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powers and qualities, let me tell you, that, next to youthful love and family affections, there is no human sentiment better than that which unites the Societies of Mutual Admiration. And what would literature or art be without such associations? Who can tell what we owe to the Mutual Admiration Society of which Shakspeare, and Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, were members? or to that of which Addison and Steele formed the center, and which gave us “ The Spectator"? or to that where Johnson and Goldsmith and Burke and Reynolds and Beauclerc and Boswell, most admiring among all admirers, met together? Was there any great harm in the fact that the Irvings and Paulding wrote in company? or any upardonable cabal in the literary union of Verplanck and Bryant and Sands, and as many more as they chose to associate with them?
The poor creature does not know what he is talking about when he abuses this noblest of institutions. Let him inspect its mysteries through the knot-hole he has secured, but not use that orifice as a mediuin for his popgun. Such a society is the crown of a literary metropolis: if a town has not material for it, and spirit and good feeling enough to organize it, it is a mere caravansary, — fit for a man of genius to lodge in, but not to live in. Foolish people hate and dread and envy such an association of men of varied powers and influence because it is lofty, serene, impregnable, and, by the necessity of the case, exclusive. Wise ones are prouder of the title M. S. M. A. than of all their other honors put together.
- All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called “ facts.” They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Who does not know fellows that always have an ill-conditioned fact or two which they lead after them into decent company like so many bull-dogs, ready to let them slip at every ingenious suggestion, or convenient generalization, or pleasant fancy? I allow no “facts” at this table. What! because bread is good and wholesome and necessary and nourishing, shall you thrust a crumb into my windpipe while I am talking? Do not these muscles of mine represent a hundred loaves of bread ? and is not my thought the abstract of ten thousand of these crumbs of truth with which you would choke off my speech ?
The above remark must be conditioned and qualified for the vulgar mind. The reader will of course understand the precise amount of seasoning which must be added to it before he adopts it as one of the axioms of his life. The speaker disclaims all responsibility for its abuse in incompetent hands.]
This business of conversation is a very serious matter. There are men that it weakens one to talk with an hour more than a day's fasting would do. Mark this that I am going to say ; for it is as good as a working professional man's advice, and costs you nothing: It is better to lose a pint of blood from your veins than to have a nerve tapped. Nobody measures your nervous force as it runs away, nor bandages your brain and marrow after the operation.
There are men of esprit who are excessively exhausting to some people. They are the talkers who have what may be called jerky minds. Their thoughts do not run in the natural order of sequence. They say bright things on all possible subjects; but their zigzags rack you to death. After a jolting half-hour with one of these jerky companions, talking with a dull friend affords great relief. It is like taking the cat in your lap after holding a squirrel.
What a comfort a dull but kindly person is, to be sure, at times! A ground-glass shade over a gas-lamp does not bring more solace to our dazzled eyes than such a one to our minds.
"Do not dull people bore you ?” said one of the lady-boarders, - the same that sent me her autograph-book last week with a request for a few original stanzas, not remembering that “ The Pactolian” pays me five dollars a line for every thing I write in its columns.
“Madam,” said I (she and the century were in their teens together), “ all men are bores, except when we want them. There never was but one man whom I would trust with my latch-key.”
“Who might that favored person be?” “ Zimmerman.”
- The men of genius that I fancy most have erectile heads like the cobra-di-capello. You remember what they tell of William Pinkney, the great pleader; how, in his eloquent paroxysms, the veins of his neck would swell, and his face fush, and his eyes glitter, until he seemed on the verge of apoplexy. The hydraulic arrangements for supplying the brain with blood are only second in importance to its own organization. The bulbous-headed fellows that steam well when they are at work are the men that draw big audiences, and give us marrowy books and pictures. It is a good sign to have one's feet grow cold when he is writing. A great writer and speaker once told me that he often wrote with his feet in hot water: but for this, all his blood would have run into his head, as the mercury sometimes withdraws into the ball of a thermometer.
- You don't suppose that my remarks made at this table are like so many postage-stamps, do you, — each to be only once uttered ? If you do, you are mistaken. He must be a poor creature that does not often repeat himself. Imagine the author of the excellent piece of advice, “Know thyself,” never alluding to that sentiment again during the course of a protracted exist
ence! Why, the truths a man carries about with him are his tools; and do you think a carpenter is bound to use the same plane but once to smooth a knotty board with, or to hang up his hammer after it has driven its first nail ? I shall never repeat a conversation, but an idea often. I shall use the same types when I like, but not commonly the same stereotypes. A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations.
Sometimes, but rarely, one may be caught making the same speech twice over, and yet be held blameless. Thus a certain lecturer, after performing in an inland city where dwells a littératrice of note, was invited to meet her and others over the social teacup. She pleasantly referred to his many wanderings in his new occupation. “Yes,” he replied, “ I am like the huma, the bird that never lights, being always in the cars, as he is always on the wing.” – Years elapsed. The lecturer visited the same place once more for the same purpose. Another social cup after the lecture, and a second meeting with the distinguished laily. “You are constantly going from place to place,” she said. -- Yes," he answered, “I am like the huma,” — and finished the sentence as before.
What horrors, when it flashed over him that he had made this fine speech, word for word, twice over! Yet it was not true, as the lady might perhaps have fairly inferred, that he had embellished his conversation with the huma daily during that whole interval of years : on the contrary, he had never once thought of the odious fowl until the recurrence of precisely the same circumstances brought up precisely the saine idea. He ought to have been proud of the accuracy of his mental adjustments. Given certain factors, and a sound brain should always evolve the same fixed product with the certainty of Babbage's calculating-machine.
- What a satire, by the way, is that machine on the mere mathematician! - a Frankenstein-monster; a thing without brains and without heart, too stupid to make a blunder; that turns out results like a corn-sheller, and never grows any wiser or better, though it grind a thousand bushels of them.
I have an immense respect for a man of talents plus "the mathematics.” But the calculating power alone should seem to be the least human of qualities, and to have the smallest amount of reason in it; since a machine can be made to do the work of three or four calculators, and better than any one of them. Sometimes I have been troubled that I had not a deeper intuitive apprehension of the relations of numbers. But the triumph of the ciphering hand-organ has consoled me. I always fancy I can
hear the wheels clicking in a calculator's brain. The power of dealing with numbers is a kind of “detached-lever” arrangement, which may be put into a mighty poor watch. I suppose it is about as comion as the power of moving the ears voluntarily, which is a moderately rare endowment.
- Little localized powers, and little narrow streaks of specialized knowledge, are things men are very apt to be conceited abuut. Nature is very wise: but for this encouraging principle, how many small talents and little accomplishments would be neglected! Talk about conceit as much as you like: it is to human character what salt is to the ocean ; it keeps it sweet, and renders it endurable. Say, rather, it is like the natural unguent of the sea-fowl's plumage, which enables him to shed the rain that falls on him and the wave in which he dips. When one has had all his conceit taken out of him, when he has lost all his illusions, his feathers will soon soak through, and he will fly no more.
“So you admire conceited people, do yon?" said the young lady who has come to the city to be finished off for — the duties of life.
I am afraid you do not study logic at your school, my dear. It does not follow that I wish to be pickled in brine because I like a salt-water plunge at Nahant. I say that conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a center is to a circle. But little-minded people's thoughts move in such small circles, that five minutes conversation gives you an arc long enough to determine their whole curve. An are in the movement of a large intellect does not sensibly differ from a straight line. Even if it have the third vowel as its center, it does not soon betray it. The highest thought, that is, is the most seemingly impersonal: it does not obviously imply any individual center.
Audacious self-esteem, with good ground for it, is always imposing. What resplendent beauty that must have been which could have authorized Phryne to “peel” in the way she did! What fine speeches are those two! “Non omnis moriar," and “I have taken all knowledge to be my province." ...
- Did I not say to you a little while ago that the universe swam in an ocean of similitudes and analogies? I will not quote Cowley or Burns or Wordsworth just now to show you what thoughts were suggested to them by the simplest natural objects, such as a flower or a leaf; but I will read you a few lines, if you do not object, suggested by looking at a section of one of those chambered shells to which is given the name of Pearly Nautilus. We need not trouble ourselves about the distinction between this and the Paper Nautilus, the Argonauta of the ancients. The
name applied to both shows that each has long been compared to a ship, as you may see more fully in Webster's Dictionary, or the 66 Encyclopedia," to which he refers. If you will look into Roget's Bridgewater Treatise, you will find a figure of one of these shells, and a section of it. The last will show you the series of enlarging compartments successively dwelt in by the animal that inhabits the shell, which is built in a widening spiral. Can you find no lesson in this ?
THE CIAMBERED NAUTILUS.
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that flings
And coral reefs lie bare;
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl:
And every chambered cell,
Before thee lies revealed, —
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil:
Still, as the spiral grew,
Built up its idle door;
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering Sea,
Cast from her lap forlorn!
While on mine ear it rings,
“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll;
Leave thy low-vaulted past;
Till thou at length art free,