The Contributors' Club
IN the last Contributors’ Club the reviewer of Tourguéneff’s Torres Vièrges is charged with a serious misinterpretation of one of the characters of that book, with wringing an indelicate meaning out of the novelist’s innocent words. The point in question is whether or not Marianne had leanings toward the nihilistic doctrine of free love, which is in Russia very much what Mrs. Woodhull’s notions are in this country. The contributor, who asserts Marianne’s innocence of any intention except that of being lawfully married, says that she is “ a character too fine and too carefully delineated to be assigned, without at least some semblance of evidence, to the alliance of Mrs. Woodhull.” The fact that she is carefully delineated has, of course, nothing to do with the question; let us see if there is not at least “ some semblance of evidence ” to warrant an unfavorable construction of one important part of her character. This is a disagreeable subject to discuss, but if the novel has been unfairly treated it is right that the error should be pointed out, and if the reviewer has been unjustly accused of perverting an author’s meaning he should be allowed the privilege of self-defense. In the first place, in chapter xxvi., — I cannot refer to the page of the French duodecimo edition, having by me only a copy of the quarto, — in the conversation between the aunt and Marianne, Madame Sipiagin, referring to her niece’s acknowledged affection for Neshdanof, says: “ Vous avez suivi l'impulsion de votre cœur, admettonsle— Mais naturellement cela doit se terminer par un mariage.” To this Marianne replies: “Je n’en sais rien — Je n’ai pas pensé à cela.” A few moments later she tells her aunt: “Vous êtes enchantée, oui, vraiment enchantée, de voir que je réalise vos éternelles prédictions, que je me couvre de honte, et la seule chose qui vous déplaise, c’est qu’une part de ce scandale doive retomber sur votre aristocratique — votre honnête maison.” And again she adds: “ J’ai la conviction que je suis beaucoup plus honnête que vous.” These remarks are inexplicable on the theory that she is looking forward to legal marriage with Neshdanof. She distinctly says she has not thought of marrying him, and she speaks of the disgrace she is going to bring upon her aunt’s household. In the next chapter (xxvii.) Marianne tells Tatiana that Neshdanof is neither her husband nor her brother. Tatiana says: “ Alors, vous vivez comme ça, en libre grâce? Ça aussi, à présent., ça se voit souvent. . . . Pourvu que Dieu donne sa bénédiction et qu’on vive en contentement et confiance! Il n’y a pas besoin de prêtre pour ça.” . . . To this Marianne replies: “ Comme vous avez de jolies expressions, Tatiana! ‘ En libre grâce!’ Cela me plait beaucoup.” Consequently, in the scene the contributor alludes to, it is by no means certain that she proposes to Neshdanof lawful wedlock. Most readers would, I take it, gather a contrary impression, not alone from the words she then uses, but also from what she has previously said on the subject. It is quite true that the expression je serai à toi, taken by itself, may refer to surrender in marriage, but the way to judge the meaning here is with due regard to all the evidence, and not by construing a single equivocal sentence. As to Neshdanof’s statement in his letter, it is to be borne in mind that he was a gentleman and full of refined feeling, so that he could not accept the sacrifice without wishing to make the union binding; and as for Solomin, he was already interested in Marianne, and was anxious that she should disgrace herself as little as possible.
It is to be remembered that in this novel Tourguéneff portrays with great accuracy the present state of affairs in Russia, and that the country is in a very curious condition. The story appeared last winter in a Russian review, and in December last, while the MS. was in the printers’ hands, there was an outbreak in St. Petersburg quite as senseless as those described in Terres Vièrges. The trial of those who took part in this miniature revolution, as well as of those who distributed incendiary pamphlets, was held in February and March of the present year, and gave legal proof of the exactness of Tourguéneff’s drawing. The reports which appeared in some of the Continental journals read almost like the chapters of this novel which refer to the socialistic conspiracies. The Russian traits that are becoming clear to observers of the present war are not such as one would have expected to find. For example, the correspondent of the London Times, in the Russian army before Plevna, writes to that paper under date of August 19th: “I venture the assertion that the Russian people to-day are the most purely democratic in their tendencies and customs in Europe. There is, it is true, the form of an absolute despotism in the government, but this vast undercurrent of democracy makes itself felt in the very heart of this despotism, and really controls its action; ” and he illustrates this by an account of the way in which officers recognize privates as their equals. Those who detect a resemblance to the condition of things in this country would do well to note this important difference. The same correspondent speaks elsewhere of an old bridge which “ was covered with a sticky coating of mud, a foot in depth, which held the wagon wheels like a vise; a squad of soldiers was stationed there all day to lift transports through this viscous mud, when they might have cleared it away entirely in twenty minutes with half a dozen shovels.” And this is but one instance of their clumsiness out of many. But to return to the state of Russian society: it is reported by numerous apparently trustworthy authorities that the country is really infested by nihilism. One old resident writes to the Pall Mall Gazette (see Pall Mall Budget for August 10, 1877, page 15): “ The nihilistic plague affects nearly the whole female population immediately above the peasantry. The widest possible definition of women’s rights is acquired at the institutes of noble young ladies as well as at the humblest boarding and day schools, and the enjoyment of those rights after marriage is encouraged by the immorality of the men and the facility with which auricular confession to a debased and servile priesthood condones every offense against the laws of God and man,” The conduct of many Russian female students at Züurich, which brought so much disgrace upon the cause of the education of women, will also be remembered. Russians, too, will in conversation acknowledge the lamentable immorality of a large portion of society. Almost at the beginning of Terres Vièrges Tourguéneff says of Mashurina: “ Elle était fille et très chaste— chose peu étonnante! s’écriera quelque sceptique en se rappelant ce que nous avons dit de son extérieur. Chose étonnante et rare ! nous permettronsnous de dire à notre tour.”
Under these circumstances it will perhaps be plain to the contributor who was pained by the accusation brought against Marianne that it was not “created by the imagination of the critic,” and that it is not an “ uncharitable construction founded on those words alone,” je serai à toi, but one that had its origin in the words of Marianne, in the suppositions of those about her, and in the condition of things which Tourguéneff was describing.
— The other day, after a vain search for Daudet’s Jack, I was obliged to fall back rather unwillingly upon Cherbuliez’s new story, Samuel Brohl et Cie. A French novel was necessary, since I was preparing for a midsummer railroad journey, and experience has taught me that nothing else can so well neutralize the heat and irritations of such an occasion,—like strong coffee when one is obliged to sit up all night, or the pungency of smelling-salts in a crowded hall. I have not, heretofore, liked Cherbuliez; his stories have seemed to me unnecessarily tragic and sensational. It was therefore with judicial calm that I opened Samuel Brohl et Cie, regretting Jack and recalling with a sigh the vivid pages of Froment Jeune et Risler Ainé, which had consoled me during a similar journey the preceding year. (In speaking of these stories, of course I allude to the original text. A French novel translated always seems like a Paris dress imitated with paper patterns in an interior country town; the form may be there, but oh, oh, the spirit!) My journey lasted three days, and I read Samuel Brohl through three times. In my opinion it is a wonderfully well-told story. It is not great; it does not lift you off your feet, nor send hot chills down your spine, nor call up a tear. But it has the rare merit of being so cleverly constructed that you do not suspect the secret of the plot until the author himself shows it to you, and then your admiration for his dexterity is increased when you go back and notice that at no time did he conceal anything, but played his game, as it were, with his cards face upward on the table all the while, dominating you, however, and making you forget them by the steady power of his eye.
The opening of the story presents an imaginative girl, rich in her own right and independent, restive under the commonplaces of life, thirsty for the unusual; this girl is traveling through a wild mountain region with her father, but without the safety-valve of a woman friend; the Moiseney is not that. All her relatives expect her to marry, some day or other, a young gentleman named Langis, whom she has known from childhood; but because she has known him from childhood she sees nothing in him, of course, and turns her head impatiently to all quarters of the horizon, waiting for the unknown hero to appear. And in this, hard experience and the practical world to the contrary, she does not seem, in my eyes at least, ridiculous; love of the heroic and the capacity for enthusiasms are not at any rate attributes of small minds. Young Langis, his suit deferred for the present, amuses himself philosophically as best he can, while Antoinette looks about her and takes time to make up her mind; he is a good fellow in his way, but seems to have no comprehension of the needs of an idealizing temperament like hers, and it is extraordinary how few men, in real life as well, comprehend them. Why, almost any man can win any imaginative woman (whose affections are disengaged) by means of one or two quiet acts of heroism done for her alone, some silent show of courage or unselfishness, which is all the more effective if there is no advantage to be gained thereby; delightful, uncalculating inutility !
To this expectant girl enter the Count Larinski, taciturn, powerful, handsome, dramatic. He climbs the most appalling peaks carelessly, he saves her father’s life, and he persistently avoids her; dragged at length, almost by force, into her presence, he relates by chance, and as though it were the most ordinary tale in the world, a history bristling with more vivid adventures, misfortunes, and noble but utterly impractical impulses than ever met the ears of a girl weary and impatient of the commonplace, the conventional, and the comfortable, the three ever-present influences of her life. The finishing touch is bestowed when she discovers, by a comparison of handwritings, that this same person was the giver of a basket of rare Alpine flowers, — flowers she especially coveted and had in vain tried to gather, — which was sent to her anonymously soon after her arrival in the mountains, accompanied by a note, saying, “ An unfortunate man came to this valley weary of life, ready to die. He saw you pass! He has now the courage to live.”
The effect is immense. And it always will be immense. “ I cannot live without you,” — what a plea! It goes to the deepest fibres of a woman’s nature, half adoring, half pitying. Antoinette now announces that she intends to marry this count; general trouble around the circle of relatives and friends, including, of course, Langis, who is very well drawn from beginning to end in that he does nothing remarkable, but remains what he is first pictured, a practical young fellow who is going to have Antoinette if he possibly can, but, in case of failure, will not exactly hang himself. Another character now advances, Antoinette’s godmother. This experienced dowager undertakes to prove from headquarters that the Pole has invented, or at least exaggerated, his story, after the manner of his nation, — polite people with pianoplaying tendencies and poetic eyes. But behold! word comes back from Vienna that every detail is exactly true. New consternation in the circle of relatives, new triumph for Antoinette. Everything rolls on towards the marriage.
In the mean time the skillful narrator lets the reader into the secret; what the anxious dowager with her “ information direct from Vienna” and her cautious diplomacy cannot discover, the reader now learns. The real count is dead, and a handsome Polish Jew, of plebeian origin, named Samuel Brohl, has possessed himself of the name, papers, history, souvenirs, and even qualities of the last of the Larinskis, the theft being an easy one, since Brohl had made himself the lonely nobleman’s only and confidential friend. He steps into the dead man’s identity, and the circumstances are such that no suspicions are aroused; it was not an inheritance of money. Thenceforth, in all his plans and adventures, he thinks of himself as “ Samuel Brohl and Company,” his partner being “ silent,” indeed, six feet under the sod; some of the best parts of the book are these mute conversations of his with “the firm.”
The reader now watches with eager interest the efforts of the opposing circle of relatives; but at every point the Pole is ready for them. Through it all he remains calm and dignified as ever, and Antoinette becomes more and more infatuated with him. Langis roams around on the outskirts like an angry bull-dog. The time for the marriage draws nearer and nearer; the Pole waxes feverish, and is almost hard to the girl who adores him. Her fortune is to be his without restriction. Suddenly the heavens open, the lightning falls. Sooner or later our old sins always turn up and face us: the one person in the world who knows the real Brohl by a pure chance now passes by, and in a moment the secret is out. It is a degrading one, and exit the Pole.
Langis, of course, gets Antoinette. One can imagine how he will hold her mistake over her head all her life. It is probable that she will at times ask herself silently why it is that “ sensible people ” are apt to be so dull, and “ adventurers ” so entertaining.
The great art of Cherbuliez is shown in the fact that throughout the whole we cannot entirely despise this Brohl, in spite of his servile youth and manhood of imposture. One of the finest scenes in the book is towards the last, where, after the Pole has been found out and all is over, Langis visits him in his room in order to get from him Antoinette’s portrait and letters. Before the discovery Langis had challenged his rival; but now he remarks with careless scorn, “ I was at the service of the Count Larinski; I cannot be expected, of course, to fight with a Samuel Brohl! ” He produces a package of bank-notes and proposes to buy back the souvenirs. Brohl’s face changes: his nose becomes more hooked, his chin more pointed; his Jewish father would certainly have recognized him then. He leans back in his chair and drives sharp bargains for his collection of tokens; he alludes to the use he might make of them, and calls attention to the fact that the letters are signed. At last it is over: Langis has the picture and letters, and the discarded lover has the sum of twenty-five thousand francs in exchange for them. Langis now rises; the Jew asks him to wait a moment; twisting the bank-notes together he holds them over the flame of the candle, and burning them to ashes quietly remarks, “ You will not, I think, refuse to fight with me now! ”
The story is a new presentment of a truth which is so obnoxious to many good people: namely, no man is wholly bad. It is, of course, much more effective and dramatic to conduct one half of the world down into the lower regions and put the cover on tight, and then take the other half up through the golden gates. But the trouble is that in real life people cannot be divided like school classes; degrees of good and bad shade into each other imperceptibly ; finite eyes cannot see all. Instead of being bewildered by these facts, it seems to me that we ought to take courage from them. To be sure they do away with an aristocracy of virtue; but they also enfranchise millions of serfs. Here, as everywhere, “the mid-world is best.”
—A speculative individual in New York has flooded the book-market with a series of English novels which he sells at the low price of ten or twenty cents per copy, according to the thickness of the pamphlet. These novels are issued in quarto shape, with three columns to the page, and vary from twenty to seventy-five pages each. It is certainly cheap literature, but it is not poor, as cheap literature is apt to be; for the plan of publication embraces the works of the great masters of modern English fiction, such as Bulwer, Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, Charles Reade, etc. That the lively projector of this enterprise will reap a golden harvest is very clear to me, but it is by no means so clear how a leading New England journal can bring itself to indorse this business as “in every respect notable and commendable.”It is a notable and disgraceful piece of piracy, and if it is commendable, then the ingenious person who steps into your hall and gracefully appropriates your overcoat deserves to have a Philadelphia award. I hold that this New York literary tramp has done a very disreputable thing, and inflicted great wrong —
First, on the English author, whose work he steals;
Second, on the American author, who cannot afford to sell his wares at a price which is remunerative to a man dealing in stolen property;
Third, on the American publisher, who pays copyright to English authors for the privilege of reprinting their works in a worthy manner; and
Fourth, on the general reader, who has eyes to be ruined by a poor-faced, fine type set in unleaded columns.
To encourage this style of cheap literature is to do an injustice to every reputable publisher in America and to every man or woman in the United States who depends upon literary labor for a livelihood.
It will be time enough to be jubilant over the era of cheap reading when we can get the best books, clearly and neatly printed, at the lowest possible price consistent with a fair profit to the manufacturer; it is rather premature to hail the advent of that period in the appearance of the flimsy paper and execrable type of The Riverside Library. (The name Riverside, hitherto associated with an establishment noted for the accuracy and elegance of its typography, is obvious sarcasm.) I am the happy possessor of the fifth number of that series: it contains Thaddeus of Warsaw, by the adorable Miss Jane Porter, and the Paul and Virginia of St. Pierre, — the latter work occupying just eight and one sixth pages, with 18,921 letters to the page. (I have
counted them with the assistance of a microscope.) Both stories, it goes without saying, abound in typographical errors. Our entertaining old friend Thaddeus has had many a hard rub in the course of his varied career, but I think he was never quite so shabbily treated as in the present instance.
— I suppose that many of your readers were fully convinced (as I was) by Mr. Wells’s article in the July-August number of the North American Review. But is he quite as satisfactory in his statement of the remedy as in his explanation of the evils which have caused the recent quarrels between labor and capital, and threaten serious results for the future?
The real question certainly is, as he puts it, What is to be done with the three men out of six who are no longer wanted to make shoes (for instance) and whom nobody has need for in any other branch of human industry? He answers: Open up new fields for employment, stimulate new wants. But is it not plain that this is but a temporary expedient at best? The experience of the past shows us that, there is no hope that consumption will ever hereafter (while coal and iron last) keep pace with the improvements in productive apparatus. If all the capitalists in the country would unite in the effort to apply Mr. Wells’s remedy, its inadequacy would still be shown almost at the start. The very ingenuity which he would set to work to discover or create new wants would be speedily diverted into the devising of new mechanical combinations to supply them. So the last state of the workman would be worse than the first, as he would only have learned of a few more things which he could not hope to have.
But there is another and a more efficacious remedy. The world may be roughly divided (like Gaul) into three parts : First, we have the habitations and the pathways of men, including all the cities. Secondly, the farms. Thirdly, the waste places. Our surplus workmen of the cities can find no room on the farms, for machinery is crowding them out there just as in the factories. Obviously, then, they must go to the “ waste places, ” the rough lands which can never be cultivated successfully by machinery.
The negroes at the South have been blindly (instinctively, one might say) adopting this course for several years past. You can hardly ride half a dozen miles through some parts of Maryland without coming on a cluster of their cabins in the very heart of a piece of woodland. Each owns his acre or half acre, or more, of corn-land, or it may be a larger clearing; and perhaps he has a flock of geese and a few pigs beside. He has traps out, too, for rabbits, and an old long-barreled musket wherewith he occasionally contrives to kill a partridge sitting, and a “ possum dog ” for night sport. In the spring the yellow perch come up the “ branches ” by millions, and he can scoop them out, and salt them if he will. In the summer a clumsy dip-net, a coarse cord, and a chicken’s head are outfit enough for the capture of all the crabs he can eat. The woods and fields, also, abound in berries, and he can sell easily what he does not want. So, too, of his rabbit-skins and coonskins, and best of all his otter-skins, less often attainable. The musk-rats and squirrels give him meat and fur both. If he is not above doing an odd job or so he can make money for investments at the village store in candy and Sunday finery. But he is not absolutely forced to this dire resort. Like Charles Sumner he is “ no man’s man.” What employé working and living on a salary can truly say as much?
Sambo has fathomed the question. We have been living for a century under a condition that is passing away. The employer and the employed are not to be hereafter numerically the two great classes of society. Henceforth the forces and products of inanimate nature will more and more take the place of the great body of employés. In the cycle of human affairs we are coming again to a time when the largest class of men will be those who work for themselves and support themselves directly.
A very little land will enable a man to live. A very little money will enable him to buy that land. If he is earning anything, a little self-denial will enable him to amass that money. If he is earning nothing, then I say that a wealthy man who values his property (not to mention the calls of humanity) could not do a wiser thing than to help the poor man to a patch of land, and take a mortgage thereon for repayment. It would give him a chance for life and hurt nobody, beside removing one item from the sum of society’s present dangers. I believe if this matter were fairly presented it would be accepted as perfectly practicable. I have some hope that this suggestion may reach the eyes of those who can act if they will.
The remedy, if applied, would be complete. I am satisfied that on the Chesapeake peninsula alone, within reach of our large cities, there is enough wild land which would yield excellent crops to support all the unemployed now in the country. Even in New England there is a great deal; and in the South and West the aggregate is enormous.
— We are accustomed to think of our wild flowers as growing in conformity to the botanies, but an experience of some years has convinced me that they have their idiosyncrasies as well as we, and that the text-books must either be revised or discarded altogether. Take, for instance, what is known in the vernacular as " trailin’ ’butus,” whose flowers, according to Gray, “ appear in early spring.” We in Hartford think we know exactly when to hunt for it, and that is when the swamp maples are in bloom and the country roads are beginning to get dusty; and certain it is that the young girls from Poquonnoc and Kensington who attend the high-school always wear its blossoms in their hair when they read their graduating essays on To-Morrow or The Mission of the Beautiful. But these are not infallible signs. On the 20th of March, 1868, arbutus was picked at Cheshire, Connecticut : on the 29th of February, 1869, at Laurel Hill, Norwich; about the middle of January, 1870, in Maine. The last week in January, 1876, it concluded to show itself in New Hartford, Connecticut, and astonished the people of Buxton, Maine, by appearing on the 17th of November, in company with some buttercups which had disregarded the season assigned them, “ May to July,” with the plausible excuse that some flighty members of the family had exhibited themselves in the pastures of Willimantic, Connecticut, January 17, 1870. The dandelions in 1866 were not satisfied with the long period from March to October, but must needs bloom on the Isles of Shoals on Christmas Day, and on the 9th of January of the following year repeat the hazardous experiment in New Hampshire. What shall we say when we find viola pedata (” May ”) purpling the Minnesota prairies in October, as it did in 1866? And must the good folk of Arlington, Massachusetts, who gathered raspberries on the 18th of the same month, in 1871, be sneered at for believing that the opportunity will again be presented? For many of these astonishing statements, those respectable authorities, the Boston Advertiser and the Springfield Republican, are responsible, and I beg that no one will accuse me of presenting them collectively in a flippant spirit.
— Every one who has tried his hand at writing the great American novel or national drama, and has deplored the lack in our society of a personage corresponding to the brigand of European romances, is under obligations to a certain novelist into whose latest story the tramp has been allowed to force himself. Mr. Winslow Homer has also discovered some valuable qualities in the vagabond, and with reason, for, having frequent opportunities of studying the tramp from the shelter of a railroad car, I have become deeply impressed with his picturesqueness, and hope it may be long before the revival of business calls him out of our Connecticut landscape. Spinning by too rapidly to determine the depth of the soil on his hands, or to catch the malignant expression in his eye, I merely note that he harmonizes remarkably well with his surroundings, clad as he often is in a dingy garb of blue or butternut; especially so when he lies sleeping on one of those patches of greenish-gray moss that dot the yellow reaches of sand below Wallingford, with a gnarled apple-tree above him and a brilliant sky behind. View him on the sunny side of a bank (he always picks out the very spot that you would have selected for your own lounging place), where he has kindled a little fire with stolen matches, or where he sits musing by the brook, his scanty stock of linen spread out to dry on a turf glittering with dandelions, and tell me if he does not seem as necessary to the landscape as the birds, squirrels, and butterflies that sport about him.
— I have not been convinced by the arguments of Mr. David A. Wells, in the September Atlantic, to show that titles and debts are not property. The whole essay, a curiosity in legal literature, overlooks the simple fact, that it takes two to make a bargain; that is, in order to a transfer of property, property must be exchanged for it.
Historically the case is this: Mr Kirtland had twenty thousand dollars, the evidence of possession being “ cash ” or gold in hand, or certificates of stock in Connecticut. Is there any way by which Mr. Kirtland can retain thus much personal wealth, of course in Connecticut, where he resides, and yet put it out of the reach of assessment for taxes ? Mr. Wells says, Yes. Southern lawyers say, No. Let us look at Mr. Wells’s plan. His client lends money on a mortgage of land in Illinois. He does not buy the land; he only secures a conditional preemption or right to have it sold. Instead of twenty thousand dollars cash at his bankers or in his safe, he has a mortgage. When the assessor comes, can he say he is worth twenty thousand dollars less? By no means. In a business point ol view he is better off with the property in that shape, paying him in Connecticut a better income of interest, than before. There has been no loss or diminution. The evidence of his possession of the twenty thousand dollars has merely changed its name. The tax is not laid on the title, but on the property itself, twenty thousand dollars, in all its protean change, as in the classic fable, and I hope with the grasp of Hercules. The ownership of twenty thousand dollars’ worth of personal property has never passed out of Mr. Kirtland, or been exchanged for realty. If so, it would be curious to inquire why the mortgagor in Illinois still pays the state tax on the mortgaged property. Are the twenty thousand dollars— cash, notes, or mortgage—to go untaxed in Illinois, because the mortgagee, Kirtland, does not reside in Illinois? and untaxed in Connecticut, because the conditional assignment involves property out of the State’s jurisdiction? If such were the policy of the law, it would enable capital to draw to the resident owner all its fruits of interest by investment in foreign securities or mortgages out of the State’s jurisdiction, and yet be exempt from all the burdens of government. The New York capitalist need only exchange the nominal holding of securities with the Philadelphia or New Orleans capitalist, and both be exempt from any taxation. It would throw all the burden of taxation on lands, mining, manufactures, and commerce, and relieve the usurer and money-broker from any tax whatever. It is a proposal not to tax capital invested in usury. Not only does the theory deny that cash, bonds, and mortgages are property, but it asserts that by merely changing the name of property, as from bank-stock to foreign mortgage, its character is so altered, without diminution of value to the holder, that it ceases to be property.
Titles and debts, like the stones that indicate the boundaries of land, define the character of the property possessed, and the law taxes the thing described, not the paper, parchment, or granite. It always remains the same,—twenty thousand dollars in the possession of Mr. Kirtland, — and should be assessed wherever he is.
But shall the twenty thousand dollars, “ something made of nothing,”be taxed twice,—be taxed as cash in the hands of the mortgagee in Illinois, and as a mortgage lien in Connecticut ? It is a sufficient answer to that to say it is not the business of Connecticut to determine on what property Illinois shall lay her taxes. So long as Mr. Kirtland has possession of his twenty thousand dollars, as evidenced by the mortgage lien, and its interest is paid to him in Connecticut. he is not injured by any Illinois tax that is not laid on him. Nor would this be altered even if Mr. Kirtland paid the local tax on the mortgaged property, which is not the case stated by Mr. Wells; because that would be a mere incident of the transaction, insufficient to alter the express deed of the parties, declaring the realty had not been transferred.
But in practice the twenty thousand dollars is not taxed twice, The Illinois mortgagor is assessed the whole value of the estate mortgaged plus twenty thousand dollars cash and less twenty thousand dollars indebted to Kirtland, of Connecticut, by mortgage recorded. Thus, every incident shows that the property of twenty thousand dollars, which Mr. Wells persists in not recognizing as such, has never passed from Connecticut to Illinois, and the mortgaged land has not passed to Mr. Kirtland so as to render him locally liable for its assessed taxable value. The twenty thousand dollar property has gone through changes of name in the transaction, as a rogue assumes an alias to escape the officer; it has been cash or bank-stock in Connecticut, a mortgage lien laid in Illinois, and part cash again, but in all these it has always been the same twenty thousand dollars’ worth of property in the possession of Mr. Kirtland, of Connecticut. And that is what the State taxes,—the thing itself, not the name Mr. Kirtland may give it in his business. Titles and debts, therefore, are property just as federal currency is property, — not for the value of the paper or printing, but, to repeat the illustration of the landmarks, because they define and point out the property to be valued. So the mint stamp on a gold coin is property in that it defines what the piece is worth. The law only assumes that the mint stamp is correct. If Mr. Kirtland wishes to deny that the stamp on that particular mortgage bond is right, that is, it is a bad debt, he has that remedy. But he cannot at once admit that, like the mark on the coin, it is a correct definition of value in his hands, and then plead the contradiction that it is not the twenty thousand dollars the bond calls for. If it is property to him, it must be property to the State of Connecticut; and that I hold to be sustained by the Southern decisions throughout.
— I have sat for an hour or two lately in close proximity to Tweed, during one of his examinations before the board of aldermen in New York. One never entirely gets over his readiness to see the biggest thing of its kind in any notable line. Tweed is the Centennial of embezzlers. The magnitude of his exploits puts him on a different scale of being. You don’t feel as if you could enter into his sentiments and understand him in your way, on general principles of human nature. Speculation falls off abortively, as from the contemplation of how it must seem to be a rhinoceros or a white whale.
He has the face which Nast made so familiar, but so much less familiar than Nast’s that it seems washed out and visionary. He has a worldly but by no means a distinctively wicked air. Who has, that you can depend upon ? I have known a person who was decided by discriminating physiognomists to have “rascal written in every line of his face ” turn out an honest and faithful agent. There seems to be, indeed, no certain “ art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”The corporeal substance is too tough for the soul adequately to work itself through, and the features have to get along the best way they can without this assistance.
His complexion is red, his eye a milky blue, which is seen from a long distance. He read over the minutes of his previous testimony at first, breathing a little stertorously, like a lawyer preparing his notes to address the court. There is no theory of necessity or temptation in Tweed’s case, with which criminals at least palliate their own failings. His logical course, therefore, the only possible proceeding by which he can raise himself a little way, is to pull down as many as possible to his level. He seems finally to have taken this natural view of it. Each of his quick answers came tearing into the community like a case of moral canister. Now a row of senators, now a learned counsel, now a trusted financial officer, was mangled. It is not my province to decide on the truth of these charges; the point is that guilty or innocent the shots are fired and have their effect. At some lucky lapse of memory in minor matters, a name of this or that participant, one could hardly suppress a sigh of relief, as though he had seen a man barely escape a railroad train. Suppose some Tweed of ordinary life should turn up in each community and go to revealing what everybody had done! Would it be a good or evil moral influence, I wonder!
The audience at this hearing consisted of small-headed, crooked - featured men of the people, of a young and aimless sort, who might have been hanging about the corridors in the vague hope of — a possible overpaid job. It is hard to believe, but the ex“ Boss ” has been cheered while getting into his carriage. The imagination of this constituency is dazzled, perhaps, to the exclusion of moral considerations, by the Aladdin - like brilliancy of the treasures in which he dealt, and by the grandeur of the conception of taking a city of a million people by the throat for one’s own personal benefit.
Five thousand dollars, at one time, the Boss admits he considered a fair sum, — about as much as he now considers five dollars. Out of an invested capital of ten thousand dollars in doing the city printing, five plunderers drew seventy-five thousand dollars per annum for several years. The new court-house consumed fourteen millions, of which less than two were paid for the actual construction.
The legend of Tweed, as it might be called, with that of Jim Fisk, lingers in the Bowery, and the cult is disseminated to especial advantage in these hard times, throughout the country, by means of depressed “ variety show ” performers who wander out to open entertainments in the smaller places. The two are celebrated in a song, in which the weaknesses with which they stand charged are conceded in a manner, but their irregular sequestration of the funds of the rich is fully condoned in consideration of the uses to which they were put.
As well as I can recollect, the ballad has a general character like this: —
But he turned not the needy away from his door;
He distributed charities in various wards ;
Oh, he always was good to the poor.”
It does not differ so much from the plan of our friends the communists, —a man in the treasury ladling out its contents for the benefit of the indigent,— except, perhaps, that Tweed took rather too much for himself.
There are those who despair of republican institutions and of government generally, from a few cases like this. I should be inclined to do so myself, except that I notice that it is not the government alone which has an occasional book-keeper who steals. One’s attention is called now and then to something of the sort in the most vigilantly watched departments of private life.
— As to the cure of the faults arising from false culture various things may be said. The first thing necessary is to recognize the error, for the sting is taken out of affectation when its existence is acknowledged; but much more than this is necessary before any real change can be made. It would be well, in the first place, to confess that it is impossible for every one to know everything, and that a pretended omniscience, besides being unattractive, can be too easily assumed really to tempt any thoughtful person. Then it is not too much to say that there is nothing especially desirable in having the world filled with glib uniformity of opinion, in finding men’s ideas as monotonously alike as their dress-coats. A commendable plan would be to cultivate in all persons that for which they show some taste, and not to try to cover all their deficiencies with smooth padding, in order to secure agreement of each one with every one else, while keeping all from the full development of their latent points of excellence. Some will show no capacity for receiving culture: any wood may be varnished, but not every sort receives polish; and so it is with men and women. Others, again, can be properly educated, and additions may be made to their stock of information by educating the taste and not by fastening upon their inactive minds the general verdicts with which cultivated respectability demands that we shall agree. This may be illustrated by the following anecdote of a wise father who was more anxious that his daughter should be a person of taste than that she should learn her opinions by rote. Accordingly, he used to take her two or three times a week to look at the easts of the statues at the Boston Athenaeum, where she soon learned to perceive what there was fine in the statues of Sophocles, Menander, etc. For the next step her father told her that he was going to show her a statue grander and more dignified than any she had already seen, which, too, it would require all the experience she had to be able to enjoy. He then took her to Houdon’s statue of Washington and his cane. The daughter looked at it for some time, and then said, “ I know it must be very fine, because you said it was, but I really cannot see what you find to admire in it.” This is a true way of learning, which is in every respect preferable to getting a list of what is good out of a book, and then turning one’s experience to the corroboration of the authorities one has chosen to believe in.
There is, however, one thing at work which will doubtless prove more efficacious than denunciation of what is wrong or than recommending what is right in anecdotes and parables, and that is the voice of fashion, which has begun to say, in discreet, barely audible whispers, seldom beard as yet, but all the more powerful on that account, that culture is nonsense, and that its days are numbered. There need be no fear in any timid soul that this edict threatens harm to real education; it means, if it means anything, that pretentious culture may be soon an unfashionable thing, and that the great ardor for æsthetic propriety will be succeeded by some new enthusiasm, which too will have its day of flourishing, its fall and disappearance. No friend of real culture — there seems to be no other name for it — need fear the day; possibly in that dim future when people will have ceased to care for agreement with every one else, there may be some faint encouragement given to originality, which, properly checked, would be an interesting thing, but all the truth will not be in our hands then; perhaps, however, we may be able to see more clearly some of our errors.