of the female patriots who save the post-office department from being
a disastrous loss to the treasury. Herbert is thinking of the great
radical difference in the two sexes, which legislation will probably
never change; that leads a woman always, to write letters on her lap and
a man on a table, - a distinction which is commended to the notice of the
The Mistress, in a pretty little breakfast-cap, is moving about the room
with a feather-duster, whisking invisible dust from the picture-frames,
and talking with the Parson, who has just come in, and is thawing the
snow from his boots on the hearth. The Parson says the thermometer is 15
deg., and going down; that there is a snowdrift across the main church
entrance three feet high, and that the house looks as if it had gone
into winter quarters, religion and all. There were only ten persons at
the conference meeting last night, and seven of those were women; he
wonders how many weather-proof Christians there are in the parish,
The Fire-Tender is in the adjoining library, pretending to write; but
it is a poor day for ideas. He has written his wife's name about eleven
hundred times, and cannot get any farther. He hears the Mistress tell
the Parson that she believes he is trying to write a lecture on the
Celtic Influence in Literature. The Parson says that it is a first-rate
subject, if there were any such influence, and asks why he does n't take
a shovel and make a path to the gate. Mandeville says that, by George!
he himself should like no better fun, but it wouldn't look well for a
visitor to do it. The Fire-Tender, not to be disturbed by this sort of
chaff, keeps on writing his wife's name.
Then the Parson and the Mistress fall to talking about the soup-relief,
and about old Mrs. Grumples in Pig Alley, who had a present of one of
Stowe's Illustrated Self-Acting Bibles on Christmas, when she had n't
coal enough in the house to heat her gruel; and about a family behind
the church, a widow and six little children and three dogs; and he did
n't believe that any of them had known what it was to be warm in
three weeks, and as to food, the woman said, she could hardly beg cold
victuals enough to keep the dogs alive.
The Mistress slipped out into the kitchen to fill a basket with
provisions and send it somewhere; and when the Fire-Tender brought in
a new forestick, Mandeville, who always wants to talk, and had been
sitting drumming his feet and drawing deep sighs, attacked him.
MANDEVILLE. Speaking about culture and manners, did you ever notice how
extremes meet, and that the savage bears himself very much like the sort
of cultured persons we were talking of last night?
THE FIRE-TENDER. In what respect?
MANDEVILLE. Well, you take the North American Indian. He is never
interested in anything, never surprised at anything. He has by nature
that calmness and indifference which your people of culture have
acquired. If he should go into literature as a critic, he would scalp
and tomahawk with the same emotionless composure, and he would do
THE FIRE-TENDER. Then you think the red man is a born gentleman of the
MANDEVILLE. I think he is calm.
THE FIRE-TENDER. How is it about the war-path and all that?
MANDEVILLE. Oh, these studiously calm and cultured people may have
malice underneath. It takes them to give the most effective "little
digs;" they know how to stick in the pine-splinters and set fire to
HERBERT. But there is more in Mandeville's idea. You bring a red man
into a picture-gallery, or a city full of fine architecture, or into
a drawing-room crowded with objects of art and beauty, and he is
apparently insensible to them all. Now I have seen country people, - and
by country people I don't mean people necessarily who live in the
country, for everything is mixed in these days, - some of the best people
in the world, intelligent, honest, sincere, who acted as the Indian
THE MISTRESS. Herbert, if I did n't know you were cynical, I should say
you were snobbish.
HERBERT. Such people think it a point of breeding never to speak of
anything in your house, nor to appear to notice it, however beautiful it
may be; even to slyly glance around strains their notion of etiquette.
They are like the countryman who confessed afterwards that he could
hardly keep from laughing at one of Yankee Hill's entertainments.
THE YOUNG LADY. Do you remember those English people at our house in
Flushing last summer, who pleased us all so much with their apparent
delight in everything that was artistic or tasteful, who explored the
rooms and looked at everything, and were so interested? I suppose that
Herbert's country relations, many of whom live in the city, would have
thought it very ill-bred.
MANDEVILLE. It's just as I said. The English, the best of them, have
become so civilized that they express themselves, in speech and action,
naturally, and are not afraid of their emotions.
THE PARSON. I wish Mandeville would travel more, or that he had stayed
at home. It's wonderful what a fit of Atlantic sea-sickness will do for
a man's judgment and cultivation. He is prepared to pronounce on art,
manners, all kinds of culture. There is more nonsense talked about
culture than about anything else.
HERBERT. The Parson reminds me of an American country minister I once
met walking through the Vatican. You could n't impose upon him with any
rubbish; he tested everything by the standards of his native place, and
there was little that could bear the test. He had the sly air of a man
who could not be deceived, and he went about with his mouth in a pucker
of incredulity. There is nothing so placid as rustic conceit. There was
something very enjoyable about his calm superiority to all the treasures
MANDEVILLE. And the Parson reminds me of another American minister, a
consul in an Italian city, who said he was going up to Rome to have a
thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece of his mind. Ministers
seem to think that is their business. They serve it in such small pieces
in order to make it go round.
THE PARSON. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, let's have some music;
nothing else will keep him in good humor till lunch-time.
THE MISTRESS. What shall it be?
THE PARSON. Give us the larghetto from Beethoven's second symphony.
The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Herbert looks at the young
lady. The Parson composes himself for critical purposes. Mandeville
settles himself in a chair and stretches his long legs nearly into the
fire, remarking that music takes the tangles out of him.
After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. It is still snowing.
It is difficult to explain the attraction which the uncanny and even
the horrible have for most minds. I have seen a delicate woman half
fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most unseemly of
reptiles, vulgarly known as the "blowing viper" of the Alleghanies. She
would look at it, and turn away with irresistible shuddering and the
utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and again, only to
experience the same spasm of disgust. In spite of her aversion, she must
have relished the sort of electric mental shock that the sight gave her.
I can no more account for the fascination for us of the stories of
ghosts and "appearances," and those weird tales in which the dead are
the chief characters; nor tell why we should fall into converse about
them when the winter evenings are far spent, the embers are glazing over
on the hearth, and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises in the
house. At such times one's dreams become of importance, and people like
to tell them and dwell upon them, as if they were a link between the
known and unknown, and could give us a clew to that ghostly region which
in certain states of the mind we feel to be more real than that we see.
Recently, when we were, so to say, sitting around the borders of the
supernatural late at night, MANDEVILLE related a dream of his which he
assured us was true in every particular, and it interested us so much
that we asked him to write it out. In doing so he has curtailed it, and
to my mind shorn it of some of its more vivid and picturesque features.
He might have worked it up with more art, and given it a finish
which the narration now lacks, but I think best to insert it in its
simplicity. It seems to me that it may properly be called,
A NEW "VISION OF SIN"
In the winter of 1850 I was a member of one of the leading colleges of
this country. I was in moderate circumstances pecuniarily, though I was
perhaps better furnished with less fleeting riches than many others.
I was an incessant and indiscriminate reader of books. For the solid
sciences I had no particular fancy, but with mental modes and habits,
and especially with the eccentric and fantastic in the intellectual and
spiritual operations, I was tolerably familiar. All the literature of
the supernatural was as real to me as the laboratory of the chemist,
where I saw the continual struggle of material substances to evolve
themselves into more volatile, less palpable and coarse forms. My
imagination, naturally vivid, stimulated by such repasts, nearly
mastered me. At times I could scarcely tell where the material ceased
and the immaterial began (if I may so express it); so that once and
again I walked, as it seemed, from the solid earth onward upon an
impalpable plain, where I heard the same voices, I think, that Joan
of Arc heard call to her in the garden at Domremy. She was inspired,
however, while I only lacked exercise. I do not mean this in any literal
sense; I only describe a state of mind. I was at this time of spare
habit, and nervous, excitable temperament. I was ambitious, proud, and
extremely sensitive. I cannot deny that I had seen something of the
world, and had contracted about the average bad habits of young men who
have the sole care of themselves, and rather bungle the matter. It is
necessary to this relation to admit that I had seen a trifle more of
what is called life than a young man ought to see, but at this period
I was not only sick of my experience, but my habits were as correct as
those of any Pharisee in our college, and we had some very favorable
specimens of that ancient sect.
Nor can I deny that at this period of my life I was in a peculiar mental
condition. I well remember an illustration of it. I sat writing late one
night, copying a prize essay, - a merely manual task, leaving my thoughts
free. It was in June, a sultry night, and about midnight a wind arose,
pouring in through the open windows, full of mournful reminiscence, not
of this, but of other summers, - the same wind that De Quincey heard at
noonday in midsummer blowing through the room where he stood, a mere
boy, by the side of his dead sister, - a wind centuries old. As I wrote
on mechanically, I became conscious of a presence in the room, though I
did not lift my eyes from the paper on which I wrote. Gradually I came
to know that my grandmother - dead so long ago that I laughed at
the idea - was in the room. She stood beside her old-fashioned
spinning-wheel, and quite near me. She wore a plain muslin cap with a
high puff in the crown, a short woolen gown, a white and blue checked
apron, and shoes with heels. She did not regard me, but stood facing the
wheel, with the left hand near the spindle, holding lightly between the
thumb and forefinger the white roll of wool which was being spun and
twisted on it. In her right hand she held a small stick. I heard the
sharp click of this against the spokes of the wheel, then the hum of the
wheel, the buzz of the spindles as the twisting yarn was teased by the
whirl of its point, then a step backwards, a pause, a step forward and
the running of the yarn upon the spindle, and again a backward step,
the drawing out of the roll and the droning and hum of the wheel, most
mournfully hopeless sound that ever fell on mortal ear. Since childhood
it has haunted me. All this time I wrote, and I could hear distinctly
the scratching of the pen upon the paper. But she stood behind me (why
I did not turn my head I never knew), pacing backward and forward by the
spinning-wheel, just as I had a hundred times seen her in childhood in
the old kitchen on drowsy summer afternoons. And I heard the step, the
buzz and whirl of the spindle, and the monotonous and dreary hum of the
mournful wheel. Whether her face was ashy pale and looked as if it might
crumble at the touch, and the border of her white cap trembled in the
June wind that blew, I cannot say, for I tell you I did NOT see her. But
I know she was there, spinning yarn that had been knit into hose years
and years ago by our fireside. For I was in full possession of my
faculties, and never copied more neatly and legibly any manuscript than
I did the one that night. And there the phantom (I use the word out
of deference to a public prejudice on this subject) most persistently
remained until my task was finished, and, closing the portfolio,
I abruptly rose. Did I see anything? That is a silly and ignorant
question. Could I see the wind which had now risen stronger, and drove
a few cloud-scuds across the sky, filling the night, somehow, with a
longing that was not altogether born of reminiscence?
In the winter following, in January, I made an effort to give up the
use of tobacco, - a habit in which I was confirmed, and of which I have
nothing more to say than this: that I should attribute to it almost all
the sin and misery in the world, did I not remember that the old Romans
attained a very considerable state of corruption without the assistance
of the Virginia plant.
On the night of the third day of my abstinence, rendered more nervous
and excitable than usual by the privation, I retired late, and later
still I fell into an uneasy sleep, and thus into a dream, vivid,
illuminated, more real than any event of my life. I was at home, and
fell sick. The illness developed into a fever, and then a delirium set
in, not an intellectual blank, but a misty and most delicious wandering
in places of incomparable beauty. I learned subsequently that our
regular physician was not certain to finish me, when a consultation was
called, which did the business. I have the satisfaction of knowing that
they were of the proper school. I lay sick for three days.
On the morning of the fourth, at sunrise, I died. The sensation was not
unpleasant. It was not a sudden shock. I passed out of my body as one
would walk from the door of his house. There the body lay, - a blank,
so far as I was concerned, and only interesting to me as I was rather
entertained with watching the respect paid to it. My friends stood about
the bedside, regarding me (as they seemed to suppose), while I, in
a different part of the room, could hardly repress a smile at their
mistake, solemnized as they were, and I too, for that matter, by
my recent demise. A sensation (the word you see is material and
inappropriate) of etherealization and imponderability pervaded me, and
I was not sorry to get rid of such a dull, slow mass as I now perceived
myself to be, lying there on the bed. When I speak of my death, let me
be understood to say that there was no change, except that I passed out
of my body and floated to the top of a bookcase in the corner of the
room, from which I looked down. For a moment I was interested to see my
person from the outside, but thereafter I was quite indifferent to
the body. I was now simply soul. I seemed to be a globe, impalpable,
transparent, about six inches in diameter. I saw and heard everything as
before. Of course, matter was no obstacle to me, and I went easily and
quickly wherever I willed to go. There was none of that tedious process
of communicating my wishes to the nerves, and from them to the muscles.
I simply resolved to be at a particular place, and I was there. It was
better than the telegraph.
It seemed to have been intimated to me at my death (birth I half incline
to call it) that I could remain on this earth for four weeks after my
decease, during which time I could amuse myself as I chose.
I chose, in the first place, to see myself decently buried, to stay by
myself to the last, and attend my own funeral for once. As most of those
referred to in this true narrative are still living, I am forbidden to
indulge in personalities, nor shall I dare to say exactly how my death
affected my friends, even the home circle. Whatever others did, I sat
up with myself and kept awake. I saw the "pennies" used instead of the
"quarters" which I should have preferred. I saw myself "laid out," a
phrase that has come to have such a slang meaning that I smile as I
write it. When the body was put into the coffin, I took my place on the
I cannot recall all the details, and they are commonplace besides. The
funeral took place at the church. We all rode thither in carriages,
and I, not fancying my place in mine, rode on the outside with the
undertaker, whom I found to be a good deal more jolly than he looked to
be. The coffin was placed in front of the pulpit when we arrived. I
took my station on the pulpit cushion, from which elevation I had an
admirable view of all the ceremonies, and could hear the sermon.
How distinctly I remember the services. I think I could even at this
distance write out the sermon. The tune sung was of - the usual country
selection, - Mount Vernon. I recall the text. I was rather flattered
by the tribute paid to me, and my future was spoken of gravely and as
kindly as possible, - indeed, with remarkable charity, considering that
the minister was not aware of my presence. I used to beat him at chess,
and I thought, even then, of the last game; for, however solemn the
occasion might be to others, it was not so to me. With what interest
I watched my kinsfolks, and neighbors as they filed past for the last
look! I saw, and I remember, who pulled a long face for the occasion
and who exhibited genuine sadness. I learned with the most dreadful
certainty what people really thought of me. It was a revelation never
Several particular acquaintances of mine were talking on the steps as we
"Well, old Starr's gone up. Sudden, was n't it? He was a first-rate
"Yes, queer about some things; but he had some mighty good streaks,"
said another. And so they ran on.
Streaks! So that is the reputation one gets during twenty years of life
in this world. Streaks!
After the funeral I rode home with the family. It was pleasanter than
the ride down, though it seemed sad to my relations. They did not
mention me, however, and I may remark, that although I stayed about
home for a week, I never heard my name mentioned by any of the family.
Arrived at home, the tea-kettle was put on and supper got ready. This
seemed to lift the gloom a little, and under the influence of the tea
they brightened up and gradually got more cheerful. They discussed the
sermon and the singing, and the mistake of the sexton in digging
the grave in the wrong place, and the large congregation. From the
mantel-piece I watched the group. They had waffles for supper, - of which
I had been exceedingly fond, but now I saw them disappear without a
For the first day or two of my sojourn at home I was here and there at
all the neighbors, and heard a good deal about my life and character,
some of which was not very pleasant, but very wholesome, doubtless, for
me to hear. At the expiration of a week this amusement ceased to be such
for I ceased to be talked of. I realized the fact that I was dead and
By an act of volition I found myself back at college. I floated into my
own room, which was empty. I went to the room of my two warmest friends,
whose friendship I was and am yet assured of. As usual, half a dozen
of our set were lounging there. A game of whist was just commencing. I
perched on a bust of Dante on the top of the book-shelves, where I could
see two of the hands and give a good guess at a third. My particular
friend Timmins was just shuffling the cards.
"Be hanged if it is n't lonesome without old Starr. Did you cut? I
should like to see him lounge in now with his pipe, and with feet on the
mantel-piece proceed to expound on the duplex functions of the soul."
"There - misdeal," said his vis-a-vis. "Hope there's been no misdeal for
"Spades, did you say?" the talk ran on, "never knew Starr was sickly."
"No more was he; stouter than you are, and as brave and plucky as he was
strong. By George, fellows, - how we do get cut down! Last term little
Stubbs, and now one of the best fellows in the class."
"How suddenly he did pop off, - one for game, honors easy, - he was good
for the Spouts' Medal this year, too."
"Remember the joke he played on Prof. A., freshman year?" asked another.
"Remember he borrowed ten dollars of me about that time," said Timmins's
partner, gathering the cards for a new deal.
"Guess he is the only one who ever did," retorted some one.
And so the talk went on, mingled with whist-talk, reminiscent of me, not
all exactly what I would have chosen to go into my biography, but on the
whole kind and tender, after the fashion of the boys. At least I was in
their thoughts, and I could see was a good deal regretted, - so I passed
a very pleasant evening. Most of those present were of my society, and
wore crape on their badges, and all wore the usual crape on the left
arm. I learned that the following afternoon a eulogy would be delivered
on me in the chapel.
The eulogy was delivered before members of our society and others,
the next afternoon, in the chapel. I need not say that I was present.
Indeed, I was perched on the desk within reach of the speaker's hand.
The apotheosis was pronounced by my most intimate friend, Timmins, and
I must say he did me ample justice. He never was accustomed to "draw it
very mild" (to use a vulgarism which I dislike) when he had his head,
and on this occasion he entered into the matter with the zeal of a true
friend, and a young man who never expected to have another occasion
to sing a public "In Memoriam." It made my hair stand on
end, - metaphorically, of course. From my childhood I had been extremely
precocious. There were anecdotes of preternatural brightness, picked
up, Heaven knows where, of my eagerness to learn, of my adventurous,
chivalrous young soul, and of my arduous struggles with chill penury,
which was not able (as it appeared) to repress my rage, until I entered
this institution, of which I had been ornament, pride, cynosure, and
fair promising bud blasted while yet its fragrance was mingled with the
dew of its youth. Once launched upon my college days, Timmins went
on with all sails spread. I had, as it were, to hold on to the pulpit
cushion. Latin, Greek, the old literatures, I was perfect master of; all
history was merely a light repast to me; mathematics I glanced at, and
it disappeared; in the clouds of modern philosophy I was wrapped but not
obscured; over the field of light literature I familiarly roamed as
the honey-bee over the wide fields of clover which blossom white in the
Junes of this world! My life was pure, my character spotless, my name
was inscribed among the names of those deathless few who were not born
It was a noble eulogy, and I felt before he finished, though I had
misgivings at the beginning, that I deserved it all. The effect on the
audience was a little different. They said it was a "strong" oration,
and I think Timmins got more credit by it than I did. After the
performance they stood about the chapel, talking in a subdued tone, and
seemed to be a good deal impressed by what they had heard, or perhaps by
thoughts of the departed. At least they all soon went over to Austin's
and called for beer. My particular friends called for it twice. Then
they all lit pipes. The old grocery keeper was good enough to say that
I was no fool, if I did go off owing him four dollars. To the credit of
human nature, let me here record that the fellows were touched by this
remark reflecting upon my memory, and immediately made up a purse and
paid the bill, - that is, they told the old man to charge it over to
them. College boys are rich in credit and the possibilities of life.
It is needless to dwell upon the days I passed at college during this
probation. So far as I could see, everything went on as if I were there,
or had never been there. I could not even see the place where I had
dropped out of the ranks. Occasionally I heard my name, but I must say
that four weeks was quite long enough to stay in a world that had pretty