The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
[ILLUSTRATION: Chapter 10 half-title]
[THE schoolmistress came down with a rose in her hair,--a fresh June rose. She has been walking early; she has brought back two others,--one on each cheek.
I told her so, in some such pretty phrase as I could muster for the occasion. Those two blush-roses I just spoke of turned into a couple of damasks. I suppose all this went through my mind, for this was what I went on to say:--]
I love the damask rose best of all. The flowers our mothers and sisters used to love and cherish, those which grow beneath our eaves and by our doorstep, are the ones we always love best. If the Houyhnhnms should ever catch me, and, finding me particularly vicious and unmanageable, send a man-tamer to Rareyfy me, I'll tell you what drugs he would have to take and how he would have to use them. Imagine yourself reading a number of the Honyhnhnm Gazette, giving an account of such an experiment.
"THE soft-hoofed semi-quadruped recently captured was subjected to the art of our distinguished man-tamer in presence of a numerous assembly. The animal was led in by two stout ponies, closely confined by straps to prevent his sudden and dangerous tricks of shoulder-hitting and foot-striking. His countenance expressed the utmost degree of ferocity and cunning.
"The operator took a handful of budding lilac-leaves, and crushing them slightly between his hoofs, so as to bring out their peculiar fragrance, fastened them to the end of a long pole and held them towards the creature. Its expression changed in an instant,--it drew in their fragrance eagerly, and attempted to seize them with its soft split hoofs. Having thus quieted his suspicious subject, the operator proceeded to tie a blue hyacinth to the end of the pole and held it out towards the wild animal. The effect was magical. Its eyes filled as if with raindrops, and its lips trembled as it pressed them to the flower. After this it was perfectly quiet, and brought a measure of corn to the man-tamer, without showing the least disposition to strike with the feet or hit from the shoulder."
That will do for the Houyhnhnm Gazette.--Do you ever wonder why poets talk so much about flowers? Did you ever hear of a poet who did not talk about them? Don't you think a poem, which, for the sake of being original, should leave them out, would be like those verses where the letter a or c or some other is omitted? No,--they will bloom over and over again in poems as in the summer fields, to the end of time, always old and always new. Why should we be more shy of repeating ourselves than the spring be tired of blossoms or the night of stars? Look at Nature. She never wearies of saying over her floral pater-noster. In the crevices of Cyclopean walls,--in the dust where men lie, dust also,--on the mounds that bury huge cities, the wreck of Nineveh and the Babel-heap,--still that same sweet prayer and benediction. The Amen! of Nature is always a flower.
Are you tired of my trivial personalities,--those splashes and streaks of sentiment, sometimes perhaps of sentimentality, which you may see when I show you my heart's corolla as if it were a tulip? Pray, do not give yourself the trouble to fancy me an idiot whose conceit it is to treat himself as an exceptional being. It is because you are just like me that I talk and know that you will listen. We are all splashed and streaked with sentiments,--not with precisely the same tints, or in exactly the same patterns, but by the same hand and from the same palette.
I don't believe any of you happen to have just the same passion for the blue hyacinth which I have,--very certainly not for the crushed lilac-leaf-buds; many of you do not know how sweet they are. You love the smell of the sweet-fern and the bayberry-leaves, I don't doubt; but I hardly think that the last bewitches you with young memories as it does me. For the same reason I come back to damask roses, after having raised a good many of the rarer varieties. I like to go to operas and concerts, but there are queer little old homely sounds that are better than music to me. However, I suppose it's foolish to tell such things.
----It is pleasant to be foolish at the right time,--said the divinity-student;--saying it, however, in one of the dead languages, which I think are unpopular for summer-reading, and therefore do not bear quotation as such.
Well, now,--said I,--suppose a good, clean, wholesome-looking countryman's cart stops opposite my door.--Do I want any huckleberries?--If I do not, there are those that do. Thereupon my soft-voiced handmaid bears out a large tin pan, and then the wholesome countryman, heaping the peck-measure, spreads his broad hands around its lower arc to confine the wild and frisky berries, and so they run nimbly along the narrowing channel until they tumble rustling down in a black cascade and tinkle on the resounding metal beneath.--I won't say that this rushing huckleberry hail-storm has not more music for me than the "Anvil Chorus."
----I wonder how my great trees are coming on this summer.
----Where are your great trees, Sir?--said the divinity-student.
Oh, all round about New England. I call all trees mine that I have put my wedding-ring on, and I have as many tree-wives as Brigham Young has human ones.
----One set's as green as the other,--exclaimed a boarder, who has never been identified.
They're all Bloomers,--said the young fellow called John.
[I should have rebuked this trifling with language, if our landlady's daughter had not asked me just then what I meant by putting my wedding-ring on a tree.]
Why, measuring it with my thirty-foot tape, my dear,--said I,--I have worn a tape almost out on the rough barks of our old New England elms and other big trees.--Don't you want to hear me talk trees a little now? That is one of my specialties.
[So they all agreed that they should like to hear me talk about trees.]
I want you to understand, in the first place, that I have a most intense, passionate fondness for trees in general, and have had several romantic attachments to certain trees in particular. Now, if you expect me to hold forth in a "scientific" way about my tree-loves,--to talk, for instance, of the Ulmus Americana, and describe the ciliated edges of its samara, and all that,--you are an anserine individual, and I must refer you to a dull friend who will discourse to you of such matters. What should you think of a lover who should describe the idol of his heart in the language of science, thus: Class, Mammalia; Order, Primates; Genus, Homo; Species, Europeus; Variety, Brown; Individual, Ann Eliza; Dental Formula,2-2 1-1 2-2 3-3 i ___ c ___ p ___ m ___, 2-2 1-1 2-2 3-3 and so on?
No, my friends, I shall speak of trees as we see them, love them, adore them in the fields, where they are alive, holding their green sun-shades over our heads, talking to us with their hundred thousand whispering tongues, looking down on us with that sweet meekness which belongs to huge, but limited organisms,--which one sees in the brown eyes of oxen, but most in the patient posture, the outstretched arms, and the heavy-drooping robes of these vast beings endowed with life, but not with soul,--which outgrow us and outlive us, but stand helpless,--poor things!--while Nature dresses and undresses them, like so many full-sized, but underwitted children.
[ILLUSTRATION: "Holding their green sun-shades over our heads."]
Did you ever read old Daddy Gilpin? Slowest of men, even of English men; yet delicious in his slowness, as is the light of a sleepy eye in woman. I always supposed "Dr. Syntax" was written to make fun of him. I have a whole set of his works, and am very proud of it, with its gray paper, and open type, and long ff; and orange-juice landscapes. The Père Gilpin had the kind of science I like in the study of Nature,--a little less observation than White of Selborne, but a little more poetry.--Just think of applying the Linnæan system to an elm! Who cares how many stamens or pistils that little brown flower, which comes out before the leaf, may have to classify it by? What we want is the meaning, the character, the expression of a tree, as a kind and as an individual.
There is a mother-idea in each particular kind of tree, which, if well marked, is probably embodied in the poetry of every language. Take the oak, for instance, and we find it always standing as a type of strength and endurance. I wonder if you ever thought of the single mark of supremacy which distinguishes this tree from all our other forest-trees? All the rest of them shirk the work of resisting gravity; the oak alone defies it. It chooses the horizontal direction for its limbs, so that their whole weight may tell,--and then stretches them out fifty or sixty feet, so that the strain may be mighty enough to be worth resisting. You will find, that, in passing from the extreme downward droop of the branches of the weeping-willow to the extreme upward inclination of those of the poplar, they sweep nearly half a circle. At 90 degrees the oak stops short; to slant upward another degree would mark infirmity of purpose; to bend downwards, weakness of organization. The American elm betrays something of both; yet sometimes, as we shall see, puts on a certain resemblance to its sturdier neighbor.
It won't do to be exclusive in our taste about trees. There is hardly one of them which has not peculiar beauties in some fitting place for it. I remember a tall poplar of monumental proportions and aspect, a vast pillar of glossy green, placed on the summit of a lofty hill, and a beacon to all the country round. A native of that region saw fit to build his house very near it, and, having a fancy that it might blow down some time or other, and exterminate himself and any incidental relatives who might be "stopping" or "tarrying" with him, also laboring under the delusion that human life is under all circumstances to be preferred to vegetable existence,--had the great poplar cut down. It is so easy to say, " It is only a poplar!" and so much harder to replace its living cone than to build a granite obelisk!
I must tell you about some of my tree-wives. I was at one period of my life much devoted to the young lady-population of Rhode Island, a small, but delightful State in the neighborhood of Pawtucket. The number of inhabitants being not very large, I had leisure, during my visits to the Providence Plantations, to inspect the face of the country in the intervals of more fascinating studies of physiognomy. I heard some talk of a great elm a short distance from the locality just mentioned. " Let us see the great elm,"--I said, and proceeded to find it,--knowing that it was on a certain farm in a place called Johnston, if I remember rightly. I shall never forget my ride and my introduction to the great Johnston elm.
I always tremble for a celebrated tree when I approach it for the first time. Provincialism has no scale of excellence in man or vegetable; it never knows a first-rate article of either kind when it has it, and is constantly taking second and third rate ones for Nature's best. I have often fancied the tree was afraid of me, and that a sort of shiver came over it as over a betrothed maiden when she first stands before the unknown to whom she has been plighted. Before the measuring-tape the proudest tree of them all quails and shrinks into itself. All those stories of four or five men stretching their arms around it and not touching each other's fingers, of one's pacing the shadow at noon and making it so many hundred feet, die upon its leafy lips in the presence of the awful ribbon which has strangled so many false pretensions.
As I rode along the pleasant way, watching eagerly for the object of my journey, the rounded tops of the elms rose from time to time at the road-side. Wherever one looked taller and fuller than the rest, I asked myself,--" Is this it? " But as I drew nearer, they grew smaller,--or it proved, perhaps, that two standing in a line had looked like one, and so deceived me. At last, all at once, when I was not thinking of it,--I declare to you it makes my flesh creep when I think of it now,--all at once I saw a great, green cloud swelling in the horizon, so vast, so symmetrical, of such Olympian majesty and imperial supremacy among the lesser forest-growths, that my heart stopped short, then jumped at my ribs as a hunter springs at a five-barred gate, and I felt all through me, without need of uttering the words,--"This is it!"
You will find this tree described, with many others, in the excellent Report upon the Trees and Shrubs of Massachusetts. The author has given my friend the Professor credit for some of his measurements, but measured this tree himself, carefully. It is a grand elm for size of trunk, spread of limbs, and muscular development,--one of the first, perhaps the first, of the first class of New England elms.
The largest actual girth I have ever found at five feet from the ground is in the great elm lying a stone's throw or two north of the main road (if my points of compass are right) in Springfield. But this has much the appearance of having been formed by the union of two trunks growing side by side.
The West-Springfield elm and one upon Northampton meadows, belong also to the first class of trees.
There is a noble old wreck of an elm at Hatfield, which used to spread its claws out over a circumference of thirty-five feet or more before they covered the foot of its bole up with earth. This is the American elm most like an oak of any I have ever seen.
The Sheffield elm is equally remarkable for size and perfection of form. I have seen nothing that comes near it in Berkshire County, and few to compare with it anywhere. I am not sure that I remember any other first-class elms in New England, but there may be many.
----What makes a first-class elm?--Why, size, in the first place, and chiefly. Anything over twenty feet of clear girth, five feet above the ground, and with a spread of branches a hundred feet across, may claim that title, according to my scale. All of them, with the questionable exception of the Springfield tree above referred to, stop, so far as my experience goes, at about twenty-two or twenty-three feet of girth and a hundred and twenty of spread.
Elms of the second class, generally ranging from fourteen to eighteen feet, are comparatively common. The queen of them all is that glorious tree near one of the churches in Springfield. Beautiful and stately she is beyond all praise. The "great tree" on Boston Common comes in the second rank, as does the one at Cohasset, which used to have, and probably has still, a head as round as an apple-tree, and that at Newburyport, with scores of others which might be mentioned. These last two have perhaps been over-celebrated. Both, however, are pleasing vegetables. The poor old Pittsfield elm lives on its past reputation. A wig of false leaves is indispensable to make it presentable.
[I don't doubt there may be some monster-elm or other, vegetating green, but inglorious, in some remote New England village, which only wants a sacred singer to make it celebrated. Send us your measurements,--(certified by the postmaster, to avoid possible imposition,)--circumference five feet from soil, length of line from bough-end to bough-end, and we will see what can be done for you.]
----I wish somebody would get us up the following work:--
Photographs of New England Elms and other Trees, taken upon the Same Scale of Magnitude. With Letter-Press Descriptions, by a Distinguished Literary Gentleman, Boston; ---- ---- & Co. 185. .
The same camera should be used,--so far as possible,--at a fixed distance. Our friend, who has given us so many interesting figures in his "Trees of America," must not think this Prospectus invades his province; a dozen portraits, with lively descriptions, would be a pretty complement to his larger work, which, so far as published, I find excellent. If my plan were carried out, and another series of a dozen English trees photographed on the same scale, the comparison would be charming.
It has always been a favorite idea of mine to bring the life of the Old and the New World face to face, by an accurate comparison of their various types of organization. We should begin with man, of course; institute a large and exact comparison between the development of la pianta umana, as Alfieri called it, in different sections of each country, in the different callings, at different ages, estimating height, weight, force by the dynamometer and the spirometer, and finishing off with a series of typical photographs, giving the principal national physiognomies. Mr. Hutchinson has given us some excellent English data to begin with.
Then I would follow this up by contrasting the various parallel forms of life in the two continents. Our naturalists have often referred to this incidentally or expressly; but the animus of Nature in the two half globes of the planet is so momentous a point of interest to our race, that it should be made a subject of express and elaborate study. Go out with me into that walk which we call the Mall, and look at the English and American elms. The American elm is tall, graceful, slender-sprayed, and drooping as if from languor. The English elm is compact, robust, holds its branches up, and carries its leaves for weeks longer, than our own native tree.
Is this typical of the creative force on the two sides of the ocean, or not? Nothing but a careful comparison through the whole realm of life can answer this question.
There is a parallelism without identity in the animal and vegetable life of the two continents, which favors the task of comparison in an extraordinary manner. Just as we have two trees alike in many ways, yet not the same, both elms, yet easily distinguishable, just so we have a complete flora and a fauna, which, parting from the same ideal, embody it with various modifications. Inventive power is the only quality of which the Creative Intelligence seems to be economical; just as with our largest human minds, that is the divinest of faculties, and the one that most exhausts the mind which exercises it. As the same patterns have very commonly been followed, we can see which is worked out in the largest spirit, and determine the exact limitations under which the Creator places the movement of life in all its manifestations in either locality. We should find ourselves in a very false position, if it should prove that Anglo-Saxons can't live here, but die out, if not kept up by fresh supplies, as Dr. Knox and other more or less wise persons have maintained. It may turn out the other way, as I have heard one of our literary celebrities argue,--and though I took the other side, I liked his best,--that the American is the Englishman reinforced.
----Will you walk out and look at those elms with me after breakfast?--I said to the schoolmistress.
[I am not going to tell lies about it, and say that she blushed,--as I suppose she ought to have done, at such a tremendous piece of gallantry as that was for our boarding-house. On the contrary, she turned a little pale,--but smiled brightly and said,--Yes, with pleasure, but she must walk towards her school.--She went for her bonnet.--The old gentleman opposite followed her with his eyes, and said he wished he was a young fellow. Presently she came down, looking very pretty in her half-mourning bonnet, and carrying a school-book in her hand.]
[ILLUSTRATION: "My first walk with the schoolmistress."]
MY FIRST WALK WITH THE SCHOOLMISTRESS.
This is the shortest way,--she said, as we came to a corner.--Then we won't take it,--said I.--The schoolmistress laughed a little, and said she was ten minutes early, so she could go round.
We walked under Mr. Paddock's row of English elms. The gray squirrels were out looking for their breakfasts, and one of them came toward us in light, soft, intermittent leaps, until he was close to the rail of the burial-ground. He was on a grave with a broad blue-slate-stone at its head, and a shrub growing on it. The stone said this was the grave of a young man who was the son of an Honorable gentleman, and who died a hundred years ago and more.--Oh, yes, died,--with a small triangular mark in one breast, and another smaller opposite, in his back, where another young man's rapier had slid through his body; and so he lay down out there on the Common, and was found cold the next morning, with the night-dews and the death-dews mingled on his forehead.
Let us have one look at poor Benjamin's grave,--said I.--His bones lie where his body was laid so long ago, and where the stone says they lie,--which is more than can be said of most of the tenants of this and several other burial-grounds.
[The most accursed act of Vandalism ever committed within my knowledge was the uprooting of the ancient gravestones in three at least of our city burialgrounds, and one at least just outside the city, and planting them in rows to suit the taste for symmetry of the perpetrators. Many years ago, when this disgraceful process was going on under my eyes, I addressed an indignant remonstrance to a leading journal. I suppose it was deficient in literary elegance, or too warm in its language; for no notice was taken of it, and the hyena-horror was allowed to complete itself in the face of daylight. I have never got over it. The bones of my own ancestors, being entombed, lie beneath their own tablet; but the upright stones have been shuffled about like chessmen, and nothing short of the Day of Judgment will tell whose dust lies beneath any of those records, meant by affection to mark one small spot as sacred to some cherished memory. Shame! shame! shame!--that is all I can say. It was on public thoroughfares, under the eye of authority, that this infamy was enacted. The red Indians would have known better; the selectmen of an African kraal-village would have had more respect for their ancestors. I should like to see the gravestones which have been disturbed all removed, and the ground levelled, leaving the flat tombstones; epitaphs were never famous for truth, but the old reproach of "Here lies" never had such a wholesale illustration as in these outraged burial-places, where the stone does lie above, and the bones do not lie beneath.]
Stop before we turn away, and breathe a woman's sigh over poor Benjamin's dust. Love killed him, I think. Twenty years old, and out there fighting another young fellow on the Common, in the cool of that old July evening;--yes, there must have been love at the bottom of it.
The schoolmistress dropped a rosebud she had in her hand, through the rails, upon the grave of Benjamin Woodbridge. That was all her comment upon what I told her.--How women love Love! said I;--but she did not speak.
We came opposite the head of a place or court running eastward from the main street.--Look down there,--I said,--My friend the Professor lived in that house at the left hand, next the further corner, for years and years. He died out of it, the other day.--Died?--said the schoolmistress.--Certainly,--said I.--We die out of houses, just as we die out of our bodies. A commercial smash kills a hundred men's houses for them, as a railroad crash kills their mortal frames and drives out the immortal tenants. Men sicken of houses until at last they quit them, as the soul leaves its body when it is tired of its infirmities. The body has been called "the house we live in"; the house is quite as much the body we live in. Shall I tell you some things the Professor said the other day?--Do!--said the schoolmistress.
A man's body,--said the Professor,--is whatever is occupied by his will and his sensibility. The small room down there, where I wrote those papers you remember reading, was much more a portion of my body than a paralytic's senseless and motionless arm or leg is of his.
The soul of a man has a series of concentric envelopes round it, like the core of an onion, or the innermost of a nest of boxes. First, he has his natural garment of flesh and blood. Then, his artificial integuments, with their true skin of solid stuffs, their cuticle of lighter tissues, and their variously-tinted pigments. Thirdly, his domicile, be it a single chamber or a stately mansion. And then, the whole visible world, in which Time buttons him up as in a loose outside wrapper.
You shall observe,--the Professor said,--for, like Mr. John Hunter and other great men, he brings in that shall with great effect sometimes,--you shall observe that a man's clothing or series of envelopes does after a certain time mould itself upon his individual nature. We know this of our hats, and are always reminded of it when we happen to put them on wrong side foremost. We soon find that the beaver is a hollow cast of the skull, with all its irregular bumps and depressions. Just so all that clothes a man, even to the blue sky which caps his head,--a little loosely,--shapes itself to fit each particular being beneath it. Farmers, sailors, astronomers, poets, lovers, condemned criminals, all find it different, according to the eyes with which they severally look.
But our houses shape themselves palpably on our inner and outer natures. See a householder breaking up and you will be sure of it. There is a shell-fish which builds all manner of smaller shells into the walls of its own. A house is never a home until we have crusted it with the spoils of a hundred lives besides those of our own past. See what these are and you can tell what the occupant is.
I had no idea,--said the Professor,--until I pulled up my domestic establishment the other day, what an enormous quantity of roots I had been making during the years I was planted there. Why, there wasn't a nook or a corner that some fibre had not worked its way into; and when I gave the last wrench, each of them seemed to shriek like a mandrake, as it broke its hold and came away.
There is nothing that happens, you know, which must not inevitably, and which does not actually, photograph itself in every conceivable aspect and in all dimensions. The infinite galleries of the Past await but one brief process and all their pictures will be called out and fixed forever. We had a curious illustration of the great fact on a very humble scale. When a certain bookcase, long standing in one place, for which it was built, was removed, there was the exact image on the wall of the whole, and of many of its portions. But in the midst of this picture was another,--the precise outline of a map which had hung on the wall before the bookcase was built. We had all forgotten everything about the map until we saw its photograph on the wall. Then we remembered it, as some day or other we may remember a sin which has been built over and covered up, when this lower universe is pulled away from before the wall of Infinity, where the wrong-doing stands self-recorded.
The Professor lived in that house a long time,--not twenty years, but pretty near it. When he entered that door, two shadows glided over the threshold; five lingered in the doorway when he passed through it for the last time,--and one of the shadows was claimed by its owner to be longer than his own. What changes he saw in that quiet place! Death rained through every roof but his; children came into life, grew to maturity, wedded, faded away, threw themselves away; the whole drama of life was played in that stock-company's theatre of a dozen houses, one of which was his, and no deep sorrow or severe calamity ever entered his dwelling. Peace be to those walls, forever,--the Professor said,--for the many pleasant years he has passed within them!
The Professor has a friend, now living at a distance, who has been with him in many of his changes of place, and who follows him in imagination with tender interest wherever he goes.--In that little court, where he lived in gay loneliness so long,--
--In his autumnal sojourn by the Connecticut, where it comes loitering down from its mountain fastnesses like a great lord, swallowing up the small proprietary rivulets very quietly as it goes, until it gets proud and swollen and wantons in huge luxurious oxbows about the fair Northampton meadows, and at last overflows the oldest inhabitant's memory in profligate freshets at Hartford and all along its lower shores,--up in that caravansary on the banks of the stream where Ledyard launched his log canoe, and the jovial old Colonel used to lead the Commencement processions,--where blue Ascutney looked down from the far distance, and the hills of Beulah, as the Professor always called them, rolled up the opposite horizon in soft climbing masses, so suggestive of the Pilgrim's Heavenward Path that he used to look through his old "Dollond " to see if the Shining Ones were not within range of sight,--sweet visions, sweetest in those Sunday walks which carried them by the peaceful common, through the solemn village lying in cataleptic stillness under the shadow of the rod of Moses, to the terminus of their harmless stroll,--the patulous fage, in the Professor's classic dialect,--the spreading beech, in more familiar phrase,--[stop and breathe here a moment, for the sentence is not done yet, and we have another long journey before us,]--
--and again once more up among those other hills that shut in the amber-flowing Housatonic,--dark stream, but clear, like the lucid orbs that shine beneath the lids of auburn-haired, sherry-wine-eyed demi-blondes,--in the home overlooking the winding stream and the smooth, flat meadow; looked down upon by wild hills, where the tracks of bears and catamounts may yet sometimes be seen upon the winter snow; facing the twin summits which rise in the far North, the highest waves of the great land-storm in all this billowy region,--suggestive to mad fancies of the breasts of a half-buried Titaness, stretched out by a stray thunderbolt, and hastily hidden away beneath the leaves of the forest,--in that home where seven blessed summers were passed, which stand in memory like the seven golden candlesticks in the beatific vision of the holy dreamer,--
--in that modest dwelling we were just looking at, not glorious, yet not unlovely in the youth of its drab and mahogany,--full of great and little boys' playthings from top to bottom,--in all these summer or winter nests he was always at home and always welcome.
This long articulated sigh of reminiscences,--this calenture which shows me the maple-shadowed plains of Berkshire and the mountain-circled green of Grafton beneath the salt waves which come feeling their way along the wall at my feet, restless and soft-touching as blind men's busy fingers,--is for that friend of mine  who looks into the waters of the Patapsco and sees beneath them the same visions which paint themselves for me in the green depths of the Charles.
----Did I talk all this off to the schoolmistress?--Why, no,--of course not. I have been talking with you, the reader, for the last ten minutes. You don't think I should expect any woman to listen to such a sentence as that long one, without giving her a chance to put in a word?
----What did I say to the schoolmistress?--Permit me one moment. I don't doubt your delicacy and good-breeding; but in this particular ease, as I was allowed the privilege of walking alone with a very interesting young woman, you must allow me to remark, in the classic version of a familiar phrase, used by our Master Benjamin Franklin, it is nullum tui negotii.
When the schoolmistress and I reached the schoolroom door, the damask roses I spoke of were so much heightened in color by exercise that I felt sure it would be useful to her to take a stroll like this every morning, and made up my mind I would ask her to let me join her again.
EXTRACT FROM MY PRIVATE JOURNAL. (To be burned unread.)
I am afraid I have been a fool; for I have told as much of myself to this young person as if she were of that ripe and discreet age which invites confidence and expansive utterance. I have been low-spirited and listless, lately,--it is coffee, I think,--(I observe that which is bought ready-ground never affects the head,)--and I notice that I tell my secrets too easily when I am downhearted.
There are inscriptions on our hearts, which, like that on Dighton Rock, are never to be seen except at dead-low tide.
There is a woman's footstep on the sand at the side of my deepest ocean-buried inscription!
----Oh, no, no, no a thousand times, no!--Yet what is this which has been shaping itself in my soul?--Is it a thought?--is it a dream?--is it a passion?--Then I know what comes next.
----The Asylum stands on a bright and breezy hill; those glazed corridors are pleasant to walk in, in bad weather. But there are iron bars to all the windows. When it is fair, some of us can stroll outside that very high fence. But I never see much life in those groups I sometimes meet;--and then the careful man watches them so closely! How I remember that sad company I used to pass on fine mornings, when I was a schoolboy!--B., with his arms full of yellow weeds,--ore from the gold mines which he discovered long before we heard of California,--Y., born to millions, crazed by too much plum-cake, (the boys said.) dogged, explosive,--made a Polyphemus of my weak-eyed schoolmaster, by a vicious flirt with a stick,--(the multi-millionnaires sent him a trifle, it was said, to buy another eye with; but boys are jealous of rich folks, and I don't doubt the good people made him easy for life,)--how I remember them all!
I recollect, as all do, the story of the Hall of Eblis, in "Vathek," and how each shape, as it lifted its hand from its breast, showed its heart,--a burning coal. The real Hall of Eblis stands on yonder summit. Go there on the next visiting-day, and ask that figure crouched in the corner, huddled up like those Indian mummies and skeletons found buried in the sitting posture, to lift its hand,--look upon its heart, and behold, not fire, but ashes.--No, I must not think of such an ending! Dying would be a much more gentlemanly way of meeting the difficulty. Make a will and leave her a house or two and some stocks, and other little financial conveniences, to take away her necessity for keeping school.--I wonder what nice young man's feet would be in my French slippers before six months were over! Well, what then? If a man really loves a woman, of course he wouldn't marry her for the world, if he were not quite sure that he was the best person she could by any possibility marry.
----It is odd enough to read over what I have just been writing.--It is the merest fancy that ever was in the world. I shall never be married. She will; and if she is as pleasant as she has been so far, I will give her a silver tea-set, and go and take tea with her and her husband, sometimes. No coffee, I hope, though,--it depresses me sadly. I feel very miserably;--they must have been grinding it at home.--Another morning walk will be good for me, and I don't doubt the schoolmistress will be glad of a little fresh air before school.
----The throbbing flushes of the poetical intermittent have been coming over me from time to time of late. Did you ever see that electrical experiment which consists in passing a flash through letters of gold leaf in a darkened room, whereupon some name or legend springs out of the darkness in characters of fire?
There are songs all written out in my soul, which I could read, if the flash might pass through them,--but the fire must come down from heaven. Ah! but what if the stormy nimbus of youthful passion has blown by, and one asks for lightning from the ragged cirrus of dissolving aspirations, or the silvered cumulus of sluggish satiety? I will call on her whom the dead poets believed in, whom living ones no longer worship,--the immortal maid, who, name her what you will,--Goddess, Muse, Spirit of Beauty,--sits by the pillow of every youthful poet, and bends over his pale forehead until her tresses lie upon his cheek and rain their gold into his dreams.
[ILLUSTRATION: Chapter 10 tail-piece]