THE INTERVIEWER ATTACKS THE SPHINX.
WHEN Miss Euthymia Tower sent her oar off in flashing splinters, as she pulled her last stroke in the boat-race, she did not know what a strain she was putting upon it. She did know that she was doing her best, but how great the force of her best was she was not aware until she saw its effects. Unconsciousness belonged to her robust nature, in all its manifestations. She did not pride herself on her knowledge, nor reproach herself for her ignorance. In every way she formed a striking contrast to her friend, Miss Vincent. Every word they spoke betrayed the difference between them: the sharp tones of Lurida’s head-voice, penetrative, aggressive, sometimes irritating, revealed the corresponding traits of mental and moral character ; the quiet, conversational contralto of Euthymia was the index of a nature restful and sympathetic.
The friendships of young girls prefigure the closer relations which will one day come in and dissolve their earlier intimacies. The dependence of two young friends may be mutual, but one will always lean more heavily than the other ; the masculine and feminine elements will be as sure to assert themselves as if the friends were of different sexes.
On all common occasions Euthymia looked up to her friend as her superior. She fully appreciated all her varied gifts and knowledge, and deferred to her opinion in every-day matters, not exactly as an oracle, but as wiser than herself or any of her other companions. It was a different thing, however, when the graver questions of life came up. Lurida was full of suggestions, plans, projects, which were too liable to run into whims before she knew where they were tending. She would lay out her ideas before Euthymia so fluently and eloquently that she could not help believing them herself, and feeling as if her friend must accept them with an enthusiasm like her own. Then Euthymia would take them up with her sweet, deliberate accents, and bring her calmer judgment to bear on them.
Lurida was in an excited condition, in the midst of all her new interests and occupations. She was constantly on the lookout for papers to be read at the meetings of her Society, — for she made it her own in great measure, by her zeal and enthusiasm, — and in the mean time she was reading in various books which Dr. Butts selected for her, all bearing on the profession to which, at least as a possibility, she was looking forward. Privately and in a very still way, she
Copyright, 1885, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co. was occupying herself with the problem of the young stranger, the subject of some delusion, or disease, or obliquity of unknown nature, to which the vague name of antipathy had been attached. Euthymia kept an eye upon her, partly in the fear that over-excitement would produce some mental injury, and partly from anxiety lest she should compromise her womanly dignity in her desire to get at the truth of a very puzzling question.
“ How do you like the books I see you reading ? ” said Euthymia to Lurida, one day, as they met at the Library.
“ Better than all the novels I ever read,” she answered. “ I have been reading about the nervous system, and it seems to me I have come nearer the springs of life than ever before in all my studies. I feel just as if I were a telegraph operator. I was sure that I had a battery in my head, for I know my brain works like one ; but I did not know how many centres of energy there are, and how they are played upon by all sorts of influences, external and internal. Do you know, I believe I could solve the riddle of the ‘ Arrowhead Village Sphinx,’ as the paper called him, if he would only stay here long enough ? ”
“ What paper has had anything about it, Lurida ? I have not seen or heard of its being mentioned in any of the papers.”
“ You know that rather queer-looking young man who has been about here for some time, — the same one who gave the account of his interview with a celebrated author ? Well, he has handed me a copy of a paper in which he writes, ‘ The People’s Perennial and Household Inquisitor.’ He talks about this village in a very free and easy way. He says there is a Sphinx here, who has mystified us all.”
“ And you have been chatting with that fellow ! Don’t you know that he ’ll have you and all of us in his paper ? Don’t you know that nothing is safe where one of those fellows gets in with his note-book and pencil ? Oh, Lurida, Lurida, do be careful! What with this mysterious young man and this very questionable newspaper-paragraph writer, you will be talked about, if you don’t mind, before you know it. You had better let the riddle of the Sphinx alone. If you must deal with such dangerous people, the safest way is to set one of them to find out the other. — I wonder if we can’t get this new man to interview the visitor you have so much curiosity about. That might be managed easily enough without your having anything to do with it. Let me alone, and I will arrange it. But mind, now, you must not meddle; if you do, you will spoil everything, and get your name in the Household Inquisitor in a way you won’t like.”
“ Don’t be frightened about me, Euthymia. I don’t mean to give him a chance to work me into his paper, if I can help it. But if you can get him to try his skill upon this interesting personage and his antipathy, so much the better. I am very curious about it, and therefore about him. I want to know what has produced this strange state of feeling in a young man who ought to have all the common instincts of a social being. I believe there are unexplained facts in the region of sympathies and antipathies which will repay study with a deeper insight into the mysteries of life than we have dreamed of hitherto. I often wonder whether there are not heart-waves and soulwaves as well as ‘ brain-waves,’ which some have already recognized.”
Euthymia wondered, as well she might, to hear this young woman talking the language of science like an adept. The truth is, Lurida was one of those persons who never are young, and who, by way of compensation, will never be old. They are found in both sexes. Two well-known graduates of one of our great universities are living examples of this precocious but enduring intellectual development. If the readers of this paper cannot pick them out, they need not expect the writer of it to help them. If they guess rightly who they are, they will recognize the fact that just such exceptional individuals as the young woman we are dealing with are met with from time to time in families where intelligence has been cumulative for two or three generations.
Euthymia was very willing that the questioning and questionable visitor should learn all that was known in the village about the nebulous individual whose misty environment all the eyes in the village were trying to penetrate, but that he should learn it from some other informant than Lurida.
The next morning, as the Interviewer took his seat on a bench outside his door, to smoke his after-breakfast cigar, a bright-looking and handsome youth, whose features recalled those of Euthymia so strikingly that one might feel pretty sure he was her brother, took a seat by his side. Presently the two were engaged in conversation. The Interviewer asked all sorts of questions about everybody in the village. When he came to inquire about Maurice, the youth showed a remarkable interest regarding him. The greatest curiosity, he said, existed with reference to this personage. Everybody was trying to find out what his story was, — for a story, and a strange one, he must surely have, — and nobody had succeeded.
The Interviewer began to be unusually attentive. The young man told him the various antipathy stories, about the evil-eye hypothesis, about his horsetaming exploits, his rescuing the student whose boat was overturned, and every occurrence he could recall which would help out the effect of his narrative.
The Interviewer was becoming excited. “ Can’t find out anything about him, you said, did n’t you ? How do you know there’s anything to find? Do you want to know what I think he is ? I ‘11 tell you. I think he is an actor,— a fellow from one of the city theatres. Those fellows go off in their summer vacation, and like to puzzle the country folks. They are the very same chaps, like as not, the visitors have seen in plays at the city theatres; but of course they don’t know ’em in plain clothes. Kings and Emperors look pretty shabby off the stage sometimes, I can tell you.”
The young man followed the Interviewer’s lead. “ I should n’t wonder if you were right,” he said. “ I remember seeing a young fellow in Romeo that looked a good deal like this one. But I never met the Sphinx, as they call him, face to face. He is as shy as a woodchuck. I believe there are people here that would give a hundred dollars to find out who he is, and where he came from, and what he is here for, and why he does n’t act like other folks. I wonder why some of those newspaper men don’t come up here and get hold of this story. It would be just the thing for a sensational writer.”
To all this the Interviewer listened with true professional interest. Always on the lookout for something to make up a paragraph or a column about; driven oftentimes to the stalest of repetitions, — to the biggest pumpkin story, the tall cornstalk, the fat ox, the live frog from the human stomach story, the third set of teeth and reading without spectacles at ninety story, and the rest of the marvellous commonplaces which are kept in type with e o y or e 6 m (every other year or every six months) at the foot; always in want of a fresh incident, a new story, an undescribed character, an unexplained mystery, it is no wonder that the Interviewer fastened eagerly upon this most tempting subject for an inventive and emotional correspondent.
He had seen Paolo several times, and knew that he was Maurice’s confidential servant, but had never spoken to him. So he said to himself that he must make Paolo’s acquaintance, to begin with. In the summer season many kinds of small traffic were always carried on in Arrowhead Village. Among the rest, the sellers of fruit, — oranges, bananas, and others, according to the season, — did an active business. The Interviewer watched one of these fruit-sellers, and saw that his hand-cart stopped opposite the house where, as he knew, Maurice Kirkwood was living. Presently Paolo came out of the door, and began examining the fruit in the hand-cart. The Interviewer saw his opportunity. Here was an introduction to the man, and the man must introduce him to the master.
He knew very well how to ingratiate himself with the man, — there was no difficulty about that. He had learned his name, and that he was an Italian whom Maurice had brought to this country with him.
“ Good morning, Mr. Paul,” he said. “ How do you like the look of these oranges ? ”
“ They pretty fair,” said Paolo : “ no so good as them las’ week; no sweet as them was.”
“ Why, how do you know without tasting them ? ” said the Interviewer.
“ I know by his look, — I know by his smell, — he no good yaller — he no smell ripe, — I know orange ever since my head no bigger than he is,” and Paolo laughed at his own comparison.
The Interviewer laughed louder than Paolo. “ Good ! ” said he, — “ first-rate ! Of course you know all about ’em. Why can’t you pick me out a couple of what you think are the best of ’em? I shall be greatly obliged to you. I have a sick friend, and I want to get two nice sweet ones for him.”
Paolo was pleased. His skill and judgment were recognized. He felt grateful to the stranger, who had given him an opportunity of conferring a favor. He selected two, after careful examination and grave deliberation. The Interviewer had sense and tact enough not to offer him an orange, and so shift the balance of obligation.
“ How is Mr. Kirkwood, to-day ? ” he asked.
“ Il Signor? He very well. He always well. Why you ask ? Anybody tell you he sick ? ”
“ No, nobody said he was sick. I have n’t seen him going about for a day or two, and I thought he might have something the matter with him. Is he in the house now ? ”
“ No : he off riding. He take long, long rides, — sometime gone all day. Sometime he go on lake, — paddle, paddle in the morning, very, very early, — in night when the moon shine ; sometime stay in house, and read, and study, and write, — he great scholar, Misser Kirkwood.”
“ A good many books, has n’t he ?”
“ He got whole shelfs full of books. Great books, little books, old books, new books, all sorts of books. He great scholar, I tell you.”
“ Has n’t he some curiosities, — old figures, old jewelry, old coins, or things of that sort ? ”
Paolo looked at the young man cautiously, almost suspiciously. “ He don’t keep no jewels nor no money in his chamber. He got some old things, — old jugs, old brass figgers, old money, such as they used to have in old times : she don’t pass now.” Paolo’s genders were apt to be somewhat indiscriminately distributed.
A lucky thought struck the Interviewer. “ I wonder if he would examine some old coins of mine ? ” said he, in a modestly tentative manner.
“ I think he like to see anything curious. When he come home I ask him. Who will I tell him wants to ask him about old coin ? ”
“Tell him a gentleman visiting Arrowhead Village would like to call and show him some old pieces of money, said to be Roman ones.”
The Interviewer had just remembered that he had two or three old battered bits of copper which he had picked up at a tollman’s, where they had been passed off for cents. He had bought them as curiosities. One had the name of Gallienus upon it, tolerably distinct, — a common little Roman penny; but it would serve his purpose of asking a question, as would two or three others with less legible legends. Paolo told him that if he came the next morning he would stand a fair chance of seeing Mr. Kirkwood. At any rate, he would speak to his master.
The Interviewer presented himself the next morning, after finishing his breakfast and his cigar, feeling reasonably sure of finding Mr. Kirkwood at home, as he proved to be. He had told Paolo to show the stranger up to his library, — or study, as he modestly called it.
It was a pleasant room enough, with a lookout on the lake in one direction, and the wooded hill in another. The tenant had fitted it up in scholarly fashion. The books Paolo spoke of were conspicuous, many of them, by their white vellum binding and tasteful gilding, showing that probably they had been bound in Rome, or some other Italian city. With these were older volumes in their dark original leather, and recent ones in cloth or paper. As the Interviewer ran his eye over them, he found that he could make very little out of what their backs taught him. Some of the paper-covered books, some of the cloth-covered ones, had names which he knew; but those on the backs of many of the others were strange to his eyes. The classics of Greek and Latin and Italian literature were there ; and he saw enough to feel convinced that he had better not attempt to display his erudition in the company of this young scholar.
The first thing the Interviewer had to do was to account for his visiting a person who had not asked to make his acquaintance, and who was living as a recluse. His took out his battered coppers, and showed them to Maurice.
“ I understood that you were very skilful in antiquities, and had a good many yourself. So I took the liberty of calling upon you, hoping that you could tell me something about some ancient coins I have had for a good while.” So saying, he pointed to the copper with the name of Gallienus.
“ Is this very rare and valuable ? I have heard that great prices have been paid for some of these ancient coins, — ever so many guineas, sometimes. I suppose this is as much as a thousand years old.”
“ More than a thousand years old,” said Maurice.
“ And worth a great deal of money? ” asked the Interviewer.
“ No, not a great deal of money,” answered Maurice.
“ How much, should you say ? ” said the Interviewer.
Maurice smiled. “ A little more than the value of its weight in copper, — I am afraid not much more. There are a good many of these coins of Gallienus knocking about. The peddlers and the shopkeepers take such pieces occasionally, and sell them, sometimes for five or ten cents, to young collectors. No, it is not very precious in money value, but as a relic, any piece of money that was passed from hand to hand a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago is interesting. The value of such relics is a good deal a matter of imagination.”
“ And what do you say to these others ? ” asked the Interviewer. Poor old worn-out things they were, with a letter or two only, and some faint trace of a figure on one or two of them.
“ Very interesting, always, if they carry your imagination back to the times when you may suppose they were current. Perhaps Horace tossed one of them to a beggar. Perhaps one of these was the coin that was brought when One said to those about Him, ‘ Bring me a penny, that I may see it.’ But the market price is a different matter. That depends on the beauty and preservation, and above all the rarity, of the specimen. Here is a coin, now,” — he opened a small cabinet, and took one from it. “ Here is a Syracusan decadrachm with the head of Persephone, which is at once rare, well preserved, and beautiful. I am afraid to tell what I paid for it.”
The Interviewer was not an expert in numismatics. He cared very little more for an old coin than he did for an old button, but he had thought his purchase at the tollman’s might prove a good speculation. No matter about the battered old pieces : he had found out, at any rate, that Maurice must have money and could be extravagant, or what he himself considered so; also that he was familiar with ancient coins. That would do for a beginning.
“ May I ask where you picked up the coin you are showing me ? ” he said.
“ That is a question which provokes a negative answer. One does not ‘ pick up ’ first-class coins or paintings, very often, in these times. I bought this of a great dealer in Rome.”
“ Lived in Rome once ? ” said the Interviewer.
“ For some years. Perhaps you have been there yourself ? ”
The Interviewer said he had never been there yet, but he hoped he should go there, one of these years. “ I suppose you studied art and antiquities while you were there ? ” he continued.
“ Everybody who goes to Rome must learn something of art and antiquities. Before you go there I advise you to review Roman history and the classic authors. You had better make a study of ancient and modern art, and not have everything to learn while you are going about among ruins, and churches, and galleries. You know your Horace and Virgil well, I take it for granted ? ”
The Interviewer hesitated. The names sounded as if he had heard them. “ Not so well as I mean to before going to Rome,” he answered."May I ask how long you lived in Rome ? ”
“ Long enough to know something of what is to be seen in it. No one should go there without careful preparation beforehand. You are familiar with Vasari, of course ? ”
The Interviewer felt a slight moisture on his forehead. He took out his handkerchief. “ It is a warm day,” he said. “ I have not had time to read all the works I mean to. I have had too much writing to do, myself, to find all the time for reading and study I could have wished.”
“ In what literary occupation have you been engaged, if you will pardon my inquiry ? ” said Maurice.
“ I am connected with the press. I understood that you were a man of letters, and I hoped I might have the privilege of hearing from your own lips some account of your literary experiences.”
“ Perhaps that might be interesting, but I think I shall reserve it for my autobiography. You said you were connected with the press. Do I understand that you are an author.”
By this time the Interviewer had come to the conclusion that it was a very warm day. He did not seem to be getting hold of his pitcher by the right handle, somehow. But he could not help answering Maurice’s very simple question.
“ If writing for a newspaper gives one a right to be called an author, I may call myself one. I write for the ‘ People’s Perennial and Household Inquisitor.’ ”
“ Are you the literary critic of that well-known journal, or do you manage the political column ? ”
“ I am a correspondent from different places and on various matters of interest.”
“ Places you have been to, and people you have known ?”
“ Well, yes, — generally, that is. Sometimes I have to compile my articles.”
“ Did you write the letter from Rome, published a few weeks ago? ”
The Interviewer was in what he would call a tight place. However, he had found that his man was too much for him, and saw that the best thing he could do was to submit to be interviewed himself. He thought that he should be able to pick up something or other which he could work into his report of his visit.
Well, I—prepared that article for our columns. You know one does not have to see everything he describes. You found it accurate, I hope, in its descriptions ? ”
“ Yes, Murray is generally accurate. Sometimes he makes mistakes, but I can’t say how far you have copied them. You got the Ponte Molle—the old Milvian bridge — a good deal too far down the stream, if I remember. I happened to notice that, but I did not read the article carefully. May I ask whether you propose to do me the honor of reporting this visit and the conversation we have had, for the columns of the newspaper with which you are connected ? ”
The Interviewer thought he saw an opening. “ If you have no objections,” he said, “ I should like very much to ask a few questions.” He was recovering his professional audacity.
“ You can ask as many questions as you consider proper and discreet — after you have answered one or two of mine: Who commissioned you to submit me to examination ? ”
“ The curiosity of the public wishes to be gratified, and I am the humble agent of its investigations.”
“ What has the public to do with my private affairs ? ”
“ I suppose it is a question of majority and minority. That settles everything in this country. You are a minority of one opposed to a large number of curious people that form a majority against you. That is the way I’ve heard the chief put it.”
Maurice could not help smiling at the quiet assumption of the American citizen. The Interviewer smiled, too, and thought he had his man, sure, at last. Maurice calmly answered, “ There is nothing left for minorities, then, but the right of rebellion. I don’t care about being made the subject of an article for your paper. I am here for my pleasure, minding my own business, and content with that occupation. I rebel against your system of forced publicity. Whenever I am ready I shall tell the public all it has any right to know about me. In the mean time I shall request to be spared reading my biographywhile I am living. I wish you a goodmorning.”
The Interviewer had not taken out his note-book and pencil. In his next communication from Arrowhead Village he contented himself with a brief mention of the distinguished and accomplished gentleman now visiting the place, whose library and cabinet of coins he had had the privilege of examining and whose courtesy was equalled only by the modesty that shunned the public notoriety which the organs of popular intelligence would otherwise confer upon him.
The Interviewer had attempted the riddle of the Sphinx, and had failed to get the first hint of its solution.
The many tongues of the village and its visitors could not remain idle. The whole subject of antipathies had been talked over, and the various cases recorded had become more or less familiar to the conversational circles which met every evening in the different centres of social life. The prevalent hypothesis for the moment was that Maurice had a congenital aversion to some color, the effects of which upon him were so painful or disagreeable that he habitually avoided exposure to it. It was known, and it has already been mentioned in this paper, that such cases were on record. There had been a great deal of discussion, of late, with reference to a fact long known to a few individuals, but only recently made a matter of careful scientific observation and brought to the notice of the public. This was the now well-known phenomenon of color-blindness. It did not seem very strange that if one person in every score or two could not tell red from green there might be other curious individual peculiarities relating to color. A case has already been referred to where the subject of observation fainted at the sight of any red object. What if this were the trouble with Maurice Kirkwood ? It will be seen at once how such a congenital antipathy would tend to isolate the person who was its unfortunate victim. It was an hypothesis not difficult to test, but it was a rather delicate business to be experimenting on an inoffensive stranger. Miss Vincent was thinking it over, but said nothing, even to Euthymia, of any projects she might entertain.
MISS VINCENT AS A MEDICAL STUDENT.
The young lady whom we have known as The Terror, as Lurida, as Miss Vincent, Secretary of the Pansophian Society, had been reading various works selected for her by Dr, Butts, — works chiefly relating to the nervous system and its different affections. She thought it was about time to talk over the general subject of the medical profession
with her new teacher, — if such a self-directing person as Lurida could be said to recognize anybody as teacher.
She began at the beginning. “ What is the first book you would put in a student’s hands, doctor ? ” she said to him one day. They were in his study, and Lurida had just brought back a thick volume on Insanity, one of Bucknill and Tuke’s, which she had devoured as if it had been a pamphlet.
“ Not that book, certainly,” he said. “ I am afraid it will put all sorts of notions into your head. Who or what set you to reading that, I should like to know ? ”
“ I found it on one of your shelves, and as I thought I might perhaps be crazy some time or other, I felt as if I should like to know what kind of a condition insanity is. I don’t believe they were ever very bright, those insane people, most of them. I hope I am not stupid enough ever to lose my wits.”
“ There is no telling, my dear, what may happen if you overwork that busy brain of yours. But did n’t it make you nervous, reading about so many people possessed with such strange notions ? ”
“ Nervous ? Not a bit. I could n’t help thinking, though, how many people I had known that had a little touch of craziness about them. Take that poor woman that says she is Her Majesty’s Person, — not Her Majesty, but Her Majesty’s Person, — a very important distinction, according to her : how she does remind me of more than one girl I have known ! She would let her skirts down so as to make a kind of train, and pile things on her head like a sort of crown, fold her arms and throw her head back, and feel as grand as a queen. I have seen more than one girl act very much in that way. Are not most of us a little crazy, doctor, — just a little ? I think so. It seems to me I never saw but one girl who was free from every hint of craziness.”
“ And who was that, pray ? ”
“ Why, Euthymia, — nobody else, of course. She never loses her head, — I don’t believe she would in an earthquake. Whenever we were at work with our microscopes at the Institute I always told her that her mind was the only achromatic one I ever looked into,— I did n’t say looked through. — But I did n’t come to talk about that. I read in one of your books that when Sydenham was asked by a student what books he should read, the great physician said, ‘ Read Don Quixote.’ I want you to explain that to me ; and then I want you to tell me what is the first book, according to your idea, that a student ought to read.”
“ What do you say to my taking your question as the subject of a paper to be read before the Society? I think there may be other young ladies at the meeting, besides yourself, who are thinking of pursuing the study of medicine. At any rate, there are a good many who are interested in the subject; in fact, most people listen readily to anything doctors tell them about their calling.”
“I wish you would, doctor. I want Euthymia to hear it, and I don’t doubt there will be others who will be glad to hear everything you have to say about it. But oh, doctor, if you could only persuade Euthymia to become a physician ! What a doctor she would make ! So strong, so calm, so full of wisdom! I believe she could take the wheel of a steamboat in a storm, or the hose of a fire-engine in a conflagration, and handle it as well as the captain of the boat or of the fire-company.”
“ Have you ever talked with her about studying medicine ? ”
“ Indeed I have. Oh, if she would only begin with me ! What good times we would have studying together! ”
“ I don’t doubt it. Medicine is a very pleasant study. But how do you think practice would be? How would you like being called up to ride ten miles in a midnight snow-storm, just when one
of your raging headaches was racking you ? ”
“ Oh, but we could go into partnership, and Euthymia is n’t afraid of storms or anything else. If she would only study medicine with me ! ”
“ Well, what does she say to it ?”
“ She does n’t like the thought of it. She does n’t believe in women doctors. She thinks that now and then a woman may be fitted for it by nature, but she does n’t think there are many who are. She gives me a good many reasons against their practising medicine, — you know what most of them are, doctor, — and ends by saying that the same woman who would be a poor sort of doctor would make a first-rate nurse; and that, she thinks, is a woman’s business, if her instinct carries her to the hospital or sick-chamber. I can’t argue her ideas out of her.”
“ Neither can I argue you out of your feeling about the matter; but I am disposed to agree with your friend, that you will often spoil a good nurse to make a poor doctor. Doctors and side-saddles don’t seem to me to go together. Riding habits would be awkward things for practitioners. But come, we won’t have a controversy just now. I am for giving women every chance for a good education, and if they think medicine is one of their proper callings let them try it. I think they will find that they had better at least limit themselves to certain specialties, and always have an expert of the other sex to fall back upon. The trouble is that they are so impressible and imaginative that they are at the mercy of all sorts of fancy systems. You have only to see what kinds of instruction they very commonly flock to in order to guess whether they would be likely to prove sensible practitioners. Charlatanism always hobbles on two crutches, the tattle of women, and the certificates of clergymen, and I am afraid that half the women doctors will be too much under both those influences.”
Lurida believed in Dr. Butts, who, to use the common language of the village, had “ carried her through ” a fever, brought on by over-excitement and exhausting study. She took no offence at his reference to nursery gossip, which she had learned to hold cheap. Nobody so despises the weaknesses of women as the champion of woman’s rights. She accepted the doctor’s concession of a fair field and open trial of the fitness of her sex for medical practice, and did not trouble herself about his suggested limitations. As to the imaginative tendencies of women, she knew too well the truth of the doctor’s remark relating to them to wish to contradict it.
“ Be sure you let me have your paper in season for the next meeting, doctor,” she said ; and in due season it came, and was of course approved for reading.
DR. BUTTS READS A PAPER.
“ Next to the interest we take in all that relates to our immortal souls is that which we feel for our mortal bodies. I am afraid my very first statement may be open to criticism. The care of the body is the first thought with a great many, — in fact, with the larger part of the world. They send for the physician first, and not until he gives them up do they commonly call in the clergyman. Even the minister himself is not so very different from other people. We must not blame him if he is not always impatient to exchange a world of multiplied interests and ever-changing sources of excitement for that which tradition has delivered to us as one eminently deficient in the stimulus of variety. Besides, these bodily frames, even when worn and disfigured by long years of service, hang about our consciousness like old garments. They are used to us, and we are used to them. And all the accidents of our lives, — the house we dwell in, the living people round us, the landscape we look over, all, up to the sky that covers us like a bell glass, — all these are but looser outside garments which we have worn until they seem a part of us, and we do not like the thought of changing them for a new suit which we have never yet tried on. How well I remember that dear ancient lady, who lived well into the last decade of her century, as she repeated the verse which, if I had but one to choose, I would select from that string of pearls, Gray’s Elegy! —
This pleasing, anxious being e’er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind?’
Plotinus was ashamed of his body, we are told. Better so, it may be, than to live solely for it, as so many do. But it may be well doubted if there is any disciple of Plotinus in this Society. On the contrary, there are many who think a great deal of their bodies, many who have come here to regain the health they have lost in the wear and tear of city life, and very few who have not at some time or other of their lives had occasion to call in the services of a physician.
“ There is, therefore, no impropriety in my offering to the members some remarks upon the peculiar difficulties which beset the medical practitioner in the discharge of his laborious and important duties.
“ A young friend of mine, who has taken an interest in medical studies, happened to meet with a very familiar story about one of the greatest and most celebrated of all English physicians, Thomas Sydenham. The story is that, when a student asked him what books he should read, the great doctor told him to read Don Quixote.
“ This piece of advice has been used to throw contempt upon the study of books, and furnishes a convenient shield for ignorant pretenders. But Sydenham left many writings in which he has recorded his medical experience, and he surely would not have published them if he had not thought they would be better reading for the medical student than the story of Cervantes. His own works are esteemed to this day, and he certainly could not have supposed that they contained all the wisdom of all the past. No remedy is good, it was said of old, unless applied at the right time in the right way. So we may say of all anecdotes, like this which I have told you about Sydenham and the young man. It is very likely that he carried him to the bedside of some patients, and talked to him about the cases he showed him, instead of putting a Latin volume in his hand. I would as soon begin in that way as any other, with a student who had already mastered the preliminary branches, — who knew enough about the structure and functions of the body in health.
“ But if you ask me what reading I would commend to the medical student of a philosophical habit of mind, you may be surprised to hear me say it would be certain passages in ‘ Rasselas.’ They are the ones where the astronomer gives an account to Imlac of his management of the elements, the control of which, as he had persuaded himself, had been committed to him. Let me read you a few sentences from this story, which is commonly bound up with the ‘ Vicar of Wakefield,’ like a woollen lining to a silken mantle, but is full of stately wisdom in processions of paragraphs which sound as if they ought to have a grammatical drum-major to march before their tramping platoons.
“ The astronomer has taken Imlac into his confidence, and reveals to him the secret of his wonderful powers: —
“ ‘ Hear, Imlac, what thou wilt not without difficulty credit. I have possessed for five years the regulation of the weather and the distribution of the seasons: the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction ; the clouds, at my call, have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command ; I have restrained the rage of the dog-star, and mitigated the fervors of the crab. The winds alone, of all the elemental powers, have hitherto eluded my authority, and multitudes have perished by equinoctial tempests, which I found myself unable to prohibit or restrain.’
“ The reader naturally wishes to know how the astronomer, a sincere, devoted, and most benevolent man, for forty years a student of the heavens, came to the strange belief that he possessed these miraculous powers. This is his account:—
“ ‘ One day, as I was looking on the fields withering with heat, I felt in my mind a sudden wish that I could send rain on the southern mountains, and raise the Nile to an inundation. In the hurry of my imagination I commanded rain to fall, and by comparing the time of my command with that of the inundation I found that the clouds had listened to my lips.’
“ ‘ Might not some other cause,’ said I, ‘ produce this concurrence ? The Nile does not always rise on the same day.’
“ ‘ Do not believe,’ said he, with impatience, ‘ that such objections could escape me : I reasoned long against my own conviction, and labored against truth with the utmost obstinacy. I sometimes suspected myself of madness, and should not have dared to impart this secret but to a man like you, capable of distinguishing the wonderful from the impossible and the incredible from the false.’
“ The good old astronomer gives his parting directions to Imlac, whom he has adopted as his successor in the government of the elements and the seasons, in these impressive words : —
“ ‘ Do not, in the administration of the year, indulge thy pride by innovation ; do not please thyself with thinking that thou canst make thyself renowned to all future ages by disordering the seasons. The memory of mischief is no desirable fame. Much less will it become thee to let kindness or interest prevail. Never rob other countries of rain to pour it on thine own. For us the Nile is sufficient.’
“ Do you wonder, my friends, why I have chosen these passages, in which the delusions of an insane astronomer are related with all the pomp of the Johnsonian vocabulary, as the first lesson for the young person about to enter on the study of the science and art of healing ? Listen to me while I show you the parallel of the story of the astronomer in the history of medicine.
“ This history is luminous with intelligence, radiant with benevolence, but all its wisdom and all its virtue have had to struggle with the ever-rising mists of delusion. The agencies which waste and destroy the race of mankind are vast and resistless as the elemental forces of nature; nay, they are themselves elemental forces. They may be to some extent avoided, to some extent diverted from their aim, to some extent resisted. So may the changes of the seasons, from cold that freezes to heats that strike with sudden death, be guarded against. So may the tides be in some small measure restrained in their inroads. So may the storms be breasted by walls they cannot shake from their foundations. But the seasons and the tides and the tempests work their will on the great scale upon whatever stands in their way; they feed or starve the tillers of the soil ; they spare or drown the dwellers by the shore ; they waft the seaman to his harbor or bury him in the angry billows.
“The art of the physician can do much to remove its subjects from deadly and dangerous influences, and something to control or arrest the effects of these influences. But look at the records of the life-insurance offices, and see how uniform is the action of nature’s destroying agencies. Look at the annual reports of the deaths in any of our great cities, and see how their regularity approaches the uniformity of the tides, and their variations keep pace with those of the seasons. The inundations of the Nile are not more certainly to be predicted than the vast wave of infantile disease which flows in upon all our great cities with the growing heats of July, — than the fevers and dysenteries which visit our rural districts in the months of the falling leaf.
“ The physician watches these changes as the astronomer watched the rise of the great river. He longs to rescue individuals, to protect communities from the inroads of these destroying agencies, He uses all the means which experience has approved, tries every rational method which ingenuity can suggest. Some fortunate recovery leads him to believe he has hit upon a preventive or a cure for a malady which had resisted all known remedies. His rescued patient sounds his praises, and a wide circle of his patient’s friends joins in a chorus of eulogies. Self-love applauds him for his sagacity. Self-interest congratulates him on his having found the road to fortune ; the sense of having proved a benefactor of his race smooths the pillow on which he lays his head to dream of the brilliant future opening before him. If a single coincidence may lead a person of sanguine disposition to believe that he has mastered a disease which had baffled all who were before his time, and on which his contemporaries looked in hopeless impotence, what must be the effect of a series of such coincidences even on a mind of calmer temper ! Such series of coincidences will happen, and they may well deceive the very elect. Think of Dr. Rush,— you know what a famous man he was, the very head and front of American medical science in his day, — and remember how he spoke about yellow fever, which he thought he had mastered !
“ Thus the physician is entangled in the meshes of a wide conspiracy, in which he and his patient and their friends, and Nature herself are involved. What wonder that the history of Medicine should be to so great an extent a record of self-delusion !
“ If this seems a dangerous concession to the enemies of the true science and art of healing, I will remind you that it is all implied in the first aphorism of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. Do not draw a wrong inference from the frank statement of the difficulties which beset the medical practitioner. Think rather, if truth is so hard of attainment, how precious are the results which the consent of the wisest and most experienced among the healers of men agrees in accepting. Think what folly it is to cast them aside in favor of palpable impositions stolen from the records of forgotten charlatanism, or of fantastic speculations spun from the squinting brains of theorists as wild as the Egyptian astronomer.
“ Begin your medical studies, then, by reading the fortieth and the following four chapters of Rasselas. Your first lesson will teach you modesty and caution in the pursuit of the most deceptive of all practical branches of knowledge. Faith will come later, when you learn how much medical science and art have actually achieved for the relief of mankind, and how great are the promises it holds out of still larger triumphs over the enemies of human health and happiness.”
After the reading of this paper there was a lively discussion, which we have no room to report here, and the Society adjourned.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.