The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 07, No. 39, January, 1861 online

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that, in a later note from Lord John Russell to Sir James Hudson,
extreme ground in favor of what had been done in Naples by the
Sardinians is taken, and sustained with eminent ability; and in the
speech of Lord Palmerston referred to, the object of the first note was
said to be the prevention of a rash course that "might have blighted all
the best hopes of Italian freedom." We do not for a moment suppose that
the English people would ever allow their government to do anything
to help Austria to maintain possession of Venetia; but the relations
between Austria and England are of old date, and an opinion prevails in
the latter country that the former should be kept strong, in order that
she may be preserved as a counterpoise, on the one side to Russia, and
on the other to France. England has a difficult part to play, and her
course, or rather that of her government, sometimes makes considerable
demand on the charitable construction of the world; but her people are
sound, and for a long series of years their weight has been felt on the
right side of European contests. The Italian cause is popular with all
classes of Englishmen, and their country will never do anything to the
prejudice of that cause. But it may refuse aid at a time when such aid
shall be much needed, and when even France may stand aloof, and refrain
from finishing the business which she commenced.

There is said to be an opinion growing up in France that Italy may be
made too strong for the good of her friend and ally. A new nation of
twenty-seven million souls - which would be Italy's strength, should Rome
and Venetia be gained for her - might become a potent enemy even to one
of its chief creators; and the taking of Savoy and Nice has caused
ill-feeling between the two countries, in which Garibaldi heartily
shares. Napoleon III. might be depended upon, himself, to support Italy
hereafter against any foreign enemy, but it is by no means clear that
France would support him in such a course; and he must defer to the
opinion of his subjects to a considerable extent, despotic though his
power is supposed to be. It is opinion, in the last resort, that governs
every where, - under an absolute monarchy quite as determinedly as under
a liberal polity like ours or England's. There is a large party in
France, composed of the most incongruous materials, which has the
profoundest interest in misrepresenting the policy of the Imperial
government, and which is full of men of culture and intellect, - men
whose labors, half-performed though they are, must have considerable
effect on the French mind. The first Napoleon had the ground honeycombed
under him by his enemies, who could not be suppressed, nor their labors
be made to cease, even by his stern system of repression. It may be so
with the present Emperor, who knows that one false step might upset his
dynasty as utterly as it was twice over-thrown by the armies of combined
Europe. What was then done by the lions and the eagles might now be done
by the moles. The worms that gnawed through the Dutch dykes did Holland
more damage than she experienced from the armies of Louis XIV. Let the
French mind become possessed with the idea that the Emperor is helping
Italy at the expense of France, and we may see a third Restoration in
that country, or even a third Republic. The elder Bourbons were driven
out because they were as a monument in Paris to Leipzig and Vittoria
and Waterloo, erected by the victors on those fatal fields. The Orléans
dynasty broke down because it had become an article in the belief of
most Frenchmen that it was disgracing France by the corruption of its
domestic policy and the subserviency of its foreign policy. Napoleon
III. could no more sustain himself against the belief that he was using
France for the benefit of Italy than the King of the French could
sustain himself against the conviction that he was abusing the country
he ruled over for the advancement of his family. He has already offended
the Catholic clergy by what he has done for Italy, which they regard as
having been done against their Church; and as they helped to make him,
so they may be able to unmake him. To satisfy grumblers, he took Savoy
and Nice. For some time past, rumor has been busy in attributing to him
the design of demanding the island of Sardinia. If he should ask for
Sardinia, and receive it, might he not ask also for Sicily, the country
of which he offered to become King in 1848, and did not receive one
vote, an incident that may still weigh upon the imperial heart, no man
ever forgetting a contemptuous slight? If he should make these demands,
or either of them, would the other European Powers permit the Italians
to comply with them? These are questions not to be answered hurriedly,
but they closely concern the Italian question, a solution of which must
soon be had, for the world's peace.

The third act of the drama approaches, and 1861 may be a more important
year to Italy than was either 1859 or 1860. The successful antagonist
of Austria she can be; but could she, without foreign aid, withstand an
alliance that should be formed against her in the name of order, while
her former ally should remain quiet and refuse to take any part in the
war? Austria, it has been intimated, might be induced to sell Venetia to
Italy, and this is possible, though such a settlement of the question in
dispute would be an extraordinary confession of weakness on the part of
the aristocratical military monarchy of the Lorraines, and a proceeding
of which it would be more ashamed than it would be even of a generous

* * * * *


Having just returned from a visit to this admirable Institution in
company with a friend who is one of the Directors, we propose giving a
short account of what we saw and heard. The great success of the Asylum
for Idiots and Feeble-minded Youth, several of the scholars from which
have reached considerable distinction, one of them being connected with
a leading Daily Paper in this city, and others having served in the
State and National Legislatures, was the motive which led to the
foundation of this excellent Charity. Our late distinguished townsman,
Noah Dow, Esquire, as is welt known, bequeathed a large portion of his
fortune to this establishment, - "being thereto moved," as his will
expressed it, "by the desire of _N. Dowing_ some publick Institution
for the benefit of Mankind." Being consulted as to the Rules of the
Institution and the selection of a Superintendent, he replied, that "all
Boards must construct their own Platforms of operation. Let them select
_anyhow_ and he should be pleased." N.E. Howe, Esq., was chosen in
compliance with this delicate suggestion.

The Charter provides for the support of "One hundred aged and decayed
Gentlemen-Punsters." On inquiry if there was no provision for _females_,
my friend called my attention to this remarkable psychological fact,
namely: -


This remark struck me forcibly, and on reflection I found that _I never
knew nor heard of one_, though I have once or twice heard a woman make
_a single detached_ pun, as I have known a hen to crow.

On arriving at the south gate of the Asylum grounds, I was about to
ring, but my friend held my arm and begged me to rap with my stick,
which I did. An old man with a very comical face presently opened the
gate and put out his head.

"So you prefer _Cane_ to _A bell_, do you?" he said, - and began
chuckling and coughing at a great rate.

My friend winked at me.

"You're here still, Old Joe, I see," he said to the old man.

"Yes, yes, - and it's very odd, considering how often I've _bolted_,

He then threw open the double gates for us to ride through.

"Now," said the old man, as he pulled the gates after us, "you've had a
long journey."

"Why, how is that, Old Joe?" said my friend.

"Don't you see?" he answered; "there's the _East hinges_ on one side of
the gate, and there's the West hinges_ on t'other side, - haw! haw! haw!"

We had no sooner got into the yard than a feeble little gentleman, with
a remarkably bright eye, came up to us, looking very seriously, as if
something had happened.

"The town has entered a complaint against the Asylum as a gambling
establishment," he said to my friend, the Director.

"What do you mean?" said my friend.

"Why, they complain that there's a _lot o' rye_ on the premises," he
answered, pointing to a field of that grain, - and hobbled away, his
shoulders shaking with laughter, as he went.

On entering the main building, we saw the Rules and Regulations for
the Asylum conspicuously posted up. I made a few extracts which may be


5. Each Inmate shall be permitted to make Puns freely from eight in the
morning until ten at night, except during Service in the Chapel and
Grace before Meals.

6. At ten o'clock the gas will be turned off, and no further Puns,
Conundrums, or other play on words, will be allowed to be uttered, or to
be uttered aloud.

9. Inmates who have lost their faculties and cannot any longer make Puns
shall be permitted to repeat such as may be selected for them by the
Chaplain out of the work of Mr. _Joseph Miller_.

10. Violent and unmanageable Punsters, who interrupt others when engaged
in conversation, with Puns or attempts at the same, shall be deprived
of their _Joseph Millers_, and, if necessary, placed in solitary


4. No Inmate shall make any Pun, or attempt at the same, until the
Blessing has been asked and the company are decently seated.

7. Certain Puns having been placed on the _Index Expurgatorius_ of the
Institution, no Inmate shall be allowed to utter them, on pain of being
debarred the perusal of _Punch_ and _Vanity Fair_, and, if repeated,
deprived of his _Joseph Miller_.

Among these are the following: -

Allusions to _Attic salt_, when asked to pass the salt-cellar.

Remarks on the Inmates being _mustered_, etc., etc.

Associating baked beans with the _bene_factors of the Institution.

Saying that beef-eating is _befitting_, etc., etc.

The following are also prohibited, excepting to such Inmates as may have
lost their faculties and cannot any longer make Puns of their own: -

" - - your own _hair_ or a wig"; "it will be _long enough_, "etc., etc.;
"little of its age," etc., etc.; - also, playing upon the following
words: _hos_pital; _mayor_; _pun_; _pitied_; _bread_; _sauce_, etc.,
etc., etc. See INDEX EXPURGATORIUS, _printed for use of Inmates_.

The subjoined Conundrum is not allowed: - Why is Hasty Pudding like the
Prince? Because it comes attended by its _sweet_; - nor this variation to
it, _to wit_: Because the _'lasses runs after it_.

The Superintendent, who went round with us, had been a noted punster in
his time, and well known in the business-world, but lost his customers
by making too free with their names, - as in the famous story he set
afloat in '29 of _four Jerries_ attaching to the names of a noted Judge,
an eminent Lawyer, the Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions, and
the well-known Landlord at Springfield. One of the _four Jerries_, he
added, was of gigantic magnitude. The play on words was brought out
by an accidental remark of Solomons, the well-known Banker. "_Capital
punishment!_" the Jew was overheard saying, with reference to the guilty
parties. He was understood as saying, _A capital pun is meant_, which
led to an investigation and the relief of the greatly excited public

The Superintendent showed some of his old tendencies, as he went round
with us.

"Do you know" - he broke out all at once - "why they don't take steppes in
Tartary for establishing Insane Hospitals?"

We both confessed ignorance.

"Because there are _nomad_ people to be found there," he said, with a
dignified smile.

He proceeded to introduce us to different Inmates. The first was a
middle-aged, scholarly man, who was seated at a table with a Webster's
Dictionary and a sheet of paper before him.

"Well, what luck to-day, Mr. Mowzer?" said the Superintendent.

"Three or four only," said Mr. Mowzer. "Will you hear 'em now, - now I'm

We all nodded.

"Don't you see Webster _ers_ in the words cent_er_ and theat_er_?

"If he spells leather _lether_, and feather _fether_, isn't there danger
that he'll give us a _bad spell of weather_?

"Besides, Webster is a resurrectionist; he does not allow _u_ to rest
quietly in the _mould_.

"And again, because Mr. Worcester inserts an illustration in his text,
is that any reason why Mr. Webster's publishers should hitch one on in
their appendix? It's what I call a _Conntect-a-cut_ trick.

"Why is his way of spelling like the floor of an oven? Because it is
_under bread_.

"Mowzer!" said the Superintendent, - "that word is on the Index!"

"I forgot," said Mr. Mowzer; - "please don't deprive me of _Vanity Fair_,
this one time, Sir.

"These are all, this morning. Good day, Gentlemen. Then to the
Superintendent, - Add you, Sir!"

The next Inmate was a semi-idiotic-looking old man. He had a heap of
block-letters before him, and, as we came up, he pointed, without saying
a word, to the arrangements he had made with them on the table. They
were evidently anagrams, and had the merit of transposing the letters of
the words employed without addition or subtraction. Here are a few of
them: -





The mention of several new York papers led to two or three questions.
Thus: Whether the Editor of the Tribune was _H.G. really?_ If the
complexion of his politics were not accounted for by his being an
_eager_ person himself? Whether Wendell _Fillips_ were not a reduced
copy of John _Knocks?_ Whether a New York _Feuilletoniste_ is not the
same thing as a _Fellow down East?_

At this time a plausible-looking, bald-headed man joined us, evidently
waiting to take a part in the conversation.

"Good morning, Mr. Riggles," said the Superintendent. "Anything fresh
this morning? Any Conundrum?"

"I haven't looked at the cattle," he answered, dryly.

"Cattle? Why cattle?"

"Why, to see if there's any _corn under 'em!_" he said; and immediately
asked, "Why is Douglas like the earth?"

We tried, but couldn't guess.

"Because he was _flattened out at the polls!_" said Mr. Riggles.

"A famous politician, formerly," said the Superintendent. "His
grandfather was a _seize-Hessian-ist_ in the Revolutionary War. By the
way, I hear the _freeze-oil_ doctrines don't go down at New Bedford."

The next Inmate looked as if be might have been a sailor formerly.

"Ask him what his calling was," said the Superintendent.

"Followed the sea," he replied to the question put by one of us. "Went
as mate in a fishing-schooner."

"Why did you give it up?"

"Because I didn't like working for _two mast-ers_," he replied.

Presently we came upon a group of elderly persons, gathered about a
venerable gentleman with flowing locks, who was propounding questions to
a row of Inmates.

"Can any Inmate give me a motto for M. Berger?" he said.

Nobody responded for two or three minutes. At last one old man, whom I
at once recognized as a Graduate of our University, (Anno 1800,) held up
his hand.

"Rem a _cue_ tetigit."

"Go to the head of the Class, Josselyn," said the venerable Patriarch.

The successful Inmate did as he was told, but in a very rough way,
pushing against two or three of the Class.

"How is this?" said the Patriarch.

"You told me to go up _jostlin',_" he replied.

The old gentlemen who had been shoved about enjoyed the Pun too much to
be angry.

Presently the Patriarch asked again, -

"Why was M. Berger authorized to go to the dances given to the Prince?"

The Class had to give up this, and he answered it himself: -

"Because every one of his carroms was a _tick-it_ to the _ball_."

"Who collects the money to defray the expenses of the last campaign in
Italy?" asked the Patriarch.

Here again the Class failed.

"The war-cloud's rolling _Dun_," he answered.

"And what is mulled wine made with?"

Three or four voices exclaimed at once, - -

"_Sizzle-y_ Madeira!"

Here a servant entered, and said, "Luncheon-time." The old gentlemen,
who have excellent appetites, dispersed at once, one of them politely
asking us if we would not stop and have a bit of bread and a little mite
of cheese.

"There is one thing I have forgotten to show you," said the
Superintendent, - "the cell for the confinement of violent and
unmanageable Punsters."

We were very curious to see it, particularly with reference to the
alleged absence of every object upon which a play of words could
possibly be made.

The Superintendent led us up some dark stairs to a corridor, then
along a narrow passage, then down a broad flight of steps into another
passage-way, and opened a large door which looked out on the main

"We have not seen the cell for the confinement of 'violent and
unmanageable' Punsters," we both exclaimed.

"This is the _sell!_" he exclaimed, pointing to the outside prospect.

My friend, the Director, looked me in the face so good-naturedly that I
had to laugh.

"We like to humor the Inmates," he said. "It has a bad effect, we
find, on their health and spirits to disappoint them of their little
pleasantries. Some of the jests to which we have listened are not new to
me, though I dare say you may not have heard them often before. The same
thing happens in general society, - with this additional disadvantage,
that there is no punishment provided for 'violent and unmanageable'
Punsters, as in our Institution."

We made our bow to the Superintendent and walked to the place where our
carriage was waiting for us. On our way, an exceedingly decrepit old man
moved slowly towards us, with a perfectly blank look on his face, but
still appearing as if he wished to speak.

"Look!" said the Director, - "that is our Centenarian."

The ancient man crawled towards us, cocked one eye, with which he seemed
to sec a little, up at us, and said, -

"Sarvant, young Gentlemen. Why is a - a - a - like a - a - a - ? Give it up?
Because it's a - a - a - a - ."

He smiled a pleasant smile, as if it were all plain enough.

"One hundred and seven last Christmas," said the Director. "He lost his
answers about the age of ninety-eight. Of late years he puts his whole
Conundrums in blank, - but they please him just as well."

We took our departure, much gratified and instructed by our visit,
hoping to have some future opportunity of inspecting the Records of this
excellent Charity and making extracts for the benefit of our Readers.

* * * * *


Dean Swift, in a letter to Lord Bolingbroke, says that he does not
"remember to have ever heard or seen one great genius who had long
success in the ministry; and recollecting a great many in my memory and
acquaintance, those who had the smoothest time were, at best, men of
middling degree in understanding." However true this may be in the
main, - and it undoubtedly is true that in ordinary times the speculative
and innovating temper of an original mind is less safe than the patience
of routine and persistence in precedent of a common-place one, - there
are critical occasions to which intellect of the highest quality,
character of the finest fibre, and a judgment that is inspired rather
than confused by new and dangerous combinations of circumstances, are
alone equal. Tactics and an acquaintance with the highest military
authorities were adequate enough till they were confronted with General
Bonaparte and the new order of things. If a great man struggling with
the storms of fate be the sublimest spectacle, a mediocre man in the
same position is surely the most pitiful. Deserted by his presence
of mind, which, indeed, had never been anything but an absence of
danger, - baffled by the inapplicability of his habitual principles of
conduct, (if that may be called a principle, which, like the act of
walking, is merely an unconscious application of the laws of gravity,)
- helpless, irresolute, incapable of conceiving the flower Safety in
the nettle Danger, much more of plucking it thence, - surely here, if
anywhere, is an object of compassion. When such a one is a despot who
has wrought his own destruction by obstinacy in a traditional evil
policy, like Francis II. of Naples, our commiseration is outweighed by
satisfaction that the ruin of the man is the safety of the state. But
when the victim is a so-called statesman, who has malversated the
highest trusts for selfish ends, who has abused constitutional forms
to the destruction of the spirit that gave them life and validity, who
could see nothing nobler in the tenure of high office than the means it
seemed to offer of prolonging it, who knows no art to conjure the spirit
of anarchy he has evoked but the shifts and evasions of a second-rate
attorney, and who has contrived to involve his country in the confusion
of principle and vacillation of judgment which have left him without
a party and without a friend, - for such a man we have no feeling but
contemptuous reprobation. Pan-urge in danger of shipwreck is but a
faint type of Mr. Buchanan in face of the present crisis; and that poor
fellow's craven abjuration of his "_former_ friend," Friar John, is
magnanimity itself, compared with his almost-ex-Excellency's treatment
of the Free States in his last Message to Congress. There are times
when mediocrity is a dangerous quality, and a man may drown himself as
effectually in milk-and-water as in Malmsey.

The question, whether we are a Government or an Indian Council, we do
not propose to discuss here; whether there be a right of secession
tempered by a right of coercion, like a despotism by assassination, and
whether it be expedient to put the latter in practice, we shall
not consider: for it is not always the part of wisdom to attempt a
settlement of what the progress of events will soon settle for us. Mr.
Buchanan seems to have no opinion, or, if he has one, it is a halting
between two, a bat-like cross of sparrow and mouse that gives timidity
its choice between flight and skulking. Nothing shocks our sense of the
fitness of things more than a fine occasion to which the man is wanting.
Fate gets her hook ready, but the eye is not there to clinch with it,
and so all goes at loose ends. Mr. Buchanan had one more chance offered
him of showing himself a common-place man, and he has done it full
justice. Even if they could have done nothing for the country, a few
manly sentences might have made a pleasing exception in his political
history, and rescued for him the fag-end of a reputation.

Mr. Buchanan, by his training in a system of politics without a parallel
for intrigue, personality, and partisanship, would have unfitted himself
for taking a statesmanlike view of anything, even if he had ever been
capable of it. His nature has been subdued to what it worked in. We
could not have expected from him a Message around which the spirit, the
intelligence, and the character of the country would have rallied. But
he might have saved himself from the evil fame of being the first of our
Presidents who could never forget himself into a feeling of the
dignity of the place he occupied. He has always seemed to consider the
Presidency as a retaining-fee paid him by the slavery-propagandists,
and his Message to the present Congress looks like the last juiceless
squeeze of the orange which the South is tossing contemptuously away.

Mr. Buchanan admits as real the assumed wrongs of the South Carolina
revolutionists, and even, if we understand him, allows that they are
great enough to justify revolution. But he advises the secessionists to
pause and try what can be done by negotiation. He sees in the internal
history of the country only a series of injuries inflicted by the
Free upon the Slave States; yet he affirms, that, so far as Federal
legislation is concerned, the rights of the South have never been
assailed, except in the single instance of the Missouri Compromise,
which gave to Slavery the unqualified possession of territory which the
Free States might till then have disputed. Yet that bargain, a losing
one as it was on the part of the Free States, having been annulled, can
hardly be reckoned a present grievance. South Carolina had quite as long

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 07, No. 39, January, 1861 → online text (page 18 of 20)