And though maids sweep their hearths no less Than they were wont to do, Yet who doth now for cleanliness Find sixpence in her shoe?
A bright dune does very well as a sixpenny piece.
We always lunch at Moretti's on Saturday: it is the recognized beginning of an adventure. The Moretti lunch has advanced from a quarter to thirty cents, I am sorry to say, but this is readily compensated by the Grump buying Sweet Caporals instead of something Turkish. A packet of cigarettes is another curtain-raiser for an adventure. On other days publishers' readers smoke pipes, but on Saturdays cigarettes are possible.
"Minestrone or consomme?"
"Two minestrone, two prime ribs, ice cream and coffee. Red wine, please." That is the formula. We have eaten the "old reliable Moretti lunch" so often that the routine has become a ritual. Oh, excellent savor of the Moretti basement! Compounded of warmth, a pungent pourri of smells, and the jangle of thick china, how diverting it is! The franc-tireur in charge of the wine-bin watches us complaisantly from his counter where he sits flanked by flasks of Hoboken chianti and a case of brittle cigars.
How good Moretti's minestrone tastes to the unsophisticated tongue. What though it be only an azoic extract of intense potato, dimly tinct with sargasso and macaroni—it has a pleasing warmth and bulk. Is it not the prelude to an Adventure?
Well, where shall we go to-day? No two explorers dickering over azimuth and dead reckoning could discuss latitude and longitude more earnestly than Titania and I argue our possible courses. Generally, however, she leaves it to me to chart the journey. That gives me the pride of conductor and her the pleasure of being surprised.
According to our Mercator's projection (which, duly wrapped in a waterproof envelope, we always carry on our adventures) there was a little known region lying nor' nor'west of Blackwell's Island and plotted on the map as East River Park. I had heard of this as a picturesque and old-fashioned territory, comparatively free from footpads and lying near such places as Astoria and Hell Gate. We laid a romantic course due east along 35th Street, Titania humming a little snatch from an English music-hall song that once amused us:
"My old man's a fireman Now what do you think of that? He wears goblimey breeches And a little goblimey hat."
She always quotes this to me when (she says) I wear my hat too far on the back of my head.
The cross slope of Murray Hill drops steeply downward after one leaves Madison Avenue. We dipped into a region that has always been very fascinating to me. Under the roaring L, past dingy saloons, animal shops, tinsmiths, and painless dentists, past the old dismantled Manhattan hospital. The taste of spring was in the air: one of the dentists was having his sign regilded, a huge four-pronged grinder as big as McTeague's in Frank Norris's story. Oysters going out, the new brew of Bock beer coming in: so do the saloons mark the vernal equinox.
A huge green chalet built on stilts, with two tiers of trains rumbling by, is the L station at 34th Street and Second Avenue. A cutting wind blew from the East River, only two blocks away. I paid two nickels and we got into the front car of the northbound train.
Until Titania and I attain the final glory of riding in an aeroplane, or ascend Jacob's ladder, there never will be anything so thrilling as soaring over the housetops in the Second Avenue L. Rocking, racketing, roaring over those crazy trestles, now a glimpse of the leaden river to the east, now a peep of church spires and skyscrapers on the west, and the dingy imitation lace curtains of the third-story windows flashing by like a recurring pattern—it is a voyage of romance! Did you ever stand at the front door of an Elevated train, watching the track stretch far ahead toward the Bronx, and the little green stations slipping nearer and nearer? The Subway is a black, bellowing horror; the bus a swaying, jolty start-and-stop, bruising your knees against the seat in front; but the L swings you up and over the housetops, smooth and sheer and swift.
We descended at 86th Street and found ourselves in a new world. A broad, dingy street, lined by shabby brown houses and pushbutton apartments, led in a gentle descent toward the river. The neighbourhood was noisy, quarrelsome, and dirty. After a long, bitter March the thaw had come at last: the street was viscous with slime, the melting snow lay in grayish piles along the curbs. Small boys on each side of the Street were pelting sodden snowballs which spattered around us as we walked down the pavement.
But after two blocks things changed suddenly. The trolley swung round at a right angle (up Avenue A) and the last block of 86th Street showed the benefit of this manoeuvre. The houses grew neat and respectable. A little side street branching off to the left (not recorded by Mercator) revealed some quaint cottages with gables and shuttered windows so mid-Victorian that my literary heart leaped and I dreamed at once of locating a novel in this fascinating spot. And then we rounded the corner and saw the little park.
It was a bit of old Chelsea, nothing less. Titania clapped her hands, and I lit my pipe in gratification. Beside us was a row of little houses of warm red brick with peaked mansard roofs and cozy bay windows and polished door knockers. In front of them was the lumpy little park, cut up into irregular hills, where children were flying kites. And beyond that, an embankment and the river in a dim wet mist. There was Blackwell's Island, and a sailing barge slipping by. In the distance we could see the colossal span of the new Hell Gate bridge. With the journalist's instinct for superlatives I told Titania it was the largest single span in the world. I wonder if it is?
As to that I know not. But it was the river that lured us. On the embankment we found benches and sat down to admire the scene. It was as picturesque as Battersea in Whistler's mistiest days. A ferryboat, crossing to Astoria, hooted musically through the haze. Tugs, puffing up past Blackwell's Island into the Harlem River, replied with mellow blasts. The pungent tang of the East River tickled our nostrils, and all my old ambition to be a tugboat captain returned.
And then trouble began. Just as I was planning how we might bilk our landlord on Long Island and move all our belongings to this delicious spot, gradually draw our friends around us, and make East End Avenue the Cheyne Walk of New York—we might even import an English imagist poet to lend cachet to the coterie—I saw by Titania's face that something was wrong.
I pressed her for the reason of her frown.
She thought the region was unhealthy.
Now when Titania thinks that a place is unhealthy no further argument is possible. Just on what data she bases these deductions I have never been able to learn. I think she can tell by the shape of the houses, or the lush quality of the foliage, or the fact that the garbage men collect from the front instead of from the back. But however she arrives at the conclusion, it is immutable.
Any place that I think is peculiarly amusing, or quaint, or picturesque, Titania thinks is unhealthy.
Sometimes I can see it coming. We are on our way to Mulberry Bend, or the Bowery, or Farrish's Chop House. I see her brow begin to pucker. "Do you feel as though it is going to be unhealthy?" I ask anxiously. If she does, there is nothing for it but to clutch at the nearest subway station and hurry up to Grant's Tomb. In that bracing ether her spirits revive.
So it was on this afternoon. My Utopian vision of a Chelsea in New York, outdoing the grimy salons of Greenwich Village, fell in splinters at the bottom of my mind. Sadly I looked upon the old Carl Schurz mansion on the hill, and we departed for the airy plateaus of Central Park. Desperately I pointed to the fading charms of East River Park—the convent round the corner, the hokey pokey cart by the curbstone.
I shall never be a tugboat captain. It isn't healthy.
CONFESSIONS OF A SMOKER
True smokers are born and not made. I remember my grandfather with his snowy beard gloriously stained by nicotine; from my first years I never saw my father out of reach of his pipe, save when asleep. Of what avail for my mother to promise unheard bonuses if I did not smoke until I was twenty? By the time I was eight years old I had constructed a pipe of an acorn and a straw, and had experimented with excelsior as fuel. From that time I passed through the well-known stages of dried bean-pod cigars, hayseed, corn silk, tea leaves, and (first ascent of the true Olympus) Recruits Little Cigars smoked in a lumberyard during school recess. Thence it was but a step to the first bag of Bull Durham and a twenty-five-cent pipe with a curved bone stem.
I never knew the traditional pangs of Huck Finn and the other heroes of fiction. I never yet found a tobacco that cost me a moment's unease—but stay, there was a cunning mixture devised by some comrades at college that harboured in its fragrant shreds neatly chopped sections of rubber bands. That was sheer poison, I grant you.
The weed needs no new acolyte to hymn her sanctities. Where Raleigh, Pepys, Tennyson, Kingsley, Calverley, Barrie, and the whimful Elia best of all—where these have spoken so greatly, the feeble voice may well shrink. But that is the joy of true worship: ranks and hierarchies are lost, all are brothers in the mystery, and amid approving puffs of rich Virginia the older saints of the mellow leaf genially greet the new freshman, be he never so humble.
What would one not have given to smoke a pipe out with the great ones of the empire! That wainscoted back parlour at the Salutation and Cat, for instance, where Lamb and Coleridge used to talk into the small hours "quaffing egg flip, devouring Welsh rabbits, and smoking pipes of Orinooko." Or the back garden in Chelsea where Carlyle and Emerson counted the afternoon well spent, though neither one had said a hundred words—had they not smoked together? Or Piscator and Viator, as they trudged together to "prevent the sunrise" on Amwell Hill—did not the reek of their tobacco trail most bluely on the sweet morning air? Or old Fitz, walking on the Deben wall at Woodbridge, on his way to go sailing with Posh down to Bawdsey Ferry—what mixture did he fill and light? Something recommended by Will Thackeray, I'll be sworn. Or, to come down to more recent days, think of Captain Joseph Conrad at his lodgings in Bessborough Gardens, lighting that apocalyptic pipe that preceded the first manuscript page of "Almayer's Folly." Could I only have been the privileged landlady's daughter who cleared away the Captain's breakfast dishes that morning! I wonder if she remembers the incident?[E]
[Footnote E: The reference here is to Chapter IV of Joseph Conrad's "A Personal Record." The author's allusions are often sadly obscure.—EDITOR.]
It is the heart of fellowship, the core and pith and symbol of masculine friendship and good talk. Your cigar will do for drummers, your cigarettes for the dilettante smoker, but for the ripened, boneset votary nothing but a briar will suffice. Away with meerschaum, calabash, cob, and clay: they have their purpose in the inscrutable order of things, like crossing sweepers and presidents of women's clubs; but when Damon and Pythias meet to talk things over, well-caked briars are in order. Cigars are all right in fiction: for Prince Florizel and Colonel Geraldine when they visit the famous Divan in Rupert Street. It was Leigh Hunt, in the immortal Wishing Cap Papers (so little read, alas!), who uttered the finest plea for cigars that this language affords, but I will wager not a director of the United Cigar Stores ever read it.
The fine art of smoking used, in older days, to have an etiquette, a usage, and traditions of its own, which a more hurried and hygienic age has discarded. It was the height of courtesy to ask your friend to let you taste his pipe, and draw therefrom three or four mouthfuls of smoke. This afforded opportunity for a gracious exchange of compliments. "Will it please you to impart your whiff?" was the accepted phrase. And then, having savored his mixture, you would have said: "In truth, a very excellent leaf," offering your own with proper deprecations. This, and many other excellent things, we learn from Mr. Apperson's noble book "The Social History of Smoking," which should be prayer book and breviary to every smoker con amore.
But the pipe rises perhaps to its highest function as the solace and companion of lonely vigils. We all look back with tender affection on the joys of tobacco shared with a boon comrade on some walking trip, some high-hearted adventure, over the malt-stained counters of some remote alehouse. These are the memories that are bittersweet beyond the compass of halting words. Never again perhaps will we throw care over the hedge and stride with Mifflin down the Banbury Road, filling the air with laughter and the fumes of Murray's Mellow. But even deeper is the tribute we pay to the sour old elbow of briar, the dented, blackened cutty that has been with us through a thousand soundless midnights and a hundred weary dawns when cocks were crowing in the bleak air and the pen faltered in the hand. Then is the pipe an angel and minister of grace. Clocks run down and pens grow rusty, but if your pouch be full your pipe will never fail you.
How great is the witching power of this sovereign rite! I cannot even read in a book of someone enjoying a pipe without my fingers itching to light up and puff with him. My mouth has been sore and baked a hundred times after an evening with Elia. The rogue simply can't help talking about tobacco, and I strike a match for every essay. God bless him and his dear "Orinooko!" Or Parson Adams in "Joseph Andrews"—he lights a pipe on every page!
I cannot light up in a wind. It is too precious a rite to be consummated in a draught. I hide behind a tree, a wall, a hedge, or bury my head in my coat. People see me in the street, vainly seeking shelter. It is a weakness, though not a shameful one. But set me in a tavern corner, and fill the pouch with "Quiet Moments" (do you know that English mixture?) and I am yours to the last ash.
I wonder after all what was the sweetest pipe I ever smoked? I have a tender spot in memory for a fill of Murray's Mellow that Mifflin and I had in the old smoking room of the Three Crowns Inn at Lichfield. We weren't really thirsty, but we drank cider there in honour of Dr. Johnson, sitting in his chair and beneath his bust. Then there were those pipes we used to smoke at twilight sitting on the steps of 17 Heriot Row, the old home of R.L.S. in Edinburgh, as we waited for Leerie to come by and light the lamps. Oh, pipes of youth, that can never come again!
When George Fox was a young man, sorely troubled by visions of the devil, a preacher told him to smoke tobacco and sing hymns.
Not such bad advice.
Our village is remarkable. It contains the greatest publisher in the world, the most notable department store baron (and inventor of that new form of literary essay, the department store ad.), the most fragrant gas tanks in the Department of the East, the greatest number of cinders per eye of any arondissement served by the R—— railway, and the most bitterly afflicted hay fever sufferer on this sneezing sphere. Also the editor of the most widely circulated magazine in the world, and the author of one of the best selling books that ever was written.
Not bad for one village.
Your first thought is Northampton, Mass., but you are wrong. That is where Gerald Stanley Lee lives. For a stamped, addressed envelope I will give you the name of our village, and instructions for avoiding it. It is bounded on the north by goldenrod, on the south by ragweed, on the east by asthma and the pollen of anemophylous plants.
It is bounded on the west by a gray stone facsimile of Windsor Castle, confirmed with butlers, buttresses, bastions, ramparts, repartees, feudal tenures, moats, drawbridges, posterns, pasterns, chevaux de frise, machicolated battlements, donjons, loopholes, machine-gun emplacements, caltrops, portcullises, glacis, and all the other travaux de fantaisie that make life worth living for retired manufacturers. The general effect is emetic in the extreme. Hard by the castle is a spurious and richly gabled stable in the general style of the chateau de Chantilly. One brief strip of lawn constitutes a gulf of five hundred years in architecture, and restrains Runnymede from Versailles.
Our village is famous for beautiful gardens. At five o'clock merchants and gens de lettres return home from office and tannery, remove the cinders, and commune with vervain and bergamot. The countryside is as lovely as Devonshire, equipped with sky, trees, rolling terrain, stewed terrapin, golf meads, nut sundaes, beagles, spare tires, and other props. But we are equally infamous for hideous houses, of the Chester A. Arthur era. Every prospect pleases, and man alone is vile.
There is a large, expensive school for flappers, on a hill; and a drugstore or pharmacy where the flappers come to blow off steam. It would be worth ten thousand dollars to Beatrice Herford to ambush herself behind the Welch's grape juice life-size cut-out, and takes notes on flapperiana. Pond Lyceum Bureau please copy.
Our village was once famous also as the dwelling place of an eminent parson, who obtained a million signatures for a petition to N. Romanoff, asking the abolition of knouting of women in Siberia. And now N. Romanoff himself is gone to Siberia, and there is no knouting or giving in knoutage; no pogroms or ukases or any other check on the ladies. Knitting instead of knouting is the order of the day.
Knoutings for flappers, say I, after returning from the pharmacy or drugstore.
Dr. Anna Howard Shaw does not live here, but she is within a day's journey on the Cinder and Bloodshot.
But I was speaking of hay fever. "Although not dangerous to life," say Drs. S. Oppenheimer and Mark Gottlieb, "it causes at certain times such extreme discomfort to some of its victims as to unfit them for their ordinary pursuits. If we accept the view that it is a disease of the classes rather than the masses we may take the viewpoint of self-congratulation rather than of humiliation as indicating a superiority in culture and civilization of the favoured few. When the intimate connection of pollinosis and culture has been firmly grasped by the public mind, the complaint will perhaps come to be looked upon like gout, as a sign of breeding. It will be assumed by those who have it not.... As civilization and culture advance, other diseases analogous to the one under consideration may be developed from oversensitiveness to sound, colour, or form, and the man of the twenty-first or twenty-second century may be a being of pure intellect whose organization of mere nervous pulp would be shattered by a strong emotion, like a pumpkin filled with dynamite." (vide "Pollen Therapy in Pollinosis," reprinted from the Medical Record, March 18, 1916; and many thanks to Mr. H.L. Mencken, fellow sufferer, for sending me a copy of this noble pamphlet. I hope to live to grasp Drs. Oppenheimer and Gottlieb by the hand. Their essay is marked by a wit and learning that proves them fellow-orgiasts in this hypercultivated affliction of the cognoscenti.)
I myself have sometimes attempted to intimate some of the affinities between hay fever and genius by attributing it (in the debased form of literary parody) to those of great intellectual stature. Upon the literary vehicles of expression habitually employed by Rudyard Kipling, Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, and Hilaire Belloc I have wafted a pinch of ragweed and goldenrod; with surprising results. These intellectuals were not more immune than myself. For instance, this is the spasm ejaculated by Mr. Edgar Lee Masters, of Spoon River:
Ed Grimes always did hate me Because I wrote better poetry than he did. In the hay fever season I used to walk Along the river bank, to keep as far as possible Away from pollen. One day Ed and his brother crept up behind me While I was writing a sonnet, Tied my hands and feet, And carried me into a hayfield and left me. I sneezed myself to death. At the funeral the church was full of goldenrod, And I think it must have been Ed Who sowed that ragweed all round my grave.
The Lord loveth a cheerful sneezer, and Mr. Masters deserves great credit for lending himself to the cult in this way.
I am a fanatical admirer of Mr. Gerald Stanley Lee, and have even thought of spending fifty of my own dollars, privily and without collusion with his publisher, to advertise that remarkable book of his called "WE" which is probably the ablest and most original, and certainly the most verbose, book that has been written about the war. Now Mr. Lee (let me light my pipe and get this right) is the most eminent victim of words that ever lived in New England (or indeed anywhere east of East Aurora). Words crowd upon him like flies upon a honey-pot: he is helpless to resist them. His brain buzzes with them: they leap from his eye, distil from his lean and waving hand. Good God, not since Rabelais and Lawrence Sterne, miscalled Reverend, has one human being been so beclotted, bedazzled, and bedrunken with syllables. I adore him for it, but equally I tremble. Glowing, radiant, transcendent vocables swim and dissolve in the porches of his brain, teasing him with visions far more deeply confused than ever Mr. Wordsworth's were. The meanest toothbrush that bristles (he has confessed it himself) can fill him with thoughts that do often lie too deep for publishers. Perhaps the orotund soul-wamblings of Coleridge are recarnate in him, Scawfell become Mount Tom. Who knows? Once I sat at lunch with him, and though I am Trencherman Fortissimus (I can give you testimonials) my hamburg steak fell from my hand as I listened, clutching perilously at the hem of his thought. Nay. Mr. Lee, frown not: I say it in sincere devotion. If there is one man and one book this country needs, now, it is Gerald Stanley Lee and "WE." Set me upon a coral atoll with that volume, I will repopulate the world with dictionaries, and beget lusty tomes. It is a breeding-ground for a whole new philosophy of heaven, hell, and the New Haven Railroad.
But what I was going to say when I lit my pipe was this: had I the stature (not the leanness, God forbid: sweet are the uses of obesity) of Mr. Lee, I could find in any clodded trifle the outlets of sky my yearning mind covets: hay fever would lead me by prismatic omissions and plunging ellipses of thought to the vaster spirals and eddies of all-viewing Mind. So does Mr. Lee proceed, weaving a new economics and a new bosom for advertisiarchs in the mere act of brushing his teeth. But alas, the recurring explosions of the loathsome and intellectual disease keep my nose on the grindstone—or handkerchief. Do I begin to soar on upward pinion, nose tweaks me back to sealpackerchief.
The trouble with Mr. Lee is that he is a kind of Emerson; a constitutional ascete or Brahmin, battling with the staggering voluptuosities of his word-sense; a De Quincey needing no opium to set him swooning. In fact, he is a poet, and has no control over his thoughts. A poet may begin by thinking about a tortoise, or a locomotive, or a piece of sirloin, and in one whisk of Time his mind has shot up to the conceptions of Eternity, Transportation, and Nourishment: his cortex coruscates and suppurates with abstract thought; words assail him in hordes, and in a flash he is down among them, overborne and fighting for his life. Mr. Lee finds that millionaires are bound down and tethered and stifled by their limousines and coupons and factories and vast estates. But Mr. Lee himself, who is a millionaire and landed proprietor of ideas, is equally the slave of his thronging words. They cluster about him like barnacles, nobly and picturesquely impeding his progress. He is a Laocoon wrestling with serpentine sentences. He ought to be confined to an eight-hour paragraph.
All this is not so by the way as you think. For if the poet is one who has lost control of his thoughts, the hay fever sufferer has lost control of his nose. His mucous membrane acts like a packet of Roman candles, and who is he to say it nay? And our village is bounded on the north by goldenrod, on the south by ragweed, on the east by chickweed, and on the west by a sleepless night.
I would fain treat pollinosis in the way Mr. Lee might discuss it, but that is impossible. Those prolate, sagging spirals of thought, those grapevine twists of irremediable whim, that mind shimmering like a poplar tree in sun and wind—jetting and spouting like plumbing after a freeze-up—'tis beyond me. I fancy that if Mr. Lee were in bed, and the sheets were untucked at his feet, he could spin himself so iridescent and dove-throated and opaline a philosophy of the desirability of sleeping with cold feet, that either (1) he would not need to get out of bed to rearrange the bedclothes, or (2) he could persuade someone else to do it for him. Think, then, what he could do for hay fever!
And as Dr. Crothers said, when you mix what you think with what you think you think, effervescence of that kind always results.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHERS
This book will be found exceedingly valuable for classroom use by teachers of theology, hydraulics, and applied engineering. It is recommended that it be introduced to students before their minds have become hardened, clotted, and skeptical. The author does not hold himself responsible for any of the statements in the book, and reserves the right to disavow any or all of them under intellectual pressure.
For a rapid quiz, the following suggested topics will be found valuable for classroom consideration:
1. Do you discern any evidences of sincerity and serious moral purpose in this book?
2. Why was fifty dollars a week not enough for Mr. Kenneth Stockton to live on? Explain three ways in which he augmented his income.
3. What is a "colyumist"? Give one notorious example.
4. Comment on Don Marquis's attitude toward
(a) vers libre poets
(b) beefsteak and onions
(c) the cut of his trousers (Explain in detail)
(d) The Republican Party
5. Who is Robert Cortes Holliday, and for what is he notable?
6. Where was Vachel Lindsay fumigated, and why? 7. Who is "The Head of the Firm"?
8. How much money did the author spend on cider in July, 1911?
9. Who was Denis Dulcet, and what did he die of?
10. When did William McFee live in Nutley, and why?
11. How are the works of Harold Bell Wright most useful in Kings, Long Island?
12. Where is Strychnine, and what makes it so fascinating to the tourist? Explain
(a) The Gin Palace
(c) unedifying Zollverein
13. What time did Mr. Simmons get home?
14. What is a "rarefied and azure-pedalled precinct?" Give three examples.
15. Who are the Dioscuri of Seamen, and what do they do?
16. How many pipes a day do sensible men smoke? Describe the ideal conditions for a morning pipe.
17. When did Mr. Blackwell light the furnace?
18. Name four American writers who are stout enough to be a credit to the profession. 19. "The fumes of the hearty butcher's evening meal ascend the stair in vain." Explain this. Who was the butcher? Why "in vain"?
20. In what order of the Animal Kingdom does Mr. Pearsall Smith classify himself?
21. "I hope he fell on the third rail." Explain, and give the context. Who was "he," and why did he deserve this fate?
22. Who was "Mr. Loomis," and why did he leave his clothes lying about the floor?
28. What are the Poetry Society dinners doing to Vachel Lindsay?
24. Why should the Literary Pawnbroker be on his guard against Mr. Richard Le Gallienne?
25. What is the American House of Lords? Who are "our prosperous carnivora"? Why do they wear white margins inside their waistcoats?
26. What is minestrone? Name three ingredients.
27. What are "publisher's readers," and why do they smoke pipes?
28. What was the preacher's advice to George Fox?
29. Give three reasons why Mr. Gerald Stanley Lee will not like this book.
30. Why should one wish to grasp Drs. Oppenheimer and Gottlieb by the hand?
31. In respect of Mr. Gerald Stanley Lee, comment briefly on these phrases:
(a) beclotted, bedazzled, and bedrunken with syllables
(b) the meanest toothbrush that bristles
(c) Scawfell become Mount Tom
FINIS CORONAT OPUS