The Contributors' Club
A MODERN EDEN.
Which hedges in the little all
My children know of flowers and trees,
Upon a limb that overshot
From neighbor Brown’s adjoining lot
There swung a mellow peach in the breeze.
The dawning joys of life invoke
Is only open to the sky ;
Therein they 've builded a baby' house,
And buried, I think, a tiny mouse,
And welcomed life without a sigh.
And little man Ned, where yesterday
In mimic mounds the earth they piled,
Or scraped acquaintance with a toad,
No longer is the old abode
Of baby hearts all unbeguiled.
Under the shade of a mossy stone,
The serpent of olden time did rise, —
The snake which stings the innocent,
The crawling beast of ill portent
Who drove the pure from Paradise.
Which guarded about the little all
Of innocence my babies knew,
And entered into the golden peach,
Which hung so temptingly in reach,
And wove his cruel spell anew.
Guided by the tempter bland,
Alas, has wrought a woful deed ;
And in a hallowed baby breast,
Which evermore will plead for rest,
Is born a bitter inward need.
While on my breast a golden head
In tearful penitence is laid ;
And close to mine a broken heart
Has sought its sorrow to impart, —
The little heart which disobeyed.
— Mr. Henry James’s Europeans is, to me, his best work, so far; always excepting two or three of his short stories. For his peculiar style of mere hints as to such commonplace things as reasons, motives, and causes seems to me better adapted to a short story, which is necessarily a sketch or condensation, than to the broader limits of a novel, where we are accustomed to more explanation and detail. It is true that Charles Reade, also, seldom tells us what his characters mean, intend, or think, but only what they say or do; leaving us, as James does, to study them as we study our living neighbors, who carry no windows in their breasts. But the difference here is that Reade’s characters always do such tremendous things, and so incessantly, that their mere bodily activity sufficiently defines their mental processes ; whereas Mr. James, as far as possible, has his people do nothing at all.
What atmosphere could possibly have been contrived more quiet than the wide, cool Wentworth homestead, and its little cottage opposite, from which, as scene, the story scarcely wavers, save for that one glimpse of the Acton mansion, emphasized and slightly colored by its “ delightful chinoiseries.” The two Europeans arrive, and, after one sharply drawn picture of their dislike for the Boston horse-cars, they depart to this Wentworth home, and stay there through to the end of the tale. No one does anything; a drive for Madame Münster and a drifting about in a skiff for Gertrude are about all the action allowed. So quiet is the story in tins respect that when, in the eleventh chapter, the baroness goes to see Mrs. Acton, and goes on foot, the description of her “ charming undulating step ” as she walked along the road is a kind of relief to us, and mentally we all go with her, glad of the exercise and movement and fresh air. Mr. James has advanced in his art; in this story of his there is absolutely no action at all. What is there, then? There is contrast of character, and conversation.
I suppose it will be allowed without question that we are all far more interested in the baroness than in the other characters. Felix is, to me, a failure, in spite of his felicitous name; or rather he is a shadow, making no definite impression of any kind,—like Mirah in Daniel Deronda. His “ intense smiling ” does not save him; does not give him body, any more than the brilliant rainbow gives body to the spray at Niagara Falls. Gertrude is not a failure; but she is not sufficiently explained. Minute details concerning her are given, such as for instance, that “ her stiff silk dress made a sound upon the carpet ” as she walked about the room; yet she remains from first to last like a tune which the composer has as yet but briefly jotted down. He knows it; but we do not. There is no mystery about it, however; it is only that he has not written it fully out, — that is all. Mr. Wentworth is excellent throughout; we see him, we are acquainted with him, sitting there “ with his legs crossed, lifting his dry pure countenance from the Boston Advertiser.” There is no indistinctness in the outline ; he is a figure clearly and carefully finished; some of James’s finest art has been given to him. Clifford and Lizzie are good, the latter an amusingly accurate picture of a certain type of very young American girl,— pretty, coolly self-possessed, endowed with a ready, unappalled, and slightly-stinging native wit; a small personage whose prominence and even presence amaze and secretly annoy the baroness, who is not accustomed to consider and defer to the opinions of “ little girls” in her graceful and victorious progress through society.
Mr. Brand is the good, slow, serious, clean young man, with large feet and a liking for substantial slices of the excellent home-made cake of well-regulated households, whom many of us know. There is an unregenerate way (which Mr. James shares) of looking at these young men, which sees only their ludicrous points. Light-natured fellows like Felix (or what we suppose Felix is intended to be) are always laughing at them. Even when poor Brand gives up the girl he loves, and stiffens his resolution by offering, in his official capacity, to unite her to his rival, a ludicrous hue is thrown over the action, and we all unite in an amused smile over the young minister and his efforts, which, judged soberly, is unfair. The " Brands ” always seem to me to belong to a soberer age; they are relics of plainer and more earnest times, and out of place in this American nineteenth century, where everything is taken lightly, and where ridicule is by far the most, potent influence. During the war, the Brands had a chance: they marched to the war with tremendous earnestness; nobody minded their big feet on the plain of battle; their slowness was mighty, like a sledge-hammer. Their strong convictions fired the assault; they headed the colored regiments; they made, by their motives and beliefs, even small actions grand. The whole nation was in earnest then; the Brands found their place. But now they are left to themselves again, and are a good deal like mastodons, living by mistake in a later age, objects of amusement to the lighter-footed modern animals, and unable to help it.
The baroness is, however, the character. She is the “ European,”——the contrast; she is the story.
In the first description of her personal appearance, I do not think Mr. James was quite fair ; he followed Tourguéneff, and pictured the irregularities of her features and personal deficiencies so minutely that I, for one, have never been able to forget it, or to think of her as in the least handsome. Now the baroness was handsome; she was an extremely charming woman. We have all met women of that sort; I mean women who had irregular features, but who yet, by their coloring, their grace, or some one single and wonderfully great beauty, kept us from noticing when with them whether their noses were classical, or their mouths large or small. If in real life this is a truth, it should be a truth doubly remembered and guarded in books, where necessarily the warmth of the personal presence is lost. Mr. James might have stated that her face was irregular, judged by rule, but he should have dwelt upon what beauties she did have, so that they would make a vivid impression; just as, in real life, they would have domineered vividly over her lacks, if she had entered the room where we were sitting. She is his creation ; we don't know her. He should have answered for her in this respect, and started us fairly.
What was the baroness’s fault? The moral of the story? — if there is any. Acton was deeply in love with her; yet he would not marry her.
According to my solution, the fault was (and the moral) that she lied; and, in our raw American atmosphere, delicate and congenial lying has not yet been comprehended as one of the fine arts. This is my idea of what Mr. James means.
George Eliot says, in speaking of Gwendolen’s mood early one morning,
“ It was not that she was out of temper; but that the world was not equal to the demands of her fine organism.” So likewise it was not that the baroness spoke untruths ; but the American world was not equal to the accomplishments of her fine organism, or the habits bred in older and more finished society on the other side of the Atlantic.
Mr. James’s delightful style is even more delightful than usual in this story. Mr. Wentworth’s “ thin, unresponsive glance;” Mr. Brand, “stiffly and softly” following; the “well-ordered consciousness ” of the Wentworth household ; Clifford Wentworth’s “ softly growling tone,” indicative, however, merely of “ a vaguely humorous intention” (how good that is!); and, best of all, the last visit of the baroness to Mrs. Acton, and the conversation between the two women, Madame Munster at last giving up in despair, as she perceives that all her delicate little points of language and tone are thrown away, and feeling “ that she would never know what such a woman as that meant,” — these are perfect, and make us, for a while, impatient with less artistic stories.
One peculiarity of style I have noticed, namely, the large number of what seem to me “stage directions.” Thus, fourteen times in three consecutive pages, taken at random from those containing conversation, it is particularly noted down that they “ looked at ” each other. As “ Gertrude looked at her a moment, and then, ' Yes, Charlotte.,’ she said simply; ” “ Gertrude looked at Lizzie Acton, and then looked away;” “She looked down at him a moment, and then shook her head.” They “look at” each other “ a moment,” and “ then ” speak, uncountable numbers of times. Generally, in print, cela va sans dire. I don’t mean that this is a fault at all; but certainly it is a characteristic peculiarity.
— For the benefit of those who think that Mr. Brooks Adams’s article in The November Atlantic, on Oppressive Taxation of the Poor, exaggerates or distorts the truth, I wish to present a plain statement of actual occurrences in corroboration of his assertions. It is the experience of a friend of mine, a laboring man, living in the suburbs of Boston, and may perhaps throw some light on the causes of the revolt against our administrative system and the discontent so widely felt at the prevailing character of our financial legislation for many years past. Desperate diseases are felt to demand desperate remedies, and men rush wildly into any movement that promises, however falsely, relief from burdens that are crushing out their lives. I give the account in the sufferer’s own language:—
“ I had $2000 in gold left me by legacy many years ago. Before the war I lent it; it was repaid to me in paper, in virtue of the legal-tender acts and decisions. In 1870, full of the idea so enthusiastically preached, that it was an immense advantage to a workingman to own his own house, I bought one which had been built several years; the price was $4500, and I paid $1500 down and gave a mortgage for $3000 more, spending a considerable sum in improvements. It was assessed at $3600, and the taxes were $12 on a thousand. The interest on the mortgage was seven and one half per cent., the mortgagees being taxed for it and charging me two and one half per cent, extra to make up for the tax, which therefore came out of me instead of them. Last year the assessment had been raised to $5000, and the taxes were $18.50 per thousand, making $92.50 of direct tax, instead of $43.20, as at first, — more than double. I paid $225 for interest, of which $75 was due to the mortgage tax; $7.50 per year for insurance; and allowing one and one half per cent, for repairs, or $75 more, I was paying exactly $400 a year for a house dear at $300, besides an indeterminate but considerable sum for public improvements. I had just $1500 of my own, and paid taxes on $8000. I could not endure it, and turned the whole property over to the mortgagees, sacrificing all I had put in; so that the financial legislation of the state and nation and municipal extravagance had robbed me of all the money I had in the world, I immediately rented the house of the mortgagees at $200 a year, half what I had been paying; and they will only have to pay taxes on $5000, while so long as I had it I paid on $8000. So much for the advantage of a workingman owning his own house; and so much for the equity of the system of taxation in this commonwealth. I was taxed on the money I invested in the property, on the money I borrowed to make up the residuary value of the property, and on that same residuary value over again; while as soon as the men I borrowed the money from took it away from me, the latter amount was not taxed at all. The simple act of transferring the title to another party seems to have reduced its value $3000; and I can’t see any reason for it. There is just as much of it now as ever, and it is capable of furnishing just as much revenue; yet It has to pay but little more than half as much. What equity is there in taxing a man not only on all the property he uses, but on all the money he has to borrow to retain the use of it? If I had not put in any money, and mortgaged it for the whole value, I should have been taxed on $10,000. So it seems the value of property rises in inverse proportion to the amount of ready money the man has that buys it, and the rich man who pays cash is only taxed half as much as the poor man who has none. If this is not legislating for the rich against the poor, what is? In plain words, I had to pay $75 a year as a penalty for the crime of having only $2000 instead of $5000.’
It must be said that the advantage of a workingman’s owning his own house has been grossly overestimated. Its chief effect is to tie him down to one spot and make it impossible for him to go in search of work or take an offer of a position in another place without great loss; and when dull times come he has an elephant on his hands, and the chances are even he will have to relinquish it and lose the fruit of a life-time of labor. It takes money to keep as well as get property, as my friend found to his cost. But a system that taxes the poor man twice as heavily as the rich, and bears harder on a man in exact proportion to his inability to bear the burden, is a monstrous iniquity, and has no excuse or palliation. The state government exists to encourage thrift and give every possible facility to every citizen to acquire a competence: yet its laws virtually prohibit any man from acquiring real property till he has money enough to buy for cash,—a system that would end in destroying the whole fabric of trade and industry. It is in the strictest sense legislation in favor of the rich and against the poor; and deplorable as it may be, it is not at all wonderful that many of the latter feel inclined to hurl the whole administrative system to pieces and see if under another they will not fare better.
— I think I have a fresh “ find ” for Mr. Richard Grant White. It appears that freight-train is an Americanism. In a London reprint of one of my books, the proof-reader or the publisher, out of deference to the sensitive nerves of English society, has kindly substituted “ good’s-train ” for my own barbaric phrase. This, by the bye, was in the pirated edition; in the authorized reprint I am allowed to say freight-train. Another possible Americanism occurs to me. When Mr. Dickens was in this country, in 1868, I chanced to use the word “ spool ” in his presence. A puzzled expression came into his face; then he said quickly, “ Ah, I see! a reel.” Is not spool English? Surely, I have seen the word “ spool-cotton ” printed on the labels of that kind of goods manufactured in England, Perhaps that was a device especially designed for the American market, like certain brands of champagne which are nearly if not quite unknown in the champagne countries.
— The coming of the Great American Novelist has probably been retarded fifty years by the recent cutting in of a Western newspaper correspondent, who thus describes the death of Sam Bass, the notorious bandit and train-robber of Texas: —
“ As the sun retired to his rosy couch in the dim chambers of the hazy west, a scene full of sad interest was transpiring [this is newspaperese for “ happening,” or “taking place”] in a little plank house in the village. Upon a common cot, covered with strong, thick canvas, lay a young man, over whose manly brow twentyseven summers had scarcely passed. He was what the world calls handsome, a man who naturally looked a leader of his fellows; one whom any woman might adore. Of medium height, he scarcely weighed one hundred and forty; of form finely proportioned, terse and from frequent expression of severe pain that passed over his pallid and even now corpse-like features. [This is slightly incoherent; the writer’s meaning, if he had any, seems to have toddled off into space; but it is very fine.] He breathed heavily, and a subdued groan occasionally escaped his lips. Standing near the cot, and with deep interest regarding its occupant as the departing sunlight entered the apartment, stood Major John B. Jones, the commander of the Texas Rangers, and the High Sheriff of Williamson County. But no woman, no friend of the wounded man, was near. The young man who lay dying was Sam Hass, the great desperado, bandit, outlaw, and bold chief of the Texas gang of train-robbers. . . . The sad ending of the life of this noted desperado will serve as another beaeonliglit among the moral wrecks that he along the strand of time! Strange to say, there was a good angel that occasionally threw light on this strange and dark life of crime. Young, pure, and fair among the daughters of North Texas [this seems to intimate that the daughters of North Texas are not as a general thing young, pure, and fair], she watched the fortunes of the robber chief. [So did the police.] It was the bright and beautiful rainbow spanning the dark abyss of a ruined human life.”
The most unreflecting reader of this elegant extract cannot fail to notice that the Plutarch of “ Mr. John Oakhurst, the gambler,” has been made to bite the dust on his own familiar ground. None but a genius of first order could have evolved such lofty prose out of so unpromising a subject as a red-handed thief, shot down by the officers of the law. Here the pathos and picturesqueness of that modern hybrid, the MoralScoundrel, are brought to their legitimate limits. What a delicious dimenovel atmosphere envelops the whole story! How obviously, in spite of him. the writer’s admiration for the late Samuel Bass crops out! That “ manly brow,” forsooth! and that pure young daughter of North Texas (she is probably serving out her time in some Western penitentiary), who disports herself as a rainbow over the abyss of a ruined human life! Was there ever such rubbish ? Unfortunately, yes; there are newspapers everywhere which print little else. It is such writing as this that sends an emulous thrill through the gamins of our towns and highways, and makes the small wretches long to be romantic child-murderers and heroic bandit chiefs. In New York there is a juvenile weekly or monthly magazine crowded with narratives in which just such high-hearted pirates and scalawags as the late Samuel Bass are made to figure as heroes. Now and then, when I come across a specimen of the cheap literature of the day, especially the literature designed for children, I am almost tempted to doubt the wisdom of “ compulsatory education.”
— In the September number of The Atlantic Mr. Sedgwick disposes rather summarily of M. de Laveleye’s argument for the general adoption of some such system of land tenure as is found in connection with the allmends of certain Swiss cantons, where common (or communal) property in the soil seems entirely compatible with high cultivation, as well as with industry, thrift, and progress. Granting at the outset the improbability that this particular form of land tenure will ever become general, I still am far from believing that the best system which civilization is capable of giving us has yet been evolved, and I do not see anything unphilosophical in M. de Laveleye’s opinion that the desiderated improvement is to be sought in a return to the principle which governed the earlier tenures. Mr. Sedgwick regards such an opinion as the evidence of a retrogressive tendency, which he compares with what the Darwinians call atavism,—a tendency which they find in the animal world towards a return, in exceptional cases, to primitive types and forms. “ Atavism,” says Mr, Sedgwick, “ can never be a living social force. . . . To suppose that it is to succeed is to suppose that the world is to go backwards, and that we are to relapse into the primeval night and chaos out of which we sprang.” There is, however, a wide difference between recurring to some principle which prevailed in primitive society and attempting to reëstablish the forms in which it was embodied. For example, there is the utmost difference in form between a modern parliamentary assembly and the “May field” of the ancient Germans, “ where all the warriors assembled in arms, and expressed their decision by. the wapentak, or clash of arms;”1 and yet the representative bodies of modern times are the instruments through which we seek to give effect to the same democratic principle which reigned in the May field.
It maybe true that representative government, even at its best, is not working quite satisfactorily, but its establishment was, nevertheless, a step forwards; and I venture to say that its short-comings are in a great measure due to a social organization and to social conditions bequeathed to us by an earlier time, and not yet brought into harmony with the new political institutions. That these may succeed we must have social and economic adjustments calculated to check the present rapid production of proletaires.
Having in view the social and political conditions under which the land systems of Western Europe were developed, I am disposed to attach more importance than Mr. Sedgwick does to the example of Switzerland, — the one nation whose people managed to preserve their primitive freedom. There, as elsewhere, the inconveniences of the primitive system of common ownership have doubtless been felt; but it was not possible there, as it was elsewhere, to remove them by arbitrary methods, having regard only, or chiefly, to the interests and wishes of a privileged class. Hence, to a considerable extent, the system has survived, in spite of the propagandism of political economists and the example of surrounding nations. That it should have shown such tenacity of life, in a country where the masses have had the greatest influence on affairs, is suggestive of the idea that it must contain some vital principle, chiefly valuable to the common people, which, in their estimation, formed a satisfactory offset to its economic disadvantages, and that in the system offered in its stead this principle is sacrificed to practical convenience.
The institution of private property in land assumes the right of some one generation to parcel out the common domain, and to make such arrangements for its transmission to posterity that a considerable part of the community — perhaps even a large majority — may, in the course of time, be cut off from their natural right to earth room and to the opportunity of availing themselves of nature’s gratuitous coöperation in the work of production.2 So great is this hardship, and so detrimental to society is the existence of a large proletarian class, that we may well ask ourselves whether the essential advantages incident to our present land system cannot be had at a smaller sacrifice; whether, in short, it is not possible to devise a scheme adapted to the needs of civilized society, in which the ancient principle of equal rights in the soil may be essentially conserved, just as the ancient principle of democracy is Conserved in the complicated machinery of the modern republic. I am not sure but that such a scheme has already been submitted in the proposition of Mr. John Stuart Mill “to intercept by taxation, for the benefit of the state, the unearned increase in the value of land,” — an increase which, in Europe and America, has, within the present century, transferred without any equivalent many 'thousands of millions of dollars from the landless to the land-owning class. The principle, involved in Mr. Mill’s proposal is founded in the strictest justice, and its adoption — supposing it to be practicable — would be attended with a number of very important advantages. Applied at the original settlement of a new country, it would indirectly conserve the inherent right of man to a share in the bounties of nature; and applied at a later stage it would preserve that right from further encroachment, while fully respecting the existing rights of the land owner. It would, moreover, remove the strongest temptation to the monopoly of the soil; and this, with a variety of other incidental results, would be brought about without arbitrary interference with the size of holdings, the perpetuity of tenure, or the freedom of transfer. But whatever may be thought of this or any other plan hitherto presented, the results of the present condition of Land tenure are surely not such as should incline us to regard it as a finality; and a people who still possess 1,700,000 square miles of public land may certainly find their advantage in considering with serious and respectful attention the views of so thoughtful an investigator as M. de Laveleye.
declares that “equity does not permit property in land.”
— The following letter was picked up in my cow-pasture last Sunday evening, by a young fellow of the neighborhood, on his way to see his girl.
Whether some of these new-fangled labor reformers got it up for a “ sell,” or some of our big corporation fellows had it prepared in dead earnest, is more than I can tell. At any rate, it sets a man to thinking, and I send it to you for publication as a curiosity, or something else hard to put into words. Yours respectfully, * * *
BUCKSHOT CORNERS, PA.
To THE HON. ALEXANDER HAMILTON:
SIR, - It, is barely possible that this letter may never meet your eye, but you will no doubt be aware of its contents as soon as it is written, or perhaps as soon as conceived. You may rest assured that you would not be annoyed, at this late date, by communications like this, did not necessity the most urgent exist.
Bluntly, we are in a bad way, and have been ever since we were deprived of your counsels. You must have left a mantle behind you; upon whose shoulders does it now rest? If we knew that, we certainly would not trouble you after this fashion, but would consult with your successor. Despairing of being able to discover him (at least unaided), we have no other resource than to disturb you for a short time.
You remember that you always predicted the logical results of the Jeffersonian theories. The great Virginian led us out of the broad, granite-paved highway into meadows, flowery and safe enough at a casual glance, but full of hidden pitfalls, through which we stumbled, until by imperceptible steps we reached our present stopping place, from which we can faintly hear the roar of the abyss at no great distance in advance.
You have not forgotten your idea of «a permanent senate, an executive elected to serve during life or good behavior, and a popular assembly with quadrennial sessions. How would that answer now? Of course you never saw, but are doubtless aware of, the letter that Gouverneur Morris wrote to Mr, Ogden, of New Jersey, in December, 1804, some six months after Burr fired the fatal shot. Mr. Morris said in that letter, among other things, in alluding to one of your favorite ideas, “ I suspect that his belief in what he called an approaching crisis arose from a conviction that the kind of government most suitable, in his opinion, to this extensive country could be established in no other way. . . . When our population shall have readied a certain extent, his system may be proper, and the people may then be disposed to adopt it. . . . When a general question is raised as to the best form of government, it should be discussed under the consideration that this best, being presupposed, is, if unable to preserve itself, good for nothing. . . . When a general abuse of the right of election shall have robbed our government of respect, and its imbecility have involved it in difficulties, the people will feel that they want something to protect them against themselves
Some of us think that the above considerations exist to-day, and we want to apply the remedy. Could you not cause your hidden successor to reveal himself and reconstruct the ancient but not forgotten fabric of federalism ? “We appeal to you, not expecting, in the nature of things, any direct response; but thinking that, by the aid of forces to us unknown, you might exert an influence that would show us the man of our time, who can and will, by constitutional methods, lead us back to the path marked out by yourself and your great compeers, Washington and Adams.
With great veneration we are, like the sages of old, PRUDENS FUTURI.
— Walking down the garden path in the warm midsummer noon, I noticed an unusually pervading odor of mignonette. Remembering the time-honored simile of the Christian in adversity, I turned to see who had been trampling and bruising my flowers, to cause such delicious odors. The mignonette bed lay calm and undisturbed, sleeping peacefully in the full glare of the sunshine, whose warm and life-giving rays were bringing forth its fragrance and spreading it abroad.
While I stood, a little confused, trying to reconcile the evidence of my senses with the theories my mind had always accepted, the southwest wind brought from the pine woods behind the house the warm, delicious, aromatic smell which only a blazing sun can bring from them. And then it occurred to me to wonder why this simile was never used. I suppose I have found, in books or sermons, at least five hundred times, the fragrance produced by rubbing or bruising a plant or flower compared with the moral beauty and strength of character developed by trouble and sorrow. “ Sweet are the uses of adversity ” has passed into a proverb; but are there no uses of the prosperity under which so many good people labor? Why do we never hear of the gifts and graces that flourish in the sunshine? Why are we never reminded of the soft odors of refinement, culture, and courtesy that are exhaled in an atmosphere of wealth, ease, and leisure?
“ Give-the devil his due” is the old saying, and if the poor unfortunates who are exposed to the demoralizing influences of prosperity have any compensating advantages, why should it not sometimes be admitted?
— I am one of the few Americans who. have not testified before the committee on the depression of business; but, all the same, I should like to add my quota to the literature on the subject. All who have treated it, so far as I know, have passed by one important cause. It is very true that disproportionate production has much to do with it, and that the direct destruction of capital incident to the late war has had still more; but neither of these causes is chargeable with so much injury to business as thetransformation of labor in certain sections from an available to an unavailable shape.
Under the slavery system, the negroes were nearly all made to work; and they worked on plantations, which supplied Northern manufacturers with raw material, Northern mechanics with work,, and Northern merchants with moneyed and liberal customers. The emancipation put an end to this, in great measure at least. One large class of the colored population journeyed to the North, where they added to the army of superfluous and starving labor. Another and larger class flocked into the cities and towns of the Southern and border States, where they lived more by the destruction of property than its creation. Another, larger still, and increasing with every year, took to the wmods and swamps, where they lead an independent and partly self-supporting life, but one which is not far removed from barbarism, and which contributes almost nothing to commerce. Of the remainder, a certain number are steady, thriving workers; but many are irregular and unreliable, needing constant supervision, and always fonder of a holiday than of the money which toil would bring. Every one familiar with the state of affairs at the South will recognize the truth of the above statements.
It may be said that there has been a partial compensation in the increased industry of the whites; but I doubt this. The poorer whites always worked, physically, more or less; and nothing has occurred to increase their labor. Its products, too, are mainly consumed at home. The whites who have retained any large amount of property are as unlikely to put their hands to the plow as a wholesale Boston merchant would be to do his own portering, or a wealthy publisher to set type. Those who are driven by their losses into manual labor are naturally driven also out of the ranks of lavish purchasers; and what they buy is bought of their own people rather than of those whom they blame for their impoverishment. Witness the great number of manufactories which have grown up at the South in the past few years. Finally, their energetic men have, heard from so many quarters that Southern wastefulness was the cause of Southern misfortunes, and that Yankee economy brought Yankee wealth, that they make desperate and sometimes queerly inconsistent efforts to stint themselves and all about them. Northern luxuries are eschewed; and people who once prided themselves on their fine apparel (Northern made) are now contented with tatters and patches. They have almost ceased in some sections to send their sons to Northern colleges; and if forced by sickness or family demands to seek a summer watering-place, they save railroad fare and other expenses by choosing one within their own borders.
The homely proverb “You cannot keep your cake and eat it” applies in this as in all other cases. We ate our cake of the Southern trade in the hope that it would have a medicinal effect, and nothing remains for the present but to endure the medicine and the privation together, with as few wry faces as we may. The whole affair is an admirable illustration of Herbert Spencer’s dictum that the unforeseen consequences of a law always far outnumber those which were foreseen; and that nearly all legislative efforts to remedy evil have resulted merely in changing its distribution.
— While the spelling reformers are busy in their good work, I hope they will not forget the present deplorable condition of the hyphen. The discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation in which the English language abounds — some of them very grotesque — become specially noticeable in the division of words into syllables. Examine the latest new book on your table, or run your eye down the columns of this magazine, and you will be pretty sure to find a few examples. Here are some which I have met very recently: troub-le, vict-uals, grand-eur, sub-tlest, wom-en, hand-led; the first and the last are types of a large class.
To many people, probably, syllabication seems a matter of little practical moment; but in printing, the division of words is an ever-recurring necessity, — a necessity which knows no law, I am tempted to add. The English commonly avoid all trouble by following two or three simple rules. They divide so as to show the component parts of a compound or derivative word, without regard to pronunciation; and when a single consonant, or any combination of consonants representing a single sound, stands between two vowels, it is considered as belonging to the second. This practice secures an easy uniformity, but it robs a very important Peter to pay an insignificant Paul: words so divided give the reader no clew to the real quality of the vowel preceding the hyphen, and leave him quite in the dark as to the correct pronunciation of the syllable. I have sometimes wondered whether the lengthening of short vowels, so often heard among the less educated English, is not in part due to the influence of such divisions.
The American usage is altogether different from the English. Our authorities for the most part agree that whenever words are divided they should be made to serve as guides to pronunciation. I do not find any direct expression of Dr. Worcester’s view, but he quotes without dissent these words from the Encyclopædia Britannica: “ The most natural way of dividing words into syllables is to separate all the simple sounds of which any word consists, so as not to divide those letters which are joined close together according to the most accurate pronunciation.” Webster explicitly states that in his Dictionary “ words are uniformly divided so as to represent their pronunciation in the most accurate manner,” the etymological principle of syllabication being allowed to operate only where it cannot possibly lead to any misapprehension of the correct pronunciation. Other writers on the subject are clear in stating as a fundamental principle that every conflict between the two methods of division must be settled in favor of pronunciation.
This unanimity in theory is very pleasant and encouraging. One feels that the path of practice must prove easy to his feet, since the guides agree so well in their descriptions; he soon finds, however, that these very guides have crossed the trail so often that it is lost in hopeless confusion. Those letters are not to be separated, it will be observed, “ which are joined close together according to the most accurate pronunciation.” But what is “ the most accurate pronunciation ”? In many instances Webster and Worcester do not agree, and Sproule and Wheeler, not being in the line of apostolic succession, have been unable to set the seal of infallibility on their choice between the doctors. In a word, there is no work which is accepted as authority upon the most accurate pronunciation. Even where Webster and Worcester give the same pronunciation, however, they by no means always employ the same divisions, apparently differing widely in their views of the most accurate way of indicating the most accurate pronunciation.
Despairing, then, of being able to use both dictionaries with any peace of mind, we incontinently dismiss one, — only to find the inconsistencies of the other so many and so great that our embarrassment is no whit lessened. Suppose we choose Webster. In all cases of doubt we turn of course to the place where the word in question is defined; the division into syllables is there clearly marked. Shortly, however, we discover that in some cases words of analogous formation are dissimilarly divided; we find even so strange a case as this (though not a rule, of course): prefixing a syllable of negation is attended by a change in the division of the root word.
A little further search shows that when certain words are presented for definition they are divided in one way; when they are incidentally used in the definition of other words, the divisions are different. For instance, in proper alphabetical position we find “ Wom-an, etc.; elsewhere, if the word happens to be divided at the end of a line, it is very like to be “ wo-man.” Eventually we come to the conclusion that at least in the latest edition one of the editors attended very carefully to the divisions in the full-face type, but left all others to the printer; the printer in turn left them to chance, and chance has been particularly vicious. Worcester’s Dictionary is likewise contradictory. Here we find, for example, “port-al, n.,” and “por-tal, a.” Ex uno disce omnes. Clearly, the hyphen needs reforming.
— In the article on the Meaning of Music in the October Atlantic, Mr. White refers incidentally to a familiar passage from the Merchant of Venice, and gives it as his opinion that, while the sentiments it contains have dramatic verity and significance, they are nevertheless actually untrue. Mr. White’s remarks serve to draw attention to the very common habit of taking words out of the mouths of Shakespeare’s characters, and citing them as literal truth in the argument of abstract questions. The average thinker is constantly losing sight of the distinction between dramatic truth and absolute truth. Shakespeare is the most impersonal of writers. His was the most purely artistic temperament in all literature. Men of inferior genius have written plays and novels “ with a purpose,” in which the characters, like the puppets of a ventriloquist, are mere caricatures of humanity, through which the author discourses upon metaphysics, science, and society. Shakespeare’s characters are modeled in flesh; prick them, and you have not sawdust, but blood ! They talk like men, and not like philosophical talkingmachines. Other great artists, notably Goethe and George Eliot, have created genuine men and women; but they have also had their own personal say, speaking, as it were, between the lines. Their characters have independent, objective life, and move freely upon the stage; but the author acts as chorus, and gives us the paragraph philosophy of the modern psychological novel. But it is never safe to isolate a fragment of conversation or even a soliloquy from one of Shakespeare’s dramas and look upon it as his personal dictum. Its aptness and relevancy must be tested by considering it in connection with the mental constitution and physical environment of the character uttering it.
Undoubtedly the unanimous verdict of the educated world would be that Shakespeare had greater subjective, insight than any other man who ever lived and wrote. Many readers, however, overlook the fact that this faculty is manifested only by objective forms. In estimating Shakespeare’s subjective insight we must remember that he never in propria persona analyzes motives or dissects character. You see the men he has created act, and hear them talk, and inferentially obtain glimpses of the incomprehensible power behind these phenomena. But what these men and women before us on the stage say is not so intrinsically remarkable as cultured public opinion Uniformly rates it. Dramatically considered Hamlet’s soliloquy is matchless. As through a crystal we see this abnormal mind at work, the conflicting motives impinging upon and modifying each other. But I have never been able to discover in the soliloquy itself either subtle abstract ideas, or pervading philosophic depth. In reading Emerson we come in contact with a psychological seer who writes from a personal stand-point. He is an analyzer as Shakespeare is a creator. I venture, in all humility of judgment, to intimate that Emerson has seen farther into the “open secret” than have the majority of Shakespeare’s characters. Shakespeare’s philosophy is limited in scope by the artistic exigencies of the dramat ic form. When he created a great man he endowed him with a rich intellectual nature. But Shakespeare never fell into Browning’s error and violated art by making kings and clowns, scholars and children, talk with uniform profundity of thought and " barbaric splendor ” of erudition. In a genuine art-world both great men and little men act and speak like their originals in the world of reality. And in proportion to gross population, Shakespeare’s world does not contain a much larger number of extraordinary men than the world he lived in once and we live in now.