WHAT a vulgar subject?—By no means, my dear Madam ! On the contrary, a most delightful, free and easy, suggestive topic. When the old philosopher enumerated the best old things to burn, drink, etc., he should have specially mentioned old shoes to wear. — John, take away these heavy boots, and bring me my slippers, — my old, loose, easy, comfortable slippers.— There ! They are not handsome, I grant you, Madam. But beauty is only skin-deep, you know ; and when we talk of tanned skin, I assure you its beauty often conceals unloveliness beneath. They are broad and large ; — yes, this foot of mine, which is not particularly handsome in any case, does not look attractive in the old slippers, I acknowledge. Ball would never ask me to sit for a model, nor would Hunt ever wish to paint my pedal proportions, should either see me thus. But — think of the luxury !—My dear Madam, please to put out that elegant little foot of yours, —only the foot,—just as it looks, when you take your afternoon promenade, and all the world admires its beauty. Thank you ! What a bewitching little thing it is ! How that snug little boot fits it like a glove! Why do you shrink so? I scarcely touched it. Oh, it pinches ! I should never dream it ; it looks faultless. Is it possible, that, as you sail along with flowing skirts, the very object which the world admires is the source of exquisite pain ? When Frank used to greet you with an elaborate bow, could it be that the charming smile you returned was half grimace, as you leaned somewhat carelessly on that narrow sole ? I can't tell where it pinches ; but were I permitted to see the soft, tender flesh —— You would never permit it? And so you go along, gracefully holding up those snowy skirts, and showing to the world the lovely outside, while you inwardly wince and groan over every pebble. Don’t you go home, Madam, and hasten to get off that instrument of torture, and luxuriate in the freedom you obtain thereby ? Now Ball and Hunt, when they see those charming little booted beauties, would be enraptured to reproduce them in marble and oils. Yet, after all, are not my old splayfooted slippers much more desirable affairs ? — No? —You are willing to endure the pain, because of the looks. Thank your stars, my dear Madam, that you have the choice, and that, when you get into that nice little boudoir, you can exchange the suffering of show for the comfort of privacy. Did Frank ever know how they pinched ? Did n’t he think, that, when you unlaced them, there came out a tiny, comely foot, as plump and fair as a baby’s ? Frank never knew — till after the wedding — what a squeezing and pinching and doubling and twisting they had undergone, when they were peeping out under the flounces for his special eye. Do you ever wish that you had worn something which had disgusted Frank at the outset? If so, my dear Madam, I would n't exchange my old splay slippers for those No. Twos of yours.
Ah, we bear many sorts of coverings over the long and weary road of life ! I know of a pair of tiny shoes which you have got carefully treasured up in secret. I know how you sometimes take them out and wistfully gaze on the faded, worn, unlovely little things,—worthless to everybody else, but, oh, so dear to you ! I see the trembling tear which you do not care to wipe away, as the image of the little darling who wore them comes up in all its by-gone beauty before you. They will never again be borne toddling to your side. The little feet, once encased therein, will never tread the stony walks of men. They long ago rested on their early march, never to be resumed.—Ah, how many of us would be glad to have buckled on no other than the first sandals of infancy ! How many have fallen into the crevasses of the icy paths they trod! How many have trusted to their bold footing, and fallen, when the step seemed surest, down the treacherous steep !
There is Mademoiselle Joliejambe ;— would one suppose that the pink slippers, which terminate those silk-shod mollets, could be dangerous chaussures ? My dear Madam, they are worse than the torturing boots of the old Spanish Inquisition. Better for her that she stood in a postilion’s jack-boots.—She could never dance in such things? — No ! and therefore were they the better; for no Swiss glacier is so slippery as that gas-lighted stage. She is slipping, Madam, into a terrible abyss, while you and I are gazing, delighted, at her entrechats and pirouettes. She is gliding into a crevasse to which Mont Blanc can furnish none so dread.—What do I mean ? — Ah, my dear Madam, better, a thousand times, that her young mother had stored away the soft little shoes of her infancy to mourn over, as you do over your treasures, than have lived to see her tie on those satin things, which have borne her into the gaze of men for a brief, brilliant while, and arc bearing her on into the flower-brinked snare of ruin!
There is Vanitas over the way; — he once wore just such pigmy affairs. See him walking down the street, treading with a dignified stride, as though he moved a foot above the vulgar pavement. See that poor, tattered wretch approaching. Down goes his coarse heel, crunch, upon the aristocratic toes of our friend ; and observe how Vanitas writhes and limps, as the sudden contact with the lower animal has crushed all his pride and dignity out of him. How gladly would he exchange his costly models of modern skill for the sabots of the meanest peasant! Does n’t he carry those twinges around with him all day, and moralize— if Vanitas is capable of moralizing — upon the danger of fashionable, private corns being trodden on by low, vulgar cowhide ? Now if Vanitas had not cultivated those excrescent sensibilities by assiduous compression, if he had thought more of big brains than little feet, his tattered, cow-
hided friend might have trodden harmlessly on his pedal phalanges. My dear Madam, see to it that Frank groweth not such poor grain. Cowhide is a most useful material, and does much for the world. It treads in the mire, that you and I may walk in cleanliness. It stands in the sodden highway and builds up the dry pathway. It kicks aside the rolling stone, that we may not strike our satined step thereon and fall thereby. Those No. Twos of yours would present but a sorry sight, and the tender charms they cover would be sadly torn and bruised, were it not for the path that it treads out before them. While I sit comfortably in my old slippers, and while you trip gracefully along in those laced beauties, poor, vulgar, soiled cowhide is wearily plodding over the rough, unbroken earth, and knows neither my rest nor your pleasure. I will never look angrily, should I chance to feel its weight. And, Madam, do you look kindly and smilingly—and that costs you nothing, I am sure, without you are a Vanitas in petticoats — on its plain and homely worth.
Yes, we progressively advance through many pedal changes. Master Tommy — with more fortunate parents than you, Madam, for he has worn out many a pair of infantine soles (a bushel, I should think, by the frequency with which Mrs. Asmodeus has insisted on the necessity of a new pair, each one more costly) — now sports his first boots. Even as I now write comes the noisy stamp of those pegged soles in the passage-way, to which I have banished the overproud urchin. It sounds like a man, he says. Why, Grant, when he entered Vicksburg, — and I can imagine no more glowing pride than that hero might have felt on that occasion, — never felt so proud as that same Master Tommy does at this moment, tramping up and down outside my door.—Mrs. A., do take off those glories forthwith, or your first-born will fall before his time by the same sin that the angels did in early days ; and I know you think him above all the angels of heaven. By-and-by Mercury will drop his fluttering pinions, and, when bereft of their buoyant aid, his step-will be heavy and slow. Those winged messengers of delight will be leaden weights on his weary way. When youth and hope, which have borne him so lightly over the rugged earth, shall have lost their plumage, he will stumble at every pebble, and welcome the decline of life’s lull-side, which assists his tardy steps.— Who is Mercury ?— Dear Mrs. A., ’t is only a name for our Tommy, not bestowed by the clergyman who officiated at his baptism.
You thought my subject a very vulgar one. Why, Madam, as it opens upon me, I see all the hopes, dreams, fears, cares, and joys of life passing before me. Do you remember those wedding-slippers of yours ? They were quite unlike these slip-shod things I have perched on the chair before me. When you fitted them on so joyously, and prepared for the journey for which they were put on, — so short, (from your chamber to your parlor,) and yet so long, (from your blooming youth to your wrinkled age,) — did you think they would last the distance through ? They were long ago thrown by. You may have them yet. Some people love to garner up and cherish mementos of the dead ; and dead enough are the tremulous flutterings they then upbore. Long ago buried were the gay-tinted visions of those first days of the journey. Bring them out now, and let us look at them.— Is it possible that you ever thought those old-fashioned things pretty? Can it be that those dingy, shapeless affairs could have borne you up to the empyrean ? My dear Madam, they went with you to the upper circle of joy. Dante must have described just such in some unpublished canto ; and Milton has certainly some account of them in “ Paradise Lost.” Frank thought them the loveliest things he ever beheld, and would kiss them as religiously as ever ardent Catholic did the Papal toe ; and now !——Well, put them away. It does n’t do to examine too closely the relics of departed joys. They have a sad, old-time, faded, shrunken look. They belong to the past, when they had a reality and meaning. Now they are strange and quaint, and the young folks laugh at them. What do they know of the sweet faces, the warm hearts, the dear eyes, that they have outlived, but of which they yet serve as tender memorials ? Put them away. Perhaps we have ourselves outlived the wild emotions, the throbbing joys, the rosy dreams they served to cherish. Perhaps they darken the gloom that has settled over the days since the time when they had a part in the changing scene. — We are talking about your wedding-shoes, among other things, Madam. Is it worth while to put them back again? — Well, give them to Bridget. They have yet a value to her ; and I don’t believe Frank will care.
For Heaven’s sake, Mrs. A., what is the matter ? I will not be disturbed by such outcries, even from your first-born angel. — His boots hurt him? — Come here, little Tommy, and show me the wound that the naughty peg has made. Ah, my dear boy, have you found out so soon that every new delight hides somewhere a new pain ? Where is the peg ?—There ! I have smoothed it away. The parental hand can, as yet, remove from your steps the sharp points which would tear your tender flesh. By-andby it will be powerless for your protection, and the pegs that prick and tear must be crushed out by your own unaided exertions. See to it, my boy, that you do not drive them in yourself, so firmly, so rootedly, that all your efforts to dull them, to break them, to destroy them, are in vain. Do you think that the cobbler alone puts trenchant points in your sole ? Ah, my boy, we oftener plant ourselves the thorns we tread upon ! He can readily remove the pain he has carelessly caused ; but rasp and file can never dull those selfdriven points which rankle in our tortured flesh, each onward step forcing them deeper and deeper in. There are roses in our path, — sweet, blushing roses, •— and we stride over them, intoxicated with their beauty and odor ; we crush out their fragrance with our heedless tread ; we drink in the exciting aroma that rises around our bewildered senses ; and when we have passed on, and awaken from the inebriation, we find that their thorns have pierced through and through, and we limp along on our journey, which permits of no tarrying nor rest. Who has not some peg pricking in his sole ? How many times has Crispin rubbed and rasped over it, and yet there it is, as sharp as though it were just driven in ! Confound the cursed thing ! Bring me another pair ; and now I will step off manfully and free. Hang the fellow, what does he mean ? Here it is again, in the same place, and sharp as ever. Ah, Crispin’s hammer will never flatten it out ! Crispin’s hand never drove it there. Satin and velvet you may wear, and line with softest down ; yet every step you tread will be on that remorseless point ; and the lacerated nerves must quiver to the last. —You don't know what I am talking about. Tommy ? — Pray God, my darling, that you may ever wonder what your father meant, when you were pricked with the peg in your first boots !
My dear Madam, did you ever see Blondin disport himself on a tight-rope ? I once saw him poised over the Niagara rapids ; and I wondered how he could stand there, with the boiling abyss below him, as safe as I stood on the Suspension-Bridge. Well, it was chalk, Madam. Before he commenced his perilous journey, he chalked well his pliant sole. I can assure you that many a fall may be saved us in this world, if we look to it that our soles be well chalked. I should not, of course, allude to any sudden slips that you or I may have made on our treacherous road ; we have, of course, recovered our equilibrium But some soles are very apt to give way. They used to scratch them, in my infancy, to insure uprightness in the wearer. But the maternal scissorpoints are not always at hand. The basket has long been put religiously by, and the busy fingers that once used it have ceased to be plied for our comfort and convenience. Still we must cross the dangerous way, and with untried steps. What is Blondin’s rope to the narrow, uncertain bridge which ever and anon appears before us in the road of life ? What are the yeasty waters of that green river to the deep and dark tide which awaits our fall from the single strand that spans it ? The audience of the world is looking on at our passage, and few among them care for our danger or are interested in our success. Yet there are some. Some hearts are beating high ; some tearful eyes are strained to watch our progress ; some breaths come quickly as we move on ; and some fervent prayers are passionately offered up for our safety. We cannot broaden the bridge ; it hangs poised by the hand of Destiny from shore to shore ; alone and unsupported must we cross, and the shades of night gather around before we reach the friendly foothold beyond. We dare not look back, we cannot turn back ; we must go on, and never tarry an instant. Let us chalk our soles well, then, Maddam, and show to others more timid, more thoughtless, that the frail pathway may be securely trod. Nay, more, let us hew out the pure, white, friendly rock we know of, and make surer the unworn, unfamiliar, unexperienced soles of our brethren with it, that they may travel on, erect and fearless. Let us throw the old shoe after them, that good luck may attend their way.
Ah, we are multifariously shod for the journey of life ! The soft step on the nursery-floor, the joyous bound of the youth’s play-ground, the proud step of self-supporting manhood, the careful tread of timid age,—all have their fitting support. Some glide with slippered lightness through the boudoirs of beauty ; while others press the spurred boot in furious battle. Some saunter along the flowery walks of rural ease ; while others climb, with iron-shod foot, the bold, bare, icy precipice. Some tread, forever, the beaten paths of home ; while others print their feet upon the untrodden wilds of distant lands.
What a journey my old slippers have taken me ; though they have never been off their perch on the chair before me! Ah, Madam, let us hope, that, when we have left them, with all our earthly garb, behind, and they lie in corners, never to be worn by us again, we may soar above the dark, devious ways of mortal life, may sweep on angel-wings through the sun-lit ether, roam stainless and free through the eternal halls of light, and tread with unclad feet the purple clouds of heaven !