The Contributors' Club
SINCE reading the statement of your contributor regarding her opportunities for classical study at Cambridge, England, which appeared in the Contributors’ Club of The Atlantic for last November, I have been strongly advised to prepare a similar account of my own experience in Leipzig, Germany. I undertake the task merely in order to furnish some slight criterion in regard to the possibilities for study here open to the girl graduates of our American colleges, who desire to supplement their collegiate course by studying for a time under the more detailed and specialistic methods which belong to the Old World. When we consider how large a per cent. of our American young men who come abroad for purposes of study choose Germany, and above all Leipzig, as the scene of their efforts, it becomes at once an important question how far the opportunities and privileges which they enjoy are also available for women. As I think an almost universal ignorance prevails on this point, I will give a few facts from my own experience.
I came to Leipzig last January, just eight months ago, with the intention of availing myself, as far as possible, of the courses on philology at the university, but with no idea how far this might be practicable, as I had heard very contradictory reports. I had sept to America for testimonials from the university from which I graduated. To my surprise, however, I found that these were not required, but that my passport would suffice. This is also the case with the men from foreign countries who simply attend the lectures here, as many of them do, without taking any degree. The vital difference between the position of a young woman and a young man in the university is, first, no woman can be a matriculated student; and, second, no woman can take a degree. The matriculation consists in paying a certain fee and receiving a student’s card, which entitles the holder to exemption from civil authority; so that in case he gets into trouble he is amenable only to the laws of the university. A few minor privileges, such as the purchase of theatre and concert tickets at a reduction, are also dependent upon this student’s card. In other words, every man connected with the university is acknowledged as a component element of the same, while the women are admitted as a favor, under the category of spectators. It is true that they pay the same lecture fees as the men; but this is quite just, as they have precisely the same opportunities of profiting by the lectures as any other students.
I neglected to mention that I was obliged to call on each of the professors whose lectures I wished to attend, in order to procure their signatures to a printed permission furnished me by the Richter. During the time I have been here, I have heard lectures by six different professors, none of whom hesitated to sign the paper I presented, and who (with one exception) received me not only with civility, but with the most cordial politeness.
I have met but one other lady at any of the lecture courses I have attended, but there are, as nearly as I can learn, eight of us, all together, in the different departments of the university: one is studying medicine, one philosophy, two natural science, three history, combined with philology, literature, or some kindred topic, and one philology. This excessively small minority out of a number of three thousand students can be explained only by the ignorance which exists in regard to the opportunities offered to women students here.
From my fellow-students of the other sex I have met with perfect civility, although I have been brought very little into contact with them. Of course it is a great loss to the young women to have none of the free social life of the university, as embodied in its various “ Kneips ” and literary “ Vereins,” where, indeed, the “ feast of reason and the flow of soul ” are generously combined with the less ethereal delights of beer and tobacco. I am glad to say that one of the best societies in the university, the Philosophischer Verein, has now one honorary member in the person of a German lady who has studied philosophy here for several years. During the last semester I attended one meeting of this Verein, at which fourteen ladies were present as spectators, in order to hear this same lady read a paper on The Woman Question in Modern Philosophy, which was followed by an interesting discussion, in which she took part. As the number of women students increases (and I feel sure it soon must), of course the lack of social advantages in connection with university study will vanish.
I have heard lectures on the following subjects: Greek Grammar, Latin Grammar, Sanskrit Grammar, Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages, Comparative Syntax of the Greek and Latin Languages, and The History of the Greek Tragedy, as well as interpretation from the texts of Greek and Latin authors. I have also belonged to translation classes in Sanskrit, in which, being the only lady, I had an opportunity to test whether my position as student was practically the same as that of the gentlemen; for the Sanskrit is always translated in turn by the students. There has never been any difference made between me and the others by either of the two professors to whom I have recited.
Every matriculated student is presented with a small printed book, which he fills out with a list of his courses of lectures, and which is receipted by the quœstor on payment of the requisite lecture fees; this book is also, at the end of each semester, handed in to the professors, who by their signatures accredit the presence of the student at their several lectures. As the lady students are not matriculated, it is naturally unparliamentary that they should be presented with such a book at the expense of the university; yet it is certainly fair that they should have some receipt for the money they have paid, as well as some documentary recognition of their presence at the lectures. So the following expedient has been adopted: the quæstor gives each young woman a blank leaf from one of the printed books, to serve as a model for ruling, etc.; then the student in question has the privilege of making a similar book for herself, which is duly receipted by the quæstor and signed by the professors, the only thing which it lacks being the official university seal adorned with a piece of green and white cord!
The use of the university library, which gives out its books in generous number and for a generous time, is freely accorded to the women students, although there is some incomprehensible “red tape” which at present throws difficulties in the way of their visiting the Akademische Lesehalle, a readingroom where the most important newspapers and periodicals (The Atlantic among them) are always on file. The very fact that this unreasonable distinction is made shows that the whole matter rests on no secure or firmly established basis, and it would be no unwarranted flight of imagination to anticipate an authorized recognition of women as students in the near future. The fact that a degree in law has already been conferred on a woman, and that certain of the professors in the philosophical faculty are understood to be in favor of the same innovation, lends a still greater probability to this view. I believe recognition to be only an affair of time.
The difference between the opportunities accorded to women students in Cambridge, England, and in Leipzig is a striking one; and it seems to me there are advantages on both sides. My friend writes from England: “ To the intercollegiate lectures [that is, the really valuable working lectures], with one or two exceptions, women are not yet admitted.” But the women students there can take the same tripos examinations as the men, after fitting for them by private coaching. To be sure, they receive no degree, but if the examination is creditably passed, it amounts to the same thing. In Leipzig, on the contrary, women are excluded at the outset from the chance of trying for the doctor’s degree, with the “dissertation” and examinations it involves; yet the doors of all the lecture-rooms are thrown freely open to them, and, save that they lack the stimulus and the shaping influence upon their course which the aim of working for a degree cannot fail to carry with it, they have precisely the same opportunities for study as the men. I say all the lectures are open to women, because, although the permission is supposed to depend on the pleasure of the individual professors, I do not think this permission would ever be denied to a proper applicant. In Berlin, on the other hand, the conservatism is still so strong that no women are admitted to the regular university lectures. The same is true of Göttingen; but I recently learned, to my surprise, that this celebrated university is willing to confer the doctor degree upon women, and has actually done so in a few instances, although not admitting them to the lectures. This is going a step farther than England.
I have emphasized the accessibility of the Leipzig University, without dwelling upon the advantages it offers to the would-be student, since these, are too universally recognized to require, especial mention. The mere name of Professor Curtius, for example, is of itself a guaranty to the philological student that he or she will find it worth while to turn his or her steps Leipzig-wards, even if having no suspicion beforehand of the clear and interesting manner in which the lectures of this celebrated scholar are delivered; and the other departments are represented by hardly less famous and excellent professors.
Owing to the large number of students attending the lectures, the fees, payable at the beginning of each semester, are exceedingly small, and the expenses of living in Leipzig are very inconsiderable in comparison with those in other cities of its size. This fact, together with the fame of the university and the excellent musical advantages afforded by the Gewandhaus and Conservatory, explains the enormous influx of foreigners, as well as Germans. It would perhaps be harder to say why it is that few remain for any length of time without forming a real attachment for the old town, in spite of its flatness, smokiness, and general dinginess of exterior. This is perhaps chiefly due to a sort of mental stimulus, which inevitably results from the presence, in one small city, of some three thousand individuals, with the most diverse aims, tastes, and capacities, it is true, but who nevertheless are all striving toward the common goal of a higher culture. It seems to me that it is this intellectual atmosphere, more than anything else, which endears Leipzig to the student world.
— Some of your contributors, in discussing “ poor Rosamond ” and her “ heart troubles, ” take rather too serious a view of the matter, if they infer that she loved the conductor. An imaginative woman s fancies may be stirred by every passing breath of inclination, or whirled about by strong emotion, while her heart remains as unmoved as the heart of an oak whose leaves are quivering, or whose branches are tossing in the wind. Unimaginative people cannot appreciate how there may be so many of the outward symptoms without the inward fact of love, and all dreamers are not introspective enough to analyze their own sensations; but Rosamond seems to have had a clear and level head, that watched her exuberant imagination as a skillful rider watches a spirited horse, and when she declares that her “ heart has nothing to do with it,” and that she “does n’t love him any more than she loves the man in the moon,” she is probably right. That she took no pains to ascertain his matrimonial status, or the health of his rich maiden aunts, proves how purely ideal was he for whom she cared.
To arraign American society because it admits of such an episode seems to me absurd. The close surveillance of other countries cannot chain a woman’s fancy, which is sometimes stimulated rather than repressed by the meagreness of opportunity. Since the days when
The Lady of Shalott,”
a glimpse of a man’s face in a mirror may be enough. It was by Rosamond’s isolation and loneliness that she fell into the snare, and by a course of “ society, dressing, dancing, and admiration ” that she escaped. Shall we not rather commend the social training which enabled her, while passing through such a, powerful inward experience, to keep so strictly within the limits of outward propriety? It is not probable that the “ gentleman and man of honor,” to whose extraordinary forbearance, in the opinion of one critic, she owes her “ only salvation” (from what?), had the least notion of the quality or degree of interest that was hidden behind the reserve of her exterior. If he had made any definite advance toward a more familiar tone with her, or by some trivial word or look revealed his true character (for we have seen only her ideal of him), the chances are ten to one that, the charm would have been broken, and the affair would have ended long before.
The story illustrates the transmuting power of the imagination, — how it can blow a great, glittering bubble of fancy from a small drop of the soap-suds of fact, and how suddenly the bubble may collapse when pricked by a sharp reality. Rosamond’s illusion was quickly and naturally dispelled when its exciting cause was once removed, and there was no longer any future to anticipate about which she might weave her dreams. There were a few brief pangs, of shame and disappointment rather than of grief, and all was over. Pity for her broken heart is surely misplaced.
I have no desire, however, to excuse or extenuate her conduct. Her alter ego was undoubtedly right, or would have been, if allowed to finish. A wellconducted person in her circumstances would have studied German, read essays, faced the stifling oppression of a grim New England winter with a heroism of which lonely New England girls are capable, and resolutely denied herself the luxury of entering the bright world of fancy and the sweet indulgence of her dreams. But he who regards her as an extraordinary or exceptional instance cannot have been a close observer of women, otherwise he would know that there are many who go quite as far as she did in mental experience, and are not half so careful to avoid overt acts of flirtation, or so anxious to justify themselves to their own pride and conscience. Besides, had she been that well-conducted person, should we have cared to hear her story ?
— Being in great want of consolation, I took up a novel which promised well, as it was by the author of Mr. Smith and Pauline.1 It was no disappointment; the greater part of the book is as pleasant as possible, and it leaves the reader in a good humor. Again, as in Mr. Smith, there are three young and pretty sisters, but a very different trio from the doubtful Tolletons. They live in a delightful English home, where rank, fortune, intelligence, and every other good gift have been bestowed in exactly the right proportions to produce that golden mean, that happy balance, wherein England’s strength still lies, amidst the rush of multitudes to extremes and excesses by which she sometimes seems in danger of upsetting. These three nice girls — for so they all are, and one is a darling — have a father and mother, Sir John and Lady Manners, an excellent country gentleman and British matron of the best type; there are two sons, — the elder in the army, the other at Oxford. They are none of them scheming or snobbish, unless the son and heir has just a smirch, just a streak, of the latter vice, to make the picture faithful; for could there be a family of seven in England without one snob ? There are neighbors, from the earl and countess, the great folk of the country-side, to little Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who are amiably tolerated on that outer edge the discomforts and dangers of which as a social foot-hold have been capitally described by Mrs. Walford in her other stories. A great merit in the book is that although the characters are perfectly natural, none of them are disagreeable to the reader. Unpleasant and provoking to each other they needs must be now and then, as Mrs. Walford deals with the real world; but we enter into the feelings of both elderly gentlemen, whose grievances against each other are explained by two younger people: “ 4 He said papa walked him off his legs, showing him otters’ lairs, pheasant covers, and partridge-runs.’ ‘ Papa said he was half killed by hunting up Roman camps, Drnidieal temples, and Saxon remains.’ Both laughed, and no more was said.” They do not irritate or bore us, however. We do not dislike even the obnoxious woman in the book, underbred and manœuvring though she be. We understand why her relations by marriage gnash their teeth at her sometimes, but she only amuses us; she is a good woman at bottom, and all her little games turn out well for everybody. The hero is not as well drawn as the other characters ; but what woman’s hero ever is ? We can see, however, what, he was meant to be. The heroine is thoroughly real and winning, the pet of the family, and to a certain point a spoiled child, but a great contrast to the spoiled children who have infested a certain class of English and American novels for some years past, — as dreadful to encounter in print as their living prototypes are in a drawing-room. The personages are all good, wholesome people, each — except the solemn hero — with an absurdity or two which make them all the better company, and the action moves along in a clear, crisp, healthy atmosphere. But does it move? That is hardly the word, unless we mean a brisk rotary motion ; the book certainly does not march. There is the minimum of incident: frequent drives over the same roads with the same ponies, dinner-parties at country neighbors, a charity concert, a county ball, — these are the casters on which the story smoothly rolls; afternoon tea plays a prominent part; it is served rather too often. Yet we are exceedingly well entertained by the conversations, the by-play, the exhibitions of individuality. The most ordinary occasions are enlivened by touches such as describe young Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s first dinner party: —
“ Everything within and without the small domain of Oakbank was in applepie order by eight o’clock. . . . Husband and wife, equally up to concertpitch in their own persons, stood on each side of the drawing-room fire: she in pink, with braided hair; he, shaven, brushed, starched, and stiff in the highest of collars. It needed but to pour eau-de-Cologne on his pocket-handkerchief, and finish could go no farther.”
There is too much detail; there are too many passages like the following: “ It must not be supposed that during the week no communication had been held with Wancote. The ladies from Lutteridge had driven over there twice. . . . Then Jane and her mother had called once at the manor, and Agatha had walked over herself the day before the concert.” None of these comings and goings are of the slightest consequence, and, with a great deal more of the same sort, are entirely unnecessary. This circumstantial recital produces a dizzy-like fidelity and sequence, but it is the quality which stamps talkers as prosy. Nevertheless, it carries the story on prosperously for two thirds of the book with some pretty, tacit love-making, until we are beginning to think it is time for the wedding, when a dreadful complication arises from the unlikely, yet not new, blunder of the hero’s confidences being mistaken for a declaration, and his finding himself accepted by the wrong lady. His Quixotism will not permit him to extricate himself from this entanglement, although it continues at the cost of as much anguish to his own sweetheart as to himself; and they drag on through misery and misunderstanding, until one grows weary of their woes. It takes a railway accident of the first magnitude, with the sacrifice of one of the nicest characters in the story, to set things right. The catastrophe is very well told; that and the chapter on an otter hunt are exciting and full of spirit. But what a dire expedient for getting out of a difficulty! Killing for mere convenience has become too common in English novels. It is a capital crime against the laws of taste and probability. I read a book of Miss Bremer’s thirty years ago, of which I have forgotten the name, story, and everything except a paragraph in the opening chapter. It is a sequel to a previous novel; she reintroduces the leading characters, but wishes to clear the stage of supernumeraries, so she says, 11 And where are the gentle Adelaide, the tender Otto, the practical Bertha, the gallant Axel, the honest Erie? All dead, — dead of the cholera.” This is admirable, a real stroke of talent. But the sudden death of Jem Manners is altogether out of tune with the story; it is a huge discord which spoils the simple harmony of the rest and jars on our ears to the very end. Indeed, such a tragedy is so out of keeping and proportion with the cheerful tale that I could not believe it to be a bona fide one, and was expecting poor Jem to come to life long after he was buried. If anybody was to be smashed, it should have been one of the principals, and this good fellow ought not to be the victim of the hero’s shilly-shallying, or the author’s inability to construct a plot. But even then we have not had the last of them. The false position is prolonged, until readers are fain to adopt the motto of the thirty - sixth chapter, “Patience needed,” through the last hundred pages, the only possible excuse for such long-windedness being a painful necessity of providing a given number of sheets. Why do Mrs. Walford’s natural and pleasant personages take no hold of our hearts? Our eyes do not moisten with their griefs, nor our spirits rise at their good fortune; we see and hear them as clearly as if they were alive, yet they fade from the memory into the limbo of forgotten faces and things.
— “As to jokes on biblical subjects, she had been used to them from childhood, as is the case with most children of clergymen. Our jestings, if we jest at all, are apt to spring from familiar earth.” Our old deacon (who, whatever other qualities he lacked, richly fulfilled the Apostles’ object in the creation of the diaconate in this particular, that he “ served tables,” from the parsonage out through the ramifications of a large parish, with seasonable entertainment; his sayings and doings furnishing piquant sauce for many years in that region) was wont to pray unctuously, “ O Lord, bless our lay brethren and our lay sisters.”
Now it is to the “lay brethren and lay sisters ” to whom these presents come that I beg earnestly to commend the above passage from Irene the Missionary, and let clergymen, no less than their children, have the benefit of the saving clause. It cannot be denied that the tribe of Levi sometimes handle the shew-bread with an impunity which is amazing to the profane looker-on in Jerusalem. “ Mr. - talks to God just as if he was his cousin ” is a well-worn epigram, applicable to a thousand and one more clergymen than the great original; and if they do these things in the pulpit on a Sunday, what won’t they do on week-days in parsonage studies and clerical clubs and vacations?
The habit, good or evil, is insidious, and grows by what it feeds on, till many a devout priest would be overwhelmed with shame by the disclosure of the impression he has produced upon the “ world’s people ” in this particular. A newly-fledged divine, anxious to be all things to all men (we will hope entirely from a Pauline motive), had painstakingly covered his cloth during a sojourn at a fashionable watering-place, He was astounded to learn, after a fortnight’s dashing career, that he had been all the time recognized by the amused party whom he had specially courted.
“ But you did n’t think of my being a clergyman, I am sure,” said the chagrined sheep, still clinging pitifully to a rag of his borrowed wolf-skin as he addressed the favorite belle.
“I?” quoth this dame sans merci, with a flash of her white teeth and deadly eyes,— “I? Oh, bless you! Yes, I knew it from the first. Why, you told so many blasphemous stories, you know.”
And many a far better man than her victim, and many a one whose shoelatchet you and I, my “ lay ” friend, are not worthy to loose, would stand aghast, nay, grovel in unrespitable despair, were he once confronted with the popular conception of his devoutness which has been produced by his unconscious indulgence of a native wit or drollery, which simply (as the author of Irene significantly notes) has sported itself among the nearest and most familiar objects. Whether it may be worth while for clergymen to restrain this inclination, at least within the bounds indicated by the utterance of an honored old minister to an honored young one, who, during the intermission of “revival” meetings in which they were both zealously engaged, was telling him a good story on the street corner, when some one came within hearing, “Sh! — sh! there’s a fool coming!” — it is for them, and not for the fools, to decide.
But it is true—perhaps “pity 7t is, ’t is true,” still it is absolutely true — that there is more danger of misconception, and therefore of mortal injury, through this professional freedom of speech now than formerly.
One of Auerbach’s Black Forest sages says: “In those days, when people’s piety was in their hearts and not on their tongues, they could crack a dozen jokes, and yet their hearts remain the same. Nowadays they are afraid of the snuffers coming very near the candle, for they know it will take very little to put it out, and they must trim it all the time to keep it alive. I used to play jigs on the organ whenever I had a mind to! ”
Religious newspapers are perhaps even proner than clergymen and their children to biblical and sacred official jokes.
Years ago, when a certain excellent journal of this class had considerately labeled the halves of its double sheet “Religious” and “Secular” respectively, the results were discussed before a sharp gentlewoman who was among its oldest subscribers and warmest partisans. She finally silenced all cavilers by declaring, “ That’s all nonsense! I never make a mistake and read the secular side on Sunday. You can always tell the religious side if you want to,” — the boldest held his breath for the test; “ the receipts for cooking are always on the religious half.” In these days one might almost distinguish the religious newspaper from its secular contemporary by the lavish supply and pungent quality of the humorous columns of the former, which are apparently its sine qua non.
The craving for amusement is natural and innocent. Further than this, we believe that amusement, more often than not, is a means of grace; but it is something loftier than a mere question of taste what shall be the catering for this wholesome hunger.
When a religious weekly of noble birth and majestic proportions and commanding influence prints, apropos of the ceremony of early communion in a ritualistic church, a derisive paragraph, printing it with a misquotation from the Biglow Papers,
Ef you want to take in God,”
really the laborious pun does not seem quite witty enough to justify the sacrilege, even in the eyes of the lowest of churchmen or the loosest of dissenters. It is at best a dangerous precedent for them who live by the altar to jest at the sacraments thereof, however maladministered in their view.
And when the same prince of newspapers carried up and down through Christendom the story (which I can hardly believe would have passed muster in the “ audience fit ” of the most driveling circus clown) of a dying man whose death throes were broken in upon by the frugal wife’s entreaties to die if he must, but not tear the sheets in the process, surely the very god of flies must have been invoked in the sanctum whence issued such defilement on that publication day.
And since death is not sacred, of course marriage, although hedged with divinity in Bibles, prayer-books, official documents and utterances, is at the mercy of the ex cathedra jester. When a religious journal in one column deprecates the increasing rottenness of the marriage tie, and in the next collates sundry Joe Millerisms (I beg his pardon) in regard to matrimony, divorce, and widowhood, it looks a trifle queer to the lay observer.
Permit me in this connection to call attention to the indisputable fact that widows are the bonne bouche of the pious joker no less than of the profane. I once heard a clergyman, deservedly distinguished for many gifts and many gains, deliver a popular lecture in his own church, into which he introduced a fling at this pariah caste so broad and brutal that a little child who had accompanied her widowed mother to the house of God that night cried out, as they went their desolate way together, “ Oh, mamma, I wish it was n’t wicked to hate that minister! ”
Now, admitting that widowhood is in itself the supreme joke of human existence, and that its hourly - increasing hosts are, without exception, fair game for sportsmen at large, would it not be decorous for the clergy and religious press to maintain at worst neutrality in regard to a subject which their vade mecum treats with signal sympathy and even reverence? None who have not searched the Scriptures from the widow’s stand-point can even approximately estimate the multitude and exquisite honor and tenderness of the allusions whereby the Bible distinguishes this class above all the bereaved.
The modern enthusiasm of humanity (Joe Miller is its prophet) has changed all this, and made it impossible that any widow can be so sheltered from its bitter blasts as not to have occasion to wish the suttee were not a charitable institution of India and the past alone. But it still remains a question whether the Christian ministry and the religious press (while assuming to themselves preëminent consecration and jealousy of service to Him who is not ashamed to write himself the judge of the widow, and to make consideration toward her and hers the first half of the very substance of “ pure and undefiled religion,” as defined in the Book which they accept as infallible) can afford, even on the low ground of policy, to aid in the propagation of this new gospel.
— The prevalence of novels is the chief literary characteristic of this century, and everything belonging to novelmaking takes on value not intrinsic to the pursuit, but proportionate to the influence of which novels are the source. Whether fiction is an art or not, works of fiction have a scientific interest, as indications of the level of popular taste and of the mental capacity of the minority who cater for it. The picture of contemporary men and manners, if at all correctly given, adds some value to a novel, though the indefinite multiplication and repetition of such pictures both wearies and confuses the critic. As to the art side of the matter, it is still an open question whether skillful and minute copying of living models, or the bold combination and handling of imaginary but probable circumstances, and the creation of characters whose consistence with themselves is well kept up throughout the story, is the higher form of fiction. At present the art aspect is perhaps the one most lost sight of, and though it blends necessarily with the workmanship of the best writers, it is confessedly a secondary matter. Roughly speaking, people read novels to be amused and pass time pleasantly, and novelists write them to make money, and if possible a name. One may venture to affirm that no one deliberately reads a novel for the purpose of learning anything, although several novelists write for the (secondary) purpose of teaching something. Writers who have a conscience and theories resort to the only means of fixing the attention of a heedless public, and now and then some good is done in this way, generally, however, by the simple exposition of facts rather than by elaborate moral explanations or dissertations, which the reader irreverently skips as “ preaching.” The most practical objection to the majority of novels is their uselessness. The mass of them seldom pay their authors or their publishers, and, considering that money is the chief object of both, this failure may be set down as unbalanced by any advantages. On the other hand, they waste the time of their readers. If there is any interest in a story, it loses by being spun out through chapter after chapter of conventional “padding.” Half or a third of the book would hold the facts, and the reader would be glad of the improvement. Novels have usually the fault common to sermons: the writer misses the right moment for finishing his effort. Against the moral uselessness of fiction it is not worth while to speak here; but that in our days of hurry and excitement such unproductive timespending should go uncriticised seems strange.
— The time is Saturday afternoon. At four o’clock the house in which I live is to be sold at auction. The hindrances of the week have prevented the writing of my Sunday sermon, though it is pretty well thought out. There is no such thing as writing while the auction is in progress, and you have the prospect of a change of landlords, and are thinking of the possibility of buying the house yourself. But the auction passed without any bidders except the owners, and the crowd having dispersed from the front steps I went into my study, — which happens to be in the front parlor, just on the street and next to the front door,— at five o’clock, to begin my sermon, all aglow with the right inspiration for it, and feeling that I could advance a good way into it before tea time. The paper was counted out, the sketch or brief was duly examined, and I had gone over a page, when the children were ready to go out with the baby and must pass out at the front door. The writing of a sentence was not possible till they had gone up the street. I sat down to my table, when the door-bell rang. The servant was away, and I went to the door to find a peddler. I seated myself again with the determination to put my whole strength into the sermon, and had just begun to write, when one of the children came back, and had to ring the bell for some one to open the door. I felt as if I could box the boy’s ears, but did n’t. His wants were attended to, and I sat down again, feeling somewhat disturbed. Looking at my watch, I found that it was half past five. Well, there was a clean half hour before tea would be announced, and I began again with a good heart. I had scarcely dipped my pen in the ink, when a hand-organ appeared before the window, and the grinder began with great vigor to pour out his tunes in our populous neighborhood. One of my boys came bouncing into the house for money. I went to the door, and told the organman that he would find more children further up the street and had better move on, — which he did, but only to the next door. At any rate, he was out of my jurisdiction, and I was in for his music, whether I wanted it or not. For the next fifteen minutes, you can imagine my position. I sat at the table resolved not to let the organ trouble me: but I was too nervous for that. Then I determined to write anyhow; but just as I got a sentence under way, and thought the organ-man had finished his concert, he would strike into a new tune, which distracted me again. There was nothing to do but submit; and there I sat, pen in hand, with a frowning countenance, trying to submit, and feeling all the while as if I would like to smash that handorgan and give my unconscious tormentor a hoist into the upper air. I could not write a word, and never realized before how many tunes and parts of tunes one of those abominable machines has at its command. It seemed as if he tuned up at every house, until the music grew fainter and fainter, and finally ceased, to my great relief. But no sooner had this nuisance ended than the door-bell rang. I rushed out to find it was the newsboy with the Transcript. I had hardly seated myself for work when the bell rang again, and the postman handed me a circular. It was now almost six o’clock, and in a few moments the supper bell rang,—and my poor sermon was nearly as far along as if I had not begun it at all. Never did more interruptions crowd themselves into an hour, and never was an hour more important to me. I do not care to tell how or when that sermon was finished. There was an hour’s work on it which was never done, and so far as the writing of it goes it is not finished yet. I got a lesson on the control of temper which it is important for every one to learn, and if I have sketched the interruptions more calmly than I bore them I have simply shown that I am human, like other men. A city minister’s life, often day after day, is spent in just such fruitless endeavors to do his work, and finally his only relief in doing his work is in not doing it.
— I was much interested in the article in the September number on Songs and Eccentricities of Birds, which, barring a mistake or two, was of exceptional excellence. On page 351 the writer says, “ The robin is exclusively insectivorous; for the fruit he consumes is his dessert, not his subsistence, and he swallows no kinds of seeds. . . . Hence, robins are never seen in large or compact flocks. Seldom is a gunner able to shoot more than one or two of them at once, so scattered are the members of their small assemblages.” In the South, where I was “raised,” the robins are found during winter in very large numbers, whither they go, I suppose, to evade the cold of the North. I have been in the habit of shooting them, as, when properly cooked, they are very palatable. My acquaintance with robins is therefore quite extensive. Instead of being “ exclusively insectivorous,” they absolutely devour the china berries, with which the trees are loaded, and as a frequent result become so “ intoxicated ” that the boys run them down and catch them. The berry after it has been frozen is full of juice, which the birds first largely extract, and then swallow the berry itself. On these china-trees I have found them by the hundred, and have killed as many as half a dozen at a single shot. On very cold days, late in the afternoon, I have often found them so stupidly drunk from overfeeding on these berries that they have submitted to be stoned to death without any effort to escape.
— Granting that the function of art is not to teach morality, it certainly is equally true that novelists ought not to hold up for admiration anything in the conduct of their characters which tends to the lowering of the higher standards of human action. They may paint human frailty provided they do not misscall it strength, or weak-minded folly so long as they do not label it admirable virtue. This general reflection has been suggested by the reading of certain books in which a particular form of self-sacrifice is made to appear a virtue. Selfsacrifice in itself considered is doubtless a beautiful thing, but does it follow that it is in all cases a right thing ? Does it not depend upon what we sacrifice? Of course, most story writers are not greatly concerned with the ethical question; their object is to make an effective story, and a heroine who marries some one she does not care for in order to promote his happiness poses as a deeply interesting martyr. Some authors, however, really appear to think this sort of thing praiseworthy, and the more they are in earnest with their doctrine the worse their influence is upon young readers without any settled convictions of their own about the matter. It certainly was a temptation to the authoress of Mirage to marry her heroine in the end to anybody rather than leave her to pine indefinitely for the ineffectual gentleman who could n’t make up his mind to seek her for a wife. What I object to is that the writer apparently approves of Constance sacrificing herself to make young Stuart blessed. I take this story as an instance, because in it the matter is not extenuated in any way. Why in the world should that good-natured, well-conducted, but utterly dull and commonplace young man be gratified at the cost of a sweet girl degrading herself to a loveless marriage? She could never have given him more than a moderate liking, mixed with pity for his want of soul; to live with him must have been to be oppressed with an intolerable burden of daily tediousness. — and why should she have borne it ? A similar case is that of Georgy Sandon, in the pathetic story of A Lost Love, who losing the man she loves marries Stephen Anstruther, to please him, and takes no pleasure in life herself ever after. The dilemma in these cases seems so evident : either the man has no heart to speak of, and in that case the heroine need not concern herself about his peace; or he has a heart, in which ease she wrongs him by not giving him one in return. I think that nowhere but in books exist the men and women who are satisfied with less than a full return of affection, and the truest lover is the quickest to detect the absence or the loss of what he seeks of his love’s object. To marry a man to make him happy is a better motive than marrying him for money, position, or a home, but novelists have no right to teach that it is a good and sufficient motive.
— Like the author of Waverley, Daudet began his career as a poet. One day the Empress Eugénie chanced to alight on a volume of his lyrics, and yielding to a charm which precluded indifference she turned to the Duke de Morny, and said, “ Who is this Daudet?” Such inquiry from royal lips was a mandate agreeable to obey. Morny, after a successful investigation, summoned the poet to his presence. Daudet, like a true son of Apollo, stood before him in wretched plight, a fitting object for patronage, “ Will you be my secretary? ” asked the duke of the poet. Daudet was proud. He passed his fingers through his long hair, and replied, “ Duke, I am a legitimist.” “ Bah! ” answered Morny, “ so is the empress. Cut your hair, M. Daudet.” By some potent persuasion, the man of state vanquished the scruples of the high-spirited poet, and from that time Daudet became an actor in the brilliant society which he so well describes in his Nabob, the greatest of modern French novels. As a poet he belongs to the realistic school, of which Coppée is the pioneer. Here is one of his poems, roughly rendered: —
For a plum we loved so well ?
I will tell you softly, come,
How it all befell.
Love, that sleepy urchin, on
Ever shyly creepeth he,
As brunette or blonde must own, —
Yes, for plums loved we !
I a cousin, — ah, so fair !
Uncle had on orchard broad ;
And we loved ere well aware.
Little birds came there to board,
Spring supplied their table rare :
Uncle had an orchard broad,
I a cousin, passing fair.
To the orchard sauntered we ;
Bonny, fresh, and dainty, set
Forth together in our glee.
Hummed a tender ariette
Locusts and the cricket free ;
On that morn with Mariette,
To the orchard sauntered we.
Birdies sang in every key ;
All the notes alternate shed,
From A to F, from G to B :
Meadows fair, with flow'rets spread,
Flow'rets white, for festal glee.
From the branches overhead,
Birdies sang in every key.
But she recked not that it did,_
Wore my cousin debonair;
And she stirred, and moved, and slid,
Like a shuttlecock in air
From the battledore once rid.
Dainty cap, that made her fair,
Wore my coz, nor recked it did
Cousin mine the plums did spy,
Oh, she did with longing vast,
Greedy, wish to eat them, fie !
Low the bough, and as she passed
Plucked and ate, as they were nigh :
For the orchard reached at last,
Cousin mine the plums did spy.
Giving me, she said, “ Here, take.”
My poor heart ! I held it tight,
With such beating did it shake.
Little biting teeth, that right
On the edge a lace did make,
Deep into the plum did bite.
Giving me, she bid me, “ Take ”
Many things that fruit could tell ;
Would that I had known before
What I at last do know so well!
And I bit — can you deplore ? —
Where those rosy lips just fell,
That was all, — but what need more ?
Many things that fruit can tell.
For a plum we loved so well.
Do not you mistake me now :
Should you let your fancy dwell
On surmises vain, I trow,
Little care I what I tell.
Ladies, yes, and that is how
For a plum we loved so well.
— In the Contributors’ Club for June the following lines are quoted as evidence that Shakespeare, as early as 1607, “ outlined ” the fact of the circulation of the blood, concerning which Harvey “ first gave public authoritative utterance of his views in 1620 : ”
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart.”
(Julius Cæsar, Act ii., Scene 1.)
But far from outlining this great discovery, there is nothing in this passage, nor in any of the writings of Shakespeare, bearing upon the circulation of the blood, which is in advance of the teachings of Hippocrates or Galen, and much less abreast with the theories of Servetus and Cesalpino, which approached quite near to Harvey’s discovery, and whose views were published before the existence of the plays of the great dramatist. Without quoting from the writings of the above-named authors in proof of this assertion, it will suffice to give an extract in point from an acknowledged authority, Dr. J. C. Bucknill, who in his learned work on the Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare says in regard to the lines in question, “ There are several passages in the plays in which the presence of blood in the heart is quite as distinctly referred to as in this speech of Brutus; but the passages quoted in these pages from Love’s Labor Lost and from the Second Part of Henry IV. distinctly prove that Shakespeare entertained the Galenical doctrine, universally prevalent before Harvey’s discovery, —that although the right side of the heart was visited by the blood, the function of the heart and its proper vessels, the arteries, was the distribution of the vital spirits, or, as Biron calls them,‘the nimble spirits in the arteries.’ Shakespeare believed, indeed, in the flow of the blood, ‘ the rivers of blood,’ which went 'even to the court, the heart; ’ but he considered that it was the liver, and not the heart, which was the cause of the flow. There is not, in my opinion, in Shakespeare a trace of any knowledge of the circulation of the blood. Surely, the temple of his fame needs not be enriched by the spoils of any other reputation! ”
It may be well to add, in this connection, that the passage from Julius Cæsar under consideration was about thirty-five years ago made the subject of a paper by Mr. Thomas Nimmo, in which he took the position that it indicated that Shakespeare may have become acquainted with the true theory of the circulation of the blood through Harvey himself, and before the latter had made known his views to the world. This theory, ingeniously as it was presented by its author, was shown to be utterly untenable by Mr. T. J. Pettigrew, who made it clear that the opinions held in the time of Shakespeare in reference to the distribution of the blood “were sufficient to account for the allusions made by our great bard; ” moreover, that there was no evidence that Shakespeare knew Harvey, and, if he did, that the latter at the date of Julius Cæsar, “ entertained any particular views upon the nature of the circulation.” Both of these contributions may be found in the second volume of the Shakespeare Society’s Papers.
— Why is it that color is so rigorously excluded from good sculpture? Mr. Grant Allen endeavors to answer this question in his recent Physiological Æsthetics. He thinks that “ the optical consciousness cannot readily be divided,” and that it attends either to form or to hue, rarely and imperfectly to both together. Natural objects which most strike us in respect to form are less noticeable for beauty of color, and vice versa. Ferns, for instance, “ the leaves whose form gives us the greatest pleasure, have no brilliant flowers to withdraw our notice from their delicate contour and symmetrical arrangement.” This explanation seems to me very imperfect. Ferns have no flowers, it is true, but they have an exquisite green color, which, instead of detracting our attention from the delicate outlines of the leaves, adds to our admiration of them. Maiden-hair, the most exquisitely shaped of all ferns, is also by its tint, marginal fruit-dots, and ebony stalk rendered the most beautiful of all ferns in color. And almost any flower picked in field, garden, or forest will, by its union of perfect form with perfect Coloring, refute Mr. Allen’s argument. Another explanation of the incompatibility of sculpture and color is offered by Schopenhauer. Something must be left to the imagination in sculpture as in literature. Wax figures fail herein; hence they are not works of art. This theory seems much more plausible and satisfactory, but it scarcely covers the whole ground. Perhaps the principal reason why we dislike a colored (especially a flesh-colored) statue is that for a second we are apt to mistake it for a real person; and then, on suddenly discovering the absence of vital expression in eyes and features, the idea of death is unconsciously suggested. The shock thus given to our feelings neutralizes the æsthetic emotion.
— The autumn tints and the refrain of the pensive postal card admonish me that the season of charity fairs is coming. Each fair will have its little daily newspaper, edited and printed on the premises, and all men and women who earn their bread and butter by scribbling will be asked to write something for that paper, — not for pay, but as a contribution to the good cause. Nothing can more strikingly illustrate the careless esteem, if not the contempt, in which the literary trade is held than the fact that the invention of that impudent idea astonished nobody, and the added fact that it did not hide itself and die, but continues to live and flourish to this day. My reputation as a writer is neither first rate nor fifth rate, but lies between, somewhere; I am not known to all people, but am known to many. There are ten-dollar men, and there are hundreddollar men; I am a twenty-five dollar man, — that describes it. Such articles of mine as are accepted are paid for at an average of twenty-five dollars apiece. I make about a hundred dollars a month, and it is sufficient; it supports my small family, and we even save a trifle for a rainy day, by judicious scrimping. As often as ten times every fall and winter I am asked to contribute gratis articles for concealment in charity-fair journals. Thus I am asked to give, not simply a fifth of my surplus to charity, — for that would neither help the charity mightily, nor hurt me seriously, — but a fifth of my actual living. The merchant, with a clear income of ten thousand dollars a year, can contribute a two-hundredth part of it to his local charity fair, and his fifty dollars will cause him to be praised and blessed. A gratis bit of literature from me would represent an entire fourth of my year’s profits, but I should by no means be glorified accordingly, if I were weak enough to contribute it. The merchant could give five fifty-dollar contributions, and not miss it; five from me would leave me in debt. I am not aware that any but writers are asked to give from their stock in trade. The charityfair people would not think of asking Mr. Vanderbilt to give them a railroad ; they would not think of asking the Cunarders to give them a ship; but they have no delicacy about asking me to give a sketch, — whereas those other parties could easier spare a railroad or a ship than I could spare the twenty-five dollars’ worth of bread and butter which my sketch represents. If the reader is a charity-fair person, he is receiving a new light at this moment: it never occurred to him before that a mere piece of manuscript was actual money in disguise; it never occurred to him that in asking a twenty-five-dollar author to contribute an article he was asking him to give a sum atrociously out of proportion to his means. In my opinion, the professional scribe who gives an article to a charity-fair journal is a goose. For one or two reasons: one is because he is contributing from a hundred to a thousand times more (according to his means) than anybody else ever confers on those objects; another is that he has no right to rob his family in such an extravagant way; and a third because sending his article to a charity-fair journal is barring it against adding to his reputation, — for that, sort of journal is only a literary hearse. He would do much better to contribute twenty-five dollars in money, and sell his stuff to a magazine; it would be seen, then, and run a chance of advancing him in the public estimation. I always answer charity-journal requests according to my purse and my sympathies. Sometimes I send twenty-five cents, at times even a dollar, when I am strongly stirred; but I reserve my manuscript for the living press. To borrow poor Sancho’s words, “ I may not be a genius, but I trust in God I am not an ass.”
— What is most people’s idea of a hero? I found not long since, in a newspaper paragraph, the answers written by the Prince and Princess of Wales in a certain book to some ten or a dozen questions, such as, What is your favorite amusement, author, and so on. The answers, by the way, though probably not always expressive of genuine opinions, were rather interesting indices of character, as when the princess humorously makes known her “ ambition” to be “ non-interference in other people’s business.” The favorite heroes designated by the prince and princess were Nelson and Marlborough. We will charitably suppose that the princess wrote unthinkingly. Marlborough a hero! If he is one, then there have been a great many more heroes in the world than I had supposed. If we could read more of the “confessions” contained in that book at Belvoir Castle, I wonder if we should not find that the majority of heroes chosen were famous warriors by land or sea. I should like to know how many Americans would select the name of Washington. There is so little to captivate the imagination in the serene equipoise of fine faculties that characterizes him that I fear a good many youthful Americans look on Washington with dutiful respect rather than very enthusiastic admiration. Perhaps that story of the hatchet has done harm to the father of our country with the lighter-minded of its sons and daughters.
Are hero and great man simply synonymous terms? I think they are so taken in loose general usage, and Carlyle so uses them throughout his Heroes in History. With considerable respect for Mr. Carlyle, I have very little for his book. Although the hero includes the great man, not every great man is a hero, and to speak of the hero as poet to my thinking is to talk nonsense. If the hero is the able man, “the man who can,” we may just as well talk of the hero as business man, and take any large and eminently successful dealer in dry goods for a hero. Shakespeare was not a hero at all, in the sense I understand the word; Dante was a great poet and something of a hero too, not on account of the greatness of his poetry but of his willingness to suffer for his political convictions. If we are right in saying that it is only certain kinds of great men who are heroes, the question remains, What kinds? if greatness of intellect alone does not make the hero and we must exclude Shakespeare and Goethe, nor necessarily greatness in action, such as Cæsar or Napoleon displayed, what is it that constitutes the true hero? Is it not the nearest we can come to defining him to say that he is the man of great soul, one who for some worthy cause either acts or suffers greatly? The idea of disinterested devotion must enter, it seems to me, into our conception of a hero; and my own leaning is always to the heroes of endurance, for it is so much easier to act, to direct a battle, to lead a charge, even to ride slowly down the valley of death with the light brigade, than to live year after year in poverty and exile, as men have done for the sake of an idea. It would be well if some one would ransack history and give us an account of its heroes of the true sort; to learn what they have done and suffered for truth might be an inspiration for us pettier mortals of to-day.
— Once, after reading the chapter on proverbs and maxims in Sir Arthur Helps’ delightful Friends in Council, one of the company said to me, “ Could you make a maxim ? ”
“Certainly,” I replied. “Here is one: The art of letting others alone is — But just there the maxim stopped as short as My Grandfather’s Clock. It seemed a simple thing when I started it, never doubting that the end of the proverb would roll off from my tongue as easily as the beginning had done. But I then realized the difficulty of compressing into one crisp, terse sentence all I had thought about this much neglected art of letting others alone.
It seemed that a maxim which would at once find a responsive chord in every human breast would almost make itself. But it did not. We passed the poor unfinished proverb around amongst our friendst, yet no one was able to formulate in one telling sentence, the whole idea.
We now submit it to the Contributors’ Club, hoping to receive it again in so perfect a form as to convince us that the making of maxims is not a lost art.
— The right reverend and most admirable bishop, whose story of her who was only “ ‘Piscopal pious ” appeared in the August number of this magazine, is herewith meekly tendered his revenge and a new dinner story, true to the letter.
A gay young girl was recently invited by friends to spend a few days at their summer cottage, which happened to be contiguous to a much-thronged Methodist camp-ground. A “ revival ” was in progress, and one day the visitor strayed into the charmed circle, and sat through the service demurely. The most fervid of the several expositors caught sight of the stranger, and fancied that he saw conviction and possible trophies of his power in her downcast face, and accordingly, passing by the ranks of trembling weepers, he demanded of the stranger in the approved formula of his school, “My dear young friend, have you got religion?” To which his hopeful auditor made instant response, “ Oh, no indeed, thank you. I ’m a Presbyterian.”
- Leisure Hour Series. Cousins. By L. B. WALFORD. New York : Henry Holt & Co. 1879.↩