaking it for the word darling. The French actress lighted by chance upon a Spenserianism now become obsolete without good reason. It is a more charming adjective than the one that has replaced it.
A DEAD author appears to be bereft of all earthly rights. He is scarcely buried before old magazines and newspapers are ransacked in search of matters which, for reasons sufficient to him, he had carefully excluded from the definitive edition of his collected writings.
He gave the people of his best; His worst he kept, his best he gave.
One can imagine a poet tempted to address some such appeal as this to any possible future publisher of his poems:
Take what thou wilt, a lyric or a line, Take all, take nothing—and God send thee cheer! But my anathema on thee and thine If thou add'st aught to what is printed here.
THE claim of this country to call itself "The Land of the Free" must be held in abeyance until every man in it, whether he belongs or does not belong to a labor organization, shall have the right to work for his daily bread.
THERE is a strain of primitive poetry running through the entire Irish race, a fleeting lyrical emotion which expresses itself in a flash, usually in connection with love of country and kindred across the sea. I had a touching illustration of it the other morning. The despot who reigns over our kitchen was gathering a mess of dandelions on the rear lawn. It was one of those blue and gold days which seem especially to belong New England. "It's in County Westmeath I 'd be this day," she said, looking up at me. "I'd go cool my hands in the grass on my ould mother's grave in the bit of churchyard foreninst the priest's house at Mullingar." I have seen poorer poetry than that in the magazines.
SPEAKING of the late Major Pond, the well-known director of a lecture bureau, an old client of his remarked: "He was a most capable manager, but it always made me a little sore to have him deduct twenty-five per cent. commission." "Pond's Extract," murmured one of the gentlemen present.
EACH of our great towns has its "Little Italy," with shops where nothing is spoken but Italian and streets in which the alien pedestrian had better not linger after nightfall. The chief industry of these exotic communities seems to be spaghetti and stilettos. What with our Little Italys and Chinatowns, and the like, an American need not cross the ocean in order to visit foreign lands and enjoy the benefits of older civilizations.
POETS are made as well as born, the proverb notwithstanding. They are made possible by the general love of poetry and the consequent imperious demand for it. When this is nonexistent, poets become mute, the atmosphere stifles them. There would have been no Shakespeare had there been no Elizabethan audience. That was an age when, as Emerson finely puts it,
Men became Poets, for the air was fame.
THE stolid gentleman in livery who has his carriage-stand at the corner opposite my house is constantly touching on the extremes of human experience, with probably not the remotest perception of the fact. Now he takes a pair of lovers out for an airing, and now he drives the absconding bank-teller to the railway-station. Excepting as question of distance, the man has positively no choice between a theatre and a graveyard. I met him this morning dashing up to the portals of Trinity Church with a bridal party, and this afternoon, as I was crossing Cambridge Bridge, I saw him creeping along next to the hearse, on his way to Mount Auburn. The wedding afforded him no pleasure, and the funeral gave him no grief; yet he was a factor in both. It is his odd destiny to be wholly detached from the vital part of his own acts. If the carriage itself could speak! The autobiography of a public hack written without reservation would be dramatic reading.
IN this blotted memorandum-book are a score or two of suggestions for essays, sketches, and poems, which I have not written, and never shall write. The instant I jot down an idea the desire to utilize it leaves me, and I turn away to do something unpremeditated. The shabby volume has become a sort of Potter's Field where I bury my literary intentions, good and bad, without any belief in their final resurrection.
A STAGE DIRECTION: exit time; enter Eternity—with a soliloquy.
IN my early Boston days a gentle soul was often to be met with about town, furtively haunting old book-shops and dusty editorial rooms, a man of ingratiating simplicity of manner, who always spoke in a low, hesitating voice, with a note of refinement in it. He was a devout worshiper of Elia, and wrote pleasant discursive essays smacking somewhat of his master's flavor—suggesting rather than imitating it—which he signed "Tom Folio." I forget how he glided into my acquaintanceship; doubtless in some way too shy and elusive for remembrance. I never knew him intimately, perhaps no one did, but the intercourse between us was most cordial, and our chance meetings and bookish chats extended over a space of a dozen years.
Tom Folio—I cling to the winning pseudonym—was sparely built and under medium height, or maybe a slight droop of the shoulders made it seem so, with a fragile look about him and an aspect of youth that was not his. Encountering him casually on a street corner, you would, at the first glance, have taken him for a youngish man, but the second glance left you doubtful. It was a figure that struck a note of singularity and would have attracted your attention even in a crowd.
During the first four or five years of our acquaintance, meeting him only out of doors or in shops, I had never happened to see him with his hat off. One day he recklessly removed it, and in the twinkling of an eye he became an elderly bald-headed man. The Tom Folio I once knew had virtually vanished. An instant earlier he was a familiar shape; an instant later, an almost unrecognizable individual. A narrow fringe of light-colored hair, extending from ear to ear under the rear brim of his hat, had perpetrated an unintentional deception by leading one to suppose a head profusely covered with curly locks. "Tom Folio," I said, "put on your hat and come back!" But after that day he never seemed young to me.
I had few or no inklings of his life disconnected with the streets and the book-stalls, chiefly those on Cornhill or in the vicinity. It is possible I am wrong in inferring that he occupied a room somewhere at the South End or in South Boston, and lived entirely alone, heating his coffee and boiling his egg over an alcohol lamp. I got from him one or two fortuitous hints of quaint housekeeping. Every winter, it appeared, some relative, far or near, sent him a large batch of mince pies, twenty or thirty at least. He once spoke to me of having laid in his winter pie, just as another might speak of laying in his winter coal. The only fireside companion Tom Folio ever alluded to in my presence was a Maltese cat, whose poor health seriously disturbed him from time to time. I suspected those mince pies. The cat, I recollect, was named Miss Mowcher.
If he had any immediate family ties beyond this I was unaware of them, and not curious to be enlightened on the subject. He was more picturesque solitary. I preferred him to remain so. Other figures introduced into the background of the canvas would have spoiled the artistic effect.
Tom Folio was a cheerful, lonely man—a recluse even when he allowed himself to be jostled and hurried along on the turbulent stream of humanity sweeping in opposite directions through Washington Street and its busy estuaries. He was in the crowd, but not of it. I had so little real knowledge of him that I was obliged to imagine his more intimate environments. However wide of the mark my conjectures may have fallen, they were as satisfying to me as facts would have been. His secluded room I could picture to myself with a sense of certainty—the couch (a sofa by day), the cupboard, the writing-table with its student lamp, the litter of pamphlets and old quartos and octavos in tattered bindings, among which were scarce reprints of his beloved Charles Lamb, and perhaps—nay, surely—an editio princeps of the "Essays."
The gentle Elia never had a gentler follower or a more loving disciple than Tom Folio. He moved and had much of his being in the early part of the last century. To him the South-Sea House was the most important edifice on the globe, remaining the same venerable pile it used to be, in spite of all the changes that had befallen it. It was there Charles Lamb passed the novitiate of his long years of clerkship in the East India Company. In Tom Folio's fancy a slender, boyish figure was still seated, quill in hand, behind those stately porticoes looking upon Threadneedle Street and Bishopsgate. That famous first paper in the "Essays," describing the South-Sea House and the group of human oddities which occupied desks within its gloomy chambers, had left an indelible impression upon the dreamer. Every line traced by the "lean annuitant" was as familiar to Tom Folio as if he had written it himself. Stray scraps, which had escaped the vigilance of able editors, were known to him, and it was his to unearth amid a heap of mouldy, worm-eaten magazines, a handful of leaves hitherto forgotten of all men. Trifles, yes—but Charles Lamb's! "The king's chaff is as good as other people's corn," says Tom Folio.
Often his talk was sweet and racy with old-fashioned phrases; the talk of a man who loved books and drew habitual breath in an atmosphere of fine thought. Next to Charles Lamb, but at a convenable distance, Izaak Walton was Tom Folio's favorite. His poet was Alexander Pope, though he thought Mr. Addison's tragedy of "Cato" contained some proper good lines. Our friend was a wide reader in English classics, greatly preferring the literature of the earlier periods to that of the Victorian age. His smiling, tenderly expressed disapprobation of various modern authors was enchanting. John Keats's verses were monstrous pretty, but over-ornamented. A little too much lucent syrup tinct with cinnamon, don't you think? The poetry of Shelley might have been composed in the moon by a slightly deranged, well-meaning person. If you wanted a sound mind in a sound metrical body, why there was Mr. Pope's "Essay on Man." There was something winsome and by-gone in the general make-up of Tom Folio. No man living in the world ever seemed to me to live so much out of it, or to live more comfortably.
At times I half suspected him of a convalescent amatory disappointment. Perhaps long before I knew him he had taken a little sentimental journey, the unsuccessful end of which had touched him with a gentle sadness. It was something far off and softened by memory. If Tom Folio had any love-affair on hand in my day, it must have been of an airy, platonic sort—a chaste secret passion for Mistress Peg Woffington or Nell Gwyn, or possibly Mr. Waller's Saccharissa.
Although Tom Folio was not a collector—that means dividends and bank balances—he had a passion for the Past and all its belongings, with a virtuoso's knowledge of them. A fan painted by Vanloo, a bit of rare Nankin (he had caught from Charles Lamb the love of old china), or an undoctored stipple of Bartolozzi, gave him delight in the handling, though he might not aspire to ownership. I believe he would willingly have drunk any horrible decoction from a silver teapot of Queen Anne's time. These things were not for him in a coarse, materialistic sense; in a spiritual sense he held possession of them in fee-simple. I learned thus much of his tastes one day during an hour we spent together in the rear showroom of a dealer in antiquities.
I have spoken of Tom Folio as lonely, but I am inclined to think that I mis-stated it. He had hosts of friends who used to climb the rather steep staircase leading to that modest third-story front room which I have imagined for him—a room with Turkey-red curtains, I like to believe, and a rare engraving of a scene from Mr. Hogarth's excellent moral of "The Industrious and Idle Apprentices" pinned against the chimney breast. Young Chatterton, who was not always the best of company, dropped in at intervals. There Mr. Samuel Pepys had a special chair reserved for him by the window, where he could catch a glimpse of the pretty housemaid over the way, chatting with the policeman at the area railing. Dr. Johnson and the unworldly author of "The Deserted Village" were frequent visitors, sometimes appearing together arm-in-arm, with James Boswell, Esq., of Auchinleck, following obsequiously behind. Not that Tom Folio did not have callers vastly more aristocratic, though he could have had none pleasanter or wholesomer. Sir Philip Sidney (who must have given Folio that copy of the "Arcadia"), the Viscount St. Albans, and even two or three others before whom either of these might have doffed his bonnet, did not disdain to gather round that hearthstone. Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, Defoe, Dick Steele, Dean Swift—there was no end to them! On certain nights, when all the stolid neighborhood was lapped in slumber, the narrow street stretching beneath Tom Folio's windows must have been blocked with invisible coaches and sedan-chairs, and illuminated by the visionary glare of torches borne by shadowy linkboys hurrying hither and thither. A man so sought after and companioned cannot be described as lonely.
My memory here recalls the fact that he had a few friends less insubstantial—that quaint anatomy perched on the top of a hand-organ, to whom Tom Folio was wont to give a bite of his apple; and the brown-legged little Neapolitan who was always nearly certain of a copper when this multi-millionaire strolled through the slums on a Saturday afternoon—Saturday probably being the essayist's pay-day. The withered woman of the peanut-stand on the corner over against Faneuil Hall Market knew him for a friend, as did also the blind lead-pencil merchant, whom Tom Folio, on occasions, safely piloted across the stormy traffic of Dock Square. Noblesse oblige! He was no stranger in those purlieus. Without designing to confuse small things with great, I may say that a certain strip of pavement in North Street could be pointed out as Tom Folio's Walk, just as Addison's Walk is pointed out on the banks of the Cherwell at Oxford.
I used to observe that when Tom Folio was not in quest of a print or a pamphlet or some such urgent thing, but was walking for mere recreation, he instinctively avoided respectable latitudes. He liked best the squalid, ill-kept thoroughfares shadowed by tall, smudgy tenement-houses and teeming with unprosperous, noisy life. Perhaps he had, half consciously, a sense of subtle kinship to the unsuccess and cheerful resignation of it all.
Returning home from abroad one October morning several years ago, I was told that that simple spirit had passed on. His death had been little heeded; but in him had passed away an intangible genuine bit of Old Boston—as genuine a bit, in its kind, as the Autocrat himself—a personality not to be restored or replaced. Tom Folio could never happen again!
Strolling to-day through the streets of the older section of the town, I miss many a venerable landmark submerged in the rising tide of change, but I miss nothing quite so much as I do the sight of Tom Folio entering the doorway of the Old Corner Bookstore, or carefully taking down a musty volume from its shelf at some melancholy old book-stall on Cornhill.
FLEABODY AND OTHER QUEER NAMES
WHEN an English novelist does us the honor to introduce any of our countrymen into his fiction, he generally displays a commendable desire to present something typical in the way of names for his adopted characters—to give a dash of local color, as it were, with his nomenclature. His success is seldom commensurate to the desire. He falls into the error of appealing to his invention, instead of consulting some city directory, in which he would find more material than he could exhaust in ten centuries. Charles Reade might have secured in the pages of such a compendium a happier title than Fullalove for his Yankee sea-captain; though I doubt, on the whole, if Anthony Trollope could have discovered anything better than Olivia Q. Fleabody for the young woman from "the States" in his novel called "Is He Popenjoy?"
To christen a sprightly young female advocate of woman's rights Olivia Q. Fleabody was very happy indeed; to be candid, it was much better than was usual with Mr. Trollope, whose understanding of American life and manners was not enlarged by extensive travel in this country. An English tourist's preconceived idea of us is a thing he brings over with him on the steamer and carries home again intact; it is as much a part of his indispensable impedimenta as his hatbox. But Fleabody is excellent; it was probably suggested by Peabody, which may have struck Mr. Trollope as comical (just as Trollope strikes us as comical), or, at least, as not serious. What a capital name Veronica Trollope would be for a hoydenish young woman in a society novel! I fancy that all foreign names are odd to the alien. I remember that the signs above shop-doors in England and on the Continent used to amuse me often enough, when I was over there. It is a notable circumstance that extraordinary names never seem extraordinary to the persons bearing them. If a fellow-creature were branded Ebenezer Cuttlefish he would remain to the end of his days quite unconscious of anything out of the common.
I am aware that many of our American names are sufficiently queer; but English writers make merry over them, as if our most eccentric were not thrown into the shade by some of their own. No American, living or dead, can surpass the verbal infelicity of Knatchbull-Hugessen, for example—if the gentleman will forgive me for conscripting him. Quite as remarkable, in a grimly significant way, is the appellation of a British officer who was fighting the Boers in the Transvaal in the year of blessed memory 1899. This young soldier, who highly distinguished himself on the field, was known to his brothers-in-arms as Major Pine Coffin. I trust that the gallant major became a colonel later and is still alive. It would eclipse the gayety of nations to lose a man with a name like that.
Several years ago I read in the sober police reports of "The Pall Mall Gazette" an account of a young man named George F. Onions, who was arrested (it ought to have been by "a peeler") for purloining money from his employers, Messrs. Joseph Pickles & Son, stuff merchants, of Bradford—des noms bien idylliques! What mortal could have a more ludicrous name than Onions, unless it were Pickles, or Pickled Onions? And then for Onions to rob Pickles! Could there be a more incredible coincidence? As a coincidence it is nearly sublime. No story-writer would dare to present that fact or those names in his fiction; neither would be accepted as possible. Meanwhile Olivia Q. Fleabody is ben trovato.
A NOTE ON "L'AIGLON"
THE night-scene on the battlefield of Wagram in "L'Aiglon"—an episode whose sharp pathos pierces the heart and the imagination like the point of a rapier—bears a striking resemblance to a picturesque passage in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables." It is the one intense great moment in the play, and has been widely discussed, but so far as I am aware none of M. Rostand's innumerable critics has touched on the resemblance mentioned. In the master's romance it is not the field of Wagram, but the field of Waterloo, that is magically repeopled with contending armies of spooks, to use the grim old Dutch word, and made vivid to the mind's eye. The passage occurs at the end of the sixteenth chapter in the second part of "Les Miserables" (Cosette), and runs as follows:
Le champ de Waterloo aujourd'hui a le calme qui appartient a la terre, support impassible de l'homme, et il resemble a toutes les plaines. La nuit pourtant une espece de brume visionnaire s'en degage, et si quelque voyageur s'y promene, s'il regarde, s'il ecoute, s'il reve comme Virgile dans les funestes plaines de Philippes, l'hallucination de la catastrophe le saisit. L'effrayant 18 juin revit; la fausse colline-monument s'efface, ce lion quelconque se dissipe, le champ de bataille reprend sa realite; des lignes d'infanterie ondulent dans la plaine, des galops furieux traversent l'horizon; le songeur effare voit l'eclair des sabres, l'etincelle des bayonnettes, le flamboiement des bombes, l'entre-croisement monstrueux des tonnerres; il entend, comme un rale au fond d'une tombe, la clameur vague de la bataille-fantome; ces ombres, ce sont les grenadiers; ces lueurs, ce sont les cuirassiers; . . . tout cela n'est plus et se heurte et combat encore; et les ravins s'empourprent, et les arbres frissonnent, et il y a de la furie jusque dans les nuees, et, dans les tenebres, toutes ces hauteurs farouches, Mont-Saint Jean, Hougomont, Frischemont, Papelotte, Plancenoit, apparaissent confusement couronnees de tourbillons de spectres s'exterminant. (1)
Here is the whole battle scene in "L'Aiglon," with scarcely a gruesome detail omitted. The vast plain glimmering in phantasmal light; the ghostly squadrons hurling themselves against one another (seen only through the eyes of the poor little Duke of Reichstadt); the mangled shapes lying motionless in various postures of death upon the blood-stained sward; the moans of the wounded rising up and sweeping by like vague wailings of the wind—all this might be taken for an artful appropriation of Victor Hugo's text; but I do not think it was, though it is possible that a faint reflection of a brilliant page, read in early youth, still lingered on the retina of M. Rostand's memory. If such were the case, it does not necessarily detract from the integrity of the conception or the playwright's presentment of it.
(1) The field of Waterloo has to-day the peacefulness which belongs to earth, the impassive support of man, and is like all other plains. At night, however, a kind of visionary mist is exhaled, and if any traveler walks there, and watches and listens, and dreams like Virgil on the sorrowful plains of Philippi, the hallucination of the catastrophe takes possession of him. The terrible June 18 relives; the artificial commemorative mound effaces itself, the lion disappears, the field of battle assumes its reality; lines of infantry waver on the plain, the horizon is broken by furious charges of cavalry; the alarmed dreamer sees the gleam of sabres, the glimmer of bayonets, the lurid glare of bursting shells, the clashing of mighty thunderbolts; the muffled clamor of the phantom conflict comes to him like dying moans from the tomb; these shadows are grenadiers, these lights are cuirassiers . . . all this does not really exist, yet the combat goes on; the ravines are stained with purple, the trees tremble, there is fury even in the clouds, and in the obscurity the sombre heights—Mont Saint-Jean, Hougomont, Frischemont, Papelotte, and Plancenoit—ap-pear dimly crowned with throngs of apparitions annihilating one another.
The idea of repeopling old battlefields with the shades of vanished hosts is not novel. In such tragic spots the twilight always lays a dark hand on the imagination, and prompts one to invoke the unappeased spirit of the past that haunts the place. One summer evening long ago, as I was standing alone by the ruined walls of Hougomont, with that sense of not being alone which is sometimes so strangely stirred by solitude, I had a sudden vision of that desperate last charge of Napoleon's Old Guard. Marshal Ney rose from the grave and again shouted those heroic words to Drouet d'Erlon: "Are you not going to get yourself killed?" For an instant a thousand sabres flashed in the air. The deathly silence that accompanied the ghostly onset was an added poignancy to the short-lived dream. A moment later I beheld a hunched little figure mounted on a white horse with housings of purple velvet. The reins lay slack in the rider's hand; his three-cornered hat was slouched over his brows, and his chin rested on the breast of his great-coat. Thus he slowly rode away through the twilight, and nobody cried, Vive l'Empereur!
The ground on which a famous battle has been fought casts a spell upon every man's mind; and the impression made upon two men of poetic genius, like Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand, might well be nearly identical. This sufficiently explains the likeness between the fantastic silhouette in "Les Miserables" and the battle of the ghosts in "L'Aiglon." A muse so rich in the improbable as M. Rostand's need not borrow a piece of supernaturalness from anybody.
PLOT AND CHARACTER
HENRY JAMES, in his paper on Anthony Trollope, says that if Trollope "had taken sides on the rather superficial opposition between novels of character and novels of plot, I can imagine him to have said (except that he never expressed himself in epigram) that he preferred the former class, inasmuch as character in itself is plot, while plot is by no means character." So neat an antithesis would surely never have found itself between Mr. Trollope's lips if Mr. James had not cunningly lent it to him. Whatever theory of novel-writing Mr. Trollope may have preached, his almost invariable practice was to have a plot. He always had a story to tell, and a story involves beginning, middle, and end—in short, a framework of some description.
There have been delightful books filled wholly with character-drawing; but they have not been great novels. The great novel deals with human action as well as with mental portraiture and analysis. That "character in itself is plot" is true only in a limited sense. A plan, a motive with a logical conclusion, is as necessary to a novel or a romance as it is to a drama. A group of skillfully made-up men and women lounging in the green-room or at the wings is not the play. It is not enough to say that this is Romeo and that Lady Macbeth. It is not enough to inform us that certain passions are supposed to be embodied in such and such persons: these persons should be placed in situations developing those passions. A series of unrelated scenes and dialogues leading to nothing is inadequate.
Mr. James's engaging epigram seems to me vulnerable at both ends—unlike Achilles. "Plot is by no means character." Strictly speaking, it is not. It appears to me, however, that plot approaches nearer to being character than character does to being plot. Plot necessitates action, and it is impossible to describe a man's actions' under whatever conditions, without revealing something of his character, his way of looking at things, his moral and mental pose. What a hero of fiction does paints him better than what he says, and vastly better than anything his creator may say of him. Mr. James asserts that "we care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are." I think we care very little what people are (in fiction) when we do not know what happens to them.
THE CRUELTY OF SCIENCE
IN the process of their experiments upon the bodies of living animals some anatomists do not, I fear, sufficiently realize that
The poor beetle, that we tread upon, In corporal sufferance, finds a pang as great As when a giant dies.
I am not for a moment challenging the necessity of vivisection, though distinguished surgeons have themselves challenged it; I merely contend that science is apt to be cold-hearted, and does not seem always to take into consideration the tortures she inflicts in her search for knowledge.
Just now, in turning over the leaves of an old number of the "London Lancet," I came upon the report of a lecture on experimental physiology delivered by Professor William Rutherford before a learned association in London. Though the type had become antiquated and the paper yellowed in the lapse of years, the pathos of those pages was alive and palpitating.
The following passages from the report will illustrate not unfairly the point I am making. In the course of his remarks the lecturer exhibited certain interesting experiments on living frogs. Intellectually I go very strongly for Professor Rutherford, but I am bound to confess that the weight of my sympathy rests with the frogs.
Observe this frog [said the professor], it is regarding our manoeuvres with a somewhat lively air. Now and then it gives a jump. What the precise object of its leaps may be I dare not pretend to say; but probably it regards us with some apprehension, and desires to escape.
To be perfectly impartial, it must be admitted that the frog had some slight reason for apprehension. The lecturer proceeded:
I touch one of its toes, and you see it resents the molestation in a very decided manner. Why does it so struggle to get away when I pinch its toes? Doubtless, you will say, because it feels the pinch and would rather not have it repeated. I now behead the animal with the aid of a sharp chisel. . . . The headless trunk lies as though it were dead. The spinal cord seems to be suffering from shock. Probably, however, it will soon recover from this. . . . Observe that the animal has now spontaneously drawn up its legs and arms, and it is sitting with its neck erect just as if it had not lost its head at all. I pinch its toes, and you see the leg is at once thrust out as if to spurn away the offending instrument. Does it still feel? and is the motion still the result of the volition?
That the frog did feel, and delicately hinted at the circumstance, there seems to be no room to doubt, for Professor Rutherford related that having once decapitated a frog, the animal suddenly bounded from the table, a movement that presumably indicated a kind of consciousness. He then returned to the subject immediately under observation, pinched its foot again, the frog again "resenting the stimulation." He then thrust a needle down the spinal cord. "The limbs are now flaccid," observed the experimenter; "we may wait as long as we please, but a pinch of the toes will never again cause the limbs of this animal to move." Here is where congratulations can come in for la grenouille. That frog being concluded, the lecturer continued:
I take another frog. In this case I open the cranium and remove the brain and medulla oblongata. . . . I thrust a pin through the nose and hang the animal thereby to a support, so that it can move its pendent legs without any difficulty. . . . I gently pinch the toes. . . . The leg of the same side is pulled up. . . . I pinch the same more severely. . . . Both legs are thrown into motion.
Having thus satisfactorily proved that the wretched creature could still suffer acutely, the professor resumed:
The cutaneous nerves of the frog are extremely sensitive to acids; so I put a drop of acetic acid on the outside of one knee. This, you see, gives rise to most violent movements both of arms and legs, and notice particularly that the animal is using the toes of the leg on the same side for the purpose of rubbing the irritated spot. I dip the whole animal into water in order to wash away the acid, and now it is all at rest again. . . . I put a drop of acid on the skin over the lumbar region of the spine. . . . Both feet are instantly raised to the irritated spot. The animal is able to localize the seat of irritation. . . . I wash the acid from the back, and I amputate one of the feet at the ankle. . . . I apply a drop of acid over the knee of the footless leg. . . . Again, the animal turns the leg towards the knee, as if to reach the irritated spot with the toes; these, however, are not now available. But watch the other foot. The foot of the other leg is now being used to rub away the acid. The animal, finding that the object is not accomplished with the foot of the same side, uses the other one.
I think that at least one thing will be patent to every unprejudiced reader of these excerpts, namely—that any frog (with its head on or its head off) which happened to make the personal acquaintance of Professor Rutherford must have found him poor company. What benefit science may have derived from such association I am not qualified to pronounce upon. The lecturer showed conclusively that the frog is a peculiarly sensitive and intelligent little batrachian. I hope that the genial professor, in the years which followed, did not frequently consider it necessary to demonstrate the fact.
LEIGH HUNT AND BARRY CORNWALL
IT has recently become the fashion to speak disparagingly of Leigh Hunt as a poet, to class him as a sort of pursuivant or shield-bearer to Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. Truth to tell, Hunt was not a Keats nor a Shelley nor a Coleridge, but he was a most excellent Hunt. He was a delightful essayist—quite unsurpassed, indeed, in his blithe, optimistic way—and as a poet deserves to rank high among the lesser singers of his time. I should place him far above Barry Cornwall, who has not half the freshness, variety, and originality of his compeer.
I instance Barry Cornwall because there has seemed a disposition since his death to praise him unduly. Barry Cornwall has always struck me as extremely artificial, especially in his dramatic sketches. His verses in this line are mostly soft Elizabethan echoes. Of course a dramatist may find it to his profit to go out of his own age and atmosphere for inspiration; but in order successfully to do so he must be a dramatist. Barry Cornwall fell short of filling the role; he got no further than the composing of brief disconnected scenes and scraps of soliloquies, and a tragedy entitled Mirandola, for which the stage had no use. His chief claim to recognition lies in his lyrics. Here, as in the dramatic studies, his attitude is nearly always affected. He studiously strives to reproduce the form and spirit of the early poets. Being a Londoner, he naturally sings much of rural English life, but his England is the England of two or three centuries ago. He has a great deal to say about the "falcon," but the poor bird has the air of beating fatigued wings against the bookshelves of a well-furnished library! This well-furnished library was—if I may be pardoned a mixed image—the rock on which Barry Cornwall split. He did not look into his own heart, and write: he looked into his books.
A poet need not confine himself to his individual experiences; the world is all before him where to choose; but there are subjects which he had better not handle unless he have some personal knowledge of them. The sea is one of these. The man who sang,
The sea! the sea! the open sea! The blue, the fresh, the ever free!
(a couplet which the Gifted Hopkins might have penned), should never have permitted himself to sing of the ocean. I am quoting from one of Barry Cornwall's most popular lyrics. When I first read this singularly vapid poem years ago, in mid-Atlantic, I wondered if the author had ever laid eyes on any piece of water wider than the Thames at Greenwich, and in looking over Barry Cornwall's "Life and Letters" I am not so much surprised as amused to learn that he was never out of sight of land in the whole course of his existence. It is to be said of him more positively than the captain of the Pinafore said it of himself, that he was hardly ever sick at sea.
Imagine Byron or Shelley, who knew the ocean in all its protean moods, piping such thin feebleness as
"The blue, the fresh, the ever free!"
To do that required a man whose acquaintance with the deep was limited to a view of it from an upper window at Margate or Scarborough. Even frequent dinners of turbot and whitebait at the sign of The Ship and Turtle will not enable one to write sea poetry.
Considering the actual facts, there is something weird in the statement,
I 'm on the sea! I 'm on the sea! I am where I would ever be.
The words, to be sure, are placed in the mouth of an imagined sailor, but they are none the less diverting. The stanza containing the distich ends with a striking piece of realism:
If a storm should come and awake the deep, What matter? I shall ride and sleep.
This is the course of action usually pursued by sailors during a gale. The first or second mate goes around and tucks them up comfortably, each in his hammock, and serves them out an extra ration of grog after the storm is over.
Barry Cornwall must have had an exceptionally winning personality, for he drew to him the friendship of men as differently constituted as Thackeray, Carlyle, Browning, and Forster. He was liked by the best of his time, from Charles Lamb down to Algernon Swinburne, who caught a glimpse of the aged poet in his vanishing. The personal magnetism of an author does not extend far beyond the orbit of his contemporaries. It is of the lyrist and not of the man I am speaking here. One could wish he had written more prose like his admirable "Recollections of Elia."
Barry Cornwall seldom sounds a natural note, but when he does it is extremely sweet. That little ballad in the minor key beginning,
Touch us gently, Time! Let us glide adown thy stream, was written in one of his rare moments. Leigh Hunt, though not without questionable mannerisms, was rich in the inspiration that came but infrequently to his friend. Hunt's verse is full of natural felicities. He also was a bookman, but, unlike Barry Cornwall, he generally knew how to mint his gathered gold, and to stamp the coinage with his own head. In "Hero and Leander" there is one line which, at my valuing, is worth any twenty stanzas that Barry Cornwall has written:
So might they now have lived, and so have died; The story's heart, to me, still beats against its side.
Hunt's fortunate verse about the kiss Jane Carlyle gave him lingers on everybody's lip. That and the rhyme of "Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel" are spice enough to embalm a man's memory. After all, it takes only a handful.
HOW quickly Nature takes possession of a deserted battlefield, and goes to work repairing the ravages of man! With invisible magic hand she smooths the rough earthworks, fills the rifle-pits with delicate flowers, and wraps the splintered tree-trunks with her fluent drapery of tendrils. Soon the whole sharp outline of the spot is lost in unremembering grass. Where the deadly rifle-ball whistled through the foliage, the robin or the thrush pipes its tremulous note; and where the menacing shell described its curve through the air, a harmless crow flies in circles. Season after season the gentle work goes on, healing the wounds and rents made by the merciless enginery of war, until at last the once hotly contested battleground differs from none of its quiet surroundings, except, perhaps, that here the flowers take a richer tint and the grasses a deeper emerald.
It is thus the battle lines may be obliterated by Time, but there are left other and more lasting relics of the struggle. That dinted army sabre, with a bit of faded crepe knotted at its hilt, which hangs over the mantel-piece of the "best room" of many a town and country house in these States, is one; and the graven headstone of the fallen hero is another. The old swords will be treasured and handed down from generation to generation as priceless heirlooms, and with them, let us trust, will be cherished the custom of dressing with annual flowers the resting-places of those who fell during the Civil War.
With the tears a Land hath shed Their graves should ever be green.
Ever their fair, true glory Fondly should fame rehearse— Light of legend and story, Flower of marble and verse.
The impulse which led us to set apart a day for decorating the graves of our soldiers sprung from the grieved heart of the nation, and in our own time there is little chance of the rite being neglected. But the generations that come after us should not allow the observance to fall into disuse. What with us is an expression of fresh love and sorrow, should be with them an acknowledgment of an incalculable debt.
Decoration Day is the most beautiful of our national holidays. How different from those sullen batteries which used to go rumbling through our streets are the crowds of light carriages, laden with flowers and greenery, wending their way to the neighboring cemeteries! The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blooms. There is no hint of war in these gay baggage trains, except the presence of men in undress uniform, and perhaps here and there an empty sleeve to remind one of what has been. Year by year that empty sleeve is less in evidence.
The observance of Decoration Day is unmarked by that disorder and confusion common enough with our people in their holiday moods. The earlier sorrow has faded out of the hour, leaving a softened solemnity. It quickly ceased to be simply a local commemoration. While the sequestered country churchyards and burial-places near our great northern cities were being hung with May garlands, the thought could not but come to us that there were graves lying southward above which bent a grief as tender and sacred as our own. Invisibly we dropped unseen flowers upon those mounds. There is a beautiful significance in the fact that, two years after the close of the war, the women of Columbus, Mississippi, laid their offerings alike on Northern and Southern graves. When all is said, the great Nation has but one heart.
WRITERS AND TALKERS
AS a class, literary men do not shine in conversation. The scintillating and playful essayist whom you pictured to yourself as the most genial and entertaining of companions, turns out to be a shy and untalkable individual, who chills you with his reticence when you chance to meet him. The poet whose fascinating volume you always drop into your gripsack on your summer vacation—the poet whom you have so long desired to know personally—is a moody and abstracted middle-aged gentleman, who fails to catch your name on introduction, and seems the avatar of the commonplace. The witty and ferocious critic whom your fancy had painted as a literary cannibal with a morbid appetite for tender young poets—the writer of those caustic and scholarly reviews which you never neglect to read—destroys the un-lifelike portrait you had drawn by appearing before you as a personage of slender limb and deprecating glance, who stammers and makes a painful spectacle of himself when you ask him his opinion of "The Glees of the Gulches," by Popocatepetl Jones. The slender, dark-haired novelist of your imagination, with epigrammatic points to his mustache, suddenly takes the shape of a short, smoothly-shaven blond man, whose conversation does not sparkle at all, and you were on the lookout for the most brilliant of verbal fireworks. Perhaps it is a dramatist you have idealized. Fresh from witnessing his delightful comedy of manners, you meet him face to face only to discover that his own manners are anything but delightful. The play and the playwright are two very distinct entities. You grow skeptical touching the truth of Buffon's assertion that the style is the man himself. Who that has encountered his favorite author in the flesh has not sometimes been a little, if not wholly, disappointed?
After all, is it not expecting too much to expect a novelist to talk as cleverly as the clever characters in his novels? Must a dramatist necessarily go about armed to the teeth with crisp dialogue? May not a poet be allowed to lay aside his singing-robes and put on a conventional dress-suit when he dines out? Why is it not permissible in him to be as prosaic and tiresome as the rest of the company? He usually is.
ON EARLY RISING
A CERTAIN scientific gentleman of my acquaintance, who has devoted years to investigating the subject, states that he has never come across a case of remarkable longevity unaccompanied by the habit of early rising; from which testimony it might be inferred that they die early who lie abed late. But this would be getting out at the wrong station. That the majority of elderly persons are early risers is due to the simple fact that they cannot sleep mornings. After a man passes his fiftieth milestone he usually awakens at dawn, and his wakefulness is no credit to him. As the theorist confined his observations to the aged, he easily reached the conclusion that men live to be old because they do not sleep late, instead of perceiving that men do not sleep late because they are old. He moreover failed to take into account the numberless young lives that have been shortened by matutinal habits.
The intelligent reader, and no other is supposable, need not be told that the early bird aphorism is a warning and not an incentive. The fate of the worm refutes the pretended ethical teaching of the proverb, which assumes to illustrate the advantage of early rising and does so by showing how extremely dangerous it is. I have no patience with the worm, and when I rise with the lark I am always careful to select a lark that has overslept himself.
The example set by this mythical bird, a mythical bird so far as New England is concerned, has wrought wide-spread mischief and discomfort. It is worth noting that his method of accomplishing these ends is directly the reverse of that of the Caribbean insect mentioned by Lafcadio Hearn in his enchanting "Two Years in the French West Indies"—a species of colossal cricket called the wood-kid; in the creole tongue, cabritt-bois. This ingenious pest works a soothing, sleep-compelling chant from sundown until precisely half past four in the morning, when it suddenly stops and by its silence awakens everybody it has lulled into slumber with its insidious croon. Mr. Hearn, with strange obtuseness to the enormity of the thing, blandly remarks: "For thousands of early risers too poor to own a clock, the cessation of its song is the signal to get up." I devoutly trust that none of the West India islands furnishing such satanic entomological specimens will ever be annexed to the United States. Some of our extreme advocates of territorial expansion might spend a profitable few weeks on one of those favored isles. A brief association with that cabritt-bois would be likely to cool the enthusiasm of the most ardent imperialist.
An incalculable amount of specious sentiment has been lavished upon daybreak, chiefly by poets who breakfasted, when they did breakfast, at mid-day. It is charitably to be said that their practice was better than their precept—or their poetry. Thomson, the author of "The Castle of Indolence," who gave birth to the depraved apostrophe,
"Falsely luxurious, will not man awake,"
was one of the laziest men of his century. He customarily lay in bed until noon meditating pentameters on sunrise. This creature used to be seen in his garden of an afternoon, with both hands in his waistcoat pockets, eating peaches from a pendent bough. Nearly all the English poets who at that epoch celebrated what they called "the effulgent orb of day" were denizens of London, where pure sunshine is unknown eleven months out of the twelve.