The Contributors' Club
THIS note comes to me from the home of culture : —
DEAR Mr &EMDASH;: Your writings interest me very much ; but I cannot help wishing you would not place adverbs between the particle and verb in the Infinitive. For example: “ to even realize,” “ to mysteriously disappear ” “ to wholly do away. You should say, even to realize ; to disappear mysteriously, etc. “ rose up ” is another mistake — tautology, you know. Yours truly
A BOSTON GIRL.
I print the note just as it was written, for one or two reasons : (1.) It flatters a superstition of mine that a person may learn to excel in only such details of an art as take a particularly strong hold upon his native predilections or instincts. (2.) It flatters another superstition of mine that whilst all the details of that art may be of equal importance he cannot be made to feel that it is so. Possibly he may be made to see it, through argument and illustration ; but that will be of small value to him except he feel it, also. Culture would be able to make him feel it by and by, no doubt, but never very sharply, I think. Now I have certain instincts, and I wholly lack certain others. (Is that “ wholly ” in the right place ?) For instance, I am dead to adverbs ; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference ; it can never give me a pang. But when my young lady puts no point after “ Mr.; ” when she begins “ adverb,” " verb,” and “ particle ” with the small letter, and aggrandizes “ Infinitive ” with a capital ; and when she puts no comma after “ to mysteriously disappear,” etc., I am troubled; and when she begins a sentence with a small letter I even suffer. Or I suffer, even, — I do not know which it is ; but she will, because the adverb is in her line, whereas only those minor matters are in mine. Mark these prophetic words : though this young lady’s grammar be as the drifted snow for purity, she wall never, never, never learn to punctuate while she lives; this is her demon, the adverb is mine. I thank her, honestly and kindly, for her lesson, but I know thoroughly well that I shall never be able to get it into my head. Mind, I do not say I shall not be able to make it stay there ; I say and mean that I am not capable of getting it into my head. There are subtleties which I cannot master at all, — they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me, — and this adverb plague is one of them. We all have our limitations in the matter of grammar, I suppose. I have never seen a book which had no grammatical defects in it. This leads me to believe that all people have my infirmity, and are afflicted with an inborn inability to feel or mind certain sorts of grammatical particularities. There are people who were not born to spell; these can never be taught to spell correctly. The enviable ones among them are those who do not take the trouble to care whether they spell well or not, — though in truth these latter are absurdly scarce. I have been a correct speller, always ; but it is a low accomplishment, and not a thing to be vain of. Why should one take pride in spelling a word rightly when he knows he is spelling it wrongly ? Though is the right way to spell “ though,” but it is not the right way to spell it. Do I make myself understood ?
Some people were not born to punctuate ; these cannot learn the art. They can learn only a rude fashion of it; they cannot attain to its niceties, for these must be felt; they cannot be reasoned out. Cast-iron rules will not answer, here, any way ; what is one man’s comma is another man’s colon. One man can’t punctuate another man’s manuscript any more than one person can make the gestures for another person’s speech.
What is known as “ dialect ” writing looks simple and easy, but it is not. It is exceedingly difficult ; it has rarely been done well. A man not born to write dialect cannot learn how to write it correctly. It is a gift. Mr. Harte can write a delightful story; he can reproduce Californian scenery so that you see it before you, and hear the sounds and Smell the fragrances and feel the influences that go with it and belong to it; he can describe the miner and the gambler perfectly, — as to gait and look and garb; but no human being, living or dead, ever had experience of the dialect which he puts into his people’s mouths. Mr. Harte’s originality is not questioned; but if it ever shall be, the caviler will have to keep his hands off that dialect, for that is original. Mind, I am not objecting to its use ; I am not saying its inaccuracy is a fatal blemish. No, it is Mr. Harte’s adverb; let him do as he pleases with it; he can no more mend it than I can mine ; neither will any but Boston Girls ever be likely to find us out.
Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs ; and what is more I won’t. If I try to seat a person at my right hand, I have no trouble, provided I am facing north at the time; but if I am facing south, I get him on my left, sure. As this thing was born in me, and cannot be educated out of me, I do not worry over it or care about it. A gentleman picked me up, last week, and brought me home in his buggy ; he drove past the door, and as he approached the circular turn I saw he meant to go around to the left; I was on his left,— that is, I think I was, but I have got it all mixed up again in my head; at any rate, I halted him, and asked him to go round the circle the other way. He backed his horse a length or two, put his helm down and " slewed ” him to the right, then “ came ahead on him,” and made the trip. As I got out at the door, he looked puzzled, and asked why I had particularly wanted to pass to the right around the circle. I said, “ Because that would bring me next the door coming back, and I would n’t have to crowd past your knees.” He came near laughing his store teeth out, and said it was all the same whether we drove to the right or to the left in going around the circle ; either would bring me back to the house on the side the door was on, since I was on the opposite side when I first approached the circle. I regarded this as false. He was willing to illustrate : so he drove me down to the gate and into the street, turned and drove back past the house, moved leftward around the circle, and brought me back to the door; and as sure as I am sitting here I was on the side next the door. I did not believe he could do it again, but he did. He did it eleven times hand running. Was I convinced? No. I was not capable of being convinced — all through. My sight and intellect (to call it by that name) were convinced, but not my feeling. It is simply another case of adverb. It is a piece of dead-corpsy knowledge, which is of no use to me, because I merely know it, but do not understand it.
The fact is, as the poet has said, we are all fools. The difference is simply in the degree. The mercury in some of the fool-thermometers stands at ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, and so on ; in some it gets up to seventy-five; in some it soars to ninety-nine. I never examine mine, — take no interest in it.
Now as to “ rose up.” That strikes me as quite a good form ; I will use it some more, — that is, when I speak of a person, and wish to signify the full upright position. If I mean less, I will qualify, by saying he rose partly up. It is a form that will answer for the moon sometimes, too. I think it is Bingen on the Rhine who says —
On the red sands,” etc.
But tautology cannot scare me, any way. Conversation would be intolerably stiff and formal without it; and a mild form of it can limber up even printed matter without doing it serious damage. Some folks are so afraid of a little repetition that they make their meaning vague, when they could just as well make it clear, if only their ogre were out of the way.
Talking of Unlearnablc Things, would it be genteel, would it be polite, to ask members of this Club to confess what freightage of this sort they carry ? Some of the revelations would be curious and instructive, I think. I am acquainted with one member of it who has never been able to learn nine times eight; he always says, “ Nine times seven are sixty-three,”— then counts the rest on his fingers. He is at home in the balance of the multiplication-table. I am acquainted with another member, who, although he has known for many years that when Monday is the first of the month the following Monday will be the eighth, has never been able to feel the fact; so he cannot trust it, but always counts on his fingers, to make sure. I have known people who could spell all words correctly but one. They never could get the upper hand of that one; yet as a rule it was some simple, common affair, such as a cat could spell, if a cat could spell at all. I have a friend who has kept his razors in the top drawer and his strop in the bottom drawer for years; when he wants his razors, he always pulls out the bottom drawer — and swears. Change ? Could one imagine he never thought of that ? He did change ; he has changed a dozen times. It did n’t do any good ; his afflicted mind was able to keep up with the changes and make the proper mistake every time. I knew a man —
— What are we going to do about finding healthy, natural, improving, but interesting books for young people ? They are so few that if any of the Club can recommend one it will be a blessing. In search of a volume proper for a gift to a young girl, I took up a certain publication the other day, and when I had read it through laid it down with a sigh of despair: first, for the dishonest reviewers who had recommended it; next, for the deluded “ party ” who wrote it.
It was in the mode of autobiography, and the heroine, beside being the most insufferable prig possible to manufacture, calmly records all her own Christian graces, her vast superiority to the rest of women, her exquisite beauty and lovely manners, with a coolness that is refreshing to the critical mind, but calculated to afford the worst example for other girls to follow. Precocity, piety, and propriety are the natural breath of this fair being’s existence ; she falls in love, is disappointed, and chronicles it all with a minute vivisection impossible to a modest girl, or a well-bred one. She is inveigled into society, and goes through its ordeal preaching perpetually ; she is beguiled to the opera, and instead of turning her back on the stage when she does n’t like it, and behaving like a lady, she rushes out into the city street, beholds— of course — her beloved passing at the right moment, chases him a long way (Qu.: Where were the Philadelphia police ?), and at last reaches him and gets home safely. She survives housework, sick - nursing, poverty, the moral care of a whole village, several spasms of mental agony, and arrives at the age of thirty more beautiful than ever (oh, how does she do it ?), to have her sister die opportunely and leave the man of the maiden’s heart free to marry again. This man — as ineffable a prig, by the way, as his “ soul-mate ” — comes to the rescue, offers himself at breakfast, marries her the next day, and, having bought her any amount of lovely clothes, carries her off to Europe. Now this book is readable: the author has a nice taste in millinery, cooking, and trinkets, as well as a keen eye for natural beauty and a complicated love story always has charms for youth. It is possible, too — indeed probable — that this author has never seen gentlemen and gentlewomen, and naturally cannot depict them; but was it therefore needful to apotheosize furious self-conceit and rampant Pharisaism ? Cannot a girl be religious and lovely without telling it all abroad, and snipping and sniffing at her neighbors continuously ? It is really quite as bad as if it were wicked, and calculated to do more harm. Who is there that will “ fall to,” as the fathers used to say, and write us some good, simple, agreeable books for girls or boys, — books in which religion is lived, not talked about, and heroines are not prigs or angels, but real mortal girls ?
— Last autumn I visited France, partly with the intention of seeing the country, and partly with a desire to look up certain rather near relatives who resided in Brittany and had corresponded, for a long time past, with my own family. I found my French kindred all very attractive and hospitable; among them was a gentleman of advanced years who had acquired a fair position in the world of letters. He was a tremendously provincial old gentleman, but on occasions when we discussed together the manners and customs of my native country M. Pierre M—had it in his power keenly to amuse me by many of his earnest and well-meant questions. A month or two after my return to New York, I received a manuscript tale of American life from M. M—’s pen, which he courteously requested me to translate and publish on these shores. My kinsman declared that he had drawn the local coloring of his story half from books and half from general hearsay regarding the society of which it treated. He seemed immensely sure of its exact fidelity to existing facts. The following fragmentary translation, made by myself, will serve as an example of the work : —
“ Some years ago, a young American gentleman, who was by profession a carpenter, stood in the most fashionable and elegant portion of Canal Street, New York, with an expression of profound disappointment on his manly, handsome face. The name of this gentleman was George Jones. His dress was what in Europe would have been called somewhat shabby, but it was necessary that he should appear during the day-time in clothes whose texture would resist the wear and tear of his arduous manual occupation. He was not rich, and of course this fact stood against him ; but the liberal social laws of his country nevertheless permitted him to occupy a good position among people far his superiors in worldly wealth, since he was known to be sober, honest, and of painstaking industry.
“ To-day, as we have said, he was not at work, and indeed he seemed in no mood for anything save gloomy meditations. The most luxurious and spacious private hotels of which Canal Street can boast surrounded him on every side. Sumptuous carriages were constantly passing, and occasionally the occupants of these would bow to him with friendly recognition, while the young carpenter lifted his cap in polite acknowledgment.
“ At length he slowly ascended the high flight of stone stairs which led to the main entrance of one very imposing hotel. He then rang the bell, and his summons was soon answered by a large negress in a picturesque turban of red and yellow silk, with massive gold earrings. Instead of requesting to see the master or mistress of the house, he boldly asked for a young unmarried lady, whom he mentioned as ‘Miss Louisiana.’ The servant at once replied that Miss Louisiana was at home, and led the visitor through a spacious hall, where a marble fountain was playing, whose base was curiously adorned with bas-relief sculptures taken from scenes in the history of California and other American provinces. From this hall Jones was conducted into a broad saloon, furnished in many gaudy colors, and hung with paintings whose subjects, all more ambitious than their execution, were extremely patriotic in character. One picture dealt with the famous assassination of President Jeremiah Lincoln in the loge of a theatre at Maryland, Delaware. Another showed the defeat of Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Bunker Hill, while a third exhibited General Washington, surrounded by his favorite marshals, crossing the ice-blocked Mississippi in the midst of January.
“ Jones did not wait long in this finely embellished apartment. A young lady presently entered, and extended toward him both hands in delighted welcome, while her visitor stole a kiss from her smiling, upraised lips. The lady was Miss Louisiana Smith. She did not look more than eighteen years old, and was dressed with great richness. You saw at once that her well-cut garments were of foreign importation. In person she was slender and graceful, and though her figure lacked the rounded symmetry of our own countrywomen, her face was fresh and blooming to a delicious degree.
“ ‘ My dear Louisiana.' said George Jones, when the lovers had seated themselves, ‘ I have called to tell you that I can no longer endure this suspense. You know, my dearest, the custom of our country. When, after a sufficient number of private visits upon a young girl, an admirer has offered her his hand in marriage, and she has decided that he is the man of her choice, it is her duty to acquaint her parents with this fact, and to ask that they will sanction her betrothal. As you possess but a single parent, tell me, my love, whether you have yet informed your father that we desire to marry.’
“ ‘ I have spoken to my father,’ replied Louisiana, in fond yet melancholy tones,’and he answered me rather sternly, George, that he desired to see you when you next called here.’
“ ‘ Your father is at home now ? ’
“ ‘ Yes. He will appear presently. I tremble for the result of the interview. I greatly fear that he will oppose our marriage.’
“ Shortly afterward Mr. Jonathan S. Smith entered the room, He was a gentleman not much over forty years old; for it is well known that in America marriages are made at a very early age by both sexes. He was dressed with prosperous nicety, but his face bore signs of past exposure to wind and weather, and his coarse hands indicated that they had seen active work. Mr. Smith’s early youth had been passed as a daily laborer, but by diligence and perseverance he had amassed a small sum which he had afterwards invested in railroad stocks, ultimately reaping a golden harvest from this lucky step. He now controlled a railroad which extended from the neighboring State of Maine to a portion of Southern America known as Chili. In Chili, where the climate is delightfully genial, Mr. Smith owned a line estate, to which, during the winter season, he often made brief trips. In common with many Northerners, he was fond of visiting these salubrious latitudes.
“ Mr. Smith now greeted Jones with a demeanor of marked coldness. A lew moments after he had seated himself, however, the gaudy-turbaned negress whom we have before seen appeared with refreshments, consisting of dried maize and a liquor called De Bourbon Whiskie, of which himself, his daughter, and his guest partook with an equal relish.
“ After this invariable custom of hospitality was completed, Mr. Smith addressed Louisiana’s suitor in tones of solemn decision.
“ ‘ My daughter has told me,’ he said, ‘ that you have made her a proposition of marriage. But I cannot consent to any such arrangement. I have recently received a proposal for Louisiana’s hand from Mr. Powhatan L. Brown.’
“ ‘ Powhatan Brown ! ’ exclaimed Jones. ‘ Why, he’s over fifty years old ! ’
“ Mr. Smith slightly frowned. ‘ He is more suited as a match for my daughter,’ was the immediate reply, ‘ than any one else in New York. He owns the Massachusetts and Sacramento railroad, besides being descended from one of our oldest Indian families. The marriage contract is to be signed to-morrow I am sorry to inform you of this fact, sir, but it is my painful duty.’
“ Jones rose to his feet, with an indignant flush on his honest face. ‘And yet this is called a country,’ he bitterly exclaimed, ' where a perfect equality of classes is said to exist! ’
“ He soon afterward took an agitated departure from the house, leaving Louisiana in hysterical tears. But he felt certain that their last meeting had not yet arrived; nor was he mistaken. He received a note that same evening from Miss Smith, in which she avowed her desire to meet him, between the hours of ten and eleven, on a beautiful esplanade jutting into the waters of the Hudson River, and known as the Battery. This intention on Louisiana’s part by no means shocked Jones ; for it is the custom of the most elegant and refined American ladies to walk the streets of their native cities at all hours of the day and night, wholly unattended, running no danger of insult, on such occasions, from those whom they chance to encounter.
“ Jones of course appeared at the place of rendezvous. One of those sudden and well - known changes in the American climate had recently sprung up, and as the lovers met face to face each shivered beneath the breath of an almost arctic wind, which was sweeping across the river straight from the icy regions of Labrador and British America.
“ ‘ I shall never become the wife of Powhatan L. Brown ! ’ exclaimed Louisiana, in passionate tones, after her lover had greeted her. ‘ I would far rather appeal, dear George, to the Congress of my country against this unfatherly piece of tyranny ! And I shall certainly do so, unless you are willing that I elope with you this very night and become your wife at once ! ’ ”
The story now grows even more wonderful, though perhaps less pungently interesting to any resident of New York who may read it for its photographic realism in the description of local metropolitan life. The lovers are secretly married that same night, and soon afterward take voyage on a sailing vessel for Cuba, where, after “ a delightful trip of two days” (!), they prepare to spend the honeymoon. Here a most remarkable circumstance occurs. At Havana they fall in with an “ elderly Indian lady,” whose face and demeanor suggest a melancholy past. This lady originally belonged to one of the “ semi-civilized Utah tribes,” but with the exception of a feather head-dress and a quaint bead necklace she shows no traces of barbaric origin. Becoming greatly attached to Louisiana, she tells Jones’s young bride the story of her previous life. The result is a perfect bomb-shell of discovery for both George and Louisiana! Their new friend was wooed and won, years ago, by a gentleman who had visited the remote settlement where she dwelt. After their marriage, the happy pair lived for several years in various portions of the country, and at length her husband wearied of her and shamelessly deserted her. She bore with the injustice, however, and refrained from exposing it among her husband’s relatives in New York. Assuming her family name, she had ever since been known as “ Mrs. Iroquois ” (!), and had lived a restless, wandering life, being possessed of a sufficient inheritance to support herself in moderate comfort. Mrs. Iroquois still loves her faithless spouse, though she has resigned all hope of being reclaimed as his wife. At the end of her mournful narration, this ill-fated lady confides to Louisiana the name of her heartless spouse, He is none other than Powhatan L. Brown!
A letter is immediately forwarded to Mr. Jonathan S. Smith, who extends a gracious pardon to his daughter and his new son-in-law, on learning these facts concerning the man whom he had so tyrannically commanded Louisiana to marry. The happy couple return to New York, and are received by Mr. Smith with open arms. Brown’s unprincipled behavior is exposed, and he is forthwith socially disgraced. This unique tale now ends with the following delicious paragraph : —
“ Mr. Smith soon afterward issued cards for a grand soirée in honor of his reconciliation with George and Louisiana. The mansion in Canal Street was made the scene of splendid festivity. Tbe rooms were thronged with smiling guests, among whom were the president of the republic and many distinguished deputies from surrounding departments. All the wealthiest shop-keepers and speculators were present, besides the most prominent senators and notaries. George almost wept tears of joy, as he watched his wife move here and there amid the brilliant assemblage, on this eventful and commemorative evening. Louisiana was the centre of a congratulatory group of friends, and George himself was frequently embraced with effusion by many of his fellow-craftsmen, to whom Mr. Smith had graciously extended invitations. The company was of a sort which America alone could have gathered together. Here the banker was found in conference with the wineseller, the tailor in close companionship with the bishop or curé. And as for George and Louisiana, it would be difficult to say whether the future of bride or bridegroom was more envied by those who had met to wish them joy on their altered fortunes.”
— What a curious likeness there is between people and the numeral Arabic figures. I know some one whom 7 represents to my mind far better than his photograph, and a woman who recalls 2 to my consciousness; 3 is a child with an unchihd-like character, well known to me also ; and 4 a good deacon, once my neighbor. I have n’t an idea why this is thus, but I should like any one else’s ideas on the subject, much.
— As an experienced Yankee, to the manner born, I can throw light on the use of “ likely ” as a term of praise in the rustic dialect of New England forty or fifty years ago. It came home vividly to my small-boyhood in hearing my own father (who had died young) eulogized among mine honest neighbors as “ the likeliestthat ever was raised.” I took their meaning perfectly at once, from the proper sense of the word, that is probable (future) ; whence, promising. That the latter was their intent, in this absolute use of the word, is evident from the fact that they applied it almost, if not quite, always to beings with a future implied. A likely girl, a likely calf, etc., were stereotyped phrases of commendation. A likely woman or cow came in with vague transition, by force of habit and poverty of verbiage ; but a likely old woman would have been a solecism or a pleasantry.
— Are “ gents ” who wear “ pants ” really sinners above all the Galileans ? They are cordially hated, it is plain, by certain writers; but this hatred commonly manifests itself in intellectual spasms, and spasms are so apt to be irrational and unnecessary that they do not prove much. When a word presents itself as a plain abridgment of an unquestioned older form, comes into wide commercial and colloquial use, is not innately vulgar, and does not violate any recognized law of word-making, why need one shudder at its introduction into literature ? Language was made for man, not man for language ; and philology and spelling reform will strive in vain for the introduction of “ reforms ” whose usefulness and convenience cannot be made evident to the mass of those who write and read the language for practical purposes ; but serviceable and reasonable modifications will be made in the future, as they have been made in the past, without reference to the theories of specialists, or even in opposition to them. Nothing would induce us, for instance, to restore the silent letters which have been dropped already, and doubtless we shall go on dropping other useless characters. No one now writes to day or to morrow, and few people write some thing or some body; instead, we use to-day, to-morrow, something, somebody, and that we shall eventually come to use today and tomorrow is clear from the increasing frequency with which those forms are even now seen in carefully conducted journals. This process of combining and condensing has taken place in many words. Similar in character is the suppression of the period signifying abbreviation. Per cent is now common, and such forms as Mr, Dr, and Rev are receiving the sanction of use by writers who cannot be accused of either ignorance or carelessness.
A poet may safely, even creditably, call a gentleman a “gentle. ” “ Gent.” is a satisfactory term for genealogical purposes; why may we not go a step further, and omit the period ?
— How could the Atlantic “ draw it so mild ” about Young Mrs. Jardine, and how dare you call it a “ truly feminine book ? ” Do you think any woman of even ordinary sense would not abhor that nauseous and sloppy fellow who is the hero, or despise the female prig he marries ?
The book is like a dish of boiled greens, or a suet pudding,—slippery, tasteless, sweetish, and unwholesome. There is not a lady in its pages, nor yet a man, and the sickly sentiment, the weakness, the general idiocy of the whole atmosphere, makes one fairly angry at a criticism that only
— I too must try for the epigram, in a converse sort of way : —
You’ve all the business that you well can mind.
— It seems to me that the word gent, which is criticised by a contributor to the March Atlantic, has two distinct applications. One is its use by shop-keepers and others as a convenient abbreviation of gentleman, and the other its characterization of a particular class of men. However much we may regret to see “ the fine old name of gentleman ” ruthlessly razeed, it is the fate of all words that prove too long for the rapid requirements of business. These having long ago abbreviated cabriolet into cab and caravan into van, it is no wonder that in the increased mercantile value of time and breath the gentleman should dwindle into the gent. Doubtless the average shop-keeper does not realize the violence which such a change does to the significance of words and the sensitiveness of the lover of English undefiled. But business is business, and word-clipping may be essential to success in it, in these hurried days.
Mr. Bartlett, in his Dictionary of Americanisms, gives gent as an abbreviation of gentleman, but it has been reserved for the Slang Dictionary to define its precise position in the scale of descent. Gent is said by this authority to be “ a contraction of gentleman in more senses than one, — a dressy, showy, foppish man, with a little mind, who vulgarizes the prevailing fashion.” As the gent is thus a product and representative of certain social conditions, there is a certain fitness in the word which characterizes him. Being only a nominal part of a gentleman, it is well to have his name bear witness to that fact. Language, even in its corruptions, thus becomes the guardian and vehicle of truth. Lord Campbell, in bis little book on Shakspeare’s Legal Acquirements, calls lay gents “ all except lawyers.” Unless the chancellor intended, in this use of the word, to abbreviate the gentleman, or to rival the humor of the comic Blackstone, he must have had a strange misconception of the nature of the superiority of the legal fraternity to the rest of mankind.
A witticism of Count d’ Orsay illustrates the significance of the word gent better than some graver expositions. The story is that he and Tom Allen went to dine at the house of a Hebrew millionaire, and on their arrival overheard one of the host’s flunkeys saying to another, “ The gents are come.” “ Gents ! ” echoed Allen. “ What a wretched low fellow! It’s only worthy a public-house.” “ I beg your pardon,” replied the count, “it is quite correct. The man is a Jew. He means to say the Gentiles have arrived ; gent is short for Gentile.” This Jew d'esprit, as the narrator wickedly calls it, had truth as well as wit, for Gentile, from the Latin gens, has the same origin as gentleman.
The word gent formerly did duty as an adjective, old English writers using it to express the softer qualities of the female sex. A “lady gent,” instead of being a lady’s man or coxcomb, was an elegant or gentle lady. Doubtless, an element of softness is associated with gent as a noun, but, being connected with the head rather than the heart, the perpetuation of the quality can hardly be considered desirable.
— There is a reward of literary labor which seems to me so great that I must mention it. Let me give an illustration : A boy was at work in a lumber mill in the backwoods. Two other boys were his comrades. At night it was their amusement, in the shanty where they had their rations, to read the magazines. A Moosehead Journal, Have we a Bourbon among us ? and Bartleby the Scrivener were just out then. These and other articles were read with that interest, curiosity, and wonder which they are calculated to inspire in youthful minds. The men who could write such articles were regarded with a degree of respect which belongs properly to beings who are above our common humanity.
The inspiration of these readings and the influence of the articles were felt by others who borrowed the magazines. The history of the various writers and their peculiarities were inquired into by the boys. It came to be the prevailing ambition to excel in literature. There were in this particular instance some queer things done in the way of writing stories, essays, and poems, and making speeches at a school-house not far away. But the seeds of true culture were none the less sown, and have sprung up, and are now bearing fruit to some extent in that neighborhood and elsewhere.
And now in respect to the particular kind of reward which I have in mind: the boy in the lumber camp or shanty first mentioned made his way to college, and then to a good business, continuing all the while as a recreation to write for the newspapers and minor periodicals ; and at last, in middle life, he reached the glory of some four or five sketches in the leading literary magazine of his time and country. When be was first admitted to the pages which he had from boyhood regarded with such profound respect, his reward, I venture to say, was, in kind, the greatest that literary success ever confers. His own immediate and intense satisfaction was a part of the benefit. The skill he had gained with his pen was a grace and ornament and crown to his business life. This crown may seem trifling to a literary man, but it is not to be lightly regarded by those who know the value of the combination of business and literature here set forth.
In looking over the index of a leading literary magazine for a dozen years, many names will be found of those who have written three or four articles,— and that is all we know about them. The articles are good and worthy of the place given them. It is, I think, safe to say that the real rewards of literature have been gained by the unknown persons who are the authors of these articles. Each of them probably seemed to himself to walk upon the atmosphere for a week or two when first accepted ; each of them had a following of personal friends, and perhaps relatives, who valued the authorship of these articles very highly. The boy above mentioned, who received his first literary impulse from hearing the magazines read in the lumber shanty, is one of the " unknowns; ” but his business acquaintances in the city and his backwoods friends all regard the fact that he is the author of a few simple sketches which reached so high a place as the brightest success of his life. Years of hard and prosperous work in an honorable calling are overlooked, or taken as a matter of course, while this trifling literary success is regarded as somehow a remarkable achievement. On visiting his college, after an absence of years, he found that the college officers and his old friends returning on Commencement Day knew nothing of his business life, but were well aware of the sketches, and congratulated him upon their success. The amusing side of this friendly following was seen when a comrade of the old magazine days in the lumber shanty sincerely hesitated to claim acquaintance with one who had “ grown so great” with his pen.
There may be literary people who will scoff at these things ; but I am persuaded that those who bear the really great names in letters will always look with kind and tender interest upon these little reputations of which I am writing. Doubtless the great writers remember the time when their own hopes budded, and their literary labor was inspired with a grand enthusiasm. I think they fondly remember the freedom of being an “ unknown.” To be chained to a reputation may have some disadvantages. Those who give their lives to literary labor realize that they are paying a large price for something, whatever it is. Success as well as failure has its drawbacks if literature is made a profession. Only last week Fenimore Cooper’s son was telling me that his father’s interest in novel-writing had ceased long before he ceased to write novels. He bad adopted that work as his calling, and continued it simply because it was bis business, and perhaps because it was expected of him. He would probably have preferred other work.
I think a pretty good case is made out by these facts in support of the claim that the little reputations in literature confer the greater amount, and perhaps an equal degree, of happiness. Of course we, “ the unknowns,” would be quite willing at any time to accept the disadvantages of becoming famous ; but that does not change the fact that our present reward is very great, —and there are so many of us that our felicity in the aggregate probably exceeds that of the great writers.
— To mention dreams seems to threaten the Club reader with the garrulous relation of visions more or less common to all experience, and consequently more or less uninteresting to all ; but I have no dreams to narrate which I fancy at all remarkable ; only an inquiry to make, to which I should be glad of an answer. Whether there be any answer to be given, even by those who have studied the phenomena of dreaming, is, however, quite doubtful. The question is simply, What causes the recurrence of a certain kind of dream during a period, it may be, of some years, to the exclusion of almost every other form of dreaming, more especially when there is nothing in the circumstances of the dreamer’s life to impress this particular shape upon his “ unconscious cerebration,” which I believe is the scientific term for dreaming. I do not know whether this recurrence of a special style of dream for a long time is a common experience or not; I have never heard any one mention it as a familiar one ; but it is a noticeable characteristic of my own dreaming habits. I seldom dream pleasantly, and as far as I can remember my bad dreams have been mostly confined to some three or four forms of disagreeability; one form prevailing for a term of years, to be succeeded by another form which seemed to drive out the earlier from possession of the brain. The first vision I can recall was not strictly that of dreaming, but the remarkable thing was its continual recurrence. As a child, living in a place where I was subjected to malarial influences, I had occasional attacks of fever and ague, when I was always “ lightheaded.” In that condition I invariably suffered in a way impossible to describe further than by saying that I shrank in horror from the inevitable oncoming of a vast, impalpable something that seemed to be rolling toward me to surround and swallow me up in enormous airy billows. I used to flee to my parents for refuge from this airy nothing, and vainly try to tell them what it was like. I was interested to find, long after, in Kiuglake’s Eothen an account of an almost precisely similar vision of horror he became familiar with during the delirium of a fever. I doubt if any one not acquainted with the experience would make much out of the author’s attempt to describe something too vague to be well describable. But I have sometimes thought my vision and Kinglake’s would have been congenial material for De Quincey’s imagination to work upon, its very vagueness leaving him free to dilate the theme to the most wondrous and terrific proportions.
In childhood, the dream that nightly disturbed me was a quite commonplace one, — the apparition of a tall, whiteclothed figure encountered suddenly at the turning of long corridors, the glimpse of whose shadowy shape at a distance thrilled me with ghostly terror. This figure, having predominated in my dreams for years, finally vanished, and for a long period the tormentors of my repose were the more palpable, but none the less alarming, shapes of armed men, who, sometimes heralded by martial noises, sometimes approaching with awful, silent tread, passed in procession to the house where I was concealed, prone upon the floor or crouched cowering in corners, in the frenzied endeavor to keep out of the range of sight of the windows through which the death shot was to strike me. Since the departure of these threatening personages who for so long had made the night a veritable reign of terror, the troubles I have undergone have been of a more every-day sort, the pressure and perversity of circumstance ; but worse than any such practical difficulties could possibly be in actual life, because of the absence of the reasoning faculty, the judgment which with the trouble often points the way of escape. In the dream, too, there is always that mixture of the improbable and unnatural which sometimes relieves, but quite as often complicates, the situation of affairs. I habitually take journeys now o’ nights on railroad trains which are so oddly constructed and conducted as to place me in most distressing and perilous positions ; they move in extraordinary ways, cause unforeseen and unprovided-for emergencies, and perplex me continually by their behavior. I also go through a great deal in preparing for these journeys, — trunks waiting to be packed, while I search in vain for the contents that should fill them, etc.
These three types of dream have been the prominent ones with me since childhood ; and not until one form of distress was become long familiar to me did it pass away for another to take its room. The first two evidently had no relation to experience, and were not suggested by anything in the daily course of events. With regard to the present-prevailing dream, my actual travels have been neither so extensive nor so adventurous as to account for the dream travels.
I am curious to know whether this recurrence of the same dream, or the same class of dream, for long periods is a common experience, or an idiosyncrasy of mine.