by Christopher Darlington Morley
F.M. AND L.J.M.
ON FILLING AN
OLD THOUGHTS FOR
A LETTER TO
WHAT MEN LIVE BY
SITTING IN THE
BROWN EYES AND
163 INNOCENT OLD
A TRAGIC SMELL
BULLIED BY THE
A MESSAGE FOR
SAFE FOR THE
THE SMELL OF
TWO DAYS WE
THE URCHIN AT
THE KEY RING
THE APPLE THAT
NO ONE ATE
AS TO RUMORS
WALTON WRITES A
LETTER TO HER
THE TRAGEDY OF
IF MR. WILSON
WERE THE WEATHER
THE TRUTH AT
TRIALS OF A
DIARY OF A
THE VALUE OF
THE SUNNY SIDE
OF GRUB STREET
FOR A NEWSPAPER
ADVICE TO THOSE
VISITING A BABY
ABOU BEN WOODROW
TO AN UNKNOWN
SETTING AN ALARM
SONGS IN A
A GOOD HOME IN
This book is intended to be read in bed. Please do not attempt to
read it anywhere else.
In order to obtain the best results for all concerned do not read a
borrowed copy, but buy one. If the bed is a double bed, buy two.
Do not lend a copy under any circumstances, but refer your friends
to the nearest bookshop, where they may expiate their curiosity.
Most of these sketches were first printed in the Philadelphia
Evening Public Ledger; others appeared in The Bookman, the
Boston Evening Transcript, Life, and The Smart Set. To all these publications I am indebted for permission to reprint.
If one asks what excuse there can be for prolonging the existence of
these trifles, my answer is that there is no excuse. But a copy on the
bedside shelf may possibly pave the way to easy slumber. Only a mind
“debauched by learning” (in Doctor Johnson's phrase) will scrutinize
them too anxiously.
It seems to me, on reading the proofs, that the skit entitled
“Trials of a President Travelling Abroad” is a faint and subconscious
echo of a passage in a favorite of my early youth, Happy Thoughts, by the late F.C. Burnand. If this acknowledgment should move anyone to
read that delicious classic of pleasantry, the innocent plunder may be
And now a word of obeisance. I take this opportunity of thanking
several gentle overseers and magistrates who have been too generously
friendly to these eccentric gestures. These are Mr. Robert Cortes
Holliday, editor of The Bookman and victim of the novelette
herein entitled “Owd Bob”; Mr. Edwin F. Edgett, literary editor of The
Boston Transcript, who has often permitted me to cut outrageous
capers in his hospitable columns; and Mr. Thomas L. Masson, of Life, who allows me to reprint several of the shorter pieces. But most of
all I thank Mr. David E. Smiley, editor of the Philadelphia Evening
Public Ledger, for whom the majority of these sketches were
written, and whose patience and kindness have been a frequent amazement
PHILADELPHIA September, 1919
ON FILLING AN INK-WELL
Those who buy their ink in little stone jugs may prefer to do so
because the pottle reminds them of cruiskeen lawn or ginger beer (with
its wire-bound cork), but they miss a noble delight. Ink should be
bought in the tall, blue glass, quart bottle (with the ingenious
non-drip spout), and once every three weeks or so, when you fill your
ink-well, it is your privilege to elevate the flask against the
brightness of a window, and meditate (with a breath of sadness) on the
joys and problems that sacred fluid holds in solution.
How blue it shines toward the light! Blue as lupin or larkspur, or
cornflower—aye, and even so blue art thou, my scriven, to think how
far the written page falls short of the bright ecstasy of thy dream! In
the bottle, what magnificence of unpenned stuff lies cool and liquid:
what fluency of essay, what fonts of song. As the bottle glints, blue
as a squill or a hyacinth, blue as the meadows of Elysium or the eyes
of girls loved by young poets, meseems the racing pen might almost gain
upon the thoughts that are turning the bend in the road. A jolly
throng, those thoughts: I can see them talking and laughing together.
But when pen reaches the road's turning, the thoughts are gone far
ahead: their delicate figures are silhouettes against the sky.
It is a sacramental matter, this filling the ink-well. Is there a
writer, however humble, who has not poured into his writing pot, with
the ink, some wistful hopes or prayers for what may emerge from that
dark source? Is there not some particular reverence due the ink-well,
some form of propitiation to humbug the powers of evil and constraint
that devil the journalist? Satan hovers near the ink-pot. Luther solved
the matter by throwing the well itself at the apparition. That savors
to me too much of homeopathy. If Satan ever puts his face over my desk,
I shall hurl a volume of Harold Bell Wright at him.
But what becomes of the ink-pots of glory? The conduit from which
Boswell drew, for Charles Dilly in The Poultry, the great river of his
Johnson? The well (was it of blue china?) whence flowed Dream
Children: a Revery? (It was written on folio ledger sheets from the
East India House—I saw the manuscript only yesterday in a room at
Daylesford, Pennsylvania, where much of the richest ink of the last two
centuries is lovingly laid away.) The pot of chuckling fluid where
Harry Fielding dipped his pen to tell the history of a certain
foundling; the ink-wells of the Cafe de la Source on the Boul'
Mich'—do they by any chance remember which it was that R.L.S. used?
One of the happiest tremors of my life was when I went to that cafe and
called for a bock and writing material, just because R.L.S. had once
written letters there. And the ink-well Poe used at that boarding-house
in Greenwich Street, New York (April, 1844), when he wrote to his dear
Muddy (his mother-in-law) to describe how he and Virginia had reached a
haven of square meals. That hopeful letter, so perfect now in pathos—
For breakfast we had excellent-flavored coffee, hot and
very clear and no great deal of cream—veal cutlets, elegant
and eggs and nice bread and butter. I never sat down to a more
plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the
eggs—and the great dishes of meat. Sis [his wife] is
we are both in excellent spirits. She has coughed hardly any
no night sweat. She is now busy mending my pants, which I tore
against a nail. I went out last night and bought a skein of
skein of thread, two buttons, a pair of slippers, and a tin pan
the stove. The fire kept in all night. We have now got four
and a half left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three
dollars, so that I may have a fortnight to go upon. I feel in
excellent spirits, and haven't drank a drop—so that I hope
get out of trouble.
Yes, let us clear the typewriter off the table: an ink-well is a
Do you ever stop to think, when you see the grimy spattered desks of
a public post-office, how many eager or puzzled human hearts have
tried, in those dingy little ink-cups, to set themselves right with
fortune? What blissful meetings have been appointed, what scribblings
of pain and sorrow, out of those founts of common speech. And the
ink-wells on hotel counters—does not the public dipping place of the
Bellevue Hotel, Boston, win a new dignity in my memory when I know (as
I learned lately) that Rupert Brooke registered there in the spring of
1914? I remember, too, a certain pleasant vibration when, signing my
name one day in the Bellevue's book, I found Miss Agnes Repplier's
autograph a little above on the same page.
Among our younger friends, Vachel Lindsay comes to mind as one who
has done honor to the ink-well. His Apology for the Bottle Volcanic
is in his best flow of secret smiling (save an unfortunate dilution of
Sometimes I dip my pen and find the bottle full of fire,
The salamanders flying forth I cannot but admire....
O sad deceiving ink, as bad as liquor in its way—
All demons of a bottle size have pranced from you to-day,
And seized my pen for hobby-horse as witches ride a broom,
And left a trail of brimstone words and blots and gobs of gloom.
And yet when I am extra good ... [here I omit the transfusion
My bottle spreads a rainbow mist, and from the vapor fine
Ten thousand troops from fairyland come riding in a line.
I suppose it is the mark of a trifling mind, yet I like to hear of
the little particulars that surrounded those whose pens struck sparks.
It is Boswell that leads us into that habit of thought. I like to know
what the author wore, how he sat, what the furniture of his desk and
chamber, who cooked his meals for him, and with what appetite he
approached them. “The mind soars by an effort to the grand and lofty"
(so dipped Hazlitt in some favored ink-bottle)—“it is at home in the
groveling, the disagreeable, and the little.”
I like to think, as I look along book shelves, that every one of
these favorites was born out of an ink-well. I imagine the hopes and
visions that thronged the author's mind as he filled his pot and sliced
the quill. What various fruits have flowed from those ink-wells of the
past: for some, comfort and honor, quiet homes and plenteousness; for
others, bitterness and disappointment. I have seen a copy of Poe's
poems, published in 1845 by Putnam, inscribed by the author. The volume
had been bought for $2,500. Think what that would have meant to Poe
Some such thoughts as these twinkled in my head as I held up the
Pierian bottle against the light, admired the deep blue of it, and
filled my ink-well. And then I took up my pen, which wrote:
A GRACE BEFORE WRITING
On Filling an Ink-well
This is a sacrament, I think!
Holding the bottle toward the light,
As blue as lupin gleams the ink:
May Truth be with me as I write!
That small dark cistern may afford
Reunion with some vanished friend,—
And with this ink I have just poured
May none but honest words be penned!
OLD THOUGHTS FOR CHRISTMAS
A new thought for Christmas? Who ever wanted a new thought for
Christmas? That man should be shot who would try to brain one. It is an
impertinence even to write about Christmas. Christmas is a matter that
humanity has taken so deeply to heart that we will not have our
festival meddled with by bungling hands. No efficiency expert would
dare tell us that Christmas is inefficient; that the clockwork toys
will soon be broken; that no one can eat a peppermint cane a yard long;
that the curves on our chart of kindness should be ironed out so that
the “peak load” of December would be evenly distributed through the
year. No sourface dare tell us that we drive postmen and shopgirls into
Bolshevism by overtaxing them with our frenzied purchasing or that it
is absurd to send to a friend in a steam-heated apartment in a
prohibition republic a bright little picture card of a gentleman in
Georgian costume drinking ale by a roaring fire of logs. None in his
senses, I say, would emit such sophistries, for Christmas is a law unto
itself and is not conducted by card-index. Even the postmen and
shopgirls, severe though their labors, would not have matters altered.
There is none of us who does not enjoy hardship and bustle that
contribute to the happiness of others.
There is an efficiency of the heart that transcends and contradicts
that of the head. Things of the spirit differ from things material in
that the more you give the more you have. The comedian has an immensely
better time than the audience. To modernize the adage, to give is more
fun than to receive. Especially if you have wit enough to give to those
who don't expect it. Surprise is the most primitive joy of humanity.
Surprise is the first reason for a baby's laughter. And at Christmas
time, when we are all a little childish I hope, surprise is the flavor
of our keenest joys. We all remember the thrill with which we once
heard, behind some closed door, the rustle and crackle of paper parcels
being tied up. We knew that we were going to be surprised—a delicious
refinement and luxuriant seasoning of the emotion!
Christmas, then, conforms to this deeper efficiency of the heart. We
are not methodical in kindness; we do not “fill orders” for
consignments of affection. We let our kindness ramble and explore; old
forgotten friendships pop up in our minds and we mail a card to Harry
Hunt, of Minneapolis (from whom we have not heard for half a dozen
years), “just to surprise him.” A business man who shipped a carload of
goods to a customer, just to surprise him, would soon perish of abuse.
But no one ever refuses a shipment of kindness, because no one ever
feels overstocked with it. It is coin of the realm, current everywhere.
And we do not try to measure our kindnesses to the capacity of our
friends. Friendship is not measurable in calories. How many times this
year have you “turned” your stock of kindness?
It is the gradual approach to the Great Surprise that lends full
savor to the experience. It has been thought by some that Christmas
would gain in excitement if no one knew when it was to be; if (keeping
the festival within the winter months) some public functionary (say,
Mr. Burleson) were to announce some unexpected morning, “A week from
to-day will be Christmas!” Then what a scurrying and joyful
frenzy—what a festooning of shops and mad purchasing of presents! But
it would not be half the fun of the slow approach of the familiar date.
All through November and December we watch it drawing nearer; we see
the shop windows begin to glow with red and green and lively colors; we
note the altered demeanor of bellboys and janitors as the Date flows
quietly toward us; we pass through the haggard perplexity of “Only Four
Days More” when we suddenly realize it is too late to make our shopping
the display of lucid affectionate reasoning we had contemplated, and
clutch wildly at grotesque tokens—and then (sweetest of all) comes the
quiet calmness of Christmas Eve. Then, while we decorate the tree or
carry parcels of tissue paper and red ribbon to a carefully prepared
list of aunts and godmothers, or reckon up a little pile of bright
quarters on the dining-room table in preparation for to-morrow's
largesse—then it is that the brief, poignant and precious sweetness of
the experience claims us at the full. Then we can see that all our
careful wisdom and shrewdness were folly and stupidity; and we can
understand the meaning of that Great Surprise—that where we planned
wealth we found ourselves poor; that where we thought to be
impoverished we were enriched. The world is built upon a lovely plan if
we take time to study the blue-prints of the heart.
Humanity must be forgiven much for having invented Christmas. What
does it matter that a great poet and philosopher urges “the abandonment
of the masculine pronoun in allusions to the First or Fundamental
Energy”? Theology is not saddled upon pronouns; the best doctrine is
but three words, God is Love. Love, or kindness, is fundamental energy
enough to satisfy any brooder. And Christmas Day means the birth of a
child; that is to say, the triumph of life and hope over suffering.
Just for a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the stupid,
harsh mechanism of the world runs down and we permit ourselves to live
according to untrammeled common sense, the unconquerable efficiency of
good will. We grant ourselves the complete and selfish pleasure of
loving others better than ourselves. How odd it seems, how unnaturally
happy we are! We feel there must be some mistake, and rather yearn for
the familiar frictions and distresses. Just for a few hours we “purge
out of every heart the lurking grudge.” We know then that hatred is a
form of illness; that suspicion and pride are only fear; that the
rascally acts of others are perhaps, in the queer webwork of human
relations, due to some calousness of our own. Who knows? Some man may
have robbed a bank in Nashville or fired a gun in Louvain because we
looked so intolerably smug in Philadelphia!
So at Christmas we tap that vast reservoir of wisdom and
strength—call it efficiency or the fundamental energy if you
will—Kindness. And our kindness, thank heaven, is not the placid
kindness of angels; it is veined with human blood; it is full of
absurdities, irritations, frustrations. A man 100 per cent. kind would
be intolerable. As a wise teacher said, the milk of human kindness
easily curdles into cheese. We like our friends' affections because we
know the tincture of mortal acid is in them. We remember the satirist
who remarked that to love one's self is the beginning of a lifelong
romance. We know this lifelong romance will resume its sway; we shall
lose our tempers, be obstinate, peevish and crank. We shall fidget and
fume while waiting our turn in the barber's chair; we shall argue and
muddle and mope. And yet, for a few hours, what a happy vision that
was! And we turn, on Christmas Eve, to pages which those who speak our
tongue immortally associate with the season—the pages of Charles
Dickens. Love of humanity endures as long as the thing it loves, and
those pages are packed as full of it as a pound cake is full of fruit.
A pound cake will keep moist three years; a sponge cake is dry in three
And now humanity has its most beautiful and most appropriate
Christmas gift—Peace. The Magi of Versailles and Washington having
unwound for us the tissue paper and red ribbon (or red tape) from this
greatest of all gifts, let us in days to come measure up to what has
been born through such anguish and horror. If war is illness and peace
is health, let us remember also that health is not merely a blessing to
be received intact once and for all. It is not a substance but a
condition, to be maintained only by sound regime, self-discipline and
simplicity. Let the Wise Men not be too wise; let them remember those
other Wise Men who, after their long journey and their sage surmisings,
found only a Child. On this evening it serves us nothing to pile up
filing cases and rolltop desks toward the stars, for in our city square
the Star itself has fallen, and shines upon the Tree.
By a stroke of good luck we found a little shop where a large
overstock of Christmas cards was selling at two for five. The original
5's and 10's were still penciled on them, and while we were debating
whether to rub them off a thought occurred to us. When will artists and
printers design us some Christmas cards that will be honest and
appropriate to the time we live in? Never was the Day of Peace and Good
Will so full of meaning as this year; and never did the little cards,
charming as they were, seem so formal, so merely pretty, so devoid of
imagination, so inadequate to the festival.
This is an age of strange and stirring beauty, of extraordinary
romance and adventure, of new joys and pains. And yet our Christmas
artists have nothing more to offer us than the old formalism of
Yuletide convention. After a considerable amount of searching in the
bazaars we have found not one Christmas card that showed even a
glimmering of the true romance, which is to see the beauty or wonder or
peril that lies around us. Most of the cards hark back to the
stage-coach up to its hubs in snow, or the blue bird, with which
Maeterlinck penalized us (what has a blue bird got to do with
Christmas?), or the open fireplace and jug of mulled claret. Now these
things are merry enough in their way, or they were once upon a time;
but we plead for an honest romanticism in Christmas cards that will
express something of the entrancing color and circumstance that
surround us to-day. Is not a commuter's train, stalled in a drift, far
more lively to our hearts than the mythical stage-coach? Or an
inter-urban trolley winging its way through the dusk like a casket of
golden light? Or even a country flivver, loaded down with parcels and
holly and the Yuletide keg of root beer? Root beer may be but meager
flaggonage compared to mulled claret, but at any rate 'tis honest, 'tis
actual, 'tis tangible and potable. And where, among all the Christmas
cards, is the airplane, that most marvelous and heart-seizing of all
our triumphs? Where is the stately apartment house, looming like
Gibraltar against a sunset sky? Must we, even at Christmas time, fool
ourselves with a picturesqueness that is gone, seeing nothing of what
is around us?
It is said that man's material achievements have outrun his
imagination; that poets and painters are too puny to grapple with the
world as it is. Certainly a visitor from another sphere, looking on our
fantastic and exciting civilization, would find little reflection of it
in the Christmas card. He would find us clinging desperately to what we
have been taught to believe was picturesque and jolly, and afraid to
assert that the things of to-day are comely too. Even on the basis of
discomfort (an acknowledged criterion of picturesqueness) surely a
trolley car jammed with parcel-laden passengers is just as satisfying a
spectacle as any stage coach? Surely the steam radiator, if not so
lovely as a flame-gilded hearth, is more real to most of us? And
instead of the customary picture of shivering subjects of George III
held up by a highwayman on Hampstead Heath, why not a deftly delineated
sketch of victims in a steam-heated lobby submitting to the plunder of
the hat-check bandit? Come, let us be honest! The romance of to-day is
as good as any!
Many must have felt this same uneasiness in trying to find Christmas
cards that would really say something of what is in their hearts. The
sentiment behind the card is as lovely and as true as ever, but the
cards themselves are outmoded bottles for the new wine. It seems a
cruel thing to say, but we are impatient with the mottoes and pictures
we see in the shops because they are a conventional echo of a beauty
that is past. What could be more absurd than to send to a friend in a
city apartment a rhyme such as this:
As round the Christmas fire you sit
And hear the bells with frosty chime,
Think, friendship that long love has knit
Grows sweeter still at Christmas time!
If that is sent to the janitor or the elevator boy we have no cavil,
for these gentlemen do actually see a fire and hear bells ring; but the
apartment tenant hears naught but the hissing of the steam in the
radiator, and counts himself lucky to hear that. Why not be honest and
say to him:
I hope the janitor has shipped
You steam, to keep the cold away;
And if the hallboys have been tipped,
Then joy be thine on Christmas Day!
We had not meant to introduce this jocular note into our meditation,
for we are honestly aggrieved that so many of the Christmas cards hark
back to an old tradition that is gone, and never attempt to express any
of the romance of to-day. You may protest that Christmas is the oldest
thing in the world, which is true; yet it is also new every year, and
never newer than now.
ON UNANSWERING LETTERS
There are a great many people who really believe in answering
letters the day they are received, just as there are people who go to
the movies at 9 o'clock in the morning; but these people are stunted
It is a great mistake. Such crass and breathless promptness takes
away a great deal of the pleasure of correspondence.
The psychological didoes involved in receiving letters and making up
one's mind to answer them are very complex. If the tangled process
could be clearly analyzed and its component involutions isolated for
inspection we might reach a clearer comprehension of that curious bag
of tricks, the efficient Masculine Mind.
Take Bill F., for instance, a man so delightful that even to
contemplate his existence puts us in good humor and makes us think well
of a world that can exhibit an individual equally comely in mind, body
and estate. Every now and then we get a letter from Bill, and
immediately we pass into a kind of trance, in which our mind rapidly
enunciates the ideas, thoughts, surmises and contradictions that we
would like to write to him in reply. We think what fun it would be to
sit right down and churn the ink-well, spreading speculation and
cynicism over a number of sheets of foolscap to be wafted Billward.
Sternly we repress the impulse for we know that the shock to Bill of
getting so immediate a retort would surely unhinge the well-fitted
panels of his intellect.
We add his letter to the large delta of unanswered mail on our desk,
taking occasion to turn the mass over once or twice and run through it
in a brisk, smiling mood, thinking of all the jolly letters we shall
write some day.
After Bill's letter has lain on the pile for a fortnight or so it
has been gently silted over by about twenty other pleasantly postponed
manuscripts. Coming upon it by chance, we reflect that any specific
problems raised by Bill in that manifesto will by this time have
settled themselves. And his random speculations upon household
management and human destiny will probably have taken a new slant by
now, so that to answer his letter in its own tune will not be congruent
with his present fevers. We had better bide a wee until we really have
something of circumstance to impart.
We wait a week.
By this time a certain sense of shame has begun to invade the
privacy of our brain. We feel that to answer that letter now would be
an indelicacy. Better to pretend that we never got it. By and by Bill
will write again and then we will answer promptly. We put the letter
back in the middle of the heap and think what a fine chap Bill is. But
he knows we love him, so it doesn't really matter whether we write or
Another week passes by, and no further communication from Bill. We
wonder whether he does love us as much as we thought. Still—we are too
proud to write and ask.
A few days later a new thought strikes us. Perhaps Bill thinks we
have died and he is annoyed because he wasn't invited to the funeral.
Ought we to wire him? No, because after all we are not dead, and even
if he thinks we are, his subsequent relief at hearing the good news of
our survival will outweigh his bitterness during the interval. One of
these days we will write him a letter that will really express our
heart, filled with all the grindings and gear-work of our mind, rich in
affection and fallacy. But we had better let it ripen and mellow for a
while. Letters, like wines, accumulate bright fumes and bubblings if
kept under cork.
Presently we turn over that pile of letters again. We find in the
lees of the heap two or three that have gone for six months and can
safely be destroyed. Bill is still on our mind, but in a pleasant,
dreamy kind of way. He does not ache or twinge us as he did a month
ago. It is fine to have old friends like that and keep in touch with
them. We wonder how he is and whether he has two children or three.
Splendid old Bill!
By this time we have written Bill several letters in imagination and
enjoyed doing so, but the matter of sending him an actual letter has
begun to pall. The thought no longer has the savor and vivid sparkle it
had once. When one feels like that it is unwise to write. Letters
should be spontaneous outpourings: they should never be undertaken
merely from a sense of duty. We know that Bill wouldn't want to get a
letter that was dictated by a feeling of obligation.
Another fortnight or so elapsing, it occurs to us that we have
entirely forgotten what Bill said to us in that letter. We take it out
and con it over. Delightful fellow! It is full of his own felicitous
kinks of whim, though some of it sounds a little old-fashioned by now.
It seems a bit stale, has lost some of its freshness and surprise.
Better not answer it just yet, for Christmas will soon be here and we
shall have to write then anyway. We wonder, can Bill hold out until
Christmas without a letter?
We have been rereading some of those imaginary letters to Bill that
have been dancing in our head. They are full of all sorts of fine
stuff. If Bill ever gets them he will know how we love him. To use O.
Henry's immortal joke, we have days of Damon and Knights of Pythias
writing those uninked letters to Bill. A curious thought has come to
us. Perhaps it would be better if we never saw Bill again. It is very
difficult to talk to a man when you like him so much. It is much easier
to write in the sweet fantastic strain. We are so inarticulate when
face to face. If Bill comes to town we will leave word that we have
gone away. Good old Bill! He will always be a precious memory.
A few days later a sudden frenzy sweeps over us, and though we have
many pressing matters on hand, we mobilize pen and paper and literary
shock troops and prepare to hurl several battalions at Bill. But,
strangely enough, our utterance seems stilted and stiff. We have
nothing to say. My dear Bill, we begin, it seems a long time
since we heard from you. Why don't you write? We still love you, in
spite of all your shortcomings.
That doesn't seem very cordial. We muse over the pen and nothing
comes. Bursting with affection, we are unable to say a word.
Just then the phone rings. “Hello?” we say.
It is Bill, come to town unexpectedly.
“Good old fish!” we cry, ecstatic. “Meet you at the corner of Tenth
and Chestnut in five minutes.”
We tear up the unfinished letter. Bill will never know how much we
love him. Perhaps it is just as well. It is very embarrassing to have
your friends know how you feel about them. When we meet him we will be
a little bit on our guard. It would not be well to be betrayed into any
extravagance of cordiality.
And perhaps a not altogether false little story could be written
about a man who never visited those most dear to him, because it panged
him so to say good-bye when he had to leave.
A LETTER TO FATHER TIME
(NEW YEAR'S EVE)
Dear Father Time—This is your night of triumph, and it seems only
fair to pay you a little tribute. Some people, in a noble mood of
bravado, consider New Year's Eve an occasion of festivity. Long, long
in advance they reserve a table at their favorite cafe; and becomingly
habited in boiled shirts or gowns of the lowest visibility, and well
armed with a commodity which is said to be synonymous with
yourself—money—they seek to outwit you by crowding a month of
merriment into half a dozen hours. Yet their victory is brief and
fallacious, for if hours spin too fast by night they will move
grindingly on the axle the next morning. None of us can beat you in the
end. Even the hat-check boy grows old, becomes gray and dies at last
babbling of greenbacks.
To my own taste, old Time, it is more agreeable to make this evening
a season of gruesome brooding. Morosely I survey the faults and follies
of my last year. I am grown too canny to pour the new wine of good
resolution into the old bottles of my imperfect humors. But I get a
certain grim satisfaction in thinking how we all—every human being of
us—share alike in bondage to your oppression. There is the only true
and complete democracy, the only absolute brotherhood of man. The great
ones of the earth—Charley Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, General
Pershing and Miss Amy Lowell—all these are in service to the same
tyranny. Day after day slips or jolts past, joins the Great Majority;
suddenly we wake with a start to find that the best of it is gone by.
Surely it seems but a day ago that Stevenson set out to write a little
book that was to be called “Life at Twenty-five”—before he got it
written he was long past the delectable age—and now we rub our eyes
and see he has been dead longer than the span of life he then so
delightfully contemplated. If there is one meditation common to every
adult on this globe it is this, so variously phrased, “Well, bo, Time
sure does hustle.”
Some of them have scurvily entreated you, old Time! The thief of
youth, they have called you; a highwayman, a gipsy, a grim reaper. It
seems a little unfair. For you have your kindly moods, too. Without
your gentle passage where were Memory, the sweetest of lesser
pleasures? You are the only medicine for many a woe, many a sore heart.
And surely you have a right to reap where you alone have sown? Our
strength, our wit, our comeliness, all those virtues and graces that
you pilfer with such gentle hand, did you not give them to us in the
first place? Give, do I say? Nay, we knew, even as we clutched them,
they were but a loan. And the great immortality of the race endures,
for every day that we see taken away from ourselves we see added to our
children or our grandchildren. It was Shakespeare, who thought a great
deal about you, who put it best:
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound—
It is to be hoped, my dear Time, that you have read Shakespeare's
sonnets, because they will teach you a deal about the dignity of your
career, and also suggest to you the only way we have of keeping up with
you. There is no way of outwitting Time, Shakespeare tells his young
friend, “Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence.” Or, as a
poor bungling parodist revamped it:
Pep is the stuff to put Old Time on skids—
Pep in your copy, yes, and lots of kids.
It is true that Shakespeare hints another way of doing you in, which
is to write sonnets as good as his. This way, needless to add, is open
Well, my dear Time, you are not going to fool me into making myself
ridiculous this New Year's Eve with a lot of bonny but impossible
resolutions. I know that you are playing with me just as a cat plays
with a mouse; yet even the most piteous mousekin sometimes causes his
tormentor surprise or disappointment by getting under a bureau or
behind the stove, where, for the moment, she cannot paw him. Every now
and then, with a little luck, I shall pull off just such a scurry into
temporary immortality. It may come by reading Dickens or by seeing a
sunset, or by lunching with friends, or by forgetting to wind the alarm
clock, or by contemplating the rosy little pate of my daughter, who is
still only a nine days' wonder—so young that she doesn't even know
what you are doing to her. But you are not going to have the laugh on
me by luring me into resolutions. I know my weaknesses. I know that I
shall probably continue to annoy newsdealers by reading the magazines
on the stalls instead of buying them; that I shall put off having my
hair cut; drop tobacco cinders on my waistcoat; feel bored at the idea
of having to shave and get dressed; be nervous when the gas burner pops
when turned off; buy more Liberty Bonds than I can afford and have to
hock them at a grievous loss. I shall continue to be pleasant to
insurance agents, from sheer lack of manhood; and to keep library books
out over the date and so incur a fine. My only hope, you see, is
resolutely to determine to persist in these failings. Then, by sheer
perversity, I may grow out of them.
What avail, indeed, for any of us to make good resolutions when one
contemplates the grand pageant of human frailty? Observe what I noticed
the other day in the Lost and Found column of the New York Times
LOST—Hotel Imperial lavatory, set of teeth. Call or communicate
Flint, 134 East 43d street. Reward.
Surely, if Mr. Flint could not remember to keep his teeth in his
mouth, or if any one else was so basely whimsical as to juggle them
away from him, it may well teach us to be chary of extravagant hopes
for the future. Even the League of Nations, when one contemplates the
sad case of Mr. Flint, becomes a rather anemic safeguard. We had better
keep Mr. Flint in mind through the New Year as a symbol of human error
and disappointment. And the best of it is, my dear Time, that you, too,
may be a little careless. Perhaps one of these days you may doze a
little and we shall steal a few hours of timeless bliss. Shall we see a
little ad in the papers:
LOST—Sixty valuable minutes, said to have been stolen by the
unworthy human race. If found, please return to Father Time,
Well, my dear Time, we approach the Zero Hour. I hope you will have
a Happy New Year, and conduct yourself with becoming restraint. So
live, my dear fellow, that we may say, “A good Time was enjoyed by
all.” As the hands of the clock go over the top and into the No Man's
Land of the New Year, good luck to you!
Your obedient servant!
WHAT MEN LIVE BY
What a delicate and rare and gracious art is the art of
conversation! With what a dexterity and skill the bubble of speech must
be maneuvered if mind is to meet and mingle with mind.
There is no sadder disappointment than to realize that a
conversation has been a complete failure. By which we mean that it has
failed in blending or isolating for contrast the ideas, opinions and
surmises of two eager minds. So often a conversation is shipwrecked by
the very eagerness of one member to contribute. There must be give and
take, parry and thrust, patience to hear and judgment to utter. How
uneasy is the qualm as one looks back on an hour's talk and sees that
the opportunity was wasted; the precious instant of intercourse gone
forever: the secrets of the heart still incommunicate! Perhaps we were
too anxious to hurry the moment, to enforce our own theory, to adduce
instance from our own experience. Perhaps we were not patient enough to
wait until our friend could express himself with ease and happiness.
Perhaps we squandered the dialogue in tangent topics, in a multitude of
How few, how few are those gifted for real talk! There are fine
merry fellows, full of mirth and shrewdly minted observation, who will
not abide by one topic, who must always be lashing out upon some new
byroad, snatching at every bush they pass. They are too excitable, too
ungoverned for the joys of patient intercourse. Talk is so solemn a
rite it should be approached with prayer and must be conducted with
nicety and forbearance. What steadiness and sympathy are needed if the
thread of thought is to be unwound without tangles or snapping! What
forbearance, while each of the pair, after tentative gropings here and
yonder, feels his way toward truth as he sees it. So often two in talk
are like men standing back to back, each trying to describe to the
other what he sees and disputing because their visions do not tally. It
takes a little time for minds to turn face to face.
Very often conversations are better among three than between two,
for the reason that then one of the trio is always, unconsciously,
acting as umpire, interposing fair play, recalling wandering wits to
the nub of the argument, seeing that the aggressiveness of one does no
foul to the reticence of another. Talk in twos may, alas! fall into
speaker and listener: talk in threes rarely does so.
It is little realized how slowly, how painfully, we approach the
expression of truth. We are so variable, so anxious to be polite, and
alternately swayed by caution or anger. Our mind oscillates like a
pendulum: it takes some time for it to come to rest. And then, the
proper allowance and correction has to be made for our individual
vibrations that prevent accuracy. Even the compass needle doesn't point
the true north, but only the magnetic north. Similarly our minds at
best can but indicate magnetic truth, and are distorted by many things
that act as iron filings do on the compass. The necessity of holding
one's job: what an iron filing that is on the compass card of a man's
We are all afraid of truth: we keep a battalion of our pet
prejudices and precautions ready to throw into the argument as shock
troops, rather than let our fortress of Truth be stormed. We have smoke
bombs and decoy ships and all manner of cunning colorizations by which
we conceal our innards from our friends, and even from ourselves. How
we fume and fidget, how we bustle and dodge rather than commit
In days of hurry and complication, in the incessant pressure of
human problems that thrust our days behind us, does one never dream of
a way of life in which talk would be honored and exalted to its proper
place in the sun? What a zest there is in that intimate unreserved
exchange of thought, in the pursuit of the magical blue bird of joy and
human satisfaction that may be seen flitting distantly through the
branches of life. It was a sad thing for the world when it grew so busy
that men had no time to talk. There are such treasures of knowledge and
compassion in the minds of our friends, could we only have time to talk
them out of their shy quarries. If we had our way, we would set aside
one day a week for talking. In fact, we would reorganize the week
altogether. We would have one day for Worship (let each man devote it
to worship of whatever he holds dearest); one day for Work; one day for
Play (probably fishing); one day for Talking; one day for Reading, and
one day for Smoking and Thinking. That would leave one day for Resting,
and (incidentally) interviewing employers.
The best week of our life was one in which we did nothing but talk.
We spent it with a delightful gentleman who has a little bungalow on
the shore of a lake in Pike County. He had a great many books and
cigars, both of which are conversational stimulants. We used to lie out
on the edge of the lake, in our oldest trousers, and talk. We discussed
ever so many subjects; in all of them he knew immensely more than we
did. We built up a complete philosophy of indolence and good will,
according to Food and Sleep and Swimming their proper share of homage.
We rose at 10 in the morning and began talking; we talked all day and
until 3 o'clock at night. Then we went to bed and regained strength and
combativeness for the coming day. Never was a week better spent. We
committed no crimes, planned no secret treaties, devised no annexations
or indemnities. We envied no one. We examined the entire world and
found it worth while. Meanwhile our wives, who were watching (perhaps
with a little quiet indignation) from the veranda, kept on asking us,
“What on earth do you talk about?”
Bless their hearts, men don't have to have anything to talk about. They just talk.
And there is only one rule for being a good talker: learn how to
THE UNNATURAL NATURALIST
It gives us a great deal of pleasure to announce, officially, that
spring has arrived.
Our statement is not based on any irrelevant data as to equinoxes or
bluebirds or bock-beer signs, but is derived from the deepest authority
we know anything about, our subconscious self. We remember that some
philosopher, perhaps it was Professor James, suggested that individuals
are simply peaks of self-consciousness rising out of the vast ocean of
collective human Mind in which we all swim, and are, at bottom, one.
Whenever we have to decide any important matter, such as when to get
our hair cut and whether to pay a bill or not, and whether to call for
the check or let the other fellow do so, we don't attempt to harass our
conscious volition with these decisions. We rely on our subconscious
and instinctive person, and for better or worse we have to trust to its
righteousness and good sense. We just find ourself doing something and
we carry on and hope it is for the best.
From this deep abyss of subconsciousness we learn that it is spring.
The mottled goosebone of the Allentown prophet is no more
meteorologically accurate than our subconscience. And this is how it
Once a year, about the approach of the vernal equinox or the
seedsman's catalogue, we wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning. This is
an immediate warning and apprisement that something is adrift. Three
hundred and sixty-four days in the year we wake, placidly enough, at
seven-ten, ten minutes after the alarm clock has jangled. But on this
particular day, whether it be the end of February or the middle of
March, we wake with the old recognizable nostalgia. It is the last
polyp or vestige of our anthropomorphic and primal self, trailing its
pathetic little wisp of glory for the one day of the whole calendar.
All the rest of the year we are the plodding percheron of commerce,
patiently tugging our wain; but on that morning there wambles back, for
the nonce, the pang of Eden. We wake at 6 o'clock; it is a blue and
golden morning and we feel it imperative to get outdoors as quickly as
possible. Not for an instant do we feel the customary respectable and
sanctioned desire to kiss the sheets yet an hour or so. The traipsing,
trolloping humor of spring is in our veins; we feel that we must be
about felling an aurochs or a narwhal for breakfast. We leap into our
clothes and hurry downstairs and out of the front door and skirmish
round the house to see and smell and feel.
It is spring. It is unmistakably spring, because the pewit bushes
are budding and on yonder aspen we can hear a forsythia bursting into
song. It is spring, when the feet of the floorwalker pain him and
smoking-car windows have to be pried open with chisels. We skip
lightheartedly round the house to see if those bobolink bulbs we
planted are showing any signs yet, and discover the whisk brush that
fell out of the window last November. And then the newsboy comes along
the street and sees us prancing about and we feel sheepish and ashamed
and hurry indoors again.
There may still be blizzards and frozen plumbings and tumbles on icy
pavements, but when that morning of annunciation has come to us we know
that winter is truly dead, even though his ghost may walk and gibber
once or twice. The sweet urge of the new season has rippled up through
the oceanic depths of our subconsciousness, and we are aware of the
rising tide. Like Mr. Wordsworth we feel that we are wiser than we
know. (Perhaps we have misquoted that, but let it stand.)
There are other troubles that spring brings us. We are pitifully
ashamed of our ignorance Of nature, and though we try to hide it we
keep getting tripped up. About this time of year inquisitive persons
are always asking us: “Have you heard any song sparrows yet?” or “Are
there any robins out your way?” or “When do the laburnums begin to nest
out in Marathon?” Now we really can't tell these people our true
feeling, which is that we do not believe in peeking in on the privacy
of the laburnums or any other songsters. It seems to us really immodest
to keep on spying on the birds in that way. And as for the bushes and
trees, what we want to know is, How does one ever get to know them? How
do you find out which is an alder and what is an elm? Or a narcissus
and a hyacinth, does any one really know them apart? We think it's all
a bluff. And jonquils. There was a nest of them on our porch, we are
told, but we didn't think it any business of ours to bother them. Let
nature alone and she'll let you alone.
But there is a pettifogging cult about that says you ought to know
these things; moreover, children keep on asking one. We always answer
at random and say it's a wagtail or a flowering shrike or a female
magnolia. We were brought up in the country and learned that first
principle of good manners, which is to let birds and flowers and
animals go on about their own affairs without pestering them by asking
them their names and addresses. Surely that's what Shakespeare meant by
saying a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. We can enjoy a
rose just as much as any one, even if we may think it's a hydrangea.
And then we are much too busy to worry about robins and bluebirds
and other poultry of that sort. Of course, if we see one hanging about
the lawn and it looks hungry we have decency enough to throw out a bone
or something for it, but after all we have a lot of troubles of our own
to bother about. We are short-sighted, too, and if we try to get near
enough to see if it is a robin or only a bandanna some one has dropped,
why either it flies away before we get there or it does turn out to be
a bandanna or a clothespin. One of our friends kept on talking about a
Baltimore oriole she had seen near our house, and described it as a
beautiful yellowish fowl. We felt quite ashamed to be so ignorant, and
when one day we thought we saw one near the front porch we left what we
were doing, which was writing a check for the coal man, and went out to
stalk it. After much maneuvering we got near, made a dash—and it was a
banana peel! The oriole had gone back to Baltimore the day before.
We love to read about the birds and flowers and shrubs and insects
in poetry, and it makes us very happy to know they are all round us,
innocent little things like mice and centipedes and goldenrods (until
hay fever time), but as for prying into their affairs we simply won't
SITTING IN THE BARBER'S CHAIR
Once every ten weeks or so we get our hair cut.
We are not generally parsimonious of our employer's time, but
somehow we do hate to squander that thirty-three minutes, which is the
exact chronicide involved in despoiling our skull of a ten weeks'
garner. If we were to have our hair cut at the end of eight weeks the
shearing would take only thirty-one minutes; but we can never bring
ourselves to rob our employer of that much time until we reckon he is
really losing prestige by our unkempt appearance. Of course, we believe
in having our hair cut during office hours. That is the only device we
know to make the hateful operation tolerable.
To the times mentioned above should be added fifteen seconds, which
is the slice of eternity needed to trim, prune and chasten our
mustache, which is not a large group of foliage.
We knew a traveling man who never got his hair cut except when he
was on the road, which permitted him to include the transaction in his
expense account; but somehow it seems to us more ethical to steal time
than to steal money.
We like to view this whole matter in a philosophical and
ultra-pragmatic way. Some observers have hazarded that our postponement
of haircuts is due to mere lethargy and inertia, but that is not so.
Every time we get our locks shorn our wife tells us that we have got
them too short. She says that our head has a very homely and bourgeois
bullet shape, a sort of pithecanthropoid contour, which is revealed by
a close trim. After five weeks' growth, however, we begin to look quite
distinguished. The difficulty then is to ascertain just when the law of
diminishing returns comes into play. When do we cease to look
distinguished and begin to appear merely slovenly? Careful study has
taught us that this begins to take place at the end of sixty-five days,
in warm weather. Add five days or so for natural procrastination and
devilment, and we have seventy days interval, which we have posited as
the ideal orbit for our tonsorial ecstasies.
When at last we have hounded ourself into robbing our employer of
those thirty-three minutes, plus fifteen seconds for you know what, we
find ourself in the barber's chair. Despairingly we gaze about at the
little blue flasks with flowers enameled on them; at the piles of clean
towels; at the bottles of mandrake essence which we shall presently
have to affirm or deny. Under any other circumstances we should deeply
enjoy a half hour spent in a comfortable chair, with nothing to do but
do nothing. Our barber is a delightful fellow; he looks benign and does
not prattle; he respects the lobes of our ears and other vulnerabilia.
But for some inscrutable reason we feel strangely ill at ease in his
chair. We can't think of anything to think about. Blankly we brood in
the hope of catching the hem of some intimation of immortality. But no,
there is nothing to do but sit there, useless as an incubator with no
eggs in it. The processes of wasting and decay are hurrying us rapidly
to a pauperish grave, every instant brings us closer to a notice in the
obit column, and yet we sit and sit without two worthy thoughts to rub
against each other.
Oh, the poverty of mortal mind, the sad meagerness of the human
soul! Here we are, a vital, breathing entity, transformed to a mere
chemical carcass by the bleak magic of the barber's chair. In our
anatomy of melancholy there are no such atrabiliar moments as those
thirty-three (and a quarter) minutes once every ten weeks. Roughly
speaking, we spend three hours of this living death every year.
And yet, perhaps it is worth it, for what a jocund and pantheistic
merriment possesses us when we escape from the shop! Bay-rummed,
powdered, shorn, brisk and perfumed, we fare down the street exhaling
the syrups of Cathay. Once more we can take our rightful place among
aggressive and well-groomed men; we can look in the face without
blenching those human leviathans who are ever creased, razored, and
white-margined as to vest. We are a man among men and our untethered
mind jostles the stars. We have had our hair cut, and no matter what
gross contours our cropped skull may display to wives or ethnologists,
we are a free man for ten dear weeks.
BROWN EYES AND EQUINOXES
“What is an equinox?” said Titania.
I pretended not to hear her and prayed fervently that the inquiry
would pass from her mind. Sometimes her questions, if ignored, are
effaced by some other thought that possesses her active brain. I
rattled my paper briskly and kept well behind it.
“Yes,” I murmured husbandly, “delicious, delicious! My dear, you
certainly plan the most delightful meals.” Meanwhile I was glancing
feverishly at the daily Quiz column to see if that noble cascade of
popular information might give any help. It did not.
Clear brown eyes looked across the table gravely. I could feel them
through the spring overcoat ads.
“What is an equinox?”
“I think I must have left my matches upstairs,” I said, and went up
to look for them. I stayed aloft ten minutes and hoped that by that
time she would have passed on to some other topic. I did not waste my
time, however; I looked everywhere for the “Children's Book of a
Million Reasons,” until I remembered it was under the dining-room table
taking the place of a missing caster.
When I slunk into the living room again I hastily suggested a game
of double Canfield, but Titania's brow was still perplexed. Looking
across at me with that direct brown gaze that would compel even a
milliner to relent, she asked:
“What is an equinox?”
I tried to pass it off flippantly.
“A kind of alarm clock,” I said, “that lets the bulbs and bushes
know it's time to get up.”
“No; but honestly, Bob,” she said, “I want to know. It's something
about an equal day and an equal night, isn't it?”
“At the equinox,” I said sternly, hoping to overawe her, “the day
and the night are of equal duration. But only for one night. On the
following day the sun, declining in perihelion, produces the customary
inequality. The usual working day is much longer than the night of
relaxation that follows it, as every toiler knows.”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully, “but how does it work? It says
something in this article about the days getting longer in the Northern
Hemisphere, while they are getting shorter in the Southern.”
“Of course,” I agreed, “conditions are totally different south of
Mason and Dixon's line. But as far as we are concerned here, the sun,
revolving round the earth, casts a beneficent shadow, which is
generally regarded as the time to quit work. This shadow—”
“I thought the earth revolved round the sun,” she said. “Wasn't that
what Galileo proved?”
“He was afterward discovered to be mistaken,” I said. “That was what
caused all the trouble.”
“What trouble?” she asked, much interested.
“Why, he and Socrates had to take hemlock or they were drowned in a
butt of malmsey, I really forget which.”
“Well, after the equinox,” said Titania, “do the days get longer?”
“They do,” I said; “in order to permit the double-headers. And now
that daylight saving is to go into effect, equinoxes won't be necessary
any more. Very likely the pan-Russian Soviets, or President Wilson, or
somebody, will abolish them.”
“June 21 is the longest day in the year, isn't it?”
“The day before pay-day is always the longest day.”
“And the night the cook goes out is always the longest night,” she
retorted, catching the spirit of the game.
“Some day,” I threatened her, “the earth will stop rotating on its
orbit, or its axis, or whatever it is, and then we will be like the
moon, divided into two hostile hemispheres, one perpetual day and the
other eternal night.”
She did not seem alarmed. “Yes, and I bet I know which one you'll
emigrate to,” she said. “But how about the equinoctial gales? Why
should there be gales just then?”
I had forgot about the equinoctial gales, and this caught me
“That was an old tradition of the Phoenician mariners,” I said, “but
the invention of latitude and longitude made them unnecessary. They
have fallen into disrepute. Dead reckoning killed them.”
“And the precession of the equinoxes?” she asked, turning back to
This was a poser, but I rallied stoutly. “Well,” I said, “you see,
there are two equinoxes a year, the vernal and the autumnal. They are
well known by coal dealers. The first one is when he delivers the coal
and the second is when he gets paid. Two of them a year, you see, in
the course of a million years or so, makes quite a majestic series.
That is why they call it a procession.”
Titania looked at me and gradually her face broke up into a charming
aurora borealis of laughter.
“I don't believe you know any more about the old things than I do,”
And the worst of it is, I think she was right.
163 INNOCENT OLD MEN
I found Titania looking severely at her watch, which is a queer
little gold disk about the size of a waistcoat button, swinging under
her chin by a thin golden chain. Titania's methods of winding, setting
and regulating that watch have always been a mystery to me. She
frequently knows what the right time is, but how she deduces it from
the data given by the hands of her timepiece I can't guess. It's
something like this: She looks at the watch and notes what it says.
Then she deducts ten minutes, because she remembers it is ten minutes
fast. Then she performs some complicated calculation connected with
when the baby had his bath, and how long ago she heard the church bells
chime; to this result she adds five minutes to allow for leeway. Then
she goes to the phone and asks Central the time.
“Hullo,” I said; “what's wrong?”
“I'm wondering about this daylight-saving business,” she said. “You
know, I think it's all a piece of Bolshevik propaganda to get us
confused and encourage anarchy. All the women in Marathon are talking
about it and neglecting their knitting. Junior's bath was half an hour
late today because Mrs. Benvenuto called me up to talk about daylight
saving. She says her cook has threatened to leave if she has to get up
an hour earlier in the morning. I was just wondering how to adjust my
watch to the new conditions.”
“It's perfectly simple,” I said. “Put your watch ahead one hour, and
then go through the same logarithms you always do.”
“Put it ahead?” asked Titania. “Mrs. Borgia says we have to put the
clock back an hour. She is fearfully worried about it. She says
suppose she has something in the oven when the clock is put back, it
will be an hour overdone and burned to a crisp when the kitchen clock
catches up again.”
“Mrs. Borgia is wrong,” I said. “The clocks are to be put ahead one
hour. At 2 o'clock on Easter morning they are to be turned on to 3
o'clock. Mrs. Borgia certainly won't have anything in the oven at that
time of night. You see, we are to pretend that 2 o'clock is really 3
o'clock, and when we get up at 7 o'clock it will really be 6 o'clock.
We are deliberately fooling ourselves in order to get an hour more of
“I have an idea,” she said, “that you won't get up at 7 that
“It is quite possible,” I said, “because I intend to stay up until 2
a.m. that morning in order to be exactly correct in changing our
timepieces. No one shall accuse me of being a time slacker.”
Titania was wrinkling her brow. “But how about that lost hour?” she
said. “What happens to it? I don't see how we can just throw an hour
away like that. Time goes on just the same. How can we afford to
shorten our lives so ruthlessly? It's murder, that's what it is! I told
you it was a Bolshevik plot. Just think; there are a hundred million
Americans. Moving on the clock that way brings each of us one hour
nearer our graves. That is to say, we are throwing away 100,000,000
She seized a pencil and a sheet of paper and went through some
“There are 8,760 hours in a year,” she said. “Reckoning seventy
years a lifetime, there are 613,200 hours in each person's life. Now,
will you please divide that into a hundred million for me? I'm not good
at long division.”
With docility I did so, and reported the result.
“About 163,” I said.
“There you are!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “Throwing away all that
perfectly good time amounts simply to murdering 163 harmless old men of
seventy, or 326 able-bodied men of thirty-five, or 1,630 innocent
little children of seven. If that isn't atrocity, what is? I think Mr.
Hoover or Admiral Grayson, or somebody, ought to be prosecuted.”
I was aghast at this awful result. Then an idea struck me, and I
took the pencil and began to figure on my own account.
“Look here, Titania,” I said. “Not so fast. Moving the clock ahead
doesn't really bring those people any nearer their graves. What it does
do is bring the ratification of the Peace Treaty sooner, which is a
fine thing. By deleting a hundred million hours we shorten Senator
Borah's speeches against the League by 11,410 years. That's very
“According to that way of reckoning,” she said with sarcasm, “Mr.
Borah's term must have expired about 11,000 years ago.”
“My dear Titania,” I said, “the ways of the Government may seem
inscrutable, but we have got to follow them with faith. If Mr. Wilson
tells us to murder 163 fine old men in elastic-sided boots we must
simply do it, that's all. Peace is a dreadful thing. We have got to
meet the Germans on their own ground. They adopted this daylight-saving
measure years ago. They call it Sonnenuntergangverderbenpraxis, I
believe. After all, it is only a temporary measure, because in the
fall, when the daylight hours get shorter, we shall have to turn the
clocks back a couple of hours in order to compensate the gas and
electric light companies for all the money they will have lost. That
will bring those 163 old gentlemen to life again and double their
remaining term of years to make up for their temporary effacement. They
are patriotic hostages to Time for the summer only. You must remember
that time is only a philosophical abstraction, with no real or tangible
existence, and we have a right to do whatever we want with it.”
“I will remind you of that,” she said, “at getting-up time on Sunday
morning. I still think that if we are going to monkey with the clocks
at all it would be better to turn them backward instead of forward.
Certainly that would bring you home from the club a little earlier.”
“My dear,” I said, “we are in the Government's hands. A little later
we may be put on time rations, just as we are on food rations. We may
have time cards to encourage thrift in saving time. Every time we save
an hour we will get a little stamp to show for it. When we fill out a
whole card we will be entitled to call ourselves a month younger than
we are. Tell that to Mrs. Borgia; it will reconcile her.”
A lusty uproar made itself heard upstairs and Titania gave a little
scream. “Heavens!” she cried. “Here I am talking with you and Junior's
bottle is half an hour late. I don't care what Mr. Wilson does to the
clocks; he won't be able to fool Junior. He knows when it's, time for
meals. Won't you call up Central and find out the exact time?”
A TRAGIC SMELL IN MARATHON
Marathon, Pa., April 2.
This is a very embarrassing time of year for us. Every morning when
we get on the 8:13 train at Marathon Bill Stites or Fred Myers or Hank
Harris or some other groundsel philosopher on the Cinder and Bloodshot
begins to chivvy us about our garden. “Have you planted anything yet?”
they say. “Have you put litmus paper in the soil to test it for lime,
potash and phosphorus? Have you got a harrow?”
That sort of thing bothers us, because our ideas of cultivation are
very primitive. We did go to the newsstand at the Reading Terminal and
try to buy a Litmus paper, but the agent didn't have any. He says he
doesn't carry the Jersey papers. So we buried some old copies of the
Philistine in the garden, thinking that would strengthen up the
soil a bit. This business of nourishing the soil seems grotesque. It's
hard enough to feed the family, let alone throwing away good money on
feeding the land. Our idea about soil is that it ought to feed itself.
Our garden ought to be lusty enough to raise the few beans and beets
and blisters we aspire to. We have been out looking at the soil. It
looks fairly potent and certainly it goes a long way down. There are
quite a lot of broken magnesia bottles and old shinbones scattered
through it, and they ought to help along. The topsoil and the humus may
be a little mixed, but we are not going to sort them out by hand.
Our method is to go out at twilight the first Sunday in April, about
the time the cutworms go to roost, and take a sharp-pointed stick. We
draw lines in the ground with this stick, preferably in a pleasant
geometrical pattern that will confuse the birds and other observers. It
is important not to do this until twilight, so that no robins or
insects can watch you. Then we go back in the house and put on our old
trousers, the pair that has holes in each pocket. We fill the pockets
with the seed, we want to plant and loiter slowly along the grooves we
have made in the earth. The seed sifts down the trousers legs and
spreads itself in the furrow far better than any mechanical drill could
do it. The secret of gardening is to stick to nature's old appointed
ways. Then we read a chapter of Bernard Shaw aloud, by candle light or
lantern light. As soon as they hear the voice of Shaw all the
vegetables dig themselves in. This saves going all along the rows with
a shingle to pat down the topsoil or the humus or the magnesia bottles
or whatever else is uppermost.
Fred says that certain vegetables—kohl-rabi and colanders, we
think—extract nitrogen from the air and give it back to the soil. It
may be so, but what has that to do with us? If our soil can't keep
itself supplied with nitrogen, that's its lookout. We don't need the
nitrogen in the air. The baby isn't old enough to have warts yet.
Hank says it's no use watering the garden from above. He says that
watering from above lures the roots toward the surface and next day the
hot sun kills them. The answer to that is that the rain comes from
above, doesn't it? Roots have learned certain habits in the past
million years and we haven't time to teach them to duck when it rains.
Hank has some irrigation plan which involves sinking tomato cans in the
ground and filling them with water.
Bill says it's dangerous to put arsenic on the plants, because it
may kill the cook. He says nicotine or tobacco dust is far better. The
answer to that is that we never put fertilizers on our garden, anyway.
If we want to kill the cook there is a more direct method, and we
reserve the tobacco for ourself. No cutworm shall get a blighty one
from our cherished baccy pouch.
Fred says we ought to have a wheel-barrow; Hank swears by a mulching
iron; Bill is all for cold frames. All three say that hellebore is the
best thing for sucking insects. We echo the expletive, with a different
You see, we have no instinct for gardening. Some fellows, like Bill
Stites, have a divinely implanted zest for the propagation of chard and
rhubarb and self-blanching celery and kohl-rabi; they are kohl-rabid,
we might say. They know, just what to do when they see a weed; they can
assassinate a weevil by just looking at it. But weevils and cabbage
worms are unterrified by us. We can't tell a weed from a young onion.
We never mulched anything in our life; we wouldn't know how to begin.
But the deuce of it is, public opinion says that we must raise a
garden. It is no use to hire a man to do it for us. However badly we
may do it, patriotism demands that we monkey around with a garden of
our own. We may get bitten by a snapping bean or routed by a rutabaga
or infected by a parsnip. But with Bill and those fellows at our heels
we have just got to face it. Hellebore!
What we want to know is, How do you ever find out all these things
about vegetables? We bought an ounce of tomato seeds in desperation,
and now Fred says “one ounce of tomato seeds will produce 3,000 plants.
You should have bought two dozen plants instead of the seed.” How does
he know those things? Hank says beans are very delicate and must not be
handled while they are wet or they may get rusty. Again we ask, how
does he know? Where do they learn these matters? Bill says that stones
draw out the moisture from the soil and every stone in the garden
should be removed by hand before we plant. We offered him twenty cents
an hour to do it.
The most tragic odor in the world hangs over Marathon these days;
the smell of freshly spaded earth. It is extolled by the poets and all
those happy sons of the pavement who know nothing about it. But here
are we, who hardly know a loam from a lentil, breaking our back over
seed catalogues. Public opinion may compel us to raise vegetables, but
we are going to go about it our own way. If the stones are going to act
like werewolves and suck the moisture from our soil, let them do so. We
don't believe in thwarting nature. Maybe it will be a very wet summer
and we shall have the laugh on Bill, who has carted away all his
And we should just like to see Bill Stites write a poem. We bet it
wouldn't look as much like a poem as our beans look like beans. And as
for Hank and Fred, they wouldn't even know how to begin to plant a
BULLIED BY THE BIRDS
Marathon, Pa., May 2.
I insist that the place for birds is in the air or on the bushy tops
of trees or on smooth-shaven lawns. Let them twitter and strut on the
greens of golf courses and intimidate the tired business men. Let them
peck cinders along the railroad track and keep the trains waiting. But
really they have no right to take possession of a man's house as they
The nesting season is a time of tyranny and oppression for those who
live in Marathon. The birds are upon us like Hindenburg in Belgium. We
go about on tiptoe, speaking in whispers, for fear of annoying them. It
is all the fault of the Marathon Bird Club, which has offered all sorts
of inducements to the fowls of the air to come and live in our suburb,
quite forgetting that humble commuters have to live there, too. Birds
have moved all the way from Wynnewood and Ambler and Chestnut Hill to
enjoy the congenial air of Marathon and the informing little pamphlets
of our club, telling them just what to eat and which houses offer the
best hospitality. All our dwellings are girt about with little villas
made of condensed milk boxes, but the feathered tyrants have grown too
pernickety to inhabit these. They come closer still, and make our homes
their own. They take the grossest liberties.
I am fond of birds, but I think the line must be drawn somewhere.
The clothes-line, for instance. The other day Titania sent me out to
put up a new clothesline; I found that a shrike or a barn swallow or
some other veery had built a nest in the clothespin basket. That means
we won't be able to hang out our laundry in the fresh Monday air and
equally fresh Monday sunshine until the nesting season is over.
Then there is a gross, fat, indiscreet robin that has taken a home
in an evergreen or mimosa or banyan tree just under our veranda
railing. It is an absurdly exposed, almost indecently exposed position,
for the confidential family business she intends to carry on. The
iceman and the butcher and the boy who brings up the Sunday ice cream
from the apothecary can't help seeing those three big blue eggs she has
laid. But, because she has nested there for the last three springs,
while the house was unoccupied, she thinks she has a perpetual lease on
that bush. She hotly resents the iceman and the butcher and the
apothecary's boy, to say nothing of me. So these worthy merchants have
to trail round a circuitous route, violating the neutral ground of a
neighbor, in order to reach the house from behind and deliver their
wares through the cellar. We none of us dare use the veranda at all for
fear of frightening her, and I have given up having the morning paper
delivered at the house because she made such shrill protest.
Frightening her, do I say? Nay, it is we who are frightened.
I go round to the side of the house to prune my benzine bushes or to
plant a mess of spinach and a profane starling or woodpecker bustles
off her nest with shrewish outcry and lingers nearby to rail at me.
Abashed, I stealthily scuffle back to get a spade out of the tool bin
and again that shrill scream of anger and outraged motherhood. A
throstle or a whippoorwill is raising a family in the gutter spout over
the back kitchen. I go into the bathroom to shave and Titania whispers
sharply, “You mustn't shave in there. There's a tomtit nesting in the
shutter hinge and the light from your shaving mirror will make the poor
little birds crosseyed when they're hatched.” I try to shave in the
dining-room and I find a sparrow's nest on the window sill. Finally I
do my toilet in the coal bin, even though there is a young squeaking
bat down there. A bat is half mouse anyway, so Titania has less
compassion for its feelings. Even if that bat grows up bow-legged on
account of premature excitement, I have to shave somewhere.
We can't play croquet at this time of year, because the lawn must be
kept clear for the robins to quarry out worms. The sound of mallet and
ball frightens the worms and sends them underground, and then it's
harder for the robins to find them. I suppose we really ought to keep a
stringed orchestra playing in the garden to entice the worms to the
surface. We have given up frying onions because the mother robins don't
like the odor while they're raising a family. I love my toast crusts,
but Titania takes them away from me for the blackbirds. “Now,” she
says, “they're raising a family. You must be generous.”
If my garden doesn't amount to anything this year the birds will be
my alibi. Titania makes me do my gardening in rubber-soled shoes so as
not to disturb the birds when they are going to bed. (They begin
yelping at 4 a.m. right outside the window and never think of my
slumbers.) The other evening I put on my planting trousers and was
about to sow a specially fine pea I had brought home from town when
Titania made signs from the window. “You simply mustn't wear those
trousers around the house in nesting season. Don't you know the birds
are very sensitive just now?” And we have been paying board for our cat
on Long Island for a whole year because the birds wouldn't like his
society and plebeian ways.
Marathon has come to a pretty pass, indeed, when the commuters are
to be dispossessed in this way by a lot of birds, orioles and tomtits
and yellow-bellied nuthatches. Some of these days a wren will take it
into its head to build a nest on the railroad track and we'll all have
to walk to town. Or a chicken hawk will settle in our icebox and we'll
starve to death.
As I have said before, I believe in keeping nature in its proper
place. Birds belong in trees. I don't go twittering and fluffing about
in oaks and chestnuts, perching on the birds' nest steps and getting in
their way. And why should some swarthy robin, be she never so matronly,
swear at me if I set foot on my own front porch?
A MESSAGE FOR BOONVILLE
When corncob pipes went up from a nickel to six cents, smoking
traditions tottered. That was a year or more ago, but one can still
recall the indignation written on the faces of nicotine-soaked gaffers
who had been buying cobs at a jitney ever since Washington used one to
keep warm at Valley Forge. It was the supreme test of our determination
to win the war: the price of Missouri meerschaums went up 20 per cent
and there was no insurrection.
Yesterday we went out to buy our annual corncob, and were agreeably
surprised to learn that the price is still six cents; but our friend
the tobacconist said that it may go up again soon. We took the
treasure, gleaming yellow with fresh varnish, back to our kennel, and
we are smoking it as we set down these words. A corncob is sadly hot
and raw until it is well sooted, but the ultimate flavor is worth
The corncob pipes we always buy come from Boonville, Mo., and we
don't see why we shouldn't blow a little whiff of affection and
gratitude toward that excellent town. Moreover, Boonville celebrated
its centennial recently: it was founded in 1818. If the map is to be
believed, it is on the southern bank of the Missouri River, which is
there spanned by a very fine bridge; it is reached by two railroads
(Missouri Pacific and M., K. and T.) and stands on a bluff 100 feet
above the water. According to the two works of reference nearest to our
desk, its population is either 4252 or 4377. Perhaps the former census
omits the 125 men of the town who are so benighted as to smoke briars
Delightful town of Boonville, seat of Cooper County, you are well
named. How great a boon you have conferred upon a troubled world! Long
after more ambitious towns have faded in the memory of man your quiet
and soothing gift to humanity will make your name blessed. I like to
imagine your shady streets, drowsing in the summer sun, and the rural
philosophers sitting on the verandas of your hotels or on the benches
of Harley Park (“comprising fifteen acres”—New International
Encyclopedia), looking out across the brown river and puffing clouds of
sweet gray reek. Down by the livery stable on Main street (there must
be a livery stable on Main street) I can see the old creaky,
cane-bottomed chairs (with seats punctured by too much philosophy)
tilted against the sycamore trees, ready for the afternoon gossip and
shag tobacco. I can imagine the small boys of Boonville fishing for
catfish from the piers of the bridge or bathing down by the steamboat
dock (if there is one), and yearning for the day when they, too, will
be grown up and old enough to smoke corncobs.
What is the subtle magic of a corncob pipe? It is never as sweet or
as mellow as a well-seasoned briar, and yet it has a fascination all
its own. It is equally dear to those who work hard and those who loaf
with intensity. When you put your nose to the blackened mouth of the
hot cob its odor is quite different from that fragrance of the crusted
wooden bowl. There is a faint bitterness in it, a sour, plaintive
aroma. It is a pipe that seems to call aloud for the accompaniment of
beer and earnest argument on factional political matters. It is also
the pipe for solitary vigils of hard and concentrated work. It is the
pipe that a man keeps in the drawer of his desk for savage hours of
extra toil after the stenographer has powdered her nose and gone home.
A corncob pipe is a humble badge of philosophy, an evidence of
tolerance and even humor. It requires patience and good cheer, for it
is slow to “break in.” Those who meditate bestial and brutal designs
against the weak and innocent do not smoke it. Probably Hindenburg
never saw one. Missouri's reputation for incredulity may be due to the
corncob habit. One who is accustomed to consider an argument over a
burning nest of tobacco, with the smoke fuming upward in a placid haze,
will not accept any dogma too immediately.
There is a singular affinity among those who smoke corncobs. A
Missouri meerschaum whose bowl is browned and whose fiber stem is
frayed and stringy with biting betrays a meditative and reasonable
owner. He will have pondered all aspects of life and be equally ready
to denounce any of them, but without bitterness. If you see a man on a
street corner smoking a cob it will be safe to ask him to watch the
baby a minute while you slip around the corner. You would even be safe
in asking him to lend you a five. He will be safe, too, because he
won't have it.
Think, therefore, of the charm of a town where corncob pipes are the
chief industry. Think of them stacked up in bright yellow piles in the
warehouse. Think of the warm sun and the wholesome sweetness of broad
acres that have grown into the pith of the cob. Think of the
bright-eyed Missouri maidens who have turned and scooped and varnished
and packed them. Think of the airy streets and wide pavements of
Boonville, and the corner drug stores with their shining soda fountains
and grape-juice bottles. Think of sitting out on that bluff on a warm
evening, watching the broad shimmer of the river slipping down from the
sunset, and smoking a serene pipe while the local flappers walk in the
coolness wearing crisp, swaying gingham dresses. That's the kind of
town we like to think about.
MAKING MARATHON SAFE FOR THE URCHIN
The Urchin and I have been strolling about Marathon on Sunday
mornings for more than a year, but not until the gasolineless Sabbaths
supervened were we really able to examine the village and see what it
is like. Previously we had been kept busy either dodging motors or
admiring them as they sped by. Their rich dazzle of burnished enamel,
the purring hum of their great tires, evokes applause from the Urchin.
He is learning, as he watches those flashing chariots, that life truly
is almost as vivid as the advertisements in the Ladies' Home Journal, where the shimmer of earthly pageant first was presented to him.
Marathon is a village so genteel and comely that the Urchin and I
would like to have some pictures of it for future generations,
particularly as we see it on an autumn morning when, as I say, the
motors are kenneled and the landscape has ceased to vibrate. In the
douce benignance of equinoctial sunshine we gaze about us with eyes of
inventory. Where my observation errs by too much sentiment the Urchin
checks me by his cooler power of ratiocination.
Marathon is a suburban Xanadu gently caressed by the train service
of the Cinder and Bloodshot. It may be recognized as an aristocratic
and patrician stronghold by the fact that while luxuries are readily
obtainable (for instance, banana splits, or the latest novel by Enoch
A. Bennett), necessaries are had only by prayer and advowson. The drug
store will deliver ice cream to your very refrigerator, but it is
impossible to get your garbage collected. The cook goes off for her
Thursday evening in a taxi, but you will have to mend the roof, stanch
the plumbing and curry the furnace with your own hands. There are ten
trains to take you to town of an evening, but only two to bring you
home. Yet going to town is a luxury, coming home is a necessity. The
supply of grape juice seems almost unlimited, yet coal is to be had
Another proof that Marathon is patrician at heart is that nothing is
known by its right name! The drug store is a “pharmacy,” Sunday is “the
Sabbath,” a house is a “residence,” a debt is a “balance due on bill
rendered.” A girls' school is a “young ladies' seminary,” A Marathon
man is not drafted, he is “inducted into selective service.” And the
railway station has a porte cochere (with the correct accent) instead
of a carriage entrance. A furnace is (how erroneously!) called a
“heater.” Marathon people do not die—they “pass away.” Even the
cobbler, good fellow, has caught the trick; he calls his shop the
“Italo-American Shoe Hospital.”
This is an innocent masquerade! If Marathon prefers not to call a
flivver a flivver, I shall not expostulate. And yet this quaint
subterfuge should not be carried quite so far. Stone walls are made for
sunny lounging; yet stone walls in Marathon are built with uneven
vertical projections to discourage the sedentary. Nothing is more
delightful than a dog; but there are no dogs in Marathon. They are all
airedales or spaniels or mastiffs. If an ordinary dog should wag his
tail up our street the airedales would cut him dead. Bless me, Nature
herself has taken to the same insincerity. The landscape round Marathon
is lovely, but it has itself well in hand. The hills all pretend to be
gentle declivities. There is a beautiful little sheet of water,
reflecting the trailery of willows, a green salute to the eye. In a
robuster community it would be a swimming hole—but with us, an
ornamental lake. Only in one spot has Nature forgotten herself and been
so brusque and rough as to jut up a very sizable cliff. This is the
loveliest thing in Marathon: sunlight and shadow break and angle in
cubist magnificence among the oddly veined knobs and prisms of brown
stone. Yet this cliff or quarry is by common consent taboo among us. It
is our indelicacy, our indecency. Such “residences” as are near
modestly turn their kitchens toward it. Only the blacksmith and the gas
tanks are hardy enough to face this nakedness of Mother Earth—they,
and excellent Pat Lemon, Marathon's humblest and blackest citizen, who
contemplates that rugged and honest beauty as he tills his garden on
the land abandoned by squeamish burghers. That is our Aceldama, our
Potter's Field, only approached by the athletic, who keep their eyes
from Nature's indiscretion by vigorous sets of tennis in the purple
shadow of the cliff.
Life is queerly inverted in Marathon. Nature has been so bullied and
repressed that she fawns about us timidly. No well-conducted suburban
shrubbery would think of assuming autumn tints before the ladies have
got into their fall fashions. Indeed none of our chaste trees will even
shed their leaves while any one is watching; and they crouch modestly
in the shade of our massive garages. They have been taught their place.
In Marathon it is a worse sin to have your lawn uncut than to have your
books or your hair uncut. I have been aware of indignant eyes because I
let my back garden run wild. And yet I flatter myself it was not mere
sloth. No! I want the Urchin to see what this savage, tempestuous world
is like. What preparation for life is a village where Nature comes to
heel like a spaniel? When a thunderstorm disorganizes our electric
lights for an hour or so we feel it a personal affront. Let my rearward
plot be a deep-tangled wild-wood where the happy Urchin may imagine
something more ferocious lurking than a posse of radishes. Indeed, I
hardly know whether Marathon is a safe place to bring up a child. How
can he learn the horrors of drink in a village where there is no
saloon? Or the sadness of the seven deadly sins where there is no
movie? Or deference to his betters where the chauffeurs, in their
withered leather legs, drive limousines to the drug store to buy
expensive cigars, while their employers walk to the station puffing
I had been hoping that the war would knock some of this topsy-turvy
nonsense out of us. Maybe it has. Sometimes I see on the faces of our
commuters the unaccustomed agitation of thought. At least we still have
the grace to call ourselves a suburb, and not (what we fancy ourselves)
a superurb. But I don't like the pretense that runs like a jarring note
through the music of our life. Why is it that those who are doing the
work must pretend they are not doing it; and those not doing the work
pretend that they are? I see that the motor messenger girls who drive
high-powered cars wear Sam Browne belts and heavy-soled boots, whereas
the stalwart colored wenches who labor along the tracks of the Cinder
and Bloodshot console themselves with flimsy waists and light slippers.
(A fact!) By and by the Urchin will notice these things. And I don't
want him to grow up the kind of chap who, instead of running to catch a
train, loiters gracefully to the station and waits to be caught.
THE SMELL OF SMELLS
I Smelt it this morning—I wonder if you know the smell I mean?
It had rained hard during the night, and trees and bushes twinkled
in the sharp early sunshine like ballroom chandeliers. As soon as I
stepped out of doors I caught that faint but unmistakable musk in the
air; that dim, warm sweetness. It was the smell of summer, so wholly
different from the crisp tang of spring.
It is a drowsy, magical waft of warmth and fragrance. It comes only
when the leaves and vegetation have grown to a certain fullness and
juice, and when the sun bends in his orbit near enough to draw out all
the subtle vapors of field and woodland. It is a smell that rarely if
ever can be discerned in the city. It needs the wider air of the
unhampered earth for its circulation and play.
I don't know just why, but I associate that peculiar aroma of summer
with woodpiles and barnyards. Perhaps because in the area of a farmyard
the sunlight is caught and focused and glows with its fullest heat and
radiance. And it is in the grasp of the relentless sun that growing
things yield up their innermost vitality and emanate their fragrant
essence. I have seen fields of tobacco under a hot sun that smelt as
blithe as a room thick with blue Havana smoke. I remember a pile of
birch logs, heaped up behind a barn in Pike County, where that mellow
richness of summer flowed and quivered like a visible exhalation in the
air. It is the goodly soul of earth, rendering her health and sweetness
to her master, the sun.
Every one, I suppose, who is a fancier of smells, knows this blithe
perfume of the summer air that is so pleasant to the nostril almost any
fine forenoon from mid-June until August. It steals pungently through
the blue sparkle of the morning, fading away toward noon when the
moistness is dried out. But when one first issues from the house at
breakfast time it is at its highest savor. Irresistibly it suggests
worms and a tin can with the lid jaggedly bent back and a pitchfork
turning up the earth behind the cow stable. Fishing was first invented
when Adam smelt that odor in the air.
The first fishing morning—can't you imagine it! Has no one ever
celebrated it in verse or oils? The world all young and full of
unmitigated sweetness; the Garden of Eden bespangled with the early
dew; Adam scrabbling up a fistful of worm's and hooking them on a bent
thorn and a line of twisted pampas grass; hurrying down to the branch
or the creek or the bayou or whatever it may have been; sitting down on
a brand-new stump that the devil had put there to tempt him; throwing
out his line; sitting there in the sun dreaming and brooding....
And then a tug, a twitch, a flurry in the clear water of Eden, a
pull, a splash, and the First Fish lay on the grass at Adam's foot. Can
you imagine his sensations? How he yelled to Eve to come—look—see,
and, how annoyed he was because she called out she was busy....
Probably it was in that moment that all the bickerings and back-talk
of husbands and wives originated; when Adam called to Eve to come and
look at his First Fish while it was still silver and vivid in its
living colors; and Eve answered she was busy. In that moment were born
the men's clubs and the women's clubs and the pinochle parties and
being detained at the office and Kelly pool and all the other devices
and stratagems that keep men and women from taking their amusements
Well, I didn't mean to go back to the Garden of Eden; I just wanted
to say that summer is here again, even though the almanac doesn't vouch
for it until the 21st. Those of you who are fond of smells, spread your
nostrils about breakfast time tomorrow morning and see if you detect
A JAPANESE BACHELOR
The first obligation of one who lives by writing is to write what
editors will buy. In so doing, how often one laments that one cannot
write exactly what happens. Suppose I were to try it—for once!
I have been lying on the bed—where the landlady has put a dark blue
spread, instead of the white one, because I drop my tobacco
ashes—smoking, and thinking about a new friend I met today. His name
is Kenko, a Japanese bachelor of the fourteenth century, who wrote a
little book of musings which has been translated under the title “The
Miscellany of a Japanese Priest.” His candid reflections are those of a
shrewd, learned, humane and somewhat misogynist mind. I have been lying
on the bed because his book, like all books that make one ponder deeply
on human destiny, causes that feeling of mind-sickness, that swimming
pain of the mental faculties—or is it caused by too much strong
My acquaintance with Kenko began only last night, when I sat in bed
reading Mr. Raymond Weaver's very pleasant article about him in a
recent Bookman. My last act before turning out the light was to
lay the magazine on the table, open at Mr. Weaver's essay, to remind me
to get a copy of Kenko the first thing this morning. Happily to-day was
Saturday. I don't know what I should have done if it had been Sunday. I
felt that I could not wait another day without owning that book. I
suspected it was a good deal in the mood of another bachelor, an
Anglo-American Caleb of to-day—Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith, whose
whimsical “Trivia” belongs on the same shelf.
This morning I tried to argue myself out of the decision. It may be
a very expensive book, I thought; it may cost two or three dollars; I
have been spending a lot of money lately, and I certainly ought to buy
some new undershirts. Moreover, this has been a bad week; I have never
written those paragraphs I promised a certain editor, and I haven't
paid the rent yet. Why not try to find the book at a library? But I
knew the only library where I would have any chance of finding Kenko
would be the big pile at Fifth avenue and Forty-second street, and I
could not bear the thought of having to read that book without smoking.
I felt instinctively (from what Mr. Weaver had written) that it was the
kind of book that requires a pipe.
Well, I thought, I won't decide this too hastily; I'll walk down to
the post office (four blocks) and make up my mind on the way. I knew
already, however, that if I didn't go downtown for that book it would
bother me all day and ruin my work.
I walked down to the post office (to mail to an editor a sonnet I
thought fairly well of) saying to myself: That book is imported from
England, it may be a big book, it may even cost four dollars. How much
better to exhibit the stoic tenacity of all great men, go back to my
hall bedroom (which I was temporarily occupying) and concentrate on
matters in hand. What right, I said, has a Buddhist recluse, born
either in 1281 or 1283, to harass me so? But I knew in my heart that
the matter was already decided. I walked back to the corner of
Hallbedroom street, and stood vacillating at the newsstand, pretending
to glance over the papers. But across six centuries the insistent ghost
of Kenko had me in its grip. Annoyed, and with a sense of chagrin, I
hurried to the subway.
In the dimly lit vestibule of the subway car, a boy of sixteen or so
sat on an up-ended suitcase, plunged in a book. I can never resist the
temptation to try to see what books other people are reading. This
innocent curiosity has led me into many rudenesses, for I am
short-sighted and have to stare very close to make out the titles. And
usually the people who read books on trolleys, subways and ferries are
women. How often I have stalked them warily, trying to identify the
volume without seeming too intrusive. That weakness deserves an essay
in itself. It has led me into surprising adventures. But in this case
my quarry was easy. The lad—I judged him a boarding school boy going
back to school after the holidays—was so absorbed in his reading that
it was easy to thrust my face over his shoulder and see the running
head on the page—“The Light That Failed.”
I left the subway at Pennsylvania Station. Just to appease my
conscience, I stopped in at the agreeable Cadmus bookshop on
Thirty-third street to see if by any chance they might have a
second-hand copy of Kenko. But I know they wouldn't; it is not the kind
of book at all likely to be found second-hand. I tarried here long
enough to smoke one cigarette and pay my devoirs to the noble
profession of second-hand bookselling. I even thought, a little wildly,
of buying a copy of “The Monk” by M.G. Lewis, which I saw there. So
does the frenzy rage when once you unleash it. But I decided to be
content with paying my devoirs to the proprietor, a friend of mine, and
not go on (as the soldier does in Hood's lovely pun) to devour my pay.
I hurried off to the office of the Oxford University Press, Kenko's
It should be stated, however, that owing to some confusion of doors
I got by mistake into the reception room of the
Brunswick-Balke-Collender Billiard Table Company, which is on the same
corridor as the salesroom of the Oxford Press. It was a pleasant
reception room, not very bookish in aspect, but in my agitation I was
too eager to feel surprised by the large billiard table in the offing.
I somewhat startled a young man at an adding machine by demanding, in a
husky voice, a copy of “The Miscellanies of a Japanese Priest.” I was
rather nervous by this time, lest for some reason I should not be able
to buy a copy of Kenko. I feared the publishers might be angry with me
for not having made a round of the bookstores first. The young man saw
that I was chalking the wrong cue, and forwarded me.
In the office of the Oxford Press I met a very genial reception. I
had been, as I say, apprehensive lest they should refuse to sell me the
book; or perhaps they might not have a copy. I wondered what
credentials I could offer to override their scruples. I had made up my
mind to tell them, if they demurred, that I had once published an essay
to prove that the best book for reading in bed is the General Catalogue
of the Oxford University Press. This is quite true. It is a delightful
compilation of several thousand pages, on India paper. But to my
pleasant surprise the Oxonians seemed not at all surprised at the
sudden appearance of one asking, in a voice a little shaken with
emotion, for a copy of the “Miscellanies.” Mr. Campion and Mr. Krause,
who greeted me, were kindness itself.
“Oh, yes,” they said, “we have a copy.” And in a minute it lay
before me. One of those little green and gold volumes in the Oxford
Library of Prose and Poetry. “How much?” I said. “A dollar forty.” I
paid it joyfully. It is a good price for a book. Once I wrote a book
myself that sells (when it does sell) at that figure. When I was at
Oxford I used to buy the O.L.P.P. books for (I think) half a crown. In
1917 they were listed at a dollar. Now $1.40. But I fear Kenko's estate
doesn't get the advantage of increased royalties.
The first thing to do was to find a place to read the book. My club
was fifteen blocks away. The smoking room of the Pennsylvania Station,
where I have done much reading, was three long blocks. But I must dip
into Kenko immediately. Down in the hallway I found a shoe-shining
stand, with a bowl of indirect light above it. The artist was busy in
the barber shop near-by. Admirable opportunity. I mounted the throne
and fell to. The first thing I saw was a quaint Japanese woodcut of a
buxom maiden washing garments in a rapidly purling stream. She was
treading out a petticoat with her bare feet, presumably on a flat
stone. In a black storm-cloud above a willow tree a bearded
supernatural being, with hands spread in humorous deprecation, gazes
down half pleased, half horrified. And the caption is, “Did not the
fairy Kume lose his supernatural powers when he saw the white legs of a
girl washing clothes?” Yet be not dismayed. Kenko is no George Moore.
By and bye the shoeshiner came out and found me reading. He was
apologetic. “I didn't know you were here,” he said. “Sorry to keep you
waiting.” Fortunately my shoes needed shining, as they generally do. He
shined them, and I still sat reading. He was puzzled, and tried to make
out the title of the book. At that moment I was reading:
One morning after a beautiful snowfall I sent a letter to a friend's
house about something I wished to say, but said nothing at all about
the snow. And in his reply he wrote: “How can I listen to a man so base
that his pen in writing did not make the least reference to the snow!
Your honorable way of expressing yourself I exceedingly regret.” How
amusing was this answer!
The shoeshiner was now asking me whether anything was wrong with the
polish he had put on my boots, so I thought it best to leave.
In the earlier pages of Kenko's book there are a number of allusions
to the agreeableness of intercourse with friends, so I went into a
nearby restaurant to telephone to a man whom I wished to know better.
He said that he would be happy to meet me at ten minutes after twelve.
That left over half an hour. I felt an immediate necessity to tell some
one about Kenko, so I made my way to Mr. Nichols's delightful bookshop
(which has an open fire) on Thirty-third Street. I showed the book to
Mr. Nichols, and we had a pleasant talk, in the course of which she
showed me the five facsimile volumes of Dickens's Christmas books,
which he had issued. In particular, he read aloud to me the magnificent
description of the boiling kettle in the first “Chirp” of “The Cricket
on the Hearth,” and pointed out to me how Dickens fell into rhyme in
describing the song of the kettle. This passage Mr. Nichols read to me,
standing in front of his fire, in a very musical and sympathetic tone
of voice which pleased me exceedingly. I was strongly tempted to buy
the five little books, and wished I had known of them before Christmas.
With a brutal effort at last I pulled out my watch, and found it was a
quarter after twelve.
I met my friend at his office, and we walked up Fourth Avenue in a
flush of sunshine. From Twenty-fourth to Forty-second Street we
discussed the habits of English poets visiting this country. At the
club we got onto Bolshevism, and he told me how a bookseller on
Lexington Avenue, whose shop is frequented by very outspoken radicals,
had told him that one of these had said, “The time is coming, and not
far away, when the gutters in front of your shop will run with blood as
they did in Petrograd.” I thought of some recent bomb outrages in
Philadelphia and did not laugh. With such current problems before us, I
felt a little embarrassed about turning the talk back to so many
centuries to Kenko, but finally I got it there. My friend ate chicken
hash and tea; I had kidneys and bacon, and cocoa with whipped cream. We
both had a coffee eclair. We parted with mutual regret, and I went back
to the Hallbedroom street, intending to do some work.
Of course you know that I didn't do it. I lit the gas stove, and sat
down to read Kenko. I wished I were a recluse, living somewhere near a
plum tree and a clear running water, leisurely penning maxims for
posterity. I read about his frugality, his love of the moon and a
little music, his somewhat embittered complaints against the folly of
men who spend their lives in rushing about swamped in petty affairs,
and the sad story of the old priest who was attacked by a goblin-cat
when he came home late at night from a pleasant evening spent in
capping verses. I read with special pleasure his seven
Self-Congratulations, in which he records seven occasions when he felt
that he had really done himself justice. The first of these was when he
watched a man riding horseback in a reckless fashion; he predicted that
the man would come a cropper, and he did so. The next four
self-congratulations refer to times when his knowledge of literary and
artistic matters enabled him to place an unfamiliar quotation or assign
a painted tablet to the right artist. One tells how he was able to find
a man in a crowd when everyone else had failed. And the last and most
amusing is an anecdote of a court lady who tried to inveigle him into a
flirtation with her maid by sending the latter, richly dressed and
perfumed, to sit very close to him when he was at the temple. Kenko
congratulates himself on having been adamant. He was no Pepys.
I thought of trying to set down a similar list of
self-congratulations for myself. Alas, the only two I could think of
were having remembered a telephone number, the memorandum of which I
had lost; and having persuaded a publisher to issue a novel which was a
great success. (Not written by me, let me add.)
I found my friend Kenko a rather disturbing companion. His
condemnation of our busy, racketing life is so damned conclusive!
Having recently added to my family, I was distressed by his section
“Against Leaving Any Descendants.” He seems to be devoid of the
sentiment of ancestor worship and sacredness of family continuity which
we have been taught to associate with the Oriental. And yet there is
always a current of suspicion in one's mind that he is not really
revealing his inmost heart. When a bachelor in his late fifties tells
us how glad he is never to have had a son, we begin to taste sour
I went out about six o'clock, and was thrilled by a shaving of
shining new moon in the cold blue winter sky—“the sky with its
terribly cold clear moon, which none care to watch, is simply
heart-breaking,” says Kenko. As I walked up Broadway I turned back for
another look at the moon, and found it hidden by the vast bulk of a
hotel. Kenko would have had some caustic remark for that. I went into
the Milwaukee Lunch for supper. They had just baked some of their
delicious fresh bran muffins, still hot from the oven. I had two of
them, sliced and buttered, with a pot of tea. Kenko lay on the table,
and the red-headed philosopher who runs the lunchroom spotted him. I
have always noticed that “plain men” are vastly curious about books.
They seem to suspect that there is some occult power in them, some
mystery that they would like to grasp. My friend, who has the bearing
of a prizefighter, but the heart of an amiable child, came over and
picked up the book. He sat down at the table with me and looked at it.
I was a little doubtful how to explain matters, for I felt that it was
the kind of book he would not be likely to care for. He began spelling
it out loud, rather laboriously—
Section 1. Well! Being born into this world there are, I
many aims which we may strive to attain.
To my surprise he showed the greatest enthusiasm. So much so that I
ordered another pair of bran muffins, which I did not really want, so
that he might have more time for reading Kenko.
“Who was this fellow?” he asked.
“He was a Jap,” I said, “lived a long time ago. He was mighty thick
with the Emperor, and after the Emperor died he went to live by himself
in the country, and became a priest, and wrote down his thoughts.”
“I see,” said my friend. “Just put down whatever came into his head,
“That's it. All his ideas about the queer things a fellow runs into
in life, you know, little bits of philosophy.”
I was a little afraid of using that word “philosophy,” but I
couldn't think of anything else to say. It struck my friend very
“That's it,” he said, “philosophy. Just as you say, now, he went off
by himself and put things down the way they come to him. Philosophy.
Sure. Say, that's a good kind of book. I like that kind of thing. I
have a lot of books at home, you know. I get home about nine o'clock,
and I most always read a bit before I go to bed.”
How I yearned to know what books they were, but it seemed rude to
He dipped into Kenko again, and I wondered whether courtesy demanded
that I should order another pot of tea.
“Say, would you like to do me a favor?”
“Sure thing,” I said.
“When you get through with that book, pass it over, will you? That's
the kind of thing I've been wanting. Just some little thoughts, you
know, something short. I've got a lot of books at home.”
His big florid face gleamed with friendly earnestness.
“Sure thing,” I said. “Just as soon as I've finished it you shall
have it.” I wanted to ask whether he would reciprocate by lending me
one of his own books, which would give me some clue to his tastes; but
again I felt obscurely that he would not understand my curiosity.
As I went out he called to me again from where he stood by the
shining coffee boiler. “Don't forget, will you?” he said. “When you're
through, just pass it over.”
I promised faithfully, and tomorrow evening I shall take the book in
to him. I honestly hope he'll enjoy it. I walked up the bright wintry
street, and wondered what Kenko would have said to the endless flow of
taxicabs, the elevators and subways, the telephones, and telegraph
offices, the newsstands and especially the plate-glass windows of
florists. He would have had some urbane, cynical and delightfully
disillusioning remarks to offer. And, as Mr. Weaver so shrewdly says,
how he would enjoy “The Way of All Flesh!”
I came back to Hallbedroom street, and set down these few
meditations. There is much more I would like to say, but the partitions
in hall bedrooms are thin, and the lady in the next room thumps on the
wall if I keep the typewriter going after ten o'clock.
TWO DAYS WE CELEBRATE
If we were asked (we have not been asked) to name a day the world
ought to celebrate and does not, we would name the 16th of May. For on
that day, in the year 1763, James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson.
This great event, which enriched the world with one of the most
vivid panoramas of human nature known to man, happened in Tom Davies's
bookshop in Covent Garden. Mr. and Mrs. Davies were friends of the
Doctor, who frequently visited their shop. Of them Boswell remarks
quaintly that though they had been on the stage for many years, they
“maintained an uniform decency of character.” The shop seems to have
been a charming place: one went there not merely to buy books, but also
to have a cup of tea in the back parlor. It is sad to think that though
we have been hanging round bookshops for a number of years, we have
never yet met a bookseller who invited us into the private office for a
quiet cup. Wait a moment, though, we are forgetting Dr. Rosenbach, the
famous bookseller of Philadelphia. But his collations, held in amazed
memory by many editioneers, rarely descend to anything so humble as
tea. One recalls a confused glamor of ortolans, trussed guinea-hens,
strawberries reclining in a bowl carved out of solid ice, and what used
to be known as vintages. It is a pity that Dr. Johnson died too soon to
take lunch with Dr. Rosenbach.
“At last, on Monday, the 16th of May,” says Boswell, “when I was
sitting in Mr. Davies's back parlor, after having drunk tea with him
and Mrs. Davies, Johnson unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr.
Davies, having perceived him through the glass door, announced his
awful approach to me. Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully
introduced me to him. I was much agitated.” The volatile Boswell may be
forgiven his agitation. We also would have trembled not a little.
Boswell was only twenty-two, and probably felt that his whole life and
career hung upon the great man's mood. But embarrassment is a comely
emotion for a young man in the face of greatness; and the Doctor was
speedily put in a good humor by an opportunity to utter his favorite
pleasantry at the expense of the Scotch. “I do, indeed, come from
Scotland,” cried Boswell, after Davies had let the cat out of the bag;
“but I cannot help it.” “That, sir,” said Doctor Johnson, “is what a
great many of your countrymen cannot help.”
The great book that dated from that meeting in Davies's back parlor
has become one of the most intimately cherished possessions of the
race. One finds its admirers and students scattered over the globe. No
man who loves human nature in all its quirks and pangs, seasoned with
bluff honesty and the genuineness of a cliff or a tree, can afford to
step into a hearse until he has made it his own. And it is a noteworthy
illustration of the biblical saying that whosoever will rule, let him
be a servant. Boswell made himself the servant of Johnson, and became
one of the masters of English literature.
It used to annoy us to hear Karl Rosner referred to as “the Kaiser's
Boswell.” For to boswellize (which is a verb that has gone into
our dictionaries) means not merely to transcribe faithfully the acts
and moods and import of a man's life; it implies also that the man so
delineated be a good man and a great. Horace Traubel was perhaps a
Boswell; but Rosner never.
It is pleasant to know that Boswell was not merely a kind of
animated note-book. He was a droll, vain, erring, bibulous,
warm-hearted creature, a good deal of a Pepys, in fact, with all the
Pepysian vices and virtues. Mr. A. Edward Newton's “Amenities of Book
Collecting” makes Boswell very human to us. How jolly it is to learn
that Jamie (like many lesser fry since) wrote press notices about
himself. Here is one of his own blurbs, which we quote from Mr.
Boswell, the author, is a most excellent man: he is of an
family in the west of Scotland, upon which he values himself
little. At his nativity there appeared omens of his future
greatness. His parts are bright, and his education has been
has traveled in post chaises miles without number. He is fond
seeing much of the world. He eats of every good dish,
apple pie. He drinks Old Hock. He has a very fine temper. He is
somewhat of a humorist and a little tinctured with pride. He
good manly countenance, and he owns himself to be amorous. He
infinite vivacity, yet is observed at times to have a
cast. He is rather fat than lean, rather short than tall,
young than old. His shoes are neatly made, and he never wears
This brings the excellent Boswell very close to us indeed: he might
almost be a member of the Authors' League. “Especially apple pie, bless
When we said that Boswell was a kind of Pepys, we fell by chance
into a happy comparison. Not only by his volatile errors was he of the
tribe of Samuel, but in his outstanding character by which he becomes
of importance to posterity—that of one of the great diarists. Now
there is no human failing upon which we look with more affectionate
lenience than that of keeping a diary. All of us, in our pilgrimage
through the difficult thickets of this world, have moods and moments
when we have to fall back on ourselves for the only complete
understanding and absolution we will ever find. In such times, how
pleasant it is to record our emotions and misgivings in the sure and
secret pages of some privy notebook; and how entertaining to read them
again in later years! Dr. Johnson himself advised Bozzy to keep a
journal, though he little suspected to what use it would be put. The
cynical will say that he did so in order that Bozzy would have less
time to pester him, but we believe his advice was sincere. It must have
been, for the Doctor kept one himself, of which more in a moment.
“He recommended to me,” Boswell says, “to keep a journal of my life,
full and unreserved. He said it would be a very good exercise and would
yield me great satisfaction when the particulars were faded from my
remembrance. He counselled me to keep it private, and said I might
surely have a friend who would burn it in case of my death.”
Happily it was not burned. The Great Doctor never seemed so near to
me as the other day when I saw a little notebook, bound in soft brown
leather and interleaved with blotting paper, in which Bozzy's busy pen
had jotted down memoranda of his talks with his friend, while they were
still echoing in his mind. From this notebook (which must have been one
of many) the paragraphs were transferred practically unaltered into the
Life. This superb treasure, now owned by Mr. Adam of Buffalo, almost
makes one hear the Doctor's voice; and one imagines Boswell sitting up
at night with his candle, methodically recording the remarks of the
day. The first entry was dated September 22, 1777, so Bozzy must have
carried it in his pocket when Dr. Johnson and he were visiting Dr.
Taylor in Ashbourne. It was during this junket that Dr. Johnson tried
to pole the large dead cat over Dr. Taylor's dam, an incident that
Boswell recorded as part of his “Flemish picture of my friend.” It was
then also that Mrs. Killingley, mistress of Ashbourne's leading inn,
The Green Man, begged Boswell “to name the house to his extensive
acquaintance.” Certainly Bozzy's acquaintance was to be far more
extensive than good Mrs. Killingley ever dreamed. It was he who “named
the house” to me, and for this reason The Green Man profited in
fourpence worth of cider, 134 years later.
There is another day we have vowed to commemorate, by drinking great
flaggonage of tea, and that is the 18th of September, Dr. Johnson's
birthday. The Great Cham needs no champion; his speech and person have
become part of our common heritage. Yet the extraordinary scenario in
which Boswell filmed him for us has attained that curious estate of
great literature the characteristic of which is that every man imagines
he has read it, though he may never have opened its pages. It is like
the historic landmark of one's home town, which foreigners from
overseas come to study, but which the denizen has hardly entered. It is
like Niagara Falls: we have a very fair mental picture of the spectacle
and little zeal to visit the uproar itself. And so, though we all use
Doctor Johnson's sharply stamped coinages, we generally are too lax
about visiting the mint.
But we will never cease to pray that every honest man should study
Boswell. There are many who have topped the rise of human felicity in
that book: when reading it they feel the tide of intellect brim the
mind with a unique fullness of satisfaction. It is not a mere
commentary on life: it is life—it fills and floods every
channel of the brain. It is a book that men make a hobby of, as golf or
billiards. To know it is a liberal education. I could have understood
Germany yearning to invade England in order to annex Boswell's Johnson.
There would have been some sense in that.
What is the average man's conception of Doctor Johnson? We think of
a huge ungainly creature, slovenly of dress, addicted to tea, the
author of a dictionary and the center of a tavern coterie. We think of
him prefacing bluff and vehement remarks with “Sir,” and having a knack
for demolishing opponents in boisterous argument. All of which is
passing true, just as is our picture of the Niagara we have never seen;
but how it misses the inner tenderness and tormented virtue of the man!
So it is refreshing sometimes to turn away from Boswell to those
passages where the good old Doctor has revealed himself with his own
hand. The letter to Chesterfield is too well known for comment. But no
less noble, and not nearly so well known, is the preface to the
Dictionary. How moving it is in its sturdy courage, its strong grasp of
the tools of expression. In every line one feels the weight and push of
a mind that had behind it the full reservoir of language, particularly
the Latin. There is the same sense of urgent pressure that one feels in
watching a strong stream backed up behind a dam:
I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver
to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavored well.
it will immediately become popular I have not promised to
few wild blunders, and risible absurdities, from which no work
such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly
laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt, but useful
will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who
distinguish desert; who will consider that no dictionary of a
tongue ever can be perfect, since while it is hastening to
publication, some words are budding, and some falling away;
whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that
a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design
whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does
understand; that a writer will sometimes be tarried by
the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task, which
Scaliger compares to the labors of the anvil and the mine; that
is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always
present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise
slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of
mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in
trace his memory at the moment of need, for that which
knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled
I know no better way of celebrating Doctor Johnson's birthday than
by quoting a few passages from his “Prayers and Meditations,” jotted
down during his life in small note-books and given shortly before his
death to a friend. No one understands the dear old doctor unless he
remembers that his spirit was greatly perplexed and harassed by sad and
disordered broodings. The bodily twitchings and odd gestures which
attracted so much attention as he rolled about the streets were
symptoms of painful twitchings and gestures within. A great part of his
intense delight in convivial gatherings, in conversation and the dinner
table, was due to his eagerness to be taken out of himself. One fears
that his solitary hours were very often tragic.
There were certain dates which Doctor Johnson almost always
commemorated in his private notebook—his birthday, the date of his
wife's death, the Easter season and New Year's. In these pathetic
little entries one sees the spirit that was dogmatic and proud among
men abasing itself in humility and pouring out the generous tenderness
of an affectionate nature. In these moments of contrition small
peccadilloes took on tragic importance in his mind. Rising late in the
morning and the untidy state of his papers seemed unforgivable sins.
There is hardly any more moving picture in the history of mankind than
that of the rugged old doctor pouring out his innocent petitions for
greater strength in ordering his life and bewailing his faults of
sluggishness, indulgence at table and disorderly thoughts. Let us begin
with his entry on September 18, 1760, his fifty-second birthday:
To combat notions of obligation.
To apply to study.
To reclaim imaginations.
To consult the resolves on Tetty's [his wife's] coffin.
To rise early.
To study religion.
To go to church.
To drink less strong liquors.
To keep a journal.
To oppose laziness by doing what is to be done to-morrow.
Rise as early as I can.
Send for books for history of war.
Put books in order.
Scheme of life.
The very human feature of these little notes is that the same good
resolutions appear year after year. Thus, four years after the above,
we find him writing:
Sept. 18, 1764.
This is my 56th birthday, the day on which I have concluded 55
I have outlived many friends, I have felt many sorrows. I have made
few improvements. Since my resolution formed last Easter, I have made
no advancement in knowledge or in goodness; nor do I recollect that I
have endeavored it. I am dejected, but not hopeless.
To study the Scriptures; I hope, in the original languages. Six
hundred and forty verses every Sunday will nearly comprise the
Scriptures in a year.
To read good books; to study theology.
To treasure in my mind passages for recollection.
To rise early; not later than six, if I can; I hope sooner, but as
soon as I can.
To keep a journal, both of employment and of expenses. To keep
To take care of my health by such means as I have designed.
To set down at night some plan for the morrow.
To-morrow I purpose to regulate my room.
* * * * *
At Easter, 1765, he confesses sadly that he often lies abed until
two in the afternoon; which, after all, was not so deplorable, for he
usually went to bed very late. Boswell has spoken of “the unseasonable
hour at which he had habituated himself to expect the oblivion of
repose.” On New Year's Day, 1767, he prays: “Enable me, O Lord, to use
all enjoyments with due temperance, preserve me from unseasonable and
immoderate sleep.” Two years later than this he writes:
“I am not yet in a state to form many resolutions; I purpose and
hope to rise early in the morning at eight, and by degrees at six;
eight being the latest hour to which bedtime can be properly extended;
and six the earliest that the present system of life requires.”
One of the most pathetic of his entries is the following, on
September 18, 1768:
“This day it came into my mind to write the history of my
melancholy. On this I purpose to deliberate; I know not whether it may
not too much disturb me.”
From time to time there have been stupid or malicious people who
have said that Johnson's marriage with a homely woman twenty years
older than himself was not a love match. For instance, Mr. E.W. Howe,
of Atchison, Kan., in most respects an amiable and well-conducted
philosopher, uttered in Howe's Monthly (May, 1918) the following
words, which (I hope) he will forever regret:
“I have heard that when a young man he (Johnson) married an ugly and
vulgar old woman for her money, and that his taste was so bad that he
Against this let us set what Johnson wrote in his notebook on March
This is the day on which, in 1752, I was deprived of poor dear
Tetty. When I recollect the time in which we lived together, my
grief of her departure is not abated; and I have less pleasure
any good that befalls me, because she does not partake it. On
occasions, I think what she would have said or done. When I saw
sea at Brighthelmstone, I wished for her to have seen it with
But with respect to her, no rational wish is now left but that
may meet at last where the mercy of God shall make us happy,
perhaps make us instrumental to the happiness of each other. It
now 18 years.
Let us end the memorandum with a less solemn note. On Good Friday,
1779, he and Boswell went to church together. When they returned the
good old doctor sat down to read the Bible, and he says, “I gave
Boswell Les Pensees de Pascal, that he might not interrupt me.” Of this
very copy Boswell says: “I preserve the book with reverence.” I wonder
who has it now?
So let us wish Doctor Johnson many happy returns of the day, sure
that as long as paper and ink and eyesight preserve their virtue he
will bide among us, real and living and endlessly loved.
THE URCHIN AT THE ZOO
I don't know just what urchins think about; neither do they,
perhaps; but presumably by the time they're twenty-eight months old
they must have formed some ideas as to what is possible and what isn't.
And therefore it seemed to the Urchin's curators sound and advisable to
take him out to the Zoo one Sunday afternoon just to suggest to his
delightful mind that nothing is impossible in this curious world.
Of course, the amusing feature of such expeditions is that it is
always the adult who is astounded, while the child takes things blandly
for granted. You or I can watch a tiger for hours and not make head or
tail of it—in a spiritual sense, that is—whereas an urchin simply
smiles with rapture, isn't the least amazed, and wants to stroke the
It was a soft spring afternoon, the garden was thronged with
visitors and all the indoor animals seemed to be wondering how soon
they would be let out into their open-air inclosures. We filed through
the wicket gate and the Urchin disdained the little green go-carts
ranked for hire. He preferred to navigate the Zoo on his own
white-gaitered legs. You might as well have expected Adam on his first
tour of Eden to ride in a palanquin.
The Urchin entered the Zoo much in the frame of mind that must have
been Adam's on that original tour of inspection. He had been told he
was going to the Zoo, but that meant nothing to him. He saw by the
aspect of his curators that he was to have a good time, and loyally he
was prepared to exult over whatever might come his way. The first thing
he saw was a large boulder—it is set up as a memorial to a former
curator of the garden. “Ah,” thought the Urchin, “this is what I have
been brought here to admire.” With a shout of glee he ran to it. “See
stone,” he cried. He is an enthusiast concerning stones. He has a small
cardboard box of pebbles, gathered from the walks of a city square,
which is very precious to him. And this magnificent big pebble, he
evidently thought, was the marvelous thing he had come to examine. His
custodians, far more anxious than he to feast their eyes upon lions and
tigers, had hard work to lure him away. He crouched by the boulder,
appraising its hugeness, and left it with the gratified air of one who
has extracted the heart out of a surprising and significant experience.
The next adventure was a robin, hopping on the lawn. Every child is
familiar with robins which play a leading part in so much Mother Goose
mythology, so the Urchin felt himself greeting an old friend. “See
Robin Red-breast!” he exclaimed, and tried to climb the low wire fence
that bordered the path. The robin hopped discreetly underneath a bush,
uncertain of our motives.
Now, as I have no motive but to attempt to record the truth, it is
my duty to set down quite frankly that I believe the Urchin showed more
enthusiasm over the stone and the robin than over any of the amazements
that succeeded them. I suppose the reason for that is plain. These two
objects had some understandable relation with his daily life. His small
mind—we call a child's mind “small” simply by habit; perhaps it is
larger than ours, for it can take in almost anything without
effort—possessed well-known classifications into which the big stone
and the robin fitted comfortably and naturally. But what can a child
say to an ostrich or an elephant? It simply smiles and passes on.
Thereby showing its superiority to some of our most eminent thinkers.
They, confronted by something the like of which they have never seen
before—shall we say a League of Nations or Bolshevism?—burst into
shrill screams of panic abuse and flee the precinct! How much wiser the
level-headed Urchin! Confronting the elephant, certainly an appalling
sight to so small a mortal, he looked at the curator, who was carrying
him on one shoulder, and said with an air of one seeking gently to
reassure himself, “Elphunt won't come after Junior.” Which is something
of the mood to which the Senate is moving.
It was delightful to see the Urchin endeavor to bring some sense of
order into this amazing place by his classification of the strange
sights that surrounded him. He would not confess himself staggered by
anything. At his first glimpse of the emu he cried ecstatic, “Look,
there's a—,” and paused, not knowing what on earth to call it. Then
rapidly to cover up his ignorance he pointed confidently to a somewhat
similar fowl and said sagely, “And there's another!” The curious
moth-eaten and shabby appearance that captive camels always exhibit was
accurately recorded in his addressing one of them as “poor old horsie.”
And after watching the llamas in silence, when he saw them nibble at
some grass he was satisfied. “Moo-cow,” he stated positively, and
turned away. The bears did not seem to interest him until he was
reminded of Goldylocks. Then he remembered the pictures of the bears in
that story and began to take stock of them.
The Zoo is a pleasant place to wander on a Sunday afternoon. The
willow trees, down by the brook where the otters were plunging, were a
cloud of delicate green. Shrubs everywhere were bursting into bud. The
Tasmanian devils those odd little swine that look like small pigs in a
high fever, were lying sprawled out, belly to the sun-warmed earth, in
the same whimsical posture that dogs adopt when trying to express how
jolly they feel. The Urchin's curators were at a loss to know what the
Tasmanian devils were and at first were led astray by a sign on a tree
in the devils' inclosure. “Look, they're Norway maples,” cried one
curator. In the same way we thought at first that a llama was a Chinese
ginkgo. These errors lead to a decent humility.
There is something about a Zoo that always makes one hungry, so we
sat on a bench in the sun, watched the stately swans ruffling like
square-rigged ships on the sparkling pond, and ate biscuits, while the
Urchin was given a mandate over some very small morsels. He was much
entertained by the monkeys in the open-air cages. In the upper story of
one cage a lady baboon was embracing an urchin of her own, while
underneath her husband was turning over a pile of straw in a persistent
search for small deer. It was a sad day for the monkeys at the Zoo when
the rule was made that no peanuts can be brought into the park. I
should have thought that peanuts were an inalienable right for captive
monkeys. The order posted everywhere that one must not give the animals
tobacco seems almost unnecessary nowadays, with the weed at present
prices. The Urchin was greatly interested in the baboon rummaging in
his straw. “Mokey kicking the grass away,” he observed thoughtfully.
Down in the grizzly-bear pit one of the bears squatted himself in
the pool and sat there, grinning complacently at the crowd. We
explained that the bear was taking a bath. This presented a familiar
train of thought to the Urchin and he watched the grizzly climb out of
his tank and scatter the water over the stone floor. As we walked away
the Urchin observed thoughtfully, “He's dying.” This somewhat shocked
the curators, who did not know that their offspring had even heard of
death. “What does he mean?” we asked ourselves. “He's dying,” repeated
the Urchin in a tone of happy conviction. Then the explanation struck
us. “He's drying!” “Quite right,” we said. “After his bath he has to
We went home on a crowded Girard Avenue car, thinking impatiently
that it will be some time before we can read “The Jungle Book” to the
Urchin. In the summer, when the elephants take their bath outdoors,
we'll go again. And the last thing the Urchin said that night as he
fell asleep was, “Mokey kicking the grass away.”
Robert Urwick, the author, was not yet so calloused by success that
he was immune from flattery. And so when he received the following
letter he was rather pleased:
Mr. Robt. Urwick, dear sir I seen your story in this weeks Saturday
Evn Cudgel, not that I can afford to buy journals of that stamp but I
pick up the copy on a bench in the park. Now Mr. Urwick I am a poor man
but I was brought up a patron of the arts and I am bound to say that
story of yours called Brass Nuckles was a fine story and I am proud to
compliment you upon it. Mr. Urwick that brings me to another matter
upon which I have been intending to write you upon for a long time but
did not like to risk an intrusion. I used to dable in literature to
some little extent myself if that will lend a fellow feeling for a
craftsman in distress. I am a poor man, out of work through no fault of
mine but on account of the illness of my wife and my sitting up with
her at nights for weeks and weeks I could not hold my job whch required
mentle concentration of a vigorous sort. Now Mr. Urwick I have a sick
wife and seven children to support, and the rent shortly due and the
landlord threatens to eject us if I don't pay what I owe. As it happens
my wife and I are hoping to be blessed again soon, with our eighth.
Owing to my love and devotion for the fine arts we have named all the
earlier children for noted authors or writers Rudyard Kipling, W.J.
Bryan, Mark Twain, Debs, Irvin Cobb, Walt Mason and Ella Wheeler
Wilcox. Now Mr. Urwick I thought that I would name the next one after
you, seeing you have done so much for literature Robert if a boy or
Roberta if a girl with Urwick for a middle name thus making you a
godfather in a manner of speaking. I was wondering whether you would
not feel like making a little godfathers gift for this innocent babe
now about to come into the world and to bare your name. Say twenty
dollars, but not a check if it can be avoided as owing to tempry
ambarrassment I am not holding any bank account, and currency would be
easier for me to convert into the necesity of life.
I wrote this letter once before but tore it up fearing to intrude,
but now my need compels me to be frank. I hope you will adorn our
literature with many more beautiful compositions similiar to Brass
Mr Henry Phillips 454 East 34 St.
Mr. Urwick, after reading this remarkable tribute twice, laughed
heartily and looked in his bill-folder. Finding there a crisp
ten-dollar note, he folded it into an envelope and mailed it to his
admirer, inclosing with it a friendly letter wishing success to the
coming infant who was to carry his name.
A fortnight later he found on his breakfast table a very soiled
postal card with this message:
Dear and kind friend, the babe arrived and to the joy of all is a
boy and has been cristened Robert Urwick Phillips. Unfortunately he is
a sicly infant and the doctor says he must have port wine at once or he
may not survive. His mother and I were overjoyed at your munificant
gift and hope some day to tell the boy of his beanefactor, Mr. Kipling
only sent five spot to his namesake. Do you think you could spare five
dollars to help pay for port wine Yours gratefully
Mr. Urwick was a little surprised at the thought of port wine for
one so young, but happening to be bound down town that morning he
thought it might be interesting to look in at Mr. Phillips' residence
and find out how his godchild was faring. If the child were really in
distress he might perhaps contribute a small sum to insure proper
The address proved to be a shabby tenement house hedged by saloons.
A ragged little girl (he wondered whether she were Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Phillips) pointed him to Mr. Phillips's door. Meeting no answer, he
The room was empty—a single room, with a cot bed, an oil stove and
a table littered with stationery and stamps. Of Mrs. Phillips, his
namesake or the other seven he saw no signs. He advanced to the table.
Evidently Mr. Phillips was not a ready writer and his letters cost
him some pains. Several lay open on the table in different stages of
composition. They were all exactly the same in wording as the first one
Urwick had received. They were addressed to Booth Tarkington, Don
Marquis, Ellen Glasgow, Edna Ferber, Agnes Repplier, Holworthy Hall and
Fannie Hurst. Each letter offered to name some coming child after these
Parnassians. Near by lay a pile of old magazines from which the
industrious Mr. Phillips evidently culled the names of his literary
Urwick smiled grimly and tiptoed from the room. On the stairs he met
a fat charwoman. He asked her if Mr. Phillips were married. “Whisky is
his wife and child,” she replied.
A month later Urwick put Phillips into a story which he sold to the
Saturday Evening Cudgel for $500. When it was published he sent a
marked copy of the magazine to the father of Robert Urwick Phillips
with the following note:
“Dear Mr. Phillips—I owe you about $490. Come around some day and
I'll blow you to lunch.”
THE KEY RING
I know a man who carries in his left-leg trouser pocket a large
heavy key ring, on which there are a dozen or more keys of all shapes
and sizes. There is a latchkey, and the key of his private office, and
the key of his roll-top desk, and the key of his safe deposit box, and
a key to the little mail box at the front door of his flat (he lives in
what is known as a pushbutton apartment house), and a key that does
something to his motor car (not being an automobilist, I don't know
just what), and a key to his locker at the golf club, and keys of
various traveling bags and trunks and filing cases, and all the other
keys with which a busy man burdens himself. They make a noble clanking
against his thigh when he walks (he is usually in a hurry), and he
draws them out of his pocket with something of an imposing gesture when
he approaches the ground glass door of his office at ten past nine
every morning. Yet sometimes he takes them out and looks at them sadly.
They are a mark and symbol of servitude, just as surely as if they had
been heated red-hot and branded on his skin.
Not necessarily an unhappy servitude, I hasten to remark, for
servitude is not always an unhappy condition. It may be the happiest of
conditions, and each of those little metal strips may be regarded as a
medal of honor. In fact, my friend does so regard them. He does not
think of the key of his roll-top desk as a reminder of hateful tasks
that must be done willy-nilly, but rather as an emblem of hard work
that he enjoys and that is worth doing. He does not think of the
latchkey as a mandate that he must be home by seven o'clock, rain or
shine; nor does he think of it as a souvenir of the landlord who must
be infallibly paid on the first of the month next ensuing. No, he
thinks of the latchkey as a magic wand that admits him to a realm of
kindness “whose service is perfect freedom,” as say the fine old words
in the prayer book. And he does not think of his safe deposit box as a
hateful little casket of leases and life insurance policies and
contracts and wills, but rather as the place where he has put some of
his own past life into voluntary bondage—into Liberty Bondage—at four
and a quarter per cent. Yet, however blithely he may psychologize these
matters, he is wise enough to know that he is not a free man. However
content in servitude, he does not blink the fact that it is servitude.
“Upon his will he binds a radiant chain,” said Joyce Kilmer in a
fine sonnet. However radiant, it is still a chain.
So it is that sometimes, in the lulls of telephoning and signing
contracts and talking to salesmen and preparing estimates and dictating
letters “that must get off to-night” and trying to wriggle out of
serving on the golf club's house committee, my friend flings away his
cigar, gets a corncob pipe out of his desk drawer, and contemplates his
key ring a trifle wistfully. This nubby little tyrant that he carries
about with him always makes him think of a river in the far Canadian
north, a river that he visited once, long ago, before he had built up
all the barbed wire of life about his spirit. It was a green lucid
river that ran in a purposeful way between long fringes of pine trees.
There were sandy shelves where he and a fellow canoeist with the good
gift of silence built campfires and fried bacon, or fish of their own
wooing. The name of that little river (his voice is grave as he recalls
it), was the Peace; and it was not necessary to paddle if you didn't
feel like it. “The current ran” (it is pathetic to hear him say it)
“from four to seven miles an hour.”
The tobacco smoke sifts and eddies into the carefully labeled
pigeonholes of his desk, and his stenographer wonders whether she dare
interrupt him to ask whether that word was “priority” or “minority” in
the second paragraph of the memo to Mr. Ebbsmith. He smells that bacon
again; he remembers stretching out on the cool sand to watch the dusk
seep up from the valley and flood the great clear arch of green-blue
sky. He remembers that there were no key rings in his pocket then, no
papers, no letters, no engagements to meet Mr. Fonseca at a luncheon of
the Rotary Club to discuss demurrage. He remembers the clear sparkle of
the Peace water in the sunshine, its downward swell and slant over many
a boulder, its milky vexation where it slid among stones. He remembers
what he had said to himself then, but had since forgotten, that no
matter what wounds and perplexities the world offers, it also offers a
cure for each one if we know where to seek it. Suddenly he gets a
vision of the whole race of men, campers out on a swinging ball,
brothers in the common motherhood of earth. Born out of the same
inexplicable soil bred to the same problems of star and wind and sun,
what absurdity of civilization is it that has robbed men of this sense
of kinship? Why he himself, he feels, could enter a Bedouin tent or an
Eskimo snow-hut and find some bond of union with the inmates. The other
night, he reflects, he saw moving pictures of some Fiji natives, and
could read in their genial grinning faces the same human impulses he
knew in himself. What have men done to cheat themselves of the
enjoyment of this amazing world? “We've been cheated!” he cries, to the
He thinks of his friends, his partners, his employees, of conductors
on trains and waiters in lunchrooms and drivers of taxicabs. He thinks,
in one amazing flash of realization, of all the men and women he has
ever seen or heard of—how each one nourishes secretly some little
rebellion, some dream of a wider, freer life, a life less hampered,
less mean, less material. He thinks how all men yearn to cross salt
water, to scale peaks, to tramp until weary under a hot sun. He hears
the Peace, in its far northern valley, brawling among stones, and his
heart is very low.
“Mr. Edwards to see you,” says the stenographer.
“I'm sorry, sir,” says Edwards, “but I've had the offer of another
job and I think I shall accept it. It's a good thing for a chap to get
My friend slips the key ring back in his pocket.
“What's this?” he says. “Nonsense! When you've got a good job, the
thing to do is to keep it. Stick to it, my boy. There's a great future
for you here. Don't get any of those fool ideas about changing around
from one thing to another.”
(INTRODUCES OUR HERO)
Loitering perchance on the western pavement of Madison avenue,
between the streets numbered 38 and 39, and gazing with an observant
eye upon the pedestrians passing southward, you would be likely to see,
about 8:40 o'clock of the morning, a gentleman of remarkable presence
approaching with no bird-like tread. This creature, clad in a suit of
subfuse respectable weave, bearing in his hand a cane of stout timber
with a right-angled hornblende grip, and upon his head a hat of rich
texture, would probably also carry in one hand (the left) a leather
case filled with valuable papers, and in the other hand (the right,
which also held the cane) a cigarette, lit upon leaving the Grand
Central subway station. This cigarette the person of our tale would
frequentatively apply to his lips, and then withdraw with a quick,
swooping motion. With a rapid, somewhat sidelong gait (at first somehow
clumsy, yet upon closer observation a mode of motion seen to embrace
certain elements of harmony) this gentleman would converge upon the
southwest corner of Madison avenue and 38th street; and the intent
observer, noting the menacing contours of the face, would conclude that
he was going to work.
This gentleman, beneath his sober but excellently haberdashered
surtout, was plainly a man of large frame, of a Sam Johnsonian mould,
but, to the surprise of the calculating observer, it would be noted
that his volume (or mass) was not what his bony structure implied.
Spiritually, in deed, this interesting individual conveyed to the world
a sensation of stoutness, of bulk and solidity, which (upon scrutiny)
was not (or would not be) verified by measurement. Evidently, you will
conclude, a stout man grown thin; or, at any rate, grown less stout.
His molded depth, one might assess at 20 inches between the eaves; his
longitude, say, five feet eleven; his registered tonnage, 170; his
cargo, literary; and his destination, the editorial sancta of a
well-known publishing house.
This gentleman, in brief, is Mr. Robert Cortes Holliday (but not the
“stout Cortes” of the poet), the editor of The Bookman.
(OUR HERO BEGINS A CAREER)
“It would seem that whenever Nature had a man of letters up her
sleeve, the first gift with which she has felt necessary to dower him
has been a preacher sire.”
R.C.H. of N.B. Tarkington.
Mr. Holliday was born in Indianapolis on July 18, 1880. It is
evident that ink, piety and copious speech circulated in the veins of
his clan, for at least two of his grandfathers were parsons, and one of
them, Dr. Ferdinand Cortez Holliday, was the author of a volume called
“Indiana Methodism” in which he was the biographer of the Rev. Joseph
Tarkington, the grandfather of Newton B. Tarkington, sometimes heard of
as Booth Tarkington, a novelist. Thus the hand of Robert C. Holliday
was linked by the manacle of destiny to the hand of Newton B.
Tarkington, and it is a quaint satisfaction to note that Mr. Holliday's
first book was that volume “Booth Tarkington,” one of the liveliest and
soundest critical memoirs it has been our fortune to enjoy.
Like all denizens of Indianapolis—“Tarkingtonapolis,” Mr. Holliday
calls it—our subject will discourse at considerable volume of his
youth in that high-spirited city. His recollections, both sacred and
profane, are, however, not in our present channel. After a reputable
schooling young Robert proceeded to New York in 1899 to study art at
the Art Students' League, and later became a pupil of Twachtman. The
present commentator is not in a position to say how severely either art
or Mr. Holliday suffered in the mutual embrace. I have seen some of his
black and white posters which seemed to me robust and considerably
lively. At any rate, Mr. Holliday exhibited drawings on Fifth avenue
and had illustrative work published by Scribner's Magazine. He
did commercial designs and comic pictures for juvenile readers. At this
time he lived in a rural community of artists in Connecticut, and did
his own cooking. Also, he is proud of having lived in a garret on
Broome street. This phase of his career is not to be slurred over, for
it is a clue to much of his later work. His writing often displays the
keen eye of the painter, and his familiarity with the technique of
pencil and brush has much enriched his capacity to see and to make his
reader see with him. Such essays as “Going to Art Exhibitions,” and the
one-third dedication of “Walking-Stick Papers” to Royal Cortissoz are
due to his interest in the world as pictures.
While we think of it, then, let us put down our first memorandum
upon the art of Mr. Holliday:
First Memo—Mr. Holliday's stuff is distilled from life!
(IN WHICH OUR HERO DARTS OFF AT A TANGENT)
It is not said why our hero abandoned bristol board and india ink,
and it is no duty of this inquirendo to offer surmise. The fact is that
he disappeared from Broome street, and after the appropriate interval
might have been observed (odd as it seems) on the campus of the
University of Kansas. This vault into the petals of the sunflower seems
so quaint that I once attempted to find out from Mr. Holliday just when
it was that he attended courses at that institution. He frankly said
that he could not remember. Now he has no memory at all for dates, I
will vouch; yet it seems odd (I say) that he did not even remember the
numerals of the class in which he was enrolled. A “queer feller,”
indeed, as Mr. Tarkington has called him. So I cannot attest, with hand
on Book, that he really was at Kansas University. He may have been a
footpad during that period. I have often thought to write to the dean
of the university and check the matter up. It may be that entertaining
anecdotes of our hero's college career could be spaded up.
Just why this remote atheneum was sconce for Mr. Holliday's candle I
do not hazard. It seems I have heard him say that his cousin, Professor
Wilbur Cortez Abbott (of Yale) was then teaching at the Kansas college,
and this was the reason. It doesn't matter now; fifty years hence it
may be of considerable importance.
However, we must press on a little faster. From Kansas he returned
to New York and became a salesman in the book store of Charles
Scribner's Sons, then on Fifth avenue below Twenty-third street. Here
he was employed for about five years. From this experience may he
traced three of the most delightful of the “Walking-Stick Papers.” It
was while at Scribner's that he met Joyce Kilmer, who also served as a
Scribner book-clerk for two weeks in 1909. This friendship meant more
to Bob Holliday than any other. The two men were united by intimate
adhesions of temperament and worldly situation. Those who know what
friendship means among men who have stood on the bottom rung together
will ask no further comment. Kilmer was Holliday's best man in 1913;
Holliday stood godfather to Kilmer's daughter Rose. On Aug. 22, 1918,
Mrs. Kilmer appointed Mr. Holliday her husband's literary executor. His
memoir of Joyce Kilmer is a fitting token of the manly affection that
sweetens life and enriches him who even sees it from a distance.
Just when Holliday's connection with the Scribner store ceased I do
not know. My guess is, about 1911. He did some work for the New York
Public Library (tucking away in his files the material for the essay
“Human Municipal Documents") and also dabbled in eleemosynary science
for the Russell Sage Foundation; though the details of the latter
enterprise I cannot even conjecture. Somehow or other he fell into the
most richly amusing post that a belletristic journalist ever adorned,
as general factotum of The Fishing Gazette, a trade journal.
This is laid bare for the world in “The Fish Reporter.”
About 1911 he began to contribute humorous sketches to the Saturday
Magazine of the New York Evening Post. In 1912-13 he was writing
signed reviews for the New York Times Review of Books. 1913-14
he was assistant literary editor of the New York Tribune. His
meditations on the reviewing job are embalmed in “That Reviewer Cuss.”
In 1914 the wear and tear of continual hard work on Grub Street rather
got the better of him: he packed a bag and spent the summer in England.
Four charming essays record his adventures there, where we may leave
him for the moment while we warm up to another aspect of the problem.
Let us just set down our second memorandum:
Second Memo—Mr. Holliday knows the Literary Game from All Angles!
(OUR HERO'S BOOK AND HEART SHALL NEVER PART)
Perhaps I should apologize for treating Mr. Holliday's
“Walking-Stick Papers” in this biographical fashion. And yet I cannot
resist it for this book is Mr. Holliday himself. It is mellow, odd,
aromatic and tender, just as he is. It is (as he said of something
else) “saturated with a distinguished, humane tradition of letters.”
The book is exciting reading because you can trace in it the growth
and felicitous toughening of a very remarkable talent. Mr. Holliday has
been through a lively and gruelling mill. Like every sensitive
journalist, he has been mangled at Ephesus. Slight and debonair as some
of his pieces are, there is not one that is not an authentic fiber from
life. That is the beauty of this sort of writing—the personal
essay—it admits us to the very pulse of the machine. We see this man:
selling books at Scribner's, pacing New York streets at night gloating
on the yellow windows and the random ring of words, fattening his
spirit on hundreds of books, concocting his own theory of the niceties
of prose. We see that volatile humor which is native in him flickering
like burning brandy round the rich plum pudding of his theme. With all
his playfulness, when he sets out to achieve a certain effect he builds
cunningly, with sure and skillful art. See (for instance) in his “As to
People,” his superbly satisfying picture (how careless it seems!) of
his scrubwoman, closing with the precis of Billy Henderson's wife,
which drives the nail through and turns it on the under side—
Billy Henderson's wife is handsome; she is rich; she is an
cook; she loves Billy Henderson.
See “My friend the Policeman,” or “On Going a Journey,” or “The
Deceased”—this last is perhaps the high-water mark of the book. To
vary the figure, this essay dips its Plimsoll-mark full under. It is
freighted with far more than a dozen pages might be expected to carry
safely. So quietly, so quaintly told, what a wealth of humanity is in
it! Am I wrong in thinking that those fellow-artists who know the
thrill of a great thing greatly done will catch breath when they read
this, of the minor obits in the press—
We go into the feature headed “Died,” a department similar to
on the literary page headed “Books Received.” ... We are set in
small type, with lines following the name line indented. It is
difficult for me to tell with certainty from the printed page,
think we are set without leads.
In such passages, where the easy sporting-tweed fabric of Mr.
Holliday's merry and liberal style fits his theme as snugly as the burr
its nut, one feels tempted to cry joyously (as he says in some other
connection), “it seems as if it were a book you had written yourself in
a dream.” And follow him, for sheer fun, in the “Going a Journey"
essay. Granted that it would never have been written but for Hazlitt
and Stevenson and Belloc. Yet it is fresh distilled, it has its own
sparkle. Beginning with an even pace, how it falls into a swinging
stride, drugs you with hilltops and blue air! Crisp, metrical, with a
steady drum of feet, it lifts, purges and sustains. “This is the
religious side” of reading an essay!
Mr. Holliday, then, gives us in generous measure the “certain jolly
humors” which R.L.S. says we voyage to find. He throws off flashes of
imaginative felicity—as where he says of canes, “They are the light to
blind men.” Where he describes Mr. Oliver Herford “listing to
starboard, like a postman.” Where he says of the English who use
colloquially phrases known to us only in great literature—“There are
primroses in their speech.” And where he begins his “Memoirs of a
Manuscript,” “I was born in Indiana.”
We are now ready to let fall our third memorandum:
Third Memo—Behind his colloquial, easygoing (apparently careless)
utterance, Mr. Holliday conceals a high quality of literary art.
(FURTHER OSCILLATIONS OF OUR HERO)
Mr. Holliday was driven home from England and Police Constable
Buckington by the war, which broke out while he was living in Chelsea.
My chronology is a bit mixed here; just what he was doing from autumn,
1914, to February, 1916, I don't know. Was it then that he held the
fish reporter job? Come to think of it, I believe it was. Anyway, in
February, 1916, he turned up in Garden City, Long Island, where I first
had the excitement of clapping eyes on him. Some of the adventures of
that spring and summer may be inferred from “Memories of a Manuscript.”
Others took place in the austere lunch cathedral known at the press of
Doubleday, Page &Company as the “garage,” or on walks that summer
between the Country Life Press and the neighboring champaigns of
Hempstead. The full story of the Porrier's Corner Club, of which Mr.
Holliday and myself are the only members, is yet to be told. As far as
I was concerned it was love at first sight. This burly soul, rumbling
Johnsonianly upon lettered topics, puffing unending Virginia
cigarettes, gazing with shy humor through thick-paned spectacles—well,
on Friday, June 23, 1916, Bob and I decided to collaborate in writing a
farcical novel. It is still unwritten, save the first few chapters. I
only instance this to show how fast passion proceeded.
It would not surprise me if at some future time Mrs. Bedell's
boarding house, on Jackson Street in Hempstead, becomes a place of
pilgrimage for lovers of the essay. They will want to see the dark
little front room on the ground floor where Owd Bob used to scatter the
sheets of his essays as he was retyping them from a huge scrapbook and
grooming them for a canter among publishers' sanhedrim. They will want
to see (but will not, I fear) the cool barrel-room at the back of
George D. Smith's tavern, an ale-house that was blithe to our fancy
because the publican bore the same name as that of a very famous dealer
in rare books. Along that pleasant bar, with its shining brass
scuppers, Bob and I consumed many beakers of well-chilled amber during
that warm summer. His urbanolatrous soul pined for the city, and he
used in those days to expound the doctrine that the suburbanite really
has to go to town in order to get fresh air.
In September, 1916, Holliday's health broke down. He had been
feeling poorly most of the summer, and continuous hard work induced a
spell of nervous depression. Very wisely he went back to Indianapolis
to rest. After a good lay-off he tackled the Tarkington book, which was
written in Indianapolis the following winter and spring. And
“Walking-Stick Papers” began to go the rounds.
I have alluded more than once to Mr. Holliday's book on Tarkington.
This original, mellow, convivial, informal and yet soundly argued
critique has been overlooked by many who have delighted to honor
Holliday as an essayist. But it is vastly worth reading. It is a
brilliant study, full of “onion atoms” as Sydney Smith's famous salad,
and we flaunt it merrily in the face of those who are frequently
crapehanging and dirging that we have no sparkling young Chestertons
and Rebecca Wests and J.C. Squires this side of Queenstown harbor.
Rarely have creator and critic been joined in so felicitous a marriage.
And indeed the union was appointed in heaven and smiles in the blood,
for (as I have noted) Mr. Holliday's grandfather was the biographer of
Tarkington's grandsire, also a pioneer preacher of the metaphysical
commonwealth of Indiana. Mr. Holliday traces with a good deal of humor
and circumstance the various ways in which the gods gave Mr. Tarkington
just the right kind of ancestry, upbringing, boyhood and college career
to produce a talented writer. But the fates that catered to Tarkington
with such generous hand never dealt him a better run of cards than when
Holliday wrote this book.
The study is one of surpassing interest, not merely as a service to
native criticism but as a revelation of Holliday's ability to follow
through a sustained intellectual task with the same grasp and grace
that he afterward showed in the memoir of Kilmer in which his heart was
so deeply engaged. Of a truth, Mr. Holliday's success in putting
himself within Tarkington's dashing checked kuppenheimers is a fine
achievement of projected psychology. He knows Tarkington so well that
if the latter were unhappily deleted by some “wilful convulsion of
brute nature” I think it undoubtable that his biographer could
reconstruct a very plausible automaton, and would know just what
ingredients to blend. A dash of Miss Austen, Joseph Conrad, Henry James
and Daudet; flavored perhaps with coal smoke from Indianapolis,
spindrift from the Maine coast and a few twanging chords from the
Princeton Glee Club.
Fourth Memo—Mr. Holliday is critic as well as essayist.
(OUR HERO FINDS A STEADY JOB)
It was the summer of 1917 when Owd Bob came back to New York. Just
at that juncture I happened to hear that a certain publisher needed an
editorial man, and when Bob and I were at Browne's discussing the fate
of “Walking-Stick Papers” over a jug of shandygaff, I told him this
news. He hurried to the office in question through a drenching
rain-gust, and has been there ever since. The publisher performed an
act of perspicuity rare indeed. He not only accepted the manuscript,
but its author as well.
So that is the story of “Walking-Stick Papers,” and it does not
cause me to droop if you say I talk of matters of not such great
moment. What a joy it would have been if some friend had jotted down
memoranda of this sort concerning some of Elia's doings. The book is a
garner of some of the most racy, vigorous and genuinely flavored essays
that this country has produced for some time. Dear to me, every one of
them, as clean-cut blazes by a sincere workman along a trail full of
perplexity and struggle, as Grub Street always will be for the man who
dips an honest pen that will not stoop to conquer. And if you should
require an accurate portrait of their author I cannot do better than
quote what Grote said of Socrates:
Nothing could be more public, perpetual, and indiscriminate as
persons than his conversation. But as it was engaging, curious,
instructive to hear, certain persons made it their habit to
him as companions and listeners.
Owd Bob has long been the object of extreme attachment and high
spirits among his intimates. The earlier books have been followed by
“Broome Street Straws” and “Peeps at People,” vividly personal
collections that will arouse immediate affection and amusement among
his readers. And of these books will be said (once more in Grote's
words about Socrates):
Not only his conversation reached the minds of a much wider
but he became more abundantly known as a person.
Let us add, then, our final memorandum:
Fifth Memo—These essays are the sort of thing you cannot afford to
miss. In them you sit down to warm your wits at the glow of a droll,
delightful, unique mind.
So much (at the moment) for Bob Holliday.
THE APPLE THAT NO ONE ATE
The other evening we went to dinner with a gentleman whom it pleases
our fancy to call the Caliph.
Now a Caliph, according to our notion, is a Haroun-al-Raschid kind
of person; one who governs a large empire of hearts with a genial and
whimsical sway; circulating secretly among his fellow-men, doing
kindnesses often not even suspected by their beneficiaries. He is the
sort of person of whom the trained observer may think, when he hears an
unexpected kindness-grenade exploding somewhere down the line, “I'll
bet that came from the Caliph's dugout!” A Caliph's heart is not
surrounded by barbed wire entanglements or a strip of No Man's Land.
Also, and rightly, he is stern to malefactors and fakers of all sorts.
It would have been sad if any one so un-Caliphlike as William
Hohenzollern had got his eisenbahn through to Bagdad, the city sacred
to the memory of a genial despot who spent his cabarabian nights in an
excellent fashion. That, however, has nothing to do with the story.
Mr. and Mrs. Caliph are people so delightful that they leave in
one's mind a warm afterglow of benevolent sociability. They have an
infinite interest and curiosity in the hubbub of human moods and
crotchets that surrounds us all. And when one leaves their doorsill one
has a genial momentum of the spirit that carries one on rapidly and
cheerfully. One has an irresistible impulse to give something away, to
stroke the noses of horses, to write a kind letter to the fuel
administrator or do almost anything gentle and gratuitous. The Caliphs
of the world don't know it, but that is the effect they produce on
As we left, Mr. and Mrs. Caliph pressed upon us an apple. One of
those gorgeous apples that seem to grow wrapped up in tissue paper, and
are displayed behind plate glass windows. A huge apple, tinted with
gold and crimson and pale yellow shading off to pink. The kind of apple
whose colors are overlaid with a curious mist until you polish it on
your coat, when it gleams like a decanter of claret. An apple so large
and weighty that if it had dropped on Sir Isaac Newton it would have
fractured his skull. The kind of apple that would have made the garden
of Eden safe for democracy, because it is so beautiful no one would
have thought of eating it.
That was the kind of apple the Caliph gave us.
It was a cold night, and we walked down Chestnut street dangling
that apple, rubbing it on our sleeve, throwing it up and down and
catching it again. We stopped at a cigar store to buy some pipe
tobacco. Still running on Caliph, by which we mean still beguiled by
his geniality, we fell into talk with the tobacconist. “That's a fine
apple you have there,” said he. For an instant we thought of giving it
to him, but then we reflected that a man whose days are spent
surrounded by rich cigars and smokables is dangerously felicitous
already, and a sudden joy might blast his blood vessels.
The shining of the street lamps was reflected on the polished skin
of our fruit as we went our way. As we held it in our arms it glowed
like a huge ruby. We passed a blind man selling pencils, and thought of
giving it to him. Then we reflected that a blind man would lose half
the pleasure of the adventure because he couldn't see the colors. We
bought a pencil instead. Still running on Caliph, you see.
In our excitement we did what we always do in moments of
stress—went into a restaurant and ordered a piece of hot mince pie.
Then we remembered that we had just dined. Never mind, we sat there and
contemplated the apple as it lay ruddily on the white porcelain
tabletop. Should we give it to the waitress? No, because apples were a
commonplace to her. The window of the restaurant held a great pyramid
of beauties. To her, an apple was merely something to be eaten, instead
of the symbol of a grand escapade. Instead, we gave her a little
medallion of a buffalo that happened to be in our pocket.
Already the best possible destination for that apple had come to our
mind. Hastening zealously up a long flight of stairs in a certain large
building we went to a corner where sits a friend of ours, a night
watchman. Under a drop light he sits through long and tedious hours,
beguiling his vigil with a book. He is a great reader. He eats books
alive. Lately he has become much absorbed in Saint Francis of Assisi,
and was deep in the “Little Flowers” when we found him.
“We've brought you something,” we said, and held the apple where the
electric light brought out all its brilliance.
He was delighted and his gentle elderly face shone with awe at the
amazing vividness of the fruit.
“I tell you what I'll do,” he said. “That apple's much too fine for
me. I'll take it home to the wife.”
Of course his wife will say the same thing. She will be embarrassed
by the surpassing splendor of that apple and will give it to some
friend of hers whom she thinks more worthy than herself. And that
friend will give it to some one else, and so it will go rolling on down
the ages, passing from hand to hand, conferring delight, and never
getting eaten. Ultimately some one, trying to think of a recipient
really worthy of its deliciousness, will give it to Mr. and Mrs.
Caliph. And they, blessed innocents, will innocently exclaim, “Why we
never saw such a magnificent apple in all our lives.”
And it will be true, for by that time the apple will gleam with an
unearthly brightness, enhanced and burnished by all the kind thoughts
that have surrounded it for so long.
As we walked homeward under a frosty sparkle of sky we mused upon
all the different kinds of apples we have encountered. There are big
glossy green apples and bright red apples and yellow apples and also
that particularly delicious kind (whose name we forget) that is the
palest possible cream color—almost white. We have seen apples of
strange shapes, something like a pear (sheepnoses, they call them), and
the Maiden Blush apples with their delicate shading of yellow and
debutante pink. And what a poetry in the names—Winesap, Pippin,
Northern Spy, Baldwin, Ben Davis, York Imperial, Wolf River, Jonathan,
Smokehouse, Summer Rambo, Rome Beauty, Golden Grimes, Shenango
We suppose there is hardly a man who has not an apple orchard tucked
away in his heart somewhere. There must be some deep reason for the old
suspicion that the Garden of Eden was an apple orchard. Why is it that
a man can sleep and smoke better under an apple tree than in any other
kind of shade? Sir Isaac Newton was a wise man, and he chose an apple
tree to sit beneath. (We have often wondered, by the way, how it is
that no one has ever named an apple the Woolsthorpe after Newton's home
in Lincolnshire, where the famous apple incident occurred.)
An apple orchard, if it is to fill the heart of man to the full with
affectionate satisfaction, should straggle down a hillside toward a
lake and a white road where the sun shines hotly. Some of its branches
should trail over an old, lichened and weather-stained stone wall,
dropping their fruit into the highway for thirsty pedestrians. There
should be a little path running athwart it, down toward the lake and
the old flat-bottomed boat, whose bilge is scattered with the black and
shriveled remains of angleworms used for bait. In warm August
afternoons the sweet savor of ripening drifts warmly on the air, and
there rises the drowsy hum of wasps exploring the windfalls that are
already rotting on the grass. There you may lie watching the sky
through the chinks of the leaves, and imagining the cool, golden tang
of this autumn's cider vats.
You see what it is to have Caliphs in the world.
AS TO RUMORS
MADRID, Jan. 17.—Nikolai Lenine was among the Russians who landed
at Barcelona recently, according to newspapers here.—News item.
It is rather important to understand the technique of rumors. The
wise man does not scoff at them, for while they are often absurd, they
are rarely baseless. People do not go about inventing rumors, except
for purposes of hoax; and even a practical joke is never (to parody the
proverb) hoax et praeterea nihil. There is always a reason for wanting
to perpetrate the hoax, or a reason for believing it will be believed.
Rumors are a kind of exhalation or intellectual perfume thrown off
by the news of the day. Some events are more aromatic than others; they
can be detected by the trained pointer long before they happen. When
things are going on that have a strong vibration—what foreign
correspondents love to call a “repercussion”—they cause a good deal of
mind-quaking. An event getting ready to happen is one of the most
interesting things to watch. By a sort of mental radiation it fills
men's minds with surmises and conjectures. Curiously enough, due
perhaps to the innate perversity of man, most of the rumors suggest the
exact opposite of what is going to happen. Yet a rumor, while it may be
wholly misleading as to fact, is always a proof that something is going
to happen. For instance, last summer when the news was full of repeated
reports of Hindenburg's death, any sane man could foresee that what
these reports really meant was not necessarily Hindenburg's death at
all, but Germany's approaching military collapse. Some German prisoners
had probably said “Hindenburg ist kaput,” meaning “Hindenburg is done
for,” i.e., “The great offensive has failed.” This was taken to mean
that he was literally dead.
In the same way, while probably no one seriously believes that
Lenine is in Barcelona, the mere fact that Madrid thinks it possible
shows very plainly that something is going on. It shows either that the
Bolshevik experiment in Petrograd has been such a gorgeous success that
Lenine can turn his attention to foreign campaigning, or that it has
been such a gorgeous failure that he has had to skip. It does not
prove, since the rumor is “unconfirmed,” that Lenine has gone anywhere
yet; but it certainly does prove that he is going somewhere soon, even
if only to the fortress of Peter and Paul. There may be some very
simple explanation of the rumor. “You go to Barcelona!” may be a
jocular Muscovite catchword, similar to our old saying about going to
Halifax, and Trotzky may have said it to Lenine. At any rate it shows
that the gold dust twins are not inseparable. It shows that Bolshevism
in Russia is either very strong or very near downfall.
When we were told not long ago that Berlin was strangely gay for the
capital of a prostrate nation and that all the cafes were crowded with
dancers at night, many readers were amazed and tried to console their
sense of probability by remarking that the Germans are crazy anyway.
And yet this rumor of the dancing mania was an authentic premonition of
the bloodier dance of death led by the Spartacus group. If Berlin did
dance it was a cotillon of despair, caused by infinite war weariness,
infinite hunger to forget humiliation for a few moments, and foreboding
of troubles to come. Whether true or not, no one read the news without
thinking it an ominous whisper.
Coming events cast their rumors before. From a careful study of
rumors the discerning may learn a good deal, providing always that they
never take them at face value but try to read beneath the surface.
People sometimes criticize the newspapers for printing rumors, but it
is an essential part of their function to do so, provided they plainly
mark them as such. Shakespeare speaks of rumors as “stuffing the ears
of men with false reports,” yet if so this is not the fault of the
rumor itself, but of the too credible listener. The prosperity of a
rumor is in the ear that hears it. The sagacious listener will take the
trouble to sift and winnow his rumors, set them in perspective with
what he knows of the facts and from them he will then deduce
exceedingly valuable considerations. Rumor is the living atmosphere of
men's minds, the most fascinating and significant problem with which we
have to deal. The Fact, the Truth, may shine like the sun, but after
all it is the clouds that make the sunset beautiful. Keep your eye on
the rumors, for a sufficient number of rumors can compel an event to
happen, even against its will.
No one can set down any hard and fast rules for reading the rumors.
The process is partly instinctive and partly the result of trained
observation. It is as complicated as the calculation by which a woman
tells time by her watch which she knows to be wrong—she adds seventeen
minutes, subtracts three, divides by two and then looks at the church
steeple. It is as exhilarating as trying to deduce what there is going
to be for supper by the pervasive fragrance of onions in the front
hall. And sometimes a very small event, like a very small onion, can
cast its rumors a long way. Destiny is unlike the hen in that she
cackles before she lays the egg.
The first rule to observe about rumors is that they are often
exactly opposite in tendency to the coming fact. For instance, the
rumors of secrecy at the Peace Conference were the one thing necessary
to guarantee complete publicity. Just before any important event occurs
it seems to discharge both positive and negative currents, just as a
magnet is polarized by an electric coil. Some people by mental habit
catch the negative vibrations, others the positive. Every one can
remember the military critics last March who were so certain that there
would be no German offensive. Their very certainty was to many others a
proof that the offensive was likely. They were full of the negative
An interesting case of positive vibrations was the repeated rumor of
the Kaiser's abdication. The fact that those rumors were premature was
insignificant compared with the fact that they were current at all. The
fact that there were such rumors showed that it was only a matter of
It is entertaining, if disconcerting, to watch a rumor on its
travels. A classic example of this during the recent war is exhibited
by the following clippings which were collected, I believe, by Norman
From the Koelnische-Zeitung:
“When the fall of Antwerp became known the church bells were rung.”
(Meaning in Germany.)
From the Paris Matin:
“According to the Koelnische-Zeitung, the clergy of Antwerp
were compelled to ring the church bells when the fortress was taken.”
From the London Times:
“According to what the Matin has heard from Cologne, the
Belgian priests, who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was
taken, have been driven away from their places.”
From the Corriere Della Sera, of Milan:
“According to what the Times has heard from Cologne, via
Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests, who refused to ring the church
bells when Antwerp was taken, have been sentenced to hard labor.”
From the Matin again:
“According to information received by the Corriere Della Sera, from Cologne, via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors
of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic
refusal to ring the church bells by hanging them as living clappers to
the bells with their heads down.”
Be hospitable to rumors, for however grotesque they are, they always
have some reason for existence. The Sixth Sense is the sense of news,
the sense that something is going to happen. And just as every
orchestra utters queer and discordant sounds while it is tuning up its
instruments, so does the great orchestra of Human Events (in other
words, The News) offer shrill and perhaps misleading notes before the
conductor waves his baton and leads off the concerted crash of Truth.
Keep your senses alert to examine the odd scraps of hearsay that you
will often see in the news, for it is in just those eavesdroppings at
the heart of humanity that the press often fulfills its highest
When one becomes a father, then first one becomes a son. Standing by
the crib of one's own baby, with that world-old pang of compassion and
protectiveness toward this so little creature that has all its course
to run, the heart flies back in yearning and gratitude to those who
felt just so toward one's self. Then for the first time one understands
the homely succession of sacrifices and pains by which life is
transmitted and fostered down the stumbling generations of men.
Every man is privileged to believe all his life that his own mother
is the best and dearest that a child ever had. By some strange racial
instinct of taciturnity and repression most of us lack utterance to say
our thoughts in this close matter. A man's mother is so tissued and
woven into his life and brain that he can no more describe her than
describe the air and sunlight that bless his days. It is only when some
Barrie comes along that he can say for all of us what fills the eye
with instant tears of gentleness. Is there a mother, is there a son,
who has not read Barrie's “Margaret Ogilvy?” Turn to that first
chapter, “How My Mother Got Her Soft Face,” and draw aside the veils
that years and perplexity weave over the inner sanctuaries of our
Our mothers understand us so well! Speech and companionship with
them are so easy, so unobstructed by the thousand teasing barriers that
bar soul from eager soul! To walk and talk with them is like slipping
on an old coat. To hear their voices is like the shake of music in a
sober evening hush.
There is a harmony and beauty in the life of mother and son that
brims the mind's cup of satisfaction. So well we remember when she was
all in all; strength, tenderness, law and life itself. Her arms were
the world: her soft cheek our sun and stars. And now it is we who are
strong and self-sufficing; it is she who leans on us. Is there anything
so precious, so complete, so that return of life's pendulum?
And it is as grandmothers that our mothers come into the fullness of
their grace. When a man's mother holds his child in her gladdened arms
he is aware (with some instinctive sense of propriety) of the roundness
of life's cycle; of the mystic harmony of life's ways. There speaks
humanity in its chord of three notes: its little capture of
completeness and joy, sounding for a moment against the silent flux of
time. Then the perfect span is shredded away and is but a holy memory.
The world, as we tread its puzzling paths, shows many profiles and
glimpses of wonder and loveliness; many shapes and symbols to entrance
and astound. Yet it will offer us nothing more beautiful than our
mother's face; no memory more dear than her encircling tenderness. The
mountain tops of her love rise as high in ether as any sun-stained alp.
Lakes are no deeper and no purer blue than her bottomless charity. We
need not fare further than her immortal eyes to know that life is good.
How strangely fragmentary our memories of her are, and yet (when we
piece them together) how they erect a comfortable background for all we
are and dream. She built the earth about us and arched us over with
sky. She created our world, taught us to dwell therein. The passion of
her love compelled the rude laws of life to stand back while we were
soft and helpless. She defied gravity that we might not fall. She set
aside hunger, sleep and fear that we might have plenty. She tamed her
own spirit and crushed her own weakness that we might be strong. And
when we passed down the laughing street of childhood and turned that
corner that all must pass, it was her hand that waved good-bye. Then,
smothering the ache, with one look into the secret corner where the old
keepsakes lie hid, she set about waiting the day when the long-lost
baby would come back anew. The grandchild—is he not her own boy
returned to her arms?
Who can lean over a crib at night, marveling upon that infinite
innocence and candor swathed in the silk cocoon of childish sleep,
without guessing the throb of fierce gentleness that runs in maternal
blood? The earth is none too rich in compassion these days: let us be
grateful to the mothers for what remains. It was not they who filled
the world with spies and quakings. It was not a cabal of mothers that
met to decree blood and anguish for the races of men. They know that
life is built at too dear a price to be so lathered in corruption and
woe. Those who create life, who know its humility, its tender fabric
and its infinite price, who have cherished and warmed and fed it, do
not lightly cast it into the pit.
Mothers are great in the eyes of their sons because they are knit in
our minds with all the littlenesses of life, the unspeakably dear
trifles and odds of existence. The other day I found in my desk a
little strip of tape on which my name was marked a dozen times in
drawing ink, in my mother's familiar script. My mind ran back to the
time when that little band of humble linen was a kind of passport into
manhood. It was when I went away from home and she could no longer mark
my garments with my name, for the confusion of rapacious laundries. I
was to cut off the autographed sections of this tape and sew them on
such new vestments as came my way. Of course I did not do so; what boy
would be faithful to so feminine a trust? But now the little tape,
soiled by a dozen years of wandering, lies in my desk drawer as a
symbol and souvenir of that endless forethought and loving kindness.
They love us not wisely but too well, it is sometimes said. Ah, in a
world where so many love us not well but too wisely, how tremulously
our hearts turn back to bathe in that running river of their love and
GREETING TO AMERICAN ANGLERS
From Master Isaak Walton
My Good Friends—As I have said afore time, sitting by a river's
side is the quietest and fittest place for contemplation, and being out
and along the bank of Styx with my tackle this sweet April morning, it
came into my humor to send a word of greeting to you American anglers.
Some of your fellows, who have come by this way these past years, tell
me notable tales of the sport that may he had in your bright streams,
whereof the name of Pocono lingers in my memory. Sad it is to me to
recall that when writing my little book on the recreation of a
contemplative man I had made no mention of your rivers as delightsome
places where our noble art might be carried to a brave perfection, but
indeed in that day when I wrote—more years ago than I like to think
on—your far country was esteemed a wild and wanton land. Some worthy
Pennsylvania anglers with whom I have fished this water of Styx have
even told me of thirty and forty-inch trouts they have brought to
basket in that same Pocono stream, from the which fables I know that
the manners of our ancient sport have altered not a whit. I myself
could tell you of a notable catch I had the other morning, when I took
some half dozen brace of trouts before breakfast, not one less than
twenty-two inches, with bellies as yellow as marigold and as white as a
lily in parts. That I account quite excellent taking for these times,
when this stream hath been so roiled and troubled by the passage of
Master Charon's barges, he having been so pressed with traffic that he
hath discarded his ancient vessel as incommodious and hasteneth to and
fro with a fleet of ferryboats.
My Good Friends, I wish you all the comely sport that may be found
along those crystal rivers whereof your fellows have told me, and a
good honest alehouse wherein to take your civil cup of barley wine when
there ariseth too violent a shower of rain. I have ever believed that a
pipe of tobacco sweeteneth sport, and I was never above hiding a bottle
of somewhat in the hollow root of a sycamore against chilly seizures.
But come, what is this I hear that you honest anglers shall no longer
pledge fortune in a cup of mild beverage? Meseemeth this is an odd
thing and contrary to our tradition. I look for some explanation of the
matter. Mayhap I have been misled by some waggishness. In my days along
my beloved little river Dove, where my friend Mr. Cotton erected his
fishing house, we were wont to take our pleasure on the bowling green
of an evening, with a cup of ale handy. And our sheets used to smell
passing sweet of lavender, which is a pleasant fragrance, indeed.
One matter lies somewhat heavy on my heart and damps my mirth, that
in my little book I said of our noble fish the trout that his name was
of a German offspring. I am happy to confess to you that I was at
fault, for my good friend Master Charon (who doth sometimes lighten his
labors with a little casting and trolling from the poop of his vessel)
hath explained to me that the name trout deriveth from the antique
Latin word tructa, signifying a gnawer. This is a gladsome thing
for me to know, and moreover I am bounden to tell you that the house
committee of our little angling club along Styx hath blackballed all
German members henceforward. These riparian pleasures are justly to be
reserved for gentles of the true sportsman blood, and not such as have
defiled the fair rivers of France.
And so, good friends, my love and blessing upon all such as love
quietness and go angling.
MRS. IZAAK WALTON WRITES A LETTER TO
CHANCERY LANE, LONDON, April 28, 1639.
My Dearest Mother: Matters indeed pass from badd to worse, and I
fear mee that with Izaak spending all hys tyme angling along riversydes
and neglecting the millinery shoppe (wych is our onlie supporte, for
can bodye and soule be keppt in one by a few paltrie brace of trouts a
weeke?) wee shall soone come to a sorrye ende. How many tymes, deare
Mother, have I bewailed my follye in wedding this creature who seemeth
to mee more a fysh than a man, not mearly by reason of hys madnesse for
the gracelesse practice of water-dabbling, but eke for hys passion for
swimming in barley wine, ale, malmsey and other infuriatyng liquours.
What manner of companye doth this dotard keepe on his fyshing pastimes,
God wot! Lo he is wonte to come home at some grievous houre of ye
nyghte, bearing but a smalle catche but plentyful aroma of drinke, and
ofttimes alsoe hys rybalde freinds do accompany hym. Nothing will serve
but they must arouse our kytchen-maide and have some paltry chubb or
gudgeon fryed in greese, filling ye house wyth nauseous odoures, and
wyth their ill prattle of fyshing tackle, not to say the comely
milke-maides they have seen along some wanton meadowside, soe that I am
moste distraught. You knowe, my deare, I never colde abyde fyssche
being colde clammy cretures, and loe onlye last nyghte this Monster dyd
come to my beddside where I laye asleepyng and wake me fromm a sweet
drowse by dangling a string of loathsome queasy trouts, still
dryppinge, against my nose. Lo, says he, are these not beuties? And his
reek of barley wine did fille the chamber. Worste of alle, deare
Mother, this all-advised wretche doth spend alle his vacant houres in
compiling a booke on the art (as he calleth it) of angling, surely a
trifling petty wanton taske that will
make hym the laughing-stocke of all sober men. God forbidd that oure
littel son sholde be brought uppe in this nastye squanderinge of tyme,
wych doth breede nought (meseems) but ale-bibbing and ye disregarde of
truth. Oure house, wych is but small as thou knowest, is all cluttered
wyth his slimye tackle, and loe but yesterdaye I loste a customer fromm
ye millinery shoppe, shee averring (and I trow ryghtly) that ye shoppe
dyd stinke of fysshe. Ande soe if thys thyng do continue longer I shall
ripp uppe and leave, for I thoght to wed a man and not a paddler of
dytches. O howe I longe for those happy dayes with thee, before I ever
knew such a thyng as a fysshe existed! Sad too it is that he doth
justifye his vain idle wanton pasttyme by misquoting scriptures. Saint
Peter, and soe on. Three kytchen maides have lefte us latelye for
barbyng themselves upon hydden hookes that doe scatter our shelves and
Thy persecuted daughter, ANNE WALTON.
Our mind is dreadfully active sometimes, and the other day we began
to speculate on Truth.
Our friends are still avoiding us.
Every man knows what Truth is, but it is impossible to utter it. The
face of your listener, his eyes mirthful or sorry, his eager expectance
or his churlish disdain insensibly distort your message. You find
yourself saying what you know he expects you to say, or (more often)
what he expects you not to say. You may not be aware of this, but that
is what happens. In order that the world may go on and human beings
thrive, nature has contrived that the Truth may not often be uttered.
And how is one to know what is Truth? He thinks one thing before
lunch; after a stirring bout with corned beef and onions the shining
vision is strangely altered. Which is Truth?
Truth can only be attained by those whose systems are untainted by
secret influences, such as love, envy, ambition, food, college
education and moonlight in spring.
If a man lived in a desert for six months without food, drink or
companionship he would be reasonably free from prejudice and would be
in a condition to enunciate great truths.
But even then his vision of reality would have been warped by so
much sand and so many sunsets.
Even if he survived and brought us his Truth with all the gravity
and long night-gown of a Hindu faker, as soon as any one listened to
him his message would no longer be Truth. The complexion of his
audience, the very shape of their noses, would subtly undermine his
Women have learned the secret. Truth must never be uttered, and
never be listened to.
Truth is the ricochet of a prejudice bouncing off a fact.
Truth is what every man sees lurking at the bottom of his own soul,
like the oyster shell housewives put in the kitchen kettle to collect
the lime from the water. By and by each man's iridescent oyster shell
of Truth becomes coated with the lime of prejudice and hearsay.
All the above is probably untrue.
THE TRAGEDY OF WASHINGTON SQUARE
One of our favorite amusements at lunch-time is to walk down to
Henry Rosa's pastry shop, and buy a slab of cinnamon bun. Then we walk
round Washington Square, musing, and gradually walking round and
engulfing the cinnamon bun at the same time. It is surprising what a
large circumference those buns of Henry's have. By the time we have
gnashed our way through one of those warm and mystic phenomena we don't
want to eat again for a month.
The real reason for the cinnamon bun is to fortify us for the
contemplation and onslaught upon a tragic problem that Washington
Square presents to our pondering soul.
Washington Square is a delightful place. There are trees there, and
publishing houses and warm green grass and a fire engine station. There
are children playing about on the broad pavements that criss-cross the
sward; there is a fine roof of blue sky, kept from falling down by the
enormous building at the north side of the Square. But these things
present no problems. To our simple philosophy a tree is a vegetable, a
child is an animal, a building is a mineral and this classification
needs no further scrutiny or analysis. But there is one thing in
Washington Square that embodies an intellectual problem, a grappling of
the soul, a matter for continual anguish and decision.
On the west side of the Square is the Swiss consulate, and, it is
this that weighs upon our brooding spirit. How many times we have
paused before that quiet little house and gazed upon the little red
cross, a Maltese Cross, or a Cross of St. Hieronymus; or whatever the
heraldic term is, that represents and symbolizes the diplomatic and
spiritual presence of the Swiss republic. We have stood there and
thought about William Tell and the Berne Convention and the St. Gothard
Tunnel and St. Bernard dogs and winter sports and alpenstocks and
edelweiss and the Jungfrau and all the other trappings and trappists
that make Switzerland notable. We have mused upon the Swiss military
system, which is so perfect that it has never had to be tested by war;
and we have wondered what is the name of the President of Switzerland
and how he keeps it out of the papers so successfully. One day we
lugged an encyclopedia and the Statesman's Year Book out to the Square
with us and sat down on a bench facing the consulate and read up about
the Swiss cabinet and the national bank of Switzerland and her child
labor problems. Accidentally we discovered the name of the Swiss
President, but as he has kept it so dark we are not going to give away
Our dilemma is quite simple. Where there is a consulate there must
be a consul, and it seems to us a dreadful thing that inside that
building there lurks a Swiss envoy who does not know that we, here, we
who are walking round the Square with our mouth full of Henry Rosa's
bun, once spent a night in Switzerland. We want him to know that; we
think he ought to know it; we think it is part of his diplomatic duty
to know it. And yet how can we burst in on him and tell him that
apparently irrelevant piece of information?
We have thought of various ways of breaking it to him, or should we
say breaking him to it?
Should we rush in and say the Swiss national debt is $——, or ——
kopecks, and then lead on to other topics such as the comparative
heights of mountain peaks, letting the consul gradually grasp the fact
that we have been in Switzerland? Or should we call him up on the
telephone and make a mysterious appointment with him, when we could
blurt it out brutally?
We are a modest and diffident man, and this little problem, which
would be so trifling to many, presents inscrutable hardships to us.
Another aspect of the matter is this. We think the consul ought to
know that we spent one night in Switzerland once; we think he ought to
know what we were doing that night; but we also think he ought to know
just why it was that we spent only one night in his beautiful country.
We don't want him to think we hurried away because we were annoyed by
anything, or because the national debt was so many rupees or piasters,
or because child labor in Switzerland is——. It is the thought that
the consul and all his staff are in total ignorance of our existence
that galls us. Here we are, walking round and round the Square,
bursting with information and enthusiasm about Swiss republicanism, and
the consul never heard of us. How can we summon up courage enough to
tell him the truth? That is the tragedy of Washington Square.
It was a dark, rainy night when we bicycled into Basel. We hid been
riding all day long, coming down from the dark clefts of the Black
Forest, and we and our knapsack were wet through. We had been bicycling
for six weeks with no more luggage than a rucksack could hold. We never
saw such rain as fell that day we slithered and sloshed on the rugged
slopes that tumble down to the Rhine at Basel. (The annual rainfall in
Switzerland is——.) When we got to the little hotel at Basel we sat in
the dining room with water running off us in trickles, until the head
waiter glared. And so all we saw of Switzerland was the interior of the
tobacconist's where we tried, unsuccessfully, to get some English
baccy. Then he went to bed while our garments were dried. We stayed in
bed for ten hours, reading, fairy tales and smoking and answering
modestly through the transom when any one asked us questions.
The next morning we overhauled our wardrobe. We will not
particularize, but we decided that one change of duds, after six weeks'
bicycling, was not enough of a wardrobe to face the Jungfrau and the
national debt and the child-labor problenm, not to speak of the
anonymous President and the other sights that matter (such as the
Matterhorn). Also, our stock of tobacco had run out, and German or
French tobacco we simply cannot smoke. Even if we could get along on
substitute fumigants the issue of garments was imperative. The nearest
place where we could get any clothes of the kind that we are accustomed
to, the kind of clothes that are familiarly symbolized by three
well-known initials, was London. And the only way we had to get to
London was on our bicycle. We thought we had better get busy. It's a
long bike ride from Basel to London. So we just went as far as the
Basel Cathedral, so as not to seem too unappreciative of all the
treasures that Switzerland had been saving for us for countless
centuries; then we got on board our patient steed and trundled off
That was in August, 1912, and we firmly intended to go back to
Switzerland the next year to have another look at, the rainfall and the
rest of the statistics and status quos. But the opportunity has not
So that is why we wander disconsolately about Washington Square,
trying to make up our mind to unburden our bosom to the Swiss consul
and tell him the worst. But how can one go and interrupt a consul to
tell him that sort of thing? Perhaps he wouldn't understand it at all;
he would misunderstand our pathetic little story and be angry that we
took up his time. He wouldn't think that a shortage of tobacco and
clothing was a sufficient excuse for slighting William Tell and the
Jungfrau. He wouldn't appreciate the frustrated emotion and longing
with which we watch the little red cross at his front door, and think
of all it means to us and all it might have meant.
We took another turn around Washington Square, trying to embolden
ourself enough to go in and tell the consul all this. And then our
heart failed us. We decided to write a piece for the paper about it,
and if the consul ever sees it he will be generous and understand. He
will know why, behind the humble facade of his consulate on Washington
Square, we see the heaven-piercing summits of Switzerland rising like a
dream, blue and silvery and tantalizing.
P.S. Since the above we have definitely decided not to go to call on
the Swiss consul. Suppose he were only a vice-consul, a Philadelphia
Swiss, who had never been to Switzerland in his life!
IF MR. WILSON WERE THE WEATHER MAN
My Fellow Citizens: It is very delightful to be here, if I may be
permitted to say so, and I consider it a distinguished privilege to
open the discussion as to the probable weather to-morrow not only, but
during the days to come. I can easily conceive that many of our
forecasts will need subsequent reconsideration, for if I may judge by
my own study of these matters, the climate is not susceptible of
confident judgments at present.
An overwhelming majority of the American people is in favor of fine
weather. This underlying community of purpose warms my heart. If we do
not guarantee them fine weather, cannot you see the picture of what
would come to pass? Your hearts have instructed you where the rain
falls. It falls upon senators and congressmen not only—and for that we
need not feel so much chagrin—it falls upon humble homes everywhere,
upon plain men, and women, and children. If I were to disappoint the
united expectation of my fellow citizens for fine weather to-morrow I
would incur their merited scorn.
I suppose no more delicate task is given any man than to interpret
the feelings and purposes of a great climate. It is not a task in which
any man can find much exhilaration, and I confess I have been puzzled
by some of the criticisms leveled at my office. But they do not make
any impression on me, because I know that the sentiment of the country
at large will be more generous. I call my fellow countrymen to witness
that at no stage of the recent period of low barometric pressure have I
judged the purposes of the climate intemperately. I should be ashamed
to use the weak language of vindictive protest.
I have tried once and again, my fellow citizens, to say to you in
all frankness what seems to be the prospect of fine weather. There is a
compulsion upon one in my position to exercise every effort to see that
as little as possible of the hope of mankind is disappointed. Yet this
is a hope which cannot, in the very nature of things, be realized in
its perfection. The utmost that can be done by way of accommodation and
compromise has been performed without stint or limit. I am sure it will
not be necessary to remind you that you cannot throw off the habits of
the climate immediately, any more than you can throw off the habits of
the individual immediately. But however unpromising the immediate
outlook may be, I am the more happy to offer my observations on the
state of the weather for to-morrow because this is not a party issue.
What a delightful thought that is! Whatever the condition of sunshine
or precipitation vouchsafed to us, may I not hope that we shall all
meet it with quickened temper and purpose, happy in the thought that it
is our common fortune?
For to-morrow there is every prospect of heavy and continuous rain.
SYNTAX FOR CYNICS
A GRAMMAR OF THE FEMININE LANGUAGE
The feminine language consists of words placed one after another
with extreme rapidity, with intervals for matinees. The purpose of this
language is (1) to conceal, and (2) to induce, thought. Very often,
after the use of a deal of language, a thought will appear in the
speaker's mind. This, while desirable, is by no means necessary.
THOUGHT cannot be defined, but it is instinctively recognized even
by those unaccustomed to it.
PARTS OF SPEECH: There are five parts of feminine speech—noun,
pronoun, adjective, verb and interjection.
THE NOUN is the name of something to wear, or somebody who furnishes
something to wear, or a place where something is to be worn. E.g.,
hat, husband, opera. Feminine nouns are always singular.
THE PRONOUN is I.
ADJECTIVES: There are only four feminine adjectives—adorable,
cute, sweet, horrid. These are all modified on occasion by the
THE VERBS are of two kinds—active and passive. Active verbs express
action; passive verbs express passion. All feminine verbs are irregular
INTERJECTIONS: There are two interjections—Heavens! and
Gracious! The masculine language is much richer in interjections.
DECLENSION: There are three ways of feminine declining, (1) to say
No; (2) to say Yes and mean No; (3) to say nothing.
CONJUGATION: This is what happens to a verb in the course of
conversation or shopping. A verb begins the day quite innocently, as
the verb go in the phrase to go to town. When it gets to
the city this verb becomes look, as, for instance, to look at
the shop windows. Thereafter its descent is rapid into the form
purchase or charge. This conjugation is often assisted by
the auxiliary expression a bargain. About the first of the
following month the verb reappears in the masculine vocabulary in a
parallel or perverted form, modified by an interjection.
CONVERSATION in the feminine language consists of language rapidly
vibrating or oscillating between two persons. The object of any
conversation is always accusative, e.g., “Mrs. Edwards has no taste
in hats.” Most conversations consist of an indeterminate number of
sentences, but sometimes it is difficult to tell where one sentence
ends and the next begins. It is even possible for two sentences to
overlap. When this occurs the conversation is known as a dialogue. A
sentence may be of any length, and is concluded only by the
physiological necessity of taking breath.
SENTENCES: A sentence may be defined as a group of words, uttered in
sequence, but without logical connection, to express an opinion or an
emotion. A number of sentences if emitted without interruption becomes
a conversation. A conversation prolonged over an hour or more becomes a
gossip. A gossip, when shared by several persons, is known as a secret.
A secret is anything known by a large and constantly increasing number
LETTERS: The feminine language, when committed to paper, with a stub
pen and backhanded chirography, is known as a letter. A letter should
if possible, be written on rose or lemon colored paper of a rough and
flannely texture, with scalloped edges and initials embossed in gilt.
It should be written with great rapidity, containing not less than ten
exclamation points per page and three underlined adjectives per
paragraph. The verb may be reserved until the postscript.
Generally speaking, students of the feminine language are agreed
that rules of grammar and syntax are subject to individual caprice and
whim, and it is very difficult to lay down fixed canons. The extreme
rapidity with which the language is used and the charm and personal
magnetism of its users have disconcerted even the most careful and
scientific observers. A glossary of technical terms and idioms in the
feminine language would be a work of great value to the whole husband
world, but it is doubtful if any such volume will ever be published.
THE TRUTH AT LAST
AN EXTRACT FROM MARTHA WASHINGTON'S DIARY
Feb. 22, 1772. A grate Company of Guests assembled at Mt Vernon to
celebrate Gen'l Washington's Birthdaye. In the Morning the Gentlemenn
went a Fox hunting, but their Sport was marred by the Pertinacity of
some Motion Picture menn who persewd them to take Fillums and catchd
the General falling off his Horse at a Ditch. In the Evening some of
the Companye tooke Occasion to rally the General upon the old Fable of
the Cherrye Tree, w'ch hath ever been imputed an Evidence of hys
exceeding Veracity, though to saye sooth I never did believe the legend
my self. “Well,” sayes the General with a Twinkle, “it wolde not be
Politick to denye a Romance w'ch is soe profitable to my Reputation,
but to be Candid, Gentlemenn, I have no certain recollection of the
Affaire. My Brother Lawrence was wont to say that the Tree or Shrubb in
question was no Cherrye but a Bitter Persimmon; moreover he told me
that I stoutly denyed any Attacke upon it; but being caught with the
Goods (as Tully saith) I was soundly Flogged, and walked stiffly for
I was glad to heare the Truth in this matter as I have never seen
any Corroboration of this surpassing Virtue in George's private Life.
The evening broke up in some Disorder as Col Fairfax and others hadd
Drunk too freely of the Cock's Taile as they dub the new and very
biting Toddy introduced by the military. Wee hadd to call a chirurgeon
to lett Blood for some of the Guests before they coulde be gott to
Bedd, whither they were conveyed on stretchers.
It is said that a Fixed Idea is the beginning of madness.
Yet we are often worried because we have so few Fixed Ideas. We do
not seem to have any really definite Theory about Life.
* * * * *
We find, on the other hand, that a great many of those we know have
some Guiding Principle that excuses and explains all their conduct.
* * * * *
If you have some Theory about Life, and are thoroughly devoted to
it, you may come to a bad end, but you will enjoy yourself heartily.
* * * * *
These theories may be of many different kinds. One of our friends
rests his career and hope of salvation on the doctrine that eating
plenty of fish and going without an overcoat whenever possible
constitute supreme happiness.
* * * * *
Another prides himself on not being able to roll a cigarette. If he
were forced, at the point of the bayonet, to roll a fag, it would wreck
* * * * *
Another is convinced that the Lost and Found ads in the papers all
contain anarchist code messages, and sits up late at night trying to
* * * * *
How delightful it must be to be possessed by one of these Theories!
All the experiences of the theorist's life tend to confirm his Theory.
This is always so. Did you ever hear of a Theory being confuted?
* * * * *
Facts are quite helpless in the face of Theories. For after all,
most Facts are insufficiently encouraged with applause. When a Fact
comes along, the people in charge are generally looking the other way.
This is what is meant by Not Facing the Facts.
* * * * *
Therefore all argument is quite useless, for it only results in
stiffening your friend's belief in his (presumably wrong) Theory.
* * * * *
When any one tries to argue with you, say, “You are nothing if not
accurate, and you are not accurate.” Then escape from the room.
* * * * *
When we hear our friends diligently expounding the ideas which
Explain Everything, we are wistful. We go off and say to ourself, We
really must dig up some kind of Theory about Life.
* * * * *
We read once of a great man that he never said, “Well, possibly so.”
This gave us an uneasy pang.
* * * * *
It is a mistake to be Open to Conviction on so many topics, because
all one's friends try to convince one. This is very painful.
* * * * *
And it is embarrassing if, for the sake of a quiet life, one
pretends to be convinced. At the corner of Tenth and Chestnut we
allowed ourself to agree with A.B., who said that the German colonies
should be internationalized. Then we had to turn down Ninth Street
because we saw C.D. coming, with whom we had previously agreed that
Great Britain should have German Africa. And in a moment we had to
dodge into Sansom Street to avoid E.F., having already assented to his
proposition that the German colonies should have self-determination.
This kind of thing makes it impossible to see one's friends more than
one at a time.
* * * * *
Perhaps our Fixed Idea is that we have no Fixed Ideas.
Well, possibly so.
TRIALS OF A PRESIDENT TRAVELING
10 a.m.—Arrive at railway station. Welcomed by King and Queen. Hat
on head. Umbrella left hand. Gloves on.
10:01—Right glove off (hastily) into left hand. Hat off (right
hand). Umbrella hanging on left arm.
10:02—Right glove into left pocket. Hat to left hand. Shake hands
10:03—Shake hands with Queen. Left glove off to receive flowers.
Umbrella to right hand.
10:04—Shake hands with Prime Minister. Left glove in left hand.
Umbrella back to left hand. Flowers in left hand. Hat in left hand.
10:05—Enter King's carriage. Try to drop flowers under carriage
unobserved. Foreign Minister picks them up with gallant remark.
10:06—Shake hands with Foreign Minister. In his emotional foreign
manner he insists on taking both hands. Quick work: Umbrella to right
elbow, gloves left pocket, hat under right arm, flowers to right
10:08—Received by Lord Mayor, who offers freedom of the city in
golden casket. Casket in left hand, Lord Mayor in right hand Queen on
left arm, umbrella on right arm flowers and gloves bursting from
pockets hat (momentarily) on head.
10:10—Delegation of statesmen. Statesmen in right hand. Hat,
umbrella, gloves, King, flowers, casket in left hand. Situation getting
10:15—Ceremonial reception by Queen Mother. Getting confused. Queen
Mother in left pocket, umbrella on head, gloves on right hand, hat in
left hand, King on head, flowers in trousers pocket. Casket under left
10:17—Complete collapse. Failure of the League of Nations.
DIARY OF A PUBLISHER'S OFFICE BOY
Jan. 7, 1600. Thys daye ye Bosse bade mee remaine in ye Outer Office
to keepe Callers from Hinderyng Hym in Hys affaires. There came an olde
Bumme (ye same wch hath beene heare before) wth ye Scrypte of a Playe,
dubbed Roumio ande Julia. Hys name was Shake a Speare or somethynge
lyke thatt. Ye Bosse bade mee reade ye maunuscripp myselfe, as hee was
Bussy. I dyd. Ande of alle foulishnesse, thys playe dyd beare away ye
prize. Conceive ye Absuerditye of laying ye Sceane in Italy, it ys
welle knowne that Awdiences will not abear nothyng that is not sett
neare at Home. Butt woarse stille, thys fellowe presumes to kille offe
Boath Heroe ande Heroine in ye Laste Acte, wch is Intolerabble toe ye
Publicke. Suerley noe chaunce of Success in thys. Ye awthour dyd
reappeare in ye aufternoone, and dyd seeke to borrowe a crowne from
mee, but I sente hym packing. Ye Bosse hath heartilye given me Styx
forr admitting such Vagabones to ye Office. I tolde maister Shake a
Speare that unlesse hee colde learne to wryte Beste Sellers such as
Master Spenser's Faerye Quene (wch wee have put through six editions)
there was suerly noe Hope for hym. Hee tooke thys advyse in goode
parte, and wente. Hys jerkin wolde have beene ye better for a
THE DOG'S COMMANDMENTS
From a witless puppy I brought thee up: gave thee fire and food, and
taught thee the self-respect of an honest dog. Hear, then, my
I am thy master: thou shalt have no other masters before me. Where I
go, shalt thou follow; where I abide, tarry thou also.
My house is thy castle; thou shalt honor it; guard it with thy life
if need be.
By daylight, suffer all that approach peaceably to enter without
protest. But after nightfall thou shalt give tongue when men draw near.
Use not thy teeth on any man without good cause and intolerable
provocation; and never on women or children.
Honor thy master and thy mistress, that thy days may be long in the
Thou shalt not consort with mongrels, nor with dogs that are common
Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not feed upon refuse or stray bits:
thy meat waits thee regularly in the kitchen.
Thou shalt not bury bones in the flower beds.
Cats are to be chased, but in sport only; seek not to devour them:
their teeth and claws are deadly.
Thou shalt not snap at my neighbor, nor at his wife, nor his child,
nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor
do harm to aught that is his.
The drawing-room rug is not for thee, nor the sofa, nor the best
armchair. Thou hast the porch and thy own kennel. But for the love I
bear thee, there is always a corner for thee by the winter fire.
Meditate on these commandments day and night; so shalt thou be a dog
of good breeding and an honor to thy master.
THE VALUE OF CRITICISM
Our friend Dove Dulcet, the well-known sub-caliber poet, has
recently issued a slender volume of verses called Peanut Butter.
He thinks we may be interested to see the comment of the press on his
book. We don't know why he should think so, but anyway here are some of
Buffalo Lens: Mr. Dulcet is a sweet singer, and we could only
wish there were twice as many of these delicately rhymed fancies. There
is not a poem in the book that does not exhibit a tender grasp of the
beautiful homely emotions. Perhaps the least successful, however, is
that entitled “On Losing a Latchkey.”
Syracuse Hammer and Tongs: This little book of savage satires
will rather dismay the simple-minded reader. Into the acid vials of his
song Mr. Dulcet has poured a bitter cynicism. He seems to us to be an
irremediable pessimist, a man of brutal and embittered life. In one
poem, however, he does soar to a very fine imaginative height. This is
the ode “On Losing a Latchkey,” which is worth all the rest of the
pieces put together.
New York Reaping Hook: It is odd that Mr. Dove Dulcet, of
Philadelphia we believe should have been able to find a publisher for
this volume. These queer little doggerels have an instinctive affinity
for oblivion, and they will soon coalesce with the driftwood of the
literary Sargasso Sea. Among many bad things we can hardly remember
ever to have seen anything worse than “On Losing a Latchkey.”
Philadelphia Prism: Our gifted fellow townsman, Mr. Dove
Dulcet, has once more demonstrated his ability to set humble themes in
entrancing measures. He calls his book Peanut Butter. A title
chosen with rare discernment, for the little volume has all the savor
and nourishing properties of that palatable delicacy. We wish there
were space to quote “On Losing a Latchkey,” for it expresses a common
human experience in language of haunting melody and witty brevity. How
rare it is to find a poet with such metrical skill who is content to
handle the minor themes of life in this mood of delicious pleasantry.
The only failure in the book is the banal sonnet entitled “On Raiding
the Ice Box.” This we would be content to forego.
Pittsburgh Cylinder: It is a relief to meet one poet who
deals with really exalted themes. We are profoundly weary of the myriad
versifiers who strum the so-called lowly and domestic themes. Mr.
Dulcet, however, in his superb free verse, has scaled olympian heights,
disdaining the customary twaddling topics of the rhymesters. Such an
amazing allegory as “On Raiding the Ice Box,” which deals, of course,
with the experience of a man who attempts to explore the mind of an
elderly Boston spinster, marks this powerful poet as a man of unusual
satirical and philosophical depth.
Boston Penseroso: We find Mr. Dove Dulcet's new book rather
baffling. We take his poem “On Raiding the Ice Box” to be a paean in
honor of the discovery of the North Pole; but such a poem as “On Losing
a Latchkey,” is quite inscrutable. Our guess is that it is an intricate
psycho-analysis of a pathological case of amnesia. Our own taste is
more for the verse that deals with the gentler emotions of every day,
but there can be no doubt that Mr. Dulcet is an artist to be reckoned
A MARRIAGE SERVICE FOR COMMUTERS
(Fill in railroad as required)
Wilt thou, Jack, have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live
together in so far as the ——Railroad will allow? Wilt thou love her,
comfort her, honor and keep her, take her to the movies, prevent the
furnace from going out, and come home regularly on the 5:42 train?”
“Wilt thou, Jill, have this commuter to thy wedded husband, bearing
in mind snowdrifts, washouts, lack of servants and all other penalties
of suburban life? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honor and
keep him, and let him smoke a corncob pipe in the house?”
“I, Jack, take thee, Jill, to my wedded wife, from 6 P.M. until 8
A.M., as far as permitted by the ——Railroad, schedule subject to
change without notice, for better, for worse, for later, for earlier,
to love and to cherish, and I promise to telephone you when I miss the
“I, Jill, take thee, Jack, to my wedded husband, subject to the
mutability of the suburban service, changing trains at——, to have and
to hold, save when the card club meets on Wednesday evenings, and
thereto I give thee my troth.”
THE SUNNY SIDE OF GRUB STREET
I often wonder how many present-day writers keep diaries. I wish
The Bookman would conduct a questionnaire on the subject. I have a
suspicion that Charley Towne keeps one—probably a grim, tragic
parchment wherein that waggish soul sets down its secret musings. I
dare say Louis Untermeyer has one (morocco, tooled and goffered, with
gilt edges), and looks over its nipping paragraphs now and then with a
certain relish. It undoubtedly has a large portmanteau pocket with it,
to contain clippings of Mr. Untermeyer's letters to the papers taking
issue with the reviews of his books. There is no way for the reviewer
to escape that backfire. I knew one critic who was determined to review
one of Louis's books in such a way that the author would have no excuse
for writing to the Times about it. He was overwhelmingly
complimentary. But along came the usual letter by return of post. Mr.
Untermeyer asked for enough space to “diverge from the critique at one
point.” He said the review was too fulsome.
I wish Don Marquis kept a diary, but I am quite sure he doesn't. Don
is too—well, I was going to say he is too—but after all he has a
perfect right to be that way.
It's rather an important thing. Every one knows the fascination
exerted by personal details of authors' lives. Every one has hustled to
the Cafe de la Source in Paris because R.L.S. once frequented it, or to
Allaire's in New York because O. Henry wrote it up in one of his tales,
and that sort of thing. People like to know all the minutiae concerning
their favorite author. It is not sufficient to know (let us say) that
Murray Hill or some one of that sort, once belonged to the Porrier's
Corner Club. One wants to know where the Porrier's Corner Club was, and
who were the members, and how he got there, and what he got there, and
so forth. One wants to know where Murray Hill (I take his name only as
a symbol) buys his cigars, and where he eats lunch, and what he eats,
whether pigeon potpie with iced tea or hamburg steak and “coffee with
plenty.” It is all these intimate details that the public has thirst
Now the point I want to make is this. Here, all around us, is fine
doings (as Murray Hill would put it), the jolliest literary hullabaloo
going. Some of the writers round about—Arthur Guiterman or Tom Masson
or Witter Bynner or Tom Daly, or some of these chaps now sitting down
to combination-plate luncheons and getting off all manner of merry
quips and confidential matters—some of these chaps may be famous some
day (posterity is so undiscriminating) and all that savory personal
stuff will have evaporated from our memories. The world of bookmen is
in great need of a new crop of intimists, or whatever you call them.
Barbellion chaps. Henry Ryecrofts. We need a chiel taking notes
Now if you really jot down the merry gossip, and make bright little
pen portraits, and tell just what happens, it will not only afford you
a deal of discreet amusement, but the diary you keep will reciprocate.
In your older years it will keep you. Harper's Magazine will
undoubtedly want to publish it, forty years from now. If that is too
late to keep you, it will help to keep your descendants. So I wish some
of the authors would confess and let us know which of them are doing
it. It would be jolly to know to whom we might confide the genial
little items of what-not and don't-let-this-go-farther that come the
rounds. The inside story of the literature of any epoch is best told in
the diaries. I'll bet Brander Matthews kept one, and James Huneker.
It's a pity Professor Matthews's was a bit tedious. Crabb Robinson was
the man for my money.
The diarists I would choose for the present generation on Grub
Street would be Heywood Broun, Franklin Adams, Bob Holliday, William
McFee, and maybe Ben De Casseres (if he would promise not to mention
Don Marquis and Walt Whitman more than once per page). McFee might be
let off the job by reason of his ambrosial letters. But it just occurs
to me that of course one must not know who is keeping the diary. If it
were known, he would be deluged with letters from people wanting to get
their names into it. And the really worthwhile folks would be on their
But if all the writers wait until they are eighty years old and can
write their memoirs with the beautifully gnarled and chalky old hands
Joyce Kilmer loved to contemplate, they will have forgotten the comical
pith of a lot of it. If you want to reproduce the colors and collisions
along the sunny side of Grub Street, you've got to jot down your data
before they fade. I wish I had time to be diarist of such matters. How
candid I'd be! I'd put down all about the two young novelists who used
to meet every day in City Hall Park to compare notes while they were
hunting for jobs, and make wagers as to whose pair of trousers would
last longer. (Quite a desirable essay could he written, by the way, on
the influence of trousers on the fortunes of Grub Street, with the
three stages of the Grub Street trouser, viz.: 1, baggy; 2, shiny; 3,
trousers that must not be stooped in on any account.) There is an
uproarious tale about a pair of trousers and a very well-known writer
and a lecture at Vassar College, but these things have to be reserved
for posterity, the legatee of all really amusing matters.
But then there are other topics, too, such as the question whether
Ibanez always wears a polo shirt, as the photos lead one to believe.
The secret Philip Gibbs told me about the kind of typewriter he used on
the western front. I would be enormously candid (if I were a diarist).
I'd put down that I never can remember whether Vida Scudder is a man or
a woman. I'd tell what A. Edward Newton said when he came rushing into
the office to show me the Severn death-bed portrait of Keats, which he
had just bought from Rosenbach. I'd tell the story of the unpublished
letter of R.L.S. which a young man sold to buy a wedding present, which
has since vanished (the R.L.S. letter). I'd tell the amazing story of
how a piece of Walt Whitman manuscript was lost in Philadelphia on the
memorable night of June 30, 1919. I'd tell just how Vachel Lindsay
behaves when he's off duty. I'd even forsake everything to travel over
to England with Vachel on his forthcoming lecture tour, as I'm
convinced that England's comments on Vachel will be worth listening to.
The ideal man to keep the sort of diary I have in mind would be
Hilaire Belloc. It was an ancestor of Mr. Belloc, Dr. Joseph Priestley
(who died in Pennsylvania, by the way) who discovered oxygen; and it is
Mr. Belloc himself who has discovered how to put oxygen into the modern
English essay. The gift, together with his love of good eating,
probably came to him from his mother, Bessie Rayner Parkes, who once
partook of Samuel Rogers's famous literary breakfasts. And this brings
us back to our old friend Crabb Robinson, another of the Rogers
breakfast clan. Robinson is never wildly exciting, but he gives a
perfect panorama of his day. It is not often that one finds a man who
associated with such figures as Goethe, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake,
and Lamb. He had the true gift for diarizing. What could be better, for
instance, than this little miniature picture of the rise and fall of
teetotalism in one well-loved person?—
Mary Lamb, I am glad to say, is just now very comfortable. She
put herself under Doctor Tuthill, who has prescribed water.
in consequence, resolved to accommodate himself to her, and
Lord-Mayor's day has abstained from all other liquor, as well
from smoking. We shall all rejoice if this experiment
His change of habit, though it, on the whole, improves his
yet when he is low-spirited, leaves him without a remedy or
—LETTER OF HENRY CRABB ROBINSON To Miss WORDSWORTH, December
Spent part of the evening with Charles Lamb (unwell) and his
—ROBINSON'S DIARY, January 8, 1811.
Late in the evening Lamb called, to sit with me while he smoked
—ROBINSON'S DIARY, December 20, 1814.
Lamb was in a happy frame, and I can still recall to my mind the
look and tone with which he addressed Moore, when he could not
articulate very distinctly: “Mister Moore, will you drink a
wine with me?”—suiting the action to the word, and hobnobbing.
—ROBINSON'S DIARY, April 4, 1823.
Now that, I maintain, is just the kind of stuff we need in a diary
of today. How fascinating that old book Peyrat's “Pastors of the
Desert” became when we learned that R.L.S. had a copy of the second
volume of it in his sleeping sack when he camped out with Modestine.
Even so it may be a matter of delicious interest to our grandsons to
know what book Joe Hergesheimer was reading when he came in town on the
local from West Chester recently, and who taught him to shoot craps. It
is interesting to know what Will and Stephen Benet (those skiey
fraternals) eat when they visit a Hartford Lunch; to know whether
Gilbert Chesterton is really fond of dogs (as “The Flying Inn” implies,
if you remember Quoodle), and whether Edwin Meade Robinson and Edwin
Arlington Robinson, arcades ambo, ever write to each other. It
would be interesting—indeed it would be highly entertaining—to
compile a list of the free meals Vachel Lindsay has received, and to
ascertain the number of times Harry Kemp has been “discovered.” It
would be interesting to know how many people shudder with faint nausea
(as I do) when they pick up a Dowson playlet and find it beginning with
a list of characters including “A Moon Maiden” and “Pierrot,” scene set
in “a glade in the Parc du Petit Trianon—a statue of Cupid—Pierrot
enters with his hands full of lilies.” It would be interesting to
resume the number of brazen imitations of McCrae's “In Flanders
Fields”—here is the most striking, put out on a highly illuminated
card by a New York publishing firm:
Rest in peace, ye Flanders's dead,
The poppies still blow overhead,
The larks ye heard, still singing fly.
They sing of the cause which made thee die.
And they are heard far down below,
Our fight is ended with the foe.
The fight for right, which ye begun
And which ye died for, we have won.
Rest in peace.
The man who wrote that ought to be the first man mobilized for the
All such matters, with a plentiful bastinado for stupidity and
swank, are the privilege of the diarist. He may indulge himself in the
delightful luxury of making post-mortem enemies. He may wonder what the
average reviewer thinks he means by always referring to single
publishers in the plural. A note which we often see in the papers runs
like this: “Soon to be issued by the Dorans (or Knopfs or Huebsches),”
etc., etc. This is an echo of the old custom when there really were two
or more Harpers. But as long as there is only one Doran, one Huebsch,
one Knopf, it is simply idiotic.
Well, as we go sauntering along the sunny side of Grub Street,
meditating an essay on the Mustache in Literature (we have shaved off
our own since that man Murray Hill referred to it in the public prints
as “a young hay-wagon"), we are wondering whether any of the writing
men are keeping the kind of diary we should like our son to read, say
in 1950. Perhaps Miss Daisy Ashford is keeping one. She has the seeing
eye. Alas that Miss Daisy at nine years old was a puella unius libri.
BURIAL SERVICE FOR A NEWSPAPER JOKE
After the remains have been decently interred, the following
remarks shall be uttered by the presiding humorist:
This joke has been our refuge from one generation to another:
Before the mountains were brought forth this joke was lusty and of
In the life of this joke a thousand years are but as yesterday.
Blessed, therefore, is this joke, which now resteth from its labors.
But most of our jokes are of little continuance: though there be
some so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their humor
then but labor and sorrow:
For a joke that is born of a humorist hath but a short time to live
and is full of misery. It cometh up and is cut down like a flower. It
fleeth as if it were a shadow and abideth but one edition.
It is sown in quotation, it is raised in misquotation: We therefore
commit this joke to the files of the country newspapers, where it shall
circulate forever, world without end.
ADVICE TO THOSE VISITING A BABY
Interview the baby alone if possible. If, however, both parents are
present, say, “It looks like its mother.” And, as an afterthought, “I
think it has its father's elbows.”
If uncertain as to the infant's sex, try some such formula as, “He
looks like her grandparents,” or “She has his aunt's sweet
When the mother only is present, your situation is critical. Sigh
deeply and admiringly, to imply that you wish you had a child
like that. Don't commit yourself at all until she gives a lead.
When the father only is present, you may be a little reckless. Give
the father a cigar and venture, “Good luck, old man; it looks like your
If possible, find out beforehand how old the child is. Call up the
Bureau of Vital Statistics. If it is two months old, say to the mother,
“Rather large for six months, isn't he?”
If the worst has happened and the child really does look like its
father, the most tactful thing is to say, “Children change as they grow
older.” Or you may suggest that some mistake has been made at the
hospital and they have brought home the wrong baby.
If left alone in the room with the baby, throw a sound-proof rug
over it and escape.
ABOU BEN WOODROW
Abou Ben Woodrow (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, among the gifts piled on the floor
(Making the room look like a department store),
An Angel writing in a book of gold.
Now much applause had made Ben Woodrow bold
And to the Presence in the room said he,
“Qu'est-ce que c'est que ca que tu ecris?”
Or, in plain English, “May I not inquire
What writest thou?” The Angel did not tire
But kept on scribing. Then it turned its head
(All Europe could not turn Ben Woodrow's head!)
And with a voice almost as sweet as Creel's
Answered: “The names of those who grease the wheels
Of progress and have never, never blundered.”
Ben Woodrow lay quite still, and sadly wondered.
“And is mine one?” he queried. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the Angel. Woodrow spoke more low
But cheerly still, and in his May I notting
Fashion he said: “Of course you may be rotting,
But even if you are, may I not then
Be writ as one that loves his fellow men?
Do that for me, old chap; just that; that merely
And I am yours, cordially and sincerely.”
The Angel wrote, and vanished like a mouse.
Next night returned (accompanied by House)
And showed the names whom love of Peace had blest.
And lo! Ben Woodrow's name led all the rest!
MY MAGNIFICENT SYSTEM
In these days when the streets are so perilous, every man who goes
about the city ought to be sure that his pockets are in good order, so
that when he is run down by a roaring motor-truck the police will have
no trouble in identifying him and communicating with his creditors.
I have always been very proud of my pocket system. As others may
wish to install it, I will describe it briefly. If I am found prostrate
and lifeless on the paving, I can quickly be identified by the
following arrangement of my private affairs:
In my right-hand trouser leg is a large hole, partially surrounded
In my left-hand trouser pocket is a complicated bunch of keys. I am
not quite sure what they all belong to, as I rarely lock anything. They
are very useful, however, as when I walk rapidly they evolve a shrill
jingling which often conveys the impression of minted coinage. One of
them, I think, unlocks the coffer where I secretly preserve the pair of
spats I bought when I became engaged.
My right-hand hip pocket is used, in summer, for the handkerchief
reserves (hayfever sufferers, please notice); and, in winter, for
stamps. It is tapestried with a sheet of three-cent engravings that got
in there by mistake last July, and adhered.
My left-hand hip pocket holds my memorandum book, which contains
only one entry: Remember not to forget anything.
The left-hand upper waistcoat pocket holds a pencil, a commutation
ticket and a pipe cleaner.
The left-hand lower waistcoat pocket contains what the ignorant will
esteem scraps of paper. This, however, is the hub and nerve center of
my mnemonic system. When I want to remember anything I write it down on
a small slip of paper and stick it in that pocket. Before going to bed
I clean out the pocket and see how many things I have forgotten during
the day. This promotes tranquil rest.
The right-hand upper waistcoat pocket is used for wall-paper
samples. Here I keep clippings of all the wallpapers at home, so that
when buying shirts, ties, socks or books I can be sure to get something
that will harmonize. My taste in these matters has sometimes been
aspersed, so I am playing safe.
The right-hand lower waistcoat pocket is used for small change. This
is a one-way pocket; exit only.
The inner pocket of my coat is used for railroad timetables, most of
which have since been changed. Also a selected assortment of unanswered
letters and slips of paper saying, “Call Mr. So-and-so before noon.”
The first thing to be done by my heirs after collecting the remains
must be to communicate with the writers of those letters, to assure
them that I was struck down in the fullness of my powers while on the
way to the post office to mail an answer.
My right-hand coat pocket is for pipes.
Left-hand coat pocket for tobacco and matches.
The little tin cup strapped in my left armpit is for Swedish matches
that failed to ignite. It is an invention of my own.
I once intended to allocate a pocket especially for greenbacks, but
found it unnecessary.
LETTERS TO CYNTHIA
I. IN PRAISE OF BOOBS
Dear Sir—What is a Boob? Will you please discuss the subject
little? Perhaps I'm a boob for asking—but I'd like to know.
BE FRIENDLY WITH BOOBS
The Boob, my dear Cynthia, is Nature's device for mitigating the
quaintly blended infelicities of existence. Never be too bitter about
the Boob. The Boob is you and me and the man in the elevator.
THE BOOB IS HUMANITY'S HOPE
As long as the Boob ratio remains high, humanity is safe. The Boob
is the last repository of the stalwart virtues. The Boob is faith, hope
and charity. The Boob is the hope of conservatives, the terror of
radicals and the meal check of cynics. If you are run over on Market
Street and left groaning under the mailed fist of a flivver, the
Bolsheviki and I.W.W. will be watching the shop windows. It will be the
Boob who will come to your aid, even before the cop gets there.
If you were to dig a deep and terrible pit in the middle of Chestnut
Street, and illuminate it with signs and red lights and placards
reading, DO NOT WALK INTO THIS PIT, 1653 Boobs would tumble into
it during the course of the day. Boobs have faith. They are eager to
plunge in where an angel wouldn't even show his periscope.
THE BOOB RATIO
But that does not prove anything creditable to human nature. For
though 1653 people would fall into our pit (which any Rapid Transit
Company will dig for us free of charge) 26,448 would cautiously and
suspiciously and contemptuously avoid it. The Boob ratio is just about
1 to 16.
HE LOOKS FOR ANGELS
It does not pay to make fun of the Boob. There is no malice in him,
no insolence, no passion to thrive at the expense of his fellows. If he
sees some one on a street corner gazing open-mouthed at the sky, he
will do likewise, and stand there for half hour with his apple of Adam
expectantly vibrating. But is that a shameful trait? May not a Boob
expect to see angels in the shimmering blue of heaven? Is he more
disreputable than the knave who frisks his watch meanwhile? And suppose
he does see an angel, or even only a blue acre of sky—is that not
worth as much as the dial in his poke?
HE SEES THEM
It is the Boob who is always willing to look hopefully for angels
who will see them ultimately. And the man who is only looking for the
Boob's timepiece will do time of his own by and by.
HE BEARS NO MALICE
The Boob is convinced that the world is conducted on genteel and
friendly principles. He feels in his heart that even the law of gravity
will do him no harm. That is why he steps unabashed into our pit on
Chestnut Street; and finding himself sprawling in the bottom of it, he
bears no ill will to Sir Isaac Newton. He simply knows that the law of
gravity took him for some one else—a street-cleaning contractor,
A small boy once defined a Boob as one who always treats other
people better than he does himself.
HE IS UNSUSPICIOUS
The Boob is hopeful, cheery, more concerned over other people's
troubles than his own. He goes serenely unsuspicious of the brick under
the silk hat, even when the silk hat is on the head of a Mayor or City
Councilman. He will pull every trigger he meets, regardless that the
whole world is loaded and aimed at him. He will keep on running for the
5:42 train, even though the timetable was changed the day before
yesterday. He goes through the revolving doors the wrong way. He
forgets that the banks close at noon on Saturdays. He asks for oysters
on the first of June. He will wait for hours at the Chestnut Street
door, even though his wife told him to meet her at the ribbon counter.
Yes, he has a wife. But if he was not a Boob before marriage he will
never become so after. Women are the natural antidotes of Boobs.
The Boob is not quarrelsome. He is willing to believe that you know
more about it than he does. He is always at home for ideas.
HE IS HAPPY
Of course, what bothers other people is that the Boob is so happy.
He enjoys himself. He falls into that Rapid Transit pit of ours and has
more fun out of the tumble than the sneering 26,448 who stand above
untumbled. The happy simp prefers a 4 per cent that pays to a 15 per
cent investment that returns only engraved prospectuses. He stands on
that street corner looking for an imaginary angel parachuting down, and
enjoys himself more than the Mephistopheles who is laughing up his
Nature must love the Boob, because she is a good deal of a Boob
herself. How she has squandered herself upon mountain peaks that are
useless except for the Alpenstock Trust; upon violets that can't be
eaten; upon giraffes whose backs slope too steeply to carry a pack! Can
it be that the Boob is Nature's darling, that she intends him to
outlive all the rest?
A BRIEF MAXIM
Be sure you're a Boob, and then go ahead.
But never, dear Cynthia, confuse the Boob with the Poor Fish. The
Poor Fish, as an Emersonian thinker has observed, is the Boob gone
wrong. The Poor Fish is the cynical, sneering simpleton who, if he did
see an angel, would think it was only some one dressed up for the
movies. The Poor Fish is Why Boobs Leave Home.
Dear Sir—How can life be simplified? In the office where I
the pressure of affairs is very exacting. Often I do not have a
moment to think over my own affairs before 4 p.m. There are a
many matters that puzzle me, and I am afraid that if I go on
so hard the sweetest hours of my youth may pass before I have
them proper consideration. It is very irassible. Can you help
SALUTATION TO CYNTHIA
Cynthia, my child: How are you? It is very delightful to hear from
you again. During the recent months I have been very lonely indeed
without your comradeship and counsel with regard to the great matters
which were under consideration.
THINKING IT OVER
Well, Cynthia, when your inquiry reached me I propped my feet on the
desk, got out the corncob pipe and thought things over. How to simplify
life? How, indeed! It is a subject that interests me strangely. Of
course, the easiest method is to let one's ancestors do it for one. If
you have been lucky enough to choose a simple-minded, quiet-natured
quartet of grandparents, frugal, thrifty and foresighted, who had the
good sense to buy property in an improving neighborhood and keep their
money compounding at a fair rate of interest, the problem is greatly
clarified. If they have hung on to the old farmstead, with its
huckleberry pasture and cowbells tankling homeward at sunset and a
bright brown brook cascading down over ledges of rock into a swimming
hole, then again your problem has possible solutions. Just go out to
the farm, with a copy of Matthew Arnold's “Scholar Gipsy” (you remember
the poem, in which he praises the guy who had sense enough to leave
town and live in the suburbs where the Bolsheviki wouldn't bother him),
and don't leave any forwarding address with the postoffice. But if, as
I fear from an examination of your pink-scalloped notepaper with its
exhalation of lilac essence, the vortex of modern jazz life has swept
you in, the crisis is far more intricate.
TAKE THE MATTER IN YOUR OWN HANDS
Of course, my dear Cynthia, it is better to simplify your own life
than to have some one else do it for you. The Kaiser, for instance, has
had his career greatly simplified, but hardly in a way he himself would
have chosen. The first thing to do is to come to a clear understanding
of (and to let your employer know you understand) the two principles
that underlie modern business. There are only two kinds of affairs that
are attended to in an office. First, things that absolutely must be
done. These are often numerous; but remember, that since they have
to be done, if you don't do them some one else will. Second, things
that don't have to be done. And since they don't have to be done, why
do them? This will simplify matters a great deal.
The next thing to do is to stop answering letters. Even the firm's
most persistent customers will cease troubling you by and bye if you
persist. Then, stop answering the telephone. A pair of office shears
can sever a telephone wire much faster than any mechanician can keep it
repaired. If the matter is really urgent, let the other people
telegraph. While you are perfecting this scheme look about, in a
dignified way, for another job. Don't take the first thing that offers
itself, but wait until something really congenial appears. It is a good
thing to choose some occupation that will keep you a great deal in the
open air, preferably something that involves looking at shop windows
and frequent visits to the receiving teller at the bank. It is nice to
have a job in a tall building overlooking the sea, with office hours
from 3 to 5 p.m.
HOW EASY, AFTER ALL!
Many people, dear Cynthia, are harassed because they do not realize
how easy it is to get out of a job which involves severe and
concentrated effort. My child, you must not allow yourself to become
discouraged. Almost any job can be shaken off in time and with
perseverance. Looking out of the window is a great help. There are very
few businesses where what goes on in the office is half as interesting
as what is happening on the street outside. If your desk does not
happen to be near a window, so much the better. You can watch the
sunset admirably from the window of the advertising manager's office.
Call his attention to the rosy tints in the afterglow or the glorious
pallor of the clouds. Advertising managers are apt to be insufficiently
appreciative of these things. Sometimes, when they are closeted with
the Boss in conference, open the ground-glass door and say, “I think it
is going to rain shortly.” Carry your love of the beautiful into your
office life. This will inevitably pave the way to simplification.
ENVELOPES WITH LOOP HOLES
And never open envelopes with little transparent panes of isinglass
in their fronts. Never keep copies of your correspondence. For, if your
letters are correct, no copy will be necessary. And, if incorrect, it
is far better not to have a copy. If you were to tell me the exact
nature of your work I could offer many more specific hints.
YOUR INQUIRY, CHILD, TOUCHES MY HEART
I am intimately interested in your problem, my child, for I am a
great believer in simplification. It is hard to follow out one's own
precepts; but the root of happiness is never to contradict any one and
never agree with any one. For if you contradict people, they will try
to convince you; and if you agree with them, they will enlarge upon
their views until they say something you will feel bound to contradict.
Let me hear from you again.
TO AN UNKNOWN DAMSEL
On Fifth Street, in a small cafe,
Upstairs (our tables were adjacent),
I saw you lunching yesterday,
And felt a secret thrill complacent.
You sat, and, waiting for your meal,
You read a book. As I was eating,
Dear me, how keen you made me feel
To give you just a word of greeting!
And as your hand the pages turned,
I watched you, dumbly contemplating—
O how exceedingly I yearned
To ask the girl to keep you waiting.
I wished that I could be the maid
To serve your meal or crumb your cloth, or
Beguile some hazard to my aid
To know your verdict on that author!
And still you read. You dropped your purse,
And yet, adorably unheeding,
You turned the pages, verse by verse,—
I watched, and worshiped you for reading!
You know not what restraint it took
To mind my etiquette, nor flout it
By telling you I know that book,
And asking what you thought about it.
I cursed myself for being shy—
I longed to make polite advances;
Alas! I let the time go by,
And Fortune gives no second chances.
You read, but still your face was calm—
(I scanned it closely, wretched sinner!)
You showed no sign—-I felt a qualm—
And then the waitress brought your dinner.
Those modest rhymes, you thought them fair?
And will you sometimes praise or quote them?
And do you ask why I should care?
Oh, Lady, it was I who wrote them!
THOUGHTS ON SETTING AN ALARM CLOCK
Mark the monitory dial,
Set the gong for six a.m.—
Then, until the hour of trial,
Clock a little sleep, pro tem.
As I crank the dread alarum
Stern resolve I try to fix:
My ideals, shall I mar 'em
When the awful moment ticks?
Heaven strengthen my intention,
Grant me grace my vow to keep:
Would the law enforced Prevention
Of such Cruelty to Sleep!
SONGS IN A SHOWER BATH
Gently, while the drenching dribble
Courses down my sweltered form,
I am basking like a sybil,
Lazy, languorous and warm.
I am unambitious, flaccid,
Well content to drowse and dream:
How I hate life's bitter acid—
Leave me here to stew and steam.
Underneath this jet so torrid
I forget the world's sad wrath:
O activity is horrid!
Leave me in my shower-bath!
But when I turn the crank
A silver ecstasy thrills me!
I caper and slap my chilled thighs,
I plan to make a card index of all my ideas
And feel like an efficiency expert.
I tweak Fate by the nose
And know I could succeed in anything.
I throw up my head
And glut myself with icy splatter...
To-day I will really
Begin my career!
ON DEDICATING A NEW TEAPOT
Boiling water now is poured,
Pouches filled with fresh tobacco,
Round the hospitable board
Fragrant steams Ceylon or Pekoe.
Bread and butter is cut thin,
Cream and sugar, yes, bring them on;
Ginger cookies in their tin,
And the dainty slice of lemon.
Let the marmalade be brought,
Buns of cinnamon adhesive;
And, to catch the leaves, you ought
To be sure to have the tea-sieve.
But, before the cups be filled—
Cups that cause no ebriation—
Let a genial wish be willed
Just by way of dedication.
Here's your fortune, gentle pot:
To our thirst you offer slakeage;
Bright blue china, may I not
Hope no maid will cause you breakage.
Kindest ministrant to man,
Long be jocund years before you,
And no meaner fortune than
Helen's gracious hand to pour you!
THE UNFORGIVABLE SYNTAX
A certain young man never knew
Just when to say whom and when who;
“The question of choosing,”
He said, “is confusing;
I wonder if which wouldn't do?”
Nothing is so illegitimate
As a noun when his verbs do not fit him; it
Makes him disturbed
If not properly verbed—
If he asks for the plural, why git him it!
Lie and lay offer slips to the pen
That have bothered most excellent men:
You can say that you lay
If you do it to-day, you're a hen!
A person we met at a play
Was cruel to pronouns all day:
She would frequently cry
“Between you and I,
If only us girls had our way—!”
We were giving a young English poet a taste of Philadelphia, trying
to show him one or two of the simple beauties that make life agreeable
to us. Having just been photographed, he was in high good humor.
“What a pity,” he said, “that you in America have no literature that
reflects the amazing energy, the humor, the raciness of your life! I
woke up last night at the hotel and heard a motor fire engine thunder
by. There's a symbol of the extraordinary vitality of America! My, if I
could only live over here a couple of years, how I'd like to try my
hand at it. It's a pity that no one over here is putting down the humor
of your life.”
“Have you read O. Henry?” we suggested.
“Extraordinary country,” he went on. “Somebody turned me loose on
Mr. Morgan's library in New York. There was a librarian there, but I
didn't let her bother me. I wanted to see that manuscript of 'Endymion'
they have there. I supposed they would take me up to a glass case and
let me gaze at it. Not at all. They put it right in my hands and I
spent three quarters of an hour over it. Wonderful stuff. You know, the
first edition of my book is selling at a double premium in London. It's
been out only eighteen months.”
“How do you fellows get away with it?” we asked humbly.
“I hope Pond isn't going to book me up for too many lectures,” he
said. “I've got to get back to England in the spring. There's a painter
over there waiting to do my portrait. But there are so many places I've
got to lecture—everybody seems to want to hear about the young English
“I hear Philip Gibbs is just arriving in New York,” we said.
“Is that so? Dear me, he'll quite take the wind out of my sails,
won't he? Nice chap, Gibbs. He sent me an awfully cheery note when I
went out to the front as a war correspondent. Said he liked my stuff
about the sodgers. He'll make a pot of money over here, won't he?”
We skipped across City Hall Square abreast of some trolley cars.
“I say, these trams keep one moving, don't they?” he said. “You
know, I was tremendously bucked by that department store you took me to
see. That's the sort of place one has to go to see the real art of
America. Those paintings in there, by the elevators, they were done by
a young English girl. Friend of mine—in fact, she did the pictures for
my first book. Pity you have so few poets over here. You mustn't make
me lose my train; I've got a date with Vachel Lindsay and Edgar Lee
Masters in New York to-night. Vachel's an amusing bird. I must get him
over to England and get him started. I've written to Edmund Gosse about
him, and I'm going to write again. What a pity Irvin Cobb doesn't write
poetry! He's a great writer. What vivacity, what a rich vocabulary!”
“Have you read Mark Twain?” we quavered.
“Oh, Mark's grand when he's serious; but when he tries to be funny,
you know, it's too obvious. I can always see him feeling for the joke.
No, it doesn't come off. You know an artist simply doesn't exist for me
unless he has something to say. That's what makes me so annoyed with
R.L.S. In 'Weir of Hermiston' and the 'New Arabian Nights' he really
had something to say; the rest of the time he was playing the fool on
some one else's instrument. You know style isn't something you can
borrow from some one else; it's the unconscious revelation of a man's
“I wonder if there aren't some clubs around here that would like to
hear me talk?” he said. “You know, I'd like to come back to
Philadelphia if I could get some dates of that sort. Just put me wise,
old man, if you hear of anything. I was telling some of your poets in
New York about the lectures I've been giving. Those chaps are fearfully
rough with one. You know, they'll just ride over one roughshod if you
give them a chance. They hate to see a fellow a success. Awful tripe
some of them are writing. They don't seem to be expressing the spirit,
the fine exhilaration, of American life at all. If I had my way, I'd
make every one in America read Rabelais and Madame Bovary. Then they
ought to study some of the old English poets, like Marvell, to give
them precision. It's lots of fun telling them these things. They
respond famously. Now over in my country we poets are all so reserved,
so shy, so taciturn.
“You know Pond, the lecture man in New York, was telling me a quaint
story about Masefield. Great friend of mine, old Jan Masefield. He
turned up in New York to talk at some show Pond was running. Had on
some horrible old trench boots. There was only about twenty minutes
before the show began. 'Well,' says Pond, hoping Jan was going to
change his clothes, 'are you all ready?' 'Oh, yes,' says Jan. Pond was
graveled; didn't know just what to do. So he says, hoping to give Jan a
hint, 'Well, I've just got to get my boots polished.' Of course, they
didn't need it—Americans' boots never do—but Pond sits down on a
boot-polishing stand and the boy begins to polish for dear life. Jan
sits down by him, deep in some little book or other, paying no
attention. Pond whispers to the boy, 'Quick, polish his boots while
he's reading.' Jan was deep in his book, never knew what was going on.
Then they went off to the lecture, Jan in his jolly old sack suit.”
We went up to a private gallery on Walnut Street, where some of the
most remarkable literary treasures in the world are stored, such as the
original copy of Elia given by Charles Lamb to the lady he wanted to
marry, Fanny Kelly. There we also saw some remarkable first editions of
“You know,” he said, “Mrs. L——in New York—I had an introduction
to her from Jan—wanted to give me a first edition of Shelley, but I
wouldn't let her.”
“How do you fellows get away with it?” we said again humbly.
“Well, old man,” he said, “I must be going. Mustn't keep Vachel
waiting. Is this where I train? What a ripping station! Some day I must
write a poem about all this. What a pity you have so few poets ...”
A GOOD HOME IN THE SUBURBS
There are a number of empty apartments in the suburbs of our mind
that we shall be glad to rent to any well-behaved ideas.
These apartments (unfurnished) all have southern exposure and are
reasonably well lighted. They have emergency exits.
We prefer middle-aged, reasonable ideas that have outgrown the
diseases of infancy. No ideas need apply that will lie awake at night
and disturb the neighbors, or will come home very late and wake the
other tenants. This is an orderly mind, and no gambling, loud laughter
and carnival or Pomeranian dogs will be admitted.
If necessary, the premises can be improved to suit high-class
No lease longer than six months can be given to any one idea, unless
it can furnish positive guarantees of good conduct, no bolshevik
affiliations and no children.
We have an orphanage annex where homeless juvenile ideas may be
accommodated until they grow up.
The southwestern section of our mind, where these apartments are
available, is some distance from the bustle and traffic, but all the
central points can be reached without difficulty. Middle-aged,
unsophisticated ideas of domestic tastes will find the surroundings
For terms and blue prints apply janitor on the premises.
WALT WHITMAN MINIATURES
A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that one should
have some excuse for being away from the office on a working afternoon.
September sunshine and trembling blue air are not sufficient reasons,
it seems. Therefore, if any one should brutally ask what I was doing
the other day dangling down Chestnut Street toward the river, I should
have to reply, “Looking for the Wenonah.” The Wenonah,
you will immediately conclude, is a moving picture theater. But be
patient a moment.
Lower Chestnut Street is a delightful place for one who does not get
down there very often. The face of wholesale trade, dingier than the
glitter of uptown shops, is far more exciting and romantic. Pavements
are cumbered with vast packing cases; whiffs of tea and spice well up
from cool cellars. Below Second Street I found a row of enormous sacks
across the curb, with bright red and green wool pushing through holes
in the burlap. Such signs as WOOL, NOILS AND WASTE are frequent. I
wonder what noils are? A big sign on Front Street proclaims TEA
CADDIES, which has a pleasant grandmotherly flavor. A little brass
plate, gleamingly polished, says HONORARY CONSULATE OF JAPAN. Beside
immense motor trucks stood a shabby little horse and buggy, restored to
service, perhaps, by the war-time shortage of gasoline. It was a
typical one-horse shay of thirty years ago.
I crossed over to Camden on the ferryboat Wildwood, observing
in the course of the voyage her sisters, Bridgeton, Camden, Salem
and Hammonton. It is curious that no matter where one goes, one
will always meet people who are traveling there for the first time. A
small boy next to me was gazing in awe at the stalwart tower of the
Victor Company, and snuffing with pleasure the fragrance of cooking
tomatoes that makes Camden savory at this time of year. Wagonloads of
ripe Jersey tomatoes making their way to the soup factory are a jocund
sight across the river just now.
Every ferry passenger is familiar with the rapid tinkling of the
ratchet wheel that warps the landing stage up to the level of the
boat's deck. I asked the man who was running the wheel where I would
find the Wenonah. “She lays over in the old Market Street slip,”
he replied, and cheerfully showed me just where to find her. “Is she
still used?” I asked. “Mostly on Saturday nights and holidays,” he
said, “when there's a big crowd going across.”
The Wenonah, as all Camden seafarers know, is a ferryboat,
one of the old-timers, and I was interested in her because she and her
sister, the Beverly, were Walt Whitman's favorite ferries. He
crossed back and forth on them hundreds of times and has celebrated
them in several paragraphs in Specimen Days. Perhaps this is the
place to quote his memorandum dated January 12, 1882, which ought to
interest all lovers of the Camden ferry:
“Such a show as the Delaware presented an hour before sundown
yesterday evening, all along between Philadelphia and Camden, is worth
weaving into an item. It was full tide, a fair breeze from the
southwest, the water of a pale tawny color, and just enough motion to
make things frolicsome and lively. Add to these an approaching sunset
of unusual splendor, a broad tumble of clouds, with much golden haze
and profusion of beaming shaft and dazzle. In the midst of all, in the
clear drab of the afternoon light, there steamed up the river the large
new boat, the Wenonah, as pretty an object as you could wish to
see, lightly and swiftly skimming along, all trim and white, covered
with flags, transparent red and blue streaming out in the breeze. Only
a new ferryboat, and yet in its fitness comparable with the prettiest
product of Nature's cunning, and rivaling it. High up in the
transparent ether gracefully balanced and circled four or five great
sea hawks, while here below, mid the pomp and picturesqueness of sky
and river, swam this creature of artificial beauty and motion and
power, in its way no less perfect.”
You will notice that Walt Whitman describes the Wenonah as
being white. The Pennsylvania ferryboats, as we know them, are all the
brick-red color that is familiar to the present generation. Perhaps
older navigators of the Camden crossing can tell us whether the boats
were all painted white in a less smoky era?
The Wenonah and the Beverly were lying in the now
unused ferry slip at the foot of Market Street, alongside the great
Victor Talking Machine works. Picking my way through an empty yard
where some carpentering was going on, I found a deserted pier that
overlooked the two old vessels and gave a fair prospect on to the river
and the profile of Philadelphia. Sitting there on a pile of pebbles, I
lit a pipe and watched the busy panorama of the river. I made no effort
to disturb the normal and congenial lassitude that is the highest
function of the human being: no Hindoo philosopher could have been more
pleasantly at ease. (O. Henry, one remembers, used to insist that what
some of his friends called laziness was really “dignified repose.”) Two
elderly colored men were loading gravel onto a cart not far away. I was
a little worried as to what I could say if they asked what I was doing.
In these days casual loungers along docksides may be suspected of depth
bombs and high treason. The only truthful reply to any question would
have been that I was thinking about Walt Whitman. Such a remark, if
uttered in Philadelphia, would undoubtedly have been answered by a
direction to the chocolate factory on Race Street. But in Camden every
one knows about Walt. Still, the colored men said nothing beyond
returning my greeting. Their race, wise in simplicity, knows that
loafing needs no explanation and is its own excuse.
If Walt could revisit the ferries he loved so well, in New York and
Philadelphia, he would find the former strangely altered in aspect. The
New York skyline wears a very different silhouette against the sky,
with its marvelous peaks and summits drawing the eye aloft. But
Philadelphia's profile is (I imagine) not much changed. I do not know
just when the City Hall tower was finished: Walt speaks of it as
“three-fifths built” in 1879. That, of course, is the dominant unit in
the view from Camden. Otherwise there are few outstanding elements. The
gradual rise in height of the buildings, from Front Street gently
ascending up to Broad, gives no startling contrast of elevation to
catch the gaze. The spires of the older churches stand up like soft
blue pencils, and the massive cornices of the Curtis and Drexel
buildings catch the sunlight. Otherwise the outline is even and
well-massed in a smooth ascending curve.
It is curious how a man can stamp his personality upon earthly
things. There will always be pilgrims to whom Camden and the Delaware
ferries are full of excitement and meaning because of Walt Whitman.
Just as Stratford is Shakespeare, so is Camden Whitman. Some
supercilious observers, flashing through on the way to Atlantic City,
may only see a town in which there is no delirious and seizing beauty.
Let us remind them of Walt's own words:
A great city is that which has the greatest men and women,
If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the
And as I came back across the river, and an airplane hovered over us
at a great height, I thought how much we need a Whitman to-day, a poet
who can catch the heart and meaning of these grievous bitter years, who
can make plain the surging hopes that throb in the breasts of men. The
world has not flung itself into agony without some unexpressed vision
that lights the sacrifice. If Walt Whitman were here he would look on
this new world of moving pictures and gasoline engines and U-boats and
tell us what it means. His great heart, which with all its garrulous
fumbling had caught the deep music of human service and fellowship,
would have had true and fine words for us. And yet he would have found
it a hard world for one of his strolling meditative observancy. A
speeding motor truck would have run him down long ago!
As I left the ferry at Market Street I saw that the Norwegian
steamer Taunton was unloading bananas at the Ericsson pier. Less
than a month ago she picked up the survivors of the schooner
Madrugada, torpedoed by a U-boat off Winter Bottom Shoal. On the
Madrugada was a young friend of mine, a Dutch sailor, who told me
of the disaster after he was landed in New York. To come unexpectedly
on the ship that had rescued him seemed a great adventure. What a poem
Walt Whitman could have made of it!
It is a weakness of mine—not a sinful one, I hope—that whenever I
see any one reading a book in public I am agog to find out what it is.
Crossing over to Camden this morning a young woman on the ferry was
absorbed in a volume, and I couldn't resist peeping over her shoulder.
It was “Hans Brinker.” On the same boat were several schoolboys
carrying copies of Myers' “History of Greece.” Quaint, isn't it, how
our schools keep up the same old bunk! What earthly use will a
smattering of Greek history be to those boys? Surely to our citizens of
the coming generation the battles of the Marne will be more important
than the scuffle at Salamis.
My errand in Camden was to visit the house on Mickle Street where
Walt Whitman lived his last years. It is now occupied by Mrs. Thomas
Skymer, a friendly Italian woman, and her family. Mrs. Skymer
graciously allowed me to go through the downstairs rooms.
I don't suppose any literary shrine on earth is of more humble and
disregarded aspect than Mickle Street. It is a little cobbled byway,
grimed with drifting smoke from the railway yards, littered with
wind-blown papers and lined with small wooden and brick houses sooted
almost to blackness. It is curious to think, as one walks along that
bumpy brick pavement, that many pilgrims from afar have looked forward
to visiting Mickle Street as one of the world's most significant
altars. As Chesterton wrote once, “We have not yet begun to get to the
beginning of Whitman.” But the wayfarer of to-day will find Mickle
Street far from impressive.
The little house, a two-story frame cottage, painted dark brown, is
numbered 330. (In Whitman's day it was 328.) On the pavement in front
stands a white marble stepping-block with the carved initials
W.W.—given to the poet, I dare say, by the same friends who bought him
a horse and carriage. A small sign, in English and Italian, says:
Thomas A. Skymer, Automobiles to Hire on Occasions. It was with
something of a thrill that I entered the little front parlor where Walt
used to sit, surrounded by his litter of papers and holding forth to
faithful listeners. One may safely say that his was a happy old age,
for there were those who never jibbed at protracted audience.
A description of that room as it was in the last days of Whitman's
life may not be uninteresting. I quote from the article published by
the Philadelphia Press of March 27, 1892, the day after the
Below the windowsill a four-inch pine shelf is swung, on which
a bottle of ink, two or three pens and a much-rubbed spectacle
(The shelf, I am sorry to say, is no longer there.)
The table—between which and the wall is the poet's rocker
with a worsted afghan, presented to him one Christmas by a bevy
college girls who admired his work—is so thickly piled with
and magazines, letters and the raffle of a literary desk that
is scarcely an inch of room upon which he may rest his paper as
writes. A volume of Shakespeare lies on top of a heaping full
basket that was once used to bring peaches to market, and an
copy of Worcester's Dictionary shares places in an adjacent
with the poet's old and familiar soft gray hat, a newly darned
woolen sock and a shoe-blacking brush. There is a paste bottle
brush on the table and a pair of scissors, much used by the
who writes, for the most part, on small bits of paper and parts
old envelopes and pastes them together in patchwork fashion.
In spite of a careful examination, I could find nothing in the
parlor at all reminiscent of Whitman's tenancy, except the hole for the
stovepipe under the mantel. One of Mrs. Skymer's small boys told me
that “He” died in that room. Evidently small Louis Skymer didn't in the
least know who “He” was, but realized that his home was in some vague
way connected with a mysterious person whose memory occasionally
attracts inquirers to the house.
Behind the parlor is a dark little bedroom, and then the kitchen. In
a corner of the back yard is a curious thing: a large stone or terra
cotta bust of a bearded man, very much like Whitman himself, but the
face is battered and the nose broken so it would be hard to assert this
definitely. One of the boys told me that it was in the yard when they
moved in a year or so ago. The house is a little dark, standing between
two taller brick neighbors. At the head of the stairs I noticed a
window with colored panes, which lets in spots of red, blue and yellow
light. I imagine that this patch of vivid color was a keen satisfaction
to Walt's acute senses. Such is the simple cottage that one associates
with America's literary declaration of independence.
The other Whitman shrine in Camden is the tomb in Harleigh Cemetery,
reached by the Haddonfield trolley. Doctor Oberholtzer, in his
“Literary History of Philadelphia,” calls it “tawdry,” to which I fear
I must demur. Built into a quiet hillside in that beautiful cemetery,
of enormous slabs of rough-hewn granite with a vast stone door standing
symbolically ajar, it seemed to me grotesque, but greatly impressive.
It is a weird pagan cromlech, with a huge triangular boulder above the
door bearing only the words WALT WHITMAN. Palms and rubber plants grow
in pots on the little curved path leading up to the tomb; above it is
an uncombed hillside and trees flickering in the air. At this tomb,
designed (it is said) by Whitman himself, was held that remarkable
funeral ceremony on March 30, 1892, when a circus tent was not large
enough to roof the crowd, and peanut venders did business on the
outskirts of the gathering. Perhaps it is not amiss to recall what Bob
Ingersoll said on that occasion:
“He walked among verbal varnishers and veneerers, among literary
milliners and tailors, with the unconscious dignity of an antique god.
He was the poet of that divine democracy that gives equal rights to all
the sons and daughters of men. He uttered the great American voice.”
And though one finds in the words of the naive Ingersoll the
squeaking timber of the soapbox, yet even a soapbox does lift a man a
few inches above the level of the clay.
Well, the Whitman battle is not over yet, nor ever will be. Though
neither Philadelphia nor Camden has recognized 330 Mickle Street as one
of the authentic shrines of our history (Lord, how trimly dight it
would be if it were in New England!), Camden has made a certain amend
in putting Walt into the gay mosaic that adorns the portico of the new
public library in Cooper Park. There, absurdly represented in an
austere black cassock, he stands in the following frieze of great
figures: Dante, Whitman, Moliere, Gutenberg, Tyndale, Washington, Penn,
Columbus, Moses, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Shakespeare, Longfellow and
Palestrina. I believe that there was some rumpus as to whether Walt
should be included; but, anyway, there he is.
You will make a great mistake if you don't ramble over to Camden
some day and fleet the golden hours in an observant stroll. Himself the
prince of loafers, Walt taught the town to loaf. When they built the
new postoffice over there they put round it a ledge for philosophic
lounging, one of the most delightful architectural features I have ever
seen. And on Third Street, just around the corner from 330 Mickle
Street, is the oddest plumber's shop in the world. Mr. George F.
Hammond, a Civil War veteran, who knew Whitman and also Lincoln, came
to Camden in '69. In 1888 he determined to build a shop that would be
different from anything on earth, and well he succeeded. Perhaps it is
symbolic of the shy and harassed soul of the plumber, fleeing from the
unreasonable demands of his customers, for it is a kind of Gothic
fortress. Leaded windows, gargoyles, masculine medusa heads, a
sallyport, loopholes and a little spire. I stopped in to talk to Mr.
Hammond, and he greeted me graciously. He says that people have come
all the way from California to see his shop, and I can believe it. It
is the work of a delightful and original spirit who does not care to
live in a demure hutch like all the rest of us, and has really had some
fun out of his whimsical little castle. He says he would rather live in
Camden than in Philadelphia, and I daresay he's right.
Something in his aspect as he leaned over the railing near me drew
me on to speak to him. I don't know just how to describe it except by
saying that he had an understanding look. He gave me the impression of
a man who had spent his life in thinking and would understand me,
whatever I might say. He looked like the kind of man to whom one would
find one's self saying wise and thoughtful things. There are some
people, you know, to whom it is impossible to speak wisdom even if you
should wish to. No spirit of kindly philosophy speaks out of their
eyes. You find yourself automatically saying peevish or futile things
that you do not in the least believe.
The mood and the place were irresistible for communion. The sun was
warm along the river front and my pipe was trailing a thin whiff of
blue vapor out over the gently fluctuating water, which clucked and
sagged along the slimy pilings. Behind us the crash and banging of
heavy traffic died away into a dreamy undertone in the mild golden
shimmer of the noon hour.
The old man was apparently lost in revery, looking out over the
river toward Camden. He was plainly dressed in coat and trousers of
some coarse weave. His shirt, partly unbuttoned under the great white
sweep of his beard, was of gray flannel. His boots were those of a man
much accustomed to walking. A weather-stained sombrero was on his head.
Beneath it his thick white hair and whiskers wavered in the soft
breeze. Just then a boy came out from the near-by ferry house carrying
a big crate of daffodils, perhaps on their way from some Jersey farm to
an uptown florist. We watched them shining and trembling across the
street, where he loaded them onto a truck. The old gentleman's eyes,
which were a keen gray blue, caught mine as we both turned from
admiring the flowers.
I don't know just why I said it, but they were the first words that
popped into my head. “And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances
with the daffodils,” I quoted.
He looked at me a little quizzically.
“You imported those words on a ship,” he said. “Why don't you use
some of your own instead?”
I was considerably taken aback. “Why, I don't know,” I hesitated.
“They just came into my head.”
“Well, I call that bad luck,” he said, “when some one else's words
come into a man's head instead of words of his own.”
He looked about him, watching the scene with rich satisfaction.
“It's good to see all this again,” he said. “I haven't loafed around
here for going on thirty years.”
“You've been out of town?” I asked.
He looked at me with a steady blue eye in which there was something
of humor and something of sadness.
“Yes, a long way out. I've just come back to see how the Great Idea
is getting along. I thought maybe I could help a little.”
“The Great Idea?” I queried, puzzled.
“The value of the individual,” he said. “The necessity for every
human being to be able to live, think, act, dream, pray for himself.
Nowadays I believe you call it the League of Nations. It's the same
thing. Are men to be free to decide their fate for themselves or are
they to be in the grasp of irresponsible tyrants, the hell of war, the
cruelties of creeds, executive deeds just or unjust, the power of
personality just or unjust? What are your poets, your young Libertads,
doing to bring About the Great Idea of perfect and free individuals?”
I was rather at a loss, but happily he did not stay for an answer.
Above us an American flag was fluttering on a staff, showing its bright
ribs of scarlet clear and vivid against the sky.
“You see that flag of stars,” he said, “that thick-sprinkled
bunting? I have seen that flag stagger in the agony of threatened
dissolution, in years that trembled and reeled beneath us. You have
only seen it in the days of its easy, sure triumphs. I tell you, now is
the day for America to show herself, to prove her dreams for the race.
But who is chanting the poem that comes from the soul of America, the
carol of victory? Who strikes up the marches of Libertad that shall
free this tortured ship of earth? Democracy is the destined conqueror,
yet I see treacherous lip-smiles everywhere and death and infidelity at
every step. I tell you, now is the time of battle, now the time of
striving. I am he who tauntingly compels men, women, nations, crying,
'Leap from your seats and contend for your lives!' I tell you, produce
great Persons; the rest follows.”
“What do you think about the covenant of the League of Nations?” I
asked. He looked out over the river for some moments before replying
and then spoke slowly, with halting utterance that seemed to suffer
anguish in putting itself into words.
“America will be great only if she builds for all mankind,” he said.
“This plan of the great Libertad leads the present with friendly hand
toward the future. But to hold men together by paper and seal or by
compulsion is no account. That only holds men together which aggregates
all in a living principle, as the hold of the limbs of the body or the
fibers of plants. Does this plan answer universal needs? Can it face
the open fields and the seaside? Will it absorb into me as I absorb
food, air, to appear again in my strength, gait, face? Have real
employments contributed to it—original makers, not mere amanuenses? I
think so, and therefore I say to you, now is the day to fight for it.”
“Well,” he said, checking himself, “there's the ferry coming in. I'm
going over to Camden to have a look around on my way back to Harleigh.”
“I'm afraid you'll find Mickle street somewhat changed,” I said, for
by this time I knew him.
“I love changes,” he said.
“Your centennial comes on May 31,” I said, “I hope you won't be
annoyed if Philadelphia doesn't pay much attention to it. You know how
things are around here.”
“My dear boy,” he said, “I am patient. The proof of a poet shall be
sternly deferred till his country absorbs him as affectionately as he
has absorbed it. I have sung the songs of the Great Idea and that is
reward in itself. I have loved the earth, sun, animals, I have despised
riches, I have given alms to every one that asked, stood up for the
stupid and crazy, devoted my income and labor to others, hated tyrants,
argued not concerning God, had patience and indulgence toward the
people, taken off my hat to nothing known or unknown, gone freely with
powerful uneducated persons and I swear I begin to see the meaning of
“All aboard!” cried the man at the gate of the ferry house.
He waved his hand with a benign patriarchal gesture and was gone.
The opening and closing of doors are the most significant actions of
man's life. What a mystery lies in doors!
No man knows what awaits him when he opens a door. Even the most
familiar room, where the clock ticks and the hearth glows red at dusk,
may harbor surprises. The plumber may actually have called (while you
were out) and fixed that leaking faucet. The cook may have had a fit of
the vapors and demanded her passports. The wise man opens his front
door with humility and a spirit of acceptance.
Which one of us has not sat in some ante-room and watched the
inscrutable panels of a door that was full of meaning? Perhaps you were
waiting to apply for a job; perhaps you had some “deal” you were
ambitious to put over. You watched the confidential stenographer flit
in and out, carelessly turning that mystic portal which, to you,
revolved on hinges of fate. And then the young woman said, “Mr.
Cranberry will see you now.” As you grasped the knob the thought
flashed, “When I open this door again, what will have happened?”
There are many kinds of doors. Revolving doors for hotels, shops and
public buildings. These are typical of the brisk, bustling ways of
modern life. Can you imagine John Milton or William Penn skipping
through a revolving door? Then there are the curious little slatted
doors that still swing outside denatured bar-rooms and extend only from
shoulder to knee. There are trapdoors, sliding doors, double doors,
stage doors, prison doors, glass doors. But the symbol and mystery of a
door resides in its quality of concealment. A glass door is not a door
at all, but a window. The meaning of a door is to hide what lies
inside; to keep the heart in suspense.
Also, there are many ways of opening doors. There is the cheery push
of elbow with which the waiter shoves open the kitchen door when he
bears in your tray of supper. There is the suspicious and tentative
withdrawal of a door before the unhappy book agent or peddler. There is
the genteel and carefully modulated recession with which footmen swing
wide the oaken barriers of the great. There is the sympathetic and
awful silence of the dentist's maid who opens the door into the
operating room and, without speaking, implies that the doctor is ready
for you. There is the brisk cataclysmic opening of a door when the
nurse comes in, very early in the morning—“It's a boy!”
Doors are the symbol of privacy, of retreat, of the mind's escape
into blissful quietude or sad secret struggle. A room without doors is
not a room, but a hallway. No matter where he is, a man can make
himself at home behind a closed door. The mind works best behind closed
doors. Men are not horses to be herded together. Dogs know the meaning
and anguish of doors. Have you ever noticed a puppy yearning at a shut
portal? It is a symbol of human life.
The opening of doors is a mystic act: it has in it some flavor of
the unknown, some sense of moving into a new moment, a new pattern of
the human rigmarole. It includes the highest glimpses of mortal
gladness: reunions, reconciliations, the bliss of lovers long parted.
Even in sadness, the opening of a door may bring relief: it changes and
redistributes human forces. But the closing of doors is far more
terrible. It is a confession of finality. Every door closed brings
something to an end. And there are degrees of sadness in the closing of
doors. A door slammed is a confession of weakness. A door gently shut
is often the most tragic gesture in life. Every one knows the seizure
of anguish that comes just after the closing of a door, when the loved
one is still near, within sound of voice, and yet already far away.
The opening and closing of doors is a part of the stern fluency of
life. Life will not stay still and let us alone. We are continually
opening doors with hope, closing them with despair. Life lasts not much
longer than a pipe of tobacco, and destiny knocks us out like the
The closing of a door is irrevocable. It snaps the packthread of the
heart. It is no avail to reopen, to go back. Pinero spoke nonsense when
he made Paula Tanqueray say, “The future is only the past entered
through another gate.” Alas, there is no other gate. When the door is
shut, it is shut forever. There is no other entrance to that vanished
pulse of time. “The moving finger writes, and having writ”—
There is a certain kind of door-shutting that will come to us all.
The kind of door-shutting that is done very quietly, with the sharp
click of the latch to break the stillness. They will think then, one
hopes, of our unfulfilled decencies rather than of our pluperfected
misdemeanors. Then they will go out and close the door.