On 'Of Names'
MY wife was awaiting me at the breakfast-table. She was reading a magazine, and was evidently deriving great pleasure therefrom.
‘Oh — but here is a delightful bit, she cried, as I took my seat. ’I just love it! I must read it to you!’
And she began reading what proved to be a little essay, the title of which was, she announced, ‘Of Names.’
‘“Who does not know the man who is in the habit of marring the stillness of summer days . . . by glibly reciting the name of every bird within reach of his opera-glasses, or his blood brother who makes night hideous by calling the roll of the stars?”’
Thus the essay opened.
‘Does your author advocate dropping the specific names of all birds and all stars? ’ I interrupted to ask.
‘ Ye-es, I think so,’ she replied; ‘why not? I think it would be much nicer.’
‘ You may, if you wish, in the case of stars; but when it’s a question of birds, don’t! Else you will, the next time you go to the poulterer’s, order a fowl, with the chance of getting a duck or guinea, when you know I care only for chicken. Name your bird. Go on.’
My wife sniffed and continued to read. She had just finished the phrase, ‘Cloak things with the stupor of a name,’ when the door-bell rang.
‘Go see who it is, Tom,’ she said.
‘ I cannot see that it matters who it is,’ I said, tasting my cereal. ‘ We know it is a person, a man or a woman, a boy or a girl — let that suffice. What would the name of that person benefit us? And please don’t cloak me with the stupor of a name—it is so useless.’
The bell clanged again.
‘Will you go and see what they want?’ she demanded icily.
‘Why, certainly!’ I replied.
I went to the door, where I found Blimp, our next-door neighbor, who informed me that our dog had come into his yard and killed his Persian cat.
‘It was our contiguous neighbor to the east,’ I explained, as I sat down again. ‘He says that our animal came into his yard and killed his animal.’
She glared at me, a glare that I pretended not to see, and framed a question on her lips. But she did n’t ask it. She resumed her reading.
The cereal was excellent and I gave it my attention, but I caught the words, ‘“Intelligent men and women persist in saying, ‘See that bobolink!’ or ‘ Notice the Pleiades! ’ with a selfindulgent vanity just short of proprietary.”’
‘Oh, I forgot to tell you,’ I broke in at this point, ‘that I decided on the new car, and bought it yesterday.’
‘You did? Which one did you get?’ she asked excitedly, laying down her magazine; ‘the Ulysses or the Achilles?’
‘Don’t tempt me to indulge my vanity,’ I begged. ‘I bought a new car yesterday, and I trust it will prove a good car. The meat is very tender this morning. Is there more of that article? ’
There was and she read it, but the tenderness of the bacon so distracted me that I caught only the words,—and they seemed to be the closing ones,— ‘“the evening star flickers in the sky. Would it profit anything, I wonder, to know whether it is Jupiter or Venus?”’
‘These tuberous vegetables don’t bake so well as the last lot we had,’ I remarked. ‘That doctrine — if it may be called a doctrine — is a queer one. Pretty thin, I’d say.’
‘Do you know what magazine I’ve been reading from?’
‘No, I do not.’
‘The Atlantic !’
‘And pray, my dear, what does it profit me to know whether you have been reading to me from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean?’ I asked.
My wife was hurt. I was sorry she was hurt. The conversation, during the remainder of the meal, was not a success. After she had left the table, I sneaked the magazine from the stand where she had laid it, searched for, found, and read ‘Of Names.’ It was delightful, just as my wife had said. I had finished it and was lighting my cigar when she called to me, ‘Oh, Tom, come here and see the birds pecking the pieces of suet we hung out yesterday. There’s a cardinal, two juncos, a blue jay, a dozen or more English sparrows, and one I don’t know at all. Hurry, and see if you recognize it!’
I hurried, but on the way I indulged in one of my stock remarks: ‘The female mind is a funny proposition.’