The Poet at the Breakfast-Table: V

I FEAR that I have done injustice in my conversation and my report of it to a most worthy and promising young man whom I should be very sorry to injure in any way. Dr. Benjamin Franklin got hold of my account of my visit to him, and complained that I had made too much of the expression he used. He did not mean to say that he thought I was suffering from the rare disease he mentioned, but only that the color reminded him of it. It was true that he had shown me various instruments, among them one for exploring the state of a part by means of a puncture, but he did not propose to make use of it upon my person. In short, I had colored the story so as to make him look ridiculous.

— I am afraid I did,— I said, — but was n’t I colored myself so as to look ridiculous ? I ’ve heard it said that people with the jaundice see everything yellow ; perhaps I saw things looking a little queerly, with that black and blue spot I could n’t account for threatening to make a colored man and brother of me. But I am sorry if I have done you any wrong. I hope you won’t lose any patients by my making a little fun of your meters and scopes and contrivances. They seem so odd to us outside people. Then the idea of being bronzed all over was such an alarming suggestion. But I did not mean to damage your business, which I trust is now considerable, and I shall certainly come to you again if I have need of the services of a physician. Only don’t mention the names of any diseases in English or Latin before me next time. I dreamed about cutis ænea half the night after I came to see you.

Dr. Benjamin took my apology very pleasantly. He did not want to be touchy about it, he said, but he had his way to make in the world, and found it a little hard at first, as most young men did. People were afraid to trust them, no matter how much they knew. One of the old doctors asked him to come in and examine a patient’s heart for him the other day. He went with him accordingly, and when they stood by the bedside, he offered his stethoscope to the old doctor. The old doctor took it and put the wrong end to his ear and the other to the patient’s chest, and kept it there about two minutes, looking all the time as wise as an old owl. Then he, Dr. Benjamin, took it and applied it properly, and made out where the trouble was in no time at all. But what was the use of a young man’s pretending to know anything in the presence of an old owl ? I saw by their looks, he said, that they all thought I used the stethoscope wrong end up, and was nothing but a prentice hand to the old doctor.

— I am much pleased to say that since Dr. Benjamin has had charge of a dispensary district, and been visiting forty or fifty patients a day, I have reason to think he has grown a great deal more practical than when I made my visit to his office. I think I was probably one of his first patients, and that he naturally made the most of me. But my second trial was much more satisfactory. I got an ugly cut from the carving-knife in an affair with a goose of iron constitution in which I came off second best. I at once adjourned with Dr. Benjamin to his small office, and put myself in his hands. It was astonishing to see what a little experience of miscellaneous practice had done for him. He did not ask me any more questions about my hereditary predispositions on the paternal and maternal sides. He did not examine me with the stethoscope or the laryngoscope. He only strapped up my cut, and informed me that it would speedily get well by the “first intention,” — an odd phrase enough, but sounding much less formidable than cutis ænea.

I am afraid I have had something of the French prejudice which embodies itself in the maxim, “young surgeon, old physician.” But a young physician who has been taught by great masters of the profession, in ample hospitals, starts in his profession knowing more than some old doctors have learned in a lifetime. Give him a little time to get the use of his wits in emergencies, and to know the little arts that do so much for a patient’s comfort,—just as you give a young sailor time to get his sealegs on and teach his stomach to behave itself, — and he will do well enough.

The Old Master knows ten times more about this matter and about all the professions, as he does about everything else, than I do. My opinion is that he has studied two, if not three, of these professions in a regular course. I don’t know that he has ever preached, except as Charles Lamb said Coleridge always did, for when he gets the bits in his teeth he runs away with the conversation, and if he only took a text his talk would be a sermon ; but if he has not preached, he has made a study of theology, as many laymen do. I know he has some shelves of medical books in his library, and has ideas on the subject of the healing art. He confesses to having attended law lectures and having had much intercourse with lawyers. So he has something to say on almost any subject that happens to come up. I told him my story about my visit to the young doctor, and asked him what he thought of youthful practitioners in general and of Dr. Benjamin in particular.

I ’ll tell you what, — the Master said,— I know something about these young fellows that come home with their heads full of “science,” as they call it, and stick up their signs to tell people they know how to cure their headaches and stomach-aches. Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man’s upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground-floor. But if a man has n’t got plenty of good common sense, the more science he has the worse for his patient.

— I don’t know that I see exactly how it is worse for the patient, — I said.

— Well, I ’ll tell you, and you ’ll find it’s a mighty simple matter. When a person is sick, there is always something to be done for him, and done at once. If it is only to open or shut a window, if it is only to tell him to keep on doing just what he is doing already, it wants a man to bring his mind right down to the fact of the present case and its immediate needs. Now the present case, as the doctor sees it, is just exactly such a collection of paltry individual facts as never was before,— a snarl and tangle of special conditions which it is his business to wind as much thread out of as he can. It is a good deal as when a painter goes to take the portrait of any sitter who happens to send for him. He has seen just such noses and just such eyes and just such mouths, but he never saw exactly such a face before, and his business is with that and no other person’s, — with the features of the worthy father of a family before him, and not with the portraits he has seen in galleries or books, or Mr. Copley’s grand pictures of the fine old tories, or the Apollos and Jupiters of Greek sculpture. It is the same thing with the patient. His disease has features of its own ; there never was and never will be another case in all respects exactly like it. If a doctor has science without common sense, he treats a fever, but not this man’s fever. If he has common sense without science, he treats this man’s fever without knowing the general laws that govern all fevers and all vital movements. I ’ll tell you what saves these last fellows. They go for weakness, whenever they see it, with stimulants and strengtheners, and they go for overaction, heat, and high pulse, and the rest, with cooling and reducing remedies. That is three quarters of medical practice. The other quarter wants science and common sense too. But the men that have science only, begin too far back, and, before they get as far as the case in hand, the patient has very likely gone to visit his deceased relatives. You remember Thomas Prince’s “ Chronological History of New England,” I suppose? He begins, you recollect, with Adam, and has to work down five thousand six hundred and twenty-four years before he gets to the Pilgrim fathers and the Mayflower. It was all very well, only it did n’t belong there, but got in the way of something else. So it is with “science” out of place. By far the larger part of the facts of structure and function you find in the books of anatomy and physiology have no immediate application to the daily duties of the practitioner. You must learn systematically, for all that; it is the easiest way and the only way that takes hold of the memory, except mere empirical repetition, like that of the handicraftsman. Did you ever see one of those Japanese figures with the points for acupuncture marked on it ?

— I had to own that my schooling had left out that piece of information.

Well, I ’ll tell you about it. You see they have a way of pushing long, slender needles into you for the cure of rheumatism and other complaints, and it seems there is a choice of spots for the operation, though it is very strange how little mischief it does in a good many places one would think unsafe to meddle with. So they had a doll made, and marked the spots where they had put in needles without doing any harm. They must have had accidents from sticking the needles into the wrong places now and then, but I suppose they did n’t say a great deal about those. After a time, say a few centuries of experience, they had their doll all spotted over with safe places for sticking in the needles. That is their way of registering practical knowledge. We, on the other hand, study the structure of the body as a whole, systematically, and have no difficulty at all in remembering the track of the great vessels and nerves, and knowing just what tracts will be safe and what unsafe. It is just the same thing with the geologists. Here is a man close by us boring for water through one of our ledges, because somebody else got water somewhere else in that way; and a person who knows geology or ought to know it, because he has given his life to it, tells me he might as well bore there for lager-beer as for water.

— I thought we had had enough of this particular matter, and that I should like to hear what the Master had to say about the three professions he knew something about, compared each with the others.

What is your general estimate of doctors, lawyers, and ministers ? — said I.

— Wait a minute, till I have got through with your first question, — said the Master. —One thing at a time. You asked me about the young doctors, and about our young doctor. They come home très bien chaussés, as a Frenchman would say, mighty well shod with professional knowledge. But when they begin walking round among their poor patients, — they don’t commonly start with millionnaires, — they find that their new shoes of scientific acquirements have got to be broken in just like a pair of boots or brogans. I don’t know that I have put it quite strong enough. Let me try again. You’ve seen those fellows at the circus that get up on horseback so big that you wonder how they could climb into the saddle. But pretty soon they throw off their outside coat, and the next minute another one, and then the one under that, and so they keep peeling off one garment after another till people begin to look queer and think they are going too far for strict propriety. Well, that is the way a fellow with a real practical turn serves a good many of his scientific wrappers,—flings ’em off for other people to pick up, and goes right at the work of curing stomachaches and all the other little mean unscientific complaints that make up the larger part of every doctor’s business. I think our Dr. Benjamin is a worthy young man, and if you are in need of a doctor at any time I hope you will go to him ; and if you come off without harm, I will — recommend some other friend to try him.

— I thought he was going to say he would try him in his own person, but the Master is not fond of committing himself.

Now, I will answer your other question, he said.—The lawyers are the cleverest men, the ministers are the most learned, and the doctors are the most sensible.

The lawyers are a picked lot, “ first scholars ” and the like, but their business is as unsympathetic as Jack Ketch’s. There is nothing humanizing in their relations with their fellow-creatures. They go for the side that retains them. They defend the man they know to be a rogue, and not very rarely throw suspicion on the man they know to be innocent. Mind you, I am not finding fault with them ; every side of a case has a right to the best statement it admits of; but I say it does not tend to make them sympathetic. Suppose in a case of Fever vs. Patient, the doctor should side with either party according to whether the old miser or his expectant heir was his employer. Suppose the minister should side with the Lord or the Devil, according to the salary offered and other incidental advantages, where the soul of a sinner was in question. You can see what a piece of work it would make of their sympathies. But the lawyers are quicker witted than either of the other professions, and abler men generally. They are good-natured, or, if they quarrel, their quarrels are above-board. I don’t think they are as accomplished as the ministers, but they have a way of cramming with special knowledge for a case which leaves a certain shallow sediment of intelligence in their memories about a good many things. They are apt to talk law in mixed company, and they have a way of looking round when they make a point, as if they were addressing a jury, that is mighty aggravating, as I once had occasion to see when one of 'em, and a pretty famous one, put me on the witness-stand at a dinner-party once.

The ministers come next in point of talent. They are far more curious and widely interested outside of their own calling than either of the other professions. I like to talk with ’em. They are interesting men, full of good feelings, hard workers, always foremost in good deeds, and on the whole the most efficient civilizing class, working downwards from knowledge to ignorance, that is, — now and then upwards, also,

— that we have. The trouble is, that so many of ’em work in harness, and it is pretty sure to chafe somewhere. They too often assume principles whirl would cripple our instincts and reason and give us a crutch of doctrine. I have talked with a great many of ’em of all sorts of belief, and I don't think they have fixed everything in their own minds, or are as dogmatic in their habits of thought as one would think to hear ’em lay down the law in the pulpit. They used to lead the intelligence of their parishes ; now they do pretty well if they keep up with it, and they are very apt to lag behind it. Then they must have a colleague. The old minister thinks he can hold to his old course, sailing right into the wind’s eye of human nature, as straight as that famous old skipper John Bunyan ; the young minister falls off three or four points and catches the breeze that left the old man’s sails all shivering. By and by the congregation will get ahead of him, and then it must have another new skipper. The priest holds his own pretty well ; the minister is coming down every generation nearer and nearer to the common level of the useful citizen, — no oracle at all, but a man of more than average moral instincts, who, if he knows anything, knows how little he knows. The ministers are good talkers, only the struggle between nature and grace makes some of ’em a little awkward occasionally. The women do their best to spoil ’em, as they do the poets ; you find it very pleasant to be spoiled, no doubt; so do they. Now and then one of ’em goes over the dam ; no wonder, they’re always in the rapids.

By this time our three ladies had their faces all turned toward the speaker, like the weathercocks in a northeaster, and I thought it best to switch off the talk on to another rail.

How about the doctors ? — I said.

— Theirs is the least learned of the professions, in this country at least. They have not half the general culture of the lawyers, nor a quarter of that of the ministers. I rather think, though, they are more agreeable to the common run of people than the men with black coats or the men with green bags. People can swear before ’em if they want to, and they can’t very well before ministers. I don’t care whether they want to swear or not, they don’t want to be on their good behavior. Besides, the minister has a little smack of the sexton about him ; he comes when people are in extremis, but they don’t send for him every time they make a slight moral slip,— tell a lie for instance, or smuggle a silk dress through the custom-house ; but they call in the doctor when a child is cutting a tooth or gets a splinter in its finger. So it does n’t mean much to send for him, only a pleasant chat about the news of the day ; for putting the baby to rights does n’t take long. Besides, everybody does n’t like to talk about the next world ; people are modest in their desires, and find this world as good as they deserve ; but everybody loves to talk physic. Everybody loves to hear of strange cases ; people are eager to tell the doctor of the wonderful cures they have heard of; they want to know what is the matter with somebody or other who is said to be suffering from “ a complication of diseases,” and above all to get a hard name, Greek or Latin, for some complaint which sounds altogether too commonplace in plain English. If you will only call a headache a Cephalalgia, it acquires dignity at once, and a patient becomes rather proud of it. So I think doctors are generally welcome in most companies.

In old times, when people were more afraid of the Devil and of witches than they are now, they liked to have a priest or a minister somewhere near to scare ’em off; but nowadays, if you could find an old woman that would ride round the room on a broomstick, Barnum would build an amphitheatre to exhibit her in ; and if he could come across a young imp, with hoofs, tail, and budding horns, a lineal descendant of one of those “ dæmons ” which the good people of Gloucester fired at, and were fired at by “for the best part of a month together” in the year 1692, the great showman would have him at any cost for his museum or menagerie. Men are cowards, sir, and are driven by fear as the sovereign motive. Men are idolaters and want something to look at and kiss and hug, or throw themselves down before ; they always did, they always will; and if you don’t make it of wood, you must make it of words, which are just as much used for idols as promissory notes are used for values. The ministers have a hard time of it without bell and book and holy water ; they are dismounted men in armor since Luther cut their saddlegirths, and you can see they are quietly taking off one piece of iron after another, until some of the best of ’em are fighting the devil (not the zoölogical Devil with the big D) with the sword of the Spirit, and precious little else in the way of weapons of offence or defence. But we could n’t get on without the spiritual brotherhood, whatever became of our special creeds. There is a genius for religion, just as there is for painting or sculpture. It is halfsister to the genius for music, and has some of the features which remind us of earthly love. But it lifts us all by its mere presence. To see a good man and hear his voice once a week would be reason enough for building churches and pulpits. — The Master stopped all at once, and after about half a minute laughed his pleasant laugh.

What is it ?— I asked him.

I was thinking of the great coach and team that is carrying us fast enough, I don’t know but too fast, somewhere or other. The D. D.’s used to be the leaders, but now they are the wheel-horses. It’s pretty hard to tell how much they pull, but we know they can hold back like the —

— When we ’re going down hill, — I said, as neatly as if I had been a HighChurch curate trained to snap at the last word of the response, so that you could n’t wedge in the tail of a comma between the end of the congregation’s closing syllable and the beginning of the next petition. They do it well, but it always spoils my devotion. To save my life, I can’t help watching them, as I watch to see a duck dive at the flash of a gun, and that is not what I go to church for. It is a juggler’s trick, and there is no more religion in it than in catching a ball on the fly.

I was looking at our Scheherazade the other day, and thinking what a pity it was that she had never had fair play in the world. I wish I knew more of her history. There is one way of learning it, — making love to her. I wonder whether she would let me and like it. It is an absurd thing, and I ought not to confess, but I tell you and you only, Beloved, my heart gave a perceptible jump when it heard the whisper of that possibility overhead ! Every day has its ebb and flow, but such a thought as that is like one of those tidal waves they talk about, that rolls in like a great wall and overtops and drowns out all your landmarks, and you, too, if you don’t mind what you are about and stand ready to run or climb or swim. Not quite so bad as that, though, this time. I take an interest in our Scheherazade. I am glad she did n’t smile on the pipe and the Bohemian-looking fellow that finds the best part of his life in sucking at it. A fine thing, is n’t it, for a young woman to marry a man who will hold her

“ Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse,”

but not quite so good as his meerschaum ? It isn’t for me to throw stones, though, who have been a Nicotian a good deal more than half my days. Cigar-stump out now, and consequently have become very bitter on more persevering sinners. I say I take an interest in our Scheherazade, but I rather think it is more paternal than anything else, though my heart did give that jump. It has jumped a good many times without anything very remarkable coming of it.

This visit to the Observatory is going to bring us all, or most of us, together in a new way, and it would n’t be very odd if some of us should become better acquainted than we ever have been. There is a chance for the elective affinities. What tremendous forces they are, if two subjects of them come within range ! There lies a bit of iron. All the dynamic agencies of the universe are pledged to hold it just in that position, and there it will lie until it becomes a heap of red-brown rust. But see, I hold a magnet to it, — it looks to you like just such a bit of iron as the other,—and lo ! it leaves them all,— the tugging of the mighty earth ; of the ghostly moon that walks in white, trailing the snaky waves of the ocean after her ; of the awful sun, twice as large as a sphere that the whole orbit of the moon would but just girdle, — it leaves the wrestling of all their forces which are at a dead lock with each other, all fighting for it, and springs straight to the magnet. What a lucky thing it is for well-conducted persons that the maddening elective affinities don’t come into play in full force very often !

I suppose I am making a good deal more of our prospective visit than it deserves. It must be because I have got it into my head that we are bound to have some kind of sentimental outbreak amongst us, and that this will give a chance for advances on the part of anybody disposed in that direction. A little change of circumstance often hastens on a movement that has been long in preparation. A chemist will show you a flask containing a clear liquid ; he will give it a shake or two, and the whole contents of the flask will become solid in an instant. Or you may lay a little heap of iron-filings on a sheet of paper with a magnet beneath it, and they will be quiet enough as they are, but give the paper a slight jar and the specks of metal will suddenly find their way to the north or the south pole of the magnet and take a definite shape not unpleasing to contemplate, and curiously illustrating the laws of attraction, antagonism, and average, by which the worlds, conscious and unconscious, are alike governed. So with our little party, with any little party of persons who have got used to each other ; leave them undisturbed and they might remain in a state of equilibrium forever; but let anything give them a shake or a jar, and the long - striving but hindered affinities come all at once into play and finish the work of a year in five minutes.

We were all a good deal excited by the anticipation of this visit. The Capitalist, who for the most part keeps entirely to himself, seemed to take an interest in it and joined the group in the parlor who were making arrangements as to the details of the eventful expedition, which was very soon to take place. The Young Girl was full of enthusiasm ; she is one of those young persons, I think, who are impressible and of necessity depressible when their nervous systems are overtasked, but elastic, recovering easily from mental worries and fatigues, and only wanting a little change of their conditions to get back their bloom and cheerfulness. I could not help being pleased to see how much of the child was left in her, after all the drudgery she had been through. What is there that youth will not endure and triumph over ? Here she was ; her story for the week was done in good season ; she had got rid of her villain by a new and original catastrophe ; she had received a sum of money for an extra string of verses,—painfully small, it is true, but it would buy her a certain ribbon she wanted for the great excursion; and now her eyes sparkled so that I forgot how tired and hollow they sometimes looked when she had been sitting up half the night over her endless manuscript.

The morning of the day we had looked forward to promised as good an evening as we could wish. The Capitalist, whose courteous and bland demeanor would never have suggested the thought that he was a robber and an enemy of his race, who was to be trampled underfoot by the beneficent regenerators of the social order as preliminary to the universal reign of peace on earth and good-will to men, astonished us all with a proposal to escort the three ladies and procure a carriage for their conveyance. The Lady thanked him in a very cordial way, but said she thought nothing of the walk. The Landlady looked disappointed at this answer. For her part she was on her legs all day and should be glad enough to ride, if so be he was going to have a carriage at any rate. It would be a sight pleasanter than to trudge afoot, but she would n’t have him go to the expense on her account — Don’t mention it, madam, — said the Capitalist, in a generous glow of enthusiasm. As for the Young Girl, she did not often get a chance for a ride, and liked the idea of it for its own sake, as children do, and she insisted that the Lady should go in the carriage with her. So it was settled that the Capitalist should take the three ladies in the carriage, and the rest of us go on foot.

The evening behaved as it was bound to do on so momentous an occasion. The Capitalist was dressed with almost suspicious nicety. We pedestrianscould not help waiting to see them off, and I thought he handed the ladies into the carriage with the air of a French marquis.

I walked with Dr. Benjamin and That Boy, and we had to keep the little imp on the trot a good deal of the way in order not to be too long behind the carriage party. The Member of the Haouse walked with our two dummies,— I beg their pardon, I mean the Register of Deeds and the Salesman.

The Man of Letters, hypothetically so called, walked by himself, smoking a short pipe which was very far from suggesting the spicy breezes that blow soft from Ceylon’s isle.

I suppose everybody who reads this paper has visited one or more observatories, and of course knows all about them. But as it may hereafter be translated into some foreign tongue and circulated among barbarous, but rapidly improving people, people who have as yet no astronomers among them, it may be well to give a little notion of what kind of a place an observatory is.

To begin then : a deep and solid stone foundation is laid in the earth, and a massive pier of masonry is built up on it. A heavy block of granite forms the summit of this pier, and on this block rests the equatorial telescope. Around this structure a circular tower is built, with two or more floors which come close up to the pier, but do not touch it at any point. It is crowned with a hemispherical dome, which, I may remark, half realizes the idea of my eggshell studio. This dome is cleft from its base to its summit by a narrow, ribbon-like opening, through which is seen the naked sky. It revolves on cannon-balls, so easily that a single hand can move it, and thus the opening may be turned towards any point of the compass. As the telescope can be raised or depressed so as to be directed to any elevation from the horizon to the zenith, and turned around the entire circle like the dome, it can be pointed to any part of the heavens. But as the star or other celestial object is always apparently moving, in consequence of the real rotatory movement of the earth, the telescope is made to follow it automatically by an ingenious clock-work arrangement. No place, short of the temple of the living God, can he more solemn. The jars of the restless life around it do not disturb the serene intelligence of the half-reasoning apparatus. Nothing can stir the massive pier but the shocks that shake the solid earth itself. When an earthquake thrills the planet, the massive turret shudders with the shuddering rocks on which it rests, but it pays no heed to the wildest tempest, and while the heavens are convulsed and shut from the eye of the far-seeing instrument it waits without a tremor for the blue sky to come back. It is the type of the true and steadfast man of the Roman poet, whose soul remains unmoved while the firmament cracks and tumbles about him. It is the material image of the Christian ; his heart resting on the Rock of Ages, his eye fixed on the brighter world above.

I did not say all this while we were looking round among these wonders, quite new to many of us. People don't talk in straight-off sentences like that. They stumble and stop, or get interrupted, change a word, begin again, miss connections of verbs and nouns, and so on, till they blunder out their meaning. But I did let fall a word or two, showing the impression the celestial laboratory produced upon me. I rather think I must own to the “Rock of Ages ” comparison. Thereupon the “Man of Letters,” so called, took his pipe from his mouth, and said that he didn’t go in “ for sentiment and that sort of thing. Gush was played out.”

The Member of the Haouse, who, as I think, is not wanting in that homely good sense which one often finds in plain people from the huckleberry districts, but who evidently supposes the last speaker to be what he calls “a tahlented mahn,” looked a little puzzled. My remark seemed natural and harmless enough to him, I suppose, but I had been distinctly snubbed, and the Member of the Haouse thought I must defend myself, as is customary in the deliberative body to which he belongs, when one gentleman accuses another gentleman of mental weakness or obliquity. I could not make up my mind to oblige him at that moment by showing fight. I suppose that would have pleased my assailant, as I don’t think he has a great deal to lose, and might have made a little capital out of me if he could havegot a laugh out of the Member or either of the dummies,— I beg their pardon again, I mean the two undemonstrative boarders. But I will tell you, Beloved, just what I think about this matter.

We poets, you know, are much given to indulging in sentiment, which is a mode of consciousness at a discount just now with the new generation of analysts who are throwing everything into their crucibles. Now we must not claim too much for sentiment. It does not go a great way in deciding questions of arithmetic, or algebra, or geometry. Two and two will undoubtedly make four, irrespective of the emotions or other idiosyncrasies of the calculator ; and the three angles of a triangle insist on being equal to two right angles, in the face of the most impassioned rhetoric or the most inspired verse. But inasmuch as religion and law and the whole social order of civilized society, to say nothing of literature and art, are so founded on and pervaded by sentiment that they would all go to pieces without it, it is a word not to be used too lightly in passing judgment, as if it were an element to be thrown out or treated with small consideration. Reason may be the lever, but sentiment gives you the fulcrum and the place to stand on if you want to move the world. Even “sentimentality,” which is sentiment overdone, is better than that affectation of superiority to human weakness which is only tolerable as one of the stage properties of full-blown dandyism, and is, at best, but half-grown cynicism ; which participle and noun you can translate, if you happen to remember the derivation of the last of them, by a single familiar word. There is a great deal of false sentiment in the world, as there is of bad logic and erroneous doctrine ; but it is very much less disagreeable to hear a young poet overdo his emotions, or even deceive himself about them, than to hear a caustic epithet flinger repeating such words as “ sentimentality” and “ entusymusy,” — one of the least admirable of Lord Byron’s bequests to our language, — for the purpose of ridiculing him into silence. An over-dressed woman is not so pleasing as she might be, but at any rate she is better than the oil of vitriol squirter, whose profession it is to teach young ladies to avoid vanity by spoiling their showy silks and satins.

The Lady was the first of our party who was invited to look through the equatorial. Perhaps this world had proved so hard to her that she was pained to think that other worlds existed, to be homes of suffering and sorrow. Perhaps she was thinking it would be a happy change when she should leave this dark planet for one of those brighter spheres. She sighed, at any rate, but thanked the young astronomer for the beautiful sights he had shown her, and gave way to the next comer, who was That Boy, now in a state of irrepressible enthusiasm to see the Man in the Moon. He was greatly disappointed at not making out a colossal human figure moving round among the shining summits and shadowy ravines of the “ spotty globe.”

The Landlady came next and wished to see the moon also, in preference to any other object. She was astonished at the revelations of the powerful telescope. Was there any live creatures to be seen on the moon ? she asked. The young astronomer shook his head, smiling a little at the question. Was there any meet’n’-houses ? There was no evidence, he said, that the moon was inhabited. As there did not seem to be either air or water on its surface, the inhabitants would have a rather hard time of it, and if they went to meeting the sermons would be apt to be rather dry. If there were a building on it as big as York minster, as big as the Boston Coliseum, the great telescopes like Lord Rosse’s would make it out. But it seemed to be a forlorn place ; those who had studied it most agreed in considering it a “ cold, crude, silent, and desolate ” ruin of nature, without the possibility, if life were on it, of articulate speech, of music, even of sound. Sometimes a greenish tint was seen upon its surface, which might have been taken for vegetation, but it was thought not improbably to be a reflection from the vast forests of South America. The ancients had a fancy, some of them, that the face of the moon was a mirror in which the seas and shores of the earth were imaged. Now we know the geography of the side toward us about as well as that of Asia, better than that of Africa. The astronomer showed them one of the common small photographs of the moon. He assured them that he had received letters inquiring in all seriousness if these alleged lunar photographs were not really taken from a peeled orange. People had got angry with him for laughing at them for asking such a question. Then he gave them an account of the famous moonhoax which came out, he believed, in 1835. It was full of the most barefaced absurdities, yet people swallowed it all, and even Arago is said to have treated it seriously as a thing that could not well be true, for Mr. Herscbel would have certainly notified him of these marvellous discoveries. The writer of it had not troubled himself to invent probabilities, but had borrowed his scenery from the Arabian Nights and his lunar inhabitants from Peter Wilkins.

After this lecture the Capitalist stepped forward and applied his eye to the lens. I suspect it to have been shut most of the time, for I observe a good many elderly people adjust the organ of vision to any optical instrument in that way. I suppose it is from the instinct of protection to the eye, the same instinct as that which makes the raw militia-man close it when he pulls the trigger of his musket the first time. He expressed himself highly gratified, however, with what he saw, and retired from the instrument to make room for the Young Girl.

She threw her hair back and took her position at the instrument. Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger explained the wonders of the moon to her,— Tycho and the grooves radiating from it, Kepler and Copernicus with their craters and ridges, and all the most brilliant shows of this wonderful little world. I thought he was more diffuse and more enthusiastic in his descriptions than he had been with the older members of the party. I don’t doubt the old gentleman who lived so long on the top of his pillar would have kept a pretty sinner (if he could have had an elevator to hoist her up to him) longer than he would have kept her grandmother. These young people are so ignorant, you know. As for our Scheherazade, her delight was unbounded, and her curiosity insatiable. If there were any living creatures there, what odd things they must be. They could n’t have any lungs, nor any hearts. What a pity ! Did they ever die ? How could they expire if they did n’t breathe ? Burn up? No air to burn in. Tumble into some of those horrid pits, perhaps, and break all to bits. She wondered how the young people there liked it, or whether there were any young people there ; perhaps nobody was young and nobody was old, but they were like mummies all of them — what an idea — two mummies making love to each other! So she went on in a rattling, giddy kind of way, for she was excited by the strange scene in which she found herself, and quite astonished the young astronomer with her vivacity. All at once she turned to him.

Will you show me the double star you said I should see ?

With the greatest pleasure, — he said, and proceeded to wheel the ponderous dome, and then to adjust the instrument, I think to the one in Andromeda, or that in Cygnus, but I should not know one of them from the other.

How beautiful ! — she said as she looked at the wonderful object. — One is orange red and one is emerald green.

The young man made an explanation in which he said something about complementary colors.

Goodness ! — exclaimed the Landlady.— What! complimentary to our party ?

Her wits must have been a good deal confused by the strange sights of the evening. She had seen tickets marked complimentary, she remembered, but she could not for the life of her understand why our party should be particularly favored at a celestial exhibition like this. On the whole, she questioned inwardly whether it might not be some subtle pleasantry, and smiled, experimentally, with a note of interrogation in the smile, but, finding no encouragement, allowed her features to subside gradually as if nothing had happened. I saw all this as plainly as if it had all been printed in great-primer type, instead of working itself out in her features. I like to see other people muddled now and then, because my own occasional dulness is relieved by a good solid background of stupidity in my neighbors.

— And the two revolve round each other ? — said the Young Girl.

— Yes, — he answered, — two suns, a greater and a less, each shining, but with a different light, for the other.

— How charming! It must be so much pleasanter than to be alone in such a great empty space ! I should think one would hardly care to shine if its light wasted itself in the monstrous solitude of the sky. Does not a single star seem very lonely to you up there ?

— Not more lonely than I am myself,— answered the Young Astronomer.

— I don’t know what there was in those few words, but I noticed that for a minute or two after they were uttered I heard the ticking of the clock-work that moved the telescope as clearly as if we had all been holding our breath, and listening for the music of the spheres.

The Young Girl kept her eye closely applied to the eye-piece of the telescope a very long time, it seemed to me. Those double stars interested her a good deal, no doubt. When she looked off from the glass I thought both her eyes appeared very much as if they had been a little strained, for they were suffused and glistening. It may be that she pitied the lonely young man.

I know nothing in the world tenderer than the pity that a kind-hearted

young girl has for a young man who feels lonely. It is true that these dear creatures are all compassion for every form of human woe, and anxious to alleviate all human misfortunes. They will go to Sunday schools through storms their brothers are afraid of, to teach the most unpleasant and intractable classes of little children the age of Methuselah and the dimensions of Og the King of Bashan’s bedstead. They will stand behind a table at a fair all day until they are ready to drop, dressed in their prettiest clothes and their sweetest smiles, and lay hands upon you, like so many Lady Potiphars, — perfectly correct ones, of course,— to make you buy what you do not want, at prices which you cannot afford ; all this as cheerfully as if it were not martyrdom to them as well as to you. Such is their love for all good objects, such their eagerness to sympathize with all their suffering fellow-creatures ! But there is nothing they pity as they pity a lonely young man.

I am sure, I sympathize with her in this instance. To see a pale student burning away, like his own midnight lamp, with only dead men’s hands to hold, stretched out to him from the sepulchres of books, and dead men’s souls imploring him from their tablets to warm them over again just for a little while in a human consciousness, when all this time there are soft, warm, living hands that would ask nothing better than to bring the blood back into those cold thin fingers, and gently caressing natures that would wind all their tendrils about the unawakened heart which knows so little of itself, is pitiable enough and would be sadder still if we did not have the feeling that sooner or later the pale student will be pretty sure to feel the breath of a young girl against his cheek as she looks over his shoulder; and that he will come all at once to an illuminated page in his book that never writer traced in characters, and never printer set up in type, and never binder enclosed within his covers ! But our young man seems further away from life than any student whose head is bent downwards over his books. His eyes are turned away from all human things. How cold the moonlight is that falls upon his forehead, and how white he looks in it ! Will not the rays strike through to his brain at last, and send him to a narrower cell than this egg-shell dome which is his workshop and his prison ?

I cannot say that the Young Astronomer seemed particularly impressed with a sense of his miserable condition. He said he was lonely, it is true, but he said it in a manly tone, and not as if he were repining at the inevitable condition of his devoting himself to that particular branch of science. Of course, he is lonely, the most lonely being that lives in the midst of our breathing world. If he would only stay a little longer with us when we get talking ; but he is busy almost always either in observation or with his calculations and studies, and when the nights are fair loses so much sleep that he must make it up by day. He wants contact with human beings. I wish he would change his seat and come round and sit by our Scheherazade !

The rest of the visit went off well enough, except that the “ Man of Letters,” so called, rather snubbed some of the heavenly bodies as not quite up to his standard of brilliancy. I thought myself that the double-star episode was the best part of it.

I have an unexpected revelation to make to the reader. Not long after our visit to the Observatory, the Young Astronomer put a package into my hands, a manuscript, evidently, which he said he would like to have me glance over. I found something in it which interested me, and told him the next day that I should like to read it with some care. He seemed rather pleased at this, and said that he wished I would criticise it as roughly as I liked, and if I saw anything in it which might be dressed to better advantage to treat it freely, just as if it were my own production. It had often happened to him, he went on to say, to be interrupted in his observations by clouds covering the objects he was examining for a longer or shorter time. In these idle moments he had put down many thoughts, unskilfully he feared, but just as they came into his mind. His blank verse he suspected was often faulty. His thoughts he knew must be crude, many of them. It would please him to have me amuse myself by putting them into shape. He was kind enough to say that I was an artist in words, but he held himself as an unskilled apprentice.

I confess I was appalled when I cast my eye upon the title of the manuscript, “ Cirri and Nebulæ.”

— Oh ! oh ! — I said, — that will never do. People don’t know what Cirri are, at least not one out of fifty readers. “ Wind - Clouds and StarDrifts ” will do better than that.

— Anything you like, — he answered,— what difference does it make how you christen a foundling? These are not my legitimate scientific offspring, and you may consider them left on your doorstep.

— I will not attempt to say just how much of the diction of these lines belongs to him, and how much to me. He said he would never claim them, after I read them to him in my version. I, on my part, do not wish to be held responsible for some of his more daring thoughts, if I should see fit to reproduce them hereafter. At this time I shall give only the first part ot the series of poetical outbreaks for which the young devotee of science must claim his share of the responsibility. I may put some more passages into shape by and by.


Another clouded night; the stars are hid,
The orb that waits my search is hid with them.
Patience ! Why grudge an hour, a month, a year,
To plant my ladder and to gain the round

That leads my footsteps to the heaven of fame,
Where waits the wreath my sleepless midnights won ?
Not the stained laurel such as heroes wear
That withers when some stronger conqueror’s heel
Treads down their shrivelling trophies in the dust;
But the fair garland whose undying green
Not time can change, nor wrath of gods or men !

With quickened heart-beats I shall hear the tongues
That speak my praise; but better far the sense
That in the unshaped ages, buried deep
In the dark mines of unaccomplished time
Yet to be stamped with morning’s royal die
And coined in golden days, — in those dim years
I shall be reckoned with the undying dead,
My name emblazoned on the fiery arch,
Unfading till the stars themselves shall fade.
Then, as they call the roll of shining worlds,
Sages of race unborn in accents new
Shall count me with the Olympian ones of old,
Whose glories kindle through the midnight sky :
Here glows the God of Battles ; this recalls
The Lord of Ocean, and yon far-off sphere
The Sire of Him who gave his ancient name
To the dim planet with the wondrous rings ;
Here flames the Queen of Beauty’s silver lamp,
And there the moon-girt orb of mighty Jove ;
But this, unseen through all earth’s æons past,
A youth who watched beneath the western star
Sought in the darkness, found, and shewed to men ;
Linked with his name thenceforth and evermore !
So shall that name be syllabled anew
In all the tongues of all the tribes of men :
I that have been through immemorial years
Dust in the dust of my forgotten time
Shall live in accents shaped of blood-warm breath,
Yea, rise in mortal semblance, newly born
In shining stone, in undecaying bronze,
And stand on high, and look serenely down
On the new race that calls the earth its own.

Is this a cloud, that, blown athwart my soul,
Wears a false seeming of the pearly stain
Where worlds beyond the world their mingling rays.
Blend in soft white, —a cloud that, born of earth,
Would cheat the soul that looks for light from heaven ?
Must every coral-insect leave his sign
On each poor grain he lent to build the reef,
As Babel’s builders stamped their sunburnt clay,
Or deem his patient service all in vain ?
What if another sit beneath the shade
Of the broad elm I planted by the way, —
What if another heed the beacon light
I set upon the rock that wrecked my keel, —
Have I not done my task and served my kind ?
Nay, rather act thy part, unnamed, unknown,
And let Fame blow her trumpet through the world
With noisy wind to swell a fool’s renown,
Joined with some truth he stumbled blindly o’er,
Or coupled with some single shining deed
That in the great account of all his days
Will stand alone upon the bankrupt sheet
His pitying angel shows the clerk of Heaven.
The noblest service comes from nameless hands,
And the best servant does his work unseen.
Who found the seeds of fire and made them shoot,
Fed by his breath, in buds and flowers of flame ?
Who forged in roaring flames the ponderous stone,
And shaped the moulded metal to his need ?
Who gave the dragging car its rolling wheel,
And tamed the steed that whirls its circling round ?
All these have left their work and not their names, —
Why should I murmur at a fate like theirs?
This is the heavenly light; the pearly stain
Was but a wind-cloud drifting o’er the stars!

Oliver Wendell Holmes.