Over the Teacups
“ Dolce, ma non troppo dolce,” said the Professor to the Mistress, who was sweetening his tea. She always sweetens his and mine for us. He has been attending a series of concerts, and borrowed the form of the directions to the orchestra. “ Sweet, but not too sweet,” he said, translating the Italian for the benefit of any of the company who might not be linguists or musical experts.
“ Do you go to those musical hullabaloos ? ” called out Number Seven. There was something very much like rudeness in this question and the tone in which it was asked. But we are used to the outbursts, and extravagances, and oddities of Number Seven, and do not take offence at his rough speeches as we should if any other of the company uttered them.
“ If you mean the concerts that have been going on this season, yes, I do,” said the Professor, in a bland, good-humored way.
“ And do you take real pleasure in the din of all those screeching and banging and growling instruments? ”
“ Yes,” he answered, modestly, “ I enjoy the brouhaha, if you choose to consider it such, of all this quarrelsome menagerie of noise-making machines, brought into order and harmony by the presiding genius, the leader, who has made a happy family of these snarling stringed instruments and whining wind instruments, so that although
notwithstanding there are a hundred vibrating tongues and a hundred bellowing mouths, their one grand blended and harmonized uproar sets all my fibres tingling with a not unpleasing tremor.”
“ Do you understand it ? Do you take any idea from it ? Do you know what it all means?” said Number Seven.
The Professor was long-suffering under this series of somewhat peremptory questions. He replied very placidly, “ I am afraid I have but a superficial outside acquaintance with the secrets, the unfathomable mysteries, of music. I can no more conceive of the working conditions of the great composer,
The hidden soul of harmony,’
than a child of three years can follow the reasonings of Newton’s Principia. I do not even pretend that I can appreciate the work of a great master as a born and trained musician does. Still, I do love a great crash of harmonies, and the oftener I listen to these musical tempests the higher my soul seems to ride upon them, as the wild fowl I see through my window soar more freely and fearlessly the fiercer the storm with which they battle.”
“ That’s all very well,” said Number Seven, “ but I wish we could get the oldtime music back again. You ought to have heard—no, I won’t mention her — dead, poor girl,—dead and singing with the saints in heaven, — but the S— girls. If you could have heard them as I did when I was a little boy, you would have cried, as we all used to. Do you cry at those great musical smashes? How can you cry when you don’t know what it is all about ? We used to think the words meant something,— we fancied that Burns and Moore said some things very prettily. I suppose you’ve outgrown all that.”
No one can handle Number Seven in one of his tantrums half so well as Number Five can do it. She can pick out what threads of sense may be wound off from the tangle of his ideas when they are crowded and confused, as they are apt to be at times. She can soften the occasional expression of half-concealed ridicule with which the poor old fellow’s sallies are liable to be welcomed
— or unwelcomed. She knows that the edge of a broken teacup may be sharper, very possibly, than that of a philosopher’s jackknife. A mind a little off its balance, one which has a slightly squinting brain as its organ, will often prove fertile in suggestions. Vulgar, cynical, contemptuous listeners fly at all its weaknesses, and please themselves with making light of its often futile ingenuities, when a wiser audience would gladly accept a hint which perhaps could be developed in some profitable direction, or so interpret an erratic thought that it should prove good sense in disguise. That is the way Number Five was in the habit of dealing with the explosions of Number Seven. Do you think she did not see the ridiculous element in a silly speech, or the absurdity of an outrageously extravagant assertion ? Then you never heard her laugh when she could give way to her sense of the ludicrous without wounding the feelings of any other person. But her kind heart never would forget itself, and so Number Seven had a champion who was always ready to see that his flashes of intelligence, fitful as they were, and liable to be streaked with half-crazy fancies, always found one willing recipient of what light there was in them.
Number Five, I have found, is a true lover of music, and has a right to claim a real knowledge of its higher and deeper mysteries. But she accepted very cordially what our light-headed companion said about the songs he used to listen to.
“There is no doubt,” she remarked,
“ that the tears which used to be shed over ‘ Oft in the stilly night,’ or ‘ Auld Robin Gray,’ or ‘ A place in thy memory, dearest,’ were honest tears, coming from the true sources of emotion. There was no affectation about them; those songs came home to the sensibilities of young people, — of all who had any sensibilities to be acted upon. And on the other hand, there is a great amount of affectation in the apparent enthusiasm of many persons in admiring and applauding music of which they have not the least real appreciation. They do not know whether it is good or bad, the work of a first-rate or a fifth-rate composer ; whether there are coherent elements in it, or whether it is nothing more than ‘ a concourse of sweet sounds ’ with no organic connections. One must be educated, no doubt, to understand the more complex and difficult kinds of musical composition. Go to the great concerts where you know that the music is good, and that you ought to like it whether you do or not. Take a music-bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body. I would n’t trouble myself about the affectations of people who go to this or that series of concerts chiefly because it is fashionable. Some of these people whom we think so silly and hold so cheap will perhaps find, sooner or later, that they have a dormant faculty which is at last waking up, and that they who came because others came, and began by staring at the audience, are listening with a newly found delight. Every one of us has a harp under bodice or waistcoat, and if it can only once get properly strung and tuned it will respond to all outside harmonies.”
The Professor has some ideas about music, which I believe he has given to the world in one form or another; but the world is growing old and forgetful, and needs to be reminded now and then of what one has formerly told it.
“ I have had glimpses,” the Professor said, “ of the conditions into which music is capable of bringing a sensitive nature. Glimpses, I say, because I cannot pretend that I am capable of sounding all the depths or reaching all the heights to which music may transport our mortal consciousness. Let me remind you of a curious fact with reference to the seat of the musical sense. Far down below the great masses of thinking marrow and its secondary agents, just as the brain is about to merge in the spinal cord, the roots of the nerve of hearing spread their white filaments out into the sentient matter, where they report what the external organs of hearing tell them. This sentient matter is in remote connection only with the mental organs, far more remote than the centres of the sense of vision and that of smell. In a word, the musical faculty might be said to have a little brain of its own. It has a special world and a private language all to itself. How can one explain its significance to those whose musical faculties are in a rudimentary state of development, or who have never had them trained ? Can you describe in intelligible language the smell of a rose as compared with that of a violet ? No, — music can be translated only by music. Just so far as it suggests worded thought, it falls short of its highest office. Pure emotional movements of the spiritual nature, — that is what I ask of music. Music will be the universal language, — the Volapilk of spiritual being.”
“ Angels sit down with their harps and play at each other, I suppose,” said Number Seven. “Musthave an atmosphere up there if they have harps, or they would n’t get any music. Wonder if angels breathe like mortals ? If they do, they must have lungs and air passages, of course. Think of an angel with the influenza, and nothing but a cloud for a handkerchief! ”
— This is a good instance of the way in which Number Seven’s squinting brain works. You will now and then meet just such brains in heads you know very well. Their owners are much given to asking unanswerable questions. A physicist may settle it for us whether there is an atmosphere about a planet or not, but it takes a brain with an extra fissure in it to ask these unexpected questions, — questions which the natural philosopher cannot answer and which the theologian never thinks of asking.
The company at our table do not keep always in the same places. The first thing I noticed, the other evening, was that the Tutor was sitting between the two Annexes, and the Counsellor was next to Number Five. Something ought to come of this arrangement. One of those two young ladies must certainly captivate and perhaps capture the Tutor. They are of just the age to be falling in love and to be fallen in love with. The Tutor is good looking, intellectual, suspected of writing poetry, but a little shy, it appears to me. I am glad to see him between the two girls. If there were only one, she might be shy too, and then there would be less chance for a romance such as I am on the lookout for; but these young persons lend courage to each other, and between them, if he does not wake up like Cymon at the sight of Iphigenia, I shall be disappointed. As for the Counsellor and Number Five, they will soon find each other out. Yes, it is all pretty clear in my mind, — except that there is always an x in a problem where sentiments are involved. No, not so clear about the Tutor. Predestined, I venture my guess, to one or the other, but to which ? I will suspend my opinion for the present.
I have found out that the Counsellor is a childless widower. I am told that the Tutor is unmarried, and so far as known not engaged. There is no use in denying it, — a company without the possibility of a love-match between two of its circle is like a champagne bottle with the cork out for some hours as compared to one with its pop yet in reserve. However, if there should be any love-making, it need not break up our conversations. Most of it will be carried on away from our tea-table.
Some of us have been attending certain lectures on Egypt and its antiquities. I have never been on the Nile. If in any future state there shall be vacations in which we may have liberty to revisit our old home, equipped with a complete brand-new set of mortal senses as our traveling outfit, I think one of the first places I should go to, after my birthplace, the old gambrel-roofed house,— the place where it stood, rather, — would be that mighty, awe-inspiring river. I do not suppose we shall ever know half of what we owe to the wise and wonderful people who confront us with the overpowering monuments of a past which flows out of the unfathomable darkness as the great river streams from sources even as yet but imperfectly explored.
I have thought a good deal about Egypt, lately, with reference to Our historical monuments. How did the great unknown masters who fixed the two leading forms of their monumental records arrive at those admirable and eternal types, the pyramid and the obelisk ? How did they get their model of the pyramid ?
Here is an hour-glass, not inappropriately filled with sand from the great Egyptian desert. I turn it, and watch the sand as it accumulates in the lower half of the glass. How symmetrically, how beautifully, how inevitably, the little particles pile up the cone, which is ever building and unbuilding itself, always aiming at the stability which is found only at a certain fixed angle! The Egyptian children playing in the sand must have noticed this as they let the grains fall from their hands, and the sloping sides of the miniature pyramid must have been among the familiar sights to the little boys and girls for whom the sand furnished their earliest playthings. Nature taught her children through the working of the laws of gravitation how to build so that her forces should act in harmony with art, to preserve the integrity of a structure meant to reach a far-off posterity. The pyramid is only the cone in which Nature arranges her heaped and sliding fragments ; the cone with flattened surfaces, as it is prefigured in certain well-known crystalline forms. The obelisk is from another of Nature’s patterns ; it is only a gigantic acicular crystal.
The Egyptians knew what a monument should be, simple, noble, durable. It seems to me that we Americans might take a lesson from those early architects. Our cemeteries are crowded with monuments which are very far from simple, anything but noble, and stand a small chance of being permanent. The pyramid is rarely seen, perhaps because it takes up so much room, and when built on a small scale seems insignificant as we think of it, dwarfed by the vast structures of antiquity. The obelisk is very common, and when in just proportions and of respectable dimensions is unobjectionable.
But the gigantic obelisks like that on Bunker Hill, and especially the Washington monument at the national capital, are open to critical animadversion. Let us contrast the last mentioned of these great piles with the obelisk as the Egyptian conceived and executed it. The new Pharaoh ordered a memorial of some important personage or event. In the first place, a mighty stone was dislodged from its connections, and lifted, unbroken, from the quarry. This was a feat from which our modern stone-workers shrink dismayed. The Egyptians appear to have handled these huge monoliths as our artisans handle hearthstones and doorsteps, for the land actually bristled with such giant columns. They were shaped and finished as nicely as if they were breastpins for the Titans to wear, and on their polished surfaces were engraved in imperishable characters the records they were erected to preserve.
Europe and America borrow these noble productions of African art and power, and find them hard enough to handle after they have succeeded in transporting them to Rome, or London, or New York. Their simplicity, grandeur, imperishability, speaking symbolism, shame all the pretentious and fragile works of human art around them. The obelisk has no joints for the destructive agencies of nature to attack; the pyramid has no masses hanging in unstable equilibrium, and threatening to fall by their own weight in the course of a thousand or two years.
America says the Father of his Country must have a monument worthy of his exalted place in history. What shall it be ? A temple such as Athens might have been proud to rear upon her Acropolis ? An obelisk such as Thebes might have pointed out with pride to the strangers who found admission through her hundred gates ? After long meditation and the rejection of the hybrid monstrosities with which the nation was menaced, an obelisk is at last decided upon. How can it be made grand and dignified enough to be equal to the office assigned it? We dare not attempt to carve a single stone from the living rock, — all our modern appliances fail to make the task as easy to us as it seems to have been to the early Egyptians. No artistic skill is required in giving a four-square tapering figure to a stone column. If we cannot shape a solid obelisk of the proper dimensions, we can build one of separate blocks. How can we give it the distinction we demand for it ? The nation which can brag that it has “ the biggest show on earth ” cannot boast a great deal in the way of architecture, but it can do one thing, — it can build an obelisk that shall be taller than any structure now standing which the hand of man has raised. Build an obelisk ! How different the idea of such a structure from that of the unbroken, unjointed prismatic shaft, one perfect whole, as complete in itself, as fitly shaped and consolidated to defy the elements, as the towering palm or the tapering pine ! Well, we had the satisfaction for a time of claiming the tallest structure in the world; and now that the new Tower of Babel which has sprung up in Paris has killed that pretension, I think we shall feel and speak more modestly about our stone hyperbole, our materialization of the American love of the superlative. We have the higher civilization among us, and we must try to keep down the forth-putting instincts of the lower. We do not want to see our national monument placarded as “the greatest show on earth,” — perhaps it is well that it is taken down from that bad eminence.
I do not think this speech of mine was very well received. It appeared to jar somewhat on the nerves of the American Annex. There was a smile on the lips of the other Annex,—the English girl, — which she tried to keep quiet, but it was too plain that she enjoyed my diatribe.
It must be remembered that I and the other Teacups, in common with the rest of our fellow-citizens, have had our sensibilities greatly worked upon, our patriotism chilled, our local pride outraged, by the monstrosities which have been allowed to deform our beautiful public grounds. We have to be very careful in conducting a visitor, say from his marble-fronted hotel to the City Hall.— Keep pretty straight along after entering the Garden, — you will not care to inspect the little figure of the military gentleman to your right. — Yes, the Cochituate water is drinkable, but I think I would not turn aside to visit that small fabric which makes believe it is a temple, and is a weak-eyed fountain feebly weeping over its own insignificance. About that other stone misfortune, cruelly reminding us of the “ Boston Massacre,” we will not discourse ; it is not imposing, and is rarely spoken of.
What a mortification to the inhabitants of a city with some hereditary and contemporary claims to cultivation ; which has noble edifices, grand libraries, educational institutions of the highest grade, an art-gallery filled with the finest models and rich in paintings and statuary, — a stately city that stretches both arms across the Charles to clasp the hands of Harvard, her twin-sister, each lending lustre to the other like double stars, —what a pity that she should be so disfigured by crude attempts to adorn her and commemorate her past that her most loving children blush for her artificial deformities amidst the wealth of her natural beauties ! One hardly knows which to groan over most sadly, — the tearing down of old monuments, the shelling of the Parthenon, the overthrow of the pillared temples of Rome, and in a humbler way the destruction of the old Hancock house, or the erection of monuments which are to be a perpetual eyesore to ourselves and our descendants.
We got talking on the subject of realism, of which so much has been said of late.
It seems to me, I said, that the great additions which have been made by realism to the territory of literature consist largely in swampy, malarious, ill-smelling patches of soil which had previously been left to reptiles and vermin. It is perfectly easy to be original by violating the laws of decency and the canons of good taste. The general consent of civilized people was supposed to have banished certain subjects from the conversation of well-bred people and the pages of respectable literature. There is no subject, or hardly any, which may not be treated of at the proper time, in the proper place, by the fitting person, for the right kind of listener or reader. But when the poet or the story-teller invades the province of the man of science, he is on dangerous ground. I need say nothing of the blunders he is pretty sure to make. The imaginative writer is after effects. The scientific man is after truth. Science is decent, modest; does not try to startle, but to instruct. The same scenes and objects which outrage every sense of delicacy in the story-teller’s highly colored paragraphs can be read without giving offence in the chaste language of the physiologist or the physician.
There is a very celebrated novel, Madame Bovary, the work of M. Flaubert, which is noted for having been the subject of prosecution as an immoral work. That it has a serious lesson there is no doubt, if one will drink down to the bottom of the cup. But the honey of sensuous description is spread so deeply over the surface of the goblet that a large proportion of its readers never think of its holding anything else. All the phases of unhallowed passion are described in full detail. That is what the book is bought and read for, by the great majority of its purchasers, as all but simpletons very well know. That is what makes it sell and brought it into the courts of justice. This book is famous for its realism; in fact, it is recognized as one of the earliest and most brilliant examples of that modern style of novel which, beginning where Balzac left off, attempted to do for literature what the photograph has done for art. For those who take the trouble to drink out of the cup below the rim of honey, there is a scene where realism is carried to its extreme, — surpassed in horror by no writer, unless it be the one whose name must be looked for at the bottom of the alphabet, as if its natural place were as low down in the dregs of realism as it could find itself. This is the death-bed scene, where Madame Bovary expires in convulsions. The author must have visited the hospitals for the purpose of watching the terrible agonies he was to depict, tramping from one bed to another until he reached the one where the cries and contortions were the most frightful. Such a scene he has reproduced. No hospital physician would have pictured the struggle in such colors. In the same way, that other realist, M. Zola, has painted a patient suffering from delirium tremens, the disease known to common speech as “ the horrors.” In describing this case he does all that language can do to make it more horrible than the reality. He gives us, not realism, but super-realism, if such a term does not contradict itself.
In this matter of the literal reproduction of sights and scenes which our natural instinct and our better informed taste and judgment teach us to avoid, art has been far in advance of literature. It is three hundred years since Joseph Ribera, more commonly known as Spagnoletto, was born in the province Valencia, in Spain. We had the misfortune of seeing a painting of his in a collection belonging to one of the French princes, and exhibited in a public gallery. It was that of a man performing upon himself the operation known to the Japanese as hara-kiri. Many persons who looked upon this revolting picture will never get rid of its remembrance, and will regret the day when their eyes fell upon it. I should share the offence of the painter if I ventured to describe it. Ribera was fond of depicting just such odious and frightful subjects. “ Saint Lawrence writhing on his gridiron, Saint Sebastian full of arrows, were equally a source of delight to him. Even in subjects which had no such elements of horror he finds the materials for the delectation of his ferocious pencil; he makes up for the defect by rendering with a brutal realism deformity and ugliness.”
The first great mistake made by the ultra-realists, like Flaubert and Zola, is, as I have said, their ignoring the line of distinction between imaginative art and science. We can find realism enough in books of anatomy, surgery, and medicine. In studying the human figure, we want to see it clothed with its natural integuments. It is well for the artist to study the écorché in the dissecting-room, but we do not want the Apollo or the Venus to leave their skins behind them when they go into the gallery for exhibition. Lancisi’s figures show us how the great statues look when divested of their natural covering. It is instructive, but useful chiefly as a means to aid in the true artistic reproduction of nature. When the hospitals are invaded by the novelist, he should learn something from the physician as well as from the patients. Science delineates in monochrome. She never uses high tints and strontian lights to astonish lookers-on. Such scenes as Flaubert and Zola describe would be reproduced in their essential characters, but not dressed up in picturesque phrases. That is the first stumbling-block in the way of the reader of such realistic stories as those to which I have referred. There are subjects which must be investigated by scientific men which most educated persons would be glad to know nothing about. When a realistic writer like Zola surprises his reader into a kind of knowledge he never thought of wishing for, he sometimes harms him more than he has any idea of doing. He wants to produce a sensation, and he leaves a permanent disgust not to be got rid of. Who does not remember odious images that can never be washed out from the consciousness which they have stained ? A man’s vocabulary is terribly retentive of evil words, and the images they present cling to his memory and will not loose their hold. One who has had the mischance to soil his mind by reading certain poems of Swift will never cleanse it to its original whiteness. Expressions and thoughts of a certain character stain the fibre of the thinking organ, and in some degree affect the hue of every idea that passes through the discolored tissues.
This is the gravest accusation to bring against realism, old or recent, whether in the brutal paintings of Spagnoletto or in the unclean revelations of Zola. Leave the description of the drains and cesspools to the hygienic specialist, the painful facts of disease to the physician, the details of the laundry to the washerwoman. If we are to have realism in its tedious descriptions of unimportant particulars, let it be of particulars which do not excite disgust. Such is the description of the vegetables in Zola’s “ Ventre de Paris,” where, if one wishes to see the apotheosis of turnips, beets, and cabbages, he can find them glorified as supremely as if they had been symbols of so many deities ; their forms, their colors, their expression, worked upon until they seem as if they were made to be looked at and worshipped rather than to he boiled and eaten.
I am pleased to find a French critic of M. Flaubert expressing ideas with which many of my own entirely coincide. “ The great mistake of the realists,” he says, “ is that they profess to tell the truth because they tell everything. This puerile hunting after details, this cold and cynical inventory of all the wretched conditions in the midst of which poor humanity vegetates, not only do not help us to understand it better, but, on the contrary, the effect on the spectators is a kind of dazzled confusion mingled with fatigue and disgust. The material truthfulness to which the school of M. Flaubert more especially pretends misses its aim in going beyond it. Truth is lost in its own excess.”
I return to my thoughts on the relations of imaginative art in all its forms with science. The subject which in the hands of the scientific student is handled decorously — reverently, we might almost say — becomes repulsive, shameful, and debasing in the unscrupulous manipulations of the low-bred man of letters.
I confess that I am a little jealous of certain tendencies in our own American literature, which led one of the severest and most outspoken of our satirical fellow-countrymen, no longer living to be called to account for it, to say, in a moment of bitterness, that the mission of America was to vulgarize mankind. I myself have sometimes wondered at the pleasure some Old World critics have professed to find in the most lawless freaks of New World literature. I have questioned whether their delight was not like that of the Spartans in the drunken antics of their Helots. But I suppose I belong to another age, and must not attempt to judge the present by my oldfashioned standards.
The company listened very civilly to these remarks, whether they agreed with them or not. I am not sure that I want all the young people to think just as I do in matters of critical judgment. New wine does not go well into old bottles, but if an old cask has held good wine, it may improve a crude juice to stand awhile upon the lees of what it was once filled with.
I thought the company had had about enough of this disquisition. They listened very decorously, and the Professor, who agrees very well with me, as I happen to know, in my views on this business of realism, thanked me for giving them the benefit of my opinion.
The silence that followed was broken by Number Seven’s suddenly exclaiming, —
“ I should like to boss creation for a week ! ”
This expression was an outbreak suggested by some train of thought which Number Seven had been following while I was discoursing. I do not think one of the company looked as if he or she were shocked by it as an irreligious or even profane speech. It is a better way always, in dealing with one of those squinting brains, to let it follow out its own thought. It will keep to it for a while; then it will quit the rail, so to speak, and run to any side-track which may present itself.
“ What is the first thing you would do ? ” asked Number Five in a pleasant, easy way.
“ The first thing ? Pick out a few thousand of the best specimens of the best races, and drown the rest like so many blind puppies.”
“ Why,” said she, “ that was tried once, and does not seem to have worked very well.”
“Very likely. You mean Noah’s Hood, I suppose. More people nowadays, and a better lot to pick from than Noah had.”
“ Do tell us whom you would take with you,” said Number Five.
You, if you would go,” he answered, and I thought I saw a slight flush on his cheek. “But I didn’t say that I should go aboard the new ark myself. I am not sure that I should. No, I am pretty sure that I shouldn’t. I don’t believe, on the whole, it would pay me to save myself. I ain’t of much account. But I could pick out some that were.”
And just now he was saying that he should like to boss the universe ! All this has nothing very wonderful about it. Every one of us is subject to alternations of overvaluation and undervaluation of ourselves. Do you not remember soliloquies something like this ? “ Was there ever such a senseless, stupid creature as I am? How have I managed to keep so long out of the idiot asylum ? Undertook to write a poem, and stuck fast at the first verse. Had a call from a friend who had just been round the world. Did n’t ask him one word about what lie had seen or heard, but gave him full details of my private history; I having never been off my own hearth-rug for more than an hour or two at a time, while he was circumnavigating and circumrailroading the globe. Yes, if anybody can claim the title, I am certainly the prize idiot.” I am afraid we all say such things as this to ourselves at times. Do we not use more emphatic words than these in our self-depreciation ? I cannot say how it is with others, but my vocabulary of self-reproach and humiliation is so rich in energetic expressions that I should be sorry to have an interviewer present at an outburst of one of its raging geysers, its savage soliloquies. A man is a kind of inverted thermometer, the bulb uppermost, and the column of self-valuation is all the time going up and down. Number Seven is very much like other people in this respect, — very much like you and me.
This train of reflections must not carry me away from Number Seven.
“ If I can’t get a chance to boss this planet for a week or so,” he began again, “ I think I could write its history, — yes, the history of the world, in less compass than any one who has tried it so far.”
“You know Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘History of the World,’ of course? ” said the Professor.
“ More or less, — more or less,” said Number Seven prudently. “ But I don’t care who has written it before me. I will agree to write the story of two worlds, this and the next, in such a compact way that you can commit them both to memory in less time than you can learn the answer to the first question in the Catechism.”
What he had got into his head we could not guess, but there was no little curiosity to get at the particular bee which was buzzing in his bonnet. He evidently enjoyed our curiosity, and meant to keep us waiting awhile before revealing the great secret.
“ How many words do you think I shall want ? ”
It is a formula, I suppose, I said, and I will grant you a hundred words.
“ Twenty,” said the Professor. “ That was more than the wise men of Greece wanted for their grand utterances.”
The two Annexes whispered together, and the American Annex gave their joint result. One thousand was the number they had fixed on. They were used to hearing lectures, and could hardly conceive that any subject could be treated without taking up a good part of an hour.
“ Less than ten,” said Number Five. “If there are to be more than ten, I don’t believe that Number Seven would think the surprise would be up to our expectations.”
“ Guess as much as you like,” said Number Seven. “ The answer will keep. I don’t mean to say what it is until we are ready to leave the table.” He took a blank card from his pocket-book, wrote something on it, or appeared, at any rate, to write, and handed it, face down, to the Mistress. What was on the card will be found near the end of this paper. I wonder if anybody will be curious enough to look further along to find out what it was before she reads the next paragraph ?
In the mean time there is a train of thought suggested by Number Seven and his whims. If you want to know how to account for yourself, study the characters of your relations. All of our brains squint more or less. There is not one in a hundred, certainly, that does not sometimes see things distorted by double refraction, out of plumb or out of focus, or with colors which do not belong to it, or in some way betraying that the two halves of the brain are not acting in harmony with each other. You wonder at the eccentricities of this or that connection of your own. Watch yourself, and you will find impulses which, but for the restraints you put upon them, would make you do the same foolish things which you laugh at in that cousin of yours. I once lived in the same house with the near relative of a very distinguished person, whose name is still honored and revered among us. His brain was an active one, like that of his famous relative, but it was full of random ideas, unconnected trains of thought, whims, crotchets, erratic suggestions. Knowing him, I could interpret the mental characteristics of the whole family connection in the light of its exaggerated peculiarities as exhibited in my odd fellow-hoarder. Squinting brains are a great deal more common than we should at first sight believe. Here is a great book, a solid octavo of five hundred pages, full of the vagaries of this class of organizations. I hope to refer to this work hereafter, but just now I will only say that, after reading till one is tired the strange fancies of the squares of the circle, the inventors of perpetual motion and the rest of the moonstruck dreamers, most persons will confess to themselves that they have had notions as wild, conceptions as extravagant, theories as baseless, as the least rational of those which are here recorded.
Some day I want to talk about my library. It is such a curious collection of old and new books, such a mosaic of learning and fancies and follies, that a glance over it would interest the company. Perhaps I may hereafter give the company a talk about books, but while I am saying a few passing words upon the subject the greatest bibliographical event that ever happened in the book-market of the New World is taking place under our eyes. Here is Mr. Bernard Quaritch just come from his well-known habitat, No. 15 Piccadilly, with such a collection of rare, beautiful, and somewhat expensive volumes as the Western Continent never saw before on the shelves of a bibliopole.
We bookworms are all of us now and then betrayed into an extravagance. The keen tradesmen who tempt us are like the fishermen who dangle a minnow, a frog, or a worm before the perch or pickerel who may be on the lookout for his breakfast. But Mr. Quaritch comes among us like that formidable angler of whom it is said, —
And sat upon a rock and bobbed for whale.
The two catalogues which herald his coming are themselves interesting literary documents. One can go out with a few shillings in his pocket, and venture among the books of the first of these catalogues without being ashamed to show himself with no larger furnishing of the means for indulging his tastes, — he will find books enough at comparatively modest prices. But if one feels very rich, so rich that it requires a good deal to frighten him, let him take the other catalogue and see how many books he proposes to add to his library at the prices affixed. Here is a Latin Psalter with the Canticles, from the press of Fust and Schoeffer, the second book issued from their press, the second book printed with a date, that date being 1459. There are only eight copies of this work known to exist; you can have one of them, if so disposed, and if you have change enough in your pocket. Twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty dollars will make you the happy owner of this precious volume. If this is more than you want to pay, you can have the Gold Gospels of Henry VIII., on purple vellum, for about half the money. There are pages on pages of titles of works any one of which would he a snug little property if turned into money at its catalogue price.
Why will not our multimillionaires look over this catalogue of Mr. Quaritch, and detain some of its treasures on this side of the Atlantic for some of our public libraries ? We decant the choicest wines of Europe into our cellars ; we ought to be always decanting the precious treasures of her libraries and galleries into our own, as we have opportunity and means. As to the means, there are so many rich people who hardly know what to do with their money that it is well to suggest to them any new useful end to which their superfluity may contribute. I am not in alliance with Mr. Quaritch; in fact, I am afraid of him, for if I stayed a single hour in his library, where I never was but once, and then for fifteen minutes only, I should leave it so much poorer than I entered it that I should be reminded of the picture in the title-page of Fuller’s “ Historie of the Holy Warre : ” “We went out full. We return empty.”
— After the teacups were all emptied, the card containing Number Seven’s abridged history of two worlds, this and the next, was handed round.
This was all it held : —
After all had looked at it, it was passed back to me. “ Let The Dictator interpret it,” they all said.
This is what I announced as my interpretation : —
Two worlds, the higher and the lower, separated by the thinnest of partitions. The lower world is that of questions; the upper world is that of answers. Endless doubt and unrest here below; wondering, admiring, adoring certainty above. — Am I not right ?
“You are right,” answered Number Seven solemnly. That is my revelation.”
The following poem was found in the sugar-bowl. I read it to the company.
There was much whispering and there were many conjectures as to its authorship, but every Teacup looked innocent, and we separated each with his or her private conviction. I had mine, but I will not mention it.
THE ROSE AND THE FERN.
Come thou with me to Love’s enchanted bower:
High overhead the trellised roses burn,
Beneath thy feet behold the feathery fern, —
A leaf without a flower.
And have been lovely in their beauteous prime,
While the hare frond seems ever to repeat,
“ For us no bud, no blossom, wakes to greet
The joyous flowering time! ”
And flowers to cherish; summer round thee glows;
Wait not till autumn’s fading robes are shed,
But while its petals still are burning red
Gather life’s full-blown rose !