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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 35, September, 1860 online

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which Lord Herbert of Cherbury said, "A good rider on a good horse is as
much above himself and others as the world can make him." Besides, the
gun, fishing-rod, boat, and horse constitute, among all who use them,
secret freemasonries.

They are as if they belonged to one club.

There is also a negative value in these arts. Their chief use to the
youth is, not amusement, but to be known for what they are, and not to
remain to him occasions of heartburn. We are full of superstitions. Each
class fixes its eyes on the advantages it has not: the refined, on rude
strength; the democrat, on birth and breeding. One of the benefits of a
college-education is, to show the boy its little avail. I knew a leading
man in a leading city, who, having set his heart on an education at the
university and missed it, could never quite feel himself the equal
of his own brothers who had gone thither. His easy superiority to
multitudes of professional men could never quite countervail to him this
imaginary defect. Balls, riding, wine-parties, and billiards pass to a
poor boy for something fine and romantic, which they are not; and a free
admission to them on an equal footing, if it were possible, only once or
twice, would be worth ten times its cost, by undeceiving him.

I am not much an advocate for travelling, and I observe that men run
away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run
back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For
the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that have
no task to keep you at home? I have been quoted as saying captious
things about travel; but I mean to do justice. I think there is a
restlessness in our people which argues want of character. All educated
Americans, first or last, go to Europe, - perhaps because it is their
mental home, as the invalid habits of this country might suggest. An
eminent teacher of girls said, "The idea of a girl's education is
whatever qualifies them for going to Europe." Can we never extract this
tape-worm of Europe from the brain of our country-men? One sees very
well what their fate must be. He that does not fill a place at home
cannot abroad. He only goes there to hide his insignificance in a larger
crowd. You do not think you will find anything there which you have
not seen at home? The stuff of all countries is just the same. Do you
suppose there is any country where they do not scald milkpans, and
swaddle the infants, and burn the brushwood, and broil the fish? What is
true anywhere is true everywhere. And let him go where he will, he can
find only so much beauty or worth as he carries.

Of course, for some men travel may be useful. Naturalists, discoverers,
and sailors are born. Some men are made for couriers, exchangers,
envoys, missionaries, bearers of despatches, as others are for farmers
and working-men. And if the man is of a light and social turn, and
Nature has aimed to make a legged and winged creature, framed for
locomotion, we must follow her hint, and furnish him with that breeding
which gives currency as sedulously as with that which gives worth. But
let us not be pedantic, but allow to travel its full effect. The boy
grown up on the farm which he has never left is said in the country to
have had _no chance_, and boys and men of that condition look upon work
on a railroad or drudgery in a city as opportunity. Poor country-boys of
Vermont and Connecticut formerly owed what knowledge they had to their
peddling-trips to the Southern States. California and the Pacific Coast
are now the university of this class, as Virginia was in old times. "To
have _some chance_" is their word. And the phrase, "to know the world,"
or to travel, is synonymous with all men's ideas of advantage and
superiority. No doubt, to a man of sense travel offers advantages. As
many languages as he has, as many friends, as many arts and trades,
so many times is he a man. A foreign country is a point of comparison
where-from to judge his own. One use of travel is, to recommend the
books and works of home; (we go to Europe to be Americanized;) and
another, to find men. For as Nature has put fruits apart in latitudes,
a new fruit in every degree, so knowledge and fine moral quality she
lodges in distant men. And thus, of the six or seven teachers whom each
man wants among his contemporaries, it often happens that one or two of
them live on the other side of the world.

Moreover, there is in every constitution a certain solstice, when the
stars stand still in our inward firmament, and when there is required
some foreign force, some diversion or alternative, to prevent
stagnation. And, as a medical remedy, travel seems one of the best. Just
as a man witnessing the admirable effect of ether to lull pain, and,
meditating on the contingencies of wounds, cancers, lockjaws, rejoices
in Dr. Jackson's benign discovery, so a man who looks at Paris, at
Naples, or at London, says, "If I should be driven from my own home,
here, at least, my thoughts can be consoled by the most prodigal
amusement and occupation which the human race in ages could contrive and
accumulate."

Akin to the benefit of foreign travel, the aesthetic value of railroads
is to unite the advantages of town and country life, neither of which we
can spare. A man should live in or near a large town, because, let his
own genius be what it may, it will repel quite as much of agreeable and
valuable talent as it draws, and, in a city, the total attraction of all
the citizens is sure to conquer, first or last, every repulsion, and
drag the most improbable hermit within its walls some day in the
year. In town he can find the swimming-school, the gymnasium, the
dancing-master, the shooting-gallery, opera, theatre, and panorama, - the
chemist's shop, the museum of natural history, the gallery of fine arts,
the national orators in their turn, foreign travellers, the libraries,
and his club. In the country he can find solitude and reading, manly
labor, cheap living, and his old shoes, - moors for game, hills for
geology, and groves for devotion. Aubrey writes, "I have heard Thomas
Hobbes say, that, in the Earl of Devon's house, in Derbyshire, there was
a good library and books enough for him, and his Lordship stored the
library with what books he thought fit to be bought. But the want
of good conversation was a very great inconvenience, and, though he
conceived he could order his thinking as well as another, yet he found
a great defect. In the country, in long time, for want of good
conversation, one's understanding and invention contract a moss on them,
like an old paling in an orchard."

Cities give us collision. 'Tis said, London and New York take the
nonsense out of a man. A great part of our education is sympathetic and
social. Boys and girls who have been brought up with well-informed and
superior people show in their manners an inestimable grace. Fuller says,
that "William, Earl of Nassau, won a subject from the King of Spain
every time he put off his hat." You cannot have one well-bred man
without a whole society of such. They keep each other up to any
high point. Especially women: it requires a great many cultivated
women, - saloons of bright, elegant, reading women, accustomed to ease
and refinement, to spectacles, pictures, sculpture, poetry, and to
elegant society, - in order that you should have one Madame de Staël.
The head of a commercial house, or a leading lawyer or politician, is
brought into daily contact with troops of men from all parts of the
country, - and those, too, the driving-wheels, the business-men of each
section, - and one can hardly suggest for an apprehensive man a
more searching culture. Besides, we must remember the high social
possibilities of a million of men. The best bribe which London offers
to-day to the imagination is, that, in such a vast variety of people
and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic
character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope
to confront their counterparts.

I wish cities could teach their best lesson, - of quiet manners. It is
the foible especially of American youth, - pretension. The mark of the
man of the world is absence of pretension. He does not make a speech; he
takes a low business-tone, avoids all brag, is nobody, dresses plainly,
promises not at all, performs much, speaks in monosyllables, hugs his
fact. He calls his employment by its lowest name, and so takes from evil
tongues their sharpest weapon. His conversation clings to the weather
and the news, yet he allows himself to be surprised into thought, and
the unlocking of his learning and philosophy. How the imagination is
piqued by anecdotes of some great man passing incognito, as a king in
gray clothes! - of Napoleon affecting a plain suit at his glittering
levee! - of Burns, or Scott, or Beethoven, or Wellington, or Goethe,
or any container of transcendent power, passing for nobody! - of
Epaminondas, "who never says anything, but will listen eternally!" - of
Goethe, who preferred trifling subjects and common expressions in
intercourse with strangers, worse rather than better clothes, and to
appear a little more capricious than he was! There are advantages in the
old hat and box-coat. I have heard, that, throughout this country, a
certain respect is paid to good broadcloth: but dress makes a little
restraint; men will not commit themselves. But the box-coat is like
wine; it unlocks the tongue, and men say what they think. An old poet
says, -

"Go far and go sparing;
For you'll find it certain,
The poorer and the baser you appear,
The more you'll look through still."[A]

[Footnote A: Beaumont and Fletcher: The Tamer Tamed.]

Not much otherwise Milnes writes, in the "Lay of the Humble": -

"To me men are for what they are,
They wear no masks with me."

'Tis odd that our people should have - not water on the brain, - but
a little gas there. A shrewd foreigner said of the Americans, that
"whatever they say has a little the air of a speech." Yet one of the
traits down in the books, as distinguishing the Anglo-Saxon, is a trick
of self-disparagement. To be sure, in old, dense countries, among a
million of good coats, a fine coat comes to be no distinction, and you
find humorists. In an English party, a man with no marked manners or
features, with a face like red dough, unexpectedly discloses wit,
learning, a wide range of topics, and personal familiarity with good men
in all parts of the world, until you think you have fallen upon some
illustrious personage. Can it be that the American forest has refreshed
some weeds of old Pictish barbarism just ready to die out, - the love of
the scarlet feather, of beads, and tinsel? The Italians are fond of
red clothes, peacock-plumes, and embroidery; and I remember, one rainy
morning in the city of Palermo, the street was in a blaze with scarlet
umbrellas. The English have a plain taste. The equipages of the grandees
are plain. A gorgeous livery indicates new and awkward city-wealth. Mr.
Pitt, like Mr. Pym, thought the title of _Mister_ good against any king
in Europe. They have piqued themselves on governing the whole world in
the poor, plain, dark committee-room which the House of Commons sat in
before the fire.

Whilst we want cities as the centres where the best things are found,
cities degrade us by magnifying trifles. The countryman finds the town
a chop-house, a barber's shop. He has lost the lines of grandeur of the
horizon, hills and plains, and, with them, sobriety and elevation. He
has come among a supple, glib-tongued tribe, who live for show, servile
to public opinion. Life is dragged down to a fracas of pitiful cares and
disasters. You say the gods ought to respect a life whose objects
are their own; but in cities they have betrayed you to a cloud of
insignificant annoyances: -

"Mirmidons, race féconde,
Mirmidons,
Enfins nous commandons;
Jupiter livre le monde
Aux mirmidons, aux mirmidons."[B]

[Footnote B: Béranger.]

'Tis heavy odds
Against the gods,
When they will match with myrmidons.
We spawning, spawning myrmidons,
Our turn to-day; we take command:
Jove gives the globe into the hand
Of myrmidons, of myrmidons.

What is odious but noise, and people who scream and bewail? - people
whose vane points always east, who live to dine, who send for the
doctor, who raddle themselves, who toast their feet on the register,
who intrigue to secure a padded chair and a corner out of the draught?
Suffer them once to begin the enumeration of their infirmities, and the
sun will go down on the unfinished tale. Let these triflers put us out
of conceit with petty comforts. To a man at work, the frost is but a
color; the rain, the wind, he forgot them when he came in. Let us learn
to live coarsely, dress plainly, and lie hard. The least habit of
dominion over the palate has certain good effects not easily estimated.
Neither will we be driven into a quiddling abstemiousness. 'Tis a
superstition to insist on a special diet. All is made at last of the
same chemical atoms.

A man in pursuit of greatness feels no little wants. How can you mind
diet, bed, dress, or salutes or compliments, or the figure you make in
company, or wealth, or even the bringing things to pass, when you think
how paltry are the machinery and the workers? Wordsworth was praised to
me, in Westmoreland, for having afforded to his country neighbors an
example of a modest household, where comfort and culture were secured
without display. And a tender boy who wears his rusty cap and outgrown
coat, that he may secure the coveted place in college and the right
in the library, is educated to some purpose. There is a great deal of
self-denial and manliness in poor and middle-class houses, in town and
country, that has not got into literature, and never will, but that
keeps the earth sweet, - that saves on superfluities, and spends on
essentials, - that goes rusty, and educates the boy, - that sells the
horse, but builds the school, - works early and late, takes two looms in
the factory, three looms, six looms, but pays off the mortgage on the
paternal farm, and then goes back cheerfully to work again.

We can ill spare the commanding social benefits of cities; they must be
used, - yet cautiously, and haughtily, - and will yield their best values
to him who best can do without them. Keep the town for occasions, but
the habits should be formed to retirement. Solitude, the safeguard of
mediocrity, is to genius the stern friend, the cold, obscure shelter
where moult the wings which will bear it farther than suns and stars. He
who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling
with the souls of other men, - from living, breathing, reading, and
writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions. "In the morning,
solitude," said Pythagoras, - that Nature may speak to the imagination,
as she does never in company, and that her favorite may make
acquaintance with those divine strengths which disclose themselves to
serious and abstracted thought. 'Tis very certain that Plato, Plotinus,
Archimedes, Hermes, Newton, Milton, Wordsworth did not live in a crowd,
but descended into it from time to time as benefactors: and the wise
instructor will press this point of securing to the young soul, in the
disposition of time and the arrangements of living, periods and habits
of solitude. The high advantage of university-life is often the mere
mechanical one, I may call it, of a separate chamber and fire, - which
parents will allow the boy without hesitation at Cambridge, but do not
think needful at home. We say solitude, to mark the character of the
tone of thought; but if it can be shared between two, or more than two,
it is happier, and not less noble. "We four," wrote Neander to his
sacred friends, "will enjoy at Halle the inward blessedness of a
_civitas Dei_, whose foundations are forever friendship. The more I know
you, the more I dissatisfy and must dissatisfy all my wonted companions.
Their very presence stupefies me. The common understanding withdraws
itself from the one centre of all existence."

Solitude takes off the pressure of present importunities, that more
catholic and humane relations may appear. The saint and poet seek
privacy to ends the most public and universal: and it is the secret of
culture, to interest the man more in his public than in his private
quality. Here is a new poem, which elicits a good many comments in
the journals and in conversation. From these it is easy, at last, to
eliminate the verdict which readers passed upon it; and that is, in the
main, unfavorable. The poet, as a craftsman, is interested only in the
praise accorded to him, and not in the censure, though it be just; and
the poor little poet hearkens only to that, and rejects the censure, as
proving incapacity in the critic. But the poet _cultivated_ becomes a
stockholder in both companies, - say Mr. Curfew, - in the Curfew stock,
and in the _humanity_ stock; and, in the last, exults as much in the
demonstration of the unsoundness of Curfew as his interest in the former
gives him pleasure in the currency of Curfew. For the depreciation of
his Curfew stock only shows the immense values of the humanity stock.
As soon as he sides with his critic against himself, with joy, he is a
cultivated man.

We must have an intellectual quality in all property and in all action,
or they are nought. I must have children, I must have events, I must
have a social state and history, or my thinking and speaking want body
or basis. But to give these accessories any value, I must know them as
contingent and rather showy possessions, which pass for more to the
people than to me. We see this abstraction in scholars, as a matter
of course: but what a charm it adds when observed in practical men!
Bonaparte, like Caesar, was intellectual, and could look at every object
for itself, without affection. Though an egotist _à l'outrance_, he
could criticize a play, a building, a character, on universal grounds,
and give a just opinion. A man known to us only as a celebrity in
politics or in trade gains largely in our esteem, if we discover that he
has some intellectual taste or skill: as when we learn of Lord Fairfax,
the Long Parliament's general, his passion for antiquarian studies; or
of the French regicide Carnot, his sublime genius in mathematics; or of
a living banker, his success in poetry; or of a partisan journalist,
his devotion to ornithology. So, if, in travelling in the dreary
wildernesses of Arkansas or Texas, we should observe on the next seat a
man reading Horace, or Martial, or Calderon, we should wish to hug him.
In callings that require roughest energy, soldiers, sea-captains, and
civil engineers sometimes betray a fine insight, if only through a
certain gentleness when off duty: a good-natured admission that there
are illusions, and who shall say that he is not their sport? We only
vary the phrase, not the doctrine, when we say that culture opens the
sense of beauty. A man is a beggar who only lives to the useful, and,
however he may serve as a pin or rivet in the social machine, cannot be
said to have arrived at self-possession. I suffer, every day, from the
want of perception of beauty in people. They do not know the charm with
which all moments and objects can be embellished, - the charm of manners,
of self-command, of benevolence. Repose and cheerfulness are the badge
of the gentleman, - repose in energy. The Greek battle-pieces are calm;
the heroes, in whatever violent actions engaged, retain a serene
aspect: as we say of Niagara, that it falls without speed. A cheerful,
intelligent face is the end of culture, and success enough; for it
indicates the purpose of Nature and wisdom attained.

When our higher faculties are in activity, we are domesticated,
and awkwardness and discomfort give place to natural and agreeable
movements. It is noticed that the consideration of the great periods and
spaces of astronomy induces a dignity of mind and an indifference
to death. The influence of fine scenery, the presence of mountains,
appeases our irritations and elevates our friendships. Even a high dome,
and the expansive interior of a cathedral, have a sensible effect
on manners. I have heard that stiff people lose something of their
awkwardness under high ceilings and in spacious halls. I think sculpture
and painting have an effect to teach us manners and abolish hurry.

But, over all, culture must reinforce from higher influx the empirical
skills of eloquence, or of politics, or of trade and the useful arts.
There is a certain loftiness of thought and power to marshal and
adjust particulars, which can come only from an insight of their whole
connection. The orator who has once seen things in their divine order
will never quite lose sight of this, and will come to affairs as from a
higher ground, and, though he will say nothing of philosophy, he will
have a certain mastery in dealing with them, and an incapableness of
being dazzled or frighted, which will distinguish his handling from that
of attorneys and factors. A man who stands on a good footing with the
heads of parties at Washington reads the rumors of the newspapers and
the guesses of provincial politicians with a key to the right and
wrong in each statement, and sees well enough where all this will end.
Archimedes will look through your Connecticut machine at a glance, and
judge of its fitness. And much more, a wise man who knows not only what
Plato, but what Saint John can show him, can easily raise the affair
he deals with to a certain majesty. Plato says, Pericles owed this
elevation to the lessons of Anaxagoras. Burke descended from a higher
sphere when he would influence human affairs. Franklin, Adams,
Jefferson, Washington, stood on a fine humanity, before which the brawls
of modern senates are but pot-house politics.

But there are higher secrets of culture, which are not for the
apprentices, but for proficients. These are lessons only for the brave.
We must know our friends under ugly masks. The calamities are our
friends. Ben Jonson specifies in his address to the Muse: -

"Get him the time's long grudge, the court's ill-will,
And, reconciled, keep him suspected still,
Make him lose all his friends, and, what is worse,
Almost all ways to any better course;
With me thou leav'st a better Muse than thee,
And which thou brought'st me, blessed Poverty."

We wish to learn philosophy by rote, and play at heroism. But the wiser
God says, Take the shame, the poverty, and the penal solitude that
belong to truth-speaking. Try the rough water, as well as the smooth.
Rough water can teach lessons worth knowing. When the state is unquiet,
personal qualities are more than ever decisive. Fear not a revolution
which will constrain you to live five years in one. Don't be so tender
at making an enemy now and then. Be willing to go to Coventry sometimes,
and let the populace bestow on you their coldest contempts. The finished
man of the world must eat of every apple once. He must hold his hatreds
also at arm's length, and not remember spite. He has neither friends nor
enemies, but values men only as channels of power.

He who aims high must dread an easy home and popular manners. Heaven
sometimes hedges a rare character about with ungainliness and odium, as
the burr that protects the fruit. If there is any great and good thing
in store for you, it will not come at the first or the second call, nor
in the shape of fashion, ease, and city drawing-rooms. Popularity is for
dolls. "Steep and craggy," said Porphyry, "is the path of the gods."
Open your Marcus Antoninus. In the opinion of the ancients, he was the
great man who scorned to shine, and who contested the frowns of Fortune.
They preferred the noble vessel too late for the tide, contending with
winds and waves, dismantled and unrigged, to her companion borne into
harbor with colors flying and guns firing. There is none of the social
goods that may not be purchased too dear, and mere amiableness must not
take rank with high aims and self-subsistency.

Bettine replies to Goethe's mother, who chides her disregard of
dress, - "If I cannot do as I have a mind, in our poor Frankfort, I shall
not carry things far." And the youth must rate at its true mark the
inconceivable levity of local opinion. The longer we live, the more we
must endure the elementary existence of men and women: and every brave
heart must treat society as a child, and never allow it to dictate.

"All that class of the severe and restrictive virtues," said Burke, "are


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 06, No. 35, September, 1860 → online text (page 15 of 21)