Edward Sandford Martin.

Cousin Anthony and I: some views of ours about divers matters and various aspects of life online

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Online LibraryEdward Sandford MartinCousin Anthony and I: some views of ours about divers matters and various aspects of life → online text (page 1 of 9)
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I. Cousin Anthony and His Book .... i

II. Readers and Reading 15

III. Work and the Yankee 29

IV. Chores 41

V. Considerations Matrimonial 53

VI. Love, Friendship, and Gossip . . . . 73

VII. Woman Suffrage 89

VIII. The Knowledge of Good and Evil . . .103

IX. Civilization and Culture 119

X. Arcadia and Belgravia 137

XI. Ourselves and Other People 157

XII. Profit and Loss 177

XIII. Certain Assets of Age 193

XIV. The After-Dinner Speech 203

XV. Cousin Anthony's Address to the Trained

Nurses 213

* x* Acknowledgment is made of the courtesy of
the proprietors of SCRIBNER-S MAGAZINE,
REVIEW, and THE SUN for permission to
include in this volume articles contributed
to those publications.




JY Cousin Anthony was lately
speaking of the surprised re-
spect he sometimes felt for
himself because of certain
things he had not said. He
went a little into details, and I discovered
that nearly all the unutterances that he
prided himself upon were things that he
had omitted to tell his wife. He felt, he Discreet

reticence of

said, that not to blurt out matters to the y cousin.
general public is no particular credit to a
man, but the inducement to tell one's
wife everything that would interest her is
so strong that to have restrained one's self
from the abuse of such a privilege is fair
ground for humble self-approbation. There
are things that a conscientious man does
not feel authorized to admit even to him-
self. A fact that is not admitted is more

Cousin Anthony and I

or less ineffectual. It may have a poten-
tiality of mischief about it and still be
harmless so long as it is ignored. To know
something that is disquieting to one's self
to know, and to let it die of neglect, is
sane conduct ; and so it is to know some-
thing that would worry one's wife and to
abstain from imparting it to her because it
is wholly unnecessary for her to know it.

At least that was the view that my cousin
Anthony took. He maintained that to
confide absolutely in one's wife was indeed
good, but to temper candor on occasion
with a wise and affectionate reticence was
better still. He by no means advocated
deceit or elaborate concealment. He hates
a lie as much as anyone, and is as eager as
Merlin himself to have vinegar burned
when there is a liar to the windward. But
mere abstention from inconsiderate admis-
sions he admired in himself.

I think he is right. Confession may be
good for the soul, but a Protestant who em-
ploys no professional confessor is bound to
consider how his outpourings will affect the
ear they enter. Let him steer them into

Cousin Anthony and His Book

an ear that they are sure to pass through,
and not into one where they may stick and

Anthony says that he never descants to
his wife about any callow preliminary affair
of the heart that he was ever involved in.
She had shown, he said, a benevolent will-
ingness to hear and sympathize with his
experiences of that sort ; but though not
to tell her involved the suppression of some
of the most interesting tales he knew, some
saving grace of marital circumspection had
achieved the suppression. What biographi-
cal details of that sort came to her from
other authorities than himself gave him not
the slightest concern. There was a wide
distinction, according to his notion, be-
tween the information that she took the
responsibility of acquiring and that which
he took the responsibility of forcing upon
her attention.

Another class of information that he sys-
tematically omits to share with her includes
all gossip which comes to his ears that is
derogatory to her own family. As he
thinks it unwise to tell her things that


Cousin Anthony and I

might make her think less of him, so he
omits information that might make her
think less of herself. He told me a tale
about his wife's uncle, Philip Hiram, that
was really of the liveliest interest even to a
stranger. But he said he had never told it
to his wife, because it would mortify her to
know it, and as no one but himself would
dare tell her, the chances were that she
would never hear it.

Anthony does not think himself a sly
dog for not telling everything to Mrs. An-
thony. To his mind his reticence shows
not his doubts of his wife's discretion or
regard, but his sedulous regard for her hap-
piness and the high value he places on her
affection. Those are things of too much
importance to put to hazard by impulsive
revelations. He is really exceptionally
frank in his ordinary communications, and
to know anything that is worth telling and
not to tell it is a sort of self-sacrifice that
no one who knows him would expect of
him. Least of all did he expect it of him-
self. He simply found that there were a
few things that he was periodically tempted

Cousin Anthony and His Book

to tell, and didn't tell, and was always
surprised afterward that he hadn't.

But Anthony is not so marvellously dis-
creet about everything. Without being
morbid he is one of those introspective
creatures who sort out their own blemishes
and misdemeanors and repent of them after
they are all good and done. He writes as
well as talks, and perhaps he has less occa-
sion to felicitate himself on what he has
left unwritten than on the things he has not
said. It happens that way sometimes, that
men who are the carefullest and most conti-
nent in their talk are subject to extraor-
dinary bursts of candor with a pen and ink.
But as I said Anthony writes things, and
had the felicity, not a great while since, to
compose a book which so stirred the be- wrote.
nevolence of his friends that he has com-
plained to me of the embarrassment their
praises have caused him. He declares that
if the book were really very much of a book
he wouldn't mind its being praised, but
being merely such a book as he knows it
is, and containing only such things as he
managed to get into it, the assurances that


Cousin Anthony and I

he gets of its merits make him feel like a
receiver of stolen goods, and seem to him
a design of the. Arch Enemy to bring him
low. If he didn't like it, he says, he would
be less disturbed ; but there is evidence
that his receivership is all too agreeable to

I have tried to console him as far as I
could, pointing out to him that in every
enterprise one is bound to take the evil
with the good, and that if the book is good
enough to praise it may be good enough to
sell. Furthermore, I have suggested to
him that his excessive aspiration after hu-
mility is itself a symptom of spiritual pride,
and that it may really be wiser to let his
poor head swell and cure itself by natural
processes than to worry unduly over it
and try to keep it down by artificial means.
A good many people, I tell him, have time
on their hands in these days, and some one
will find leisure presently to read his poor
book through, and find out how little, after
all, there is in it. The cure in such cases
often comes that way. Besides, I have
pointed out to him, what he should have

Cousin Anthony and His Book

known himself, that it is a great mistake to
suppose that there is nothing in a book ex-
cept what the writer puts there. There is
something at Rome, but the more impor-
tant part is what you take there ; and what
the reader is able to get out of any book
depends very considerably, of course, up-
on what he brings to it. If one is long of
steel it is great luck to run across a bed of
flints, but there is no occasion for the steel
to assume all the responsibility for the re-
sulting sparks.

I think I will read cousin Anthony's book
myself, presently, and see if there is really
any good in it. There may be. The fact
that his friends praise it is not proof that
there is, but neither is it proof to the con-
trary. But, as I told him, even if it is good
it is nothing to be so swollen over. If a
boy can fly a kite, it is a good sport. Let
him practise it and take pleasure in it. But
it is the wind that does the work, not he;
moreover, it is the kite that flies and not the
boy, so that for him to imagine himself
afloat, and impart wing-movements to his
members, is an absurdity of self-deception.

Cousin Anthony and I

Let the kite be puffed up, but not the boy.
" So let your book," I said, " my cousin,
be borne on by any lucky gale of approba-
tion that may come its way ; without dis-
paragement of which, be you content to
hold the string and run with it when nec-
essary. That is the business of a writer,
not to fly himself, but to send up good
kites, and make the wind carry them. If
anyone have the faculty to recognize a
certain measure of truth and so to work it
up that it will go, and that others may
know it when they see it, let him do so, for
it is a good thing. But as for being per-
sonally inflated about it, that is folly, for it
is not the writer who is glorious, but the
truth, and truth was there before he found

I WONDER if persons who can write Scotch

are sufficiently aware of the great literary

The great advantage they have over writers who are

l vant'aj e ad ' not born to that ability. It is no credit

to them that they can do it. It is a gift

of nature dropt in their lap. I never heard

of anyone who learned by artificial means to


Cousin Anthony and His Book

write Scotch. Scotch writers do it, and
no one else. It has long been obvious that
the proportion of good writers to the whole
Scotch population was exceedingly large ;
but I do not remember that it has ever
been pointed out how much easier it is
for a Scotchman to be a good writer than
another because of his innate command of
the Scotch tongue.

There are such delightful words in that
language ; words that sing on the printed
page wherever their employer happens to
drop them in ; words that rustle; words
that skirl, and words that clash and thump.
It is their gain, I believe, that not many
of us who know the sounds of them have
an accurate notion of their meanings. Do
you know what a brae is ? After thirty
years of familiarity with that word I am
still a little dubious about it and cannot be
sure whether the idea it conveys contains
underbrush or is open field, and if the
latter, whether there is an implication of
heather. Perhaps sheep graze on braes. I
could not be sure, and if a well-informed
person insisted that Scotch nosegays had

Cousin Anthony and I

braes in them I could not contradict him
with much confidence. But for all that

Ye banks and braes o 1 Bonny Doon

conveys an image as delightful to my
mind's eye as to the actual ear, and what
uncertainty there may be about the di-
mensions and ingredients of the braes in
it merely operates to give the imagination
greater scope. I can aver that at least one
habitual reader of English finds his atten-
tion curiously and agreeably quickened by
Scotch words and idioms that are familiar
enough not to be troublesome, and unfamil-
iar enough to give the ear a gentle fillip. A
brook sparkles brighter for the moment
for being a burn; "gone gyte " makes a
prompter conveyance of its significance than
' ' gone crazy ; ' ' brogues and lugs and bairns
fit better into many sentences than shoes and
ears and children. " A wheen blethers "
fills the mouth like a spoonful of oatmeal ;
"twine" is a better word than "sepa-
rate; " " will can " beats " will be able,"
and the verb to ken in all its uses is fit to

Cousin Anthony and His Book

stir the envy of the English writer. A
French word dragged into English writing
is an offence which is only tolerable when
a master-hand commits it and the excuse
is adequate, but the Scotch words of Scotch-
men vary the tongue that harbors them
only to enrich it, and stand among their
English cousins with all the confiding as-
surance of blood relations.

It is to be hoped that the Scotch writers,
and especially the story-tellers, appreciate
with due humility the advantage they en-
joy in having unrestricted use of as much
English as they can handle, and in addition
a monopoly of their own blessed brogue.
There is scant justice in the dispensation
that secures them their special privilege.
They do not need it, for many of them
write just as good English as even the
Americans do, and are perfectly at home
in that language. There is no true pro-
priety in granting them special rights to
write Scotch and English with the same pen
on the same page ; but on grounds of ex-
pediency, and because the mixture makes
good reading, they have been suffered to


Cousin Anthony and I

do so. I am not one of those who would
abridge their privilege, for I like its re-
sults ; but I do think that in consideration
of their advantages Scotch writers should
be humble, should make allowances for
other scribes, and in all literary competi-
tions should be handicapped down to an
equality with the writers in whose field
they compete.




ERSONS who not being, like
my cousin Anthony, already
in the business of writing are
tempted to dabble in it, should
consider, among other objec-
tions to such a course, the great detriment
it may prove to their usefulness, and pos-
sibly also to their enjoyment as readers.
To be a good reader is a vocation by itself, A disability
and one which writers habitually and en- w
viously admire. That the business of writ-
ing conflicts with it is notorious. When
the library of the late Guy de Maupassant
came to be examined by his executors it
was found that almost all the modern books
in it were gifts from the authors of them,
and that their leaves were in almost every
instance uncut. Writers do read books oc-
casionally, and even books by other con-
temporary writers, but they usually read


Cousin Anthony and I

them either for a special purpose, as to
make a review, or with the general purpose
to keep informed about what is being writ-
ten, or with a certain feverish anxiety to
make sure that someone else is not doing
their kind of work better than they can do
it themselves. Find a contemporary writer,
if you can, who does not look back with
regret to the time when the reading of
books was an irresponsible felicity. He
read " Ivanhoe" and " The Tale of Two
Cities " with simple happiness and no sense
of obligation to dissect the authors' art or
arrive at his own critical opinions. But
nowadays when he reads it is with a bal-
ance in one hand, and constant interrup-
tions while the actual book goes into one
scale and his notion of what it ought to
be, or his recollection of some book some-
one else has written, into the other. To
read books simply for what there is in them,
and with no conscious regard for what
one's verdict will be when the reading is
over, that may be reckoned one of the joys
of youth. But it is not strictly a joy that
belongs to youth only, for some grown peo-

Readers and Reading

pie have it too ; but not (or at least very
rarely) if they are writers. The spectacle
of the blithe maiden in a brand-new ball-
dress is a jocund sight, even to a dress-
maker. But the dressmaker does not take
the same unimpeded delight in it that it
brings to the other spectators. Inevitably
and unconsciously she counts the stitches,
reckons the cost of the fabric, measures off
in her mind the yards of lace, and ap-
praises the quality of the trimmings ; then
she compares it mentally with other fine
frocks, and when she has finished she knows
far more about the gown than anyone who
has seen it except the society reporter.
But there is a quality in the pretty show
that her scrutiny has missed and an emo-
tion she has not gathered because her
trained sight saw so much.

Everyone who has ever launched a book
which has drifted in even a moderate de-
gree into the current of public favor must
remember how overwhelming a proportion
of whatever subsequent satisfaction he got
from it was due to that simple, old-fash-
ioned, uncritical personage, the gentle read-


Cousin Anthony and I

er, who reads books for the promotion of
his own happiness, and if he likes them
knows it and is cheerfully ready to say so.
For the faults or shortcomings of a book
The gentle the gentle reader doesn't much care if only


there is a grace in it somewhere to which
his soul responds. If it is verse, it does not
concern him that Tennyson wrote better ;
if it is a story he does not throw it down be-
cause it is not the equal of "Vanity Fair."
If it gives him real pleasure, in sufficient
quantity to pay for the time he spent in
reading it, he declares that it is a good
book and is ready to thank the author and
buy and read the next book that he sends
out. He, or perhaps I should say she, is
the reader that the author loves and es-
teems and counts upon to quiet his own
literary compunctions. But the reader who
has himself dabbled much in writing can
seldom be a gentle reader afterward. He
is always a critic, mistrusting his own pleas-
ure and his fellow's art ; hesitating to ex-
press his possible favor for fear it will dis-
credit his own discrimination, more eager to
make a clever comment of his own than to


Readers and Reading

find a pearl of someone else's thought. He
has some knowledge of good and evil which
the gentle reader lacks, but it is dearly
bought, as perhaps all knowledge must be.
To be sure, a good critic is a useful creat-
ure in his way, but it is a very good critic
indeed in the making of whom it is worth
while that a gentle reader should be spoiled.
Happily, in spite of the current epi-
demic of authorship, the gentle reader still
seems to abound and to read books with
uncorrupted faculties. A year or two ago
a Boston newspaper of high literary respon-
sibility chronicled the death of Mrs. So-and-
so, "the distinguished author." It gave
a sketch of her life and a list of her prin-
cipal books. There were a baker's dozen
of them, and an ink-bedabbled reader who
ran his eye down the list failed to recog-
nize a single title that he had ever heard of
before. But the gentle reader must have
read those books and approved them with
his catholic kindness, else so many of them
had never lived in print, and the good
author had gone with a soul far less re-
lieved to her honorable rest.

Cousin Anthony and I

It is surprising what readers, gentle and
otherwise, are expected to accomplish, and
do accomplish after a fashion, nowadays.
No wonder it should be thought and of-
ten remarked that the contemporary reader
Bad case of is in pretty deep waters, and that doubts

t.'ie con-
temporary should be now and then expressed as to his


ability to keep his head above them. A
century ago there was a little library of
classics that he read at more or less, and if
he could lay hands on a weekly newspaper
he read that too. Two generations ago
he was taking a daily paper, and perhaps
an eclectic magazine made up from the
British monthlies. The civil war upset his
habits and set him to reading all the news-
papers he could afiford to buy, and weekly
picture -papers and a monthly magazine be-
sides. The cheapening of the cost of white
paper and the lowering of the price of
"news" has confirmed him in the habits
he learned then. Such an amount of read-
ing is offered him now for two cents that
he feels that he cannot afford to take in less
than two or three newspapers, and the mag-
azines are so cheap and so admirable that

Readers and Reading

he must read one or two of them every
month. And all the time books keep tum-
bling out from the presses faster than ever,
and, of course, a man who thinks that he
has a mind is bound to feed it part of the
time on books. No wonder that the con-
temporary reader is embarrassed, and com-
plains that he cannot keep up, and wants
to know what to do about it.

There is nothing more serious really the
matter than that the conditions under
which he is struggling are novel, and that
he has not yet adapted himself to their re-
quirements. In primitive times when men
wandered about in the woods and roosted
in trees at night, they ate what they could
find wherever and whenever they found it.
As food grew more plentiful they only ate
when they were hungry, and gradually they
got the habit of being hungry at stated in-
tervals. Then as the variety of victuals in-
creased they developed the civilized prac-
tice of using certain kinds of food for
particular meals, and came gradually to
the sophisticated method of having things
served by courses, and varying their diet

2 3

Cousin Anthony and I

according to the hour of the day and the
state of the market. No civilized New
Yorker complains because there are more
kinds of fish in Fulton Market than his pal-
ate can test or his stomach accommodate.
If he has smelts for his breakfast and sal-
mon after his soup at dinner, he is thankful
and tries not to eat overmuch of either of
them. He must teach himself to take his
literature in the same enlightened manner,
reading according to his appetite and his
necessities, as he would eat ; not gorging
himself because the market is generous ;
not eating a pie for breakfast nor beginning
his dinner with coffee, but taking things as
they ought to come.

And especially, if he is an intelligent
man and wants to make the most of his day,
he must read his newspapers with intelli-
gence, doing it quickly while his mind is
fresh, wresting the news out of them like
the meat from a nutshell, and discarding
the rest. It is easy for him, if he allows
himself to do so, to read the newspapers
and nothing else, just as it is a simple mat-
ter to support life on hog and hominy.

Readers and Reading

But if he is going to read to the best pur-
pose he must have a system about his read-
ing analogous to that which regulates his
diet. If he reads the newspapers as he
ought to read them, and does not spend his
eyes on " miscellany ' ' and spun-out gossip,
he will have time to get through them and
keep the run of the magazines besides. If
he reads the best of what is in the maga-
zines he will read most of the best new fic-
tion before it gets between covers, and will
supplement usefully the current informa-
tion that he gets from the newspapers. If
he reads in the magazines only what appeals
to him, he will still have time every day to
read something in a book ; and if he makes
a point of reading something, however
little, every day in a book that is worth
reading, his library will be bound to pay
him high interest on its value.

Above all things the modern must adapt
his reading, in bulk and quality, to his
personal circumstances and individual
wants. The very multitude of new books
destroys the obligation to read many of
them. There is nothing any longer except


Cousin Anthony and I

the Bible and Shakespeare that the contem-
porary American need blush not to know.
If he has intelligence and reasonable culture
the presumption will be that if he has not
read this it was because he was busy read-
ing that, or was more profitably occupied
than in reading either. Books are not
much of a bugaboo in these days there
are too many of them. We look more and
more to results and boggle less and less
about processes. If so be the mind is alert
and discriminating, and can choose what
is good, and grasp it wherever he finds it,
there is no vain questioning as to the par-
ticular books on which it gained its edge.

There is a good old saw about judging
a man by the company he keeps, and as
saws go it is pretty sound doctrine. Judge
a man if you will by his companions,
taking due notice as to how far he gives
himself up to them, and how much they
mean to him ; for of course there are men
and men, and some men catch the tone of
their associates and others give tone to
them. Books are companions to many of

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Online LibraryEdward Sandford MartinCousin Anthony and I: some views of ours about divers matters and various aspects of life → online text (page 1 of 9)