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Transcribers Note:

1. Passages in italics are surrounded by _underscores_.
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located at the end of this text.




The
Crow's
Nest




+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+
| |
| This Simian World |
| |
| By Clarence Day, Jr. |
| |
| "One of the best pieces of satire from |
| the pen of an American. As a recruiting |
| pamphlet for the human race. 'This Simian |
| World' cannot be surpassed." |
| |
| - _New York Tribune._ |
| |
| "The most amusing little essay of the year. |
| We like best his picture of the cat |
| civilization. It is even finer than Swift's |
| immortal description of a country governed |
| by the super-horse." |
| |
| - _The Independent._ |
| |
| _$1.50 net at all bookshops_ |
| |
| New York: Alfred A. Knopf |
| |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+




The Crow's Nest

_by_ Clarence Day, Jr.

With Illustrations by the Author

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

New York Alfred · A · Knopf Mcmxxi


COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
CLARENCE DAY, JR.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


_With Acknowledgments to the Editors of the Metropolitan Magazine,
Harpers Magazine, Harpers Weekly, The New Republic, and The Boston
Transcript._




[Illustration]


Contents

PAGE

The Three Tigers 3
As They Go Riding By 7
A Man Gets Up in the Morning 15
Odd Countries 18
On Cows 26
Stroom and Graith 28
Legs vs. Architects 44
To Phoebe 49
Sex, Religion and Business 51
An Ode to Trade 63
Objections to Reading 65


ON AUTHORS

The Enjoyment of Gloom 77
Buffoon Fate 84
The Wrong Lampman 89
The Seamy Side of Fabre 93
In His Baby Blue Ship 101


PROBLEMS

The Man Who Knew Gods 109
Improving the Lives of the Rich 118
From Noah to Now 128
Sic Semper Dissenters 135
Humpty Dumpty and Adam 137
How It Looks to a Fish 142
A Hopeful Old Bigamist 147
The Revolt of Capital 154
Still Reading Away 161


PORTRAITS

A Wild Polish Hero 165
Mrs. P.'s Side of It 173
The Death of Logan 183
Portrait of a Lady 190
Grandfather's Three Lives 198
Story of a Farmer 217




The
Crow's
Nest




The Three Tigers


As to Tiger Number One, what he likes best is prowling and hunting. He
snuffs at all the interesting and exciting smells there are on the
breeze; that dark breeze that tells him the secrets the jungle has hid:
every nerve in his body is alert, every hair in his whiskers; his eyes
gleam; he's ready for anything. He and Life are at grips.

[Illustration]

Number Two is a higher-browed tiger, in a nice cozy cave. He has
spectacles; he sits in a rocking-chair reading a book. And the book
describes all the exciting smells there are on the breeze, and tells him
what happens in the jungle, where nerves are alert; where adventure,
death, hunting and passion are found every night. He spends his life
reading about them, in a nice cozy cave.

It's a curious practice. You'd think if he were interested in jungle
life he'd go out and live it. There it is, waiting for him, and that's
what he really is here for. But he makes a cave and shuts himself off
from it - and then reads about it!

* * * * *

Once upon a time some victims of the book-habit got into heaven; and
what do you think, they behaved there exactly as here. That was to be
expected, however: habits get so ingrained. They never took the trouble
to explore their new celestial surroundings; they sat in the harp
store-room all eternity, and read about heaven.

They said they could really learn more about heaven, that way.

And in fact, so they could. They could get more information, and faster.
But information's pretty thin stuff, unless mixed with experience.

* * * * *

But that's not the worst. It is Tiger Number Three who's the worst. He
not only reads all the time, but he wants what he reads sweetened up. He
objects to any sad or uncomfortable account of outdoors; he says it's
sad enough in his cave; he wants something uplifting So authors
obediently prepare uplifting accounts of the jungle, or they try to make
the jungle look pretty, or funny, or something; and Number Three reads
every such tale with great satisfaction. And since he's indoors all the
time and never sees the real jungle, he soon gets to think that these
nice books he reads may be true; and if new books describe the jungle
the way it is, he says they're unhealthy. "There are aspects of life in
the jungle," he says, getting hot, "that no decent tiger should ever be
aware of, or notice."

[Illustration: Book-lovers in Heaven]

Tiger Number Two speaks with contempt of these feelings of Three's.
Tigers should have more courage. They should bravely read about the real
jungle.

* * * * *

The realist and the romantic tiger are agreed upon one point, however.
They both look down on tigers that don't read but merely go out and
live.




As They Go Riding By


What kind of men do we think the mediæval knights really were? I have
always seen them in a romantic light, finer than human. Tennyson gave me
that apple, and I confess I did eat, and I have lived on the wrong diet
ever since. Malory was almost as misleading. My net impression was that
there were a few wicked, villainous knights, who committed crimes such
as not trusting other knights or saying mean things, but that even they
were subject to shame when found out and rebuked, and that all the rest
were a fine, earnest Y. M. C. A. crowd, with the noblest ideals.

But only the poets hold this view of knights, not the scholars. Here,
for example, is a cold-hearted scholar, Monsieur Albert Guerard. He has
been digging into the old mediæval records with an unromantic eye, hang
him; and he has emerged with his hands full of facts which prove the
knights were quite different. They did have some good qualities. When
invaders came around the knights fought them off as nobly as possible;
and they often went away and fought Saracens or ogres or such, and when
thus engaged they gave little trouble to the good folk at home. But in
between wars, not being educated, they couldn't sit still and be quiet.
It was dull in the house. They liked action. So they rode around the
streets in a pugnacious, wild-western manner, despising anyone who could
read and often knocking him down; and making free with the personal
property of merchants and peasants, who they thought had no special
right to property or even to life. Knights who felt rough behaved as
such, and the injuries they inflicted were often fatal.

They must have been terrors. Think of being a merchant or cleric without
any armor, and meeting a gang of ironclads, with the nearest police
court centuries off! Why, they might do anything, and whatever they did
to a merchant, they thought was a joke. Whenever they weren't beating
you up they fought with one another like demons - I don't mean just in
tournaments, which were for practice, but in small, private wars. And to
every war, public or private, citizens had to contribute; and instead of
being thanked for it, they were treated with the utmost contempt.

Suppose a handsome young citizen, seeing this and feeling ambitious,
tried to join the gang and become a knight himself. Would they let him?
No! At first, if he were a powerful fighter, he did have a small chance,
but as time went on and the knights got to feeling more noble than
ever, being not only knights but the sons of knights, they wouldn't let
in a new man. The mere idea made them so indignant they wanted to lynch
him. "Their loathing for the people seemed almost akin in its intensity
to color prejudice."

[Illustration]

They were also extravagant and improvident and never made money, so the
more they spent the more they had to demand from the people. When every
one had been squeezed dry for miles around, and had been thumped to make
sure, the knights cursed horribly and borrowed from the Church, whether
the Church would or no, or got hold of some money-lender and pulled his
beard and never paid interest.

The Church tried to make them religious and partly succeeded; there were
some Christian knights who were soldierly and courtly, of course. But,
allowing for this (and for my exaggerating their bad side, for the
moment), they certainly were not the kind of men Tennyson led me to
think.

I do not blame Tennyson. He had a perfect right to romanticize. He may
have known what toughs the knights were as well as anybody, but loved
their noble side, too, and dreamed about it until he had made it for the
moment seem real to him, and then hurried up and written his idyls
before the dream cracked. He may never have intended me or any of us to
swallow it whole. "It's not a dashed bible; it's a book of verse," I can
imagine him saying, "so don't be an idiot; don't forget to read your
encyclopedia, too."

But verse is mightier than any encyclopedia. At least it prevails.
That's because the human race is emotional and goes by its feelings. Why
haven't encyclopedists considered this? They are the men I should blame.
What is the use of embodying the truth about everything in a precise
condensed style which, even if we read it, we can't remember, since it
does not stir our feelings? The encyclopedists should write their books
over again, in passionate verse. What we need in an encyclopedia is
lyrical fervor, not mere completeness - Idyls of Economic Jurisprudence,
Songs of the Nitrates. Our present compendiums are meant for scholars
rather than people.

Well, the knights are gone and only their armor and weapons remain; and
our rich merchants who no longer are under-dogs, collect these as
curios. They present them with a magnificent gesture to local museums.
The metal suit which old Sir Percy Mortimer wore, when riding down
merchants, is now in the Briggsville Academy, which never heard of Sir
Percy, and his armor is a memorial to Samuel Briggs of the Briggs
Tailoring Company. In Europe a few ancient families, in financial decay,
are guarding their ancestors' clothing as well as they can, but sooner
or later they will be driven to sell it, to live. And they won't live
much longer at that. The race will soon be extinct.

[Illustration]

Last year I got a bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art about
armor. It described how an American collector saw a fine set in Paris.
"A single view was quite enough to enable him to decide that the armor
was too important to remain in private hands." And that settled it.
These collectors are determined fellows and must have their own
way - like the knights.

But there were difficulties this time. They couldn't at first get this
set. The knightly owner of the armor, "in whose family it was an
heirloom, was, from our point of view, singularly unreasonable: he ...
was unwilling to part with it; the psychological crisis when he would
allow it to pass out of his hands must, therefore, be awaited." For
there comes "a propitious moment in cases of this kind," adds the
bulletin.

Yes, "in cases of this kind" collectors comfortably wait for that crisis
when the silent old knightly owner finally has to give in. They leave
agents to watch him while he struggles between want and pride, agents
who will snap him up if a day comes when the old man is weak. These
agents must be persistent and shrewd, and must present tactful
arguments, and must shoo away other agents, if possible, so as to keep
down the price. When the "propitious" time comes they must act quickly,
lest the knight's weakness pass, or lest some other knight send him help
and thus make them wait longer. And, having got the armor, they hurry
it off, give a dinner, and other merchants come to view it and measure
it and count up the pieces.

This sort of thing has been happening over and over in Europe - the
closing scenes of the order of knighthood, not foreseen at gay
tournaments! They were lucky in those days not to be able to look into
the future. Are _we_ lucky to be blind, at Mount Vernon or on some old
campus? The new times to come may be better - that always is
possible - but they won't be the kind we are building, and they may scrap
our shrines.

Some day when our modern types of capitalists are extinct, in their
turn, will future poets sing of their fine deeds and make young readers
dream? Our capitalists are not popular in these days, but the knights
weren't in theirs, and whenever abuse grows extreme a reaction will
follow. Our critics and reformers think _they_ will be the heroes of
song, but do we sing of critics who lived in the ages of chivalry? There
must have been reformers then who pleaded the cause of down-trodden
citizens, and denounced and exposed cruel knights, but we don't know
their names. It is the knights we remember and idealize, even old
Front-de-Boeuf. They were doers - and the men of the future will
idealize ours. Our predatory interests will seem to them gallant and
strong. When a new Tennyson appears, he will never look up the things
in our newspapers; he won't even read the encyclopedia - Tennysons don't.
He will get his conception of capitalists out of his heart. Mighty men
who built towers to work in, and fought with one another, and engaged in
great capitalist wars, and stood high above labor. King Carnegie and his
round directors' table of barons of steel. Armour, Hill and Stillman,
Jay Gould - musical names, fit for poems.

The men of the future will read, and disparage their era, and wish they
had lived in the wild clashing times we have now. They will try to
enliven the commonplaceness of their tame daily lives by getting up
memorial pageants where they can dress up as capitalists - some with high
hats and umbrellas (borrowed from the museums), some as golfers or polo
players, carrying the queer ancient implements. Beautiful girls will
happily unbuckle their communist suits and dress up in old silken
low-necks, hired from a costumer. Little boys will look on with awe as
the procession goes by, and then hurry off to the back yard and play
they are great financiers. And if some essay, like this, says the
capitalists were not all noble, but a mixed human lot like the knights,
many with selfish, harsh ways, the reader will turn from it restlessly.
We need these illusions.

Ah, well, if we must romanticize something, it had best be the past.




A Man Gets Up in the Morning


A man gets up in the morning and looks out at the weather, and dresses,
and goes to his work, and says hello to his friends, and plays a little
pool in the evening and gets into bed. But only a part of him has been
active in doing all that. He has a something else in him - a wondering
instinct - a "soul." Assuming he isn't religious, what does he do with
_that_ part of him?

He usually keeps that part of him asleep if he can. He doesn't like to
let it wake up and look around at the world, because it asks awful
questions - about death, or truth - and that makes him uncomfortable. He
wants to be cheery and he hates to have his soul interfere. The soul is
too serious and the best thing to do is to deaden it.

Humor is an opiate for the soul, says Francis Hackett. Laugh it off:
that's one way of not facing a trouble. Sentimentality, too, drugs the
soul; so does business. That's why humor and sentimentality and business
are popular.

In Russia, it's different. Their souls are more awake, and less covered.
The Russians are not businesslike, and they're not sentimental, or
humorous. They are spiritually naked by contrast. An odd, moody people.
We look on, well wrapped-up, and wonder why they shiver at life.

"My first interest," the Russian explains, "is to know where I stand: I
must look at the past, and the seas of space about me, and the intricate
human drama on this little planet. Before I can attend to affairs, or be
funny, or tender, I must know whether the world's any good. Life may all
be a fraud."

The Englishman and American answer that this is not practical. They
don't believe in anyone's sitting down to stare at the Sphinx. "That
won't get you anywhere," they tell him. "You must be up and doing. Find
something that interests you, then do it, and - "

"Well, and what?" says the Russian.

"Why - er - and you'll find out as much of the Riddle in that way as any."

"And how much is that?"

[Illustration]

"Why, not so very damn much perhaps," we answer. "But at least you'll
keep sane."

[Illustration: But why stay sane?]

"Why keep sane?" says the Russian. "If there is any point to so doing I
should naturally wish to. But if one can't find a meaning to anything,
what is the difference?"

And the American and Englishman continue to recommend business.




Odd Countries


When I go away for a vacation, which I don't any more, I am or was
appalled at the ridiculous inconveniences of it. I have sometimes gone
to the Great Mother, Nature; sometimes to hotels. Well, the Great Mother
is kind, it is said, to the birds and the beasts, the small furry
creatures, and even, of old, to the Indian. But I am no Indian; I am not
even a small furry creature. I dislike the Great Mother. She's damp: and
far too full of insects.

And as for hotels, the man in the next room always snores. And by the
time you get used to this, and get in with some gang, your vacation is
over and you have to turn around and go home.

[Illustration: The farmer who hates you on sight]

I can get more for my money by far from a book. For example, the
Oppenheim novels: there are fifty-three of them, and to read them is
almost like going on fifty-three tours. A man and his whole family
could take six for the price of one pair of boots. Instead of trying to
find some miserable mosquitoey hotel at the sea-shore, or an old
farmer's farmhouse where the old farmer will hate you on sight, and
instead of packing a trunk and running errands and catching a train I go
to a book-shop and buy any Oppenheim novel. When I go on a tour with
him, I start off so quickly and easily. I sit in my armchair, I turn to
the first page, and it's like having a taxi at the door - "Here's your
car, sir, all ready!" The minute I read that first page I am off like a
shot, into a world where things never stop happening. Magnificent
things! It's about as swift a change as you could ask from jog-trot
daily life.

[Illustration: Is she an adventuress?]

On page two, I suddenly discover that beautiful women surround me. Are
they adventuresses? I cannot tell. I must beware every minute. Everybody
is wary and suave, and they are all princes and diplomats. The
atmosphere is heavy with the clashing of powerful wills. Paid murderers
and spies are about. Hah! am I being watched? The excitement soon gets
to a point where it goes to my head. I find myself muttering thickly or
biting my lips - two things I never do ordinarily and should not think of
doing. I may even give a hoarse cry of rage as I sit in my armchair. But
I'm not in my armchair. I am on a terrace, alone, in the moonlight. A
beautiful woman (a reliable one) comes swiftly toward me. Either she is
enormously rich or else I am, but we don't think of that. We embrace
each other. Hark! There is the duke, busily muttering thickly. How am I
to reply to him? I decide to give him a hoarse cry of rage. He bites his
lips at me. Some one else shoots us both. All is over.

[Illustration: I wonder if I'm being watched?]

* * * * *

If any one is too restless to take his vacation in books, the quaintest
and queerest of countries is just around the corner. An immigrant is
only allowed to stay from 8.15 to 11 P. M., but an hour in this country
does more for you than a week in the mountains. No canned fish and
vegetables, no babies -

[Illustration: Babies seem so dissatisfied]

I wonder, by the way, why most babies find existence so miserable?
Convicts working on roadways, stout ladies in tight shoes and corsets,
teachers of the French language - none of these suffering souls wail in
public; _they_ don't go around with puckered-up faces, distorted and
screaming, and beating the air with clenched fists. Then why babies? You
may say it's the nurse; but look at the patients in hospitals. They put
up not only with illness, but nurses besides. No, babies are
unreasonable; they expect far too much of existence. Each new generation
that comes takes one look at the world, thinks wildly, "Is _this_ all
they've done to it?" and bursts into tears. "You might have got the
place ready for us," they would say, only they can't speak the language.
"What _have_ you been doing all these thousands of years on this planet?
It's messy, it's badly policed, badly laid out and built - "

Yes, Baby. It's dreadful. I don't know why we haven't done better. I
said just now that you were unreasonable, but I take it all back.
Statesmen complain if their servants fail to keep rooms and kitchens in
order, but are statesmen themselves any good at getting the world tidied
up? No, we none of us are. We all find it a wearisome business.

Let us go to that country I spoke of, the one round the corner. We
stroll through its entrance, and we're in Theatrical-Land.

A remarkable country. May God bless the man who invented it. I always am
struck by its ways, it's so odd and delightful -

"But," some one objects (it is possible), "it isn't real."

Ah, my dear sir, what world, then, _is_ real, as a matter of fact? You
won't deny that it's not only children who live in a world of their own,
but débutantes, college boys, business men - certainly business men, so
absorbed in their game that they lose sight of other realities. In fact,
there is no one who doesn't lose sight of some, is there? Well, that's
all that the average play does. It drops just a few out. To be sure,
when it does that, it shows us an incomplete world, and hence not the
real one; but that is characteristic of humans. We spend our lives
moving from one incomplete world to another, from our homes to our clubs
or our offices, laughing or grumbling, talking rapidly, reading the
paper, and not doing much thinking outside of our grooves. Daily life is
more comfortable, somehow, if you narrow your vision. When you try to
take in all the realities, all the far-away high ones, you must first
become quite still and lonely. And then in your loneliness a fire begins
to creep through your veins. It's - well - I don't know much about it.
Shall we return to the theater?

The oddest of all entertainments is a musical comedy. I remember that
during the war we had one about Belgium. When the curtain went up,
soldiers were talking by the light of a lantern, and clapping each other
on the shoulder when their feelings grew deep. They exchanged many
well-worded thoughts on their deep feelings, too, and they spoke these


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Online LibraryClarence DayThe crow's nest → online text (page 1 of 10)