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AST winter the Easy Chair recalled the severe winter of a century ago, of which the history of the loyalist Judge Jones, written at the time, gives details, and whose severity is commemorated in all the traditions. It was the last year in which New York Bay was frozen so that cannon and teams passed over the ice, seven miles, to Staten Island. But the winter in which we were writing was singularly soft and pleasant, and during the whole season there was no ice in the bay. The future reader of this record may be glad to know, however, that the winter which is now ending has been also remarkably severe, and although the bay has not been frozen over, there has been a constant accumulation of floating ice, sometimes covering its whole surface. The bay will hardly be ever again closed from the city to the island. The constant passage of large and small vessels prevents the cohesion of the fields and cakes of ice which makes the solid surface, and in a possibly severer winter than this, which might threaten to shut up the bay with ice, the channels would be undoubtedly kept open by tugs employed for the purpose. The severest cold this year was just before the Christmas holidays, when the mercury fell to seven degrees below zero after a heavy snow-storm. There was already snow upon the ground, and as we write, in the early part of February, there has been continuous sleighing for seven weeks. The weather has been almost constantly cold and clear, until now, when the January thaw, belated, and a warm rain have set in. Yet on the 8th of February robins were heard in the neighborhood of the city, although the country far and wide was covered with snow, and the landscape, which at this season is so often gloomy and forbidding, was everywhere glittering and beautiful. It will probably remain so, until the grass is ready to turn green and the trees to bud. In the midst of the coldest weather the Easy Chair received on the same day news from the south of England at Bournemouth, and from Rome. In those happy latitudes there were warm airs, and violets and roses in bloom, and strolls in green lanes and upon the lawns of the villa Pamfili Doria. But before the letters arrived, the swifter telegraph had told of the ravages of frost even in those Elysiums, and especially at Bournemouth. In London the mercury was but ten degrees above zero, and in one luckless country town five degrees below—a condition of the mercury almost unknown in England. London seems to have been overwhelmed by the snow and the cold. The pictures in the illustrated papers recalled those in the London Illustrated News many and many years ago, representing the great “frost” of 1814, when a fair was held upon the frozen Thames. On the 2d of January of that year there was a heavy snow
storm, and a card printed upon the river during the “Frost Fair,” on the 4th of February, commemorates the “icy year.” Winter, indeed, is nowhere made more picturesque than in these old wood-cuts, and the new ones of this year will have a singular interest hereafter. The cold of this year almost paralyzed traffic in South England, and London active life almost stopped. The fish-mongers' trade ceased; coal nearly doubled in price, oil more than doubled, milk in some places could not be procured, and the supply of water was intercepted. The snow-storm, with the consequent rise of prices, probably doubled the expenses of London householders for the month of January, and raised the death rate for a fortnight twenty per cent. During the last winter, New England has won another victory, not in depth of snow and thickness of ice, for those are ancient and familiar triumphs of the pine over the palm. The especial victory of this season was the general adoption of the word “coasting” to describe sliding down hill. Even the New York newspapers did not disdain to recount “coasting accidents,” not meaning marine disasters to coasters, but tragedies of the hill-side, and very serious some of them were. Coasting was formerly a distinctively Yankee word as applied to this sport, but its brevity has prevailed over the circumlocution of sliding down hill. Bartlett recognizes it as an Americanism, and Webster admits it among his definitions, deriving it, possibly, from cote, a hill-side. The “buck” is a more modern word to describe the long plank attached to runners—a device which was developed from the old custom of holding the small single sleds together in a train. The buck darting down an icy slope is almost resistless, but on an ordinary “coast” it is readily manageable. Of the sleighing, which lasted for several weeks, there is no need of praise to the reader who enjoys it. Except for a few days in the Central Park, however, the snow and the sleighing were a misfortune to the city, and when the thaw began, in the second week of February, one of the newspapers graphically described the condition of New York: “the great, helpless, dirty city melted, dripped, oozed, reeked, and smelled to heaven.” The instant fair weather vanishes, the inability of New York to take care of itself appears. It is true that there are hundreds of men managing great affairs in the city with skill and ease and success who would manage the city in the same way. But they are not asked to do it, or they refuse to do it, and therefore we either have not the public spirit and intelligence equal to the work, or we do not know how to apply them to it. In either case, the word “helpless” is certainly descriptive of the great American city in a severely cold winter. There is no question that there is money enough raised to provide for the promptest and most thorough cleaning of the streets. But helpless New York knows neither how to clean its streets nor how to dispose of its refuse. When our respected reader of a century hence happens upon this page, he will know both how beautiful and cold this winter has been, and what a queer kind of paralysis has befallen the old city, to which he will look back as we, his remote and venerable ancestors, look back upon the quaint old town of Diedrich Knickerbocker.
It was lately asked whether Carlyle or Mill were the more powerful influence with this generation. At one time they were warm friends, and it was while in Mill's possession that the MS. of Carlyle's History of the French Ičevolution was carelessly burned. Of two such men it is hard to tell which to pity most for such a mishap. Carlyle rewrote his history, but Mill could never quite have forgiven himself. In the later years of Mill's life they were not intimate. Carlyle lamented the decadence of the time; Mill tried to stem it. We do not mean, of course, that Carlyle was only a Jeremiah, but he was essentially a poet, a man of imagination, of a melancholy temperament, and of a conscience almost morbid. He had the wrath and the humor, the burning passion and the grotesque exaggeration, of a poet. But Mill was pre-eminently a philosopher, with wonderful insight, ample knowledge, and severe mental training, mingled with a taste for “affairs,” which made him a great theoretical statesman. Carlyle's History of the French Revolution is a vast and splendid phantasmagoria, in which, however, the characterization is marvellously vivid and incisive. Mirabeau and Robespierre, for instance, are nowhere else so picturesquely or probably so truly drawn. The reader who has mastered that work has a prodigious picture burned into his memory, and a singularly clear and accurate conception of the character, the movement, and the scope of that great event. On the other hand, Mill's reply to Lord Brougham's strictures upon the revolution of 1848 is a statesman's overwhelming vindication of specific political action. It is without color of style, without imaginative grasp of events, except as adequate comprehension of historic and contemporary events is necessarily imaginative, but it is a demolishing and conclusive plea. In another way, his Political Economy, his Logic, his Representative Gorernment, his Essay on Liberty, treated topics at which Carlyle poured out floods of sarcastic humor, topics of immediate and profound human interest, discussed with extraordinary ability, but of which Carlyle would have said, as he said of Parliament, “Palavering, palavering, and nothing to show for it for the most part but chewed air.”
Carlyle blew a trump of moral awakening.
His gospel of the “eternal verities” was simply a gospel of “anti-humbug.” It is a world of shams, he said, and our first business is to perceive it, and to know that we ourselves are the worst shams of all, and to try to get upon a footing of simple truth and justice. Happiness is not our affair, but honesty and toil and suffering and duty. This was his sermon, and he was a preacher of such genius, his tones were at once so tender and so tremendous, that the world stopped to listen. It was not a new message. The old familiar exhortation is that now is the accepted time. Philip Sydney bade the poet look into his own heart and write. So Carlyle thundered that everybody ought to be a man here and now. He proclaimed, in stentorian tones and in twenty large volumes, that silence is better than speech. He said, sadly, that Americans, with their eternal gabble about liberty, were thirty millions of people mostly bores, and that England had gone away to mere talk, with Sir Jabesh Windbag at the head. There is no doubt of Carlyle's great influence in arousing the young mind of England and America to a high moral earnestness of purpose, and as little of Mill's direction of that mind into practical channels toward results. Mill's expositions of the proper objects, functions, and limitations of government; the clearly demonstrated justice and reason of specific policies of administration; the immense historic fortifications of his conclusions supplied by his extraordinary knowledge; his elucidation of the true process of reasoning as applied
to the management of public affairs, with his
calm and beautiful interpretations of historic episodes and characters—make him certainly the great auxiliary of Carlyle in the intellectual leadership of this generation of the English-speaking race. Neither could have spared the other. One quickened the soil, the other sowed the seed. The older men of this generation felt an enthusiam for Carlyle and for Emerson which would surprise the younger readers of those authors, and which those younger readers feel for no living man. In his charming Reminiscences of a Journalist, Mr. Charles T. Congdon, who was one of those disciples of forty years ago, recalls the Carlylese mysticism of style in which those disciples wrote their valuable lucubrations. He describes the enthusiasm with kind humor, but only as the grandfather jests over the vagaries and extravagancies of early love. The jesting is very tender. That feeling was very real in its time, and there is a tear behind the smile as the grandsire looks back upon it. In the death of Carlyle and of George Eliot two great English authors have passed away. But how much more truly of great authors than of any other form of human greatness it may be said that, although dead, they yet speak! The younger generation will know both the moralist and the novelist precisely as the older generation knew them, except that they will not witness their first impression upon the world. A singular charm attends the rising and the setting of a planet. More eyes are turned to it at those times, but its glory is always the same.
DICKENs began his literary life as a writer for the newspapers, and it is often remarked that in his greatest works he never lost the eye and the touch of a reporter. It is not perhaps so often observed that the reporters of to-day have much of the graphic and humorous power of Dickens. They are a very inquisitive, often annoying, and sometimes impertinent, guild, but there are exceedingly clever men among them, and the newspaper reader loses a great deal who does not look at the various reports of the current life of the city, at least enough to see that there is nothing which is remarkable. Within a few months there have been sketches in the papers by unknown reporters full of cleverness and humor, and there are a great many reporters employed upon the New York daily press who could do very much better “work” than the Mudfog Papers. Whether they could do more and of another kind will perhaps be known some day.
Meanwhile they have no glory, and but small wages. But their power is very great. Since the era of interviewing began there is no public man who is not at their mercy. The mere accurate description of the details and circumstances of a call upon anybody would be often very amusing, but the slightest touch of humorous exaggeration or caricature will make it ridiculous. The benefits of such a power are none the less obvious. The impostors of every kind and degree who infest all large communities, trading upon charitable and religious sentiment, and living by the sensibility and credulity of others, are fortunately also at the mercy of the reporter. Thackeray says that Fielding's satiric humor was like the lantern in the hand of the policeman, who flashes its detective light upon rascality of every grade. This service the reporter can render and does render to society. The unknown, unpretending man who rings at an impostor's door, and quietly announces that he is a reporter who wishes to ask a few questions, is Fielding suddenly flashing his lantern. The next morning the whole city, the whole country, sees Mawworm at full length, and the further prosperity of his plot is foiled. This has occurred several times in New York, and it is one of the unnoted but immensely valuable services of the press.
It is a capital exposure in a late newspaper of a frequent form of charity humbug in New York that furnishes the text for this discourse, and it is curiously illustrative of the way in which knavery avails itself of every progressive step of civilization. A clever sharper observes that the season is severe, and that there is much comment upon the suffering of the
poor. He also observes—for he is not merely a sharper, but clever—that the reports of charitable societies and committees and experts testify to the growth of pauperism as largely due to careless and indiscriminate giving without previous inquiry. He knows that nothing is more distasteful to most persons than personal inquiry and trouble about the poor. There is a very general conviction that there are hundreds of people starving, and those who are of this opinion are able and ready to give relief if only they are not obliged to take trouble. Here are all the conditions for a prosperous confidence game of charity, and the sharper begins. The Rev. Dr. Slyman—for a clerical title is found most useful—issues a circular full of the most modern theories of philanthropy, deploring the pauperization produced by ignorant alms-giving, mentioning a few statistics, quoting a little Scripture, and depicting the suffering and poverty which accuse the wealth and humanity of the great city. He selects the names of a few conspicuous citizens, whom he marshals as directors, telling each one that the others have consented to serve, that there is no kind of pecuniary responsibility, that it is merely a work of charity, of which the agents will assume the drudgery, and that all that is asked is the weight of their names as honorary officers. The number of excellent persons in the city who are willing to do this is prodigious, and it is amazing. It is also perfectly well known to Dr. Slyman, who trades upon that willingness as upon other weaknesses and virtues. The organization is soon completed. Dr. Slyman constitutes himself secretary, the active executive officer, at a liberal salary. Mr. Slyman junior, his son, and perhaps the excellent Mrs. Slyman, his wife, are made collectors, also with a liberal compensation of percentage upon collections. An office is hired, books are procured, and the “Hand-to-Hand,” or the “Hand-to-Mouth,” or the “House-to-House,” charity is ready for business. The Rev. Dr. Slyman has made it his task to know the names of rich citizens, and to know also those who are charitably disposed. Mrs. Slyman waits upon one of them with the circular. Everything seems to be fair. The names of the honorary president and of the directors are known to the rich citizen. He knows that the season is very sharp, and the suffering of the poor severe. He inquires a little, and ascertains that the most scrupulous care is taken to relieve only those who are found to be truly deserving. For every dollar of relief which is given a receipt is signed by the worthy beneficiary. The books and receipts are at the office open to inspection. Indeed, as the rich citizen must plainly see, the “Hand-to-Mouth” is a society organized upon the most approved principles of modern philanthropy, to serve as an intermediary between those whom Heaven has blessed with abundance and their fellowbeings whom misfortune and the hand of God have reduced to penury. The rich citizen seems to see it. He is willing to give, and he is only too happy to give through an agent who takes all the trouble of verifying the actual necessity. He gives twenty, fifty—some, indeed, have given Dr. Slyman as much as one hundred—dollars. The collection proceeds assiduously. A few widows and old persons are found to sign receipts. But the money collected is expended chiefly for the salary of the secretary, after deducting the commission of the collectors. The rich citizen is gratified to know that he has taken care so to give as to relieve only the worthy poor, and Dr. Slyman is gratified to know that the worthy family of Slyman is supported in great comfort.
This is a very meat and symmetrical swindle, which is practiced in the city of New York with a great deal of success, and one of the swindlers was lately exposed in the most delightful manner by a felicitous reporter. He was so forbearing as to conceal names, but the particular confidence game was known to the initiated, and the description was as laughable as a sketch by Boz. The rich citizen and the charitably disposed must not suppose, however, that there is no suffering to be relieved because Dr. Slyman trades upon their kind feelings. He could not trade in that way if it were not known that there are suffering poor. The rich citizen is aware that relief in a great city can not be properly given without inquiry. He knows that to give without inquiry is merely to pour money into the till of the liquor-shop. But he did not reflect that in giving to Mrs. Slyman or to the doctor he gave without inquiry. He did not consider that his first inquiry must be about the family Slyman. He knew, indeed, the names of the honorary president and directors, but he had not inquired whether they had authorized the use of their names, and whether they knew anything of Dr. Slyman. Yet he need not close his purse in despair. There are societies of inquiry and relief, which he will trust the more, the more that he inquires. It is because of the value and efficiency of such societies that Dr. Slyman speculates upon charitable feeling, and the rich citizen and all other citizens owe the heartiest thanks to the reporter who, in humorously unmasking Slyman, has exposed a common and crafty imposition.
THE editorial letter-box recently produced a letter from a correspondent whose communication had been returned as unavailable, begging the editor to treat such communications—to which the harsh epithet of “rejected” was applied—with some shadow of courtesy. As it is the custom and tradition of this office to return all unavailable offerings as promptly and as courteously as possible, there were general surprise and incredulity over this letter, until upon inquiry it appeared that
by some mischance it had been returned without a word of explanation or regret. There is no greater indignity than to receive one of your own letters returned in an envelope without remark. It is a kind of insult to which it is not easy to submit. It means in effect that the writer of the letter is beneath notice. Now, although this may be perfectly true, it is not likely to seem to be true to the writer, and although the notice of the returner may be something of which the writer has no desire whatever, and although he may be entirely indifferent whether he is above it or below it, still the direct intimation of the fact is intensely disagreeable. This feeling, however, is very much deeper and stronger with an author. His work, whatever it be—essay, or poem, or tale—is the result of labor and study and thought. It represents to him fame, or pride, or pleasure—in any case, the hope of compensation. Hopes and wishes and dreams, days and nights of care and toil, are embraced in his contribution. That manuscript—folded, let us hope, and not rolled—is a palimpsest, written all over, deep upon deep and layer beneath layer, with things unutterable. It is the wing upon which the author means to rise and float in the empyrean. It is the golden gate opening into ease and fame. It is a key, a trumpet, a Jacob's ladder; it is all that Wordsworth fancies the sonnet to be. And not only that one manuscript, but every other. The huge pile of documents large and small which the faithful mail brings every day from every quarter, and under which the editorial table groans every morning, as the Lord Mayor's board groans with the savory feast, is a pile of such keys and trumpets and ladders, such wings and golden gates. Every individual manuscript has the same value and character to the author, and ought no more to be rudely or roughly handled than the most airy silver frost-work. But unhappily we are girt about with hard conditions of time and space. In beginning his article upon Lord Burleigh, Macaulay says of Burleigh's biographer and biography: “Such a book might before the deluge have been considered as light reading by Hilpah and Shalum. But unhappily the life of man is now threescore years and ten, and we can not but think it somewhat unfair in Dr. Nares to demand from us so large a portion of so short an existence.” Too often it seems to the editor, even were he Melanchthon or St. John, that Dr. Nares is still at large, and still writing with an antediluvian amplitude. But the editor does not permit himself to be impatient. He too has been in Arcady. He too is an author, a son of the genus irritabile; and he has no other thought than to break his decisions to Dr. Nares, when they point to unavailability, as gently as possible. But how shall this be done? With many of the MSS. come little notes apprising the editor that the writer is thinking of devoting himself to literature, but that he is not yet quite decided to what branch, and will the editor read carefully the accompanying article, and then inform the author, first, whether he has a greater genius for prose or poetry; second, whether, in the first case, he should devote himself to history, metaphysics, or natural philosophy, and in the second, to epical, dramatical, or lyrical verse; third, what general course of preparation and study, with hints of methods of composition, the editor would advise; and fourth, what miscellaneous directions in regard to a literary life he has to give. —And the life of man is still but threescore years and ten! There is not time enough in the day for the editor to read all that the day brings, and to do his duty to it, and here are a lıundred requests to do a hundred things which are not his duty. Yet he knows by sympathy the sensitiveness of Dr. Nares's soul, and what can he do? A distinguished public man once advised the Easy Chair never to send a letter written by a secretary. “Write yourself, if you write but a word,” said the voice of experience; “I have tricd it, and every constituent feels a little aggrieved if he is put off with a secretary.” But the editor of a great magazine can no more write to every contributor than a country physician in full practice can walk to visit every patient. He has no alternative. The editor must send a form of words, courteous but explicit, to break the news of unavailability, and he must remit the requests of elaborate advice and direction to the seclusion of the w—steb–sk—t. It is indeed his duty, a duty which every editor willingly acknowledges, to consider the feelings of contributors. But has Dr. Nares no duty toward the editor? And is it not among those duties to write legibly on one side of the paper, to fold the MS., and not to roll it and hermetically seal it all around? and considering the engrossing occupation of the editor, and the brevity of human life, is it not the author's solemn duty to expect from him only a concise and courteous statement, made perfectly legible in type, that the valued communication is returned, without the least expression of judgment upon its merits, and solely because it is found not to be exactly available 7 More than this inexorable time and space do not permit. More than this the humane author will not expect of an editor. But all of this the editor owes to the author. This is what this Magazine designs for every correspondent who favors it with an offering. From this lay pulpit of an Easy Chair the Magazine will gladly preach from time to time a brief sermon to the great congregation of those who are intending to contribute. But the members of that congregation must not expect an individual homily. The friendly correspondent who thought himself slighted was quick to acknowledge, the explanation, and to say that printed courtesy was no less courtesy. He frankly said that he should have made no
moan had he been solaced at first with the polite assurance of unavailability which somehow slipped out of the envelope. The Easy Chair respectfully begs every correspondent to remember that if his poem, or essay, or tale, returns to him without a word, it is because the word of thanks and the painful allusion to unavailability have somehow slipped out of the envelope.
Lord DUNDREARY is gone. There will be actors who will represent him, and imitate his tones and his looks and his movements, there will be laughter and applause, but Lord Dundreary is gone. How many thousands of friends he had who can not recall him without a smile, who remember the evenings that he cheered, the vapors that he conjured away, the irresistible drollery of his aspect, the subtle satire of his whole impression ' It was the same everywhere. We have seen him in a wretched play-house in a small city, crowded and overflowing, and we laughed all the evening long. There was no respite. It was a continuous hysteric. The stage was small, the scenery ludicrous, everything at sixes and sevens, and his lordship took it all in and used it. It was only fuel to his fire. We all agreed, in the faintness of universal and prolonged laughter, that there was never anything so laughable. The roaring old farces, Raising the Wind, and others, good as they are and were (does the kind reader, does Mr. Congdon, remember Browne as Jeremy Diddler at the old National 7), seemed in the comparison of the moment a little inadequate. For how could a cup be fuller than full How could we possibly do more than laugh every moment f
Subsequently it appeared that none of us recalled any play, we only remembered Lord Dundreary. He filled the scene. If he had said nothing, if he had done nothing, it would have been the same. We should have sat shaking and aching, and while we giggled and snickered we should have wondered how anybody could possibly be so foolish. The jokes seem a little flat as they are recalled. Man made to walk upright and to strike his head against the stars may be a little ashamed to have found an extravaganza so irresistibly comic, but could Lord Dundreary come again, the flatness of the jokes would vanish, and the star-striking head would quiver with glee, as the heart now beats with grateful pleasure and with sorrowful regret.
Lord Dundreary was fun incarnate, like Pickwick. Every attempt of a spectator to deal with him, to classify him, to interpret him, made the enjoyment only more overwhelming. We once heard a critic attempt to explain him, to reduce his lordship to a consistent theory, to expound the “laws of his being.” Such a proposition made gravely was worthy of his lordship himself. It was gilding the gold and painting the lily of sheer fun. There was only one thing to do with such a