Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

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standing-collar or heavy-neckcloth period - and I never cared much for
money - could live with it or without it, desiring "this man's art or
that man's scope" rather than his cash. There is such a great majority
of poor folks, I expected to be one of them; still, I had a taste for
honesty, asked favors of nobody, considered the least debt a
degradation, and thought myself better than most rich people. I was of
the family and the religion of Plato, who peddled oil to pay his
expenses while travelling in Egypt.

We discover in others what they most wish to hide: therefore I early
discovered that Lydia's mother, who had a large girl-family, and who
knew that the supply of some one to love greatly exceeds the demand,
was anxious to secure me as a son-in-law. I was glad of it, for, let
poets and novelists say what they will, the young fellow who marries
with the approval of friends drifts happily on, while the rash boy who
weds against the good sense of his elders is dragged bleeding along a
rough way. So I married Lydia, and began life in gladness and content.
I liked her family and they liked me. It puzzles me to see how the
English mother-in-law, who is a grum-voiced, dogmatic and belligerent
person with a jointure to bequeath, came to be engrafted on our
literature. The inoffensive delicacy of an American elderly woman
forbids her the rôle of her British sister. Our mother-in-law troubles
are mostly confined to our low foreign population. Neither have we a
character similar to the silly, spiteful, dried-up old maid of English
literature and its American imitations, our spinsters being generally
stout and jolly personages and rather over-fond of children. My
mother-in-law was very nice, and we were the best of friends.

Rich relations, as a general thing, are abominable: the mere possession
of one sometimes makes a person disagreeable. Show the person with a
rich cousin the most secluded cot among mountains, and, "Oh, you should
see my cousin's house on Michigan Avenue!" is the reply; or a beautiful
room speaking the noble quality of its occupant, and, "Call that nice?
You should see my cousin's house on Michigan Avenue!" is remarked. But
Lydia's rich relations, the Stenes of Chicago, appeared to be
exceptions. They were very clannish people, fond of their own kin to
the last degree. They came from Michigan, and were of the old colony
stock, regular Yankee-Doodle folks, the older ones and many of the
younger ones still using New England idioms and quaint phrases that
came long ago from the East - yes, from the holts of old England's
Suffolk perhaps. You could not persuade one of them to call jelly
anything but "jell" or a repast anything but a "meal of victuals," and
they said "dooty" and "roomor" and "noos" and "clawg," and sometimes
would pop out "his'n" and "her'n." Several of the Stenes had been in
business thirty years in metropolitan Chicago, yet they spoke in the
twang of a Yankee hill-country. The women of the family were famous
housekeepers - too neat to keep a cat lest there might be a cat hair on
the carpet, and never liking visitors unless there was a dreadful note
of preparation, and then they received grandly. To show Lydia their
good-will, they gave her profuse wedding-presents and a splendid
trousseau. On my side I bought a neat cottage, paying cash down - all
the money I had. It was one of a square of cottages principally
occupied by young married people having plenty of children, and a
joyous crew they were. Our street had a broad roadway and flagged
sidewalks edged with neat turf in which fine trees were growing, and
was lined with beautiful homes of varied architecture, suggesting
charming interiors. A row of tall, "high-stoop" New York houses with
dark stone trimmings stood next to a row of English basements of
tuck-pointed brick, and next to them was a range of houses of light,
cheerful Joliet stone, with awnings at the windows and carriage-steps
as clean as gravestones. Then came an old cottage fixed up nobby, then
a comfortable old wooden mansion, then a splendid dwelling in the style
of the fifteenth century, and after that the palace of a railway
grandee. Here and there on a corner stood a Gothic church. All day
well-dressed people trod our pavements and beautiful carriages rolled
by our windows. Our cottage was my ideal of perfection: it had few
rooms, but those spacious. We had no sitting-room. Let me see: what
does that word suggest to my mind? A table heaped with stale
newspapers, a stand piled with sewing, a darned carpet, scratched
furniture and fly-specked wall-paper.

Lydia's presents filled our house. All were Eastlake and in good taste,
the colors sage-green, pumpkin-yellow and ginger-brown, dashed with
splashes of peacock feathers and Japanese fans. The vases were
straddle-legged and pot-bellied Asiatic shapes. Dragons in bronze and
ivory, sticky-looking faïence and glittering majolica, stood in the
corners. Silk embroideries representing the stork - a scrawny bird with
a scalp-lock at the back of its neck, looking like a mosquito when
flying - and porcelain landscapes out of drawing, like a child's first
attempts, peopled by individuals with the expression of having their
hair pulled, hung 'twixt our dados and friezes. Lydia's young-lady
friends gave her their works in oil or water-colors done in a fine,
free-hand style that may one day form a school of its own. Our Chicago
girls are people of _nous_. Their talk is "fluent as the flight of a
swallow:" their manners are delightful - American manners must be
excellent, so many Englishmen marry American girls. Their playing makes
us glad the seven poor strings of the old musicians have been
multiplied to seven times seven: no Chicago girl is a musician unless
she has the masters at her finger-tips. And they are readers too. You
would suppose, judging from the papers, that our Chicagoans are
inordinately fond of reading about the indiscretions of rustic wives,
and are given to a perusal of the news in startling headlines: but such
is not the fact. We are great readers of the distinguished magazines
and of first-rate books, and our taste for art is keen. When we go
abroad we don't care so much for mountains and rivers - they are like
potatoes and pork to a man who is visiting: we have them at home - but
we _are_ after art. Ruskin says no people can be great in art unless it
lives among beautiful natural objects; which is hard on us Chicago
folks. If we had any mountainous or rocky tracts we should not live in
them. If we possessed a Mount Vesuvius we should use it for getting up
bogus eruptions to draw tourists to our hotels, and we should tap the
foot of the mountain to draw off the lava for our streets.

Lydia's finery had a subduing effect upon me, who had bounded my
aspirations to what was distinctly within my grasp - namely, things

Plain, but not sordid - though not splendid, clean.

Lydia was an expert housekeeper. "I love a little house that I can
clean all over," said she. She would have liked a Roman villa made of
polished marble, that could be scrubbed from top to bottom, or a house
of the melted and dyed cobble-stones that some genius has promised to
give us. Her china-closet was a picture, with platters in rows and cups
hanging on little brass hooks under the shelves. Our whole house was
exquisite, and became quite renowned for its elegance and charm.
Lydia's exuberant vitality was attractive: her relations and friends
liked to come there. Some of our friends were of the high, haughty,
tone-y sort, which would have been well enough if we had not incurred
debts in our housekeeping.

What and how great the merit and the art
To live on little with a thankful heart!

Lydia's rich uncle, Nathan Stene, gave us a bookcase that caused my
heart to sink with an appalling premonition at its first appearance, it
was so huge and high. How we got it into our parlor without cutting off
the top and bottom words cannot explain. That bookcase was my first
step toward ruin. I had a good many books - not of scientific but of
delightful literature, the best works of the best authors - and my books
were as shabby as Charles Lamb's library. There never were such
dilapidated volumes as my De Quinceys. Lydia had _Young Mrs. Jardine_
and lots of other

Stickjaw pudding that tires the chin,
With the marmalade spread ever so thin;

and her books were new-looking. She said mine looked disgustingly dirty
in our new bookcase, so I had them rebound; and this was my next step
toward ruin. Lydia wanted a long peacock-feather duster to dust the top
of the bookcase. I bought that. Our only long tablecloth was a damask,
engarlanded and diapered and resplendent with a colored border
warranted to wash. I had to buy napkins to go with it. I bought a
butter-knife to match a solid silver butter-dish, and a set of
individual salt-spoons to match salt-cellars, and nut-picks and
crackers to match something else. Moreover, there was a magnificent
opera-glass that required to be matched with theatre-going - _not_ as I
was wont to go, in an old overcoat having its pockets stuffed with old
playbills. But why enumerate?

On the strength of her wedding-presents Lydia became a gladiatrix in
the arena of society. She already belonged to three clubs: she joined
four more - Private Theatrical, a History of Art, a Conversation and a
Suffrage Club. I myself belong to but one, the Cremation Club - am an
officer in that: I split kindlings. As the bordered tablecloth was
suitable for lunch-parties, Lydia entertained her friends at an hour
when I was about town looking up paragraphs, but I have no doubt she
carried it off bravely, and their discussions were as important as
those of a poultry convention on the question of feathers or no
feathers on chickens' legs.

At this time I found that great feasts make small comforts scarce.
Often, on coming home and finding Lydia out, I had Ionic hours alone,
when I refreshed myself with the great shouting, cheering and laughter
of the Greek armies and people that gladden our dull hearts even now,
and for want of anything better I regaled myself on the feasts offered
by Machaon (first Scotchman) in the _Iliad_, and by Nestor, on the
table with azure feet and in the goblet with four handles and four
feet, with gold turtles drinking at the brim from the handles. Or I
supped with Achilles while Patroclus turned the meat on the bed of
wide, glowing embers and the tent brightened in the blaze. Once, when I
was seeking something for that newspaper bore, Woman's Sphere, I
lunched with the Suffragists. Each character of the Suffrage Club was
as clear as a figure cut on a sapphire. The president, a matron of
sixty wearing waving gray hair and dressed in black, with plenty of
white lace under her chin, had the air of a woman used to command a
large family and accustomed to plenty of money and to good society. Her
voice was the agreeable barytone of her years, its thin tones entirely
gone, and her good English was like gentle music: nevertheless, an
occasional strong tone or gesture revealed her determined will. The
Suffragists were handsomely dressed, were self-possessed and
appreciative of each other's company, and were of all ages, one being a
plain young girl quietly looking on and enjoying the world more than a
self-wrapped belle is capable of doing.

But to my tale, which is to me more absorbing than _Rob Roy, Robinson
Crusoe_ and _Boots at the Swan_ combined. Of all our visitors I
preferred Uncle Nathan Stene. Not that I liked him personally. He was
the typical rich man: I should know he was rich wherever I met him.
There are thousands like him: they despise me utterly. Uncle Nathan had
a scorn for poor people. He disdained whole States that gave him a bad
market, and regarded young fellows who smoke and go to the theatre as
beggars' dogs. He was of middle height, with reddish complexion, sandy
hair and eyebrows, quick, sharp gray eyes, and features of a short,
clean, close aquiline cut, with thin, dry lips - a man of iron, pig
iron. When young he might have been facetious, but he had concentrated
his energies entirely on money, till there was nothing left to go in
other directions, and his humor was now as sombre as the grin of a
hanged man. He had self-conceit, which is a talent when combined with
some other qualities. Doctor Johnson's observation, that to make money
requires talents, is true: a dull man cannot do it. Uncle Nate had to
remember thirty thousand articles in his business of wholesale
druggist. He was a perfect devil-fish for sucking the goodness from
every business he was concerned in - banking, railroading, and so on. He
belonged to the Chicago Board of Trade, and was particularly useful in
getting those fellows in Indianapolis on a string, sending the wheat
up, up, until the Hoosiers had made a few hundred thousands, and then,
when they thought they were going to make millions, letting it down and
scooping them. My habit of listening intently to Uncle Nate's
telegrammatic style of talk caused him to like me. I resembled King
Lear: I talked with those who were wise, and said little, and Nathan's
aphorisms about trade and politics made good paragraphs when boiled
down to the crisp cracklins.

While I worked and Lydia entertained we were waltzing like the wind
down to ruin. No use to cry, "Ho! great gods! Hilloa! you're wanted
here!" On we went.

Worrying over pecuniary affairs gradually sapped my mind. To lose one's
eyes or all one's relations, or to be bitten by a mad dog, will not
unhinge the brain so completely as pecuniary anxiety. My paragraphs,
spite of Nate's verbum saps., lost their originality. I resigned my
post on the _Times_. I became the collector on commission of certain
rents of Uncle Nathan's. Whoso collects rents in Chicago tenements
should know how to box or else to run: I could do neither. I got little
or nothing out of the devils and devillets, my respected uncle's
tenants. He had a genius for the despatch of business: I had none;
therefore he concluded I was an ass, and wondered how he came to be
pleased with me. Oh, 'tis a good thing to know what you can do, and to
do that, and know what you cannot do, and leave that alone. Dull as
weeds of Lethe was my task. 'Twas terrible! I thought it would never
end. No greater misery could be imagined than what I endured in
Nathan's service.

One morning of those days I picked up a note in Lydia's writing hastily
scrawled as follows: "I have discovered your retreat: I must see you.
At seven o'clock wave the lamp three times across the window if all is

In my undecided way I pinned the note to the blue silk pincushion on
Lydia's dressing-case. I had a sudden jealous suspicion of an
acquaintance of ours, a furiously-striking English
traveller - "Bone-Boiler to the Queen" or something - who had a long,
silky, sweeping moustache blowing about in the wind, and parted his
hair "sissy." But I went to work all the same.

That day Uncle Nate was a worse screw than ever. "How is it you never
hit a clam?" asked he.

"Your tenants have nothing, so I get nothing," I replied.

"Nonsense! They must have something. Drunken loafers are driving about
in livery-rigs everywhere - sure sign of prosperity."

"Your people are not out," I said.

"They sit around the house reading yesterday's newspapers."

"They can't get work," said I.

"Everybody that wants to work is in the ditch now-a-days: _that_ I
_know_" said the old man.

"Some are sick."

"They are well enough to walk three miles to a brewery after a free

"Some are too young to work."

"Hah! what's the use of having a parcel of young ones to be poor
relations to the rest of the world?" asked he.

"Some are positively starving," said I.

"What of that? You have to let them starve. Five hundred thousand
starved in India last year, a country overrun with sacred snakes and
animals of all sorts that they might have eaten. Three millions starved
in China, and they tore up their English railway, the only thing that
could save them. What are you going to do about it? Starving! Bet they
are wallowing in the theatre every night," said Nathan.

"The theatre with Lawrence Barrett! I wish they might see anything so
elevating. Perhaps _Othello_ might make some impression on them, such a
stupendous temperance lecture it is!" I groaned.

"If _you_ would leave the theatre alone you wouldn't be quite so short
as you are now," asserted Uncle Nate, almost popping open with

"'Short,' man! 'Short' in your throat!" shouted I, forgetting myself.

"Yes, short; and it's my opinion you've shorted me in this business."

I could not kick our uncle out of his premises, so I got out myself,
not to return; and I left in debt to him as well as to the rest of the
world. I went homeward. Though it was August, a cold wind blew from the
lake, whipping the large, flapping leaves of the castor-bean plants in
the front yards to rags. I quaffed the lake in the wet wind. "No
wonder," I thought, "we're three parts water: our world is." A young
fellow on the street-car platform smoked a cigar that smelled like
pigweed, cabbage-stalks and other garden rubbish burning, and made me
sick. He enjoyed it, though: in fact, all, including the street-car
driver himself, were on that day more than usually engaged in the
intense enjoyment of being Chicagoans. All but me, miserable. The very
windows and pavements of our streets, being clean and cold, sent a
chill to my bones.

When I reached home Lydia was pinning on her habergeon, her neck-armor
of ribbons and lace, before the mirror. "What is this?" I asked,
pointing to the suspicious note, still pinned to the cushion.

"That's the note that has to be found in my room in the play of _Lost
in London_," she answered, turning the great lamps of her eyes on mine.

As I had nothing to say to this, I went and lay down on the sofa before
the parlor-fire. Though a grate in January is a poor affair - I never
knew any human being who really depended on one in winter to speak in
praise of it - on a cool August day it is delicious. I fell into a warm
doze before the fire, then into a series of agreeable naps. When Lydia
said supper was ready I did not want any, and at bedtime I was too
stiff to move easily.

After this, during several weeks, my bedchamber became to me a place
full of sweet dreams and rest and quiet breathing. Luxurious
indifference, a pleasure in hearing the crickets in the grass of the
midsummer gardens, and voices talking afar - a satisfaction in seeing
the polished walnut, marble and china and plenteous linen towels of my
washstand, my altar to Hebe, and in seeing through a window,

While day sank or mounted higher,
The light, aërial gallery, golden railed,
Burn like a fringe of fire

on some remote palace of the city. These and other sensations of
malarial fever occupied me for a while. In half dreams I then enjoyed
the minutest details of life in an old farm-house that had been my
home, or walked through a picture-gallery I had once frequented, seeing
each picture strangely perfect and splendidly limned. Light diet and
keeping quiet - which every Westerner knows to be the cure of this
fever - cured me. I came forth looking like a _swairth_, one of those
words marked "obs." in the dictionary - means phantom of a person about
to die. It ought to be revived; so here goes - _swairth_.

Leaden before, my eyes were dross of lead.

I was pale and lank, but things had settled themselves in my mind: I
had gone back to my old ideas of honor and freedom; my mind was made

"Well, Lydia," said I, "you wanted to manage: you were bound to wear
the breeches. As you make your pants, so you must sit in them."

"You awful man!" said she.

"Now I will manage," said I.

"Indeed! Nothing would please me better," said she.

"I will sell our house and all that's in it, and get out of debt," said

"You mean to be one of the lower classes and wear old rags," she

"We have no class-distinctions but the Saving Class and the Wasting
Class. I shall be of the first class. As to clothes, they are
despicable," I replied.

"People who despise clothes can't get any."

"Well, I've done all I'm going to do toward developing the West, which
consists in getting into debt, as far as I can see."

When an able woman submits she submits completely. Lydia put our house
in order. I filled the streets with dodgers advertising our sale. I
have not been a paragraphist for nothing: the sale was a success. I
paid a part of my debts, and gave notes for the rest that will keep my
future poor. I started in again on the _Times'_ city force. To board I
hate: it's a chicken's life - roosting on a perch, coming down to eat
and then going back to roost. So I got a little domicile in "The
Patch." When the teakettle has begun to spend the evening the new cheap
wallpaper, the whitewash and the soapsuds with which the floor has been
scrubbed emit peculiar odors.

"It smells poor-folksy here," says Lydia.

"All the better!" say I.


Although our American climate, with its fierce and pitiless extremes of
temperature, will never give the lush meadows and lawns of moist
England, yet in the splendid and fiery lustres of its autumn forests,
in its gorgeous sunsets and sunrises and in the wild beauty of its
hills and mountains there is that which makes an English Midland
landscape seem tame in comparison. The rapid changes of temperature in
summer and the sudden rising of vast masses of heated air produce
cloud-structures of the most imposing description, especially huge,
irregular cumulus clouds that float in equilibrium above us like
colossal icebergs, airy mountain-ranges or tottering battlemented
towers and "looming bastions fringed with fire."

Yon clouds are big with flame, and not with rain,
Massed on the marvellous heaven in splendid pyres,
Whereon ethereal genii, half in pain
And half in triumph, light their mystic fires.

The brilliant deep-blue Italian skies of the Middle and Southern States
are full of poetry, and will repay the most careful and prolonged
study. I have seen, far up in the zenith, silvery fringes of cirrus
clouds forming and melting away at the same moment and in the same
place, ethereal and evanescent as a dream, easel-studies of Nature.
Sometimes the clouds take the form of most airily-delicate brown crape,
"hatchelled" on the sky in minute lines and limnings. Now the sky looks
like a sweet silver-azure ceiling, the blue peeping here and there
through tender masses of silver frosting. The skies of the New England
coast States are filled, during a large part of spring, summer and
autumn, with a white and dreamy haze, and do not produce
cloud-phenomena on such an imposing scale as the more brilliant skies
of the interior. I shall never forget a vast and glowing sunset-scene I
once witnessed in the Ohio Valley. It lasted but a few moments, but
what a spectacle! The setting sun was throwing his golden light over
the intensely green earth, and suffusing the irregular masses of clouds
now with a tender rosy light and now with delicate saffron. All along
the eastern horizon extended a black-blue cloud-curtain of about twenty
degrees in height, across which played the zigzag gold of the
lightning. Overhead hung the gigantic ring of a complete rainbow (a
rare phenomenon), looking like the iridescent rim of some vast sun that
had shot from its orbit and was rapidly nearing our earth. In the north
the while slept the sweet blue sky in peace. What a phantasmagoria of
splendor, "the magic-lantern of Nature"! What a rich contrast of
color! - the black and the gold, the green, saffron, rose and azure, and
the whole crowned with a rainbow garland of glowing flowers. I felt
assured that no sunset of Italy or Greece could fling upon the sky more
costly pictures than these.

The delicacy and accuracy of touch exhibited in _The Scarlet Letter_
and in _Oldport Days_ can hardly be appreciated to the full by those
who are unacquainted with certain mellow and crumbling towns and
hamlets of the New England coast, especially of the warm south coast.
Soft mists rise in summer like "rich distilled perfumes" from the warm
Gulf Stream off Long Island Sound and drift landward in invisible airy
volumes. Suddenly, as at a given signal, the sky becomes troubled,
grows dun: trembling dew-specks glister upon the leaves, and in a few
moments the gray fog starts out of the air on every side and clings to
tree, crag and house like shroud to corpse. It is this warm moisture

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