FROM THE EASY CHAIR
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS
"I shall from Time to Time Report and Consider all Matters of what Kind Soever that shall occur to Me." —THE TATLER.
EDWARD EVERETT IN 1862 AT THE OPERA IN 1864 EMERSON LECTURING SHOPS AND SHOPPING MRS. GRUNDY AND THE COSMOPOLITAN DICKENS READING  PHILLIS THOREAU AND MY LADY CAVALIERE HONESTUS AT THE CAUCUS THALBERG AND OTHER PIANISTS  URBS AND RUS RIP VAN WINKLE A CHINESE CRITIC HOLIDAY SAUNTERING WENDELL PHILLIPS AT HARVARD  EASTER BONNETS JENNY LIND THE TOWN SARAH SHAW RUSSELL STREET MUSIC A LITTLE DINNER WITH THACKERAY CECILIA PLAYING THE MANNERLESS SEX ROBERT BROWNING IN FLORENCE PLAYERS UNMUSICAL BOXES THE ACADEMY DINNER IN ARCADIA
EDWARD EVERETT IN 1862.
The house was full, and murmurous with the pleasant chat and rustling movement of well-dressed persons of both sexes who waited patiently the coming of the orator, looking at the expanse of stage, which was carpeted, and covered with rows of settees that went backward from the footlights to a landscape of charming freshness of color, that might have been set for the "Maid of Milan" or the pastoral opera. Between the seats and the foot-lights was a broad space, upon which stood a small table and two or three chairs; and if the orator of the evening, like a primo tenore, had been surveying the house through the friendly chinks of the pastoral landscape, he would have felt a warm suffusion of pleasure that his name should be the magic spell to summon an audience so fair, so numerous, and so intelligent.
There were ushers who showed ladies to seats, and with their dress-coats and bright badges looked like a milder Metropolitan police. But no greater force was presumed to be required of them than pressing aside a too discursive crinoline. In the soft, ample light, as the audience sat with fluttering ribbons and bright gems and splendid silks and shawls, so tranquilly expectant, so calmly smiling, so shyly blushing (if, haply, in all that crowd there were a pair of lovers!), it was hard to believe that civil war was wasting the land, and that at the very moment some of those glad hearts were broken—but would not know it until the sad news came. Yet it was easy, in the same glance, to feel that even the terrible shape that we thought we had eluded forever did not seem, after all, so terrible; that even civil war might be shaking the gates and the guests still smile in the chambers.
But while leaning against the wall, under the balcony, the Easy Chair looks around upon the humming throng and thinks of camps far away, and beating drums and wild alarms and sweeping squadrons of battle, there is a sudden hush and a simultaneous glance towards one side of the house, and there, behind the seats at the side, and making for the stage door, marches a procession, two and two, very solemn, very bald, very gray, and in evening dress. They are the invited guests, the honored citizens of Brooklyn, the reverend clergy, and others; a body of substantial, intelligent, decorous persons. They disappear for a moment within the door, and immediately emerge upon the stage with a composed bustle, moving the seats, taking off their coats, sedately interchanging little jests, and finally seating themselves, and gazing at the audience evidently with a feeling of doubt whether the honor of the position compensates for its great disadvantage; for to sit behind an orator is to hear, without seeing, an actor.
The audience is now waiting, both upon the stage and in the boxes, with patient expectation. There is little talking, but a tension of heads towards the stage. The last word is spoken there, the last joke expires; all attention is concentrated upon an expected object. The edge of eagerness is not suffered to turn, but precisely at the right moment a figure with a dark head and another with a gray head are seen at the depth of the stage, advancing through the aisle towards the foot-lights and the audience. They are the president of the society and the orator. The audience applauds. It is not a burst of enthusiasm; it is rather applausive appreciation of acknowledged merit. The gray-headed orator bows gravely and slightly, lays a roll of MS. upon the table, then he and the president seat themselves side by side. For a moment they converse, evidently complimenting the brilliant audience. The orator, also, evidently says that the table is right, that the light is right, that the glass of water is right, and finally that he is ready.
In a few neat words "the honored son of Massachusetts" is introduced, and he rises and moves a few steps forward. Standing for a moment, he bows to the applause. He is dressed entirely in black; wearing a dress-coat, and not a frock. Before he says a word, although it is but a moment, a sudden flash of memory reveals to the attentive Easy Chair all that he has heard and read of the orator before him; how he returned an accomplished scholar from Germany, graced with a delicacy of culture hitherto unknown to our schools; how the youthful professor of Greek at Harvard, transferred to the pulpit of Brattle Street, in Boston, held men and women in thrall by the splendor of his rhetoric and the pleading music of his voice, drawing the young scholars after him, who are now our chief glory and pride; how his Phi Beta Kappa oration in 1824 and its apostrophe to Lafayette, who was present, is still the fond tradition of those who heard it; and how as he passed on from triumph to triumph in his art of oratory, the elegance, the skill, the floridity, the elaboration, the unfailing fitness and severe propriety of his art, with all its minor gifts, consoled Boston that it was not Athens or Rome, and had not heard Demosthenes or Cicero.
If you ventured curiously to question this fond recollection, to ask whether the eloquence was of the heart and soul, or of the mind and lips; whether it were impassioned oratory, burning, resistless, such as we suppose Demosthenes and Patrick Henry poured out; or whether it were polished and skilful declamation—those old listeners were like lovers. They did not know; they did not care. They remembered the magic tone, the witchery of grace, the exuberant rhetoric; they recalled the crowds clustering at his feet, the gusts of emotion that in the church swept over the pews, the thrills of delight that in the hall shook the audience; their own youth was part of it; they saw their own bloom in the flower they remembered, and they could not criticise or compare.
All this recollection flashed through the mind of the Easy Chair before the orator had well opened his lips. The tradition was overpowering. It was not fair, but it was inevitable. If we could see and hear Patrick Henry, with uplifted finger, shouting, "Charles First had his Cromwell, and George Third—may take warning by his example!" would it be, could it be, even with all our expectation, what we believe it to have been? After the tremendous blare of trumpets in advance that shake our very souls within us, no ordinary mortal can satisfy the transcendent anticipation. We lift the leathern curtain of St. Peter's, and catching our breath, look in. Alas! we see plainly the other end of the great church, but with secret disappointment, because we imagined there would be but a dim immensity of space. For the first time we behold Niagara, and resentfully we ask, "Is that all?" The illimitable expectation is too bewildering an overture. So the eyes with which the Easy Chair saw were touched with glamour. The ears with which it heard were full of eloquence beyond that of mortal lips. And there was the orator just beginning to speak. It was not fair; no, it was not fair.
The first words were clearly cut, simply and perfectly articulated. "It is often said that the day for speaking has passed, and that of action has arrived." It was a direct, plain introduction; not a florid exordium. The voice was clear and cold and distinct; not especially musical, not at all magnetic. The orator was incessantly moving; not rushing vehemently forward or stepping defiantly backward, with that quaint planting of the foot, like Beecher; but restlessly changing his place, with smooth and rounded but monotonous movement. The arms and hands moved harmonious with the body, not with especial reference to what was said, but apparently because there must be action. The first part of the discourse was strictly a lucid narrative of events and causes: a compact and calm chapter of our political history by a man as well versed in it as any man in the country; and it culminated in a description of the fall of Sumter. This was an elaborate picture in words of a perfectly neutral tint. There was not a single one which was peculiarly picturesque or vivid; no electric phrase that sent the whole striking scene shuddering home to every hearer; no sudden light of burning epithet, no sad elegiac music. The passage was purely academic. Each word was choice; each detail was finished; it was properly cumulative to its climax; and when that was reached, loud applause followed. It was general, but not enthusiastic. No one could fail to admire the skill with which the sentence was constructed; and so elaborate a piece of workmanship justly challenged high praise. But still—still, do you get any thrill from the most perfect mosaic?
Then followed a caustic and brilliant sketch of the attitude of Virginia in this war. In this part of his discourse the orator was himself an historic personage; for it was to him, when editor of the North American Review, that James Madison wrote his letter explanatory of the Virginia resolutions of '98. The wit that sparkled then in the pages of the Review glittered now along the speech. Here was Junius turned gentleman and transfixing a State with satire. The action of the orator was unchanged. But, in one passage, after describing the wrongs wrought by rebels upon the country, he turned, with upraised hand, to the rows of white-cravated clergymen who sat behind him, and apostrophized them: "Tell me, ministers of the living God, may we not without a breach of Christian charity exclaim,
"'Is there not some hidden curse, Some chosen thunder in the stores of heaven, Red with uncommon wrath to blast the man That seeks his greatness in his country's ruin?'"
This passage was uttered with more force than any in the oration. The orator's hands were clasped and raised; he moved more rapidly across the stage; the words were spoken with artistic energy, and loudly applauded.
Thus far the admirable clearness of statement and perfect propriety of speech, added to the personal prestige which surrounds any man so distinguished as the orator, had secured a well-bred attention. But there was not yet that eager, fixed intentness, sensitive to every tone and shifting humor of the speaker, which shows that he thoroughly possesses and controls the audience. There was none of that charmed silence in which the very heart and soul seem to be listening; and at any moment it would have been easy to go out.
But when leaving the purely historical current the orator struck into some considerations upon the views of our affairs taken by foreign nations, the vivacious skill of his treatment excited a more vital attention. There was a truer interest and a heartier applause. And when still pressing on, but with unchanged action, he glanced at the consequences of a successful rebellion, the audience was, for the first time, really aroused.
Let us suppose, said the orator, that secession is successful, what has been gained? How are the causes of discontent removed? Will the malcontents have seceded because of the non-rendition of fugitive slaves? But how has secession helped it? When, in the happy words of another, Canada has been brought down to the Potomac, do they think their fugitives will be restored? No: not if they came to its banks with the hosts of Pharaoh, and the river ran dry in its bed.
Loud applause here rang through the building.
Or, continued the orator, more vehemently, do they think, in that case, to carry their slaves into territories now free? No, not if the Chief-justice of the United States—and here a volley of applause rattled in, and the orator wiped his forehead—not if the venerable Chief-justice Taney should live yet a century, and issue a Dred Scott decision every day of his life.
Here followed the sincerest applause of the whole evening; and the Easy Chair pinched his neighbor to make sure that all was as it seemed; that these were words actually spoken, and that the orator was Edward Everett.
The hour and a half were passed. The peroration was upon the speaker's tongue, closing with an exhortation to old men and old women, young men and maidens, each in his kind and degree, to come as the waves come when navies are stranded—to come as the winds come when forests are rended—to come with heart and hand, with purse and knitting-needle, with sword and gun, and fight for the Union.
He bowed: the audience clapped for a moment, then rose and bustled out.
—It was not fair; no, it was not fair. The Easy Chair did not find—how could it find?—the charm which those of another day remembered. The oration was an admirable and elaborate address, full of instruction and truth and patriotism, the work of a remarkably accomplished man of great public experience. It was written in the plainest language, and did not contain an obscure word. It was delivered with perfect propriety, with the confidence that comes from the habit of public speaking, and with artistic skill of articulation and emphasis. As an illustration of memory it was remarkable, for it was but the second time that the address had been spoken. It occupied an hour and a half in the delivery, and yet the manuscript lay unopened upon the table. Only three or four times was there any hesitation which reminded the hearer that the speaker was repeating what he had already written. His power in this respect has been often mentioned. He is understood to have said that, if he reads anything once, he can repeat it correctly; but if he has written it out, he can repeat it exactly and always. This unusual facility secures to all his addresses a completeness and finish which very few orators command. He can say exactly what he means, and nothing more, being never betrayed by confusion or sudden emotion to say, as so many speakers say, more than they really think.
But, on the other hand, it is doubtful whether all that electric eloquence by which the hearer is caught up as by a whirlwind and swept onward at the will of the orator, is not now a tradition in the speeches of the orator. The glow of feeling, the rush of rhetoric, the fiery burst of passionate power—the overwhelming impulse which makes senates adjourn and men spring to arms—were they in the orator or in the fascinated youth of those who remember the sermon in Brattle Street, the apostrophe to Lafayette?
AT THE OPERA IN 1864.
It was a strange chance that took the Easy Chair, the other evening, to the opera in the midst of a terrible war. But there was the scene, exactly as it used to be. There were the bright rows of pretty women and smiling men; the white and fanciful opera-cloaks; the gay rich dresses; the floating ribbons; the marvellous chevelures; the pearl-gray, the dove, and "tan" gloves, holding the jewelled fans and the beautiful bouquets—the smile, the sparkle, the grace, the superb and irresistible dandyism that we all know so well in the days of golden youth—they were all there, and the warm atmosphere was sweet with the thick odor of heliotrope, the very scent of haute societe.
The house was full: the opera was "Faust," and by one of the exquisite felicities of the stage, the hero, a mild, ineffective gentleman, sang his ditties and passionate bursts in Italian, while the poor Gretchen vowed and rouladed in the German tongue. Certainly nothing is more comical than the careful gravity with which people of the highest civilization look at the absurd incongruities of the stage. After the polyglot love-making, Gretchen goes up steps and enters a house. Presently she opens a window at which she evidently could not appear as she does breast high, without having her feet in the cellar. The Italian Faust rushes, ascends three steps leading to the window, which could not by any possibility appropriately be found there, and reclines his head upon the bosom of the fond maid. We all look on and applaud with "sensation." But ought we not to insist, however, that ladies in the play shall stand upon the floor, and that the floor in a stately mansion shall not be two feet below the front door-sill? And ought we not to demand that Faust shall woo Gretchen in their mother-tongue?
But we, the ludicrous public, who snarl at the carpenter and shoemaker if the fitness of things be not observed; we, the shrewd critics, who pillory the luckless painter who dresses a gentleman of the Restoration in the ruff of James First's court, gaze calmly on the most ridiculous anachronisms and impossibilities, and smite our perfumed gloves in approbation. It is no excuse to say that the whole thing is absurd; that people do not carry on the business of life in song, nor expire in recitative. That is true, but even fairy tales have their consistency. Every part is adapted to every other, and, in the key, the whole is harmonious. Hermann, for instance, the basso, who sang Mephistopheles, would have been quite perfect if he had only remembered this. But he forgot that Mephisto is a sly and subtle devil. He caricatured him. He made him a buffoon and repulsive. Such extravagance could not have imposed upon Faust or Martha; yet we all agreed that it was very fine, and amiably applauded what no opera-goer of sense could seriously approve.
You think that this is taking syllabub seriously, and that the circumstances of the time had made the Easy Chair hypercritical. No; it was only that there comes a time in theatre-going when the boxes are more interesting than the stage. The mimic life fades before the real. In the midst of the finest phrases of the impassioned Herr Faust, what if your truant eyes stray across the parquette and see a slight, pale figure, and recognize one of the bravest and most daring Union generals, whose dashing assaults upon the enemy's works carried dismay and victory day after day? Herr Faust trills on, but you see the sombre field and the desperate battle and the glorious cause. Gretchen musically sighs, but you see the brave boys lying where they fell: you hear the deep, sullen roar of the cannonade; you catch far away through the tumult of war the fierce shout of victory. And there sits the slight, pale figure with eyes languidly fixed upon the stage; his heart musing upon other scenes; himself the unconscious hero of a living drama.
Or, if you choose to lift your eyes, you see that woman with the sweet, fair face, composed, not sad, turned with placid interest towards the loves of Gretchen and Faust. She sees the eager delight of the meeting; she hears the ardent vow; she feels the rapture of the embrace. With placid interest she watches all—she, and the sedate husband by her side. And yet when her eyes wander it is to see a man in the parquette below her on the other side, who, between the acts, rises with the rest and surveys the house, and looks at her as at all the others. At this distance you cannot say if any softer color steals into that placid face; you cannot tell if his survey lingers longer upon her than upon the rest. Yet she was Gretchen once, and he was Faust. There is no moonlight romance, no garden ecstasy, poorly feigned upon the stage, that is not burned with eternal fire into their memories. Night after night they come. They do not especially like this music. They are not infatuated with these singers. They have seats for the season; she with her husband, he in the orchestra chairs. She has a pleasant home and sweet children and a kind mate, and is not unhappy. He is at ease in his fortunes, and content. They do not come here that they may see each other. They meet elsewhere as all acquaintances meet. They cherish no morbid repining, no sentimental regret. But every night there is an opera, and the theme of every opera is love; and once, ah! once, she was Gretchen and he was Faust.
Do you see? These are three out of the three thousand. There is nothing to distinguish them from the rest. Look at them all, and reflect that all have their history; and that it is known, as this one is known, to some other old Easy Chair, sitting in the parquette and spying round the house. "All the world's a stage, and men and women merely players."
Is it quite so? Are these players? The young pale general there, the placid woman, the man in the orchestra stall, have they been playing only? There are scars upon that young soldier's body; in the most secret drawer of that woman's chamber there is a dry, scentless flower; the man in the orchestra stall could show you a tress of golden hair. If they are players, who is in earnest?
Many years ago the Easy Chair used to hear Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture. Perhaps it was in the small Sunday-school room under a country meeting-house, on sparkling winter nights, when all the neighborhood came stamping and chattering to the door in hood and muffler, or ringing in from a few miles away, buried under buffalo-skins. The little, low room was dimly lighted with oil-lamps, and the boys clumped about the stoves in their cowhide boots, and laughed and buzzed and ate apples and peanuts and giggled, and grew suddenly solemn when the grave men and women looked at them. At the desk stood the lecturer and read his manuscript, and all but the boys sat silent and inthralled by the musical spell.
Some of the hearers remembered the speaker as a boy, as a young man. Some wondered what he was talking about. Some thought him very queer. All laughed at the delightful humor or the illustrative anecdote that sparkled for a moment upon the surface of his talk; and some sat inspired with unknown resolves, soaring upon lofty hopes as they heard. A nobler life, a better manhood, a purer purpose wooed every listening soul. It was not argument, nor description, nor appeal. It was wit and wisdom, and hard sense and poetry, and scholarship and music. And when the words were spoken and the lecturer sat down, the Easy Chair sat still and heard the rich cadences lingering in the air, as the young priest's heart throbs with the long vibrations when the organist is gone.
The same speaker had been heard a few years previously in the Masonic Temple in Boston. It was the fashion among the gay to call him transcendental. Grave parents were quoted as saying, "I don't go to hear Mr. Emerson; I don't understand him. But my daughters do." Then came a volume containing the discourses. They were called Essays. Has our literature produced any wiser book?
As the lyceum or lecture system grew, the philosopher whom "my daughters" understood was called to speak. A simplicity of manner that could be called rustic if it were not of a shy, scholarly elegance; perfect composure, clear, clean, crisp sentences; maxims as full of glittering truth as a winter night of stars; an incessant spray of fine fancies like the November shower of meteors; and the same intellectual and moral exaltation, expansion, and aspiration, were the characteristics of all his lectures.
He was never exactly popular, but always gave a tone and flavor to the whole lyceum course, as the lump of ambergris flavors the Sultan's cups of coffee for a year. "We can have him once in three or four seasons," said the committees. But really they had him all the time without knowing it. He was the philosopher Proteus, and he spoke through all the more popular mouths. The speakers were acceptable because they were liberal, and he was the great liberalizer. They were, and they are, the middle-men between him and the public. They watered the nectar, and made it easy to drink.
The Easy Chair heard from time to time of Proteus on the platform—how he was more and more eccentric—how he could not be understood—how abrupt his manner was. But the Chair did not believe that the flame which had once been so pure could ever be dimmer, especially as he recognized its soft lustre on every aspect of life around him.
After many years the opportunity to hear him came again; and although the experiment was dangerous the Chair did not hesitate to try it. The hall was pretty and not too large, and the audience was the best that the country could furnish. Every one came solely to hear the speaker, for it was one lecture in a course of his only. It was pleasant to look around and mark the famous men and the accomplished women gathering quietly in the same city where they used to gather to hear him a quarter of a century before. How much the man who was presently to speak had done for their lives, and their children's, and the country! The power of one man is not easily traced in its channels and details, but it is marked upon the whole. The word "transcendentalism" has long passed by. It has not, perhaps, even yet gone out of fashion to smile at wisdom as visionary, but this particular wise man had been acquitted of being understood by my daughters, and there were rows of "hardheads," "practical people," curious and interesting to contemplate in the audience.
The tall figure entered at a side door, and sat down upon a sofa behind the desk. Age seemed not to have touched him since the evenings in the country Sunday-school room. As he stood at the desk the posture, the figure, the movement, were all unchanged. There was the same rapt introverted glance as he began in a low voice, and for an hour the older tree shook off a ceaseless shower of riper, fairer fruit. The topic was "Table-Talk, or Conversation;" and the lecture was its own most perfect illustration. It was not a sermon, nor an oration, nor an argument; it was the perfection of talk; the talk of a poet, of a philosopher, of a scholar. Its wit was a rapier, smooth, sharp, incisive, delicate, exquisite. The blade was pure as an icicle. You would have sworn that the hilt was diamond. The criticism was humane, lofty, wise, sparkling; the anecdote so choice and apt, and trickling from so many sources, that we seemed to be hearing the best things of the wittiest people. It was altogether delightful, and the audience sat glowing with satisfaction. There was no rhetoric, no gesture, no grimace, no dramatic familiarity and action; but the manner was self-respectful and courteous to the audience, and the tone supremely just and sincere. "He is easily king of us all," whispered an orator.
Yet it was not oratory either in its substance or purpose. It was a statement of what this wise man believed conversation ought to be. Its inevitable influence—the moral of the lecture, dear Lady Flora—was a purification of daily talk, and the general good influence of incisive truth-telling. If we have ever had a greater preacher of that gospel who is he?
SHOPS AND SHOPPING.
If the stranger in New York, on any pleasant day, finds himself near Corporal Thompson's Broadway Cottage he will be in the midst of a very pretty scene. Perhaps as he reads these words and asks the question where that romantic cot may be found, he is comfortably seated in it, with his feet placidly reposing upon its window-sills. It is, indeed, in a new form. It no longer looks as it did to the early citizen of fifty years ago, driving out before breakfast upon the Bloomingdale Road, and surveying the calm river from the seclusion of Stryker's Bay. It had an indefinable road-side English air in those far-off mornings. The early citizen would not have been surprised had he heard the horn of the guard merrily winding, and beheld the mail-coach of old England bowling up to the door. There were fields and open spaces about it, for it was on the edge of the city that was already reaching out upon the island. Bloomingdale! Twas a lovely name, and 'tis a great pity that the chief association with it is that of a very dusty road.
Meanwhile, if you will contemplate the Fifth Avenue Hotel you will see Corporal Thompson's Broadway Cottage in its present form. But what a busy, brilliant neighborhood it is now! There are shops that recall the prettiest upon the boulevards in Paris; and the people are greatly to be pitied who are too fine to stop and look into them. To be too fine is to lose much. Yet what scion of the golden youth of this moment would dare to walk by the site of Corporal Thompson's Broadway Cottage eating an apple at three o'clock in the afternoon?
There was a grave and well-dressed gentleman who stopped recently at the stand of Mrs. M'Patrick O'Finnigan, which is just in the midst of the gay promenade, to transact some business in peanut candy. The interest of the public in that operation was inconceivable. If he had been Mr. Vanderbilt buying out Mr. Astor—if he had been a lunatic astray from the asylum, or a clown escaped from the circus—he could hardly have excited more attention. The passengers stared in amazement. Some young gentlemen, escorting certain young ladies from school, cracked excellent jokes upon the honest buyer of peanut candy; and if his daughter or any friend had chanced to pass and had seen him, she would probably have been seriously troubled and half ashamed.
Now peanut candy is very good, and at Mrs. M'Patrick O'Finnigan's stand it is very cheap. Nobody is ashamed of liking it, nor of eating it. If the grave gentleman had stepped into Caswell's brilliant shop, let us suppose—where, perhaps, it is also sold—and had called for that particular sweet, nobody would have stared nor made a joke nor felt that it was extraordinary. Yet, how many of the brave generals in the war, who charged in the very face of flaming batteries, would dare to stop at Mrs. O'Finnigan's and buy ten cents' worth of peanut candy if they saw Mrs. Sweller's carriage approaching, or Miss Dasher just coming upon the walk? And as for the Misses Spanker, who daily drive in that superb open wagon with yellow wheels, and who resemble nothing so much as the figures in a Parisian doll-carriage, if they saw an admirer of theirs bargaining for peanut candy at a street stand they would not know him—they would no more bow to a man so lost to all the finer sense of the comme il faut than they would nod to a street-sweeper. It is astonishing what an effect is produced upon some human beings of the tender sex by clothing them in silks cut in a certain form, and seating them in a high wooden box on yellow wheels.
And upon us, also. When the Easy Chair beholds the silken Misses Spanker rolling by, superior, upon those yellow wheels, it is with difficulty that it recalls the cheese and sausage from which all that splendor springs. To-morrow it will be Mrs. O'Finnigan's grandchildren who will look down from their yellow wheels at the peanut and apple stands, and wonder how persons can be so vulgar as to buy candy in the streets. It is a whim of Mrs. Grundy's, who is all whimsey. She will not let us buy a piece of simple candy at the corner, but she will allow us to drag a silk dress over the garbage of the pavement. 'Tis a whimsical sovereign. But we are so carefully trained that it is not easy to disobey her. If to prove your independence you should stop to buy the candy, would the pleasure of asserting yourself balance the unpleasant consciousness that you were wondered at and laughed at?
But the text was shops, and we have drifted into this episode because Mrs. O'Finnigan sells peanut candy in her shop upon the sidewalk near the site of Corporal Thompson's Broadway Cottage, in the midst of the gay spectacle of a summer day. And within a stone's-toss of her stand how many fine houses you will see, and how many other fascinating shops! Our English ancestors were called a shopkeeping nation by Napoleon; but it is his own Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who have the true secret of shopkeeping. They make shops fascinating. They have made shopkeeping a fine art. The other day the Easy Chair stepped into a shop in Maiden Lane, prepared to spend a very pretty sum of money, for a very proper purpose. But if it had invaded the shopkeeper's house, which is his castle, or threatened his hat, which is his crown, it could not have been received more coolly. The disdainful indifference with which its question was answered was exquisitely comical; and the shopkeeper proceeded to look for what was required with a superb carelessness, and an air of utter weariness and disgust of this incessant doing of favors to the most undeserving and insignificant people. It was plainly an act of pure grace that the Easy Chair was not instantly shot into the street as rubbish, or given in charge to the police as a common vagabond.
This worthy attendant—doubtless very estimable in his private capacity—is a serious injury to the business which he is supposed to help. He does not in the least understand his profession. Let an Easy Chair advise him to run over the sea to Paris, and observe how they keep shop in that capital. Does he want a cravat? Here is a houri, neatly dressed, evidently long waiting for him especially, and eager to serve him. "Is it a cravat that Monsieur wishes? Charming! The most ravishing styles are just ready! Is it blue, or this, or that, that Monsieur prefers? Monsieur's taste is perfect. Look! It is a miracle of beauty that he selects. Will he permit?" And before you know it, you foolish fellow, who don't understand the first principle of your calling—before you know it, she has thrown it around your neck, she has tied it deftly under your chin, and that pretty face is looking into yours, and that pleasant voice is saying, "Nothing could be better. It is the most smiling effect possible!" You might as well hope to escape the sirens, as to go from under those hands without buying that cravat.
This is shopkeeping, and a little study of the art, as thus practised, would be of the utmost service to the Easy Chair's friend in Maiden Lane. The shops there are pretty, and especially during the holidays they are glittering, but they are a little cold and formal. The air of the Boulevards is to be detected only in the neighborhood of Corporal Thompson's Broadway Cottage. Whether cravats are there wafted around the buyer's neck, as it were, entangling him hopelessly in silken and satin webs, the Easy Chair does not know. But it can believe it, as it passes by upon the outside, and beholds the windows which Paris could hardly surpass. Through those windows it sees that, as in Paris, the attendants are often women. It is thereby reminded that in Paris the women are among the most accomplished accountants also; and it remembers that in the same city men are cooks. It is very sure that when Madame Welles, who was afterwards the Marchioness De Lavalette, became at the death of her husband the head of the great banking-house, her cook was a man.
And thereupon the Easy Chair falls into meditation upon "the sphere" of the sexes, and asks itself, as it loiters about the site of the Broadway Cottage, admiring the pretty shops, whether, if it be womanly for woman to keep shop and to acquire property by her faithful industry, it can be manly for man to make laws appropriating and using her property without her consent?
MRS. GRUNDY AND THE COSMOPOLITAN.
Mrs. Grundy was lately astonished by the remark of a cheerful cosmopolitan whom she proposed to introduce to a very rich man. She seemed to catch her breath as she spoke of his exceeding great riches in the tone of admiring awe which betrays the devout snob. The cosmopolitan listened pleasantly as Mrs. Grundy spoke with the air of proposing to him the greatest of favors and blessings.
"You say he is very rich?" he asked.
"Enormously, fabulously," replied Mrs. Grundy, as if crossing herself.
"Will he give me any of his money?"
Mrs. Grundy gazed blankly at the questioner. "Give you any of his money? What do you mean?"
"Mean?" answered the cheerful cosmopolitan; "my meaning is plain. If I am introduced to a scholar, he gives me something of his scholarship; a traveller gives me experience; a scientific man, information; a musician plays or sings for me; and if you introduce me to a man whose distinction is his riches, I wish to know what advantage I am to gain from his acquaintance, and whether I may expect him to impart to me something of that for which he is distinguished."
Mrs. Grundy, who is easily discomposed by an unexpected turn in the conversation, looked confused, but said, presently, "Why, you will dine with the Midases and the Plutuses."
"But they are merely the same thing," said the cosmopolitan, gayly. "You know the story: Mr. and Mrs. MacSycophant, Miss MacSycophant, Miss Imogen MacSycophant, Mr. Plantagenet MacSycophant, Miss Boadicea MacSycophant—and more of the same. One MacSycophant is as good as twenty, Mrs. Grundy; and as I know the Midases already, and find them amusingly dull, why should I know the Plutuses, who are probably even duller?"
Mrs. Grundy looked as if transfixed.
"Oh," continued the cosmopolitan, laughing, "I do not deny that money is an excellent thing. I am glad that I am not in want of it. But it is a dangerous thing to handle. If you don't manage it well it exposes you terribly. Great riches are like an electric light—like a noonday sun; they reveal everything. If a man stands in a ridiculous attitude, or is clad scantily, the intense light displays him remorselessly to every beholder. Great riches do the same. I saw you at the Midases', dear Mrs. Grundy. Did you ever see a more sumptuous entertainment or a more splendid palace? What pictures and statues and vases! what exquisite and costly decoration! what gold and glass! what Sevres and Dresden! But the more I admired the beautiful works of art, the more I thought of the enthusiasm and devotion of the artist, the more I was touched by the grace and delicacy of color and form around me; and the more I heard Midas talk, the more clearly I saw that he did not see, or feel, or understand anything of the real value and significance of his own entourage. The more beautiful it was, the more plainly it displayed his total want of perception of beauty.
"His house is a magnificent museum. It is full of treasures. But they all dwarf and deride him. They are so many relentless lights turned on to show how completely he is not at home in his own house. He is as much out of place among them as a horse in a studio. He has all the proper books of a gentleman's library, and all superbly bound. What does he know about them? He never read a book. He has marvellous pictures. What does he know of pictures? He doesn't know whether Gainsborough was a painter or a potter, or whether Giotto was a Greek or a Roman. He has books and pictures merely because he has money enough to buy them, and because it is understood that a fine house should have a library and a gallery. Is it otherwise with his glass and porcelain? What do you think that he could tell you of Dresden china—its history, its masters, its manufacture? You say that very few people could tell you much about it. Granted; but if a man surrounds himself with it, and forces it upon your attention, you have a right not only to ask such questions, but to expect answers.
"My dear Mrs. Grundy, when I was a young man on my travels, and was introduced at a London club, the porter, or the major-domo, or the door-keeper, or whatever he was, seemed to me like a peer of the realm. He was faultlessly dressed, and he had most tranquil manners. Well, our good friend Midas is that gentleman. He is the curator of a fine museum. He opens the door to a well-furnished club. But he is in no proper sense master of his house. The master of such a house, as Goethe said of the picture-owner, is the man to whom you can say, 'Show me the best.' Poor Midas could only show us the costliest. Eh, Mrs. Grundy?"
That excellent lady's eyes had expanded, during these remarks, until they were fixed in a round, stony stare at the cheerful cosmopolitan.
"And this, you see, my good lady, is the reason that all this display is called vulgar. It represents nothing but money. It does not represent taste, or intelligence, or talent, in the possessor, and the sole relation between him and his possessions is his ability to pay for them. You drink his superior wines. But even you, Mrs. Grundy, are not quite sure that he could distinguish between the finest madeira and a common sherry. That is no fault, surely, but there is a great difference between wines.
"When you kindly offer to present me to a gentleman of whom you can say only that he is very rich, and I ask you if he will give me some of his money, you look surprised and shocked. But I am not a misanthrope, and I ask a question which you can answer affirmatively. He will give me some of his money in giving me some of the pleasure which is derivable from what his money buys. For that I am grateful. I tip the custode with my sincere thanks. I bow to the door-keeper with hearty acknowledgment. I shall go again and again with great pleasure. But I shall not make the singular mistake of supposing that he bears the same relation to his possessions that the musician bears to his music, and the scholar to his knowledge, and the traveller to his shrewd observation.
"You think that I am basely looking a gift horse in the mouth. Not at all. I am only declining to believe the porter to be a peer of the realm merely because he wears a white cravat and has tranquil manners. If Midas is a dull man, all the money in the world does not make him interesting. But if he has accumulated beautiful and interesting things, I shall gladly go to his house and see them. Now, my dear Mrs. Grundy, that is very different from going to his house to see the Plutuses. They are not the possessions that make his house desirable. My young friend Hornet says that if the only way to drink Midas's gold-seal Johannisberger is to take Mrs. Plutus down to dinner, he will not hesitate to pay the price, as he is willing to pay the price of sea-sickness if he wishes to see the Vatican. Does my dear Mrs. Grundy comprehend?"
—But the good lady was gone. She could draw but one conclusion from such a strain of remark about people with fabulous incomes. The cheerful cosmopolitan must have been dining with Mr. Midas, and must have sat much too long at table. What a pity that so pleasant a man should permit himself such excesses! There was, however, but one course for a self-respecting woman to pursue—Mrs. Grundy had left him alone.
DICKENS READING. [1867.]
When, hereafter, some chance traveller picks up this odd number of an old magazine and opens to this very page, let him know that the evening of Dickens's first reading in New York was bright with moonlight veiled in a soft gray snow-cloud. The crowd at the entrance was not large. The speculators in tickets were not troublesome, because all the tickets had been long sold. The police, as usual, were polite and efficient; and going up the steep staircase, and passing through the single door, we were all quietly and pleasantly seated by eight o'clock. The floor of Steinway Hall is level, so that the audience is lost to itself; but it was easy for all of us to perceive, by scanning our neighbors, that we were a very fine body of people. At least everybody who was present said so. We all remarked that the intelligence and distinction of the city were present, and that it must be extremely gratifying to Mr. Dickens to be welcomed by the most intellectual and appreciative audience that could be assembled in New York.
The details of the arrangement upon the platform, the screen behind, the hidden lights above and below, and the stiff little table with the water-bottle, are familiar. But as we all sat looking at them, and at the variously splendid toilets that rustled in, and fluttered, and finally settled, it was not possible to escape the great thought that in a few moments we should see at that queer, stiff table the creator of Sam Weller, and Oliver Twist, and Micawber, and Dick Swiveller, and the rest of the endless, marvellous company—the greatest story-teller since Scott, one of the most famous names in literature since Fielding. When he was here before Carlyle growled in Past and Present about "Schnauspiel, the distinguished novelist," and there were some who laughed. But the laugh has passed by.—Look! There is a man, who looks like somebody's "own man," who scuffles across the stage and turns up a burner or two; and he is scarcely out of the way when—there he comes, rapidly, in full evening dress, with a heavy watch-chain, and a nosegay in his button-hole, the world's own man.
His reception was sober. The whole audience clapped its gloved hands. Not a heel, not a cane, mingled with the sound, not a solitary voice. It was a very muffled cordiality, an enthusiasm in kid gloves. The Easy Chair, for one, longed to rise and shout. Heaven has given us voices, brethren, with which to welcome and salute our friends, and if ever a long, long cheer should have rung from the heart, it was when the man who has done so much for all of us stood before us. But it was useless. The steady clapping was prolonged, and Dickers stood calmly, bowing easily once or twice, and waiting with the air of one ready to begin business.
The instant there was silence he did begin: "Ladies and gentlemen, I am to have the honor of reading to you this evening the trial-scene from Pickwick, and a Christmas Carol in a prelude and three scenes. Scene first, Marley's Ghost. Marley was dead, to begin with." These words, or words very similar, were spoken in a husky voice, not remarkable in any way, and with the English cadence in articulation, a rising inflection at the end of every few words. They were spoken with perfect simplicity, and the introductory description was read with good sense, and conveyed a fine relish upon the reader's part of the things described. There was nothing formal, no effort of any kind. The left hand held the book, the right hand moved continually, slightly indicating the action described, as of putting on a muffler, or whatever it might be. But the moment Scrooge spoke the drama began.
Every character was individualized by the voice and by a slight change of expression. But the reader stood perfectly still, and the instant transition of the voice from the dramatic to the descriptive tone was unfailing and extraordinary. This was perfection of art. Nor was the evenness of the variety less striking. Every character was indicated with the same felicity. Of course the previous image in the hearer's mind must be considered in estimating the effect. The reader does not create the character, the writer has done that; and now he refreshes it into unwonted vividness, as when a wet sponge is passed over an old picture. Scrooge, and Tiny Tim, and Sam Weller and his wonderful father, and Sergeant Buzfuz, and Justice Stareleigh have an intenser reality and vitality than before. As the reading advances the spell becomes more entrancing. The mind and heart answer instantly to every tone and look of the reader. In a passionate outburst, as in Bob Cratchit's wail for his lost little boy, or in Scrooge's prayer to be allowed to repent, the whole scene lives and throbs before you. And when, in the great trial of Bardell against Pickwick, the thick, fat voice of the elder Weller wheezes from the gallery, "Put it down with a wee, me Lerd, put it down with a wee," you turn to look for the gallery and behold the benevolent parent.
Through all there is a striking sense of reserved power, and of absolute mastery of the art. There is no straining for points, no exaggeration, no extravagance, but an instinctive and adequate outlay of means for every effect, and a complete preservation of personal dignity throughout. The enjoyment is sincere and unique; and when the young gentleman before us remarks to the flossy young woman at his side that "any clever actor can do the thing as well," we congratulate him inwardly upon his experience of the theatre. Perhaps, also, the flossy young woman is of opinion that any clever author can write as well as this reader.
There is a serious drawback to this first evening's enjoyment, however, and that is that fully a third of those present hear very imperfectly. Nothing can surpass the air of mingled indignation, chagrin, and disappointment with which a severe lady just behind declares that she did not hear a word, and adds, caustically, that the spectacle alone is hardly worth the money. Not worth the money? Dear Madam, the Easy Chair would willingly pay more than the price of admission merely to see him. And just as he is thinking so another friend leans forward and says, in a decided tone of utter disappointment, "Just let me take your glass, will you? I can't hear a word, but I should like to see how the man looks." As the Easy Chair passes out of the door he encounters Mr. and Mrs. Sealskin, sailing smoothly and silently out. "How delightful!" exclaims the innocent and unwary Chair. "Didn't hear a word," says Mr. Sealskin, sententiously, and without pausing in his course; and Madam upon his arm raises her eyebrows and looks emphatically "not a word!" So the Easy Chair gradually discovers that there has been a very wide and lamentable disappointment, and that a large part of the throng has been tantalized through the evening in the vain effort to hear—catching a few words and losing the point of the joke. No wonder they are very sober, and sail out of the hall very steadily, with an air of thinking that they have been victims, but also with the plain wish to think as well of Mr. Charles Dickens as circumstances will allow. Still, they evidently hold him, upon the whole, responsible, just as an audience assembled to hear a lecture, and obliged to go unlectured away, holds the lecturer—chafing in a snow-bank upon the railroad fifty miles away—responsible for its disappointment. It is pleasant for the Sealskins to read, as the Easy Chair did the next morning, in the ever-veracious and independent press, that Mr. Dickens's voice is heard with ease in every part of the hall.
But let them feel as they may, those who did not hear are sure to go again, and if they hear the next time, again and again. Let the future reader of this odd number of a magazine learn further that such was the popular eagerness to attend these readings that people gathered before light to stand in the line of the ticket-office. One historic boy is said to have passed the night in the cold waiting for the opening of the office, and to have sold his prize for thirty dollars in gold to "a Southerner." Another person was offered twenty dollars for his place in the line, with merely a chance of getting a ticket when his turn came at the office.
The interest was unabated to the end, and under the personal spell of the enchanter that old ill-feeling towards the author of American Notes and the creator of Chuzzlewit melted away. And why not? Do we not all know our Yankee brother of whom Dickens told us, who has a huge note of interrogation in each eye, and can we blame the Englishman for using his own eyes? Is not that silent traveller whom he saw still to be seen in every train sucking the great ivory head of his cane and taking it out occasionally and looking at it to see how it is getting on? If we had been a little angry with Lemuel Gulliver or Robinson Crusoe, could our anger have survived hearing one of them tell his story of Liliput, or the other the tale of the solitary island?
After his little winter tour Dickens returned to New York to take leave of the American public. On the Saturday evening before the final reading the newspaper fraternity gave him a dinner at Delmonico's, which was then at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, formerly the hospitable house of Moses H. Grinnell. At this dinner Mr. Greeley presided, and that the bland and eccentric teetotaler, who was not supposed to be versed in what Carlyle called the "tea-table proprieties," should take the chair at a dinner to so roistering a blade—within discreet limits—and so skilled an artist of all kinds of beverages as Dickens, was a stroke of extravaganza in his own way. The dinner was in every way memorable and delightful, but the enjoyment was sobered by the illness of the guest from one of the attacks which, as was known soon afterwards, foretold the speedy end. It was, indeed, doubtful if he could appear, but after an hour he came limping slowly into the room on the arm of Mr. Greeley.
In his speech, with great delicacy and feeling, Dickens alluded to some possible misunderstanding, now forever vanished, between him and his hosts, and declared his purpose of publicly recognizing that fact in future editions of his works. His words were greeted with great enthusiasm, and on the following Monday evening he read, at Steinway Hall, for the last time in this country, and sailed on Wednesday. He was still very lame, but he read with unusual vigor, and with deep feeling. As he ended, and slowly limped away, the applause was prodigious, and the whole audience rose and stood waiting. Reaching the steps of the platform he paused, and turned towards the hall; then, after a moment, he came slowly and painfully back again, and with a pale face and evidently profoundly moved, he gazed at the vast audience. The hall was hushed, and in a voice firm, but full of pathos, he spoke a few words of farewell. "I shall never recall you," he said, "as a mere public audience, but rather as a host of personal friends, and ever with the greatest gratitude, tenderness, and consideration. God bless you, and God bless the land in which I leave you!" The great audience waited respectfully, wistfully watching him as he slowly withdrew. The faithful Dolby, his friend and manager, helped him down the steps. For a moment he turned and looked at the crowded hall. It was full of hearts responding to his own. There was a common consciousness that it was a last parting, and his fervid benediction was silently reciprocated.—Then the door closed behind him.
There is one lady in literature and in life whom all men are said, not without gentle sarcasm if a woman says it, to wish especially to know. She is declared to be the vision that haunts the youth as his heart opens to the soft influences of love, and her figure, trim and debonair, that allures the older fancy of the man who sits "alone and merry at forty year," having seen his earlier Gillian and Marian and a score more happily married. She is, in fact, the domestic magician, the good fairy, the genius of home, the thoughtful, tactful, careful, intelligent house-keeper, the very she whom Milton sings, introducing us to
"Herbs and other country messes Which the neat-handed Phillis dresses."
Her name is Phillis—not exactly a romantic name, nor, indeed, is it meant by the poet to be a romantic name; for he has just before sketched another kind of woman:
"Towers and battlements it sees Bosom'd high in tufted trees, Where perhaps some beauty lies, The cynosure of neighboring eyes."
Such a cynosure could not possibly have been named Phillis: Artemis, perhaps, or Hildegarde; Constance, Una, Mildred, or Cunigunda, but by no possibility Phillis. That is a pastoral name, a shepherd's sweetheart. Indeed, the two kinds of women are perfectly indicated and distinguished in these lines of L'Allegro, which have no detail of description. The impression of womanly difference is nowhere more completely given. One picture is that of the lofty, haughty, "highborn Helen," the superb Lady Clara Vere de Vere; the other is that of the thrifty Baucis, the gardener Adam's wife. And the two are as near in the young man's heart as they are in the poem.
When Mr. William Guppy raised his eyes from the pit of the theatre to Miss Esther Summerson sitting in the boxes, the "image imprinted on his 'art" was that of the cynosure of neighboring eyes, stately among stately towers and ancestral trees. But doubtless when Mr. William Guppy, as lovers will, abandoned himself to blissful dreams of the possible home that should grow out of his lofty passion, it was another vision that he saw; it was the high-born Helen coming down to breakfast in a sweet morning-cap, a neat-handed Phillis. For love, which soars and sings, also builds its nest. The one instinct is as deep and sure as the other. The cynosure of worshipping hearts and eyes is but the romantic aspect of Phillis: and because she is so lofty and so lovely will she be the miracle-worker in the household. The secret sorrow of a thousand homes is that the lady of the towers and battlements does not prove in fact to be also the neat-handed Phillis.
Indeed, it is a kind of national complaint and lamentation that the neat-handed Phillis is disappearing altogether. This is the significance of the servant-girl question. This is the root of the alarming conviction that Phillis is changing into Biddy, whose fit epithet is not neat-handed. This is the meaning of the cry for bread—light, sweet, well-baked bread; not the clammy dough which is served to a despairing land. This is the reason of the wondering question, What has become of roast meat? and of the melancholy conviction that henceforth baked beef is to replace the juicy sirloin of tradition, history, and elegant literature.
Of the accomplished and intelligent young women who honor the Easy Chair at this moment with their attention, of course the immense majority can broil a steak to a turn, or mix the airiest bread, or boil potatoes as new-fallen snow. But there are some unfortunates who cannot do it. Let us pity them. They would probably tell us that they have not studied poetry and music, the French language, crochet, and the Boston, to become kitchen drudges: and they will not fail to remind us that Cinderella did not charm the prince as a kitchen-maid, and that she had ceased to be Cinderbreech, and had emerged from the chimney-corner when she married him. But will they please to curb their wrath for a moment and listen to Dr. Clarke? "Unless men and women both have brains, the nation will go down. As much brain is needed to govern a household as to command a ship; as much to guide a family aright as to guide a Congress aright; as much to do the least and the greatest of woman's work as to do the least and the greatest of man's work."
Now, the dressing of messes by the neat-handed Phillis is one of the important elements of governing a household; and the Princess Cinderella was the better housewife because she had once been Cinderbreech. Nelson was the better admiral because he had once been cabin-boy. Dickens was the better story-teller because he had once been reporter. If, indeed, Darby can afford to pay a hundred dollars monthly to a chef, Joan need know nothing of messes; but how many such Darbys are there?
These remarks, or similar ones, have been often heard by the gentler reader, and are somewhat familiar to her, not to say wearisome. "Oh yes," she says, "I know all this: men want women in the family to be angels and French cooks rolled into one. Heaven save the mark! Suppose that women on their side were to expect men in the family to be heroes and gentlemen as well as 'good providers?'"
Well, madame, they ought to expect it and to insist upon it. Perhaps you have played the little game of parlor magic? There are homes in which that game is always played, and they are the happiest of all. In them the real value of neatness and order, of thrift and taste and temperance, is understood, and the Beauty who once lay lapped in lofty towers knows that the romance which enshrined her amid those battlements and tufted trees is preserved and forever refreshed by the art of the neat-handed Phillis. And, madame, upon his side he does not reverse the order of the story and of nature, and sink from the Prince into the Beast.
THOREAU AND MY LADY CAVALIERE.
The last time that the Easy Chair saw that remarkable man, Henry Thoreau, he came quietly into Mr. Emerson's study to get a volume of Pliny's letters. Expecting to see no one, and accustomed to attend without distraction to the business in hand, he was as quietly going out, when the host spoke to him, and without surprise, and with unsmiling courtesy, Thoreau greeted his friends. He seated himself, maintaining the same habitual erect posture, which made it seem impossible that he could ever lounge or slouch, and that made Hawthorne speak of him as "cast-iron," and immediately he began to talk in the strain so familiar to his friends. It was a staccato style of speech, every word coming separately and distinctly, as if preserving the same cool isolation in the sentence that the speaker did in society; but the words were singularly apt and choice, and Thoreau had always something to say. His knowledge was original. He was a Fine-ear and a Sharp-eye in the woods and fields; and he added to his knowledge of nature the wisdom of the most ancient times and of the best literature. His manner and matter both reproved trifling, but in the most impersonal manner. It was like the reproof of Pan's statue. There seemed never to be any loosening of the intellectual tension, and a call from Thoreau in the highest sense "meant business."
On the morning of which we are speaking the talk fell upon the Indians, with whom he had a profound sympathy, and of whose life and ways and nature he apparently had an instinctive knowledge. In the slightly contemptuous inference against civilization which his remarks left, rather than in any positively scornful tone, there was something which rather humorously suggested the man who spoke lightly of the equator, but with the difference that there would have been if the light speaking had left a horrible suspicion of that excellent circle. For Thoreau so ingeniously traced our obligations to the aborigines that the claims of civilization for what is really essential palpably dwindled. He dropped all manner of curious and delightful information as he went on, and it was sad to see in the hollow cheek and the large, unnaturally lustrous eye the signs of the disease that very soon removed him from among us. Those who remember him, and were familiar with his truly heroic and virtuous life, or those who perceive in his works that spirit of sweetness and content which made him at the last say that he was as happy to be sick as to be well, will apply to him the words of his own poem in the first number of the Dial:
"Say not that Caesar was victorious, With toil and strife who stormed the House of Fame; In other sense this youth was glorious, Himself a kingdom wheresoe'er he came."
His talk of the Indians left an impression entirely unlike that of the Cooper novel and the red man of the theatre. It was untouched by romance or sentimentality. It made them a grave, manly race, intimately familiar with nature, with a lofty scorn of feebleness. The sylvan shade and the leafy realm and Arden and pastoral poetry were wholly wanting in the picture he drew, quite as much as the theory that they are vermin to be exterminated as fast as possible. He said that the pioneers of civilization, as it is called, among the Indians are purveyors of every kind of mischief. We graft the sound native stock with a sour fruit, then denounce it bitterly and cut it down. What was most admirable in Daniel Boone, he said, was his Indian nature and sympathy; and the least admirable part was his hold, such as it was, upon civilization. He seemed to imply that if Boone could only have succeeded in becoming an Indian altogether, it would have been a truly memorable triumph. Thoreau acknowledged that the Indian was not only doomed, but, as he gravely said, damned, because his enemies were his historians; and he could only say, "Ah, if we lions had painted the picture!"
The sylvan idea of Daniel Boone would probably have been very rudely shattered could he have been actually seen; and Thoreau's Indian was certainly not visible in the stories of men of his time who had passed weeks among the Indians upon the plains. The pioneers, like Boone, are not romantic; their life is a hard toil and struggle; they are ignorant, rude, and even repulsive. This is natural, because their real work is that of the subsoil plough and the harrow. They lay the strong foundations. Without them, no soft waving field of golden harvest, no velvet lawn, no Palladian villa, no flower of art and culture—in a word, no progress, as we call it—however the shade of Thoreau may implacably smile. So when the Lady Cavaliere whispered from under her beaded veil, "Don't speak of it, but I am tired to death of reformers," it was only the artist's impatience of the ploughman; it was Rupert and his men not only sneering at Praise God Bare-bones, and singing their mock prayer in the Lenten litany,
"That it may please thee to suppose Our actions are as good as those That gull the people through the nose,"
but heartily believing Cromwell and his men to be canting hypocrites.
And yet the Lady Cavaliere is too well informed not to know that it was not the silken chivalry who planted the king's standard and defended it with all heroism, in whose praise the poets sang, who are still the heroes of romance, and whose life had the charm of grace and ease and accomplishment and savoir faire, that saved England and a great deal more. The lady has sauntered through the palaces where the Vandyck portrait of the king hangs upon the walls, the handsome, melancholy Stuart. She looked at it secretly, perhaps, with something of the same feeling that men think of the hapless Mary, as we call her. What a gentleman! how refined! how sad! how agreeable to the fancy! Yes, dear lady, and what a liar! how false-hearted! who would have had his own foolish way whatever happened to other men! He would have gratified your taste to the utmost; you would never have said under your breath, "How I hate reformers!" he would have, perhaps, carried your imagination and taste against your conscience and judgment. And it is for that very reason—because taste and imagination are so subtly seductive—that it is essential to challenge them. St. Anthony did not mind the devil as a dragon; but the devil as a siren—ah! how hard St. Anthony had to pray!
Change is apt to present itself first in its unhandsome aspect. You would much rather hear a lute in the moonlight upon the lawn, and behold! a coarse plough and a frightful harrow. Yet, so lutes and lawns begin. You like the smooth music of a silken court, the picturesque ceremony, the poetic tradition, the perfume, the splendor, and lo! a troop in jerkin pricking to the fray in horrible earnest, and blood, and ghastly wounds, and torture, and merciful death! Yet, so courts and ceremonies are instituted. One of the hardest battles that reform has to fight is this battle in the air—so to speak: this contest with taste and imagination that cling to the myriad-hued moss and the delicate vine fringe upon the ogre's castle, and that find the donjon so much more picturesque than the house.
A cause is seen through its pioneers, and taste and imagination are confused and confounded in the medium. A nature like Falkland's could not see liberty clearly even through John Pym—how much less through nasal psalm-singing butchers and brewers building a scaffold for the king. So, in our own time, the great question that so sorely rent us was seen by taste and imagination in the form of delicate, highly-cultured women, of a superficial tranquil elegance of society, of patriarchal tradition, of easy knowledge of the world, and the smooth habit of society upon the one hand; and upon the other, often in the form of a queer medley of grotesque people, each more extravagant than the other, and uttering the wildest sentiments in the most absurd rhetoric. The Lady Cavaliere has not forgotten that the last retreat of the doomed system was the salon and the boudoir, where taste is law, and where decorous immorality is not unwelcome.
By-and-by, when the reform is established and has become traditional, its pioneers become heroic and poetic. The Norman robber is then discovered to be a kind of blue-blooded gentleman, or at least the sturdy, aboriginal father of gentlemen. The rough and half-savage Boone is the ideal frontiersman, with a smack of Arden and the sylvan realm. And as for the coarse-toothed harrow—as my Lady Cavaliere sits upon the porch and sees the peacock unfolding his glory upon the soft, thick sward, do you see that my lady wears a delicate trinket around her swan neck, and lo! it is a harrow exquisitely wrought in gold.
The feeling with which she breathed through her beaded veil her dislike of pioneer reformers is as old as human nature. But it was not the sigh of wisdom, but of weariness, in my lady. There is a certain insight even in gentle youth which does not recoil from the pioneer, and foresees the soft sward springing under the harrow as it tears the heavy clods. Those in whom youth abides never outgrow that precious insight and foresight. One such, not less fair than my Lady Cavaliere, of the most tranquil and undemonstrative behavior, has long been to how many good causes one of the most valuable and efficient friends. She has not cared that Daniel Boone should recede into poetic distance before he seemed to her a hero. In his cabin as he smoked, in the hard winter day as he felled the forest tree, in the rough, unhandsome experience of every hour, he has been to her the forerunner of refinement and plenty and ease. If taste and imagination shrink from the squalor of the frontier, she remembers the greater squalor and the darker tragedy of the city slum. If the long-haired, shambling, shrill fanatic upon the platform be a contemptuous jest to my Lady Cavaliere, this fairer lady remembers John clad in goat-skins and crying in the wilderness. I wish, she says, that mankind might sit at a sumptuous table, but I shall not scoff at the wooden spoon that feeds its hunger. She hangs one picture upon her wall: it is Christ sitting at meat with publicans and sinners. And so season after season, year after year, she carries her sympathy, her hope, her steady faith to all the pioneers. She is not a poet, but the world is to her enchanted. Under the sharp voice of the reformer she hears the music of the harmony which he discordantly foretells. With the distorted eyes of the ill-disciplined, ignorant enthusiast she beholds the symmetry of the future towards which he looks. In turn, the reformer and the enthusiast behold in her and vaguely comprehend the outward charm of beauty and grace and high condition which they blindly announce. It is as if Daniel Boone, shaggy and savage, suddenly saw his cabin and his rude clearing glorified: a stately, hospitable mansion, overlooking a placid landscape of rounded groves and blooming gardens and distant parks, murmuring with the song of birds and all domestic sounds. Her service to a good cause is more than eloquence, more than devotion—it is the perpetual presence of its ideal.
There were plenty of Lords and Ladies Cavaliere who were tired to death of that solemn enthusiast and bore, Columbus. But when he saw the shore of San Salvador he must have recalled that he had long ago seen it in the patient faith of any unknown friend who had always hoped for him and believed with him. The Lady Cavaliere who thinks Daniel Boone in early Kentucky, or Christopher Columbus pacing the shore and ceaselessly looking westward, the most romantic of figures, does not know that she sneered at both when she whispered, "I am tired to death of reformers."
HONESTUS AT THE CAUCUS.
A man who is easily discouraged, who is not willing to put the good seed out of sight and wait for results, who desponds if he cannot obtain everything at once, and who thinks the human race lost if he is disappointed, will be very unhappy if he persists in taking a part in politics. There is no sphere in which self-deception is easier. A man with a restless personal ambition is very apt to believe his own purposes to be public ends, and he finds his party to be recreant to its principles if he fails to get what he wants. A young man comes from college carefully trained, with the taste for politics which belongs to the English race, and with the wish and hope to distinguish himself and to serve his country. He attaches himself to a party, and works for it in the usual way, waiting for his opportunity and his distinction. Gradually the gratification of his ambition becomes his test of the patriotic sincerity and wisdom of his party. He does not think that it is so. He does not state it to himself in that bald way. But he feels that he is the kind of man that his party ought to promote, that he has the capacity and the desire to be of use, and that if his party has not perceptions sharp enough to know its own best men, nor the wish to distinguish them by calling them to office, there is something deplorable in its condition.
"I am afraid," said a gentleman of this kind to the Easy Chair, "that my party is falling into bad hands. I see signs of corruption which seem to me very disheartening." He shook his head forebodingly. This gentleman did not conceal his opinion. He announced it freely, and the rumor came to the ears of the real managers of the party. They put their heads together, and presently the foreboding gentleman was called to a public position. Again the Easy Chair met him, and he said that the political prospect was very much more encouraging than he had ever known it to be. There was a spirit abroad, he thought, which would certainly lead to great results. Indeed, the clouds were gone, and the sun shone brightly.
At another time another gentleman shook his head in the same way. He held a pleasant position, but he found that promotion was very slow, and he began to despond and to think the times sadly demoralized, and his party—at least he feared it—fatally mercenary. It was evidently indifferent to reform, and seemed to care little for the wishes of the people or the character of the country. He, too, shook his head with profound distrust of the future; and the Easy Chair fell into deep depression, and wondered whether, after all, a republican form of government might not be a failure. Before it was possible to say so conclusively, however, the Chair heard that his friend had decided to seek reform and the welfare of the race "under the banner" of the opposing party. And again, while considering whether all patriots ought not to follow so eminent an example, it learned that the desponding soul who had had the courage to face obloquy and change his party relations had only done so after prolonged and fruitless efforts to secure official place under his old party. Had he obtained it that party would still have seemed to him resolute, patriotic, and discerning, and he would have continued to serve his country in the association to which he had become accustomed.
There is no South American general who overthrows a government and enthrones himself as dictator upon the ruins who does not announce with imposing solemnity that the old system was intolerable, and that the interests of humanity and the country required him to do as he had done. Not one of them was ever known to declare that he had destroyed the old government because he wished to be the government himself. The two friends of the Easy Chair had sincerely sophisticated themselves, and identified their personal advantage and wishes with the public interest. If they had told the precise truth they would have said that they wanted office, and if they could not get it from one party they would try another. When a man is conscious of a strong desire and of great ability to serve the public, this kind of sophistication is easy. That which should make a generous man suspicious under such circumstances is that he confounds official position with public service. The latter, indeed, is in a sense a technical phrase; but a man may equally serve the public unofficially by taking his part in the necessary and disagreeable details of practical politics. If he will not do this he must share the responsibility of bad government.
Yet here, again, he must not be discouraged if his efforts appear to be abortive and the results ridiculous. The secret of a republic seems abstractly to be very simple, for it is merely that all good men shall act together and elect good officers. But good men cannot act together if they do not think together, and the best method of obtaining results which all desire is the very problem of politics. All good men cannot act together, therefore, because good men differ. But even the good men who agree cannot easily and simply have their way, because political measures can be secured only by organization, and the organization, or the machine by which the result is to be attained, may very readily fall into crafty or corrupt hands, which will use the sincerity and pure purpose of better men to serve base and mercenary ends. The first of the two friends of the Easy Chair was used in this manner. He was sincere and pure, but he was vain, and therefore weak, and the clever managers hit him in the heel.
Again, a man may be wholly free of weakness or vanity, and, without the least personal wish or ambition in public life, may take part in politics solely from a commanding sense of duty, and yet find himself and his efforts not only unavailing for his own purposes, but ludicrously and hopelessly perverted to serve those of others. Honestus was such a man: in the truest sense a patriot in feeling, yet he confessed that he had hitherto neglected his political duties, but declared that henceforth he would lose no opportunity of correcting his conduct. He saw with joy the notice of an approaching primary meeting, and when the evening arrived he hastened to the hall with the pleasing consciousness that he was discharging a great public duty. He reached the hall, and was heartily welcomed by the observant managers, whom, had Titbottom's spectacles been at hand, he would have seen to be foxes—at least. They were very glad indeed to see Honestus and men like him engaging in politics. They saw in that fact the augury of a better day. It was a peculiar pleasure to co-operate with him, and they trusted that this was but the beginning of a good habit upon his part. Honestus could not help thinking how easy it was to exaggerate, and to suppose men to be a great deal worse than they are, and wondered that he had never before taken the trouble—or, rather, fulfilled the duty—of attending the primary meeting.
The proceedings began, and he was exceedingly interested. Officers were appointed, and it was evident from their speeches that nothing but honesty and economy was to be sought, and only men of the most spotless character nominated. But it was necessary to have a committee upon nominations; and to his surprise and gratification Honestus heard his own name mentioned as one of the committee, and almost blushed as he was appointed its chairman. The committee was requested to withdraw, and to report the names of candidates as soon as possible.
Honestus and his colleagues therefore retired to a dim passage-way—where, as he subsequently remarked, he should have been rather alarmed to meet either of them at night and alone—and business began. Various names were mentioned, of which, unfortunately, Honestus had never heard one; and at length one of the most positive of the committee said, emphatically, that, upon the whole, Sly was the very man for the place. There was a general murmur of assent and satisfaction. Honestus heard on every side that it was "just the thing;" that Sly was "an A1 boy," and that he was "always there;" he was also "square," and "right up to the line;" and by common consent Sly seemed to be the Heaven-appointed candidate.
Rather disturbed by his total ignorance of this conspicuous public character, Honestus turned to his neighbor and said, guardedly, with the air of a man who was musing upon Sly's qualifications, "Oh, Sly—Sly?"
"Yes," said his neighbor, "Sly."
"Certainly," replied Honestus; "certainly. But—who—is—Sly?"
His neighbor looked at him for a moment, and repeated the question in a tone of incredulity—"Who is Sly?"—as if he had said, Who is George Washington?
"Yes; I don't think that I know him."
"Don't know Sly?"
"Well, if you did know him, you'd know that he's just the man we want; bang up; made for it."
"Oh, is he?"
"Well," said the member who had first announced that Sly was the very man for the place, "I suppose they'll be waiting. I nominate Sly as the candidate."
The chairman said yes, but that, unfortunately for himself, he did not know Mr. Sly.
"Well, you don't know anything against him, do you?" asked the other.
"Well, we all know him, and he is the very man. We ought to hurry."
Honestus put the question, and Sly was unanimously named as the candidate to be reported to the meeting by the chairman.
The meeting was already stamping and clapping and calling for the committee, and the energetic mover of Sly said that it was necessary to go in right away. The committee made for the hall, and the chairman followed. He knew nothing of Sly nor of the people who had named him, and he knew nobody else whom he could propose for the place. Honestus felt very much as a leaf might feel upon the fall at Niagara, and in the next moment the chairman of the meeting was asking him if the committee were ready to report. The chairman of the committee bowed. The chairman of the meeting said that the report would now be made. Honestus stated that he was instructed to report the name of Sly. The meeting roared. There was some thumping by the chairman, and Honestus heard only the name of Sly and "by acclamation," and a whirlwind of calls upon "Sly!" "Sly!" "Speech!" "Speech!" The next moment Sly, with a large diamond pin, was upon the platform thanking and promising, and the meeting was stormily cheering and adjourning sine die.
Honestus walked quietly home, perceiving that the result of his practical effort to discharge the primary duties of a citizen was that Sly, one of the most disreputable and dishonest of public sharks, had been nominated by a committee of which he was chairman, and that the whole weight of the name of Honestus was thrown upon the side of rascality with a diamond pin. And he reflected that in politics, as elsewhere, it is necessary to begin as early in preparation for action as the rascals.
Yet he did not lose his faith, nor suppose that popular government is a cheat and a snare, because he had been involuntarily made the instrument of knaves. Honestus understands that good government is one of the best things in the world, and he knows that good things of that kind are not cheap. He is willing to pay the price, and the price is the trouble to ascertain who Sly is, and the time to do his part in defeating Sly. For Honestus knows that if he does not rule, Sly will.
THALBERG AND OTHER PIANISTS, 1871.
It was about fifteen years ago that Thalberg, who has just died only fifty-nine years old, was in this country. Jenny Lind had been here some years earlier, and Alboni and Grisi a little later, and Vieuxtemps and Sivori and Ole Bull a dozen years before. Jullien, with his monster orchestra, had given monstrous concerts in the monstrous hall of Castle Garden, and many a musician of less fame had come to try his fortune. But we had had neither of the acknowledged masters of the piano, the founders of the modern school of playing—Liszt and Thalberg. Liszt, spoiled and capricious, played very seldom. Chopin, more a composer than a performer, we in America had never supposed would cross the sea: so sensitive, so delicate, so shadowy, his life seemed to exhale, a passionate sigh of music. In the stormy, blood-soaked, ruined Paris of to-day it is not easy to imagine those evenings at the Prince Czartoryski's, when Chopin played in the moonlight the mazurkas and polonaises and waltzes which moonlight or dreams seem often to have inspired, but through which the proud movement of the old Polish dance and song triumphantly rings.
In George Sand's Letters of a Traveller Chopin also appears, but sadly and hopelessly. What Xavier de Maistre says of the Fornarina and Raphael is the undertone of all the passages of the book that speak of Chopin—"She loved her love more than her lover." Then came the burial at the Madeleine, with his own funeral march beating time to his grave. The mere pianist who had aroused the most enthusiasm in this country was Leopold de Meyer, who came more than twenty years ago. His was a blithe, exhilarating style. There was a grotesque little plaster cast of him in the shop-windows at the time, representing him crouching over the instrument, with enormous hands spread upon the keyboard, and his fat knees crowding in to cover all the rest of the space. It was slam-bang playing, but so skilful, and with such a tickling melody, that it was irresistibly popular. His "Marche Marocaine," a brilliant tour de force, was always sure to captivate the audience; and his success was indisputable.
De Meyer's concerts were sometimes given in the old Tabernacle in Broadway, near Leonard Street, the circular church which for so many years was the chief public hall in the city. The platform was almost in the centre, and the aisles radiated from it. The galleries went quite around the building, and, except for the huge columns which supported a dome, it was convenient both for hearing and seeing. Here were some of the great antislavery meetings in the hottest days of the agitation. The anniversaries were held here, and it was the scene of all popular lectures and of concerts. A few blocks above, upon Broadway, near Canal Street, was the old Apollo Hall, where the first Philharmonic concerts took place. In those early days of the German music—days which followed the City Hotel epoch and the Garcia opera—people were so unaccustomed to the proprieties of the concert-room that the Easy Chair has even known some persons to whisper and giggle during the performance of the finest symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart, and so excessively rude as to rustle out of the hall before the last piece was ended.
Upon one such occasion it said to its neighbor, as they were coming out:
"It is a pity such ill-mannered people should thrust themselves among ladies and gentlemen."
"Ill-mannered!" quoth its neighbor; "I assure you they are carriage company from the neighborhood of Union Square."
In these days of universal respectful attention at the Philharmonic concerts it is but a curious reminiscence of long-passed boorishness, this of persons who whispered and giggled, and rustled out before the end, at concerts, to the disturbance of all mannerly people.
As the city grew the concerts came up-town, and were for some time given at Niblo's concert-room. But, wherever they were, one person was for many years constantly familiar, sometimes as general director, sometimes as pianist to accompany singing, always modest, courteous, and efficient, a man widely and most kindly remembered—Henry C. Timm. Like most of our musical benefactors, he was a German, and gave lessons in piano-playing. He was not one of the great virtuosos, but his touch was delicate and nimble, and he had a sincere love of his art. Often and often, at a house always pleasant from that reminiscence, with the consent of parent and pupil, and to his own great delight, the hour designed for the scholar's scales and exercises was given to the master's playing. He was fond of Weber's "Invitation to the Waltz," and he played it with force and precision and the utmost delicacy. Mr. Timm had a pale, smooth, sharp face, a rather prim manner, and a quick, modest gait. He was most simple-hearted, and loved a joke; and his fun was all the more effective from his very sober face and his lisp. It was his wife who was long the most efficient actress at Mitchell's old Olympic in the palmy days of burlesque.
It was at Niblo's that Thalberg played. Many of the virtuosos had been—like De Meyer—so extravagant in their action, and so evidently what we now call "sensational," that there was great curiosity to see the master whose name had been familiar since 1830, and famous since 1835, when he first played in Paris. The comparative estimate of the two men, Liszt and Thalberg, was that the former was a player of eccentric genius, the latter of consummate talent: a judgment which is very apt to spring from a superficial theory that eccentricity is the signet of genius. The long hair, the wild aspect of Paganini, did much to confirm this feeling.
At the concerts of Thalberg there were some preliminary performances, and then a gentleman with side whiskers and no mustache, unostentatiously dressed, entered upon the platform. His manner was grave and tranquil, and he bowed respectfully as he seated himself at the instrument. Immediately, without a flourish or grimace, steadily and calmly watching the audience, he touched the piano, and it began to sing. There was no pounding, no muscular contortion. Nothing but his hands seemed to be engaged, and apparently without effort they exhausted the whole force of the instrument. It was in every respect except its great effectiveness the reverse of De Meyer's playing. The effect, indeed, was astonishing. When the player arose, as quietly and gravely as he had seated himself, there was a tumult of applause, to which he bowed and tranquilly withdrew.
The characteristic of his style is well known. It was a series of harmonious combinations of all the resources of the key-board, through which the melody was clearly articulated. It was by study and by long practice only that he carried this method to its perfection. Thus in one of his great fantasias, that from Mozart's "Don Giovanni," the sentiment of the whole opera was reproduced. Perhaps you do not admire brilliant variations upon a theme selected from the opera, but in this performance you are affected by the passionate movement of the entire work. It is a wonderful epitome. The same respect which he showed for his audience and for himself, and which made him always a self-possessed gentleman, he also had for his instrument. De Meyer seemed to suppose that the full range and power of the piano could not be developed except by grotesque methods. Other players treat it as if impatient of its limitations, and resolved to make an orchestra of a feeble key-board. But Thalberg instinctively apprehended the character of the instrument, and respected its limitations as well as its powers, and knew that its utmost resource was attainable by skilled motion rather than by brute force. Therefore he played with his hands, and not with his knees and his body. But the force of his fingers was magical, and the volume of sound that followed was as great as any player evoked.
Thalberg was a player only, and not, in the sense of Chopin, a composer. What are called his compositions are arrangements and adaptations of themes from operas treated to develop them with all the richness of the instrument. The originality is in the method of instrumentation, and in this he was original, and is really the founder of the present piano school. As a player his characteristic was the cantabile—the singing quality; and this he had beyond all players. The flowing sweetness of his style is indescribable. There were many, indeed, who complained of a want of fire, and denied him that passion without which no work of art is perfect. But it was impossible to hear him play his fantasia from "Don Giovanni," for instance, without perceiving all the passion of the original. Mozart was not lost under his hands. And the impression of coldness was largely due, doubtless, to the tranquillity and propriety of his appearance and manner.
The most generally popular of his successors at the piano in this country was undoubtedly Gottschalk, who was here quite as early as Thalberg, whose fame eclipsed all others. Upon his arrival Gottschalk played privately at a small party. He was a foreign-looking youth, with a peculiarly dull eye, and taciturn, but he was familiar with every kind of music. When he was asked he played Chopin, and with great skill. But his chief successes were his West Indian melodies, which were full of picturesque suggestion. His execution was rapid, brilliant, and forcible, but a great deal of his playing was too evidently tours de force. It was always interesting to watch his audience, when, upon being recalled, he began one of the West Indian strains. There was a minor monotonous theme in them which fascinated the listeners. They heard the beat of the tambourine, and saw the movement of the dance, and with them all the characteristic scenery and association of the tropics filled their imaginations. The languid grace, the rich indolence, the gay profusion of the lands where the banana grows, they felt and saw.
How many admirable players and singers have come among us! And when, as now, one drops through the bridge of Mirza, a host of Easy Chairs pause for a moment to remember how many there were, and to delight in thinking how many more there will be. Once it was the sailor who crossed the sea to find El Dorado and Cathay, now it is the artist who follows in the fascinating quest. But sailor and artist seeking gold in far countries, like the pollen-powdered bee sucking honey in the flowers, bring as rare a treasure as they find.
URBS AND RUS.
Mr. Tibs, who has an observing eye for many aspects of life, lately informed the Easy Chair of his conclusion that there are some serious objections to a suburban residence. This is a subject in which so many intelligent and judicious readers of these pages are interested, that the Easy Chair could not be indifferent to Mr. Tibs's conclusions. The population which "sleeps out of town," which goes and comes daily to and from the neighborhood of every great city in every part of the country, is immense and increasing, and it has always rather an air of lofty sympathy and pity for those who still cling to the "sweet seclusion of streets." This is the more observable and amusing because the denizens of town upon their part assume that their fellow-creatures who resort to the country as a residence are mainly impelled by motives of economy. For who would live out of town if he could live comfortably in it?
"You must find it very annoying to be tied to exact hours of trains and boats," says Urbs to Rus, "and it is not the pleasantest thing in the world to be obliged to pick your way through the river streets to the ferry, or wait at stations. However, you probably calculated the waste of time and the trouble before you decided to live in Frogtown."
"Every choice has its inconveniences, undoubtedly," responds Rus, "but I concluded that I preferred fresh air for my children to the atmosphere of sewers and gas factories, and I have a prejudice for breakfasting by sunlight rather than by gas. Then my wife enjoys the singing of birds in the morning more than the cry of the milkman, and the silence at night secures a sweeter sleep than the rattle of the horse-cars. It is true that we have no brick block opposite, and no windows of houses behind commanding our own. But to set off such deprivations there are pleasant hills and wooded slopes and gardens. They are not sidewalks, to be sure, but they satisfy us."
"Yes, yes; I see," says Urbs. "We are more to be pitied than I thought. If we must go out in the evening, we don't have the advantage of stumbling over hummocks and sinking in the mud or dust in the dark; we can only go dry-shod upon clean flagging abundantly lighted. Then we have nothing but Thomas's orchestra and the opera and the bright little theatre to console us for the loss of the frog and tree-toad concert and the tent-circus. Instead of plodding everywhere upon our own feet, which is so pleasant after running round upon them all day in town, we have nothing but cars and stages at hand to carry us to our own doors. I see clearly there are great disadvantages in city life. If a friend and his wife drop in suddenly in the evening or to dine, it is monstrously inconvenient to have an oyster-shop round the corner whence to improvise a supper or a dinner. It would be so much better to have nothing but the village grocery a mile or two away. The advantages are conspicuous. I wonder the entire population of the city doesn't go out to live in Frogtown."