WHO made all the old saws? — not the rusty steel affairs that Patrick and John ply upon Down-East fire-wood at our back doors,—but those sharp-pointed, trenchant ones that philosophers love to draw across the hearts of men. cutting, tearing, grinding away, till the fibre of their being quivers under the remorseless teeth. Many were forged, we all know, in the celebrated workshop of W. Shakspeare ; other particularly fine-toothed ones were pointed by a French artisan named Rochefoucauld ; and many more, bright and lucent, are borrowed—reverently be it spoken! — from that grand arsenal of truth and power built by the hands of the great holy men of holy times. But who made the many tough old blades which have a temper that outlives time, — whose rugged points have never lost a whit of their keenness, after having torn their way through human bosoms, been hung up and taken down again for centuries, and never a maker’s name upon them ?
Going by a little squalid old house, some nights ago, I saw a light in a ground-floor window ; and peeping in, — my name is not Tom, nor was it any Godiva I was espying, but I could not help a sort of curiosity to see what that eleven-o’clock light might exhibit, — I saw a pale face, and a thin, bent form. Soft hair was parted from a white brow, and fell in ringlets upon a shabby dress. Eyes, that might have shone with bewitching brilliancy in certain parlors I know of, were sadly and intently fixed upon the quick-drawn needle which the thin fingers were assiduously and wearily plying. The light came from a halfburnt candle. —No, Mrs. Grundy, your friend Asmodeus did not knock nor go in ; but he thought of you, although you were at that moment virtuously bestowed, with matronly grace, in curtained slumbers. Asmodeus looked, and beheld, through a hole in the curtain, an old, rusty saw crunching away across that poor, desolate, weary heart, Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle.—“ Stop, stop, father!” cries Asmodeus, Jr. “What does that mean ?”—Why, my dear boy, that is the saw which was tearing the poor woman’s heart. The words mean, in plain English, “ The play is not worth the candle.” In ancient days folks did not have big glass chandeliers, all sparkling with gas. The Asmodei of old did not turn up, or down, or out, the luminaries which bathed them in midnight brilliancy. They snuffed them. When the old French kings danced minuets with their most virtuous and respected maids of honor on private stages, they were enlivened by tallow flames. They had no quarterly bills for so many feet of light; for they bought it by the pound. When Monsieur Deuse-Ace rattled the dice or shuffled the cards with Signor Double-Six, he looked for luck, not at a patent safety-burner, but at the stranger in the flickering candle - flame. Now sometimes M. Deuse-Ace came out of that rattling and shuffling with an empty purse, and, when called on to pay for the tallow, he swore, like a bad man as he was, that the play was not worth the candle. So I think that famous old saw must have been made by some unhappy Murad who was unlucky in turning up small numbers or having dealt to him cards considerably below kings,— though knaves were his constant companions. But this elegant English, figlio mio, may be more idiomatically rendered, perhaps, in the language of the day, thus : — It does n’t pay ! Paying is the touchstone nowadays to which everything is brought, from the stock of the great Beaugous Bootjack Company to the great Rebellion of 1861.
Well, there sat the poor woman,— you see, Mrs. Grundy, that she was no Godiva, nor I a peeping Tom. My eyesight is good yet, — and I could see that old saw deep in her sad, trembling bosom. No ! that jeu was a bad one. She had lost her youth, her happiness, her all, on the tapis vert of human life. It had turned up noir when it should have come rouge, and the candle was to pay for. Do you know what strain of music came sadly on my ear, and how I felt when I saw that the horrible old saw was keeping time to it ? It was a little song of Hood's. You know it. Many know it. She knew it, ah, too well! She knew it by heart.
Now candles are stuck in all sorts of sticks: golden branches, silver arms, brass stands, tin cups, bottles, wooden blocks, potatoes, and turnips. We all have seen candles and candelabras ; and if we don’t employ them as corks for our empty bottles, why, John puts them into the last new chimney ornament, and we have to pay for them when the play is over. Skinflint is a nice man,— pious and genteel, a good father, husband, etc. He made money in that famous Rotten-Iron Company, which paid the original purchasers cent per cent, and then, some how or other, passed off from the stock list. He was largely concerned in the well-known Cheetamall Copper Company, which gave the first block-takers such a great profit, but has not been quoted lately,— is not worked, probably. He took a fabulous sum out of that celebrated corner in the Greenipluck Lead Company. Mr. S. drives his span, goes to Newport in the summer, is conspicuous at the opera, and loves to see Mrs. S. in gorgeous array. What more would you have ? Does Skinflint ever think his candle is snuffy or burns dimly ? Does he like that great red eye which gleams out of the flame, as though it foretold an unwelcome guest ? Could it be young Spooney, who was ruined in that Rotten-Iron affair? or his friend Shallow, who was induced to borrow privately of his employers in hopes of making a fortune in the Cheetamall Copper ; but lost both fortune and name thereby ? Might it be the dying glare of his friend Needy, who hung himself after the Greenipluck exposé, which reduced him to beggary ? Or is it the eye of Society which he knows looks on his span, and his Newport house, and his wife's jewels, with the flash of contempt? How is it, Mrs. Grundy? which candle is best to sit beside,— Mr. Skinflint's, or the one you thought shone on a Godiva I was spying ? Do you think S.’s candle is really worth the price ?
And there is your friend, Miss Freemanners, — you are shocked that I mention her name to you, are you ? Why, she used to be your childhood’s companion; but since she has taken to gentlemen’s society in particular, you don't notice her, and are struck with virtuous indignation when Grundy nods to her in the street. Surely Miss F. dresses beautifully and is handsome as a picture, and is much sought after by gentlemen of doubtful nicety in the choice of female friends. She leads a jolly life, certainly ; for she rides in an elegant barouche, has nothing to do, no household cares to vex her, no pork to boil, no potatoes to peel, and has genuine wax candles in the private boudoir where she receives those not over-nice gentlemen. What more could feminine heart wish ? You don’t know her now. Mrs. Asmodeus, kind-hearted as she is, declines to recognize her; and even Mr. A. himself does not care to be seen under circumstances which might imply acquaintance. But what does Miss F. care for this ? She is brilliant, and admired by plenty of people, — such as they are. And yet do you know that I question whether, at times, when she sits alone in that boudoir, and thinks how her old friend Mrs. Grundy gives her the cut direct, how the companions of her innocent youth all look coldly and sternly on her, how that costly mirror tells her that her beauty is beginning to fade, the thought of the future does not come over her like the rasp of an old saw under her white bosom ? and whether she does not ask herself if the play is worth the price of those real wax candles ? and whether they will shed light and cheer upon her as they burn down, and she might not have been happier with tallow and purity ? Queen Mary must have put some such questions to herself in Lochleven Castle ; and Cleopatra never would have got that serpent for the purpose she did, without some such thoughts. I imagine that St. Helena must have known of long and wearisome calculations on the cost of the game which ended there ; and difficult must have been their reconcilement to the price paid for the brilliant light which there died out.
Look into that dark and dreary cell, my boy ! There is a rough, coarse, brutal man, pondering over his past life. He will be hung to-morrow. Would you ever suppose that man was once a smooth-faced, bright little fellow like you ? Do you see any signs of a mother’s tender caress on his sullen brow ? Does it look as though it had ever been held up close and lovingly to a fond woman’s heart? Are there any remains of that clear, pure light which once looked out innocently from those bloodshot eyes ? All this was so once. What does he think of now ? Is he acting over the dark deed which brought him into this uninviting sleeping-place ? Does he see that silent chamber into which a guilty man is stealing, with crime in his heart, _no, not in his heart; for he has none ! — but in his thoughts, and remorseless ferocity to execute it? Does he see the gigantic shadows cast on the walls around by the miserable candle he holds? the still face of the sleeper ? and does he hear the smothered groan and the bubbling sigh ? Does he see in his hand the paltry metal which he has secured, and hear his own hurried, flying steps ? Or is he counting the cost of that light which showed him where to strike ? Is he making that never-ending computation, — throwing into one scale innocence, happiness, manhood, love. life, and into the other a miserable candleend ? My boy, you and I will get a slate and pencil before we go into such a chandlery operation !
Why do I tell such horrible stories ? — My dear, sweet, tender-hearted Mrs. G., people commit murder every day: I mean polite, fashionable murder. They give a stab at your reputation and mine, and smile sweetly all the while. They watch and wait till our backs are turned, and then they whip out their long tongues, and — have at you ! Your good name is so mercilessly hacked, cut, slashed, and gashed, that there is scarcely enough fair outside left to recognize you by. They swear that your most innocent and gentle pastime is the abomination of decent people ; and, with that happy faculty of judging others by themselves,—a mark of broad, comprehensive minds, — they run up a list of grievances, among which swindling and adultery are common trifles. Peeping out from their hole in the curtain, swelling with the nobleness of their occupation, and filled with honest indignation at your goings on, they see, with a clairvoyance which puts Hume in the background, all the errors of omission and commission your guilty hands and hearts achieve. To be sure, they back them like a whale or neck them like a camel, according to the exuberance of their imagination, or the strength of their ill-will, or the innate suspicion of their natures. But when your broad back is towards them, they whet those sharp tongues against each other, and—thug ! you have them under your fifth rib, and out at the other side. Well, perhaps you, Mrs. G., have used such a weapon. Perhaps, when you found out how innocent the poor victim was, you may have been rewarded by a scrape of that old saw across your conscience, and the smoke of the smouldering wick may have smelled nauseous to you. — You never did ? Well, I am glad of it, Mrs. G., because, I assure you, that fogo must be a sickening one to carry about under one’s nose.
But if you object to the horrible, I will gently slide into the pathetic and melancholic. There is our friend Atticus,—I call him so in public, because it would not do to name Brown right out, when telling his private griefs. Atticus, when he read a book lately, having “A man married is a man marred” for a motto, smiled a grim smile, and muttered audibly, “ Mrs. Atticus is charming, is n’t she ? — pretty and nice and neat. Why should n't Atticus be the happiest man in the world? You say that everybody thinks he is. Ah, yes ! that’s because everybody behind the blinds or beside the curtains does n't see the real things that go wrong. — only the imaginary ones.” Atticus, when all alone in his library, with no holes in the curtains, might tell a different story. He might tell of a desolate heart, a solitary intellect, — hopes, dreams, buried. He might ask himself the use of lifting the mind above the level of common things, — of hoping to carry another one with him in equal companionship, — of allowing the vulgarities of life to become disgusting,— and of striving for a clearer, brighter, loftier sphere. Why refine the thoughts, elevate the aspirations, and broaden the heart, till the nature shrinks from contact with commonplaces, and shudders at the coarse touch of worldly tongues ? You see that Atticus uses broad generalities, and never once individualizes Mrs. Atticus. And if Mrs. Atticus were to steal down stairs in her night-gown, he would be ever so kind and gentle, and playfully tell her she would catch cold, that she had not enough clothing on, that the season was raw, that the mercury stood at thirty, that it would snow to-morrow, etc., etc. And when Mrs. Atticus retreated to her warm bed, he might look round on the weighty volumes, and their wealth of lore, and think how he trod the path they pointed out in solitary silence ; and then, as he passed up stairs, a great, coarse rasp might make his fine-strung nerves quiver, and he might look at the candle he carried and it would suggest to him the old Gallic saw which had just given him the spasm. So you see that the curtains and peepholes had never discovered the price-current of the Atticus brand of candles.
Nobody knows where some folks buy or burn their candles. Some people keep them in closets when they do not find it convenient to procure well-mounted skeletons. There is Mrs. Hidehart, —you know whom I mean, —when she was a blooming young girl, she fell in love with the Colonel, and, like a foolish thing as she was, she poured out all the wealth of her affection upon him, as if the cruse had a magic power of recuperation. Well, the Colonel turned out to be a rotten one ; and bitter was the taste in the poor girl’s mouth for many a day ! By-and-by, when she thought she had washed it well out, and when Sm—, (was I going to say Smith ? No!) when Hidehart came along and bent and begged and prayed for her, she said “Yes ! ” as she might have assented to an invitation to hear Patti. Well, that sort of thing don't answer in the long run. It is all very well to have love without money ; but money without love is another matter. Mr. Hidehart turned out worse than the Colonel ; for he was stupid, vulgar, and mean. And she was so nice, so delicate, so bright, so intellectual ! Oh, what hours of bitter regret, what biting of lips, what flushes of shame, what heart-shocks that stopped the life-blood, and — well, truth must out—what caressing memories of the young hero who first leaped over her young love's ramparts ! what loathing of the sensual lout who had been carelessly suffered to take command of the fortress! — Why, Mr. Asmodeus ! you don’t mean my friend, Mrs. Smith! — Did I mention any such name? No, Mrs. Grundy, I mean Mrs. Hidehart, a mild, patient, smiling wife. But, up in a little corner closet of her chamber, she keeps, not a skeleton, — for those are shocking things to lie near a lady’s slumbers, they are bad enough in the shape of crinoline, — but a candle ; and when she is very much tried, she sits all alone there by its flickering light, and thinks. What a life's fortune she has paid for the privilege ! and how fortunate that the Colonel does n’t come back reformed !
The Quaker poet of New England, who has written one of the most beautiful things in the language, has hit off our friends Atticus and Hidehart most admirably. He was not personally acquainted with them ; and so he has invested them with a tender, imaginative romance, and made the one a barefooted lass and the other a grave judge. Did you ever read it, Mrs. Grundy? It is called “Maud Muller”; and Asmodeus would buy a gross of the best wax lights, if he could get a quarter of the illumination out of them which shone on the pen that traced those lines.
Why, Mr. Asmodeus, you frighten me! What! Mr. Brown and Mrs. Smith ? — My dear Madam, I mentioned no names, did I ? But you may be sure that expensive candles are burned in houses where you think gas only is used. How do you know how Jones lights his house ? I don’t mean the parlor, where you and Mrs. Asmodeus display the family jewels on grand occasions, and where Mrs. Jones exhibits the splendor of her beauty and the radiance of her smiles. That is gas,— bright, beaming, brilliant gas. What else should irradiate the loving tenderness which unites Mr. and Mrs. Jones on such occasions ? You don’t suppose that Jones is goose enough to show his decayed home-grown fruit to you, when he invites you to sup with him in that frescoed dining-room ? He picks out the rosy-cheeks for your entertainment; and the sour grapes, the spotted pomes, the mildewed berries are tucked away up-stairs. Now you are not invited into that store-room. You are, in fact, jealously kept out of it. Let us creep round the corner and look up at that window, now the company is all gone. You see a light there, don’t you ? Do you know what is burning ? Is it gas, or oil, or kerosene, or spermaceti, or wax, or tallow ? You will never know, Mrs. G. ; for Jones trims that light himself. Bridget never saw it yet. Strange, is n't it, that Jones, a rich man, with plenty of servants, should humble himself to such a menial occupation ? My own impression is, that he uses a candle in that room, and has paid so high a price for it that he does n't dare to trust any one else with it.
There are many such lighted windows ; and who knows the game that is going on behind the curtain ? Valent-ils la chandelle ? When Pinxit looks around on the accumulating canvases gathering dust in his unfrequented studio, and thinks of the dreams which gave fairy tints to his palette, that none else could perceive, — when he feels that his genius is unacknowledged, and his toil in vain,—when he sees Dorb’s crudities in every window, and Dorb’s praises in the “Art-Journals,” while Pinxit is starving unknown,—does n’t he take down the old saw from his easel, and try its edge over his proud, swelling heart ? When Scripsit, who has dipped his pen in his soul to inscribe those glowing lines which were to bear him up and set him across the golden spire of the pinnacle of Fame, and whose fine frenzy has as yet given him but a scurvy mundane support, — when Scripsit brings home his modest rasher, and finds, on unfolding it, that it is wrapped in the unsold sheets of his last lyric. — does n’t he think that the tallow which helped him to pen the thoughts in the midnight watches was the costliest of feu sacré? When Senator Patriota sits brooding over the speech which has carried the opposition against him, and sees his honorable friend slipping into the place he has manœuvred for at the expense of manliness, truth, consistency, and honesty, does he not conjugate the verb valoir negatively ? When Madame Favorita has made her last curtsy for the night behind the foot-lights, has thrown off her tawdry frippery, and sits in her lonely chamber, glowering at the image of the young rival who has won all the applause,— when she bemoans her waning charms and the wearisome life which has lost its sparkle, and sees its emptiness and hollowness,—does she not look wistfully at that little flame which flickers on her hollowing cheek, from which the stage-blush has been washed, and think the game a losing one ? The Senator lives near by, and that is Madame's room over the way. Did not Cæsar have a candle that he bought of Brutus ? And how many Mesdames have cursed the name of Mademoiselle !
And don’t we, all of us, Mrs. G., take out our French Grammars, and learn, at some period of our lives, to translate that Gallic phrase ? Don't we all get that old saw down and try its teeth on our tender flesh ? When the old friends drop off, and the dear eyes we have loved look strange to us, — when the darling of our hearts is ruthlessly torn away, and we sit in the darkness of the tomb,—when shame for the living lost bows us to the earth in anguish,— when life has become meaningless, and nothing remains to vitalize the monotony of existence, — when we look upon our own past hopes, ambitions, interests, as though they characterized some other being, long since departed, — when the morning light and the evening shade, May’s sweet flowers and November’s yellow leaves, are only the symbols of Time’s weary flight, and awaken neither cheer nor gloom, — do we not all of us hear, in the silence of our hearts, the grating of that blade ? Statues of Memnon are we all. The bright morning sun brings melodious music from our hearts ; the soft, perfumed air bears afar the strains of jocund hope, passionate love, and aspiring faith. But when the shadows fall, the strains lose their sweetness and beauty ; one by one, the rich harmonies change into harsh dissonance, then cease altogether; and the sun sets on a silent form which in the morning sent forth seraphic tones.
My dear boy, let us hope that you and I and all those we love so dearly will always have a bright sun above our earthly horizon to give us cheer, and to light our way, and to bring sweet songs from our hearts. And if it should set in the night of suffering and sorrow, let us guide ourselves by a holier, purer, steadier light than mortal hands can mould or kindle. So pass me those snuffers, and I will put out the candle, and we will go to bed. For all this paper of candle-ends I have collected, Bridget will find our beautiful wax-light scarcely burned ; and, certainly, I think it a very cheap and excellent purchase. N'est-ce pas, mon fils ?