The Contributors' Club

“STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.” So Lord Bacon assures us in that book of aphorisms which is a sort of code of English thought. Wenot infrequently hear persons adorning their discourse with learned allusion to books which they have not been at the trouble of reading. Perhaps we may even follow their example, now and then ; it is difficult to see how the practice is to be avoided in an age when, owing to the multiplicity of books, it is becoming almost an impossibility to be well read, while it is more a necessity than ever to he well versed in literature. This use of unread books for purposes of ornament is too well known to dwell upon here; it is, I think, less widely recognized that they serve also “for delight,” and perhaps in some indirect way are valuable agents for instruction. Not that they are set down in any course of literature; the only preceptors I know of who attempt to take cognizance of them are those zealous persons who earnestly point out to the young the books to be avoided. But the works thus brought to notice are not apt to remain in the category of unread ones. In fact, all Cook’s tourists and followers of literary courses have placed themselves beyond the reach of the pleasures I speak of. To them an unread book represents a duty to come, and hangs over their weary craniums a present and prospective burden. We may choose what we will read, but only temperament and chance determine which books shall sway us among the thousands that we do not read. But the reader who browses at large in the fields of literature, unrestrained except by circumstance, the reader who fixes his mind for months upon an unattainable book in a far-off book-store, who has courted slumber with a lump of untouched romance protruding through the scattered down of his pillow, he has found out the charm which lurketh within an unopened volume. The pleasure is not merely that of anticipation : it passes insensibly into what I must call realization. An unusually attractive title, some anecdote we have heard of the author, a chance quotation which comes home to us, or even some totally extraneous association may lend personality to a book of which we know hut little, and make it as distinct an acquisition to us, as those which we have read over and over. This experience cannot be uncommon, though it is probably confined to readers with a vein of sentiment. It is the young, however, who get, so to speak, the most reading out of unread books. To a young mind just looking into literature the merest fragment is precious, as earnest of the magnificence to be enjoyed. Such a mind is in process of construction; there are enormous gaps to be filled, and every opportunity is seized of bridging them over. It is ready at a glimpse of the arc to draw the whole circle, no matter on bow inadequate a scale. Then a line is a poem, and a romantic title opens a whole romance. When at that hungry stage myself, some of my favorite books were unknown to me, save by report. I conned their imaginary contents and rejoiced in their beauties. I looked forward eagerly to reading them, and in the long period of waiting forgot that I had not read them.

Chief among these shadow books was Obermann. I remember the first time I heard the name, — a name which seemed to carry in its very sound the melancholy, the loneliness and passion, of the literature to which the book belongs. One of the indulgences of a delicate childhood was having fragments of poetry repeated to me as I lay in bed, unable to sleep. The selections varied but little, owing, perhaps, to some caprice of the reciter’s memory, perhaps to a wish to render the entertainment as little exciting as possible. Among these oft-repeated morsels were some lines taken at random from Matthew Arnold’s Stanzas to Obermann : —

“How often, when the slopes were green,
On Jaman thou hast sate,
By some high chalet door, and seen
The summer day grow late ! ”

For a while I was under a vague impression that the lines were addressed to myself. I had visited Switzerland not a long time before, had climbed the Jaman, and had stopped to rest by the door of a chalet near the top of the pass; on that chalet door my initials and the date — that of my ninth birthday — had been carved. The scene was all before me as I listened : the chalet, with its stone-freighted roof, and the short turf around, covered with alternate patches of snow and crocuses, of which the flowers were the purer in their new, delicate life. True, I had sat there only once, but it may well have seemed often, in these frequent reminiscences; and children are not prone to note the detail of poetry, if the “swing” and sentiment please them. At length, however, it began to dawn upon me that there were other personalities concerned in the poem, besides the familiar ones of the reciter and his insignificant listener. I asked some questions, and learned that the lines were written by Matthew Arnold, and addressed to Obermann. “ And who was Obermann?” I was told that he was a man who, having grown to mistrust and despise his fellow-men, retired to the Alps, and gave himself up entirely to communion with natur That he was a fictitious character I not then understand.

From that moment the idea of Ober mann and his life “did sweetly creep into my study of imagination.” I pictured him to myself as climbing among the snows and glaciers, or seated to watch the sunrise on the edge of some precipice; always sad, thoughtful, and self-contained. A favorite vignette was of my hero standing at midnight, in a thunder-storm, near the border of a pine wood on the slope which ascends toward the Jaman; his soul unshaken by fear, feeling itself to be a part of the wind and the thunder. It was a sublime picture, but—imagination has its limits. In all these situations the costume of Obermann, as he presented himself to my mental vision, consisted invariably of a long frock-coat and trousers of black broadcloth; the pattern being taken from the habitual attire of a Baptist minister who visited at the house, and whose intellectual superiority was deeply impressed upon my young mind.

Obermann was a haunting presence to me for years. My eye caught every allusion to him in the books I read, and the character was modified slightly under the influence of different authors till at fifteen the reading of René, whose name I had often seen beside that of Senancour’s hero, completed the sketch, and Obermaim had become to me a sort of Wordsworthian René. All this time I had never read the book, and I have not since. It is too late now. The period of Obermaim is over and gone. But I feel that the closest intimacy would never divest him of that coat. It has clung to him unwrinkled and unfaded throughout the years.

— I mark this saying of Emerson, “ Ideas are in the air.” It does not take long for one to discover that ideas are totally migrant and transient, belonging no more to one individual than to another. Fancifully speaking, they drop out of the air, and build their aeries and raise their broods wherever the conditions of habitat are satisfied. That you have entertained, for a season, these birds of passage does not identify them with you alone ; you have no guarantee that you will not hear them, erelong, over sea or under tropic, quaintly echoing the very notes they practiced under your eaves. Our ideas, therefore, are ours en passant only. There are always some people of our acquaintance who are so harried by the distraction and importunity of the situation that, to use their own expression, they cannot call their thoughts their own. In a subtler sense, this inability is the lot of every thinker, no matter how solitary and secure the Patmos to which he has withdrawn. It is more impossible to sequestrate an idea for your exclusive use than to prevent the river which turns your mill from running on to put its willing shoulder under the wheel of another’s enterprise. You may indeed hold your breath, but not long; you are soon forced to yield it back to the commou fountain of breath. This fluidity or divisibility of thought, while in the abstract sublime, has doubtless a side of absurd embarrassment and discomfiture. What assurance can one have, as a savant, that the dawn of his discovery is not, at the self-same moment, shining in at another’s window, with equal illumination and promise ? How can the poet be sure that he is enjoying an individual afflatus; that the muse is not flattering another suitor with the same show of favor ? How can the writer of fiction he sure that the work which he is preparing will not encounter its double on its way to the publisher, or he pushed to the wall as the feebler and less promising twin ? It would seem that the personal types, imbroglios, episodes, and dénouements of fiction are in the air. Though one should lay the scene of his novel in Ternate and Tidore, or at the North Pole, geographical remoteness is no security against infringement. It is clear that we must make haste to utter our thought, or we shall be anticipated by some one else, after which all effort on our part will be unseasonable and superfluous. It is not safe to defer one’s brightest and best inspirations. I speak from unhappy experience. How often has it happened that, while I put off harvesting and garnering, waiting for an idea to ripen more fully, there came a brownie in the night-time who reaped and carried off the harvest! For instance, if I ever hoarded up a choice theme for a poem, confident of my sole proprietorship in a fancy so delicate and elusive, what was my amazement (and chagrin) to see, in the pages of some periodical, my fantastic property spirited away by a more prompt and happy genius ! Again, if I chanced upon what seemed to me the elements of a fine essay, and did not at once take the work in hand, but waited for the crude material to crystallize, how was I punished ! Nemesis quietly handed me a marked newspaper, or a book with the leaf turned down, in one of which I beheld my essay, with all its telling illustrations, its brilliant tropes, irrefutable reasons, its pertinent quotations,— all, to the last grain of Attic salt which seasoned the whole mass! My essay, but another had written it; another’s impertinent name was subjoined. When the lax and crooked laws relating to international copyright shall have been so straightened and strengthened as to require no further agitation and legislation, perhaps some benefactor of his kind will devote himself to securing the ideal and impalpable property of authors ; giving them copyright on their thoughts. Such an act would be of incalculable assistance in vindicating one unjustly charged with literary larceny, since the accused need only produce his papers, showing anterior right and title, in order to procure his honorable acquittal. Marty cases of so-called plagiary might well be dismissed as cases of coincidence, merely. “ Ideas are in the air.” Writers only transcribe what is written in the face of Nature, in man’s face, and the face of his actions. What is this but a kind of stupendous plagiary, a theft voted lawful by all ? Why should it cause suspicion or panic if the various transcripts occasionally agree, line for line? If poetry is the art of right naming, as it has been thought to be, it follows that there is but one most expressive, full, and universal word which can perfectly characterize a given object, action, or idea. It need not surprise us so greatly if this one word should occur to several investigating in the same quarter.

— The recent discussion regarding the extent of the nationality of IrishAmerican citizens reminds me of the excitement which attended the rescue of the Hungarian, Martin Kozsta. I was the surgeon on board the United States sloop-of-war St. Louis at the time, and wish to bear my tribute to the pluck and audacity of Captain Ingraham, The St. Louis dropped anchor in the harbor of Smyrna on the 23d of June, 1853. The day before her arrival, the Hungarian refugee, Martin Kozsta, while quietly seated in a café, was seized by Greek ruffians, the paid agents of the Austrian consul, and dragged, half drowned, on board the Austrian brig-of-war Hussar ; and there, by the orders of the same consul, conlined below decks in double irons, shortly to be transferred to Trieste, where a felon’s death awaited him.

This Kozsta was a distinguished Hungarian patriot, writer, and statesman, who, as compatriot and co-laborer of Kossuth, was the main-stay of the revolution of 1848, until it culminated in the treachery of Georgey. He was the companion of Kossuth at Katayah, went to the United States under the same circumstances, and then declared his intention, under the usual oath, to become a citizen, — the first and prerequisite step, taken five years before he could come into full possession of a citizen’s rights. He however returned to Turkey, and was in the city of Smyrna, quietly pursuing the vocation of a teacher, when, his whereabouts becoming known to the Austrian consul, he was kidnapped under the circumstances just related. This was the condition of affairs as reported to Captain Ingraham, on the arrival of the St. Louis in the harbor of Smyrna, on that pleasant morning of June 23, 1853.

The report was made by the American consul, with the statement that Kozsta claimed to be an American citizen, in virtue of his declared intention, and of an official paper held by him to that effect, and as a consequence thereof claimed consular protection ; that he, the consul, having exhausted all argument as applicable to the case, as well as the traditional kind offices in favor of the oppressed of all nations, now proceeded to turn the matter over to the power of the government as represented by her guns, if Captain Ingraham thought proper to interfere.

Here was a situation which has more than once confronted the naval commander abroad, wherein a decision must be made promptly, with little time for consideration, and meagre information on which to decide questions of the highest importance to himself and country ; his commission may be at stake, sometimes the issue of peace or war is in the balance, and for a correct decision a consummate knowledge of international law is involved. When Captain Ingraham had satisfied himself of the facts upon which Kozsta claimed American protection, he demanded an interview with the captain of the Hussar and his prisoner. This being refused, he determined that the question of citizenship should be transferred to Constantinople, and to enforce this view brought his guns to hear on the brig, at the same time informing the Austrian commander that no effort must be made to transfer the prisoner to the Lloyd steamer, which was to transport him to Trieste. The next day he called on Mahomet Ali, the Turkish pacha, and insisted in the strongest terms on the indignity offered himself ana his government by this unprecedented violation of neutral rights and harbor ; suggesting that he should demand the immediate release of the man, and put him in statu quo. Finally, Captain Ingraham gave the pacha to understand that, if he did not thus interfere, he should consider it his duty to detain Kozsta by force, if necessary, until explicit instructions arrived from Constantinople. The pacha decided not to interfere; instigated, it was thought, by the uncertain attitude of Austria in the then impending Russo-Turkish war.

The American captain, revolving the affair in his mind that night, came to the always wise and sound conclusion for the military man : that, if err he must, err on the bold side he would, and thus, cutting the knot which he could not untie, risk the defense of the people for too much boldness rather than their condemnation for too much pusillanimity. Thus, before the arrival of instruetions from the chargé d’affaires, he had gone a step beyond the exercise of force for detention by making a peremptory demand, backed by the power of his guns, for immediate delivery of the man to the United States, as represented by the consular flag. To this end, he made a written demand on the commander of the Hussar that, by eleven o’clock of that day, the 25th of June, he should deliver the body of Martin Kozsta into the keeping and protection of the American consul, with the ultimatum that if the commander did not so deliver him, on or before the time specified, he should proceed to take him by force. The Austrian commander promptly declined, saying that the man Martin Kozsta was detained by the order of the consul, his superior officer, whom by the laws of his country he was compelled to obey, and that he “ would repel force with force.” Upon receipt of this plucky reply, Captain Ingraham at once gave orders to prepare the ship for action. Decks were sanded, guns shotted, and the ominous beat-to-quarters roll of the drum resounded through the ship, as every man hastened to his post. In the mean time there was visible from the deck of the St. Louis the equally prompt preparation of the Austrian, evidently not at all averse, in view of his superior strength, to the arbitrament of guns. The St. Louis was armed with twenty twentyfour pounders, opposed to a sixteengun brig, which had as consort a sixgun schooner, commanded by as gallant an Englishman as ever trimmed a sail; while the Lloyd Company’s steamer, armed with four guns, had been detained and pressed into service, for the purpose of both towing and fighting. The Englishman, seeing his advantage in the light air stirring, at once slipped his cable, and by superior seamanship and the capabilities of his schooner worked himself just astern of the sloop, while the steamer was evidently preparing to tow the brig from under the threatening broadside of the sloop, and to a like

advantageous position on her starboard bow. The youngest powder boy on board the St. Louis saw the advantage enjoyed by the Austrian ; nevertheless, every man stood by his gun, nothing daunted, his unblanched cheek and lively bearing showing a firm resolve that the claim of American citizenship should be worth something wherever her naval flag floated. Thus things stood until ten o’clock, when a deputation of consuls came off, asking that further time be allowed, both to give opportunity for some compromise, and to give the people time, after due warning, to leave the shore, where they had thoughtlessly crowded to see the fight. Captain Ingraham consented to extend the time to four o’clock, informing the captain of the Hussar of the postponed time and the cause of it, and notifying all concerned, and with emphasis too, that his guns would open promptly at eight bells, — four o’clock, — if the man were not given up at the expiration of the time. The crowd had left the shore, the neutral vessels had withdrawn out of the range of the belligerents, and an ominous silence pervaded the harbor. Two o’clock had arrived. As a fact, then unknown to the Americans, the pacha, —remembering the advice given by Captain Ingraham, to protect the dignity of himself and government as well as the neutrality of his harbor, — had in grim irony ordered the commandant of the fort to open his guns on the vessel firing the first shot. The smart Englishman was standing off and on at point blank and raking range of the St, Louis’s stern, never bringing himself under the bearing of a single gun for a single moment ; the brig was on the sloop’s Starboard bow, while the men stood defiantly gazing at each other, not two hundred yards apart, knowing full well that such close quarters must certainly be bloody, if not drowning, work to boot. Thus things were progressing to an inevitable result, when, at half past two o’clock, the American consular boat was seen pulling as if upon a mission of life and death. The consul was the bearer of a convention just entered into between the Austrian consul and himself, to the effect that the man in dispute should be transferred to the protection of the French consul, not as a prisoner, but as a resident at the consulate ; not to be removed from his keeping but by the combined consent and signatures of the American and Austrian consuls. These terms, although not the statu quo demanded, the American captain felt bound to accept, and in a few moments Martin Kozsta came over the side of the Hussar, and entered a manof-war’s boat, to be taken to the French consulate. The loud shout which came from the shore proclaimed sympathy for victorious America rather than for vanquished Austria. Boat after boat of congratulators came off. The citizens of Smyrna honored the ship with a Fourth of July dinner, and for the first time in Asia Minor patriotic speeches were made, and the toast, “ The day we celebrate,” was drunk. Ingraham’s course was applauded at Constantinople, and the officers of the allied fleets drank full bumpers to American gallantry. Yet Captain Ingraham was not happy; he felt by no means sure of his ground, and the reflecting and well-informed officers of the ship participated in the feeling. He and they knew that the verdict had yet to be rendered by diplomacy; not by the legation at Constantinople, however, for the instructions of the American minister had been already anticipated, but by transfer of the question to Washington and Vienna. It was a fortunate thing for Captain Ingraham that the democratic fires of Europe had been only smouldering since the involution of 1848 ; for when Austria protested to the Continental powers against this act of war on the part of the United States, it was this volcanic condition of Europe which induced them to advise her not to make her complaint in too strong language, and to back it by no threats. In the mean time, the popular demonstration over Europe was one of universal approval. In every port entered by the St. Louis, on her return from the East, deputations presented themselves, with applauding addresses, and gifts of something commemorating the event; particularly in Genoa floral offerings and a beautiful pair of derringers were presented to the captain. In the United States the excitement was equally great. In the large cities the foreign element was most enthusiastic, meeting in large assemblies, and passing resolutions of thanks. But this favorable verdict, pronounced by the people of two continents, did not settle the ditficulty as between Austria and the United States ; the battle was yet to be fought between Mr. Marcy and the prime minister of Austria. It doubtless had, however, an important bearing on its settlement ; Mr. Marcy, emboldened by the demonstrations, sustained Captain Ingraham in an argument of great ability and ingenuity, but with an amount of sophistry that would have done no discredit to Talleyrand, Metternieh, or Macchiavelli himself. Austria took her cue from the same demonstrations, and under the advice of the western powers, influenced by the Crimean war cloud then lowering on the horizon, accepted the situation and Mr. Marcy’s reply as satisfactory. But was Captain Ingraham right in the course he pursued ? The writer does not hesitate to say No, in view of a proper construction of the naturalization laws, but Yes, a thousand times yes, in view of the captain’s own reputation and popular opinion. The military man who values his own reputation, unless the question is as plain as a pike-staff, can never afford to take the amiable and peaceable view, but in the blustering and warlike will be sustained, in the great majority of cases, by kings, presidents, and people. Lord Nelson’s advice is always safest: “ Fight if in doubt.”

— What a wonderful thing a smile is! How often it is the swift, unconscious revelation of a character to which spoken words have given little clew! There is a gentleman I know, an occasional caller at my house, whom I always welcome for the sake of his pleasant smile alone. He has a homely face, is absolutely deficient in small-talk, and from a consciousness of his deficiency he wears an awkward air ; he is a busy man, and cannot sit long enough for me to get him fairly launched on some topic of enough real interest to make him talk upon it, and so our acquaintance never gets very far. But I really enjoy his fifteen-minute visit if in the course of it appears the smile I like so well: it tells of such a good, kind nature. Many a time, I have fallen in love with a smile, and on the strength of it given the owner credit for unproved virtues. The duteous smiles of good society—“company smiles” we call them — are plentiful enough; but dear me ! they are not smiles at all, and it is only a mode of speech to say so. Only a few extraordinarily clever people — like Madame Merle — can contrive to palm off a counterfeit for the real thing. A smile will sometimes create a sense of fellowship between utter strangers. Not long ago I was seated in a railroad car near a party of medical gentlemen, whose conversation was quite audible. One of the number was a monster of vulgar conceit, whose presence was evidently a great annoyance to the rest. But intrude himself into the talk he would, in spite of various hints that he was not wanted. Unable to get rid of the creature, and worn out with his persistent interruptions and usurpations of the conversation, the others began to revenge themselves with sly jokes upon him, which he was too obtuse to take in. The hits and snubs grew broader and broader, and still the dull fool went on laying down the law to his betters. The humor of the scene was irresistible, and my friend and I could not help smiling in sympathy. Facing us sat two grayhaired gentlemen, who presently glanced our way, and smiled so genially at our appreciation of the fun that we felt at once we were taken in as silent partners, whose presence added zest to the joke. And. by the way, the smiles on the faces of those two old men were worth noting; mildly illuminating the sagacious, benignant countenance of the one, and breaking out broadly on the other’s jovial face, and flashing from the keen eyes beneath his bushy brows.

There is something awry in the constitution of unsmiling persons. The rare smiles of certain men seem drawn out by some compulsion, as music comes from a long-disused instrument. I know some one whose smiles are of this sort, and it did not surprise me to be told lately that he had confessed to taking the strangest and most altogether hopeless view of existence it is possible for man to take. Another man I know whose smile is so infrequent and so peculiar that, once seen, it is not likely to be forgotten ; it appears like a pallid phantom on his cold, pale, set face, but one sees there is no flesh and blood in it, and its look only makes one shiver. He does not know the tale that face and smile of his tell to some eyes, in spite of him, or he would surely get a mask. I once had a dog, the most intelligent of little beasts, whose countenance was more human than that man’s ; and in his most hilarious moments the dog used to smile, with an unmistakable broad smile, that showed all his little white teeth. You may say it was a grin, if you choose, but I maintain it was a smile. All people of sense know that dogs are next door to human, and are only awaiting evolution. The fine, frank, generous smile of certain faces is to me one of the most delightful things I see; it wins me at once, and makes me impatient of the slow, conventional approaches to the friendship I have already begun to wish for.

Perhaps to a woman the loveliest of smiles, next to that on her little child’s face, is the one she sometimes watches resting on the lips of some strong man, revealing the treasure of tenderness and sweetness stored away beside his strength.

But if a charming smile is a pretty certain indication of some charming personal quality or qualities, its absence from certain faces does not denote the lack of such qualities; for there are persons who have not had the fortune to be born with the same mobile features as others, fitted to express the emotions of their souls. The emotions are there in strength and abundance, but they cannot come forth and show themselves in the radiance of the eye and the play of flexible lips. So the most genial of people may sometimes appear the least so to the eye, which after all can only take in appearance, and needs the corroborating witness of the ear. I know a person who, it is no exaggeration to say, fascinates on first acquaintance men and women alike ; and when he meets you there is that in his look and tone, his smile and hand-grip, that carries you away, and makes you fancy you are sharing his ardor of delight, He is thoroughly sincere, and yet, after a little, you are apt to become a hit disillusionné about that glance and smile of his, and you admit to yourself that there is no more real warmth of feeling behind them than you have found to lie in the simple, quiet greeting of some less demonstrative friend.