Street Thoughts

By the Rev. HENRY M. DEXTER, Pastor of Pine-Street Church, Boston. With Illustrations by Billings. Boston : Crosby, Nichols, & Co. 1859.

IF a profusion of introductory mottoes were any indication of the excellence of a book, this volume would be indeed a chefd'œuvre. On the page usually devoted to the Dedication, we have no less than six more or less appropriate quotations : a Greek one from Julian, a Latin one from Quintilian, a dramatic one from Shakspeare, a metrical one from Young, a ponderous philosophical one from Dr. Johnson, and a commonplace one from Bryant, In consideration of the number and learnedness of these certificates of character, we approach the lucubrations of the Reverend Mr. Dexter with profound respect.

In the days when controversial literature was fashionable in England, and the strife between Protestantism and Catholicism possessed some interest for the public, we remember with considerable amusement the manner in which the champions on either side conducted the attack. The Romish warrior would this month issue a formidable volume entitled “A Conversation between a Roman Catholic English Nobleman and an Irish Protestant." In this work the Roman Catholic lord had it all his own way ; the Irish Protestant was accommodatingly weak in all his arguments, and the noble Papist battered him iamously. But the Episcopal sido was on hand next month with a volume entitled “A Dialogue between a Protestant Peer and an Irish Papist.” Here the whole thing was reversed. The noble was still victorious, but he had changed his religion; and this time the Roman Catholic was feeble, and the Protestant stalwart. It is worthy of remark, however, that in both cases the nobleman was on the right side.

The Reverend Mr. Dexter thoroughly comprehends this ingenious method of attack. Does he, for instance, desire to impress upon the mind of his reader that it is in the highest degree criminal to wear kid gloves in the street, he, by a happy accident, encounters on his way to the office two persons conversing upon that important topic. He innocently eavesdrops. The individual who advocates the wearing of gloves is (of course) frivolous, fashionable, and feeble. His companion, who despises such vanities, is poor, though honest,-brawny and impregnable. It is wonderful how stupidly the kid-glove advocate reasons. The honest son of toil overwhelms him in a few moments. When a man talks so splendidly about the hard palm of labor being more useful to the world than the silken fingers of the aristocrat, who would have the courage to reply ? The feeble aristocrat is (very properly) discomfited, and the curtain falls amid applause from the gallery.

The reverend gentleman seems to combine with his talent for eavesdropping a most remarkable good-fortune in the contrasts afforded by the various interlocutors whose conversation he overhears. Whether he is in a shop, or an omnibus, or on the sidewalk, he is certain to encounter a foolish person and a sensible person (according to Mr. Dexter’s idea of sense) discussing some important social topic,- such as, Whether dancing is criminal, or, Whether people should wear stove-pipe hats. At the end of the discussion, the reverend listener appears in a paragraph as the deus ex machinâ of the drama, pats the victorious sensible boy on the head, and treats the foolish boy with silent contempt. It does not take much to win Mr. Dexter’s approval. He goes into rhapsodies over a rich man who insists on carrying home his own bundle ; while another purchaser, who is villain enough to desire his parcel to be sent to his house, meets with all the scorn that he merits. Our author takes cheerful views of life. He goes into State Street, and, struck with the great crowds of people, asks the solemn question, " Whither are they going ?”- “ To the open grave ! ” is his jocund reply. He, in fact, sees nothing but a job for the undertaker in all the health and life by which he is surrounded ; and a file of schoolboys out for a walk would doubtless to him be nothing more than the beginning of a procession to Mount Auburn. The shop-keepers should beware of Mr. Dexter. He is the avowed enemy of nice coats, kid gloves, silk dresses, fine houses, and his proof-reader knows what other et ceferas which ignorant people have been in the habit of looking on as commodities useful in helping trade, and consequently forwarding civilization.

We really thought that this shallow philosophy had completely died out, and that every educated person had been brought to comprehend the uses of Beauty and Luxury. Mr, Dexter’s “Street Thoughts” is a silly proof that there are men yet living whose theory of social ethics may apparently be summed up thus : Live meanly, be afraid of God, and listen at keyholes.