The Contributors' Club
WHAT is to become of our poets if the critics demand of them to preserve what is called “local coloring,” and yet to render it applicable to the whole ground from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Alaska to Florida? To be effective, local coloring must have a very limited basis. Heine’s pine-tree dreaming of the palm, so prettily Anglicized by Lord Houghton, is a trifle compared to the task daily demanded of our bards by such critics as Mr. John Burroughs, for instance. He sharply criticises Lowell and Longfellow for not strictly representing the flora and fauna of what he calls “ our latitude, his own field of observation ranging apparently from the latitude of Washington to that of New York State, and not seeming to include New England at all. Must a poet always adapt his descriptions, as a politician adapts his schemes, to the precise latitude and longitude of the national metropolis?
Take, for instance, one of the criticisms made on Lowell. Mr. Burroughs complains in general terms that our poets “ get ahead of or behind the season with their flowers and their birds,” and says, “ I have frequently seen the dandelion blooming in their pages with the clover.” He then goes on to specify as follows: “We know the poet [Lowell] is a month or more out of season when, in A1 Fresco, he makes it [the dandelion] bloom with the buttercup and the clover : —
Gild all the lawn; the drowsy bee
Stumbles among the clover-tops,
And summer sweetens all but me.’
The buttercup and the clover bloom in June, and are contemporaries of the daisy.” Thus far Mr. Burroughs; but what is the fact ? Nobody doubts that the clover and buttercup are found in June ; the question is, When do they begin to bloom ? Lowell wrote in Cambridge, and on turning to a diary kept by myself for four years in that precise locality I find the first appearance of the white clover recorded as ranging from April 24th to May 20th, in different years; that of the buttercup (R. bulbosus) from May 8th to May 20th; that of the red clover from May 16th to May 26th. So much for the assertion, “ bloom in June; ” and as for the dandelion, Gray gives it “ April — September ” for blossoming, and I have myself found it in October. No doubt it blossoms much more sparingly, as summer goes on, than in the spring-time ; but Lowell is perfectly justified in describing it as gilding the lawn with the buttercups, even after the first appearance of the red clover.
When Mr. Burroughs turns from dandelions to violets, and from Lowell to Bryant, he hardly succeeds better. Bryant is essentially a poet of Massachusetts, so far as his local coloring goes, especially in his earlier compositions; but when Burroughs speaks of violets, he seems never to have been in Massachusetts at all. He says, “ Our only sweet-scented violet is a small, white, lilac-veined species (not yellow, as Bryant has it in his poem), that is by no means common. I have found it a few times on the Potomac, but never on the Hudson. It is obscure, and its perfume slight.” But what have Bryant’s poems to do with the Potomac or the Hudson ? No violet is better known in New England than the sweet-scented white violet ( V. blanda), and both this and the nearly related species (V. lanceolata) are fragrant, as that careful observer, Bigelow, could have told Mr. Burroughs. They grow together “abundantly,” as Bigelow justly says, in moist places, whitening the surface in spite of their small size, and even imparting, sometimes, though not always, a delicate fragrance to the atmosphere.
But even when Mr. Burroughs comes to speak of Bryant’s yellow violet, he does not seem to know the precise flower described. He mentions “ the yellow species,” as if there were but one, and seems by his way of speaking to refer to the later and larger violet which blooms at the end of May ( V. pubescens) ; whereas Bryant is describing the round-leaved species ( V. rotundifolia), which comes much earlier, and is much less common. Mr. Burroughs says of Bryant’s yellow violet, “ Neither is it quite true that,
First plant thee in the watery mold;
And I have seen thee blossoming
Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.’
It is not the first flower of spring; the hepatica is earlier ; so is the houstonia.” Here again our critic, in his decisive way, makes a point which the facts, in Massachusetts at least, will not sustain. The hepatica and the early yellow violet both blossom at the very beginning of April, and often before the snow has left the ground; whereas, during a series of years, the earliest date assigned in my notes for the houstonia (Hedyotis cœrulea) is April 20th, and Gray attributes it to May. Mr. Burroughs thus proves himself less careful and accurate than the poet he censures, and I should consider Bryant the better authority of the two as to the fragrance which he attributes to the early yellow violet.
Another of Mr. Burroughs’s criticisms on Bryant is stated as follows : “ Occasionally in other poems he seems to complete his picture without strict regard to truth, as when he makes his Summer Wind, which from the 'tall maize ’ must be a July wind, shake down showers of fragrant blossoms from the shrubs ; whereas there are no shrubs or trees of any kind that I can recall that have fragrant blossoms so late in the season.” There may be none along the Potomac or the Hudson, but can it be possible that Mr. Burroughs does not know the wild white azalea (A. viscosa), familiar to every New England schoolboy as “ wild honeysuckle,” or “ swamp pink,” which makes the meadows and lake-sides fragrant with its sweetness ? Its funnel-shaped flowers easily detach themselves, as is the case with all azaleas, and Bryant’s summer wind could find no better playthings than its odorous blossoms. Gray and Bigelow both assign it to June and July ; and it lasts, in late seasons, almost until the first of August.
But I will not dwell farther on these apparent inaccuracies of Mr. Burroughs. They do not prove that he is not a careful observer when on his own ground, but they show him to be a hasty critic of others. He must remember that local coloring must be truly local, or it is nothing; and that on a continent so wide and varied as ours, a very few miles will often make an inexplicable difference in the distribution of plants.
— Until the appearance of the new dictionary in four volumes, each of the size of the largest Webster, readers will doubtless content themselves with the two thousand pages, more or less, that are already provided in that well-known dictionary. And any one would be hard to please who should not be satisfied with the vast amount of information given him in those crowded pages. There are even yet omissions ; the distracted reader who comes across, in one collection of Mr. Burnand’s Happy Thoughts, the avowal of the hero’s ignorance of what a mongoose is will examine Webster in vain for information. The Chinese washerman who is told to rough-dry certain garments will have no light thrown on his path, so far as this word is concerned, by this otherwise estimable volume. Highwines will have to be explained out of one’s inner consciousness. Writers who seek precision will have to go to the store-man to ascertain exactly what part of a range is a water-back. Chutney has no interpreter.
Literature fares better than the advertising pages of a daily newspaper. There are few words, very few, of those used in the dramatists, for example, that are not explained here. Potingstick (Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice, Act IV., Scene 1) is one omission. Yet what are these few instances in comparison with the vast amount of words that the dictionary explains ? The mere bulk of English literature is so enormous, it is spoken by so many millions of people, that it is impossible for any lexicographer to keep abreast of all readers, and it is but an acknowledgment of the completeness of the collection when one has to ransack printed matter for words that have been overlooked. Omissions are unavoidable, but one may live long without finding them. A dictionary is like a human being ; thorough knowledge of it is attained only by summering and wintering with it, open for daily use.
Definition is of course a great part of the lexicographer’s work. In Bailey’s dictionary we find both a horse and a cow defined as a “ beast well known ; ” six, “the number VI. 6.” After all, there is no harm done in this, for no one goes to the dictionary for the meaning of these words ; but it would be unsafe to give lexicographers too much license in determining what they should take for granted. They should suppose students ignorant of everything.
Etymology is another difficult thing. It is wholly a new science, and one in which advances are made every day. If Dr. Johnson were to rise from the grave and get out a new edition of his dictionary, he would not be able to say, as he once did, “ Why, sir, here is a shelf with Junius and Skinner and others; and there is a Welsh gentleman who has published a collection of Welsk proverbs, who will help me with the Welsh.” In Webster great pains have been taken with the statements of the etymology of the various words. These are, to be sure, often brief, but they will stand examination. Mr. Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, which is now in process of publication, is of course fuller, but more in the way of amplification — tracing the words back to the Sanskrit root — than of correction. It must be remembered that Fick’s book has appeared since Dr. Mahn, who supplied the etymologies for Webster’s dictionary, finished his great work. The etymology of beef-eater, for instance, is amended by Mr, Skeat, who denies any relationship with the French buffetier; but the error was one that had, so far as we know, universal acceptance. To state it broadly, from Webster may be derived a good working knowledge of English etymology; for complete information the reader must go to special works, just as it is in books on natural history and agriculture that one must look for information concerning the anatomy and care of a cow.
— Are not some of the mistakes the ordinary man makes about woman due to the necessarily different standpoints from which each views life ?
The man seems to reason thus with himself: “ Marry ? Oh, yes, certainly ! And as to the one, why, most of the pretty girls I know would do to select from,” and accordingly he selects the prettiest, just as he would pluck the gayest flower in the garden; while the observant woman says, “If you want the flower for show, take a poppy or marigold ; but if for sweetness, a sprig of mignonette.”
“ Why, are not all pretty flowers sweet ? There are the roses and carnations, surely ! ”
“Ah, but they are soon gone,” she replies significantly.
To the woman marriage is not. usually anything less than her profession, as the law or physic may be her husband’s, and she puts into her thought about it the same serious earnestness that he did when choosing his career.
However she may seem to act, never is the opportunity offered her for choice that she does not steadily ignore show in favor of substance. What that substance shall be depends on her mental and moral characteristics. No woman ever loved an Apollo in human form, only as she firmly believed the god-like face an expression of a still more godlike soul; so, ever bearing about with her an instinctive regard for the well-being of the other sex, unable to view the subject as lightly as they seem to do, she is constantly giving them the impression that she undervalues personal beauty because she thinks they overvalue it as an index of character.
Dissociate beauty from the idea of marriage, and she is even a more ardent admirer of it than any man, if we except the whole race of poets, which includes artists.
A beautiful woman attracts her own sex as truly, if not so violently, as she does the other. I have known a girl in her early teens to be so smitten by a pretty face chance met on the street that were women’s hearts keen to feel virtue gone out of them the beauty would have said joyously, “ I have come to be a girl’s heroine. She will cast a halo about my life, making it full of romantic incident to please her fancy, and when she meets me again she will hardly dare look at me, lest I read her stolen treasure in her eyes.”
I have known another young girl, homely herself, as was the first, part of whose Sunday worship it seemed to be to watch the leading contralto in the choir, who was very pretty. Had a man shown her infatuation, everybody would have called it love; to her it seemed enough to gaze; there was no jealousy in her feeling, apparently no desire for any nearer acquaintance.
Men use strong language when they speak of the intimidating effect a beautiful woman has upon them ; but women in every-day life feel it, and say so. I have heard a noted belle, in speaking of another, say, “ She was so dazzlingly beautiful I could n’t look at her.”
The ordinary man seems rather dull in the sense of beauty as compared to women. He looks at a belle, vaguely admires, and speaks of her variously, according to the degree of his mental culture, as “ nice-looking,” “ pretty,” " handsome,” etc.; but he can rarely go into any description of her features, or even, unless they be of some striking color, tell the hue of hair or eyes. A woman, if only one glance were allowed, could tell the salient points, which of course makes her a severer critic of what constitutes beauty than average men; but it is a notable fact that the same kind of beauty that attracts one sex always attracts the other, and this of itself is enough to refute the impression I have complained of.
Watch small girls and grown women, and you will find that where there are combined in one person the most prettiness, the most intelligence, and the most sympathy there will be the universal favorite, the leader for girl or woman; she never bows down to a fool in her own sex; nor would her brothers, she thinks, if they only understood as she does this other order of being. She fancies they also dream of this perfection of feature, this exquisite coloring in hair, cheek, and lip, this starlike light of eye, bird-like sweetness of voice, “akin to all divinest things,” and so the expression of a divinity that lives within. If it does dwell there, and she recognizes it, she bows to it only too gladly. She may herself marry, but the old charm is never broken; and in visits home, where the old love remains, married also, and with her court of admiring girls and matrons, she is often downright jealous lest the new courtiers have wholly won her sovereign’s heart away from her.
Some women refuse allegiance, though they usually follow the belle’s taste in dress, and they are wont to be those whom she unwittingly displaced; men are equally sensitive in their own domain. These women can’t see what attracts people so ; she is not as perfect in feature and coloring as they, yet nobody looks at them when she is by. Their loss of a power to which they have been used prevents them from seeing that it is not altogether the prettiness that has done the mischief, though that is a necessary part of it. It is a certain magnetic thrill of attraction towards every sort of person, an outflow of sympathetic appreciation that flatters while it understands, making the man to whom she listens feel as if, all at once, a blaze of rosecolored light had been thrown on mental shapes that had hitherto seemed rather ghostly, but now are warm with life hues ; or, if despondent, he suddenly finds himself a much more interesting and picturesque figure of despair, and likes it so well that he proceeds to paint himself for her and his own mutual admiration and pity. Serious women object to the mocking tone often used by men, implying that a pretty butterfly, with just enough sense to keep her from being sent to the idiot school, is the best type of her sex; and when a really superior man marries such a one the cynics among us cry, “ I told you so ! ”
— A contributor to the June Atlantic tells us that “ to Harvey, by universal consent, is attributed the discovery of the circulation of the blood.” I am not sure that I give to the word “ discoverer ” the meaning which the writer intended ; but if it is used in the sense in which it will be generally understood, — that of first discoverer, — I beg leave to object to the above statement as incorrect. Harvey was not the first discoverer of the circulation of the blood, nor is it universally admitted that he was. Indeed, unless I am greatly mistaken, those who sustain his claim are by no means the majority. I do not suppose the question is one of very great importance ; its very unimportance is perhaps a reason why the error concerning it has been permitted to live so long. Harvey was born in 1578, published his great work in 1628, and died in 1657. Cæsalpinus, a professor of note at Pisa, and afterwards at Rome, speaks at some length on the circulation of the blood in his Quætiones Peripateticæ, published in 1571,— nearly fifty years, that is, before Harvey wrote, and seven years before he was born. The extract beginning, “ With this circulation of the blood, ” etc., is too long to quote here, but it shows too plainly for question that he was familiar with the theory of the circulation. Pierre Bayle (1696) tells us in his Dictionnaire Historique et Clinique, “ We should deprive Cæsalpinus of a very precious glory if we did not say that he knew the circulation of the blood, the proofs of which are so plain that they cannot he eluded by any cavil.” Nor was Cæsalpinus the first to make the great discovery. A doctor and professor at Padua, by the name of Columbus, gives unmistakable proofs that he too was acquainted with the circulation in his De Re Anatomica, a work published in the year 1559. Again, we find Servetus referring to the pulmonary circulation in his Christianismi Restitutis, a work published in 1553, on account of which he was burnt, together with the book, by the Calvinists at Geneva.
Spain, too, disputes with England the honor of this discovery : Francisco de la Reyna, Montana of Monserrat, Pedro Gimeno, a well-known Spanish anatomist, and Aquero of Seville, all prior to Harvey, —Montana, the latest, writing in 1550, —are recorded as expositors of the theory. Their writings show indisputably that they were acquainted with the essential features of the circulation, though Harvey of course gave a more accurate and embellished account of it.
We might even say that Shakespeare’s hint at the circulation is a proof, however slight, that the theory was held and taught before Harvey’s time. Because it is not probable that Shakespeare discovered the circulation of the blood; and it is still less probable, if he did make so important a discovery, that he would have been content to confine his exposition of it to an obscure hint. I am not disposed to dispute Harvey’s claims to the title of discoverer, — although we have reasonable grounds for believing that he saw the works of the writers mentioned above, and from the data furnished by them worked out the theory to more completeness, — but I do say that the honor of first discoverer is not his due.
— One day, several years ago, when I was rather a young man, the editor of one of the great New York dailies, for which I was doing occasional articles, called me into his sanctum. He held a manuscript of mine in his hand, and on his countenance was an expression which I hastily and inaccurately translated into “ declined with thanks.”
“ I notice the word gent here,” he said, thoughtfully tapping the paper with his forefinger ; " have you spelled it correctly ? ”
“ Have n’t I spelled it g-e-n-t ?” I asked in astonishment.
“ I believe so ; but won’t you have the goodness to look it up in the dictionary ? ”
I turned confidently to Webster’s Unabridged, and presently became rather red in the face at not being able to find the word in that bewildering store-house.
“ Perhaps there is no such word in the English language,” slyly suggested the editor; “ in which case we had better strike it out of the article.”
This little lesson made so deep an impression on me, and instilled into my heart such a hatred of the word gent, that I believe if I were naked and starving I would refuse to be clothed gratis at a " Gents’ Furnishing Store,” or accept a complimentary dinner in a “ Gents’ Saloon.” Yet I find this odious word set down in Latham’s expensive dictionary as a proper word, and its use duly authorized by examples drawn from the works of Thackeray and Beaconsfield. These authors do not, as I at first imagined, put the word into the mouth of some subordinate character, but have used it themselves in their quality of gentlemen writing for gentlemen. Mr. Richard Grant White wittily remarks that “ gents ” and “ pants ” belong together, for the former always wear the latter. He disdains even to discuss the word. There seems to be a conflict of authority. I know Mr. White to be very excellent authority, and I am told, what I shall always find difficult to believe, that Mr. Latham deserves high rank as a lexicographer. If “ gent ” is to be tolerated by careful writers, then let us accept “ pants” for trousers, " transpire ” for happen or occur, and, in brief, adopt all the variegated and wonderful vocabulary of the average newspaper.
The word “ gent,” however, does describe a class. When you see a greasy young fellow who seems a cross between a rustic and a negro minstrel off duty, — a person with cap set far back on his closely cropped head, tight trousers that grow suddenly full at the ankle, and shoes with turned-up, pointed tips (where does he get those shoes !), —when you see this vulgar little object, you see “ a gent.” You will encounter him on street corners in shabby neighborhoods, gazing admiringly at the lithograph of some famous clog-dancer or cheap blonde in a drinking-shop window; you will meet him there, but Heaven preserve you from ever meeting him in decent literature !
— The Prospect of a Moral Interregnum, which appeared in the last November number of the Atlantic Monthly, raises serious questions. “ What is tobecome of the brotherhood of man and of the very idea of humanity,” if evolution, the struggle for existence, natural selection crush out religion ? The author shows conclusively how in all ages the moral welfare of nations has centred in religious sentiment, and naturally asks what morality will henceforth rest on if this prop be taken away. Can it find a proper basis in science ? It is, moreover, proposed, in view of a possible collapse, that a new examination be made of Christianity, as the “ central fact of history ” and of the question of human free agency. The pass to which society has arrived undoubtedly justifies the fear of a moral crisis close at hand, but it is not by a new examination of Christianity or a cleverer analysis of the problem of free agency that the difficulty will be bridged. If Christianity were in its nature soluble, it would have been solved long ago. There has been no lack of investigations in its behalf. The whole history of philosophy teems with marvels of speculation, and the region of human thought has been explored by the best thinkers and logicians; our time could scarcely produce stronger minds than those that have already attempted the task. The results are known; both believers and unbelievers have arrived at the same closed gate, nor could all their subtilizations forge the smallest key to open it. Hobbes perhaps came the nearest at the solution of the question of free agency when he said that the willing of will was an absurdity. That a man may will a thing, yes ; but what is it that makes him will it ?
The mistake is in trying to solve the question at all. Religion is not a human institution, a thing subject to the vacillations of intelligence, to new inventions or new theories ; it has its root in the heart. The methods of logic applied to Christianity have only succeeded thus far in making it incomprehensible, in proving it to be a mass of contradictions ; to the reasoner it will never be anything else. Nor could science ever become its substitute. If the ground-work of our being were reason, science might suffice us ; but the soul anchors in sentiment, not in reason. Science, the decomposer and analyst, limited to the visible and palpable, is only one means to an end, and faith in its synthetic action towards the invisible and infinite is another. The two are two distinct forces, and have different sources; they may be friends or foes, but from the very nature of their essence they must remain the two opposite poles they are. In the course of their growth it is to be hoped that their branches will meet and form an arbor the globe over, but at their present height they are too far apart, and stand defiant, or appear to stand defiant; for we are apt to impute to science much more materialism than it really is guilty of. “ Non è tanto brutto come si dipinge.” Our imagination sees a fathomless precipice, where there is but a ravine, which needs only a plank to be crossed over. Make it clear to science that faith means after all nothing else but “perpetual unbelief,“ and it will be ready to reach the hand of good-fellowship to her opponent. Without science, faith is torpid : it just needs that slight irritation that “ makes it aware of peace by itching-fits.” " Let doubt occasion still more faith.” We have come to an extraordinary pass, — the church reduced to beggary, and science claiming mastery. But the church for being stripped of her worldly possessions is not therefore spent. If we may judge the tree by its fruits, we need not despair of Christianity; for never were its fruits more wholesome and more abundant, never was the idea of human brotherhood better realized. Its vitality does not rest solely in its rites, its mysticism, its more or less effective organization, else could morality never have centred in it; its essence is divine, and nations have been more or less moral as they more or less appreciated its substance and understood its shadow. The ancient religions are a proof of this. Morality, moreover, is not a fixed quantity. The Jews were indubitably the chosen people of God, yet is their code of morals not the one Christ would have us absolutely centre in. He points to a higher one; or else what mean the parables of the pharisee and publican, the young man who seeks eternal life ? He had kept the commandments from his infancy ; but was it enough ? No; we are clearly taught that there is a morality we must disengage ourselves from, if we would have eternal life, a morality that was meant only for a stepping-stone, that occult corner-stone which the builders rejected, and which is become the head of the corner. “ And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”1 It is towards this grand emancipation that the whole stream of humanity is tending.
That at the present juncture of things the philanthropist should be staggered and question their drift is not wonderful. Humanity never presented a more problematic amalgamation of crimes and virtues, of great interests and petty ambitions. Since the fall of ancient civilization great changes have taken place in the machinery of society. The healthy balance of mind and body of the earlier races, the result of out-door life and gymnastics, has disappeared. Man has become nervously sensitive and overcritical. Vague longings carry him beyond the limits of the attainable; he wants more than he can digest. He approaches the moment when he will lose his balance if he does not reverse his steps. The history of the human race, as well as that of literature, teaches us how nations and letters recover their equilibrium; they turn into opposite directions. We find, moreover, that in this zigzag movement, in this continuous equilibrating themselves, they reach ever higher planes : each age tolls to the succeeding age a new and better order of things, and hangs its bell higher and higher to ring its summons to perfection clearer and clearer and further and further. In view of these facts, it may not be over-presumptuous to predict in the coming change a revulsion in favor of the church. Humanity is tired out, and needs rest. But here arises the question, Will the same forces that have heretofore sustained the church still serve ? Has not civilization impaired them ? “ The people will have no lies.”
It is certain that man, since his creation, had always to have his religion proportioned to his intelligence. At all times the fetich or sanctification of palpable objects had to be made ancillary to his moral development. Even at this late day certain localities in Italy, Brittany, Ireland, are in some sort idolatrous. Religion, if religion at all, should meet all human wants. The advanced Protestantism of Schleiermacher and Bunsen may become the religion of the more intelligent portion of mankind and even, perhaps, draw within its ranks the wandering deistic tribes of the Voltaire and Rousseau schools ; but it is a philosophical religion, and can reach only a certain portion of the people. The “ weak things ” of this world would starve under it. We can no more dispense with Roman Catholicism than we can dispense with mother’s milk for babes. That it will have to adapt itself to the exigencies of the times there is no doubt. It will have to abandon its ancient furniture, its Alexandrine trappings and feudal incumbrances. It need not throw them away ; they can be secreted in the ship’s hold, and from engines once become ballast now. Only thus will the church retain her ancient rights and hold on humanity. The advocates of progress may say what they will: nature in all her changes and transformations remains in some respects materially the same. As in the days of the ancient Egyptians, so in ours: the statue of Isis must remain veiled. Our sense of vision is growing stronger with every age, and we are undoubtedly traveling sunward ; but before our eyes can bear the full glory of the heavenly orb, we may have to travel through many ages yet. We think we can bear much, but whenever a fuller light is let on, we wince and are dazed.
— Much of the work done to-day in scientific education might be characterized as an effort to escape thought and to cover as large a ground as possible. The high schools endeavor to teach science as it is taught in the colleges; and by public and private subscription apparatus for spectacular purposes is purchased to amuse children whose minds have not been sufficiently trained to discern the principles of the subject through the stage effects. Popular lecturers on science to young people have a very doubtful advantage, unless they supplement careful training in the subject of the lectures. There are two methods of education in science: one consists in lifting a large number of pupils up to a certain level by persistent drill, so that a school committee can admire the regularity of the fire along the line ; the other consists in finding the weak points of each pupil, in making him work for himself, and in teaching him to think for himself. The teacher who makes the best automata will generally be considered the successful teacher. The average American firmly believes in short cuts to education, in omnivorous reading, and in unlimited hearing. While modest assertion is carefully criticised and ceases speedily to draw people to lecture rooms, unlimited assertion can draw crowds. The average college student in escaping from the drill of the schools finds great difficulty in emancipating himself from a certain serfdom to authority, and selects those subjects in which he can wheel in platoons and execute mental evolutions with the least expenditure of thought and with the greatest possibility of obtaining high mark. It is rare to find a young man who gauges his progress by his power of using his resources for thinking on any question. It may be urged that it is necessary to obtain the arrows before one can fire them ; but in science a little actual practice avails more in obtaining the store of suitable arrows than weeks of ignorant collection. General knowledge in science is dangerous, unless it can be ingrafted on special knowledge in some one science; for without this special knowledge, which can come only from the investigating spirit, the general knowledge fails to imbue one with the scientific spirit. Hence we have lecturers who, having read widely on scientific topics, assume to teach the public and to draw inferences from facts which would be interpreted very differently by those who properly understand the bearing of the facts. General knowledge in science is thus dangerous when the public receives it through the untrained medium of a mere lecturer’s mind. This general knowledge, however, is comparatively less harmful than that which a professional man acquires in a science. A physician may have studied chemistry in a general way, and may have presumed largely upon his knowledge. Unless he realizes by practical work and careful training that a little knowledge of chemistry is a dangerous thing for a doctor, the community will suffer. In the same way, a little knowledge of magnetism may be the means of losing a fortune ; for costly experiments are tried every day by practical men which proper scientific training would have shown to have been useless. Early training has much to do with the success of afterlife. In the early and late scientific training, in the schools and colleges, there is too much drill instruction and too little direction. A man of forty can give advice to a young student which can be estimated only by the years of hard experience it will save the young man. Unfortunately, there are few teachers whose training enables them to give this advice to students. The mechanical teacher is commoner than the one who can excite the mind to think for itself.
The young teacher in science who is fresh from college may work very hard to interest his classes. He may adopt the latest methods of demonstration, and put his life’s blood into the daily effort to move the inert minds in his lecture-room. He succeeds at first in arousing, it may be, a certain enthusiasm; but in the course of time his own energy flags; he cannot stand the pace, and he finds relief in some text-book which enables his teaching to be more or less mechanical. Another teacher who possesses what in ordinary parlance is termed personal magnetism may hold his audiences entrained to his utterances, and may convey much instruction to his listeners ; but very often this mysterious influence of the teacher consists in the ability to lift the pupils over their obstacles by making their processes of thought easy, and by disguising the real difficulties. It is a common experience among advanced teachers in science to find among their students those who presume largely upon their book knowledge of science which they have obtained in preparatory schools. No men are harder to instruct than these. The edge of their curiosity has been taken off, and a hollow, selfsatisfied superficiality has taken its place. In the languages, the boy has had at least a thorough training. His mind has dwelt long enough upon one subject to have obtained a degree of mastery in it; and although he is slavish in his dependence upon his dictionary and grammar he has overcome difficulties which have imparted a certain fibre to his mind. Thus we find superficiality and absence of thinking power in science in the students of academies and colleges, and unquestioning reception of so-called facts among the listeners to popular lectures on science and its relation to religion, while the so-called practical men despise exact scientific training, and feel confident of their power to work up the subject of heat or electricity from a little experience in one corner of the subject. The remedy which will convert the machinery of school and college instruction in science into improved machinery, capable of producing tangible results, consists in making the pupils instruct themselves by whatever method or process ideas and definite thinking can be stimulated. General reading in science contributes only to a shallow egotism, unless there is, so to speak, a good back-log of accurate knowledge of some one science around which may be gathered other stores of scientific information. This back-log cannot be obtained in physics without laboratory work.
— It is perhaps a little strange that, with all the admiration so generally felt for Thackeray and the zeal for publishing new editions of his writings, not one complete collection of his works has yet been made. The volume published by Fields, Osgood & Co., eight or nine years ago, rescued some of Thackeray’s most valuable papers from their mummylike oblivion in Fraser’s Magazine and elsewhere, and the reader cannot be too grateful for The Memorials of Gormandizing and the essay on Men and Coats, neither of these papers having yet been republished in England. Still, by comparison of different editions, one editor will be found to have accepted one paper, and another another; thus, two of Fitz-Boodle’s Professions are printed in Smith and Elder’s edition of 1869. These are suggestions of Fitz-Boodle’s for certain professions that might he adopted by penniless men of good family ; the first is that of auctioneer ; the second, that of manager of a gastronomic agency, who shall take from dinnergivers the burden of preparing the banquets. Yet the third Profession has been omitted. This third Profession may be found in the company of the others in Fraser’s Magazine for July, 1842, vol. xxvi. p. 56. He says that this profession is in every way inferior to the two preceding; it “ simply consists in being a foreigner. You may be ever so illiterate and low-bred, and you are all the better for the profession. . . . You should, to practice properly. be curious, talkative, abominably impudent, and forward. You should never be rebuffed because people turn their backs on you, but should attack them again and again ; and depend upon it that if you are determined to know a man he will end, out of mere weariness, by admitting you to his acquaintance.” The young Englishman, who is to pretend to be an American, can present to the Duke of Dorsetshire a letter, as in the example given, dated “ Twenty-One Street, Boston,” thanking the duke for his hospitality, and introducing Nahum Hodge, with “his celebrated work, The Bellowings of the Buffalo, printed at Buffalo, New York, by Messrs. Bowie and Cutter, and which are far superior to any poems ever produced in the old country.” He is to push his way with great effrontery : “ by impudence you may go from oue great house to another; by impudence you may get credit with all the fashionable tradesmen in London ; by impudence you may find a publisher for your tour.”
It may have been tender respect for the thin skins of us Americans that led to the suppression of this squib and the alteration of Thackeray’s conclusion of the paper in the green and gold edition; but we should be safe in saying that only the galled jades would wince, if we did not remember the senseless wrath with Thackeray for speaking of Mr. Washington in The Virginians. That touch of historical accuracy was held to betray irreverence. The same superfluous delicacy has doubtless kept Stars and Stripes, a burlesque of Cooper’s novels, from some of the American editions of the Prize Novelists. Why another one of these, Crinoline, was not reprinted in this country does not appear.
In Punch, of course, a great deal of Thackeray’s miscellaneous work is to be found. The republication of every scrap of it would be tedious, although it would be only what is done in the case of many less important authors. Thackeray wrote so well from the first, and showed so markedly when he began to write the same qualities that are to be found in his later work, that even a complete collection of his scattered and most miscellaneous contributions would be entertaining. Mrs. Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History in vol. iii., for instance, is amusing enough to be read with pleasure, and the reader of those early volumes of Punch will find many little papers from Thackeray’s pen, written before the more famous Book of Snobs. For example, vol. iv. p. 69, is Mr. Spec’s Remonstrance. “ From the Door Steps. Sir, until my cartoons are exhibited, I am in an exceedingly uncomfortable state. I shall then have about fourteen hundred pounds (the amount of the seven first prizes), and but a poor reward for the pains and care which I have bestowed on my pieces. . . . I need not ask if you know my work, Illustrations of Aldgate Pump. All the world knows it. It is published in elephant folio, price seventy guineas, by Samuel Spec, before mentioned ; and many thousands of copies were subscribed for by the British and foreign nobility.
“ Nobility ! — why do I say nobility ? KINGS, sir, have set their august signatures to the subscription-list. Bavaria’s sovereign has placed it in the Pinakothek. The Grecian Otho (though I am bound to say he did not pay up) has hung it in the Parthenon, — in the Parthenon. It may be seen on the walls of the Vatican, in the worthy company of Buonarotti and Urbino, and figures in the gilded saloons of the Tuileries, the delight of Delaroche and Delacroix.
“ From all these potentates save the last, little has been received in return for their presentation copies but unsubstantial praise. It is true, the King of Bavaria wrote a sonnet in acknowledgment of the Illustrations; but I do not understand German, sir, and am given to understand by those who do that the composition is but a poor one,” etc.
This is only fooling, yet it is pleasant fooling; but while it would perhaps be asking too much to have these very slight papers reprinted, it is singular that more has not been made of The Proser, Essays and Discourses by Dr. Solomon Pacifico, in vols. xviii. and xix. of Punch. All of these papers are characteristic of their writer. Indeed, it would be hard to find a writer whose careless work is so good in all apparently trifling ways as Thackeray’s is. His Letters from the Seat of War, from Our Own Bashi-Bazouk, in vols. xxv. and xxvi., are exactly what one would expect to find reprinted, but so far as we know they are not.
More surprising still is the omission of Miss Lowe, which is to be found in Fraser’s Magazine for October, 1842, page 395, from the reprints of Fitz-Boodle’s Confessions. It is certainly one of the best of the series, and of more importance than much of his early work.
— In Richard Grant White’s article, in the November number, on Assorted Americanisms, he says, “ Likely, if it is used to mean respectable, worthy of esteem,” etc. “ But I do not remember ever having heard or read it as used in that sense.” Now, I find that here, in the northwestern corner of New England, it is in common use in exactly this sense. “ As likely a man as ever lived,” “ Her mother was a very likely woman,” are frequent expressions, and mean not a handsome, well-made man or woman, but a good, sensible person; and in some instances, likely ” has something of the meaning of the word “ pious,” — which word certain people seem to be afraid of.
A little farther on he says that the word lope is in common use only in the West. On the contrary, that, too, is a word more or less used by the country people here, though how they came by it I cannot say. They often, too, speak of a horse, or even a person, as having a loping gait.
— I suppose a good many persons could answer yes to the question put by a contributor in the October Club, whether they have ever been troubled by the ghost of a poem. The inquirer remarks that perhaps here may be drawn the line between genius and talent; that the one can do what the other can only unavailingly strive to do. In the case of the writer and others, the difficulty may be explained in that way ; but there are others still who are familiar with the experience the contributor speaks of, but who cannot console themselves for failure by deciding that, though genius is wanting, they have at least some talent in its stead. Another question suggested by the first is whether the effect of culture on ungifted persons be not sometimes to fill the mind with fair visions of possible creations, — possible enough, truly, for others, though not, alas, for them. When Keats says,
For large white plumes are dancing in my eye,”
we know, whencesoever came the suggestion of the plumes, that he can go on to the tale of chivalry if he choose. But with us, the large white plume may wave alluringly in vain. To a true lover of the best literature and art the pain, a quite genuine and keen one, that often accompanies his deep delight is to feel that, however alive and responsive he may be to the beauty and the inspiration of the works of others, he himself is not of the divine aristocracy, but merely one of the herd, doomed never to know the joy of creative labor. Before he fully comprehends that he is so doomed, the unhappy one is again and again beguiled with visions of what he too may do,— mocking visions, that torment him until he is thankful at last to give it all up, and resign himself to the belief that Providence has favored him neither with genius nor with talent, and that he is even, possibly, a little stupid. This miserable experience is escaped when the culture is thin and superficial enough, for then the would-be artist is more easily satisfied with his productions ; but the deeper our culture, the less we are contented with our mediocre attempts, and thence comes the strife between our longing aspiration and our critical judgment, which ends sooner or later, as I have said, in the conviction of our incapacity. If our speech is not to have even the ring of true silver, certainly for us silence is golden. I am sometimes inclined to go further, and say that the silver currency is of no great value to the world. It is doubtless pleasant for the men of smaller talent to express themselves in artistic fashion; but in spite of what may be said of the uses of minor poets, I cannot think mankind is much benefited by them, and the energy spent in crowding for a place on the lower slopes of the sacred mount might be turned to better use. At any rate, it is a consolatory reflection for us unendowed ones that although he who gives may be the more highly blessed, yet we who receive of him are not unblessed. If the poet will rehearse for us his glorious visions, and share with us of low estate those finer joys by which the spirit thrives, we may be well content to accept his bounty, and ask for nothing more.
— Is it true that people of reserved disposition are so often misunderstood as they are supposed to be ? It seems to me that certain persons of a frank and impulsive temper are quite as apt to be misinterpreted. The common error of giving reserved persons insufficient credit for feeling, because of their lack of demonstration, is an error into which only the duller sort of observers fall; but keener-sighted ones often make the opposite mistake, and cherish the belief that the less the display the fuller and deeper its sources must be. This is far from being invariably the truth. It appears to me that if reserved folk are misconceived it is generally in a manner favorable to their character and intellect, and whatever opinions may be expressed about them are commonly accompanied with the acknowledgment that they are opinions only. For when a man is not outspoken about himself, we may hold what notion we choose about him ; but we cannot help knowing that the notion is something of our own construction, based on no real knowledge. On the other hand, when a person is in the habit of talking freely, is not chary of his opinions, and even reveals something of his personal tastes, habits, and feelings, it is natural enough for those who hear him to suppose themselves capable of estimating him. Yet this very frankness is what misleads ; we are not aware how much is often kept back by these apparently communicative people, — much that might modify or alter our notions of them. They show us a good deal of themselves, and we think we know all; they have a need of venting themselves, and begin to speak their thoughts aloud; yet they are sometimes very sensitive to misconception or possible ridicule, and at the slightest suspicion of either hasten to shut the half-opened door of their hearts and withdraw their real selves from our view. An impulsive person is generally impressionable, and easily affected by the personality of others; consciously or unconsciously, he adapts himself to those he is in contact with, and shows to different persons different sides of himself, so that if an opinion of him were asked for, no two of his acquaintance, perhaps, would agree in their impressions. Of course he is himself to each and all, but not the whole of himself.
Reserve sometimes proceeds from a shy and timid sensitiveness, which makes no appeal for appreciation and sympathy, not daring to run the risk of meeting coldness and rebuff ; but reserved persons, as a rule, enjoy a most comfortable self-poise, and independence of the good or ill opinion of others. It is the persons of frank, impulsive temperament who are the real unfortunates; they go through a good deal of experience before they learn the wisdom of keeping themselves to themselves, and after learning it are sometimes unlucky enough to forget it at the wrong moment.
— I remember reading in one of the summer numbers of The Atlantic something in the Contributors’ Club in regard to the lack of appreciation among country people of the beauties of nature by which they are surrounded. I cannot agree wholly with this, as I think, yes, know, that among this class of people there are many who feel the glory and are thrilled by the beauty of the early summer morning, the sunset, or the misty, dreamy loveliness of Indian summer, although in most instances they are totally incapable of expressing these feelings. However, there are hundreds who know nothing of the beauty of scenery. Within a few years a railroad has been opened which literally runs over the Green Mountains. At the highest point of the road, some sixteen hundred feet higher than the level of the sea, the scenery is noted for its extensive views, which range from beyond the White Mountains on the east to the Adirondacks on the west. A certain man, a native of one of the small towns in Vermont, — a man who, according to his views of things in general, has reached the end of all earthly ambition, not only in having by dint of close economy and Yankee ingenuity become “ consid’able forehanded,” but in having represented the town of his adoption in the state legislature once or twice, —this man had occasion to travel over the road just mentioned. Being a sociable old chap, he naturally got into conversation with his fellow passengers. Just as the train was going over the “ Heights,” with noble old Mt. Washington and Mt. Lafayette on the east, long, smiling stretches of sunny farms and grazing cattle, flanked by Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield’s upturned face, on the south, ranges of the Green Mountains and the blue Adirondacks on the west, and old Jay Peak on the north, — set in the midst of all this, our friend suddenly paused in his discourse on politics, and inquired, “ Oh, by the way, where is all this great scenery they talk so much about over here somewhere ? ” On being told that he was then in the midst of it, he gave one or two brief glances out of the window, and settled back to his dissertation upon political economy with a decided air of not being fooled by any such nonsense.
- S. Matt. xxi. 44.↩