Bubblyjocks

THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB

PROBABLY everybody has heard of the little boy in Scotland who was asked if his life were happy. “Aye,” he replied, but doubtfully, and added that he was “sair hauden doon by yon bubblyjock.” If this laddie had been the only one so held down, the story would not have been so important; but it is all the world’s story. We should all be good and wildly happy — many of us feel that we should be great — if it were not that we were so sair hauden doon by a bubblyjock. (Adam of course named the bubblyjock a turkey; Eve knew when she saw it cruising toward her with the fat overbearing gait of a bully, and before she heard its absurd voice, that it was the bubblyjock, and no other.)

They do not all appear with feathers and gobbling; some of them assume the forms of beloved relatives. We all know some one who seems to fade, and lose all charm and individuality in the presence of his family or some member of it. Your bubblyjock may be a cook, mine Mrs. Grundy. It may be a policeman, or the church, or a taste for whiskey. We do not know what our neighbor’s may be, and we may not ask, for we do not want him to know what ours is; but we should be very kind and gentle with him, for he may have run to us to escape from its intolerable gobbling. Some — and these are the great — will not submit to be hauden doon by their bubblyjocks. It was perhaps his that Jacob wrestled with; as a prince he had power, and he prevailed, but as he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him and he halted upon his thigh. Stevenson wrestled with his, and he also prevailed as a prince and received his blessing from God and from his fellow men; but he too halted — it is a cruel fight. Our bubblyjocks are fearfully calculated to our strength. Columbus, whose story has enough romance in it to furnish dreams for all the dreamers in worlds yet undiscovered, had a powerful bubblyjock of ignorance and prejudice, which tried obstinately to hold him down. Think of contending with minds so lacking in imagination that they could offer him one of the richest provinces of Spain, if he would give up all claim to dominion in the new world. A province of Spain! All Spain, all Europe, all the Kingdoms of the Earth, in exchange for one handful of the dirt of America, his America, which he found first in his heart, and then sailed to find in the fearful monster-haunted sea! How lonely he must have felt when he realized that they could offer him that! A poem ought to be written about it.

Literature is full of stories of bubblyjocks — indeed all stories with a very few exceptions are about bubblyjocks and their victims. Samson — Holy Writ is rich in examples — Samson’s bubblyjock is not spoken of by that name, but is plainly to be seen by those who search the Scriptures, and by those who go to the opera. It was always with him and it was always the same, though it was not always called by the same name — Delilah was not the name of the lady who wept before him seven days, and on the seventh day got what she was weeping for. He tried to joke with Delilah, to fool her, to evade her. But in the end “his soul was vexed unto death.” It is folly to try and joke with that kind of a bubblyjock — they are notoriously lacking in humor.

Ibsen has dramatized the struggle. It is his great theme. Nora ran away from hers. Hedda was one — imagine trying to be a useful citizen with a wife like Iledda! imagine a childhood with Hedda for your mother. Imagine anything good coming to fruition under the withering gaze of those bored, malignant eyes. Could any spirit have survived it ? One searches in vain among the husbands of fiction (they are a sorry lot on the whole) to find one with whom we might arrange a trial marriage with Hedda in the hope that he would not allow himself to be hauden doon by her. Petruchio would be a child in her hands; the mild friendly American husbands would drive her to delirium. Othello might be the man — his methods were very direct.

One of Zangwill’s heroes was “rescued from love and happiness.” Poor soul, who longed to love and be happy, and who had to be great! He did not want to part with his alluring bubblyjoek. Lafcadio Hearn writes to a friend that he has an assured income offered him for his work. “ Of course I can write and write and write,” he says, “but the moment I begin to write for money vanishes the small special flavour which is Me. And I become nobody again; and the public wonders why it ever paid any attention to so commonplace a fool. So I must sit and wait for the gods.” Sair hauden doon by the bubblyjock, who snatches the very bread and butter from a man’s mouth. So many of us held down by a weight of money, so many by the bitter want of it.

We know more of the bubblyjocks of the writing-bodies, because whether they want to or not, they must, happily, write about themselves, — but we others, ordinary folk, have them too, individuals and nations, France has a way of rushing at hers, wringing their necks in a great flurry of feathers. Russia, Austria, Spain — sair hauden doon. (America is less oppressed by hers, on account of her yearly rite of roasting them in effigy — She has so much to be thankful for!)

One can imagine gay souls, a few, who have lived their lives without the fear of a bubblyjock. Some innocent and busy painter, or violin-maker in Italy, long ago — some young creature in the Forest of Arden. Leon Battista Alberti lived a more abundant life, accomplished more in his time than seems to be possible to normal men. Johann Sebastian Bach may never have known one. Certainly his music, serene and joyous, shows no shadow of its wing. He had a score of children, and perhaps he sat in their midst playing divine ensemble music in perfect harmony and peace. And we might all of us be Bachs and Albertis if we were just not so hauden doon by our bubblyjocks!

But we cannot tell. Bubblyjocks are not lions, they do not kill and devour; they torment. They do not attempt life, but the joy of life. They cannot prevent our doing as we please, but they can gobble at us and threaten us, so that we work in defiance and not in joy; grimly instead of whistling. Like the little boy in Scotland, we eat our oat-cake, and with a sort of appetite; but we keep one eye on the strutting bubblyjock.