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WELL, Mr. Idiot,” said Mrs. Pedagog, genially, as the Idiot entered the breakfast-room, “what can I do for you this fine spring morning? Will you have tea or coffee?”
“I think I’d like a cup of boiled iron, with two lumps of quinine and a spoonful of condensed nerve-milk in it,” replied the Idiot, wearily. “Somehow or other I have managed to mislay my spine this morning. Ethereal mildness has taken the place of my backbone.”
“Those tired feelings, eh?” said Mr. Brief.
“Yeppy,” replied the Idiot. “Regular thing with me. Every year along about the middle of April I have to fasten a poker on my back with straps, in order to stand up straight; and as for my knees—well, I never know where they are in the merry, merry spring-time. I’m quite sure that if I didn’t wear brass caps on them my legs would bend backward. I wonder if this neighborhood is malarious.”
“Not in the slightest degree,” observed the Doctor. “This is the healthiest neighborhood in town. The trouble with you is that you have a swampy mind, and it is the miasmatic oozings of your intellect that reduce you to the condition of physical flabbiness of which you complain. You might swallow the United States Steel Trust, and it wouldn’t help you a bit, and ten thousand bottles of nerve-milk, or any other tonic known to science, would be powerless to reach the seat of your disorder. What you need to stiffen you up is a pair of those armored trousers the Crusaders used to wear in the days of chivalry, to bolster up your legs, and a strait-jacket to keep your back up.”
“Thank you, kindly,” said the Idiot. “If you’ll give me a prescription, which I can have made up at your tailor’s, I’ll have it filled, unless you’ll add to my ever-increasing obligation to you by lending me your own strait-jacket. I promise to keep it straight and to return it the moment you feel one of your fits coming on.”
The Doctor’s response was merely a scornful gesture, and the Idiot went on:
“It’s always seemed a very queer thing to me that this season of the year should be so popular with everybody,” he said. “To me it’s the mushiest of times. Mushy bones; mushy poetry; mush for breakfast, fried, stewed, and boiled. The roads are mushy; lovers thaw out and get mushier than ever.“In the spring the blasts of winter all are stilled in solemn hush.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself to trifle with so beautiful a poem,” interrupted the Bibliomaniac, indignantly.
“Who’s trifling with a beautiful poem?” demanded the Idiot.
“You are—‘Locksley Hall’—and you know it,” retorted the Bibliomaniac.
“Locksley nothing,” said the Idiot. “What I was reciting is not from ‘Locksley Hall’ at all. It’s a little thing of my own that I wrote six years ago called ‘Spring Unsprung.’ It may not contain much delicate sentiment, but it’s got more solid information in it of a valuable kind than you’ll find in ten ‘Locksley Halls’ or a dozen Etiquette Columns in the Lady’s Away From Home Magazine. It has saved a lot of people from pneumonia and other disorders of early spring, I am quite certain, and the only person I ever heard criticise it unfavorably was a doctor I know who said it spoiled his business.”
“I should admire to hear it,” said the Poet. “Can’t you let us have it?”
“Certainly,” replied the Idiot. “It goes on like this:“In the spring I’ll take you driving, take you driving, Maudy dear,
“Referring to the advice,” said Mr. Brief, “that’s good. I don’t think much of the poetry.”
“There was a lot more of it,” said the Idiot, “but it escapes me at the moment. Four lines I do remember, however:“Pin no faith to weather prophets—all their prophecies are fakes,
“Well,” said the Poet, “if you’re going to the poets for advice, I presume your rhymes are all right. But I don’t think it is the mission of the poet to teach people common-sense.”
“That’s the trouble with the whole tribe of poets,” said the Idiot. “They think they are licensed to do and say all sorts of things that other people can’t do and say. In a way I agree with you that a poem shouldn’t necessarily be a treatise on etiquette or a sequence of health hints, but it should avoid misleading its readers. Take that fellow who wrote“‘Sweet primrose time! When thou art here
That’s very lovely, and, as far as it goes, it is all right. There’s no harm in doing what the poet so delicately suggests, but I think there should have been other stanzas for the protection of the reader like this:“But have a care, oh, readers fair,
Thousands of people are inspired by lines like the original to go gallivanting all over the country in primrose time, to return at dewy eve with all the incipient symptoms of pneumonia. Then there’s the case of Wordsworth. He was one of the loveliest of the Nature poets, but he’s eternally advising people to go out in the early spring and lie on the grass somewhere, listening to cuckoos doing their cooking, watching the daffodils at their daily dill, and hearing the crocus cuss; and some sentimental reader out in New Jersey thinks that if Wordsworth could do that sort of thing, and live to be eighty years old, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t do the same thing. What’s the result? He lies on the grass for two hours and suffers from rheumatism for the next ten years.”
“Tut!” said the Poet. “I am surprised at you. You can’t blame Wordsworth because some New Jerseyman makes a jackass of himself.”
“In a way all writers should be responsible for the effect of what they write on their readers,” said the Idiot. “When a poet of Wordsworth’s eminence, directly or indirectly, advises people to go out and lie on the grass in early spring, he owes it to his public to caution them that in some localities it is not a good thing to do. A rhymed foot-note—“This habit, by-the-way, is good
would fulfil all the requirements of the special individual to whom I have referred, and would have shown that the poet himself was ever mindful of the welfare of his readers.”
The Poet was apparently unconvinced, so the Idiot continued:
“Mind you, old man, I think all this poetry is beautiful,” he said; “but you poets are too prone to confine your attention to the pleasant aspects of the season. Here, for instance, is a poet who asks‘What are the dearest treasures of spring?’
and then goes on to name the cheapest as an answer to his question. The primrose, the daffodil, the rosy haze that veils the forest bare, the sparkle of the myriad-dimpled sea, a kissing-match between the sunbeams and the rain-drops, reluctant hopes, the twitter of swallows on the wing, and all that sort of thing. You’d think spring was an iridescent dream of ecstatic things; but of the tired feeling that comes over you, the spine of jelly, the wabbling knee, the chills and fever that come from sniffing ‘the scented breath of dewy April’s eve,’ the doctor’s bills, and such like things are never mentioned. It isn’t fair. It’s all right to tell about the other things, but don’t forget the drawbacks. If I were writing that poem I’d have at least two stanzas like this:“And other dearest treasures of spring
You see, that makes not only a more comprehensive picture, but does not mislead anybody into the belief the spring is all velvet, which it isn’t by any means.”
“Oh, bosh!” cried the Poet, very much nettled, as he rose from the table. “I suppose if you had your way you’d have all poetry submitted first to a censor, the way they do with plays in London.”
“No, I wouldn’t have a censor; he’d only increase taxes unnecessarily,” said the Idiot, folding up his napkin, and also rising to leave. “I’d just let the Board of Health pass on them; it isn’t a question of morals so much as of sanitation.”
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