The Professor at the Breakfast-Table: What He Said, What He Heard, and What He Saw
THERE has been a sort of stillness in the atmosphere of our boarding-house since my last record, as if something or other were going on. There is no particular change that I can think of in the aspect of things; yet I have a feeling as if some game of life were quietly playing and strange forces were at work, underneath this smooth surface of every-day boarding-house life, which would show themselves some fine morning or other in events, if not in catastrophes. I have been watchful, as I said I should be, but have little to tell as yet. You may laugh at me, and very likely think me foolishly fanciful to trouble myself about what is going on in a middling-class household like ours. Do as you like. But here is that terrible fact to begin with,—a beautiful young girl, with the blood and the, nerve-fibre that belong to Nature’s women, turned loose among live men,
—Terrible fact ?
Very terrible. Nothing more so. Do you forget the angels who lost heaven for the daughters of men? Bo you forget Helen, and the fair women who made mischief and set nations by the ears before Helen was born ? If jealousies that gnaw men’s hearts out of their bodies,— if pangs that waste men to shadows and drive them into raving madness or moping melancholy,—if assassination and suicide. are dreadful possibilities, then there is always something frightful about a lovely young woman.—I love to look at this “Rainbow,” as her father used sometimes to call her, of ours. Handsome creature that she is in forms and colors,—the very picture, as it seems to me, of that “ golden blonde ” my friend whose book you read last year fell in love with when he was a boy, (as you remember, no doubt,)—handsome as she is, fit for a sea-king’s bride, it is not her beauty alone that holds my eyes upon her. Let me tell you one of my fancies, and then you will understand the strange sort of fascination she has for me.
It is in the hearts of many men and women—let me add children—that there is a Great Secret waiting for them,—a secret of which they get hints now and then, perhaps oftener in early than in later years. These hints come sometimes in dreams, sometimes in sudden startling flashes,—second wakings, as it were,— a waking out of the waking state, which last is very apt to be a half-sleep. I have many times stopped short and held my breath, and felt the blood leaving my cheeks, in one of these sudden clairvoyant flashes, Qf course I cannot tell what kind of a secret this is ; but I think of it as a disclosure of certain relations of our personal being to time and space, to other intelligences, to the procession of events, and to their First Great Cause. This secret seems to be broken up, as it were, into fragments, so that we find here a word and there a syllable, and then again only a letter of it; but it never is written out for most of us as a complete sentence, in this life. I do not think it could be ; for I am disposed to consider our beliefs about such a possible disclosure rather as a kind of premonition of an enlargement of our faculties in some future state than as an expectation to be fulfilled for most of us in this life. Persons, however, have fallen into trances, —as did the Reverend William Tennent, among many others,—and learned some things which they could not tell in our human words.
Now among the visible objects which hint to us fragments of this infinite secret for which our souls are waiting, the faces of women are those that carry the most legible hieroglyphics of the great mystery. There are women’s faces, some real, some ideal, which contain something in them that becomes a positive element in our creed, so direct and palpable a revelation is it of the infinite purity and love. I remember two faces of women with wings, such as they call angels, of Fra Angelico, —and I just now came across a print of Raphael’s Santa Apollina, with something of the same quality,—which I was sure had their prototypes in the world above ours. No wonder the Catholics pay their vows to the Queen of Heaven! The unpoetical side of Protestantism is, that it has no women to be worshipped.
But mind you, it is not every beautiful face that hints the Great Secret to us, nor is it only in beautiful faces that we find traces of it. Sometimes it looks out from a sweet sad eye, the only beauty of a plain countenance ; sometimes there is so much meaning in the lips of a woman, not otherwise fascinating, that we know they have a message for us, and wait almost with awe to hear their accents. But this young girl has at once the beauty of feature and the unspoken mystery of expression. Can she tell me anything ? Is her life a complement of mine, with the missing element in it which I have been groping after through so many friendships that I have tired of, and through -Hush ! Is the door fast ? Talking loud is a had trick in these curious boarding-houses.
You must have sometimes noted this fact that I am going to remind you of and to use for a special illustration. Riding along over a rocky road, suddenly the slow monotonous grinding of the crushing gravel changes to a deep heavy rumble. There is a great hollow under your feet,—a huge unsunned cavern. Deep, deep beneath you, in the core of the living rock, it arches its awful vault, and far away it stretches its winding galleries, their roofs dripping into streams where fishes have been swimming and spawning in the dark until their scales are white as milk and their eyes have withered out, obsolete and useless.
So it is in life. We jog quietly along, meeting the same faces, grinding over the same thoughts,—the gravel of the soul’s highway,—now and then jarred against an obstacle we cannot crush, but must ride over or round as we best may, sometimes bringing short up against a disappointment, but still working along with the creaking and rattling and grating and jerking that belong to the journey of life, even in the smoothest-rolling vehicle. Suddenly we hear the deep underground reverberation that reveals the unsuspected depth of some abyss of thought or passion beneath us.-
I wish the girl would go. I don’t like to look at her so much, and yet I cannot help it. Always that same expression of something that I ought to know,—something that she was made to tell and I to hear,—lying there ready to fall off from her lips, ready to leap out of her eyes and make a saint of me, or a devil or a lunatic, or perhaps a prophet to tell the truth and be hated of men, or a poet whose words shall flash upon the dry stubble-field of worn-out thoughts and burn over an age of lies in an hour of passion.
It suddenly occurs to me that. I may have put you on the wrong track. The Great Secret that I refer to has nothing to do with the Three Words. Set your mind at ease about that,—there are reasons I could give you which settle all that matter. I don't wonder, however, that you confounded the Great Secret with the Three Words.
I LOVE YOU is all the secret that many, nay, most women have to tell. When that is said, they are like China-crackers on the morning of the fifth of July. And just as that little patriotic implement is made with a slender train which leads to the magazine in its interior, so a sharp eye can almost always see the train leading from a young girl's eye or lip to the “ I love you ” in her heart. But the Three Words are not the Great Secret I mean. No, women’s faces are only one of the tablets on which that is written in its partial, fragmentary symbols. It lies deeper than Love, though very probably Love is a part of it. Some, I think,—Wordsworth might be one of them,—spell out a portion of it from certain beautiful natural objects, landscapes, flowers, and others. I can mention several poems of his that have shadowy hints which seem to me to come near the region where I think it lies. I have known two persons who pursued it with the passion of the old alchemists,—all wrong evidently, but infatuated, and never giving up the daily search for it until they got tremulous and feeble, and their dreams changed to visions of things that ran and crawled about their floor and ceilings, and so they died. The vulgar called them drunkards.
I told you that I would let you know the mystery of the effect this young girl’s face produces on me. It is akin to those influences a friend of mine has described, you may remember, as coming from certain voices. T cannot translate it into words,—only into feelings; and these I have attempted to shadow by showing that her face hinted that revelation of something we are close to knowing, which all imaginative persons are looking for either in this world or on the very threshold of the next.
You shake your head at the vagueness and fanciful incomprehensibleness of my description of the expression in a young girl’s face. You forget what a miserable surface-matter this language is in which we try to reproduce our interior state of being. Articulation is a shallow trick. From the light Poh! which we toss off from our lips as we fling a nameless scribbler’s impertinences into our waste-baskets, to the gravest utterance which comes from our throats in our moments of deepest need, is only a space of some three or four inches. Words, which are a set of clickings, hissings, lispings, and so on, mean very little, compared to tones and expression of the features. I give it up; I thought I could shadow forth in some feeble way, by their aid, the effect this young girl’s face produces on my imagination; but it is of no use. No doubt your head aches, trying to make something of my description. If there is here and there one that can make anything intelligible out of my talk about the Great Secret, and who has spelt out a syllable or two of it on some woman’s face, dead or living, that is all I can expect. One should see the person with whom he converses about such matters. There are dreamy-eyed people to whom I should say all these things with a certainty of being understood;—
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.
—I am afraid some of them have not got a spare quarter for this August number, so that they will never see it.
—Let us start again, just as if we had not made this ambitious attempt, which may go for nothing, and you can have your money refunded, if you will make the change.
This young girl, about whom I have talked so unintelligibly, is the unconscious centre of attraction to the whole solar system of our breakfast-table. The little gentleman leans towards her, and she again seems to be swayed as by some invisible gentle force towards him. That slight inclination of two persons with a strong affinity towards each other, throwing them a little out of plumb when they sit side by side, is a physical fact I have often noticed. Then there is a tendency in all the men’s eyes to converge on her; and I do firmly believe, that, if all their chairs were examined, they would be found a little obliquely placed, so as to favor the direction in which their occupants love to look.
That bland, quiet old gentleman, of whom I have spoken as sitting opposite to me, is no exception to the rule. She brought down some mignonette one morning, which she had grown in her chamber. She gave a sprig to her little neighbor, and one to the landlady, and sent another by the hand of Bridget to this old gentleman.
—Sarvant, Ma’am! Much obleeged, —he said, and put it gallantly in his button-hole.—After breakfast he must see some of her drawings. Very fine performances,—very fine!—truly elegant productions,—truly elegant!—Had seen Miss Linley’s needle-work in London, in the year (eighteen hundred and little or nothing. I think he said,)—patronized by the nobility and gentry, and Her Majesty,—elegant, truly elegant productions, very fine performances ; these drawings reminded him of them;—wonderful resemblance to Nature ; an extraordinary art, painting ; Mr. Copley made some very fine pictures that he remembered seeing when he was a boy. Used to remember some lines about a portrait -written by Mr. Cowper, beginning,—
“Oh that those lips had language! Life has
"With me but roughly since I saw thee last.”
And with this the old gentleman fell to thinking about a dead mother of his that he remembered ever so much younger than he now was, and looking, not as his mother, but as his daughter should look. The dead young mother was looking at the old man, her child, as she used to look at him so many, many years ago. He stood still as if cataleptic, his eyes fixed on the drawings till their outlines grew indistinct and they ran into each other, and a pale, sweet face shaped itself out of the glimmering light through which he saw them.—What is there quite so profoundly human as an old man's memory of a mother who died in his earlier years? Mother she remains till manhood, and by-and-by she grows, as it were, to be as a sister; and at last, when, wrinkled and bowed and broken, he looks back upon her in her fair youth, he sees in the sweet image he caresses, not his parent, but, as it were, his child.
If I had not seen all this in the old gentleman’s face, the words with which he broke his silence would have betrayed his train of thought.
—If they had only taken pictures then as they do now!—he said.—All gone! all gone! nothing but her face as she leaned on the arms of her great chair; and I would give a hundred pound for the poorest little picture of her, such as you can buy for a shilling of anybody that you don’t want to see.—The old gentleman put his hand to his forehead so as to shade his eyes. I saw he was looking at the dim photograph of memory, and turned from him to Iris.
How many drawing-books have you filled,—I said,—since you began to take lessons?-—This was the first,—she answered,—since she was here; and it was not full, but there were many separate sheets of large size she had covered with drawings.
I turned over the leaves of the book before ns. Academic studies, principally of the human figure. Heads of sibyls, prophets, and so forth. Limbs from statues. Hands and feet from Nature. What a superb drawing of an arm! I don’t remember it among the figures from Michel Angelo, which seem to have been her patterns mainly. From Nature, I think, or after a cast from Nature.— Oh!-
—Your smaller studies are in this, I suppose,— I said, taking up the drawing-book with a lock on it.-Yes,—she said.—I should like to see her style of working on a small scale.-There was nothing in it worth showing,—she said; and presently I saw her try the lock, which proved to be fast. We are all caricatured in it, I haven’t the least doubt. I think, though, I could tell by her way of dealing with us what her fancies were about us boarders. Some of them act as if they were bewitched with her, but she does not seem to notice it much. Her thoughts seem to be on her little neighbor more than on anybody else. The young fellow John appears to stand second in her good graces. I think he has once or twice sent her what the landlady’s daughter calls bó-kays of flowers,—somebody has, at any rate.— I saw a book she had, which must have come from the divinity-student. It had a dreary title-page, which she had enlivened with a fancy portrait of the author,—a face from memory, apparently, —one of those faces that small children loathe without knowing why, and which give them that inward disgust for heaven so many of the little wretches betray, when they hear that these are “ good men,” and that heaven is full of such. —The gentleman with the “ diamond ” —the Koh-i-noor, so called by us—was not encouraged, I think, by the reception of his packet of perfumed soap. He pulls his purple moustache and looks appreciatingly at Iris, who never sees him, as it should seem. The young Marylander, who I thought would have been in love with her before this time, sometimes looks from his corner across the long diagonal of the table, as much as to say, I wish you were up here by me, or I were down there by you,—which would, perhaps, be a more natural arrangement than the present one. But nothing comes of all this,—and nothing has come of my sagacious idea of finding out the girl’s fancies by looking into her locked drawing-book.
Not to give up all the questions I was determined to solve, I made an attempt also to work into the little gentleman’s chamber. For this purpose, I kept him in conversation, one morning, until he was just ready to go up-stairs, and then, as if to continue the talk, followed him as he toiled back to his room. He rested on the landing and faced round toward me. There was something in his eye which said, Stop there ! So we finished our conversation on the landing. The next day, I mustered assurance enough to knock at his door, having a pretext ready.—No answer.—Knock again. A door, as if of a cabinet, was shut softly and locked, and presently I heard the peculiar dead beat of his thick-soled, misshapen boots. The bolts and the lock of the inner door were unfastened,—with unnecessary noise, I thought,—and he came into the passage. He pulled the inner door after him and opened the outer one at which I stood. He had on a flowered silk dressing-gown, such as “ Mr. Copley” used to paint his old-fashioned merchant-princes in ; and a quaint-looking key in his hand. Our conversation was short, but long enough to convince me that the little gentleman did not want my company in his chamber, and did not mean to have it.
I have been making a great fuss about what is no mystery at all,—a schoolgirl’s secrets and a whimsical man’s habits. I mean to give up such nonsense and mind my own business.—Hark! What the deuse is that odd noise in his chamber?
—I think I am a little superstitious. There were two things, when I was a boy, that diabolized my imagination,—I mean, that gave me a distinct apprehension of a formidable bodily shape which prowled round the neighborhood where I was born and bred. The first was a series of marks called the “ Devil's footsteps.” These were patches of sand in the pastures, where no grass grew, where even the low-bush blackberry, the “ dewberry,” as our Southern neighbors call it, in prettier and more Shakspearian language, did not spread its clinging creepers,—where even the pale, dry, sadlysweet “ everlasting ” could not grow, but all was bare and blasted. The second was a mark in one of the public buildings near my home,—the college dormitory named after a Colonial Governor. I do not think many persons are aware of the existence of this mark,— little having been said about the story in print, as it, was considered very desirable, for the sake of the institution, to hush it up. In the northwest corner, and on the level of the third or fourth story, there are signs of a breach in the walls, mended pretty well, but not to be mistaken. A considerable portion of that corner must have been carried away, from within outward. It was an unpleasant story; and I do not care to repeat the particulars ; but some young men had been using sacred things in a profane and unlawful way, when the occurrence, which was variously explained, took place. The story of the Appearance in the chamber was, I suppose, invented afterwards; but of the injury to the building there could be no question; and the zig-zag line, where the mortar is a little thicker than before, is still distinctly visible. The queer burnt spots, called the “ Devil’s footsteps,” had never attracted attention before this time, though there is no evidence that they had not existed previously, except that of the late Miss M., a “ Goody,” so called, or sweeper, who was positive on the subject, but had a strange horror of referring to an affair of which she was thought to know something.—I tell you it was not so pleasant for a little boy of impressible nature to go up to bed in an old gambrel-roofed house, with untenanted, locked upperchambers, and a most ghostly garret,— with the “ Devil’s footsteps” in the fields behind the house, and in front of it the patched dormitory where the unexplained occurrence had taken place which startled those godless youths at their mock devotions, so that one of them was an idiot from that day forward, and another, after a dreadful season of mental conflict, took holy orders and became renowned for his ascetic sanctity.
There were other circumstances that kept up the impression produced by these two singular facts I have just mentioned. There was a dark storeroom, on looking through the keyhole of which, I could dimly see a heap of chairs and tables, and other four-footed things, which seemed to me to have rushed in there, frightened, and in their fright to have huddled together and climbed up on each other’s backs,—as the people did in that awful crush where so many were killed, at the execution of Holloway and Haggerty. Then the Lady s portrait, up-stairs, with the sword-thrusts through it,—marks of the British officers’ rapiers,—and the tall mirror in which they used to look at their red coats,—confound them for smashing its mate!—and the deep, cunninglywrought arm-chair in which Lord Percy used to sit while his hair was dressing;— he was a gentleman, and always had it covered with a large peignoir, to save the silk covering my grandmother embroidered. Then the little room down-stairs, from which went the orders to throw up a bank of earth on the hill yonder, where you may now observe a granite obelisk, —“ the study,” in my father’s time, but in those days the council-chamber of armed men,—sometimes filled with soldiers;—come with me, and I will show you the “ dents ” left by the butts of their muskets all over the floor.—With all these suggestive objects round me, aided by the wild stories those awful country-boys that came to live in our service brought with them, —of contracts written in blood and left out over night, not to be found tbe next morning, — removed by tbe Evil One, who takes his nightly round among our dwellings, and filed away for future use, — of dreams coming true,—of death-signs,—of apparitions,— no wonder that my imagination got excited, and I was liable to superstitious fancies.
Jeremy Bentliam’s logic, by which he proved that he couldn’t possibly see a ghost, is all very well—in the day-time. All the reason in the world will never get those impressions of childhood, created by just such circumstances as I have been telling, out of a man’s bead. That is the only excuse I have to give for the nervous kind of curiosity with which I watch my little neighbor, and the obstinacy with which I lie awake whenever I hear anything going on in his chamber after midnight.
But whatever further observations I may have made must be deferred for the present. You will see in what way it happened that my thoughts were turned from spiritual matters to bodily ones, and how I got my fancy full of material images,—faces, heads, figures, muscles, and so forth,—in such a way that I should have no chance in this number to gratify any curiosity you may feel, if I had the means of so doing.
Indeed, I have come pretty near omitting my periodical record this time. It was all the work of a friend of mine, who would have it that I should sit to him for my portrait. When a soul draws a body in the great lottery of life, where every one is sure of a prize, such as it is, the said soul inspects the said body with the same curious interest with which one who has ventured into a “ gift enterprise ” examines the “massive silver pencil-case” with the coppery smell and impressible tube, or the “ splendid gold ring ” with the questionable specific gravity, which it has been his fortune to obtain in addition to his purchase.
The soul, having studied the article of which it finds itself proprietor, thinks, after a time, it knows it pretty well. But there is this difference between its view and that of a person looking at us:— we look from within, and see nothing but the mould formed by the elements in which we are incased; other observers look from without, and see us as living statues. To be sure, by the aid of mirrors, we get a few glimpses of our outside aspect; but this occasional impression is always modified by that look of the soul from within outward which none but ourselves can take. A portrait is apt, therefore, to be a surprise to us. The artist looks only from without. He sees us, too, with a hundred aspects on our faces we are never likely to see. No genuine expression can be studied by the subject of it in the looking-glass.
More than this; he sees us in a way in which many of our friends or acquaintances never see us. Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend. For, in the first place, each puts a special reflection of himself upon us, on the principle of assimilation referred to in my last record, if you happen to have read that document. And secondly, each of our friends is capable of seeing just so far, and no farther, into our face, and each sees in it the particular thing that he looks for. Now the artist, if he is truly an artist, does not take any one of these special views. Suppose he should copy you as you appear to the man who wants your name to a subscription-list, you could hardly expect a friend who entertains you to recognize the likeness to the smiling face which sheds its radiance at his board. Even within your own family, I am afraid there is a face which the rich uncle knows, that is not so familiar to the poor relation. The artist must take one or the other, or something compounded of the two, or something different from either. What the daguerreotype and photograph do is to give the features and one particular look, the very look which kills all expression, that of self-consciousness. The artist throws you off your guard, watches you in movement and in repose, puts your face through its exercises, observes its transitions, and so gets the whole range of its expression. Out of all this he forms an ideal portrait, which is not a copy of your exact look at any one time or to any particular person. Such a portrait cannot be to everybody what the ungloved call “ as nat’ral as life.” Every good picture, therefore, must be considered wanting in resemblance by many persons.
There is one strange revelation which comes out, as the artist shapes your features from his outline. It is that you resemble so many relatives to whom you yourself never had noticed any particular likeness in your countenance.
He is at work at me now, when I catch some of these resemblances, thus:—
There! that is just the look my father used to have sometimes; I never thought I had a sign of it. The mother’s eyebrow and grayish-blue eye, those I knew I had. But there is a something which recalls a smile that faded away from my sister’s lips—how many years ago! I thought it so pleasant in her, that I love myself better for having a trace of it.
Are we not young? Are. we not fresh and blooming? Wait a bit. The artist takes a mean little brush and draws three fine lines, diverging outwards from the eye over the temple. Five years.—The artist draws one tolerably distinct and two faint lines, perpendicularly between the eyebrows. Ten years.—The artist breaks up the contours round the mouth, so that they look a little as a hat does that has been sat upon and recovered itself, ready, as one would say, to crumple up again in the same creases, on smiling or other change of feature.— Hold on ! Stop that! Give a young fellow a chance! Are we not whole years short of that interesting period of life when Mr. Balzac says that a man, etc., etc., etc. ?
There now! That is ourself, as we look after finishing an article, getting a three-mile pull with the ten-foot sculls, redressing the wrongs of the toilet, and standing with the light of hope in our eye and the reflection of a red curtain on our cheek. Is he not a POET that painted us?
“ Blest be the art that can immortalize! ”
—Young folks look on a face as a unit; children who go to school with any given little John Smith see in his name a distinctive appellation, and in his features as special and definite an expression of his sole individuality as if he were the first created of his race. As soon as we are old enough to get the range of three or four generations well in hand, and to take in large family histories, we never see an individual in a face of any stock we know, but a mosaic copy of a pattern, with fragmentary tints from this and that ancestor. The analysis of a face into its ancestral elements requires that it should be examined in the very earliest infancy, before it has lost that ancient and solemn look it brings with it out of the past eternity; and again in that brief space when Life, the mighty sculptor, has done his work, and Death, his silent servant, lifts the veil and lets us look at the marble lines he has wrought so faithfully ; and lastly, while a painter who can seize all the traits of a countenance is building it up, feature after feature, from the slight outline to the finished portrait.
—I am satisfied, that, as we grow older, we learn to look upon our bodies more and more as a temporary possession, and less and less as identified with ourselves. In early years, while the child “feels its life in every limb,” it lives in the body and for the body to a very great extent. It ought to be so. There have been many very interesting children who have shown a wonderful indifference to the things of earth and an extraordinary development of the spiritual nature. There is a perfect literature of their biographies, all alike in their essentials; the same “ disinclination to the usual amusements of childhood” ; the same remarkable sensibility; the same docility; the same conscientiousness; in short, an almost uniform character, marked by beautiful traits, which we look at with a painful admiration. It will be found that most of these children are the subjects of some constitutional unfitness for living, the most frequent of which I need not mention. They are like the beautiful, blushing, halt-grown fruit that falls before its time because its core is gnawed out. They have their meaning,—they do not live in vain,—but they are windfalls. I am convinced that many healthy children are injured morally by being forced to read too much about these little meek sufferers and their spiritual exercises. Here is a boy that loves to run, swim, kick football, turn somersets, make faces, whittle, fish, tear his clothes, coast, gkate, fire crackers, blow squash “ tooters,” cut his name on fences, read about Robinson Crusoe and Sinbad the Sailor, eat the widest-angled slices of pie and untold cakes and candies, crack nuts with his back teeth and bite out the better part of another boy’s apple with his front ones, turn up coppers, “ stick ” knives, call names, throw stones, knock off hats, set mousetraps, chalk doorsteps, “ cut behind” anything on wheels or runners, whistle through his teeth, “ holler ” Fire! on slight evidence, run after soldiers, patronize an engine-company, or, in his own words, “blow for tub No. 11," or whatever it may be ;—isn’t that a pretty nice sort of a boy, though he has not got anything the matter with him that takes the taste of this world out ? Now, when you put into such a hot-blooded, hardfisted, round-cheeked little rogue’s hand a sad-looking volume or pamphlet, with the portrait of a thin, white-faced child, whose life is really as much a training for death as the last month of a condemned criminal's existence, what does he find in common between his own overflowing and exulting sense of vitality and the experiences of the doomed offspring of invalid parents? The time comes when we have learned to understand the music of sorrow, the beauty of resigned suffering, the holy light that plays over the pillow of those who die before their time, in humble hope and trust. But it is not until he has worked his way through the period of honest, hearty animal existence, which every robust child should make the most of,—not until he has learned the use of his various faculties, which is his first duty,—that a boy of courage and animal vigor is in a proper state to read these tearful records of premature decay. I have no doubt that disgust is implanted in the minds of many healthy children by early surfeits of pathological piety. I do verily believe, that He who took children in His arms and blessed them loved the healthiest and most playful of them just as well as those who were richest in the tuberculous virtues. I know what I am talking about, and there are more parents in this country who will be willing to listen to what I say than there are fools to pick a quarrel with me. In the sensibility and the sanctity which often accompany premature decay I see one of the most, beautiful instances of the principle of compensation which marks the Divine benevolence. But to get, the spiritual hygiene of robust natures out of the exceptional regimen of invalids is just simply what we Professors call “bad practice”; and I know by experience that there are worthy people who not only try it on their own children, but actually force it on those of their neighbors.
—Having been photographed, and stereographed, and chromatographed, or done in colors, it only remained to be phrenologized. A polite note from Messrs. Bumpus and Crane, requesting our attendance at their Physiological Emporium, was too tempting to be resisted. We repaired to that scientific Golgotha.
Messrs. Bumpus and Crane are arranged on the plan of the man and the woman in the toy called a “ weather-house,” both on the same wooden arm suspended on a pivot,—so that when one comes to the door, the other retires backwards, and vice versâ. The more particular speciality of one is to lubricate your entrance and exit,—that of the other to polish you off phrenologically in the recesses of the establishment. Suppose yourself in a room full of casts and pictures, before a counter-full of books with taking titles. I wonder if the picture of the brain is there, “ approved ” by a noted Phrenologist, which was copied from my. the Professor’s, folio plate in the work of Gall and Spurzheim. An extra convolution, No. 9, Destructiveness, according to the list beneath, which was not to he seen in the plate, itself a copy of Nature, was very liberally supplied by the artist, to meet the wants of the catalogue of “organs.” Professor Bumpus is seated in front of a row of women,—horn-combers and gold-headers, or somewhere about that range of life,—looking so credulous, that, if any Second-Advent Miller or Joe Smith should come along, he could string the whole lot of them on his cheapest lie, as a boy strings a dozen “shiners” on a stripped twig of willow.
The Professor (meaning ourselves) is in a hurry, as usual ; let the horn-combers wait,—he shall be bumped without inspecting the antechamber.
Tape round the head,—22 inches. (Come on, old 23 inches, if you think you are the better man !)
Feels of thorax and arm, and nuzzles round among muscles as those horrid old women poke their fingers into the salt-meat on the provision-stalls at the Quincy Market. Vitality, No. 5 or 6, or something or other. Victuality, (organ at epigastrium,) some other number equally significant.
Mild champooing of head now commences. Extraordinary revelations! Cupidiphilons, 6! Hymeniphilous, 6+! Paediphilous, 5 ! Deipniphilous, 6 ! Gelasmiphilous, 6 ! Musikiphilous, 5 ! Uraniphilous, 5! Glossiphilous, 8!! and so on. Meant for a linguist.—Invaluable information. Will invest in grammars and dictionaries immediately.—I have nothing against the grand total of my phrenological endowments.
I never set great store by my head, and did not think Messrs. Bumpus and Crane would give me so good a lot of organs as they did, especially considering that I was a dead-head on that occasion. Much obliged to them for their politeness. They have been useful in their way by calling attention to important physiological facts(This concession is due to our immense bump of Candor.)
A short Lecture on Phrenology, read to the Boarders at our Breakfast-Table.
I shall begin, my friends, with the definition of a Pseudo-science. A Pseudoscience consists of a nomenclature, with a self-adjusting arrangement, by which all positive evidence, or such as favors its doctrines, is admitted, and all negative evidence, or such as tells against it, is excluded. It is invariably connected with some lucrative practical application. Its professors and practitioners are usually shrewd people ; they are very serious with the public, but wink and laugh a good deal among themselves. The believing multitude consists of women of both sexes, feeble-minded inquirers, poetical optimists, people who always get cheated in buying horses, philanthropists who insist on hurrying up the millennium, and others of this class, with here and there a clergyman, less frequently a lawyer, very rarely a physician, and almost never a horse-jockey or a member ot the detective police.—I did not say that Phrenology was one of the Pseudo-Scienees.
A Pseudo-science does not necessarily consist wholly of lies. It may contain many truths, and even valuable ones. The rottenest bank starts with a little specie. It puts out a thousand promises to pay on the strength of a single dollar, but the dollar is very commonly a good one. The practitioners of the Pseudosciences know that common minds, after they have been baited with a real fact or two, will jump at the merest rag of a lie, or even at the bare hook. When we have one fact found us, we are very apt to supply the next out of our own imagination. ( How many persons can read Judges xv. 16 correctly the first time?) The Pseudo-sciences take advantage of this.—I did not say that it was so with Phrenology.
I have rarely met a sensible man who would not allow that there was something in Phrenology. A broad, high forehead, it is commonly agreed, promises intellect; one that is “ villanous low” and has a huge hind-head back of it, is wont to mark an animal nature. I have as rarely met an unbiassed and sensible man who really believed in the bumps. It is observed, however, that persons with what the Phrenologists call “good heads” are more prone than others toward plenary belief in the doctrine.
It is so hard to prove a negative, that, if a man should assert that the moon was in truth a green cheese, formed by the coagnlable substance of the Milky Way, arid challenge me to prove the contrary, I might be puzzled. But if he offer to sell me a ton of this lunar cheese, I call on him to prove the truth of the caseous nature of our satellite, before I purchase.
It is not necessary to prove the falsity of the phrenological statement. It is only necessary to show that its truth is not proved, and cannot be, by the common course of argument. The walls of the head are double, with a great air-chamber between them, over the smallest and most closely crowded “ organs.” Can you tell how much money there is in a safe, which also has thick double walls, by kneading its knobs with your fingers ? So when a man fumbles about my forehead, and talks about the organs of Individuality, Size, etc., I trust him as much as I should if he felt of the outside of my strong-box and told me that there was a five-dollaror a ten-dollar-bill under this or that particular rivet. Perhaps there is; only he doesn’t know anything about it. But this is a point that I, the Professor, understand, my friends, or ought to, certainly, better than you do. The next argument you will all appreciate.
I proceed, therefore, to explain the self-adjusting mechanism of Phrenology, which is very similar to that of the Pseudo-sciences. An example will show it most conveniently.
A. is a notorious thief. Messrs. Bumpus and Crane examine him and find a good-sized organ of Acquisitiveness. Positive fact for Phrenology. Casts and drawings of A. are multiplied, and the bump does not lose in the act of copying.—I did not say it gained.—What do you look so for ? (to the boarders.)
Presently B. turns up, a bigger thief than A. But B. has no bump at all over Acquisitiveness. Negative fact ; goes against Phrenology.—Not a bit of it. Don’t you see how small Conscientiousness is ? That’s the reason B. stole.
And then comes C., ten times as much a thief as either A. or B.,— used to steal before he was weaned, and would pick one of his own pockets and put its contents in another, if he could find no other way of committing petty larceny. Unfortunately, C, has a hollow, instead of a bump, over Acquisitiveness. Ah, but just look and see what a bump of Alimentiveness! Did not C. buy nuts and gingerbread, when a boy, with the money he stole ? Of course you see why he is a thief, and how his example confirms our noble science.
At last comes along a case which is apparently a settler, for there is a little brain with vast and varied powers,—a case like that of Byron, for instance. Then comes out the grand reserve-reason which covers everything and renders it simply impossible ever to comer a Phrenologist. “ It is not the size alone, but the quality of an organ, which determines its degree of power.”
Oh! oh! I see.—The argument may be briefly stated thus by the Phrenologist : “ Heads I win, tails you lose.” Well, that’s convenient.
It must be confessed that Phrenology has a certain resemblance to the Pseudosciences. I did not say it was a Pseudoscience.
I have often met persons who have been altogether struck up and amazed at the accuracy with which some wandering Professor of Phrenology had read their characters written upon their skulls. Of course the Professor acquires his information. solely through bis cranial inspections and manipulations.—What are you laughing at ? (to the boarders).—But let us just suppose, for a moment, that a tolerably cunning fellow, who did not know or care anything about Phrenology, should open a shop and undertake to read off people’s characters at fifty cents or a dollar apiece. Let us see how well he could get along without the “ organs.”
I will suppose myself to set up such a shop. I would invest one hundred dollars, more or less, in casts of brains, skulls, charts, and other matters that would make the most show for the money. That would do to begin with. I would then advertise myself as the celebrated Professor Brainey, or whatever name I might choose, and wait for my first customer. My first customer is a middle-aged man. I look at him,—ask him a question or two, so as to hear him talk. When I have got the hang of him, I ask him to sit down, and proceed to fumble his skull, dictating as follows:—
SCALE FROM 1 TO 10.
LIST OF FACULTIES FOR CUSTOMER.
PRIVATE NOTES FOR MY PUPIL:
Each to be accompanied with a wink.
Most men love the conflicting sex, and all men love to be told they do.
Don’t you see that he has burst off his lowest waistcoat-button with feeding,—hey ?
Of course. A middle-aged Yankee.
Hat well brushed, Hair ditto. Mark the effect of that plus sign.
His face shows that.
That’ll please him.
That fraction looks first-rate.
Has laughed twice since he came in.
That sounds well.
Form, Size, Weight, Color, Locality, Eventuality, etc., } 4 to 6. Average everything that can’t be guessed. etc., )
And so of the other faculties.
Of course, you know, that isn’t the way the Phrenologists do. They go only by the bumps.—What do you keep laughing so for ? (to the boarders.) I only said that is the way I should practise “ Phrenology” for a living.
End of my Lecture.
-The Reformers have good heads, generally. Their faces are commonly serene enough, and they are lambs in private intercourse, even though their voices may be like
The wolf’s long howl from Oonalaska's shore,
when heard from the platform. Their greatest spiritual danger is from the perpetual flattery of abuse to which they are exposed. These lines are meant to caution them.
SAINT ANTHONY THE REFORMER.
No fear lest praise should make us proud!
We know how cheaply that is won;
The idle homage of the crowd
Is proof of tasks as idly done.
A surface-smile may pay the toil
That follows still the conquering Right,
With soft, white hands to dress the spoil
That sunbrowned arms have clutched in fight.
Sing the sweet song of other days,
Serenely placid, safely true,
And o'er the present’s parching ways
Thy verse distils like evening dew.
But speak in words of living power,—
They fall like drops of scalding rain
That plashed before the burning shower
Swept o’er the cities of the plain!
Then scowling Hate turns deadly pale,—
Then Passion’s half-coiled adders spring,
And, smitten through their leprous mail,
Strike right and left in hope to sting.
If thou, unmoved by poisoning wrath,
Thy feet on earth, thy heart above,
Canst walk in peace thy kingly path,
Unchanged in trust, unchilled in love,—
Too kind for bitter words to grieve,
Too firm for clamor to dismay,
When Faith forbids thee to believe,
And Meekness calls to disobey,—
Ah,then beware of mortal pride!
The smiling pride that calmly scorns
Those foolish fingers, crimson dyed
In laboring on thy crown of thorns!