The Better Recipe

But is knowledge different from understanding? No, by Zeus, no more than life is different from life. — MAXIMUS OF TYRE.

MR. OLESEN, the new assistant in English, was overjoyed at his appointment. All his life, he felt, had been a preparation for this moment. As early as his last year in high school, he had planned to be a teacher of English. Somehow or other the study had aroused his tastes and satisfied them at the same time, like a delicious narcotic.

But when the first department meeting was called, and he found himself surrounded by his colleagues, he felt a trifle ill at ease. He seemed curiously alone in this room of quiet gentlemen, who seemed so much more intelligent than sympathetic. He was conscious of his red face and yellow hair, for those about him had gray faces and brown hair. He was conscious of a turbulence within him, for round him there was a polite serenity.

Of all the men who sat in that room, only one appealed to him, the Head of the Department. He seemed to have a vitality permeating him which the others universally lacked. He looks,’ thought Olesen, ‘as if the breeze were blowing in his face.’ His eyes were wide open, his hair stood up like grass, there was (and this was a genuine difference) a brilliant color in his cheeks. He looked like a jovial and well-fed burgher of old France; whereas the others looked like underpaid clergymen of New England — who had lost their faith.

While the Head was making his opening remarks in his hearty manner, Olesen permitted his eye to wander about discreetly. Most of the men sat with their looks lowered to the table, but one pure countenance was lifted parallel with the ceiling, as if to avoid until the bitter end the rising waters of the commonplace.

‘That man,’ said Olesen to himself, drawing in his lips, ‘is an aesthete and a prig. I hate him.’

The man’s name was Merryvale — Charles Boynton Merryvale. Although he had never published anything, he was known to be working on a monumental treatise, Notes on the Suspension of Certain Rules for Syllabication in Twelve West-Saxon Strong Verbs, with Special Reference to Verbs of Motion and Rest. Very few people had been allowed a glance at this piece of work; but those who had been came away saying that they had neverseen anything like it. They said that it would certainly cause a stir in English departments all over America and, mayhap, in Canada.

As soon as the Head had finished speaking, Merryvale claimed the floor. It was granted to him without a struggle. His voice was thin and exquisitely cultivated. One felt — at least Olesen felt — as if he were listening to a bed of petunias. Merryvale developed the thesis that the teaching of composition was illogical because it began with sentences instead of with words. He said that that was like beginning music with gestures or mathematics with surveying. This went on for twenty minutes, by which time the Head had taken to drawing huge ogres, with maliciously curling tongues, on the cover of his notebook. Then Merryvale developed the practical side of his thesis, which occupied only ten minutes and wound up with the plea that he be granted permission to run his classes in the logical manner.

The Head knew in his heart that it made but very little difference how he taught composition. The students would never learn what they did not use; and when they needed English composition, they would all hire secretaries. He was perfectly willing to let anybody try out anything, if he could only be left in peace. So he told Merryvale to go ahead, and assigned him two readers. One of them, alas, was Olesen.

Merryvale shuddered when he saw Olesen’s red face, much as he would have shuddered at the sight of a black tie with evening clothes. He felt at once that Olesen was not simpatico, and that the standards of university life had been lowered, like pasture-bars, for strange cattle to enter the fold. For to Merryvale the university was a flock of choice animals selected for their breeding. To admit men of less delicate lineage than himself into the flock was not only bad taste, but a sin.

‘ You would not hang a Rosa Bonheur among your Whistlers,’ he said.

Olesen felt similarly toward Merryvale. He expressed himself, however, in a manner less refined.

‘ Who the-does he think he is? ’ he muttered.

He loathed Merryvale’s method of teaching English as much as he did his personality. To him, who used words rapturously and extravagantly, the fastidiousness of Merryvale was disgusting. He described him to himself as a jeweler sitting over a tray of semiprecious stones, picking them up one by one with a slender pair of tweezers, examining them on every side, in hopes of finding one to set in a ring, and always giving up the quest. Olesen never weighed his words; he gathered them up by handfuls and poured them out exuberantly. Hence he swore that his poor Freshmen were being cramped, twisted, repressed, squeezed, desiccated, fossilized, frozen, and ruined by what he called this abominable beadwork.

But his oaths were all private and his criticisms internal, for he was sure that no other member of the faculty saw with his eyes. He put them all into the same boat with Merryvale — and he often wished the boat would be lost at sea. If only the others would wake up and behold what a monstrosity they were harboring, there might be some hope. Even the great Head was silent.

One day, to his surprise, Olesen saw a look of impatience flit across the well-trained face of one of his colleagues while Merryvale was inserting his careful dogma into the conversation at the Club. It lasted but a moment, like a very thin cloud passing swiftly across the sun; but it was enough to show him the beginning of a community of sentiment.

He took pains to make the acquaintance of this fellow sufferer, and within a month they had exchanged views on the subject of Merryvale.

‘Of course, I don’t approve of him,’ Olesen was told; ‘but we are helpless. He has the Head’s approval. Since he’s been here the work has become stiff and lifeless. Yet somehow he manages to have his way.’

‘He’s so damned sure of himself,’ was Olesen’s grumbling answer; ‘we’re too awkward.’

‘Composition used to be fairly well liked by the students too, but now — ’

Olesen had his private opinion about whether composition was ever liked by the students, but he held his peace.

‘It’s funny,’ he sighed, ‘that only we two should have discovered him.’

‘Don’t you fool yourself. Every one of us has found him out. He’s a fake, and we all know it.’

And sure enough they did. Olesen went out of his way to peer and probe. No detective was ever so zealous as he. And in the end he learned that every member of the department felt as he did — with the exception of the Head.

So he organized a rebellion against the Merryvale method. The students were to be taught ideas, not words; and Merryvale was to be asked to resign. The department grew almost excited about it. Like all educated men, they agreed on everything but the manner in which the rebellion was to be effected. The real point was not touched upon till Olesen asked them, with fire in his Norse eyes, whether they were going to be verbalized. The only question which then remained was whether the Head should know.

‘It would worry him dreadfully,’ said one man, who had a wife and four lanky adolescents.

‘It’s his job, after all,’ growled Olesen.

‘Still, he’s fond of Merryvale.’

‘How do we know?’ asked a little voice in a corner.

They decided that they did n’t. It goes without saying that, after that, nothing remained to be done except to bell the cat. And when the Senior Member refused, all refused with him.

‘Oh, the devil!’ said Olesen, ‘I’ll do it. I don’t mind.’

With sighs of relief the petition was given into his care. It turned out to be a beautifully worded document, and it expounded an indictment which would have made the crimes of George the Third, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, seem mere peccadilloes. It related as a sort of preamble a general philsophy of teaching English, which was broad enough to include everyone’s opinion and vague enough to hurt no one’s feelings. It then set forth the peculiar sins of Charles Boynton Merryvale, one after another, and concluded with the pious wish that he would recognize his unimportance for the welfare of the department and, in short, get out.

Olesen was really happy when it was written; and although only a part of the department was present to sign, and that the younger part, he felt that he might submit the matter to the Head.

Poor Olesen!

The Head was seated in his famous armchair before his fire reading the Nouveau Cuisinier Européen, by Jules Breteuil, ancien chef de cuisine, when Olesen entered. If he knew the purpose of the call, he was determined not to show it, for he immediately began to talk.

‘Olesen,’ he said, putting his great hand on his subordinate’s left shoulder and pushing him into a low chair from which it was next to impossible to arise without help, ‘Olesen, you’ve come in the nick of time. I have just reached the paragraph on marcassin rôti. A marcassin, Olesen, is first cousin to our sucking pig — a sort of Thoreau among the edibles, living in the thickets, avoiding man, and always sneaking to the turnip-fields on moonlit nights when he wants something really good to eat. The marcassin is a delightful little beast; I have seen children playing with tame specimens in the village of Aillianville (Haute-Marne). It hurts one to kill him and eat him, much as it would hurt one to kill and eat a faun or a baby centaur; much as it would hurt one to attack any harmless animal, Olesen. Now the best manner, says Breteuil, of cooking the young marcassin is to get him while he is still at his mother’s teat, to cut off his head, and wrap it in strong paper so that it may not lose its shape in the roasting; for, says our authority, “comme elle ne contient que peu de parties mangebales, elle n’a pas d’autre destination que celle de donner àa ce rôti une physionomie originale. ” In a like manner, my boy, we roast our enemies, we humans, torturing their bodies, but carefully preserving their heads, to set on pikes above our gates, that passers-by may see them and laugh. The weaker and sillier the adversary, the more careful we are to preserve the head; for we know that revenge from family or henchman is hardly likely. Did you ever cook a marcassin, Olesen? ’

‘No,’replied Olesen hoarsely, from the depths of his chair, feeling very hot from the fire and from rising shame.

‘The art of cooking,’ went on the Head mercilessly, ‘is as delicate as that of miniature-painting and yet as strong as sculpture. But of all modes of cooking, roasting is the most, primitive and, in its modern survivals, an inspiration toward atavism and barbarism. We should never roast. It is to cooking what obscenity is to humor, what the comic valentine is to satire. How much finer is this recipe, how much more advanced, than that to which we have just, referred. “The ham of a wild boar,” — I quote again from Breteuil, — “even when it comes from an animal killed in the height of the season, and hence is very fat, ought always to be garnished, row upon row, with bits of bacon of medium size, strongly seasoned with salt and pepper. The ham is then left in a bath highly charged with salt, bay leaves, thyme, sage, peppercorns, and slices of large onions. Twice, or even thrice, ought the ham to be returned to this bath. Then, removing it, dry it well, sew it in white linen, and put it in the braising-pot with the bath in which it has been soaking, adding three or four carrots, as many onions stuck with cloves, two or three bay leaves,” — O Delphic Apollo! —“a bouquet of herbs, and as much white wine of Graves, of Barsac, or of Sauterne if you choose, as will cover it completely.” There, my lad, is the proper discipline for the human spirit. No mere application of coals to the quivering flesh, but baths of herbs and of wine, — vin ordinaire would have been better than those given by Breteuil, — and the tender solicitude of an artist for his work. Olesen, could our relations with men we dislike be as thoughtful and as humane as those of Jules Breteuil with foods, a happier civilization would be ours — a civilization where the comic spirit, might prevail, wearing a sprig of thyme in his button-hole, where Savagery with bloody jaws would be exiled from the society of mortals to that purely allegorical realm where he belongs.’

Olesen put His two hands on the arms of his low chair and raised himself from its depths. He was blushing furiously and trying to control it.

The Head put his hand once more on his shoulder and steered him to the door.

‘Good-bye,’ he said, ‘the next time you call I’ll tell you how Breteuil describes a menu for thirty-six covers. Promise me that you have abandoned roasts forever.’

‘Forever,’ groaned Olesen in dejection. ‘Good-bye, sir.’

The Head went back to his cookbook well satisfied with himself, singing in his nautical bass, —

‘Sammy Smith would cat and drink
From morning unto night;
He filled his mouth so full of meat,
It was a shameful sight.
‘ Sometimes he gave a book or toy
For apple, cake, or plum;
And grudged if any other boy
Should taste a single crumb,’

But Olesen had no heart to sing. For the life of him he could not tell just what wrong he had been guilty of; but he felt that the Head, at any rate, knew, and the fact that the Head was disappointed in him, if he actually was disappointed in him, hurt him terribly.

‘No,’ he said to himself, ‘I have certainly not been roasted; I ’ve been first browned on both sides with a little onion and fat, and left to simmer. —And as for Merryvale, he can go to the devil.’

And it is reported that he dropped the petition down the nearest sewer when no one was looking, and walked on, feeling like Christian after he had lost his burden.

Meanwhile Merryvale, happily unconscious of all this, was living his life out serenely and lecturing to his three sections of English I on sound-shiftings. He apparently knew nothing of the conspiracy against him; indeed, it would have been hard for him to believe that any of his colleagues had impudence enough to try to oust him. He knew, of course, that everyone was plotting to steal his ideas, his method, but never his job.

And yet one wonders that he was so fortified by his wall of egoism that he suspected nothing, even when the Head began to recommend him for new positions, ranging from Williamstown to Pomona. Not a vacancy arose but the Head put him down to fill it. But Merryvale’s reply to these invitations, in tones as dutiful and as chilling as a martyr’s, protested that high salary, elevated position, or increased power, should not divert him from paying the debt that he owed to Winsodemia, where his method was first appreciated.

’In worldly things,’ he said a little sadly, ’I am ill rewarded; but, oh, the richness of the prize in knowing that I have fulfilled my obligations ‘to you.'

He looked gratefully at the Head.

The Head said, ‘Hum,’ and went away.

At the very end of the summer vacation came an offer from a Californian institution, which paid very well although it was not well known.

The Head wired Merryvale: —

‘Appointment as Professor of English X-College four thousand yearly chance for missionary work do not lose this opportunity for the Merryvale System.'

It did the work.

For the answer was not slow in coming. X-College was soon possessed

of a problem of its own. No one at Winsodemia dared breathe until the missionary was actually on his way. Then Olesen received a short note from the Head.

“ Le repas est terminé; on acheve le dessert; on attend le café. C’est àa ce moment qu’il faut faire circuler le champagne mousseux et le vin d’Arbois. — BRETEUIL, p. 707.’

He felt much happier.