Elihu Vedder.

The digressions of V. online

. (page 23 of 29)
Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 23 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

neatly brushed hair, her spotless skirts, evidently washed, starched
and ironed by herself, and she herself so clean, honest and home-
like, made you wonder why at that late hour she was not in
bed, with her little children about her, instead of jumping
through hoops, and as nearly bare-back herself as the horse she
rode.

It is strange how inevitably mingled with the joy of meeting
old friends on these visits home, the sad note will intrude and
make itself heard long after my return, when I sit thinking fondly
of them all ; and how among the gay flags of welcome there should
always be some at half-mast. Thus it happened that on one visit
I was invited to a circus and attended a funeral instead. It was
that of one of the best men I ever knew, West Roosevelt. We used
to meet at the Club and struck up a great friendship and were
very fond of each other ; I counted on his being a comfort to me
for the rest of my life. He knew all about the wickedness of the



3QO THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

world and yet he remained pure and good. One evening he said,
" Do you know what I am going to do to-morrow night ? I am go-
ing to take the children to the Circus/' - "Me too! Me too!" I
cried. " Let me go and enjoy their enjoyment." - " All right ; I '11
let you know to-morrow morning." I wondered why he did not
let me know. I did indeed receive an invitation, but it was to
his funeral. They sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers." I had
never heard it sung before and was deeply affected. As I sat there
I could not help thinking how different he was from Hitchie, and
yet how alike were my love and grief for each.

I have just seen the announcement of the death of Theodore
Tilton in Paris ; with it was a brief review of the cause celebre.

I remember only one great evening passed alone with him. It
was most enjoyable. When the time came, he showed me a meas-
ure, a legal measure, for he said he could not trust them,
and also a Raglan overcoat which he said was most useful when
going for and returning with the beer. He went for the beer and
brought back plenty, and we drank the legal measure dry and
talked of everything. I only regret I could not have had many
such talks with him before his death.

All those I knew, who knew both parties, said Beecher was in
the wrong. There were always two sides to every question. I only
know that after that evening I felt very kindly towards Tilton.
Who knows the truth ? Beecher may have been only foolish
God help us all!

If this thing goes on, for Tilton was just about my age,
I shall have to dedicate this book "To the few left, and the
many to come." This was written some time ago, now I see in the
Paris Herald a little In Memoriam suggested by the anniversary
of his death written evidently by a good friend of his, which



THEODORE TILTON 391

I cannot help quoting, for it so well describes the impression he
left on my memory :-

" To have a semblance of the old talks, I have been linger-
ing over his works, and in < The Fading of the Mayflower '
came across these lines. They describe him so exactly that I
believe all those who knew him well will recognise his * mental
photograph ' in them : -

"And he who in his pages can be mute,

And who can spare whom he hath power to kill,
Shall learn that in returning good for ill,
The soul will find its blessedest pursuit.

" These feelings were the keynote of the gentlest soul I have
met in the course of a long life spent in the busy throng of
men and women."

In Italy they have long held the belief that consumption is
contagious ; I always believed it, and now our doctors know it
to be so.

On one of my visits home I received a note from a dying girl.
She begged me to come to her. I left the warm Club and went
forth into the cold country, a long way from New York. She had
been much" loved ; and had loved much. She was my friend and
I went.

" Dear V. how good of you to come, but I knew you would,"
and we talked of Italy.

"V. it is so strange so hard to die ; I am so young. They
are very kind to me ; see what nice jelly they have made for me
taste it ! " And I at once took the spoon she was using and tasted
and praised the jelly. " You must go now, you have so far to
go, and you must kiss me good-bye, you must kiss me kiss



392 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

me good-bye for ever, dear V. I shall never see you again." I
bent over her and she raised her poor thin arms and clasped my
neck, and I kissed her good-bye. She sank back with a smile and
then the handkerchief and the spot of blood. Then through
my tears I saw the dark, appealing eyes and heard " Dear V.
- addio per sempre!" and again the white handkerchief and
the red spot of blood.

I believe there was once a drink called Bubble and Squeak,
evidently a mixed drink, and I imagine in that case the Bubble
was for the evening and the Squeak for the morning after. In any
case, a friend of mine and his friend were dining together, mighty
merry ; when things became all rose-colour, his friend said, " Let
me feel your pulse"; and on my friend extending his arm, he was
grasped by the wrist, and on his cuff was written and duly signed
an order for a picture, in which was included the price a good
round sum. My friend kept the cuff as a memento, but never
painted the picture or told his friend of the order. I have often
wondered if that bubble on bursting would not have given out
a squeak ? Most likely.

I shall never forget a dinner at the Papyrus Club, when I
leaned forward with most intense interest from behind the fat
friend at my side to catch every word of the Chinese Professor as
he rose to make a speech. "I lemember many welly pleasant din-
nels many pleasant dinnels. Mistle Lonfeloo Mistle Lovel
yes, many pleasant dinnels. I will now lecite a ploem on
Autumn Chinese ploem consisting of seventeen lines all lim-
ing. Yes ; a ploem on Autumn'' and then we had it of all the
most delicately modulated, excruciating squeaking! I was glad
my friend was fat; I intrenched myself behind him. We had al-



AT DINNERS 395

ready had much bubble and I simply went on with redoubled bub-
bling while the squeaks were squeezed out. But what 's the use ?
you must hear this kind of thing "lecited." And now at the
last hour I am told that there is no such drink as Bubble and
Squeak, then what becomes of all my fun ? Time presses. I shall
not swap horses now so I shall let it stand.

I too have had "many welly pleasant dinnels." I remember
being seated at the old Century Club, between Booth and Bar-
rett. I had seen Barrett, when a young man, and had always pre-
dicted he would be a good actor. They were then both Summits.
They both had rather long upper lips, shaved, which gave the
face-scape a rugged or rocky character, so I fancied ; but while
gleams of sunshine played over these heights from time to time,
I must confess, the atmosphere was cool up there, and I felt as
if I were in cold storage. So it is with me when things get to
be too serious ; I always feel an irresistible impulse to say, Boo !
But I don't.

A most pleasant dinner was given to a friend and myself
by A. D. at Delmonico's. Almost all the guests were theatrical
ladies, and charming. We waited for one, rather mischievously
called the Vestal of Union Square. She was charming, also,
but somehow there was a stateliness over it all a kind of living
up to something, as it were, which so got on my nerves that in the
lull I said in the most solemn tones I could assume, "Let us
pray!" The tension snapped and disappeared like a Prince
Rupert's drop, and we had music, dancing, recitations, and
a real good time after all, a most enjoyable dinner.

But the greatest affair was at Daly's on the Hundredth Night
of the Taming of the Shrew. It was broad daylight when we were
through with it, and I was very tired. I sat next John Drew, and



396



THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.




STUDY FOR HEAD OF LAZARUS

through him was spared making a speech, as all the rest did. The
whole table was one vast round bed of flowers, and the guests in-
cluded all the talent of New York, and even some from surround-
ing towns. I am always dull, and so I wondered why General
Sherman interrupted so frequently, until it dawned on me that
he was toastmaster and had to. I don't remember his own
speech. There was that noble, ruined tower, tottering to its fall
Lester Wallack : he rose and said that there had been some talk
of a falling mantle ; if he had a mantle and it must fall, he could
think of no worthier shoulders upon which it could fall than
those of his friend Augustin Daly. This was said with such manly



AT DINNERS 397

sincerity that, by Jove ! I was inclined to believe it. Of course
Mark Twain was there. He told of the difficulty of approaching
such a great man as Daly on account of his faithful Irish hench-
man who kept out intruders. This Irish porter and his big dog
proved an insurmountable barrier until he praised the dog and
said he was presiding as judge at a bench-show ; then the porter




j

LAZARUS

and the dog were all smiles and he was shown at once into the
presence. I think Mark Twain, having a sense of humour, would
be the first to admit that he made a rather long story of this. Then
the beloved of all Willy Winter, and the dear Mrs. Gilbert,
and almost all the others. But the best and also the shortest
speech of all was that of Ada Rehan. She rose, she has pres-
ence, and laying her hand on her breast said with great emotion,
and that clear enunciation which is so delightful " My friends,



3Q8 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

I know you will forgive me ; I cannot speak : my heart is too full."
If this was acting, it was such good acting that I believed every
word of it. And so home and to bed by daylight, mighty tired.

A worthy Pope once, when pleased with the discourse of an
equally worthy friar, offered him a pinch of snuff. The friar re-
fused with thanks, and at the same time thanked God that he had
not acquired that vice. Whereupon the Pope remarked that he
had better get it, as it went so well with the others. I have always
been thankful that I acquired the vice of smoking early in life, in
Cuba, thus saving much valuable time. I have given the Toscano,
a great favourite in Italy, many names such as gravfl-scratcher,
test of manhood, bed-rocker, etc., for in the way of smoking you
can no lower go. But the best name for it is "The last refuge of
Man." For I firmly believe that, although Woman has taken pos-
session of the realm of the cigarette, she will never invade the
kingdom of the Toscano. Here Man reigns supreme, and may
well nail his flag to the Toscano.

But we must distinguish carefully between the Toscano and
the fair Virginia, she of the slender build, frequently the de-
spair of the new arrival, who seeks in vain to smoke it without
previously withdrawing the little reed-like straw. The likeness
between them may be best described as that between the Muffin
and the Crumpet. I once asked an Englishman what was the dif-
ference between a Muffin and a Crumpet, and he said he held the
Crumpet to be the female of the Muffin. This also just describes
the relationship of the Toscano and our Stogie. When, on my
visits home, unable to obtain my favourite, I have hailed with
delight the Stogie, but must confess that it was something like re-
visiting the pale glimpses of the moon. However, I was delighted
with the native Stogie as a substitute, and sought to introduce it



THE TOSCANO 399

to those of the Club, pointing out how heart-rending a thing it
was to throw away a good Havana (barely begun) merely to
catch a train, when an inexpensive Stogie would do as well. I
taught my friends how to cut them in two, thus getting two
smokes out of one Stogie ; and that by lighting them in private,
that humiliating look of economy might be avoided ; and I be-
lieve my propaganda took effect, and that these "Catch-the-
trains " are smoked to this day, in private, but on account of the
humiliating look only in private.

The Toscano is an alleged cigar, six and one eighth inches long ;
like Whistler, "I have measured it." It is always cut in two by
the judicious, for very good reasons. It draws better ; it gives two
short smokes ; you smoke less ; and as it has been called strong,
while you may waste the cigar, you save the man. Again, as the
fair girls who " confectionate " it, being of a merry turn of mind,
frequently mingle with the flagrant leaf hairpins, with the relative
hair, toothpicks, nails, bits of stay-laces from their trim corsets,
and oggetti too numerous to mention, so the cutting in two dis-
closes forthwith this plan of having fun at your expense. Yet as
the Messagero receives specimens and publishes lists of things
found in Toscani, I dare say they get some sort of satisfaction
out of their pranks after all.

Now as to how the man is saved. The custom is to cut off the
two hard ends ; these go to deserving models and studio men ; to
the studio man also goes the stump, which he dries and smokes
in a pipe, or sends to his old father in the country. You only
smoke about an inch of each half, or two inches of the cigar. This
moderation saves the man, if it does waste the cigar. I smoke
about five a day ; that does the business for me, and would most
certainly do the business for many a tall fellow.



400 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

One more observation : the stumps of Toscani, thrown away
in the street, are pounced upon by an uncertain class, much as
the sea-gulls pounce on the refuse thrown from a steamer ; but
I have noticed that the stump of an Havana is passed unnoticed
by those who readily stoop to that of a Toscano.

Michelangelo, when a very old man, was seated one day amidst
the ruins of the Colosseum. In my opinion, he was only loafing
and waiting his opportunity. A friend finding him said, " Buon'
giorno," to which the old man at once replied, "That's not
right ; you must ask me Cosa fai ? " (what are you doing ?)
"else what becomes of my celebrated answer, 'I am still study-
ing'?"

Should any one ask me at this moment the same question, I
should answer, "Smoking and thinking." Q. Whatare you think-
ing about ? A. My life. Q. And what do you make of it ? A. An
unfinished sketch. After which I would throw away the mezzo-
Toscano, well knowing that I had lots of them in reserve.



| towers no
jf tower




CHAPTER XIII

Perugia and Elsewhere

OMAR KHAYYAM WILLIAM BLAKE HOTCHKISS MONTE
COLOGNIOLA ORTE AND BASSANELLO A GLIMPSE OF BAY-
ARD TAYLOR DOWN BY THE LAKE A RUSTIC RUMPUS

FLEAS AND LITTLE TROUBLES ELASTICITY DERUTA

EGYPT THE END.

As these Digressions are intended to give it may be an im-
perfect account of a somewhat imperfect life, I must
give what all my friends are longing to know, some ac-
count of the when and the where and the why and the how I made
my drawings for the Omar Khayyam. As I spell the Khayyam
always differently, I shall hereafter simply call him Omar. It is
so the fashion nowadays, in writing a man's life, to give such
importance to his surroundings, that the man himself becomes
like the slender wick of a large wax-candle " consumed with
that which it was nourished by/' This is reasonable, but it
involves a certain waste of paper.

We were living in Perugia when my friend Ellis brought me
Omar and introduced him as only Ellis could. Ellis was a man
who could read Chaucer, not only so that you understood him,
but he converted him into a musical flow of melody. He was a
man who, once reading a long poem, could recite it, and copy it
out for you if you desired. Now this was so far back that it was
in the time when Omar, or FitzGerald,was only known to Tenny-
son and his friends as "old Fitz," and to a few besides. But in



4 o 4 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

the little Villa Uffreduzzi, late in the afternoon, when the sun
had gone off the house, in the grateful shade, out of an old Etrus-
can cup, many were the libations of good wine poured on the
thirsty earth, to go below and quench the fire of anguish in old
Omar's eyes.

Thus was the seed of Omar planted in a soil peculiarly adapted
to its growth, and it grew and took to itself all of sorrow and of
mirth that it could assimilate, and blossomed out in the drawings.
To round out the candle from the villa we saw the level plain
of the Tiber stretching to stormy Assisi, always involved in clouds
and strange effects and atmospheric troubles, such as followed in
the moral world the advent of its great Saint. We, however, sat
in the peaceful twilight and drank to Omar. I had my little boy
with me, slowly twining himself about my heart with tendrils
never more to be relaxed. His mother, proud of her two boys,
had gone home and returned with but one. In Rome a little daugh-
ter came, and she was brought to the Villa Ansidei to which we
had removed in the meantime. It had the same great view, and
the same cloud-effects over the plain and on the great hill of As-
sisi are shown in many a sketch made at that time. At the Villa
Uffreduzzi all was pleasure and so it was down at the other
villa for a time. In those days I painted dances and picnics
and girls weaving golden nets until the day came when my
little boy had to depart. Then followed the various attempts to
banish even the memory of him, for the sake of others. He was
placed in a cell in the wall of the cemetery of Perugia, in full view
of the house, so that he was never out of sight as well as never
out of heart, and then I painted a sketch I never show. And
then we gave up the villa and passed the summers elsewhere.
Once knowing Omar, I always intended to paint something in his




THE GOLDEN NET



OMAR KHAYYAM 407

vein. Ellis had also designs for pictures, but I have never heard
how they turned out. We drifted apart. I will tell of Ellis and
Blake afterwards, as they are in my mind inseparably united.

On one of my trips home, seeing that other people were making
books, I thought Why not make one myself? And of course
Omar came into my mind, and the more I thought of it, the more
the idea pleased me. So I mentioned it to the art editor of one of
the principal magazines in New York, who said, "Yes, yes : take
something popular and it might do very well !" I stared at him,
and that magazine did not get the Omar drawings. In Boston,
Mr. Houghton listened to my scheme, and asked, " But who and
where is this Omar ? " I said that was natural ; he was too near ;
he only published the poem. To make a long story short, he
agreed to bring out the book, and on the way back to Rome I
thought it all out. In three weeks I had divided the verses into
groups and settled on the subjects of the drawings, and com-
menced making them. I was somewhat wise also : I did not begin
at the beginning and go through, but dipped in here and there
through the book, so that they should not begin well and peter
out, or begin ill and improve, but were kept as even as moods
and circumstances would permit ; but they boiled out, and I kept
the fire hot, and they were all done as is stated in the end of
the book: "Commenced, May, 1883; finished, March, 1884."
To those who object to the work, and there are those who
do, I will only say that it is selling yet a poor argument,
but it must suffice.

It may be as interesting to know that all the money which en-
abled me to make the drawings was borrowed from an ever kind
American banker in Rome at twelve per cent. You see he cast up
his accounts every three months, and compounded things. On



4 o8 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

my wife expostulating, he said, " If I could n't make twenty-four
per cent I had better shut up shop." Telling this to some busi-
ness friends, they thought he had the true commercial spirit.
Some of the artists said, "Who would lend us money, if old H.
did n't ? " - and there was something in that. He admitted that
he had lost less through artists than any other class. However,
in settling up the affairs after the smash, he got the curve on one
artist I wot of. Thus opinions differ. The drawings were all
made in a studio in the Villa Strohl Fern outside the Porta del
Popolo, Rome.



I am not a mystic, or very learned in occult matters. I have
read much in a desultory manner and have thought much, and so
it comes that I take short flights or wade out into the sea of mys-
tery which surrounds us, but soon getting beyond my depth, re-
turn, I must confess with a sense of relief, to the solid ground of
common sense ; and yet it delights me to tamper and potter with
the unknowable, and I have a strong tendency to see in things
more than meets the eye. This tendency, which unduly cultivated
might lead me into the extravagant, is held in check by my sense
of humour, and has enabled me at times to tread with safety that
narrow path lying between the Sublime and the Ridiculous,
the path of common sense, which in its turn is dangerously near
to the broad highway of the Commonplace^ There is another
thing the ease with wh:~h I can conjure up visions. This fac-
ulty if cultivated would soon enable me to see as realities most
delightful things, but the reaction would be beyond my control
and would inevitably follow and be sure to create images of hor-
ror indescribable. A few experiences have shown me that that
way madness lies; and so, while I have rendered my Heaven



WILLIAM BLAKE 409

somewhat tame, at least my Hell remains quite endurable. Thus
it comes that Blake can wander with delight and retain his men-
tal health in an atmosphere which would prove fatal to me ; and
thus I am not fitted to pass a judgement on him but I can at




"THE PARDON-GIVING AND IMPLORING HANDS"

least give a little account which may help do away with that idea
that he was insane.

My friend Ellis was a man saturated with Blake. The two
large volumes, "William Blake, by Ellis and Yates," testify
to this. He told me long ago in Perugia that he then thought he
had found the key to Blake's wonderful and interminable mystic
poems. I confess, with the greatest love and veneration for the
man and artist, these long poems are to me a veritable Slough of



410 THE DIGRESSIONS OF V.

Despond ; that in wading through them, when I think I have
gained a firm foothold, it sinks from under me, while Ellis goes
skipping from hummock to hummock and seems to come out dry-
shod at the farther side. And yet, if Blake is ever to be inter-
preted, these two men are the only ones who give a promise of
success. It would take a lifetime to really understand Blake ; and
what if after all it should turn out to be not so. Since I have
made a book that sells, I have frequently been asked to make
illustrations for the Book of Job ; but I confess, after the magni-
ficent treatment of that theme by Blake, I should be lacking in
modesty and judgement to make the attempt. Such a thing could
only be done by the abnormal greed of a Dore, who attempted to
illustrate the whole of Creation. Blake lived in a world all his own.
At first, when he was in communication with the world about him,
he did beautiful things we all understand and admire, but when
finally the spirit of the bard, the seer, or the prophet worked
mightily in him, he threw off all restraint and roved at will in the
glories or horrors of his own creation ; and it is only by the fitful
gleams of his dawns or sunsets over seas of blood that we see
but cannot understand the workings of his wayward spirit. And
what is it all about ? It is that what seems real is not real, and
what seems not real is real, and that all is imagination. And he
attempts to justify the ways of God to man but not your God
but Blake's God and Blake's God is as Blake will have him.
Blake thought that Swedenborg and Christ were right enough
when explained by Blake ; that no one knew the meaning of the
Bible but Blake. And what do you think ? Why, I think that as
far as that goes, old St. Simeon Stylites thought he was right also.
I think that when the moral sense in man is abnormal or diseased,
he makes a pretty kettle of fish of the whole affair ; and that no-



WILLIAM BLAKE



411



thing offends me more than these tedious exhibitions of vanity by
people who in reality know no more about it than I do.

I except Blake ; he never offends, and I am not sure but that
he saw the truth ; but he presents it in a too complicated form




for my understanding ; however, this does not settle the question
of Blake, by any means nor the question of the Truth either.
It was while at school, in Allan Cunningham's " Lives of the
Painters," I first met with the name of Blake. He is there called
the "mad painter," and so he remains in the minds of most peo-



Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 23 of 29)