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literature, we shall gain something in the destruction of all our vast
and musty libraries of precedents, which now fetter our administration
of individual justice. It is Mandeville's opinion that women are not
so sentimental as men, and are not so easily touched with the unspoken
poetry of nature; being less poetical, and having less imagination, they
are more fitted for practical affairs, and would make less failures in
business. I have noticed the almost selfish passion for their flowers
which old gardeners have, and their reluctance to part with a leaf or a
blossom from their family. They love the flowers for themselves. A woman
raises flowers for their use. She is destruct-ion in a conservatory.
She wants the flowers for her lover, for the sick, for the poor, for the
Lord on Easter day, for the ornamentation of her house. She delights in
the costly pleasure of sacrificing them. She never sees a flower but she
has an intense but probably sinless desire to pick it.

It has been so from the first, though from the first she has been
thwarted by the accidental superior strength of man. Whatever she has
obtained has been by craft, and by the same coaxing which the sun uses
to draw the blossoms out of the apple-trees. I am not surprised to learn
that she has become tired of indulgences, and wants some of the original
rights. We are just beginning to find out the extent to which she
has been denied and subjected, and especially her condition among the
primitive and barbarous races. I have never seen it in a platform of
grievances, but it is true that among the Fijians she is not, unless a
better civilization has wrought a change in her behalf, permitted to eat
people, even her own sex, at the feasts of the men; the dainty enjoyed
by the men being considered too good to be wasted on women. Is anything
wanting to this picture of the degradation of woman? By a refinement of
cruelty she receives no benefit whatever from the missionaries who are
sent out by - what to her must seem a new name for Tantalus - the American
Board.

I suppose the Young Lady expressed a nearly universal feeling in her
regret at the breaking up of the winter-fireside company. Society needs
a certain seclusion and the sense of security. Spring opens the doors
and the windows, and the noise and unrest of the world are let in. Even
a winter thaw begets a desire to travel, and summer brings longings
innumerable, and disturbs the most tranquil souls. Nature is, in fact, a
suggester of uneasiness, a promoter of pilgrimages and of excursions
of the fancy which never come to any satisfactory haven. The summer in
these latitudes is a campaign of sentiment and a season, for the most
part, of restlessness and discontent. We grow now in hot-houses roses
which, in form and color, are magnificent, and appear to be full of
passion; yet one simple June rose of the open air has for the Young
Lady, I doubt not, more sentiment and suggestion of love than a
conservatory full of them in January. And this suggestion, leavened as
it is with the inconstancy of nature, stimulated by the promises which
are so often like the peach-blossom of the Judas-tree, unsatisfying by
reason of its vague possibilities, differs so essentially from the more
limited and attainable and home-like emotion born of quiet intercourse
by the winter fireside, that I do not wonder the Young Lady feels as if
some spell had been broken by the transition of her life from in-doors
to out-doors. Her secret, if secret she has, which I do not at all know,
is shared by the birds and the new leaves and the blossoms on the fruit
trees. If we lived elsewhere, in that zone where the poets pretend
always to dwell, we might be content, perhaps I should say drugged, by
the sweet influences of an unchanging summer; but not living elsewhere,
we can understand why the Young Lady probably now looks forward to the
hearthstone as the most assured center of enduring attachment.

If it should ever become the sad duty of this biographer to write of
disappointed love, I am sure he would not have any sensational story to
tell of the Young Lady. She is one of those women whose unostentatious
lives are the chief blessing of humanity; who, with a sigh heard only
by herself and no change in her sunny face, would put behind her all the
memories of winter evenings and the promises of May mornings, and give
her life to some ministration of human kindness with an assiduity that
would make her occupation appear like an election and a first choice.
The disappointed man scowls, and hates his race, and threatens
self-destruction, choosing oftener the flowing bowl than the dagger, and
becoming a reeling nuisance in the world. It would be much more manly in
him to become the secretary of a Dorcas society.

I suppose it is true that women work for others with less expectation
of reward than men, and give themselves to labors of self-sacrifice with
much less thought of self. At least, this is true unless woman goes into
some public performance, where notoriety has its attractions, and mounts
some cause, to ride it man-fashion, when I think she becomes just as
eager for applause and just as willing that self-sacrifice should
result in self-elevation as man. For her, usually, are not those
unbought - presentations which are forced upon firemen, philanthropists,
legislators, railroad-men, and the superintendents of the moral
instruction of the young. These are almost always pleasing and
unexpected tributes to worth and modesty, and must be received with
satisfaction when the public service rendered has not been with a view
to procuring them. We should say that one ought to be most liable to
receive a "testimonial" who, being a superintendent of any sort, did not
superintend with a view to getting it. But "testimonials" have become
so common that a modest man ought really to be afraid to do his simple
duty, for fear his motives will be misconstrued. Yet there are instances
of very worthy men who have had things publicly presented to them. It
is the blessed age of gifts and the reward of private virtue. And the
presentations have become so frequent that we wish there were a little
more variety in them. There never was much sense in giving a gallant
fellow a big speaking-trumpet to carry home to aid him in his
intercourse with his family; and the festive ice-pitcher has become a
too universal sign of absolute devotion to the public interest. The lack
of one will soon be proof that a man is a knave. The legislative cane
with the gold head, also, is getting to be recognized as the sign of the
immaculate public servant, as the inscription on it testifies, and the
steps of suspicion must ere-long dog him who does not carry one. The
"testimonial" business is, in truth, a little demoralizing, almost as
much so as the "donation;" and the demoralization has extended even to
our language, so that a perfectly respectable man is often obliged to
see himself "made the recipient of" this and that. It would be much
better, if testimonials must be, to give a man a barrel of flour or a
keg of oysters, and let him eat himself at once back into the ranks of
ordinary men.





III

We may have a testimonial class in time, a sort of nobility here in
America, made so by popular gift, the members of which will all be able
to show some stick or piece of plated ware or massive chain, "of which
they have been the recipients." In time it may be a distinction not to
belong to it, and it may come to be thought more blessed to give than
to receive. For it must have been remarked that it is not always to the
cleverest and the most amiable and modest man that the deputation comes
with the inevitable ice-pitcher (and "salver to match"), which has in it
the magic and subtle quality of making the hour in which it is received
the proudest of one's life. There has not been discovered any method of
rewarding all the deserving people and bringing their virtues into the
prominence of notoriety. And, indeed, it would be an unreasonable world
if there had, for its chief charm and sweetness lie in the excellences
in it which are reluctantly disclosed; one of the chief pleasures
of living is in the daily discovery of good traits, nobilities, and
kindliness both in those we have long known and in the chance passenger
whose way happens for a day to lie with ours. The longer I live the more
I am impressed with the excess of human kindness over human hatred, and
the greater willingness to oblige than to disoblige that one meets at
every turn. The selfishness in politics, the jealousy in letters,
the bickering in art, the bitterness in theology, are all as nothing
compared to the sweet charities, sacrifices, and deferences of private
life. The people are few whom to know intimately is to dislike. Of
course you want to hate somebody, if you can, just to keep your powers
of discrimination bright, and to save yourself from becoming a mere mush
of good-nature; but perhaps it is well to hate some historical person
who has been dead so long as to be indifferent to it. It is more
comfortable to hate people we have never seen. I cannot but think that
Judas Iscariot has been of great service to the world as a sort of
buffer for moral indignation which might have made a collision nearer
home but for his utilized treachery. I used to know a venerable and most
amiable gentleman and scholar, whose hospitable house was always overrun
with wayside ministers, agents, and philanthropists, who loved their
fellow-men better than they loved to work for their living; and he, I
suspect, kept his moral balance even by indulgence in violent but most
distant dislikes. When I met him casually in the street, his first
salutation was likely to be such as this: "What a liar that Alison was!
Don't you hate him?" And then would follow specifications of historical
inveracity enough to make one's blood run cold. When he was thus
discharged of his hatred by such a conductor, I presume he had not a
spark left for those whose mission was partly to live upon him and other
generous souls.

Mandeville and I were talking of the unknown people, one rainy night by
the fire, while the Mistress was fitfully and interjectionally playing
with the piano-keys in an improvising mood. Mandeville has a good deal
of sentiment about him, and without any effort talks so beautifully
sometimes that I constantly regret I cannot report his language. He has,
besides, that sympathy of presence - I believe it is called magnetism
by those who regard the brain as only a sort of galvanic battery - which
makes it a greater pleasure to see him think, if I may say so, than to
hear some people talk.

It makes one homesick in this world to think that there are so many rare
people he can never know; and so many excellent people that scarcely any
one will know, in fact. One discovers a friend by chance, and cannot but
feel regret that twenty or thirty years of life maybe have been spent
without the least knowledge of him. When he is once known, through him
opening is made into another little world, into a circle of culture
and loving hearts and enthusiasm in a dozen congenial pursuits, and
prejudices perhaps. How instantly and easily the bachelor doubles his
world when he marries, and enters into the unknown fellowship of the to
him continually increasing company which is known in popular language as
"all his wife's relations."

Near at hand daily, no doubt, are those worth knowing intimately, if one
had the time and the opportunity. And when one travels he sees what a
vast material there is for society and friendship, of which he can never
avail himself. Car-load after car-load of summer travel goes by one at
any railway-station, out of which he is sure he could choose a score of
life-long friends, if the conductor would introduce him. There are
faces of refinement, of quick wit, of sympathetic kindness, - interesting
people, traveled people, entertaining people, - as you would say in
Boston, "nice people you would admire to know," whom you constantly meet
and pass without a sign of recognition, many of whom are no doubt your
long-lost brothers and sisters. You can see that they also have their
worlds and their interests, and they probably know a great many "nice"
people. The matter of personal liking and attachment is a good deal due
to the mere fortune of association. More fast friendships and pleasant
acquaintanceships are formed on the Atlantic steamships between those
who would have been only indifferent acquaintances elsewhere, than one
would think possible on a voyage which naturally makes one as selfish as
he is indifferent to his personal appearance. The Atlantic is the only
power on earth I know that can make a woman indifferent to her personal
appearance.

Mandeville remembers, and I think without detriment to himself, the
glimpses he had in the White Mountains once of a young lady of whom
his utmost efforts could give him no further information than her name.
Chance sight of her on a passing stage or amid a group on some mountain
lookout was all he ever had, and he did not even know certainly whether
she was the perfect beauty and the lovely character he thought her. He
said he would have known her, however, at a great distance; there was to
her form that command of which we hear so much and which turns out to be
nearly all command after the "ceremony;" or perhaps it was something in
the glance of her eye or the turn of her head, or very likely it was a
sweet inherited reserve or hauteur that captivated him, that filled
his days with the expectation of seeing her, and made him hasten to the
hotel-registers in the hope that her name was there recorded. Whatever
it was, she interested him as one of the people he would like to know;
and it piqued him that there was a life, rich in friendships, no doubt,
in tastes, in many noblenesses, one of thousands of such, that must be
absolutely nothing to him, - nothing but a window into heaven momentarily
opened and then closed. I have myself no idea that she was a countess
incognito, or that she had descended from any greater heights than those
where Mandeville saw her, but I have always regretted that she went her
way so mysteriously and left no glow, and that we shall wear out the
remainder of our days without her society. I have looked for her name,
but always in vain, among the attendants at the rights-conventions,
in the list of those good Americans presented at court, among those
skeleton names that appear as the remains of beauty in the morning
journals after a ball to the wandering prince, in the reports of railway
collisions and steamboat explosions. No news comes of her. And so
imperfect are our means of communication in this world that, for
anything we know, she may have left it long ago by some private way.





IV

The lasting regret that we cannot know more of the bright, sincere, and
genuine people of the world is increased by the fact that they are all
different from each other. Was it not Madame de Sevigne who said she
had loved several different women for several different qualities? Every
real person - for there are persons as there are fruits that have no
distinguishing flavor, mere gooseberries - has a distinct quality, and
the finding it is always like the discovery of a new island to the
voyager. The physical world we shall exhaust some day, having a written
description of every foot of it to which we can turn; but we shall never
get the different qualities of people into a biographical dictionary,
and the making acquaintance with a human being will never cease to be an
exciting experiment. We cannot even classify men so as to aid us much in
our estimate of them. The efforts in this direction are ingenious, but
unsatisfactory. If I hear that a man is lymphatic or nervous-sanguine, I
cannot tell therefrom whether I shall like and trust him. He may produce
a phrenological chart showing that his knobby head is the home of all
the virtues, and that the vicious tendencies are represented by holes
in his cranium, and yet I cannot be sure that he will not be as
disagreeable as if phrenology had not been invented. I feel sometimes
that phrenology is the refuge of mediocrity. Its charts are almost as
misleading concerning character as photographs. And photography may be
described as the art which enables commonplace mediocrity to look like
genius. The heavy-jowled man with shallow cerebrum has only to incline
his head so that the lying instrument can select a favorable focus, to
appear in the picture with the brow of a sage and the chin of a poet.
Of all the arts for ministering to human vanity the photographic is the
most useful, but it is a poor aid in the revelation of character. You
shall learn more of a man's real nature by seeing him walk once up the
broad aisle of his church to his pew on Sunday, than by studying his
photograph for a month.

No, we do not get any certain standard of men by a chart of their
temperaments; it will hardly answer to select a wife by the color of her
hair; though it be by nature as red as a cardinal's hat, she may be
no more constant than if it were dyed. The farmer who shuns all the
lymphatic beauties in his neighborhood, and selects to wife the most
nervous-sanguine, may find that she is unwilling to get up in the winter
mornings and make the kitchen fire. Many a man, even in this scientific
age which professes to label us all, has been cruelly deceived in
this way. Neither the blondes nor the brunettes act according to the
advertisement of their temperaments. The truth is that men refuse to
come under the classifications of the pseudo-scientists, and all our
new nomenclatures do not add much to our knowledge. You know what to
expect - if the comparison will be pardoned - of a horse with certain
points; but you wouldn't dare go on a journey with a man merely upon the
strength of knowing that his temperament was the proper mixture of the
sanguine and the phlegmatic. Science is not able to teach us concerning
men as it teaches us of horses, though I am very far from saying that
there are not traits of nobleness and of meanness that run through
families and can be calculated to appear in individuals with absolute
certainty; one family will be trusty and another tricky through all
its members for generations; noble strains and ignoble strains are
perpetuated. When we hear that she has eloped with the stable-boy and
married him, we are apt to remark, "Well, she was a Bogardus." And when
we read that she has gone on a mission and has died, distinguishing
herself by some extraordinary devotion to the heathen at Ujiji, we think
it sufficient to say, "Yes, her mother married into the Smiths." But
this knowledge comes of our experience of special families, and stands
us in stead no further.

If we cannot classify men scientifically and reduce them under a kind
of botanical order, as if they had a calculable vegetable development,
neither can we gain much knowledge of them by comparison. It does not
help me at all in my estimate of their characters to compare Mandeville
with the Young Lady, or Our Next Door with the Parson. The wise man does
not permit himself to set up even in his own mind any comparison of
his friends. His friendship is capable of going to extremes with many
people, evoked as it is by many qualities. When Mandeville goes into
my garden in June I can usually find him in a particular bed of
strawberries, but he does not speak disrespectfully of the others.
When Nature, says Mandeville, consents to put herself into any sort of
strawberry, I have no criticisms to make, I am only glad that I have
been created into the same world with such a delicious manifestation of
the Divine favor. If I left Mandeville alone in the garden long enough,
I have no doubt he would impartially make an end of the fruit of all the
beds, for his capacity in this direction is as all-embracing as it is in
the matter of friendships. The Young Lady has also her favorite patch of
berries. And the Parson, I am sorry to say, prefers to have them picked
for him the elect of the garden - and served in an orthodox manner. The
straw-berry has a sort of poetical precedence, and I presume that no
fruit is jealous of it any more than any flower is jealous of the rose;
but I remark the facility with which liking for it is transferred to the
raspberry, and from the raspberry (not to make a tedious enumeration) to
the melon, and from the melon to the grape, and the grape to the pear,
and the pear to the apple. And we do not mar our enjoyment of each by
comparisons.

Of course it would be a dull world if we could not criticise our
friends, but the most unprofitable and unsatisfactory criticism is that
by comparison. Criticism is not necessarily uncharitableness, but a
wholesome exercise of our powers of analysis and discrimination. It is,
however, a very idle exercise, leading to no results when we set the
qualities of one over against the qualities of another, and disparage by
contrast and not by independent judgment. And this method of procedure
creates jealousies and heart-burnings innumerable.

Criticism by comparison is the refuge of incapables, and especially is
this true in literature. It is a lazy way of disposing of a young poet
to bluntly declare, without any sort of discrimination of his defects
or his excellences, that he equals Tennyson, and that Scott never wrote
anything finer. What is the justice of damning a meritorious novelist
by comparing him with Dickens, and smothering him with thoughtless and
good-natured eulogy? The poet and the novelist may be well enough,
and probably have qualities and gifts of their own which are worth the
critic's attention, if he has any time to bestow on them; and it is
certainly unjust to subject them to a comparison with somebody else,
merely because the critic will not take the trouble to ascertain what
they are. If, indeed, the poet and novelist are mere imitators of
a model and copyists of a style, they may be dismissed with such
commendation as we bestow upon the machines who pass their lives in
making bad copies of the pictures of the great painters. But the critics
of whom we speak do not intend depreciation, but eulogy, when they say
that the author they have in hand has the wit of Sydney Smith and the
brilliancy of Macaulay. Probably he is not like either of them, and may
have a genuine though modest virtue of his own; but these names
will certainly kill him, and he will never be anybody in the popular
estimation. The public finds out speedily that he is not Sydney Smith,
and it resents the extravagant claim for him as if he were an impudent
pretender. How many authors of fair ability to interest the world have
we known in our own day who have been thus sky-rocketed into notoriety
by the lazy indiscrimination of the critic-by-comparison, and then have
sunk into a popular contempt as undeserved! I never see a young aspirant
injudiciously compared to a great and resplendent name in literature,
but I feel like saying, My poor fellow, your days are few and full
of trouble; you begin life handicapped, and you cannot possibly run a
creditable race.

I think this sort of critical eulogy is more damaging even than that
which kills by a different assumption, and one which is equally common,
namely, that the author has not done what he probably never intended
to do. It is well known that most of the trouble in life comes from our
inability to compel other people to do what we think they ought, and it
is true in criticism that we are unwilling to take a book for what it
is, and credit the author with that. When the solemn critic, like a
mastiff with a ladies' bonnet in his mouth, gets hold of a light piece
of verse, or a graceful sketch which catches the humor of an hour for
the entertainment of an hour, he tears it into a thousand shreds. It
adds nothing to human knowledge, it solves none of the problems of
life, it touches none of the questions of social science, it is not a
philosophical treatise, and it is not a dozen things that it might have
been. The critic cannot forgive the author for this disrespect to him.
This isn't a rose, says the critic, taking up a pansy and rending it; it
is not at all like a rose, and the author is either a pretentious idiot
or an idiotic pretender. What business, indeed, has the author to send
the critic a bunch of sweet-peas, when he knows that a cabbage would be
preferred, - something not showy, but useful?

A good deal of this is what Mandeville said and I am not sure that it
is devoid of personal feeling. He published, some years ago, a little
volume giving an account of a trip through the Great West, and a very


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Online LibraryCharles Dudley WarnerBacklog Studies → online text (page 10 of 12)