THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY - VOLUME 4 - NO. 24 - OCT. 1859
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY - VOLUME 4 - NO. 24 - OCT. 1859
Produced by Joshua Hutchinson and PG Distributed Proofreaders
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE ART AND POLITICS.
VOL. IV.--OCTOBER 1859.--NO. XXIV.
Toward the end of a city morning that is about four o'clock in the
afternoon Stanford Grey and his guest Daniel Tomes paused in an
argument which had engaged them earnestly for more than half an hour.
What they had talked about it concerns us not to know. We take them as
we find them each leaning back in his chair confirmed in the opinion
that he had maintained convinced only of his opponent's ability and
rectitude of purpose and enjoying the gradual subsidence of the
excitement that accompanies the friendliest intellectual strife as
surely as it does the gloved set-tos between those two "talented
professors of the noble science of self-defence" who beat each other
with stuffed buck-skin at notably brief intervals for the benefit of
the widow and children of the late lamented Slippery Jim or some other
equally mysterious and eminent person.
The room in which they sat was one of those third rooms on the first
floor by which city house-builders self-styled architects have made
the second room useless except at night in their endeavor to reconcile
a desire for a multitude of apartments with the fancied necessity that
compels some men to live where land costs five dollars the square foot.
The various members of Mr. Grey's household designated this room by
different names. The servants called it the library; Mrs. Grey and two
small people the delight and torment of her life papa's study; and
Grey himself spoke of it as his workshop or his den. Against every
stretch of wall a bookcase rose from floor to ceiling upon the shelves
of which the books stood closely packed in double ranks the varied
colors of the rows in sight wooing the eye by their harmonious
arrangement. A pedestal in one corner supported a half-size copy of the
Venus of Milo that masterpiece of sculpture; in its faultless amplitude
of form its large life-giving loveliness and its sweet dignity the
embodiment of the highest type of womanhood. In another corner stood a
similar reduction of the Flying Mercury. Between the bookcases and over
the mantel-piece hung prints;--most noticeable among them Steinla's
engraving of Raphael's Sistine Madonna and Toschi's reproduction in
lines of the luminous majesty of Correggio's St. Peter and St. Paul;
and these were but specimens of the treasures inclosed in a huge
portfolio that stood where the light fell favorably upon it. Opposite
Grey's chair when in its place (it was then wheeled half round toward
his guest) a portrait of Raphael and one of Beethoven flanked a copy
of the Avon bust of Shakespeare; and where the wallpaper peeped through
this thick array of works of literature and art it showed a tint of
soft tea-green. In the middle of the room a large library-table groaned
beneath a mass of books and papers some of them arranged in formal
order others disarranged by present use into that irregular order which
seems chaotic to every eye but one while for that one the displacement
of a single sheet would insure perplexity and loss of time. But neither
spreading table nor towering cases seemed to afford their owner room
enough to store his printed treasures. Books were everywhere. Below the
windows the recesses were filled out with crowded shelves; the door of a
closet left ajar showed that the place was packed with books roughly
or cheaply clad and pamphlets. At the bottom of the cases books
stretched in serried files along the floor. Some had crept up upon the
library-steps as if impatient to rejoin their companions they were
mounting to the shelves of their own accord. They invaded all accessible
nooks and crannies of the room; big folios were bursting out from the
larger gaps and thin quartos trickling through chinks that otherwise
would have been choked with dust; and even from the mouldings above the
doors bracketed shelves thrust out upon which rows of volumes perched
like penguins on a ledge of rock. In fact books flocked there as
martlets did to Macbeth's castle; there was "no jutty frieze or coigne
of vantage" but a book had made it his "pendent bed"--and it appeared
"his procreant cradle" too; for the children in calling the great
folios "papa-books" and "mamma-books" seemed instinctively to have
hit upon the only way of accounting for the rapid increase and
multiplication of volumes in that apartment.
Upon this scene the light fell tempered by curtains at the cheapness
and simplicity of which a fashionable upholsterer would have sneered
but toward whose graceful folds and soft rich hues the study-wearied
eye turned ever gratefully. The two friends sat silently for some
minutes in ruminative mood till Grey turning suddenly to Tomes
"What does Iago mean when he says of Cassio--
'He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly'?"
"How can you ask the question?" Tomes replied; adding after a moment's
pause "he means more plainly than any other words can tell that
Cassio's truthful nature and manly bearing his courtesy which was the
genuine gold of real kindness brought to its highest polish and not a
base alloy of selfishness and craft galvanized into a surface-semblance
of such worth his manifest reverence for and love of what was good and
pure and noble his charitable generous unenvious disposition his
sweetness of temper and his gallantry all of which found expression in
face or action made a character so lovely and so beautiful that every
daily observer of them both found him Iago hateful and hideous by
_Grey_. I suspected as much before I had the benefit of your comment;
which by the way ran off your tongue as glibly as if you were one of
the folk who profess Shakespeare and you were threatening the world
with an essay on Othello. But sometimes it has seemed to me as if these
words meant more; Shakespeare's mental vision took in so much. Was the
beauty of Cassio's life only a moral beauty?
_Tomes_. For all we know it was.
_Grey_. I say perhaps or--No--Cassio has seemed to me not more a
gallant soldier and a generous spirit than a cultivated and accomplished
gentleman; he indeed shows higher culture than any other character in
the tragedy as well as finer natural tastes; and I have thought that
into the scope of this phrase "daily beauty" Shakespeare took not
only the honorable and lovely traits of moral nature to which you and
perhaps the rest of the world with you seem to limit it but all the
outward belongings and surroundings of the personage to whom it is
applied. For these indeed were a part of his life of him--and went
to make up in no small measure that daily beauty in which he presented
so strong a contrast to Iago. Look at "mine Ancient" closely and see
that with all his subtle craft he was a coarse-mannered brute of
gross tastes and grovelling nature without a spark of gallantry and as
destitute of courtesy as of honor. We overrate his very subtlety; for
we measure it by its effects the woful and agonizing results it brings
about; forgetting that these like all results or resultants are the
product of at least two forces--the second in this instance being the
unsuspecting and impetuous nature of Othello Had Iago undertaken to
deceive any other than such a man he would have failed. Why even
simple-hearted Desdemona who sees so little of him suspects him; that
poor goose Roderigo though blind with vanity and passion again and
again loses faith in him; and his wife knows him through and through.
Believe me he had no touch of gentleness not one point of contact with
the beautiful in all his nature--while Cassio's was filled up with
gentleness and beauty and all that is akin to them.
_Tomes_. His weakness for wine and women among them?--But thanks for
your commentary. I am quite eclipsed. On you go too in your old way
trying to make out that what is good is beautiful--no rather that
what is beautiful is good.--Do you think that Peter and Paul were
well-dressed? I don't believe that you would have listened to them if
they were not.
_Grey_. I'm not sure about St. Peter--or whether it was necessary or
proper that he should have been well-dressed in the general acceptation
of the term. You forget that there is a beauty of fitness. Beside I
have listened deferentially and with pleasure to a fisherman in a red
shirt a woollen hat and with his trousers tucked into cow-hide boots;
and why should I not have listened to the great fisherman of Galilee
had it been my happy fortune to live within sound of his voice?
_Tomes_. Ay if it had been a fine voice perhaps you might.
_Grey_. But as to Saint Paul I have less doubt or none. I believe that
he appeared the gentleman of taste and culture that he was.
_Tomes_. When he made tents? and when he lived at the house of one
Simon a tanner?
_Grey_. Why not? What had those accidents of Paul's life to do with
Paul except as occasions which elicited the flexibility of his nature
and the extent of his capacity and culture?
_Tomes_. In making tents? Tent-making is an honest and a useful
handicraft; but I am puzzled to discover how it would afford opportunity
for the exhibition of the talents of such a man as Paul.
_Grey_. Not his peculiar talents perhaps; though on that point those
who sat under the shadow of his canvas were better able to judge than we
are. For a man will make tents none the worse for being a gentleman a
scholar and a man of taste--but other things being equal the better.
Your general intelligence and culture enter into your ability to perform
the humblest office of daily life. An educated man who can use his
hands will make an anthracite coal-fire better and quicker after half
a dozen trials than a raw Irish servant after a year's experience; and
many a lady charges her housemaid with stupidity and obstinacy because
she fails again and again in the performance of some oft-explained task
which to the mistress seems "so simple" when there is no obstinacy in
the case and only the stupidity of a poor neglected creature who had
been taught nothing till she came to this country not even to eat with
decency and since she came only to do the meanest chores. As to
living with a tanner I am no Brahmin and believe that a man may not
only live with a tanner but be a tanner and have all the culture if
not all the learning and the talent of Simon's guest. Thomas Dowse
pointed the way for many who will go much farther upon it than he did.
_Tomes._ The tanners are obliged to you. But of what real use is that
process of intellectual refinement upon which you set so high a value?
How much better is discipline than culture! Of how much greater worth
to himself and to the world is the man who by physical and mental
training the use of his muscles the exercise of his faculties the
restraint of his appetites--even those mental appetites which you call
tastes--has acquired vigor endurance self-reliance self-control! Let
a man be pure and honorable do to others as he would have them do to
him and in the words of the old Church of England Catechism "learn
and labor truly to get his own living in that state of life to which it
has pleased God to call him" and what remains for him to do and of
time in which to do it is of very small importance.
_Grey._ You talk like what you are.
_Tomes._ And that is----?
_Grey._ Pardon me--a cross between a Stoic and a Puritan:--morally I
_Tomes._ Don't apologize. You might say many worse things of me and few
better. But telling me what I am does not disprove what I say.
_Grey._ Do you not see? you cannot fail to see that after the labor of
your human animal has supplied his mere animal needs provided him with
shelter food and clothes he must set himself about something else.
Having made life endurable he will strive to make it comfortable
according to his notions of comfort. Comfort secured he will seek
pleasure; and among the earliest objects of his endeavors in this
direction will be that form of pleasure which results from the
embellishment of his external life; the craving that he then supplies
being just as natural that is just as much an inevitable result of his
organization as that which first claimed his thought and labor.
_Tomes._ A statement of your case entirely inconsistent with the facts
that bear upon it What do you think of your red savage who making no
_pro-vision_ for even his animal needs but merely supplying them
for the moment as he can and living in squalor filth and extreme
discomfort yet daubs himself with grease and paint and decorates
his head with feathers his neck with bear's claws and his feat with
gaudily-stained porcupine's quills? What of your black barbarian
whose daily life is a succession of unspeakable abominations and who
embellishes it by blackening his teeth tattooing his skin and wearing
a huge ring in the gristle of his nose? Either of them will give up his
daily food and run the risk of starvation for a glass bead or a
brass button. This desire for ornament is plainly then no fruit of
individual development no sign of social progress; it has no relations
whatever with them but is merely a manifestation of that vanity that
lust of the eye and pride of life which we are taught to believe
inherent in all human nature and which the savage exhibits according to
his savageness the civilized man according to his civilization.
_Grey._ You're a sturdy fellow Tomes but not strong enough to draw
that conclusion from those premises and make it stay drawn. The savage
does order his life in the preposterous manner which you have described;
but he does it because he is a savage. He has not the wants of the
civilized man and therefore he does not wait to supply them before he
seeks to gratify others. When man rises in the scale of civilization
his whole nature rises. You can't mount a ladder piecemeal; your head
will go up first unless you are an acrobat and choose to go up feet
foremost; but even if you are Gabriel Ravel your whole body must needs
ascend together. The savage is comfortable not according to your
notions of comfort but according to his own. Comfort is not positive
but relative. If with your present habits you could be transported
back only one hundred years to the best house in London--a house
provided with all that a princely revenue could then command--you
would find it with all its splendor very uncomfortable in many
respects. The luxuries of one generation become the comforts of the
next the necessaries of life to the next; and what is comfort for any
individual at any period depends on the manner in which he has been
brought up. So too the savage decorates himself after his own savage
tastes. His smoky wigwam or his filthy mud hut is no stronger evidence
of his barbarous condition than his party-colored face or the hoop of
metal in his nose. Call this desire to enjoy the beauty of the world and
to be a part of it the lust of the eye or whatever name you please you
will find that with exceedingly rare exceptions it is universal in
the race and that its gratification although it may have an indirectly
injurious effect on some individuals tends to harmonize and humanize
mankind to lift them above debasing pleasures and to foster the finer
social feelings by promoting the higher social enjoyments.
_Tomes._ Yes; it makes Mrs. A. snub Mrs. B. because the B.-bonnet is
within a hair's breadth's less danger of falling down her back or
is decorated with lace made by a poor bonnetless girl in one town of
Europe at a time when fashion has declared that it should bloom with
flowers made by a poor shoeless girl in another: it instigates Mrs. C.
to make a friendly call on Mrs. D. for the purpose of exulting over
the inferior style in which her house is furnished: it tempts F. to
overreach his business friend or to embezzle his employer's money that
he may live in a house with a brown-stone front and give great dinners
twice a month: and it sustains G. in his own eyes as he sits at F.'s
table stimulating digestion by inward sneers at the vulgar fashion of
the new man's plate or the awkwardness of his attendants: and perhaps
worse than all it tempts H. to exhibit his pictures and Mrs. I. to
exhibit herself "for the benefit of our charitable institutions" in
order that the one may read fulsome eulogies of his munificence and his
taste and the other see a critical catalogue of the beauties of her
person and her costume in all the daily papers. Such are the social
benefits of what you call the desire to be a part of the world's beauty.
_Grey._ Far from it! They have no relation to each other. You mistake
the occasion for the cause the means for the motive. Your alphabet is
in fault. Such a set of vain frivolous dishonest mean hypocritical
and insufferably vulgar letters would be turned out of any respectable
well-bred spelling-book. Vanity frivolity dishonesty meanness
hypocrisy and vulgarity can be exhibited in all the affairs of life
not excepting those whose proper office is to sweeten and to beautify
it; but it does not need all your logical faculty to discover that
there is not therefore any connection between a pretty bonnet or an
elegantly furnished house and the disposition to snub and sneer at
those who are without them--between dishonesty and the desire to live
handsomely and hospitably--between a cultivated taste for the fine arts
and hypocrisy or a vulgar desire for notoriety and consequence.
_Tomes._ Perhaps so. But they are very often in each other's company.
_Grey._ And then of course the evil taints the reputation of the good
even with thinking men like you; and how much more with those who have
your prejudices without your sense! But note well that they are not
oftener in company--these tastes and vices--than honesty and meanness
good-nature and clownishness sincerity and brutality hospitality and
debauchery chastity and the absence of that virtue without which all
others are as nothing. And let me remind you by the way that we of
this age and generation make it our business in fact feel it our duty
to violate the injunction of the English Catechism and get _out_ of
that state of life in which we find ourselves into a better as soon
as possible. And even old Mother Church does not insist upon content so
strongly as you made her seem to do; she speaks of the state of life to
which her catechumen "shall" be not "has" been called; and thus
makes it possible for a dean to resolve to be content with a bishopric
and a bishop to muse upon the complete satisfaction with which he would
grasp an archbishop's crosier without forfeiture of orthodoxy.
Tomes would doubtless have replied; but at this point the attention of
the disputants was attracted by the rustle of silk; there was a light
quick tap at the glass-door which separated the den of books from the
middle room and before an answer could be given the emblazoned valves
opened partly and a sweet decided voice asked "Please may we come
in? or" (and the speaker opened the doors wide) "are you and Mr. Tomes
so absorbed in construing a sentence in a book that nobody ever reads
that ladies must give place to lexicons?"
"Enter of course" cried Grey "and save me from annihilation by
Tomes's next reply and both of us from our joint stupidity."
And so Mrs. Grey entered and there were salutations and presentation
of Mr. Tomes to Miss Laura Larches and introduction to each other
of the same gentleman and Mr. Carleton Key who attended the ladies.
Abandoning the only four chairs in the room to the others Mrs. Grey
sank down upon a hassock with a sigh of satisfaction and was lost for
a moment in the rising swell of silken-crested waves of crinoline.
Emerging in another moment as far as the shoulders she turned a look of
intelligence and inquiry upon her husband who said "When you came in
Tomes and I were talking about"--
_Mrs. Grey._ Something very important I've no doubt; but we've your
own confession that you were stupid and I've no notion of permitting
a relapse. You were doubtless discussing your favorite subject Dante
who as far as I can discover was more a politician than a poet and
went to his _Inferno_ only for the pleasure of sending the opposite
party there and quartering them according to his notion of their
deserts. But he and they are dead and buried long ago. Let them rest.
We should much rather have you tell us whether his poor countrymen
of to-day are to have their liberty when that ugly Emperor beats the
Austrians; for beat them he surely will.
_Grey._ That is a subject of great moment and one in which I perhaps
feel no less interest than you; but did you never think that the
question whether these thousands of Italians have liberty or even food
to-day is one of a few months' or at most a few years' concern
while the soul's experience of that one Italian who died more than five
hundred years ago will be a fruitful theme forever?
_Mrs. Grey._ Why so it will! I never did think of that. And now I'll
not think of it. Here we are just come from a wedding and before you
ask us how the bride looked or even what she had on you begin to talk
to us about that grim old Florentine who looks like a hard-featured
Scotch woman in her husband's night-cap and who wrote such a succession
of frightful things! Where is all your interest in Kitty Jones? I've
seen you talk to her by the half-hour and heard you say she is a
charming woman; and now she marries--and you not only won't go to the
wedding but you don't ask a word about it.
_Grey._ You seem to forget Nelly that I saw one wedding all through
and indeed bore as prominent a part in it as one of my downtrodden
sex could aspire to; and as the Frenchman said who went on an English
fox-chase _"Une fois c'est assez;_ I am ver' satisfy." The marriage
service I can read in ten minutes whenever I need its solace; rich
morning-dresses are to be seen by scores in the Academy of Music at
every _matinee_ as garnish to Verdi's music; and as to Miss Kitty
Jones I am sure that she like all brides never looked so ill as she
did to-day. I would do anything in my power to serve her and would
willingly walk a mile to have half an hour's chat with her; but to-day I
could not serve her nor could she talk with me; so why should I trouble
myself about the matter? Had I gone I should only have seen her
flushed and nervous her poor fresh-caught husband looking foolish and
superfluous and an uncomfortable crowd of over-dressed ill-dressed
people engaged in analyzing her emotions estimating the value of her
wedding-presents and criticizing each other's toilettes.
_Mrs.Grey._ You're an unfeeling wretch!
_Grey._ Of course I am. Any woman will break her neck to see two people
for whom she does not care a hair-pin stand up one in white and the
other in black and mumble a few words that she knows by heart and then
take position at the end of a room and have "society" paraded up to them
by solemn little corporals with white favors and then file off to the
rear for rations of Perigord pie and Champagne.
_Tomes._ Well said Grey! Here's another of the many ways of wasting
life by your embellishment of it.
_Mr. Key._ I don't know precisely what Mr. Tomes means; but as to
ill-dressed people I'm sure that the set you meet at the Jones's are
the best-dressed people in town; and I never saw in Paris more splendid
toilettes than were there this morning.
_Miss Larches._ Why to be sure! What can Mr. Grey mean? There was Mrs.
Oakum's gray and silver brocade and Mrs. Cotton's _point-de-Venice_
mantle and Miss Prime and Miss Messe and Miss Middlings who always
dress exquisitely and Mrs. Shinnurs Sharcke with that superb India
shawl that must have cost two thousand dollars! What could be finer?
_Mrs. Grey._ And then Mrs. Robinson Smith celebrated as the
best-dressed woman in town. Being a connection of the family and so a
sort of hostess she wore no bonnet; and her dress of the richest _gros
d'Afrique_ had twenty-eight pinked and scalloped flounces alternately
one of white and three of as many graduated tints of green. So elegant
_Grey._ Twenty-eight pinked and scalloped flounces of white and
graduated tints of green! With her pale sodden complexion she must
have looked like an enormous chicken-salad _mayonnaise._
_Mrs. Grey [after a brief pause]._ Why so she did! You good-for-nothing
thing you've spoiled the prettiest dress I ever saw for me! It was
quite my ideal; and now I never want to see it again.
_Grey._ Your ideal must have been of marvellous beauty to admit such a
comparison--and your preference most intelligently based to be swept
away by it!
_Tomes._ Come Grey be fair. You know that merit has no immunity from
_Grey._ True; but no less true that ridicule does no real harm to
merit. If this Mrs. Robinson Crusoe's gown had been truly beautiful my
ridiculous comparison could not have so entirely disenchanted my wife
with it;--she mind you being supposed (for the sake of our argument
only) to be a woman of sense and taste.
_Mrs. Grey._ Accept my profoundest and most grateful curtsy--on credit.
It's too much trouble to rise and make it; and to confess the truth I
can't; my foot has caught in my hoop. Help me Laura.
_[Disentanglement--from which the gentlemen avert modest eyes laughing
_Grey._ I do assure you Nelly that until you leave off that
monstrosity of steel and cordage your sense and taste so far as
costume is concerned must be taken on credit as well as your curtsies.