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THE PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY.
The Secretary of this association was getting somewhat tired of the office, and the office was getting somewhat tired of him. It occurred to the members of the Society that a little fresh blood infused into it might stir up the general vitality of the organization. The woman suffragists saw no reason why the place of Secretary need as a matter of course be filled by a person of the male sex. They agitated, they made domiciliary visits, they wrote notes to influential citizens, and finally announced as their candidate the young lady who had won and worn the school name of "The Terror," who was elected. She was just the person for the place: wide awake, with all her wits about her, full of every kind of knowledge, and, above all, strong on points of order and details of management, so that she could prompt the presiding officer, to do which is often the most essential duty of a Secretary. The President, the worthy rector, was good at plain sailing in the track of the common moralities and proprieties, but was liable to get muddled if anything came up requiring swift decision and off-hand speech. The Terror had schooled herself in the debating societies of the Institute, and would set up the President, when he was floored by an awkward question, as easily as if he were a ninepin which had been bowled over.
It has been already mentioned that the Pansophian Society received communications from time to time from writers outside of its own organization. Of late these had been becoming more frequent. Many of them were sent in anonymously, and as there were numerous visitors to the village, and two institutions not far removed from it, both full of ambitious and intelligent young persons, it was often impossible to trace the papers to their authors. The new Secretary was alive with curiosity, and as sagacious a little body as one might find if in want of a detective. She could make a pretty shrewd guess whether a paper was written by a young or old person, by one of her own sex or the other, by an experienced hand or a novice.
Among the anonymous papers she received was one which exercised her curiosity to an extraordinary degree. She felt a strong suspicion that "the Sachem," as the boat-crews used to call him, "the Recluse," "the Night-Hawk," "the Sphinx," as others named him, must be the author of it. It appeared to her the production of a young person of a reflective, poetical turn of mind. It was not a woman's way of writing; at least, so thought the Secretary. The writer had travelled much; had resided in Italy, among other places. But so had many of the summer visitors and residents of Arrowhead Village. The handwriting was not decisive; it had some points of resemblance with the pencilled orders for books which Maurice sent to the Library, but there were certain differences, intentional or accidental, which weakened this evidence. There was an undertone in the essay which was in keeping with the mode of life of the solitary stranger. It might be disappointment, melancholy, or only the dreamy sadness of a young person who sees the future he is to climb, not as a smooth ascent, but as overhanging him like a cliff, ready to crush him, with all his hopes and prospects. This interpretation may have been too imaginative, but here is the paper, and the reader can form his own opinion:
MY THREE COMPANIONS.
"I have been from my youth upwards a wanderer. I do not mean constantly flitting from one place to another, for my residence has often been fixed for considerable periods. From time to time I have put down in a notebook the impressions made upon me by the scenes through which I have passed. I have long hesitated whether to let any of my notes appear before the public. My fear has been that they were too subjective, to use the metaphysician's term,--that I have seen myself reflected in Nature, and not the true aspects of Nature as she was meant to be understood. One who should visit the Harz Mountains would see--might see, rather his own colossal image shape itself on the morning mist. But if in every mist that rises from the meadows, in every cloud that hangs upon the mountain, he always finds his own reflection, we cannot accept him as an interpreter of the landscape.
"There must be many persons present at the meetings of the Society to which this paper is offered who have had experiences like that of its author. They have visited the same localities, they have had many of the same thoughts and feelings. Many, I have no doubt. Not all,--no, not all. Others have sought the companionship of Nature; I have been driven to it. Much of my life has been passed in that communion. These pages record some of the intimacies I have formed with her under some of her various manifestations.
"I have lived on the shore of the great ocean, where its waves broke wildest and its voice rose loudest.
"I have passed whole seasons on the banks of mighty and famous rivers.
"I have dwelt on the margin of a tranquil lake, and floated through many a long, long summer day on its clear waters.
"I have learned the 'various language' of Nature, of which poetry has spoken,--at least, I have learned some words and phrases of it. I will translate some of these as I best may into common speech.
"The OCEAN says to the dweller on its shores:--
"You are neither welcome nor unwelcome. I do not trouble myself with the living tribes that come down to my waters. I have my own people, of an older race than yours, that grow to mightier dimensions than your mastodons and elephants; more numerous than all the swarms that fill the air or move over the thin crust of the earth. Who are you that build your palaces on my margin? I see your white faces as I saw the dark faces of the tribes that came before you, as I shall look upon the unknown family of mankind that will come after you. And what is your whole human family but a parenthesis in a single page of my history? The raindrops stereotyped themselves on my beaches before a living creature left his footprints there. This horseshoe-crab I fling at your feet is of older lineage than your Adam,--perhaps, indeed, you count your Adam as one of his descendants. What feeling have I for you? Not scorn, not hatred,--not love,--not loathing. No!---indifference,--blank indifference to you and your affairs that is my feeling, say rather absence of feeling, as regards you.---Oh yes, I will lap your feet, I will cool you in the hot summer days, I will bear you up in my strong arms, I will rock you on my rolling undulations, like a babe in his cradle. Am I not gentle? Am I not kind? Am I not harmless? But hark! The wind is rising, and the wind and I are rough playmates! What do you say to my voice now? Do you see my foaming lips? Do you feel the rocks tremble as my huge billows crash against them? Is not my anger terrible as I dash your argosy, your thunder-bearing frigate, into fragments, as you would crack an eggshell?--No, not anger; deaf, blind, unheeding indifference,--that is all. Out of me all things arose; sooner or later, into me all things subside. All changes around me; I change not. I look not at you, vain man, and your frail transitory concerns, save in momentary glimpses: I look on the white face of my dead mistress, whom I follow as the bridegroom follows the bier of her who has changed her nuptial raiment for the shroud.
"Ye whose thoughts are of eternity, come dwell at my side. Continents and islands grow old, and waste and disappear. The hardest rock crumbles; vegetable and animal kingdoms come into being, wax great, decline, and perish, to give way to others, even as human dynasties and nations and races come and go. Look on me! 'Time writes no wrinkle' on my forehead. Listen to me! All tongues are spoken on my shores, but I have only one language: the winds taught me their vowels the crags and the sands schooled me in my rough or smooth consonants. Few words are mine but I have whispered them and sung them and shouted them to men of all tribes from the time when the first wild wanderer strayed into my awful presence. Have you a grief that gnaws at your heart-strings? Come with it to my shore, as of old the priest of far-darting Apollo carried his rage and anguish to the margin of the loud-roaring sea. There, if anywhere you will forget your private and short-lived woe, for my voice speaks to the infinite and the eternal in your consciousness.
"To him who loves the pages of human history, who listens to the voices of the world about him, who frequents the market and the thoroughfare, who lives in the study of time and its accidents rather than in the deeper emotions, in abstract speculation and spiritual contemplation, the RIVER addresses itself as his natural companion.
"Come live with me. I am active, cheerful, communicative, a natural talker and story-teller. I am not noisy, like the ocean, except occasionally when I am rudely interrupted, or when I stumble and get a fall. When I am silent you can still have pleasure in watching my changing features. My idlest babble, when I am toying with the trifles that fall in my way, if not very full of meaning, is at least musical. I am not a dangerous friend, like the ocean; no highway is absolutely safe, but my nature is harmless, and the storms that strew the beaches with wrecks cast no ruins upon my flowery borders. Abide with me, and you shall not die of thirst, like the forlorn wretches left to the mercies of the pitiless salt waves. Trust yourself to me, and I will carry you far on your journey, if we are travelling to the same point of the compass. If I sometimes run riot and overflow your meadows, I leave fertility behind me when I withdraw to my natural channel. Walk by my side toward the place of my destination. I will keep pace with you, and you shall feel my presence with you as that of a self-conscious being like yourself. You will find it hard to be miserable in my company; I drain you of ill-conditioned thoughts as I carry away the refuse of your dwelling and its grounds."
But to him whom the ocean chills and crushes with its sullen indifference, and the river disturbs with its never-pausing and never-ending story, the silent LAKE shall be a refuge and a place of rest for his soul.
"'Vex not yourself with thoughts too vast for your limited faculties,' it says; 'yield not yourself to the babble of the running stream. Leave the ocean, which cares nothing for you or any living thing that walks the solid earth; leave the river, too busy with its own errand, too talkative about its own affairs, and find peace with me, whose smile will cheer you, whose whisper will soothe you. Come to me when the morning sun blazes across my bosom like a golden baldric; come to me in the still midnight, when I hold the inverted firmament like a cup brimming with jewels, nor spill one star of all the constellations that float in my ebon goblet. Do you know the charm of melancholy? Where will you find a sympathy like mine in your hours of sadness? Does the ocean share your grief? Does the river listen to your sighs? The salt wave, that called to you from under last month's full moon, to-day is dashing on the rocks of Labrador; the stream, that ran by you pure and sparkling, has swallowed the poisonous refuse of a great city, and is creeping to its grave in the wide cemetery that buries all things in its tomb of liquid crystal. It is true that my waters exhale and are renewed from one season to another; but are your features the same, absolutely the same, from year to year? We both change, but we know each other through all changes. Am I not mirrored in those eyes of yours? And does not Nature plant me as an eye to behold her beauties while she is dressed in the glories of leaf and flower, and draw the icy lid over my shining surface when she stands naked and ashamed in the poverty of winter?'
"I have had strange experiences and sad thoughts in the course of a life not very long, but with a record which much longer lives could not match in incident. Oftentimes the temptation has come over me with dangerous urgency to try a change of existence, if such change is a part of human destiny,--to seek rest, if that is what we gain by laying down the burden of life. I have asked who would be the friend to whom I should appeal for the last service I should have need of. Ocean was there, all ready, asking no questions, answering none. What strange voyages, downward through its glaucous depths, upwards to its boiling and frothing surface, wafted by tides, driven by tempests, disparted by rude agencies; one remnant whitening on the sands of a northern beach, one perhaps built into the circle of a coral reef in the Pacific, one settling to the floor of the vast laboratory where continents are built, to emerge in far-off ages! What strange companions for my pall-bearers! Unwieldy sea-monsters, the stories of which are counted fables by the spectacled collectors who think their catalogues have exhausted nature; naked-eyed creatures, staring, glaring, nightmare-like spectres of the ghastly-green abysses; pulpy islands, with life in gelatinous immensity,--what a company of hungry heirs at every ocean funeral! No! No! Ocean claims great multitudes, but does not invite the solitary who would fain be rid of himself.
"Shall I seek a deeper slumber at the bottom of the lake I love than I have ever found when drifting idly over its surface? No, again. I do not want the sweet, clear waters to know me in the disgrace of nature, when life, the faithful body-servant, has ceased caring for me. That must not be. The mirror which has pictured me so often shall never know me as an unwelcome object.
"If I must ask the all-subduing element to be my last friend, and lead me out of my prison, it shall be the busy, whispering, not unfriendly, pleasantly companionable river.
"But Ocean and River and Lake have certain relations to the periods of human life which they who are choosing their places of abode should consider. Let the child play upon the seashore. The wide horizon gives his imagination room to grow in, untrammelled. That background of mystery, without which life is a poor mechanical arrangement, is shaped and colored, so far as it can have outline, or any hue but shadow, on a vast canvas, the contemplation of which enlarges and enriches the sphere of consciousness. The mighty ocean is not too huge to symbolize the aspirations and ambitions of the yet untried soul of the adolescent.
"The time will come when his indefinite mental horizon has found a solid limit, which shuts his prospect in narrower bounds than he would have thought could content him in the years of undefined possibilities. Then he will find the river a more natural intimate than the ocean. It is individual, which the ocean, with all its gulfs and inlets and multitudinous shores, hardly seems to be. It does not love you very dearly, and will not miss you much when you disappear from its margin; but it means well to you, bids you good-morning with its coming waves, and good-evening with those which are leaving. It will lead your thoughts pleasantly away, upwards to its source, downwards to the stream to which it is tributary, or the wide waters in which it is to lose itself. A river, by choice, to live by in middle age.
"In hours of melancholy reflection, in those last years of life which have little left but tender memories, the still companionship of the lake, embosomed in woods, sheltered, fed by sweet mountain brooks and hidden springs, commends itself to the wearied and saddened spirit. I am not thinking of those great inland seas, which have many of the features and much of the danger that belong to the ocean, but of those 'ponds,' as our countrymen used to call them until they were rechristened by summer visitors; beautiful sheets of water from a hundred to a few thousand acres in extent, scattered like raindrops over the map of our Northern sovereignties. The loneliness of contemplative old age finds its natural home in the near neighborhood of one of these tranquil basins."
Nature does not always plant her poets where they belong, but if we look carefully their affinities betray themselves. The youth will carry his Byron to the rock which overlooks the ocean the poet loved so well. The man of maturer years will remember that the sonorous couplets of Pope which ring in his ears were written on the banks of the Thames. The old man, as he nods over the solemn verse of Wordsworth, will recognize the affinity between the singer and the calm sheet that lay before him as he wrote,--the stainless and sleepy Windermere.
"The dwellers by Cedar Lake may find it an amusement to compare their own feelings with those of one who has lived by the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, by the Nile and the Tiber, by Lake Leman and by one of the fairest sheets of water that our own North America embosoms in its forests."
Miss Lurida Vincent, Secretary of the Pansophian Society, read this paper, and pondered long upon it. She was thinking very seriously of studying medicine, and had been for some time in frequent communication with Dr. Butts, under whose direction she had begun reading certain treatises, which added to such knowledge of the laws of life in health and in disease as she had brought with her from the Corinna Institute. Naturally enough, she carried the anonymous paper to the doctor, to get his opinion about it, and compare it with her own. They both agreed that it was probably, they would not say certainly, the work of the solitary visitor. There was room for doubt, for there were visitors who might well have travelled to all the places mentioned, and resided long enough on the shores of the waters the writer spoke of to have had all the experiences mentioned in the paper. The Terror remembered a young lady, a former schoolmate, who belonged to one of those nomadic families common in this generation, the heads of which, especially the female heads, can never be easy where they are, but keep going between America and Europe, like so many pith-balls in the electrical experiment, alternately attracted and repelled, never in contented equilibrium. Every few years they pull their families up by the roots, and by the time they have begun to take hold a little with their radicles in the spots to which they have been successively transplanted up they come again, so that they never get a tap-root anywhere. The Terror suspected the daughter of one of these families of sending certain anonymous articles of not dissimilar character to the one she had just received. But she knew the style of composition common among the young girls, and she could hardly believe that it was one of them who had sent this paper. Could a brother of this young lady have written it? Possibly; she knew nothing more than that the young lady had a brother, then a student at the University. All the chances were that Mr. Maurice Kirkwood was the author. So thought Lurida, and so thought Dr. Butts.
Whatever faults there were in this essay, it interested them both. There was nothing which gave the least reason to suspect insanity on the part of the writer, whoever he or she might be. There were references to suicide, it is true, but they were of a purely speculative nature, and did not look to any practical purpose in that direction. Besides, if the stranger were the author of the paper, he certainly would not choose a sheet of water like Cedar Lake to perform the last offices for him, in case he seriously meditated taking unceremonious leave of life and its accidents. He could find a river easily enough, to say nothing of other methods of effecting his purpose; but he had committed himself as to the impropriety of selecting a lake, so they need not be anxious about the white canoe and its occupant, as they watched it skimming the surface of the deep waters.
The holder of the Portfolio would never have ventured to come before the public if he had not counted among his resources certain papers belonging to the records of the Pansophian Society, which he can make free use of, either for the illustration of the narrative, or for a diversion during those intervals in which the flow of events is languid, or even ceases for the time to manifest any progress. The reader can hardly have failed to notice that the old Anchor Tavern had become the focal point where a good deal of mental activity converged. There were the village people, including a number of cultivated families; there were the visitors, among them many accomplished and widely travelled persons; there was the University, with its learned teachers and aspiring young men; there was the Corinna Institute, with its eager, ambitious, hungry-souled young women, crowding on, class after class coming forward on the broad stream of liberal culture, and rounding the point which, once passed, the boundless possibilities of womanhood opened before them. All this furnished material enough and to spare for the records and the archives of the society.
The new Secretary infused fresh life into the meetings. It may be remembered that the girls had said of her, when she was The Terror, that "she knew everything and didn't believe anything." That was just the kind of person for a secretary of such an association. Properly interpreted, the saying meant that she knew a great deal, and wanted to know a great deal more, and was consequently always on the lookout for information; that she believed nothing without sufficient proof that it was true, and therefore was perpetually asking for evidence where, others took assertions on trust.
It was astonishing to see what one little creature like The Terror could accomplish in the course of a single season. She found out what each member could do and wanted to do. She wrote to the outside visitors whom she suspected of capacity, and urged them to speak at the meetings, or send written papers to be read. As an official, with the printed title at the head of her notes, PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY, she was a privileged personage. She begged the young persons who had travelled to tell something of their experiences. She had contemplated getting up a discussion on the woman's rights question, but being a wary little body, and knowing that the debate would become a dispute and divide the members into two hostile camps, she deferred this project indefinitely. It would be time enough after she had her team well in hand, she said to herself,--had felt their mouths and tried their paces. This expression, as she used it in her thoughts, seems rather foreign to her habits, but there was room in her large brain for a wide range of illustrations and an ample vocabulary. She could not do much with her own muscles, but she had known the passionate delight of being whirled furiously over the road behind four scampering horses, in a rocking stage-coach, and thought of herself in the Secretary's chair as not unlike the driver on his box. A few weeks of rest had allowed her nervous energy to store itself up, and the same powers which had distanced competition in the classes of her school had of necessity to expend themselves in vigorous action in her new office.
Her appeals had their effect. A number of papers were very soon sent in; some with names, some anonymously. She looked these papers over, and marked those which she thought would be worth reading and listening to at the meetings. One of them has just been presented to the reader. As to the authorship of the following one there were many conjectures. A well-known writer, who had spent some weeks at Arrowhead Village, was generally suspected of being its author. Some, however, questioned whether it was not the work of a new hand, who wrote, not from experience, but from his or her ideas of the condition to which a story-teller, a novelist, must in all probability be sooner or later reduced. The reader must judge for himself whether this first paper is the work of an old hand or a novice.
SOME EXPERIENCES OF A NOVELIST.
"I have written a frightful number of stories, forty or more, I think. Let me see. For twelve years two novels a year regularly: that makes twenty-four. In three different years I have written three stories annually: that makes thirty-three. In five years one a year,--thirty-eight. That is all, is n't it? Yes. Thirty-eight, not forty. I wish I could make them all into one composite story, as Mr. Galton does his faces.
"Hero--heroine--mamma--papa--uncle--sister, and so on. Love--obstacles--misery--tears--despair--glimmer of hope--unexpected solution of difficulties--happy finale.
"Landscape for background according to season. Plants of each month got up from botanical calendars.
"I should like much to see the composite novel. Why not apply Mr. Galton's process, and get thirty-eight stories all in one? All the Yankees would resolve into one Yankee, all the P----West Britons into one Patrick, etc., what a saving of time it would be!
"I got along pretty well with my first few stories. I had some characters around me which, a little disguised, answered well enough. There was the minister of the parish, and there was an old schoolmaster either of them served very satisfactorily for grandfathers and old uncles. All I had to do was to shift some of their leading peculiarities, keeping the rest. The old minister wore knee-breeches. I clapped them on to the schoolmaster. The schoolmaster carried a tall gold-headed cane. I put this in the minister's hands. So with other things,--I shifted them round, and got a set of characters who, taken together, reproduced the chief persons of the village where I lived, but did not copy any individual exactly. Thus it went on for a while; but by and by my stock company began to be rather too familiarly known, in spite of their change of costume, and at last some altogether too sagacious person published what he called a 'key' to several of my earlier stories, in which I found the names of a number of neighbors attached to aliases of my own invention. All the 'types,' as he called them, represented by these personages of my story had come to be recognized, each as standing for one and the same individual of my acquaintance. It had been of no use to change the costume. Even changing the sex did no good. I had a famous old gossip in one of my tales,--a much-babbling Widow Sertingly. 'Sho!' they all said, that 's old Deacon Spinner, the same he told about in that other story of his,--only the deacon's got on a petticoat and a mob-cap,--but it's the same old sixpence.' So I said to myself, I must have some new characters. I had no trouble with young characters; they are all pretty much alike,--dark-haired or light-haired, with the outfits belonging to their complexion, respectively. I had an old great-aunt, who was a tip-top eccentric. I had never seen anything just like her in books. So I said, I will have you, old lady, in one of my stories; and, sure enough, I fitted her out with a first-rate odd-sounding name, which I got from the directory, and sent her forth to the world, disguised, as I supposed, beyond the possibility of recognition. The book sold well, and the eccentric personage was voted a novelty. A few weeks after it was published a lawyer called upon me, as the agent of the person in the directory, whose family name I had used, as he maintained, to his and all his relatives' great damage, wrong, loss, grief, shame, and irreparable injury, for which the sum of blank thousand dollars would be a modest compensation. The story made the book sell, but not enough to pay blank thousand dollars. In the mean time a cousin of mine had sniffed out the resemblance between the character in my book and our great-aunt. We were rivals in her good graces. 'Cousin Pansie' spoke to her of my book and the trouble it was bringing on me,--she was so sorry about it! She liked my story,--only those personalities, you know. 'What personalities?' says old granny-aunt. 'Why, auntie, dear, they do say that he has brought in everybody we know,--did n't anybody tell you about--well,--I suppose you ought to know it,--did n't anybody tell you you were made fun of in that novel?' Somebody--no matter who--happened to hear all this, and told me. She said granny-aunt's withered old face had two red spots come to it, as if she had been painting her cheeks from a pink saucer. No, she said, not a pink saucer, but as if they were two coals of fire. She sent out and got the book, and made her (the somebody that I was speaking of) read it to her. When she had heard as much as she could stand,--for 'Cousin Pansie' explained passages to her,--explained, you know,--she sent for her lawyer, and that same somebody had to be a witness to a new will she had drawn up. It was not to my advantage. 'Cousin Pansie' got the corner lot where the grocery is, and pretty much everything else. The old woman left me a legacy. What do you think it was? An old set of my own books, that looked as if it had been bought out of a bankrupt circulating library.
"After that I grew more careful. I studied my disguises much more diligently. But after all, what could I do? Here I was, writing stories for my living and my reputation. I made a pretty sum enough, and worked hard enough to earn it. No tale, no money. Then every story that went from my workshop had to come up to the standard of my reputation, and there was a set of critics,--there is a set of critics now and everywhere,--that watch as narrowly for the decline of a man's reputation as ever a village half drowned out by an inundation watched for the falling of the waters. The fame I had won, such as it was, seemed to attend me,--not going before me in the shape of a woman with a trumpet, but rather following me like one of Actaeon's hounds, his throat open, ready to pull me down and tear me. What a fierce enemy is that which bays behind us in the voice of our proudest bygone achievement!
"But, as I said above, what could I do? I must write novels, and I must have characters. 'Then why not invent them?' asks some novice. Oh, yes! Invent them! You can invent a human being that in certain aspects of humanity will answer every purpose for which your invention was intended. A basket of straw, an old coat and pair of breeches, a hat which has been soaked, sat upon, stuffed a broken window, and had a brood of chickens raised in it,--these elements, duly adjusted to each other, will represent humanity so truthfully that the crows will avoid the cornfield when your scarecrow displays his personality. Do you think you can make your heroes and heroines,--nay, even your scrappy supernumeraries,--out of refuse material, as you made your scarecrow? You can't do it. You must study living people and reproduce them. And whom do you know so well as your friends? You will show up your friends, then, one after another. When your friends give out, who is left for you? Why, nobody but your own family, of course. When you have used up your family, there is nothing left for you but to write your autobiography.
"After my experience with my grand-aunt, I be came more cautious, very naturally. I kept traits of character, but I mixed ages as well as sexes. In this way I continued to use up a large amount of material, which looked as if it were as dangerous as dynamite to meddle with. Who would have expected to meet my maternal uncle in the guise of a schoolboy? Yet I managed to decant his characteristics as nicely as the old gentleman would have decanted a bottle of Juno Madeira through that long siphon which he always used when the most sacred vintages were summoned from their crypts to render an account of themselves on his hospitable board. It was a nice business, I confess, but I did it, and I drink cheerfully to that good uncle's memory in a glass of wine from his own cellar, which, with many other more important tokens of his good will, I call my own since his lamented demise.
"I succeeded so well with my uncle that I thought I would try a course of cousins. I had enough of them to furnish out a whole gallery of portraits. There was cousin 'Creeshy,' as we called her; Lucretia, more correctly. She was a cripple. Her left lower limb had had something happen to it, and she walked with a crutch. Her patience under her trial was very pathetic and picturesque, so to speak,--I mean adapted to the tender parts of a story; nothing could work up better in a melting paragraph. But I could not, of course, describe her particular infirmity; that would point her out at once. I thought of shifting the lameness to the right lower limb, but even that would be seen through. So I gave the young woman that stood for her in my story a lame elbow, and put her arm in a sling, and made her such a model of uncomplaining endurance that my grandmother cried over her as if her poor old heart would break. She cried very easily, my grandmother; in fact, she had such a gift for tears that I availed myself of it, and if you remember old Judy, in my novel 'Honi Soit' (Honey Sweet, the booksellers called it),--old Judy, the black-nurse,--that was my grandmother. She had various other peculiarities, which I brought out one by one, and saddled on to different characters. You see she was a perfect mine of singularities and idiosyncrasies. After I had used her up pretty well, I came dawn upon my poor relations. They were perfectly fair game; what better use could I put them to? I studied them up very carefully, and as there were a good many of them I helped myself freely. They lasted me, with occasional intermissions, I should say, three or four years. I had to be very careful with my poor relations,--they were as touchy as they could be; and as I felt bound to send a copy of my novel, whatever it might be, to each one of them,--there were as many as a dozen,--I took care to mix their characteristic features, so that, though each might suspect I meant the other, no one should think I meant him or her. I got through all my relations at last except my father and mother. I had treated my brothers and sisters pretty fairly, all except Elisha and Joanna. The truth is they both had lots of odd ways,--family traits, I suppose, but were just different enough from each other to figure separately in two different stories. These two novels made me some little trouble; for Elisha said he felt sure that I meant Joanna in one of them, and quarrelled with me about it; and Joanna vowed and declared that Elnathan, in the other, stood for brother 'Lisha, and that it was a real mean thing to make fun of folks' own flesh and blood, and treated me to one of her cries. She was n't handsome when she cried, poor, dear Joanna; in fact, that was one of the personal traits I had made use of in the story that Elisha found fault with.
"So as there was nobody left but my father and mother, you see for yourself I had no choice. There was one great advantage in dealing with them,--I knew them so thoroughly. One naturally feels a certain delicacy it handling from a purely artistic point of view persons who have been so near to him. One's mother, for instance: suppose some of her little ways were so peculiar that the accurate delineation of them would furnish amusement to great numbers of readers; it would not be without hesitation that a writer of delicate sensibility would draw her portrait, with all its whimsicalities, so plainly that it should be generally recognized. One's father is commonly of tougher fibre than one's mother, and one would not feel the same scruples, perhaps, in using him professionally as material in a novel; still, while you are employing him as bait,--you see I am honest and plain-spoken, for your characters are baits to catch readers with,--I would follow kind Izaak Walton's humane counsel about the frog you are fastening to your fish-hook: fix him artistically, as he directs, but in so doing I use him as though you loved him.'
"I have at length shown up, in one form and another, all my townsmen who have anything effective in their bodily or mental make-up, all my friends, all my relatives; that is, all my blood relatives. It has occurred to me that I might open a new field in the family connection of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. We have been thinking of paying them a visit, and I shall have an admirable opportunity of studying them and their relatives and visitors. I have long wanted a good chance for getting acquainted with the social sphere several grades below that to which I am accustomed, and I have no doubt that I shall find matter for half a dozen new stories among those connections of mine. Besides, they live in a Western city, and one doesn't mind much how he cuts up the people of places he does n't himself live in. I suppose there is not really so much difference in people's feelings, whether they live in Bangor or Omaha, but one's nerves can't be expected to stretch across the continent. It is all a matter of greater or less distance. I read this morning that a Chinese fleet was sunk, but I did n't think half so much about it as I did about losing my sleeve button, confound it! People have accused me of want of feeling; they misunderstand the artist-nature,--that is all. I obey that implicitly; I am sorry if people don't like my descriptions, but I have done my best. I have pulled to pieces all the persons I am acquainted with, and put them together again in my characters. The quills I write with come from live geese, I would have you know. I expect to get some first-rate pluckings from those people I was speaking of, and I mean to begin my thirty-ninth novel as soon as I have got through my visit."
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