S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

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As I sipped my tea I turned over a book of etch-
ings, while our hostess went on talking the prettiest
mere society nonsense to St. Clair and Clayborne.
Her husband, much amused, sat by. Now and then
she darted at him a swift glance of fun, or sought his
eyes with a look of questioning eagerness. Whatever
ideals had once been hers, she had found a trusted
anchorage in the man she married. Indeed, I think
the admiration she excited was one of the happinesses
of Vincent's existence, and in every relation the per-



184 CHAEACTEEISTICS.

feet tact with which these two managed their common
life was a pleasant thing to see. Like many kind and
able women, dulness was for her no barrier to friend-
ship ; but to none was Vincent so charming as to her
uninteresting friends, to none so generous and so
courteous. She repaid the debt in kind to us all, and,
as to St. Clair, was a sort of confessor to whom he
confided his occasional troubles with a quiet, childlike
certainty of help. I think that she did not much
fancy Clayborne, but the art of absolute social mas-
querade belongs to the woman alone, and I doubt if
even Vincent suspected her of caring less for the
scholar than for her husband's other friends. Hear-
ing the talk take a more serious turn, I drew my chair
nearer.

" Yes," said Vincent ; " a nation in the making is
as to its individuals more interesting than one which
is set in slowly changing historic ruts. As a rule, the
English people I mean the undistinguished are to
me of all the dullest. The chance American of any
class, as one meets him in travel, is by far more amus-
ing. I don't speak of his manners ; he is apt enough
to be common, just as the corresponding Englishman
is to be vulgar ; but class for class, our people interest
me more."

" But how silent they are."

" Yes 5 yet open to talk if you ask for it. We had
once the name with our cousins of being questioning
creatures, but really I think that of late years we have
exchanged roles. Certainly the frank inquisitiveness
of the English is past belief."

" If," said St. Clair, with his easy way of dislocating



CHARACTERISTICS. 185

the talk, " I had to attend to the education of a nation,
I should declare a war once in every fifty years at
least."

" I don't care myself to manufacture any more his-
tory," returned Vincent; "but certainly the genera-
tion which emerged from our great strife, North and
South, was the better for it."

"And what faces it wrought! " said St. Clair. "I
stood and saw go by me in Washington that army
which followed Sherman to the sea grave, thought-
ful, strong-featured, with eyes looking homeward."

"And behind them the dead of countless homes,"
said Mrs. Vincent, " and that desolated, mourning
South. Let us talk of other things; I cannot even
now think of it without pain."

" It was but the historic consequences of folly and
crime," said Clayborne.

She made no answer except in her gentlest tone to
ask me to ring for the servant to remove the tea-tray.
I knew that one of her brothers, long settled in the
South, had lost his life in the Confederate cause, and
I could have soundly cuffed Clayborne, who never
remembered anything not in books. Now he rose to
go, as we decided that it was too late to hear the
"Memoir"; but then, retiring to a corner, as though
he had forgotten his intention, sat down to read the
nearest book.

St. Clair, who was greatly attached to Mrs. Vin-
cent, noticing the slight look of pain which still lin-
gered on her face, said, " You have been glancing at my
little book."

"Yes. Read me something." And then and this



186 CHARACTERISTICS.

was quite characteristic " I should like the lines on
Lincoln." He took up the book and read :

Chained by stern duty to the rock of state,

His spirit armed in rugged mail of mirth,

Ever above yet ever near the earth,

Still felt his heart the vulture-beaks that sate

Base appetites, and foul with slander wait

Till the sharp lightning brings the awful hour

When wounds and suffering give them double power.

Most was he like that Luther, gay and great,
Solemn and mirthful, strong of head and limb.
Tender and simple was he too ; so near
To all things human that he cast out fear,
And ever simpler, like a little child,
Lived in unconscious nearness unto him
Who always for earth's little ones has smiled.

" Thank you," she said. "And one more before you
go."

" This is not mine, but a friend's. He has a certain
terror of publicity, but you will see at the close of the
book I have put together a few of his verses. They
have a fineness of quality I like. He does not write
for the world, but as you write to a friend. He has
pleasure in the clear coinage thought finds only when
on paper."

" I think I know the man," she said. "And thank
you again."

" Shall I read any more ? " he said.

" Yes," she answered j " if you will be so good."

He took a book from the table, and read aloud the
first half of " Saul." As he read I watched him and
her. He seemed to know he was soothing her, that



CHARACTERISTICS. 187

this was what she needed. He read the po.em as a boy
explores a fresh stream or wood, with thoughtful joy,
and as though he had just discovered it all, and was
sharing it with you. As he turned the last leaf, she
said quickly, " Do not read the second part."

" No danger of that," he said. " I think that at a
certain age the poets should be retired on prose pen-
sions."

" And who shall set the date ? " said I.

" Not I," she replied j " and yet and yet

"Well, what?"

" Merely that I feel now as to this poet as one feels
about a friend who, as life goes on, ceases to be what
he was, and becomes something else which is no longer
grateful to you. You knew and loved him when only
a few others understood him. And now, when he has
won the adulation of the literary populace, you can
only look on, and wonder with a little sadness at the
character of the development which time has brought
about."

"It is true," said St. Clair. "Once I went to a
society, and a gentleman in the dry-goods business
unrolled for us a mummy. He explained the pro-
cesses of embalming and the spices used, and then the
object of it and its relation to the solar system and to
the manufacture of oleomargarine. He told us, too,
how the Egyptians embalmed geese, and, reverting to
his mummy, made plain to us that, having exposed
the body thereof, it was found that it was not always
possible to decide its sex or nature. I think I must
have been half asleep, because, just as he assured us
that this state of bewilderment was the main value of



188 CHARACTERISTICS.

the study of mummification, and that it was a wise in-
vention of beneficent priests to train, through vexa-
tion, the intellect of the future, I woke up and knew
that he was discussing ' Sordello ' with occasional allu-
sions to Mr. Sludge."

" I never before knew you half so cynical," said our



"Really, I have not put it too strongly. These
societies for the infinitesimal dilution of criticism are
exasperating. How the poet must laugh in his sleeve !
My only comfort is that we did not invent the craze.
There is a true story that an Englishwoman broke off
her engagement with a sturdy guardsman because he
did not know who Browning was. She took the man
back again into favor when he was able to stand an
examination on ' The Flight of the Duchess,' and ' The
Red Cotton Night-cap Country.' "

" At least now, for a while, they will let my Shak-
spere alone. They have fresher prey."

" That is curious," said the poet. " Did not you see,
Clayborne, that lately in repairing Shakspere's tomb
there was found on the under side of the marble slab

the lines,

"Who stirs the ashes of my verse
In his soul shall roost a curse f "

"What? what?" cried Clayborne. "Nonsense!"
While the rest of us smiled, and the poet, who de-
lighted to mystify the historian, burst into childlike
laughter.

" In my young days," said I, " the business of dis-
secting dead poets had hardly begun. When but a
boy I asked a mild old professor what Shakspere



CHAEACTEEISTICS. 189

meant by ' Many, come up.' He reflected a little, and
then said it meant merely advice to marry, and indi-
cated the elevation of soul which would follow."

" But he was jesting at you."

" Not at all. He was quite vexed at the smile of an
elder boy who stood by, and who cleared my head
about it when we had left the class-room. I could tell
you my critic's name, but I will not."

"Don't you want sometimes," said Mrs. Vincent,
u to do to your books as the Russian censors do to
newspapers, and blot ruthlessly some parts of them ?
If a human friend is silly, or wanting in some way,
it is not thrust on you forever ; but the folly of our
friend-book we cannot escape. One must take our
friend-book as all friends must be taken, with reason-
able charity as to defect and limitation."

" A noble old man whom I know well," I said, "has
had printed for himself in a book all the bits of verse
he loves best ; the little poems, the old ballads, he fan-
cies; whatever taste, circumstance, or remembrance
has made dear to him."

" That really is a good idea," said Mrs. Vincent.
" Could n't I do that, Fred ? "

" Readily," he said, with a smile. " The book might
be a trifle large. And shall it be only verse ? "

" Oh, there must be two ; I cannot mix them. And
a book or two there are I can't have in chips. By the
way, is n't this a charming thought ? " And so saying
she gave me from the table a little copy of Marcus
Aurelius. It was uncut, and tied to the long ribbon
marker was a paper-cutter having on its handle a coin
stamped with the features of the great emperor and.



190 CHARACTEEISTICS.

greater man. I knew in a moment who had given it
by St. Glair's pleased look.

As I studied the grave face on the coin, Mrs. Vin-
cent said: "I am waiting to cut the leaves. I did
begin, but then fell to thinking of the emperor man
guiding my fingers through his own immortal pages,
and how some Roman boy, playing at pitch-penny
with this coin, may have paused as the emperor
passed, and turned to see if the medal were like him
or not. I shall wait."

"Would he have been more great, or less," asked
Vincent, " but for the woman, his wife, who had no
sense of the moral stature of the man ? "

" I do not surely know," she answered. " Women
may immensely help men, but the strong of purpose
even a bad woman does not mar. The best and the
greatest have had bad luck with wives. The women
who can worship the heroic, and yet use their own
common sense usefully to criticize the hero oh, they
must be very rare indeed. And as to that book, I
think I shall rest content with my present plan."

"And that?" I said.

" I keep near me on my table a few books, three or
four real books, I mean ; books that are in the peer-
age of thought. They are as friends invited for a
limited stay. Some day they go back to their home
on the shelves, and others are invited to their places.
But I meant to ask you how such a man could have
had a son like Commodus."

"His father," I replied, "had virtue lifted to the
height of genius, and genius is not heritable. By the
by, a great Frenchman has said that is why genius is



CHAEACTEKISTICS. 191

not fl.THn to madness, since madness is so apt to de-
scend with the blood. And there, too, was the mother."

"And so," said Mrs. Vincent, rising, " the blame is
to fall as usual on my sex. I shall leave you, I think,
to your cigars. I have exhausted your wisdom.
Good-night, and thank you again, Mr. St. Clair."

We rose, and she left us.

A few minutes later, Vincent said, "Have you
guessed the man St. Glair's friend describes in that
little poem ? Do you know him ? "

As he spoke I saw the sculptor look up with a gleam
of amusement in his face. "Oh, it is a character;
merely a character."

" I fancy I know the man," I returned. " I mean to
respect his incognito. More might be said of him.
He was, when first I saw him, a rather narrow person,
but it was the narrowness not of parallel lines, but of
a broadening angle sure to enlarge. In all ways his
life has widened with the years his tastes, his char-
ity, his intellect, his power to please and be pleased,
his range of sympathies. As a young man he was
cynical, at least in talk, which is sometimes far enough
away from the cynicism of action. We used to call
him bitter, but some able men are in youth like per-
simmons, and ripen into sweetness under the frosts of
circumstance."

" The men," said Vincent, " who reverse your com-
parison, and, facing all their lives a lessening angle,
narrow to the point called death we know them also."

Said St. Clair, " Let us hope that the crossing lines
create for them too the widening angle of larger
growth."




xin.

HE account I had so long promised /
my friends of the character-doctor *
was delayed by a variety of matters.
But one evening in the winter we
met again at Vincent's. When I
came in the room was ringing with



the notes of his wife's voice. She had set for St. Clair
a little love-song. Her voice had the rare charm of
rendering the words with perfect distinctness, and the
music was such as prettily to humor the sentiments
of the verse. As she finished, he took it up and read
it in his fervid way.

" Alas," he said, " we have lost the art of song. The
gaiety and self-abandonment of its Elizabethan notes
are dead for us. All the pretty silliness of it its
careless folly, and its gay music rings with the life
of that splendid day. Think of the lusty vigor of it,
the noble madness of the lives. Imagine the struggle
for national existence which made poets soldiers, and
gave to life that uncertainty which makes man natural
and outspoken. Here was a queen who, whatever her
faults, had the art to get from noble men an ever
nobler service; a woman who somehow influenced
men toward greatness as surely as her ' sister of de-
bate ' made worse all who loved her."



CHARACTEEISTICS. 193

" Oh," laughed Vincent, " we should have Clayborne
give you his cold judgment of Elizabeth."

"And almost all he would say is true," cried St.
Clair, " and yet but half the story. It wants a poet
for entire estimate of the values of character. Your
sweet, gentle, merely lovely woman makes on man no
permanent impression. There must be force some-
where to evolve force. A very feminine woman with
some flavor of the resoluteness of the masculine char- /
acter has the trick to keep men steadily influenced,
and there must be, too, tie high-minded sympathy
with heroism in fact, some touch of that quality in
the woman herself."

" I meant," I said, " to have added a word to what
St. Clair said. England was musical in those days.
Without that the song has no natural birth. Music
died, and the song with it, as Puritanism grew to be
a power. It was lucky for Germany, I think, that
Luther loved music."

" The thought is interesting," remarked Clayborne.

" Yes," said Mrs. Vincent. " But to go back to our
last subject. One of these days I mean to write wom-
en's husbands. A calm statement of our side might
be valuable. I should take as my title-page motto the
wise words of a friend of mine, ' Men differ, but all
husbands are alike.' "

" That would begin and end your book," I said.

" Oh, the husband is generically alike, but specific-
ally various. You may smile, but wait until you read
my chapter on the management of husbands. How-
ever, I do not mean to spoil my literary venture by
talking about it."



194 CHARACTERISTICS.

"Give me a few points," laughed St. Clair. "At
any time I may become a victim. I cannot imagine
it, but everything is possible."

" Might I protest ? " cried Vincent.

" No, indeed," we said in one breath.

" Oh, it will be quite impersonal, my dear," she said.

" Well, and suppose we question you ? " said I. "Is
marriage, as we see it, a failure ? "

" What a question ! Is business ? Are books ?
There are three marriages. One is a monarchy; a
king or queen presides over life. One is a true feder-
ative republic; there is equality under large sense
of law and of mutual rights. The third is anarchy.
Time is the true priest. Many couples who seem un-
fitly mated learn as years go by to find the happiness
they miss at first. There are people who ask too much
of life. Sometimes they fail as to their own ideals and
get what is better. I shall have a chapter on the friend-
ship of marriage, and one on its disappointments."

"And one," said Vincent, "on the marriage of friend-
ship."

"Might I say of that," she returned, "that if not a
marriage of convenance (for it is more than that), it is,
at least, a marriage of convenience f "

"Good! "cried I.

"And now we are going to hear something more ;
it is interesting," said St. Clair.

"No; I elect to pause here. I give you only one
piece of advice."

"Well?"

"Don't marry a fool. If you would only let me
choose for you."



CHAKACTEEISTICS. 195

"Agreed," said St. Clair, "if I may have a veto."

"By all means. But"

At this moment Vincent's servant came in with a
note for me. "Pardon me," I said. "Your revelations
must keep, at least for me. I have to go to the hospital.
I may be gone a half -hour, or much longer. Good-by,
Mrs. Vincent."

"I am sorry. I had set my mind on a pleasant
evening."

"What is your errand at St. Ann's?" said Vincent,
as I rose to go.

"A consultation with the surgeons."

"Might I go with you!" said St. Clair.

I looked at him, astonished. "Well, yes," I returned,
doubtfully. "But you may have to wait long if you
remain until I can leave the wards. What on earth,
my dear St. Clair, can you want now, at night ? There
is nothing to see."

"I will tell you as we go. If you say no, I shall be
satisfied."

"Very well; come, and make haste," I said, as the
others bade us good-night.

Presently, as we walked along, St. Clair said, "Your
note told you that a man was probably dying. An
operation might save him."

"Certainly."

\X "I want to see death. I want to see a man die. I
never saw that strange thing. I have two reasons.
One is related to my art, and is not an unworthy
reason. But also, North, lif e is an immense happiness
to me, and I feel some strange craving at times to see
its misery, its darker side."



196 CHARACTERISTICS.

"Great heaven ! It is all around you."

"Yes, no doubt; but I cannot grasp it. If I help a
beggar, his satisfaction alone goes with me. I can be
sad on paper, but nowhere else. It seems to me, as I
reflect, unnatural, wrong. I think I realize grief and
pain and trouble for others, but not as a thing possi-
ble for me. And this great awful fact of all life
death I must see it."

I did not reply for a moment. Then I said, "Per-
haps you are right. I am not sure. But you shall
have your way."

"And death," he said, "you must have seen it until
it is commonplace to you."

"I have seen it," I said, "countless deaths in battle,
/ executions, death-beds men, women, and children.
It has never quite lost for me its awfulness. The ma-
terialism which makes it seem the mere stopping of a
machine, into which I once reasoned myself, lessened
and left me long ago. Once, by a death-bed in a hos-
pital, I heard a surgeon say, as a man ceased to
breathe, 'It has stopped ; the engine has ceased to go.'
His senior, an old man, replied, 'No ; the engineer has
left it.' I have ceased to reason about it. At every
dead man's side I feel more and more that something,
J immaterial as the Being who willed the thing to live,
has escaped me and my analysis. Life seems to me a
thing as real, as positive, as death, and, trust me, St.
Glair, as we live on and on, we get to have more and
more trust in recognitions of truths indefensible by
mere logic. To the man whom the latter despotically
governs I have nothing to say in the way of blame."

"As I think of it," said St. Clair, "death, of which I



CHAEACTEEISTICS. 197

have seen nothing, only excites my boundless curios-
ity ; and as I observe that generally I am correct in
my predictions about myself, and am by nature fear-
less, I suspect that I would feel more curiosity than
dread if I knew that I were to die to-night. One fear
I certainly should have. I should shudder to think
that my curiosity might not be gratified. And you ?
Do you think it will be ?"

" I do not know. We are on ground which I rarely
tread in talk. Some men, and I am one, shrink from
these discussions as they grow older. One says more
or less than one means, and a word said is like a bullet
sped. As to some things I like to be silent. One gets
into the power of words."

"What are you saying?" I added. He was speak-
ing under his breath. He at once repeated aloud what
he had been murmuring.

Death seems so simple. Will it be
Only a new complexity?
Or shall the broken body free
Broad wings of clearer life for me ?

The mood and its expressed thoughts were unusual
in the joyous man beside me, and without more words
we moved on to the gate of St. Ann's. I left St. Clair
below-stairs, and went up alone to the consultation.

Drs. L and S awaited my coming. The case

was one of old injury to the head. The consulta-
tion was called so late in the case that the question of
the value of an operation was doubtful. The charac-
ter of the two men came out strongly, as it is apt to
do in these grim councils. The one, L , was clear,



198 CHARACTERISTICS.

rapid, seized on the main points with almost instinctive
capacity, formulated the facts and reached his conclu-
sions with confident decisiveness. The other, S ,

an older man, listened, read and reread the notes, lifted
into prominence for himself the minor symptoms, and
ceaselessly combated the other doctor's conclusions, de-
ciding finally against an operation as useless.

My own voice settled the question for operation
on the ground of harmlessness to a man insensible to
pain, and without it sure to die. The operation was

done swiftly and well by L . As it went on it

became clear that it had failed because of being a week

or more too late. Said S , who had the case in

charge: "I always knew it would fail 5 I am sorry I
troubled you at all. I don't believe much in brain
surgery."

The instruments were cleaned and removed, the
dressings arranged, the man carried to his ward bed,
and a screen drawn around it. Then a fair-haired
nurse sat down by his side, and the man was left to
his fate.

As L and I descended the stairs alone, he said

to me, "If you or I had had that case a month ago,
it would have been operated upon, and possibly saved.
Certainly his chances would have been enormously

better. That man S is like an indecisive little

child playing at puss-in-the-corner. He tries this
corner, and runs for that, and all are occupied by
some logical difficulty. Is it a moral or an intellectual
defect?"

I said : " It has probably cost a life, and must have
cost many. It is not any mere lack of reasoning



CHARACTERISTICS. 199

power. His essays are clear. You would think from
them that he never had a doubt. There he has no
responsibility. But let him face a case, and he be-
gins to be troubled. He is a good man, and so tre-
mendously anxious to be right, and to do right, that
when human life and interests enter into his mental
operations he becomes perplexed. At least that is the
way I read him."

" How different from Y , who does not care an

atom for the patient, but is distracted by his fear of
intellectual failure. Naturally he abhors the post-
mortem criticism. I hate most of all the fellow who
reaches an opinion somehow, is scared by his own de-
cision, and begins to hedge."

I laughed,

"If ifsandans
Were pots and pans,
How good a brain
Were any man's.

" Indecision is an awful fool. Good-night."

In the waiting-room I found St. Clair. " Are you
still of the same mind ? " said I. He nodded. " Then
come." And we went up-stairs.

Stillness reigned in the dimly lighted ward, except
for the soft tread of a night nurse, or the hoarse
breathing of some sleeper lost to his own troubles, and
regardless in slumber of the neighboring tragedy of
death.

With St. Clair at my side I walked over to the bed,
drew the screen aside, and went within its shelter. I
could see that my friend was awed.

" He is worse," said the quiet little nurse in a low
14



200 CHARACTEEISTICS.

tone. " You can talk," I said to St. Clair, " only not
so as to disturb these others. This man will never
hear voice of earthly man."

" And he is dying ! " He spoke in a tone of sur-
prise.

"Yes, and rapidly."

" And has no pain ?


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