The Contributors' Club
SINCE the readers of magazines and newspapers appear to take an especially kindly interest just now in the fortunes of literary men, and as my own have not been entirely uneventful, it has struck me that if, following the example of a recent writer in The Atlantic Monthly, I put some of my experiences into a narrative form, the editor may think it worth his while to print them.
I may as well say at starting that I belong to the old country, and that at this present writing I am living and following my calling on the continent of Europe. I was not educated for a literary career, nor did I adopt that career until somewhat late in life. Nevertheless, from my youth upwards I have had what are called literary aspirations, and before I was twenty I wrote many articles for an English country newspaper, and got thereby a considerable insight into the nature of newspaper work. This was all for love, however. Yet I had my reward: the sight of myself in print and the proud consciousness that my “ leaders ” formed a regular topic of discussion in the bar-parlor of the Brown Cow were more to me than many guineas. Alas for the innocent vanity of those vanished days ! This vernal pleasure was not of long duration. Circumstances that I was unable to resist forced me into ways of life for which I was ill fitted, and with which the pursuit of literature was altogether incompatible. For years the only writing I did was the writing of commercial letters, and the only articles which I had to offer were articles of trade. At length good fortune, rather than my own efforts, released me from this thralldom, and I was free to attempt the climbing of Parnassus. I resolved first of all to make myself a journalist. But how? When I looked over the advertisements in the Athenæum and saw how many clever fellows,— men who could write anything at a moment’s notice, from a " five-line paragraph” to a three-volume novel, — verbatim reporters, brilliant leader writers, accomplished critics, university graduates with a knowledge of all the modern languages, and other phenomenal creatures, were offering their services for next to nothing, my heart sank within me, and I had serious thoughts of turning my attention to something else. But I did not, and after giving the matter due consideration I decided to go abroad, study foreign languages, and otherwise prepare myself for the calling which I had chosen. This I did, and besides studying assiduously, especially the German language and literature, I read the newspapers and kept my eyes open.
One day an event occurred that gave me an opportunity for which I had been long watching. An Englishman, quite innocent of offense, fell into the hands of the police of the city in which I was living, and was brutally maltreated. I wrote an account of the affair and sent it to an English paper. My letter had a great success; it was quoted far and wide. I followed it up with others, and so became an acknowledged and paid correspondent of the paper in question. The pay was a guinea a column, but as the columns were short and narrow and the type large, this rate of remuneration was better than it looked. My chief difficulty consisted in finding subjects to write about, for the editor insisted on news, and news in a second-rate Continental city is rather a scarce commodity; it is not every day that a stupid, if well-meaning Briton gets himself handcuffed and locked up by the cock-hatted myrmidons of a foreign despot. However, I went on writing; when I could not make a “ newsy ” letter I wrote a sketchy one. I wrote very carefully, generally going over the ground twice, and never minding whether my articles were accepted or not. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why, after our connection had lasted a few months, the editor offered me a permanent place at head-quarters. I accepted it; less on account of the salary, which was ridiculously small, than that it afforded me the long-desired chance of becoming a professional journalist. My duties in my new situation were rather multifarious than arduous: I did translations; wrote reviews, leading articles, and even musical critiques, for which last my qualifications were an indifferent ear and a profound ignorance of music. I presume I gave satisfaction, since after a short probation my pay was increased to thirty dollars a week, and I began to flatter myself that I was on the tide that leads to fortune. But it soon ebbed, this tide; the paper changed hands, the new proprietors brought their own staff, and I with several others was turned adrift. I did not feel much discouraged, however; I had acquired some useful experience, made myself friends, and, best of all, I left behind me a certain reputation. I returned to the Continental city which I had quitted for the post of assistant editor, and resumed the writing of a book which I had begun before my departure.
Thus occupying myself I quietly waited, and in the course of two or three months I received the offer of an editorship in another Continental city. But I was not content with the performance of my rather easy duties; I desired to connect myself with one of the leviathans of the London press. This object promised to be somewhat difficult of attainment. In all the great European capitals English journals are of course very efficiently represented, and for an individual without influence to obtain the post of Paris, Berlin, or Vienna correspondent of one of the big London dailies were about as easy as for a poet or philosopher without political opinions to become president of the United States, while in places of secondary importance they generally do not care to be represented at all. If only something would happen! Something did happen. This time it was not an Englishman who fell into the hands of the police, but some English people who fell into the water and got drowned. I forthwith telegraphed the news to London at a cost of some three dollars, and a few days later I received a courteous note from the manager inclosing a check for £2 2s., which left a fair profit on the transaction. I went on telegraphing from time to time such items of news as 1 thought would be acceptable, and they were, in point of fact, always accepted, but the rate of remuneration was gradually reduced, until at length it. became almost imperceptible. I found that I had got hold of one of the least flourishing or most close-fisted of English dailies, and I resolved to make a change. Meanwhile a contribution which I had offered to a London weekly paper had been accepted, with a gracious intimation from the editor that he would be glad to number me amongst his regular contributors; the pay was three guineas for two columns. About this time a strange thing happened. I got paid twice over for the same article, and became the “own correspondent” of one of the most important daily newspapers published in the English language. An idea occurred to me, —one which I thought I could work into a letter that this paper might possibly accept. I wrote it, accordingly, and sent it in, but as, after a lapse of ten days, my poor contribution had not appeared, I naturally concluded it had been rejected, and thought myself quite at liberty to rewrite and send it to the weekly journal, to which I now contributed something nearly every week. Imagine my horror when on one and the same day my article appeared in both papers ! I thought I was ruined with both, but no harm came of it; I suppose the editors of neither noticed the coincidence, and readers who perceived it thought, probably, that the one had borrowed from the other without acknowledgment. The acceptance of my article by the big daily led to a connection which has endured ever since, greatly to my satisfaction, and, as I trust, to the satisfaction of the managers of the paper.
In one of my walks abroad I happened to make the acquaintance of a vagabond sort of fellow who spoke several languages indifferently well, and seemed to have seen a good deal of the shady side of Continental life. He had been a superior spy in the French police of the last empire, and in that capacity had met with rather queer experiences. I persuaded him to reduce certain of his recollections to writing, and giving some study to the subject thus suggested, and obtaining further information from other quarters, I worked the whole up into a series of articles for the London weekly, and was paid therefor at the rate of five guineas each; as I wrote fourteen, this made me sixty guineas, after paying my ex-spy fifty dollars for his trouble. The most I have ever made by my pen in one month is two hundred dollars, but my average earnings fall short of this sum by at least fifty dollars. Perhaps if I were totally dependent on literature for my living I should work harder and earn more, although as it is I think I work pretty hard. At the same time I dare say I write more slowly and with greater difficulty than men who have devoted the greater part of their lives to the calling of letters.
I am now writing a series of articles for another London weekly,—not the one with which I began, — of large circulation, at two guineas each; and as the editor does not like articles to run more than a column and a half, and the column averages about seven hundred words, the pay is not bad. The ordinary rate of the Saturday Review is three guineas for two columns, and the large London dailies generally pay correspondents at the rate of two guineas the column. Leader writers are specially retained and well paid: the leader writers on the Times get from £1200 to £1500 a year; the editor has £2000, and the manager £5000, a year. Nobody seems to know, or to be able to guess, the annual gains of the Times, but the popular imagination puts them down at somewhere about a quarter of a million.
The “ great city leaf,” as German papers are in the habit of calling their mighty contemporary, is noted in the press world for its liberality with its employees. A man once on the Times may consider himself provided for for life, if he does his duty. The difficulty of getting on may be estimated from the fact that the number of fully qualified candidates for situations, all waiting anxiously for their turn, is scarcely ever less than fifteen hundred. Not that the proprietors confine themselves in their selection for vacancies to the names on their list; they take a good man, especially when they want a leader writer or foreign correspondent, wherever they find him.
It goes without saying that the Times must be organized almost to perfection in all its departments; nevertheless there is an old-fashioned something in its ways of doing business, an absence of shabbiness, a loftiness of manner, and a clinging to ancient forms, exceedingly refreshing in these days of fussiness, push, and frantic competition. For instance, when the Times has to make you a remittance, it does not, as other papers do, send you a check, — though a Times check would probably be good for any amount up to a million sterling that might be inscribed thereon; it sends you a Bank of England post-bill. If you call at the office for your account, you are paid in crisp bank-notes or gold coin of the realm, and as the kindly paymaster and publisher hands you the cash he exchanges a few friendly words with you, and, as likely as not, offers you a pinch of snuff. You are not hustled in at one door and hurried out at another, like a bale of goods; no hook-nosed cashier tries to cut down your little bill, and if there be in it, perchance, a doubtful item, the Times gives you the benefit of the doubt. It is a very lord among journals, and it will be quite in accordance with the fitness of things if, as runs the rumor, the principal proprietor of the Times is made a peer. Very different is the treatment accorded by the half-penny prints to their contributors. I once wrote a number of articles for one of them, — some half dozen, perhaps. When I made inquiry of the manager touching the rate of remuneration to be expected, I was oracularly informed that he would decide the point on a review of the articles, and when I applied for payment he sent me a check for exactly £5 13s. 6d., “ in discharge of all demands,” as the form of receipt which I had to sign stated that the amount in question was paid for literary work performed for the—— between certain dates.
I have written at so great, length about my journalistic experiences that I have left myself scant space for my experiences about books; for I have published two, and have at this moment two more on the stocks. The first I wrote met with a most flattering reception from the critics; no slight thing of the sort could have been more warmly welcomed, but the press is sometimes warm when the public is cold, and though my work has brought me some glory it has gained me no guineas. Of the second, as it is only just out, it is too soon to speak, but I take much hope from the fact that the approval of the reviewers has not been nearly so cordial or unanimous as in the first instance; if the public should deign to smile on this my second effort the applause and blame of critics will be equally indifferent to me.
— Not long ago, a certain gentleman moved into Boston, that his family might enter the best society, whatever that might be. With rare foresight, he did not at once buy a house, as he wished thoroughly to understand the social defenses of the city before establishing himself before any one of them ; neither did he seek a small boarding-house, lest he should become involved with those whom later it, would be best to ignore; nor did he care to keep house in an apartment hotel, as therein he might always remain unknown. So he engaged rooms at a large family hotel, where “ transients ” were infrequent; there he and his household had fine opportunities for observation, as is testified by the following extracts, lately sent by his daughter to a friend of mine: —
“ It is easy to obtain culture in this city,” she writes, “ for there are lectures and schools of all kinds; and as the word culture passes from its Emersonian breadth of meaning to a knack at halfsayings, half - suggestions, offered in a thoughtful, drawling manner, I suppose I can pass as cultured. I am also cultivating an ' intuitive ’ manner. I mean that I have learnt to stand or sit, holding my hands calmly crossed, just below the colored how which fastens my long white fichu, and, on being introduced to a stranger, to start slightly, glance up, gaze penotratinglv, and say,
‘ I thought it was you; I have read your writings.’ One must not say, ' I have read your books,’ because that might not be safe, but everybody who is anybody has written some kind of an article. Oh, that such a remark might he made to me!
“ Last night I met, at a reception, an Englishman connected with some paper (perhaps the Times, as that has so many ' connections’), who wore shaggy clothes and broad cravat to hide that which may have possessed at two of its extremities wristbands, but which were not visible. His mustache and beard were busliy and reddish, and his voice portentous, his manner hurried and note-bookish, and he looked with twinkling eyes upon all around, above, beneath. His first remarks were: ‘ Do you come here often ? Are coffee and cake universal substilutes for elaborate suppers? ' I answered, in a transcendental manner, that culture craved but Mocha berry and sponge-drops, ‘ Very good,’ he said, ‘ if one knows it beforehand, but if one does not’—and sighed and expanded himself. he then asked me if I wrote prose, poetry, or newspaper leaders, and on receiving three mournful negatives added, despairingly,"What do you do? Are there any Literary people here ? ’ ‘ I will introduce you to some,’ said I, humbly, but internally angry, ‘ if you will first be presented to my friend, Mrs. —.' He asked her the same questions Unit he had me, and finding that she also had never written exclaimed, What are you here for? 'Because I
am next-door neighbor,’ she replied, whereat he left us both.
“ Now it will not. do for me to be next-door neighbor.’ I want modestly to make my way into good society, but caste obtrudes itself here, as everywhere else. The best way to advance one’s self is to join some society. I wish to be very careful in my selection of one; then I may succeed in becoming cultured or important. To join the wrong society would be fatal, though simple membership alone would not cause irretrievable disgrace.
“ It is not wise to rely on church connect ions, for they chiefly help in Sundayschool and sewing-school directions; all kinds of people teach in them, and the most fashionable churches prefer gentlemen superintendents. The question of age also embarrasses me, as very young girls and those who have given up society are the instructors in such schools, and since statistics are creeping into religious affairs my age might he asked. A fashionable charily would be as helpful as a fashionable educational project; but the first is practical, the latter cultured, and leads to the hearing of and reading papers. More than half the people I want to know read papers, and invite one to parlor lectures, which are very pleasant, if one need not buy a ticket. Physiological and hygienic plans are more or less allied with co-education, and that, at present, is not safe; charity work is agreeable, when the poor come to one in an office, and though they tell distressing stories, one’s self-reproach is not so poignant as if one went to see them. Yet I find that many of the very best people visit the poor in their homes, and say that is the only way in which pauperism can be lessened. As a matter of taste, I prefer to employ missionaries and Biblereaders, or to give out garments and soup over a counter. Industrial work, such as coöperative societies, building associations, and training-schools, is perfectly safe, but one must know facts and compute the average cost per head of one or another plan, and such exact knowledge is painful to me. Decorative art and drawing-schools are now fashionable, and I hope that by the means of burlap and bulrushes (they cannot be hard to design) I may yet win distinction. Clubs are too radical and progressive in science and thought, and on joining them one is liable to be asked about her convictions in regard to religion and duty; and if one has only inherited ideas, one is considered as lacking in an appreciative or inquiring mind.
I think, on the whole, that I shall join some purely educational society, as that will not compromise me. I can listen to discussions on literature, the higher education, and the state of our schools and universities, but need not speak myself if I subscribe handsomely to some one or two plans, dress well, and look wise. Thus I hope to enter society.
“ The best society in the city is not fashionable, but is sensible, intelligent, well-bred, and Christian, and does not ask personal questions, which is a great, relief. I have heard it whispered that there is a still higher or very best society, composed of a few statesmen and authors (but their grandfathers must have been farmers, like other people’s grandfathers). Seriously speaking, the moral atmosphere of this city has greatly impressed me. The people here are thoroughly in earnest. Often one person will belong to ten or twelve different societies, for the simple purpose of doing good. There is little pretense in action or talk, and all that one really needs for social success is freedom from affectation, fine manners, and integrity; or else intellect and conversational power. But what society shall I join ? ”
— There is a new style of verse growing up whose disciples profess to write the “poetry of the future.” Its form and manner of thought is after the modern French school, and is, of course, highly artistic. Its great claim is that, it makes use of scientific discoveries and progress for the benefit of poetry. That is, when science tells of new worlds hanging in the remote distances of space, the poetry of the future immediately peoples them with very perfect, and perfeetly unnatural inhabitants, in stanzas having three-syllabled rhymes, and uses them for a delectable garden in which to ramble and discover flowers that never knew rain or dust,
This may be a healthy poetic action, or it may not be so; that the future will settle when it selects from the mass of verse now appearing such as is worthy of life, and relegates the remainder to the upper shelves of libraries and the cob web-festooned seclusion of the garret. But the poetry of the future is not the thing with which I make quarrel, it is the expression by which it seeks to astonish us, the clashing — I was about calling it the torture — of words through whose long drawn-out resonance it bears down on one, and at the same time storms the citadel of his mind in front, flank, and rear. This is not natural; neither are many of the subjects that this poetry of the future chooses natural. They are illusions, — shining ones, I allow, but illusions still. Clothe them in all the many-syllabled rhymes you can, it is yet impossible to make them sing their way into the soul, to stay there among the memories of chosen songs and cherished things.
I have lately been experimenting in this poetry of the future, and have taken Jules Verne for my scientific authority. I think the poem contains a graphic description of a land that science alone could invent, and also full directions for a journey thereto. Here it is: —
Countless leagues ’neath the surface of earth,
Great murmurs, volcanic and thunderous,
Through ages and ages have birth.
There ghouls chant fierce songs that sound dismally
In glooms that grow dense and expand,
Where huge cliffs frown dark and abysmally
On the shores of a dolorous land.
Over billowing sweeps of wild sea,
Tall pines, showing sombre and fronderous,
Writhe in gales that blow furious and free.
There the earth has a somnolent weariness,
And no grass and no flowers are seen ;
And gray rocks rise in cold, rigid dreariness,
With chill valleys running between.
There forests of gigantic trees
Wake tones that sing choruses thunderful
To storm-anthems born on weird seas.
No ferns and no moss there grow slenderly,
No sweet echoes come from the hills ;
No bird song, that floats away tenderly,
Through the cloud-haunted distances thrills.
Grim shadows bend down from far skies ; Their phantom-like garments soon cover us,
And hide us from love’s searching eyes.
And held in embraces so cumberous,
We drowse through the passing of years,
The spell of the land, deep and slumberous,
Freezing thought, hope, ambition, and tears.
Shine redly the fires of the lost;
Worlds, grand in their sins! dread immensity,
By cyclonic storms wildly tost;
Stars, dying out slowly and mistfuUy,
Sweep on through satanical clouds,
Glowing there like sad eyes that look wistfully
From the silence of long, flowing shrouds.
With lava floods surging along,
Passing titanic giants that gloom on us
From where shades of the old ages throng.
There souls that wrecked loves still keep cherishing
Dwell with goblins that wander forlorn,
Watching vague hopes continually perishing
The same hour in which they are born.
Seek the pantry shut out from the flies,
And take from the shelves very carefully
The most indigestible pies ;
Add with hands never known to choose charily
Some almonds and raisins to these,
And to start on the journey more airily,
Why, top off the whole with some cheese.
— The well - fortified article in the Club for last September fails to convince me that prose cannot include poetry. What shall we say when a poem is translated info musical prose? If the writer of the above article is correct, no part of it can any longer be styled poetry. Alarming sacrifice! Here, for example, are two similar Oriental poems of a pessimistic and epicurean cast. An Englishman of some centuries ago translates one of them into the regularly paragraphed prose of our Bible; an Englishman of to-day translates the other into clever iambic quatrains which never miss a foot nor a rhyme. The latter, then, still retains its sacred character as poetry; while the former, although still decidedly superior, must be relegated to a lower place, and shorn of all its glory.
Let us join with the shade of Omar Khayyam in pæans of thanksgiving for the happy Briton who has been his salvation; but oh, fail not to temper in another world the scornful wrath of the author of Ecclesiastes. His work was poetry; now it is only prose like this: — “ Or ever the silver cord be loosed,
Or the golden bowl be broken,
Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the cistern :
Then shall the dust return
To the earth as it was ;
And the spirit shall return
Unto God who gave it.”
Yet somehow I do not see why it is not very glorious poetry still, even when the paragraphs are not broken up into capitalized lines. Nor do I find anything “ unpleasant ” in its resemblance to verse. I suspect that the likeness referred to is never disagreeable except in the bands of the clumsy, or when given over to those cast-iron rules of versification which Coleridge himself so triumphantly scouted in his best work.
Hazlitt’s definition needs no other change than the substitution of “ corresponding ” for “ certain.” Coleridge’s explanation is more fanciful than accurate. If the peculiar excellence of poetry were the retarding of emotion, the slowest modulations would always be the most effective. Coleridge in his earlier work, indeed, adhered closely as a rule to the staid feet of two syllables; but in his unequaled Cristabel and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner we find him continually breaking out into anapests and dactyls. He himself says that his lines will be found to vary in length from eight syllables to thirteen. There is only a little more irregularity and quite as true poetry in his avowedly prose fragment on the wanderings of Cain. I certainly fail to see how the airy lilt of the dactyl, ever dancing on tiptoe, can be said to retard anything.
No, the “ modulation ” that distinguishes poetry is not a thing that can be labeled and stowed away on shelves as iambic, trochaic, or what not. It frequently adopts these rigid forms, but as frequently suits itself to the varying thought and feeling that gave it birth.
It is no restraint, but an outgrowth. It is not the governor nor the escapement, but the wheels that turn as the steam or the mainspring drives, — no check upon power, but the means whereby power normally makes itself felt. As the subtler forces of the outer world manifest themselves through the rhythm of the waves, the subtler forces of the inner world manifest themselves through the rhythm of spoken or written words.
“ Daniel Webster’s cadenced periods and the impassioned prose of De Quincey ” are not good examples. Doubtless passages embodying poetry could be quoted from either; but both of them share the very unpoetical faults of bombast, overloaded commonplace, and a palpable straining for effect. Their writings, generally speaking, are too artificial, too obviously rhetorical, to be poetry. The art beyond artifice is quite beyond them, too. Compare Webster’s redundant utterances on the nature of eloquence, or the blood-and-thunder lake passages in the Flight of a Tartar Tribe, with the best writing of Hawthorne or Thackeray, and the difference becomes obvious at once.
I suppose the reason why most professed poets write but little in prose is because their temperament makes them choose that form of expression from which commonplace has been most nearly banished.
But Milton and Goethe, Victor Hugo and Thackeray, Holmes and Poe, have surely shown that success in any branch of verse does not imply an incapacity to succeed in prose also. They and many more have written poetry in both forms of expression. And I still maintain that all which they have written — prose or verse — is poetry, except when they lapse into unmusical language, or commonplace thought and feeling. Commonplace is probably, after all, our best opposite for poetry; and in that first comprehensive term I would include all manner of fustian and boredom.
— The phrase of Mercutio’s, in Romeo and Juliet, “young Abraham Cupid,” has always been a stumbling-block and foolishness to Shakespeare commentators, who, in their despair, have suggested that Abraham Cupid meant Adam Cupid, as is printed in some later editions, or else that Abraham meant auburn. For proof of this last interpretation we can consult our own inner consciousness. It should be said, however, —and the whole question shows how little the English language has been seienti fie ally studied, — that in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue Abram is defined as naked, a meaning which applies here thoroughly, for Cupid’s clothes are unsung by writers from the earliest times to La Fontaine. There is, moreover, no need of suggesting here the origin of the phrase, although that may be of value in its place. Grose gave the meaning, not the derivation. Colonel Grose, it will be remembered, is Burns’s friend who is known to posterity as the “chiel amang ye takin notes.”
— The charms of babyhood are so incontestable a truth to all except a few unimportant bachelors and certain pitiable misanthropes that to present, at this late hour, anything resembling a defense of them would be enough to rouse the just ridicule of every right-minded mother whose eyes should encounter the present lines. But there are, beyond doubt, exceptional cases where domestic baby worship passes the limits of good taste, and as an example of this parental peculiarity the following letter, recently obtained from its actual recipient and printed with the writer’s gracious permission, will perhaps rather exhaustively serve:—
ROBIN’s NEST, August—, 18—.
DEAUREST MAMMA, — You are probably anxious to learn how I am getting along in the home of my old schoolfriend, Kitty, and 1 take this early opportunity of giving you some account of myself from the beginning of my visit up to present date. “ Robin’s Nest,” as Kitty and her husband call their cottage, is a really charming place, cosy and rose-wreathen enough for the most ideal of newly-wedded couples, Kitty’s lord and master is disappointingly nice; the rosy rhetoric of her descriptions had prepared me for somebody rather common place than otherwise. He is the soul of devotion, and is six feet if an inch, besides having a mustache that quite transcends my descriptive limits. Kitty is an excellent housekeeper, and everything is delightfully managed. One might call Robin’s Nest a model little home but for a single circumstance. This Eden has its —well, its drawback. It is a very small drawback, and yet it is an extremely noticeable one. You will be surprised when I tell you that it is the baby.
Now you know my weakness for babies, mamma. This is by no means a disagreeable baby, and on first seeing it I was prepared to extend toward it my most unreserved allegiance. But I soon discovered that it had altogether too much of this sort of thing. About five minutes after my arrival at the cottage, and while I was seated with Kitty’s hand fondly held in my own, the baby was brought into the room by its nurse. From that moment Kitty’s attention and the attention of her husband were immovably concentrated on their infant offspring. The sole notice which they took of my presence was a rapid sideglance that seemed to invite me to join in the devout and unremitting ovation. The baby is only a few months old, and does nothing of an intelligent or human character except occasionally smile. Now and then it crows, like all other babies, but you would certainly be amused at first, mamma (even were you not ultimately bored very much), by the extraordinary translations, on its parents’ part, of its slightest inarticulate utterances. “ Gug-gug,” gurgles the baby. “ Yes,” cries Kitty, “ so you have been out for a long walk, my precious!” “ Coo-oo-oo,” crows the baby. “ Little darling!” exclaims papa. “Saw the cows; yes; certainly.” It requires very slight observation to convince one’s self that this vaunted prodigy does not know the difference yet between taking a walk and going to sleep, and that it would be wholly powerless to tell a cow from a chicken.
Later experiences have shown me, mamma, that I have not been invited here to see Kitty at all. I have been invited simply to swell the list of the baby’s worshipers. Kitty talks of nothing else. It is emphatically not a pretty child, but I am sure that if I as much as hinted to her that its nose was not the purest Grecian type she would instantly order me from Robin’s Nest. As a great favor, I am sometimes permitted to hold it, and have the pleasant sensation, all the time I am doing so, of being watched like a suspected pickpocket by three or four pairs of anxious eyes. At the beginning of each meal we are blessedly exempt from it, but in the middle of breakfast, dinner, and tea it is borne into the room, and greeted by papa and mamma with a perfect roar of welcome. The nurse pretends to adore it, though I privately suspect her of being an arrant time-server, and by no means above the administering of slaps or pinches when Kitty’s back is turned.
I am afraid that you will call this a very stupid letter, but I really have only a single subject to write about. I have not once been taken to walk or drive since my arrival here; those luxuries are reserved for the baby. Kitty is as sweet as ever, when you can get her to notice you, which is rarer than seldom. I cannot say that site sends you her love, for when I told her that I was coming up-stairs to write to you she made me no answer, and it is exceedingly doubtful whether she heard me or not; the baby was on the bed making rather fierce grasps at her hair, and she was bending over it in evident delight that its hands were actually getting strong enough to quite hurt her. 1 suppose the summit of maternal joy would be for the child to tear out a handful or so of her tresses.
I am such a cipher here that I shall probably take a piqued fit, before long, and suddenly return home. Meanwhile, I remain your loving daughter,
— It is known to most of the inhabitants of the Ball that makes its diurnal revolutions around the Hub that we who enjoy the felicity of dwelling in the centre of all things celebrate the rise of the Sunday sun by a repast of pulse and brawn, sometimes spoken of as “ pork and beans,” or “bacon and beans.” Like most of the facts in the experience of the Bostonese, this habit has been pretty well advertised, and sometimes there have not wanted those of the vulgar herd who have been moved to animadvert with asperity upon the wellestablished custom. We look upon all such flings with the lofty disdain that arises from a mind conscious of its own rectitude, and with pity for the ignorance from which they spring.
Generations ago, when many other parts of our noble land were howling wildernesses, our ancestors overhauled their classics, and made a note of the fact, that the poet Ovid, of blessed memory, in his remarks appropriate to the calends of June, gives an account of the rite to which I have referred, which was promptly incorporated into the calendar of our beloved city.
We are classical, or nothing. We know that it is the good goddess Carna who protects the lungs and liver of man (or at least that she was wont to do so in classical times), and that in her honor the good people of classical days eat repasts of pulse and brawn. “ You ask,” says Ovid, “ why fat bacon is tasted on these calends, and beans are mixed with the boiled spelt. She is a goddess of ancient days, and she still diets on the food that in olden time she used, and she does not, in a spirit of luxury, ask for the dainties of foreign lands. In that day the fishes swam uncaught by a people ignorant of the virtues of the succulent cod and of the luxury of fish-balls; and the oysters were still safe in their shells, no man having yet been found with sufficient courage to swallow even one of them. Latium had not become acquainled with the woodcock which rich Ionia supplies, nor with the cranes that delight in the blood of the Pygmies. The toothsome peacock pleased but by its expanded tail, nor had foreign lands been drawn upon for their beasts of the chase. But swine were valuable, and by killing a sow the fathers honored their festivals. The rockbound land produced only beans and the hard-grained spelt, and whoever eats these two things mingled, they say that his stomach can receive no harm.” 1
The spirit that gives us our cookingschools now was then in its energetic infancy, and it was equal to the emergency. The primeval Bostonian wanted to insure his lungs against the east wind, and his liver against the attacks made upon it in the days when the idea of a Parker or of a Delmnonico had not been evolved, and there was nothing to insure easy breathing and digestion if Carna were not propitiated.
My object in writing this note is to raise my voice against the tendency to allow the rite of pulse and brawn to fall into desuetude. Will my fellow-citizens not stop and reflect upon the sad consequences of such delinquency? Shall we deliberately thrust ourselves and our helpless offspring from the blessed protection of the ancient goddess? Shall we allow our youth to find pleasure in the oysters and palés de fois gras of a degenerate age? Shall we leave them unprotected from the attacks of liver complaint and lung troubles, when the protecting divinity may so readily be propitiated?
— I have been long waiting for some man to come to the rescue of the good stories of the olden time from the destructive grasp of the Rev. Mr. Cox, whose “ nature myth ” explanations and application of the “ etymological ” test were threatening to make permanent havoc with all that we have for ages trusted in with implicitness regarding the story of Troy, for instance, and the history of good King Arthur.
Mr. Gladstone has opposed his assertion against the learned lingo that gives the early myth makers so much more subtlety than their improved descendants boast, but without the completest effect. The “ parallelisms ” and the “ cycles,” the “etymologies” and the “ repetitions ” seemed to be so securely entrenched that they could not be dislodged.
Long have I waited, but I am rewarded at last, for Dr. James Freeman Clarke has come to the rescue, and the structure that seemed so real and so sure of its perpetuity has fallen before a blast of his well-aimed satire. If, he says in effect, the heroes of the far-gone past are reducible to myths, what is there to forbid our treating those of the nearer past in the same way? In brief, what is sauce for Homer must be sauce for Mother Goose.
Having established these premises, Dr. Clarke goes forward and resolves into solar and lunar myths the respected legends which relate the facts that the mouse ran up the clock, that Little Boy Blue slept under the haystack, and that the cow jumped over the moon.
Dr. Clarke fairly beats the Rev. Mr. Cox at his own game, but in doing it he ruins the case for both; for a long-suffering people who were willing to submit peacefully to the loss of the history of Troy will never permit the tales of its babyhood to be thus ruthlessly snatched away, and will rather give up the whole myth theory, since it is a theory.
—A friend said, not long since, as she handed me some verses to read, “ I think they are very well done, but not better, perhaps, than a score of others could do.” This led to a discussion of the present intellectual activity, and the prediction that we should soon arrive at a state of affairs when everybody would be talented and genius would illumine the world no more. For busy people, whose brains are teeming with fancies they long to put into palpable shape, but whose hands are forever finding one thing more to do; who plan, as Miss Phelps says, to write a poem or study a language “ when the baby can walk,” or “ when house-cleaning is over,”—for these it is rather a grim ending to their beautiful dream to find that other hands have somehow found the time. What can be more exasperating, for instance, than to cut the leaves of a fresh magazine and there encounter your own poem? Yes, yours; the thought, the sentiment, nay, even some of the lines, had half formed themselves in your brain, while your hands were busy with some commonplace but not-to be-deferred duty. Your only consolation, if it be a consolation, is the reflection that you could have done it quite as well, if —
- If any scholar more classical than I find fault with my translation of the words of Ovid, he is at liberty to make a version that will suit him.↩