Edward Sandford Martin.

Windfalls of observation, gathered for the edification of the young and the solace of others online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryEdward Sandford MartinWindfalls of observation, gathered for the edification of the young and the solace of others → online text (page 1 of 11)
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I. Horse ... .......... I

II. Climate ............ i$

III. Courtship ........... 25

IV. Marriage and Divorce ...... 49

V. College ............ 65

VI. The Tyranny of Things ...... 89

VII. Wills and Heirs ......... 107

VIII. The Travel Habit ........ 117

IX. Newspapers and People " ...... 133

X. The Mysteries of Life ....... 147

XI. Missing Senses and New Ones . . . 165
XII. A Serious Time of Life ...... 181

XIII. The Question of an Occupation . . .193

XIV. Women and Families ....... 213

XV. As to Death .......... 229

XVI. Inclinations and Character ..... 237


vi Contents


XVII. A Poet and Not Ashamed 249

XVIII. Some Christmas Sentiments .... 261

XIX. Feathers of Lost Birds 275

XX. Outrageous Fortune 283

XXI. Certain Individual Views of Major Brace 295



PEAKING for the State of /* **
New York and contiguous
vicinities, it is perfectly safe
to say that if there were six
weeks that could be spared
out of the year without doing it any
harm, they would be the six weeks be
ginning on the first Monday in March.
They make us a lenten quarantine that
we have to keep whether we like it or
not. The real, true spring and May
day are put upon the market in these
latitudes at about the same time. Spring
threatens sporadically and intermittently
as early as the middle of April, but so
long as it yields two sprigs of pneumonia
to one of arbutus it is hardly worth talk
ing about as spring. When base-ball be
comes a marketable sport, and one s flan
nels have been oppressive three days
running, then we may begin to believe

Windfalls of Observation

that there really is a spring and that we
are in it.
a young it h as been said by a favorite author

marts fancy J

that at this time of year a young man s
fancy turns to thoughts of love. That
may have been so in other climes and
times, but contemporary observation
hereabouts persuades the observer that
what our young men s fancies turn to in
May, and as much as to anything else,
is horse. When the town begins to
warm, and the mud is known to have
dried on the country roads, the desire
to go on or after a quadruped begins to
wrestle in many minds with the other
reasonable desires that cost money, and
in a certain percentage of minds, every
year, horse prevails.

A lover, even a successful one, is an
affecting sight to any one with due ap
preciation of the chances he is taking ;
but only to a man who is ignorant of the
possibilities of horse-flesh, is a lover half
so affecting as a young man who is buy
ing his first horse. There is so much
that he does not know, and it will cost
him such a pretty penny to learn it !



Still, though a little knowledge of
horse is a dangerously expensive thing,
if one can afford to acquire it, it is a
-knowledge that has only one superior in
its power to add to one s intelligent in
terest in life. The noblest study of
mankind is man, as heretofore ; but the
study of horse is gloriously supplement
ary thereto. It is worth a reasonable
bit out of one s surplus in the glad, hope
ful spring, to get in the way of learning
how many things a horse may have the
matter with him and still be able to
get about. There are so very many of
them ! more than even with the worst turns to
luck the beginner can hope to learn in
one season, for a single horse does not
have them all ; certainly not in any one
summer. A horse s blemishes are like
virtues, in that they have to be devel
oped ; but the beginner may assure him
self that the less he knows about horse
the more blemishes he will be able to
develop, so that his ignorance and his
opportunities of curing it will go hand
in hand. Craniology is a very interest
ing study, but the bumps on your head


Windfalls of Observation

come ready-made, or grow out so very
slowly that you cannot note their prog
ress. With the bumps on a horse s legs
it is different. If the horse is youn^
enough, and the country is hilly, or the
carriage heavy, or if your notions of
driving or riding are a little crude, a
notable lot of knobs will sometimes ac
cumulate on a set of legs almost while
you are looking. It is as interesting to
watch them as it is to see the seeds come
up in the garden after a warm rain.

Collectors There have been men who have held
that there was a greater measure of pure
felicity in being a collector than in ad
diction to horse. The collector s hobby
has two excellent qualities : It is im
mensely entertaining and it is compara
tively innocent. It tempts men to ex
travagance, no doubt, but if they buy
wisely they get their money back when
they sell. It gives no man headaches
in the morning ; nor does it seriously
interfere with the peace of families, so
that it is more tolerable than rum or
flirtation. It is a less hazardous pleas-


lire, too, than horse, which sometimes
inveigles men into saddles to the peril
of necks, and which usually, if pursued
with due zeal, usurps their faculties to
a degree that is detrimental to the in
terests of society. Collectors are usu
ally more interested in their treasures
than in anything else on earth, but it
must be said for .them that the very
depth of their passion usually operates
to give it modesty. They are not more
apt to prate endlessly in mixed society
about their havings than a lover is to
talk about his sweetheart. The con
sciousness of possession is ordinarily
enough for them, though, of course,
when they get among persons whose
sympathy they know is with them, con
versation takes its natural course.

There is a reasonable fraction of hu- notso j, ad
man sentiment left in most collectors, as
but the man whose hobby is horse has a
very limited claim to rank as a biped.
Books and pictures and jades and " solid
colors," when once you have got them,
stay calmly where they are put and
leave their owners some peace. Not so


Windfalls of Observation

the horse. Nothing compares with him
for intrusiveness except babies. He is
constantly up to some devilment, devel
oping possibilities or impossibilities, get-,
ting colds, ringbones, spavins, nails in
his feet, strains, curbs, galls, scratches,
navicular disease, corns, lung difficul
ties, heaves, and unascertained worth-
lessness. Every detriment that shows
in him shows immediately in his owner,
whose mind is temporarily unfit for the
consideration of anything else. The
horse en- collector can take his first editions out
and dust them and put them back on
the shelf, and go out and talk about sil
ver-coinage ; but a man who has horse
seldom comes out of his stable without
the preoccupied air, which is the ex
ternal sign of internal worry. Laws
designed for the protection of society,
provide, with more or less success, that
men shall have but one wife each, at a
time. But strangely enough, the num
ber of horses a man may possess is left
unlimited, except by his purse and his
preferences, so that any citizen is at
liberty to own as many as he can main-


tain, and go about with dimmed and
distorted faculties, to prey upon the pa
tience of his fellow-men.

If there were no other drawback to
the horse habit, a respectable argument
(albeit not a strictly valid one) could be
reared against it on the ground that it
necessitates the continued existence of
horse - dealers. Now the business of Hazards
horse-dealing, an avocation of large and "/th
increasing importance, is yet of such S? r *
peculiar characteristics as to be dis
tinctly hazardous to the reputation of
people who take it up. That there are
and always have been honest horse-
dealers it is absurd to doubt, but the
immemorial experience of mankind in
buying horses is such that demonstrated
examples of absolute integrity in selling
them excite very much the saine sort of
admiration as white plumage on black
birds. Of course there is a dearth of
absolutely honest men anyway, but the
reputed scarcity of honest horse-dealers
cannot be entirely due to that. There
are dishonest grocers, but it cannot be


Windfalls of Observation

said that the grocery business is disrep
utable. Such a statement is hardly jus
tifiable even of the business of dealing
in stocks, and if it can be made of horse-
selling there must be special reasons for

There are such reasons, and very good
ones. They consist largely in the cir
cumstance that two extremely uncer
tain quantities enter into every sale of
horses. One of these is the horse, the
other is the purchaser. From the day
he is foaled to the day his hoofs go to
the glue-factory, every horse is, in a con
siderable measure, a matter of opinion.
There is no absolute certainty what he
will do until he has done it, and then
there is no absolute certainty what he
will do next time. A man under opti
mistic influences may see a thousand
dollars worth of value in a horse, and
sell him next day in a pessimistic mood
for three hundred, and all without any
variation in the animal or in the state
of the market, or anything else except
the owner s feelings. A horse-dealer of
the sincerest integrity may sell for a


large sum a horse which gave every in
dication of value. Within a week or a
month the horse may develop an incur
able ailment which makes him worth
less. Nine times out of ten the inex
perienced purchaser believes that the
dealer cheated him, and an upright man
endures the imputation of being dishon
est as a penalty for dealing in wares that
are subject to sudden fluctuations of
value. Of course, the temptations of
horse-dealing are enormously increased
by this liability of seemingly sound
horses to go suddenly and unreasonably
wrong. Of course, too, a good many
dealers yield in greater or less measure
to the stress of these temptations.
Thus one reason why the reputation of
the business is so doubtful is that so
many men who go into it too readily
convince themselves that caveat emptor
applies as properly to the vendor s rep
resentations as to the wares. But an
other reason is that it is so difficult for
even a very Bayard of horse-dealers to
avoid the imputation of cheating which
he did not do.


Windfalls of Observation

But that the reputations of honest
men are apt to be impaired in horse-
dealing is really not the fault of the
horse so much as of the other variable
quantity, the purchaser. Horses are
subject to preventable as well as un
foreseen detriment. The more valuable
they are, the easier it is to ruin them
by misuse or neglect. The dispositions
and habits of horses, particularly of
young horses, may easily be spoiled in
a very little while by the ignorance or
spitefulness of grooms. The average
horse-buyer knows little about horses,
and less about grooms. If he pays a
fair sum for a horse, and the animal
goes lame or grows vicious, he is apt to
assume and to proclaim that he has
been cheated. Whereas the mischief
may have been wholly unforeseen by the
seller, or may all have been done in the
buyer s own stable, of the workings of
which he has about as much practical
knowledge as contemporary scientists
have of home life on the planet Mars.
Inasmuch as the horse - dealer s busi
ness reputation rests very largely on the



buyer s testimony, it is evident that the
honest dealer who values his fair fame
has got to be almost as careful to whom
he sells as what he sells.

Thus we see what an extra-hazardous
occupation horse-dealing is, and how
many reasons careful men can find for
keeping out of it. But as a matter of
fact, men never do keep out of the haz
ardous occupations. There is a recog
nized charm about uncertainties, and
they are never more alluring than when
they go on four legs, and haul carts, or
jump fences. Men not only sell horses
in increasing numbers for profit, but
they dabble in the business out of sheer
love of adventure and horse, and sell
quadrupeds to friend or foe, reckless of
the fact that every beast that passes
through their hands is a hostage given
to society. Such men are the chief in
stigators of horse-shows, which are use
ful in stimulating trade, and giving them
a chance to show their stock, and, above
and beyond that, in educating buyers so
that they shall not only desire good
horses, but shall know them, and know


Windfalls of Observation

what to do with them after they are
bought. In the improvement of the
horse and the education of the buyer
lies the honest horse - dealer s hope.
When sound horses stay sound after
they are sold, and buyers learn what
they may and what they may not expect,
virtue in the horse business will be surer
of its reward, and honesty will seem
more like a policy and less like a quix
otic whim.




lately wrote in rather a pes
simistic vein from Los An
geles, averred that the mo
notony of the climate there
was a depressing influence. There was
not difference enough between the sea
sons, she said, to give to life that varie
gated flavor which is so acceptable, and
goes so far to prevent the soul s palate
from being jaded. When the corre
spondent s letter had been printed and
found its way back whence it came, the
local journals immediately denied all in
it that was disparaging, and explained
that the writer took sad views of life
because of disappointment in a trans
action in corner-lots. Whether South
ern California lacks seasons or not is a
question of fact that is best settled on
the spot, where daily instances of the


Windfalls, of Observation

Some re
results of

climate may be put in evidence. Prob
ably it doesn t ; but if it does, its defi
ciency is a serious one.

We of New York and New England
and the comparatively effete East abuse
our climate a good deal, and sometimes
with plenty of reason. Professor Shaler
has said that " it is rather to the physi
cal conditions of North America than to
any primal capacity on the part of its
indigenous peoples to take on civiliza
tion that we must attribute the failure
of indigenous man within its limits to
advance beyond the lowest grades of
barbarism." No doubt he is right about
that. Physical conditions include cli
mate, and North America, the best
parts of it, is blessed with what may
be termed a rot-you-before-you-are-ripe
climate. An indigenous people have
never been able to mature in it in a de
liberate and thorough manner, but have
invariably acquired a precocious, sickly
smartness, and perished off the soil,
leaving mounds, arrow-heads, embroi
dered moccasins, and sculptured cities
behind them. The climate infuses irre-


sistible energy in the folks that it acts
upon, and they ripen too soon. The
continent is a sort of forcing-bed. But
while it it is impossible for indigenous
races to come to much in it, it is
possible to get wonderful results from
transplantation. Full-grown English
men, Dutchmen, and Germans, brought
here full of blood and sluggish strength,
have been amazingly quickened, and
have sometimes made greater progress
here in a decade than their brethren at
home have made in a century. A spe
cial marvel that is apposite is the effect
of American air upon the Irish. Almost
all of the Irish are well known to be of
royal extraction, but at home the stock
had fallen into decline. Not only have
their abilities in general been notably
quickened by sniffing the free American
breezes, but in particular it is found that
when the Celt sets foot on America s
shore an instinct of being boss, which in
many cases had slept in his blood for tens
of centuries, springs as if by magic into
full-sized life, and the long-lost prince
drops his hod and steps out a ruler of men.


Windfalls of Observation

But the climate is as wearing as it is
stimulating. It uses up the materials
in an emigrant race presently ; and then
if the members don t take very good
care of themselves, they waste away.
Nevertheless, we ought not to forget
that whatever its defects are, it is par
celled out to us in excellent variety. It
is a vast inconvenience in summer some
times to have to pick up a sick baby and
rush for the seashore or the hills ; and
in the winter there is pneumonia and the
whole family of throat and lung expe
riences ; and in the spring there is the
liver. But it is a well-seasoned climate
all the same, and where we are not too
set upon getting our whole annual expe
rience of it in any one spot, it does as
well by us as any climate can be expect
ed to do by people of desires and infirm
ities such as ours. It is our duty not
merely to make the best of it, but to
The value make the most of it. Does the valued

of seasons.

and intelligent reader take pains to do
that ? Does he fully realize that in liv
ing in a climate that is seasoned he en
joys opportunities which all people do


not have ? And is he prepared for in
dustrious and painstaking appreciation
commensurate with his chances ? Let
him consider peoples whose lot is cast in
regions where the meteorological vicis
situdes are unimportant. Take the good
people of Hayti, whose vitals are never
frozen up ; or the Esquimaux, or Ice
landers, who never really get thawed
out. Are they over-bright, these worthy
folks ? Read what Ibsen has found it
necessary to write to enlighten the sim
plicity of his compatriots ; inquire as to
the experience of Hayti since Toussaint
L Ouverture s revolt ; and draw such
conclusions as you must as to the use
fulness of due alternations of freeze and
melt in making men s wits active and
promoting their energies. There is said
to be foliage in the tropics of a certain
sort, great lazy leaves for which the
botanists have names ; but where there
are to be oak or maple leaves, or hick
ory or beech, the sap must run up the
trunk in the spring. Leaves with come-
and-go to them, and wood with a snap
in it, are not the product of those all-

Windfalls, of Observation

the-year-round climates. Similarly men.
We are the salt of the earth, brethren ;
and it is to the shifting of our seasons
that we owe very much of our savor.
And therefore we ought to make it
more of a religious duty to get the very
most out of our seasons that we can.

And especially make the most of the
spring. It is a trial oftentimes. It
makes heavy the heads of men and pains
them in the small of their backs ; but
that is precisely because they neglect it,
and take no pains to accommodate them
selves to its requirements. For its spirit
is exacting in proportion to its value.
It is the season of moods, of introspec
tion, retrospection, meditation, procras
tination, forecasts ; of waiting around

Go to meet

the spring, for things to begin ; of catching the
germs of enterprises to be hatched dur
ing the summer and launched into activ
ity when the energies recur in the fall.
It is a season that men are too much in
clined to crowd, and it avenges itself on
them for their unwisdom. Do not hurry
it ! Give it time to work itself out in
you ! Dawdle a little ! If you cannot


get into the woods, get into the parks ;
and when you cannot get to the parks,
saunter on the avenues, and stop long
before the flower-shop windows. Go to
meet the spring if you can. Go to
Washington in April ; there you cannot
hurry. There you must saunter and
dawdle, and invite your soul to make
suggestions to you. Go down the Po
tomac. Sit in the sun in Lafayette
Square and listen to things as they
grow. There you will hear the identi
cal lenes susurri that caught the Hora-
tian ear in the Campus Martius. There
there is an atmosphere ; there you have
sunshine overhead, green grass under
foot, and the past and the present and
the future all about you. Get a taste of
a Washington spring, if only once ; for
it will come back to your senses as often
as spring itself returns, and as often as
it comes you will bless it.

2 3




JF any one has his choice
about where he shall grow
up, let him stipulate for a
family in which there are
singers. It is a sore pity to
grow up where there is no singing. In
earlier days an American child s chances
were better than now of being born
into a reasonably large family ; and
though in some families all the members

. fwuselwld

have music in them, and in others none,
of course the more there are the better
the chances of song. Song is almost
pure gain. It need not be of very high
quality so long as it emanates naturally
from inside of the singer, and does him
good. Its value as an appurtenance to
domestic life lies not in its merit as a
performance, but in its success as an
expression of the feelings. Singing as
a fine art is, of course, worth cultivat-

Windfalls of Observation

ing ; but the species of song that we are
now talking about, is of the same sort
as the singing of birds and of negroes.
Ordinary, normal children ought to learn
it by ear as they do language ; and they
should sing because they are happy, as
the birds do. A child that grows up
where there is no singing, no more gets
his rights than a young robin that is
hatched out in an incubator. The robin
is pretty sure to sing when he grows up
and is turned loose in the sunshine,
whether his ear got any early culti
vation or not, for the habit has been
strong in the robin family for genera
tions. But if the child does not get his
singing instincts developed by example
while he is a child, they may stay asleep

Tt appears that the best singing of
S courlship J!rc ^ s i performed as an accessory to
courtship. Certainly it is that way with
humans ;.. and a child whose parents are
past the singing age, or have had the
song stopped out of their lives by too
much cloudy weather, may still have
tunes running in his head, and sentiment


percolating through his soul, if only he
has an elder sister with a proper string
of beaux. Just what the songs of court
ship are in this decade, the lovers of this
decade best know. A quarter of a cen
tury ago there was a set that are still
running in the heads of middle - aged
people, and that will continue to run in
the heads of some of them for a quarter
of a century to come.

In that period, as doubtless now, there
were songs of encouragement and songs
of consolation, songs for the right man
who came at the right time, and for the
wrong man, and for the right man who
came at the wrong t time. Particularly
there were songs for the right man
who came forever too late, after the
wrong man had put the bars up and was
sitting on top of them with a gun across
his knees. The song in these cases came
floating through the bars. " I ll hang my
harp on a willow-tree," was a prevalent
ditty in those days, and a great favorite
with the wrong man, as it is bound to be
in every generation that it can reach.
Another particularly serviceable ballad

Windfalls of Observation

was worn smooth in the service of the
wrong man, being sung sometimes by
the man himself to drown his misery, and
again by the maiden, with the design of
letting him down as tenderly as pos
sible. It began, " Yes, I know that you
once were my lover ;" and it ended
some readers may remember it with
this time-honored sentiment :

" I can love you indeed as a brother,
But my heart is Jo Hardy s alone."

The tender mercies of the wicked are
said to be cruel, and perhaps they are,
absolutely speaking. But compared with
the tender mercies of the betrothed
maiden to the wrong man, they certainly
seem less harsh.

One of the songs that used to be sung
by the right man twenty-five years ago,
was " Kathleen Mavourneen." As often
as not they used to sing it together. It
is an old song now as songs go, and it is
hardly probable that the lovers of this
generation often sing it.. There must be
biggish children who have never heard
it. Poor lovers ! Poor children ! the



middle-aged will say : " It must be hard
to have to grow up like that ! " Indeed,
there was once an incurable enthusiast
he must be middle-aged now who used
to aver that when he got to be rich
enough to have what he wanted, he was
going to employ a military band, with a

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Online LibraryEdward Sandford MartinWindfalls of observation, gathered for the edification of the young and the solace of others → online text (page 1 of 11)