Over the Teacups


I OFTEN wish that our Number Seven could have known and corresponded with the author of “ The Budget of Paradoxes.” I think Mr. De Morgan would have found some of his vagaries and fancies not undeserving of a place in his wonderful collection of eccentricities, absurdities, ingenuities, — mental freaks of all sorts. But I think he would have now and then recognized a sound idea, a just comparison, a suggestive hint, a practical notion, which redeemed a page of extravagances and crotchety whims. I confess that I am often pleased with fancies of his, and should be willing to adopt them as my own. I think he has, in the midst of his erratic and tangled conceptions, some perfectly clear and consistent trains of thought.

So when Number Seven spoke of sending us a paper, I welcomed the suggestion. I asked him whether he had any objection to my looking it over before he read it. My proposal rather pleased him, I thought, for, as was observed on a former occasion, he has in connection with a belief in himself another side, — a curious self-distrust. I have no question that he has an obscure sense of some mental deficiency. Thus you may expect from him first a dogma, and presently a doubt. If you fight his dogma, he will do battle for it stoutly; if you let him alone, he will very probably explain its extravagances, if it has anv, and tame it into reasonable limits. Sometimes he is in one mood, sometimes in another.

The first portion of what we listened to shows him at his best; in the latter part I am afraid you will think he gets a little wild.

I proceed to lay before you the paper which Number Seven read to The Teacups. There was something very pleasing in the deference which was shown him. We all feel that there is a crack in the teacup, and are disposed to handle it carefully, I have left out a few things which he said, feeling that they might give offence to some of the company. There were sentences so involved and obscure that I was sure they would not be understood, if indeed he understood them himself. But there are other passages so entirely sane, and as it seems to me so just, that if any reader attributes them to me I shall not think myself wronged by the supposition. You must remember that Number Seven has had a fair education, that he has been a wide reader in many directions, and that he belongs to a family of remarkable intellectual gifts. So it was not surprising that he said some things which pleased the company, as in fact they did. The reader will not be startled to see a certain abruptness in the transition from one subject to another, — it is a characteristic of the squinting brain wherever you find it. Another curious mark rarely wanting in the subjects of mental strabismus is an irregular and often sprawling and deformed handwriting. Many and many a time I have said, after glancing at the back of a letter, “This comes from an insane asylum, or from an eccentric who might well be a candidate for such an institution,” Number Seven’s manuscript, which showed marks of my corrections here and there, furnished good examples of the chirography of persons with ill-mated cerebral hemispheres. But the earlier portions of the manuscript are of perfectly normal appearance.

Conticuere omnes, as Virgil says. We were all silent as Number Seven began the reading of his paper.

Number Seven reads.

I am the seventh son of a seventh son, as I suppose you all know. It is commonly believed that some extraordinary gifts belong to the fortunate individuals born under these exceptional conditions. However this may be, a peculiar virtue was supposed to dwell in me from my earliest years. My touch was believed to have the influence formerly attributed to that of the kings and queens of England. You may remember that the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, when a child, was carried to be touched by her Majesty Queen Anne for the “ king’s evil,” as scrofula used to be called. Our honored friend The Dictator will tell you that the brother of one of his Andover schoolmates was taken to one of these gifted persons, who touched him, and hung a small bright silver coin, either a “ fourpence ha’penny ” or a “ ninepence,” about his neck, which, strange to say, after being worn a certain time, became tarnished, and finally black, — a proof of the poisonous matters which had become eliminated from the system and gathered upon the coin. I remember that at one time I used to carry fourpence ha’pennies with holes bored through them, which I furnished to children or to their mothers, under pledges of secrecy, — receiving a piece of silver of larger dimensions in exchange. I never felt quite sure about any extraordinary endowment being a part of my inheritance in virtue of my special conditions of birth. A phrenologist, who examined my head when I was a boy, said the two sides were unlike. My hatter’s measurement told me the same thing ; but in looking over more than a bushel of the small cardboard hat-patterns which give the exact shape of the head, I have found this is not uncommon. The phrenologist made all sorts of predictions of what I should be and do, which proved about as near the truth as those recorded in Miss Edith. Thomas’s charming little poem, “ Augury,” which some of us were reading the other day.

I have never been through college, but I had a relative who was famous as a teacher of rhetoric in one of our universities, and especially for taking the nonsense out of sophomorical young fellows who could not say anything without rigging it up in showy and sounding phrases. I think I learned from him to express myself in good old-fashioned English, and without making as much fuss about it as our Fourth of July orators and political haranguers were in the habit of making.

I read a good many stories during my boyhood, one of which left a lasting impression upon me, and which I have always commended to young people. It is too late, generally, to try to teach old people, yet one may profit by it at any period of life before the sight has become too dim to be of any use. The story I refer to is in “ Evenings at Home,” and is called “ Eyes and No Eyes.” I ought to have it by me, but it is constantly happening that the best old things get overlaid by the newest trash; and though I have never seen anything of the kind half so good, my table and shelves are cracking with the weight of involuntary accessions to my library.

This is the story as I remember it: Two children walk out, and are questioned when they come home. One has found nothing to observe, nothing to admire, nothing to describe, nothing to ask questions about. The other has found everywhere objects of curiosity and interest. I advise you, if you are a child anywhere under forty-five, and do not yet wear glasses, to send at once for “ Evenings at Home ” and read that story. For myself, I am always grateful to the writer of it for calling my attention to common things. How many people have been waked to a quicker consciousness of life by Wordsworth’s simple lines about the daffodils, and what he says of the thoughts suggested to him by “ the meanest flower that blows ” !

I was driving with a friend, the other day, through a somewhat dreary stretch of country, where there seemed to be very little to attract notice or deserve remark. Still, the old spirit infused by “ Eyes and No Eyes ” was upon me, and I looked for something to fasten my thought upon, and treat as an artist treats a study for a picture. The first object to which my eyes were drawn was an old-fashioned well-sweep. It did not take much imaginative sensibility to be stirred by the sight of this most useful, most ancient, most picturesque, of domestic conveniences. I know something of the shadoof of Egypt, — the same arrangement by which the sacred waters of the Nile have been lifted from the days of the Pharaohs to those of the Khedives. That long forefinger pointing to heaven was a symbol which spoke to the Puritan exile as it spoke of old to the enslaved Israelite. Was there ever any such water as that which we used to draw from the deep, cold well, in “the old oaken bucket”? What memories gather about the well in all ages ! What love-matches have been made at its margin, from the times of Jacob and Rachel downward! What fairy legends hover over it, what fearful mysteries has it hidden ! The beautiful well-sweep! It is too rarely that we see it, and as it dies out and gives place to the odiously convenient pump, with the last patent on its cast-iron uninterestingness, does it not seem as if the farmyard aspect had lost half its attraction ? So long as the dairy farm exists, doubtless there must be every facility for getting water in abundance; but the loss of the wellsweep cannot be made up to us even if our milk were diluted to twice its present attenuation.

The well-sweep had served its turn, and my companion and I relapsed into silence. After a while we passed another farmyard, with nothing which seemed deserving of remark except the wreck of an old wagon.

“ Look,” I said, “ if you want to see one of the greatest of all the triumphs of human ingenuity, — one of the most beautiful, as it is one of the most useful, of all the mechanisms which the intelligence of successive ages has called into being.”

“ I see nothing,” my companion answered, “ but an old broken-down wagon. Why they leave such a piece of lumbering trash about their place, where people can see it as they pass, is more than I can account for.”

“ And yet,” said I, “ there is one of the most extraordinary products of human genius and skill, — an object which combines the useful and the beautiful to an extent which hardly any simple form of mechanism can pretend to rival. Do you notice how, while everything else has gone to smash, that wheel remains sound and fit for service ? Look at it merely for its beauty. See the perfect circles, the outer and the inner. A circle is in itself a consummate wonder of geometrical symmetry. It is the line in which the omnipotent energy delights to move. There is no fault in it to be amended. The first drawn circle and the last both embody the same complete fulfilment of a perfect design. Then look at the rays which pass from the inner to the outer circle. How beautifully they bring the greater and lesser circles into connection with each other ! The flowers know that secret, — the marguerite in the meadow displays it as clearly as the great sun in heaven. How beautiful is this flower of wood and iron, which we were ready to pass by without wasting a look upon it ! But its beauty is only the beginning of its wonderful claim upon us for our admiration. Look at that field of flowering grass, the triticum vulgare, — see how its waves follow the breeze in satiny alternations of light and shadow. You admire it for its lovely aspect; but when you remember that this flowering grass is wheat, the finest food of the highest human races, it gains a dignity, a glory, that its beauty alone could not give it.

“ Now look at that exquisite structure lying neglected and disgraced, but essentially unchanged in its perfection, before you. That slight and delicate-looking fabric has stood such a trial as hardly any slender contrivance, excepting always the valves of the heart, was ever subjected to. It has rattled for years over the cobble-stones of a rough city pavement. It has climbed over all the accidental obstructions it met in the highway, and dropped into all the holes and deep ruts that made the heavy farmer sitting over it use his Sunday vocabulary in a week-day form of speech. At one time or another, almost every part of that old wagon has given way. It has had two new pairs of shafts. Twice the axle has broken off close to the hub, or nave. The seat broke when Zekle and Huldy were having what they called ‘ a ride ’ together. The front was kicked in by a vicious mare. The springs gave way and the floor bumped on the axle. Every portion of the wagon became a prey of its special accident, except that most fragile looking of all its parts, the wheel. Who can help admiring the exact distribution of the power of resistance at the least possible expenditure of material which is manifested in this wondrous triumph of human genius and skill ? The spokes are planted in the solid hub as strongly as the jaw-teeth of a lion in their deep-sunken sockets. Each spoke has its own territory in the circumference, for which it is responsible. According to the load the vehicle is expected to carry, they are few or many, stout or slender, but they share their joint labor with absolute justice, — not one does more, not one does less, than its share. The outer end of the spokes is received into the deep mortise of the wooden fellies, and the structure appears to be complete. How long would it take to turn that circle into a polygon, unless some mighty counteracting force should prevent it ? See the iron tire brought hot from the furnace and laid around the smoking circumference. Once in place, the workman cools the hot iron; and as it shrinks with a force that seems like a hand-grasp of the Omnipotent, it clasps the fitted fragments of the structure, and compresses them into a single inseparable whole.

“ Was it not worth our while to stop a moment before passing that old broken wagon, and see whether we could not find as much in it as Swift found in his ‘Meditations on a Broomstick’? I have been laughed at for making so much of such a common thing as a wheel. Idiots ! Solomon’s court fool would have scoffed at the thought of the young Galilean who dared compare the lilies of the field to his august master. Nil admirari is very well for a North American Indian and his degenerate successor, who has grown too grand to admire anything but himself, and takes a cynical pride in Ids stolid indifference to everything worth reverencing or honoring.”

After calling my companion’s attention to the wheel, and discoursing upon it until I thought there were signs of impending somnolence on the part of the listener, we jogged along until we came to a running stream. It was crossed by a stone bridge of a single arch. There are very few stone arches over the streams in New England country towns, and I always delighted in this one. It was built in the last century, amidst the doubting predictions of staring rustics, and stands to-day as strong as ever, and seemingly good for centuries to come.

“ See there! ” said I, — “ there is another of my ‘ Eyes and No Eyes ’ subjects to meditate upon. Next to the wheel, the arch is the noblest of the elementary mechanical composites, corresponding to the proximate principles of chemistry. The beauty of the arch consists first in its curve, commonly a part of the circle, of the perfection of which I have spoken. But the mind derives another distinct pleasure from the admirable manner in which the several parts, each different from all the others, contribute to a single harmonious effect. It is a typical example of the piu nel uno. An arch cut out of a single stone would not he so beautiful as one of which each individual stone was shaped for its exact position. Its completion by the locking of the keystone is a delight to witness and to contemplate. And how the arch endures, when its lateral thrust is met by solid masses of resistance ! In one of the great temples of Baalbec a keystone has slipped, but how rare is that occurrence ! One will hardly find another such example among all the ruins of antiquity. Yes, I never get tired of arches. They are noble when shaped of solid marble blocks, each carefully beveled for its position. They are beautiful when constructed with the large thin tiles the Romans were so fond of using. I noticed some arches built in this way in the wall of one of the grand houses just going up on the bank of the river. They were over the capstones of the windows, — to take off the pressure from them, no doubt, for now and then a capstone will crack under the weight of the superincumbent mass. How close they fit, and how striking the effect of their long radiations ! ”

The company listened very well up to this point. When he began the strain of thoughts which follows, a curious look went round among The Teacups.

What a strange underground life is that which is led by the organisms we call trees ! These great fluttering masses of leaves, stems, boughs, trunks, are not the real trees. They live underground, and what we see are nothing more nor less than their tails.

The Mistress dropped her teaspoon. Number Five looked at the Doctor, whose face was very still and sober. The two Annexes giggled, or came very near it.

Yes, a tree is an underground creature, with its tail in the air. All its intelligence is in its roots. All the senses it has are in its roots. Think what sagacity it shows in its search after food and drink! Somehow or other, the rootlets, which are its tentacles, find out that there is a brook at a moderate distance from the trunk of the tree, and they make for it with all their might. They find every crack in the rocks where there are a few grains of the nourishing substance they care for, and insinuate themselves into its deepest recesses. When spring and summer come, they let their tails grow, and delight in whisking them about in the wind, or letting them be whisked about by it ; for these tails are poor passive things, with very little will of their own, and bend in whatever direction the wind chooses to make them. The leaves make a deal of noise whispering. I have sometimes thought I could understand them, as they talked with each other, and that they seemed to think they made the wind as they wagged forward and back. Remember what I say. The next time you see a tree waving in the wind, recollect that it is the tail of a great underground, many-armed, polypus-like creature, which is as proud of its caudal appendage, especially in summer-time, as a peacock of his gorgeous expanse of plumage.

Do you think there is anything so very odd about this idea ? Once get it well into your heads, and you will find it renders the landscape wonderfully interesting. There are as many kinds of tree-tails as there are of tails to dogs and other quadrupeds. Study them as Daddy Gilpin studied them in his “ Forest Scenery,” but don’t forget that they are only the appendage of the underground vegetable polypus, the true organism to which they belong.

He paused at this point, and we all drew long breaths, wondering what was coming next. There was no denying it, the “ cracked Teacup ” was clinking a little false, — so it seemed to the company. Yet, after all, the fancy was not delirious, — the mind could follow it well enough ; let him go on.

What do you say to this ? You have heard all sorts of things said in prose and verse about Niagara. Ask our young Doctor there what it reminds him of. Isn’t it a giant putting his tongue out ? How can you fail to see the resemblance ? The continent is a great giant, and the northern half holds the head and shoulders. You can count the pulse of the giant wherever the tide runs up a creek; but if you want to look at the giant’s tongue, you must go to Niagara. If there were such a thing as a cosmic physician, I believe he could tell the state of the country’s health, and the prospects of the mortality for the coming season, by careful inspection of the great tongue which Niagara is putting out for him, and has been showing to mankind ever since the first flintshapers chipped their arrow-heads. You don’t think the idea adds to the sublimity and associations of the cataract ? I am sorry for that, but I can’t help the suggestion. It is just as manifestly a tongue put out for inspection as if it had Nature’s own label to that effect hung over it. I don’t know whether you can see these things as clearly as I do. There are some people that never see anything, if it is as plain as a hole in a grindstone, until it is pointed out to them ; and some that can’t see it then, and won’t believe there is any hole till they’ve poked their finger through it. I ’ve got a great many things to thank God for, but perhaps most of all that I can find something to admire, to wonder at, to set my fancy going, and to wind up my enthusiasm pretty much everywhere.

Look here! There are crowds of people whirled through our streets on these new-fashioned cars, with their witch - broomsticks overhead,— if they don’t come from Salem, they ought to, — and not more than one in a dozen of these fish-eyed bipeds thinks or cares a nickel’s worth about the miracle which is wrought for their convenience. They know that without hands or feet, without horses, without steam, so far as they can see, they are transported from place to place, and that there is nothing to account for it except the witcli-broomstick and the iron or copper cobweb which they see stretched above them. What do they know or care about this last revelation of the omnipresent spirit of the material universe ? We ought to go down on our knees when one of these mighty caravans, car after car, spins by us, under the mystic impulse which seems to know not whether its train is loaded or empty. We are used to force in the muscles of horses, in the expansive potency of steam, but here we have force stripped stark naked, — nothing but a filament to cover its nudity,— and yet showing its might in efforts that would task the working-beam of a ponderous steam - engine. I am thankful that in an age of cynicism I have not lost my reverence. Perhaps you would wonder to see how some very common sights impress me. I always take off my hat if I stop to speak to a stonecutter at his work. “Why?” do you ask me ? Because I know that his is the only labor that is likely to endure. A score of centuries has not effaced the marks of the Greek’s or the Roman’s chisel on his block of marble. And now, before this new manifestation of that form of cosmic vitality which we call electricity, I feel like taking the posture of the peasants listening to the Angelus. How near the mystic effluence of mechanical energy brings us to the divine source of all power and motion ! In the old mythology, the right hand of Jove held and sent forth the lightning. So, in the record of the Hebrew prophets, did the right hand of Jehovah cast forth and direct it. Was Nahum thinking of our far-off time when he wrote, “ The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad ways : they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings ” ?

Number Seven had finished reading his paper. Two bright spots in his cheeks showed that he had felt a good deal in writing it, and the flush returned as he listened to his own thoughts. Poor old fellow ! The “ cracked Teacup ” of our younger wits, — not yet come to their full human sensibilities, — the “ crank ” of vulgar tongues, the eccentric, the seventh son of a seventh son, too often made the butt of thoughtless pleasantry, was, after all, a fellow-creature, with flesh and blood like the rest of us. The wild freaks of his fancy did not hurt us, nor did they prevent him from seeing many things justly, and perhaps sometimes more vividly and acutely than if he were as sound as the dullest of us.

The teaspoons tinkled loudly all round the table, as he finished reading. The Mistress caught her breath. I was afraid she was going to sob, but she took it out in vigorous stirring of her tea. Will you believe that I saw Number Five, with a sweet, approving smile on her face all the time, brush her cheek with her handkerchief ? There must have been a tear stealing from beneath its eyelid. I hope Number Seven saw it. He is one of the two men at our table who most need the tender looks and tones of a woman. The Professor and I are hors de combat; the Counsellor is busy with his cases and his ambitions; the Doctor is probably in love with a microscope, and flirting with pathological specimens; but Number Seven and the Tutor are, I fear, both suffering from that worst of all famines, heart-hunger. Do you remember that Number Seven said he never wrote a line of “poetry ” in his life, except once when he was suffering from temporary weakness of body and mind ? That is because he is a poet. If he had not been one. he would very certainly have taken to tinkling rhymes. What should you think of the probable musical genius of a young man who was particularly fond of jingling a set of sleigh-bells ? Should you expect him to turn out a Mozart or a Beethoven ? Now, I think I recognize the poetical instinct in Number Seven, however imperfect may be its expression, and however he may be run away with at times by fantastic notions that come into his head. If fate had allotted him a helpful companion in the shape of a loving and intelligent wife, he might have been half cured of his eccentricities, and we should not have had to say, in speaking of him, “ Poor fellow ! ” But since this cannot be, I am pleased that he should have been so kindly treated on the occasion of the reading of his paper. If he saw Number Five’s tear, he will certainly fall in love with her. No matter if he does. Number Five is a kind of Circe who does not turn the victims of her enchantment into swine, but into lambs. I want to see Number Seven one of her little flock. I say “ little.” I suspect it is larger than most of us know. Anyhow, she can spare him sympathy and kindness and encouragement enough to keep him contented with himself and with her, and never miss the pulses of her loving life she lends him. It seems to be the errand of some women to give many people as much happiness as they have any right to in this world. If they concentrated their affections on one, they would give him more than any mortal could claim as his share. I. saw Number Five watering her flowers, tne other day. The watering-pot had one of those perforated heads, through which the water runs in many small streams. Every plant got its share: the proudest lily bent beneath the gentle shower; the lowliest daisy held its little face up for baptism. All were refreshed, none was flooded. Presently she took the perforated head, or “rose,” from the neck of the watering-pot, and the full stream poured out in a round, solid column. It was almost too much for the poor geranium on which it fell, and it looked at one minute as if the roots would be laid bare, and perhaps the whole plant be washed out of the soil in which it was planted. What if Number Five should take off the “ rose ” that sprinkles her affections on so many, and pour them all on one ? Can that ever be ? If it can, life is worth living for him on whom her love may be lavished.

One of my neighbors, a thorough American, is much concerned about the growth of what he calls the “ hard-handed aristocracy.” He tells the following story : —

“ I was putting up a fence about my yard, and employed a man of whom I knew something, — that he was industrious, temperate, and that he had a wife and children to support, — a worthy man, a native New Englander. I engaged him, I say, to dig some post-holes. My employee bought a new spade and scoop on purpose, and came to my place at the appointed time, and began digging. While he was at work, two men came over from a drinking-saloon, to which my residence is nearer than I could desire. One of them I had known as Mike Fagan, the other as Hans Schleimer. They looked at Hiram, my New Hampshire man, in a contemptuous and threatening way for a minute or so, when Fagan addressed him : —

“ ‘ And how much does the man pay yez by the hour ? ’

“ ‘ The gentleman does n’t pay me by the hour,’ said Hiram.

“ ‘ How mosh does he bay you by der veeks ? ’ said Hans.

“ ‘ I don’ know as that’s any of your business,’ answered Hiram.

“ ‘ Faith, we ‘ll make it our business,’ said Mike Fagan. ‘ We’re Knoights of Labor, we ’d have yez to know, and ye can’t make yer bargains jist as ye likes. We manes to know how mony hours ye worrks, and how much ye gets for it.’

“ ‘Knights of Labor ! ’ said I. ‘ Why, that is a kind of title of nobility, is n’t it ? I thought the laws of our country did n’t allow titles of that kind. But if you have a right to be called knights, I suppose I ought to address you as such. Sir Michael, I congratulate you on the dignity you have attained. I hope Lady Fagan is getting on well with my shirts. Sir Hans, I pay my respects to your title. I trust that Lady Schleimer has got through that little difficulty between her ladyship and yourself in which the police court thought it necessary to intervene.’

“ The two men looked at me. I weigh about a hundred and eighty pounds, and am well put together. Hiram was noted in his village as a ‘ rahstler.’ But my face is rather pallid and peaked, and Hiram had something of the greenhorn look. The two men, who had been drinking, hardly knew what ground to take. They rather liked the sound of Sir Michael and Sir Hans. They did not know very well what to make of their wives as ‘ ladies.’ They looked doubtful whether to take what had been said as a casus belli or not, but they wanted a pretext of some kind or other. Presently one of them saw a label on the scoop, or long-handled, spoon-like shovel, with which Hiram had been working.

“ ‘Arrah, be jabers ! ’ exclaimed Mike Fagan, ‘but has n’t he been a-tradin’ wid Brown, the hardware fellah, that we boycotted! Grab it, Hans, and we ’ll carry it off and show it to the brotherhood.’

“ The men made a move toward the implement.

“ ‘You let that are scoop-shovel alone,’ said Hiram.

“ I stepped to his side. The Knights were combative, as their noble predecessors with the same title always were, and it was necessary to come to a voie de fait. My straight blow from the shoulder did for Sir Michael. Hiram treated Sir Hans to what is technically known as a cross-buttock.

“ ‘ Naow, Dutchman,’ said Hiram, ‘ if you don’t want to be planted in that are post-hole, y’d better take y’rself out o’ this piece of private property. “ Dangerous passin’,” as the sign-posts say, abaout these times.’

“ Sir Michael went down half stunned by my expressive gesture; Sir Hans did not know whether his hip was out of joint or he had got a bad sprain ; but they were both out of condition for further hostilities. Perhaps it was hardly fair to take advantage of their misfortunes to inflict a discourse upon them, but they had brought it on themselves, and we each of us gave them a piece of our mind.

“ ‘ I tell you what it is,’ said Hiram, ‘ I’m a free and independent American citizen, and I an’t a-gōn’ to hev no man tyrannize over me, if he doos call himself by one o’ them noblemen’s titles. Ef I can’t work jes’ as I choose, fur folks that wants me to work fur ’em and that I want to work fur, I might jes’ as well go to Sibery and done with it. My gran’f’ther fit in Bunker Hill battle. I guess if our folks in them days did n’t care no great abaout Lord Percy and Sir William Haowe, we an’t a-gōn’ to be scārt by Sir Michael Fagan and Sir Hans What ’s-his-name, nor no other fellahs that undertakes to be noblemen, and tells us common folks what we shall dew an’ what we sha’n’t. No, sir ! ’

“ I took the opportunity to explain to Sir Michael and Sir Hans what it was our fathers fought for, and what is the meaning of liberty. If these noblemen did not like the country, they could go elsewhere. If they did n’t like the laws, they had the ballot-box, and could choose new legislators. But as long as the laws existed they must obey them. I could not admit that, because they called themselves by the titles the Old World nobility thought so much of, they had a right to interfere in the agreements I entered into with my neighbor. I told Sir Michael that if lie would go home and belli Lady Fagan to saw and split the wood for her fire, he would be better employed than in meddling with my domestic arrangements. I advised Sir Hans to ask Lady Schleimer for her bottle of spirits to use as an embrocation for his lame hip. And so my two visitors with the aristocratic titles staggered off, and left us plain, untitled citizens, Hiram and myself, to set our posts, and consider the question whether we lived in a free country or under the authority of a self-constituted order of quasi-nobility.”

It is a very curious fact that, with all our boasted “ free and equal ” superiority over the communities of the Old World, our people have the most enormous appetite for Old World titles of distinction. Sir Michael and Sir Hans belong to one of the most extended of the aristocratic orders. But we have also “ Knights and Ladies of Honor,” and, what is still grander, “ Royal Conclave of Knights and Ladies,” “ Royal Arcanum,” and “ Royal Society of Good Fellows,” “ Supreme Council,” “ Imperial Court,” “ Grand Protector,” and “ Grand Dictator,” and so on. Nothing less than “ Grand ” and “ Supreme ” is good enough for the dignitaries of our associations of citizens. Where does all this ambition for names without realities come from ? Because a Knight of the Garter wears a golden star, why does the worthy cordwainer, who mends the shoes of his fellow-citizens, want to wear a tin star, and take a name that had a meaning as used by the representatives of ancient families, or the men who had made themselves illustrious by their achievements ?

It appears to be a peculiarly American weakness. The French republicans of the earlier period thought the term citizen was good enough for anybody. At a later period, le Roi Citoyen ” — the citizen king — was a common title given to Louis Philippe. But nothing is too grand for the American, in the way of titles. The proudest of them all signify absolutely nothing. They do not stand for ability, for public service, for social importance, for large possessions ; but, on the contrary, are oftenest found in connection with personalities to which they are supremely inapplicable. We can hardly afford to quarrel with a national habit which, if lightly handled, may involve us in serious domestic difficulties. The “ Right Worshipful ” functionary whose equipage stops at my back gate, and whose services are indispensable to the health and comfort of my household, is a dignitary whom I must not offend. I must speak with proper deference to the lady who is scrubbing my floors, when I remember that her husband, who saws my wood, carries a string of high-sounding titles which would satisfy a Spanish nobleman.

After all, every people must have its own forms of ostentation, pretence, and vulgarity. The ancient Romans had theirs, the English and the French have theirs as well, — why should not we Americans have ours ? Educated and refined persons must recognize frequent internal conflicts between the “ Homo sum ” of Terence and the “ Odi ignobile vulgus ” of Horace. The nobler sentiment should be that of every true American, and it is in that direction that our best civilization is constantly tending.

We were waited on by a new girl, the other evening. Our pretty maiden had left us for a visit to some relative, — so the Mistress said. I do sincerely hope she will soon come back, for we all like to see her flitting round the table.

I don’t know what to make of it. I had it all laid out in my mind. With such a company there must be a lovestory. Perhaps there will be, but there may be new combinations of the elements which are to make it up, and here is a bud among the full-blown flowers to which I must devote a little space.


I must call her by the name we gave her after she had trimmed the Samson locks of our Professor. Delilah is a puzzle to most of us. A pretty creature, — dangerously pretty to be in a station not guarded by all the protective arrangements which surround the maidens of a higher social order. It takes a strong cage to keep in a tiger or a grizzly bear, but what iron bars, what barbed wires, can keep out the smooth and subtle enemy that finds out the cage where beauty is imprisoned ? Our young Doctor is evidently attracted by the charming maiden who serves him and us so modestly and so gracefully. Fortunately, the Mistress never loses sight of her. If she were her own daughter, she could not be more watchful of all her movements. And yet I do not believe that Delilah needs all this overlooking. If I am not mistaken, she knows how to take care of herself, and could be trusted anywhere, in any company, without a duenna. She has a history, — I feel sure of it. She has been trained and taught as young persons of higher position in life are brought up, and does not belong in the humble station in which we find her. But inasmuch as the Mistress says nothing about her antecedents, we do not like to be too inquisitive. The two Annexes are, it is plain, very curious about her. I cannot wonder. They are both good-looking girls, but Delilah is prettier than either of them. My sight is not so good as it was, but I can see the way in which the eyes of the young people follow each other about plainly enough to set me thinking as to what is going on in the thinking marrow behind them. The young Doctor’s follow Delilah as she glides round the table, — they look into hers whenever they get a chance; but the girl’s never betray any consciousness of it, so far as I can see. There is no mistaking the interest with which the two Annexes watch all this. Why should n’t they, I should like to know ? The Doctor is a bright young fellow, and wants nothing but a bald spot and a wife to find himself in a comfortable family practice. One of the Annexes, as I have said, has had thoughts of becoming a doctress. I don’t think the Doctor would want his wife to practice medicine, for reasons which I will not stop to mention. Such a partnership sometimes works wonderfully well, as in one well-known instance where husband and wife are both eminent in the profession ; but our young Doctor has said to me that he had rather see his wife — if he ever should have one — at the piano than at the dissecting-table. Of course the Annexes know nothing about this, and they may think, as he professed himself willing to lecture on medicine to women, he might like to take one of his pupils as a helpmeet.

If it were not for our Delilah’s humble position, I don’t see why she would not be a good match for any young man. But then it is so hard to take a young woman from so very humble a condition as that of a “ waitress ” that it would require a deal of courage to venture on such a step. If we could only find out that she is a princess in disguise, so to speak, — that is, a young person of presentable connections as well as pleasing looks and manners; that she has had an education of some kind, as we suspected when she blushed on hearing herself spoken of as a “ gentille petite,” why, then everything would be all right, the young Doctor would have plain sailing, — that is, if he is in love with her, and if she fancies him, — and I should find my love-story, — the one I expected, but not between the parties I had thought would be mating with each other.

Dear little Delilah ! Lily of the valley, growing in the shade now, — perhaps better there until her petals drop ; and yet if she is all I often fancy she is, how her youthful presence would illuminate and sweeten a household ! There is not one of us who does not feel interested in her, — not one of us who would not be delighted at some Cinderella transformation which would show her in the setting Nature meant for her favorite.

The fancy of Number Seven about the witches’ broomsticks suggested to one of us the following poem : —


Look out! Look out, boys! Clear the track!
The witches are here! They’ve all come back!
They hanged them high, but they would n’t lie still,
For cats and witches are hard to kill;
They buried them deep, but they would n’t die, —
Books say they did, but they lie ! they lie !
— A couple of hundred years, or so,
They had knocked about in the world below.
When an Essex Deacon dropped in to call,
And a homesick feeling seized them all ;
For he came from a place they knew full well,
And many a tale he had to tell.
They longed to visit the haunts of men,
To see the old dwellings they knew again,
And ride on their broomsticks all around
Their wide domain of unhallowed ground.
In Essex County there ‘s many a roof
Well known to him of the cloven hoof ;
The small square windows are full in view
Which the midnight hags went sailing through,
On their well-trained broomsticks mounted high,
Seen like shadows against the sky ;
Crossing the track of owls and bats,
Hugging before them their coal-black cats.
Well did they know, those gray old wives,
The sights we see in our daily drives :
Shimmer of lake and shine of sea,
Browns bare hill with its lonely tree,
(It was n’t then as we see it now,
With one scant scalp lock to shade its brow ;)
Dusky nooks in the Essex woods,
Dark, dim, Dante-like solitudes,
Where the tree-toad watches the sinuous snake
Glide through his forests of fern and brake;
Ipswich River ; its old stone bridge ;
Far off Andover’s Indian Ridge,
And many a scene where history tells
Some shadow of bygone terror dwells, —
Of “ Norman’s Woe ” with its tale of dread,
Of the Screeching Woman of Marblehead,
(The fearful story that turns men pale :
Don’t bid me tell it, — my speech would fail.)
For that “ couple of hundred years, or so,”
There had been no peace in the world below ;
The witches still grumbling, “ It is n’t fair;
Come, give us a taste of the upper air!
We’ve had enough of your sulphur springs,
And the evil odor that round them clings;
We long for a drink that is cool and nice, —
Great buckets of water with Wenham ice ;
We’ve served you well on earth, you know ;
You ’ re a good old — fellow — come, let us go! ”
I don’t feel sure of his being good,
But he happened to be in a pleasant mood, —
As fiends with their skins full sometimes are, —
(He’d been drinking with “ roughs ” at a Boston bar.)
So what does he do but up and shout
To a grayheard turnkey, “ Let ’em out! ”
To mind his orders was all he knew ;
The gates swung open, and out they flew.
“ Where are our broomsticks ? ” the beldams cried.
“ Here are your broomsticks,” an imp replied.
“ They ’ve been in — the place you know — so long
They smell of brimstone uncommon strong;
But, they’ve gained by being left alone, —
Just look, and you ‘ll see how tall they’ve grown.”
— “ And where is my cat ? ” a vixen squalled.
“ Yes, where are our cats?” the witches bawled,
And began to call them all by name :
As fast as they called the cats, they came :
There was bob-tailed Tommy and long-tailed Tim,
And wall-eyed Jacky and green-eyed Jim,
And splay foot Benny and slim-legged Beau,
And Skinny and Squally, and Jerry and Joe,
And many another that came at call, —
It would take too long to count them all.
All black, — one could hardly tell which was which,
But every cat knew his own old witch ;
And she knew hers as hers knew her, —
Ah, did n’t they curl their tails and purr!
No sooner the withered hags were free
Than out they swarmed for a midnight spree ;
I could n’t tell all they did in rhymes,
But the Essex people had dreadful times.
The Swampscott fishermen still relate
How a strange sea-monster stole their bait;
How their nets were tangled in loops and knots,
And they found dead crabs in their lobsterpots.
Poor Danvers grieved for her blasted crops,
And Wilmington mourned over mildewed hops.
A blight played havoc with Beverly beans, —
It was all the work of those hateful queans !
A dreadful panic began at “ Pride’s,”
Where the witches stopped in their midnight rides,
And there rose strange rumors and vague alarms
’Mid the peaceful dwellers at Beverly Farms.
Now when the Boss of the beldams found
That without his leave they were ramping round,
He called, — they could hear him twenty miles,
From Chelsea beach to the Misery Isles;
The deafest old granny knew his tone
Without the trick of the telephone.
“ Come here, you witches! Come here! " says he, —
“ At your games of old, without asking me !
I ’ll give you a little job to do
That will keep you stirring, you godless crew! ”
They came, of course, at their master’s call,
The witches, the broomsticks, the cats, and all;
He led the hags to a railway train
The horses were trying to drag in vain.
“ Now, then,” says he, “ you ’ve had your fun,
And here are the cars you’ve got to run.
The driver may just unhitch his team,
We don’t want horses, we don’t want steam ;
You may keep your old black cats to hug,
But the loaded train you have got to lug.”
Since then on many a car you ’ll see
A broomstick plain as plain can be ;
On every stick there’s a witch astride, —
The string you see to her leg is tied.
She will do a mischief if she can,
But the string is held by a careful man,
And whenever the evil-minded witch
Would cut some caper he gives a twitch.
As for the hag, you can’t see her,
But hark! you can hear her black cat’s purr,
And now and then, as a train goes by,
You may catch a gleam from her wicked eye.
Often you’ve looked on a rushing train,
But just what moved it was not so plain.
It couldn’t be those wires above,
For they could neither pull nor shove ;
Where was the motor that made it go
You could n’t guess, but now you know.
Remember my rhymes when you ride again
On the rattling rail by the broomstick train!

Oliver Wendell Holmes.