The Contributors' Club

SUCH symbols of mourning as darkened our towns and cities on the 26th of September were eminently proper, so far as they confined themselves to the single expression of that grief. But, in my wanderings through the streets and by-ways of a certain great metropolis, I was more than once struck by the double purpose of some of the shopwindows. Like the player-queen in the tragedy of Hamlet, they protested too much, and overdid the matter. Their style of decoration suggested an advertisement of the stock-in-trade rather than a tribute of respect to the nation’s dead. The day was one on which the till and the yard-stick should have been forgotten. A French writer has said that there are moments when it is the height of immodesty to blush, though a blush is in itself commendable. There are moments when it is unalloyed bad taste for a man to parade his calling, however honest it may be. Certainly the hour in which the mortal part of our beloved chief ruler was laid at rest was not the proper time for a tradesman to make an exhibit of his wares. It is to the credit of humanity that there were only exceptional cases of this sort of offense. I recall two or three which were flagrant. One was a certain glovestore, whose show-windows were hung with long black and white kid gloves, arranged with hideous method. I made a memorandum in my mental note-book to the effect that I would henceforth never purchase the slightest article at that shop, — a shop with which I have had frequent dealing during the past ten years. I recorded a similar resolve touching the confectioner’s, a few doors below. Here was a display of black and white candies heaped in ridiculous mounds and pyramids, the device of a person who could have had neither a sense of propriety nor a sense of humor. Happily, these things, as I have said, were exceptional, and their indecorum was overlaid and smothered, so to speak, by the flowing draperies of the neighboring buildings. It is not likely that our generation will look upon so solemn a spectacle again. If certain features of it were grotesque, there were others of indescribable pathos, showing how one touch of nature makes the whole world kin. . . . The memorable incident of my walk that morning occurred in a part of the city where the funereal trappings were few and of a quality that denoted the poverty of the section. In a narrow, squalid by-street, through which there was little or no passing, I came upon a miserable tenement house, two of whose lower windows were clumsily and scantily draped with black and white cloth. It was probably the apartment of some poor laboring man ; perhaps there was a lighter dinner this day on his table, because of those few yards of mourning. All the costly folds and festoons I had seen in the grand avenues seemed less significant to me than that pathetic handful of cheap cambric. At the open windows of houses opposite were knots of women and children looking with admiration on their neighbor’s sombre hangings. There was not another sign of drapery in the whole street. As I stood there, a shabby photographer began setting up his camera in front of the decorations. They were to be immortalized ! Presently a man leading a pale little girl by the hand appeared in the door-way, under the draped windows. I read his story at a glance : there was no wife, and the public woe had perhaps touched an old wound. If the neighbors oppposite wondered why I uncovered my head as I passed that tenement house, I had my reasons.

— If the railroad traveler will take the pains to stroll into the telegraph office at any of the more important railway stations of New England, two or three minutes before twelve o’clock noon, he will find one of the telegraph instruments beating a measured beat two seconds long. If his watch happens to be exactly right he will notice that just before the end of the minute the instrument beats every second if it is New York time the instrument is giving, or it omits the fifty-eighth second if the instrument gives Boston time. These telegraph instruments are in fact repeating the pendulum swings of very accurately constructed clocks which are placed in the observatories of Yale and Harvard colleges respectively. These beats are transmitted with the speed of the electric current, and no derangement of the telegraph wires can interfere with their precision, if they can be heard at all. The clocks have taken the place of the telegraph operators, and they themselves break or make the electric current which causes the instrument to tick the clock-beats.

If you question the operator or ask the neighboring jewelers they will express to you, if they have long received these signals, unquestioned confidence in their precision. It may be safely said that the time of New England, so far as its business interests are concerned, is entirely dependent on these little instruments which repeat over the whole territory the beats of the two clocks at New Haven and Cambridge.

It is a wide-spread but erroneous idea that our time is derived from daily observations of the sun in the large observatories. It may be so derived owing to continued cloudy weather, which prevents the observation of stars, but, except in this contingency, the stars, rather than the sun, afford the means of determining the time which is transmitted over New England. At the two observatories undertaking this work, every clear night or clear day furnishes the waiting observer with a series of stars whose places are accurately predicted in the various nautical almanacs or other star-ephemerides. Some of these stars are observed in order accurately to determine the position of the transit instrument, and the remainder furnish the error of the clock after the instrumental deviation has been allowed for.

In a public time-service it is necessary that the determination of the clockerrors should be as speedy as possible. It would not do, therefore, to have any elaborate computation occupy the observer after he has finished the observations necessary. It is customary to have special tables computed for each observatory, from which the observer can rapidly take the numbers necessary in computation of the clock-error. So rapidly can a skilled observer do this work that an hour will generally suffice for a complete determination of the clockerror, though the observer has computed all of the corrections arising from the impossibility of placing the transit instrument exactly in the meridian, or of making its horizontal axis truly level, or of precisely determining the middle line of the telescope across which the stars pass. The clock-error which he has determined does not, however, belong to the clock which distributes the time to the public. The observing clock keeps star time, which gains about four minutes per day on mean solar time, which is the one in common use. The observing or sidereal clock is seldom touched, but is allowed to run on slowly losing or gaining for months together. The clock which distributes the time is corrected whenever an error is found in it by comparison with the sidereal clock, due allowance being made for the errors of the latter. Thus, if it should be found that the standard mean time clock, which automatically distributes the Connecticut State time, should be twentyfour one hundredths of a second fast at ten o’clock in the evening, a small weight, whose influence has been determined by experiment to be on that clock’s pendulum just twenty-four one hundredths of a second per day, would be removed from the pendulum with the expectation that the succeeding night the observations would show the clock to be free from error. It seldom is found to be perfectly free. A change in the barometer, a variation in the temperature, a slight change in the resistance from thickening oil in the clock movement, or other more obscure causes will affect the error of the clock so that it needs constant correction. To be sure, these sources of error are very much less in the observatory standard clocks than in the time-pieces employed outside of such an institution. Changes in temperature are guarded against by inclosing the clocks bodily in heavily built, non-conducting cellar rooms. The greatest care is taken to keep the clocks in the most perfect condition. As a result of this protection and the constant scientific supervision which the clocks receive, the errors of these clocks may generally be assumed to be within one fifth of a second, though at times, owing to cloudy weather, they reach a half second.

The distributing time clock being as free as possible from error, its beats are ready to be sent out. To accomplish this, there is connected with the clock movement a wheel whose teeth lift a small arm each alternate second. This arm at some point away from the clock movement breaks an electric circuit which works through a telegraphic relay having a number of repeating points. These points are in turn connected with city railroad-telegraph and telephone lines for accomplishing the further distribution of the clock-beats. There is also within the clock movement an arrangement by which the clock does not repeat the beats of a certain number of seconds preceding the commencement of each five minutes. For convenience, the differences existing between the Yale and Harvard services may be tabulated as follows : —

1.Adopted meridian for which the time signals are true local mean time. Boston State House. New York City Hall.
2.Time signals distributed are Slow of Greenwich. Fast of New York. Fast of Washington. 4 h. 44m. 15.4 s. 11 m. 46.3 s. 23m. 56.8 s. 4 h. 56 m. 1.7 s. 0 m. 0.0 s. 12 m. 10.5 s.
3.The standard mean time clock-beats are sent out for Os., 2s., 4s., and so on for every even second up to 56 s., when the 58 s. beat is omitted, to call attention to the next beat, which is the beginning of the minute. 0s., 2 s., 4 s., and so on for every even second up to 56 s., when the 57th, 58th, 59th, and 60th are all given, to avoid possible confusion with the Harvard signals.
4.Each five minutes of the clock face is preceded by an interruption of 26 seconds. 20 seconds.

This whole subject is a new and interesting one to this country. In the Old World the matter of public time has received the attention of the governments of all the great powers, and the people, justly enough, look upon the decision of such questions as being as

much a governmental province as is the regulation of weights, measures, and coinage. With us it has not yet clearly appeared what action of the general government public opinion would sanction. It is not improbable that it may be inexpedient for the general government to do anything at all in the matter for many years to come. So thoroughly are the different States imbued with a disinclination to allow interference with a matter about which local observatories are so much concerned, and in which considerable state pride has been manifested, that it appears as though the first step towards widely extended timeservices will be founded upon the mutual agreement of neighboring state legislatures.

In New England a decided lead has been taken in this matter. The public time-services above referred to have steadily grown in public favor, and there are already indications that the public is ready for reducing the double standard of time, namely, Boston and New York, to one. The difference between these two standards, some twelve minutes, is considerably less than the variation from twelve o’clock of the time at which the sun comes to the meridian at different parts of the year. There could therefore be no objection to changing all that part of New England which is now governed by New York time to Boston time, or vice versa, so far as the inconvenience arising from the difference between the adopted and the true local time is concerned. We should consider other reasons in deciding which of these standards it is preferable for New England to use.

From the physical configuration of Western New England, and from the convenience of freight transportation from Boston to New York via the Sound, New York city has become the natural outlet of New England manufactures. The whole western part of New England may, in fact, be called tributary to New York, and it is not until the neighborhood of Springfield is reached in coming Eastward that the mercantile interests tend towards Boston. As a consequence of this all of the larger railroad, express, freight, and telegraph corporations have strong reasons for the use of New York time rather than Boston. It is to business organizations of this nature that the public look for the decision of questions concerning the time to be used in the smaller towns and villages along their respective routes. It being impossible for these corporations to change their time at intermediate points, they have chosen the local time of either New York or Boston, as was most convenient, and the cities along their routes have followed suit. There is not a single company of this nature which leaves Boston and arrives at New York doing business on the same time. There is, consequently, some city on all of these lines at which there is a confusion in regard to the time employed.

A notable case of this kind, which was a proverbial public nuisance, existed for some years in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut. One influential railroad used Boston time, another used New York time, and two others used local time. The result was that different business interests in the city were governed by different times, travelers were always more or less uncertain of their railway connections, and there was a general want of agreement among the city time-pieces, demoralizing to the thrifty inhabitants of that worthy city. By the very simple arrangement of printing train arrivals and departures in the daily papers in New York time, and by substituting New York time for local time in those railroads not terminating in Boston, it has been possible to introduce the New York standard without disturbance, and to the great convenience of all concerned.

Massachusetts has a singular confusion in its times in its western part. The railroads connecting at Albany arrive on New York time. The influence of Vermont and Eastern New York, which use, respectively, Montreal and New York time, has been to divide the various towns into two classes, one using New York, or a time approximating to Montreal, time; and the other Boston time.

We may assume, therefore, that for reasons of convenience nearly one half of New England is already governed by New York time, or a time so slightly differing from it that it could easily be changed to this time. The transportation companies of the remainder of New England have excellent reasons for desiring that they too should be governed by this time. Now if the public sentiment of Boston and its neighboring cities could be efficiently directed to the consideration of how mutually convenient it would be for Eastern and Western New England to be governed by the same time, and that time the one in use by nearly eight millions of our people, it would seem as though the Massachusetts legislature would heartily unite with that of Connecticut in establishing the New York standard of time. Besides the argument of business expediency, there are other reasons for adopting the New York standard, or a practical equivalent counted from Greenwich, based upon the consideration of what is best for the whole country. There has been a steadily growing public opinion in favor of dividing the whole of the United States into five sections, such that the time of one section shall differ from that of the preceding or following section by a whole hour, so that the minutes of time shall be the same from Portland to San Francisco, and the local time in any case will not differ more than half an hour from the standard time adopted. This suggestion originated with the late Professor Peirce. By calling the different sectional times by easily remembered names, beginning with Newfoundland, and calling the time used over Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia Eastern time, we should then have Eastern, Atlantic, Valley, Mountain, and Pacific time, — this last comprising the Pacific slope, British Columbia, and Vancouver’s Island. It would not always be convenient to draw an arbitrary meridian separating these sections, but a little judicious planning will arrange the various cities and States so that they can come into the arrangement with no greater inconvenience than would result to Boston and Eastern Massachusetts were they to lend their aid by taking the first step toward sectionalizing the time.

So too it might not be most expedient that the meridian of New York City Hall should be the meridian from which all New England time should be reckoned. By choosing a meridian exactly five hours west of Greenwich, the time would not differ from the present New York time signals but four minutes, a difference producing no inconvenience. The adoption of such a standard would free the matter from any objection based upon pride in keeping to a more local time, and would enable the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to have a common time for all business purposes, which in practice would not be inconveniently different from local time, and to obtain the considerable advantages of which the mutual concessions would be slight.

But whether the ultimate time standard for all of New England is to be New York time, or one which is exactly five hours slow of Greenwich, the solution of the question will be expedited by having Eastern New England unite with the large territory over which New York time is now used. Such action will reduce to one the times now used in New England, and the future shifting of the whole system the few miuutes necessary to reduce it to the Greenwich plan will be a matter of future convention with the more southerly cities of the Atlantic seaboard.

— In Christina Rossetti’s new volume of poems there are some very curious rhymes, — the kind of rhymes for which England’s greatest poetess is usually quoted as authority, though Mrs. Browning’s art discarded them in her later days. I refer to such unhappy verbal matches as “islands” with “silence,” and “ robin ” with “sobbing.” I think it was not affectation, but an imperfect ear, that led Mrs. Browning into these errors. This explanation is not to be set up in defense of her successors, chiefly women. They seem to do consciously and deliberately what she did without reflection — and regretted. The slight peculiarity which we pardon in one person because it is innate becomes intolerable when assumed by another. I do Miss Rossetti the justice to believe that she knew better when she wrote this verse:—

“ I sat beneath a willow tree,
Where water falls and calls;
While fancies upon fancies solaced me,
Some true, and some were false.”

One wonders whether Miss Rossetti pronounces calls calse, or false falls.

— It is yet to be demonstrated that a publication devoted to the fine arts, well illustrated, and issued often enough to be timely, can be maintained in this country. The monthly art journals, of which there are several, are, with two or three exceptions, published abroad, and have special editions for the United States, that come up to date as near as they can by the insertion of news paragraphs and special articles written here. Unfortunately, the mechanical element in the publication of such journals is not under immediate control here, and what was news once often reads as if printed entirely as a matter of record. By reason of the same difficulty, special articles on art collections, etc., frequently appear late, when much of the interest is gone and the daily papers have occupied all the ground held in common. Not in every case, but in the majority, is this true of all monthly art journals which are originally published in this country, as well as those that are reprinted here from imported editions. If some of them suspend, this is likely to be one of the first causes of the failure, — that they are not timely. In timeliness, as in many other regards, they may all look to L’Art for an illustrious example. In nearly every respect it has the advantage of an art journal procurable in the United States, chiefly because, by appearing twice a month, it is able to place before its readers articles relating to events then occurring. The experiment of establishing a bi-weekly art journal seems never to have been seriously thought of in this country, and it is by all means probable that the various contributing factors are worked to the fullest extent now, in issuing the monthlies.

The briefest study of the environment of L’Art will show what there is there protecting and prolonging its existence that may repeat itself here. Everything seems to be in its favor. There is a demand for it in France, England, and America, and it lives in the midst of all the conditions that could be of assistance to it. It frequently publishes etchings, by men who are well known, that are taken as examples here. The different processes for the reproduction of drawings are considerably in advance of anything that has been done here up to a late date, and they are evidently much more available than they are here. This is especially true in regard to cost and expedition in preparation, which make it possible to illustrate L’Art and other French art publications so liberally. Towards these important conditions of superiority American ingenuity is making rapid progress, but the initial efforts, the production of drawings adaptable to the processes, hardly keep pace. Artists who can use pen and ink excellently well, and will do so, are not numerous, particularly among figure painters. L’Art, however, has within reach perfected processes and artists who are adept with the pen and whose services can be procured. These conditions will, undoubtedly, soon appear here. The mechanism is being developed steadily, and can in all probability do whatever is, within reason, demanded of it. Thanks to an interest in etchings, which came suddenly and is still persistent, and to the development of the processes (photo-engraving) that demand pen-and-ink work, artists in general are becoming more familiar with the material. The leading art exhibitions usually have illustrated catalogues now, and it is possible for the art editor to procure illustrations for his magazine with ease, compared with two years ago.

— Nomenclature among the Indians is apt to be exceedingly bewildering, both to themselves and everybody else, from the fact that one name, whether of a person or thing, never has the slightest distinct relation to another. The uncivilized have evidently never met with the necessity of permanently identifying members of the same family ; and in permitting the young man, just warrior-grown, to choose a name for himself, or compelling him by persistency either to keep the one he received before he knew it, or to accept the cognomen chosen for him by his associates, they are certainly carrying their ideas of native freedom to the utmost limit. To one unacquainted with the customs which dictate these names, the ridiculous and often apparently meaningless titles seem absurd freaks of fancy. This they often are, to be sure, but as frequently they have a significance which honors the man, if it does not designate his family. Ordinarily, however, the appellation he receives is obtained at random, and is likely to be changed any time, either by the wearer or his friends. In fact, it is quite the thing for a warrior to change his name after each exploit, always adopting some descriptive and complimentary title; or perhaps, — unfortunately for him, — in case of failure in an expedition, cowardice, or some evidence of weakness, he has it changed for him by his friends. All Indians, even great chiefs, seem to possess a very remarkable fondness for nicknaming ; and while the leading man in the tribe may insist on being called by his own choice title, nothing prevents his being known and designated by a very different, and perhaps uncomplimentary, name. As deformities, peculiarities of character, or accidents to limb or feature often suggest fit names, it is sometimes impossible to know by the appellation whether the warrior is in contempt or honor amongst his associates. Strangely enough, too, however far from flattering the title of a warrior, he is sure to accept it sooner or later. There is a single approach to general custom in the naming of sons by their fathers and daughters by their mothers. Daughters’ names are never altered, and as married women do not take their husbands’ names there is nothing in the appellation to indicate whether an Indian woman is married or single.

— He is gone. Yes, he is gone, but we have his obituary. He lived out toward the rear of a Western State, and there also he died. That is enough about him, — let us wave him aside; our fight is with the obituary. I think it contains rhetorical blemishes. Thus it begins : —

“ While yet on the threshold of animated strife, and no unkind visions confronted him on life’s journey, overtaken by the still voice of the tomb, he responded by enlisting in the great army of the unreturning past.”

I do not think these ingredients are mixed properly. If there was a fight, and the fight was in the house, “ threshold” goes passably well with “animated strife,” but not otherwise. But I do not think there was a fight, at that time ; he did not “ enlist ” until later, when he was on a journey and was overtaken by the still voice of the tomb. His mistake lay in “responding; ” he could have let on that he did not hear, since it was a still voice.

“ While yet the spring-time of youth blossomed on his locks, the cold touch of an untimely frost fell upon and nipped a life which was yet in bloom.”

Now you see, there was no fight, after all; he froze to death.

“ But thus it is ; when the lamp of life shines brightest, its extinguishment produces thickest darkness.”

He had his lantern with him ; therefore he could have been nothing but a scout, sent out to hunt up the enemy. I think it possible that there was no fight.

“ Life, at best, is but an exiled wandering pilgrim on a desert island, surrounded by the boundless and merciless sea of eternity, on whose barren coast inevitable death awaits on every side its victim unawares.”

Starved to death on an island, and probably drowned, into the bargain. — “ unawares.” Life is full of troubles.

“ Ere yet the fruits of manhood’s laurel had ripened on his brow, he laid himself to rest in communion with the dead.”

There is no reasonable fault to be found with his not waiting for the crop ; for even if the laurel yielded a berry, — which it does not,—it would not ripen on a person’s brow.

“ Ere yet the shadows of disappointed hope darkened the horizon of a dawning future, he reclined on his lowly couch to mingle with the cold and forgotten dust.”

I do not like this. A person does not travel with a couch and a lantern, too, in such a place as that. And why “ cold” dust ? Is the warm kind preferable ? And did this man lie down and cover up and peter out in the natural way, after all ? There are many perplexing difficulties about this history.

“ During many long years, with that filial affection which makes a child loved by its parents, and respected by its neighbors, he has proven a husband, father, son, and brother.”

Filial affection does not “ prove ” anything. The official records of the county will show whether he was a father, mother, brother, and sister, or not, but filial affection is no sufficient evidence of mere abstract pretensions like these.

“ For his folks he lived.”

That is all right, —let that pass ; the object of this inquiry is what he died for, — that, and which thing it was that killed him the most.

“ But now that the thunderbolt of heaven has fallen upon the hearth-stone of their family circle ” —

Why, good land, he was struck by lightning ! Take it all around, this is one of the most checkered death-beds that has ever come under my observation. Destroyed in fight, frost-bitten, starved, drowned, squelched in the tranquil couch, splintered by the bolts of heaven ! — it is little wonder that he faded from our view.

“ It may not, perchance, have been given him to climb the dizzy heights of statesmanship, where Bacon and Burke were so often heard, or fathom deeply the bosom of science, where Huxley and Tyndall stroll with familiar step.”

The nautical phrase is misplaced there; one does not fathom a bosom. Neither do any but the most reckless people go tramping around in such a place.

“ But he is gone ; he sleeps his long, last sleep, unconscious of the night winds that chant the requiem o’er his grave, or the vesper breezes that play among the lonesome pine, making music as though each bough played the strings of Apollo’s golden harp.”

Very well, that is all square and right. And all to his advantage, too, — but he missed his obituary.