The Pernicious Picture Post Card

A WHILE ago, an old friend of mine set out for a year in southern Europe; and as he is a merry old fellow, bubbling over with genial scholarship and rich experience, I felicitated myself on the juicy letters which he would send me. “Now,” thought I, as the days of his absence lengthened into weeks, “now, he will be getting to Rome, — Roma beata, whither I am ever borne in thought, alas, how unavailingly! — now he will be getting to Rome, and now he will be pouring out his riches in fluent script for me — for me! Through his eyes, I shall see. For me too the seven hills shall rise. For me too,— bitter though this iron winter round me be, — for me too the Italian sun shall kiss the Campagna. For me too the moon shall flood the Coliseum with her mellow light.” Verily, you see, I was in a proper mood.

Nor did the mood lapse as the days began again to grow to weeks. In my mind’s eye I saw that letter finished, enveloped, sealed, and addressed. With it I entered the carrier’s pouch. I hid with it in mailbags; I followed its course by land and sea; I was flung forth with it from a Cunarder in New York harbor; I shared its cramped quarters over endless miles in a railway mail car; with it I reached my little wayside station and was tucked into the glass-doored post-office box, — that little orifice where, as through a magic telescope, I am wont to see my visions of the great world far away. And as I pictured the successive stages of its journey, I kept myself in a fine frenzy of receptive imagination, to which the letter was to add the reality of the experiences of my alter ego. Nor had I failed to calculate its progress to a nicety; for on the appointed day, I glimpsed through the glass door of the little box a bit of my address in my old friend’s familiar chirography. With itching fingers I turned the lock; and there, displayed to my disappointed gaze, was — a picture post card! Yes, a printed picture of the Acropolis — did not I have such tame simulacra already by the score ? — and underneath, in the narrow margin left by the egregious print, my friend’s “Greetings” and his signature.

“Ah,” thought I, when I had recovered sufficiently to think at all; “time was when this thing could not have been. Time was, before this futile complexity of life which we call Progress had got hold upon us, when my friend could not have so neglected me, even if he would. Time was, when a journey was an epoch and a letter an experience. Time was, when no flying picture post cards ticked off the successive stops of a hasty ’run’ abroad. No five-day turbines hurtled across the Atlantic, providing your traveler with the excuse that if he had no time to write more than a word to-day, he had always to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow. No, in those good old days my friend would have journaled his impressions day by day, and then on some fine morning he would have sat him down to a quill pen and innumerable sheets of impalpable paper, and the world could go hang while he wrote to me.”

But it is not only to the traveler that the post card has come as an insidious temptation. It has invaded the courts of love as well. The time is past when one could find the lover

“ Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad
Made to his mistress’s eyebrow.”

No longer does he

“ . . . carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she.”

If he does not propose by telephone,— Query, “Will you have me ? ” Answer — “Yes, who is it ?” — he sends a post card bearing two hearts pierced by Cupid’s arrow, — and the deed is done. Blighted by the pernicious postal, how shall we renew to posterity those fragrant traditions which all the world loves best? What have we in this degenerate age to compare with that gem of love-letters which sentimental Dick Steele wrote to Mistress Scurlock ?

MADAM, — It is the hardest thing to be in love, and yet attend to business. As for me, all who speak to me find me out, and I must lock myself up, or other people will do it for me.

A gentleman asked me this morning, “What news from Lisbon?” and I answered, “She is exquisitely handsome.” Another desired to know, “When I had been last at Hampton-court ? ” I replied, “It will be Tuesday come se’nnight.” Pr’ythee allow me at least to kiss your hand before that day, that my mind may be in some composure. Oh Love!

“A thousand torments dwell about thee
Yet who would live, to live without thee ? ”

Methinks I could write a volume to you; but all the language on earth would fail in saying how much and with what disinterested passion,
I am ever yours,
RICH. STEELE.

Nay, ’t was only the other day that I culled this item from the “personal” column of a Chicago newspaper: “It is said that Princess Ena, who is betrothed to the King of Spain, writes daily to her ruler sweetheart on a picture post card in Spanish, and with similar regularity King Alfonso writes a few words in English upon a similar card to the princess.” I used to be fond of repeating to sentimental youths a bit of cynic’s doggerel:

“ Love, love, you ’re such a dizziness,
Won’t let a young man ’tend to his business,”

and warning them that some day the order of things would have to be reversed; but in my most cynical moments I never dreamed that we should come to this !