The Contributors' Club
ARE we not rather unreasonable in finding fault with the corruption of individual officials, when the government which they serve is avowedly dishonest on system? This may seem very harsh language; but what other term could one apply to the conduct of a man who should strive to keep his creditors ignorant of the debts honestly due them, and who should caution his employees, under penalty of discharge and obloquy, not to reveal any facts which could aid in substantiating such claims? That the government has done this ever since its foundation, and in most if not all of its administrative departments, is a matter of notoriety about Washington, and should be clearly understood elsewhere, if it is not so already.
Instances are readily adduced. Some years ago the writer of this paragraph was in the office of the secretary of war, on business. While there, an old and rather feeble man entered, and made some inquiry of the then assistant secretary. The latter looked up, and asked him quickly why he wanted to know. The old man replied innocently that he had a son who had been disabled (or killed, I forget which) in the army during our civil war, and that the information desired was necessary to aid in establishing his claim (or that of his family) to a pension. The official’s denial was very positive. “ The government never furnishes information to establish a claim against itself,”said he. The old man urged the necessity of the case, but was obliged to retire, crest-fallen.
A number of years ago, a law, since repealed, was in force which allowed an applicant for letters patent to withdraw a part of his fee after the rejection and abandonment of his case. Of course the wealthier and more intelligent inventors, such as our large manufacturers and business men, early learned of this provision, and made such withdrawals; but in the secluded parts of the country, and among the ignorant classes, there were many persons whose applications for patents had been rejected, yet who did not know that any part of the fee paid was still, in any sense, legally their own. Decency would have dictated that they should be notified; but decency is not the forte of Uncle Sam in such matters. Exactly the opposite course was followed.
Not long ago, a dignified old gentleman was pointed out to me. “ That is a most valuable man,” said my informant. “He is an official in the postoffice department, and if he chose to reveal what he knows the government might be bled to large amounts.” " How so? ” I asked. “ Why,” he replied, “under certain circumstances postmasters (or contractors) are entitled by law to certain ‘drawbacks;’ many of them don’t know it, and the sums accumulate and accrue to the benefit of Uncle Sam. If that man were to inform the parties having such rights, they would claim their money, and the government would lose heavily. But he will never tell. He is as honest as the day is long. Oh, he is a most valuable man! ”
Per contra, another was pointed out to me, who, being in a similar confidential position in a certain bureau of the treasury, had abused it by traitorously informing his employer’s creditors of the fraud which was being practiced upon them by the concealment of their just claims, and who was promptly and ignominiously discharged on the discovery of his offense. His reputation now is about on a par with that of a peculator.
I am not justifying any betrayal of an employer’s confidence, whether that employer be a man or a great governmental entity; but a government takes a serious responsibility upon its shoulders when it makes duty to itself, in any of its subordinates, incompatible with freedom from complicity in dishonor. How can we expect a strict regard for obligations among the people, when their government has been for decade after decade shamelessly turning its departments into seminaries of repudiation? Year after year its graduates have been streaming off into the four quarters of the land, carrying to every hamlet the great national doctrine that the wise employer pays no debt which he can avoid, and that the chief virtue of an employee is to screen and aid his master’s frauds. If I had the ear of our good Uncle Samuel, I should whisper into it, “ Pay nothing which you do not owe ; but let the whole world see by your conduct that you are more than ready to pay all that you do owe. Take pains in particular to notify the poor and ignorant of every cent to which they are entitled under the law. Remove all restrictions from your servants in the matter, and let them understand that they will be commended for aiding men to get their just dues. Afford every facility to those who seek for the facts necessary to make clear their right. In a word, act as an honorable and conscientious man would act, and your people will imitate your example.”
— I often ask myself whether the New England village life which it is just now the fashion to describe as so forlorn and dismal can be the same life with which I have been so long acquainted, and in which I have always found so much of amusement and variety. In looking over some old papers, I came, the other day, upon a small note of invitation, bidding me to a ball to be held in the little New England village where I happened to be spending a winter vacation, some thirty years ago. The time of assembling was to be five P. M., and those who had most leisure among the beaux were expected to meet at the hotel and drive about the streets to “ pick up ” the young ladies, gathering them by installments into a large double sleigh. Very likely it snowed while we were making our rounds; if so, it was all the merrier. I can still hear the jingle of the bells, still see the blithe young faces, rosy with the clear cold air, and gay with many-colored wraps. It took perhaps an hour for this preliminary service, but that hour afforded as much fun as any part of the festival. Then I remember the disembarking at the lighted hall; the disappearance and reappearance of the girls, decked in modest finery; the assembling of the squeaking fiddlers at the end of the room; the announcement of the country dances, — Money Musk, Sir Roger de Coverley, Twin Sisters, Portland Fancy, and the rest, interspersed with frequent quadrilles and the wholly novel waltz. We kept it up till one or two in the morning,on common occasions; while at the great epochs, such as Washington’s birthday, the etiquette was to finish out the twelve hours, from five to five. Really, I do not know how exacting may be the social standard of your contributors, but I can truly say that, although not wholly unfamiliar with the Beacon Street of those days, in Boston, I never enjoyed myself with such hearty zest as in that village society. Yet there were other villages on the Connecticut which were traditionally regarded as far gayer than that of which I speak; and indeed it was not uncommon for people to drive twenty miles for a ball, from town to town.
Shall we say that people do not now enjoy themselves in such places as they once did? What, then, becomes of the theory that the alleged gloom is the bequest of puritanism?—for it is clear that the time I describe was thirty years
nearer to puritanism than is the present time. But as a matter of fact there is much more social festivity now than then, — consider, for instance, the great spread of private theatricals,—except in a few farming villages where population has nominally diminished, simply because the new generation has transplanted itself to the West. For one, I utterly deny that the rural society of New England, taken as a whole, is in a grim, stern, or extravagantly repressed condition. I do not know much of Connecticut, but I know a good deal of the rural parts of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island, and am not ignorant of Maine and New Hampshire. It would be interesting to learn how much your lamenting contributors personally know of the country life of those States. Did they ever go deer-hunting or moose-hunting ; ever take part in a squirrel-hunt, or even a “turkey-shoot”? Did they ever see a militia muster; ever observe with wonder that old-time miracle of armed display, “ a Cornwallis ”? (Even Lowell’s Hosea Biglow is obliged to own that “there is fun to a Cornwallis.”) Did they ever go to a husking-party, or a hop-picking, or a “ sugaring-olf; ” or attend a lumberman’s ball, at the close of the season? (“ The things they don’t say and do at one o’ them balls,” said a Maine stage-driver once to me, “ ain’t worth thinkin’ of! ”) Did they ever join a party going down the Merrimack to the salt-marshes for hay, in a “ gundalow; ” or a Salisbury Beach “camping-out;” or a party to explore the “ glen ” by torchlight, at Stockbridge, or to go through “purgatory” in the same way, at Sutton? Did they ever visit those innumerable picnic grounds now distributed over all New England for summer pleasuring, and so well equipped for innocent amusement ; or observe how the world of merry-makers has gradually overflowed the campmeeting grounds at Martha’s Vineyard; or spend a summer day at the thronged watering-places of Narragansett Bay,— Rocky Point in particular, where from one to five thousand chance-visitors go to dine daily, and may be seen whirling in the dance, hour after hour, as busily as if they were born Germans? Do not these critics know that half New England lies within easy reach of the Atlantic shore, and that from every part of that shore gay sailing parties are putting forth or returning at almost every hour of day or night, all summer long? Do they not know that all the interior of New England is threaded by the Connecticut River, and that a score of the inland villages have been for many years the traditional centres of cultivated and agreeable society ? If you wish to see what Lenox and Stockbridge are and were, read the Life and Letters of Miss Sedgwick; or, for Northampton, read the charming memoirs of Mrs. Lyman. Was Greenfield morose and dull under the long sway of that monarch of wit and song, George Davis? Town after town comes up to the memory of any man of large social experience, any one of which refutes this dismal theory. Of course, no power can ever transmute Anglo-Saxon blood into the blood of the Latin races; nor is it desirable that it should. Froissart wrote long before puritanism, and even he described the English people as enjoying themselves sadly, according to their custom; but I doubt if there is any rural region where people of unmixed English blood now find life more cheerful, on the whole, than in the country towns of New England. One of your correspondents puts in a good word for Maryland ; but I myself know something of the country life of Virginia before the war, and I am sure that one missed, especially in winter, the zest and variety offered in a more northern zone.
So far as the statistics of mere amusement go, we may well rely on that veracious chronicler, —the very Court Journal of New England village life,—the Springfield Republican. Each daily issue of that lively sheet has a page of “ locals ” from every town in the western counties of Massachusetts. We learn from the latest number at hand that in Holyoke “the Taft reception party is engrossing the town talk,” and that “ Barney Macauley is sure of a crowded house” at the theatre; in Chicopee there is a “ social; ” in Longmeadow a dramatic reading; in Williamsburg a Methodist oyster supper; in Westfield a fireman’s ball and a musical entertainment ; in Greenfield two rival balls, and an amateur play by “ Congregational women;” in West Deerfield a “sociable;” in South Deerfield a public ball; in Shelburne a “ Congregational entertainment; ” in North Adams a military ball; in Pittsfield a symphony concert; in Athol some Methodist tableaux and music; in West Warren an operetta in a Congregational chapel; in Hardwick a “surprise-party;” and so on. This is a single day’s exhibit, and so it goes on, day after day. I make no account of farmers’ clubs, harvest clubs, religious meetings, and lyceum lectures, though the last, in these times, are certainly to be classes under the head of “ entertainments.” Here we have amusements in abundant quantity, it is certain ; and as to the quality you must not be too particular, whether in Europe or America. If I may judge by my own observation, a traveler who should find such evidences of social vivacity as these in a series of country villages in England, France, or Germany would be quite amazed, and would write to the New York Herald to describe it all; and yet the scene of all this is what one of your contributors, borrowing the phrase from Mr. Matthew Arnold, describes as a region of “ hideousness and ennui.” I am led to the conclusion that such writers can never have visited the New England of my experience; or that I have never had the ill luck to visit the New England of theirs; or else that in social observation, as in the study of nature, “we receive but what we give,” and find only what we resolve to find.
If it be said that I have taken rather a superficial view, and that such details as I have mentioned do not, after all, make up the essentials of good society,
I am very ready to admit it. But it is on precisely these superficial grounds that our rural society in New England is condemned ; it is certainly reproved and berated for the alleged absence of popular amusements and cheerful relaxations; and this seems to me wide of the mark. If the complaint is shifted to higher grounds, if it is alleged that our small villages do not, as a rule, furnish adequate society for poets and artists and men of learning, the obvious answer is that you cannot expect to find in a community of a few hundred what is often wanting in cities of many thousand men.
I make for New England rural life no such extravagant claim as that; and only wish to show that it is not what Sydney Smith defined country life in England to be, “ a kind of healthy grave.”
— A contributor in the March Atlantic expresses a curiosity to know the method by which a professed littérateur keeps coal-bin and flour-barrel from the vacuum which nature abhors in every household. Here is a bit of my own experience, for I have written full thirty years for bread and butter. As to poetry, the muse is still as sorry a jade to woo as the elder poets found her; and with me she has her willful way, and will not come when she is called, nor do as she is bid, but is a sudden possession. Not that poems are good without afterthought. On them is spent the pain and subtlety of the literary art: they need polishing and rewriting; the change of a word here, a shade of expression there; the sternest revision of grammar, of metaphor, of language, to exclude fatal obscurity, and include lovely phrasing and musical flow; and when all is done, it is to find dissatisfaction nine out of ten times, and to sit down with a veiled face and sad heart, like an intruder upon sacred ground!
But prose is another thing; though let him or her who undertakes literature as a means of living take to heart the lesson of his life who has just left us, whose prolific and popular pen afforded no provision of any sufficiency for his wife and daughter. Prose themes are abundant, — they “ he thick o'er all the ground,” as the hymn-book says about dangers; and as fast as they come to me I “ make a note of ” and store them away. When a plot comes in its turn, and is provided with fitting puppets to develop it, away go the little creatures, using my accustomed pen as a medium of life, and dance for themselves. True, it often chances that some evil day of storm, or illness, or new anxiety, makes a temporary idiot of me, and I either cannot write at all, or what I write must go next day to feed the fire; but I have at last learned from experience not to waste paper any more, and when I find the powers that be adverse to writing I take my never-empty workbasket and set myself to mending and making, or apply myself to some cookery of a more abstruse nature than Irish wit can master, and which I always put off for such a season. But in the most prosperous aspects writing is work, not play; it exhausts the central fountain of life, and a morning of such work leaves me worn, dull, feebly irritable, and thankful to turn to patches on aprons and lattice darning of stockings as a relief. The worst part of all is launching those manuscripts on to the sea of doubtful acceptance; and, though I have none of those abnormal longings which seem to affect certain of my sex in these days, I do sometimes wish I were a man whose script was his sure passport, — who might write nonsense or trash, and have it certain of acceptance over his signature.
— I want to offer a word of deep sympathy with that scoffed-at tribe whom editors revile at this time of the year, — the authors of spring poetry. There is something pathetic to me in this universal outburst of joy. What bleak and wretched reasons he behind it; what months of blackness and distress; what an “infinite deep chorus” of hollow coughs and neuralgic groans, of endurance that is forced and patience that is born of necessity! Do you see such poetry in Southern papers? Who cares about bluebirds in Florida? It is the maddened crowd who have been buffeted five months with the fierce blasts and snows of New England; who have found the heavens brass and the earth iron, and been tossed from the scorched fury of the national stove into the deadly gripe and glare of the national climate, like human shuttlecocks, who “ drop into poetry ” at the whistle of the first bird, or the breath of the first south wind. Piteous rhymsters! one heart at least beats with and for you, and longs to shout from the housetops that spring is coming, and the doors of our prison-house creak on their slow hinges at last.
— What traveler has failed to stand aghast at some spectacle of unprotected girlhood abroad, — and always American girlhood? We encountered such a one, far better born than Daisy Miller. She had crossed the water with friends resident in Paris, and I cannot believe that her parents had contemplated the possibility of her leaving their shelter. But, as she naïvely told us, “it seems a shame not to see all I can now I am over,” and accordingly she had joined a family of barest acquaintances who were going to Nice for the winter. When this vivacious young person became cloyed with that sweet resort, she confidently attached herself to a party of Southern tourists whom she met at table d'hôte, and with them and two or three succeeding parties flitted hither and yon, till we made her acquaintance at a reception in Rome, and were so far honored by her approval that she assured us nothing would please her better than to return to Paris under our wing. Ingrates that we were, we eluded the pretty parasite, and went our selfish way, marveling at American maids and their fathers and mothers.
Is it brutish ignorance and neglect, or superhuman faith, which risks priceless treasure in such dare - devil fashion ? A man who would not lend five dollars without security will coolly ship his daughter off to Europe alone, or worse, bespeaking the protection of some mere business correspondent! And marvel of marvels! a woman will suffer her young daughter (to whom she has never ventured to leave the purchase of the least detail of her own wardrobe) to open communication with a stranger advertising for “ traveling pupils,” make her own terms with him, and depart jocundly for a year’s “ study,” under whatsoever skies and influences he may elect.
If to any chance reader it may seem a breach of charity toward dead or living to give the outlines of what might easily be wrought into a voluminous sensational novel, I can only say that to me it seems that the largest charity demands that the true tale be simply told and pondered. Some time ago a party of thirteen or fourteen unmarried girls, from various States, sailed from New York in a foreign steamer. Their escort, young as he was, had more than once piloted similar craft, and the previous voyage had resulted in his marriage to one of his charges; but she had remained in Europe while he returned for fresh supplies. Two days before the vessel’s arrival in port, this gentleman died, after a brief illness. The bereft girls, strangers for the most part to each other, and more ignorant of the language and mode of life current in their European destination than of that of the New Jerusalem, looked about the ship for a foster-father; and having deliberately selected him from all the stranger passengers, they sent a committee to him with the simple request that he would conduct them to the capital which had been appointed for their halting-place. That he was about their own age and a bachelor, and on his own first tour, were luckily not considered by them, since had he been Methuselah and Solomon and Noah combined, he could not have been the trustworthy guide, philosopher, and friend he was.
However, figure to yourself, you who know their ways of thinking and acting over there, this youth ushering into railway carriages and strange inns his round dozen of blooming girls, and meditate, calmly if you can, on the panorama of wild speculation, stretching from Turkey to Utah, which this novel spectacle must have unrolled to admiring Europeans.
Only slight hints, however, came to me of what befell these babes in the woods — brave, sensible, self-respecting, and respect-commanding women as they proved themselves — after their chance protector had been obliged to leave them to their fate; but these are enough to make a mother’s heart ache. The misunderstandings and complications inseparable from travel and sojourn among aliens in speech, custom, and almost in natural instincts, pecuniary embarrassments, and sicknesses were among their acquisitions; and if direr and irreparable woes were averted from them, praised be the gods! The Daisy Miller type seems to have been missing here, but who dare run his chances with another dozen of young Americans taken at haphazard? If any such there be, or any who regards my terror over America’s reckless exposure of her young maidenhood as exaggerated, I can only leave him to ruminate the bonmot of a friend. French of the French, she had married an American and lived much with us, and has now recently returned after several years at home. We had been discussing Daisy Miller at dinner with all possible gravity, while the distractingly pretty and vivacious daughter of the house was continually scintillating about us, when the hostess related this incident, which must lose much from the absence of illustration and of her accenting glance and gesture: “ Madame B— said to me when we were in
Paris, ' Why do your daughters dress their hair after that style?’ ' Ah, my friend,’ I said, ' they prefer it.’ 'Yes, but you?’ ' Oh, as for me, I have to use my will with them in grave matters, so that in trivial things it is wise to let them choose.’ It was droll to see Madame B—’s perplexity, and I said to
her, ' Ah, my friend, you do not understand! Perhaps you have never been the mother of an American girl! ’ ”
— I think there is no character so little known in literature as the average Southern woman. If, indeed, we except the stereotyped brunette, it is seldom that she is introduced at all. Now, there is my friend Mrs. Darby, whom I regard as almost a typical Southerner, and yet she is the veriest opposite of the conventional type. She is neither slender nor languid, but has a periphery something near three fourths of her low stature, and ejaculates between little cackles of laughter the least amusing commonplaces. Her gesticulation is as nervous and frequent as is consistent with obesity and rheumatism. She has a high, rapid, and monotonous voice, which creates a surprised uneasiness in the minds of her hearers, perhaps because they expect its volume to correspond with her bodily dimensions, — a voice, in fact, as far as possible removed from the low modulations of the daguerreotyped brunette. She introduces even her strongest negative speeches with a confident " yes, now,” and these, her favorite and everrecurring expletives, are accompanied with a nod, half-deprecating half-insinuating. She is shrewd, loquacious, selfsatisfied, and prejudiced. Her disposition is an odd mixture of generosity, selfishness, and the leaven of the Pharisee. The one absorbing theme with her is the Gracchi, — not Cornelia’s jewels, but her own offspring, — and her conversation much abounds in disparaging comparisons between the Gracchi and other less favored mortals. She is very much given to using as an irrefutable argument in all her disputations, from the final perseverance of the saints to the proper way to prepare an eggnog, the fact that she has brought up two sons, — an unwarrantable stretch of logic, so accounted by the inimical. It is understood that Mrs. Darby has her own “ opinion ” (never flattering) concerning most things, not excepting a belief in the general depravity of the human race above Mason and Dixon’s line.
‘‘Yes, now, dear,” I can even now hear, in her jerking little voice, " there’s Dan, my elder — Tiberius Gracchus, my preacher; he married a Yankee. Some pretend the Yankees are good in their way; but I have my own opinion of Yankees,— my own opinion, dear,—and I shall always believe Dan’s wife flew into the face of Providence. Yes, now, but I try to bear it. We must all have our thorn in the flesh, dear, and to the day of my death I shall believe it a visitation of Providence, — a visitation of Providence, dear, — for sending Dan to a Yankee school. But the Lord has n’t smiled on Dan’s wife — four of them, dear — yes, now, all girls. Dan says it is his ministerial prerogative, — a houseful of girls. Yes, now, but I 'd prefer fewer of the prerogatives, and take a boy now and then.” Being the mother of only two, both of the desirable gender, Mrs. Darby is apt to think and speak a little contemptuously of those of the sisterhood who are the unfortunate possessors of a large and especially feminine progeny. She has a good-natured contempt for her husband, regarding him as a useful, but not altogether indispensable, article of domestic economy. She reads little, but, between her absorption of all she hears and her supreme assumption, she has won the reputation of being rather intelligent. In short, the practical “ mother of the Gracchi " is anything but the haughty, aristocratic picture of Southern womanhood which is presented to us so often.
— In reading Miss Braddon’s Vixen, I find the authoress saying that after the marriage of Captain Carmichael and Mrs. Tempest, and the departure of the bridal party for the Scotch Highlands, Violet Tempest (daughter of the bride and heroine of the story) rushed to her room, in the second story of her home, and threw herself, in great distress of mind, “ upon the ground.” This peculiarity of expression I have observed in Dickens, Thackeray, Black, and other English authors; but it has never, so far as I know, been adopted in America. Can any member of the Club explain why English writers persist in designating a floor as “the ground, ” when referring to acts done within the four walls of a house ?
— To Harvey, by universal consent, is attributed the discovery of the circulation of the blood. He first gave public, authoritative utterance to his views in 1620; and yet we find that as early as 1607 another, and a greater than he, outlined the same fact: —
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart.”
(Julius Cæsar, Act ii., Scene 1.)
— “ Why use French when the translation would be better? ” some of us are respectfully inclined to ask of the contributor who gave us the excellent notice of Jean Têterol’s Idea in the February Atlantic, with extracts from the same in the French. The novel has been widely read in this country, but chiefly in Appleton’s translation, which would have served up those extracts far more satisfactorily to the general reader. “There are good people who cannot read French; ” and to the cultivated minority of The Atlantic readers who translate with ease was given the plum of the pudding, in this case, when the rest of us, the great majority, might have been served just as well. Only think of the army of Atlantic readers scattered over this great country (for did you ever fail to find an Atlantic somewhere in the loneliest Western villages? I didn’t) who will never know in this world what “ that elegant noble replied, with an enchanting smile”! Perhaps somebody — our English cousins, possibly— may be deluded into believing that Americans as a rule read French; all of the Atlantic readers, any way! It makes me think of a certain church bell that rings at an inconvenient hour every Friday morning, the year round. How that bell proclaims the devotion and zeal of St.—’s large congregation! Why, I have known “ dissenters ” rebuked by its triumphant pealing into more faithful attendance at prayer-meeting, etc. But they never happened to look into St.—’s, some morning, to find the clergyman reading the psalter with the sexton. Do you see the point of my illustration? Then here is another. We in the provinces are told that when the great wise man of Concord was asked if he always read the Greek poets in the original he replied, “ I should as soon think of swimming the Charles River whenever I go to town.”
— That charming story of Rosamond and the Conductor, otherwise possible and quite natural, calls for one criticism: Rosamond escapes too easily from the snare of her fancy, — from the very obvious risk of its pursuit.
Imaginative girls are encompassed by a thousand lives beside the external and apparent. Their acts are guided or repressed by influences curiously powerful, since often they are very transient. Many a quiet woman will recognize in this episode, deftly sketched, something akin to one or a dozen in her own past. An attractive man is always a possible hero; if not a lover, at least an admirer, — some one to figure in those dramas which rarely come to the test of a tangible stage.
No one class or condition of society claims him about whose person a girl’s ingenious sentiment may weave its drapery. The most exclusive will admit to herself that an expressman may possess magnificent shoulders, or her father’s coachman charm by his long eyelashes. With these externals character is not concerned; and precisely here, O little Dolly or Rosamond, is the evil of allowing your thoughts to cling to an unknown hero! You are sure that the heart has nothing to do with a fascination indulged in long and ardently; but the heart is the disturbing element in most dreaming girls, and, absurd as it might appear, real suffering has ensued from the sway of a feeling no better grounded. The balm of a New York season came to Rosamond, but in common life we seldom are helped out of ourselves, rather being forced to fight the troublesome yearning on the spot where it was born.
— I do not know whether your contributors look for an answer. But as an American who has lived several years in England, often in lodgings in country towns, I thought I could throw some light on the beefsteak question.
First, “Do the English have beefsteak? ” Yes, most decidedly. It is rump-steak, or, in the south of England, pin-bone steak, owing to the small round bone in the centre of it. If you get it tender (and you mostly can), there is no better beefsteak anywhere.
Second, “ There is no beefsteak in England like ours.” No, not if the sirloin steak is meant, as it is called in the United States. An average English butcher would think it the greatest waste and extravagance to cut into steaks the sirloin which represents the roast beef of Old England.
— I had not the good fortune to be born in Boston, or even in New England. It was therefore with an exaggerated feeling of reverence, perhaps, that I stood with a friend in the old Plymouth cemetery, beside the grave of her ancestor,— the last of the Plymouth residents, as the quaint inscription told us, who came over in the Mayflower. I felt humble, obscure. The glory of such an inheritance, it seemed to me, was the only thing worth being born for, and the sexton evidently agreed with me. We searched old records for an account of the personal history of each one of the little band. It was like the Garden of Eden over again, —only there were several Adams and Eves. At length, the resources of the place being somewhat exhausted, a supplementary visit to Duxbury was suggested. But the train brought us first to South Duxbury.
“Perhaps this is where we ought to stop,” said my friend.
I sat serene. “ We are going to Duxbury,” I replied.
As the cars were moving away, however, we beheld through the open window one of those box - like carry-alls provided by country hotels for the reception of their guests, with “ Standish House ” in unmistakable characters over the door.
“Why, the Standish House is where we are going! ” we both exclaimed.
For one supreme moment I rejoiced in not having a Mayflower ancestor.
“ What barrenness, —what absolute poverty of intellect! ” I cried. “ To be unable to invent names for your towns, — or only one for every three or four of them, — so that we are lost in a maze with your Duxburys and South Duxburys, your Plymouths and your North, South, East, and West ” —
I stopped, breathless; but the list was by no means exhausted. For Massachusetts alone has thus suspended on the points of the compass over two hundred of her towns.
— I am glad to discover why the sunflower is so much in fashion with modern artists and decorators. Hamerton, who ought to be authority, says, “ It is grandly pictorial; its leaves and flowers have noble dimensions;” and it has also “great height.” If this is all, why are not pumpkin blossoms equally in favor? They, too, have mighty size, and uplift great golden vases to the summer sun, infinitely more graceful and sculptural than the moony disk of the sunflower. Look also at its luxuriance of leaf; what broad, downy, vivid, vegetable life they express, and what length the vine assumes! No sunflower in the land ever outgrew a pumpkin vine. And if you want height and elegance and grace, plant me but two grains of maize in a peck of whitefish mixed with good stiff New England soil, and what a splendid product August reveals! Think of a wall-paper that should show over a dado of alders and blackberry vines rich with scarlet and black fruit, like one of our fence rows covered with this native growth, a series of panels with tasseled corn towering upward to a border of careering swallows against a strip of pale sky! Where would be your sunflowers then?
— The success of Pinafore calls to mind the failure in New York, some years ago, of Gilbert’s charming play, The Wicked World. It was a laudable thing to put such a piece upon the stage, and the thin attendance which obliged the manager to discontinue it spoke very ill for the public. If the parts had been badly performed, one could understand the matter; but the difficult rôle of the queen of the upper sphere was filled by an actress capable of entering into the author’s graceful, imaginative conception, and the other parts were sufficiently well sustained. A great deal has been said about the fault and folly of managers in not providing entertainment of a higher sort than they do; but what are managers to do when every performance of such dramas is a pecuniary loss to them? We cannot expect more disinterestedness from them than from men in other businesses; if any person or persons anxious to raise the standard of dramatic art would offer to support them pecuniarily in the enterprise until the public taste had become so elevated by the hearing of good plays that it desired nothing else, I have no doubt all managers would be willing, and some perhaps very glad. There will always be a majority who desire in any art not the best but the second or third best, and amusement must and will always be provided for them. But where was the cultivated minority who should have come out to enjoy The Wicked World? Gilbert’s plays (which have been collected by Messrs. Scribner’s Sons in a published volume) are full of poetic beauty and the most delicate satire, and it was natural to expect that they would not be generally appreciated; but it is painful to know that there were not in the whole city of New York enough people of good taste to fill the small theatre where one of them was given.
— With regard to the immorality of violin collecting, of which one of the March contributors writes so feelingly, Horace furnishes a text: —
Nec studio citharæ, nec Musæ deditus ulli;
Si scalpra et formas, non sutor ; nautica vela,
Aversus mercaturis : delirus et amens
Undique dicatur merito. Qui discrepat istis,
Qui nummos aurumque recondit, nescius uti
Compositis ; metuensque velut contingere sa-
(Sat. Lib. II. 3 : 105.)
(Od. Lib. I. carmen 24.)
— Your contributor, in saying that poor men ought not to run in debt for their houses, forgets that in practice no workingman would ever own a house otherwise, and that all the workingmen’shome societies have been established for the express purpose of enabling them to run in debt; and that in all the arguments ever urged in favor of laboring men owning their own homes the value of the debt as an incentive and compulsion to thrift has been rated even higher than that of having a shelter in any reverse of fortune. It is assumed that workingmen are sure to spend all their earnings in some way, and would best spend them on a valuable permanent investment; and that, once irrevocably en, gaged, the fear of losing all they have put in will make them industrious, frugal, and prudent; in fact, that a heavy debt is the one thing needful to make the average workingman prosperous. I deny the advantage to a laboring man of owning even a house clear of debt, as distinguished from other kinds of property: he can retain it only so long as he has employment in the immediate vicinity, for he cannot keep two, nor pay incessant traveling expenses; and as his loss of employment usually occurs in dull times, when property is low, he will probably lose heavily by the sale. He should be reasonably sure of many years of steady employment before he invests his savings in a house, much more discounts the future in payment for it.
I am specially concerned, however, to combat a most pernicious economic delusion, and the source of not a few barbarisms in financial legislation. This is the notion, embodied in legislation in various ways, that debt is an abnormal and deplorable condition, which legislation and public opinion ought to condemn ; that if all business could be done on a “ cash basis ” the world would be richer, better, and happier; and that those who run in debt for any purpose forfeit thereby all claim to equitable legislation. The theory is absolutely contrary to historic fact and economic possibility. No such state of society ever existed out of utter savagery, and none such could exist without a return to savagery. Civilization was created by debt, developed at every step by debt, and remains based on debt; trade and commerce are embodied debt, and would be crippled by a diminution of the facilities for its contraction, and annihilated by their withdrawal; the very conditions that make a class of wage-workers possible are the result of debt. As Mr. Bagehot says, “ All businesses depend on borrowing money, and a large business depends on borrowing a great deal of money.” If it would not be minutely accurate to say that national well-being advances pari passu with the increase of facilities for the contraction of debt (a statement which has certain obvious limitations), it would be probably true. Instead, therefore, of legislation being framed in a spirit adverse to enterprises undertaken on credit, by favoring owners against borrowers of capital, it should be the reverse; for owned money can better protect itself, and a small loss is not total ruin. And it is idle to say that “ debt is a luxury which should be reserved for the rich,” since but for poor men indulging in this luxury for many thousand years there would be no rich men and no riches. That a middle class of wage-earners exists at all is because poor men will not be content to hoard their surplus earnings, and will hazard everything for the chance of a fortune. This does not directly apply to unproductive investments, like dwelling-houses for one’s own use; but the same mal-taxation and extravagance, which make the one ruinously losing, bear with equal weight on all other enterprises begun with borrowed capital. The laboring classes have the right to demand that the gates of fortune shall not be shut against them by imposing burdens on their enterprises — necessarily undertaken on credit — from which the owners of capital are exempt; and, if one set of legislators will not remedy this infamous injustice, they need no justification for at least trying to replace them by another set who will.
— The question about the descent of men from apes has of course been settled by the man who said, with a true notion of the derivation of words, that he would rather be descended from the angels than from the apes; but meanwhile this extract from a letter of Lady Mary Wortley Montague’s, written July 31 O. S., 1718, may be of interest. Speaking of the women who flocked in to see her when she was visiting the ruins of Carthage, she says, “ Their posture in sitting, the color of their skin, their lank, black hair falling on each side of their faces, their features and the shape of their limbs differ so little from their country people, the baboons, ’t is hard to fancy them a distinct race; I could not help thinking there had been some ancient alliances between them.”