Elihu Vedder.

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pipe, I am led to fill it by the mention of a little picture hang-
ing in the billiard-room at the Club. It might be called "Death
and the Old Man," for it represents just about that and not
much more. There is a table on which a candle has burned to
the socket, a glass has been drained to the dregs, a broken pipe
lies on the floor near a pair of old, empty slippers, the fire has
gone out, leaving only ashes in the grate, and Death is gently
helping the old man through the door into the darkness beyond ;
and that is all. He has lived and now departs ; what more can
we know ?

And all this comes from reading old letters. I feel. as if I had
come from going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and
down in it, and had found nothing but a mass of worries, troubles,
fears, doubts, hopes, sorrows, pleasures, and pains, with but few
men like unto Job ; and yet there were some, and how good and
helpful they have been. This thought and the memory of some


really good time makes me conclude, so far as I am concerned,
this old world has been "un monde passable" after all. Ah, if
those good people could only have known as much as I know
now when they were writing those letters, they would have been
saved a lot of bother.
The fact is : -

You either live for ever or your soul through space you scatter.

In the one case there 's no hurry ; in the other case no matter.

And there you are, so what 's the use of so much fussing ?

A Digression on a Digression. - - And that is the
wonderful thing about reading these old letters things dead
and gone spring into life again. There I see the great mistake
my father made in not staying in New York and growing up
with it ; how through the negligence of an old doctor I lost my
mother; how my brother's eyes were troubling him; and how
he could not beat learning into me "He is so taken up with
his play." In fact, the whole bag of tricks is alive and the tricks
are in a fine tangle. The Mist of Time is gone ; it is Now again.
There is no perspective, and the general effect is hidden by the
details, as our national hero found the town was hidden by the
houses. And I fondly imagined I was going to sun myself in
the tender radiance of the days of childhood. No, the legends
are better than the letters ; with just enough detail to convey
the impression of their truth, there will be trouble enough, no
fear ; we shall need all the cakes and ale going. Perhaps I con-
vey the impression that I got my share of the cakes and ale ; I
know I did of the troubles. Well, yes! and of the cakes and
ale also. But just to show how little a man profits by his own
theories, I give a letter I wrote to Frank Millet while bothering


about this book. As I never-sent it, it may now be considered
an old letter, and may serve as one of the teselli of which is formed
this mosaic, which in turn I trust will form a picture. ^


You don't know how much your generous words once heart-
ened me up. Now I should like to know just what you think of
this thing. I know that it is not seasoned highly enough to suit
the delicate palates of some of the boys, and is too coarse for the
unco' pious or the too precious, and so fear for it a sort of middle
ground, a kind of Tupperian Limbo. But after all, are not the
Tupperites to have their pabulum ? If the lordly eagle refuses
the diet I offer, and the lowly ass eats it with avidity, shall I not
stroke his soft ears and call him pet names ? I may appear fresh
at times ; a lady once said to me (it was the first time I heard the
expression), "V. you are the freshest man I ever saw." Little did
she know I was the most modest man she ever saw only broke
loose which now seems to be the case. Well ; if the thing doesn't
speak for itself, will anything I can say mend it ? It may turn
out that there are more people who will like this sort of thing
(high prattling) than you or I wot of, and I am convinced that
lots of such will turn up at the polls. Please let me know what
you think. You may comfort, but it is too late to prevent. "The
Moth will into the Candle." Ever yours, V.

My saving and now using this letter reminds me of Blake,
who in his rage once threw a plate he was engraving from one
end of the room to the other. On telling this to a friend, the
friend said, "I hope you didn't spoil it?" -"No!" said Blake,
"I took mighty good care not to do that."


In making a book, a theme is necessary. In making this one, I
have merely selected myself as the theme. If any fault is found
let it be in regard to the selection. I might have selected a better
one, but I took that nearest at hand. Therefore, find fault, if you
must, with the theme and my handling of it, but not with me.
Also bear in mind that I write expressly for friendly eyes. As for
those persons with unfriendly eyes, I should like to use regarding
their eyes the quaint, archaic phraseology of the sailor.

I have seen several books made up of "Stray Thoughts,"
"Selections," "Maxims," and so forth, but I think it a bad plan.
It makes me feel as if I were being shot at by sharp-shooters
instead of running my chances in a general engagement.

I, therefore, since Fads have occupied so large a portion of my
life to the exclusion of more serious matters, glide by discreet
degrees into the subject of Fads.

Kipling tells of an Indian monkey seizing a stick, with some
great scheme in his mind, who, after dragging it with him for a
mile, throws it away, wondering what he had intended doing
with it. It is so with Fads, commenced with hopes high burning,
only to excite one's wonder years after ; with the exception that
we see that some of them, had they been perfected, would have
well replaced those serious efforts which so often turned out

As a boy, I commenced with miniature theatres, fast-model
sailing-boats, camera-oscuras, kites, rat-traps, rearing rabbits,
who attended to that business so well that the question soon
became one of the disposal of rabbits, and machines run by
water, which naturally led to the fascinating study of perpetual
motion, of which I seemed to give a good example in my own
person. At the same time, I had sense enough to see that a person

could not lift himself by his own boot-straps, and that it all led
to the reducing friction to a minimum. So that, going over one's
perpetual motion now and then, while not solving the problem,
was a good exercise for the mind. Now I see that the only perpet-
ual motion is the great Will back of all which I can imagine rest-
ing, but never ceasing its motion ; for that would be followed, not
by chaos a mass of contending forces but by equilibrium, a
vast crystallization of all things, which would mean death. There-
fore, as I cannot imagine such a state of things, I cannot imagine
death. Perhaps something hitched on to the great Will might
end in perpetual motion. Here I would like to indulge in the fad
of dividing my fads up into periods and so forth, but fearing such


a plan would show only too clearly that my whole life has been
but a succession of fads, I refrain. I must admit that beginning
with let us call it the Roman period, the fads became more
serious and absorbing. Collecting bric-a-brac in general great
fun. Then the canoe craze worked me very hard ; as did the
bicycle, which ended in a most delightful trip to Venice and back.
Mycology led to my getting all the books on the subject I could
afford, and to making hundreds of drawings of fungi, much ham-
pered by my always living where they could not be found. Then
I had a very serious flirt with stained glass, involving the getting
out of patents, and no end of time wasted, resulting in one very
beautiful but very small specimen, which I call Aladdin's Win-
dow ; but not having Aladdin's lamp to rub, I was reduced finan-
cially to the condition of the Sultan, his father-in-law. I believe a
rotary engine might have completed my ruin, had not my patent-
lawyers, while admitting that I seemed to have a good thing,
dissuaded me from pressing the button. However, it served to let
off a great deal of inventive steam. Of course astronomy comes
in, together with the purchase of a telescope which now makes an
excellent spy-glass. And always aviation, the growth of which,
with a few little experiments on my account, I have followed with
the utmost interest, from the Hargrave kite to the successful
flights of Wilbur Wright here in Rome. I have even met Wilbur,
and succeeded in making him smile in the presence of witnesses.
I must include modelling, a very serious fad, yet a fad, as being
somewhat of a deviation from the strict line of" my ordinary occu-
pation. I will just mention a few more to fill up the chinks.
Japanese objects and prints, for I am an abject admirer of all
things in Japanese Art); also of old woodcuts, initial letters, and
title-pages, and old books in general, and, so far as my means


will permit, have made a collection of them. Likewise I have
started little collections of casts of antique gems, intaglios, and
coins, and of fragments of ancient mille-fiore glass, and other
things too numerous to mention ; the ape's sticks, which I
have not thrown away, however, so that they now form a large
bundle or fardel which I bear about without grumbling, often
wondering who will ever love them as much as I do.

The Test of the Desert Island. - This game can be

played in the common or street-car. I invented it myself but I
never could get a patent. It is one of my fads. It consists in sup-
posing yourself to be condemned to pass the rest of your life on a
desert island, and in being permitted to select from the long row
of women opposite, one to keep you company. The game is
strictly confined to the male sex. The moment you think of it you
may commence upper right-hand corner. Number One :
not for your life. Number Two: seems able-bodied, and so
might make a helpmeet adapted to the surroundings ; I will
look further. Number Three : healthy not a beauty but
just think on a desert island, with no hope of a companion
but this one ? Oh well, if you put it that way perhaps; but
let us see the next. Number Four : intellectual inevitable dis-
cussions : no, if I must be banished let me at least have peace.
Number Five: "willingly, my captain," I should think so! Let
us go at once to the beautiful desert island let us fly I
will take all the risks and pay all the expenses. But in fair-
ness you must finish the row; no cheating in this game. Num-
ber Six ; no by heavens, no ! Not even on a desert island ! I
won't play any more. You pull the strap, and, with one long look
at Number Five, get out.


This game has had quite a success among studious and thought-
ful people. It also is the origin of a popular Household word.

Two Voices and Some Endings. I find to my sur-
prise that I have written a batch of neat and appropriate endings
long before bringing this work to an end ; but as "many a man
knows no end to his goods," perhaps I may find some better ones,
or perhaps "make a swan-like end, fading in music" ; if not, the
Digressions will have to "go out Bang," as Tweedle-Dee or
Tweedle-Dum says. Here they are. When a man is talking with
himself, there always seems to be a fellow taking the opposite
side. This also happens in well-regulated families, when the head
of the family is talking. And yet there is another fellow. I may
as well say that these voices are those of Jekyll and Hyde, only
each man's Jekyll and Hyde are different from those of other
men ; for I have known men so meek that their Mr. Hyde would
make a most excellent Jekyll for some other man. Be that as it
may, as these voices are heard constantly throughout this book,
as they have been throughout my life, I will briefly state my
opinion of them both and also give their opinion of me.

Dr. Jekyll does not know as much as he thinks he does, and is a
well-meaning old foozle. Mr. Hyde, though a sad dog, is not half
so sad as he ought to be, nor so bad as I have frequently painted

Jekyll. Arising from a perusal of the "Digressions of V.,"
I lay it aside with regret ; not that I regret laying aside the book,
but I mean that I feel regret on finding so little where I had
expected to find so much. The whole book is based on an er-
roneous conception of life. "Life is real Life is earnest"
and he has signally failed in keeping the balance between the


lighter and the heavier no the more serious side, which I
would fain have had predominant. I have been fond of V.
nay, even loved him. I have been with him all his life ; we were
boys together, and although I always noticed a tendency to levity
which I unsuccessfully tried to combat, I never dreamed it could
reach the point it has attained in this, his last attempt. I mean
I never imagined his folly (for I can call it by no other name)
would culminate in the production of such a work, from the
perusal of which, as I have stated in the beginning, I have just
arisen. We must part, and I hope the day will come when he will
sadly repent the loss of a friend who has ever sought to lead him
into the paths he never wished to tread, and from which he
seemed unaccountably prone to stray ; a friend who never failed
to mingle the bitter draught of good advice with his effervescing
and evanescent fool-drinks.

Hyde . I throw down this book in disgust. Why in the name
of common sense did he not put his more than questionable
stories into Latin ? He could have borrowed it for the occasion,
and would better have borrowed his English as well. He makes
me sick when he says he has had but few adventures. From my
knowledge of life I read between the lines that his life has been
one long series of adventures, and those of the commonest G. D.
sort. I am disappointed in it. I had hoped for something much

Adventures. Some ill-natured person might object that I
had not enough of moving adventures by field and flood to make
my narrative interesting. Let me tell him that having adventures
is a dangerous sport ; had it been a safe one, my pages would have
bristled with them. Adventures may be run into the ground. I


knew a man who had a most startling one : he was eaten up by

No ; I think things are better as they are. The cool sequestered
vale of life is good enough for me, and now more appropriate
than ever. No, as " Tintoretto of Rome " of whom more anon
- used to say, three great qualities are to be sought for in Art,
namely, peace, tranquillity, and repose. And so I say of life,
but I have never achieved them, or I might say it, as they are
so much of a muchness.

As good Dr. Jekyll thinks we are drawing to a close, a few
endings may comfort him, though I see no end in sight ; yet when
I do, I trust it may be final, and I only wish I could dispose of
the two Voices "o' nights" as easily as you can do by shutting
up this book. Here are the endings, carefully prepared before-
hand to suit all contingencies as are our little impromptu sayings.

Endings. A saying of Walsh about his "seeing Naples
before leaving Rome," makes me think of writing a few endings
before I am through, as Cerberus should have three tails to match
his three heads. This matter of ending gives one to think. The
elephant is a most imposing beast as he conies toward you ; but
once passed, his tail becomes a very inadequate finish for such a
bulk something like only a date and signature at the end of a
book or a name on the back of it. Yet of importance. Fancy
two large volumes with Shakespeare on the back of one, and
Tupper on that of the other. By the way, what is the matter with
T upper anyhow? Why should I gird at Tupper? I have not
read him; I have simply taken him for granted. Neither have I
read Johnson ; I have simply played about him like a little fish,
as he wallows like a w^ale in the pages of Boswell ; and yet I gird

Saint Simeon Stylites


at Tupper. I ought to be most happy if, while differing from him,
I sell as well. I now let my borrowed partners Jekyll and
Hyde have their say.

Old Dr. Jekyll writes :

"We are now drawing towards the close of our self-imposed
task, and I think it well it should be so. V. must have exhausted
all the old stories and expressions with which he is familiar, and
is dangerously near the end of all the material which he considers
new. There are a few expressions which I urged him to embody
in the work to perfect it, but he said there was a limit. In all the
English literature of his period, to which he should turn for style,
the following expressions invariably occur : In the matter of dis-
tance it is always "as far as from John O'Groat's house to
Land's End " ; of a writer, "A chiel 's amang ye takin' notes" ; of
a man, "He was a prince of good fellows" ; I personally am very
fond of " If my memory serves me rightly," but this I did not
urge upon him. I therefore say, and say it with a certain satis-
faction, that I think he has used with the exception of the
above phrases all the commonplace expressions current in his
day. Indeed he could not have done much more, and does not
seem to have done much less. May I never be called upon to
assist at another such birth. J."

Hyde's comment is as follows :

"The thing is not so bad as it might have been ; in fact I rather
hoped he would have made it worse in some respects. As it is, he
will be sorry he ever 'took pen in hand,' for I foresee a circus.
If he does, I would suggest the following bit of doggerel as being
appropriate; it is quite in his way. H.


" Peace just at present, yet I see
A lively time stored up for thee,
In fact a Circus I foresee,
Exclusively for thee."

That I do not share in Hyde's forebodings is seen in the fol-
lowing ending which I wrote for the legends before winding them
up ; in fact it would make a neat ending for the whole affair.

A Quaint Ending. The Quaint Legends should have a
quaint ending. When we have restored the quotation "Quaint
Legends of my Infancy" to its source (the "Bab Ballads"), and
given back Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to their owner, what is left
but a sad funny man, or a funny sad man. And even then there
may come along a critic and take away the "sad," and another
and take the "funny," and yet a third and take away the "man,"
and - " Lo ! the phantom caravan has reached the nothing it set
out from - Is this to be the ending ? If so it would be like the
ending of a short story Ellis once told me. Three old men sat
thinking: the first said nothing, the second said less, and the
third got up and went away. Well, let it be so ; if only something
resembling a V. remain, I shall have succeeded in my intent.

The fact is, these endings are as bad as beginnings, for no
sooner do I make an ending than another rises in its place. They
remind me of J. Smetham's description of a scene in Scotland :
" On the right, seen dimly through the mist is the peak of Ben
Whiskey; on the left, dimly, yet grander, the peak of Ben
More Whiskey." But what is one to do. Only yesterday I had
the pleasure of reading to a friend that prattle of Jekyll about
commonplaces in literature, and the friend had never heard
about "Land's End," or "John O'Groat's house," or the "Chiel
amang ye takin' notes." What is one to do, I repeat, especi-


ally one who trusts so much to the gentle reader as I do ? Trust
in the gentle reader! I should think I did. He must know as
much about me and my book by this time as the natives of Tim-
buctoo did about the missionary and his hymn-book too by the
time they were through with him and his book.







ON my arrival in Rome I at once hunted up Rinehart. He
received me with open arms, and being in the same
building with Rogers, introduced me. Rogers in his
hearty way said at once, "Come and dine with us to-night and I
will have some of the boys in to meet you." Of course I accepted
with pleasure, as well as an invitation to breakfast with Rinehart
at Nazzari's next morning. And then I did what I seem fated to
do at least once on arriving at any town committed the great
social sin of forgetting an engagement. It was thus. The hotel
air did not agree with my modest purse and I set to work at once
hunting up a room and a studio. Finally, tired out and hungry,
I went to the Lepri, had a good dinner, and going home, went to
bed and slept like a top until late next morning. The first one I
met in the morning was Rinehart ? "What kept you from com-
ing to the dinner last night ? We were all there and waited an
hour for you." What could I say ? "And how about that break-


fast at Nazzari's with me ? " Again what could be said ?
However, I explained, and Rinehart forgave and turned the
breakfast into a lunch ; after which I went to Rogers and made
a clean breast of it. He sort of forgave me but there was Mrs.
R. Well! it took the greater part of a year to live it down, but
peace was finally established, and they became and remained
my good friends for ever after.

Everything has been told about Rome that can be told. Of
course, socially there were those at the top, and those climbing,
and those content to be where they were ; there were those who
rode in their own carriages, and their inseparable companions
those who always rode in the carriages of others. And so forth,
and so forth ; but the distinction was not so marked then as now,
and I dare say all who wish to remember will confess that we were
then all much happier than now. But then again all were younger
and all were alive which I am sorry to say is not the case at
present. As for Society no man can do a thing well unless he
likes it. Had I tried to cultivate Society I should have failed. I
never go out into Society but sooner or later something disagree-
able takes place. In fact, I am happy out of it and wretched in it,
and so am the last person to write about it. This will be a disap-
pointment to my unknown friends, but will not surprise those
who know me. And so I have settled that question. Thackeray
wrote well about Snobs because he liked them. All people in
Society are not snobs by any means, but there is where you will
be most liable to be taken unawares, so I keep out. To me they
are not amusing therefore like Job I will hold my peace: only,
were I like him, I should say it over and over again, only varying
the,} wording.
. Some men commencing life in poverty, when they finally are


successful become parsimonious; others become extravagant.
Rinehart was inclined to "be the latter. He had that bad habit
of under-rating himself: he was afraid to seem afraid of allud-
ing to the hardships of his early years, and therefore spoke too
often of them. I took occasion to give him a bit of good advice
once, and think he acted on it. I said, " Rinie, you have nothing
to be ashamed of. It is true you worked in a stone-cutter's yard

with very low companions, especially humiliating in the South,
but you did not naturally belong in that condition. No one
wants to hear about that. It only pains them, and can't be agree-
able to you, so drop it once for all. We like you for what you are."
I think it affected him at least, I did n't hear much about his
early days after that. He was very generous. He was deeply im-
pressed with the kindness of people to him, and was never tired
of showing his gratitude. He also never went back on a friend.
He was always, whenever you saw him, wildly exuberant, yet very
serious and painstaking in his Art when alone, and sufficiently
canny in his money affairs to lay aside his earnings, and especially


wise in putting them into such good hands as those of his friend
Walters, where they prospered until the'Rinehart fund is the result.
I do not believe Rinehart ever needed to call on Walters for one
cent, but he had the assurance of a stanch and reliable friend
back of him and it made all the difference in the world, and gave
him that peace of mind which is in itself such a help to good work.

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 19 of 29)