much forgotten me. There is no great satisfaction in being dragged up to
light now and then, like an old letter. The case was somewhat different
with the people with whom I had boarded. They were relations of mine,
and I often saw them weep, and they talked of me a good deal at
twilight and Sunday nights, especially the youngest one, Carrie, who was
handsomer than any one I knew, and not much older than I. I never used
to imagine that she cared particularly for me, nor would she have done
so, if I had lived, but death brought with it a sort of sentimental
regret, which, with the help of a daguerreotype, she nursed into quite a
little passion. I spent most of my time there, for it was more congenial
than the college.
But time hastened. The last sand of probation leaked out of the glass.
One day, while Carrie played (for me, though she knew it not) one of
Mendelssohn's "songs without words," I suddenly, yet gently, without
self-effort or volition, moved from the house, floated in the air, rose
higher, higher, by an easy, delicious, exultant, yet inconceivably rapid
motion. The ecstasy of that triumphant flight! Groves, trees, houses,
the landscape, dimmed, faded, fled away beneath me. Upward mounting, as
on angels' wings, with no effort, till the earth hung beneath me a round
black ball swinging, remote, in the universal ether. Upward mounting,
till the earth, no longer bathed in the sun's rays, went out to my
sight, disappeared in the blank. Constellations, before seen from afar,
I sailed among stars, too remote for shining on earth, I neared, and
found to be round globes flying through space with a velocity only
equaled by my own. New worlds continually opened on my sight; newfields
of everlasting space opened and closed behind me.
For days and days - it seemed a mortal forever - I mounted up the great
heavens, whose everlasting doors swung wide. How the worlds and systems,
stars, constellations, neared me, blazed and flashed in splendor, and
fled away! At length, - was it not a thousand years? - I saw before me,
yet afar off, a wall, the rocky bourn of that country whence travelers
come not back, a battlement wider than I could guess, the height of
which I could not see, the depth of which was infinite. As I approached,
it shone with a splendor never yet beheld on earth. Its solid substance
was built of jewels the rarest, and stones of priceless value. It
seemed like one solid stone, and yet all the colors of the rainbow were
contained in it. The ruby, the diamond, the emerald, the carbuncle,
the topaz, the amethyst, the sapphire; of them the wall was built up in
harmonious combination. So brilliant was it that all the space I floated
in was full of the splendor. So mild was it and so translucent, that I
could look for miles into its clear depths.
Rapidly nearing this heavenly battlement, an immense niche was disclosed
in its solid face. The floor was one large ruby. Its sloping sides were
of pearl. Before I was aware I stood within the brilliant recess. I say
I stood there, for I was there bodily, in my habit as I lived; how, I
cannot explain. Was it the resurrection of the body? Before me rose, a
thousand feet in height, a wonderful gate of flashing diamond. Beside
it sat a venerable man, with long white beard, a robe of light gray,
ancient sandals, and a golden key hanging by a cord from his waist. In
the serene beauty of his noble features I saw justice and mercy had met
and were reconciled. I cannot describe the majesty of his bearing or the
benignity of his appearance. It is needless to say that I stood before
St. Peter, who sits at the Celestial Gate.
I humbly approached, and begged admission. St. Peter arose, and regarded
me kindly, yet inquiringly.
"What is your name?" asked he, "and from what place do you come?"
I answered, and, wishing to give a name well known, said I was from
Washington, United States. He looked doubtful, as if he had never heard
the name before.
"Give me," said he, "a full account of your whole life."
I felt instantaneously that there was no concealment possible; all
disguise fell away, and an unknown power forced me to speak absolute and
exact truth. I detailed the events of my life as well as I could,
and the good man was not a little affected by the recital of my early
trials, poverty, and temptation. It did not seem a very good life when
spread out in that presence, and I trembled as I proceeded; but I plead
youth, inexperience, and bad examples.
"Have you been accustomed," he said, after a time, rather sadly, "to
break the Sabbath?"
I told him frankly that I had been rather lax in that matter, especially
at college. I often went to sleep in the chapel on Sunday, when I was
not reading some entertaining book. He then asked who the preacher was,
and when I told him, he remarked that I was not so much to blame as he
"Have you," he went on, "ever stolen, or told any lie?"
I was able to say no, except admitting as to the first, usual college
"conveyances," and as to the last, an occasional "blinder" to the
professors. He was gracious enough to say that these could be overlooked
as incident to the occasion.
"Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously and keeping late
This also could be forgiven me as an incident of youth.
"Did you ever," he went on, "commit the crime of using intoxicating
drinks as a beverage?"
I answered that I had never been a habitual drinker, that I had never
been what was called a "moderate drinker," that I had never gone to a
bar and drank alone; but that I had been accustomed, in company with
other young men, on convivial occasions to taste the pleasures of the
flowing bowl, sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the
pains of it, and for months before my demise had refrained from liquor
altogether. The holy man looked grave, but, after reflection, said this
might also be overlooked in a young man.
"What," continued he, in tones still more serious, "has been your
conduct with regard to the other sex?"
I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I pulled from my bosom
a little book like the one Leperello exhibits in the opera of "Don
Giovanni." There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and inconstancy.
I waited long for the decision, but it came in mercy.
"Rise," he cried; "young men will be young men, I suppose. We shall
forgive this also to your youth and penitence."
"Your examination is satisfactory, he informed me," after a pause; "you
can now enter the abodes of the happy."
Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. The key turned in the
lock. The gate swung noiselessly on its hinges a little open. Out
flashed upon me unknown splendors. What I saw in that momentary gleam
I shall never whisper in mortal ears. I stood upon the threshold, just
about to enter.
"Stop! one moment," exclaimed St. Peter, laying his hand on my shoulder;
"I have one more question to ask you."
I turned toward him.
"Young man, did you ever use tobacco?"
"I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime," I faltered, "but..."
"THEN TO HELL WITH YOU!" he shouted in a voice of thunder.
Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was flung, hurled, from
the battlement, down! down! down! Faster and faster I sank in a dizzy,
sickening whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. The light faded.
Dampness and darkness were round about me. As before, for days and days
I rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank into thickening
darkness, - and yet not darkness, but a pale, ashy light more fearful.
In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall before me. It ran up and
down and on either hand endlessly into the night. It was solid, black,
terrible in its frowning massiveness.
Straightway I alighted at the gate, - a dismal crevice hewn into the
dripping rock. The gate was wide open, and there sat-I knew him at once;
who does not? - the Arch Enemy of mankind. He cocked his eye at me in an
impudent, low, familiar manner that disgusted me. I saw that I was not
to be treated like a gentleman.
"Well, young man," said he, rising, with a queer grin on his face, "what
are you sent here for?"
"For using tobacco," I replied.
"Ho!" shouted he in a jolly manner, peculiar to devils, "that's what
most of 'em are sent here for now."
Without more ado, he called four lesser imps, who ushered me within.
What a dreadful plain lay before me! There was a vast city laid out in
regular streets, but there were no houses. Along the streets were places
of torment and torture exceedingly ingenious and disagreeable. For miles
and miles, it seemed, I followed my conductors through these horrors,
Here was a deep vat of burning tar. Here were rows of fiery ovens. I
noticed several immense caldron kettles of boiling oil, upon the rims
of which little devils sat, with pitchforks in hand, and poked down the
helpless victims who floundered in the liquid. But I forbear to go into
unseemly details. The whole scene is as vivid in my mind as any earthly
After an hour's walk my tormentors halted before the mouth of an
oven, - a furnace heated seven times, and now roaring with flames. They
grasped me, one hold of each hand and foot. Standing before the blazing
mouth, they, with a swing, and a "one, two, THREE...."
I again assure the reader that in this narrative I have set down nothing
that was not actually dreamed, and much, very much of this wonderful
vision I have been obliged to omit.
Haec fabula docet: It is dangerous for a young man to leave off the use
I wish I could fitly celebrate the joyousness of the New England winter.
Perhaps I could if I more thoroughly believed in it. But skepticism
comes in with the south wind. When that begins to blow, one feels the
foundations of his belief breaking up. This is only another way of
saying that it is more difficult, if it be not impossible, to freeze out
orthodoxy, or any fixed notion, than it is to thaw it out; though it is
a mere fancy to suppose that this is the reason why the martyrs, of all
creeds, were burned at the stake. There is said to be a great relaxation
in New England of the ancient strictness in the direction of toleration
of opinion, called by some a lowering of the standard, and by others a
raising of the banner of liberality; it might be an interesting inquiry
how much this change is due to another change, - the softening of the New
England winter and the shifting of the Gulf Stream. It is the fashion
nowadays to refer almost everything to physical causes, and this hint is
a gratuitous contribution to the science of metaphysical physics.
The hindrance to entering fully into the joyousness of a New England
winter, except far inland among the mountains, is the south wind. It
is a grateful wind, and has done more, I suspect, to demoralize society
than any other. It is not necessary to remember that it filled the
silken sails of Cleopatra's galley. It blows over New England every few
days, and is in some portions of it the prevailing wind. That it brings
the soft clouds, and sometimes continues long enough to almost deceive
the expectant buds of the fruit trees, and to tempt the robin from the
secluded evergreen copses, may be nothing; but it takes the tone out of
the mind, and engenders discontent, making one long for the tropics; it
feeds the weakened imagination on palm-leaves and the lotus. Before we
know it we become demoralized, and shrink from the tonic of the sudden
change to sharp weather, as the steamed hydropathic patient does from
the plunge. It is the insidious temptation that assails us when we are
braced up to profit by the invigorating rigor of winter.
Perhaps the influence of the four great winds on character is only a
fancied one; but it is evident on temperament, which is not altogether a
matter of temperature, although the good old deacon used to say, in his
humble, simple way, that his third wife was a very good woman, but her
"temperature was very different from that of the other two." The north
wind is full of courage, and puts the stamina of endurance into a
man, and it probably would into a woman too if there were a series of
resolutions passed to that effect. The west wind is hopeful; it has
promise and adventure in it, and is, except to Atlantic voyagers
America-bound, the best wind that ever blew. The east wind is
peevishness; it is mental rheumatism and grumbling, and curls one up in
the chimney-corner like a cat. And if the chimney ever smokes, it smokes
when the wind sits in that quarter. The south wind is full of longing
and unrest, of effeminate suggestions of luxurious ease, and perhaps we
might say of modern poetry, - at any rate, modern poetry needs a change
of air. I am not sure but the south is the most powerful of the winds,
because of its sweet persuasiveness. Nothing so stirs the blood in
spring, when it comes up out of the tropical latitude; it makes men
"longen to gon on pilgrimages."
I did intend to insert here a little poem (as it is quite proper to do
in an essay) on the south wind, composed by the Young Lady Staying With
Us, beginning, -
"Out of a drifting southern cloud
My soul heard the night-bird cry,"
but it never got any farther than this. The Young Lady said it was
exceedingly difficult to write the next two lines, because not only
rhyme but meaning had to be procured. And this is true; anybody can
write first lines, and that is probably the reason we have so many
poems which seem to have been begun in just this way, that is, with a
south-wind-longing without any thought in it, and it is very fortunate
when there is not wind enough to finish them. This emotional poem, if
I may so call it, was begun after Herbert went away. I liked it,
and thought it was what is called "suggestive;" although I did not
understand it, especially what the night-bird was; and I am afraid I
hurt the Young Lady's feelings by asking her if she meant Herbert by the
"night-bird," - a very absurd suggestion about two unsentimental people.
She said, "Nonsense;" but she afterwards told the Mistress that there
were emotions that one could never put into words without the danger
of being ridiculous; a profound truth. And yet I should not like to say
that there is not a tender lonesomeness in love that can get comfort out
of a night-bird in a cloud, if there be such a thing. Analysis is the
death of sentiment.
But to return to the winds. Certain people impress us as the winds do.
Mandeville never comes in that I do not feel a north-wind vigor and
healthfulness in his cordial, sincere, hearty manner, and in his
wholesome way of looking at things. The Parson, you would say, was the
east wind, and only his intimates know that his peevishness is only a
querulous humor. In the fair west wind I know the Mistress herself, full
of hope, and always the first one to discover a bit of blue in a cloudy
sky. It would not be just to apply what I have said of the south wind to
any of our visitors, but it did blow a little while Herbert was here.
In point of pure enjoyment, with an intellectual sparkle in it, I
suppose that no luxurious lounging on tropical isles set in tropical
seas compares with the positive happiness one may have before a great
woodfire (not two sticks laid crossways in a grate), with a veritable
New England winter raging outside. In order to get the highest
enjoyment, the faculties must be alert, and not be lulled into a mere
recipient dullness. There are those who prefer a warm bath to a brisk
walk in the inspiring air, where ten thousand keen influences minister
to the sense of beauty and run along the excited nerves. There are,
for instance, a sharpness of horizon outline and a delicacy of color
on distant hills which are wanting in summer, and which convey to one
rightly organized the keenest delight, and a refinement of enjoyment
that is scarcely sensuous, not at all sentimental, and almost passing
the intellectual line into the spiritual.
I was speaking to Mandeville about this, and he said that I was drawing
it altogether too fine; that he experienced sensations of pleasure in
being out in almost all weathers; that he rather liked to breast a north
wind, and that there was a certain inspiration in sharp outlines and
in a landscape in trim winter-quarters, with stripped trees, and, as it
were, scudding through the season under bare poles; but that he must say
that he preferred the weather in which he could sit on the fence by
the wood-lot, with the spring sun on his back, and hear the stir of the
leaves and the birds beginning their housekeeping.
A very pretty idea for Mandeville; and I fear he is getting to have
private thoughts about the Young Lady. Mandeville naturally likes the
robustness and sparkle of winter, and it has been a little suspicious to
hear him express the hope that we shall have an early spring.
I wonder how many people there are in New England who know the glory and
inspiration of a winter walk just before sunset, and that, too, not only
on days of clear sky, when the west is aflame with a rosy color, which
has no suggestion of languor or unsatisfied longing in it, but on dull
days, when the sullen clouds hang about the horizon, full of threats of
storm and the terrors of the gathering night. We are very busy with
our own affairs, but there is always something going on out-doors worth
looking at; and there is seldom an hour before sunset that has not some
special attraction. And, besides, it puts one in the mood for the cheer
and comfort of the open fire at home.
Probably if the people of New England could have a plebiscitum on their
weather, they would vote against it, especially against winter. Almost
no one speaks well of winter. And this suggests the idea that most
people here were either born in the wrong place, or do not know what is
best for them. I doubt if these grumblers would be any better satisfied,
or would turn out as well, in the tropics. Everybody knows our
virtues, - at least if they believe half we tell them, - and for delicate
beauty, that rare plant, I should look among the girls of the New
England hills as confidently as anywhere, and I have traveled as far
south as New Jersey, and west of the Genesee Valley. Indeed, it would be
easy to show that the parents of the pretty girls in the West emigrated
from New England. And yet - such is the mystery of Providence - no one
would expect that one of the sweetest and most delicate flowers that
blooms, the trailing arbutus, would blossom in this inhospitable
climate, and peep forth from the edge of a snowbank at that.
It seems unaccountable to a superficial observer that the thousands
of people who are dissatisfied with their climate do not seek a more
congenial one - or stop grumbling. The world is so small, and all parts
of it are so accessible, it has so many varieties of climate, that one
could surely suit himself by searching; and, then, is it worth while to
waste our one short life in the midst of unpleasant surroundings and in
a constant friction with that which is disagreeable? One would suppose
that people set down on this little globe would seek places on it most
agreeable to themselves. It must be that they are much more content with
the climate and country upon which they happen, by the accident of their
birth, than they pretend to be.
Home sympathies and charities are most active in the winter. Coming
in from my late walk, - in fact driven in by a hurrying north wind that
would brook no delay, - a wind that brought snow that did not seem to
fall out of a bounteous sky, but to be blown from polar fields, - I
find the Mistress returned from town, all in a glow of philanthropic
There has been a meeting of a woman's association for Ameliorating the
Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by paying
a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life Ameliorator, - a
sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the meeting, I believe,
"seconded the motion" several times, and is one of the Vice-Presidents;
and this family honor makes me feel almost as if I were a president
of something myself. These little distinctions are among the sweetest
things in life, and to see one's name officially printed stimulates
his charity, and is almost as satisfactory as being the chairman of a
committee or the mover of a resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and
not at all discreditable, that our little vanity, which is reckoned
among our weaknesses, is thus made to contribute to the activity of our
nobler powers. Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and
probably there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the
whisper, "That's he," "That's she."
There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the Jews;
but they were found to be so much more adept than other people in
ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up.
Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people
who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy in
society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem
to think that the world owes them a living because they are
philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual
charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose
condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really accomplished
in the effort for them, it always remains true that the charitable reap
a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful compensations of
this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping
OUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR. Why is it that almost all philanthropists and
reformers are disagreeable?
I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person who
comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as his wife
does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner cup of tea
before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you lock your doors,
and only admit visitors through the media of bells and servants. It is
lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is honest.
THE PARSON. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together?
Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They are
agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they wish to
make it as unpleasant to others as possible.
MANDEVILLE. That's a noble view of your fellow-men.
OUR NEXT DOOR. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to be
unpleasant people to live with?
THE PARSON. As if the unpleasant people who won't mind their own
business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best
people I know are philanthropists, - I mean the genuine ones, and not the
uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It is not altogether the not minding their own
business. Nobody does that. The usual explanation is, that people with
one idea are tedious. But that is not all of it. For few persons
have more than one idea, - ministers, doctors, lawyers, teachers,
manufacturers, merchants, - they all think the world they live in is the
MANDEVILLE. And you might add authors. To them nearly all the life of
the world is in letters, and I suppose they would be astonished if they
knew how little the thoughts of the majority of people are occupied with
books, and with all that vast thought circulation which is the vital
current of the world to book-men. Newspapers have reached their present
power by becoming unliterary, and reflecting all the interests of the
THE MISTRESS. I have noticed one thing, that the most popular persons in
society are those who take the world as it is, find the least fault, and
have no hobbies. They are always wanted to dinner.
THE YOUNG LADY. And the other kind always appear to me to want a dinner.
THE FIRE-TENDER. It seems to me that the real reason why reformers and
some philanthropists are unpopular is, that they disturb our serenity
and make us conscious of our own shortcomings. It is only now and then
that a whole people get a spasm of reformatory fervor, of investigation
and regeneration. At other times they rather hate those who disturb
OUR NEXT DOOR. Professional reformers and philanthropists are
insufferably conceited and intolerant.
THE MISTRESS. Everything depends upon the spirit in which a reform or a
scheme of philanthropy is conducted.
MANDEVILLE. I attended a protracted convention of reformers of a certain
evil, once, and had the pleasure of taking dinner with a tableful of