doors probably stood somewhere about zero at the time, and the big house was heated solely by wood stoves; drawingroom and library, with folding doors between, depended for warmth upon what was called a dumb stove, a kind of enlargement of the stovepipe from my father's office below. Sometimes, when we sat at our lessons in the library, — low-necked and short-sleeved even then, — I would hear my mother on the other side of the folding doors tapping on the dumb stove with her thimble as a signal for more fire; then, studying my arms with interested curiosity, I would discover myself the proud possessor of goose-flesh. Yet that night the bare arms, as I remember them, were warmly smooth and white against the gay dresses. Not mere wisps of color, these, like the evening dresses of to-day, but satisfying, cushiony eyefuls.

I saw nothing amiss with the setting of the scene. The carpet with its big geometrical pattern, the black horsehair furniture, the what-not of seashells, the shade of wax flowers — it was all as inevitable and right as the blue of the sky and the green of the grass. It had always been there. Just now it was softened by candlelight, and glorified by those radiant beings floating about in pink and blue and corncolor and mauve and Nile green.

One in the new color, magenta, was rolling a ball to illustrate some question that had been raised about the game just over. Her stiff silk skirt made a fine 'cheese' as she stooped. By whirling very fast and then squatting, a little girl could make a cheese, but not one like this and not with that fine air of unconcern. When I was grown up, I would wear skirts that ballooned of their own accord. I saw myself in half a dozen situations that called for stooping. Most alluring of the visions was one of my grown-up self at the pantry table, now on a level with my chin, busy

— oh, happy me! — at the now forbidden task of skimming the cream from a pan of milk. A bouquet in its silver holder dangled from my wrist. I spoke in the fascinating manner of the young lady in magenta, barely opening my lips.

Patricia let go of my hand and we entered the room. That is to say, Patricia entered. Even at eight she entered a room — the whole of her; no astral half left dragging along uncertainly behind. Yes, Patricia was different from other children. Something in the way she was greeted as she passed from group to group — a quick look of interest and admiration — confirmed me in the belief. I followed her, pleasurably excited, but with the gone feeling about the pit of the stomach that came always with that letting go of the hand. In proportion as Patricia's clasp was an assurance that all was right with the world, the loosing of it abandoned one to a path of lonely peril.

A little fuss was made over both of us. Here were the friends and acquaintances of every day, some of them nursery intimates, but all changed, somehow, by being at a party; our own mother looked not so approachable as when in 'high neck and long sleeves.' Here was even our doctor. Being a favorite with him, I had to wait to be taken upon his knee and have my cheeks rubbed into rosiness, and in this way I got behind Patricia in our progress around the room.

When I caught up to her, I saw at once that something had happened.

There she stood, that little maiden of the sixties, the unmoved centre of a teacup tempest. I can see her yet, — her slimness, her straightness, her pretty color, her willfully curved lips,

— above all, her evident indifference to the exclamations that were pelting her from every side like a flurry of soft March snow.

'What! Won't kiss Mr. Fitzhugh! O Patricia! Oh, poor Mr. Fitzhugh!'

I looked at Mr. Fitzhugh. He made me think of our dough-men before they were put into the oven. I did n't wonder that she would n't kiss hihi. His mouth was — well, not the kind one wants to kiss. But he was lame, and were not lame people good? In the storybooks, where they abounded plentifully, they were all, all good, and only the wicked were unkind to them.

I looked at Patricia. Was n't it wicked to be unkind to lame people? But already she had lost interest in Mr. Fitzhugh — her choice had been made. She had shaken hands with him; she had wiped the impression unobtrusively off upon her skirt; now her eyes were turned to the piano, where the young lady in magenta was beginning to play 'La Cracoviennc' with the soft pedal down. Her eyes rested upon the left hand of the player, and from a certain hint of brooding in their expression, I knew that the bass was all wrong.

'Never mind. Here comes Janie. She will give me a kiss, I know. A nice sweet kiss; maybe two, three, four.' He made the sound of four kisses. 'Janie and I are good friends. Are n't we, Janie?'

'Ye-es.' (To myself, 'He's lame.') 'But if you don't mind, I think I'd rather just shake hands.' ('I can't kiss him.')

Another chorus of 'What! Not kiss Mr. Fitzhugh! Oh, poor Mr. Fitzhugh!' Always, please remember, in the soft voices of eighteen-sixty-one.

('Can I kiss him? No, I can't. But he's lame.')

'You too, Janie! Who would have believed you could be so cruel! Look at poor Mr. Fitzhugh! Only see how sad he looks!'

Yes, there was no doubt about it. He was looking sad. And he was lame. To be cruel to the lame!

('Now, if you shut your eyes and hurry up, perhaps you can do it. Now, now.')

It was done.

It was hard to do. Had n't a little girl some reason to expect approval? But that beautiful, rainbow-colored group had led her on to her undoing, only to turn upon her now with looks and exclamations more shocked than before.

'Janie! Janie! You little coquette! Coming down from the nursery with your kisses all made up, and then pretending to be too coy to give them! Pretending you would n't, when all the time you meant to!'

I turned to Mr. Fitzhugh. He was grinning — an odious grin.

Down dropped my head upon the sofa; hot, shut eyes pressed close against the slippery coolness of its horsehair.

I could feel a fluttering of the air like a flock of butterflies closing in upon me; there was a soft humming, half pity, half mocking laughter. Then the iambic of a lame footstep. At that I straightened up and stood at bay.

I must have breathed Patricia's name, for she stopped trying to reconcile the bass and treble of 'La Cracovienne' and came to me. I wish I could describe how she did it. Straight as the dart of a sailboat — and the circle closing me in parted as naturally as the water at the bow. It was an instinctive movement, altogether free from aggressiveness, but — nobody touched me.

'We can't stay any longer, Janie. Mother 's beckoning to us.'

For once the signal was welcome. As our parents kissed us good-night, their cheerfulness impressed me as a strange thing. If they knew how their child had been disgraced!

I crept up the dimly lighted stairs beside Patricia, crushed and silent. Her hold of my hand was the only comfort she tried to give. Pity would have come amiss just then. I wanted nothing more to do with pity, my own or another's. It was a mistake. If I had refused to listen to its appeal, like Patricia, I might now have been walking with my head held up like hers.

Only once she spoke.

'If I were you, I would n't pay any attention to what young ladies say.

They 're like that — in society. Society 's silly.'

And then we were back in the dear, safe nursery, where treachery was unknown. And Robin had just finished shorteningjiis second stirrup, so I knew that hours and days could not have passed since we left him busy with the first.



It is probably more instructive to entertain a sneaking kindness for any unpopular person than to give way to perfect raptures of moral indignation against his abstract vices. — Robert Louis


It is not only more instructive — it is more enlivening. The conventionalities of criticism (moral, not literary, criticism) pass from mouth to mouth and from pen to pen, until the iterations of the press are crystallized in encyclopaedias and biographical dictionaries. And from such verdicts there is no appeal. Their labored impartiality, their systematicadjustments, their careful avoidance of intuition, produce in the public mind a level sameness of misunderstanding. Many sensible people think this a good result. Even a man who did his own thinking, and maintained his own intellectual freehold, like Mr. Bagehot, knew and upheld the value of ruts. He was well aWare how far a little intelligence can be made to go, unless it aspires to originality. Therefore he grumbled at the

paradoxes which were somewhat of a novelty in his day, but which are outworn in ours, at the making over of virtue into vice, and of vice into something more inspiriting than virtue. 'We have palliations of Tiberius, eulogies on Henry the Eighth, devotional exercises to Cromwell, and fulsome adulations of the first Napoleon.'

That was a half-century ago. To-day, Tiberius is not so much out of favor as out of mind; Mr. Froude was the last man really interested in the moral status of Henry the Eighth; Mr. Wells has given us his word for it that Napoleon was a very ordinary person; and the English people have erected a statue of Cromwell close to the Houses of Parliament, by way of reminding him (in his appointed place) of the survival of representative government. The twentieth century does not lean to extravagant partialities. Its trend is to disparagement, to searchlights, to that lavish candor which no man's reputation can survive.

When Mr. Lytton Strachey reversed Mr. Stevenson's suggestion, and chose, as subject-matter of a book, four people of whom the world had heard little but good, who had been praised and reverenced beyond their deserts, but for whom he cherished a secret and cold hostility, he experimented successfully with the latent uncharitableness of men's minds. The brilliancy with which the four essays were written, the keenness of each assault, the charm and persuasiveness of the style, delighted even the uncensorious. The business of a biographer, said the author in a very engaging preface, is to maintain his own freedom of spirit, and lay bare the facts as he understands them, 'dispassionately, impartially, and without ulterior intentions.'

It sounds fair and square; but the fact remains that Mr. Strachey disliked Manning, despised Arnold, had little sympathy with Gordon, and no great fancy for Florence Nightingale. It must be remembered also that in three cases out of four he was dealing with persons of stubborn character and compelling will, as far removed from irreproachable excellence as from criminality. Of such, much criticism may be offered; but the only way to keep an open outlook is to ask, 'What was their life's job?' 'How well did they do it?' Men and women who have a pressing job on hand (Florence Nightingale was all job) cannot afford to cultivate the minor virtues. They move with an irresistible impulse to their goal. It is a curious fact that Mr. Strachey is never so illuminating as when he turns his back upon these forceful and disconcerting personages, and dallies with their more amenable contemporaries. What he writes about Gordon we should be glad to forget; what he writes about Sir Evelyn Baring and Lord Hartington we hope to remember while we live The popularity of Eminent Victorians

inspired a host of followers. Critics began to look about them for other vulnerable reputations. Mr. J. A. Strahan, stepping back from Victoria to Anne, made the happy discovery that Addison had been systematically overpraised, and that every side of his character was open to assault. The result of this perspicuity is a damning denunciation of a man whom his contemporaries liked and esteemed, and concerning whom we have been content to take the word of those who knew him. He may have been, as Mr. Strahan asserts, a sot, a time-server, a toad-eater, a bad official, and a worse friend; but he managed to give a different impression. The just man falls seven times a day. Take sufficient account of all these falls, and he eclipses Lucifer. Addison's friends and neighbors found him a modest, honorable, sweet-tempered gentleman; and Steele, whom he had affronted, wrote these generous words: 'You can seldom get him to the tavern; but when once he is arrived to his pint, and begins to look about him, you admire a thousand things in him which before lay buried.'

This seems to me a singularly pleasant thing to say about anybody. Were I coveting praise, this is the form I'd like the praise to take.

The pressure of disparagement, which is one result of the cooling of our blood after the fever-heat of war, is lowering our enthusiasms, thinning our sympathies, and giving us nothing very dazzling in the way of enlightenment. Americans are less critical than Englishmen, who so value their birthright of free speech that censure of public men has become a habit, a game of hazard (pulling planks out of the ship of state), at which long practice has made them perfect. 'The editor of the Morning Post,' observes Mr. Maurice Hewlett wearily, 'begins his day by wondering whom he shall denounce'; and opposing editors, as nimble at the fray, match outcry against outcry, and malice against malignity.

I doubt if any other than an Englishman could have written The Mirrors of Downing Street, and I am sure that, were an American able to write such a book (which is problematic), it would never occur to him to think of it, or to brag of it, as a duty. We grumble at our high officials, and expect our full share of impossibilities; but as task-masters we are not in it with the British. The difficulties surmounted by Mr. Lloyd George make the labors of Hercules look like a picnic; and to begrudge him an hour in his arm-chair, with his young daughter and a friend, seems to us like begrudging an engine-driver his sleep. There was a time when it was thought that an engine-driver could sleep less, and lamentable results en»ued.

The public actions of public men are open to discussion; but Mr. Balfour's personal selfishness, his parsimony, his indifference to his domestics, are not matters of general moment. To gossip about these things is to gossip with tradesmen and servants. To deny to Lord Kitchener 'greatness of mind, greatness of character, and greatness of heart,' is harsh speaking of the dead; but to tell a gaping world that the woman 'whom he loved hungrily and doggedly, and to whom he proposed several times, could never bring herself to marry him,' is a personality which Town Topics would scorn. The Mirrors of Dmoning Street aspires to a moral purpose; but taste is the guardian of morality. Its delicate and severe dictates define the terms upon which we may improve the world at the expense of our neighbor's character.

The sneaking kindness recommended by Mr. Stevenson is much harder to come by than the 'raptures of moral indignation,' of which he heard more than he wanted, and which are rever

berating through the world to-day. The pages of history are heavy-with moral indignation. We teach it in our schools, and there are historians like Macaulay who thunder it rapturously, with never a moment of misgiving. But here and there, as we step apprehensively into historic by-paths, we are cheered by patches of sunshine, straight glimpses into truths which put a more credible, because a more merciful, construction upon men's actions, and lighten our burden of dispraise.

I have often wondered why, with Philippe de Commines as an avenue of approach, all writers except Scott should deal with Louis the Eleventh as with a moral monstrosity. Commines is no apologist. He has a natural desire to speak well of his master; but he reviews every side of Louis's character with dispassionate sincerity.

First, as a Catholic: 'The king was very liberal to the Church, and, in some respects, more so than was necessary, for he robbed the poor to give to the rich. But in this world no one can arrive at perfection.'

Next, as a husband: 'As for ladies, he never meddled with them in my time; for when I came to his court, he lost a son, at whose death he was greatly afflicted; and he made a vow to God in my presence never to have intercourse with any other woman than the queen. And though this was no more than he was bound to do by the canons of the Church, yet it was much that he should have such self-command as to persevere firmly in his resolution, considering that the queen (though an excellent lady in other respects) was not a princess in whom a man could take any great delight.'

Finally, as a ruler: 'The king was naturally kind and indulgent to persons of mean estate, and hostile to all great men who had no need of him. . . . But this I say boldly in his commendation,

« ElőzőTovább »