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the ironing, and rolled them hard and swiftly in fat bundles; I made beds and dusted one table and two chairs (no more, on my life); and all the time I was hurry-scurrying, joyfully, breathlessly, with my spirit on flightiest tippy-toes, even like a very young person with a wonderful picnic or a wonderful party before her.
For, when all those most necessary good works were done, I would have to myself two hours — two fat morning hours; not the tired contented time after supper, when X and I sit happily by the fire, and find our heads nodding over our books, and a strange need of sleep before the clock strikes nine; but the clear-shining, brisk, notable forenoon!
No dear but insatiable calls for drinks of water, graham crackers, dress-up scarves, pencils, paper, mud-pie spoons; no need to arbitrate between tearful claims, provide 'tea-parties,' and deal out rubbers and reproofs. And from the kitchen no urgent or comic problems; explosive announcements that the potatoes are all out, or the ice-man did n't stop; not even (a thing to be missed afterward, but not to-day in the first flush of adventure) any friendly coaxing at eleven o'clock: 'I'm almost dead for the lack of a cup of tea; and if you 'll come and sit in the kitchen with me, I 'l1 make you some cinnamon toast.'
Two hours! — And half an hour has already fled while I write this, for sheer comfort in telling how strange and fresh is freedom. — To-night shall I ask X how to disconnect the telephone for those two precious hours? Or shall I trust, as I do to-day, that in some miraculous fashion a thick black mark will strike through our name and number in every telephone book in town, so that all my friends and foes shall turn away from some ominous approach to me, muttering, 'That's queer. That's very queer!' and I shall go unscathed.
For if people only knew how wonderful it is to be free, surely they would not need me for just two hours!
It would seem easy to say to the people whom I love much and those whom I love even a little, — those who would understand Eftid those who would not, — 'I am going to keep two hours of five days in the week quite free. * I — am — going — to — try — to — write.'
But I can't say it. The fatal word up there printed itself slowly, shyly, as if I said, 'I'm going to get very drunk,' or, 'I'm going to smuggle diamonds,' or, 'I'm going off with Mrs. Smith's husband.'
It is very strange. Ever since my little-girlhood, 'writing' has been my most intimate and easy escape from the persistences of life. And lately, when I have been so happy that often the wings of my joy seem ready to burst some inward fetter and flash out living and shining, 'writing' has been my only way of setting free a thousandth part of that pulsing joy. The public worth of what I write is of no such matter as the doing of it. It is not needful that a private art should make repayment in cash or fame, for its possessor to love it and to require its practice.
But it is strange, as I said, that with all these years of certainty about my desire to 'write,' I have never felt that anybody else, or many other bodies, would truly understand the place it holds in my life. I could say, 'I must clean house,' or' I must go to a committee meeting'; but to say, save to those very few who know me better than I know myself,' I must write,' has seemed foolish and vain.
It is as if my assumption of needing time to write would strike my hearers as an ill-judged remark of my older brother's struck us long ago. He, scribbling at some great work destined for a St. Nicholas contest, put us younger roisterers into a mood of derisiveness with his reproof. 'Hush, children! Don't make such a rowl I'm writing for the Press!'
Will not my announcement of a literary retreat bring me under the same condemnation? Will people not, even while they applaud my worthy purpose, wonder a little: 'But will she leave all her housework till afternoon? Will her family get enough to eat? Will she give up the committees and things she used to belong to? Can't we ever call her up between ten and twelve?' And, worst of all, stealthily, won't they say, 'I do wonder if the kind of thing she writes is worth all that fuss'?
No, I really think they would not say any of those things. Most of them would understand, if I dared to pursue my course of innocent folly.
But the fact remains that only to the Contributors' Club can I speak with perfect frankness. For I know that there must be hundreds of Atlantic-Tending women who feel as I do about some pet art or handicraft; who steal time for it, sneakingly, apologetically; who will not love their fathers and husbands and children and neighbors any the less for a restrained practice of it.
They will understand without ever needing to measure up any personal knowledge of me against any possible failure or achievement.
They will know how I feel this October morning, when Teresina has gone dancing to school, and the house sits quiet by its sunny meadow, and the autumn crickets purr in the yellow garden.
They will know why I shall not cut off my telephone or turn the key in my door, and yet, why I must needs run so precipitately to my desk, sweep aside bills and letters, and scratch off all this folly of confession.
It is half-past eleven: three quarters of an hour more before the white legs and brown feet trot up the brick walk, and the curly head rubs against my
chin in greeting. Perhaps there is even time to copy some of this on the typewriter.
What do I care whether the Atlantic will accept this or not? Have I not had an hour and a half of perfect, undisturbed, secret, old-fashioned scribbling?
And when X reads it to-night, I thank the Lord that he will only chuckle, and will announce in no uncertain voice, —
'I'll attend to that telephone business to-morrow morning, first thing.'
I shall not let him do it, of course. But, just the same, thank the Lord!
Of course, they are merely a sign of the times, but anyone who has sat in an office with eighteen or twenty of them rattling like a brook in full spate within the compass of four too-narrow walls, retains a searing of the mind. One of many captains lays down one of many cigarettes, calls one of many stenographers, and begins:'Take this.' Then, in a wasting monotone, the soulless voice of a Frankenstein, varied only by an occasional, 'No — scratch that out,* he drones a letter to his tailor, an advice to the General Staff, or a description of the cotton plains of Turkestan. The form of the sentences varies as little as the captain's voice. They are short. They begin with the substantive, followed by a verb, which is in turn followed by an adjective or another noun, and at the end, as a kind of miserable rear-guard, is suspended the phrase — 'there being' such and such a thing, or such and such a condition. It was my fortune to read a great many army reports during a year in the War Depart, ment, and I speak from experience when I say that the 'there-being' construction is one passionately admired by the military man. At last the drone dies away in a discussion of the latest regula t ion concerning the form of signature, and, wafting oriental odors, the stenographer resumes her place at her machine, draws a powder-puff from her bosom, — for, like'Moses, 'the skin of her face did shine,' — and pats her nose. These formalities concluded, the noise is increased by her contribution on the keys.
Well, that is the business world, and undoubtedly the typewriter is of immense value; but do you not resent its intrusion on the world of friends and social relationships? It is part of the Zeitgeist that tolerates' thru' and' yours afTy.' People say that it saves so much time in writing; but how much loss it causes in individuality! When I receive a typed letter from a friend, it makes me feel as post-cards do, that I am on his conscience, not in his mind. Also it makes people careless of their grammar and spelling. A very delightful young man of my acquaintance, with an Oxford education and a real knowledge of literature, can write that he was 'much empressed by the difficulty of getting a birth' on a steamship to Japan.
You are typing. You come to the end of the line, thinking there is room to strike the final e of' possible,' or the t of 'just'; but the little beggars stick, so you either let the word go as it is, or allow the e or t to dance off on the next line as Karen's red shoes danced away when she tore them from her feet in the churchyard.
So much of modern literature bears the stamp of having been composed on the typewriter — the sentences sometimes brisk and impatient, sometimes lumbering along like a train of mulewagons over a sandy plain. Perhaps one half of the books one so criticizes were produced by the old-fashioned means of a pen, but I do maintain that very few appear of which the reader can say, 'This is a labour of love, the work of a man who lingeringly wrote each sen
tence as though it were his last.' Could Sir Thomas Browne have captured the mood which sombres the lovely pages of his Hydriotaphia while seated before a clacking machine, or the translators of the Bible have touched the wings of Gabriel? Surely they wrote, as Fra Angelico painted, on their knees. Gone are the days of Grub Street, when the author, his feet curled under his chair, a wad of paper thrust under the hind-legs of the table to keep it steady, and before him scribbled sheets and a china ink-pot, sat with his pen between his lips and eyes fixed on the patch of sky behind the garret window. Unless he has been changing the ribbon of his typewriter, the author of to-day no longer has an inky finger. Before anyone catches me up on this generalization, I hasten to make a few exceptions— notably Henry James. Great man as one has always considered him, one's admiration leaps to amazement on realizing that he dictated his books. Mon Dieu! quel homme! Surely he must have had some physical method of keeping track of his rhetorical labyrinths, such as walking down a long room dropping pebbles to record the fall of his relative, subjunctive, and parenthetical clauses, and on the return journey picking them up, — thus sure that not one had escaped, — until all were safely gathered in the rare triumph of a full stop.
I have a little collection of French poems of the nineteenth century, after many of which is a reproduction of the original, with its blots, its erasures, its emendations. It is a pleasure to go over the pages and see the poet's hesitations — an encouragement, indeed, that brings the Olympians nearer earth. Who, I ask you, would treasure the first draft of 'La Maison du Berger,' were typing substituted for the delicate flow of De Vigny's pen; and for the impatient dash over some discarded word, — a gesture of dismissal, it seems, to the second-rate, — a row of little x'at Such a sacrilege were comparable to reading Keats to the accompaniment of an insecure set of false teeth.
One more protest, and I have done. It is against those apostles of efficiency who, overvaluing that most common commodity, time, bring their typewriters on the train with them, and make the journey hideous by an incessant flow of soul. A parlor-car, to normal people, is a place where they read novels they would not dare read at home, sit vacantly counting the silos on the various farms they pass, plan campaigns for seizing railroad crossings, or, from the appearance of the houses, decide the fitting names for the families that inhabit them. When my brother and sister and I were small, our mother and governess could always be sure of one peaceful quarter of an hour during the journey which we frequently made between Albany and Buffalo. That time came when we approached Syrause; for having been told that there were a great many negroes there, we always pressed our noses against the window to enumerate rapturously all persons of color whom we saw. I still do it, and achieved, a month ago, the fine total of thirty. On the return journey I found, to my anger, that the counterinterest of watching a one-armed man typing took my mind from the main business of the day, so that my score was only seven.
I had a plan that I would keep
I heard, and on the neighbors' roofs
Then from my nice warm bed I 'd creep;
For from my window I can see
But if a fire there should be
I made my prayer, and went to bed,
On pillow white,
Sleep sound all night.'
Then, all at once, it struck eleven —
I listened then with all my might;
THE CONTRIBUTORS' COLUMN
To Frank I. Cobb the New York World has owed for many years the reputation of printing the most vigorous and cogent editorial page in the United States. Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, called during the war to preach in the City Temple, — the famous preaching pulpit in London, — is minister of the Church of the Divine Paternity in New York City. Hans Coudenhove, a Dutchman who has spent most of his active life in Africa, sends this paper from Zom!).-i. in Nyasaland. William McFee is at present chief engineer of the S. S. Toloa, under the British flag.
* * *
Fannie Stearns Gifford, one of the most graceful and individual of American poets, lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Milton O. Nelson, formerly associate editor of the Minneapolis Journal, has lately joined the staff of the Portland (Oregon) Telegram. The story here told is, of course, a record from the author's life. Indeed, it could not be anything else. The author was brought up in a household closely patterned after Old Testament ideals. Perhaps we may, without breach of confidence, publish a paragraph from a highly interesting letter of recollections.
Father [writes Mr. Nelson] was innately modest, even diffident. He never pestered us much with taking daily inventories of our spiritual relations wjth the Infinite, as the elder Gosse bothered his afflicted son; nor did he ever presume to know the mind of God to a nicety. But the question uppermost in his thought always was:'Are my children saved?* Evidence of this is given in his words when his 6rst child — John Newton, aged 26, who went as a missionary to Peru, Brazil — died of yellow fever two months after his arrival. The first words father spoke after the shock of the tidings were: 'One of my boys is safe.'
* * *
Frances Theresa Russell, a new contributor, is of the faculty of Leland Stanford Junior University. L. P. Jacks, Principal of Manchester College, Oxford, and editor of the llii'inrt Journal, was for many years a familiar and affectionate friend of William James. Charles Bernard Nordhoff is living
at Papeete, in the South Seas. Leonora Pease, a teacher in the public schools of Chicago, knows whereof she writes.
* * *
Ralph Barton Perry is Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. A. Edward Newton, now diverting himself in English auction-rooms, will return to America in time for the publication of his new volume in September. L. Adams Beck is an English scholar and traveler, now living in the Canadian West. Joseph Auslander is an American poet at present teaching at Harvard.
* * *
Alfred G. Gardiner, distinguished English journalist and essayist, for many years editor of the London Daily News, but now living in alert retirement, keeps his study window wide open on politics. Major-General William H. Carter, U.S.A., a West Point graduate of 1873, in the course of his service commanded the Hawaiian Department. Retired in 1915, he was recalled to active service in 1917. His article is in a large degree authoritative. Philip Cabot is a Boston banker, who has had long and successful experience in the conduct of public utilities. David Hunter Miller, a New York lawyer with a detailed knowledge of political and social conditions in Europe, served during the Peace Conference as technical adviser to the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. His article is, of course, a record at first hand.
* • •
Mr. Stewart's entertaining paper has rallied to the Atlantic the support of foxhunters everywhere. An old hand at the sport writes us from Bloomington, Illinois, this interesting epistle.
Dear Atlantic, —
Charles D. Stewart's very interesting article in the June Atlantic, called 'Belling a Fox,' seta down what he calls three facts. From experience in following the trails of foxes in the snow I can confirm the first two facts, but I am compelled to differ from Mr. Stewart regarding the third, which is, 'you cannot approach within gunshot of a fox.'