Elihu Vedder.

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many remain all their lives, kept there by the Saturday night's
salary, "fresh and fresh." Serious book-illustrations were un-
known in the beginning of that short period, at least with
us, and were established before it was through. It com-
menced about the time I made those now forgotten illustrations
for "Enoch Arden." I escaped all these dangers and got back
to my painting: now, of course, illustration ranks with the best


work done. Yet it will be noticed that all illustrators long to
paint and do so as soon as they can break away. There are
some great fellows who do both ; no need of my troubling about
them ; they can take care of themselves.

It would seem that I, like business in New York, slowly worked
my way up-town, always on Broadway, the straight and nar-
row way not appealing to me then ; and with a few " stands " in
Boston I finally reach the time of my second Hegira, or flight to
Europe. It is strange that I now know more about the distin-
guished people I then met than I did at that time, and that
now I should enjoy meeting them more than I did then ; but it
is a trifle too late. It is now a case of spilt milk, and was then,
I fear a case of pearls, in which I was not pearls.

At the house of the ever-kind Mrs. Botta, aside from the mild
Vincenzo, I met Ole Bull and his wife, who told me all about his
wonderful violins. Apropos of Ole Bull, while at Matteson's
one of my student friends, Purdy, a wild lover of the violin,
although he only fiddled himself, fired me with a desire to hear
Ole Bull, who was to play in Utica, and we made a veritable pil-
grimage in most beastly weather, and sat with cold, wet feet and
forgot all discomfort under the spell of his magic bow. Dear me !
- and to think that since then I have heard at the Costanzi here
in Rome a mere child do all he did, with infinitely fewer flour-
ishes. Yet his was a grand and impressive personality, yet
Kubelik. If he only had more warmth and colour! And so it
goes, each new-comer more wonderful than the last ; and to think
it is the same in painting! Then there was a Dr. and Mrs. Dore-
mus. The doctor lacked an arm, but seemingly made up for this
by never appearing, at least in society, without his cornet-a-
piston, on which he played beautifully. Also much music at


Aunt Corda's. Adelaide Phillips, fresh from her Cuban triumphs,
was a charming woman. She liked dancing with me, I being
a natural waltzer and proficient in the real Cuban style. Her
father being with her on one occasion, I asked if he was fond of
music ? That, she said, she had never been able to find out, but
was inclined to think that he did not hate it. So much for hered-
ity! And long afterwards, to see this brilliant prima donna sing-
ing the part of Little Buttercup in "Pinafore"! "Wise is the
man who knows when his work's done, or woman either."

I joined the Athenaeum Club ; I believe I have somewhere said
that I joined it to have some place to stay away from, being so
homeless. There I saw that ruined tower, as he called himself,
N. P. Willis. He had very small feet, of which he was duly con-
scious, and three curls " right down in the middle of his forrid,"
and I have since seen that he behaved quite "horrid," in his let-
ters from abroad. However he made up handsomely afterwards
for all that, and was one of the greatest of small men.

But what earthly use is there in making a list of the names
of persons who are now mostly only names ? Besides, I was
too near, saw too many defects. But I found out one thing,
that the world is not made up of the very good or very bad but
of the great average crowd, of the neither all-good nor all-bad.
That is why Dante will be amazed to learn that V. finds fault
with him for having provided in his "Inferno" such a peculiarly
acute place for those neither good nor bad. Confucius is
better. While he does not hold out " hopes of heaven or threats
of hell," he has given advice which if followed would make
a large nation happy and prosperous, perhaps composed of the
not all-bad or all-good, and I believe that "'twill make the
blood of the unco' pious freeze to learn that God in China


talks Chinese." But this is a digression lugged in by the ears.
All the artists of this time are well described in my friend
Isham's book on "American Painters," where he treats the
subject with wonderful tact. My first years abroad, however,
were spent in Florence, and not in Rome, as he states.

Differentiated Sausages. I have somewhere likened
or intend to liken these Digressions to links in sausages
"linked monotony long drawn out"; but in this Digression, for
monotony read variety, for you will find I bring in Quaint Leg-
ends The Boys, and Wartime, and my brother Alex, and
Grandma, Ben, and much more besides ; and now watch me.

There was once in the Via Sistina a bald-headed mechanic.
It happened that he was born without a smitch of hair on his
head, and so I suppose he was not to blame, although he might
have been somewhat reckless in a previous state of existence. He
did some work for me very precisely and well, and seemed to be
very intelligent. At that time, I was trying to make a self-winding
clock, and hoped to effect that object by the expansion and con-
traction of some material by heat and cold, so I asked him about
it, and he answered that that was physics and he had only studied
mechanics. This reminds me of a man who when I said that the
day was " devilish hot," remarked that there was indeed " unalto
grado di calore." This man was only taking his two fine daugh-
ters about the studios and leaving them to pose nude and alone
with any artist who paid the price. What about "la morale" ?

This tendency to what seems to us " highfalutin " in the Ital-
ians is easily explained, for we have two languages, our own
dear familiar speech and our scientific speech ; but they have but
one and are not really going out of their way in using high-sound-


ing words. For instance: my friend Crowninshield once in Peru-
gia interfered where a man was beating his wife. This interfer-
ence was not taken altogether in good part by the crowd, for
one man remarked that " things had come to a pretty pass when
a man had no longer the right to ' percuss ' his wife."

My brother Alex and I used to try experiments on dear old
Grandma, which covered both the ground of physics and mech-
anics. I once found a print with the glass broken ; removing
the broken glass, I very skilfully painted a good imitation of it
on the print, and taking it to Grandma, said : " See what I have
done." "What a pity! how are you going to get another
piece of glass to replace it ?" When she finally saw how she had
been taken in, she only reiterated her oft-expressed opinion that
I was a born genius. This was optics.

She once told me, and I might have thought she was trying to
get it back on me, how when Grandpa was young, they had in-
vented a thing they called a velocipede, and that people used to
go about on them. When I asked for a description, she said that
it was a bar of wood with a wheel in front and one behind, and
that you sat astride of it and made it go by shoving it with your
feet. But, said I, " Dear Grandma, can't you see that it would
fall over sideways ? " " But it did n't, for I saw them myself."
Having common sense on my side I kept at her with a hundred
arguments, like a young Torquemada, until she made a sort of
recantation and admitted finally that perhaps she was mistaken,
although I thought I heard a Galileo-like murmur that they
did go without falling all the same. This was "la meccanica."

However, the worm will turn ; this happened when my brother
Alex told her of the penurious carpenter who, by putting green
spectacles on his cow, persuaded her to eat shavings instead of


grass. This she would not believe, yet believed enough to think
the attempt heartless on the part of the carpenter. Optics again.
How well I remember the velocipede furore which swept over
the country, bone-shakers, they called them, and how we
allowed it to die out, while the English kept on and made them
a success. Then we merely took them up again and now make
them as good as those of other nations no better, although
we think they are. The perseverance of the English is usually
rewarded with success usually, but not always. Graphotype,
which we invented and gave up, the English went on tampering
with, but I imagine it is dead enough now. As I assisted at the
birth of this invention, and it happened during the War, I will
give an account of it.

There was a man and he was an inventor and his name
was Larch. In making an invention and getting out a patent
he was not concerned one little bit if it would work or not ; his
aim was to sell the patent. A good invention was an invention
that would sell ; invention for invention's sake, as it were. He
conceived a machine in which water falling on revolving screens
was cooled by its rapid evaporation. Now the boys averred that
this did not take place; that the intense cold promised by the
prospectus was a myth, that the water grew warmer the more you
turned the handle, and so they christened it the "eggboiler."
Larch made another a formidable machine which he set up
in the back yard of his house. It reached to the second floor
and was made of sheet-iron. This he filled with beans carried
up by an endless chain to the top, from whence they fell with
a fearful clatter. He called it a grain-elevator and was indicted
for keeping a nuisance, and he had to give up working it.
This the boys called "Larch's Sheriff Escape."


Now my friend Ritchie was an engraver and illustrator,
and used visiting-cards which he moistened and rubbed on his
boxwood blocks to give a surface which would catch the pen-
cil otherwise they were too smooth. Seeing that where the
ink had hardened the chalky surface of the cards thus used,
the words remained in relief after the chalk had been washed
and rubbed away, he remarked to Larch, who was standing
close at hand, "This is my idea of a process of engraving in
relief." Larch's eyes glittered. "Give me that card." And
taking it, off he went. A few days after, he burst in, a large
piece of chalk in his hand, crying out, " I 've got it ! I Ve got
it!" And indeed he had, but it was only the germ, and it
caused us no end of anxiety and excitement and hope before the
sickly plant put in an appearance.

It was in those days that Hitchie showed his wonderful talent
for locking up all the trouble of the day and leaving it in his
office when he turned the key in the door at night. Larch had
indeed found it ! the lump of chalk was covered with writing in
black ink; producing from his pocket a toothbrush (he was
a dentist), Larch rubbed the chalk vigorously, and lo! all the
written characters stood out in bold relief. "Now," said he,
" take a flat plate of this chalk ; draw on it what you please with
this liquid I have discovered, which hardens the chalk ; and when
all the drawing is in relief, harden the entire block cast it
stereotype it and there you have your plate ready for printing."

In his eyes it was a most beautiful thing to sell. It would be
heart-rending to tell of all our failures. When with hydraulic
pressure the plates of chalk were hard enough to write on, the
chalk would not brush away; when soft enough to brush, the
drawing went also. It was then I stepped in, and suggesting that


a brush should be used instead of a pen, we were thus enabled
to draw on chalk soft enough to brush away and yet leave the
drawing. This limp plant of an invention then began to stand
up without assistance, and without being watered constantly
by wilful falsification or something resembling it. All this has
now been long sunk in the dark sea beyond the Garden of Mem-
ory, from whose depths few things are rescued the Sea of

But why do I distinguish Larch as an inventor ? We were all
inventors and all were trying to invent something which would
make us suddenly rich. It had to be sudden, for the need of
money was very pressing. Now Ben's father was rich, and while
he was disposed to set up Ben's brothers in business, for which
they showed a great inclination, he was parsimonious towards
Ben, who was trying to be a designer. When Ben made his
appearance in the old man's office, it was always, "Now Ben,
I know just what you are after money, always money. I wish
I was in Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego." But Ben always got
the money. But never enough ; and so he also took to inventing,
striving to make something that would pay. And this he finally
did ; but before that, he came out with a scheme which provoked
roars of laughter. It was to provide a tugboat with a long boom,
to the end of which a torpedo should be attached ; and then,
going up to the enemy's vessel, run out the boom, explode the
torpedo and sink her. We all thought this a most stupendous
joke ; and yet before the War was over, Lieutenant Gushing blew
up the Confederate Albemarle with just such an invention and
probably saved the nation.

But Ben hit it off finally. He invented a film to be used in pro-
cess engraving, a thing indispensable in some forms of print-


ing, and by this time has made a fortune. A short time ago
I asked a publisher here on a visit if he knew Ben. He said,
"I should think so; he costs us thousands of dollars for that
film of his." Thus Ben turned the laugh on the Boys but it
took him a long time. For Ben was slow but sure.

I find that an old letter of Ben's, yellow with time, dated
January, 1 866, enables me to drag out of the " Sea of Oblivion,"
as I somewhat highfalutingly call it, a notice of the graphotype,
the invention of Ritchie and Larch. That the English kept at it
is shown by the appearance on the scene of a certain Roper,
representing an English company, who brought over to New
York a book "Watts's Hymns" illustrated by Anelay, Hunt,
Du Maurier, Claxton, H. K. Brown, Fitzcook, and others. This
seems to have finally persuaded the elder Ben, who promised to
back Ben up in a scheme whereby Ben was to come to Paris to
work the process. Of course Ben was wild to see me and writes
for me to get him an apartment, " something dans les prix
doux," for Ben had become a famous Frenchman during his
stay in Paris. It all came to naught ; but Ben in Paris might
have kept me from coming to Italy. I forget, I am not count-
ing on the girl in the case.

Can I let Hitchie sink into the Sea of Oblivion ? Not if I can
help it. Hitchie was short, stout, rosy, and had the most win-
ning ways of any one I ever saw. No one could be angry with
Hitchie ; he was true pilgrim from the blarney-stone. No man,
on turning the key in his office-door at the end of the day, could
throw off more completely all care and trouble than could
Hitchie. The rest of the evening was pure fun and pleasure.

His good nature was so contagious that I have known him to


quit me in Broadway and steal up behind one of the most
formidable of the Broadway squad, insinuate his arm under that
of the policeman, and thus accompanied, reach the other side,
where that officer of the law would, with a pat on the shoulder,
and a warm handshake, bid him a most smiling farewell. I have
never been able to decide whether he was a kleptomaniac or not.
He would certainly take things. If he was one, I shall have to
enlarge my circle of friends so as to include those thus afflicted
for I cannot exclude Hitchie.

For instance : I have said he was an engraver and illustrator ;
now illustrators use India ink, and have to have certain little
saucers to hold it. At a certain eating-house there were certain
little butter-plates, admirably suited for this purpose. From
time to time Hitchie would remove one, until he had removed
six ; on that day the waiter, with a perfectly serious face, presented
the bill : chops, so much ; green peas, so much ; beer, so much ;
half-dozen butter-plates, so much. The bill was paid without
a smile on either side, but Hitchie, concluding his outfit was
complete, took no more.

There was a barroom, and on the counter a porcelain match-
safe of a fanciful pattern, which he fell deeply in love with. He
would fondle it, take more drinks, so as to remain longer in
its society ; but ever the good-natured but vigilant eye of the bar-
keeper was on him, for even when his back was turned, it gleamed
from the mirrors behind the bottles. It was a tacit joke between
them and the barkeeper won but only by paying the price,
ceaseless vigilance.

In the evenings, when the gas was lit in the streets and we were
returning to Hoboken, mighty merry, he would stoop, seizing
the edge of some great mat in front of a shop-door, and dragging



it gravely behind him for half a block, set the sidewalk on a roar.
Nothing daunted him, and there was a tradition that he had
gotten away with a keg of herrings
almost under the grocer's nose. This I
did not see, but I did see him do a thing
which filled me with dismay. He begged
me to stop a moment at a furniture-
dealer's not far from my lodgings. At
the entrance was a little etagere prettily
fitted out with silver-gilt pitcher, bottles,
and goblets. In the most casual way he
selected a goblet, and on the dealer com-
ing forward, actually stowed it away
ostentatiously in his coat-tail pocket, con-
versing affably the while about his
Hitchie's trouble in getting just the
right bed for a certain room in his house.
I looked at my watch, and telling Hitchie
that I should miss my train if I did not
hurry, rushed out of the shop, filled with fear and anxiety.
I said he was an engraver ; late the next day a messenger brought
me a neat packet, on opening which, reposing beautifully polished
on cotton, was the goblet, with this inscription engraved by the
not-unskilful hand of my friend: "To V. with the best love
of D. C. H." Alas, it has disappeared but not the memory of
that kind-hearted rogue.

One does not buy a baby so often but what I may be par-
doned for going back to 48 Beekman Street, for it was while
still in that cheerful place there came a gloomy day when
Hitchie and I concluded something had to be done : this meant


that we were hard up. "Have you ever seen this advertise-
ment ? " he said, showing me a newspaper. I took it and read :
"Children wanted for adoption. Apply at number so-and-so, such
a street," and nothing more. "Well, what do you make of it ? "
"Nothing," I replied, "I can't understand it at all."
"Well," said Hitchie, "lots of people are in the same way; let
us find out for them. You write the account and I will make
the drawings, for it is sure to be something funny, and that
will just make a nice page for the Daily Gad-About." I really
have forgotten what paper he mentioned and in which the ac-
count came out, but have never forgotten this peep behind the

So we went to a neighbourhood once fashionable, and rang
the bell of a shabby-genteel house. A poor little overworked girl
answered the bell and asked us to step in and wait. The parlour
had a shabby air of gentility, in harmony with the house and its
situation. I can only remember that there was a plaster Cupid
painted black in a corner, and some "Come to Jesuses" on the
walls ; and when Mrs. Crookmorton came in she was in perfect
harmony with her surroundings. There was also an odour of
mackerel which did not seem to diminish as our interview pro-

I said : " Madam, perhaps we may be keeping you from your
dinner; we can call another time" for to tell the truth I wished
I was well out of it.

"Not at all not at all ; no time like the present. What is it
you wish to know ? "

" I want to know the meaning of your advertisement, for per-
haps you can help me."

She replied : "There's no mystery in it. The fact is that many


people have children they can't bring up, and many want to
adopt children, so we try to help both parties. Do you want to
dispose of a child or adopt one ? "

"Of course not; that is, I will tell you just how the thing
stands. I have a lady friend in Matanzas, Cuba " (I thought I
would be on safe ground), "who wants a child, but she does not
want to adopt a family; she wants all that finished when she
takes the child."

" Of course, of course ; when we take a child, they lose their
father and mother for ever that is understood. But we are
kind people and become much attached to the dear little things
and it is hard parting from them," here the crocodile tried to
produce a tear, "and all the expense and care we lavish on
them, and everything, forces us to in fact, we are not rich
people, so we have to ask a certain remuneration."

" Of course, Madam, you can't do all this for nothing ; I under-
stand ; and while my friend is not rich she would be willing to
pay a reasonable sum. Now what do you expect to receive ? "

" You see, while we have found happy homes for so many, yet
the expense of doctors and burying of others has to be taken into
consideration, and we could n't let you have one for less than
forty dollars."

"That is all right, Madam ; could we see the children ? "

" Oh certainly. Jane, bring down Irish Molly and Brooklyn
Heights ! You see we give them the first names that come to us ;
we don't want to have anything to do with their real names, and
some don't have any," this was said with an attempt at play-

It was touching to see poor little Jane, with her good face and
her evident love for these babies, and how she held them and


caressed them like a real little mother. Jane was the one bright
spot in the gruesome picture. And Irish Molly well, she was
all right and would survive. But poor little Brooklyn Heights!
He was evidently the scion of a noble house, but how fallen ; and
his hair was all stuck up with dried pap, and Jane cuddled and
petted him and a wan little smile came over his face as he laid
his head against her cheek.

I was not feeling well, but the spirit of the reporter drove me
on ; so I said, " My friend wanted a little boy ; this one will do,
but how can I send him on ? "

"Why, just give him to the stewardess, and she can put him in
a berth and give him some pap now and then ; there 's no trouble
at all about that."

" But," I interposed, " they only have stewards on the small
vessels going to Matanzas and it takes a good many days to get

"Don't you bother about that. You men don't know any-
thing about babies; there's no trouble. And besides, I will give
you a bottle, and tell the steward to follow the directions and
that will keep him quiet all the while."

I had to get out ; the eyes of the little chap were too much for
me. So, saying that I would be back the next day and that I
would see about the ship in the mean while, and being told
that I could n't have the refusal of the baby for long, and that I
must hurry up, we left. I gave Jane some money to buy candy
for the children, and she thanked me with tears in her eyes.
Hitchie and I went and had a drink and the world rolled on.

I suppose I ought to tell of the resulting article, and how they
found only text enough to go down one side of the illustrations,
and needed another column for the sake of symmetry, and


how the Clairvoyant inflated it for me to twice the original
size, and how I got the money, and how I ate the food bought
with it in sorrow, and how that sorrow lasts to this day. Poor
little chap!

In the beginning of the War the Clairvoyant and Josephus
caught the martial fever and set up a regiment. That is they
volunteered to do so, got their handsome uniforms, and ap-
pointed Staten Island as being both pleasant and healthy for the
site of the camp. I never could get the facts of the story right;
they seemed disinclined to give me the history ; but a malicious
friend gave me an outline also. He said the officers had good
quarters and lived like fighting cocks ; that the men consisting
of one had a pretty hard time, as the officers took turns in
drilling him ; that one day, attempting to form him into a hollow
square, he collapsed and was sent off on sick-leave. Thus, having
no men left, they did not even have to disband, but came up to
town. I know that they continued to wear their uniforms for a
while, as they were very becoming. I saw them and they looked

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 13 of 29)