George Streynsham Master.

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standing water ; but it is for an instant only.
The next moment it reaches the upland
again and the dry grass; and direcdy it
grasps a belt of the tall, thick blue-stem, and
Sie flame leaps suddenly and madly out



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PICTURESQUE FEATURES OF KANSAS FARMING.



»39



above the smoke, then subsides again, and
the black mass grows blacker than ever,
and rolls higher and higher, and you can
scent the burning grass, and hear the dis-
tant roar of the fire — an awful roar, resem-
bling the sound of artillery in heavy timber.
And it is so calm immediately about you
that you do not so much as miss the ticking
of your watch in your pocket ; there is no
breath of air stirring, and the sun is shining,
and the heavens above you are blue and
placid. But the stillness will be broken
soon. The oncoming cloud is only a few
miles away now, and you easily trace the
scariet and terri6c energy at its base; the
smoke begins to hurt your eyes, too, and
the heat becomes heavily oppressive. And
then, all at once, the wmd smites and stag-
gers you, that appalling roar deafens you,
and the sun is blotted out, and you are in
a darkness as of a midnight without moon
or star. It is an experience of but a dozen
seconds or so, this sudden plunge into dark-
ness, though it seems an hour, and when
you look out again, you find that the fire
has passed you a mile or more to your
right, and is still rolling desperately onward;
and there in its trade are charred and
snioldering stacks of hay, and an occa-
sional house aflame and tottering to its fall,
and a group of men and boys beating back
the outer line of the fire with brush and old
clothes, and sending forward little coimter-
fires to meet it and if possible keep it at a
safe distance. The creek may stop it and
smother it when it gets there, though such
a hope has mere chance for a warrant:
sometimes these mighty conflagrations vault
across streams twenty or thirty yards in
width, so swift and resistless is their mo-
mentum ; and as a rule they are efiectually
stayed only when they reach a wide extent
of plowed land, and have to yield, sullenly,
for lack of anything more to feed their
inexorable fury.

In joume)ang on westward, past the
farthest of the homesteaders, and the last
of the surveyors, out of sight of the utter-
most tokens of civilization, you will see the
trampled and dingy places where many of
these dismaying fiires have their origm —
transient camps of hunters or scouting sol-
diers, or miners going overland to the
mountains. You will also find at intervals
the ruins of an old fort or stockade to
remind you of the Indian days; you will
stumble upon numerous towns of the
prairie-dogs, and put your vanity as a
sportsman to shame with your impotent



attempts at shooting the absurd little creat-
. ures ; you will be kept awake at night, and
made afi-aid in spite of yourself, by the
sharp, gaunt cry of the coyote; and then,
finally you will come to the cattle-ranches,
and the great herds lazily grazing on the
level, hushed, and still interminable empire
of prairie.

The ranch usually includes a dug-out for
the herdsmen, a corral, into which the
cattle may be driven, and a few awkward
hitchin^-posts, or stakes for lariats. It is
not an mviting place, and yet the first sight
of it thrills you pleasandy ; it is a hint of
Ufe, at least, and the presence of man, in
the heart of this vast, enveloping stillness.
For you can have no just sense of what
solitude is, and remoteness, and height of
sky, until you visit these fi-ontier catde-
pastures. But for this accidental ranch,
with its timid curl of smoke, its surrounding
litter of cards, bottles and tin-cans, and the
trail leading out from the corral to the
grazing grounds, you would be tempted to
diink the catde a part of the dreamy land-
scape, they blend so readily, a few miles
ofl*, with the verdure and the shadows. Nor
do they quite forfeit their look of integrant
relation to the scene when you draw near
enough to view them distincdy. They are
very different fix)m the herds which you
saw back in the settlements, and to which
you have been all your life accustomed;
these broad horns, thin nostrils and trim,
sleek limbs came over from Spain with Cor-
tez in 1 510, more than a hundred years
before the good ship Charity brought the
first neat catde to New England. And is
this New Spain, then ? Once it was, yes,
and the cattle of the time are here yet to
recall the vanished and well-nigh forgotten
glory of Spanish conquest in America ; even
the herdsmen pay unconscious tribute to
this aspect of the picture by arraying them-
selves in the old Castilian sombreros, and
open-legged trowsers with rows of buttons,
and jackets gaudy with many-colored
braid and Indian beads, and now and then
a blood-red scarf like a matador's. But
presently your ear catches the ornate and
nimble blasphemies of these make-believe
Spaniards — and then you know you are yet
in Kansas. You heard and remarked that
same peculiar picturesque form of profanity
the morning you crossed the Missouri River
at Atchison, and afterward, often and plen-
tifully, among the wheat-harvesters, the
teamsters hauling com to Wichita, and the
horse-traders plying their dexterous art at



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ODE TO DROWSINESS,



Ganadenau. The faces are unmistakable
Kansas faces, too, when you come to scan
them closely ; and the talk around the ranch,
in the mellow evening, with the moon trans-
figuring everything after the fashion of the
mirage, is all of Kansas affairs and Kansas
people, ranging by easy gradations from
the governor's chances for the senatorship
down to the idle gossip about some pert-
lipped village RosadUnd.

Thus the sunburnt and isolated herds-
man, flourishing his lasso out upon the
very rim of the scene, is still a congenerous
character, — ^**one of our things," as the
Kansans have a habit of saying, — and
serves in his way to complete and connect
the various scattered signs of that common
impulse which shapes and impels the hfe
of the state. And what a throbbing, hast-
ening, fluctuating life it is! and yet how
each separate phase of it, the crude as well
as the matured, fits into the general plan
¥dth imerring accuracy ; not even the morn-
ing-glories on the dug-out porch could be
spared, nor the baby's grave in the home-
steader's garden.

To-day here becomes to-morrow as if
by a miracle; prophecy is so swiftly suc-
ceeded by fiilfillment that the two may
almost be said to move hand in hand
together. The railroad creates traffic in-
stead of being created by it; farms are
multiplied with a rapidity that confounds
reckoning; the school-master and the min-
ister, the milliner and the music-teacher,
come in with the first crop; the news-
paper is printed under a tree while the
town-site is being staked off. A period of
less than fifteen years (the present Kansas
dates only from 1865) has sufficed to pro-



duce results which formerly required half a
century of toil and trial and waiting. In
the last year alone, nearly six hundred and
sixty-seven thousand acres of wild land
were redeemed and made productive in the
single matter of wheat — a fact without a
parallel; and it is estimated that not less
than fifteen thousand dwellings were erected
by new settlers : certainly there were three
hundred and fifty-four school-houses built
during the year, at a cost of two hundred
thousand dollars, for the official records
avouch it, while also showing that the total
expenditures of the year for public schools
were a million and a half of dollars ; and the
present number of churches in Kansas, in
proportion to population, is larger than can
be claimed by any other state of the Union.
What more remains to be said ? Nothing ;
everything. Kansas is yet in the sunrise
and the spring-time of her development.
The marvelous exhibit of the past fifteen
years is but the prologue to the swelling
theme. Only a trifle above one-seventh
of the state is under cultivation; there are
still over forty millions of tillable acres to be
transformed into farms; and the alert and
potent influences that have already done so
much are in no danger of exhaustion. This
strange intense life which has given a
quickened impetus, an enlarged and pro-
pitious meaning, to the national talent for
immigration is not a mere spasm. It comes
nearer to marking an epoch of civilization.
It is the new crowding out the old; it is
progress declaring afiresh that the earth is
man's, and the fullness thereof And may
we not say there is destiny in it ? Or shaU
we salute it by a better name, and call it
Providence ?



ODE TO DROWSINESS.

Breather of honeyed breath upon my face I
Teller of balmy tales ! weaver of dreams 1
Sweet conjurer of palpitating gleams.

And peopled shadows trooping into place
In purple streams,

Between the drooped lid and the drowsy eye!
Moth-winged seducer, dusky soft, and brown,

Of bubble gifts and bodiless minstrelsy
Lavish enough ! Of Rest the restfiil crown I

At whose behest are closed the lips that sigh,
And weary heads lie down.



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ODE TO DROWSINESS, 141



Thee, nodding Spirit! Magic comforter!

Thee with faint mouth half speechless I invoke, —
And straight up-looms through the dead centuries' smoke
The aged Druid in his robe of fur,

Beneath the oak
Where hang uncut the paly mistletoes:

• •••••

The misdetoe is changed to Indian willow,
Glassing its red stems in the stream that flows

Through the broad interval; a lazy billow.
Flung from my oar, lifts the long grass that grows
To be the Naiad's pillow:



The startled meadow-hen floats off", to sink

Into remoter shades and ferny glooms;

The great bees drone about tiie thick pea-blooms;
The linked bubblings of the bobolink,

With warm perfumes
From the broad-flowered wild parsnip, drown my brain;

The grakles bicker in the alder boughs;
The grasslioppers pipe out their thin refrain

That with intenser heat the noon endows; —
Then thy weft weakens, and I wake again
Out of my dreamful drowse.



Ah ! Fetch thy poppy-baths, juices exprest
In fervid sunshine, where the Javan palm
Stirs scarce awakened from its odorous calm

By the enervate wind that sinks to rest
Amid the balm

And sultry silence, murmuring, half asleep.
Cool fragments of the Ocean's foamy roar,

And of the surge's mighty sobs that keep
Forever yearning up the golden shore,

Mingled with songs of Nereids that leap
Where the curled crests down-pour.



Who sips thy wine may float in Baise's skies.
Or flushed Maggiore's ripples, mindless made
Of storming troubles hard to be allayed.

Who eats thy berries, for his ears and eyes
May vineyard shade

Melt with soft Tuscan, glow with arms and lips
Cream-white and crimson, making mock at Reason :

Thy balm on brows by care uneaten drips, —
I have thy favors, but I fear thy treason;

Fain would I hold thee by the dusk wing-tips,
Against a grievous season.



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142



TOPICS OF THE TIME,



TOPICS OF THE TIME.



"The Reign of Peter the Qreat."

AN UfTBRBSTINC ENTERPRISE.

It is a curious fact that literary men, in search
of material upon which to exercise their gifts and
with which to associate their names and reputations,
should, for so long a time, have passed by untouched
one of the most important and dramatic careers that
have ever entered into the records of history. Mr.
Bancroft chose to present the annals of his own
country, Mr. Prescott to paint the beginnings of
civilization in Mexico and still more southern re-
gions, and Mr. Motley to write of Holland, though
his brief monogram on "Peter the Great" shows
how much he was attracted to that theme. A
thousand times, probably, in this country and Eng-
land, the life of Peter the Great has presented itself
to the ambitions historian as a theme quite worthy
of his pen, — ^perhaps as the most attractive theme
left unworked ; but great difficulties confronted all
bom out of Russia who should undertake its elabo-
rate treatment. The difficulties of distance and of
language were so nearly insuperable, that all have
turned to easier fields ; and it has been left to Mr.
Eugene Schuyler to undertake the history of one
of the most remarkable personages of modem times.

Peter the Great was the father of an empire.
Whatever of true greatness Russia possesses, she
owes more to him than to any other man. Coming
to his throne as a child, imperfectly educated as a
young man, marrying at the age of seventeen, he
found, at length, that he needed to leara the art of
government. He entered the army and served
through all grades, that he might leara how to re-
organize it Finding his country without a navy,
he became a practical seaman and ship-builder, liv-
ing for months in hired service and in disguise.
Seeing that his nation was half savage, and that it
was not in communication, on even terms, with
other nations, he traveled and came into contact
with more polite civilizations. He studied, attended
lectures, and cultivated himself in all possible direc-
tions, sent youth out of his country to be educated
among the western peoples of Europe, and intro-
duced such reforms among his subjects, and so
added by conquest to his territory and possessions,
that when he passed his government into the hands
of his Queen he left a strong and comparatively
homogeneous people and a powerful throne, in place
of the heterogeneous mob and divided and childish
power which he found, or which rather found him,
on his elevation to the sovereignty.

The opening period of Peter's reign was one of
great disturbances among the people. The chapters
in which Mr. Schuyler tells the story of these dis-
turbances read more like the records of a wild
imagination than those of sober history. The super-
stitions associated with Christianity, the murders
instigated by party spirit as between the two ortho-
''"xies, — the old and the new, — the court and class



intrigues,— all these, acting and reacting upon a
common people, equally ignorant, fanatical, and
brutal, mtdce up a mass of details of tremendous
interest, and of a character almost or quite unex-
ampled.

Well, it is proposed to publish throughout a period
of two years the history of this man's eventful reign»
and a detailed account of the events of his personal
life. We have entered upon this great enterprise,
believing that no novel can be half so interesting to
our readers as this unique book, though we expect
to keep up the usual supply of serial fiction of the
best character. We expect, by establishing bureaus
of illustration in Paris and St. Petersburgh, — the
city which Peter himself founded as one of the most
brflliant and permanent records of his great career, —
to secure for illustrations copies of a great number of
historical pictures of the highest character. These,
to which we have full access, will be more dignified
and valuable than any designed by less skillful mas-
ters for a temporary purpose through lighter in-
spirations.

We have sought the world over for the best thing
we could find with which to please and benefit our
constantly increasing army of readers, and here it
is. It has been purchased, literally, without regard
to cost, and is presented as the best achievement of
our enterprise. The first installment will appear in
our January number, and the work will be continued
from that number until its completion. We do not
know of any intelligent American who can afford to
be without Scribner's Monthly until " The Reign
of Peter the Great " shall be completed, and we do
not intend that he shall afford to be without it then.

"Is Life Worth Living?"

Mr. Curtis once asked Mr. Greeley, in response
to a similar question put to him by the great editor,
" How do you know, Mr. Greeley, when you have
succeeded in a public address ? " Mr. Greeley, not
averse to the perpetration of a joke at his own ex-
pense, replied: "When more stay in than go out"
Mr. Mallock's famous question, answered by himself
in a weak way, and repeated by Professor Mivart,
and answered in a stronger way, is practically voted
on every day, by the entire human race, and decided
in the affirmative. " More stay in than go out," for
reasons very much less important than those consid-
ered by Mr. Mallock and Professor Mivart There
are great multitudes of men who possess neither
the Roman Catholic faith nor rightness of life nor
love, who yet live out their lives in the firm con-
viction that it pays them to live — men who are open
to no high considerations, such as would have weight
with the Mallocks and Mivarts.

There is a great pleasure in conscious being. So
universal is this that, when a man occasionally takes
his life, it is considered by those whom he leaves
behind him as presumptive proof that he is insane.



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We say of a man who designedly ends his life that
he is not in his right mind. One of the most
pathetic things about death is the bidding good-bye
to a body that has been the nursery and home of the
spirit which it has charmed through the ministry
of so many senses.

" For whoj to dumb forgetfulness a l>rey.
This pleanng, anxioaa being e'er resigned.
Left uie warm precincts of the cheerful day.
Nor cast one longing, lingering look behind T"

Men find their pay for living in various ways.
Hope may lie to them, but they always believe her,
nevertheless. The better things to come, of which
she tells all men, become, indeed, the substance of
the things desired; that is, expectation is a constant
joy and inspiration. The pay for this day's trouble
and toil is in the reward which is expected to-mor*
row. That reward may never come, but the hope
remains ; and so long as that lives, it pays to live.
It pajfs some men to live, that they may make
money, and command the power that money brings.
To what enormous toils and sacrifices the love and
pnrstdt of money urge a great multitude of men 1
The judgment of these men as to whether life is
worth living is not to be taken at life's dose, when
they smn up their possessions and what they have
cost, but while they are living and acting. A man
wbo«e life is exhausted may well conclude that
what he has won is vanity ; but it was not vanity
to him while he was winning it, and, in the full pos-
session of his powers, he believed that life was
worth living.

Who shall estimate the inestimable ? Who shall
weigh the value of the loves of life ? There are
very few who do not see a time in life when all
their trials would be considered a cheap price to pay
for the love they exercise and possess. The lover
who wins and possesses his mistress, and the mother
who carries a man-child upon her bosom, drink of
a cop so fiall and so delicious that, whatever may be
the ills of Ufe, they sink into insignificance by its
side. A single year of a great satisfying love
sfneads its charm over all the period that follows,
and often sweetens a whole life. We have said
that there is great pleasure in conscious being, and
the statement covers more ground than at first view
appears, for all pleasures are simply augmentations
of the consciousness of being. The pleasure that
comes of wine is of this character— it raises and
intensifies the consciousness of being, and makes
the treasure of life itself for the moment more
abundant. It is so not only with all sensual de-
lights, but with all mental and spiritual pleasures.
They stimulate and enlarge the sense of life, — the
oonsdonsness of living existence, — conferring upon
it only new forms and flavors.

The pursuit of money is only one of the pursuits
of life. Fame, power, literary achievement, art in
a hundred forms, social eminence— all these and
more are objects of pursuit, so absorbing and de-
li{^tfnl that men find abundant reward in them,
life is quite worth living to all those who find en-
gaging objects of pursuit, and especially to those
who win success in their pursuits. We repeat,



therefore, that, by almost a unanimous vote, the
human race practically decides every day that life is
worth living. Mr. Mallock thinks it is worth liv-
ing provided a man has faith in a great church ; and
Professor Mivart — a Catholic himself— thinks life's
highest values are in the doing of duty and in love.
We should be the last to claim that happiness is the
highest aim of life, and that, unless tluit is secured,
life is a failure, and not worth living. To do right,
to sacrifice one's self for love— these are better
things than pleasure. To love and to be loved —
these are things that pay. To be conscious of no-
bility of character and unselfishness of life ; to be
conscious that our lives are brought into affectionate
relations with other and harmonious life — what are
these but life's highest values ? What are these but
the highest satisfiictions of conscious being ?

If this be true, — that character and duty and love
are better than pleasure and better than any success
without them,— then there is no human being who
needs to say that life is not worth living. But
the people who do not succeed, who are unloved,
who live lives of pain and want and weakness —
what is there for these ? A chance for conscious
nobility of character and life ; and if this be not
enough, as it rarely is, a faith, not in a great
church, but in a good God, and an immortality that
will right the wrongs and heal the evils of the pres-
ent life, and round into completeness and symmetry
its imperfections and deformities. Is it not foolish^
after all, to raise the question of success or failure
in treating a life that is only germinal or fractional ?

The Nation's Doctors.

When a patient is convalescent, we discharge
the doctor. When the processes of nature are
building up the wasted frune, and re-enforcing the
vital power, we bid good-bye to pill, powder, and
plaster. We eat, sleep, and exercise and grow
strong, and the fact that we grow strong is taken as
proof positive that nature is enough for all our
wants, and that any interference of the doctor is not
only superfluous but dangerous. We suppose noth-
ing can be more certain, or more apparent, than
that the American nation, so long sick and feeble in
its material interests, is convalescent Our paper
lie has become an honest dollar. Our exports ex-
ceed our imports. We have great crops of the es-
sential supplies of human life, which the world
wants, and is willing to pay for. Our manufactures
are slowly winning back prosperity to themselves.
There is increasing demand for labor, and the num-
ber of the unemployed is growing less every day.
Indeed, we seem to be in a very fair way to pros-
perity, with only one danger that menaces us, —
namely. Congress, and its little army of political
doctors.

Strange as it may appear to people of common
sense and common political observation, there are
still those in the country who think that there can
be something better than an honest dollar. Against
the judgment of the whole practical world of finance,
they would, even now, interfere with the healthy
progress of the country toward recovery, by tinker-



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144



COMMUNICA TIONS.



ing the currency. To them, the resumption of
specie payments is a grievance; and they desire to
go back to the time when a dollar was not a dollar,
when money was cheap, and the commodities of life
were dear. Even the " fiat money men " still live
— the most idiotic of all the financial doctors. All,
or most, of the schemes of these men are for the
benefit of " the debtor class. " Practically, they de-
mand that poor money be furnished to pay debts
with. Practically, too, they demand that, solely for
the benefit of the debtor class, the currency shall
be degraded, and the finances of the country dis-
turbed, and chaos again introduced into the nation*s
business. The schemes of these men cannot be
stated in any way that is not disgraceful to the
schemes themselves and to their authors. They
demand a cheap and degraded dollar to pay debts
with. They do not even pretend that it will buy
what an honest dollar will buy, because they know
better. Of course, the only apology for this ras-
cally looking plan is found in the fact that the debtor
class became debtors when money was degraded,
and that they ought to be allowed to pay in the
same kind of money. Whatever of seeming jus-
tice there may be in this plea, it is a sufficient an-
swer that no class has a right to degrade a nation's



Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 26 of 160)