WHAT IS MAN? AND OTHER ESSAYS OF MARK TWAIN
WHAT IS MAN? AND OTHER ESSAYS OF MARK TWAIN
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910)
What Is Man?
The Death of Jean
The Turning-Point of My Life
How to Make History Dates Stick
The Memorable Assassination
A Scrap of Curious History
Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty
At the Shrine of St. Wagner
William Dean Howells
English as She is Taught
A Simplified Alphabet
As Concerns Interpreting the Deity
Taming the Bicycle
Is Shakespeare Dead?
WHAT IS MAN?
a. Man the Machine. b. Personal Merit
[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old
Man had asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and
nothing more. The Young Man objected, and asked him to go into
particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.]
Old Man. What are the materials of which a steam-engine is made?
Young Man. Iron, steel, brass, white-metal, and so on.
O.M. Where are these found?
Y.M. In the rocks.
O.M. In a pure state?
Y.M. No–in ores.
O.M. Are the metals suddenly deposited in the ores?
Y.M. No–it is the patient work of countless ages.
O.M. You could make the engine out of the rocks themselves?
Y.M. Yes, a brittle one and not valuable.
O.M. You would not require much, of such an engine as that?
Y.M. No–substantially nothing.
O.M. To make a fine and capable engine, how would you
Y.M. Drive tunnels and shafts into the hills; blast out the
iron ore; crush it, smelt it, reduce it to pig-iron; put some of
it through the Bessemer process and make steel of it. Mine and
treat and combine several metals of which brass is made.
Y.M. Out of the perfected result, build the fine engine.
O.M. You would require much of this one?
Y.M. Oh, indeed yes.
O.M. It could drive lathes, drills, planers, punches,
polishers, in a word all the cunning machines of a great factory?
Y.M. It could.
O.M. What could the stone engine do?
Y.M. Drive a sewing-machine, possibly–nothing more,
O.M. Men would admire the other engine and rapturously
O.M. But not the stone one?
O.M. The merits of the metal machine would be far above
those of the stone one?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Personal merits?
Y.M. PERSONAL merits? How do you mean?
O.M. It would be personally entitled to the credit of its
Y.M. The engine? Certainly not.
O.M. Why not?
Y.M. Because its performance is not personal. It is the
result of the law of construction. It is not a MERIT that it
does the things which it is set to do–it can’t HELP doing them.
O.M. And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine
that it does so little?
Y.M. Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the
law of its make permits and compels it to do. There is nothing
PERSONAL about it; it cannot choose. In this process of “working
up to the matter” is it your idea to work up to the proposition
that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there
is no personal merit in the performance of either?
O.M. Yes–but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense.
What makes the grand difference between the stone engine and the
steel one? Shall we call it training, education? Shall we call
the stone engine a savage and the steel one a civilized man? The
original rock contained the stuff of which the steel one was
built–but along with a lot of sulphur and stone and other
obstructing inborn heredities, brought down from the old geologic
ages–prejudices, let us call them. Prejudices which nothing
within the rock itself had either POWER to remove or any DESIRE
to remove. Will you take note of that phrase?
Y.M. Yes. I have written it down; “Prejudices which
nothing within the rock itself had either power to remove or any
desire to remove.” Go on.
O.M. Prejudices must be removed by OUTSIDE INFLUENCES or
not at all. Put that down.
Y.M. Very well; “Must be removed by outside influences or
not at all.” Go on.
O.M. The iron’s prejudice against ridding itself of the
cumbering rock. To make it more exact, the iron’s absolute
INDIFFERENCE as to whether the rock be removed or not. Then
comes the OUTSIDE INFLUENCE and grinds the rock to powder and
sets the ore free. The IRON in the ore is still captive. An
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE smelts it free of the clogging ore. The iron
is emancipated iron, now, but indifferent to further progress.
An OUTSIDE INFLUENCE beguiles it into the Bessemer furnace and
refines it into steel of the first quality. It is educated, now
–its training is complete. And it has reached its limit. By no
possible process can it be educated into GOLD. Will you set that
Y.M. Yes. “Everything has its limit–iron ore cannot be
educated into gold.”
O.M. There are gold men, and tin men, and copper men, and
leaden mean, and steel men, and so on–and each has the
limitations of his nature, his heredities, his training, and his
environment. You can build engines out of each of these metals,
and they will all perform, but you must not require the weak ones
to do equal work with the strong ones. In each case, to get the
best results, you must free the metal from its obstructing
prejudicial ones by education–smelting, refining, and so forth.
Y.M. You have arrived at man, now?
O.M. Yes. Man the machine–man the impersonal engine.
Whatsoever a man is, is due to his MAKE, and to the INFLUENCES
brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his
associations. He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by EXTERIOR
influences–SOLELY. He ORIGINATES nothing, not even a thought.
Y.M. Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which
you are talking is all foolishness?
O.M. It is a quite natural opinion–indeed an inevitable
opinion–but YOU did not create the materials out of which it is
formed. They are odds and ends of thoughts, impressions,
feelings, gathered unconsciously from a thousand books, a
thousand conversations, and from streams of thought and feeling
which have flowed down into your heart and brain out of the
hearts and brains of centuries of ancestors. PERSONALLY you did
not create even the smallest microscopic fragment of the
materials out of which your opinion is made; and personally you
cannot claim even the slender merit of PUTTING THE BORROWED
MATERIALS TOGETHER. That was done AUTOMATICALLY–by your mental
machinery, in strict accordance with the law of that machinery’s
construction. And you not only did not make that machinery
yourself, but you have NOT EVEN ANY COMMAND OVER IT.
Y.M. This is too much. You think I could have formed no
opinion but that one?
O.M. Spontaneously? No. And YOU DID NOT FORM THAT ONE;
your machinery did it for you–automatically and instantly,
without reflection or the need of it.
Y.M. Suppose I had reflected? How then?
O.M. Suppose you try?
Y.M. (AFTER A QUARTER OF AN HOUR.) I have reflected.
O.M. You mean you have tried to change your opinion–as an
O.M. With success?
Y.M. No. It remains the same; it is impossible to change
O.M. I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is
merely a machine, nothing more. You have no command over it, it
has no command over itself–it is worked SOLELY FROM THE OUTSIDE.
That is the law of its make; it is the law of all machines.
Y.M. Can’t I EVER change one of these automatic opinions?
O.M. No. You can’t yourself, but EXTERIOR INFLUENCES can
Y.M. And exterior ones ONLY?
O.M. Yes–exterior ones only.
Y.M. That position is untenable–I may say ludicrously
O.M. What makes you think so?
Y.M. I don’t merely think it, I know it. Suppose I resolve
to enter upon a course of thought, and study, and reading, with
the deliberate purpose of changing that opinion; and suppose I
succeed. THAT is not the work of an exterior impulse, the whole
of it is mine and personal; for I originated the project.
O.M. Not a shred of it. IT GREW OUT OF THIS TALK WITH ME.
But for that it would not have occurred to you. No man ever
originates anything. All his thoughts, all his impulses, come
FROM THE OUTSIDE.
Y.M. It’s an exasperating subject. The FIRST man had
original thoughts, anyway; there was nobody to draw from.
O.M. It is a mistake. Adam’s thoughts came to him from the
outside. YOU have a fear of death. You did not invent that–you
got it from outside, from talking and teaching. Adam had no fear
of death–none in the world.
Y.M. Yes, he had.
O.M. When he was created?
O.M. When, then?
Y.M. When he was threatened with it.
O.M. Then it came from OUTSIDE. Adam is quite big enough;
let us not try to make a god of him. NONE BUT GODS HAVE EVER HAD
A THOUGHT WHICH DID NOT COME FROM THE OUTSIDE. Adam probably had
a good head, but it was of no sort of use to him until it was
filled up FROM THE OUTSIDE. He was not able to invent the
triflingest little thing with it. He had not a shadow of a
notion of the difference between good and evil–he had to get the
idea FROM THE OUTSIDE. Neither he nor Eve was able to originate
the idea that it was immodest to go naked; the knowledge came in
with the apple FROM THE OUTSIDE. A man’s brain is so constructed
that IT CAN ORIGINATE NOTHING WHATSOEVER. It can only use
material obtained OUTSIDE. It is merely a machine; and it works
automatically, not by will-power. IT HAS NO COMMAND OVER ITSELF,
ITS OWNER HAS NO COMMAND OVER IT.
Y.M. Well, never mind Adam: but certainly Shakespeare’s
O.M. No, you mean Shakespeare’s IMITATIONS. Shakespeare
created nothing. He correctly observed, and he marvelously
painted. He exactly portrayed people whom GOD had created; but
he created none himself. Let us spare him the slander of
charging him with trying. Shakespeare could not create. HE WAS
A MACHINE, AND MACHINES DO NOT CREATE.
Y.M. Where WAS his excellence, then?
O.M. In this. He was not a sewing-machine, like you and
me; he was a Gobelin loom. The threads and the colors came into
him FROM THE OUTSIDE; outside influences, suggestions,
EXPERIENCES (reading, seeing plays, playing plays, borrowing
ideas, and so on), framed the patterns in his mind and started up
his complex and admirable machinery, and IT AUTOMATICALLY turned
out that pictured and gorgeous fabric which still compels the
astonishment of the world. If Shakespeare had been born and bred
on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect
would have had no OUTSIDE MATERIAL to work with, and could have
invented none; and NO OUTSIDE INFLUENCES, teachings, moldings,
persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have
invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing.
In Turkey he would have produced something–something up to the
highest limit of Turkish influences, associations, and training.
In France he would have produced something better–something up
to the highest limit of the French influences and training. In
England he rose to the highest limit attainable through the
OUTSIDE HELPS AFFORDED BY THAT LAND’S IDEALS, INFLUENCES, AND
TRAINING. You and I are but sewing-machines. We must turn out
what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when
the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.
Y.M. And so we are mere machines! And machines may not
boast, nor feel proud of their performance, nor claim personal
merit for it, nor applause and praise. It is an infamous
O.M. It isn’t a doctrine, it is merely a fact.
Y.M. I suppose, then, there is no more merit in being brave
than in being a coward?
O.M. PERSONAL merit? No. A brave man does not CREATE his
bravery. He is entitled to no personal credit for possessing it.
It is born to him. A baby born with a billion dollars–where is
the personal merit in that? A baby born with nothing–where is
the personal demerit in that? The one is fawned upon, admired,
worshiped, by sycophants, the other is neglected and despised–
where is the sense in it?
Y.M. Sometimes a timid man sets himself the task of
conquering his cowardice and becoming brave–and succeeds. What
do you say to that?
O.M. That it shows the value of TRAINING IN RIGHT
DIRECTIONS OVER TRAINING IN WRONG ONES. Inestimably valuable is
training, influence, education, in right directions–TRAINING
ONE’S SELF-APPROBATION TO ELEVATE ITS IDEALS.
Y.M. But as to merit–the personal merit of the victorious
coward’s project and achievement?
O.M. There isn’t any. In the world’s view he is a worthier
man than he was before, but HE didn’t achieve the change–the
merit of it is not his.
Y.M. Whose, then?
O.M. His MAKE, and the influences which wrought upon it
from the outside.
Y.M. His make?
O.M. To start with, he was NOT utterly and completely a
coward, or the influences would have had nothing to work upon.
He was not afraid of a cow, though perhaps of a bull: not afraid
of a woman, but afraid of a man. There was something to build
upon. There was a SEED. No seed, no plant. Did he make that
seed himself, or was it born in him? It was no merit of HIS that
the seed was there.
Y.M. Well, anyway, the idea of CULTIVATING it, the
resolution to cultivate it, was meritorious, and he originated
O.M. He did nothing of the kind. It came whence ALL
impulses, good or bad, come–from OUTSIDE. If that timid man had
lived all his life in a community of human rabbits, had never
read of brave deeds, had never heard speak of them, had never
heard any one praise them nor express envy of the heroes that had
done them, he would have had no more idea of bravery than Adam
had of modesty, and it could never by any possibility have
occurred to him to RESOLVE to become brave. He COULD NOT
ORIGINATE THE IDEA–it had to come to him from the OUTSIDE. And
so, when he heard bravery extolled and cowardice derided, it woke
him up. He was ashamed. Perhaps his sweetheart turned up her
nose and said, “I am told that you are a coward!” It was not HE
that turned over the new leaf–she did it for him. HE must not
strut around in the merit of it–it is not his.
Y.M. But, anyway, he reared the plant after she watered the
O.M. No. OUTSIDE INFLUENCES reared it. At the command–
and trembling–he marched out into the field–with other soldiers
and in the daytime, not alone and in the dark. He had the
INFLUENCE OF EXAMPLE, he drew courage from his comrades’ courage;
he was afraid, and wanted to run, but he did not dare; he was
AFRAID to run, with all those soldiers looking on. He was
progressing, you see–the moral fear of shame had risen superior
to the physical fear of harm. By the end of the campaign
experience will have taught him that not ALL who go into battle
get hurt–an outside influence which will be helpful to him; and
he will also have learned how sweet it is to be praised for
courage and be huzza’d at with tear-choked voices as the war-worn
regiment marches past the worshiping multitude with flags flying
and the drums beating. After that he will be as securely brave
as any veteran in the army–and there will not be a shade nor
suggestion of PERSONAL MERIT in it anywhere; it will all have
come from the OUTSIDE. The Victoria Cross breeds more heroes
Y.M. Hang it, where is the sense in his becoming brave if
he is to get no credit for it?
O.M. Your question will answer itself presently. It
involves an important detail of man’s make which we have not yet
Y.M. What detail is that?
O.M. The impulse which moves a person to do things–the
only impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing.
Y.M. The ONLY one! Is there but one?
O.M. That is all. There is only one.
Y.M. Well, certainly that is a strange enough doctrine.
What is the sole impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing?
O.M. The impulse to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT–the NECESSITY
of contenting his own spirit and WINNING ITS APPROVAL.
Y.M. Oh, come, that won’t do!
O.M. Why won’t it?
Y.M. Because it puts him in the attitude of always looking
out for his own comfort and advantage; whereas an unselfish man
often does a thing solely for another person’s good when it is a
positive disadvantage to himself.
O.M. It is a mistake. The act must do HIM good, FIRST;
otherwise he will not do it. He may THINK he is doing it solely
for the other person’s sake, but it is not so; he is contenting
his own spirit first–the other’s person’s benefit has to always
take SECOND place.
Y.M. What a fantastic idea! What becomes of self-
sacrifice? Please answer me that.
O.M. What is self-sacrifice?
Y.M. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor
suggestion of benefit to one’s self can result from it.
Man’s Sole Impulse–the Securing of His Own Approval
Old Man. There have been instances of it–you think?
Young Man. INSTANCES? Millions of them!
O.M. You have not jumped to conclusions? You have examined
Y.M. They don’t need it: the acts themselves reveal the
golden impulse back of them.
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Well, then, for instance. Take the case in the book
here. The man lives three miles up-town. It is bitter cold,
snowing hard, midnight. He is about to enter the horse-car when
a gray and ragged old woman, a touching picture of misery, puts
out her lean hand and begs for rescue from hunger and death. The
man finds that he has a quarter in his pocket, but he does not
hesitate: he gives it her and trudges home through the storm.
There–it is noble, it is beautiful; its grace is marred by no
fleck or blemish or suggestion of self-interest.
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Pray what else could I think? Do you imagine that
there is some other way of looking at it?
O.M. Can you put yourself in the man’s place and tell me
what he felt and what he thought?
Y.M. Easily. The sight of that suffering old face pierced
his generous heart with a sharp pain. He could not bear it. He
could endure the three-mile walk in the storm, but he could not
endure the tortures his conscience would suffer if he turned his
back and left that poor old creature to perish. He would not
have been able to sleep, for thinking of it.
O.M. What was his state of mind on his way home?
Y.M. It was a state of joy which only the self-sacrificer
knows. His heart sang, he was unconscious of the storm.
O.M. He felt well?
Y.M. One cannot doubt it.
O.M. Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how
much he got for his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out
the REAL why of his making the investment. In the first place HE
couldn’t bear the pain which the old suffering face gave him. So
he was thinking of HIS pain–this good man. He must buy a salve
for it. If he did not succor the old woman HIS conscience would
torture him all the way home. Thinking of HIS pain again. He
must buy relief for that. If he didn’t relieve the old woman HE
would not get any sleep. He must buy some sleep–still thinking
of HIMSELF, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself free of
a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures
of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole night’s sleep–all for
twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself.
On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang–profit on top
of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old
woman was–FIRST–to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT; secondly to relieve
HER sufferings. Is it your opinion that men’s acts proceed from
one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a
variety of impulses?
Y.M. From a variety, of course–some high and fine and
noble, others not. What is your opinion?
O.M. Then there is but ONE law, one source.
Y.M. That both the noblest impulses and the basest proceed
from that one source?
Y.M. Will you put that law into words?
O.M. Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. FROM HIS
CRADLE TO HIS GRAVE A MAN NEVER DOES A SINGLE THING WHICH HAS ANY
FIRST AND FOREMOST OBJECT BUT ONE–TO SECURE PEACE OF MIND,
SPIRITUAL COMFORT, FOR HIMSELF.
Y.M. Come! He never does anything for any one else’s
comfort, spiritual or physical?
O.M. No. EXCEPT ON THOSE DISTINCT TERMS–that it shall
FIRST secure HIS OWN spiritual comfort. Otherwise he will not do
Y.M. It will be easy to expose the falsity of that
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Take that noble passion, love of country, patriotism.
A man who loves peace and dreads pain, leaves his pleasant home
and his weeping family and marches out to manfully expose himself
to hunger, cold, wounds, and death. Is that seeking spiritual
O.M. He loves peace and dreads pain?
O.M. Then perhaps there is something that he loves MORE
than he loves peace–THE APPROVAL OF HIS NEIGHBORS AND THE
PUBLIC. And perhaps there is something which he dreads more than
he dreads pain–the DISAPPROVAL of his neighbors and the public.
If he is sensitive to shame he will go to the field–not because
his spirit will be ENTIRELY comfortable there, but because it
will be more comfortable there than it would be if he remained at
home. He will always do the thing which will bring him the MOST
mental comfort–for that is THE SOLE LAW OF HIS LIFE. He leaves
the weeping family behind; he is sorry to make them
uncomfortable, but not sorry enough to sacrifice his OWN comfort
to secure theirs.
Y.M. Do you really believe that mere public opinion could
force a timid and peaceful man to–
O.M. Go to war? Yes–public opinion can force some men to
Y.M. I don’t believe that. Can it force a right-principled
man to do a wrong thing?
Y.M. Can it force a kind man to do a cruel thing?
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Alexander Hamilton was a conspicuously high-principled
man. He regarded dueling as wrong, and as opposed to the
teachings of religion–but in deference to PUBLIC OPINION he
fought a duel. He deeply loved his family, but to buy public
approval he treacherously deserted them and threw his life away,
ungenerously leaving them to lifelong sorrow in order that he
might stand well with a foolish world. In the then condition of
the public standards of honor he could not have been comfortable
with the stigma upon him of having refused to fight. The
teachings of religion, his devotion to his family, his kindness
of heart, his high principles, all went for nothing when they
stood in the way of his spiritual comfort. A man will do
ANYTHING, no matter what it is, TO SECURE HIS SPIRITUAL COMFORT;
and he can neither be forced nor persuaded to any act which has
not that goal for its object. Hamilton’s act was compelled by
the inborn necessity of contenting his own spirit; in this it was
like all the other acts of his life, and like all the acts of all
men’s lives. Do you see where the kernel of the matter lies? A
man cannot be comfortable without HIS OWN approval. He will
secure the largest share possible of that, at all costs, all
Y.M. A minute ago you said Hamilton fought that duel to get
O.M. I did. By refusing to fight the duel he would have
secured his family’s approval and a large share of his own; but
the public approval was more valuable in his eyes than all other
approvals put together–in the earth or above it; to secure that
would furnish him the MOST comfort of mind, the most SELF-
approval; so he sacrificed all other values to get it.
Y.M. Some noble souls have refused to fight duels, and have
manfully braved the public contempt.
O.M. They acted ACCORDING TO THEIR MAKE. They valued their
principles and the approval of their families ABOVE the public
approval. They took the thing they valued MOST and let the rest
go. They took what would give them the LARGEST share of PERSONAL
CONTENTMENT AND APPROVAL–a man ALWAYS does. Public opinion
cannot force that kind of men to go to the wars. When they go it
is for other reasons. Other spirit-contenting reasons.
Y.M. Always spirit-contenting reasons?
O.M. There are no others.
Y.M. When a man sacrifices his life to save a little child
from a burning building, what do you call that?
O.M. When he does it, it is the law of HIS make. HE can’t
bear to see the child in that peril (a man of a different make
COULD), and so he tries to save the child, and loses his life.
But he has got what he was after–HIS OWN APPROVAL.
Y.M. What do you call Love, Hate, Charity, Revenge,
Humanity, Magnanimity, Forgiveness?
O.M. Different results of the one Master Impulse: the
necessity of securing one’s self approval. They wear diverse
clothes and are subject to diverse moods, but in whatsoever ways
they masquerade they are the SAME PERSON all the time. To change
the figure, the COMPULSION that moves a man–and there is but the
one–is the necessity of securing the contentment of his own
spirit. When it stops, the man is dead.
Y.M. That is foolishness. Love–
O.M. Why, love is that impulse, that law, in its most
uncompromising form. It will squander life and everything else
on its object. Not PRIMARILY for the object’s sake, but for ITS
OWN. When its object is happy IT is happy–and that is what it
is unconsciously after.
Y.M. You do not even except the lofty and gracious passion
O.M. No, IT is the absolute slave of that law. The mother
will go naked to clothe her child; she will starve that it may
have food; suffer torture to save it from pain; die that it may
live. She takes a living PLEASURE in making these sacrifices.
SHE DOES IT FOR THAT REWARD–that self-approval, that
contentment, that peace, that comfort. SHE WOULD DO IT FOR YOUR
CHILD IF SHE COULD GET THE SAME PAY.
Y.M. This is an infernal philosophy of yours.
O.M. It isn’t a philosophy, it is a fact.
Y.M. Of course you must admit that there are some acts which–
O.M. No. There is NO act, large or small, fine or mean,
which springs from any motive but the one–the necessity of
appeasing and contenting one’s own spirit.
Y.M. The world’s philanthropists–
O.M. I honor them, I uncover my head to them–from habit
and training; and THEY could not know comfort or happiness or
self-approval if they did not work and spend for the unfortunate.
It makes THEM happy to see others happy; and so with money and
labor they buy what they are after–HAPPINESS, SELF-APPROVAL.
Why don’t miners do the same thing? Because they can get a
thousandfold more happiness by NOT doing it. There is no
other reason. They follow the law of their make.
Y.M. What do you say of duty for duty’s sake?
O.M. That IS DOES NOT EXIST. Duties are not performed for
duty’s SAKE, but because their NEGLECT would make the man
UNCOMFORTABLE. A man performs but ONE duty–the duty of
contenting his spirit, the duty of making himself agreeable to
himself. If he can most satisfyingly perform this sole and only
duty by HELPING his neighbor, he will do it; if he can most
satisfyingly perform it by SWINDLING his neighbor, he will do it.
But he always looks out for Number One–FIRST; the effects upon
others are a SECONDARY matter. Men pretend to self-sacrifices,
but this is a thing which, in the ordinary value of the phrase,
DOES NOT EXIST AND HAS NOT EXISTED. A man often honestly THINKS
he is sacrificing himself merely and solely for some one else,
but he is deceived; his bottom impulse is to content a
requirement of his nature and training, and thus acquire peace
for his soul.
Y.M. Apparently, then, all men, both good and bad ones,
devote their lives to contenting their consciences.
O.M. Yes. That is a good enough name for it: Conscience–
that independent Sovereign, that insolent absolute Monarch inside
of a man who is the man’s Master. There are all kinds of
consciences, because there are all kinds of men. You satisfy an
assassin’s conscience in one way, a philanthropist’s in another,
a miser’s in another, a burglar’s in still another. As a GUIDE
or INCENTIVE to any authoritatively prescribed line of morals or
conduct (leaving TRAINING out of the account), a man’s conscience
is totally valueless. I know a kind-hearted Kentuckian whose
self-approval was lacking–whose conscience was troubling him, to
phrase it with exactness–BECAUSE HE HAD NEGLECTED TO KILL A
CERTAIN MAN–a man whom he had never seen. The stranger had
killed this man’s friend in a fight, this man’s Kentucky training
made it a duty to kill the stranger for it. He neglected his
duty–kept dodging it, shirking it, putting it off, and his
unrelenting conscience kept persecuting him for this conduct. At
last, to get ease of mind, comfort, self-approval, he hunted up
the stranger and took his life. It was an immense act of SELF-
SACRIFICE (as per the usual definition), for he did not want to
do it, and he never would have done it if he could have bought a
contented spirit and an unworried mind at smaller cost. But we
are so made that we will pay ANYTHING for that contentment–even
another man’s life.
Y.M. You spoke a moment ago of TRAINED consciences. You mean
that we are not BORN with consciences competent to guide us aright?
O.M. If we were, children and savages would know right from wrong,
and not have to be taught it.
Y.M. But consciences can be TRAINED?
Y.M. Of course by parents, teachers, the pulpit, and books.
O.M. Yes–they do their share; they do what they can.
Y.M. And the rest is done by–
O.M. Oh, a million unnoticed influences–for good or bad:
influences which work without rest during every waking moment of
a man’s life, from cradle to grave.
Y.M. You have tabulated these?
O.M. Many of them–yes.
Y.M. Will you read me the result?
O.M. Another time, yes. It would take an hour.
Y.M. A conscience can be trained to shun evil and prefer good?
Y.M. But will it for spirit-contenting reasons only?
O.M. It CAN’T be trained to do a thing for any OTHER reason.
The thing is impossible.
Y.M. There MUST be a genuinely and utterly self-sacrificing
act recorded in human history somewhere.
O.M. You are young. You have many years before you.
Search one out.
Y.M. It does seem to me that when a man sees a fellow-being
struggling in the water and jumps in at the risk of his life to
O.M. Wait. Describe the MAN. Describe the FELLOW-BEING.
State if there is an AUDIENCE present; or if they are ALONE.
Y.M. What have these things to do with the splendid act?
O.M. Very much. Shall we suppose, as a beginning, that the
two are alone, in a solitary place, at midnight?
Y.M. If you choose.
O.M. And that the fellow-being is the man’s daughter?
Y.M. Well, n-no–make it someone else.
O.M. A filthy, drunken ruffian, then?
Y.M. I see. Circumstances alter cases. I suppose that if there
was no audience to observe the act, the man wouldn’t perform it.
O.M. But there is here and there a man who WOULD. People,
for instance, like the man who lost his life trying to save the
child from the fire; and the man who gave the needy old woman his
twenty-five cents and walked home in the storm–there are here
and there men like that who would do it. And why? Because they
couldn’t BEAR to see a fellow-being struggling in the water and
not jump in and help. It would give THEM pain. They would save
the fellow-being on that account. THEY WOULDN’T DO IT OTHERWISE.
They strictly obey the law which I have been insisting upon. You
must remember and always distinguish the people who CAN’T BEAR
things from people who CAN. It will throw light upon a number of
apparently “self-sacrificing” cases.
Y.M. Oh, dear, it’s all so disgusting.
O.M. Yes. And so true.
Y.M. Come–take the good boy who does things he doesn’t
want to do, in order to gratify his mother.
O.M. He does seven-tenths of the act because it gratifies
HIM to gratify his mother. Throw the bulk of advantage the other
way and the good boy would not do the act. He MUST obey the iron
law. None can escape it.
Y.M. Well, take the case of a bad boy who–
O.M. You needn’t mention it, it is a waste of time. It is
no matter about the bad boy’s act. Whatever it was, he had a
spirit-contenting reason for it. Otherwise you have been
misinformed, and he didn’t do it.
Y.M. It is very exasperating. A while ago you said that man’s
conscience is not a born judge of morals and conduct, but has to
be taught and trained. Now I think a conscience can get drowsy
and lazy, but I don’t think it can go wrong; if you wake it up–
A Little Story
O.M. I will tell you a little story:
Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a
Christian widow whose little boy was ill and near to death. The
Infidel often watched by the bedside and entertained the boy with
talk, and he used these opportunities to satisfy a strong longing
in his nature–that desire which is in us all to better other
people’s condition by having them think as we think. He was
successful. But the dying boy, in his last moments, reproached
him and said:
“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF
AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE
MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE
PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”
And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:
“MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN. HOW
COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING? WE HAVE DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT
ONLY KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO
ALL WE HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”
The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he
had done, and he said:
“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM
GOOD. IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM
Then the mother said:
“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO
BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY.
NOW HE IS DEAD,–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE. OUR FAITH CAME
DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT
HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE
WAS YOUR SHAME?”
Y.M. He was a miscreant, and deserved death!
O.M. He thought so himself, and said so.
Y.M. Ah–you see, HIS CONSCIENCE WAS AWAKENED1!
O.M. Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It PAINED him to see
the mother suffer. He was sorry he had done a thing which
brought HIM pain. It did not occur to him to think of the mother
when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in providing
PLEASURE for himself, then. Providing it by satisfying what he
believed to be a call of duty.
Y.M. Call it what you please, it is to me a case of
AWAKENED CONSCIENCE. That awakened conscience could never get
itself into that species of trouble again. A cure like that is a
O.M. Pardon–I had not finished the story. We are
creatures of OUTSIDE INFLUENCES–we originate NOTHING within.
Whenever we take a new line of thought and drift into a new line
of belief and action, the impulse is ALWAYS suggested from the
OUTSIDE. Remorse so preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved
his harshness toward the boy’s religion and made him come to
regard it with tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy’s sake
and the mother’s. Finally he found himself examining it. From
that moment his progress in his new trend was steady and rapid.
He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for having
robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer
than ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He MUST have rest and
peace–it is the law of nature. There seemed but one way to get
it; he must devote himself to saving imperiled souls. He became
a missionary. He landed in a pagan country ill and helpless. A
native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to
convalescence. Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and
the grateful missionary helped her tend him. Here was his first
opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy
by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his
foolish faith in his false gods. He was successful. But the
dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said:
“I BELIEVED, AND WAS HAPPY IN IT; YOU HAVE TAKEN MY BELIEF
AWAY, AND MY COMFORT. NOW I HAVE NOTHING LEFT, AND I DIE
MISERABLE; FOR THE THINGS WHICH YOU HAVE TOLD ME DO NOT TAKE THE
PLACE OF THAT WHICH I HAVE LOST.”
And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:
“MY CHILD IS FOREVER LOST, AND MY HEART IS BROKEN. HOW
COULD YOU DO THIS CRUEL THING? WE HAD DONE YOU NO HARM, BUT ONLY
KINDNESS; WE MADE OUR HOUSE YOUR HOME, YOU WERE WELCOME TO ALL WE
HAD, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.”
The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what
he had done, and he said:
“IT WAS WRONG–I SEE IT NOW; BUT I WAS ONLY TRYING TO DO HIM
GOOD. IN MY VIEW HE WAS IN ERROR; IT SEEMED MY DUTY TO TEACH HIM
Then the mother said:
“I HAD TAUGHT HIM, ALL HIS LITTLE LIFE, WHAT I BELIEVED TO
BE THE TRUTH, AND IN HIS BELIEVING FAITH BOTH OF US WERE HAPPY.
NOW HE IS DEAD–AND LOST; AND I AM MISERABLE. OUR FAITH CAME
DOWN TO US THROUGH CENTURIES OF BELIEVING ANCESTORS; WHAT RIGHT
HAD YOU, OR ANY ONE, TO DISTURB IT? WHERE WAS YOUR HONOR, WHERE
WAS YOUR SHAME?”
The missionary’s anguish of remorse and sense of treachery
were as bitter and persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had
been in the former case. The story is finished. What is your
Y.M. The man’s conscience is a fool! It was morbid. It
didn’t know right from wrong.
O.M. I am not sorry to hear you say that. If you grant
that ONE man’s conscience doesn’t know right from wrong, it is an
admission that there are others like it. This single admission
pulls down the whole doctrine of infallibility of judgment in
consciences. Meantime there is one thing which I ask you to
Y.M. What is that?
O.M. That in both cases the man’s ACT gave him no spiritual
discomfort, and that he was quite satisfied with it and got
pleasure out of it. But afterward when it resulted in PAIN to
HIM, he was sorry. Sorry it had inflicted pain upon the others,
BUT FOR NO REASON UNDER THE SUN EXCEPT THAT THEIR PAIN GAVE HIM
PAIN. Our consciences take NO notice of pain inflicted upon
others until it reaches a point where it gives pain to US. In
ALL cases without exception we are absolutely indifferent to
another person’s pain until his sufferings make us uncomfortable.
Many an infidel would not have been troubled by that Christian
mother’s distress. Don’t you believe that?
Y.M. Yes. You might almost say it of the AVERAGE infidel,
O.M. And many a missionary, sternly fortified by his sense
of duty, would not have been troubled by the pagan mother’s
distress–Jesuit missionaries in Canada in the early French
times, for instance; see episodes quoted by Parkman.
Y.M. Well, let us adjourn. Where have we arrived?
O.M. At this. That we (mankind) have ticketed ourselves
with a number of qualities to which we have given misleading
names. Love, Hate, Charity, Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence,
and so on. I mean we attach misleading MEANINGS to the names.
They are all forms of self-contentment, self-gratification, but
the names so disguise them that they distract our attention from
the fact. Also we have smuggled a word into the dictionary which
ought not to be there at all–Self-Sacrifice. It describes a
thing which does not exist. But worst of all, we ignore and
never mention the Sole Impulse which dictates and compels a man’s
every act: the imperious necessity of securing his own approval,
in every emergency and at all costs. To it we owe all that we
are. It is our breath, our heart, our blood. It is our only
spur, our whip, our goad, our only impelling power; we have no
other. Without it we should be mere inert images, corpses; no
one would do anything, there would be no progress, the world
would stand still. We ought to stand reverently uncovered when
the name of that stupendous power is uttered.
Y.M. I am not convinced.
O.M. You will be when you think.
Instances in Point
Old Man. Have you given thought to the Gospel of Self-
Approval since we talked?
Young Man. I have.
O.M. It was I that moved you to it. That is to say an
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE moved you to it–not one that originated in
your head. Will you try to keep that in mind and not forget it?
Y.M. Yes. Why?
O.M. Because by and by in one of our talks, I wish to
further impress upon you that neither you, nor I, nor any man
ever originates a thought in his own head. THE UTTERER OF A
THOUGHT ALWAYS UTTERS A SECOND-HAND ONE.
Y.M. Oh, now–
O.M. Wait. Reserve your remark till we get to that part of
our discussion–tomorrow or next day, say. Now, then, have you
been considering the proposition that no act is ever born of any
but a self-contenting impulse–(primarily). You have sought.
What have you found?
Y.M. I have not been very fortunate. I have examined many
fine and apparently self-sacrificing deeds in romances and
O.M. Under searching analysis the ostensible self-sacrifice
disappeared? It naturally would.
Y.M. But here in this novel is one which seems to promise.
In the Adirondack woods is a wage-earner and lay preacher in the
lumber-camps who is of noble character and deeply religious. An
earnest and practical laborer in the New York slums comes up
there on vacation–he is leader of a section of the University
Settlement. Holme, the lumberman, is fired with a desire to
throw away his excellent worldly prospects and go down and save
souls on the East Side. He counts it happiness to make this
sacrifice for the glory of God and for the cause of Christ. He
resigns his place, makes the sacrifice cheerfully, and goes to
the East Side and preaches Christ and Him crucified every day and
every night to little groups of half-civilized foreign paupers
who scoff at him. But he rejoices in the scoffings, since he is
suffering them in the great cause of Christ. You have so filled
my mind with suspicions that I was constantly expecting to find a
hidden questionable impulse back of all this, but I am thankful
to say I have failed. This man saw his duty, and for DUTY’S SAKE
he sacrificed self and assumed the burden it imposed.
O.M. Is that as far as you have read?
O.M. Let us read further, presently. Meantime, in
sacrificing himself–NOT for the glory of God, PRIMARILY, as HE
imagined, but FIRST to content that exacting and inflexible
master within him–DID HE SACRIFICE ANYBODY ELSE?
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. He relinquished a lucrative post and got mere food and
lodging in place of it. Had he dependents?
O.M. In what way and to what extend did his self-sacrifice
Y.M. He was the support of a superannuated father. He had
a young sister with a remarkable voice–he was giving her a
musical education, so that her longing to be self-supporting
might be gratified. He was furnishing the money to put a young
brother through a polytechnic school and satisfy his desire to
become a civil engineer.
O.M. The old father’s comforts were now curtailed?
Y.M. Quite seriously. Yes.
O.M. The sister’s music-lessens had to stop?
O.M. The young brother’s education–well, an extinguishing
blight fell upon that happy dream, and he had to go to sawing
wood to support the old father, or something like that?
Y.M. It is about what happened. Yes.
O.M. What a handsome job of self-sacrificing he did do! It
seems to me that he sacrificed everybody EXCEPT himself. Haven’t
I told you that no man EVER sacrifices himself; that there is no
instance of it upon record anywhere; and that when a man’s
Interior Monarch requires a thing of its slave for either its
MOMENTARY or its PERMANENT contentment, that thing must and will
be furnished and that command obeyed, no matter who may stand in
the way and suffer disaster by it? That man RUINED HIS FAMILY to
please and content his Interior Monarch–
Y.M. And help Christ’s cause.
O.M. Yes–SECONDLY. Not firstly. HE thought it was firstly.
Y.M. Very well, have it so, if you will. But it could be
that he argued that if he saved a hundred souls in New York–
O.M. The sacrifice of the FAMILY would be justified by that
great profit upon the–the–what shall we call it?
O.M. Hardly. How would SPECULATION do? How would GAMBLE
do? Not a solitary soul-capture was sure. He played for a
possible thirty-three-hundred-per-cent profit. It was GAMBLING–
with his family for “chips.” However let us see how the game
came out. Maybe we can get on the track of the secret original
impulse, the REAL impulse, that moved him to so nobly self-
sacrifice his family in the Savior’s cause under the superstition
that he was sacrificing himself. I will read a chapter or so. .
. . Here we have it! It was bound to expose itself sooner or
later. He preached to the East-Side rabble a season, then went
back to his old dull, obscure life in the lumber-camps “HURT TO
THE HEART, HIS PRIDE HUMBLED.” Why? Were not his efforts
acceptable to the Savior, for Whom alone they were made? Dear
me, that detail is LOST SIGHT OF, is not even referred to, the
fact that it started out as a motive is entirely forgotten! Then
what is the trouble? The authoress quite innocently and
unconsciously gives the whole business away. The trouble was
this: this man merely PREACHED to the poor; that is not the
University Settlement’s way; it deals in larger and better things
than that, and it did not enthuse over that crude Salvation-Army
eloquence. It was courteous to Holme–but cool. It did not pet
him, did not take him to its bosom. “PERISHED WERE ALL HIS
DREAMS OF DISTINCTION, THE PRAISE AND GRATEFUL APPROVAL–” Of
whom? The Savior? No; the Savior is not mentioned. Of whom,
then? Of “His FELLOW-WORKERS.” Why did he want that? Because
the Master inside of him wanted it, and would not be content
without it. That emphasized sentence quoted above, reveals the
secret we have been seeking, the original impulse, the REAL
impulse, which moved the obscure and unappreciated Adirondack
lumberman to sacrifice his family and go on that crusade to the
East Side–which said original impulse was this, to wit: without
knowing it HE WENT THERE TO SHOW A NEGLECTED WORLD THE LARGE
TALENT THAT WAS IN HIM, AND RISE TO DISTINCTION. As I have
warned you before, NO act springs from any but the one law, the
one motive. But I pray you, do not accept this law upon my say-
so; but diligently examine for yourself. Whenever you read of a
self-sacrificing act or hear of one, or of a duty done for DUTY’S
SAKE, take it to pieces and look for the REAL motive. It is
Y.M. I do it every day. I cannot help it, now that I have
gotten started upon the degrading and exasperating quest. For it
is hatefully interesting!–in fact, fascinating is the word. As
soon as I come across a golden deed in a book I have to stop and
take it apart and examine it, I cannot help myself.
O.M. Have you ever found one that defeated the rule?
Y.M. No–at least, not yet. But take the case of servant-
tipping in Europe. You pay the HOTEL for service; you owe the
servants NOTHING, yet you pay them besides. Doesn’t that defeat it?
O.M. In what way?
Y.M. You are not OBLIGED to do it, therefore its source is
compassion for their ill-paid condition, and–
O.M. Has that custom ever vexed you, annoyed you, irritated you?
Y.M. Well, yes.
O.M. Still you succumbed to it?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Why of course?
Y.M. Well, custom is law, in a way, and laws must be
submitted to–everybody recognizes it as a DUTY.
O.M. Then you pay for the irritating tax for DUTY’S sake?
Y.M. I suppose it amounts to that.
O.M. Then the impulse which moves you to submit to the tax
is not ALL compassion, charity, benevolence?
Y.M. Well–perhaps not.
O.M. Is ANY of it?
Y.M. I–perhaps I was too hasty in locating its source.
O.M. Perhaps so. In case you ignored the custom would you
get prompt and effective service from the servants?
Y.M. Oh, hear yourself talk! Those European servants?
Why, you wouldn’t get any of all, to speak of.
O.M. Couldn’t THAT work as an impulse to move you to pay
Y.M. I am not denying it.
O.M. Apparently, then, it is a case of for-duty’s-sake with
a little self-interest added?
Y.M. Yes, it has the look of it. But here is a point:
we pay that tax knowing it to be unjust and an extortion; yet we
go away with a pain at the heart if we think we have been stingy
with the poor fellows; and we heartily wish we were back again,
so that we could do the right thing, and MORE than the right
thing, the GENEROUS thing. I think it will be difficult for you
to find any thought of self in that impulse.
O.M. I wonder why you should think so. When you find
service charged in the HOTEL bill does it annoy you?
O.M. Do you ever complain of the amount of it?
Y.M. No, it would not occur to me.
O.M. The EXPENSE, then, is not the annoying detail. It is
a fixed charge, and you pay it cheerfully, you pay it without a
murmur. When you came to pay the servants, how would you like it
if each of the men and maids had a fixed charge?
Y.M. Like it? I should rejoice!
O.M. Even if the fixed tax were a shade MORE than you had
been in the habit of paying in the form of tips?
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
O.M. Very well, then. As I understand it, it isn’t really
compassion nor yet duty that moves you to pay the tax, and it
isn’t the AMOUNT of the tax that annoys you. Yet SOMETHING
annoys you. What is it?
Y.M. Well, the trouble is, you never know WHAT to pay, the
tax varies so, all over Europe.
O.M. So you have to guess?
Y.M. There is no other way. So you go on thinking and
thinking, and calculating and guessing, and consulting with other
people and getting their views; and it spoils your sleep nights,
and makes you distraught in the daytime, and while you are
pretending to look at the sights you are only guessing and
guessing and guessing all the time, and being worried and
O.M. And all about a debt which you don’t owe and don’t
have to pay unless you want to! Strange. What is the purpose of
Y.M. To guess out what is right to give them, and not be
unfair to any of them.
O.M. It has quite a noble look–taking so much pains and using up
so much valuable time in order to be just and fair to a poor servant
to whom you owe nothing, but who needs money and is ill paid.
Y.M. I think, myself, that if there is any ungracious
motive back of it it will be hard to find.
O.M. How do you know when you have not paid a servant fairly?
Y.M. Why, he is silent; does not thank you. Sometimes he
gives you a look that makes you ashamed. You are too proud to
rectify your mistake there, with people looking, but afterward
you keep on wishing and wishing you HAD done it. My, the shame
and the pain of it! Sometimes you see, by the signs, that you
have it JUST RIGHT, and you go away mightily satisfied.
Sometimes the man is so effusively thankful that you know you
have given him a good deal MORE than was necessary.
O.M. NECESSARY? Necessary for what?
Y.M. To content him.
O.M. How do you feel THEN?
O.M. It is my belief that you have NOT been concerning
yourself in guessing out his just dues, but only in ciphering out
what would CONTENT him. And I think you have a self-deluding
reason for that.
Y.M. What was it?
O.M. If you fell short of what he was expecting and
wanting, you would get a look which would SHAME YOU BEFORE FOLK.
That would give you PAIN. YOU–for you are only working for
yourself, not HIM. If you gave him too much you would be ASHAMED
OF YOURSELF for it, and that would give YOU pain–another case of
thinking of YOURSELF, protecting yourself, SAVING YOURSELF FROM
DISCOMFORT. You never think of the servant once–except to guess
out how to get HIS APPROVAL. If you get that, you get your OWN
approval, and that is the sole and only thing you are after. The
Master inside of you is then satisfied, contented, comfortable;
there was NO OTHER thing at stake, as a matter of FIRST interest,
anywhere in the transaction.
Y.M. Well, to think of it; Self-Sacrifice for others, the
grandest thing in man, ruled out! non-existent!
O.M. Are you accusing me of saying that?
Y.M. Why, certainly.
O.M. I haven’t said it.
Y.M. What did you say, then?
O.M. That no man has ever sacrificed himself in the common
meaning of that phrase–which is, self-sacrifice for another
ALONE. Men make daily sacrifices for others, but it is for their
own sake FIRST. The act must content their own spirit FIRST.
The other beneficiaries come second.
Y.M. And the same with duty for duty’s sake?
O.M. Yes. No man performs a duty for mere duty’s sake; the act
must content his spirit FIRST. He must feel better for DOING the
duty than he would for shirking it. Otherwise he will not do it.
Y.M. Take the case of the BERKELEY CASTLE.
O.M. It was a noble duty, greatly performed. Take it to
pieces and examine it, if you like.
Y.M. A British troop-ship crowded with soldiers and their
wives and children. She struck a rock and began to sink. There
was room in the boats for the women and children only. The
colonel lined up his regiment on the deck and said “it is our
duty to die, that they may be saved.” There was no murmur, no
protest. The boats carried away the women and children. When
the death-moment was come, the colonel and his officers took
their several posts, the men stood at shoulder-arms, and so, as
on dress-parade, with their flag flying and the drums beating,
they went down, a sacrifice to duty for duty’s sake. Can you
view it as other than that?
O.M. It was something as fine as that, as exalted as that.
Could you have remained in those ranks and gone down to your
death in that unflinching way?
Y.M. Could I? No, I could not.
O.M. Think. Imagine yourself there, with that watery doom
creeping higher and higher around you.
Y.M. I can imagine it. I feel all the horror of it. I could
not have endured it, I could not have remained in my place.
I know it.
Y.M. There is no why about it: I know myself, and I know I
couldn’t DO it.
O.M. But it would be your DUTY to do it.
Y.M. Yes, I know–but I couldn’t.
O.M. It was more than thousand men, yet not one of them
flinched. Some of them must have been born with your
temperament; if they could do that great duty for duty’s SAKE,
why not you? Don’t you know that you could go out and gather
together a thousand clerks and mechanics and put them on that
deck and ask them to die for duty’s sake, and not two dozen of
them would stay in the ranks to the end?
Y.M. Yes, I know that.
O.M. But your TRAIN them, and put them through a campaign
or two; then they would be soldiers; soldiers, with a soldier’s
pride, a soldier’s self-respect, a soldier’s ideals. They would
have to content a SOLDIER’S spirit then, not a clerk’s, not a
mechanic’s. They could not content that spirit by shirking a
soldier’s duty, could they?
Y.M. I suppose not.
O.M. Then they would do the duty not for the DUTY’S sake,
but for their OWN sake–primarily. The DUTY was JUST THE SAME,
and just as imperative, when they were clerks, mechanics, raw
recruits, but they wouldn’t perform it for that. As clerks and
mechanics they had other ideals, another spirit to satisfy, and
they satisfied it. They HAD to; it is the law. TRAINING is
potent. Training toward higher and higher, and ever higher
ideals is worth any man’s thought and labor and diligence.
Y.M. Consider the man who stands by his duty and goes to
the stake rather than be recreant to it.
O.M. It is his make and his training. He has to content
the spirit that is in him, though it cost him his life. Another
man, just as sincerely religious, but of different temperament,
will fail of that duty, though recognizing it as a duty, and
grieving to be unequal to it: but he must content the spirit
that is in him–he cannot help it. He could not perform that
duty for duty’s SAKE, for that would not content his spirit, and
the contenting of his spirit must be looked to FIRST. It takes
precedence of all other duties.
Y.M. Take the case of a clergyman of stainless private
morals who votes for a thief for public office, on his own
party’s ticket, and against an honest man on the other ticket.
O.M. He has to content his spirit. He has no public
morals; he has no private ones, where his party’s prosperity is
at stake. He will always be true to his make and training.
Young Man. You keep using that word–training. By it do
you particularly mean–
Old Man. Study, instruction, lectures, sermons? That is a
part of it–but not a large part. I mean ALL the outside
influences. There are a million of them. From the cradle to the
grave, during all his waking hours, the human being is under
training. In the very first rank of his trainers stands
ASSOCIATION. It is his human environment which influences his
mind and his feelings, furnishes him his ideals, and sets him on
his road and keeps him in it. If he leave that road he will find
himself shunned by the people whom he most loves and esteems, and
whose approval he most values. He is a chameleon; by the law of
his nature he takes the color of his place of resort. The
influences about him create his preferences, his aversions, his
politics, his tastes, his morals, his religion. He creates none
of these things for himself. He THINKS he does, but that is
because he has not examined into the matter. You have seen
O.M. How did they happen to be Presbyterians and not
Congregationalists? And why were the Congregationalists not
Baptists, and the Baptists Roman Catholics, and the Roman
Catholics Buddhists, and the Buddhists Quakers, and the Quakers
Episcopalians, and the Episcopalians Millerites and the
Millerites Hindus, and the Hindus Atheists, and the Atheists
Spiritualists, and the Spiritualists Agnostics, and the Agnostics
Methodists, and the Methodists Confucians, and the Confucians
Unitarians, and the Unitarians Mohammedans, and the Mohammedans
Salvation Warriors, and the Salvation Warriors Zoroastrians, and
the Zoroastrians Christian Scientists, and the Christian
Scientists Mormons–and so on?
Y.M. You may answer your question yourself.
O.M. That list of sects is not a record of STUDIES,
searchings, seekings after light; it mainly (and sarcastically)
indicates what ASSOCIATION can do. If you know a man’s
nationality you can come within a split hair of guessing the
complexion of his religion: English–Protestant; American–
ditto; Spaniard, Frenchman, Irishman, Italian, South American–
Roman Catholic; Russian–Greek Catholic; Turk–Mohammedan; and so
on. And when you know the man’s religious complexion, you know
what sort of religious books he reads when he wants some more
light, and what sort of books he avoids, lest by accident he get
more light than he wants. In America if you know which party-
collar a voter wears, you know what his associations are, and how
he came by his politics, and which breed of newspaper he reads to
get light, and which breed he diligently avoids, and which breed
of mass-meetings he attends in order to broaden his political
knowledge, and which breed of mass-meetings he doesn’t attend,
except to refute its doctrines with brickbats. We are always
hearing of people who are around SEEKING AFTER TRUTH. I have
never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he had never lived.
But I have seen several entirely sincere people who THOUGHT they
were (permanent) Seekers after Truth. They sought diligently,
persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect
honesty and nicely adjusted judgment–until they believed that
without doubt or question they had found the Truth. THAT WAS THE
END OF THE SEARCH. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up
shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather. If he
was seeking after political Truth he found it in one or another
of the hundred political gospels which govern men in the earth;
if he was seeking after the Only True Religion he found it in one
or another of the three thousand that are on the market. In any
case, when he found the Truth HE SOUGHT NO FURTHER; but from that
day forth, with his soldering-iron in one hand and his bludgeon
in the other he tinkered its leaks and reasoned with objectors.
There have been innumerable Temporary Seekers of Truth–have you
ever heard of a permanent one? In the very nature of man such a
person is impossible. However, to drop back to the text–
training: all training is one from or another of OUTSIDE
INFLUENCE, and ASSOCIATION is the largest part of it. A man is
never anything but what his outside influences have made him.
They train him downward or they train him upward–but they TRAIN
him; they are at work upon him all the time.
Y.M. Then if he happen by the accidents of life to be
evilly placed there is no help for him, according to your
notions–he must train downward.
O.M. No help for him? No help for this chameleon? It is a
mistake. It is in his chameleonship that his greatest good
fortune lies. He has only to change his habitat–his
ASSOCIATIONS. But the impulse to do it must come from the
OUTSIDE–he cannot originate it himself, with that purpose in
view. Sometimes a very small and accidental thing can furnish
him the initiatory impulse and start him on a new road, with a
new idea. The chance remark of a sweetheart, “I hear that you
are a coward,” may water a seed that shall sprout and bloom and
flourish, and ended in producing a surprising fruitage–in the
fields of war. The history of man is full of such accidents.
The accident of a broken leg brought a profane and ribald soldier
under religious influences and furnished him a new ideal. From
that accident sprang the Order of the Jesuits, and it has been
shaking thrones, changing policies, and doing other tremendous
work for two hundred years–and will go on. The chance reading
of a book or of a paragraph in a newspaper can start a man on a
new track and make him renounce his old associations and seek new
ones that are IN SYMPATHY WITH HIS NEW IDEAL: and the result,
for that man, can be an entire change of his way of life.
Y.M. Are you hinting at a scheme of procedure?
O.M. Not a new one–an old one. One as mankind.
Y.M. What is it?
O.M. Merely the laying of traps for people. Traps baited
with INITIATORY IMPULSES TOWARD HIGH IDEALS. It is what the
tract-distributor does. It is what the missionary does. It is
what governments ought to do.
Y.M. Don’t they?
O.M. In one way they do, in another they don’t. They
separate the smallpox patients from the healthy people, but in
dealing with crime they put the healthy into the pest-house along
with the sick. That is to say, they put the beginners in with
the confirmed criminals. This would be well if man were
naturally inclined to good, but he isn’t, and so ASSOCIATION
makes the beginners worse than they were when they went into
captivity. It is putting a very severe punishment upon the
comparatively innocent at times. They hang a man–which is a
trifling punishment; this breaks the hearts of his family–which
is a heavy one. They comfortably jail and feed a wife-beater,
and leave his innocent wife and family to starve.
Y.M. Do you believe in the doctrine that man is equipped
with an intuitive perception of good and evil?
O.M. Adam hadn’t it.
Y.M. But has man acquired it since?
O.M. No. I think he has no intuitions of any kind. He
gets ALL his ideas, all his impressions, from the outside. I
keep repeating this, in the hope that I may impress it upon you
that you will be interested to observe and examine for yourself
and see whether it is true or false.
Y.M. Where did you get your own aggravating notions?
O.M. From the OUTSIDE. I did not invent them. They are
gathered from a thousand unknown sources. Mainly UNCONSCIOUSLY
Y.M. Don’t you believe that God could make an inherently
O.M. Yes, I know He could. I also know that He never did
Y.M. A wiser observer than you has recorded the fact that
“an honest man’s the noblest work of God.”
O.M. He didn’t record a fact, he recorded a falsity. It is windy,
and sounds well, but it is not true. God makes a man with honest
and dishonest POSSIBILITIES in him and stops there. The man’s
ASSOCIATIONS develop the possibilities–the one set or the other.
The result is accordingly an honest man or a dishonest one.
Y.M. And the honest one is not entitled to–
O.M. Praise? No. How often must I tell you that? HE is
not the architect of his honesty.
Y.M. Now then, I will ask you where there is any sense in
training people to lead virtuous lives. What is gained by it?
O.M. The man himself gets large advantages out of it, and
that is the main thing–to HIM. He is not a peril to his
neighbors, he is not a damage to them–and so THEY get an
advantage out of his virtues. That is the main thing to THEM.
It can make this life comparatively comfortable to the parties
concerned; the NEGLECT of this training can make this life a
constant peril and distress to the parties concerned.
Y.M. You have said that training is everything; that
training is the man HIMSELF, for it makes him what he is.
O.M. I said training and ANOTHER thing. Let that other
thing pass, for the moment. What were you going to say?
Y.M. We have an old servant. She has been with us twenty-
two years. Her service used to be faultless, but now she has
become very forgetful. We are all fond of her; we all recognize
that she cannot help the infirmity which age has brought her; the
rest of the family do not scold her for her remissnesses, but at
times I do–I can’t seem to control myself. Don’t I try? I do
try. Now, then, when I was ready to dress, this morning, no
clean clothes had been put out. I lost my temper; I lose it
easiest and quickest in the early morning. I rang; and
immediately began to warn myself not to show temper, and to be
careful and speak gently. I safe-guarded myself most carefully.
I even chose the very word I would use: “You’ve forgotten the
clean clothes, Jane.” When she appeared in the door I opened my
mouth to say that phrase–and out of it, moved by an instant
surge of passion which I was not expecting and hadn’t time to put
under control, came the hot rebuke, “You’ve forgotten them
again!” You say a man always does the thing which will best
please his Interior Master. Whence came the impulse to make
careful preparation to save the girl the humiliation of a rebuke?
Did that come from the Master, who is always primarily concerned
O.M. Unquestionably. There is no other source for any
impulse. SECONDARILY you made preparation to save the girl, but
PRIMARILY its object was to save yourself, by contenting the
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Has any member of the family ever implored you to
watch your temper and not fly out at the girl?
Y.M. Yes. My mother.
O.M. You love her?
Y.M. Oh, more than that!
O.M. You would always do anything in your power to please her?
Y.M. It is a delight to me to do anything to please her!
O.M. Why? YOU WOULD DO IT FOR PAY, SOLELY–for PROFIT.
What profit would you expect and certainly receive from
Y.M. Personally? None. To please HER is enough.
O.M. It appears, then, that your object, primarily, WASN’T
to save the girl a humiliation, but to PLEASE YOUR MOTHER. It
also appears that to please your mother gives YOU a strong
pleasure. Is not that the profit which you get out of the
investment? Isn’t that the REAL profits and FIRST profit?
Y.M. Oh, well? Go on.
O.M. In ALL transactions, the Interior Master looks to it
that YOU GET THE FIRST PROFIT. Otherwise there is no
Y.M. Well, then, if I was so anxious to get that profit and
so intent upon it, why did I threw it away by losing my temper?
O.M. In order to get ANOTHER profit which suddenly
superseded it in value.
Y.M. Where was it?
O.M. Ambushed behind your born temperament, and waiting for
a chance. Your native warm temper suddenly jumped to the front,
and FOR THE MOMENT its influence was more powerful than your
mother’s, and abolished it. In that instance you were eager to
flash out a hot rebuke and enjoy it. You did enjoy it, didn’t you?
Y.M. For–for a quarter of a second. Yes–I did.
O.M. Very well, it is as I have said: the thing which will
give you the MOST pleasure, the most satisfaction, in any moment
or FRACTION of a moment, is the thing you will always do. You
must content the Master’s LATEST whim, whatever it may be.
Y.M. But when the tears came into the old servant’s eyes I
could have cut my hand off for what I had done.
O.M. Right. You had humiliated YOURSELF, you see, you had
given yourself PAIN. Nothing is of FIRST importance to a man
except results which damage HIM or profit him–all the rest is
SECONDARY. Your Master was displeased with you, although you had
obeyed him. He required a prompt REPENTANCE; you obeyed again;
you HAD to–there is never any escape from his commands. He is a
hard master and fickle; he changes his mind in the fraction of a
second, but you must be ready to obey, and you will obey, ALWAYS.
If he requires repentance, you content him, you will always
furnish it. He must be nursed, petted, coddled, and kept
contented, let the terms be what they may.
Y.M. Training! Oh, what’s the use of it? Didn’t I, and
didn’t my mother try to train me up to where I would no longer
fly out at that girl?
O.M. Have you never managed to keep back a scolding?
Y.M. Oh, certainly–many times.
O.M. More times this year than last?
Y.M. Yes, a good many more.
O.M. More times last year than the year before?
O.M. There is a large improvement, then, in the two years?
Y.M. Yes, undoubtedly.
O.M. Then your question is answered. You see there IS use in
training. Keep on. Keeping faithfully on. You are doing well.
Y.M. Will my reform reach perfection?
O.M. It will. UP to YOUR limit.
Y.M. My limit? What do you mean by that?
O.M. You remember that you said that I said training was
EVERYTHING. I corrected you, and said “training and ANOTHER
thing.” That other thing is TEMPERAMENT–that is, the
disposition you were born with. YOU CAN’T ERADICATE YOUR
DISPOSITION NOR ANY RAG OF IT–you can only put a pressure on it
and keep it down and quiet. You have a warm temper?
O.M. You will never get rid of it; but by watching it you
can keep it down nearly all the time. ITS PRESENCE IS YOUR
LIMIT. Your reform will never quite reach perfection, for your
temper will beat you now and then, but you come near enough. You
have made valuable progress and can make more. There IS use in
training. Immense use. Presently you will reach a new stage of
development, then your progress will be easier; will proceed on a
simpler basis, anyway.
O.M. You keep back your scoldings now, to please YOURSELF
by pleasing your MOTHER; presently the mere triumphing over your
temper will delight your vanity and confer a more delicious
pleasure and satisfaction upon you than even the approbation of
your MOTHER confers upon you now. You will then labor for
yourself directly and at FIRST HAND, not by the roundabout way
through your mother. It simplifies the matter, and it also
strengthens the impulse.
Y.M. Ah, dear! But I sha’n’t ever reach the point where I
will spare the girl for HER sake PRIMARILY, not mine?
O.M. Why–yes. In heaven.
Y.M. (AFTER A REFLECTIVE PAUSE) Temperament. Well, I see
one must allow for temperament. It is a large factor, sure
enough. My mother is thoughtful, and not hot-tempered. When I
was dressed I went to her room; she was not there; I called, she
answered from the bathroom. I heard the water running. I
inquired. She answered, without temper, that Jane had forgotten
her bath, and she was preparing it herself. I offered to ring,
but she said, “No, don’t do that; it would only distress her to
be confronted with her lapse, and would be a rebuke; she doesn’t
deserve that–she is not to blame for the tricks her memory
serves her.” I say–has my mother an Interior Master?–and where
O.M. He was there. There, and looking out for his own
peace and pleasure and contentment. The girl’s distress would
have pained YOUR MOTHER. Otherwise the girl would have been rung
up, distress and all. I know women who would have gotten a No. 1
PLEASURE out of ringing Jane up–and so they would infallibly
have pushed the button and obeyed the law of their make and
training, which are the servants of their Interior Masters. It
is quite likely that a part of your mother’s forbearance came
from training. The GOOD kind of training–whose best and highest
function is to see to it that every time it confers a
satisfaction upon its pupil a benefit shall fall at second hand
Y.M. If you were going to condense into an admonition your
plan for the general betterment of the race’s condition, how
would you word it?
O.M. Diligently train your ideals UPWARD and STILL UPWARD
toward a summit where you will find your chiefest pleasure in
conduct which, while contenting you, will be sure to confer
benefits upon your neighbor and the community.
Y.M. Is that a new gospel?
Y.M. It has been taught before?
O.M. For ten thousand years.
Y.M. By whom?
O.M. All the great religions–all the great gospels.
Y.M. Then there is nothing new about it?
O.M. Oh yes, there is. It is candidly stated, this time.
That has not been done before.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Haven’t I put YOU FIRST, and your neighbor and the
Y.M. Well, yes, that is a difference, it is true.
O.M. The difference between straight speaking and crooked;
the difference between frankness and shuffling.
O.M. The others offer your a hundred bribes to be good,
thus conceding that the Master inside of you must be conciliated
and contented first, and that you will do nothing at FIRST HAND
but for his sake; then they turn square around and require you to
do good for OTHER’S sake CHIEFLY; and to do your duty for duty’s
SAKE, chiefly; and to do acts of SELF-SACRIFICE. Thus at the
outset we all stand upon the same ground–recognition of the
supreme and absolute Monarch that resides in man, and we all
grovel before him and appeal to him; then those others dodge and
shuffle, and face around and unfrankly and inconsistently and
illogically change the form of their appeal and direct its
persuasions to man’s SECOND-PLACE powers and to powers which have
NO EXISTENCE in him, thus advancing them to FIRST place; whereas
in my Admonition I stick logically and consistently to the
original position: I place the Interior Master’s requirements
FIRST, and keep them there.
Y.M. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that your
scheme and the other schemes aim at and produce the same result–
RIGHT LIVING–has yours an advantage over the others?
O.M. One, yes–a large one. It has no concealments, no
deceptions. When a man leads a right and valuable life under it
he is not deceived as to the REAL chief motive which impels him
to it–in those other cases he is.
Y.M. Is that an advantage? Is it an advantage to live a
lofty life for a mean reason? In the other cases he lives the
lofty life under the IMPRESSION that he is living for a lofty
reason. Is not that an advantage?
O.M. Perhaps so. The same advantage he might get out of
thinking himself a duke, and living a duke’s life and parading in
ducal fuss and feathers, when he wasn’t a duke at all, and could
find it out if he would only examine the herald’s records.
Y.M. But anyway, he is obliged to do a duke’s part; he puts
his hand in his pocket and does his benevolences on as big a
scale as he can stand, and that benefits the community.
O.M. He could do that without being a duke.
Y.M. But would he?
O.M. Don’t you see where you are arriving?
O.M. At the standpoint of the other schemes: That it is
good morals to let an ignorant duke do showy benevolences for his
pride’s sake, a pretty low motive, and go on doing them unwarned,
lest if he were made acquainted with the actual motive which
prompted them he might shut up his purse and cease to be good?
Y.M. But isn’t it best to leave him in ignorance, as long
as he THINKS he is doing good for others’ sake?
O.M. Perhaps so. It is the position of the other schemes.
They think humbug is good enough morals when the dividend on it
is good deeds and handsome conduct.
Y.M. It is my opinion that under your scheme of a man’s
doing a good deed for his OWN sake first-off, instead of first
for the GOOD DEED’S sake, no man would ever do one.
O.M. Have you committed a benevolence lately?
Y.M. Yes. This morning.
O.M. Give the particulars.
Y.M. The cabin of the old negro woman who used to nurse me
when I was a child and who saved my life once at the risk of her
own, was burned last night, and she came mourning this morning,
and pleading for money to build another one.
O.M. You furnished it?
O.M. You were glad you had the money?
Y.M. Money? I hadn’t. I sold my horse.
O.M. You were glad you had the horse?
Y.M. Of course I was; for if I hadn’t had the horse I
should have been incapable, and my MOTHER would have captured the
chance to set old Sally up.
O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and
Y.M. Oh, I just was!
O.M. Now, then–
Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of
questions, and I could answer every one of them without your
wasting the time to ask them; but I will summarize the whole
thing in a single remark: I did the charity knowing it was
because the act would give ME a splendid pleasure, and because
old Sally’s moving gratitude and delight would give ME another
one; and because the reflection that she would be happy now and
out of her trouble would fill ME full of happiness. I did the
whole thing with my eyes open and recognizing and realizing that
I was looking out for MY share of the profits FIRST. Now then, I
have confessed. Go on.
O.M. I haven’t anything to offer; you have covered the
whole ground. Can you have been any MORE strongly moved to help
Sally out of her trouble–could you have done the deed any more
eagerly–if you had been under the delusion that you were doing
it for HER sake and profit only?
Y.M. No! Nothing in the world could have made the impulse
which moved me more powerful, more masterful, more thoroughly
irresistible. I played the limit!
O.M. Very well. You begin to suspect–and I claim to KNOW
–that when a man is a shade MORE STRONGLY MOVED to do ONE of two
things or of two dozen things than he is to do any one of the
OTHERS, he will infallibly do that ONE thing, be it good or be it
evil; and if it be good, not all the beguilements of all the
casuistries can increase the strength of the impulse by a single
shade or add a shade to the comfort and contentment he will get
out of the act.
Y.M. Then you believe that such tendency toward doing good
as is in men’s hearts would not be diminished by the removal of
the delusion that good deeds are done primarily for the sake of
No. 2 instead of for the sake of No. 1?
O.M. That is what I fully believe.
Y.M. Doesn’t it somehow seem to take from the dignity of the deed?
O.M. If there is dignity in falsity, it does. It removes that.
Y.M. What is left for the moralists to do?
O.M. Teach unreservedly what he already teaches with one
side of his mouth and takes back with the other: Do right FOR
YOUR OWN SAKE, and be happy in knowing that your NEIGHBOR will
certainly share in the benefits resulting.
Y.M. Repeat your Admonition.
O.M. DILIGENTLY TRAIN YOUR IDEALS UPWARD AND STILL UPWARD
TOWARD A SUMMIT WHERE YOU WILL FIND YOUR CHIEFEST PLEASURE IN
CONDUCT WHICH, WHILE CONTENTING YOU, WILL BE SURE TO CONFER
BENEFITS UPON YOUR NEIGHBOR AND THE COMMUNITY.
Y.M. One’s EVERY act proceeds from EXTERIOR INFLUENCES, you think?
Y.M. If I conclude to rob a person, I am not the ORIGINATOR
of the idea, but it comes in from the OUTSIDE? I see him
handling money–for instance–and THAT moves me to the crime?
O.M. That, by itself? Oh, certainly not. It is merely the
LATEST outside influence of a procession of preparatory
influences stretching back over a period of years. No SINGLE
outside influence can make a man do a thing which is at war with
his training. The most it can do is to start his mind on a new
tract and open it to the reception of NEW influences–as in the
case of Ignatius Loyola. In time these influences can train him
to a point where it will be consonant with his new character to
yield to the FINAL influence and do that thing. I will put the
case in a form which will make my theory clear to you, I think.
Here are two ingots of virgin gold. They shall represent a
couple of characters which have been refined and perfected in the
virtues by years of diligent right training. Suppose you wanted
to break down these strong and well-compacted characters–what
influence would you bring to bear upon the ingots?
Y.M. Work it out yourself. Proceed.
O.M. Suppose I turn upon one of them a steam-jet during a
long succession of hours. Will there be a result?
Y.M. None that I know of.
Y.M. A steam-jet cannot break down such a substance.
O.M. Very well. The steam is an OUTSIDE INFLUENCE, but it
is ineffective because the gold TAKES NO INTEREST IN IT. The
ingot remains as it was. Suppose we add to the steam some
quicksilver in a vaporized condition, and turn the jet upon the
ingot, will there be an instantaneous result?
O.M. The QUICKSILVER is an outside influence which gold (by
its peculiar nature–say TEMPERAMENT, DISPOSITION) CANNOT BE
INDIFFERENT TO. It stirs up the interest of the gold, although
we do not perceive it; but a SINGLE application of the influence
works no damage. Let us continue the application in a steady
stream, and call each minute a year. By the end of ten or twenty
minutes–ten or twenty years–the little ingot is sodden with
quicksilver, its virtues are gone, its character is degraded. At
last it is ready to yield to a temptation which it would have
taken no notice of, ten or twenty years ago. We will apply that
temptation in the form of a pressure of my finger. You note the
Y.M. Yes; the ingot has crumbled to sand. I understand,
now. It is not the SINGLE outside influence that does the work,
but only the LAST one of a long and disintegrating accumulation
of them. I see, now, how my SINGLE impulse to rob the man is not
the one that makes me do it, but only the LAST one of a
preparatory series. You might illustrate with a parable.
O.M. I will. There was once a pair of New England boys–
twins. They were alike in good dispositions, feckless morals,
and personal appearance. They were the models of the Sunday-
school. At fifteen George had the opportunity to go as cabin-boy
in a whale-ship, and sailed away for the Pacific. Henry remained
at home in the village. At eighteen George was a sailor before
the mast, and Henry was teacher of the advanced Bible class. At
twenty-two George, through fighting-habits and drinking-habits
acquired at sea and in the sailor boarding-houses of the European
and Oriental ports, was a common rough in Hong-Kong, and out of a
job; and Henry was superintendent of the Sunday-school. At
twenty-six George was a wanderer, a tramp, and Henry was pastor
of the village church. Then George came home, and was Henry’s
guest. One evening a man passed by and turned down the lane, and
Henry said, with a pathetic smile, “Without intending me a
discomfort, that man is always keeping me reminded of my pinching
poverty, for he carries heaps of money about him, and goes by
here every evening of his life.” That OUTSIDE INFLUENCE–that
remark–was enough for George, but IT was not the one that made
him ambush the man and rob him, it merely represented the eleven
years’ accumulation of such influences, and gave birth to the act
for which their long gestation had made preparation. It had
never entered the head of Henry to rob the man–his ingot had
been subjected to clean steam only; but George’s had been
subjected to vaporized quicksilver.
More About the Machine
Note.–When Mrs. W. asks how can a millionaire give a single
dollar to colleges and museums while one human being is destitute
of bread, she has answered her question herself. Her feeling for
the poor shows that she has a standard of benevolence; there she
has conceded the millionaire’s privilege of having a standard;
since she evidently requires him to adopt her standard, she is by
that act requiring herself to adopt his. The human being always
looks down when he is examining another person’s standard; he
never find one that he has to examine by looking up.
The Man-Machine Again
Young Man. You really think man is a mere machine?
Old Man. I do.
Y.M. And that his mind works automatically and is
independent of his control–carries on thought on its own hook?
O.M. Yes. It is diligently at work, unceasingly at work,
during every waking moment. Have you never tossed about all
night, imploring, beseeching, commanding your mind to stop work
and let you go to sleep?–you who perhaps imagine that your mind
is your servant and must obey your orders, think what you tell it
to think, and stop when you tell it to stop. When it chooses to
work, there is no way to keep it still for an instant. The
brightest man would not be able to supply it with subjects if he
had to hunt them up. If it needed the man’s help it would wait
for him to give it work when he wakes in the morning.
Y.M. Maybe it does.
O.M. No, it begins right away, before the man gets wide
enough awake to give it a suggestion. He may go to sleep saying,
“The moment I wake I will think upon such and such a subject,”
but he will fail. His mind will be too quick for him; by the
time he has become nearly enough awake to be half conscious, he
will find that it is already at work upon another subject. Make
the experiment and see.
Y.M. At any rate, he can make it stick to a subject if he
O.M. Not if it find another that suits it better. As a
rule it will listen to neither a dull speaker nor a bright one.
It refuses all persuasion. The dull speaker wearies it and sends
it far away in idle dreams; the bright speaker throws out
stimulating ideas which it goes chasing after and is at once
unconscious of him and his talk. You cannot keep your mind from
wandering, if it wants to; it is master, not you.
After an Interval of Days
O.M. Now, dreams–but we will examine that later.
Meantime, did you try commanding your mind to wait for orders
from you, and not do any thinking on its own hook?
Y.M. Yes, I commanded it to stand ready to take orders when
I should wake in the morning.
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. No. It went to thinking of something of its own
initiation, without waiting for me. Also–as you suggested–at
night I appointed a theme for it to begin on in the morning, and
commanded it to begin on that one and no other.
O.M. Did it obey?
O.M. How many times did you try the experiment?
O.M. How many successes did you score?
Y.M. Not one.
O.M. It is as I have said: the mind is independent of the
man. He has no control over it; it does as it pleases. It will
take up a subject in spite of him; it will stick to it in spite
of him; it will throw it aside in spite of him. It is entirely
independent of him.
Y.M. Go on. Illustrate.
O.M. Do you know chess?
Y.M. I learned it a week ago.
O.M. Did your mind go on playing the game all night that
Y.M. Don’t mention it!
O.M. It was eagerly, unsatisfiably interested; it rioted in
the combinations; you implored it to drop the game and let you
get some sleep?
Y.M. Yes. It wouldn’t listen; it played right along. It
wore me out and I got up haggard and wretched in the morning.
O.M. At some time or other you have been captivated by a
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
“I saw Esau kissing Kate,
And she saw I saw Esau;
I saw Esau, he saw Kate,
And she saw–”
And so on. My mind went mad with joy over it. It repeated it
all day and all night for a week in spite of all I could do to
stop it, and it seemed to me that I must surely go crazy.
O.M. And the new popular song?
Y.M. Oh yes! “In the Swee-eet By and By”; etc. Yes, the
new popular song with the taking melody sings through one’s head
day and night, asleep and awake, till one is a wreck. There is
no getting the mind to let it alone.
O.M. Yes, asleep as well as awake. The mind is quite
independent. It is master. You have nothing to do with it. It
is so apart from you that it can conduct its affairs, sing its
songs, play its chess, weave its complex and ingeniously
constructed dreams, while you sleep. It has no use for your
help, no use for your guidance, and never uses either, whether
you be asleep or awake. You have imagined that you could
originate a thought in your mind, and you have sincerely believed
you could do it.
Y.M. Yes, I have had that idea.
O.M. Yet you can’t originate a dream-thought for it to work
out, and get it accepted?
O.M. And you can’t dictate its procedure after it has
originated a dream-thought for itself?
Y.M. No. No one can do it. Do you think the waking mind
and the dream mind are the same machine?
O.M. There is argument for it. We have wild and fantastic
day-thoughts? Things that are dream-like?
Y.M. Yes–like Mr. Wells’s man who invented a drug that made
him invisible; and like the Arabian tales of the Thousand Nights.
O.M. And there are dreams that are rational, simple,
consistent, and unfantastic?
Y.M. Yes. I have dreams that are like that. Dreams that
are just like real life; dreams in which there are several
persons with distinctly differentiated characters–inventions of
my mind and yet strangers to me: a vulgar person; a refined one;
a wise person; a fool; a cruel person; a kind and compassionate
one; a quarrelsome person; a peacemaker; old persons and young;
beautiful girls and homely ones. They talk in character, each
preserves his own characteristics. There are vivid fights, vivid
and biting insults, vivid love-passages; there are tragedies and
comedies, there are griefs that go to one’s heart, there are
sayings and doings that make you laugh: indeed, the whole thing
is exactly like real life.
O.M. Your dreaming mind originates the scheme, consistently
and artistically develops it, and carries the little drama
creditably through–all without help or suggestion from you?
O.M. It is argument that it could do the like awake without help
or suggestion from you–and I think it does. It is argument that
it is the same old mind in both cases, and never needs your help.
I think the mind is purely a machine, a thoroughly independent
machine, an automatic machine. Have you tried the other
experiment which I suggested to you?
Y.M. Which one?
O.M. The one which was to determine how much influence you
have over your mind–if any.
Y.M. Yes, and got more or less entertainment out of it. I
did as you ordered: I placed two texts before my eyes–one a
dull one and barren of interest, the other one full of interest,
inflamed with it, white-hot with it. I commanded my mind to busy
itself solely with the dull one.
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. Well, no, it didn’t. It busied itself with the other one.
O.M. Did you try hard to make it obey?
Y.M. Yes, I did my honest best.
O.M. What was the text which it refused to be interested in
or think about?
Y.M. It was this question: If A owes B a dollar and a
half, and B owes C two and three-quarter, and C owes A thirty-
five cents, and D and A together owe E and B three-sixteenths of
–of–I don’t remember the rest, now, but anyway it was wholly
uninteresting, and I could not force my mind to stick to it even
half a minute at a time; it kept flying off to the other text.
O.M. What was the other text?
Y.M. It is no matter about that.
O.M. But what was it?
Y.M. A photograph.
O.M. Your own?
Y.M. No. It was hers.
O.M. You really made an honest good test. Did you make a
Y.M. Yes. I commanded my mind to interest itself in the
morning paper’s report of the pork-market, and at the same time I
reminded it of an experience of mine of sixteen years ago. It
refused to consider the pork and gave its whole blazing interest
to that ancient incident.
O.M. What was the incident?
Y.M. An armed desperado slapped my face in the presence of
twenty spectators. It makes me wild and murderous every time I
think of it.
O.M. Good tests, both; very good tests. Did you try my
Y.M. The one which was to prove to me that if I would leave
my mind to its own devices it would find things to think about
without any of my help, and thus convince me that it was a
machine, an automatic machine, set in motion by exterior
influences, and as independent of me as it could be if it were in
some one else’s skull. Is that the one?
Y.M. I tried it. I was shaving. I had slept well, and my
mind was very lively, even gay and frisky. It was reveling in a
fantastic and joyful episode of my remote boyhood which had
suddenly flashed up in my memory–moved to this by the spectacle
of a yellow cat picking its way carefully along the top of the
garden wall. The color of this cat brought the bygone cat before
me, and I saw her walking along the side-step of the pulpit; saw
her walk on to a large sheet of sticky fly-paper and get all her
feet involved; saw her struggle and fall down, helpless and
dissatisfied, more and more urgent, more and more unreconciled,
more and more mutely profane; saw the silent congregation
quivering like jelly, and the tears running down their faces. I
saw it all. The sight of the tears whisked my mind to a far
distant and a sadder scene–in Terra del Fuego–and with Darwin’s
eyes I saw a naked great savage hurl his little boy against the
rocks for a trifling fault; saw the poor mother gather up her
dying child and hug it to her breast and weep, uttering no word.
Did my mind stop to mourn with that nude black sister of mine?
No–it was far away from that scene in an instant, and was
busying itself with an ever-recurring and disagreeable dream of
mine. In this dream I always find myself, stripped to my shirt,
cringing and dodging about in the midst of a great drawing-room
throng of finely dressed ladies and gentlemen, and wondering how
I got there. And so on and so on, picture after picture,
incident after incident, a drifting panorama of ever-changing,
ever-dissolving views manufactured by my mind without any help
from me–why, it would take me two hours to merely name the
multitude of things my mind tallied off and photographed in
fifteen minutes, let alone describe them to you.
O.M. A man’s mind, left free, has no use for his help. But
there is one way whereby he can get its help when he desires it.
Y.M. What is that way?
O.M. When your mind is racing along from subject to subject
and strikes an inspiring one, open your mouth and begin talking
upon that matter–or–take your pen and use that. It will
interest your mind and concentrate it, and it will pursue the
subject with satisfaction. It will take full charge, and furnish
the words itself.
Y.M. But don’t I tell it what to say?
O.M. There are certainly occasions when you haven’t time.
The words leap out before you know what is coming.
Y.M. For instance?
O.M. Well, take a “flash of wit”–repartee. Flash is the
right word. It is out instantly. There is no time to arrange
the words. There is no thinking, no reflecting. Where there is
a wit-mechanism it is automatic in its action and needs no help.
Where the whit-mechanism is lacking, no amount of study and
reflection can manufacture the product.
Y.M. You really think a man originates nothing, creates nothing.
O.M. I do. Men perceive, and their brain-machines
automatically combine the things perceived. That is all.
Y.M. The steam-engine?
O.M. It takes fifty men a hundred years to invent it. One
meaning of invent is discover. I use the word in that sense.
Little by little they discover and apply the multitude of details
that go to make the perfect engine. Watt noticed that confined
steam was strong enough to lift the lid of the teapot. He didn’t
create the idea, he merely discovered the fact; the cat had
noticed it a hundred times. From the teapot he evolved the
cylinder–from the displaced lid he evolved the piston-rod. To
attach something to the piston-rod to be moved by it, was a
simple matter–crank and wheel. And so there was a working
One by one, improvements were discovered by men who used
their eyes, not their creating powers–for they hadn’t any–and
now, after a hundred years the patient contributions of fifty or
a hundred observers stand compacted in the wonderful machine
which drives the ocean liner.
Y.M. A Shakespearean play?
O.M. The process is the same. The first actor was a
savage. He reproduced in his theatrical war-dances, scalp-
dances, and so on, incidents which he had seen in real life. A
more advanced civilization produced more incidents, more
episodes; the actor and the story-teller borrowed them. And so
the drama grew, little by little, stage by stage. It is made up
of the facts of life, not creations. It took centuries to
develop the Greek drama. It borrowed from preceding ages; it
lent to the ages that came after. Men observe and combine, that
is all. So does a rat.
O.M. He observes a smell, he infers a cheese, he seeks and
finds. The astronomer observes this and that; adds his this and
that to the this-and-thats of a hundred predecessors, infers an
invisible planet, seeks it and finds it. The rat gets into a
trap; gets out with trouble; infers that cheese in traps lacks
value, and meddles with that trap no more. The astronomer is
very proud of his achievement, the rat is proud of his. Yet both
are machines; they have done machine work, they have originated
nothing, they have no right to be vain; the whole credit belongs
to their Maker. They are entitled to no honors, no praises, no
monuments when they die, no remembrance. One is a complex and
elaborate machine, the other a simple and limited machine, but
they are alike in principle, function, and process, and neither
of them works otherwise than automatically, and neither of them
may righteously claim a PERSONAL superiority or a personal
dignity above the other.
Y.M. In earned personal dignity, then, and in personal merit
for what he does, it follows of necessity that he is on the
same level as a rat?
O.M. His brother the rat; yes, that is how it seems to me.
Neither of them being entitled to any personal merit for what he
does, it follows of necessity that neither of them has a right to
arrogate to himself (personally created) superiorities over his
Y.M. Are you determined to go on believing in these
insanities? Would you go on believing in them in the face of
able arguments backed by collated facts and instances?
O.M. I have been a humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker.
Y.M. Very well?
O.M. The humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker is
always convertible by such means.
Y.M. I am thankful to God to hear you say this, for now I
know that your conversion–
O.M. Wait. You misunderstand. I said I have BEEN a Truth-Seeker.
O.M. I am not that now. Have your forgotten? I told you
that there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent
one is a human impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds
what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no
further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch
it and caulk it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and
keep it from caving in on him. Hence the Presbyterian remains a
Presbyterian, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan, the Spiritualist a
Spiritualist, the Democrat a Democrat, the Republican a
Republican, the Monarchist a Monarchist; and if a humble,
earnest, and sincere Seeker after Truth should find it in the
proposition that the moon is made of green cheese nothing could
ever budge him from that position; for he is nothing but an
automatic machine, and must obey the laws of his construction.
Y.M. After so–
O.M. Having found the Truth; perceiving that beyond question
man has but one moving impulse–the contenting of his own spirit–
and is merely a machine and entitled to no personal merit for
anything he does, it is not humanly possible for me to seek further.
The rest of my days will be spent in patching and painting and
puttying and caulking my priceless possession and in looking the
other way when an imploring argument or a damaging fact approaches.
1. The Marquess of Worcester had done all of this more than a
Instinct and Thought
Young Man. It is odious. Those drunken theories of yours,
advanced a while ago–concerning the rat and all that–strip Man
bare of all his dignities, grandeurs, sublimities.
Old Man. He hasn’t any to strip–they are shams, stolen
clothes. He claims credits which belong solely to his Maker.
Y.M. But you have no right to put him on a level with a rat.
O.M. I don’t–morally. That would not be fair to the rat.
The rat is well above him, there.
Y.M. Are you joking?
O.M. No, I am not.
Y.M. Then what do you mean?
O.M. That comes under the head of the Moral Sense. It is a
large question. Let us finish with what we are about now, before
we take it up.
Y.M. Very well. You have seemed to concede that you place
Man and the rat on A level. What is it? The intellectual?
O.M. In form–not a degree.
O.M. I think that the rat’s mind and the man’s mind are the
same machine, but of unequal capacities–like yours and Edison’s;
like the African pygmy’s and Homer’s; like the Bushman’s and Bismarck’s.
Y.M. How are you going to make that out, when the lower animals
have no mental quality but instinct, while man possesses reason?
O.M. What is instinct?
Y.M. It is merely unthinking and mechanical exercise of
O.M. What originated the habit?
Y.M. The first animal started it, its descendants have
O.M. How did the first one come to start it?
Y.M. I don’t know; but it didn’t THINK it out.
O.M. How do you know it didn’t?
Y.M. Well–I have a right to suppose it didn’t, anyway.
O.M. I don’t believe you have. What is thought?
Y.M. I know what you call it: the mechanical and automatic
putting together of impressions received from outside, and
drawing an inference from them.
O.M. Very good. Now my idea of the meaningless term “instinct” is,
that it is merely PETRIFIED THOUGHT; solidified and made inanimate
by habit; thought which was once alive and awake, but it become
unconscious–walks in its sleep, so to speak.
Y.M. Illustrate it.
O.M. Take a herd of cows, feeding in a pasture. Their
heads are all turned in one direction. They do that
instinctively; they gain nothing by it, they have no reason for
it, they don’t know why they do it. It is an inherited habit
which was originally thought–that is to say, observation of an
exterior fact, and a valuable inference drawn from that
observation and confirmed by experience. The original wild ox
noticed that with the wind in his favor he could smell his enemy
in time to escape; then he inferred that it was worth while to
keep his nose to the wind. That is the process which man calls
reasoning. Man’s thought-machine works just like the other
animals’, but it is a better one and more Edisonian. Man, in the
ox’s place, would go further, reason wider: he would face part
of the herd the other way and protect both front and rear.
Y.M. Did you stay the term instinct is meaningless?
O.M. I think it is a bastard word. I think it confuses us;
for as a rule it applies itself to habits and impulses which had
a far-off origin in thought, and now and then breaks the rule and
applies itself to habits which can hardly claim a thought-origin.
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Well, in putting on trousers a man always inserts the same old
leg first–never the other one. There is no advantage in that,
and no sense in it. All men do it, yet no man thought it out
and adopted it of set purpose, I imagine. But it is a habit which
is transmitted, no doubt, and will continue to be transmitted.
Y.M. Can you prove that the habit exists?
O.M. You can prove it, if you doubt. If you will take a
man to a clothing-store and watch him try on a dozen pairs of
trousers, you will see.
Y.M. The cow illustration is not–
O.M. Sufficient to show that a dumb animal’s mental machine
is just the same as a man’s and its reasoning processes the same?
I will illustrate further. If you should hand Mr. Edison a box
which you caused to fly open by some concealed device he would
infer a spring, and would hunt for it and find it. Now an uncle
of mine had an old horse who used to get into the closed lot
where the corn-crib was and dishonestly take the corn. I got the
punishment myself, as it was supposed that I had heedlessly
failed to insert the wooden pin which kept the gate closed.
These persistent punishments fatigued me; they also caused me to
infer the existence of a culprit, somewhere; so I hid myself and
watched the gate. Presently the horse came and pulled the pin
out with his teeth and went in. Nobody taught him that; he had
observed–then thought it out for himself. His process did not
differ from Edison’s; he put this and that together and drew an
inference–and the peg, too; but I made him sweat for it.
Y.M. It has something of the seeming of thought about it.
Still it is not very elaborate. Enlarge.
O.M. Suppose Mr. Edison has been enjoying some one’s
hospitalities. He comes again by and by, and the house is
vacant. He infers that his host has moved. A while afterward,
in another town, he sees the man enter a house; he infers that
that is the new home, and follows to inquire. Here, now, is the
experience of a gull, as related by a naturalist. The scene is a
Scotch fishing village where the gulls were kindly treated. This
particular gull visited a cottage; was fed; came next day and was
fed again; came into the house, next time, and ate with the
family; kept on doing this almost daily, thereafter. But, once
the gull was away on a journey for a few days, and when it
returned the house was vacant. Its friends had removed to a
village three miles distant. Several months later it saw the
head of the family on the street there, followed him home,
entered the house without excuse or apology, and became a daily
guest again. Gulls do not rank high mentally, but this one had
memory and the reasoning faculty, you see, and applied them
Y.M. Yet it was not an Edison and couldn’t be developed into one.
O.M. Perhaps not. Could you?
Y.M. That is neither here nor there. Go on.
O.M. If Edison were in trouble and a stranger helped him
out of it and next day he got into the same difficulty again, he
would infer the wise thing to do in case he knew the stranger’s
address. Here is a case of a bird and a stranger as related by a
naturalist. An Englishman saw a bird flying around about his
dog’s head, down in the grounds, and uttering cries of distress.
He went there to see about it. The dog had a young bird in his
mouth–unhurt. The gentleman rescued it and put it on a bush and
brought the dog away. Early the next morning the mother bird
came for the gentleman, who was sitting on his veranda, and by
its maneuvers persuaded him to follow it to a distant part of the
grounds–flying a little way in front of him and waiting for him
to catch up, and so on; and keeping to the winding path, too,
instead of flying the near way across lots. The distance covered
was four hundred yards. The same dog was the culprit; he had the
young bird again, and once more he had to give it up. Now the
mother bird had reasoned it all out: since the stranger had
helped her once, she inferred that he would do it again; she knew
where to find him, and she went upon her errand with confidence.
Her mental processes were what Edison’s would have been. She put
this and that together–and that is all that thought IS–and out
of them built her logical arrangement of inferences. Edison
couldn’t have done it any better himself.
Y.M. Do you believe that many of the dumb animals can think?
O.M. Yes–the elephant, the monkey, the horse, the dog, the
parrot, the macaw, the mocking-bird, and many others. The
elephant whose mate fell into a pit, and who dumped dirt and
rubbish into the pit till bottom was raised high enough to enable
the captive to step out, was equipped with the reasoning quality.
I conceive that all animals that can learn things through
teaching and drilling have to know how to observe, and put this
and that together and draw an inference–the process of thinking.
Could you teach an idiot of manuals of arms, and to advance,
retreat, and go through complex field maneuvers at the word of
Y.M. Not if he were a thorough idiot.
O.M. Well, canary-birds can learn all that; dogs and elephants
learn all sorts of wonderful things. They must surely be able
to notice, and to put things together, and say to themselves,
“I get the idea, now: when I do so and so, as per order,
I am praised and fed; when I do differently I am punished.”
Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.
Y.M. Granting, then, that dumb animals are able to think
upon a low plane, is there any that can think upon a high one?
Is there one that is well up toward man?
O.M. Yes. As a thinker and planner the ant is the equal of
any savage race of men; as a self-educated specialist in several
arts she is the superior of any savage race of men; and in one or
two high mental qualities she is above the reach of any man,
savage or civilized!
Y.M. Oh, come! you are abolishing the intellectual frontier
which separates man and beast.
O.M. I beg your pardon. One cannot abolish what does not exist.
Y.M. You are not in earnest, I hope. You cannot mean to
seriously say there is no such frontier.
O.M. I do say it seriously. The instances of the horse, the
gull, the mother bird, and the elephant show that those creatures
put their this’s and thats together just as Edison would have
done it and drew the same inferences that he would have drawn.
Their mental machinery was just like his, also its manner of
working. Their equipment was as inferior to the Strasburg clock,
but that is the only difference–there is no frontier.
Y.M. It looks exasperatingly true; and is distinctly
offensive. It elevates the dumb beasts to–to–
O.M. Let us drop that lying phrase, and call them the
Unrevealed Creatures; so far as we can know, there is no such
thing as a dumb beast.
Y.M. On what grounds do you make that assertion?
O.M. On quite simple ones. “Dumb” beast suggests an animal
that has no thought-machinery, no understanding, no speech, no
way of communicating what is in its mind. We know that a hen HAS
speech. We cannot understand everything she says, but we easily
learn two or three of her phrases. We know when she is saying,
“I have laid an egg”; we know when she is saying to the chicks,
“Run here, dears, I’ve found a worm”; we know what she is saying
when she voices a warning: “Quick! hurry! gather yourselves
under mamma, there’s a hawk coming!” We understand the cat when
she stretches herself out, purring with affection and contentment
and lifts up a soft voice and says, “Come, kitties, supper’s
ready”; we understand her when she goes mourning about and says,
“Where can they be? They are lost. Won’t you help me hunt for
them?” and we understand the disreputable Tom when he challenges
at midnight from his shed, “You come over here, you product of
immoral commerce, and I’ll make your fur fly!” We understand a
few of a dog’s phrases and we learn to understand a few of the
remarks and gestures of any bird or other animal that we
domesticate and observe. The clearness and exactness of the few
of the hen’s speeches which we understand is argument that she
can communicate to her kind a hundred things which we cannot
comprehend–in a word, that she can converse. And this argument
is also applicable in the case of others of the great army of the
Unrevealed. It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to
call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
Now as to the ant–
Y.M. Yes, go back to the ant, the creature that–as you
seem to think–sweeps away the last vestige of an intellectual
frontier between man and the Unrevealed.
O.M. That is what she surely does. In all his history the
aboriginal Australian never thought out a house for himself and
built it. The ant is an amazing architect. She is a wee little
creature, but she builds a strong and enduring house eight feet
high–a house which is as large in proportion to her size as is
the largest capitol or cathedral in the world compared to man’s
size. No savage race has produced architects who could approach
the air in genius or culture. No civilized race has produced
architects who could plan a house better for the uses proposed
than can hers. Her house contains a throne-room; nurseries for
her young; granaries; apartments for her soldiers, her workers,
etc.; and they and the multifarious halls and corridors which
communicate with them are arranged and distributed with an
educated and experienced eye for convenience and adaptability.
Y.M. That could be mere instinct.
O.M. It would elevate the savage if he had it. But let us
look further before we decide. The ant has soldiers–battalions,
regiments, armies; and they have their appointed captains and
generals, who lead them to battle.
Y.M. That could be instinct, too.
O.M. We will look still further. The ant has a system of
government; it is well planned, elaborate, and is well carried on.
Y.M. Instinct again.
O.M. She has crowds of slaves, and is a hard and unjust
employer of forced labor.
O.M. She has cows, and milks them.
Y.M. Instinct, of course.
O.M. In Texas she lays out a farm twelve feet square, plants it,
weeds it, cultivates it, gathers the crop and stores it away.
Y.M. Instinct, all the same.
O.M. The ant discriminates between friend and stranger.
Sir John Lubbock took ants from two different nests, made them
drunk with whiskey and laid them, unconscious, by one of the
nests, near some water. Ants from the nest came and examined and
discussed these disgraced creatures, then carried their friends
home and threw the strangers overboard. Sir John repeated the
experiment a number of times. For a time the sober ants did as
they had done at first–carried their friends home and threw the
strangers overboard. But finally they lost patience, seeing that
their reformatory efforts went for nothing, and threw both
friends and strangers overboard. Come–is this instinct, or is
it thoughtful and intelligent discussion of a thing new–
absolutely new–to their experience; with a verdict arrived at,
sentence passed, and judgment executed? Is it instinct?–thought
petrified by ages of habit–or isn’t it brand-new thought,
inspired by the new occasion, the new circumstances?
Y.M. I have to concede it. It was not a result of habit;
it has all the look of reflection, thought, putting this and that
together, as you phrase it. I believe it was thought.
O.M. I will give you another instance of thought. Franklin
had a cup of sugar on a table in his room. The ants got at it.
He tried several preventives; and ants rose superior to them.
Finally he contrived one which shut off access–probably set the
table’s legs in pans of water, or drew a circle of tar around the
cup, I don’t remember. At any rate, he watched to see what they
would do. They tried various schemes–failures, every one. The
ants were badly puzzled. Finally they held a consultation,
discussed the problem, arrived at a decision–and this time they
beat that great philosopher. They formed in procession, cross
the floor, climbed the wall, marched across the ceiling to a
point just over the cup, then one by one they let go and fell
down into it! Was that instinct–thought petrified by ages of
Y.M. No, I don’t believe it was. I believe it was a newly
reasoned scheme to meet a new emergency.
O.M. Very well. You have conceded the reasoning power in
two instances. I come now to a mental detail wherein the ant is
a long way the superior of any human being. Sir John Lubbock
proved by many experiments that an ant knows a stranger ant of
her own species in a moment, even when the stranger is disguised
–with paint. Also he proved that an ant knows every individual
in her hive of five hundred thousand souls. Also, after a year’s
absence one of the five hundred thousand she will straightway
recognize the returned absentee and grace the recognition with a
affectionate welcome. How are these recognitions made? Not by
color, for painted ants were recognized. Not by smell, for ants
that had been dipped in chloroform were recognized. Not by
speech and not by antennae signs nor contacts, for the drunken
and motionless ants were recognized and the friend discriminated
from the stranger. The ants were all of the same species,
therefore the friends had to be recognized by form and feature–
friends who formed part of a hive of five hundred thousand! Has
any man a memory for form and feature approaching that?
Y.M. Certainly not.
O.M. Franklin’s ants and Lubbuck’s ants show fine
capacities of putting this and that together in new and untried
emergencies and deducting smart conclusions from the
combinations–a man’s mental process exactly. With memory to
help, man preserves his observations and reasonings, reflects
upon them, adds to them, recombines, and so proceeds, stage by
stage, to far results–from the teakettle to the ocean
greyhound’s complex engine; from personal labor to slave labor;
from wigwam to palace; from the capricious chase to agriculture
and stored food; from nomadic life to stable government and
concentrated authority; from incoherent hordes to massed armies.
The ant has observation, the reasoning faculty, and the
preserving adjunct of a prodigious memory; she has duplicated
man’s development and the essential features of his civilization,
and you call it all instinct!
Y.M. Perhaps I lacked the reasoning faculty myself.
O.M. Well, don’t tell anybody, and don’t do it again.
Y.M. We have come a good way. As a result–as I understand it–
I am required to concede that there is absolutely no intellectual
frontier separating Man and the Unrevealed Creatures?
O.M. That is what you are required to concede. There is no
such frontier–there is no way to get around that. Man has a
finer and more capable machine in him than those others, but it
is the same machine and works in the same way. And neither he
nor those others can command the machine–it is strictly
automatic, independent of control, works when it pleases, and
when it doesn’t please, it can’t be forced.
Y.M. Then man and the other animals are all alike, as to mental
machinery, and there isn’t any difference of any stupendous
magnitude between them, except in quality, not in kind.
O.M. That is about the state of it–intellectuality. There
are pronounced limitations on both sides. We can’t learn to
understand much of their language, but the dog, the elephant,
etc., learn to understand a very great deal of ours. To that
extent they are our superiors. On the other hand, they can’t
learn reading, writing, etc., nor any of our fine and high
things, and there we have a large advantage over them.
Y.M. Very well, let them have what they’ve got, and welcome;
there is still a wall, and a lofty one. They haven’t got the
Moral Sense; we have it, and it lifts us immeasurably above them.
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Now look here–let’s call a halt. I have stood the
other infamies and insanities and that is enough; I am not going
to have man and the other animals put on the same level morally.
O.M. I wasn’t going to hoist man up to that.
Y.M. This is too much! I think it is not right to jest
about such things.
O.M. I am not jesting, I am merely reflecting a plain and
simple truth–and without uncharitableness. The fact that man
knows right from wrong proves his INTELLECTUAL superiority to the
other creatures; but the fact that he can DO wrong proves his
MORAL inferiority to any creature that CANNOT. It is my belief
that this position is not assailable.
Y.M. What is your opinion regarding Free Will?
O.M. That there is no such thing. Did the man possess it
who gave the old woman his last shilling and trudged home in the
Y.M. He had the choice between succoring the old woman and
leaving her to suffer. Isn’t it so?
O.M. Yes, there was a choice to be made, between bodily
comfort on the one hand and the comfort of the spirit on the
other. The body made a strong appeal, of course–the body would
be quite sure to do that; the spirit made a counter appeal. A
choice had to be made between the two appeals, and was made. Who
or what determined that choice?
Y.M. Any one but you would say that the man determined it,
and that in doing it he exercised Free Will.
O.M. We are constantly assured that every man is endowed
with Free Will, and that he can and must exercise it where he is
offered a choice between good conduct and less-good conduct. Yet
we clearly saw that in that man’s case he really had no Free
Will: his temperament, his training, and the daily influences
which had molded him and made him what he was, COMPELLED him to
rescue the old woman and thus save HIMSELF–save himself from
spiritual pain, from unendurable wretchedness. He did not make
the choice, it was made FOR him by forces which he could not
control. Free Will has always existed in WORDS, but it stops
there, I think–stops short of FACT. I would not use those
words–Free Will–but others.
Y.M. What others?
O.M. Free Choice.
Y.M. What is the difference?
O.M. The one implies untrammeled power to ACT as you please,
the other implies nothing beyond a mere MENTAL PROCESS:
the critical ability to determine which of two things
is nearest right and just.
Y.M. Make the difference clear, please.
O.M. The mind can freely SELECT, CHOOSE, POINT OUT the
right and just one–its function stops there. It can go no
further in the matter. It has no authority to say that the right
one shall be acted upon and the wrong one discarded.
That authority is in other hands.
Y.M. The man’s?
O.M. In the machine which stands for him. In his born
disposition and the character which has been built around it by
training and environment.
Y.M. It will act upon the right one of the two?
O.M. It will do as it pleases in the matter. George Washington’s
machine would act upon the right one; Pizarro would act upon the wrong one.
Y.M. Then as I understand it a bad man’s mental machinery calmly
and judicially points out which of two things is right and just–
O.M. Yes, and his MORAL machinery will freely act upon
the other or the other, according to its make, and be quite
indifferent to the MIND’S feeling concerning the matter–that is,
WOULD be, if the mind had any feelings; which it hasn’t.
It is merely a thermometer: it registers the heat and the cold,
and cares not a farthing about either.
Y.M. Then we must not claim that if a man KNOWS which of
two things is right he is absolutely BOUND to do that thing?
O.M. His temperament and training will decide what he shall
do, and he will do it; he cannot help himself, he has no
authority over the mater. Wasn’t it right for David to go out
and slay Goliath?
O.M. Then it would have been equally RIGHT for any one else to do it?
O.M. Then it would have been RIGHT for a born coward to attempt it?
Y.M. It would–yes.
O.M. You know that no born coward ever would have attempted it, don’t you?
O.M. You know that a born coward’s make and temperament
would be an absolute and insurmountable bar to his ever essaying
such a thing, don’t you?
Y.M. Yes, I know it.
O.M. He clearly perceives that it would be RIGHT to try it?
O.M. His mind has Free Choice in determining that it would
be RIGHT to try it?
O.M. Then if by reason of his inborn cowardice he simply
can NOT essay it, what becomes of his Free Will? Where is his
Free Will? Why claim that he has Free Will when the plain facts
show that he hasn’t? Why content that because he and David SEE
the right alike, both must ACT alike? Why impose the same laws
upon goat and lion?
Y.M. There is really no such thing as Free Will?
O.M. It is what I think. There is WILL. But it has
nothing to do with INTELLECTUAL PERCEPTIONS OF RIGHT AND WRONG,
and is not under their command. David’s temperament and training
had Will, and it was a compulsory force; David had to obey its
decrees, he had no choice. The coward’s temperament and training
possess Will, and IT is compulsory; it commands him to avoid
danger, and he obeys, he has no choice. But neither the Davids
nor the cowards possess Free Will–will that may do the right or
do the wrong, as their MENTAL verdict shall decide.
Not Two Values, But Only One
Y.M. There is one thing which bothers me: I can’t tell
where you draw the line between MATERIAL covetousness and
O.M. I don’t draw any.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. There is no such thing as MATERIAL covetousness.
All covetousness is spiritual
Y.M. ALL longings, desires, ambitions SPIRITUAL, never material?
O.M. Yes. The Master in you requires that in ALL cases you
shall content his SPIRIT–that alone. He never requires anything
else, he never interests himself in any other matter.
Y.M. Ah, come! When he covets somebody’s money–isn’t that
rather distinctly material and gross?
O.M. No. The money is merely a symbol–it represents in
visible and concrete form a SPIRITUAL DESIRE. Any so-called
material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not
for ITSELF, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.
Y.M. Please particularize.
O.M. Very well. Maybe the thing longed for is a new hat.
You get it and your vanity is pleased, your spirit contented.
Suppose your friends deride the hat, make fun of it: at once it
loses its value; you are ashamed of it, you put it out of your
sight, you never want to see it again.
Y.M. I think I see. Go on.
O.M. It is the same hat, isn’t it? It is in no way
altered. But it wasn’t the HAT you wanted, but only what it
stood for–a something to please and content your SPIRIT. When
it failed of that, the whole of its value was gone. There are no
MATERIAL values; there are only spiritual ones. You will hunt in
vain for a material value that is ACTUAL, REAL–there is no such
thing. The only value it possesses, for even a moment, is the
spiritual value back of it: remove that end and it is at once
worthless–like the hat.
Y.M. Can you extend that to money?
O.M. Yes. It is merely a symbol, it has no MATERIAL value;
you think you desire it for its own sake, but it is not so. You
desire it for the spiritual content it will bring; if it fail of
that, you discover that its value is gone. There is that
pathetic tale of the man who labored like a slave, unresting,
unsatisfied, until he had accumulated a fortune, and was happy
over it, jubilant about it; then in a single week a pestilence
swept away all whom he held dear and left him desolate. His
money’s value was gone. He realized that his joy in it came not
from the money itself, but from the spiritual contentment he got
out of his family’s enjoyment of the pleasures and delights it
lavished upon them. Money has no MATERIAL value; if you remove
its spiritual value nothing is left but dross. It is so with all
things, little or big, majestic or trivial–there are no
exceptions. Crowns, scepters, pennies, paste jewels, village
notoriety, world-wide fame–they are all the same, they have no
MATERIAL value: while they content the SPIRIT they are precious,
when this fails they are worthless.
A Difficult Question
Y.M. You keep me confused and perplexed all the time by
your elusive terminology. Sometimes you divide a man up into two
or three separate personalities, each with authorities,
jurisdictions, and responsibilities of its own, and when he is in
that condition I can’t grasp it. Now when _I_ speak of a man, he
is THE WHOLE THING IN ONE, and easy to hold and contemplate.
O.M. That is pleasant and convenient, if true. When you
speak of “my body” who is the “my”?
Y.M. It is the “me.”
O.M. The body is a property then, and the Me owns it.
Who is the Me?
Y.M. The Me is THE WHOLE THING; it is a common property; an
undivided ownership, vested in the whole entity.
O.M. If the Me admires a rainbow, is it the whole Me that
admires it, including the hair, hands, heels, and all?
Y.M. Certainly not. It is my MIND that admires it.
O.M. So YOU divide the Me yourself. Everybody does;
everybody must. What, then, definitely, is the Me?
Y.M. I think it must consist of just those two parts–
the body and the mind.
O.M. You think so? If you say “I believe the world is round,”
who is the “I” that is speaking?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. If you say “I grieve for the loss of my father,”
who is the “I”?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. Is the mind exercising an intellectual function when
it examines and accepts the evidence that the world is round?
O.M. Is it exercising an intellectual function when it
grieves for the loss of your father?
Y.M. That is not cerebration, brain-work, it is a matter of FEELING.
O.M. Then its source is not in your mind, but in your MORAL territory?
Y.M. I have to grant it.
O.M. Is your mind a part of your PHYSICAL equipment?
Y.M. No. It is independent of it; it is spiritual.
O.M. Being spiritual, it cannot be affected by physical influences?
O.M. Does the mind remain sober with the body is drunk?
O.M. There IS a physical effect present, then?
Y.M. It looks like it.
O.M. A cracked skull has resulted in a crazy mind. Why
should it happen if the mind is spiritual, and INDEPENDENT of
Y.M. Well–I don’t know.
O.M. When you have a pain in your foot, how do you know it?
Y.M. I feel it.
O.M. But you do not feel it until a nerve reports the hurt
to the brain. Yet the brain is the seat of the mind, is it not?
Y.M. I think so.
O.M. But isn’t spiritual enough to learn what is happening
in the outskirts without the help of the PHYSICAL messenger? You
perceive that the question of who or what the Me is, is not a
simple one at all. You say “I admire the rainbow,” and “I
believe the world is round,” and in these cases we find that the
Me is not speaking, but only the MENTAL part. You say, “I
grieve,” and again the Me is not all speaking, but only the MORAL
part. You say the mind is wholly spiritual; then you say “I have
a pain” and find that this time the Me is mental AND spiritual
combined. We all use the “I” in this indeterminate fashion,
there is no help for it. We imagine a Master and King over what
you call The Whole Thing, and we speak of him as “I,” but when we
try to define him we find we cannot do it. The intellect and the
feelings can act quite INDEPENDENTLY of each other; we recognize
that, and we look around for a Ruler who is master over both, and
can serve as a DEFINITE AND INDISPUTABLE “I,” and enable us to
know what we mean and who or what we are talking about when we
use that pronoun, but we have to give it up and confess that we
cannot find him. To me, Man is a machine, made up of many
mechanisms, the moral and mental ones acting automatically in
accordance with the impulses of an interior Master who is built
out of born-temperament and an accumulation of multitudinous
outside influences and trainings; a machine whose ONE function is
to secure the spiritual contentment of the Master, be his desires
good or be they evil; a machine whose Will is absolute and must
be obeyed, and always IS obeyed.
Y.M. Maybe the Me is the Soul?
O.M. Maybe it is. What is the Soul?
Y.M. I don’t know.
O.M. Neither does any one else.
The Master Passion
Y.M. What is the Master?–or, in common speech, the
Conscience? Explain it.
O.M. It is that mysterious autocrat, lodged in a man, which
compels the man to content its desires. It may be called the
Master Passion–the hunger for Self-Approval.
Y.M. Where is its seat?
O.M. In man’s moral constitution.
Y.M. Are its commands for the man’s good?
O.M. It is indifferent to the man’s good; it never concerns
itself about anything but the satisfying of its own desires. It
can be TRAINED to prefer things which will be for the man’s good,
but it will prefer them only because they will content IT better
than other things would.
Y.M. Then even when it is trained to high ideals it is still
looking out for its own contentment, and not for the man’s good.
O.M. True. Trained or untrained, it cares nothing for the man’s good,
and never concerns itself about it.
Y.M. It seems to be an IMMORAL force seated in the man’s
O.M. It is a COLORLESS force seated in the man’s moral constitution.
Let us call it an instinct–a blind, unreasoning instinct, which cannot
and does not distinguish between good morals and bad ones, and cares
nothing for results to the man provided its own contentment be secured;
and it will ALWAYS secure that.
Y.M. It seeks money, and it probably considers that that is
an advantage for the man?
O.M. It is not always seeking money, it is not always
seeking power, nor office, nor any other MATERIAL advantage. In
ALL cases it seeks a SPIRITUAL contentment, let the MEANS be what
they may. Its desires are determined by the man’s temperament–
and it is lord over that. Temperament, Conscience,
Susceptibility, Spiritual Appetite, are, in fact, the same thing.
Have you ever heard of a person who cared nothing for money?
Y.M. Yes. A scholar who would not leave his garret and his
books to take a place in a business house at a large salary.
O.M. He had to satisfy his master–that is to say, his temperament,
his Spiritual Appetite–and it preferred books to money. Are there
Y.M. Yes, the hermit.
O.M. It is a good instance. The hermit endures solitude,
hunger, cold, and manifold perils, to content his autocrat, who
prefers these things, and prayer and contemplation, to money or
to any show or luxury that money can buy. Are there others?
Y.M. Yes. The artist, the poet, the scientist.
O.M. Their autocrat prefers the deep pleasures of these
occupations, either well paid or ill paid, to any others in the
market, at any price. You REALIZE that the Master Passion–the
contentment of the spirit–concerns itself with many things
besides so-called material advantage, material prosperity, cash,
and all that?
Y.M. I think I must concede it.
O.M. I believe you must. There are perhaps as many
Temperaments that would refuse the burdens and vexations and
distinctions of public office as there are that hunger after
them. The one set of Temperaments seek the contentment of the
spirit, and that alone; and this is exactly the case with the
other set. Neither set seeks anything BUT the contentment of the
spirit. If the one is sordid, both are sordid; and equally so,
since the end in view is precisely the same in both cases. And
in both cases Temperament decides the preference–and Temperament
is BORN, not made.
O.M. You have been taking a holiday?
Y.M. Yes; a mountain tramp covering a week. Are you ready to talk?
O.M. Quite ready. What shall we begin with?
Y.M. Well, lying abed resting up, two days and nights, I
have thought over all these talks, and passed them carefully in
review. With this result: that . . . that . . . are you
intending to publish your notions about Man some day?
O.M. Now and then, in these past twenty years, the Master
inside of me has half-intended to order me to set them to paper
and publish them. Do I have to tell you why the order has
remained unissued, or can you explain so simply a thing without
Y.M. By your doctrine, it is simplicity itself: outside
influences moved your interior Master to give the order; stronger
outside influences deterred him. Without the outside influences,
neither of these impulses could ever have been born, since a
person’s brain is incapable or originating an idea within itself.
O.M. Correct. Go on.
Y.M. The matter of publishing or withholding is still in your
Master’s hands. If some day an outside influence shall determine
him to publish, he will give the order, and it will be obeyed.
O.M. That is correct. Well?
Y.M. Upon reflection I have arrived at the conviction
that the publication of your doctrines would be harmful.
Do you pardon me?
O.M. Pardon YOU? You have done nothing. You are an
instrument–a speaking-trumpet. Speaking-trumpets are not
responsible for what is said through them. Outside influences–
in the form of lifelong teachings, trainings, notions,
prejudices, and other second-hand importations–have persuaded
the Master within you that the publication of these doctrines
would be harmful. Very well, this is quite natural, and was to
be expected; in fact, was inevitable. Go on; for the sake of
ease and convenience, stick to habit: speak in the first person,
and tell me what your Master thinks about it.
Y.M. Well, to begin: it is a desolating doctrine; it is
not inspiring, enthusing, uplifting. It takes the glory out of
man, it takes the pride out of him, it takes the heroism out of
him, it denies him all personal credit, all applause; it not only
degrades him to a machine, but allows him no control over the
machine; makes a mere coffee-mill of him, and neither permits him
to supply the coffee nor turn the crank, his sole and piteously
humble function being to grind coarse or fine, according to his
make, outside impulses doing the rest.
O.M. It is correctly stated. Tell me–what do men admire
most in each other?
Y.M. Intellect, courage, majesty of build, beauty of
countenance, charity, benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness,
O.M. I would not go any further. These are ELEMENTALS.
Virtue, fortitude, holiness, truthfulness, loyalty, high ideals–
these, and all the related qualities that are named in the
dictionary, are MADE OF THE ELEMENTALS, by blendings,
combinations, and shadings of the elementals, just as one makes
green by blending blue and yellow, and makes several shades and
tints of red by modifying the elemental red. There are several
elemental colors; they are all in the rainbow; out of them we
manufacture and name fifty shades of them. You have named the
elementals of the human rainbow, and also one BLEND–heroism,
which is made out of courage and magnanimity. Very well, then;
which of these elements does the possessor of it manufacture for
himself? Is it intellect?
Y.M. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it courage?
Y.M. No. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it majesty of build, beauty of countenance?
Y.M. No. They are birthrights.
O.M. Take those others–the elemental moral qualities–
charity, benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness; fruitful seeds,
out of which spring, through cultivation by outside influences,
all the manifold blends and combinations of virtues named in the
dictionaries: does man manufacture any of those seeds, or are
they all born in him?
Y.M. Born in him.
O.M. Who manufactures them, then?
O.M. Where does the credit of it belong?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. And the glory of which you spoke, and the applause?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. Then it is YOU who degrade man. You make him claim
glory, praise, flattery, for every valuable thing he possesses–
BORROWED finery, the whole of it; no rag of it earned by himself,
not a detail of it produced by his own labor. YOU make man a
humbug; have I done worse by him?
Y.M. You have made a machine of him.
O.M. Who devised that cunning and beautiful mechanism, a
O.M. Who devised the law by which it automatically hammers
out of a piano an elaborate piece of music, without error, while
the man is thinking about something else, or talking to a friend?
O.M. Who devised the blood? Who devised the wonderful
machinery which automatically drives its renewing and refreshing
streams through the body, day and night, without assistance or
advice from the man? Who devised the man’s mind, whose machinery
works automatically, interests itself in what it pleases,
regardless of its will or desire, labors all night when it likes,
deaf to his appeals for mercy? God devised all these things.
_I_ have not made man a machine, God made him a machine. I am
merely calling attention to the fact, nothing more. Is it wrong
to call attention to the fact? Is it a crime?
Y.M. I think it is wrong to EXPOSE a fact when harm can
come of it.
O.M. Go on.
Y.M. Look at the matter as it stands now. Man has been
taught that he is the supreme marvel of the Creation; he believes
it; in all the ages he has never doubted it, whether he was a
naked savage, or clothed in purple and fine linen, and civilized.
This has made his heart buoyant, his life cheery. His pride in
himself, his sincere admiration of himself, his joy in what he
supposed were his own and unassisted achievements, and his
exultation over the praise and applause which they evoked–these
have exalted him, enthused him, ambitioned him to higher and
higher flights; in a word, made his life worth the living. But
by your scheme, all this is abolished; he is degraded to a
machine, he is a nobody, his noble prides wither to mere
vanities; let him strive as he may, he can never be any better
than his humblest and stupidest neighbor; he would never be
cheerful again, his life would not be worth the living.
O.M. You really think that?
Y.M. I certainly do.
O.M. Have you ever seen me uncheerful, unhappy.
O.M. Well, _I_ believe these things. Why have they not
made me unhappy?
Y.M. Oh, well–temperament, of course! You never let THAT
escape from your scheme.
O.M. That is correct. If a man is born with an unhappy
temperament, nothing can make him happy; if he is born with a
happy temperament, nothing can make him unhappy.
Y.M. What–not even a degrading and heart-chilling system
O.M. Beliefs? Mere beliefs? Mere convictions? They are
powerless. They strive in vain against inborn temperament.
Y.M. I can’t believe that, and I don’t.
O.M. Now you are speaking hastily. It shows that you have
not studiously examined the facts. Of all your intimates, which
one is the happiest? Isn’t it Burgess?
O.M. And which one is the unhappiest? Henry Adams?
Y.M. Without a question!
O.M. I know them well. They are extremes, abnormals; their
temperaments are as opposite as the poles. Their life-histories
are about alike–but look at the results! Their ages are about
the same–about around fifty. Burgess had always been buoyant,
hopeful, happy; Adams has always been cheerless, hopeless,
despondent. As young fellows both tried country journalism–and
failed. Burgess didn’t seem to mind it; Adams couldn’t smile, he
could only mourn and groan over what had happened and torture
himself with vain regrets for not having done so and so instead
of so and so–THEN he would have succeeded. They tried the law–
and failed. Burgess remained happy–because he couldn’t help it.
Adams was wretched–because he couldn’t help it. From that day
to this, those two men have gone on trying things and failing:
Burgess has come out happy and cheerful every time; Adams the
reverse. And we do absolutely know that these men’s inborn
temperaments have remained unchanged through all the vicissitudes
of their material affairs. Let us see how it is with their
immaterials. Both have been zealous Democrats; both have been
zealous Republicans; both have been zealous Mugwumps. Burgess
has always found happiness and Adams unhappiness in these several
political beliefs and in their migrations out of them. Both of
these men have been Presbyterians, Universalists, Methodists,
Catholics–then Presbyterians again, then Methodists again.
Burgess has always found rest in these excursions, and Adams
unrest. They are trying Christian Science, now, with the
customary result, the inevitable result. No political or
religious belief can make Burgess unhappy or the other man happy.
I assure you it is purely a matter of temperament. Beliefs are
ACQUIREMENTS, temperaments are BORN; beliefs are subject to
change, nothing whatever can change temperament.
Y.M. You have instanced extreme temperaments.
O.M. Yes, the half-dozen others are modifications of the
extremes. But the law is the same. Where the temperament is
two-thirds happy, or two-thirds unhappy, no political or
religious beliefs can change the proportions. The vast majority
of temperaments are pretty equally balanced; the intensities are
absent, and this enables a nation to learn to accommodate itself
to its political and religious circumstances and like them, be
satisfied with them, at last prefer them. Nations do not THINK,
they only FEEL. They get their feelings at second hand through
their temperaments, not their brains. A nation can be brought–
by force of circumstances, not argument–to reconcile itself to
ANY KIND OF GOVERNMENT OR RELIGION THAT CAN BE DEVISED; in time
it will fit itself to the required conditions; later, it will
prefer them and will fiercely fight for them. As instances, you
have all history: the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the
Egyptians, the Russians, the Germans, the French, the English,
the Spaniards, the Americans, the South Americans, the Japanese,
the Chinese, the Hindus, the Turks–a thousand wild and tame
religions, every kind of government that can be thought of, from
tiger to house-cat, each nation KNOWING it has the only true
religion and the only sane system of government, each despising
all the others, each an ass and not suspecting it, each proud of
its fancied supremacy, each perfectly sure it is the pet of God,
each without undoubting confidence summoning Him to take command
in time of war, each surprised when He goes over to the enemy,
but by habit able to excuse it and resume compliments–in a word,
the whole human race content, always content, persistently
content, indestructibly content, happy, thankful, proud, NO
MATTER WHAT ITS RELIGION IS, NOR WHETHER ITS MASTER BE TIGER OR
HOUSE-CAT. Am I stating facts? You know I am. Is the human
race cheerful? You know it is. Considering what it can stand,
and be happy, you do me too much honor when you think that _I_
can place before it a system of plain cold facts that can take
the cheerfulness out of it. Nothing can do that. Everything has
been tried. Without success. I beg you not to be troubled.
THE DEATH OF JEAN
The death of Jean Clemens occurred early in the morning of
December 24, 1909. Mr. Clemens was in great stress of mind when
I first saw him, but a few hours later I found him writing
“I am setting it down,” he said, “everything. It is a
relief to me to write it. It furnishes me an excuse for
thinking.” At intervals during that day and the next I looked
in, and usually found him writing. Then on the evening of the
26th, when he knew that Jean had been laid to rest in Elmira, he
came to my room with the manuscript in his hand.
“I have finished it,” he said; “read it. I can form no
opinion of it myself. If you think it worthy, some day–at the
proper time–it can end my autobiography. It is the final
Four months later–almost to the day–(April 21st) he was
Albert Bigelow Paine.
Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.
JEAN IS DEAD!
Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the little
happenings connected with a dear one–happenings of the twenty-
four hours preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that dear
one? Would a book contain them? Would two books contain them?
I think not. They pour into the mind in a flood. They are
little things that have been always happening every day, and were
always so unimportant and easily forgettable before–but now!
Now, how different! how precious they are, now dear, how
unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!
Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health, and I the
same, from the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday, strolled
hand in hand from the dinner-table and sat down in the library
and chatted, and planned, and discussed, cheerily and happily
(and how unsuspectingly!)–until nine–which is late for us–then
went upstairs, Jean’s friendly German dog following. At my door
Jean said, “I can’t kiss you good night, father: I have a cold,
and you could catch it.” I bent and kissed her hand. She was
moved–I saw it in her eyes–and she impulsively kissed my hand
in return. Then with the usual gay “Sleep well, dear!” from
both, we parted.
At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard voices
outside my door. I said to myself, “Jean is starting on her
usual horseback flight to the station for the mail.” Then Katy
 entered, stood quaking and gasping at my bedside a moment,
then found her tongue:
“MISS JEAN IS DEAD!”
Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet
crashes through his heart.
In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young creature,
stretched upon the floor and covered with a sheet. And looking
so placid, so natural, and as if asleep. We knew what had
happened. She was an epileptic: she had been seized with a
convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to come
several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to
bring her back to life.
It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet and how
tranquil! It is a noble face, and full of dignity; and that was
a good heart that lies there so still.
In England, thirteen years ago, my wife and I were stabbed
to the heart with a cablegram which said, “Susy was mercifully
released today.” I had to send a like shot to Clara, in Berlin,
this morning. With the peremptory addition, “You must not come
home.” Clara and her husband sailed from here on the 11th of
this month. How will Clara bear it? Jean, from her babyhood,
was a worshiper of Clara.
Four days ago I came back from a month’s holiday in Bermuda
in perfected health; but by some accident the reporters failed to
perceive this. Day before yesterday, letters and telegrams began
to arrive from friends and strangers which indicated that I was
supposed to be dangerously ill. Yesterday Jean begged me to
explain my case through the Associated Press. I said it was not
important enough; but she was distressed and said I must think of
Clara. Clara would see the report in the German papers, and as
she had been nursing her husband day and night for four months
 and was worn out and feeble, the shock might be disastrous.
There was reason in that; so I sent a humorous paragraph by
telephone to the Associated Press denying the “charge” that I was
“dying,” and saying “I would not do such a thing at my time of
Jean was a little troubled, and did not like to see me treat
the matter so lightly; but I said it was best to treat it so, for
there was nothing serious about it. This morning I sent the
sorrowful facts of this day’s irremediable disaster to the
Associated Press. Will both appear in this evening’s papers?–
the one so blithe, the other so tragic?
I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother–her
incomparable mother!–five and a half years ago; Clara has gone
away to live in Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am,
who was once so rich! Seven months ago Mr. Roger died–one of
the best friends I ever had, and the nearest perfect, as man and
gentleman, I have yet met among my race; within the last six
weeks Gilder has passed away, and Laffan–old, old friends of
mine. Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under our
own roof; we kissed hands good-by at this door last night–and it
was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit
here–writing, busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking.
How dazzlingly the sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is
like a mockery.
Seventy-four years ago twenty-four days ago. Seventy-four
years old yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?
I have looked upon her again. I wonder I can bear it. She
looks just as her mother looked when she lay dead in that
Florentine villa so long ago. The sweet placidity of death! it
is more beautiful than sleep.
I saw her mother buried. I said I would never endure that
horror again; that I would never again look into the grave of any
one dear to me. I have kept to that. They will take Jean from
this house tomorrow, and bear her to Elmira, New York, where lie
those of us that have been released, but I shall not follow.
Jean was on the dock when the ship came in, only four days
ago. She was at the door, beaming a welcome, when I reached this
house the next evening. We played cards, and she tried to teach
me a new game called “Mark Twain.” We sat chatting cheerily in
the library last night, and she wouldn’t let me look into the
loggia, where she was making Christmas preparations. She said
she would finish them in the morning, and then her little French
friend would arrive from New York–the surprise would follow; the
surprise she had been working over for days. While she was out
for a moment I disloyally stole a look. The loggia floor was
clothed with rugs and furnished with chairs and sofas; and the
uncompleted surprise was there: in the form of a Christmas tree
that was drenched with silver film in a most wonderful way; and
on a table was prodigal profusion of bright things which she was
going to hang upon it today. What desecrating hand will ever
banish that eloquent unfinished surprise from that place? Not
mine, surely. All these little matters have happened in the last
four days. “Little.” Yes–THEN. But not now. Nothing she said
or thought or did is little now. And all the lavish humor!–what
is become of it? It is pathos, now. Pathos, and the thought of
it brings tears.
All these little things happened such a few hours ago–and
now she lies yonder. Lies yonder, and cares for nothing any
more. Strange–marvelous–incredible! I have had this
experience before; but it would still be incredible if I had had
it a thousand times.
“MISS JEAN IS DEAD!”
That is what Katy said. When I heard the door open behind
the bed’s head without a preliminary knock, I supposed it was
Jean coming to kiss me good morning, she being the only person
who was used to entering without formalities.
I have been to Jean’s parlor. Such a turmoil of Christmas
presents for servants and friends! They are everywhere; tables,
chairs, sofas, the floor–everything is occupied, and over-
occupied. It is many and many a year since I have seen the like.
In that ancient day Mrs. Clemens and I used to slip softly into
the nursery at midnight on Christmas Eve and look the array of
presents over. The children were little then. And now here is
Jean’s parlor looking just as that nursery used to look. The
presents are not labeled–the hands are forever idle that would
have labeled them today. Jean’s mother always worked herself
down with her Christmas preparations. Jean did the same
yesterday and the preceding days, and the fatigue has cost her
her life. The fatigue caused the convulsion that attacked her
this morning. She had had no attack for months.
Jean was so full of life and energy that she was constantly
is danger of overtaxing her strength. Every morning she was in
the saddle by half past seven, and off to the station for her
mail. She examined the letters and I distributed them: some to
her, some to Mr. Paine, the others to the stenographer and
myself. She dispatched her share and then mounted her horse
again and went around superintending her farm and her poultry the
rest of the day. Sometimes she played billiards with me after
dinner, but she was usually too tired to play, and went early to
Yesterday afternoon I told her about some plans I had been
devising while absent in Bermuda, to lighten her burdens. We
would get a housekeeper; also we would put her share of the
secretary-work into Mr. Paine’s hands.
No–she wasn’t willing. She had been making plans herself.
The matter ended in a compromise, I submitted. I always did.
She wouldn’t audit the bills and let Paine fill out the checks–
she would continue to attend to that herself. Also, she would
continue to be housekeeper, and let Katy assist. Also, she would
continue to answer the letters of personal friends for me. Such
was the compromise. Both of us called it by that name, though I
was not able to see where my formidable change had been made.
However, Jean was pleased, and that was sufficient for me.
She was proud of being my secretary, and I was never able to persuade
her to give up any part of her share in that unlovely work.
In the talk last night I said I found everything going so
smoothly that if she were willing I would go back to Bermuda in
February and get blessedly out of the clash and turmoil again for
another month. She was urgent that I should do it, and said that
if I would put off the trip until March she would take Katy and
go with me. We struck hands upon that, and said it was settled.
I had a mind to write to Bermuda by tomorrow’s ship and secure a
furnished house and servants. I meant to write the letter this
morning. But it will never be written, now.
For she lies yonder, and before her is another journey than that.
Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely shows above the
sky-line of the hills.
I have been looking at that face again that was growing dearer
and dearer to me every day. I was getting acquainted with
Jean in these last nine months. She had been long an exile from
home when she came to us three-quarters of a year ago. She had
been shut up in sanitariums, many miles from us. How eloquent
glad and grateful she was to cross her father’s threshold again!
Would I bring her back to life if I could do it? I would not.
If a word would do it, I would beg for strength to withhold
the word. And I would have the strength; I am sure of it. In
her loss I am almost bankrupt, and my life is a bitterness, but I
am content: for she has been enriched with the most precious of
all gifts–that gift which makes all other gifts mean and poor–
death. I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored
to life since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy
passed away; and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers. When Clara
met me at the station in New York and told me Mr. Rogers had died
suddenly that morning, my thought was, Oh, favorite of fortune–
fortunate all his long and lovely life–fortunate to his latest
moment! The reporters said there were tears of sorrow in my
eyes. True–but they were for ME, not for him. He had suffered
no loss. All the fortunes he had ever made before were poverty
compared with this one.
Why did I build this house, two years ago? To shelter this
vast emptiness? How foolish I was! But I shall stay in it. The
spirits of the dead hallow a house, for me. It was not so with
other members of the family. Susy died in the house we built in
Hartford. Mrs. Clemens would never enter it again. But it made
the house dearer to me. I have entered it once since, when it
was tenantless and silent and forlorn, but to me it was a holy
place and beautiful. It seemed to me that the spirits of the
dead were all about me, and would speak to me and welcome me if
they could: Livy, and Susy, and George, and Henry Robinson, and
Charles Dudley Warner. How good and kind they were, and how
lovable their lives! In fancy I could see them all again, I
could call the children back and hear them romp again with
George–that peerless black ex-slave and children’s idol who came
one day–a flitting stranger–to wash windows, and stayed
eighteen years. Until he died. Clara and Jean would never enter
again the New York hotel which their mother had frequented in
earlier days. They could not bear it. But I shall stay in this
house. It is dearer to me tonight than ever it was before.
Jean’s spirit will make it beautiful for me always. Her lonely
and tragic death–but I will not think of that now.
Jean’s mother always devoted two or three weeks to Christmas
shopping, and was always physically exhausted when Christmas Eve
came. Jean was her very own child–she wore herself out present-
hunting in New York these latter days. Paine has just found on
her desk a long list of names–fifty, he thinks–people to whom
she sent presents last night. Apparently she forgot no one. And
Katy found there a roll of bank-notes, for the servants.
Her dog has been wandering about the grounds today,
comradeless and forlorn. I have seen him from the windows. She
got him from Germany. He has tall ears and looks exactly like a
wolf. He was educated in Germany, and knows no language but the
German. Jean gave him no orders save in that tongue. And so
when the burglar-alarm made a fierce clamor at midnight a
fortnight ago, the butler, who is French and knows no German,
tried in vain to interest the dog in the supposed burglar. Jean
wrote me, to Bermuda, about the incident. It was the last letter
I was ever to receive from her bright head and her competent hand.
The dog will not be neglected.
There was never a kinder heart than Jean’s. From her
childhood up she always spent the most of her allowance on
charities of one kind or another. After she became secretary and
had her income doubled she spent her money upon these things with
a free hand. Mine too, I am glad and grateful to say.
She was a loyal friend to all animals, and she loved them
all, birds, beasts, and everything–even snakes–an inheritance
from me. She knew all the birds; she was high up in that lore.
She became a member of various humane societies when she was
still a little girl–both here and abroad–and she remained an
active member to the last. She founded two or three societies
for the protection of animals, here and in Europe.
She was an embarrassing secretary, for she fished my
correspondence out of the waste-basket and answered the letters.
She thought all letters deserved the courtesy of an answer.
Her mother brought her up in that kindly error.
She could write a good letter, and was swift with her pen.
She had but an indifferent ear music, but her tongue took to
languages with an easy facility. She never allowed her Italian,
French, and German to get rusty through neglect.
The telegrams of sympathy are flowing in, from far and wide,
now, just as they did in Italy five years and a half ago, when
this child’s mother laid down her blameless life. They cannot
heal the hurt, but they take away some of the pain. When Jean
and I kissed hands and parted at my door last, how little did we
imagine that in twenty-two hours the telegraph would be bringing
words like these:
“From the bottom of our hearts we send out sympathy,
dearest of friends.”
For many and many a day to come, wherever I go in this house,
remembrancers of Jean will mutely speak to me of her. Who can
count the number of them?
She was in exile two years with the hope of healing her
malady–epilepsy. There are no words to express how grateful I
am that she did not meet her fate in the hands of strangers, but
in the loving shelter of her own home.
“MISS JEAN IS DEAD!”
It is true. Jean is dead.
A month ago I was writing bubbling and hilarious articles
for magazines yet to appear, and now I am writing–this.
CHRISTMAS DAY. NOON.–Last night I went to Jean’s room at
intervals, and turned back the sheet and looked at the peaceful
face, and kissed the cold brow, and remembered that heartbreaking
night in Florence so long ago, in that cavernous and silent vast
villa, when I crept downstairs so many times, and turned back a
sheet and looked at a face just like this one–Jean’s mother’s
face–and kissed a brow that was just like this one. And last
night I saw again what I had seen then–that strange and lovely
miracle–the sweet, soft contours of early maidenhood restored by
the gracious hand of death! When Jean’s mother lay dead, all
trace of care, and trouble, and suffering, and the corroding
years had vanished out of the face, and I was looking again upon
it as I had known and worshipped it in its young bloom and beauty
a whole generation before.
About three in the morning, while wandering about the house
in the deep silences, as one dies in times like these, when there
is a dumb sense that something has been lost that will never be
found again, yet must be sought, if only for the employment the
useless seeking gives, I came upon Jean’s dog in the hall
downstairs, and noted that he did not spring to greet me,
according to his hospitable habit, but came slow and sorrowfully;
also I remembered that he had not visited Jean’s apartment since
the tragedy. Poor fellow, did he know? I think so. Always when
Jean was abroad in the open he was with her; always when she was
in the house he was with her, in the night as well as in the day.
Her parlor was his bedroom. Whenever I happened upon him on the
ground floor he always followed me about, and when I went
upstairs he went too–in a tumultuous gallop. But now it was
different: after patting him a little I went to the library–he
remained behind; when I went upstairs he did not follow me, save
with his wistful eyes. He has wonderful eyes–big, and kind, and
eloquent. He can talk with them. He is a beautiful creature,
and is of the breed of the New York police-dogs. I do not like
dogs, because they bark when there is no occasion for it; but I
have liked this one from the beginning, because he belonged to
Jean, and because he never barks except when there is occasion–
which is not oftener than twice a week.
In my wanderings I visited Jean’s parlor. On a shelf I
found a pile of my books, and I knew what it meant. She was
waiting for me to come home from Bermuda and autograph them, then
she would send them away. If I only knew whom she intended them
for! But I shall never know. I will keep them. Her hand has
touched them–it is an accolade–they are noble, now.
And in a closet she had hidden a surprise for me–a thing I
have often wished I owned: a noble big globe. I couldn’t see it
for the tears. She will never know the pride I take in it, and
the pleasure. Today the mails are full of loving remembrances
for her: full of those old, old kind words she loved so well,
“Merry Christmas to Jean!” If she could only have lived one day
At last she ran out of money, and would not use mine. So
she sent to one of those New York homes for poor girls all the
clothes she could spare–and more, most likely.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT.–This afternoon they took her away from her
room. As soon as I might, I went down to the library, and there
she lay, in her coffin, dressed in exactly the same clothes she
wore when she stood at the other end of the same room on the 6th
of October last, as Clara’s chief bridesmaid. Her face was
radiant with happy excitement then; it was the same face now,
with the dignity of death and the peace of God upon it.
They told me the first mourner to come was the dog. He came
uninvited, and stood up on his hind legs and rested his fore paws
upon the trestle, and took a last long look at the face that was
so dear to him, then went his way as silently as he had come.
At mid-afternoon it began to snow. The pity of it–that
Jean could not see it! She so loved the snow.
The snow continued to fall. At six o’clock the hearse drew
up to the door to bear away its pathetic burden. As they lifted
the casket, Paine began playing on the orchestrelle Schubert’s
“Impromptu,” which was Jean’s favorite. Then he played the
Intermezzo; that was for Susy; then he played the Largo; that was
for their mother. He did this at my request. Elsewhere in my
Autobiography I have told how the Intermezzo and the Largo came
to be associated in my heart with Susy and Livy in their last
hours in this life.
From my windows I saw the hearse and the carriages wind
along the road and gradually grow vague and spectral in the
falling snow, and presently disappear. Jean was gone out of my
life, and would not come back any more. Jervis, the cousin she
had played with when they were babies together–he and her
beloved old Katy–were conducting her to her distant childhood
home, where she will lie by her mother’s side once more, in the
company of Susy and Langdon.
DECEMBER 26TH. The dog came to see me at eight o’clock this
morning. He was very affectionate, poor orphan! My room will be
his quarters hereafter.
The storm raged all night. It has raged all the morning.
The snow drives across the landscape in vast clouds, superb,
sublime–and Jean not here to see.
2:30 P.M.–It is the time appointed. The funeral has begun.
Four hundred miles away, but I can see it all, just as if I were
there. The scene is the library in the Langdon homestead.
Jean’s coffin stands where her mother and I stood, forty years
ago, and were married; and where Susy’s coffin stood thirteen
years ago; where her mother’s stood five years and a half ago;
and where mine will stand after a little time.
FIVE O’CLOCK.–It is all over.
When Clara went away two weeks ago to live in Europe, it was
hard, but I could bear it, for I had Jean left. I said WE would
be a family. We said we would be close comrades and happy–just
we two. That fair dream was in my mind when Jean met me at the
steamer last Monday; it was in my mind when she received me at
the door last Tuesday evening. We were together; WE WERE A
FAMILY! the dream had come true–oh, precisely true, contentedly,
true, satisfyingly true! and remained true two whole days.
And now? Now Jean is in her grave!
In the grave–if I can believe it. God rest her sweet
1. Katy Leary, who had been in the service of the Clemens family
for twenty-nine years.
2. Mr. Gabrilowitsch had been operated on for appendicitis.
THE TURNING-POINT OF MY LIFE
If I understand the idea, the BAZAR invites several of us to
write upon the above text. It means the change in my life’s
course which introduced what must be regarded by me as the most
IMPORTANT condition of my career. But it also implies–without
intention, perhaps–that that turning-point ITSELF was the
creator of the new condition. This gives it too much
distinction, too much prominence, too much credit. It is only
the LAST link in a very long chain of turning-points commissioned
to produce the cardinal result; it is not any more important than
the humblest of its ten thousand predecessors. Each of the ten
thousand did its appointed share, on its appointed date, in
forwarding the scheme, and they were all necessary; to have left
out any one of them would have defeated the scheme and brought
about SOME OTHER result. It know we have a fashion of saying
“such and such an event was the turning-point in my life,” but we
shouldn’t say it. We should merely grant that its place as LAST
link in the chain makes it the most CONSPICUOUS link; in real
importance it has no advantage over any one of its predecessors.
Perhaps the most celebrated turning-point recorded in
history was the crossing of the Rubicon. Suetonius says:
Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, he
halted for a while, and, revolving in his mind the importance of
the step he was on the point of taking, he turned to those about
him and said, “We may still retreat; but if we pass this little
bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms.”
This was a stupendously important moment. And all the
incidents, big and little, of Caesar’s previous life had been
leading up to it, stage by stage, link by link. This was the
LAST link–merely the last one, and no bigger than the others;
but as we gaze back at it through the inflating mists of our
imagination, it looks as big as the orbit of Neptune.
You, the reader, have a PERSONAL interest in that link, and
so have I; so has the rest of the human race. It was one of the
links in your life-chain, and it was one of the links in mine.
We may wait, now, with baited breath, while Caesar reflects.
Your fate and mine are involved in his decision.
While he was thus hesitating, the following incident
occurred. A person remarked for his noble mien and graceful
aspect appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe.
When not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also,
flocked to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he
snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it,
and, sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the
other side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed: “Let us go whither the
omens of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies call up.
THE DIE IS CAST.”
So he crossed–and changed the future of the whole human
race, for all time. But that stranger was a link in Caesar’s
life-chain, too; and a necessary one. We don’t know his name, we
never hear of him again; he was very casual; he acts like an
accident; but he was no accident, he was there by compulsion of
HIS life-chain, to blow the electrifying blast that was to make
up Caesar’s mind for him, and thence go piping down the aisles of
If the stranger hadn’t been there! But he WAS. And Caesar
crossed. With such results! Such vast events–each a link in
the HUMAN RACE’S life-chain; each event producing the next one,
and that one the next one, and so on: the destruction of the
republic; the founding of the empire; the breaking up of the
empire; the rise of Christianity upon its ruins; the spread of
the religion to other lands–and so on; link by link took its
appointed place at its appointed time, the discovery of America
being one of them; our Revolution another; the inflow of English
and other immigrants another; their drift westward (my ancestors
among them) another; the settlement of certain of them in
Missouri, which resulted in ME. For I was one of the unavoidable
results of the crossing of the Rubicon. If the stranger, with
his trumpet blast, had stayed away (which he COULDN’T, for he was
the appointed link) Caesar would not have crossed. What would
have happened, in that case, we can never guess. We only know
that the things that did happen would not have happened. They
might have been replaced by equally prodigious things, of course,
but their nature and results are beyond our guessing. But the
matter that interests me personally is that I would not be HERE
now, but somewhere else; and probably black–there is no telling.
Very well, I am glad he crossed. And very really and thankfully
glad, too, though I never cared anything about it before.
To me, the most important feature of my life is its literary
feature. I have been professionally literary something more than
forty years. There have been many turning-points in my life, but
the one that was the link in the chain appointed to conduct me to
the literary guild is the most CONSPICUOUS link in that chain.
BECAUSE it was the last one. It was not any more important than
its predecessors. All the other links have an inconspicuous
look, except the crossing of the Rubicon; but as factors in
making me literary they are all of the one size, the crossing of
the Rubicon included.
I know how I came to be literary, and I will tell the steps
that lead up to it and brought it about.
The crossing of the Rubicon was not the first one, it was
hardly even a recent one; I should have to go back ages before
Caesar’s day to find the first one. To save space I will go back
only a couple of generations and start with an incident of my
boyhood. When I was twelve and a half years old, my father died.
It was in the spring. The summer came, and brought with it an
epidemic of measles. For a time a child died almost every day.
The village was paralyzed with fright, distress, despair.
Children that were not smitten with the disease were imprisoned
in their homes to save them from the infection. In the homes
there were no cheerful faces, there was no music, there was no
singing but of solemn hymns, no voice but of prayer, no romping
was allowed, no noise, no laughter, the family moved spectrally
about on tiptoe, in a ghostly hush. I was a prisoner. My soul
was steeped in this awful dreariness–and in fear. At some time
or other every day and every night a sudden shiver shook me to
the marrow, and I said to myself, “There, I’ve got it! and I
shall die.” Life on these miserable terms was not worth living,
and at last I made up my mind to get the disease and have it
over, one way or the other. I escaped from the house and went to
the house of a neighbor where a playmate of mine was very ill
with the malady. When the chance offered I crept into his room
and got into bed with him. I was discovered by his mother and
sent back into captivity. But I had the disease; they could not
take that from me. I came near to dying. The whole village was
interested, and anxious, and sent for news of me every day; and
not only once a day, but several times. Everybody believed I
would die; but on the fourteenth day a change came for the worse
and they were disappointed.
This was a turning-point of my life. (Link number one.)
For when I got well my mother closed my school career and
apprenticed me to a printer. She was tired of trying to keep me
out of mischief, and the adventure of the measles decided her to
put me into more masterful hands than hers.
I became a printer, and began to add one link after another
to the chain which was to lead me into the literary profession.
A long road, but I could not know that; and as I did not know
what its goal was, or even that it had one, I was indifferent.
A young printer wanders around a good deal, seeking and
finding work; and seeking again, when necessity commands. N. B.
Necessity is a CIRCUMSTANCE; Circumstance is man’s master–and
when Circumstance commands, he must obey; he may argue the
matter–that is his privilege, just as it is the honorable
privilege of a falling body to argue with the attraction of
gravitation–but it won’t do any good, he must OBEY. I wandered
for ten years, under the guidance and dictatorship of
Circumstance, and finally arrived in a city of Iowa, where I
worked several months. Among the books that interested me in
those days was one about the Amazon. The traveler told an
alluring tale of his long voyage up the great river from Para to
the sources of the Madeira, through the heart of an enchanted
land, a land wastefully rich in tropical wonders, a romantic land
where all the birds and flowers and animals were of the museum
varieties, and where the alligator and the crocodile and the
monkey seemed as much at home as if they were in the Zoo. Also,
he told an astonishing tale about COCA, a vegetable product of
miraculous powers, asserting that it was so nourishing and so
strength-giving that the native of the mountains of the Madeira
region would tramp up hill and down all day on a pinch of
powdered coca and require no other sustenance.
I was fired with a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with
a longing to open up a trade in coca with all the world. During
months I dreamed that dream, and tried to contrive ways to get to
Para and spring that splendid enterprise upon an unsuspecting
planet. But all in vain. A person may PLAN as much as he wants
to, but nothing of consequence is likely to come of it until the
magician CIRCUMSTANCE steps in and takes the matter off his
hands. At last Circumstance came to my help. It was in this
way. Circumstance, to help or hurt another man, made him lose a
fifty-dollar bill in the street; and to help or hurt me, made me
find it. I advertised the find, and left for the Amazon the same
day. This was another turning-point, another link.
Could Circumstance have ordered another dweller in that town
to go to the Amazon and open up a world-trade in coca on a fifty-
dollar basis and been obeyed? No, I was the only one. There
were other fools there–shoals and shoals of them–but they were
not of my kind. I was the only one of my kind.
Circumstance is powerful, but it cannot work alone; it has
to have a partner. Its partner is man’s TEMPERAMENT–his natural
disposition. His temperament is not his invention, it is BORN in
him, and he has no authority over it, neither is he responsible
for its acts. He cannot change it, nothing can change it,
nothing can modify it–except temporarily. But it won’t stay
modified. It is permanent, like the color of the man’s eyes and
the shape of his ears. Blue eyes are gray in certain unusual lights;
but they resume their natural color when that stress is removed.
A Circumstance that will coerce one man will have no effect
upon a man of a different temperament. If Circumstance had
thrown the bank-note in Caesar’s way, his temperament would not
have made him start for the Amazon. His temperament would have
compelled him to do something with the money, but not that. It
might have made him advertise the note–and WAIT. We can’t tell.
Also, it might have made him go to New York and buy into the
Government, with results that would leave Tweed nothing to learn
when it came his turn.
Very well, Circumstance furnished the capital, and my
temperament told me what to do with it. Sometimes a temperament
is an ass. When that is the case of the owner of it is an ass,
too, and is going to remain one. Training, experience,
association, can temporarily so polish him, improve him, exalt
him that people will think he is a mule, but they will be
mistaken. Artificially he IS a mule, for the time being, but at
bottom he is an ass yet, and will remain one.
By temperament I was the kind of person that DOES things.
Does them, and reflects afterward. So I started for the Amazon
without reflecting and without asking any questions. That was
more than fifty years ago. In all that time my temperament has
not changed, by even a shade. I have been punished many and many
a time, and bitterly, for doing things and reflecting afterward,
but these tortures have been of no value to me; I still do the
thing commanded by Circumstance and Temperament, and reflect
afterward. Always violently. When I am reflecting, on these
occasions, even deaf persons can hear me think.
I went by the way of Cincinnati, and down the Ohio and
Mississippi. My idea was to take ship, at New Orleans, for Para.
In New Orleans I inquired, and found there was no ship leaving
for Para. Also, that there never had BEEN one leaving for Para.
I reflected. A policeman came and asked me what I was doing, and
I told him. He made me move on, and said if he caught me
reflecting in the public street again he would run me in.
After a few days I was out of money. Then Circumstance
arrived, with another turning-point of my life–a new link. On
my way down, I had made the acquaintance of a pilot. I begged
him to teach me the river, and he consented. I became a pilot.
By and by Circumstance came again–introducing the Civil
War, this time, in order to push me ahead another stage or two
toward the literary profession. The boats stopped running, my
livelihood was gone.
Circumstance came to the rescue with a new turning-point and
a fresh link. My brother was appointed secretary to the new
Territory of Nevada, and he invited me to go with him and help
him in his office. I accepted.
In Nevada, Circumstance furnished me the silver fever and I
went into the mines to make a fortune, as I supposed; but that
was not the idea. The idea was to advance me another step toward
literature. For amusement I scribbled things for the Virginia
City ENTERPRISE. One isn’t a printer ten years without setting
up acres of good and bad literature, and learning–unconsciously
at first, consciously later–to discriminate between the two,
within his mental limitations; and meantime he is unconsciously
acquiring what is called a “style.” One of my efforts attracted
attention, and the ENTERPRISE sent for me and put me on its staff.
And so I became a journalist–another link. By and by Circumstance
and the Sacramento UNION sent me to the Sandwich Islands for five
or six months, to write up sugar. I did it; and threw in a good
deal of extraneous matter that hadn’t anything to do with sugar.
But it was this extraneous matter that helped me to another link.
It made me notorious, and San Francisco invited me to lecture.
Which I did. And profitably. I had long had a desire to travel
and see the world, and now Circumstance had most kindly and
unexpectedly hurled me upon the platform and furnished me the means.
So I joined the “Quaker City Excursion.”
When I returned to America, Circumstance was waiting on the pier–
with the LAST link–the conspicuous, the consummating, the
victorious link: I was asked to WRITE A BOOK, and I did it, and
called it THE INNOCENTS ABROAD. Thus I became at last a member
of the literary guild. That was forty-two years ago, and I have
been a member ever since. Leaving the Rubicon incident away back
where it belongs, I can say with truth that the reason I am in
the literary profession is because I had the measles when I was
twelve years old.
Now what interests me, as regards these details, is not the
details themselves, but the fact that none of them was foreseen
by me, none of them was planned by me, I was the author of none
of them. Circumstance, working in harness with my temperament,
created them all and compelled them all. I often offered help,
and with the best intentions, but it was rejected–as a rule,
uncourteously. I could never plan a thing and get it to come out
the way I planned it. It came out some other way–some way I had
not counted upon.
And so I do not admire the human being–as an intellectual
marvel–as much as I did when I was young, and got him out of
books, and did not know him personally. When I used to read that
such and such a general did a certain brilliant thing, I believed
it. Whereas it was not so. Circumstance did it by help of his
temperament. The circumstances would have failed of effect with
a general of another temperament: he might see the chance, but
lose the advantage by being by nature too slow or too quick or
too doubtful. Once General Grant was asked a question about a
matter which had been much debated by the public and the
newspapers; he answered the question without any hesitancy.
“General, who planned the the march through Georgia?” “The
enemy!” He added that the enemy usually makes your plans for
you. He meant that the enemy by neglect or through force of
circumstances leaves an opening for you, and you see your chance
and take advantage of it.
Circumstances do the planning for us all, no doubt, by help
of our temperaments. I see no great difference between a man and
a watch, except that the man is conscious and the watch isn’t,
and the man TRIES to plan things and the watch doesn’t. The
watch doesn’t wind itself and doesn’t regulate itself–these
things are done exteriorly. Outside influences, outside
circumstances, wind the MAN and regulate him. Left to himself,
he wouldn’t get regulated at all, and the sort of time he would
keep would not be valuable. Some rare men are wonderful watches,
with gold case, compensation balance, and all those things, and
some men are only simple and sweet and humble Waterburys. I am a
Waterbury. A Waterbury of that kind, some say.
A nation is only an individual multiplied. It makes plans
and Circumstances comes and upsets them–or enlarges them. Some
patriots throw the tea overboard; some other patriots destroy a
Bastille. The PLANS stop there; then Circumstance comes in,
quite unexpectedly, and turns these modest riots into a revolution.
And there was poor Columbus. He elaborated a deep plan to
find a new route to an old country. Circumstance revised his
plan for him, and he found a new WORLD. And HE gets the credit
of it to this day. He hadn’t anything to do with it.
Necessarily the scene of the real turning-point of my life
(and of yours) was the Garden of Eden. It was there that the
first link was forged of the chain that was ultimately to lead to
the emptying of me into the literary guild. Adam’s TEMPERAMENT
was the first command the Deity ever issued to a human being on
this planet. And it was the only command Adam would NEVER be
able to disobey. It said, “Be weak, be water, be characterless,
be cheaply persuadable.” The latter command, to let the fruit
alone, was certain to be disobeyed. Not by Adam himself, but by
his TEMPERAMENT–which he did not create and had no authority
over. For the TEMPERAMENT is the man; the thing tricked out with
clothes and named Man is merely its Shadow, nothing more. The
law of the tiger’s temperament is, Thou shalt kill; the law of
the sheep’s temperament is Thou shalt not kill. To issue later
commands requiring the tiger to let the fat stranger alone, and
requiring the sheep to imbue its hands in the blood of the lion
is not worth while, for those commands CAN’T be obeyed. They
would invite to violations of the law of TEMPERAMENT, which is
supreme, and take precedence of all other authorities. I cannot
help feeling disappointed in Adam and Eve. That is, in their
temperaments. Not in THEM, poor helpless young creatures–
afflicted with temperaments made out of butter; which butter was
commanded to get into contact with fire and BE MELTED. What I
cannot help wishing is, that Adam had been postponed, and Martin
Luther and Joan of Arc put in their place–that splendid pair
equipped with temperaments not made of butter, but of asbestos.
By neither sugary persuasions nor by hell fire could Satan have
beguiled THEM to eat the apple. There would have been results!
Indeed, yes. The apple would be intact today; there would be no
human race; there would be no YOU; there would be no ME. And the
old, old creation-dawn scheme of ultimately launching me into the
literary guild would have been defeated.
HOW TO MAKE HISTORY DATES STICK
These chapters are for children, and I shall try to make the
words large enough to command respect. In the hope that you are
listening, and that you have confidence in me, I will proceed.
Dates are difficult things to acquire; and after they are
acquired it is difficult to keep them in the head. But they are
very valuable. They are like the cattle-pens of a ranch–they
shut in the several brands of historical cattle, each within its
own fence, and keep them from getting mixed together. Dates are
hard to remember because they consist of figures; figures are
monotonously unstriking in appearance, and they don’t take hold,
they form no pictures, and so they give the eye no chance to
help. Pictures are the thing. Pictures can make dates stick.
They can make nearly anything stick–particularly IF YOU MAKE THE
PICTURES YOURSELF. Indeed, that is the great point–make the
pictures YOURSELF. I know about this from experience. Thirty
years ago I was delivering a memorized lecture every night, and
every night I had to help myself with a page of notes to keep
from getting myself mixed. The notes consisted of beginnings of
sentences, and were eleven in number, and they ran something like
“IN THAT REGION THE WEATHER–”
“AT THAT TIME IT WAS A CUSTOM–”
“BUT IN CALIFORNIA ONE NEVER HEARD–”
Eleven of them. They initialed the brief divisions of the
lecture and protected me against skipping. But they all looked
about alike on the page; they formed no picture; I had them by
heart, but I could never with certainty remember the order of
their succession; therefore I always had to keep those notes by
me and look at them every little while. Once I mislaid them; you
will not be able to imagine the terrors of that evening. I now
saw that I must invent some other protection. So I got ten of
the initial letters by heart in their proper order–I, A, B, and
so on–and I went on the platform the next night with these
marked in ink on my ten finger-nails. But it didn’t answer. I
kept track of the figures for a while; then I lost it, and after
that I was never quite sure which finger I had used last. I
couldn’t lick off a letter after using it, for while that would
have made success certain it also would have provoked too much
curiosity. There was curiosity enough without that. To the
audience I seemed more interested in my fingernails than I was in
my subject; one or two persons asked me afterward what was the
matter with my hands.
It was now that the idea of pictures occurred to me; then my
troubles passed away. In two minutes I made six pictures with a
pen, and they did the work of the eleven catch-sentences, and did
it perfectly. I threw the pictures away as soon as they were
made, for I was sure I could shut my eyes and see them any time.
That was a quarter of a century ago; the lecture vanished out of
my head more than twenty years ago, but I would rewrite it from
the pictures–for they remain. Here are three of them: (Fig. 1).
The first one is a haystack–below it a rattlesnake–and it
told me where to begin to talk ranch-life in Carson Valley. The
second one told me where to begin the talk about a strange and
violent wind that used to burst upon Carson City from the Sierra
Nevadas every afternoon at two o’clock and try to blow the town
away. The third picture, as you easily perceive, is lightning;
its duty was to remind me when it was time to begin to talk about
San Francisco weather, where there IS no lightning–nor thunder,
either–and it never failed me.
I will give you a valuable hint. When a man is making a
speech and you are to follow him don’t jot down notes to speak
from, jot down PICTURES. It is awkward and embarrassing to have
to keep referring to notes; and besides it breaks up your speech
and makes it ragged and non-coherent; but you can tear up your
pictures as soon as you have made them–they will stay fresh and
strong in your memory in the order and sequence in which you
scratched them down. And many will admire to see what a good
memory you are furnished with, when perhaps your memory is not
any better than mine.
Sixteen years ago when my children were little creatures the
governess was trying to hammer some primer histories into their
heads. Part of this fun–if you like to call it that–consisted
in the memorizing of the accession dates of the thirty-seven
personages who had ruled England from the Conqueror down. These
little people found it a bitter, hard contract. It was all
dates, and all looked alike, and they wouldn’t stick. Day after
day of the summer vacation dribbled by, and still the kings held
the fort; the children couldn’t conquer any six of them.
With my lecture experience in mind I was aware that I could
invent some way out of the trouble with pictures, but I hoped a
way could be found which would let them romp in the open air
while they learned the kings. I found it, and they mastered
all the monarchs in a day or two.
The idea was to make them SEE the reigns with their eyes;
that would be a large help. We were at the farm then. From the
house-porch the grounds sloped gradually down to the lower fence
and rose on the right to the high ground where my small work-den
stood. A carriage-road wound through the grounds and up the
hill. I staked it out with the English monarchs, beginning with
the Conqueror, and you could stand on the porch and clearly see
every reign and its length, from the Conquest down to Victoria,
then in the forty-sixth year of her reign–EIGHT HUNDRED AND
SEVENTEEN YEARS OF English history under your eye at once!
English history was an unusually live topic in America just
then. The world had suddenly realized that while it was not
noticing the Queen had passed Henry VIII., passed Henry VI. and
Elizabeth, and gaining in length every day. Her reign had
entered the list of the long ones; everybody was interested now–
it was watching a race. Would she pass the long Edward? There
was a possibility of it. Would she pass the long Henry?
Doubtful, most people said. The long George? Impossible!
Everybody said it. But we have lived to see her leave him two
I measured off 817 feet of the roadway, a foot representing
a year, and at the beginning and end of each reign I drove a
three-foot white-pine stake in the turf by the roadside and wrote
the name and dates on it. Abreast the middle of the porch-front
stood a great granite flower-vase overflowing with a cataract of
bright-yellow flowers–I can’t think of their name. The vase of
William the Conqueror. We put his name on it and his accession
date, 1066. We started from that and measured off twenty-one
feet of the road, and drove William Rufus’s state; then thirteen
feet and drove the first Henry’s stake; then thirty-five feet and
drove Stephen’s; then nineteen feet, which brought us just past
the summer-house on the left; then we staked out thirty-five,
ten, and seventeen for the second Henry and Richard and John;
turned the curve and entered upon just what was needed for Henry
III.–a level, straight stretch of fifty-six feet of road without
a crinkle in it. And it lay exactly in front of the house, in
the middle of the grounds. There couldn’t have been a better
place for that long reign; you could stand on the porch and see
those two wide-apart stakes almost with your eyes shut. (Fig. 2.)
That isn’t the shape of the road–I have bunched it up like
that to save room. The road had some great curves in it, but
their gradual sweep was such that they were no mar to history.
No, in our road one could tell at a glance who was who by the size
of the vacancy between stakes–with LOCALITY to help, of course.
Although I am away off here in a Swedish village  and
those stakes did not stand till the snow came, I can see them
today as plainly as ever; and whenever I think of an English
monarch his stakes rise before me of their own accord and I
notice the large or small space which he takes up on our road.
Are your kings spaced off in your mind? When you think of
Richard III. and of James II. do the durations of their reigns
seem about alike to you? It isn’t so to me; I always notice that
there’s a foot’s difference. When you think of Henry III. do you
see a great long stretch of straight road? I do; and just at the
end where it joins on to Edward I. I always see a small pear-bush
with its green fruit hanging down. When I think of the
Commonwealth I see a shady little group of these small saplings
which we called the oak parlor; when I think of George III. I see
him stretching up the hill, part of him occupied by a flight of
stone steps; and I can locate Stephen to an inch when he comes
into my mind, for he just filled the stretch which went by the
summer-house. Victoria’s reign reached almost to my study door
on the first little summit; there’s sixteen feet to be added now;
I believe that that would carry it to a big pine-tree that was
shattered by some lightning one summer when it was trying to hit me.
We got a good deal of fun out of the history road; and
exercise, too. We trotted the course from the conqueror to the
study, the children calling out the names, dates, and length of
reigns as we passed the stakes, going a good gait along the long
reigns, but slowing down when we came upon people like Mary and
Edward VI., and the short Stuart and Plantagenet, to give time to
get in the statistics. I offered prizes, too–apples. I threw
one as far as I could send it, and the child that first shouted
the reign it fell in got the apple.
The children were encouraged to stop locating things as
being “over by the arbor,” or “in the oak parlor,” or “up at the
stone steps,” and say instead that the things were in Stephen, or
in the Commonwealth, or in George III. They got the habit
without trouble. To have the long road mapped out with such
exactness was a great boon for me, for I had the habit of leaving
books and other articles lying around everywhere, and had not
previously been able to definitely name the place, and so had
often been obliged to go to fetch them myself, to save time and
failure; but now I could name the reign I left them in, and send
Next I thought I would measure off the French reigns, and
peg them alongside the English ones, so that we could always have
contemporaneous French history under our eyes as we went our
English rounds. We pegged them down to the Hundred Years’ War,
then threw the idea aside, I do not now remember why. After that
we made the English pegs fence in European and American history
as well as English, and that answered very well. English and
alien poets, statesmen, artists, heroes, battles, plagues,
cataclysms, revolutions–we shoveled them all into the English
fences according to their dates. Do you understand? We gave
Washington’s birth to George II.’s pegs and his death to George
III.’s; George II. got the Lisbon earthquake and George III. the
Declaration of Independence. Goethe, Shakespeare, Napoleon,
Savonarola, Joan of Arc, the French Revolution, the Edict of
Nantes, Clive, Wellington, Waterloo, Plassey, Patay, Cowpens,
Saratoga, the Battle of the Boyne, the invention of the
logarithms, the microscope, the steam-engine, the telegraph–
anything and everything all over the world–we dumped it all
in among the English pegs according to it date and regardless
of its nationality.
If the road-pegging scheme had not succeeded I should have
lodged the kings in the children’s heads by means of pictures–
that is, I should have tried. It might have failed, for the
pictures could only be effective WHEN MADE BY THE PUPIL; not the
master, for it is the work put upon the drawing that makes the
drawing stay in the memory, and my children were too little to make
drawings at that time. And, besides, they had no talent for art,
which is strange, for in other ways they are like me.
But I will develop the picture plan now, hoping that you will
be able to use it. It will come good for indoors when the
weather is bad and one cannot go outside and peg a road. Let us
imagine that the kings are a procession, and that they have come
out of the Ark and down Ararat for exercise and are now starting
back again up the zigzag road. This will bring several of them
into view at once, and each zigzag will represent the length of
a king’s reign.
And so on. You will have plenty of space, for by my project
you will use the parlor wall. You do not mark on the wall; that
would cause trouble. You only attach bits of paper to it with
pins or thumb-tacks. These will leave no mark.
Take your pen now, and twenty-one pieces of white paper,
each two inches square, and we will do the twenty-one years of
the Conqueror’s reign. On each square draw a picture of a whale
and write the dates and term of service. We choose the whale for
several reasons: its name and William’s begin with the same
letter; it is the biggest fish that swims, and William is the
most conspicuous figure in English history in the way of a
landmark; finally, a whale is about the easiest thing to draw.
By the time you have drawn twenty-one wales and written “William
I.–1066-1087–twenty-one years” twenty-one times, those details
will be your property; you cannot dislodge them from your memory
with anything but dynamite. I will make a sample for you to copy:
I have got his chin up too high, but that is no matter; he
is looking for Harold. It may be that a whale hasn’t that fin up
there on his back, but I do not remember; and so, since there is
a doubt, it is best to err on the safe side. He looks better,
anyway, than he would without it.
Be very careful and ATTENTIVE while you are drawing your
first whale from my sample and writing the word and figures under
it, so that you will not need to copy the sample any more.
Compare your copy with the sample; examine closely; if you find
you have got everything right and can shut your eyes and see the
picture and call the words and figures, then turn the sample and
copy upside down and make the next copy from memory; and also the
next and next, and so on, always drawing and writing from memory
until you have finished the whole twenty-one. This will take you
twenty minutes, or thirty, and by that time you will find that
you can make a whale in less time than an unpracticed person can
make a sardine; also, up to the time you die you will always be
able to furnish William’s dates to any ignorant person that
inquires after them.
You will now take thirteen pieces of BLUE paper, each two
inches square, and do William II. (Fig. 4.)
Make him spout his water forward instead of backward; also
make him small, and stick a harpoon in him and give him that sick
look in the eye. Otherwise you might seem to be continuing the
other William, and that would be confusing and a damage. It is
quite right to make him small; he was only about a No. 11 whale,
or along there somewhere; there wasn’t room in him for his
father’s great spirit. The barb of that harpoon ought not to
show like that, because it is down inside the whale and ought to
be out of sight, but it cannot be helped; if the barb were
removed people would think some one had stuck a whip-stock into
the whale. It is best to leave the barb the way it is, then
every one will know it is a harpoon and attending to business.
Remember–draw from the copy only once; make your other twelve
and the inscription from memory.
Now the truth is that whenever you have copied a picture and
its inscription once from my sample and two or three times from
memory the details will stay with you and be hard to forget.
After that, if you like, you may make merely the whale’s HEAD and
WATER-SPOUT for the Conqueror till you end his reign, each time
SAYING the inscription in place of writing it; and in the case of
William II. make the HARPOON alone, and say over the inscription
each time you do it. You see, it will take nearly twice as long
to do the first set as it will to do the second, and that will
give you a marked sense of the difference in length of the two reigns.
Next do Henry I. on thirty-five squares of RED paper.
That is a hen, and suggests Henry by furnishing the first syllable.
When you have repeated the hen and the inscription until you are
perfectly sure of them, draw merely the hen’s head the rest of the
thirty-five times, saying over the inscription each time. Thus:
You begin to understand how how this procession is going to
look when it is on the wall. First there will be the Conqueror’s
twenty-one whales and water-spouts, the twenty-one white squares
joined to one another and making a white stripe three and one-
half feet long; the thirteen blue squares of William II. will be
joined to that–a blue stripe two feet, two inches long, followed
by Henry’s red stripe five feet, ten inches long, and so on. The
colored divisions will smartly show to the eye the difference in
the length of the reigns and impress the proportions on the
memory and the understanding. (Fig. 7.)
Stephen of Blois comes next. He requires nineteen two-inch
squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 8.)
That is a steer. The sound suggests the beginning of
Stephen’s name. I choose it for that reason. I can make a
better steer than that when I am not excited. But this one will
do. It is a good-enough steer for history. The tail is
defective, but it only wants straightening out.
Next comes Henry II. Give him thirty-five squares of RED paper.
These hens must face west, like the former ones. (Fig. 9.)
This hen differs from the other one. He is on his way to
inquire what has been happening in Canterbury.
How we arrive at Richard I., called Richard of the Lion-
heart because he was a brave fighter and was never so contented
as when he was leading crusades in Palestine and neglecting his
affairs at home. Give him ten squares of WHITE paper. (Fig. 10).
That is a lion. His office is to remind you of the lion-
hearted Richard. There is something the matter with his legs,
but I do not quite know what it is, they do not seem right.
I think the hind ones are the most unsatisfactory; the front
ones are well enough, though it would be better if they were
rights and lefts.
Next comes King John, and he was a poor circumstance.
He was called Lackland. He gave his realm to the Pope.
Let him have seventeen squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 11.)
That creature is a jamboree. It looks like a trademark, but
that is only an accident and not intentional. It is prehistoric
and extinct. It used to roam the earth in the Old Silurian
times, and lay eggs and catch fish and climb trees and live on
fossils; for it was of a mixed breed, which was the fashion then.
It was very fierce, and the Old Silurians were afraid of it, but
this is a tame one. Physically it has no representative now, but
its mind has been transmitted. First I drew it sitting down, but
have turned it the other way now because I think it looks more
attractive and spirited when one end of it is galloping. I love
to think that in this attitude it gives us a pleasant idea of
John coming all in a happy excitement to see what the barons have
been arranging for him at Runnymede, while the other one gives us
an idea of him sitting down to wring his hands and grieve over it.
We now come to Henry III.; RED squares again, of course–
fifty-six of them. We must make all the Henrys the same color;
it will make their long reigns show up handsomely on the wall.
Among all the eight Henrys there were but two short ones. A
lucky name, as far as longevity goes. The reigns of six of the
Henrys cover 227 years. It might have been well to name all the
royal princes Henry, but this was overlooked until it was too late.
This is the best one yet. He is on his way (1265) to have a
look at the first House of Commons in English history. It was a
monumental event, the situation in the House, and was the second
great liberty landmark which the century had set up. I have made
Henry looking glad, but this was not intentional.
Edward I. comes next; LIGHT-BROWN paper, thirty-five squares.
That is an editor. He is trying to think of a word. He
props his feet on a chair, which is the editor’s way; then he can
think better. I do not care much for this one; his ears are not
alike; still, editor suggests the sound of Edward, and he will
do. I could make him better if I had a model, but I made this
one from memory. But is no particular matter; they all look
alike, anyway. They are conceited and troublesome, and don’t pay
enough. Edward was the first really English king that had yet
occupied the throne. The editor in the picture probably looks
just as Edward looked when it was first borne in upon him that
this was so. His whole attitude expressed gratification and
pride mixed with stupefaction and astonishment.
Edward II. now; twenty BLUE squares. (Fig. 14.)
Another editor. That thing behind his ear is his pencil.
Whenever he finds a bright thing in your manuscript he strikes it
out with that. That does him good, and makes him smile and show
his teeth, the way he is doing in the picture. This one has just
been striking out a smart thing, and now he is sitting there with
his thumbs in his vest-holes, gloating. They are full of envy
and malice, editors are. This picture will serve to remind you
that Edward II. was the first English king who was DEPOSED. Upon
demand, he signed his deposition himself. He had found kingship
a most aggravating and disagreeable occupation, and you can see
by the look of him that he is glad he resigned. He has put his
blue pencil up for good now. He had struck out many a good thing
with it in his time.
Edward III. next; fifty RED squares. (Fig. 15.)
This editor is a critic. He has pulled out his carving-
knife and his tomahawk and is starting after a book which he is
going to have for breakfast. This one’s arms are put on wrong.
I did not notice it at first, but I see it now. Somehow he has
got his right arm on his left shoulder, and his left arm on his
right shoulder, and this shows us the back of his hands in both
instances. It makes him left-handed all around, which is a thing
which has never happened before, except perhaps in a museum.
That is the way with art, when it is not acquired but born to
you: you start in to make some simple little thing, not
suspecting that your genius is beginning to work and swell and
strain in secret, and all of a sudden there is a convulsion and
you fetch out something astonishing. This is called inspiration.
It is an accident; you never know when it is coming. I might
have tried as much as a year to think of such a strange thing as
an all-around left-handed man and I could not have done it, for
the more you try to think of an unthinkable thing the more it
eludes you; but it can’t elude inspiration; you have only to bait
with inspiration and you will get it every time. Look at
Botticelli’s “Spring.” Those snaky women were unthinkable, but
inspiration secured them for us, thanks to goodness. It is too
late to reorganize this editor-critic now; we will leave him as
he is. He will serve to remind us.
Richard II. next; twenty-two WHITE squares. (Fig. 16.)
We use the lion again because this is another Richard. Like
Edward II., he was DEPOSED. He is taking a last sad look at his
crown before they take it away. There was not room enough and I
have made it too small; but it never fitted him, anyway.
Now we turn the corner of the century with a new line of
monarchs–the Lancastrian kings.
Henry IV.; fourteen squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 17.)
This hen has laid the egg of a new dynasty and realizes the
magnitude of the event. She is giving notice in the usual way.
You notice I am improving in the construction of hens. At first
I made them too much like other animals, but this one is
orthodox. I mention this to encourage you. You will find that
the more you practice the more accurate you will become. I could
always draw animals, but before I was educated I could not tell
what kind they were when I got them done, but now I can. Keep up
your courage; it will be the same with you, although you may not
think it. This Henry died the year after Joan of Arc was born.
Henry V.; nine BLUE squares. (Fig. 18)
There you see him lost in meditation over the monument which
records the amazing figures of the battle of Agincourt. French
history says 20,000 Englishmen routed 80,000 Frenchmen there; and
English historians say that the French loss, in killed and
wounded, was 60,000.
Henry VI.; thirty-nine RED squares. (Fig. 19)
This is poor Henry VI., who reigned long and scored many
misfortunes and humiliations. Also two great disasters: he lost
France to Joan of Arc and he lost the throne and ended the
dynasty which Henry IV. had started in business with such good
prospects. In the picture we see him sad and weary and downcast,
with the scepter falling from his nerveless grasp. It is a
pathetic quenching of a sun which had risen in such splendor.
Edward IV.; twenty-two LIGHT-BROWN squares. (Fig. 20.)
That is a society editor, sitting there elegantly dressed,
with his legs crossed in that indolent way, observing the clothes
the ladies wear, so that he can describe them for his paper and
make them out finer than they are and get bribes for it and
become wealthy. That flower which he is wearing in his
buttonhole is a rose–a white rose, a York rose–and will serve
to remind us of the War of the Roses, and that the white one was
the winning color when Edward got the throne and dispossessed the
Edward V.; one-third of a BLACK square. (Fig. 21.)
His uncle Richard had him murdered in the tower. When you
get the reigns displayed upon the wall this one will be
conspicuous and easily remembered. It is the shortest one in
English history except Lady Jane Grey’s, which was only nine
days. She is never officially recognized as a monarch of
England, but if you or I should ever occupy a throne we should
like to have proper notice taken of it; and it would be only fair
and right, too, particularly if we gained nothing by it and lost
our lives besides.
Richard III.; two WHITE squares. (Fig. 22.)
That is not a very good lion, but Richard was not a very
good king. You would think that this lion has two heads, but
that is not so; one is only a shadow. There would be shadows for
the rest of him, but there was not light enough to go round, it
being a dull day, with only fleeting sun-glimpses now and then.
Richard had a humped back and a hard heart, and fell at the
battle of Bosworth. I do not know the name of that flower in the
pot, but we will use it as Richard’s trade-mark, for it is said
that it grows in only one place in the world–Bosworth Field–and
tradition says it never grew there until Richard’s royal blood
warmed its hidden seed to life and made it grow.
Henry VII.; twenty-four BLUE squares. (Fig. 23.)
Henry VII. had no liking for wars and turbulence; he
preferred peace and quiet and the general prosperity which such
conditions create. He liked to sit on that kind of eggs on his
own private account as well as the nation’s, and hatch them out
and count up their result. When he died he left his heir
2,000,000 pounds, which was a most unusual fortune for a king to
possess in those days. Columbus’s great achievement gave him the
discovery-fever, and he sent Sebastian Cabot to the New World to
search out some foreign territory for England. That is Cabot’s
ship up there in the corner. This was the first time that
England went far abroad to enlarge her estate–but not the last.
Henry VIII.; thirty-eight RED squares. (Fig. 24.)
That is Henry VIII. suppressing a monastery in his arrogant fashion.
Edward VI.; six squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 25.)
He is the last Edward to date. It is indicated by that
thing over his head, which is a LAST–shoemaker’s last.
Mary; five squares of BLACK paper. (Fig. 26.)
The picture represents a burning martyr. He is in back of
the smoke. The first three letters of Mary’s name and the first
three of the word martyr are the same. Martyrdom was going out
in her day and martyrs were becoming scarcer, but she made
several. For this reason she is sometimes called Bloody Mary.
This brings us to the reign of Elizabeth, after passing
through a period of nearly five hundred years of England’s
history–492 to be exact. I think you may now be trusted to go
the rest of the way without further lessons in art or
inspirations in the matter of ideas. You have the scheme now,
and something in the ruler’s name or career will suggest the
pictorial symbol. The effort of inventing such things will not
only help your memory, but will develop originality in art. See
what it has done for me. If you do not find the parlor wall big
enough for all of England’s history, continue it into the dining-
room and into other rooms. This will make the walls interesting
and instructive and really worth something instead of being just
flat things to hold the house together.
1. Summer of 1899.
THE MEMORABLE ASSASSINATION
Note.–The assassination of the Empress of Austria at
Geneva, September 10, 1898, occurred during Mark Twain’s Austrian
residence. The news came to him at Kaltenleutgeben, a summer
resort a little way out of Vienna. To his friend, the Rev. Jos.
H. Twichell, he wrote:
“That good and unoffending lady, the Empress, is killed by a
madman, and I am living in the midst of world-history again. The
Queen’s Jubilee last year, the invasion of the Reichsrath by the
police, and now this murder, which will still be talked of and
described and painted a thousand a thousand years from now. To
have a personal friend of the wearer of two crowns burst in at
the gate in the deep dusk of the evening and say, in a voice
broken with tears, ‘My God! the Empress is murdered,’ and fly
toward her home before we can utter a question–why, it brings
the giant event home to you, makes you a part of it and
personally interested; it is as if your neighbor, Antony, should
come flying and say, ‘Caesar is butchered–the head of the world
“Of course there is no talk but of this. The mourning is
universal and genuine, the consternation is stupefying. The
Austrian Empire is being draped with black. Vienna will be a
spectacle to see by next Saturday, when the funeral cort`ege
He was strongly moved by the tragedy, impelled to write
concerning it. He prepared the article which follows, but did
not offer it for publication, perhaps feeling that his own close
association with the court circles at the moment prohibited this
personal utterance. There appears no such reason for withholding
its publication now.
A. B. P.
The more one thinks of the assassination, the more imposing
and tremendous the event becomes. The destruction of a city is a
large event, but it is one which repeats itself several times in
a thousand years; the destruction of a third part of a nation by
plague and famine is a large event, but it has happened several
times in history; the murder of a king is a large event, but it
has been frequent.
The murder of an empress is the largest of all events. One
must go back about two thousand years to find an instance to put
with this one. The oldest family of unchallenged descent in
Christendom lives in Rome and traces its line back seventeen
hundred years, but no member of it has been present in the earth
when an empress was murdered, until now. Many a time during
these seventeen centuries members of that family have been
startled with the news of extraordinary events–the destruction
of cities, the fall of thrones, the murder of kings, the wreck of
dynasties, the extinction of religions, the birth of new systems
of government; and their descendants have been by to hear of it
and talk about it when all these things were repeated once,
twice, or a dozen times–but to even that family has come news at
last which is not staled by use, has no duplicates in the long
reach of its memory.
It is an event which confers a curious distinction upon
every individual now living in the world: he has stood alive and
breathing in the presence of an event such as has not fallen
within the experience of any traceable or untraceable ancestor of
his for twenty centuries, and it is not likely to fall within the
experience of any descendant of his for twenty more.
Time has made some great changes since the Roman days. The
murder of an empress then–even the assassination of Caesar
himself–could not electrify the world as this murder has
electrified it. For one reason, there was then not much of a
world to electrify; it was a small world, as to known bulk, and
it had rather a thin population, besides; and for another reason,
the news traveled so slowly that its tremendous initial thrill
wasted away, week by week and month by month, on the journey, and
by the time it reached the remoter regions there was but little
of it left. It was no longer a fresh event, it was a thing of
the far past; it was not properly news, it was history. But the
world is enormous now, and prodigiously populated–that is one
change; and another is the lightning swiftness of the flight of
tidings, good and bad. “The Empress is murdered!” When those
amazing words struck upon my ear in this Austrian village last
Saturday, three hours after the disaster, I knew that it was
already old news in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, San
Francisco, Japan, China, Melbourne, Cape Town, Bombay, Madras,
Calcutta, and that the entire globe with a single voice, was
cursing the perpetrator of it. Since the telegraph first began
to stretch itself wider and wider about the earth, larger and
increasingly larger areas of the world have, as time went on,
received simultaneously the shock of a great calamity; but this
is the first time in history that the entire surface of the globe
has been swept in a single instant with the thrill of so gigantic
And who is the miracle-worker who has furnished to the world
this spectacle? All the ironies are compacted in the answer. He
is at the bottom of the human ladder, as the accepted estimates
of degree and value go: a soiled and patched young loafer,
without gifts, without talents, without education, without
morals, without character, without any born charm or any acquired
one that wins or beguiles or attracts; without a single grace of
mind or heart or hand that any tramp or prostitute could envy
him; an unfaithful private in the ranks, an incompetent stone-
cutter, an inefficient lackey; in a word, a mangy, offensive,
empty, unwashed, vulgar, gross, mephitic, timid, sneaking, human
polecat. And it was within the privileges and powers of this
sarcasm upon the human race to reach up–up–up–and strike from
its far summit in the social skies the world’s accepted ideal of
Glory and Might and Splendor and Sacredness! It realizes to us
what sorry shows and shadows we are. Without our clothes and our
pedestals we are poor things and much of a size; our dignities
are not real, our pomps are shams. At our best and stateliest we
are not suns, as we pretended, and teach, and believe, but only
candles; and any bummer can blow us out.
And now we get realized to us once more another thing which
we often forget–or try to: that no man has a wholly undiseased
mind; that in one way or another all men are mad. Many are mad
for money. When this madness is in a mild form it is harmless
and the man passes for sane; but when it develops powerfully and
takes possession of the man, it can make him cheat, rob, and
kill; and when he has got his fortune and lost it again it can
land him in the asylum or the suicide’s coffin. Love is a
madness; if thwarted it develops fast; it can grow to a frenzy of
despair and make an otherwise sane and highly gifted prince, like
Rudolph, throw away the crown of an empire and snuff out his own
life. All the whole list of desires, predilections, aversions,
ambitions, passions, cares, griefs, regrets, remorses, are
incipient madness, and ready to grow, spread, and consume, when
the occasion comes. There are no healthy minds, and nothing
saves any man but accident–the accident of not having his malady
put to the supreme test.
One of the commonest forms of madness is the desire to be
noticed, the pleasure derived from being noticed. Perhaps it is
not merely common, but universal. In its mildest form it
doubtless is universal. Every child is pleased at being noticed;
many intolerable children put in their whole time in distressing
and idiotic effort to attract the attention of visitors; boys are
always “showing off”; apparently all men and women are glad and
grateful when they find that they have done a thing which has
lifted them for a moment out of obscurity and caused wondering
talk. This common madness can develop, by nurture, into a hunger
for notoriety in one, for fame in another. It is this madness
for being noticed and talked about which has invented kingship
and the thousand other dignities, and tricked them out with
pretty and showy fineries; it has made kings pick one another’s
pockets, scramble for one another’s crowns and estates, slaughter
one another’s subjects; it has raised up prize-fighters, and
poets, and villages mayors, and little and big politicians, and
big and little charity-founders, and bicycle champions, and
banditti chiefs, and frontier desperadoes, and Napoleons.
Anything to get notoriety; anything to set the village, or the
township, or the city, or the State, or the nation, or the planet
shouting, “Look–there he goes–that is the man!” And in five
minutes’ time, at no cost of brain, or labor, or genius this
mangy Italian tramp has beaten them all, transcended them all,
outstripped them all, for in time their names will perish; but by
the friendly help of the insane newspapers and courts and kings
and historians, his is safe and live and thunder in the world all
down the ages as long as human speech shall endure! Oh, if it
were not so tragic how ludicrous it would be!
She was so blameless, the Empress; and so beautiful, in mind
and heart, in person and spirit; and whether with a crown upon
her head or without it and nameless, a grace to the human race,
and almost a justification of its creation; WOULD be, indeed, but
that the animal that struck her down re-establishes the doubt.
In her character was every quality that in woman invites and
engages respect, esteem, affection, and homage. Her tastes, her
instincts, and her aspirations were all high and fine and all her
life her heart and brain were busy with activities of a noble
sort. She had had bitter griefs, but they did not sour her
spirit, and she had had the highest honors in the world’s gift,
but she went her simple way unspoiled. She knew all ranks, and
won them all, and made them her friends. An English fisherman’s
wife said, “When a body was in trouble she didn’t send her help,
she brought it herself.” Crowns have adorned others, but she
adorned her crowns.
It was a swift celebrity the assassin achieved. And it is
marked by some curious contrasts. At noon last, Saturday there
was no one in the world who would have considered
acquaintanceship with him a thing worth claiming or mentioning;
no one would have been vain of such an acquaintanceship; the
humblest honest boot-black would not have valued the fact that he
had met him or seen him at some time or other; he was sunk in
abysmal obscurity, he was away beneath the notice of the bottom
grades of officialdom. Three hours later he was the one subject
of conversation in the world, the gilded generals and admirals
and governors were discussing him, all the kings and queens and
emperors had put aside their other interests to talk about him.
And wherever there was a man, at the summit of the world or the
bottom of it, who by chance had at some time or other come across
that creature, he remembered it with a secret satisfaction, and
MENTIONED it–for it was a distinction, now! It brings human
dignity pretty low, and for a moment the thing is not quite
realizable–but it is perfectly true. If there is a king who can
remember, now, that he once saw that creature in a time past, he
has let that fact out, in a more or less studiedly casual and
indifferent way, some dozens of times during the past week. For
a king is merely human; the inside of him is exactly like the
inside of any other person; and it is human to find satisfaction
in being in a kind of personal way connected with amazing events.
We are all privately vain of such a thing; we are all alike; a
king is a king by accident; the reason the rest of us are not
kings is merely due to another accident; we are all made out of
the same clay, and it is a sufficient poor quality.
Below the kings, these remarks are in the air these days; I
know it well as if I were hearing them:
THE COMMANDER: “He was in my army.”
THE GENERAL: “He was in my corps.”
THE COLONEL: “He was in my regiment. A brute. I remember
THE CAPTAIN: “He was in my company. A troublesome
scoundrel. I remember him well.”
THE SERGEANT: “Did I know him? As well as I know you.
Why, every morning I used to–” etc., etc.; a glad, long story,
told to devouring ears.
THE LANDLADY: “Many’s the time he boarded with me. I can
show you his very room, and the very bed he slept in. And the
charcoal mark there on the wall–he made that. My little Johnny
saw him do it with his own eyes. Didn’t you, Johnny?”
It is easy to see, by the papers, that the magistrate and
the constables and the jailer treasure up the assassin’s daily
remarks and doings as precious things, and as wallowing this week
in seas of blissful distinction. The interviewer, too; he tried
to let on that he is not vain of his privilege of contact with
this man whom few others are allowed to gaze upon, but he is
human, like the rest, and can no more keep his vanity corked in
than could you or I.
Some think that this murder is a frenzied revolt against the
criminal militarism which is impoverishing Europe and driving the
starving poor mad. That has many crimes to answer for, but not
this one, I think. One may not attribute to this man a generous
indignation against the wrongs done the poor; one may not dignify
him with a generous impulse of any kind. When he saw his
photograph and said, “I shall be celebrated,” he laid bare the
impulse that prompted him. It was a mere hunger for notoriety.
There is another confessed case of the kind which is as old as
history–the burning of the temple of Ephesus.
Among the inadequate attempts to account for the
assassination we must concede high rank to the many which have
described it as a “peculiarly brutal crime” and then added that
it was “ordained from above.” I think this verdict will not be
popular “above.” If the deed was ordained from above, there is
no rational way of making this prisoner even partially
responsible for it, and the Genevan court cannot condemn him
without manifestly committing a crime. Logic is logic, and by
disregarding its laws even the most pious and showy theologian
may be beguiled into preferring charges which should not be
ventured upon except in the shelter of plenty of lightning-rods.
I witnessed the funeral procession, in company with friends,
from the windows of the Krantz, Vienna’s sumptuous new hotel. We
came into town in the middle of the forenoon, and I went on foot
from the station. Black flags hung down from all the houses; the
aspects were Sunday-like; the crowds on the sidewalks were quiet
and moved slowly; very few people were smoking; many ladies wore
deep mourning, gentlemen were in black as a rule; carriages were
speeding in all directions, with footmen and coachmen in black
clothes and wearing black cocked hats; the shops were closed; in
many windows were pictures of the Empress: as a beautiful young
bride of seventeen; as a serene and majestic lady with added
years; and finally in deep black and without ornaments–the
costume she always wore after the tragic death of her son nine
years ago, for her heart broke then, and life lost almost all its
value for her. The people stood grouped before these pictures,
and now and then one saw women and girls turn away wiping the
tears from their eyes.
In front of the Krantz is an open square; over the way was
the church where the funeral services would be held. It is small
and old and severely plain, plastered outside and whitewashed or
painted, and with no ornament but a statue of a monk in a niche
over the door, and above that a small black flag. But in its
crypt lie several of the great dead of the House of Habsburg,
among them Maria Theresa and Napoleon’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt.
Hereabouts was a Roman camp, once, and in it the Emperor Marcus
Aurelius died a thousand years before the first Habsburg ruled
in Vienna, which was six hundred years ago and more.
The little church is packed in among great modern stores and
houses, and the windows of them were full of people. Behind the
vast plate-glass windows of the upper floors of the house on the
corner one glimpsed terraced masses of fine-clothed men and
women, dim and shimmery, like people under water. Under us the
square was noiseless, but it was full of citizens; officials in
fine uniforms were flitting about on errands, and in a doorstep
sat a figure in the uttermost raggedness of poverty, the feet
bare, the head bent humbly down; a youth of eighteen or twenty,
he was, and through the field-glass one could see that he was
tearing apart and munching riffraff that he had gathered
somewhere. Blazing uniforms flashed by him, making a sparkling
contrast with his drooping ruin of moldy rags, but he took not
notice; he was not there to grieve for a nation’s disaster; he
had his own cares, and deeper. From two directions two long
files of infantry came plowing through the pack and press in
silence; there was a low, crisp order and the crowd vanished, the
square save the sidewalks was empty, the private mourner was
gone. Another order, the soldiers fell apart and enclosed the
square in a double-ranked human fence. It was all so swift,
noiseless, exact–like a beautifully ordered machine.
It was noon, now. Two hours of stillness and waiting
followed. Then carriages began to flow past and deliver the two
and three hundred court personages and high nobilities privileged
to enter the church. Then the square filled up; not with
civilians, but with army and navy officers in showy and beautiful
uniforms. They filled it compactly, leaving only a narrow
carriage path in front of the church, but there was no civilian
among them. And it was better so; dull clothes would have marred
the radiant spectacle. In the jam in front of the church, on its
steps, and on the sidewalk was a bunch of uniforms which made a
blazing splotch of color–intense red, gold, and white–which
dimmed the brilliancies around them; and opposite them on the
other side of the path was a bunch of cascaded bright-green
plumes above pale-blue shoulders which made another splotch of
splendor emphatic and conspicuous in its glowing surroundings.
It was a sea of flashing color all about, but these two groups
were the high notes. The green plumes were worn by forty or
fifty Austrian generals, the group opposite them were chiefly
Knights of Malta and knights of a German order. The mass of
heads in the square were covered by gilt helmets and by military
caps roofed with a mirror-like gaze, and the movements of the
wearers caused these things to catch the sun-rays, and the effect
was fine to see–the square was like a garden of richly colored
flowers with a multitude of blinding and flashing little suns
distributed over it.
Think of it–it was by command of that Italian loafer yonder
on his imperial throne in the Geneva prison that this splendid
multitude was assembled there; and the kings and emperors that
were entering the church from a side street were there by his will.
It is so strange, so unrealizable.
At three o’clock the carriages were still streaming by in
single file. At three-five a cardinal arrives with his
attendants; later some bishops; then a number of archdeacons–all
in striking colors that add to the show. At three-ten a
procession of priests passed along, with crucifix. Another one,
presently; after an interval, two more; at three-fifty another
one–very long, with many crosses, gold-embroidered robes, and
much white lace; also great pictured banners, at intervals,
receding into the distance.
A hum of tolling bells makes itself heard, but not sharply.
At three-fifty-eight a waiting interval. Presently a long
procession of gentlemen in evening dress comes in sight and
approaches until it is near to the square, then falls back
against the wall of soldiers at the sidewalk, and the white
shirt-fronts show like snowflakes and are very conspicuous where
so much warm color is all about.
A waiting pause. At four-twelve the head of the funeral
procession comes into view at last. First, a body of cavalry,
four abreast, to widen the path. Next, a great body of lancers,
in blue, with gilt helmets. Next, three six-horse mourning-
coaches; outriders and coachmen in black, with cocked hats and
white wigs. Next, troops in splendid uniforms, red, gold, and
white, exceedingly showy.
Now the multitude uncover. The soldiers present arms; there
is a low rumble of drums; the sumptuous great hearse approaches,
drawn at a walk by eight black horses plumed with black bunches
of nodding ostrich feathers; the coffin is borne into the church,
the doors are closed.
The multitude cover their heads, and the rest of the
procession moves by; first the Hungarian Guard in their
indescribably brilliant and picturesque and beautiful uniform,
inherited from the ages of barbaric splendor, and after them
other mounted forces, a long and showy array.
Then the shining crown in the square crumbled apart, a
wrecked rainbow, and melted away in radiant streams, and in the
turn of a wrist the three dirtiest and raggedest and cheerfulest
little slum-girls in Austria were capering about in the spacious
vacancy. It was a day of contrasts.
Twice the Empress entered Vienna in state. The first time
was in 1854, when she was a bride of seventeen, and then she rode
in measureless pomp and with blare of music through a fluttering
world of gay flags and decorations, down streets walled on both
hands with a press of shouting and welcoming subjects; and the
second time was last Wednesday, when she entered the city in her
coffin and moved down the same streets in the dead of the night
under swaying black flags, between packed human walls again; but
everywhere was a deep stillness, now–a stillness emphasized,
rather than broken, by the muffled hoofbeats of the long
cavalcade over pavements cushioned with sand, and the low sobbing
of gray-headed women who had witnessed the first entry forty-four
years before, when she and they were young–and unaware!
A character in Baron von Berger’s recent fairy drama
“Habsburg” tells about the first coming of the girlish Empress-
Queen, and in his history draws a fine picture: I cannot make a
close translation of it, but will try to convey the spirit of the
I saw the stately pageant pass:
In her high place I saw the Empress-Queen:
I could not take my eyes away
From that fair vision, spirit-like and pure,
That rose serene, sublime, and figured to my sense
A noble Alp far lighted in the blue,
That in the flood of morning rends its veil of cloud
And stands a dream of glory to the gaze
Of them that in the Valley toil and plod.
A SCRAP OF CURIOUS HISTORY
Marion City, on the Mississippi River, in the State of
Missouri–a village; time, 1845. La Bourboule-les-Bains, France
–a village; time, the end of June, 1894. I was in the one
village in that early time; I am in the other now. These times
and places are sufficiently wide apart, yet today I have the
strange sense of being thrust back into that Missourian village
and of reliving certain stirring days that I lived there so long
Last Saturday night the life of the President of the French
Republic was taken by an Italian assassin. Last night a mob
surrounded our hotel, shouting, howling, singing the
“Marseillaise,” and pelting our windows with sticks and stones;
for we have Italian waiters, and the mob demanded that they be
turned out of the house instantly–to be drubbed, and then driven
out of the village. Everybody in the hotel remained up until far
into the night, and experienced the several kinds of terror which
one reads about in books which tell of nigh attacks by Italians
and by French mobs: the growing roar of the oncoming crowd; the
arrival, with rain of stones and a crash of glass; the withdrawal
to rearrange plans–followed by a silence ominous, threatening,
and harder to bear than even the active siege and the noise. The
landlord and the two village policemen stood their ground, and at
last the mob was persuaded to go away and leave our Italians in
peace. Today four of the ringleaders have been sentenced to
heavy punishment of a public sort–and are become local heroes,
That is the very mistake which was at first made in the
Missourian village half a century ago. The mistake was repeated
and repeated–just as France is doing in these later months.
In our village we had our Ravochals, our Henrys, our
Vaillants; and in a humble way our Cesario–I hope I have spelled
this name wrong. Fifty years ago we passed through, in all
essentials, what France has been passing through during the past
two or three years, in the matter of periodical frights, horrors,
In several details the parallels are quaintly exact. In
that day, for a man to speak out openly and proclaim himself an
enemy of negro slavery was simply to proclaim himself a madman.
For he was blaspheming against the holiest thing known to a
Missourian, and could NOT be in his right mind. For a man to
proclaim himself an anarchist in France, three years ago, was to
proclaim himself a madman–he could not be in his right mind.
Now the original first blasphemer against any institution
profoundly venerated by a community is quite sure to be in
earnest; his followers and imitators may be humbugs and self-
seekers, but he himself is sincere–his heart is in his protest.
Robert Hardy was our first ABOLITIONIST–awful name! He was
a journeyman cooper, and worked in the big cooper-shop belonging
to the great pork-packing establishment which was Marion City’s
chief pride and sole source of prosperity. He was a New-
Englander, a stranger. And, being a stranger, he was of course
regarded as an inferior person–for that has been human nature
from Adam down–and of course, also, he was made to feel
unwelcome, for this is the ancient law with man and the other
animals. Hardy was thirty years old, and a bachelor; pale, given
to reverie and reading. He was reserved, and seemed to prefer
the isolation which had fallen to his lot. He was treated to
many side remarks by his fellows, but as he did not resent them
it was decided that he was a coward.
All of a sudden he proclaimed himself an abolitionist–
straight out and publicly! He said that negro slavery was a
crime, an infamy. For a moment the town was paralyzed with
astonishment; then it broke into a fury of rage and swarmed
toward the cooper-shop to lynch Hardy. But the Methodist
minister made a powerful speech to them and stayed their hands.
He proved to them that Hardy was insane and not responsible for
his words; that no man COULD be sane and utter such words.
So Hardy was saved. Being insane, he was allowed to go on
talking. He was found to be good entertainment. Several nights
running he made abolition speeches in the open air, and all the
town flocked to hear and laugh. He implored them to believe him
sane and sincere, and have pity on the poor slaves, and take
measurements for the restoration of their stolen rights, or in no
long time blood would flow–blood, blood, rivers of blood!
It was great fun. But all of a sudden the aspect of things
changed. A slave came flying from Palmyra, the county-seat, a
few miles back, and was about to escape in a canoe to Illinois
and freedom in the dull twilight of the approaching dawn, when
the town constable seized him. Hardy happened along and tried to
rescue the negro; there was a struggle, and the constable did not
come out of it alive. Hardly crossed the river with the negro,
and then came back to give himself up. All this took time, for
the Mississippi is not a French brook, like the Seine, the Loire,
and those other rivulets, but is a real river nearly a mile wide.
The town was on hand in force by now, but the Methodist preacher
and the sheriff had already made arrangements in the interest of
order; so Hardy was surrounded by a strong guard and safely
conveyed to the village calaboose in spite of all the effort of
the mob to get hold of him. The reader will have begun to
perceive that this Methodist minister was a prompt man; a prompt
man, with active hands and a good headpiece. Williams was his
name–Damon Williams; Damon Williams in public, Damnation Williams
in private, because he was so powerful on that theme and so frequent.
The excitement was prodigious. The constable was the first
man who had ever been killed in the town. The event was by long
odds the most imposing in the town’s history. It lifted the
humble village into sudden importance; its name was in
everybody’s mouth for twenty miles around. And so was the name
of Robert Hardy–Robert Hardy, the stranger, the despised. In a
day he was become the person of most consequence in the region,
the only person talked about. As to those other coopers, they
found their position curiously changed–they were important
people, or unimportant, now, in proportion as to how large or how
small had been their intercourse with the new celebrity. The two
or three who had really been on a sort of familiar footing with
him found themselves objects of admiring interest with the public
and of envy with their shopmates.
The village weekly journal had lately gone into new hands.
The new man was an enterprising fellow, and he made the most of
the tragedy. He issued an extra. Then he put up posters
promising to devote his whole paper to matters connected with the
great event–there would be a full and intensely interesting
biography of the murderer, and even a portrait of him. He was as
good as his word. He carved the portrait himself, on the back of
a wooden type–and a terror it was to look at. It made a great
commotion, for this was the first time the village paper had ever
contained a picture. The village was very proud. The output of
the paper was ten times as great as it had ever been before, yet
every copy was sold.
When the trial came on, people came from all the farms
around, and from Hannibal, and Quincy, and even from Keokuk; and
the court-house could hold only a fraction of the crowd that
applied for admission. The trial was published in the village
paper, with fresh and still more trying pictures of the accused.
Hardy was convicted, and hanged–a mistake. People came
from miles around to see the hanging; they brought cakes and
cider, also the women and children, and made a picnic of the
matter. It was the largest crowd the village had ever seen. The
rope that hanged Hardy was eagerly bought up, in inch samples,
for everybody wanted a memento of the memorable event.
Martyrdom gilded with notoriety has its fascinations.
Within one week afterward four young lightweights in the village
proclaimed themselves abolitionists! In life Hardy had not been
able to make a convert; everybody laughed at him; but nobody
could laugh at his legacy. The four swaggered around with their
slouch-hats pulled down over their faces, and hinted darkly at
awful possibilities. The people were troubled and afraid, and
showed it. And they were stunned, too; they could not understand
it. “Abolitionist” had always been a term of shame and horror;
yet here were four young men who were not only not ashamed to
bear that name, but were grimly proud of it. Respectable young
men they were, too–of good families, and brought up in the
church. Ed Smith, the printer’s apprentice, nineteen, had been
the head Sunday-school boy, and had once recited three thousand
Bible verses without making a break. Dick Savage, twenty, the
baker’s apprentice; Will Joyce, twenty-two, journeyman
blacksmith; and Henry Taylor, twenty-four, tobacco-stemmer–were
the other three. They were all of a sentimental cast; they were
all romance-readers; they all wrote poetry, such as it was; they
were all vain and foolish; but they had never before been
suspected of having anything bad in them.
They withdrew from society, and grew more and more
mysterious and dreadful. They presently achieved the distinction
of being denounced by names from the pulpit–which made an
immense stir! This was grandeur, this was fame. They were
envied by all the other young fellows now. This was natural.
Their company grew–grew alarmingly. They took a name. It was a
secret name, and was divulged to no outsider; publicly they were
simply the abolitionists. They had pass-words, grips, and signs;
they had secret meetings; their initiations were conducted with
gloomy pomps and ceremonies, at midnight.
They always spoke of Hardy as “the Martyr,” and every little
while they moved through the principal street in procession–at
midnight, black-robed, masked, to the measured tap of the solemn
drum–on pilgrimage to the Martyr’s grave, where they went
through with some majestic fooleries and swore vengeance upon his
murderers. They gave previous notice of the pilgrimage by small
posters, and warned everybody to keep indoors and darken all
houses along the route, and leave the road empty. These warnings
were obeyed, for there was a skull and crossbones at the top of
When this kind of thing had been going on about eight weeks,
a quite natural thing happened. A few men of character and grit
woke up out of the nightmare of fear which had been stupefying
their faculties, and began to discharge scorn and scoffings at
themselves and the community for enduring this child’s-play; and
at the same time they proposed to end it straightway. Everybody
felt an uplift; life was breathed into their dead spirits; their
courage rose and they began to feel like men again. This was on
a Saturday. All day the new feeling grew and strengthened; it
grew with a rush; it brought inspiration and cheer with it.
Midnight saw a united community, full of zeal and pluck, and with
a clearly defined and welcome piece of work in front of it. The
best organizer and strongest and bitterest talker on that great
Saturday was the Presbyterian clergyman who had denounced the
original four from his pulpit–Rev. Hiram Fletcher–and he
promised to use his pulpit in the public interest again now. On
the morrow he had revelations to make, he said–secrets of the
But the revelations were never made. At half past two in
the morning the dead silence of the village was broken by a
crashing explosion, and the town patrol saw the preacher’s house
spring in a wreck of whirling fragments into the sky. The
preacher was killed, together with a negro woman, his only slave
The town was paralyzed again, and with reason. To struggle
against a visible enemy is a thing worth while, and there is a
plenty of men who stand always ready to undertake it; but to
struggle against an invisible one–an invisible one who sneaks in
and does his awful work in the dark and leaves no trace–that is
another matter. That is a thing to make the bravest tremble and
The cowed populace were afraid to go to the funeral. The
man who was to have had a packed church to hear him expose and
denounce the common enemy had but a handful to see him buried.
The coroner’s jury had brought in a verdict of “death by the
visitation of God,” for no witness came forward; if any existed
they prudently kept out of the way. Nobody seemed sorry. Nobody
wanted to see the terrible secret society provoked into the
commission of further outrages. Everybody wanted the tragedy
hushed up, ignored, forgotten, if possible.
And so there was a bitter surprise and an unwelcome one when
Will Joyce, the blacksmith’s journeyman, came out and proclaimed
himself the assassin! Plainly he was not minded to be robbed of
his glory. He made his proclamation, and stuck to it. Stuck to
it, and insisted upon a trial. Here was an ominous thing; here
was a new and peculiarly formidable terror, for a motive was
revealed here which society could not hope to deal with
successfully–VANITY, thirst for notoriety. If men were going to
kill for notoriety’s sake, and to win the glory of newspaper
renown, a big trial, and a showy execution, what possible
invention of man could discourage or deter them? The town was in
a sort of panic; it did not know what to do.
However, the grand jury had to take hold of the matter–it
had no choice. It brought in a true bill, and presently the case
went to the county court. The trial was a fine sensation. The
prisoner was the principal witness for the prosecution. He gave
a full account of the assassination; he furnished even the
minutest particulars: how he deposited his keg of powder and
laid his train–from the house to such-and-such a spot; how
George Ronalds and Henry Hart came along just then, smoking, and
he borrowed Hart’s cigar and fired the train with it, shouting,
“Down with all slave-tyrants!” and how Hart and Ronalds made no
effort to capture him, but ran away, and had never come forward
to testify yet.
But they had to testify now, and they did–and pitiful it
was to see how reluctant they were, and how scared. The crowded
house listened to Joyce’s fearful tale with a profound and
breathless interest, and in a deep hush which was not broken till
he broke it himself, in concluding, with a roaring repetition of his
“Death to all slave-tyrants!”–which came so unexpectedly and so
startlingly that it made everyone present catch his breath and gasp.
The trial was put in the paper, with biography and large portrait,
with other slanderous and insane pictures, and the edition sold
The execution of Joyce was a fine and picturesque thing. It
drew a vast crowd. Good places in trees and seats on rail fences
sold for half a dollar apiece; lemonade and gingerbread-stands
had great prosperity. Joyce recited a furious and fantastic and
denunciatory speech on the scaffold which had imposing passages
of school-boy eloquence in it, and gave him a reputation on the
spot as an orator, and his name, later, in the society’s records,
of the “Martyr Orator.” He went to his death breathing slaughter and
charging his society to “avenge his murder.” If he knew anything of
human nature he knew that to plenty of young fellows present in that
great crowd he was a grand hero–and enviably situated.
He was hanged. It was a mistake. Within a month from his
death the society which he had honored had twenty new members,
some of them earnest, determined men. They did not court
distinction in the same way, but they celebrated his martyrdom.
The crime which had been obscure and despised had become lofty
Such things were happening all over the country. Wild-
brained martyrdom was succeeded by uprising and organization.
Then, in natural order, followed riot, insurrection, and the
wrack and restitutions of war. It was bound to come, and it
would naturally come in that way. It has been the manner of
reform since the beginning of the world.
SWITZERLAND, THE CRADLE OF LIBERTY
Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.
It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. In
that remote time there was only one ladder railway in the
country. That state of things is all changed. There isn’t a
mountain in Switzerland now that hasn’t a ladder railroad or two
up its back like suspenders; indeed, some mountains are latticed
with them, and two years hence all will be. In that day the
peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when
he goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over
railroads that have been built since his last round. And also in
that day, if there shall remain a high-altitude peasant whose
potato-patch hasn’t a railroad through it, it would make him as
conspicuous as William Tell.
However, there are only two best ways to travel through
Switzerland. The first best is afloat. The second best is by
open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken
over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you
can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for
luncheon at noon–for luncheon, not for rest. There is no
fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and
in person in the evening–no fret in his heart, no grime on his
face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the
right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation
for the solemn event which closed the day–stepping with
metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most
impressive mountain mass that the globe can show–the Jungfrau.
The stranger’s first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that
towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is
breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven’s gates had swung
open and exposed the throne.
It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing
going on–at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine.
There are floods and floods of that. One may properly speak of
it as “going on,” for it is full of the suggestion of activity;
the light pours down with energy, with visible enthusiasm. This
is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically.
After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring
monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe air that has
known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come
among a people whose political history is great and fine, and
worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and
peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not
been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in
the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and
protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If
one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and
majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the
Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other
historic comedies of that sort and size.
Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons, and
I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of
meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier
or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it
was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six
centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and
insulted country forever free; and Altorf is also honorable
ground and worshipful, since it was there that William, surnamed
Tell (which interpreted means “The foolish talker”–that is to
say, the too-daring talker), refused to bow to Gessler’s hat. Of
late years the prying student of history has been delighting
himself beyond measure over a wonderful find which he has made–
to wit, that Tell did not shoot the apple from his son’s head.
To hear the students jubilate, one would suppose that the
question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn’t was an
important matter; whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the
question of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or
didn’t. The deeds of Washington, the patriot, are the essential
thing; the cherry-tree incident is of no consequence. To prove
that Tell did shoot the apple from his son’s head would merely
prove that he had better nerve than most men and was skillful
with a bow as a million others who preceded and followed him, but
not one whit more so. But Tell was more and better than a mere
marksman, more and better than a mere cool head; he was a type;
he stands for Swiss patriotism; in his person was represented a
whole people; his spirit was their spirit–the spirit which would
bow to none but God, the spirit which said this in words and
confirmed it with deeds. There have always been Tells in
Switzerland–people who would not bow. There was a sufficiency
of them at Rutli; there were plenty of them at Murten; plenty at
Grandson; there are plenty today. And the first of them all–the
very first, earliest banner-bearer of human freedom in this
world–was not a man, but a woman–Stauffacher’s wife. There she
looms dim and great, through the haze of the centuries,
delivering into her husband’s ear that gospel of revolt which was
to bear fruit in the conspiracy of Rutli and the birth of the
first free government the world had ever seen.
From this Victoria Hotel one looks straight across a flat of
trifling width to a lofty mountain barrier, which has a gateway
in it shaped like an inverted pyramid. Beyond this gateway
arises the vast bulk of the Jungfrau, a spotless mass of gleaming
snow, into the sky. The gateway, in the dark-colored barrier,
makes a strong frame for the great picture. The somber frame and
the glowing snow-pile are startlingly contrasted. It is this
frame which concentrates and emphasizes the glory of the Jungfrau
and makes it the most engaging and beguiling and fascinating
spectacle that exists on the earth. There are many mountains of
snow that are as lofty as the Jungfrau and as nobly proportioned,
but they lack the fame. They stand at large; they are intruded
upon and elbowed by neighboring domes and summits, and their
grandeur is diminished and fails of effect.
It is a good name, Jungfrau–Virgin. Nothing could be
whiter; nothing could be purer; nothing could be saintlier of
aspect. At six yesterday evening the great intervening barrier
seen through a faint bluish haze seemed made of air and
substanceless, so soft and rich it was, so shimmering where the
wandering lights touched it and so dim where the shadows lay.
Apparently it was a dream stuff, a work of the imagination,
nothing real about it. The tint was green, slightly varying
shades of it, but mainly very dark. The sun was down–as far as
that barrier was concerned, but not for the Jungfrau, towering
into the heavens beyond the gateway. She was a roaring
conflagration of blinding white.
It is said the Fridolin (the old Fridolin), a new saint, but
formerly a missionary, gave the mountain its gracious name. He
was an Irishman, son of an Irish king–there were thirty thousand
kings reigning in County Cork alone in his time, fifteen hundred
years ago. It got so that they could not make a living, there
was so much competition and wages got cut so. Some of them were
out of work months at a time, with wife and little children to
feed, and not a crust in the place. At last a particularly
severe winter fell upon the country, and hundreds of them were
reduced to mendicancy and were to be seen day after day in the
bitterest weather, standing barefoot in the snow, holding out
their crowns for alms. Indeed, they would have been obliged to
emigrate or starve but for a fortunate idea of Prince Fridolin’s,
who started a labor-union, the first one in history, and got the
great bulk of them to join it. He thus won the general
gratitude, and they wanted to make him emperor–emperor over them
all–emperor of County Cork, but he said, No, walking delegate
was good enough for him. For behold! he was modest beyond his
years, and keen as a whip. To this day in Germany and
Switzerland, where St. Fridolin is revered and honored, the
peasantry speak of him affectionately as the first walking
The first walk he took was into France and Germany,
missionarying–for missionarying was a better thing in those days
than it is in ours. All you had to do was to cure the savage’s
sick daughter by a “miracle”–a miracle like the miracle of
Lourdes in our day, for instance–and immediately that head
savage was your convert, and filled to the eyes with a new
convert’s enthusiasm. You could sit down and make yourself easy,
now. He would take an ax and convert the rest of the nation
himself. Charlemagne was that kind of a walking delegate.
Yes, there were great missionaries in those days, for the
methods were sure and the rewards great. We have no such
missionaries now, and no such methods.
But to continue the history of the first walking delegate,
if you are interested. I am interested myself because I have
seen his relics in Sackingen, and also the very spot where he
worked his great miracle–the one which won him his sainthood in
the papal court a few centuries later. To have seen these things
makes me feel very near to him, almost like a member of the
family, in fact. While wandering about the Continent he arrived
at the spot on the Rhine which is now occupied by Sackingen, and
proposed to settle there, but the people warned him off. He
appealed to the king of the Franks, who made him a present of the
whole region, people and all. He built a great cloister there
for women and proceeded to teach in it and accumulate more land.
There were two wealthy brothers in the neighborhood, Urso and
Landulph. Urso died and Fridolin claimed his estates. Landulph
asked for documents and papers. Fridolin had none to show. He
said the bequest had been made to him by word of mouth. Landulph
suggested that he produce a witness and said it in a way which he
thought was very witty, very sarcastic. This shows that he did
not know the walking delegate. Fridolin was not disturbed.
“Appoint your court. I will bring a witness.”
The court thus created consisted of fifteen counts and
barons. A day was appointed for the trial of the case. On that
day the judges took their seats in state, and proclamation was
made that the court was ready for business. Five minutes, ten
minutes, fifteen minutes passed, and yet no Fridolin appeared.
Landulph rose, and was in the act of claiming judgment by default
when a strange clacking sound was heard coming up the stairs.
In another moment Fridolin entered at the door and came walking
in a deep hush down the middle aisle, with a tall skeleton
stalking in his rear.
Amazement and terror sat upon every countenance, for everybody
suspected that the skeleton was Urso’s. It stopped before the
chief judge and raised its bony arm aloft and began to speak,
while all the assembled shuddered, for they could see the
words leak out between its ribs. It said:
“Brother, why dost thou disturb my blessed rest and withhold
by robbery the gift which I gave thee for the honor of God?”
It seems a strange thing and most irregular, but the verdict
was actually given against Landulph on the testimony of this
wandering rack-heap of unidentified bones. In our day a skeleton
would not be allowed to testify at all, for a skeleton has no
moral responsibility, and its word could not be believed on oath,
and this was probably one of them. However, the incident is
valuable as preserving to us a curious sample of the quaint laws
of evidence of that remote time–a time so remote, so far back
toward the beginning of original idiocy, that the difference
between a bench of judges and a basket of vegetables was as yet
so slight that we may say with all confidence that it didn’t
During several afternoons I have been engaged in an
interesting, maybe useful, piece of work–that is to say, I have
been trying to make the mighty Jungfrau earn her living–earn it
in a most humble sphere, but on a prodigious scale, on a
prodigious scale of necessity, for she couldn’t do anything in a
small way with her size and style. I have been trying to make
her do service on a stupendous dial and check off the hours as
they glide along her pallid face up there against the sky, and
tell the time of day to the populations lying within fifty miles
of her and to the people in the moon, if they have a good
Until late in the afternoon the Jungfrau’s aspect is that of
a spotless desert of snow set upon edge against the sky. But by
mid-afternoon some elevations which rise out of the western
border of the desert, whose presence you perhaps had not detected
or suspected up to that time, began to cast black shadows
eastward across the gleaming surface. At first there is only one
shadow; later there are two. Toward 4 P.M. the other day I was
gazing and worshiping as usual when I chanced to notice that
shadow No. 1 was beginning to take itself something of the shape
of the human profile. By four the back of the head was good, the
military cap was pretty good, the nose was bold and strong, the
upper lip sharp, but not pretty, and there was a great goatee
that shot straight aggressively forward from the chin.
At four-thirty the nose had changed its shape considerably,
and the altered slant of the sun had revealed and made
conspicuous a huge buttress or barrier of naked rock which was so
located as to answer very well for a shoulder or coat-collar to
this swarthy and indiscreet sweetheart who had stolen out there
right before everybody to pillow his head on the Virgin’s white
breast and whisper soft sentimentalities to her in the sensuous
music of the crashing ice-domes and the boom and thunder of the
passing avalanche–music very familiar to his ear, for he had
heard it every afternoon at this hour since the day he first came
courting this child of the earth, who lives in the sky, and that
day is far, yes–for he was at this pleasant sport before the
Middle Ages drifted by him in the valley; before the Romans
marched past, and before the antique and recordless barbarians
fished and hunted here and wondered who he might be, and were
probably afraid of him; and before primeval man himself, just
emerged from his four-footed estate, stepped out upon this plain,
first sample of his race, a thousand centuries ago, and cast a
glad eye up there, judging he had found a brother human being and
consequently something to kill; and before the big saurians
wallowed here, still some eons earlier. Oh yes, a day so far
back that the eternal son was present to see that first visit; a
day so far back that neither tradition nor history was born yet
and a whole weary eternity must come and go before the restless
little creature, of whose face this stupendous Shadow Face was
the prophecy, would arrive in the earth and begin his shabby
career and think of a big thing. Oh, indeed yes; when you talk
about your poor Roman and Egyptian day-before-yesterday
antiquities, you should choose a time when the hoary Shadow Face
of the Jungfrau is not by. It antedates all antiquities known or
imaginable; for it was here the world itself created the theater
of future antiquities. And it is the only witness with a human
face that was there to see the marvel, and remains to us a
memorial of it.
By 4:40 P.M. the nose of the shadow is perfect and is
beautiful. It is black and is powerfully marked against the
upright canvas of glowing snow, and covers hundreds of acres of
that resplendent surface.
Meantime shadow No. 2 has been creeping out well to the rear
of the face west of it–and at five o’clock has assumed a shape
that has rather a poor and rude semblance of a shoe.
Meantime, also, the great Shadow Face has been gradually changing
for twenty minutes, and now, 5 P.M., it is becoming a quite fair
portrait of Roscoe Conkling. The likeness is there, and is
unmistakable. The goatee is shortened, now, and has an end;
formerly it hadn’t any, but ran off eastward and arrived nowhere.
By 6 P.M. the face has dissolved and gone, and the goatee
has become what looks like the shadow of a tower with a pointed
roof, and the shoe had turned into what the printers call a
“fist” with a finger pointing.
If I were now imprisoned on a mountain summit a hundred
miles northward of this point, and was denied a timepiece, I
could get along well enough from four till six on clear days, for
I could keep trace of the time by the changing shapes of these
mighty shadows of the Virgin’s front, the most stupendous dial I
am acquainted with, the oldest clock in the world by a couple of
I suppose I should not have noticed the forms of the shadows
if I hadn’t the habit of hunting for faces in the clouds and in
mountain crags–a sort of amusement which is very entertaining
even when you don’t find any, and brilliantly satisfying when you
do. I have searched through several bushels of photographs of
the Jungfrau here, but found only one with the Face in it, and in
this case it was not strictly recognizable as a face, which was
evidence that the picture was taken before four o’clock in the
afternoon, and also evidence that all the photographers have
persistently overlooked one of the most fascinating features of
the Jungfrau show. I say fascinating, because if you once detect
a human face produced on a great plan by unconscious nature, you
never get tired of watching it. At first you can’t make another
person see it at all, but after he has made it out once he can’t
see anything else afterward.
The King of Greece is a man who goes around quietly enough
when off duty. One day this summer he was traveling in an
ordinary first-class compartment, just in his other suit, the one
which he works the realm in when he is at home, and so he was not
looking like anybody in particular, but a good deal like
everybody in general. By and by a hearty and healthy German-
American got in and opened up a frank and interesting and
sympathetic conversation with him, and asked him a couple of
thousand questions about himself, which the king answered good-
naturedly, but in a more or less indefinite way as to private
“Where do you live when you are at home?”
“Greece! Well, now, that is just astonishing! Born there?”
“Do you speak Greek?”
“Now, ain’t that strange! I never expected to live to see
that. What is your trade? I mean how do you get your living?
What is your line of business?”
“Well, I hardly know how to answer. I am only a kind of
foreman, on a salary; and the business–well, is a very general
kind of business.”
“Yes, I understand–general jobbing–little of everything–
anything that there’s money in.”
“That’s about it, yes.”
“Are you traveling for the house now?”
“Well, partly; but not entirely. Of course I do a stroke of
business if it falls in the way–”
“Good! I like that in you! That’s me every time. Go on.”
“I was only going to say I am off on my vacation now.”
“Well that’s all right. No harm in that. A man works all
the better for a little let-up now and then. Not that I’ve been
used to having it myself; for I haven’t. I reckon this is my
first. I was born in Germany, and when I was a couple of weeks
old shipped to America, and I’ve been there ever since, and
that’s sixty-four years by the watch. I’m an American in
principle and a German at heart, and it’s the boss combination.
Well, how do you get along, as a rule–pretty fair?”
“I’ve a rather large family–”
“There, that’s it–big family and trying to raise them on a
salary. Now, what did you go to do that for?”
“Well, I thought–”
“Of course you did. You were young and confident and
thought you could branch out and make things go with a whirl, and
here you are, you see! But never mind about that. I’m not
trying to discourage you. Dear me! I’ve been just where you are
myself! You’ve got good grit; there’s good stuff in you, I can
see that. You got a wrong start, that’s the whole trouble. But
you hold your grip, and we’ll see what can be done. Your case
ain’t half as bad as it might be. You are going to come out all
right–I’m bail for that. Boys and girls?”
“My family? Yes, some of them are boys–”
“And the rest girls. It’s just as I expected. But that’s
all right, and it’s better so, anyway. What are the boys doing–
learning a trade?”
“Well, no–I thought–”
“It’s a big mistake. It’s the biggest mistake you ever
made. You see that in your own case. A man ought always to have
a trade to fall back on. Now, I was harness-maker at first. Did
that prevent me from becoming one of the biggest brewers in
America? Oh no. I always had the harness trick to fall back on
in rough weather. Now, if you had learned how to make harness–
However, it’s too late now; too late. But it’s no good plan to
cry over spilt milk. But as to the boys, you see–what’s to
become of them if anything happens to you?”
“It has been my idea to let the eldest one succeed me–”
“Oh, come! Suppose the firm don’t want him?”
“I hadn’t thought of that, but–”
“Now, look here; you want to get right down to business and
stop dreaming. You are capable of immense things–man. You can
make a perfect success in life. All you want is somebody to
steady you and boost you along on the right road. Do you own
anything in the business?”
“No–not exactly; but if I continue to give satisfaction, I
suppose I can keep my–”
“Keep your place–yes. Well, don’t you depend on anything
of the kind. They’ll bounce you the minute you get a little old
and worked out; they’ll do it sure. Can’t you manage somehow to
get into the firm? That’s the great thing, you know.”
“I think it is doubtful; very doubtful.”
“Um–that’s bad–yes, and unfair, too. Do you suppose that
if I should go there and have a talk with your people– Look
here–do you think you could run a brewery?”
“I have never tried, but I think I could do it after a
little familiarity with the business.”
The German was silent for some time. He did a good deal of
thinking, and the king waited curiously to see what the result
was going to be. Finally the German said:
“My mind’s made up. You leave that crowd–you’ll never
amount to anything there. In these old countries they never give
a fellow a show. Yes, you come over to America–come to my place
in Rochester; bring the family along. You shall have a show in
the business and the foremanship, besides. George–you said your
name was George?–I’ll make a man of you. I give you my word.
You’ve never had a chance here, but that’s all going to change.
By gracious! I’ll give you a lift that’ll make your hair curl!”
AT THE SHRINE OF ST. WAGNER
Bayreuth, Aug. 2d, 1891
It was at Nuremberg that we struck the inundation of music-
mad strangers that was rolling down upon Bayreuth. It had been
long since we had seen such multitudes of excited and struggling
people. It took a good half-hour to pack them and pair them into
the train–and it was the longest train we have yet seen in
Europe. Nuremberg had been witnessing this sort of experience a
couple of times a day for about two weeks. It gives one an
impressive sense of the magnitude of this biennial pilgrimage.
For a pilgrimage is what it is. The devotees come from the very
ends of the earth to worship their prophet in his own Kaaba in
his own Mecca.
If you are living in New York or San Francisco or Chicago or
anywhere else in America, and you conclude, by the middle of May,
that you would like to attend the Bayreuth opera two months and a
half later, you must use the cable and get about it immediately
or you will get no seats, and you must cable for lodgings, too.
Then if you are lucky you will get seats in the last row and
lodgings in the fringe of the town. If you stop to write you
will get nothing. There were plenty of people in Nuremberg when
we passed through who had come on pilgrimage without first
securing seats and lodgings. They had found neither in Bayreuth;
they had walked Bayreuth streets a while in sorrow, then had gone
to Nuremberg and found neither beds nor standing room, and had
walked those quaint streets all night, waiting for the hotels to
open and empty their guests into trains, and so make room for
these, their defeated brethren and sisters in the faith. They
had endured from thirty to forty hours’ railroading on the
continent of Europe–with all which that implies of worry,
fatigue, and financial impoverishment–and all they had got and
all they were to get for it was handiness and accuracy in kicking
themselves, acquired by practice in the back streets of the two
towns when other people were in bed; for back they must go over
that unspeakable journey with their pious mission unfulfilled.
These humiliated outcasts had the frowsy and unbrushed and
apologetic look of wet cats, and their eyes were glazed with
drowsiness, their bodies were adroop from crown to sole, and all
kind-hearted people refrained from asking them if they had been
to Bayreuth and failed to connect, as knowing they would lie.
We reached here (Bayreuth) about mid-afternoon of a rainy
Saturday. We were of the wise, and had secured lodgings and
opera seats months in advance.
I am not a musical critic, and did not come here to write
essays about the operas and deliver judgment upon their merits.
The little children of Bayreuth could do that with a finer
sympathy and a broader intelligence than I. I only care to bring
four or five pilgrims to the operas, pilgrims able to appreciate
them and enjoy them. What I write about the performance to put
in my odd time would be offered to the public as merely a cat’s
view of a king, and not of didactic value.
Next day, which was Sunday, we left for the opera-house–
that is to say, the Wagner temple–a little after the middle of
the afternoon. The great building stands all by itself, grand
and lonely, on a high ground outside the town. We were warned
that if we arrived after four o’clock we should be obliged to pay
two dollars and a half extra by way of fine. We saved that; and
it may be remarked here that this is the only opportunity that
Europe offers of saving money. There was a big crowd in the
grounds about the building, and the ladies’ dresses took the sun
with fine effect. I do not mean to intimate that the ladies were
in full dress, for that was not so. The dresses were pretty, but
neither sex was in evening dress.
The interior of the building is simple–severely so; but
there is no occasion for color and decoration, since the people
sit in the dark. The auditorium has the shape of a keystone,
with the stage at the narrow end. There is an aisle on each
side, but no aisle in the body of the house. Each row of seats
extends in an unbroken curve from one side of the house to the
other. There are seven entrance doors on each side of the
theater and four at the butt, eighteen doors to admit and emit
1,650 persons. The number of the particular door by which you
are to enter the house or leave it is printed on your ticket, and
you can use no door but that one. Thus, crowding and confusion
are impossible. Not so many as a hundred people use any one
door. This is better than having the usual (and useless)
elaborate fireproof arrangements. It is the model theater of the
world. It can be emptied while the second hand of a watch makes
its circuit. It would be entirely safe, even if it were built of
If your seat is near the center of a row and you enter late
you must work your way along a rank of about twenty-five ladies
and gentlemen to get to it. Yet this causes no trouble, for
everybody stands up until all the seats are full, and the filling
is accomplished in a very few minutes. Then all sit down, and
you have a solid mass of fifteen hundred heads, making a steep
cellar-door slant from the rear of the house down to the stage.
All the lights were turned low, so low that the congregation
sat in a deep and solemn gloom. The funereal rustling of dresses
and the low buzz of conversation began to die swiftly down, and
presently not the ghost of a sound was left. This profound and
increasingly impressive stillness endured for some time–the best
preparation for music, spectacle, or speech conceivable. I should
think our show people would have invented or imported that simple
and impressive device for securing and solidifying the attention
of an audience long ago; instead of which there continue to this
day to open a performance against a deadly competition in the
form of noise, confusion, and a scattered interest.
Finally, out of darkness and distance and mystery soft rich
notes rose upon the stillness, and from his grave the dead
magician began to weave his spells about his disciples and steep
their souls in his enchantments. There was something strangely
impressive in the fancy which kept intruding itself that the
composer was conscious in his grave of what was going on here,
and that these divine souls were the clothing of thoughts which
were at this moment passing through his brain, and not recognized
and familiar ones which had issued from it at some former time.
The entire overture, long as it was, was played to a dark
house with the curtain down. It was exquisite; it was delicious.
But straightway thereafter, or course, came the singing, and it
does seem to me that nothing can make a Wagner opera absolutely
perfect and satisfactory to the untutored but to leave out the
vocal parts. I wish I could see a Wagner opera done in pantomime
once. Then one would have the lovely orchestration unvexed to
listen to and bathe his spirit in, and the bewildering beautiful
scenery to intoxicate his eyes with, and the dumb acting couldn’t
mar these pleasures, because there isn’t often anything in the
Wagner opera that one would call by such a violent name as
acting; as a rule all you would see would be a couple of silent
people, one of them standing still, the other catching flies. Of
course I do not really mean that he would be catching flies; I
only mean that the usual operatic gestures which consist in
reaching first one hand out into the air and then the other might
suggest the sport I speak of if the operator attended strictly to
business and uttered no sound.
This present opera was “Parsifal.” Madame Wagner does not
permit its representation anywhere but in Bayreuth. The first
act of the three occupied two hours, and I enjoyed that in spite
of the singing.
I trust that I know as well as anybody that singing is one
of the most entrancing and bewitching and moving and eloquent of
all the vehicles invented by man for the conveying of feeling;
but it seems to me that the chief virtue in song is melody, air,
tune, rhythm, or what you please to call it, and that when this
feature is absent what remains is a picture with the color left
out. I was not able to detect in the vocal parts of “Parsifal”
anything that might with confidence be called rhythm or tune or
melody; one person performed at a time–and a long time, too–
often in a noble, and always in a high-toned, voice; but he only
pulled out long notes, then some short ones, then another long
one, then a sharp, quick, peremptory bark or two–and so on and
so on; and when he was done you saw that the information which he
had conveyed had not compensated for the disturbance. Not
always, but pretty often. If two of them would but put in a duet
occasionally and blend the voices; but no, they don’t do that.
The great master, who knew so well how to make a hundred
instruments rejoice in unison and pour out their souls in mingled
and melodious tides of delicious sound, deals only in barren
solos when he puts in the vocal parts. It may be that he was
deep, and only added the singing to his operas for the sake of
the contrast it would make with the music. Singing! It does
seem the wrong name to apply to it. Strictly described, it is a
practicing of difficult and unpleasant intervals, mainly. An
ignorant person gets tired of listening to gymnastic intervals in
the long run, no matter how pleasant they may be. In “Parsifal”
there is a hermit named Gurnemanz who stands on the stage in one
spot and practices by the hour, while first one and then another
character of the cast endures what he can of it and then retires
During the evening there was an intermission of three-
quarters of an hour after the first act and one an hour long
after the second. In both instances the theater was totally
emptied. People who had previously engaged tables in the one
sole eating-house were able to put in their time very
satisfactorily; the other thousand went hungry. The opera was
concluded at ten in the evening or a little later. When we
reached home we had been gone more than seven hours. Seven hours
at five dollars a ticket is almost too much for the money.
While browsing about the front yard among the crowd between
the acts I encountered twelve or fifteen friends from different
parts of America, and those of them who were most familiar with
Wagner said that “Parsifal” seldom pleased at first, but that
after one had heard it several times it was almost sure to become
a favorite. It seemed impossible, but it was true, for the
statement came from people whose word was not to be doubted.
And I gathered some further information. On the ground I
found part of a German musical magazine, and in it a letter
written by Uhlic thirty-three years ago, in which he defends the
scorned and abused Wagner against people like me, who found fault
with the comprehensive absence of what our kind regards as
singing. Uhlic says Wagner despised “JENE PLAPPERUDE MUSIC,” and
therefore “runs, trills, and SCHNORKEL are discarded by him.” I
don’t know what a SCHNORKEL is, but now that I know it has been
left out of these operas I never have missed so much in my life.
And Uhlic further says that Wagner’s song is true: that it is
“simply emphasized intoned speech.” That certainly describes it
–in “Parsifal” and some of the operas; and if I understand
Uhlic’s elaborate German he apologizes for the beautiful airs in
“Tannh:auser.” Very well; now that Wagner and I understand each
other, perhaps we shall get along better, and I shall stop
calling Waggner, on the American plan, and thereafter call him
Waggner as per German custom, for I feel entirely friendly now.
The minute we get reconciled to a person, how willing we are to
throw aside little needless puctilios and pronounce his name
Of course I came home wondering why people should come from
all corners of America to hear these operas, when we have lately
had a season or two of them in New York with these same singers
in the several parts, and possibly this same orchestra. I
resolved to think that out at all hazards.
TUESDAY.–Yesterday they played the only operatic favorite I
have ever had–an opera which has always driven me mad with
ignorant delight whenever I have heard it–“Tannh:auser.” I
heard it first when I was a youth; I heard it last in the last
German season in New York. I was busy yesterday and I did not
intend to go, knowing I should have another “Tannh:auser”
opportunity in a few days; but after five o’clock I found myself
free and walked out to the opera-house and arrived about the
beginning of the second act. My opera ticket admitted me to the
grounds in front, past the policeman and the chain, and I thought
I would take a rest on a bench for an hour and two and wait for
the third act.
In a moment or so the first bugles blew, and the multitude
began to crumble apart and melt into the theater. I will explain
that this bugle-call is one of the pretty features here. You
see, the theater is empty, and hundreds of the audience are a
good way off in the feeding-house; the first bugle-call is blown
about a quarter of an hour before time for the curtain to rise.
This company of buglers, in uniform, march out with military step
and send out over the landscape a few bars of the theme of the
approaching act, piercing the distances with the gracious notes;
then they march to the other entrance and repeat. Presently they
do this over again. Yesterday only about two hundred people were
still left in front of the house when the second call was blown;
in another half-minute they would have been in the house, but
then a thing happened which delayed them–the only solitary thing
in this world which could be relied on with certainty to
accomplish it, I suppose–an imperial princess appeared in the
balcony above them. They stopped dead in their tracks and began
to gaze in a stupor of gratitude and satisfaction. The lady
presently saw that she must disappear or the doors would be
closed upon these worshipers, so she returned to her box. This
daughter-in-law of an emperor was pretty; she had a kind face;
she was without airs; she is known to be full of common human
sympathies. There are many kinds of princesses, but this kind is
the most harmful of all, for wherever they go they reconcile
people to monarchy and set back the clock of progress. The
valuable princes, the desirable princes, are the czars and their
sort. By their mere dumb presence in the world they cover with
derision every argument that can be invented in favor of royalty
by the most ingenious casuist. In his time the husband of this
princess was valuable. He led a degraded life, he ended it with
his own hand in circumstances and surroundings of a hideous sort,
and was buried like a god.
In the opera-house there is a long loft back of the
audience, a kind of open gallery, in which princes are displayed.
It is sacred to them; it is the holy of holies. As soon as the
filling of the house is about complete the standing multitude
turn and fix their eyes upon the princely layout and gaze mutely
and longingly and adoringly and regretfully like sinners looking
into heaven. They become rapt, unconscious, steeped in worship.
There is no spectacle anywhere that is more pathetic than this.
It is worth crossing many oceans to see. It is somehow not the
same gaze that people rivet upon a Victor Hugo, or Niagara, or
the bones of the mastodon, or the guillotine of the Revolution,
or the great pyramid, or distant Vesuvius smoking in the sky, or
any man long celebrated to you by his genius and achievements, or
thing long celebrated to you by the praises of books and
pictures–no, that gaze is only the gaze of intense curiosity,
interest, wonder, engaged in drinking delicious deep draughts
that taste good all the way down and appease and satisfy the
thirst of a lifetime. Satisfy it–that is the word. Hugo and
the mastodon will still have a degree of intense interest
thereafter when encountered, but never anything approaching the
ecstasy of that first view. The interest of a prince is
different. It may be envy, it may be worship, doubtless it is a
mixture of both–and it does not satisfy its thirst with one
view, or even noticeably diminish it. Perhaps the essence of the
thing is the value which men attach to a valuable something which
has come by luck and not been earned. A dollar picked up in the
road is more satisfaction to you than the ninety-and-nine which
you had to work for, and money won at faro or in stocks snuggles
into your heart in the same way. A prince picks up grandeur,
power, and a permanent holiday and gratis support by a pure
accident, the accident of birth, and he stands always before the
grieved eye of poverty and obscurity a monumental representative
of luck. And then–supremest value of all-his is the only high
fortune on the earth which is secure. The commercial millionaire
may become a beggar; the illustrious statesman can make a vital
mistake and be dropped and forgotten; the illustrious general can
lose a decisive battle and with it the consideration of men; but
once a prince always a prince–that is to say, an imitation god,
and neither hard fortune nor an infamous character nor an addled
brain nor the speech of an ass can undeify him. By common
consent of all the nations and all the ages the most valuable
thing in this world is the homage of men, whether deserved or
undeserved. It follows without doubt or question, then, that the
most desirable position possible is that of a prince. And I
think it also follows that the so-called usurpations with which
history is littered are the most excusable misdemeanors which men
have committed. To usurp a usurpation–that is all it amounts
to, isn’t it?
A prince is not to us what he is to a European, of course.
We have not been taught to regard him as a god, and so one good
look at him is likely to so nearly appease our curiosity as to
make him an object of no greater interest the next time. We want
a fresh one. But it is not so with the European. I am quite
sure of it. The same old one will answer; he never stales.
Eighteen years ago I was in London and I called at an
Englishman’s house on a bleak and foggy and dismal December
afternoon to visit his wife and married daughter by appointment.
I waited half an hour and then they arrived, frozen. They
explained that they had been delayed by an unlooked-for
circumstance: while passing in the neighborhood of Marlborough
House they saw a crowd gathering and were told that the Prince of
Wales was about to drive out, so they stopped to get a sight of
him. They had waited half an hour on the sidewalk, freezing with
the crowd, but were disappointed at last–the Prince had changed
his mind. I said, with a good deal of surprise, “Is it possible
that you two have lived in London all your lives and have never
seen the Prince of Wales?”
Apparently it was their turn to be surprised, for they
exclaimed: “What an idea! Why, we have seen him hundreds of
They had seem him hundreds of times, yet they had waited
half an hour in the gloom and the bitter cold, in the midst of a
jam of patients from the same asylum, on the chance of seeing him
again. It was a stupefying statement, but one is obliged to
believe the English, even when they say a thing like that. I
fumbled around for a remark, and got out this one:
“I can’t understand it at all. If I had never seen General
Grant I doubt if I would do that even to get a sight of him.”
With a slight emphasis on the last word.
Their blank faces showed that they wondered where the
parallel came in. Then they said, blankly: “Of course not. He
is only a President.”
It is doubtless a fact that a prince is a permanent
interest, an interest not subject to deterioration. The general
who was never defeated, the general who never held a council of
war, the only general who ever commanded a connected battle-front
twelve hundred miles long, the smith who welded together the
broken parts of a great republic and re-established it where it
is quite likely to outlast all the monarchies present and to
come, was really a person of no serious consequence to these
people. To them, with their training, my General was only a man,
after all, while their Prince was clearly much more than that–a
being of a wholly unsimilar construction and constitution, and
being of no more blood and kinship with men than are the serene
eternal lights of the firmament with the poor dull tallow candles
of commerce that sputter and die and leave nothing behind but a
pinch of ashes and a stink.
I saw the last act of “Tannh:auser.” I sat in the gloom and
the deep stillness, waiting–one minute, two minutes, I do not
know exactly how long–then the soft music of the hidden
orchestra began to breathe its rich, long sighs out from under
the distant stage, and by and by the drop-curtain parted in the
middle and was drawn softly aside, disclosing the twilighted wood
and a wayside shrine, with a white-robed girl praying and a man
standing near. Presently that noble chorus of men’s voices was
heard approaching, and from that moment until the closing of the
curtain it was music, just music–music to make one drunk with
pleasure, music to make one take scrip and staff and beg his way
round the globe to hear it.
To such as are intending to come here in the Wagner season
next year I wish to say, bring your dinner-pail with you. If you
do, you will never cease to be thankful. If you do not, you will
find it a hard fight to save yourself from famishing in Bayreuth.
Bayreuth is merely a large village, and has no very large hotels
or eating-houses. The principal inns are the Golden Anchor and
the Sun. At either of these places you can get an excellent
meal–no, I mean you can go there and see other people get it.
There is no charge for this. The town is littered with
restaurants, but they are small and bad, and they are overdriven
with custom. You must secure a table hours beforehand, and often
when you arrive you will find somebody occupying it. We have had
this experience. We have had a daily scramble for life; and when
I say we, I include shoals of people. I have the impression that
the only people who do not have to scramble are the veterans–the
disciples who have been here before and know the ropes. I think
they arrive about a week before the first opera, and engage all
the tables for the season. My tribe had tried all kinds of
places–some outside of the town, a mile or two–and have
captured only nibblings and odds and ends, never in any instance
a complete and satisfying meal. Digestible? No, the reverse.
These odds and ends are going to serve as souvenirs of Bayreuth,
and in that regard their value is not to be overestimated.
Photographs fade, bric-a-brac gets lost, busts of Wagner get
broken, but once you absorb a Bayreuth-restaurant meal it is your
possession and your property until the time comes to embalm the
rest of you. Some of these pilgrims here become, in effect,
cabinets; cabinets of souvenirs of Bayreuth. It is believed
among scientists that you could examine the crop of a dead
Bayreuth pilgrim anywhere in the earth and tell where he came
from. But I like this ballast. I think a “Hermitage” scrap-up
at eight in the evening, when all the famine-breeders have been
there and laid in their mementoes and gone, is the quietest thing
you can lay on your keelson except gravel.
THURSDAY.–They keep two teams of singers in stock for the
chief roles, and one of these is composed of the most renowned
artists in the world, with Materna and Alvary in the lead. I
suppose a double team is necessary; doubtless a single team would
die of exhaustion in a week, for all the plays last from four in
the afternoon till ten at night. Nearly all the labor falls upon
the half-dozen head singers, and apparently they are required to
furnish all the noise they can for the money. If they feel a
soft, whispery, mysterious feeling they are required to open out
and let the public know it. Operas are given only on Sundays,
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with three days of ostensible
rest per week, and two teams to do the four operas; but the
ostensible rest is devoted largely to rehearsing. It is said
that the off days are devoted to rehearsing from some time in the
morning till ten at night. Are there two orchestras also? It is
quite likely, since there are one hundred and ten names in the
Yesterday the opera was “Tristan and Isolde.” I have seen
all sorts of audiences–at theaters, operas, concerts, lectures,
sermons, funerals–but none which was twin to the Wagner audience
of Bayreuth for fixed and reverential attention. Absolute
attention and petrified retention to the end of an act of the
attitude assumed at the beginning of it. You detect no movement
in the solid mass of heads and shoulders. You seem to sit with
the dead in the gloom of a tomb. You know that they are being
stirred to their profoundest depths; that there are times when
they want to rise and wave handkerchiefs and shout their
approbation, and times when tears are running down their faces,
and it would be a relief to free their pent emotions in sobs or
screams; yet you hear not one utterance till the curtain swings
together and the closing strains have slowly faded out and died;
then the dead rise with one impulse and shake the building with
their applause. Every seat is full in the first act; there is
not a vacant one in the last. If a man would be conspicuous, let
him come here and retire from the house in the midst of an act.
It would make him celebrated.
This audience reminds me of nothing I have ever seen and of
nothing I have read about except the city in the Arabian tale
where all the inhabitants have been turned to brass and the
traveler finds them after centuries mute, motionless, and still
retaining the attitudes which they last knew in life. Here the
Wagner audience dress as they please, and sit in the dark and
worship in silence. At the Metropolitan in New York they sit in
a glare, and wear their showiest harness; they hum airs, they
squeak fans, they titter, and they gabble all the time. In some
of the boxes the conversation and laughter are so loud as to
divide the attention of the house with the stage. In large
measure the Metropolitan is a show-case for rich fashionables who
are not trained in Wagnerian music and have no reverence for it,
but who like to promote art and show their clothes.
Can that be an agreeable atmosphere to persons in whom this
music produces a sort of divine ecstasy and to whom its creator
is a very deity, his stage a temple, the works of his brain and
hands consecrated things, and the partaking of them with eye and
ear a sacred solemnity? Manifestly, no. Then, perhaps the
temporary expatriation, the tedious traversing of seas and
continents, the pilgrimage to Bayreuth stands explained. These
devotees would worship in an atmosphere of devotion. It is only
here that they can find it without fleck or blemish or any
worldly pollution. In this remote village there are no sights to
see, there is no newspaper to intrude the worries of the distant
world, there is nothing going on, it is always Sunday. The
pilgrim wends to his temple out of town, sits out his moving
service, returns to his bed with his heart and soul and his body
exhausted by long hours of tremendous emotion, and he is in no
fit condition to do anything but to lie torpid and slowly gather
back life and strength for the next service. This opera of
“Tristan and Isolde” last night broke the hearts of all witnesses
who were of the faith, and I know of some who have heard of many
who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel
strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the sane
person in a community of the mad; sometimes I feel like the one
blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in the
college of the learned, and always, during service, I feel like a
heretic in heaven.
But by no means do I ever overlook or minify the fact that
this is one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I
have never seen anything like this before. I have never seen
anything so great and fine and real as this devotion.
FRIDAY.–Yesterday’s opera was “Parsifal” again. The others
went and they show marked advance in appreciation; but I went
hunting for relics and reminders of the Margravine Wilhelmina,
she of the imperishable “Memoirs.” I am properly grateful to her
for her (unconscious) satire upon monarchy and nobility, and
therefore nothing which her hand touched or her eye looked upon
is indifferent to me. I am her pilgrim; the rest of this
multitude here are Wagner’s.
TUESDAY.–I have seen my last two operas; my season is
ended, and we cross over into Bohemia this afternoon. I was
supposing that my musical regeneration was accomplished and
perfected, because I enjoyed both of these operas, singing and
all, and, moreover, one of them was “Parsifal,” but the experts
have disenchanted me. They say:
“Singing! That wasn’t singing; that was the wailing,
screeching of third-rate obscurities, palmed off on us in the
interest of economy.”
Well, I ought to have recognized the sign–the old, sure
sign that has never failed me in matters of art. Whenever I
enjoy anything in art it means that it is mighty poor. The
private knowledge of this fact has saved me from going to pieces
with enthusiasm in front of many and many a chromo. However, my
base instinct does bring me profit sometimes; I was the only man
out of thirty-two hundred who got his money back on those two operas.
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
Is it true that the sun of a man’s mentality touches noon at
forty and then begins to wane toward setting? Doctor Osler is
charged with saying so. Maybe he said it, maybe he didn’t; I
don’t know which it is. But if he said it, I can point him to a
case which proves his rule. Proves it by being an exception to
it. To this place I nominate Mr. Howells.
I read his VENETIAN DAYS about forty years ago. I compare
it with his paper on Machiavelli in a late number of HARPER, and
I cannot find that his English has suffered any impairment. For
forty years his English has been to me a continual delight and
astonishment. In the sustained exhibition of certain great
qualities–clearness, compression, verbal exactness, and unforced
and seemingly unconscious felicity of phrasing–he is, in my
belief, without his peer in the English-writing world. SUSTAINED.
I entrench myself behind that protecting word. There are others
who exhibit those great qualities as greatly as he does, but only
by intervaled distributions of rich moonlight, with stretches of
veiled and dimmer landscape between; whereas Howells’s moon sails
cloudless skies all night and all the nights.
In the matter of verbal exactness Mr. Howells has no superior,
I suppose. He seems to be almost always able to find that
elusive and shifty grain of gold, the RIGHT WORD. Others have
to put up with approximations, more or less frequently; he
has better luck. To me, the others are miners working with the
gold-pan–of necessity some of the gold washes over and escapes;
whereas, in my fancy, he is quicksilver raiding down a riffle–no
grain of the metal stands much chance of eluding him. A powerful
agent is the right word: it lights the reader’s way and makes it
plain; a close approximation to it will answer, and much
traveling is done in a well-enough fashion by its help, but we do
not welcome it and applaud it and rejoice in it as we do when THE
right one blazes out on us. Whenever we come upon one of those
intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting
effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt:
it tingles exquisitely around through the walls of the mouth and
tastes as tart and crisp and good as the autumn-butter that
creams the sumac-berry. One has no time to examine the word and
vote upon its rank and standing, the automatic recognition of its
supremacy is so immediate. There is a plenty of acceptable
literature which deals largely in approximations, but it may be
likened to a fine landscape seen through the rain; the right word
would dismiss the rain, then you would see it better. It doesn’t
rain when Howells is at work.
And where does he get the easy and effortless flow of his
speech? and its cadenced and undulating rhythm? and its
architectural felicities of construction, its graces of
expression, its pemmican quality of compression, and all that?
Born to him, no doubt. All in shining good order in the
beginning, all extraordinary; and all just as shining, just as
extraordinary today, after forty years of diligent wear and tear
and use. He passed his fortieth year long and long ago; but I
think his English of today–his perfect English, I wish to say —
can throw down the glove before his English of that antique time
and not be afraid.
I will got back to the paper on Machiavelli now, and ask the
reader to examine this passage from it which I append. I do not
mean examine it in a bird’s-eye way; I mean search it, study it.
And, of course, read it aloud. I may be wrong, still it is my
conviction that one cannot get out of finely wrought literature
all that is in it by reading it mutely:
Mr. Dyer is rather of the opinion, first luminously
suggested by Macaulay, that Machiavelli was in earnest, but must
not be judged as a political moralist of our time and race would
be judged. He thinks that Machiavelli was in earnest, as none
but an idealist can be, and he is the first to imagine him an
idealist immersed in realities, who involuntarily transmutes the
events under his eye into something like the visionary issues of
reverie. The Machiavelli whom he depicts does not cease to be
politically a republican and socially a just man because he holds
up an atrocious despot like Caesar Borgia as a mirror for rulers.
What Machiavelli beheld round him in Italy was a civic disorder
in which there was oppression without statecraft, and revolt
without patriotism. When a miscreant like Borgia appeared upon
the scene and reduced both tyrants and rebels to an apparent
quiescence, he might very well seem to such a dreamer the savior
of society whom a certain sort of dreamers are always looking
for. Machiavelli was no less honest when he honored the
diabolical force than Carlyle was when at different times he
extolled the strong man who destroys liberty in creating order.
But Carlyle has only just ceased to be mistaken for a reformer,
while it is still Machiavelli’s hard fate to be so trammeled in
his material that his name stands for whatever is most malevolent
and perfidious in human nature.
You see how easy and flowing it is; how unvexed by ruggednesses,
clumsinesses, broken meters; how simple and–so far as you or I
can make out–unstudied; how clear, how limpid, how understandable,
how unconfused by cross-currents, eddies, undertows; how seemingly
unadorned, yet is all adornment, like the lily-of-the-valley;
and how compressed, how compact, without a complacency-signal
hung out anywhere to call attention to it.
There are twenty-three lines in the quoted passage. After reading
it several times aloud, one perceives that a good deal of matter
is crowded into that small space. I think it is a model
of compactness. When I take its materials apart and work them
over and put them together in my way, I find I cannot crowd the
result back into the same hole, there not being room enough. I
find it a case of a woman packing a man’s trunk: he can get the
things out, but he can’t ever get them back again.
The proffered paragraph is a just and fair sample; the rest
of the article is as compact as it is; there are no waste words.
The sample is just in other ways: limpid, fluent, graceful, and
rhythmical as it is, it holds no superiority in these respects
over the rest of the essay. Also, the choice phrasing noticeable
in the sample is not lonely; there is a plenty of its kin
distributed through the other paragraphs. This is claiming much
when that kin must face the challenge of a phrase like the one in
the middle sentence: “an idealist immersed in realities who
involuntarily transmutes the events under his eye into something
like the visionary issues of reverie.” With a hundred words to
do it with, the literary artisan could catch that airy thought
and tie it down and reduce it to a concrete condition, visible,
substantial, understandable and all right, like a cabbage; but
the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.
The quoted phrase, like a thousand others that have come
from the same source, has the quality of certain scraps of verse
which take hold of us and stay in our memories, we do not
understand why, at first: all the words being the right words,
none of them is conspicuous, and so they all seem inconspicuous,
therefore we wonder what it is about them that makes their
message take hold.
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
It is like a dreamy strain of moving music, with no sharp
notes in it. The words are all “right” words, and all the same
size. We do not notice it at first. We get the effect, it goes
straight home to us, but we do not know why. It is when the
right words are conspicuous that they thunder:
The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome!
When I got back from Howells old to Howells young I find him
arranging and clustering English words well, but not any better
than now. He is not more felicitous in concreting abstractions
now than he was in translating, then, the visions of the eyes of
flesh into words that reproduced their forms and colors:
In Venetian streets they give the fallen snow no rest. It
is at once shoveled into the canals by hundreds of half-naked
FACCHINI; and now in St. Mark’s Place the music of innumerable
shovels smote upon my ear; and I saw the shivering legion of
poverty as it engaged the elements in a struggle for the
possession of the Piazza. But the snow continued to fall, and
through the twilight of the descending flakes all this toil and
encountered looked like that weary kind of effort in dreams, when
the most determined industry seems only to renew the task. The
lofty crest of the bell-tower was hidden in the folds of falling
snow, and I could no longer see the golden angel upon its summit.
But looked at across the Piazza, the beautiful outline of St.
Mark’s Church was perfectly penciled in the air, and the shifting
threads of the snowfall were woven into a spell of novel
enchantment around the structure that always seemed to me too
exquisite in its fantastic loveliness to be anything but the
creation of magic. The tender snow had compassionated the
beautiful edifice for all the wrongs of time, and so hid the
stains and ugliness of decay that it looked as if just from the
hand of the builder–or, better said, just from the brain of the
architect. There was marvelous freshness in the colors of the
mosaics in the great arches of the facade, and all that gracious
harmony into which the temple rises, or marble scrolls and leafy
exuberance airily supporting the statues of the saints, was a
hundred times etherealized by the purity and whiteness of the
drifting flakes. The snow lay lightly on the golden gloves that
tremble like peacocks-crests above the vast domes, and plumed
them with softest white; it robed the saints in ermine; and it
danced over all its works, as if exulting in its beauty–beauty
which filled me with subtle, selfish yearning to keep such
evanescent loveliness for the little-while-longer of my whole
life, and with despair to think that even the poor lifeless
shadow of it could never be fairly reflected in picture or poem.
Through the wavering snowfall, the Saint Theodore upon one
of the granite pillars of the Piazzetta did not show so grim as
his wont is, and the winged lion on the other might have been a
winged lamb, so gentle and mild he looked by the tender light of
the storm. The towers of the island churches loomed faint and
far away in the dimness; the sailors in the rigging of the ships
that lay in the Basin wrought like phantoms among the shrouds;
the gondolas stole in and out of the opaque distance more
noiselessly and dreamily than ever; and a silence, almost
palpable, lay upon the mutest city in the world.
The spirit of Venice is there: of a city where Age and
Decay, fagged with distributing damage and repulsiveness among
the other cities of the planet in accordance with the policy and
business of their profession, come for rest and play between
seasons, and treat themselves to the luxury and relaxation of
sinking the shop and inventing and squandering charms all about,
instead of abolishing such as they find, as it their habit when
not on vacation.
In the working season they do business in Boston sometimes,
and a character in THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY takes accurate note
of pathetic effects wrought by them upon the aspects of a street
of once dignified and elegant homes whose occupants have moved
away and left them a prey to neglect and gradual ruin and
progressive degradation; a descent which reaches bottom at last,
when the street becomes a roost for humble professionals of the
faith-cure and fortune-telling sort.
What a queer, melancholy house, what a queer, melancholy
street! I don’t think I was ever in a street before when quite
so many professional ladies, with English surnames, preferred
Madam to Mrs. on their door-plates. And the poor old place has
such a desperately conscious air of going to the deuce. Every
house seems to wince as you go by, and button itself up to the
chin for fear you should find out it had no shirt on–so to
speak. I don’t know what’s the reason, but these material tokens
of a social decay afflict me terribly; a tipsy woman isn’t
dreadfuler than a haggard old house, that’s once been a home, in
a street like this.
Mr. Howells’s pictures are not mere stiff, hard, accurate
photographs; they are photographs with feeling in them, and
sentiment, photographs taken in a dream, one might say.
As concerns his humor, I will not try to say anything, yet I
would try, if I had the words that might approximately reach up
to its high place. I do not think any one else can play with
humorous fancies so gracefully and delicately and deliciously as
he does, nor has so many to play with, nor can come so near
making them look as if they were doing the playing themselves and
he was not aware that they were at it. For they are unobtrusive,
and quiet in their ways, and well conducted. His is a humor
which flows softly all around about and over and through the mesh
of the page, pervasive, refreshing, health-giving, and makes no
more show and no more noise than does the circulation of the
There is another thing which is contentingly noticeable in
Mr. Howells’s books. That is his “stage directions”–those
artifices which authors employ to throw a kind of human
naturalness around a scene and a conversation, and help the
reader to see the one and get at meanings in the other which
might not be perceived if entrusted unexplained to the bare words
of the talk. Some authors overdo the stage directions, they
elaborate them quite beyond necessity; they spend so much time
and take up so much room in telling us how a person said a thing
and how he looked and acted when he said it that we get tired and
vexed and wish he hadn’t said it all. Other authors’ directions
are brief enough, but it is seldom that the brevity contains
either wit or information. Writers of this school go in rags, in
the matter of state directions; the majority of them having
nothing in stock but a cigar, a laugh, a blush, and a bursting
into tears. In their poverty they work these sorry things to the
bone. They say:
“. . . replied Alfred, flipping the ash from his cigar.”
(This explains nothing; it only wastes space.)
“. . . responded Richard, with a laugh.” (There was nothing
to laugh about; there never is. The writer puts it in from
habit–automatically; he is paying no attention to his work; or
he would see that there is nothing to laugh at; often, when a
remark is unusually and poignantly flat and silly, he tries to
deceive the reader by enlarging the stage direction and making
Richard break into “frenzies of uncontrollable laughter.” This
makes the reader sad.)
“. . . murmured Gladys, blushing.” (This poor old shop-worn
blush is a tiresome thing. We get so we would rather Gladys
would fall out of the book and break her neck than do it again.
She is always doing it, and usually irrelevantly. Whenever it is
her turn to murmur she hangs out her blush; it is the only thing
she’s got. In a little while we hate her, just as we do
“. . . repeated Evelyn, bursting into tears.” (This kind
keep a book damp all the time. They can’t say a thing without
crying. They cry so much about nothing that by and by when they
have something to cry ABOUT they have gone dry; they sob, and
fetch nothing; we are not moved. We are only glad.)
They gavel me, these stale and overworked stage directions,
these carbon films that got burnt out long ago and cannot now
carry any faintest thread of light. It would be well if they
could be relieved from duty and flung out in the literary back
yard to rot and disappear along with the discarded and forgotten
“steeds” and “halidomes” and similar stage-properties once so
dear to our grandfathers. But I am friendly to Mr. Howells’s
stage directions; more friendly to them than to any one else’s, I
think. They are done with a competent and discriminating art,
and are faithful to the requirements of a state direction’s
proper and lawful office, which is to inform. Sometimes they
convey a scene and its conditions so well that I believe I could
see the scene and get the spirit and meaning of the accompanying
dialogue if some one would read merely the stage directions to me
and leave out the talk. For instance, a scene like this, from
THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY:
“. . . and she laid her arms with a beseeching gesture on
her father’s shoulder.”
“. . . she answered, following his gesture with a glance.”
“. . . she said, laughing nervously.”
“. . . she asked, turning swiftly upon him that strange, searching glance.”
“. . . she answered, vaguely.”
“. . . she reluctantly admitted.”
“. . . but her voice died wearily away, and she stood looking
into his face with puzzled entreaty.”
Mr. Howells does not repeat his forms, and does not need to;
he can invent fresh ones without limit. It is mainly the
repetition over and over again, by the third-rates, of worn and
commonplace and juiceless forms that makes their novels such a
weariness and vexation to us, I think. We do not mind one or two
deliveries of their wares, but as we turn the pages over and keep
on meeting them we presently get tired of them and wish they
would do other things for a change.
“. . . replied Alfred, flipping the ash from his cigar.”
“. . . responded Richard, with a laugh.”
“. . . murmured Gladys, blushing.”
“. . . repeated Evelyn, bursting into tears.”
“. . . replied the Earl, flipping the ash from his cigar.”
“. . . responded the undertaker, with a laugh.”
“. . . murmured the chambermaid, blushing.”
“. . . repeated the burglar, bursting into tears.”
“. . . replied the conductor, flipping the ash from his cigar.”
“. . . responded Arkwright, with a laugh.”
“. . . murmured the chief of police, blushing.”
“. . . repeated the house-cat, bursting into tears.”
And so on and so on; till at last it ceases to excite. I
always notice stage directions, because they fret me and keep me
trying to get out of their way, just as the automobiles do. At
first; then by and by they become monotonous and I get run over.
Mr. Howells has done much work, and the spirit of it is as
beautiful as the make of it. I have held him in admiration and
affection so many years that I know by the number of those years
that he is old now; but his heart isn’t, nor his pen; and years
do not count. Let him have plenty of them; there is profit in
them for us.
ENGLISH AS SHE IS TAUGHT
In the appendix to Croker’s Boswell’s Johnson one finds this anecdote:
CATO’S SOLILOQUY.–One day Mrs. Gastrel set a little girl to
repeat to him [Dr. Samuel Johnson] Cato’s Soliloquy, which she
went through very correctly. The Doctor, after a pause, asked
“What was to bring Cato to an end?”
She said it was a knife.
“No, my dear, it was not so.”
“My aunt Polly said it was a knife.”
“Why, Aunt Polly’s knife MAY DO, but it was a DAGGER, my dear.”
He then asked her the meaning of “bane and antidote,” which
she was unable to give. Mrs. Gastrel said:
“You cannot expect so young a child to know the meaning of such words.”
He then said:
“My dear, how many pence are there in SIXPENCE?”
“I cannot tell, sir,” was the half-terrified reply.
On this, addressing himself to Mrs. Gastrel, he said:
“Now, my dear lady, can anything be more ridiculous than to
teach a child Cato’s Soliloquy, who does not know how many pence
there are in a sixpence?”
In a lecture before the Royal Geographical Society Professor
Ravenstein quoted the following list of frantic questions, and
said that they had been asked in an examination:
Mention all names of places in the world derived from Julius
Caesar or Augustus Caesar.
Where are the following rivers: Pisuerga, Sakaria,
Guadalete, Jalon, Mulde?
All you know of the following: Machacha, Pilmo, Schebulos,
Crivoscia, Basces, Mancikert, Taxhem, Citeaux, Meloria, Zutphen.
The highest peaks of the Karakorum range.
The number of universities in Prussia.
Why are the tops of mountains continually covered with snow [sic]?
Name the length and breadth of the streams of lava which
issued from the Skaptar Jokul in the eruption of 1783.
That list would oversize nearly anybody’s geographical
knowledge. Isn’t it reasonably possible that in our schools many
of the questions in all studies are several miles ahead of where
the pupil is?–that he is set to struggle with things that are
ludicrously beyond his present reach, hopelessly beyond his
present strength? This remark in passing, and by way of text;
now I come to what I was going to say.
I have just now fallen upon a darling literary curiosity.
It is a little book, a manuscript compilation, and the compiler
sent it to me with the request that I say whether I think it
ought to be published or not. I said, Yes; but as I slowly grow
wise I briskly grow cautious; and so, now that the publication is
imminent, it has seemed to me that I should feel more comfortable
if I could divide up this responsibility with the public by
adding them to the court. Therefore I will print some extracts
from the book, in the hope that they may make converts to my
judgment that the volume has merit which entitles it to publication.
As to its character. Every one has sampled “English as She
is Spoke” and “English as She is Wrote”; this little volume
furnishes us an instructive array of examples of “English as She
is Taught”–in the public schools of–well, this country. The
collection is made by a teacher in those schools, and all the
examples in it are genuine; none of them have been tampered with,
or doctored in any way. From time to time, during several years,
whenever a pupil has delivered himself of anything peculiarly
quaint or toothsome in the course of his recitations, this
teacher and her associates have privately set that thing down in
a memorandum-book; strictly following the original, as to
grammar, construction, spelling, and all; and the result is this
The contents of the book consist mainly of answers given by
the boys and girls to questions, said answers being given
sometimes verbally, sometimes in writing. The subjects touched
upon are fifteen in number: I. Etymology; II. Grammar; III.
Mathematics; IV. Geography; V. “Original”; VI. Analysis; VII.
History; VIII. “Intellectual”; IX. Philosophy; X. Physiology; XI.
Astronomy; XII. Politics; XIII. Music; XIV. Oratory; XV.
You perceive that the poor little young idea has taken a
shot at a good many kinds of game in the course of the book. Now
as to results. Here are some quaint definitions of words. It
will be noticed that in all of these instances the sound of the
word, or the look of it on paper, has misled the child:
ABORIGINES, a system of mountains.
ALIAS, a good man in the Bible.
AMENABLE, anything that is mean.
AMMONIA, the food of the gods.
ASSIDUITY, state of being an acid.
AURIFEROUS, pertaining to an orifice.
CAPILLARY, a little caterpillar.
CORNIFEROUS, rocks in which fossil corn is found.
EMOLUMENT, a headstone to a grave.
EQUESTRIAN, one who asks questions.
EUCHARIST, one who plays euchre.
FRANCHISE, anything belonging to the French.
IDOLATER, a very idle person.
IPECAC, a man who likes a good dinner.
IRRIGATE, to make fun of.
MENDACIOUS, what can be mended.
MERCENARY, one who feels for another.
PARASITE, a kind of umbrella.
PARASITE, the murder of an infant.
PUBLICAN, a man who does his prayers in public.
TENACIOUS, ten acres of land.
Here is one where the phrase “publicans and sinners” has got
mixed up in the child’s mind with politics, and the result is a
definition which takes one in a sudden and unexpected way:
REPUBLICAN, a sinner mentioned in the Bible.
Also in Democratic newspapers now and then. Here are two where
the mistake has resulted from sound assisted by remote fact:
PLAGIARIST, a writer of plays.
DEMAGOGUE, a vessel containing beer and other liquids.
I cannot quite make out what it was that misled the pupil in
the following instances; it would not seem to have been the sound
of the word, nor the look of it in print:
ASPHYXIA, a grumbling, fussy temper.
QUARTERNIONS, a bird with a flat beak and no bill, living in
QUARTERNIONS, the name given to a style of art practiced by
QUARTERNIONS, a religious convention held every hundred
SIBILANT, the state of being idiotic.
CROSIER, a staff carried by the Deity.
In the following sentences the pupil’s ear has been
deceiving him again:
The marriage was illegible.
He was totally dismasted with the whole performance.
He enjoys riding on a philosopher.
She was very quick at repertoire.
He prayed for the waters to subsidize.
The leopard is watching his sheep.
They had a strawberry vestibule.
Here is one which–well, now, how often we do slam right
into the truth without ever suspecting it:
The men employed by the Gas Company go around and
speculate the meter.
Indeed they do, dear; and when you grow up, many and many’s
the time you will notice it in the gas bill. In the following
sentences the little people have some information to convey,
every time; but in my case they fail to connect: the light
always went out on the keystone word:
The coercion of some things is remarkable; as bread and molasses.
Her hat is contiguous because she wears it on one side.
He preached to an egregious congregation.
The captain eliminated a bullet through the man’s heart.
You should take caution and be precarious.
The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the
perennial time came.
The last is a curiously plausible sentence; one seems to
know what it means, and yet he knows all the time that he
doesn’t. Here is an odd (but entirely proper) use of a word, and
a most sudden descent from a lofty philosophical altitude to a
very practical and homely illustration:
We should endeavor to avoid extremes–like those of wasps and bees.
And here–with “zoological” and “geological” in his mind,
but not ready to his tongue–the small scholar has innocently
gone and let out a couple of secrets which ought never to have
been divulged in any circumstances:
There are a good many donkeys in theological gardens.
Some of the best fossils are found in theological gardens.
Under the head of “Grammar” the little scholars furnish the
Gender is the distinguishing nouns without regard to sex.
A verb is something to eat.
Adverbs should always be used as adjectives and adjectives as adverbs.
Every sentence and name of God must begin with a caterpillar.
“Caterpillar” is well enough, but capital letter would have
been stricter. The following is a brave attempt at a solution,
but it failed to liquify:
When they are going to say some prose or poetry before they
say the poetry or prose they must put a semicolon just after the
introduction of the prose or poetry.
The chapter on “Mathematics” is full of fruit. From it I
take a few samples–mainly in an unripe state:
A straight line is any distance between two places.
Parallel lines are lines that can never meet until they run together.
A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle.
Things which are equal to each other are equal to anything else.
To find the number of square feet in a room you multiply the
room by the number of the feet. The product is the result.
Right you are. In the matter of geography this little book
is unspeakably rich. The questions do not appear to have applied
the microscope to the subject, as did those quoted by Professor
Ravenstein; still, they proved plenty difficult enough without
that. These pupils did not hunt with a microscope, they hunted
with a shot-gun; this is shown by the crippled condition of the
game they brought in:
America is divided into the Passiffic slope and the Mississippi valey.
North America is separated by Spain.
America consists from north to south about five hundred miles.
The United States is quite a small country compared with
some other countrys, but it about as industrious.
The capital of the United States is Long Island.
The five seaports of the U.S. are Newfunlan and Sanfrancisco.
The principal products of the U.S. is earthquakes and volcanoes.
The Alaginnies are mountains in Philadelphia.
The Rocky Mountains are on the western side of Philadelphia.
Cape Hateras is a vast body of water surrounded by land and
flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Mason and Dixon’s line is the Equator.
One of the leading industries of the United States is
mollasses, book-covers, numbers, gas, teaching, lumber,
manufacturers, paper-making, publishers, coal.
In Austria the principal occupation is gathering Austrich feathers.
Gibraltar is an island built on a rock.
Russia is very cold and tyrannical.
Sicily is one of the Sandwich Islands.
Hindoostan flows through the Ganges and empties into the
Ireland is called the Emigrant Isle because it is so
beautiful and green.
The width of the different zones Europe lies in depend upon
the surrounding country.
The imports of a country are the things that are paid for,
the exports are the things that are not.
Climate lasts all the time and weather only a few days.
The two most famous volcanoes of Europe are Sodom and Gomorrah.
The chapter headed “Analysis” shows us that the pupils in
our public schools are not merely loaded up with those showy
facts about geography, mathematics, and so on, and left in that
incomplete state; no, there’s machinery for clarifying and
expanding their minds. They are required to take poems and
analyze them, dig out their common sense, reduce them to
statistics, and reproduce them in a luminous prose translation
which shall tell you at a glance what the poet was trying to get
at. One sample will do. Here is a stanza from “The Lady of the
Lake,” followed by the pupil’s impressive explanation of it:
Alone, but with unbated zeal,
The horseman plied with scourge and steel;
For jaded now and spent with toil,
Embossed with foam and dark with soil,
While every gasp with sobs he drew,
The laboring stag strained full in view.
The man who rode on the horse performed the whip and an
instrument made of steel alone with strong ardor not diminishing,
for, being tired from the time passed with hard labor overworked
with anger and ignorant with weariness, while every breath for
labor he drew with cries full or sorrow, the young deer made
imperfect who worked hard filtered in sight.
I see, now, that I never understood that poem before. I
have had glimpses of its meaning, it moments when I was not as
ignorant with weariness as usual, but this is the first time the
whole spacious idea of it ever filtered in sight. If I were a
public-school pupil I would put those other studies aside and
stick to analysis; for, after all, it is the thing to spread your
We come now to historical matters, historical remains, one
might say. As one turns the pages he is impressed with the depth
to which one date has been driven into the American child’s head
–1492. The date is there, and it is there to stay. And it is
always at hand, always deliverable at a moment’s notice. But the
Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another matter. Only
the date itself is familiar and sure: its vast Fact has failed
of lodgment. It would appear that whenever you ask a public-
school pupil when a thing–anything, no matter what–happened,
and he is in doubt, he always rips out his 1492. He applies it
to everything, from the landing of the ark to the introduction of
the horse-car. Well, after all, it is our first date, and so it
is right enough to honor it, and pay the public schools to teach
our children to honor it:
George Washington was born in 1492.
Washington wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1492.
St. Bartholemew was massacred in 1492.
The Brittains were the Saxons who entered England in 1492
under Julius Caesar.
The earth is 1492 miles in circumference.
To proceed with “History”
Christopher Columbus was called the Father of his Country.
Queen Isabella of Spain sold her watch and chain and other
millinery so that Columbus could discover America.
The Indian wars were very desecrating to the country.
The Indians pursued their warfare by hiding in the bushes
and then scalping them.
Captain John Smith has been styled the father of his country.
His life was saved by his daughter Pochahantas.
The Puritans found an insane asylum in the wilds of America.
The Stamp Act was to make everybody stamp all materials so
they should be null and void.
Washington died in Spain almost broken-hearted. His remains
were taken to the cathedral in Havana.
Gorilla warfare was where men rode on gorillas.
John Brown was a very good insane man who tried to get
fugitives slaves into Virginia. He captured all the inhabitants,
but was finally conquered and condemned to his death. The
confederasy was formed by the fugitive slaves.
Alfred the Great reigned 872 years. He was distinguished
for letting some buckwheat cakes burn, and the lady scolded him.
Henry Eight was famous for being a great widower haveing
lost several wives.
Lady Jane Grey studied Greek and Latin and was beheaded
after a few days.
John Bright is noted for an incurable disease.
Lord James Gordon Bennet instigated the Gordon Riots.
The Middle Ages come in between antiquity and posterity.
Luther introduced Christianity into England a good many
thousand years ago. His birthday was November 1883. He was once
a Pope. He lived at the time of the Rebellion of Worms.
Julius Caesar is noted for his famous telegram dispatch I
came I saw I conquered.
Julius Caesar was really a very great man. He was a very
great soldier and wrote a book for beginners in the Latin.
Cleopatra was caused by the death of an asp which she
dissolved in a wine cup.
The only form of government in Greece was a limited monkey.
The Persian war lasted about 500 years.
Greece had only 7 wise men.
Socrates . . . destroyed some statues and had to drink Shamrock.
Here is a fact correctly stated; and yet it is phrased with
such ingenious infelicity that it can be depended upon to convey
misinformation every time it is uncarefully unread:
By the Salic law no woman or descendant of a woman could
occupy the throne.
To show how far a child can travel in history with judicious
and diligent boosting in the public school, we select the
Abraham Lincoln was born in Wales in 1599.
In the chapter headed “Intellectual” I find a great number of most
interesting statements. A sample or two may be found not amiss:
Bracebridge Hall was written by Henry Irving.
Show Bound was written by Peter Cooper.
The House of the Seven Gables was written by Lord Bryant.
Edgar A. Poe was a very curdling writer.
Cotton Mather was a writer who invented the cotten gin and
Beowulf wrote the Scriptures.
Ben Johnson survived Shakspeare in some respects.
In the Canterbury Tale it gives account of King Alfred on
his way to the shrine of Thomas Bucket.
Chaucer was the father of English pottery.
Chaucer was a bland verse writer of the third century.
Chaucer was succeeded by H. Wads. Longfellow an American
Writer. His writings were chiefly prose and nearly one hundred
Shakspere translated the Scriptures and it was called St.
James because he did it.
In the middle of the chapter I find many pages of
information concerning Shakespeare’s plays, Milton’s works, and
those of Bacon, Addison, Samuel Johnson, Fielding, Richardson,
Sterne, Smollett, De Foe, Locke, Pope, Swift, Goldsmith, Burns,
Cowper, Wordsworth, Gibbon, Byron, Coleridge, Hood, Scott,
Macaulay, George Eliot, Dickens, Bulwer, Thackeray, Browning,
Mrs. Browning, Tennyson, and Disraeli–a fact which shows that
into the restricted stomach of the public-school pupil is
shoveled every year the blood, bone, and viscera of a gigantic
literature, and the same is there digested and disposed of in a
most successful and characteristic and gratifying public-school
way. I have space for but a trifling few of the results:
Lord Byron was the son of an heiress and a drunken man.
Wm. Wordsworth wrote the Barefoot Boy and Imitations on Immortality.
Gibbon wrote a history of his travels in Italy. This was original.
George Eliot left a wife and children who mourned greatly for his genius.
George Eliot Miss Mary Evans Mrs. Cross Mrs. Lewis was the greatest
female poet unless George Sands is made an exception of.
Bulwell is considered a good writer.
Sir Walter Scott Charles Bronte Alfred the Great and Johnson
were the first great novelists.
Thomas Babington Makorlay graduated at Harvard and then studied law,
he was raised to the peerage as baron in 1557 and died in 1776.
Here are two or three miscellaneous facts that may be of value,
if taken in moderation:
Homer’s writings are Homer’s Essays Virgil the Aenid and
Paradise lost some people say that these poems were not written
by Homer but by another man of the same name.
A sort of sadness kind of shone in Bryant’s poems.
Holmes is a very profligate and amusing writer.
When the public-school pupil wrestles with the political
features of the Great Republic, they throw him sometimes:
A bill becomes a law when the President vetoes it.
The three departments of the government is the President rules
the world, the governor rules the State, the mayor rules the city.
The first conscientious Congress met in Philadelphia.
The Constitution of the United States was established to
ensure domestic hostility.
Truth crushed to earth will rise again. As follows:
The Constitution of the United States is that part of the
book at the end which nobody reads.
And here she rises once more and untimely. There should be
a limit to public-school instruction; it cannot be wise or well
to let the young find out everything:
Congress is divided into civilized half civilized and savage.
Here are some results of study in music and oratory:
An interval in music is the distance on the keyboard from
one piano to the next.
A rest means you are not to sing it.
Emphasis is putting more distress on one word than another.
The chapter on “Physiology” contains much that ought not to
be lost to science:
Physillogigy is to study about your bones stummick and vertebry.
Occupations which are injurious to health are cabolic acid
gas which is impure blood.
We have an upper and lower skin. The lower skin moves all
the time and the upper skin moves when we do.
The body is mostly composed of water and about one half is
The stomach is a small pear-shaped bone situated in the body.
The gastric juice keeps the bones from creaking.
The Chyle flows up the middle of the backbone and reaches
the heart where it meets the oxygen and is purified.
The salivary glands are used to salivate the body.
In the stomach starch is changed to cane sugar and cane
sugar to sugar cane.
The olfactory nerve enters the cavity of the orbit and is
developed into the special sense of hearing.
The growth of a tooth begins in the back of the mouth and
extends to the stomach.
If we were on a railroad track and a train was coming the train
would deafen our ears so that we couldn’t see to get off the track.
If, up to this point, none of my quotations have added
flavor to the Johnsonian anecdote at the head of this article,
let us make another attempt:
The theory that intuitive truths are discovered by the light
of nature originated from St. John’s interpretation of a passage
in the Gospel of Plato.
The weight of the earth is found by comparing a mass of
known lead with that of a mass of unknown lead.
To find the weight of the earth take the length of a degree
on a meridian and multiply by 6 1/2 pounds.
The spheres are to each other as the squares of their
A body will go just as far in the first second as the body
will go plus the force of gravity and that’s equal to twice what
the body will go.
Specific gravity is the weight to be compared weight of an
equal volume of or that is the weight of a body compared with the
weight of an equal volume.
The law of fluid pressure divide the different forms of
organized bodies by the form of attraction and the number
increased will be the form.
Inertia is that property of bodies by virtue of which it
cannot change its own condition of rest or motion. In other
words it is the negative quality of passiveness either in
recoverable latency or insipient latescence.
If a laugh is fair here, not the struggling child, nor the
unintelligent teacher–or rather the unintelligent Boards,
Committees, and Trustees–are the proper target for it. All
through this little book one detects the signs of a certain
probable fact–that a large part of the pupil’s “instruction”
consists in cramming him with obscure and wordy “rules” which he
does not understand and has no time to understand. It would be
as useful to cram him with brickbats; they would at least stay.
In a town in the interior of New York, a few years ago, a
gentleman set forth a mathematical problem and proposed to give a
prize to every public-school pupil who should furnish the correct
solution of it. Twenty-two of the brightest boys in the public
schools entered the contest. The problem was not a very
difficult one for pupils of their mathematical rank and standing,
yet they all failed–by a hair–through one trifling mistake or
another. Some searching questions were asked, when it turned out
that these lads were as glib as parrots with the “rules,” but
could not reason out a single rule or explain the principle
underlying it. Their memories had been stocked, but not their
understandings. It was a case of brickbat culture, pure and
There are several curious “compositions” in the little book,
and we must make room for one. It is full of naivete, brutal
truth, and unembarrassed directness, and is the funniest
(genuine) boy’s composition I think I have ever seen:
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be
have your. They think more of dress than anything and like to
play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far
distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time
and go to church on Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-
ways funy and making fun of boy’s hands and they say how dirty.
They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun
of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they
ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say
oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and
that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.
From Mr. Edward Channing’s recent article in SCIENCE:
The marked difference between the books now being produced
by French, English, and American travelers, on the one hand, and
German explorers, on the other, is too great to escape attention.
That difference is due entirely to the fact that in school and
university the German is taught, in the first place to see, and
in the second place to understand what he does see.
A SIMPLIFIED ALPHABET
(This article, written during the autumn of 1899, was about
the last writing done by Mark Twain on any impersonal subject.)
I have had a kindly feeling, a friendly feeling, a cousinly
feeling toward Simplified Spelling, from the beginning of the
movement three years ago, but nothing more inflamed than that.
It seemed to me to merely propose to substitute one inadequacy
for another; a sort of patching and plugging poor old dental
relics with cement and gold and porcelain paste; what was really
needed was a new set of teeth. That is to say, a new ALPHABET.
The heart of our trouble is with our foolish alphabet. It
doesn’t know how to spell, and can’t be taught. In this it is
like all other alphabets except one–the phonographic. This is
the only competent alphabet in the world. It can spell and
correctly pronounce any word in our language.
That admirable alphabet, that brilliant alphabet, that
inspired alphabet, can be learned in an hour or two. In a week
the student can learn to write it with some little facility, and
to read it with considerable ease. I know, for I saw it tried in
a public school in Nevada forty-five years ago, and was so
impressed by the incident that it has remained in my memory ever
I wish we could adopt it in place of our present written
(and printed) character. I mean SIMPLY the alphabet; simply the
consonants and the vowels–I don’t mean any REDUCTIONS or
abbreviations of them, such as the shorthand writer uses in order
to get compression and speed. No, I would SPELL EVERY WORD OUT.
I will insert the alphabet here as I find it in Burnz’s
PHONIC SHORTHAND. [Figure 1] It is arranged on the basis of
Isaac Pitman’s PHONOGRAPHY. Isaac Pitman was the originator and
father of scientific phonography. It is used throughout the
globe. It was a memorable invention. He made it public seventy-
three years ago. The firm of Isaac Pitman & Sons, New York,
still exists, and they continue the master’s work.
What should we gain?
First of all, we could spell DEFINITELY–and correctly–any
word you please, just by the SOUND of it. We can’t do that with
our present alphabet. For instance, take a simple, every-day
word PHTHISIS. If we tried to spell it by the sound of it, we
should make it TYSIS, and be laughed at by every educated person.
Secondly, we should gain in REDUCTION OF LABOR in writing.
Simplified Spelling makes valuable reductions in the case of
several hundred words, but the new spelling must be LEARNED. You
can’t spell them by the sound; you must get them out of the book.
But even if we knew the simplified form for every word in
the language, the phonographic alphabet would still beat the
Simplified Speller “hands down” in the important matter of
economy of labor. I will illustrate:
PRESENT FORM: through, laugh, highland.
SIMPLIFIED FORM: thru, laff, hyland.
PHONOGRAPHIC FORM: [Figure 2]
To write the word “through,” the pen has to make twenty-one strokes.
To write the word “thru,” then pen has to make twelve strokes–
a good saving.
To write that same word with the phonographic alphabet, the
pen has to make only THREE strokes.
To write the word “laugh,” the pen has to make FOURTEEN
To write “laff,” the pen has to make the SAME NUMBER of
strokes–no labor is saved to the penman.
To write the same word with the phonographic alphabet, the
pen has to make only THREE strokes.
To write the word “highland,” the pen has to make twenty-two
To write “hyland,” the pen has to make eighteen strokes.
To write that word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen
has to make only FIVE strokes. [Figure 3]
To write the words “phonographic alphabet,” the pen has to
make fifty-three strokes.
To write “fonografic alfabet,” the pen has to make fifty strokes.
To the penman, the saving in labor is insignificant.
To write that word (with vowels) with the phonographic
alphabet, the pen has to make only SEVENTEEN strokes.
Without the vowels, only THIRTEEN strokes. [Figure 4] The
vowels are hardly necessary, this time.
We make five pen-strokes in writing an m. Thus: [Figure 5]
a stroke down; a stroke up; a second stroke down; a second stroke
up; a final stroke down. Total, five. The phonographic alphabet
accomplishes the m with a single stroke–a curve, like a
parenthesis that has come home drunk and has fallen face down
right at the front door where everybody that goes along will see
him and say, Alas!
When our written m is not the end of a word, but is
otherwise located, it has to be connected with the next letter,
and that requires another pen-stroke, making six in all, before
you get rid of that m. But never mind about the connecting
strokes–let them go. Without counting them, the twenty-six
letters of our alphabet consumed about eighty pen-strokes for
their construction–about three pen-strokes per letter.
It is THREE TIMES THE NUMBER required by the phonographic
alphabet. It requires but ONE stroke for each letter.
My writing-gait is–well, I don’t know what it is, but I
will time myself and see. Result: it is twenty-four words per
minute. I don’t mean composing; I mean COPYING. There isn’t any
Very well, my copying-gait is 1,440 words per hour–say
1,500. If I could use the phonographic character with facility I
could do the 1,500 in twenty minutes. I could do nine hours’
copying in three hours; I could do three years’ copying in one
year. Also, if I had a typewriting machine with the phonographic
alphabet on it–oh, the miracles I could do!
I am not pretending to write that character well. I have
never had a lesson, and I am copying the letters from the book.
But I can accomplish my desire, at any rate, which is, to make
the reader get a good and clear idea of the advantage it would be
to us if we could discard our present alphabet and put this
better one in its place–using it in books, newspapers, with the
typewriter, and with the pen.
[Figure 6] –MAN DOG HORSE. I think it is graceful and
would look comely in print. And consider–once more, I beg–what
a labor-saver it is! Ten pen-strokes with the one system to
convey those three words above, and thirty-three by the other!
[Figure 6] I mean, in SOME ways, not in all. I suppose I might
go so far as to say in most ways, and be within the facts, but
never mind; let it go at SOME. One of the ways in which it
exercises this birthright is–as I think–continuing to use our
laughable alphabet these seventy-three years while there was a
rational one at hand, to be had for the taking.
It has taken five hundred years to simplify some of
Chaucer’s rotten spelling–if I may be allowed to use to frank a
term as that–and it will take five hundred years more to get our
exasperating new Simplified Corruptions accepted and running
smoothly. And we sha’n’t be any better off then than we are now;
for in that day we shall still have the privilege the Simplifiers
are exercising now: ANYBODY can change the spelling that wants
BUT YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE PHONOGRAPHIC SPELLING; THERE ISN’T
ANY WAY. It will always follow the SOUND. If you want to change
the spelling, you have to change the sound first.
Mind, I myself am a Simplified Speller; I belong to that
unhappy guild that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform
our drunken old alphabet by reducing his whiskey. Well, it will
improve him. When they get through and have reformed him all
they can by their system he will be only HALF drunk. Above that
condition their system can never lift him. There is no
competent, and lasting, and real reform for him but to take away
his whiskey entirely, and fill up his jug with Pitman’s wholesome
and undiseased alphabet.
One great drawback to Simplified Spelling is, that in print
a simplified word looks so like the very nation! and when you
bunch a whole squadron of the Simplified together the spectacle
is very nearly unendurable.
The da ma ov koars kum when the publik ma be expektd to get
rekonsyled to the bezair asspekt of the Simplified Kombynashuns,
but–if I may be allowed the expression–is it worth the wasted
time? [Figure 7]
To see our letters put together in ways to which we are not accustomed
offends the eye, and also takes the EXPRESSION out of the words.
La on, Makduf, and damd be he hoo furst krys hold, enuf!
It doesn’t thrill you as it used to do. The simplifications
have sucked the thrill all out of it.
But a written character with which we are NOT ACQUAINTED
does not offend us–Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and the
others–they have an interesting look, and we see beauty in them,
too. And this is true of hieroglyphics, as well. There is
something pleasant and engaging about the mathematical signs when
we do not understand them. The mystery hidden in these things
has a fascination for us: we can’t come across a printed page of
shorthand without being impressed by it and wishing we could read
Very well, what I am offering for acceptance and adopting is
not shorthand, but longhand, written with the SHORTHAND ALPHABET
UNREACHED. You can write three times as many words in a minute
with it as you can write with our alphabet. And so, in a way, it
IS properly a shorthand. It has a pleasant look, too; a
beguiling look, an inviting look. I will write something in it,
in my rude and untaught way: [Figure 8]
Even when _I_ do it it comes out prettier than it does in
Simplified Spelling. Yes, and in the Simplified it costs one
hundred and twenty-three pen-strokes to write it, whereas in the
phonographic it costs only twenty-nine.
[Figure 9] is probably [Figure 10].
Let us hope so, anyway.
AS CONCERNS INTERPRETING THE DEITY
This line of hieroglyphics was for fourteen years the
despair of all the scholars who labored over the mysteries of the
Rosetta stone: [Figure 1]
After five years of study Champollion translated it thus:
Therefore let the worship of Epiphanes be maintained in all
the temples, this upon pain of death.
That was the twenty-forth translation that had been
furnished by scholars. For a time it stood. But only for a
time. Then doubts began to assail it and undermine it, and the
scholars resumed their labors. Three years of patient work
produced eleven new translations; among them, this, by
Gr:unfeldt, was received with considerable favor:
The horse of Epiphanes shall be maintained at the public expense;
this upon pain of death.
But the following rendering, by Gospodin, was received by
the learned world with yet greater favor:
The priest shall explain the wisdom of Epiphanes to all these people,
and these shall listen with reverence, upon pain of death.
Seven years followed, in which twenty-one fresh and widely
varying renderings were scored–none of them quite convincing.
But now, at last, came Rawlinson, the youngest of all the
scholars, with a translation which was immediately and
universally recognized as being the correct version, and his name
became famous in a day. So famous, indeed, that even the
children were familiar with it; and such a noise did the
achievement itself make that not even the noise of the monumental
political event of that same year–the flight from Elba–was able
to smother it to silence. Rawlinson’s version reads as follows:
Therefore, walk not away from the wisdom of Epiphanes, but
turn and follow it; so shall it conduct thee to the temple’s
peace, and soften for thee the sorrows of life and the pains of
Here is another difficult text: [Figure 2]
It is demotic–a style of Egyptian writing and a phase of
the language which has perished from the knowledge of all men
twenty-five hundred years before the Christian era.
Our red Indians have left many records, in the form of
pictures, upon our crags and boulders. It has taken our most
gifted and painstaking students two centuries to get at the
meanings hidden in these pictures; yet there are still two little
lines of hieroglyphics among the figures grouped upon the Dighton
Rocks which they have not succeeds in interpreting to their
satisfaction. These: [Figure 3]
The suggested solutions are practically innumerable; they
would fill a book.
Thus we have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries;
it is only when we set out to discover the secret of God that our
difficulties disappear. It was always so. In antique Roman
times it was the custom of the Deity to try to conceal His
intentions in the entrails of birds, and this was patiently and
hopefully continued century after century, although the attempted
concealment never succeeded, in a single recorded instance. The
augurs could read entrails as easily as a modern child can read
coarse print. Roman history is full of the marvels of
interpretation which these extraordinary men performed. These
strange and wonderful achievements move our awe and compel our
admiration. Those men could pierce to the marrow of a mystery
instantly. If the Rosetta-stone idea had been introduced it
would have defeated them, but entrails had no embarrassments for
them. Entrails have gone out, now–entrails and dreams. It was
at last found out that as hiding-places for the divine intentions
they were inadequate.
A part of the wall of Valletri in former times been struck
with thunder, the response of the soothsayers was, that a native
of that town would some time or other arrive at supreme power.–
BOHN’S SUETONIUS, p. 138.
“Some time or other.” It looks indefinite, but no matter,
it happened, all the same; one needed only to wait, and be
patient, and keep watch, then he would find out that the thunder-
stroke had Caesar Augustus in mind, and had come to give notice.
There were other advance-advertisements. One of them
appeared just before Caesar Augustus was born, and was most
poetic and touching and romantic in its feelings and aspects.
It was a dream. It was dreamed by Caesar Augustus’s mother,
and interpreted at the usual rates:
Atia, before her delivery, dreamed that her bowels stretched
to the stars and expanded through the whole circuit of heaven
and earth.–SUETONIUS, p. 139.
That was in the augur’s line, and furnished him no
difficulties, but it would have taken Rawlinson and Champollion
fourteen years to make sure of what it meant, because they would
have been surprised and dizzy. It would have been too late to be
valuable, then, and the bill for service would have been barred
by the statute of limitation.
In those old Roman days a gentleman’s education was not
complete until he had taken a theological course at the seminary
and learned how to translate entrails. Caesar Augustus’s
education received this final polish. All through his life,
whenever he had poultry on the menu he saved the interiors and
kept himself informed of the Deity’s plans by exercising upon
those interiors the arts of augury.
In his first consulship, while he was observing the
auguries, twelve vultures presented themselves, as they had done
to Romulus. And when he offered sacrifice, the livers of all
the victims were folded inward in the lower part; a circumstance
which was regarded by those present who had skill in things of
that nature, as an indubitable prognostic of great and wonderful
fortune.–SUETONIUS, p. 141.
“Indubitable” is a strong word, but no doubt it was
justified, if the livers were really turned that way. In those
days chicken livers were strangely and delicately sensitive to
coming events, no matter how far off they might be; and they
could never keep still, but would curl and squirm like that,
particularly when vultures came and showed interest in that
approaching great event and in breakfast.
We may now skip eleven hundred and thirty or forty years,
which brings us down to enlightened Christian times and the
troubled days of King Stephen of England. The augur has had his
day and has been long ago forgotten; the priest had fallen heir
to his trade.
King Henry is dead; Stephen, that bold and outrageous
person, comes flying over from Normandy to steal the throne from
Henry’s daughter. He accomplished his crime, and Henry of
Huntington, a priest of high degree, mourns over it in his
Chronicle. The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated Stephen:
“wherefore the Lord visited the Archbishop with the same judgment
which he had inflicted upon him who struck Jeremiah the great
priest: he died with a year.”
Stephen’s was the greater offense, but Stephen could wait;
not so the Archbishop, apparently.
The kingdom was a prey to intestine wars; slaughter, fire,
and rapine spread ruin throughout the land; cries of distress,
horror, and woe rose in every quarter.
That was the result of Stephen’s crime. These unspeakable
conditions continued during nineteen years. Then Stephen died as
comfortably as any man ever did, and was honorably buried. It
makes one pity the poor Archbishop, and with that he, too, could
have been let off as leniently. How did Henry of Huntington know
that the Archbishop was sent to his grave by judgment of God for
consecrating Stephen? He does not explain. Neither does he
explain why Stephen was awarded a pleasanter death than he was
entitled to, while the aged King Henry, his predecessor, who had
ruled England thirty-five years to the people’s strongly worded
satisfaction, was condemned to close his life in circumstances
most distinctly unpleasant, inconvenient, and disagreeable. His
was probably the most uninspiring funeral that is set down in
history. There is not a detail about it that is attractive. It
seems to have been just the funeral for Stephen, and even at this
far-distant day it is matter of just regret that by an
indiscretion the wrong man got it.
Whenever God punishes a man, Henry of Huntington knows why
it was done, and tells us; and his pen is eloquent with
admiration; but when a man has earned punishment, and escapes, he
does not explain. He is evidently puzzled, but he does not say
anything. I think it is often apparent that he is pained by
these discrepancies, but loyally tries his best not to show it.
When he cannot praise, he delivers himself of a silence so marked
that a suspicious person could mistake it for suppressed
criticism. However, he has plenty of opportunities to feel
contented with the way things go–his book is full of them.
King David of Scotland . . . under color of religion caused
his followers to deal most barbarously with the English. They
ripped open women, tossed children on the points of spears,
butchered priests at the altars, and, cutting off the heads from
the images on crucifixes, placed them on the bodies of the slain,
while in exchange they fixed on the crucifixes the heads of their
victims. Wherever the Scots came, there was the same scene of
horror and cruelty: women shrieking, old men lamenting, amid the
groans of the dying and the despair of the living.
But the English got the victory.
Then the chief of the men of Lothian fell, pierced by an arrow,
and all his followers were put to flight. For the Almighty was
offended at them and their strength was rent like a cobweb.
Offended at them for what? For committing those fearful
butcheries? No, for that was the common custom on both sides,
and not open to criticism. Then was it for doing the butcheries
“under cover of religion”? No, that was not it; religious
feeling was often expressed in that fervent way all through those
old centuries. The truth is, He was not offended at “them” at all;
He was only offended at their king, who had been false to an oath.
Then why did not He put the punishment upon the king instead of
upon “them”? It is a difficult question. One can see by the
Chronicle that the “judgments” fell rather customarily upon
the wrong person, but Henry of Huntington does not explain why.
Here is one that went true; the chronicler’s satisfaction
in it is not hidden:
In the month of August, Providence displayed its justice in
a remarkable manner; for two of the nobles who had converted
monasteries into fortifications, expelling the monks, their sin
being the same, met with a similar punishment. Robert Marmion
was one, Godfrey de Mandeville the other. Robert Marmion,
issuing forth against the enemy, was slain under the walls of the
monastery, being the only one who fell, though he was surrounded
by his troops. Dying excommunicated, he became subject to death
everlasting. In like manner Earl Godfrey was singled out among
his followers, and shot with an arrow by a common foot-soldier.
He made light of the wound, but he died of it in a few days,
under excommunication. See here the like judgment of God,
memorable through all ages!
The exaltation jars upon me; not because of the death of the
men, for they deserved that, but because it is death eternal, in
white-hot fire and flame. It makes my flesh crawl. I have not
known more than three men, or perhaps four, in my whole lifetime,
*whom I would rejoice to see writhing in those fires for even a
year, let alone forever. I believe I would relent before the
year was up, and get them out if I could. I think that in
the long run, if a man’s wife and babies, who had not harmed me,
should come crying and pleading, I couldn’t stand it; I know I
should forgive him and let him go, even if he had violated a
monastery. Henry of Huntington has been watching Godfrey and
Marmion for nearly seven hundred and fifty years, now, but I
couldn’t do it, I know I couldn’t. I am soft and gentle in my
nature, and I should have forgiven them seventy-and-seven times,
long ago. And I think God has; but this is only an opinion,
and not authoritative, like Henry of Huntington’s interpretations.
I could learn to interpret, but I have never tried; I get so
All through his book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the
intentions of God, and with the reasons for his intentions.
Sometimes–very often, in fact–the act follows the intention
after such a wide interval of time that one wonders how Henry
could fit one act out of a hundred to one intention out of a
hundred and get the thing right every time when there was such
abundant choice among acts and intentions. Sometimes a man
offends the Deity with a crime, and is punished for it thirty
years later; meantime he was committed a million other crimes:
no matter, Henry can pick out the one that brought the worms.
Worms were generally used in those days for the slaying of
particularly wicked people. This has gone out, now, but in old
times it was a favorite. It always indicated a case of “wrath.”
. . . the just God avenging Robert Fitzhilderbrand’s
perfidy, a worm grew in his vitals, which gradually gnawing its
way through his intestines fattened on the abandoned man till,
tortured with excruciating sufferings and venting himself in
bitter moans, he was by a fitting punishment brought to his end.
It was probably an alligator, but we cannot tell; we only
know it was a particular breed, and only used to convey wrath.
Some authorities think it was an ichthyosaurus, but there is
However, one thing we do know; and that is that that worm had been
due years and years. Robert F. had violated a monastery once;
he had committed unprintable crimes since, and they had been
permitted–under disapproval–but the ravishment of the monastery
had not been forgotten nor forgiven, and the worm came at last.
Why were these reforms put off in this strange way? What was to
be gained by it? Did Henry of Huntington really know his facts,
or was he only guessing? Sometimes I am half persuaded that
he is only a guesser, and not a good one. The divine wisdom
must surely be of the better quality than he makes it out to be.
Five hundred years before Henry’s time some forecasts of the
Lord’s purposes were furnished by a pope, who perceived, by
certain perfectly trustworthy signs furnished by the Deity for
the information of His familiars, that the end of the world was
. . . about to come. But as this end of the world draws
near many things are at hand which have not before happened, as
changes in the air, terrible signs in the heavens, tempests out
of the common order of the seasons, wars, famines, pestilences,
earthquakes in various places; all which will not happen in our
days, but after our days all will come to pass.
Still, the end was so near that these signs were “sent before
that we may be careful for our souls and be found prepared
to meet the impending judgment.”
That was thirteen hundred years ago. This is really no
improvement on the work of the Roman augurs.
As concerns tobacco, there are many superstitions. And the
chiefest is this–that there is a STANDARD governing the matter,
whereas there is nothing of the kind. Each man’s own preference
is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept,
the only one which can command him. A congress of all the
tobacco-lovers in the world could not elect a standard which
would be binding upon you or me, or would even much influence us.
The next superstition is that a man has a standard of his own.
He hasn’t. He thinks he has, but he hasn’t. He thinks he can
tell what he regards as a good cigar from what he regards as a
bad one–but he can’t. He goes by the brand, yet imagines he goes
by the flavor. One may palm off the worst counterfeit upon him;
if it bears his brand he will smoke it contentedly and never suspect.
Children of twenty-five, who have seven years experience,
try to tell me what is a good cigar and what isn’t.
Me, who never learned to smoke, but always smoked;
me, who came into the world asking for a light.
No one can tell me what is a good cigar–for me. I am the
only judge. People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst
cigars in the world. They bring their own cigars when they come
to my house. They betray an unmanly terror when I offer them
a cigar; they tell lies and hurry away to meet engagements
which they have not made when they are threatened with the
hospitalities of my box. Now then, observe what superstition,
assisted by a man’s reputation, can do. I was to have twelve
personal friends to supper one night. One of them was as
notorious for costly and elegant cigars as I was for cheap and
devilish ones. I called at his house and when no one was looking
borrowed a double handful of his very choicest; cigars which cost
him forty cents apiece and bore red-and-gold labels in sign of
their nobility. I removed the labels and put the cigars into a
box with my favorite brand on it–a brand which those people all
knew, and which cowed them as men are cowed by an epidemic. They
took these cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit
them and sternly struggled with them–in dreary silence, for
hilarity died when the fell brand came into view and started
around–but their fortitude held for a short time only; then they
made excuses and filed out, treading on one another’s heels with
indecent eagerness; and in the morning when I went out to observe
results the cigars lay all between the front door and the gate.
All except one–that one lay in the plate of the man from whom I
had cabbaged the lot. One or two whiffs was all he could stand.
He told me afterward that some day I would get shot for giving
people that kind of cigars to smoke.
Am I certain of my own standard? Perfectly; yes, absolutely
–unless somebody fools me by putting my brand on some other kind
of cigar; for no doubt I am like the rest, and know my cigar by
the brand instead of by the flavor. However, my standard is a
pretty wide one and covers a good deal of territory. To me,
almost any cigar is good that nobody else will smoke, and to me
almost all cigars are bad that other people consider good.
Nearly any cigar will do me, except a Havana. People think they
hurt my feelings when then come to my house with their life
preservers on–I mean, with their own cigars in their pockets.
It is an error; I take care of myself in a similar way. When I
go into danger–that is, into rich people’s houses, where, in the
nature of things, they will have high-tariff cigars, red-and-gilt
girded and nested in a rosewood box along with a damp sponge,
cigars which develop a dismal black ash and burn down the side
and smell, and will grow hot to the fingers, and will go on
growing hotter and hotter, and go on smelling more and more
infamously and unendurably the deeper the fire tunnels down
inside below the thimbleful of honest tobacco that is in the
front end, the furnisher of it praising it all the time and
telling you how much the deadly thing cost–yes, when I go into
that sort of peril I carry my own defense along; I carry my own
brand–twenty-seven cents a barrel–and I live to see my family
again. I may seem to light his red-gartered cigar, but that is
only for courtesy’s sake; I smuggle it into my pocket for the
poor, of whom I know many, and light one of my own; and while he
praises it I join in, but when he says it cost forty-five cents I
say nothing, for I know better.
However, to say true, my tastes are so catholic that I have
never seen any cigars that I really could not smoke, except those
that cost a dollar apiece. I have examined those and know that
they are made of dog-hair, and not good dog-hair at that.
I have a thoroughly satisfactory time in Europe, for all
over the Continent one finds cigars which not even the most
hardened newsboys in New York would smoke. I brought cigars with
me, the last time; I will not do that any more. In Italy, as in
France, the Government is the only cigar-peddler. Italy has
three or four domestic brands: the Minghetti, the Trabuco, the
Virginia, and a very coarse one which is a modification of the
Virginia. The Minghettis are large and comely, and cost three
dollars and sixty cents a hundred; I can smoke a hundred in seven
days and enjoy every one of them. The Trabucos suit me, too; I
don’t remember the price. But one has to learn to like the
Virginia, nobody is born friendly to it. It looks like a rat-
tail file, but smokes better, some think. It has a straw through
it; you pull this out, and it leaves a flue, otherwise there
would be no draught, not even as much as there is to a nail.
Some prefer a nail at first. However, I like all the French,
Swiss, German, and Italian domestic cigars, and have never cared
to inquire what they are made of; and nobody would know, anyhow,
perhaps. There is even a brand of European smoking-tobacco that
I like. It is a brand used by the Italian peasants. It is loose
and dry and black, and looks like tea-grounds. When the fire is
applied it expands, and climbs up and towers above the pipe, and
presently tumbles off inside of one’s vest. The tobacco itself
is cheap, but it raises the insurance. It is as I remarked in
the beginning–the taste for tobacco is a matter of superstition.
There are no standards–no real standards. Each man’s preference
is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept,
the only one which can command him.
It was Maeterlinck who introduced me to the bee. I mean, in
the psychical and in the poetical way. I had had a business
introduction earlier. It was when I was a boy. It is strange
that I should remember a formality like that so long; it must be
nearly sixty years.
Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is
because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive
there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty
thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest
are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are
old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.
Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away
with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only
an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns
home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to
last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees
are drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and
it is the queen’s business to keep the population up to standard
–say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children
on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or
winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from
two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the
demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are
needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a
prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and
elect a queen that has more sense.
There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to
take her place–ready and more than anxious to do it, although
she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and
are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such
fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life.
By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their
working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a
scimitar, while the others have a straight one.
A common bee will sting any one or anybody, but a royalty
stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another
common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen
other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack
and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is
allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at
the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved
stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up
and runs, she is brought back and must try again–once, maybe
twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial
death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball
around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three
days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the
victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal
As regards the ethics of the judicial assassination of the
queen, that is a matter of politics, and will be discussed later,
in its proper place.
During substantially the whole of her short life of five or
six years the queen lives in Egyptian darkness and stately
seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but
plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of
the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the
interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her
defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter
her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel
before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and
weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through
the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies
and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves,
by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her
own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and
machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free
air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the
splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage
for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life,
with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death–and condemned
by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!
Huber, Lubbock, Maeterlinck–in fact, all the great
authorities–are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of
the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I
think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts
brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive
experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it
is the bee. That seems to settle it.
But that is the way of the scientist. He will spend thirty
years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to
prove a certain theory; then he is so happy in his achievement
that as a rule he overlooks the main chief fact of all–that his
accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point
out this miscarriage to him he does not answer your letters; when
you call to convince him, the servant prevaricates and you do not
get in. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up
their theory; then you can borrow money of them.
To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of
them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the
issue–you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee
was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have
just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the
answers I got.
After the queen, the personage next in importance in the
hive is the virgin. The virgins are fifty thousand or one
hundred thousand in number, and they are the workers, the
laborers. No work is done, in the hive or out of it, save by
them. The males do not work, the queen does no work, unless
laying eggs is work, but it does not seem so to me. There are
only two million of them, anyway, and all of five months to
finish the contract in. The distribution of work in a hive is as
cleverly and elaborately specialized as it is in a vast American
machine-shop or factory. A bee that has been trained to one of
the many and various industries of the concern doesn’t know how
to exercise any other, and would be offended if asked to take a
hand in anything outside of her profession. She is as human as a
cook; and if you should ask the cook to wait on the table, you
know what will happen. Cooks will play the piano if you like,
but they draw the line there. In my time I have asked a cook to
chop wood, and I know about these things. Even the hired girl
has her frontiers; true, they are vague, they are ill-defined,
even flexible, but they are there. This is not conjecture; it is
founded on the absolute. And then the butler. You ask the
butler to wash the dog. It is just as I say; there is much to be
learned in these ways, without going to books. Books are very well,
but books do not cover the whole domain of esthetic human culture.
Pride of profession is one of the boniest bones in existence,
if not the boniest. Without doubt it is so in the hive.
TAMING THE BICYCLE
In the early eighties Mark Twain learned to ride one of the
old high-wheel bicycles of that period. He wrote an account of
his experience, but did not offer it for publication. The form
of bicycle he rode long ago became antiquated, but in the humor
of his pleasantry is a quality which does not grow old.
A. B. P.
I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So
I went down a bought a barrel of Pond’s Extract and a bicycle.
The Expert came home with me to instruct me. We chose the
back yard, for the sake of privacy, and went to work.
Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt–a
fifty-inch, with the pedals shortened up to forty-eight–and
skittish, like any other colt. The Expert explained the thing’s
points briefly, then he got on its back and rode around a little,
to show me how easy it was to do. He said that the dismounting
was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so we would leave
that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to his
surprise and joy, that all that he needed to do was to get me on
to the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off, myself.
Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best
time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine;
we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next,
and the machine on top.
We examined the machine, but it was not in the least
injured. This was hardly believable. Yet the Expert assured me
that it was true; in fact, the examination proved it. I was
partly to realize, then, how admirably these things are
constructed. We applied some Pond’s Extract, and resumed. The
Expert got on the OTHER side to shove up this time, but I
dismounted on that side; so the result was as before.
The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves again, and resumed.
This time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind,
but somehow or other we landed on him again.
He was full of admiration; said it was abnormal. She was
all right, not a scratch on her, not a timber started anywhere.
I said it was wonderful, while we were greasing up, but he said
that when I came to know these steel spider-webs I would realize
that nothing but dynamite could cripple them. Then he limped out
to position, and we resumed once more. This time the Expert took
up the position of short-stop, and got a man to shove up behind.
We got up a handsome speed, and presently traversed a brick, and
I went out over the top of the tiller and landed, head down, on
the instructor’s back, and saw the machine fluttering in the air
between me and the sun. It was well it came down on us, for that
broke the fall, and it was not injured.
Five days later I got out and was carried down to the
hospital, and found the Expert doing pretty fairly. In a few
more days I was quite sound. I attribute this to my prudence in
always dismounting on something soft. Some recommend a feather
bed, but I think an Expert is better.
The Expert got out at last, brought four assistants with
him. It was a good idea. These four held the graceful cobweb
upright while I climbed into the saddle; then they formed in
column and marched on either side of me while the Expert pushed
behind; all hands assisted at the dismount.
The bicycle had what is called the “wabbles,” and had them
very badly. In order to keep my position, a good many things
were required of me, and in every instance the thing required was
against nature. That is to say, that whatever the needed thing
might be, my nature, habit, and breeding moved me to attempt it
in one way, while some immutable and unsuspected law of physics
required that it be done in just the other way. I perceived by
this how radically and grotesquely wrong had been the life-long
education of my body and members. They were steeped in
ignorance; they knew nothing–nothing which it could profit them
to know. For instance, if I found myself falling to the right, I
put the tiller hard down the other way, by a quite natural
impulse, and so violated a law, and kept on going down. The law
required the opposite thing–the big wheel must be turned in the
direction in which you are falling. It is hard to believe this,
when you are told it. And not merely hard to believe it, but
impossible; it is opposed to all your notions. And it is just as
hard to do it, after you do come to believe it. Believing it,
and knowing by the most convincing proof that it is true, does
not help it: you can’t any more DO it than you could before; you
can neither force nor persuade yourself to do it at first. The
intellect has to come to the front, now. It has to teach the
limbs to discard their old education and adopt the new.
The steps of one’s progress are distinctly marked. At the
end of each lesson he knows he has acquired something, and he
also knows what that something is, and likewise that it will stay
with him. It is not like studying German, where you mull along,
in a groping, uncertain way, for thirty years; and at last, just
as you think you’ve got it, they spring the subjunctive on you,
and there you are. No–and I see now, plainly enough, that the
great pity about the German language is, that you can’t fall off
it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make
you attend strictly to business. But I also see, by what I have
learned of bicycling, that the right and only sure way to learn
German is by the bicycling method. That is to say, take a grip
on one villainy of it at a time, leaving that one half learned.
When you have reached the point in bicycling where you can
balance the machine tolerably fairly and propel it and steer it,
then comes your next task–how to mount it. You do it in this
way: you hop along behind it on your right foot, resting the
other on the mounting-peg, and grasping the tiller with your
hands. At the word, you rise on the peg, stiffen your left leg,
hang your other one around in the air in a general in indefinite
way, lean your stomach against the rear of the saddle, and then
fall off, maybe on one side, maybe on the other; but you fall off.
You get up and do it again; and once more; and then several times.
By this time you have learned to keep your balance; and also
to steer without wrenching the tiller out by the roots (I say
tiller because it IS a tiller; “handle-bar” is a lamely
descriptive phrase). So you steer along, straight ahead, a little
while, then you rise forward, with a steady strain, bringing your
right leg, and then your body, into the saddle, catch your
breath, fetch a violent hitch this way and then that, and down
you go again.
But you have ceased to mind the going down by this time; you
are getting to light on one foot or the other with considerable
certainty. Six more attempts and six more falls make you
perfect. You land in the saddle comfortably, next time, and stay
there–that is, if you can be content to let your legs dangle,
and leave the pedals alone a while; but if you grab at once for
the pedals, you are gone again. You soon learn to wait a little
and perfect your balance before reaching for the pedals; then the
mounting-art is acquired, is complete, and a little practice will
make it simple and easy to you, though spectators ought to keep
off a rod or two to one side, along at first, if you have nothing
And now you come to the voluntary dismount; you learned the
other kind first of all. It is quite easy to tell one how to do
the voluntary dismount; the words are few, the requirement
simple, and apparently undifficult; let your left pedal go down
till your left leg is nearly straight, turn your wheel to the
left, and get off as you would from a horse. It certainly does
sound exceedingly easy; but it isn’t. I don’t know why it isn’t
but it isn’t. Try as you may, you don’t get down as you would
from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You
make a spectacle of yourself every time.
During the eight days I took a daily lesson an hour and a
half. At the end of this twelve working-hours’ appreticeship I
was graduated–in the rough. I was pronounced competent to
paddle my own bicycle without outside help. It seems incredible,
this celerity of acquirement. It takes considerably longer than
that to learn horseback-riding in the rough.
Now it is true that I could have learned without a teacher,
but it would have been risky for me, because of my natural
clumsiness. The self-taught man seldom knows anything
accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have
known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he brags,
and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going
and doing as he himself has done. There are those who imagine
that the unlucky accidents of life–life’s “experiences”–are in
some way useful to us. I wish I could find out how. I never
knew one of them to happen twice. They always change off and
swap around and catch you on your inexperienced side. If
personal experience can be worth anything as an education, it
wouldn’t seem likely that you could trip Methuselah; and yet if
that old person could come back here it is more that likely that
one of the first things he would do would be to take hold of one
of these electric wires and tie himself all up in a knot. Now
the surer thing and the wiser thing would be for him to ask
somebody whether it was a good thing to take hold of. But that
would not suit him; he would be one of the self-taught kind that
go by experience; he would want to examine for himself. And he
would find, for his instruction, that the coiled patriarch shuns
the electric wire; and it would be useful to him, too, and would
leave his education in quite a complete and rounded-out
condition, till he should come again, some day, and go to
bouncing a dynamite-can around to find out what was in it.
But we wander from the point. However, get a teacher; it
saves much time and Pond’s Extract.
Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired
concerning my physical strength, and I was able to inform him
that I hadn’t any. He said that that was a defect which would
make up-hill wheeling pretty difficult for me at first; but he
also said the bicycle would soon remove it. The contrast between
his muscles and mine was quite marked. He wanted to test mine,
so I offered my biceps–which was my best. It almost made him
smile. He said, “It is pulpy, and soft, and yielding, and
rounded; it evades pressure, and glides from under the fingers;
in the dark a body might think it was an oyster in a rag.”
Perhaps this made me look grieved, for he added, briskly: “Oh,
that’s all right, you needn’t worry about that; in a little while
you can’t tell it from a petrified kidney. Just go right along
with your practice; you’re all right.”
Then he left me, and I started out alone to seek adventures.
You don’t really have to seek them–that is nothing but a phrase
–they come to you.
I chose a reposeful Sabbath-day sort of a back street which
was about thirty yards wide between the curbstones. I knew it
was not wide enough; still, I thought that by keeping strict
watch and wasting no space unnecessarily I could crowd through.
Of course I had trouble mounting the machine, entirely on my
own responsibility, with no encouraging moral support from the
outside, no sympathetic instructor to say, “Good! now you’re
doing well–good again–don’t hurry–there, now, you’re all right
–brace up, go ahead.” In place of this I had some other
support. This was a boy, who was perched on a gate-post munching
a hunk of maple sugar.
He was full of interest and comment. The first time I
failed and went down he said that if he was me he would dress up
in pillows, that’s what he would do. The next time I went down
he advised me to go and learn to ride a tricycle first. The
third time I collapsed he said he didn’t believe I could stay on
a horse-car. But the next time I succeeded, and got clumsily
under way in a weaving, tottering, uncertain fashion, and
occupying pretty much all of the street. My slow and lumbering
gait filled the boy to the chin with scorn, and he sung out, “My,
but don’t he rip along!” Then he got down from his post and
loafed along the sidewalk, still observing and occasionally
commenting. Presently he dropped into my wake and followed along
behind. A little girl passed by, balancing a wash-board on her
head, and giggled, and seemed about to make a remark, but the boy
said, rebukingly, “Let him alone, he’s going to a funeral.”
I have been familiar with that street for years, and had
always supposed it was a dead level; but it was not, as the
bicycle now informed me, to my surprise. The bicycle, in the
hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as a spirit-level in the
detecting the delicate and vanishing shades of difference in
these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye would
not observe that one existed; it notices any decline which water
will run down. I was toiling up a slight rise, but was not aware
of it. It made me tug and pant and perspire; and still, labor as
I might, the machine came almost to a standstill every little while.
At such times the boy would say: “That’s it! take a rest–
there ain’t no hurry. They can’t hold the funeral without YOU.”
Stones were a bother to me. Even the smallest ones gave me a
panic when I went over them. I could hit any kind of a stone,
no matter how small, if I tried to miss it; and of course at
first I couldn’t help trying to do that. It is but natural.
It is part of the ass that is put in us all, for some
It was at the end of my course, at last, and it was necessary
for me to round to. This is not a pleasant thing, when you
undertake it for the first time on your own responsibility,
and neither is it likely to succeed. Your confidence oozes away,
you fill steadily up with nameless apprehensions, every fiber of
you is tense with a watchful strain, you start a cautious and
gradual curve, but your squirmy nerves are all full of electric
anxieties, so the curve is quickly demoralized into a jerky and
perilous zigzag; then suddenly the nickel-clad horse takes the
bit in its mouth and goes slanting for the curbstone, defying all
prayers and all your powers to change its mind–your heart stands
still, your breath hangs fire, your legs forget to work, straight
on you go, and there are but a couple of feet between you and the
curb now. And now is the desperate moment, the last chance to
save yourself; of course all your instructions fly out of your
head, and you whirl your wheel AWAY from the curb instead of
TOWARD it, and so you go sprawling on that granite-bound
inhospitable shore. That was my luck; that was my experience. I
dragged myself out from under the indestructible bicycle and sat
down on the curb to examine.
I started on the return trip. It was now that I saw a
farmer’s wagon poking along down toward me, loaded with cabbages.
If I needed anything to perfect the precariousness of my steering,
it was just that. The farmer was occupying the middle of the road
with his wagon, leaving barely fourteen or fifteen yards of space
on either side. I couldn’t shout at him–a beginner can’t shout;
if he opens his mouth he is gone; he must keep all his attention
on his business. But in this grisly emergency, the boy came
to the rescue, and for once I had to be grateful to him.
He kept a sharp lookout on the swiftly varying impulses and
inspirations of my bicycle, and shouted to the man accordingly:
“To the left! Turn to the left, or this jackass ‘ll run over you!”
The man started to do it. “No, to the right, to the right!
Hold on! THAT won’t do!–to the left!–to the right!–to the
LEFT–right! left–ri– Stay where you ARE, or you’re a goner!”
And just then I caught the off horse in the starboard and went
down in a pile. I said, “Hang it! Couldn’t you SEE I was coming?”
“Yes, I see you was coming, but I couldn’t tell which WAY you
was coming. Nobody could–now, COULD they? You couldn’t
yourself–now, COULD you? So what could _I_ do?
There was something in that, and so I had the magnanimity to
say so. I said I was no doubt as much to blame as he was.
Within the next five days I achieved so much progress that
the boy couldn’t keep up with me. He had to go back to his gate-
post, and content himself with watching me fall at long range.
There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the
street, a measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer
pretty fairly I was so afraid of those stones that I always hit
them. They gave me the worst falls I ever got in that street,
except those which I got from dogs. I have seen it stated that
no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that a dog is always
able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be true: but
I think that the reason he couldn’t run over the dog was because
he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran
over every dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of
difference. If you try to run over the dog he knows how to
calculate, but if you are trying to miss him he does not know how
to calculate, and is liable to jump the wrong way every time. It
was always so in my experience. Even when I could not hit a
wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practice. They all
liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very
little going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took
time to learn to miss a dog, but I achieved even that.
I can steer as well as I want to, now, and I will catch that
boy one of these days and run over HIM if he doesn’t reform.
Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
IS SHAKESPEARE DEAD?
(from My Autobiography)
Scattered here and there through the stacks of unpublished
manuscript which constitute this formidable Autobiography and
Diary of mine, certain chapters will in some distant future be
found which deal with “Claimants”–claimants historically
notorious: Satan, Claimant; the Golden Calf, Claimant; the
Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Claimant; Louis XVII., Claimant;
William Shakespeare, Claimant; Arthur Orton, Claimant; Mary Baker
G. Eddy, Claimant–and the rest of them. Eminent Claimants,
successful Claimants, defeated Claimants, royal Claimants, pleb
Claimants, showy Claimants, shabby Claimants, revered Claimants,
despised Claimants, twinkle star-like here and there and yonder
through the mists of history and legend and tradition–and, oh,
all the darling tribe are clothed in mystery and romance, and we
read about them with deep interest and discuss them with loving
sympathy or with rancorous resentment, according to which side we
hitch ourselves to. It has always been so with the human race.
There was never a Claimant that couldn’t get a hearing, nor one
that couldn’t accumulate a rapturous following, no matter how
flimsy and apparently unauthentic his claim might be. Arthur
Orton’s claim that he was the lost Tichborne baronet come to life
again was as flimsy as Mrs. Eddy’s that she wrote SCIENCE AND
HEALTH from the direct dictation of the Deity; yet in England
nearly forty years ago Orton had a huge army of devotees and
incorrigible adherents, many of whom remained stubbornly
unconvinced after their fat god had been proven an impostor and
jailed as a perjurer, and today Mrs. Eddy’s following is not only
immense, but is daily augmenting in numbers and enthusiasm.
Orton had many fine and educated minds among his adherents, Mrs.
Eddy has had the like among hers from the beginning. Her Church
is as well equipped in those particulars as is any other Church.
Claimants can always count upon a following, it doesn’t matter
who they are, nor what they claim, nor whether they come with
documents or without. It was always so. Down out of the long-
vanished past, across the abyss of the ages, if you listen, you
can still hear the believing multitudes shouting for Perkin
Warbeck and Lambert Simnel.
A friend has sent me a new book, from England–THE
SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED–well restated and closely reasoned;
and my fifty years’ interest in that matter–asleep for the last
three years–is excited once more. It is an interest which was
born of Delia Bacon’s book–away back in the ancient day–1857,
or maybe 1856. About a year later my pilot-master, Bixby,
transferred me from his own steamboat to the PENNSYLVANIA, and
placed me under the orders and instructions of George Ealer–dead
now, these many, many years. I steered for him a good many
months–as was the humble duty of the pilot-apprentice: stood a
daylight watch and spun the wheel under the severe
superintendence and correction of the master. He was a prime
chess-player and an idolater of Shakespeare. He would play chess
with anybody; even with me, and it cost his official dignity
something to do that. Also–quite uninvited–he would read
Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it
was his watch and I was steering. He read well, but not
profitably for me, because he constantly injected commands into
the text. That broke it all up, mixed it all up, tangled it all
up–to that degree, in fact, that if we were in a risky and
difficult piece of river an ignorant person couldn’t have told,
sometimes, which observations were Shakespeare’s and which were
Ealer’s. For instance:
What man dare, _I_ dare!
Approach thou WHAT are you laying in the leads for? what a
hell of an idea! like the rugged ease her off a little, ease her
off! rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros or the THERE she
goes! meet her, meet her! didn’t you KNOW she’d smell the reef if
you crowded in like that? Hyrcan tiger; take any ship but that
and my firm nerves she’ll be in the WOODS the first you know!
stop he starboard! come ahead strong on the larboard! back the
starboard! . . . NOW then, you’re all right; come ahead on the
starboard; straighten up and go ‘long, never tremble: or be
alive again, and dare me to the desert DAMNATION can’t you keep
away from that greasy water? pull her down! snatch her! snatch
her baldheaded! with thy sword; if trembling I inhabit then, lay
in the leads!–no, only with the starboard one, leave the other
alone, protest me the baby of a girl. Hence horrible shadow!
eight bells–that watchman’s asleep again, I reckon, go down and
call Brown yourself, unreal mockery, hence!
He certainly was a good reader, and splendidly thrilling and
stormy and tragic, but it was a damage to me, because I have
never since been able to read Shakespeare in a calm and sane way.
I cannot rid it of his explosive interlardings, they break in
everywhere with their irrelevant, “What in hell are you up to
NOW! pull her down! more! MORE!–there now, steady as you go,”
and the other disorganizing interruptions that were always
leaping from his mouth. When I read Shakespeare now I can hear
them as plainly as I did in that long-departed time–fifty-one
years ago. I never regarded Ealer’s readings as educational.
Indeed, they were a detriment to me.
His contributions to the text seldom improved it, but
barring that detail he was a good reader; I can say that much for
him. He did not use the book, and did not need to; he knew his
Shakespeare as well as Euclid ever knew his multiplication table.
Did he have something to say–this Shakespeare-adoring
Mississippi pilot–anent Delia Bacon’s book?
Yes. And he said it; said it all the time, for months–in
the morning watch, the middle watch, and dog watch; and probably
kept it going in his sleep. He bought the literature of the
dispute as fast as it appeared, and we discussed it all through
thirteen hundred miles of river four times traversed in every
thirty-five days–the time required by that swift boat to achieve
two round trips. We discussed, and discussed, and discussed, and
disputed and disputed and disputed; at any rate, HE did, and I
got in a word now and then when he slipped a cog and there was a
vacancy. He did his arguing with heat, with energy, with
violence; and I did mine with the reverse and moderation of a
subordinate who does not like to be flung out of a pilot-house
and is perched forty feet above the water. He was fiercely loyal
to Shakespeare and cordially scornful of Bacon and of all the
pretensions of the Baconians. So was I–at first. And at first
he was glad that that was my attitude. There were even
indications that he admired it; indications dimmed, it is true,
by the distance that lay between the lofty boss-pilotical
altitude and my lowly one, yet perceptible to me; perceptible,
and translatable into a compliment–compliment coming down from
about the snow-line and not well thawed in the transit, and not
likely to set anything afire, not even a cub-pilot’s self-
conceit; still a detectable complement, and precious.
Naturally it flattered me into being more loyal to Shakespeare–
if possible–than I was before, and more prejudiced against
Bacon–if possible–that I was before. And so we discussed
and discussed, both on the same side, and were happy.
For a while. Only for a while. Only for a very little while,
a very, very, very little while. Then the atmosphere began
to change; began to cool off.
A brighter person would have seen what the trouble was,
earlier than I did, perhaps, but I saw it early enough for all
practical purposes. You see, he was of an argumentative
disposition. Therefore it took him but a little time to get
tired of arguing with a person who agreed with everything he said
and consequently never furnished him a provocative to flare up
and show what he could do when it came to clear, cold, hard,
rose-cut, hundred-faceted, diamond-flashing REASONING. That was
his name for it. It has been applied since, with complacency, as
many as several times, in the Bacon-Shakespeare scuffle. On the
Then the thing happened which has happened to more persons
than to me when principle and personal interest found themselves
in opposition to each other and a choice had to be made: I let
principle go, and went over to the other side. Not the entire
way, but far enough to answer the requirements of the case. That
is to say, I took this attitude–to wit, I only BELIEVED Bacon
wrote Shakespeare, whereas I KNEW Shakespeare didn’t. Ealer was
satisfied with that, and the war broke loose. Study, practice,
experience in handling my end of the matter presently enabled me
to take my new position almost seriously; a little bit later,
utterly seriously; a little later still, lovingly, gratefully,
devotedly; finally: fiercely, rabidly, uncompromisingly. After
that I was welded to my faith, I was theoretically ready to die
for it, and I looked down with compassion not unmixed with scorn
upon everybody else’s faith that didn’t tally with mine. That
faith, imposed upon me by self-interest in that ancient day,
remains my faith today, and in it I find comfort, solace, peace,
and never-failing joy. You see how curiously theological it is.
The “rice Christian” of the Orient goes through the very same
steps, when he is after rice and the missionary is after HIM; he
goes for rice, and remains to worship.
Ealer did a lot of our “reasoning”–not to say substantially
all of it. The slaves of his cult have a passion for calling it
by that large name. We others do not call our inductions and
deductions and reductions by any name at all. They show for
themselves what they are, and we can with tranquil confidence
leave the world to ennoble them with a title of its own choosing.
Now and then when Ealer had to stop to cough, I pulled my
induction-talents together and hove the controversial lead
myself: always getting eight feet, eight and a half, often nine,
sometimes even quarter-less-twain–as _I_ believed; but always
“no bottom,” as HE said.
I got the best of him only once. I prepared myself. I
wrote out a passage from Shakespeare–it may have been the very
one I quoted awhile ago, I don’t remember–and riddled it with
his wild steamboatful interlardings. When an unrisky opportunity
offered, one lovely summer day, when we had sounded and buoyed a
tangled patch of crossings known as Hell’s Half Acre, and were
aboard again and he had sneaked the PENNSYLVANIA triumphantly
through it without once scraping sand, and the A. T. LACEY had
followed in our wake and got stuck, and he was feeling good, I
showed it to him. It amused him. I asked him to fire it off–
READ it; read it, I diplomatically added, as only HE could read
dramatic poetry. The compliment touched him where he lived. He
did read it; read it with surpassing fire and spirit; read it as
it will never be read again; for HE know how to put the right
music into those thunderous interlardings and make them seem a
part of the text, make them sound as if they were bursting from
Shakespeare’s own soul, each one of them a golden inspiration and
not to be left out without damage to the massed and magnificent
I waited a week, to let the incident fade; waited longer;
waited until he brought up for reasonings and vituperation my pet
position, my pet argument, the one which I was fondest of, the
one which I prized far above all others in my ammunition-wagon–
to wit, that Shakespeare couldn’t have written Shakespeare’s
words, for the reason that the man who wrote them was limitlessly
familiar with the laws, and the law-courts, and law-proceedings,
and lawyer-talk, and lawyer-ways–and if Shakespeare was
possessed of the infinitely divided star-dust that constituted
this vast wealth, HOW did he get it, and WHERE and WHEN?
From books! That was always the idea. I answered as my
readings of the champions of my side of the great controversy had
taught me to answer: that a man can’t handle glibly and easily
and comfortably and successfully the argot of a trade at which he
has not personally served. He will make mistakes; he will not,
and cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and exactly right;
and the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common trade-
form, the reader who has served that trade will know the writer
HASN’T. Ealer would not be convinced; he said a man could learn
how to correctly handle the subtleties and mysteries and free-
masonries of ANY trade by careful reading and studying. But when
I got him to read again the passage from Shakespeare with the
interlardings, he perceived, himself, that books couldn’t teach a
student a bewildering multitude of pilot-phrases so thoroughly
and perfectly that he could talk them off in book and play or
conversation and make no mistake that a pilot would not
immediately discover. It was a triumph for me. He was silent
awhile, and I knew what was happening–he was losing his temper.
And I knew he would presently close the session with the same old
argument that was always his stay and his support in time of
need; the same old argument, the one I couldn’t answer, because I
dasn’t–the argument that I was an ass, and better shut up. He
delivered it, and I obeyed.
O dear, how long ago it was–how pathetically long ago! And
here am I, old, forsaken, forlorn, and alone, arranging to get
that argument out of somebody again.
When a man has a passion for Shakespeare, it goes without
saying that he keeps company with other standard authors. Ealer
always had several high-class books in the pilot-house, and he
read the same ones over and over again, and did not care to
change to newer and fresher ones. He played well on the flute,
and greatly enjoyed hearing himself play. So did I. He had a
notion that a flute would keep its health better if you took it
apart when it was not standing a watch; and so, when it was not
on duty it took its rest, disjointed, on the compass-shelf under
the breastboard. When the PENNSYLVANIA blew up and became a
drifting rack-heap freighted with wounded and dying poor souls
(my young brother Henry among them), pilot Brown had the watch
below, and was probably asleep and never knew what killed him;
but Ealer escaped unhurt. He and his pilot-house were shot up
into the air; then they fell, and Ealer sank through the ragged
cavern where the hurricane-deck and the boiler-deck had been, and
landed in a nest of ruins on the main deck, on top of one of the
unexploded boilers, where he lay prone in a fog of scald and
deadly steam. But not for long. He did not lose his head–long
familiarity with danger had taught him to keep it, in any and all
emergencies. He held his coat-lapels to his nose with one hand,
to keep out the steam, and scrabbled around with the other till
he found the joints of his flute, then he took measures to save
himself alive, and was successful. I was not on board. I had
been put ashore in New Orleans by Captain Klinenfelter. The
reason–however, I have told all about it in the book called OLD
TIMES ON THE MISSISSIPPI, and it isn’t important, anyway, it is
so long ago.
When I was a Sunday-school scholar, something more than
sixty years ago, I became interested in Satan, and wanted to find
out all I could about him. I began to ask questions, but my
class-teacher, Mr. Barclay, the stone-mason, was reluctant about
answering them, it seemed to me. I was anxious to be praised for
turning my thoughts to serious subjects when there wasn’t another
boy in the village who could be hired to do such a thing. I was
greatly interested in the incident of Eve and the serpent, and
thought Eve’s calmness was perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay
if he had ever heard of another woman who, being approached by a
serpeant, would not excuse herself and break for the nearest
timber. He did not answer my question, but rebuked me for
inquiring into matters above my age and comprehension. I will
say for Mr. Barclay that he was willing to tell me the facts of
Satan’s history, but he stopped there: he wouldn’t allow any
discussion of them.
In the course of time we exhausted the facts. There were
only five or six of them; you could set them all down on a
visiting-card. I was disappointed. I had been meditating a
biography, and was grieved to find that there were no materials.
I said as much, with the tears running down. Mr. Barclay’s
sympathy and compassion were aroused, for he was a most kind and
gentle-spirited man, and he patted me on the head and cheered me
up by saying there was a whole vast ocean of materials! I can
still feel the happy thrill which these blessed words shot
Then he began to bail out that ocean’s riches for my
encouragement and joy. Like this: it was “conjectured”–though
not established–that Satan was originally an angel in Heaven;
that he fell; that he rebelled, and brought on a war; that he was
defeated, and banished to perdition. Also, “we have reason to
believe” that later he did so and so; that “we are warranted in
supposing” that at a subsequent time he traveled extensively,
seeking whom he might devour; that a couple of centuries
afterward, “as tradition instructs us,” he took up the cruel
trade of tempting people to their ruin, with vast and fearful
results; that by and by, “as the probabilities seem to indicate,”
he may have done certain things, he might have done certain other
things, he must have done still other things.
And so on and so on. We set down the five known facts by
themselves on a piece of paper, and numbered it “page 1”; then on
fifteen hundred other pieces of paper we set down the
“conjectures,” and “suppositions,” and “maybes,” and “perhapses,”
and “doubtlesses,” and “rumors,” and guesses,” and
“probabilities,” and “likelihoods,” and “we are permitted to
thinks,” and “we are warranted in believings,” and “might have
beens,” and “could have beens,” and “must have beens,” and
“unquestionablys,” and “without a shadow of doubt”–and behold!
MATERIALS? Why, we had enough to build a biography of Shakespeare!
Yet he made me put away my pen; he would not let me write
the history of Satan. Why? Because, as he said, he had
suspicions–suspicions that my attitude in the matter was not
reverent, and that a person must be reverent when writing about
the sacred characters. He said any one who spoke flippantly of
Satan would be frowned upon by the religious world and also be
brought to account.
I assured him, in earnest and sincere words, that he had
wholly misconceived my attitude; that I had the highest respect
for Satan, and that my reverence for him equaled, and possibly
even exceeded, that of any member of the church. I said it
wounded me deeply to perceive by his words that he thought I
would make fun of Satan, and deride him, laugh at him, scoff at
him; whereas in truth I had never thought of such a thing, but
had only a warm desire to make fun of those others and laugh at
THEM. “What others? “Why, the Supposers, the Perhapsers, the
Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners,
the Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters, the We-Are-Warranted-in-Believingers,
and all that funny crop of solemn architects who have taken a
good solid foundation of five indisputable and unimportant facts
and built upon it a Conjectural Satan thirty miles high.”
What did Mr. Barclay do then? Was he disarmed? Was he
silenced? No. He was shocked. He was so shocked that he
visibly shuddered. He said the Satanic Traditioners and
Perhapsers and Conjecturers were THEMSELVES sacred! As sacred as
their work. So sacred that whoso ventured to mock them or make
fun of their work, could not afterward enter any respectable
house, even by the back door.
How true were his words, and how wise! How fortunate it
would have been for me if I had heeded them. But I was young, I
was but seven years of age, and vain, foolish, and anxious to
attract attention. I wrote the biography, and have never been in
a respectable house since.
How curious and interesting is the parallel–as far as
poverty of biographical details is concerned–between Satan and
Shakespeare. It is wonderful, it is unique, it stands quite
alone, there is nothing resembling it in history, nothing
resembling it in romance, nothing approaching it even in
tradition. How sublime is their position, and how over-topping,
how sky-reaching, how supreme–the two Great Unknowns, the two
Illustrious Conjecturabilities! They are the best-known unknown
persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet.
For the instruction of the ignorant I will make a list, now,
of those details of Shakespeare’s history which are FACTS–
verified facts, established facts, undisputed facts.
He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read, could not
write, could not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was
shabby and unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen
important men charged with the government of the town, thirteen
had to “make their mark” in attesting important documents,
because they could not write their names.
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known.
They are a blank.
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare took out
a license to marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license to marry
Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry. By
grace of a reluctantly granted dispensation there was but one
publication of the banns.
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period
NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins–1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then–1587–he makes a ten-year visit to London, leaving the family behind.
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING
HAPPENED TO HIM, as far as anybody actually knows.
Then–1592–there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year–1593–his name appears in the official list of players.
Next year–1594–he played before the queen. A detail of no
consequence: other obscurities did it every year of the forty-
five of her reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting. Then*
In 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which he
accumulated money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Meantime his name, liberally and variously spelt, had
become associated with a number of great plays and poems, as
(ostensibly) author of the same.
Some of these, in these years and later, were pirated, but
he made no protest.
Then–1610-11–he returned to Stratford and settled down for
good and all, and busied himself in lending money, trading in
tithes, trading in land and houses; shirking a debt of forty-one
shillings, borrowed by his wife during his long desertion of his
family; suing debtors for shillings and coppers; being sued
himself for shillings and coppers; and acting as confederate to a
neighbor who tried to rob the town of its rights in a certain
common, and did not succeed.
He lived five or six years–till 1616–in the joy of these
elevated pursuits. Then he made a will, and signed each of its
three pages with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man’s will. It named in minute
detail every item of property he owned in the world–houses,
lands, sword, silver-gilt bowl, and so on–all the way down to
his “second-best bed” and its furniture.
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among
the members of his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not
even his wife: the wife he had been enabled to marry in a hurry
by urgent grace of a special dispensation before he was nineteen;
the wife whom he had left husbandless so many years; the wife who
had had to borrow forty-one shillings in her need, and which the
lender was never able to collect of the prosperous husband, but
died at last with the money still lacking. No, even this wife
was remembered in Shakespeare’s will.
He left her that “second-best bed.”
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny to bless her lucky
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man’s will,
not a poet’s.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt
bowls and second-best beds in those days, and when a departing
person owned one he gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED
LITERARY WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in
history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary
remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two.
If Shakespeare had owned a dog–but we not go into that: we
know he would have mentioned it in his will. If a good dog,
Susanna would have got it; if an inferior one his wife would have
got a downer interest in it. I wish he had had a dog, just so we
could see how painstakingly he would have divided that dog among
the family, in his careful business way.
He signed the will in three places.
In earlier years he signed two other official documents.
These five signatures still exist.
There are NO OTHER SPECIMENS OF HIS PENMANSHIP IN EXISTENCE.
Not a line.
Was he prejudiced against the art? His granddaughter, whom
he loved, was eight years old when he died, yet she had had no
teaching, he left no provision for her education, although he was
rich, and in her mature womanhood she couldn’t write and couldn’t
tell her husband’s manuscript from anybody else’s–she thought it
When Shakespeare died in Stratford, IT WAS NOT AN EVENT. It
made no more stir in England than the death of any other
forgotten theater-actor would have made. Nobody came down from
London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national
tears–there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking
contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon,
and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other distinguished literary
folk of Shakespeare’s time passed from life! No praiseful voice
was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited
seven years before he lifted his.
SO FAR AS ANYBODY ACTUALLY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare
of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.
SO FAR AS ANY ONE KNOWS, HE RECEIVED ONLY ONE LETTER
DURING HIS LIFE.
So far as any one KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare of
Stratford wrote only one poem during his life. This one is
authentic. He did write that one–a fact which stands
undisputed; he wrote the whole of it; he wrote the whole of it
out of his own head. He commanded that this work of art be
engraved upon his tomb, and he was obeyed. There it abides to
this day. This is it:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
In the list as above set down will be found EVERY POSITIVELY
KNOWN fact of Shakespeare’s life, lean and meager as the invoice
is. Beyond these details we know NOT A THING about him. All the
rest of his vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is
built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories,
conjectures–an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high
from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential
The historians “suppose” that Shakespeare attended the Free
School in Stratford from the time he was seven years old till he
was thirteen. There is no EVIDENCE in existence that he ever
went to school at all.
The historians “infer” that he got his Latin in that school
–the school which they “suppose” he attended.
They “suppose” his father’s declining fortunes made it
necessary for him to leave the school they supposed he attended,
and get to work and help support his parents and their ten
children. But there is no evidence that he ever entered or
returned from the school they suppose he attended.
They “suppose” he assisted his father in the butchering
business; and that, being only a boy, he didn’t have to do full-
grown butchering, but only slaughtering calves. Also, that
whenever he killed a calf he made a high-flown speech over it.
This supposition rests upon the testimony of a man who wasn’t
there at the time; a man who got it from a man who could have
been there, but did not say whether he was nor not; and neither
of them thought to mention it for decades, and decades, and
decades, and two more decades after Shakespeare’s death (until
old age and mental decay had refreshed and vivified their
memories). They hadn’t two facts in stock about the long-dead
distinguished citizen, but only just the one: he slaughtered
calves and broke into oratory while he was at it. Curious. They
had only one fact, yet the distinguished citizen had spent
twenty-six years in that little town–just half his lifetime.
However, rightly viewed, it was the most important fact, indeed
almost the only important fact, of Shakespeare’s life in
Stratford. Rightly viewed. For experience is an author’s most
valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the muscle and
the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes. Rightly
viewed, calf-butchering accounts for “Titus Andronicus,” the only
play–ain’t it?–that the Stratford Shakespeare ever wrote; and
yet it is the only one everybody tried to chouse him out of, the
The historians find themselves “justified in believing” that
the young Shakespeare poached upon Sir Thomas Lucy’s deer preserves
and got haled before that magistrate for it. But there is no shred
of respectworthy evidence that anything of the kind happened.
The historians, having argued the thing that MIGHT have
happened into the thing that DID happen, found no trouble in
turning Sir Thomas Lucy into Mr. Justice Shallow. They have long
ago convinced the world–on surmise and without trustworthy
evidence–that Shallow IS Sir Thomas.
The next addition to the young Shakespeare’s Stratford
history comes easy. The historian builds it out of the surmised
deer-steeling, and the surmised trial before the magistrate, and
the surmised vengeance-prompted satire upon the magistrate in the
play: result, the young Shakespeare was a wild, wild, wild, oh,
SUCH a wild young scamp, and that gratuitous slander is
established for all time! It is the very way Professor Osborn
and I built the colossal skeleton brontosaur that stands fifty-
seven feet long and sixteen feet high in the Natural History
Museum, the awe and admiration of all the world, the stateliest
skeleton that exists on the planet. We had nine bones, and we
built the rest of him out of plaster of Paris. We ran short of
plaster of Paris, or we’d have built a brontosaur that could sit
down beside the Stratford Shakespeare and none but an expert
could tell which was biggest or contained the most plaster.
Shakespeare pronounced “Venus and Adonis” “the first heir of
his invention,” apparently implying that it was his first effort
at literary composition. He should not have said it. It has
been an embarrassment to his historians these many, many years.
They have to make him write that graceful and polished and
flawless and beautiful poem before he escaped from Stratford and
his family–1586 or ’87–age, twenty-two, or along there; because
within the next five years he wrote five great plays, and could
not have found time to write another line.
It is sorely embarrassing. If he began to slaughter calves,
and poach deer, and rollick around, and learn English, at the
earliest likely moment–say at thirteen, when he was supposably
wretched from that school where he was supposably storing up
Latin for future literary use–he had his youthful hands full,
and much more than full. He must have had to put aside his
Warwickshire dialect, which wouldn’t be understood in London, and
study English very hard. Very hard indeed; incredibly hard,
almost, if the result of that labor was to be the smooth and
rounded and flexible and letter-perfect English of the “Venus and
Adonis” in the space of ten years; and at the same time learn
great and fine and unsurpassable literary FORM.
However, it is “conjectured” that he accomplished all this
and more, much more: learned law and its intricacies; and the
complex procedure of the law-courts; and all about soldiering,
and sailoring, and the manners and customs and ways of royal
courts and aristocratic society; and likewise accumulated in his
one head every kind of knowledge the learned then possessed, and
every kind of humble knowledge possessed by the lowly and the
ignorant; and added thereto a wider and more intimate knowledge
of the world’s great literatures, ancient and modern, than was
possessed by any other man of his time–for he was going to make
brilliant and easy and admiration-compelling use of these
splendid treasures the moment he got to London. And according to
the surmisers, that is what he did. Yes, although there was no
one in Stratford able to teach him these things, and no library in
the little village to dig them out of. His father could not read,
and even the surmisers surmise that he did not keep a library.
It is surmised by the biographers that the young Shakespeare
got his vast knowledge of the law and his familiar and accurate
acquaintance with the manners and customs and shop-talk of
lawyers through being for a time the CLERK OF A STRATFORD COURT;
just as a bright lad like me, reared in a village on the banks of
the Mississippi, might become perfect in knowledge of the Bering
Strait whale-fishery and the shop-talk of the veteran exercises
of that adventure-bristling trade through catching catfish with a
“trot-line” Sundays. But the surmise is damaged by the fact that
there is no evidence–and not even tradition–that the young
Shakespeare was ever clerk of a law-court.
It is further surmised that the young Shakespeare
accumulated his law-treasures in the first years of his sojourn
in London, through “amusing himself” by learning book-law in his
garret and by picking up lawyer-talk and the rest of it through
loitering about the law-courts and listening. But it is only
surmise; there is no EVIDENCE that he ever did either of those
things. They are merely a couple of chunks of plaster of Paris.
There is a legend that he got his bread and butter by
holding horses in front of the London theaters, mornings and
afternoons. Maybe he did. If he did, it seriously shortened his
law-study hours and his recreation-time in the courts. In those
very days he was writing great plays, and needed all the time he
could get. The horse-holding legend ought to be strangled; it
too formidably increases the historian’s difficulty in accounting
for the young Shakespeare’s erudition–an erudition which he was
acquiring, hunk by hunk and chunk by chunk, every day in those
strenuous times, and emptying each day’s catch into next day’s
He had to acquire a knowledge of war at the same time; and a
knowledge of soldier-people and sailor-people and their ways and
talk; also a knowledge of some foreign lands and their languages:
for he was daily emptying fluent streams of these various knowledges,
too, into his dramas. How did he acquire these rich assets?
In the usual way: by surmise. It is SURMISED that he
traveled in Italy and Germany and around, and qualified himself
to put their scenic and social aspects upon paper; that he
perfected himself in French, Italian, and Spanish on the road;
that he went in Leicester’s expedition to the Low Countries, as
soldier or sutler or something, for several months or years–or
whatever length of time a surmiser needs in his business–and
thus became familiar with soldiership and soldier-ways and
soldier-talk and generalship and general-ways and general-talk,
and seamanship and sailor-ways and sailor-talk.
Maybe he did all these things, but I would like to know who
held the horses in the mean time; and who studied the books in
the garret; and who frolicked in the law-courts for recreation.
Also, who did the call-boying and the play-acting.
For he became a call-boy; and as early as ’93 he became a
“vagabond”–the law’s ungentle term for an unlisted actor; and in
’94 a “regular” and properly and officially listed member of that
(in those days) lightly valued and not much respected profession.
Right soon thereafter he became a stockholder in two
theaters, and manager of them. Thenceforward he was a busy and
flourishing business man, and was raking in money with both hands
for twenty years. Then in a noble frenzy of poetic inspiration
he wrote his one poem–his only poem, his darling–and laid him
down and died:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
He was probably dead when he wrote it. Still, this is only
conjecture. We have only circumstantial evidence. Internal
Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which
constitute the giant Biography of William Shakespeare? It would
strain the Unabridged Dictionary to hold them. He is a
brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of
“We May Assume”
In the Assuming trade three separate and independent cults
are transacting business. Two of these cults are known as the
Shakespearites and the Baconians, and I am the other one–the
The Shakespearite knows that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s
Works; the Baconian knows that Francis Bacon wrote them; the
Brontosaurian doesn’t really know which of them did it, but is
quite composedly and contentedly sure that Shakespeare DIDN’T,
and strongly suspects that Bacon DID. We all have to do a good
deal of assuming, but I am fairly certain that in every case I
can call to mind the Baconian assumers have come out ahead of the
Shakespearites. Both parties handle the same materials, but the
Baconians seem to me to get much more reasonable and rational and
persuasive results out of them than is the case with the
Shakespearites. The Shakespearite conducts his assuming upon a
definite principle, an unchanging and immutable law: which is:
2 and 8 and 7 and 14, added together, make 165. I believe this
to be an error. No matter, you cannot get a habit-sodden
Shakespearite to cipher-up his materials upon any other basis.
With the Baconian it is different. If you place before him the
above figures and set him to adding them up, he will never in any
case get more than 45 out of them, and in nine cases out of ten
he will get just the proper 31.
Let me try to illustrate the two systems in a simple and
homely way calculated to bring the idea within the grasp of the
ignorant and unintelligent. We will suppose a case: take a lap-
bred, house-fed, uneducated, inexperienced kitten; take a rugged
old Tom that’s scarred from stem to rudder-post with the
memorials of strenuous experience, and is so cultured, so
educated, so limitlessly erudite that one may say of him “all
cat-knowledge is his province”; also, take a mouse. Lock the
three up in a holeless, crackless, exitless prison-cell. Wait
half an hour, then open the cell, introduce a Shakespearite and a
Baconian, and let them cipher and assume. The mouse is missing:
the question to be decided is, where is it? You can guess both
verdicts beforehand. One verdict will say the kitten contains
the mouse; the other will as certainly say the mouse is in the
The Shakespearite will Reason like this–(that is not my
word, it is his). He will say the kitten MAY HAVE BEEN attending
school when nobody was noticing; therefore WE ARE WARRANTED IN
ASSUMING that it did so; also, it COULD HAVE BEEN training in a
court-clerk’s office when no one was noticing; since that could
have happened, WE ARE JUSTIFIED IN ASSUMING that it did happen;
it COULD HAVE STUDIED CATOLOGY IN A GARRET when no one was
noticing–therefore it DID; it COULD HAVE attended cat-assizes on
the shed-roof nights, for recreation, when no one was noticing,
and have harvested a knowledge of cat court-forms and cat lawyer-
talk in that way: it COULD have done it, therefore without a
doubt it DID; it COULD HAVE gone soldiering with a war-tribe when
no one was noticing, and learned soldier-wiles and soldier-ways,
and what to do with a mouse when opportunity offers; the plain
inference, therefore, is that that is what it DID. Since all
these manifold things COULD have occurred, we have EVERY RIGHT TO
BELIEVE they did occur. These patiently and painstakingly
accumulated vast acquirements and competences needed but one
thing more–opportunity–to convert themselves into triumphal
action. The opportunity came, we have the result; BEYOND SHADOW
OF QUESTION the mouse is in the kitten.
It is proper to remark that when we of the three cults plant
a “WE THINK WE MAY ASSUME,” we expect it, under careful watering
and fertilizing and tending, to grow up into a strong and hardy
and weather-defying “THERE ISN’T A SHADOW OF A DOUBT” at last–
and it usually happens.
We know what the Baconian’s verdict would be: “THERE IS NOT
A RAG OF EVIDENCE THAT THE KITTEN HAS HAD ANY TRAINING, ANY
EDUCATION, ANY EXPERIENCE QUALIFYING IT FOR THE PRESENT OCCASION,
OR IS INDEED EQUIPPED FOR ANY ACHIEVEMENT ABOVE LIFTING SUCH
UNCLAIMED MILK AS COMES ITS WAY; BUT THERE IS ABUNDANT EVIDENCE–
UNASSAILABLE PROOF, IN FACT–THAT THE OTHER ANIMAL IS EQUIPPED,
TO THE LAST DETAIL, WITH EVERY QUALIFICATION NECESSARY FOR THE
EVENT. WITHOUT SHADOW OF DOUBT THE TOM-CAT CONTAINS THE MOUSE.”
When Shakespeare died, in 1616, great literary productions
attributed to him as author had been before the London world and
in high favor for twenty-four years. Yet his death was not an
event. It made no stir, it attracted no attention. Apparently
his eminent literary contemporaries did not realize that a
celebrated poet had passed from their midst. Perhaps they knew a
play-actor of minor rank had disappeared, but did not regard him
as the author of his Works. “We are justified in assuming” this.
His death was not even an event in the little town of
Stratford. Does this mean that in Stratford he was not regarded
as a celebrity of ANY kind?
“We are privileged to assume”–no, we are indeed OBLIGED to
assume–that such was the case. He had spent the first twenty-
two or twenty-three years of his life there, and of course knew
everybody and was known by everybody of that day in the town,
including the dogs and the cats and the horses. He had spent the
last five or six years of his life there, diligently trading in
every big and little thing that had money in it; so we are
compelled to assume that many of the folk there in those said
latter days knew him personally, and the rest by sight and
hearsay. But not as a CELEBRITY? Apparently not. For everybody
soon forgot to remember any contact with him or any incident
connected with him. The dozens of townspeople, still alive, who
had known of him or known about him in the first twenty-three
years of his life were in the same unremembering condition: if
they knew of any incident connected with that period of his life
they didn’t tell about it. Would the if they had been asked? It
is most likely. Were they asked? It is pretty apparent that
they were not. Why weren’t they? It is a very plausible guess
that nobody there or elsewhere was interested to know.
For seven years after Shakespeare’s death nobody seems to have been
interested in him. Then the quarto was published, and Ben Jonson
awoke out of his long indifference and sang a song of praise and
put it in the front of the book. Then silence fell AGAIN.
For sixty years. Then inquiries into Shakespeare’s Stratford
life began to be made, of Stratfordians. Of Stratfordians
who had known Shakespeare or had seen him? No. Then of
Stratfordians who had seen people who had known or seen
people who had seen Shakespeare? No. Apparently the inquires
were only made of Stratfordians who were not Stratfordians of
Shakespeare’s day, but later comers; and what they had learned
had come to them from persons who had not seen Shakespeare; and
what they had learned was not claimed as FACT, but only as legend–
dim and fading and indefinite legend; legend of the calf-slaughtering
rank, and not worth remembering either as history or fiction.
Has it ever happened before–or since–that a celebrated
person who had spent exactly half of a fairly long life in the
village where he was born and reared, was able to slip out of
this world and leave that village voiceless and gossipless behind
him–utterly voiceless., utterly gossipless? And permanently so?
I don’t believe it has happened in any case except Shakespeare’s.
And couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened in his case if he had
been regarded as a celebrity at the time of his death.
When I examine my own case–but let us do that, and see if
it will not be recognizable as exhibiting a condition of things
quite likely to result, most likely to result, indeed
substantially SURE to result in the case of a celebrated person,
a benefactor of the human race. Like me.
My parents brought me to the village of Hannibal, Missouri,
on the banks of the Mississippi, when I was two and a half years
old. I entered school at five years of age, and drifted from one
school to another in the village during nine and a half years.
Then my father died, leaving his family in exceedingly straitened
circumstances; wherefore my book-education came to a standstill
forever, and I became a printer’s apprentice, on board and
clothes, and when the clothes failed I got a hymn-book in place
of them. This for summer wear, probably. I lived in Hannibal
fifteen and a half years, altogether, then ran away, according to
the custom of persons who are intending to become celebrated. I
never lived there afterward. Four years later I became a “cub”
on a Mississippi steamboat in the St. Louis and New Orleans
trade, and after a year and a half of hard study and hard work
the U.S. inspectors rigorously examined me through a couple of
long sittings and decided that I knew every inch of the
Mississippi–thirteen hundred miles–in the dark and in the day–
as well as a baby knows the way to its mother’s paps day or
night. So they licensed me as a pilot–knighted me, so to speak
–and I rose up clothed with authority, a responsible servant of
the United States Government.
Now then. Shakespeare died young–he was only fifty-two.
He had lived in his native village twenty-six years, or about
that. He died celebrated (if you believe everything you read in
the books). Yet when he died nobody there or elsewhere took any
notice of it; and for sixty years afterward no townsman
remembered to say anything about him or about his life in
Stratford. When the inquirer came at last he got but one fact–
no, LEGEND–and got that one at second hand, from a person who
had only heard it as a rumor and didn’t claim copyright in it as
a production of his own. He couldn’t, very well, for its date
antedated his own birth-date. But necessarily a number of
persons were still alive in Stratford who, in the days of their
youth, had seen Shakespeare nearly every day in the last five
years of his life, and they would have been able to tell that
inquirer some first-hand things about him if he had in those last
days been a celebrity and therefore a person of interest to the
villagers. Why did not the inquirer hunt them up and interview
them? Wasn’t it worth while? Wasn’t the matter of sufficient
consequence? Had the inquirer an engagement to see a dog-fight
and couldn’t spare the time?
It all seems to mean that he never had any literary celebrity,
there or elsewhere, and no considerable repute as actor and manager.
Now then, I am away along in life–my seventy-third year
being already well behind me–yet SIXTEEN of my Hannibal
schoolmates are still alive today, and can tell–and do tell–
inquirers dozens and dozens of incidents of their young lives and
mine together; things that happened to us in the morning of life,
in the blossom of our youth, in the good days, the dear days,
“the days when we went gipsying, a long time ago.” Most of them
creditable to me, too. One child to whom I paid court when she
was five years old and I eight still lives in Hannibal, and she
visited me last summer, traversing the necessary ten or twelve
hundred miles of railroad without damage to her patience or to
her old-young vigor. Another little lassie to whom I paid
attention in Hannibal when she was nine years old and I the same,
is still alive–in London–and hale and hearty, just as I am.
And on the few surviving steamboats–those lingering ghosts and
remembrancers of great fleets that plied the big river in the
beginning of my water-career–which is exactly as long ago as the
whole invoice of the life-years of Shakespeare numbers–there are
still findable two or three river-pilots who saw me do creditable
things in those ancient days; and several white-headed engineers;
and several roustabouts and mates; and several deck-hands who
used to heave the lead for me and send up on the still night the
“Six–feet–SCANT!” that made me shudder, and the “M-a-r-k–
TWAIN!” that took the shudder away, and presently the darling “By
the d-e-e-p–FOUR!” that lifted me to heaven for joy.  They
know about me, and can tell. And so do printers, from St. Louis
to New York; and so do newspaper reporters, from Nevada to San
Francisco. And so do the police. If Shakespeare had really been
celebrated, like me, Stratford could have told things about him;
and if my experience goes for anything, they’d have done it.
1. Four fathoms–twenty-four feet.
If I had under my superintendence a controversy appointed to
decide whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or not, I believe
I would place before the debaters only the one question,
WAS SHAKESPEARE EVER A PRACTICING LAWYER? and leave everything
It is maintained that the man who wrote the plays was not
merely myriad-minded, but also myriad-accomplished: that he not
only knew some thousands of things about human life in all its
shades and grades, and about the hundred arts and trades and
crafts and professions which men busy themselves in, but that he
could TALK about the men and their grades and trades accurately,
making no mistakes. Maybe it is so, but have the experts spoken,
or is it only Tom, Dick, and Harry? Does the exhibit stand upon
wide, and loose, and eloquent generalizing–which is not
evidence, and not proof–or upon details, particulars,
statistics, illustrations, demonstrations?
Experts of unchallengeable authority have testified
definitely as to only one of Shakespeare’s multifarious craft-
equipments, so far as my recollections of Shakespeare-Bacon talk
abide with me–his law-equipment. I do not remember that
Wellington or Napoleon ever examined Shakespeare’s battles and
sieges and strategies, and then decided and established for good
and all that they were militarily flawless; I do not remember
that any Nelson, or Drake, or Cook ever examined his seamanship
and said it showed profound and accurate familiarity with that
art; I don’t remember that any king or prince or duke has ever
testified that Shakespeare was letter-perfect in his handling of
royal court-manners and the talk and manners of aristocracies; I
don’t remember that any illustrious Latinist or Grecian or
Frenchman or Spaniard or Italian has proclaimed him a past-master
in those languages; I don’t remember–well, I don’t remember that
there is TESTIMONY–great testimony–imposing testimony–
unanswerable and unattackable testimony as to any of
Shakespeare’s hundred specialties, except one–the law.
Other things change, with time, and the student cannot trace
back with certainty the changes that various trades and their
processes and technicalities have undergone in the long stretch
of a century or two and find out what their processes and
technicalities were in those early days, but with the law it is
different: it is mile-stoned and documented all the way back,
and the master of that wonderful trade, that complex and
intricate trade, that awe-compelling trade, has competent ways of
knowing whether Shakespeare-law is good law or not; and whether
his law-court procedure is correct or not, and whether his legal
shop-talk is the shop-talk of a veteran practitioner or only a
machine-made counterfeit of it gathered from books and from
occasional loiterings in Westminster.
Richard H. Dana served two years before the mast, and had
every experience that falls to the lot of the sailor before the
mast of our day. His sailor-talk flows from his pen with the
sure touch and the ease and confidence of a person who has LIVED
what he is talking about, not gathered it from books and random
listenings. Hear him:
Having hove short, cast off the gaskets, and made the bunt
of each sail fast by the jigger, with a man on each yard, at the
word the whole canvas of the ship was loosed, and with the
greatest rapidity possible everything was sheeted home and
hoisted up, the anchor tripped and cat-headed, and the ship under
The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and
sky-sails set, and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run
out, and all were aloft, active as cats, laying out on the yards
and booms, reeving the studding-sail gear; and sail after sail
the captain piled upon her, until she was covered with canvas,
her sails looking like a great white cloud resting upon a black
Once more. A race in the Pacific:
Our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the
point, the breeze became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under
our sails, but we would not take them in until we saw three boys
spring into the rigging of the CALIFORNIA; then they were all
furled at once, but with orders to our boys to stay aloft at the
top-gallant mast-heads and loose them again at the word. It was
my duty to furl the fore-royal; and while standing by to loose it
again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the
two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their
narrow decks, far below, slanting over by the force of the wind
aloft, appeared hardly capable of supporting the great fabrics
raised upon them. The CALIFORNIA was to windward of us, and had
every advantage; yet, while the breeze was stiff we held our own.
As soon as it began to slacken she ranged a little ahead, and the
order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the gaskets
were off and the bunt dropped. “Sheet home the fore-royal!”–
“Weather sheet’s home!”–“Lee sheet’s home!”–“Hoist away, sir!”
is bawled from aloft. “Overhaul your clew-lines!” shouts the
mate. “Aye-aye, sir, all clear!”–“Taut leech! belay! Well the
lee brace; haul taut to windward!” and the royals are set.
What would the captain of any sailing-vessel of our time say
to that? He would say, “The man that wrote that didn’t learn his
trade out of a book, he has BEEN there!” But would this same
captain be competent to sit in judgment upon Shakespeare’s
seamanship–considering the changes in ships and ship-talk that
have necessarily taken place, unrecorded, unremembered, and lost
to history in the last three hundred years? It is my conviction
that Shakespeare’s sailor-talk would be Choctaw to him. For
instance–from “The Tempest”:
BOATSWAIN. Here, master; what cheer?
MASTER. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to ‘t, yarely,
or we run ourselves to ground; bestir, bestir!
BOATSWAIN. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts!
yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the master’s whistle.
. . . Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring her to
try wi’ the main course. . . . Lay her a-hold, a-hold! Set her
two courses. Off to sea again; lay her off.
That will do, for the present; let us yare a little, now,
for a change.
If a man should write a book and in it make one of his
characters say, “Here, devil, empty the quoins into the standing
galley and the imposing-stone into the hell-box; assemble the
comps around the frisket and let them jeff for takes and be quick
about it,” I should recognize a mistake or two in the phrasing,
and would know that the writer was only a printer theoretically,
I have been a quartz miner in the silver regions–a pretty
hard life; I know all the palaver of that business: I know all
about discovery claims and the subordinate claims; I know all
about lodes, ledges, outcroppings, dips, spurs, angles, shafts,
drifts, inclines, levels, tunnels, air-shafts, “horses,” clay
casings, granite casings; quartz mills and their batteries;
arastras, and how to charge them with quicksilver and sulphate of
copper; and how to clean them up, and how to reduce the resulting
amalgam in the retorts, and how to cast the bullion into pigs;
and finally I know how to screen tailings, and also how to hunt
for something less robust to do, and find it. I know the argot
and the quartz-mining and milling industry familiarly; and so
whenever Bret Harte introduces that industry into a story, the
first time one of his miners opens his mouth I recognize from his
phrasing that Harte got the phrasing by listening–like
Shakespeare–I mean the Stratford one–not by experience. No one
can talk the quartz dialect correctly without learning it with
pick and shovel and drill and fuse.
I have been a surface miner–gold–and I know all its
mysteries, and the dialects that belongs with them; and whenever
Harte introduces that industry into a story I know by the
phrasing of his characters that neither he nor they have ever
served that trade.
I have been a “pocket” miner–a sort of gold mining not
findable in any but one little spot in the world, so far as I
know. I know how, with horn and water, to find the trail of a
pocket and trace it step by step and stage by stage up the
mountain to its source, and find the compact little nest of
yellow metal reposing in its secret home under the ground. I
know the language of that trade, that capricious trade, that
fascinating buried-treasure trade, and can catch any writer who
tries to use it without having learned it by the sweat of his
brow and the labor of his hands.
I know several other trades and the argot that goes with
them; and whenever a person tries to talk the talk peculiar to
any of them without having learned it at its source I can trap
him always before he gets far on his road.
And so, as I have already remarked, if I were required to
superintend a Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow the
matter down to a single question–the only one, so far as the
previous controversies have informed me, concerning which
illustrious experts of unimpeachable competency have testified:
WAS THE AUTHOR OF SHAKESPEARE’S WORKS A LAWYER?–a lawyer deeply
read and of limitless experience? I would put aside the guesses
and surmises, and perhapes, and might-have-beens, and could-have-
beens, and must-have-beens, and we-are-justified-in-presumings,
and the rest of those vague specters and shadows and
indefintenesses, and stand or fall, win or lose, by the verdict
rendered by the jury upon that single question. If the verdict
was Yes, I should feel quite convinced that the Stratford
Shakespeare, the actor, manager, and trader who died so obscure,
so forgotten, so destitute of even village consequence, that
sixty years afterward no fellow-citizen and friend of his later
days remembered to tell anything about him, did not write the Works.
Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED bears the
heading “Shakespeare as a Lawyer,” and comprises some fifty pages
of expert testimony, with comments thereon, and I will copy the
first nine, as being sufficient all by themselves, as it seems to
me, to settle the question which I have conceived to be the
master-key to the Shakespeare-Bacon puzzle.
Shakespeare as a Lawyer 
The Plays and Poems of Shakespeare supply ample evidence
that their author not only had a very extensive and accurate
knowledge of law, but that he was well acquainted with the
manners and customs of members of the Inns of Court and with
legal life generally.
“While novelists and dramatists are constantly making
mistakes as to the laws of marriage, of wills, of inheritance, to
Shakespeare’s law, lavishly as he expounds it, there can neither
be demurrer, nor bill of exceptions, nor writ of error.” Such
was the testimony borne by one of the most distinguished lawyers
of the nineteenth century who was raised to the high office of
Lord Chief Justice in 1850, and subsequently became Lord
Chancellor. Its weight will, doubtless, be more appreciated by
lawyers than by laymen, for only lawyers know how impossible it
is for those who have not served an apprenticeship to the law to
avoid displaying their ignorance if they venture to employ legal
terms and to discuss legal doctrines. “There is nothing so
dangerous,” wrote Lord Campbell, “as for one not of the craft to
tamper with our freemasonry.” A layman is certain to betray
himself by using some expression which a lawyer would never
employ. Mr. Sidney Lee himself supplies us with an example of
this. He writes (p. 164): “On February 15, 1609, Shakespeare .
. . obtained judgment from a jury against Addenbroke for the
payment of No. 6, and No. 1, 5s. 0d. costs.” Now a lawyer would
never have spoken of obtaining “judgment from a jury,” for it is
the function of a jury not to deliver judgment (which is the
prerogative of the court), but to find a verdict on the facts.
The error is, indeed, a venial one, but it is just one of those
little things which at once enable a lawyer to know if the writer
is a layman or “one of the craft.”
But when a layman ventures to plunge deeply into legal
subjects, he is naturally apt to make an exhibition of his
incompetence. “Let a non-professional man, however acute,”
writes Lord Campbell again, “presume to talk law, or to draw
illustrations from legal science in discussing other subjects,
and he will speedily fall into laughable absurdity.”
And what does the same high authority say about Shakespeare?
He had “a deep technical knowledge of the law,” and an easy
familiarity with “some of the most abstruse proceedings in
English jurisprudence.” And again: “Whenever he indulges this
propensity he uniformly lays down good law.” Of “Henry IV.,”
Part 2, he says: “If Lord Eldon could be supposed to have written
the play, I do not see how he could be chargeable with having
forgotten any of his law while writing it.” Charles and Mary
Cowden Clarke speak of “the marvelous intimacy which he displays
with legal terms, his frequent adoption of them in illustration,
and his curiously technical knowledge of their form and force.”
Malone, himself a lawyer, wrote: “His knowledge of legal terms
is not merely such as might be acquired by the casual observation
of even his all-comprehending mind; it has the appearance of
technical skill.” Another lawyer and well-known Shakespearean,
Richard Grant White, says: “No dramatist of the time, not even
Beaumont, who was the younger son of a judge of the Common Pleas,
and who after studying in the Inns of Court abandoned law for the
drama, used legal phrases with Shakespeare’s readiness and
exactness. And the significance of this fact is heightened by
another, that is only to the language of the law that he exhibits
this inclination. The phrases peculiar to other occupations
serve him on rare occasions by way of description, comparison, or
illustration, generally when something in the scene suggests
them, but legal phrases flow from his pen as part of his
vocabulary and parcel of his thought. Take the word ‘purchase’
for instance, which, in ordinary use, means to acquire by giving
value, but applies in law to all legal modes of obtaining
property except by inheritance or descent, and in this peculiar
sense the word occurs five times in Shakespeare’s thirty-four
plays, and only in one single instance in the fifty-four plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher. It has been suggested that it was in
attendance upon the courts in London that he picked up his legal
vocabulary. But this supposition not only fails to account for
Shakespeare’s peculiar freedom and exactness in the use of that
phraseology, it does not even place him in the way of learning
those terms his use of which is most remarkable, which are not
such as he would have heard at ordinary proceedings at NISI
PRIUS, but such as refer to the tenure or transfer of real
property, ‘fine and recovery,’ ‘statutes merchant,’ ‘purchase,’
‘indenture,’ ‘tenure,’ ‘double voucher,’ ‘fee simple,’ ‘fee
farm,’ ‘remainder,’ ‘reversion,’ ‘forfeiture,’ etc. This
conveyancer’s jargon could not have been picked up by hanging
round the courts of law in London two hundred and fifty years
ago, when suits as to the title of real property were
comparatively rare. And besides, Shakespeare uses his law just
as freely in his first plays, written in his first London years,
as in those produced at a later period. Just as exactly, too;
for the correctness and propriety with which these terms are
introduced have compelled the admiration of a Chief Justice and a
Senator Davis wrote: “We seem to have something more than a
sciolist’s temerity of indulgence in the terms of an unfamiliar
art. No legal solecisms will be found. The abstrusest elements
of the common law are impressed into a disciplined service. Over
and over again, where such knowledge is unexampled in writers
unlearned in the law, Shakespeare appears in perfect possession
of it. In the law of real property, its rules of tenure and
descents, its entails, its fines and recoveries, their vouchers
and double vouchers, in the procedure of the Courts, the method
of bringing writs and arrests, the nature of actions, the rules
of pleading, the law of escapes and of contempt of court, in the
principles of evidence, both technical and philosophical, in the
distinction between the temporal and spiritual tribunals, in the
law of attainder and forfeiture, in the requisites of a valid
marriage, in the presumption of legitimacy, in the learning of
the law of prerogative, in the inalienable character of the
Crown, this mastership appears with surprising authority.”
To all this testimony (and there is much more which I have
not cited) may now be added that of a great lawyer of our own
times, VIZ.: Sir James Plaisted Wilde, Q.C. 1855, created a
Baron of the Exchequer in 1860, promoted to the post of Judge-
Ordinary and Judge of the Courts of Probate and Divorce in 1863,
and better known to the world as Lord Penzance, to which dignity
he was raised in 1869. Lord Penzance, as all lawyers know, and
as the late Mr. Inderwick, K.C., has testified, was one of the
first legal authorities of his day, famous for his “remarkable
grasp of legal principles,” and “endowed by nature with a
remarkable facility for marshaling facts, and for a clear
expression of his views.”
Lord Penzance speaks of Shakespeare’s “perfect familiarity
with not only the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the
technicalities of English law, a knowledge so perfect and
intimate that he was never incorrect and never at fault. . . .
The mode in which this knowledge was pressed into service on all
occasions to express his meaning and illustrate his thoughts was
quite unexampled. He seems to have had a special pleasure in his
complete and ready mastership of it in all its branches. As
manifested in the plays, this legal knowledge and learning had
therefore a special character which places it on a wholly
different footing from the rest of the multifarious knowledge
which is exhibited in page after page of the plays. At every
turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile,
or illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law. He seems
almost to have THOUGHT in legal phrases, the commonest of legal
expressions were ever at the end of his pen in description or
illustration. That he should have descanted in lawyer language
when he had a forensic subject in hand, such as Shylock’s bond,
was to be expected, but the knowledge of law in ‘Shakespeare’ was
exhibited in a far different manner: it protruded itself on all
occasions, appropriate or inappropriate, and mingled itself with
strains of thought widely divergent from forensic subjects.”
Again: “To acquire a perfect familiarity with legal principles,
and an accurate and ready use of the technical terms and phrases
not only of the conveyancer’s office, but of the pleader’s
chambers and the Courts at Westminster, nothing short of
employment in some career involving constant contact with legal
questions and general legal work would be requisite. But a
continuous employment involves the element of time, and time was
just what the manager of two theaters had not at his disposal.
In what portion of Shakespeare’s (i.e., Shakspere’s) career would
it be possible to point out that time could be found for the
interposition of a legal employment in the chambers or offices of
Stratfordians, as is well known, casting about for some
possible explanation of Shakespeare’s extraordinary knowledge of
law, have made the suggestion that Shakespeare might,
conceivably, have been a clerk in an attorney’s office before he
came to London. Mr. Collier wrote to Lord Campbell to ask his
opinion as to the probability of this being true. His answer was
as follows: “You require us to believe implicitly a fact, of
which, if true, positive and irrefragable evidence in his own
handwriting might have been forthcoming to establish it. Not
having been actually enrolled as an attorney, neither the records
of the local court at Stratford nor of the superior Court at
Westminster would present his name as being concerned in any suit
as an attorney, but it might reasonably have been expected that
there would be deeds or wills witnessed by him still extant, and
after a very diligent search none such can be discovered.”
Upon this Lord Penzance commends: “It cannot be doubted
that Lord Campbell was right in this. No young man could have
been at work in an attorney’s office without being called upon
continually to act as a witness, and in many other ways leaving
traces of his work and name.” There is not a single fact or
incident in all that is known of Shakespeare, even by rumor or
tradition, which supports this notion of a clerkship. And after
much argument and surmise which has been indulged in on this subject,
we may, I think, safely put the notion on one side, for no less
an authority than Mr. Grant White says finally that the idea of
his having been clerk to an attorney has been “blown to pieces.”
It is altogether characteristic of Mr. Churton Collins that
he, nevertheless, adopts this exploded myth. “That Shakespeare
was in early life employed as a clerk in an attorney’s office may
be correct. At Stratford there was by royal charter a Court of
Record sitting every fortnight, with six attorneys, besides the
town clerk, belonging to it, and it is certainly not straining
probability to suppose that the young Shakespeare may have had
employment in one of them. There is, it is true, no tradition to
this effect, but such traditions as we have about Shakespeare’s
occupation between the time of leaving school and going to London
are so loose and baseless that no confidence can be placed in
them. It is, to say the least, more probable that he was in an
attorney’s office than that he was a butcher killing calves ‘in a
high style,’ and making speeches over them.”
This is a charming specimen of Stratfordian argument. There
is, as we have seen, a very old tradition that Shakespeare was a
butcher’s apprentice. John Dowdall, who made a tour of
Warwickshire in 1693, testifies to it as coming from the old
clerk who showed him over the church, and it is unhesitatingly
accepted as true by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps. (Vol. I, p. 11, and
Vol. II, pp. 71, 72.) Mr. Sidney Lee sees nothing improbable in
it, and it is supported by Aubrey, who must have written his
account some time before 1680, when his manuscript was completed.
Of the attorney’s clerk hypothesis, on the other hand, there is
not the faintest vestige of a tradition. It has been evolved out
of the fertile imaginations of embarrassed Stratfordians, seeking
for some explanation of the Stratford rustic’s marvelous
acquaintance with law and legal terms and legal life. But Mr.
Churton Collins has not the least hesitation in throwing over the
tradition which has the warrant of antiquity and setting up in
its stead this ridiculous invention, for which not only is there
no shred of positive evidence, but which, as Lord Campbell and
Lord Penzance pointed out, is really put out of court by the
negative evidence, since “no young man could have been at work in
an attorney’s office without being called upon continually to act
as a witness, and in many other ways leaving traces of his work
and name.” And as Mr. Edwards further points out, since the day
when Lord Campbell’s book was published (between forty and fifty
years ago), “every old deed or will, to say nothing of other
legal papers, dated during the period of William Shakespeare’s
youth, has been scrutinized over half a dozen shires, and not one
signature of the young man has been found.”
Moreover, if Shakespeare had served as clerk in an attorney’s
office it is clear that he must have served for a considerable
period in order to have gained (if, indeed, it is credible that
he could have so gained) his remarkable knowledge of the law.
Can we then for a moment believe that, if this had been so,
tradition would have been absolutely silent on the matter?
That Dowdall’s old clerk, over eighty years of age,
should have never heard of it (though he was sure enough
about the butcher’s apprentice) and that all the other
ancient witnesses should be in similar ignorance!
But such are the methods of Stratfordian controversy.
Tradition is to be scouted when it is found inconvenient, but
cited as irrefragable truth when it suits the case. Shakespeare
of Stratford was the author of the Plays and Poems, but the
author of the Plays and Poems could not have been a butcher’s
apprentice. Anyway, therefore, with tradition. But the author
of the Plays and Poems MUST have had a very large and a very
accurate knowledge of the law. Therefore, Shakespeare of
Stratford must have been an attorney’s clerk! The method is
simplicity itself. By similar reasoning Shakespeare has been
made a country schoolmaster, a soldier, a physician, a printer,
and a good many other things besides, according to the
inclination and the exigencies of the commentator. It would not
be in the least surprising to find that he was studying Latin as
a schoolmaster and law in an attorney’s office at the same time.
However, we must do Mr. Collins the justice of saying that
he has fully recognized, what is indeed tolerable obvious, that
Shakespeare must have had a sound legal training. “It may, of
course, be urged,” he writes, “that Shakespeare’s knowledge of
medicine, and particularly that branch of it which related to
morbid psychology, is equally remarkable, and that no one has
ever contended that he was a physician. (Here Mr. Collins is
wrong; that contention also has been put forward.) It may be
urged that his acquaintance with the technicalities of other
crafts and callings, notably of marine and military affairs, was
also extraordinary, and yet no one has suspected him of being a
sailor or a soldier. (Wrong again. Why, even Messrs. Garnett
and Gosse “suspect” that he was a soldier!) This may be
conceded, but the concession hardly furnishes an analogy. To
these and all other subjects he recurs occasionally, and in
season, but with reminiscences of the law his memory, as is
abundantly clear, was simply saturated. In season and out of
season now in manifest, now in recondite application, he presses
it into the service of expression and illustration. At least a
third of his myriad metaphors are derived from it. It would
indeed be difficult to find a single act in any of his dramas,
nay, in some of them, a single scene, the diction and imagery of
which are not colored by it. Much of his law may have been
acquired from three books easily accessible to him–namely,
Tottell’s PRECEDENTS (1572), Pulton’s STATUTES (1578), and
Fraunce’s LAWIER’S LOGIKE (1588), works with which he certainly
seems to have been familiar; but much of it could only have come
from one who had an intimate acquaintance with legal proceedings.
We quite agree with Mr. Castle that Shakespeare’s legal knowledge
is not what could have been picked up in an attorney’s office,
but could only have been learned by an actual attendance at the
Courts, at a Pleader’s Chambers, and on circuit, or by
associating intimately with members of the Bench and Bar.”
This is excellent. But what is Mr. Collins’s explanation?
“Perhaps the simplest solution of the problem is to accept the
hypothesis that in early life he was in an attorney’s office (!),
that he there contracted a love for the law which never left him,
that as a young man in London he continued to study or dabble in
it for his amusement, to stroll in leisure hours into the Courts,
and to frequent the society of lawyers. On no other supposition
is it possible to explain the attraction which the law evidently
had for him, and his minute and undeviating accuracy in a subject
where no layman who has indulged in such copious and ostentatious
display of legal technicalities has ever yet succeeded in keeping
himself from tripping.”
A lame conclusion. “No other supposition” indeed! Yes,
there is another, and a very obvious supposition–namely, that
Shakespeare was himself a lawyer, well versed in his trade,
versed in all the ways of the courts, and living in close
intimacy with judges and members of the Inns of Court.
One is, of course, thankful that Mr. Collins has appreciated
the fact that Shakespeare must have had a sound legal training,
but I may be forgiven if I do not attach quite so much importance
to his pronouncements on this branch of the subject as to those
of Malone, Lord Campbell, Judge Holmes, Mr. Castle, K.C., Lord
Penzance, Mr. Grant White, and other lawyers, who have expressed
their opinion on the matter of Shakespeare’s legal acquirements.
. . .
Here it may, perhaps, be worth while to quote again from
Lord Penzance’s book as to the suggestion that Shakespeare had
somehow or other managed “to acquire a perfect familiarity with
legal principles, and an accurate and ready use of the technical
terms and phrases, not only of the conveyancer’s office, but of
the pleader’s chambers and the Courts at Westminster.” This, as
Lord Penzance points out, “would require nothing short of
employment in some career involving CONSTANT CONTACT with legal
questions and general legal work.” But “in what portion of
Shakespeare’s career would it be possible to point out that time
could be found for the interposition of a legal employment in the
chambers or offices of practicing lawyers? . . . It is beyond
doubt that at an early period he was called upon to abandon his
attendance at school and assist his father, and was soon after,
at the age of sixteen, bound apprentice to a trade. While under
the obligation of this bond he could not have pursued any other
employment. Then he leaves Stratford and comes to London. He
has to provide himself with the means of a livelihood, and this
he did in some capacity at the theater. No one doubt that. The
holding of horses is scouted by many, and perhaps with justice,
as being unlikely and certainly unproved; but whatever the nature
of his employment was at the theater, there is hardly room for
the belief that it could have been other than continuous, for his
progress there was so rapid. Ere long he had been taken into the
company as an actor, and was soon spoken of as a “Johannes
Factotum.’ His rapid accumulation of wealth speaks volumes for
the constancy and activity of his services. One fails to see
when there could be a break in the current of his life at this
period of it, giving room or opportunity for legal or indeed any
other employment. ‘In 1589,’ says Knight, ‘we have undeniable
evidence that he had not only a casual engagement, was not only a
salaried servant, as may players were, but was a shareholder in
the company of the Queen’s players with other shareholders below
him on the list.’ This (1589) would be within two years after
his arrival in London, which is placed by White and Halliwell-
Phillipps about the year 1587. The difficulty in supposing that,
starting with a state of ignorance in 1587, when he is supposed
to have come to London, he was induced to enter upon a course of
most extended study and mental culture, is almost insuperable.
Still it was physically possible, provided always that he could
have had access to the needful books. But this legal training
seems to me to stand on a different footing. It is not only
unaccountable and incredible, but it is actually negatived by the
known facts of his career.” Lord Penzance then refers to the
fact that “by 1592 (according to the best authority, Mr. Grant
White) several of the plays had been written. ‘The Comedy of
Errors’ in 1589, ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ in 1589, ‘Two Gentlemen
of Verona’ in 1589 or 1590,” and so forth, and then asks, “with
this catalogue of dramatic work on hand . . . was it possible
that he could have taken a leading part in the management and
conduct of two theaters, and if Mr. Phillipps is to be relied
upon, taken his share in the performances of the provincial tours
of his company–and at the same time devoted himself to the study
of the law in all its branches so efficiently as to make himself
complete master of its principles and practice, and saturate his
mind with all its most technical terms?”
I have cited this passage from Lord Penzance’s book, because
it lay before me, and I had already quoted from it on the matter
of Shakespeare’s legal knowledge; but other writers have still
better set forth the insuperable difficulties, as they seem to
me, which beset the idea that Shakespeare might have found them
in some unknown period of early life, amid multifarious other
occupations, for the study of classics, literature, and law, to
say nothing of languages and a few other matters. Lord Penzance
further asks his readers: “Did you ever meet with or hear of an
instance in which a young man in this country gave himself up to
legal studies and engaged in legal employments, which is the only
way of becoming familiar with the technicalities of practice, unless
with the view of practicing in that profession? I do not believe
that it would be easy, or indeed possible, to produce an instance
in which the law has been seriously studied in all its branches,
except as a qualification for practice in the legal profession.”
This testimony is so strong, so direct, so authoritative;
and so uncheapened, unwatered by guesses, and surmises, and
maybe-so’s, and might-have-beens, and could-have-beens, and must-
have-beens, and the rest of that ton of plaster of Paris out of
which the biographers have built the colossal brontosaur which
goes by the Stratford actor’s name, that it quite convinces me
that the man who wrote Shakespeare’s Works knew all about law and
lawyers. Also, that that man could not have been the Stratford
Who did write these Works, then?
I wish I knew.
1. From Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED.
By George G. Greenwood, M.P. John Lane Company, publishers.
Did Francis Bacon write Shakespeare’s Works? Nobody knows.
We cannot say we KNOW a thing when that thing has not been
proved. KNOW is too strong a word to use when the evidence is
not final and absolutely conclusive. We can infer, if we want
to, like those slaves. . . . No, I will not write that word,
it is not kind, it is not courteous. The upholders of the
Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call US the hardest names they
can think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well,
if they like to descend to that level, let them do it, but I
will not so undignify myself as to follow them. I cannot call
them harsh names; the most I can do is to indicate them by terms
reflecting my disapproval; and this without malice, without venom.
To resume. What I was about to say was, those thugs have built
their entire superstition upon INFERENCES, not upon known and
established facts. It is a weak method, and poor, and I am
glad to be able to say our side never resorts to it while there
is anything else to resort to.
But when we must, we must; and we have now arrived at a
place of that sort. . . . Since the Stratford Shakespeare
couldn’t have written the Works, we infer that somebody did.
Who was it, then? This requires some more inferring.
Ordinarily when an unsigned poem sweeps across the continent
like a tidal wave whose roar and boom and thunder are made up of
admiration, delight, and applause, a dozen obscure people rise up
and claim the authorship. Why a dozen, instead of only one or
two? One reason is, because there are a dozen that are
recognizably competent to do that poem. Do you remember
“Beautiful Snow”? Do you remember “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother,
Rock Me to Sleep”? Do you remember “Backward, turn, backward, O
Time, in thy flight! Make me a child again just for tonight”? I
remember them very well. Their authorship was claimed by most of
the grown-up people who were alive at the time, and every
claimant had one plausible argument in his favor, at least–to
wit, he could have done the authoring; he was competent.
Have the Works been claimed by a dozen? They haven’t.
There was good reason. The world knows there was but one man on
the planet at the time who was competent–not a dozen, and not
two. A long time ago the dwellers in a far country used now and
then to find a procession of prodigious footprints stretching
across the plain–footprints that were three miles apart, each
footprint a third of a mile long and a furlong deep, and with
forests and villages mashed to mush in it. Was there any doubt
as to who made that mighty trail? Were there a dozen claimants?
Where there two? No–the people knew who it was that had been
along there: there was only one Hercules.
There has been only one Shakespeare. There couldn’t be two;
certainly there couldn’t be two at the same time. It takes ages
to bring forth a Shakespeare, and some more ages to match him.
This one was not matched before his time; nor during his time;
and hasn’t been matched since. The prospect of matching him in
our time is not bright.
The Baconians claim that the Stratford Shakespeare was not
qualified to write the Works, and that Francis Bacon was.
They claim that Bacon possessed the stupendous equipment–both
natural and acquired–for the miracle; and that no other
Englishman of his day possessed the like; or, indeed,
anything closely approaching it.
Macaulay, in his Essay, has much to say about the splendor
and horizonless magnitude of that equipment. Also, he has
synopsized Bacon’s history–a thing which cannot be done for the
Stratford Shakespeare, for he hasn’t any history to synopsize.
Bacon’s history is open to the world, from his boyhood to his
death in old age–a history consisting of known facts, displayed
in minute and multitudinous detail; FACTS, not guesses and
conjectures and might-have-beens.
Whereby it appears that he was born of a race of statesmen,
and had a Lord Chancellor for his father, and a mother who was
“distinguished both as a linguist and a theologian: she
corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewell, and translated his
APOLOGIA from the Latin so correctly that neither he nor
Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration.” It is the
atmosphere we are reared in that determines how our inclinations
and aspirations shall tend. The atmosphere furnished by the
parents to the son in this present case was an atmosphere
saturated with learning; with thinkings and ponderings upon deep
subjects; and with polite culture. It had its natural effect.
Shakespeare of Stratford was reared in a house which had no use
for books, since its owners, his parents, were without education.
This may have had an effect upon the son, but we do not know,
because we have no history of him of an informing sort. There
were but few books anywhere, in that day, and only the well-to-do
and highly educated possessed them, they being almost confined to
the dead languages. “All the valuable books then extant in all
the vernacular dialects of Europe would hardly have filled a
single shelf”–imagine it! The few existing books were in the
Latin tongue mainly. “A person who was ignorant of it was shut
out from all acquaintance–not merely with Cicero and Virgil, but
with the most interesting memoirs, state papers, and pamphlets of
his own time”–a literature necessary to the Stratford lad, for
his fictitious reputation’s sake, since the writer of his Works
would begin to use it wholesale and in a most masterly way before
the lad was hardly more than out of his teens and into his
At fifteen Bacon was sent to the university, and he spent
three years there. Thence he went to Paris in the train of the
English Ambassador, and there he mingled daily with the wise, the
cultured, the great, and the aristocracy of fashion, during
another three years. A total of six years spent at the sources
of knowledge; knowledge both of books and of men. The three
spent at the university were coeval with the second and last
three spent by the little Stratford lad at Stratford school
supposedly, and perhapsedly, and maybe, and by inference–with
nothing to infer from. The second three of the Baconian six were
“presumably” spent by the Stratford lad as apprentice to a
butcher. That is, the thugs presume it–on no evidence of any
kind. Which is their way, when they want a historical fact.
Fact and presumption are, for business purposes, all the same to
them. They know the difference, but they also know how to blink
it. They know, too, that while in history-building a fact is
better than a presumption, it doesn’t take a presumption long to
bloom into a fact when THEY have the handling of it. They know
by old experience that when they get hold of a presumption-
tadpole he is not going to STAY tadpole in their history-tank;
no, they know how to develop him into the giant four-legged
bullfrog of FACT, and make him sit up on his hams, and puff out
his chin, and look important and insolent and come-to-stay; and
assert his genuine simon-pure authenticity with a thundering
bellow that will convince everybody because it is so loud.
The thug is aware that loudness convinces sixty persons where
reasoning convinces but one. I wouldn’t be a thug, not even if–
but never mind about that, it has nothing to do with the argument,
and it is not noble in spirit besides. If I am better than a thug,
is the merit mine? No, it is His. Then to Him be the praise.
That is the right spirit.
They “presume” the lad severed his “presumed” connection
with the Stratford school to become apprentice to a butcher.
They also “presume” that the butcher was his father. They don’t
know. There is no written record of it, nor any other actual
evidence. If it would have helped their case any, they would
have apprenticed him to thirty butchers, to fifty butchers, to a
wilderness of butchers–all by their patented method “presumption.”
If it will help their case they will do it yet; and if it will
further help it, they will “presume” that all those butchers
were his father. And the week after, they will SAY it.
Why, it is just like being the past tense of the compound
reflexive adverbial incandescent hypodermic irregular
accusative Noun of Multitude; which is father to the expression
which the grammarians call Verb. It is like a whole ancestry,
with only one posterity.
To resume. Next, the young Bacon took up the study of law,
and mastered that abstruse science. From that day to the end of
his life he was daily in close contact with lawyers and judges;
not as a casual onlooker in intervals between holding horses in
front of a theater, but as a practicing lawyer–a great and
successful one, a renowned one, a Launcelot of the bar, the most
formidable lance in the high brotherhood of the legal Table
Round; he lived in the law’s atmosphere thenceforth, all his
years, and by sheer ability forced his way up its difficult
steeps to its supremest summit, the Lord-Chancellorship, leaving
behind him no fellow-craftsman qualified to challenge his divine
right to that majestic place.
When we read the praises bestowed by Lord Penzance and the
other illustrious experts upon the legal condition and legal
aptnesses, brilliances, profundities, and felicities so
prodigally displayed in the Plays, and try to fit them to the
historyless Stratford stage-manager, they sound wild, strange,
incredible, ludicrous; but when we put them in the mouth of Bacon
they do not sound strange, they seem in their natural and
rightful place, they seem at home there. Please turn back and
read them again. Attributed to Shakespeare of Stratford they are
meaningless, they are inebriate extravagancies–intemperate
admirations of the dark side of the moon, so to speak; attributed
to Bacon, they are admirations of the golden glories of the
moon’s front side, the moon at the full–and not intemperate, not
overwrought, but sane and right, and justified. “At ever turn
and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or
illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law; he seems
almost to have THOUGHT in legal phrases; the commonest legal
phrases, the commonest of legal expressions, were ever at the end
of his pen.” That could happen to no one but a person whose
TRADE was the law; it could not happen to a dabbler in it.
Veteran mariners fill their conversation with sailor-phrases and
draw all their similes from the ship and the sea and the storm,
but no mere PASSENGER ever does it, be he of Stratford or
elsewhere; or could do it with anything resembling accuracy, if
he were hardy enough to try. Please read again what Lord
Campbell and the other great authorities have said about Bacon
when they thought they were saying it about Shakespeare of Stratford.
The Rest of the Equipment
The author of the Plays was equipped, beyond every other man
of his time, with wisdom, erudition, imagination, capaciousness
of mind, grace, and majesty of expression. Everyone one had said
it, no one doubts it. Also, he had humor, humor in rich
abundance, and always wanting to break out. We have no evidence
of any kind that Shakespeare of Stratford possessed any of these
gifts or any of these acquirements. The only lines he ever
wrote, so far as we know, are substantially barren of them–
barren of all of them.
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Ben Jonson says of Bacon, as orator:
His language, WHERE HE COULD SPARE AND PASS BY A JEST, was
nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly,
more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in
what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his
(its) own graces. . . . The fear of every man that heard him was
lest he should make an end.
He continued to distinguish himself in Parliament,
particularly by his exertions in favor of one excellent measure
on which the King’s heart was set–the union of England and
Scotland. It was not difficult for such an intellect to discover
many irresistible arguments in favor of such a scheme. He
conducted the great case of the POST NATI in the Exchequer
Chamber; and the decision of the judges–a decision the legality
of which may be questioned, but the beneficial effect of which
must be acknowledged–was in a great measure attributed to his
While actively engaged in the House of Commons and in the courts
of law, he still found leisure for letters and philosophy.
The noble treatise on the ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING, which at a
later period was expanded into the DE AUGMENTIS, appeared in 1605.
The WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS, a work which, if it had
proceeded from any other writer, would have been considered as a
masterpiece of wit and learning, was printed in 1609.
In the mean time the NOVUM ORGANUM was slowly proceeding.
Several distinguished men of learning had been permitted to see
portions of that extraordinary book, and they spoke with the
greatest admiration of his genius.
Even Sir Thomas Bodley, after perusing the COGITATA ET VISA,
one of the most precious of those scattered leaves out of which
the great oracular volume was afterward made up, acknowledged
that “in all proposals and plots in that book, Bacon showed
himself a master workman”; and that “it could not be gainsaid but
all the treatise over did abound with choice conceits of the
present state of learning, and with worthy contemplations of the
means to procure it.”
In 1612 a new edition of the ESSAYS appeared, with additions
surpassing the original collection both in bulk and quality.
Nor did these pursuits distract Bacon’s attention from a
work the most arduous, the most glorious, and the most useful
that even his mighty powers could have achieved, “the reducing
and recompiling,” to use his own phrase, “of the laws of England.”
To serve the exacting and laborious offices of Attorney-General
and Solicitor-General would have satisfied the appetite of any
other man for hard work, but Bacon had to add the vast literary
industries just described, to satisfy his. He was a born worker.
The service which he rendered to letters during the last
five years of his life, amid ten thousand distractions and
vexations, increase the regret with which we think on the many
years which he had wasted, to use the words of Sir Thomas Bodley,
“on such study as was not worthy such a student.”
He commenced a digest of the laws of England, a History of
England under the Princes of the House of Tudor, a body of
National History, a Philosophical Romance. He made extensive and
valuable additions to his Essays. He published the inestimable
TREATISE DE AUGMENTIS SCIENTIARUM.
Did these labors of Hercules fill up his time to his contentment,
and quiet his appetite for work? Not entirely:
The trifles with which he amused himself in hours of pain and languor
bore the mark of his mind. THE BEST JEST-BOOK IN THE WORLD is that
which he dictated from memory, without referring to any book,
on a day on which illness had rendered him incapable of serious study.
Here are some scattered remarks (from Macaulay) which throw
light upon Bacon, and seem to indicate–and maybe demonstrate–
that he was competent to write the Plays and Poems:
With great minuteness of observation he had an amplitude of comprehension
such as has never yet been vouchsafed to any other human being.
The ESSAYS contain abundant proofs that no nice feature of
character, no peculiarity in the ordering of a house, a garden,
or a court-masque, could escape the notice of one whose mind was
capable of taking in the whole world of knowledge.
His understanding resembled the tent which the fairy
Paribanou gave to Prince Ahmed: fold it, and it seemed a toy for
the hand of a lady; spread it, and the armies of the powerful
Sultans might repose beneath its shade.
The knowledge in which Bacon excelled all men was a knowledge
of the mutual relations of all departments of knowledge.
In a letter written when he was only thirty-one, to his uncle,
Lord Burleigh, he said, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province.”
Though Bacon did not arm his philosophy with the weapons of logic,
he adorned her profusely with all the richest decorations of rhetoric.
The practical faculty was powerful in Bacon; but not, like
his wit, so powerful as occasionally to usurp the place of his
reason and to tyrannize over the whole man.
There are too many places in the Plays where this happens.
Poor old dying John of Gaunt volleying second-rate puns at his
own name, is a pathetic instance of it. “We may assume” that it is
Bacon’s fault, but the Stratford Shakespeare has to bear the blame.
No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly
subjugated. It stopped at the first check from good sense.
In truth, much of Bacon’s life was passed in a visionary world–
amid things as strange as any that are described in the ARABIAN TALES
. . . amid buildings more sumptuous than the palace of Aladdin,
fountains more wonderful than the golden water of Parizade,
conveyances more rapid than the hippogryph of Ruggiero, arms more
formidable than the lance of Astolfo, remedies more effacious
than the balsam of Fierabras. Yet in his magnificent day-dreams
there was nothing wild–nothing but what sober reason sanctioned.
Bacon’s greatest performance is the first book of the NOVUM
ORGANUM. . . . Every part of it blazes with wit, but with wit
which is employed only to illustrate and decorate truth. No book
ever made so great a revolution in the mode of thinking,
overthrew so may prejudices, introduced so many new opinions.
But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that
intellect which, without effort, takes in at once all the domains
of science–all the past, the present and the future, all the
errors of two thousand years, all the encouraging signs of the
passing times, all the bright hopes of the coming age.
He had a wonderful talent for packing thought close and
rendering it portable.
His eloquence would alone have entitled him to a high rank
It is evident that he had each and every one of the mental gifts
and each and every one of the acquirements that are so prodigally
displayed in the Plays and Poems, and in much higher and richer
degree than any other man of his time or of any previous time.
He was a genius without a mate, a prodigy not matable. There was
only one of him; the planet could not produce two of him at
one birth, nor in one age. He could have written anything that
is in the Plays and Poems. He could have written this:
The cloud-cap’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like an insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Also, he could have written this, but he refrained:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
When a person reads the noble verses about the cloud-cap’d
towers, he ought not to follow it immediately with Good friend
for Iesus sake forbeare, because he will find the transition from
great poetry to poor prose too violent for comfort. It will give
him a shock. You never notice how commonplace and unpoetic
gravel is until you bite into a layer of it in a pie.
Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not
write Shakespeare’s Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for?
Would I be so soft as that, after having known the human race
familiarly for nearly seventy-four years? It would grieve me to
know that any one could think so injuriously of me, so
uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of me. No, no, I am aware
that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained
up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be
possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely,
dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any
circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity
of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. We
always get at second hand our notions about systems of
government; and high tariff and low tariff; and prohibition and
anti-prohibition; and the holiness of peace and the glories of
war; and codes of honor and codes of morals; and approval of the
duel and disapproval of it; and our beliefs concerning the nature
of cats; and our ideas as to whether the murder of helpless wild
animals is base or is heroic; and our preferences in the matter
of religious and political parties; and our acceptance or
rejection of the Shakespeares and the Author Ortons and the Mrs.
Eddys. We get them all at second hand, we reason none of them
out for ourselves. It is the way we are made. It is the way we
are all made, and we can’t help it, we can’t change it. And
whenever we have been furnished a fetish, and have been taught to
believe in it, and love it and worship it, and refrain from
examining it, there is no evidence, howsoever clear and strong,
that can persuade us to withdraw from it our loyalty and our
devotion. In morals, conduct, and beliefs we take the color of
our environment and associations, and it is a color that can
safely be warranted to wash. Whenever we have been furnished
with a tar baby ostensibly stuffed with jewels, and warned that
it will be dishonorable and irreverent to disembowel it and test
the jewels, we keep our sacrilegious hands off it. We submit,
not reluctantly, but rather gladly, for we are privately afraid
we should find, upon examination that the jewels are of the sort
that are manufactured at North Adams, Mass.
I haven’t any idea that Shakespeare will have to vacate his
pedestal this side of the year 2209. Disbelief in him cannot
come swiftly, disbelief in a healthy and deeply-loved tar baby
has never been known to disintegrate swiftly; it is a very slow
process. It took several thousand years to convince our fine
race–including every splendid intellect in it–that there is no
such thing as a witch; it has taken several thousand years to
convince the same fine race–including every splendid intellect
in it–that there is no such person as Satan; it has taken
several centuries to remove perdition from the Protestant
Church’s program of post-mortem entertainments; it has taken a
weary long time to persuade American Presbyterians to give up
infant damnation and try to bear it the best they can; and it
looks as if their Scotch brethren will still be burning babies in
the everlasting fires when Shakespeare comes down from his perch.
We are The Reasoning Race. We can’t prove it by the above
examples, and we can’t prove it by the miraculous “histories”
built by those Stratfordolaters out of a hatful of rags and a
barrel of sawdust, but there is a plenty of other things we can
prove it by, if I could think of them. We are The Reasoning
Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing
through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning
bowers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our
fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too–there in
the Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the
calm bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy
mustache, and the putty face, unseamed of care–that face which
has looked passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred
and fifty years and will still look down upon the awed pilgrim
three hundred more, with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle,
subtle expression of a bladder.
One of the most trying defects which I find in these–these
–what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets
to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being
repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in
that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence–
names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never
tainted by harsh feeling. If THEY would do like this, they would
feel better in their hearts. Very well, then–to proceed. One
of the most trying defects which I find in these
Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these
bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these
blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their
spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of
theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me
there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it
is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call
to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent,
except towards the things which were sacred to other people. Am
I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take my
unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary
decide. Here is the definition:
IRREVERENCE. The quality or condition of irreverence toward
God and sacred things.
What does the Hindu say? He says it is correct. He says
irreverence is lack of respect for Vishnu, and Brahma, and
Chrishna, and his other gods, and for his sacred cattle, and for
his temples and the things within them. He endorses the
definition, you see; and there are 300,000,000 Hindus or their
equivalents back of him.
The dictionary had the acute idea that by using the capital
G it could restrict irreverence to lack of reverence for OUR
Deity and our sacred things, but that ingenious and rather sly
idea miscarried: for by the simple process of spelling HIS
deities with capitals the Hindu confiscates the definition and
restricts it to his own sects, thus making it clearly compulsory
upon us to revere HIS gods and HIS sacred things, and nobody’s
else. We can’t say a word, for he had our own dictionary at his
back, and its decision is final.
This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this:
1. Whatever is sacred to the Christian must be held in reverence by
everybody else; 2. whatever is sacred to the Hindu must be held
in reverence by everybody else; 3. therefore, by consequence,
logically, and indisputably, whatever is sacred to ME must be
held in reverence by everybody else.
Now then, what aggravates me is that these troglodytes and
muscovites and bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd
in and share the benefit of the law, and compel everybody to
revere their Shakespeare and hold him sacred. We can’t have
that: there’s enough of us already. If you go on widening and
spreading and inflating the privilege, it will presently come to
be conceded that each man’s sacred things are the ONLY ones, and
the rest of the human race will have to be humbly reverent toward
them or suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it
happens, the word Irreverence will be regarded as the most
meaningless, and foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and
impudent, and dictatorial word in the language. And people will
say, “Whose business is it what gods I worship and what things
hold sacred? Who has the right to dictate to my conscience, and
where did he get that right?”
We cannot afford to let that calamity come upon us. We must
save the word from this destruction. There is but one way to do
it, and that is to stop the spread of the privilege and strictly
confine it to its present limits–that is, to all the Christian
sects, to all the Hindu sects, and me. We do not need any more,
the stock is watered enough, just as it is.
It would be better if the privilege were limited to me
alone. I think so because I am the only sect that knows how to
employ it gently, kindly, charitably, dispassionately. The other
sects lack the quality of self-restraint. The Catholic Church
says the most irreverent things about matters which are sacred to
the Protestants, and the Protestant Church retorts in kind about
the confessional and other matters which Catholics hold sacred;
then both of these irreverencers turn upon Thomas Paine and
charge HIM with irreverence. This is all unfortunate, because it
makes it difficult for students equipped with only a low grade of
mentality to find out what Irreverence really IS.
It will surely be much better all around if the privilege of
regulating the irreverent and keeping them in order shall
eventually be withdrawn from all the sects but me. Then there
will be no more quarreling, no more bandying of disrespectful
epithets, no more heartburnings.
There will then be nothing sacred involved in this Bacon-
Shakespeare controversy except what is sacred to me. That will
simplify the whole matter, and trouble will cease. There will be
irreverence no longer, because I will not allow it. The first
time those criminals charge me with irreverence for calling their
Stratford myth an Arthur-Orton-Mary-Baker-Thompson-Eddy-Louis-
the-Seventeenth-Veiled-Prophet-of-Khorassan will be the last.
Taught by the methods found effective in extinguishing earlier
offenders by the Inquisition, of holy memory, I shall know how to
Isn’t it odd, when you think of it, that you may list all
the celebrated Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen of modern
times, clear back to the first Tudors–a list containing five
hundred names, shall we say?–and you can go to the histories,
biographies, and cyclopedias and learn the particulars of the
lives of every one of them. Every one of them except one–the
most famous, the most renowned–by far the most illustrious of
them all–Shakespeare! You can get the details of the lives of
all the celebrated ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated
tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges,
lawyers, poets, dramatists, historians, biographers, editors,
inventors, reformers, statesmen, generals, admirals, discoverers,
prize-fighters, murderers, pirates, conspirators, horse-jockeys,
bunco-steerers, misers, swindlers, explorers, adventurers by land
and sea, bankers, financiers, astronomers, naturalists,
claimants, impostors, chemists, biologists, geologists,
philologists, college presidents and professors, architects,
engineers, painters, sculptors, politicians, agitators, rebels,
revolutionists, patriots, demagogues, clowns, cooks, freaks,
philosophers, burglars, highwaymen, journalists, physicians,
surgeons–you can get the life-histories of all of them but ONE.
Just ONE–the most extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all–
You may add to the list the thousand celebrated persons
furnished by the rest of Christendom in the past four centuries,
and you can find out the life-histories of all those people, too.
You will then have listed fifteen hundred celebrities, and you
can trace the authentic life-histories of the whole of them.
Save one–far and away the most colossal prodigy of the entire
accumulation–Shakespeare! About him you can find out NOTHING.
Nothing of even the slightest importance. Nothing worth the
trouble of stowing away in your memory. Nothing that even
remotely indicates that he was ever anything more than a
distinctly commonplace person–a manager, an actor of inferior
grade, a small trader in a small village that did not regard him
as a person of any consequence, and had forgotten all about him
before he was fairly cold in his grave. We can go to the records
and find out the life-history of every renowned RACE-HORSE of
modern times–but not Shakespeare’s! There are many reasons why,
and they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and
conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is worth
all the rest of the reasons put together, and is abundantly
sufficient all by itself–HE HADN’T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There
is no way of getting around that deadly fact. And no sane way
has yet been discovered of getting around its formidable
Its quite plain significance–to any but those thugs (I do
not use the term unkindly) is, that Shakespeare had no prominence
while he lived, and none until he had been dead two or three
generations. The Plays enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and
if he wrote them it seems a pity the world did not find it out.
He ought to have explained that he was the author, and not merely
a NOM DE PLUME for another man to hide behind. If he had been
less intemperately solicitous about his bones, and more
solicitous about his Works, it would have been better for his
good name, and a kindness to us. The bones were not important.
They will moulder away, they will turn to dust, but the Works
will endure until the last sun goes down.
P.S. MARCH 25. About two months ago I was illuminating
this Autobiography with some notions of mine concerning the
Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, and I then took occasion to air
the opinion that the Stratford Shakespeare was a person of no
public consequence or celebrity during his lifetime, but was
utterly obscure and unimportant. And not only in great London,
but also in the little village where he was born, where he lived
a quarter of a century, and where he died and was buried. I
argued that if he had been a person of any note at all, aged
villagers would have had much to tell about him many and many a
year after his death, instead of being unable to furnish
inquirers a single fact connected with him. I believed, and I
still believe, that if he had been famous, his notoriety would
have lasted as long as mine has lasted in my native village out
in Missouri. It is a good argument, a prodigiously strong one,
and most formidable one for even the most gifted and ingenious
and plausible Stratfordolator to get around or explain away.
Today a Hannibal COURIER-POST of recent date has reached me, with
an article in it which reinforces my contention that a really
celebrated person cannot be forgotten in his village in the short
space of sixty years. I will make an extract from it:
Hannibal, as a city, may have many sins to answer for, but
ingratitude is not one of them, or reverence for the great men
she has produced, and as the years go by her greatest son, Mark
Twain, or S. L. Clemens as a few of the unlettered call him,
grows in the estimation and regard of the residents of the town
he made famous and the town that made him famous. His name is
associated with every old building that is torn down to make way
for the modern structures demanded by a rapidly growing city, and
with every hill or cave over or through which he might by any
possibility have roamed, while the many points of interest which
he wove into his stories, such as Holiday Hill, Jackson’s Island,
or Mark Twain Cave, are now monuments to his genius. Hannibal is
glad of any opportunity to do him honor as he had honored her.
So it has happened that the “old timers” who went to school
with Mark or were with him on some of his usual escapades have
been honored with large audiences whenever they were in a
reminiscent mood and condescended to tell of their intimacy with
the ordinary boy who came to be a very extraordinary humorist and
whose every boyish act is now seen to have been indicative of
what was to come. Like Aunt Becky and Mrs. Clemens, they can now
see that Mark was hardly appreciated when he lived here and that
the things he did as a boy and was whipped for doing were not all
bad, after all. So they have been in no hesitancy about drawing
out the bad things he did as well as the good in their efforts to
get a “Mark Twain” story, all incidents being viewed in the light
of his present fame, until the volume of “Twainiana” is already
considerable and growing in proportion as the “old timers” drop
away and the stories are retold second and third hand by their
descendants. With some seventy-three years and living in a villa
instead of a house, he is a fair target, and let him incorporate,
copyright, or patent himself as he will, there are some of his
“works” that will go swooping up Hannibal chimneys as long as
graybeards gather about the fires and begin with, “I’ve heard
father tell,” or possibly, “Once when I.”
The Mrs. Clemens referred to is my mother–WAS my mother.
And here is another extract from a Hannibal paper, of date
twenty days ago:
Miss Becca Blankenship died at the home of William Dickason,
408 Rock Street, at 2.30 o’clock yesterday afternoon, aged 72
years. The deceased was a sister of “Huckleberry Finn,” one of
the famous characters in Mark Twain’s TOM SAWYER. She had been a
member of the Dickason family–the housekeeper–for nearly forty-
five years, and was a highly respected lady. For the past eight
years she had been an invalid, but was as well cared for by
Mr. Dickason and his family as if she had been a near relative.
She was a member of the Park Methodist Church and a Christian woman.
I remember her well. I have a picture of her in my mind
which was graven there, clear and sharp and vivid, sixty-three
years ago. She was at that time nine years old, and I was about
eleven. I remember where she stood, and how she looked; and I
can still see her bare feet, her bare head, her brown face, and
her short tow-linen frock. She was crying. What it was about I
have long ago forgotten. But it was the tears that preserved the
picture for me, no doubt. She was a good child, I can say that
for her. She knew me nearly seventy years ago. Did she forget
me, in the course of time? I think not. If she had lived in
Stratford in Shakespeare’s time, would she have forgotten him?
Yes. For he was never famous during his lifetime, he was utterly
obscure in Stratford, and there wouldn’t be any occasion to
remember him after he had been dead a week.
“Injun Joe,” “Jimmy Finn,” and “General Gaines” were
prominent and very intemperate ne’er-do-weels in Hannibal two
generations ago. Plenty of grayheads there remember them to this
day, and can tell you about them. Isn’t it curious that two
“town drunkards” and one half-breed loafer should leave behind
them, in a remote Missourian village, a fame a hundred times
greater and several hundred times more particularized in the
matter of definite facts than Shakespeare left behind him in the
village where he had lived the half of his lifetime?