SIN has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.
—I think, Sir,—said the divinity-student,—you must intend that for one of the sayings of the Seven Wise Men of Boston you were speaking of the other day.
I thank you, my young friend,—was my reply,—but I must say something better than that, before I could pretend to fill out the number.
—The schoolmistress wanted to know how many of these sayings there were on record, and what, and by whom said.
—Why, let us see,—there is that one of Benjamin Franklin, "the great Bostonian," after whom this lad was named. To be sure, he said a great many wise things,—and I don't feel sure he didn't borrow this,—he speaks as if it were old. But then he applied it so neatly!
— "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged."
Then there is that glorious Epicurean paradox, uttered by my friend, the Historian, in one of his flashing moments
"Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with its necessaries."
To these must certainly be added that other saying of one of the wittiest of men
"Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris."
—The divinity-student looked grave at this, but said nothing.
The schoolmistress spoke out, and said she didn't think the wit meant any irreverence. It was only another way of saying, Paris is a heavenly place after New York or Boston.
A jaunty-looking person, who had come in with the young fellow they call John, —evidently a stranger,—said there was one more wise man's saying that he had heard it was about our place, but he didn't know who said it—A civil curiosity was manifested by the company to hear the fourth wise saying. I heard him distinctly whispering to the young fellow who brought him to dinner, Shall I tell it? To which the answer was, Go ahead !—Well,—he said,—this was what I heard:—
"Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar."
Sir,—said I,—I am gratified with your remark. It expresses with pleasing vivacity that which I have sometimes heard uttered with malignant dulness. The satire of the remark is essentially true of Boston,—and of all other considerable—and inconsiderable—places with which I have had the privilege of being acquainted. Cockneys think London is the only place in the world. Frenchmen —you remember the line about Paris, the Court, the World, etc.—I recollect well, by the way, a sign in that city which ran thus: "Hotel de l'Univers et des États Unis"; and as Paris is the universe to a Frenchman, of course the United States are outside of it.—" See Naples and then die."—It is quite as bad with smaller places. I have been about, lecturing, you know, and have found the following propositions to hold true of all of them.
1. The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of each and every town or city.
2. If more than fifty years have passed since its foundation, it is affectionately styled by the inhabitants the "good old town of" ——(whatever its name may happen to be).
3. Every collection of its inhabitants that comes together to listen to a stranger is invariably declared to be a "remarkably intelligent audience."
4. The climate of the place is particularly favorable to longevity.
5. It contains several persons of vast talent little known to the world. (One or two of them, you may perhaps chance to remember, sent short pieces to the "Pactolian" some time since, which were "respectfully declined.")
Boston is just like other places of its size;—only, perhaps, considering its excellent fish-market, paid fire-department, superior monthly publications, and correct habit of spelling the English language, it has some right to look down on the mob of cities. I'll tell you, though, if you want to know it, what is the real offence of Boston. It drains a large water-shed of its intellect, and will not itself be drained. If it would only send away its first-rate men, instead of its second-rate ones, (no offence to the well-known exceptions, of which we are always proud,) we should be spared such epigrammatic remarks as that which the gentleman has quoted. There can never be a real metropolis in this country, until the biggest centre can drain the lesser ones of their talent and wealth—I have observed, by the way, that the people who really live in two great cities are by no means so jealous of each other, as are those of smaller cities situated within the intellectual basin, or suction-range, of one large one, of the pretensions of any other. Don't you see why? Because their promising young author and rising lawyer and large capitalist have been drained off to the neighboring big city,—their prettiest girl has been exported to the same market; all their ambition points there, and all their thin gilding of glory comes from there. I hate little toad-eating cities.
—Would I be so good as to specify any particular example?—Oh,—an example? Did you ever see a bear-trap? Never? Well, shouldn't you like to see me put my foot into one? With sentiments of the highest consideration I must beg leave to be excused.
Besides, some of the smaller cities are charming. If they have an old church or two, a few stately mansions of former grandees, here and there an old dwelling with the second story projecting, (for the convenience of shooting the Indians knocking at the front-door with their tomahawks,) — if they have, scattered about, those mighty square houses built something more than half a century ago, and standing like architectural boulders dropped by the former diluvium of wealth, whose refluent wave has left them as its monument,—if they have gardens with elbowed apple-trees that push their branches over the high board-fence and drop their fruit on the side-walk,—if they have a little grass in the side-streets, enough to betoken quiet without proclaiming decay,—I think I could go to pieces, after my life's work were done, in one of those tranquil places, as sweetly as in any cradle that an old man may be rocked to sleep in. I visit such spots always with infinite delight. My friend, the Poet, says, that rapidly growing towns are most unfavorable to the imaginative and reflective faculties. Let a man live in one of these old quiet places, he says, and the wine of his soul, which is kept thick and turbid by the rattle of busy streets, settles, and, as you hold it up, you may see the sun through it by day and the stars by night.
—Do I think that the little villages have the conceit of the great towns ?— I don't believe there is much difference. You know how they read Pope's line in the smallest town in our State of Massachusetts ?—Well, they read it
"All are but parts of one stupendous HULL!"
—Every person's feelings have a front-door and a side-door by which they may be entered. The front-door is on the street. Some keep it always open; some keep it latched; some, locked; some, bolted,—with a chain that will let you peep in, but not get in; and some nail it up, so that nothing can pass its threshold. This front-door leads into a passage which opens into an ante-room, and this into the interior apartments. The side-door opens at once into the sacred chambers.