« PreviousContinue »
Thus Stoffle was at last the ideal of able editors; and now honors crowded upon him, and riches; he was not only a public writer but also a public speaker; and at last the final tribute which Yankee curiosity pays to Yankee notoriety or fame, was rendered also to him: he was invited to lecture. Among other invitations came one from the students of his college, who, remembering that this eminent man had once studied within their walls, asked him to speak to them also the words of wisdom with which he was sureharged.
Great as Stoffle had come to be, you are to understand that he had yet a heart in his bosom; and the perusal of this note of invitation, "written by permission of the Reverend Doctor Wiseacre," and signed by the Faculty as well as the committee of students, drew his thoughts back to the dear simple old school-days which he had not very often remembered in these busy later years. For a little while he lived the old life over again, with all its hopes, and fears, and loves; which, looking back upon them now, from his proud eminence, seemed to him so curiously trivial. "Poor Lucy!" he sighed, as her soft voice resounded dimly over that dead past; and then remembered with a smile which was nearly a laugh, that amusing lecture on the Daily Press, which the old Doctor had delivered to Lucy and himself one evening—so many centuries ago.
"What a singular fossil a College President gets to be!" he smiled to himself, knocking the white ash from the end of a mild Cabana. "He was right in his advice to me—by good luck— but how odd! How it would astonish the old cock to show him the reality of which he sees only the beautiful but impossible shadow! But he wouldn't believe me."
He prepared himself carefully for his appearance before the College audience. They had no votes for him, to be sure; but he felt more solicitous to gain honor here than almost aught elsewhere—here, where something told him ho deserved it less. The lecture had for its subject the glories of free government; and in it ho took occasion to speak gratefully of their venerable and honored President, to whose sound instruction and sage advice he owed it, he was pleased to say, that he, starting in life as a poor friendless youth, without any advantages which might not be obtained by any poor man's son, now stood before them what he was. Nothing touches an American audience so sensibly as this now tolerably stale twaddle about self-made men. They do not see that, in this country, to be born poor is to enter the race unencumbered, and that in truth it is far more difficult for a rich man's son to acquire useful knowledge, energy, and tact, than to crawl through the eye of a needle. Let us hope that some day this humbug of struggling poverty and work ending trinmphantly in a brown-stone front on the Fifth Avenue will also be exploded; and that we will cease to count our victories by the dollar's worth.
Lucy was among the audience you may be sure. She could not but remember, and with a
slight parig from a wound long ago healed over, that this was an occasion to which she had once 'looked as one of especial pride to herself. And now—
The lecture being done, and properly applauded, the lecturer approached Mrs. Professor White, and congratulating her on her good looks, begged to be introduced to her husband.
Lucy was rather glad when Doctor Wiseacre bore her old-time lover off to his house. It was no small treat for the worthy President, living all his life in retirement, to meet a man fresh from the outer world, and living, so to speak, in the face of affairs. To rub himself against such a brilliant man of the world, was a cheering thing for the dear old fogy, who, though he thought Stoffle as a public man by no means in the right, and sometimes shuddered at what seemed to him very unscrupulous conduct, could not deny him splendid talents—nor himself the credit of having drawn them out.
Sitting cozily by the blazing fire, they rambled back to old times, and at last the President said: "Well, Stoffle, I scaree thought my prophecy about your career would have had so great a fulfilling. I suppose you would not exchange your present honors for the poet's wreath you once longed for?"
"No, indeed," replied Stoffle, emphatically; "that was one of the silly vagaries of my youth, of which I was soon cured when once I came in contact with practical life. Our time has not come yet for poetry, and I hope it never will. There never was a practical poet."
"Perhaps not; and, after all, the greatest poets could not do more than you gentlemen of the press are doing. I don't agree with your views altogether, you know—"
"Why, no; but I think that is because you mistake the whole scope of journalism," interrupted Stoffle, determined now to give this old fogy a shot. "You are not practical. I remember, as though it were yesterday, that fine speech of yours about the daily paper. But I assure you you are very much mistaken. It is an error to suppose that a daily journal has a mission any more than any other commereial enterprise. One man sells cotton, and another man sells papers, and it is the business of each to be successful—that is to say, to gain the best profit he can from his investment. Each alike brings to his undertaking a certain capital, and a certain amount of business talent, experience, and shrewdness. Every merehant has his publie, whom ho is obliged to please, or fail. A sensible merehant, who desires to keep out of the bankruptcy court, will, of course, strive to make his public as numerous as possible. At the same time no merehant's public is so exacting and capricious as ours, because none needs to be so large; and therefore to carry on a newspaper successfully requires perhaps—though I say it—more talent and tact and energy and shrewdness than any other business in the world.
"The first business of a daily journal is to give news—all the news—more news, if possible, than any other paper gives, and of a more attractive kind. This is the prime necessity, before which every thing else pales. Of course it must happen occasionally that I am foreed to publish something which, could I afford it, I would pot print; and, more frequently, I am obliged to magnify rumors to-day only to contradict them to-morrow; and these things are not pleasant to an editor who desires also to be a gentleman. But what is an unfortunate man to do? There must be newspapers, because the public needs them; and if I do not publish a certain statement some one else will, and my readers go off to another paper. Our public gives us no choice. It is our master. If I do not please it I lose it; if I do not keep up my cireulation my advertising fails, and then I sink money, and presently come to a wind up— just as a dry-goods man would who should fail to keep such goods as his lady customers wish. You look sober, Sir; but are we to be less wise than A. T. Stewart?
"Then you spoke of shaping public opinion. You never were more mistaken. An able daily appears to shape public opinion, but it only leads it. The man who has the loudest lungs in a crowd can lead it if tic will. But he can not lead it away from its purpose. He can only place himself skillfully at its head, and, knowing its aims, submit to be pushed on in advance. Now a party in the State is only a larger mob. There are always at least two parties; and it is the able editor's first business to ascertain which of the two is the most likely to win, and to lead that. For the biggest crowd is the majority, and the majority rules, and it the able daily is therefore bound to lead. How about principle, do you say? Don't you see that there is no principle involved in party warfare? Certain men want power—are ambitious to rule the nation. They set the people by the ears about an abstraction—persuade the nation that all depends upon the success of this or that man; and thus play the game of polities. Show me one man of them that has any real principle of action other than that very important one of you tickle me and I'll tickle you. There is no right or principle involved, and if there was it wouldn't matter; for, nftcr all our squabbles, God overrules it all for the best.
"It is an editor's business to know what his public likes, and to give them that. It is a shrewd editor's business to foresee in what direction public opinion is next to turn, nud to be the first to sound the advance in this new direction. And it is his first duty, when he has by unwise haste taken a wrong step, to take it back. Ignorant people cry down the London Times because, having yesterday blown hot, to-day it blows cold on the same subject. But therein lies the secret of its immense success. Yesterday it made a mistake. Before night that mistake was seen. This morning it comes out with an able article which apprars, but only appears, to shape the public opinion. In fact, it only gives it voice; and this, so far as the editorial
department is concerned, is the true course of the daily—to furnish words for the ideas which rest dormant and inarticulate in the minds of its public.
'' Conscience, do you say? But, my dear Sir, conscience has nothing to do with it. Don't you see that plainly enough? Of course we all want to do what is right. But a newspaper is not a moral agent. It is a commereial speculation, whose only duty is success. A dry-goods man would be thought insane who should insist on selling goods which only a few of the community want. And just in the same way a newspaper aims to get as large a public as possible. If that public is vacillating, if its moral sense is low, if it cares little for principle, and much for interest—that is a misfortune, to be sure; but the newspaper is not responsible for it. It has only to follow. It is useless to set yourself to impracticable things. In this world twice two makes four, and that is a principle we can't change. I do not say that an editor is not to have opinions of his own. God forbid! He can not help having them; and the abler he is the more uupractical and impracticable his private opinions are likely to be. Now it is his first duty to be practical. And if an editor is not successful, what is the use of him? can you tell mo that, Sir? He had much better saw wood.
"You think the public sensible, and in the main right. The public is an ass, and can kick. You, simple-hearted and right-minded country gentleman, think I do not know what the public wants. But is not my paper successful? and is not that the only criterion? You object to scandal; but I—who do not like it either— know that the paper which gives the most will sell best. You think an editor should be governed by high moral principle. He ought not to be such an ass as to let any body else use him—that I grant you. But the public does not care for principle. It is a pig—and likes to have its ribs tickled. Let the news be exciting, and it cares not if it be also true. Let the article be slashing, and it matters little whom it slashes. Let the story be strong enough, and you will see that every man has read it, by the ficreeness with which every man abuses the paper that gives it."
There was a long silence when Stoffle was done. Each sat gazing into the fire, und busy with his own thoughts. The old president looked grieved und n good deal surprised at the doctrine which his scholar had just laid down to him. Stoffle was so plausible that even a president and doctor of divinity may be excused for asking himself if this was indeed the truth of the matter.
At last the Reverend Doctor Wiseacre looked up into Stoffle's flushed face, and said, "I am sorry I advised you to go to New York."
"And I," said the editor, bowing gracefully, "shall never cease to be grateful for your sound counsel."
'' Some day you will think differently. Aaron was not the last high-priest who set up a golden I calf for his people to worship, crying, 'These be your gods, O Israel!' But Aaron repented— and so I trust will you. 'Except the Lord i build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchBUM waketh but in vain. It is in vain for I you to rise up early, to sit up late, to cat the j bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.'"
"That is all very true,"repliedStofflc; "but don't you see you are not practical, my dear Sir; you are not practical."
Saying which he rose to retire; and here I propose to leave him. The historian should be judge and not udvocato. It is his to state the case fairly and trust the verdict to the jury of readers, each of whom must at last settle this question for himself, of " What is best?"
A CLERGYMAN'S ADVENTURE.
IHAD not been long settled over my first charge, when one Tuesday afternoon a stranger was ushered into my study. He entered with a low bow, shook me long and cordially by the hand, placed his bran-new hat upon the sofa, took his seat beside it, and proceeded to explain the object of his visit. He was a very tall man —so tall that I at once set him down as a Pole. Mis face was so slashed and scarred, that I was at once reminded of Smolenske and Borodino. He wore a suit of fresh black cloth, with a shiny satin vest, with an alarming displayof breast-pins, chains, and rings. His dress was altogether out of keeping with his face, hands, and figure, all of which told of hard daily toil.
To this day I am ignorant of the nation to which my visitor belonged. But of one thing I am sure: it was to a nation whose language is peculiarly complicated. He talked with the utmost volubility; but I could not understand a word. I only wondered how it was possible that any meaning at all could be conveyed by a torrent of sounds that seemed to me as senseless as the noise of a stream of gravel pouring down a cliff. I would no more try to master that language than I would attempt to learn the language of birds or insects. I was unwilling to hurt his feelings, and for a while suffered him to talk on, without intimating that I did understand him in the least.
At last it occurred to me that there might be something important for me to know in what he was saying; and so at, or rather before the first pause, I told him politely that I could not understand. He only seemed to take it as confirmation of the fact that I did understand, and went on all the more confidently.
"There may be some person sick," I said to myself, and shook my head in token of not understanding. To my dismay he only seemed to take it as a negation to some request he was making. Looking at me a moment with surprise, not to say virtuous indignation, he resumed his line of remark, increased, as I could
now fancy, into argument. I became really uneasy.
"He may be a father wishing me to bury his dead child,"I said to myself. "Perhaps a husband who has hurried from the side of a dying wife!"
I rose on the instant, assured him with deepest emphasis that I had not the faintest idea of his meaning, and closed by shaking my head in violent negative. He gazed upon me in painful astonishment. I read bis thoughts in his eyes.
"And can it be possible," he thought, as he stood before me, "that here, in this Christian land, there can be a man calling himself a Christian minister who deliberately refuses such a request as this I have now madel"
I fairly perspired. How could I understand him or get him to understand me! Here were we two in arm's-length of each other, and yet leagues apart. And so we stood looking at each other over the gulf that yawned impassable between. Suddenly an idea smote me.
"It is impossible," I reasoned with myself, "that he can be upon an errand which evidently interests him so, and a woman not be in some way involved therein. Men never are very deeply interested in any thing, unless it involves a woman in some way." Now " Frau" I regarded as a Sclavonie, a sort of root-word of all languages, to signify woman.
"Frau t" I tried, interrogatively.
Ho clutched this rope's end I had thrown him convulsively, and resumed his torrent of explanation. I only waited calmly until the gust hud blown itself out.
"Frau I" I said, as a point of departure, and then placed my hand in a feeble mauner upon head and side, and with a suffering countenance and groans of deep distress endeavored to convey to him my idea of the precarious state of his wife's health. At the same time I took up my hat and cane, and made motions toward the door as if to accompany him.
That ho perfectly understood me I saw plainly; but instead of starting to go with me to his afflicted wife he shook his head in violent refusal, took up his own hat to put it down carefully, and then took a seat on the sofa again, crossed his leg over his knee, keeping his eye in mine all the time, to let me gather the direct reverse.
I saw it all at once! Poor man, his wife had been sick, but it was too late for me to accompany him to his home now. It was desolated, she was dead; ho was alone in the world. He wished me to attend, at the proper hour, her funeral. How stupid in mo not to see it all before! how greatly I must have lacerated his bleeding bosom! Yes, I understood now. And 1 hastened to let him know it. Still standing before him I began again—certain this time.
II Frau f" I asked. He eagerly assented.
befits one beside the dead. With pantomimic motions of my hands I described — while ho watched mo with quick and even painful attention—his beloved wife lying before me shrouded for the grave. I went so far as to place her in the coffin, to gaze upon her face with a last look, to screw down the lid, to accompany her cold remains, with slow and dejected gait, to the grave. To avoid any possibility of mistake this time, I even lowered the coffined body of her he loved most on earth into its grave, held Burial Service over her with book in hand, filled up the grave, heaped up the earth thereupon, and turned sadly away. I even had some thought of erecting a monument before I had done, when I was arrested in my pantomime by my friend, the afflicted husband. He understood me perfectly. In fact, it would have been impossible for him not to have understood my meaning unless he had been stone-blind. I saw, soon after the funeral of his beloved wife began, that some emotion was kindled in his soul. "Very natural," I thought, " under the cireumstances of his melancholy case; only, let me go on so that there can be no longer any possible lack of understanding between us."
When I had completed my delineation he slowly rose from the sofa and stood up before me, very tall, immensely broad-chested, exceedingly angry! In the pallor of his countenance the scars thereupon were very distinct. Yes, his eyes told me, without any need of words, that he was exasperated to the last degree. I thought of Smolenske and Borodino, and trembled in my boots. But I was unconscious of any intention of offending, and looked at him fearlessly and inuocently as a child. For a moment he stood looking at me with steady, ficry eye, working at his bristling mustache with a nervous hand, as if on the point of striking me. I never faced a man so terribly angry as he was in my life; it was like having the hot breath of a lion on one's very cheek! When I came to understand matters afterward, my only wonder was that he had not actually struck me. My being a minister, probably, went far to shield me.
When the certainty that I could mean nothing offensive to him slowly broke upon him, the muscles of his set lips relaxed, his eye softened, he sank back upon the sofa, first with a smile, then began laughing, then fairly rolled and rocked with purple laughter until the sofa creaked under him. Now his booted feet would fly up into the air as he fell back almost fainting with laughter, and then they would come down again with a stamp on the floor as he rose to the surface again almost suffocated. Then he would stamp yet again on the floor, and shake himself, and draw his face together and attempt nu explanation, but again the ludicrous idea would come upon him, and over he would roll again in agonies of laughter.
It was now my turn to be offended. After gazing upon him for a while I quietly turned away, sat down at my desk, drew my paper and ink toward me, and composed myself to write. This served to sober his amusement somewhat. At last he arose, and in a very respectful man
ner began an elaborate apology in his unknown tongue, but suddenly checked himself. "Fraut" he asked.
I nodded my head, and waited his success at pantomime. But at the word the ludicrous idea, whatever it was, came upon him afresh, and over he went again on the sofa in convulsions of mirth, which were probably only aggravated by my dignificd solemnity. With what vivid freshness the whole scene comes to my mind as I now write! It is as if it had occurred only an hour ogo. Things make a deeper impression occurring early in life, I suppose.
My friend obtained enough mastery of himself at last to get up from the sofa and stand somewhat composed beside me. The afternoon sun was shining full into my study through a western window. He pointed to it, and looked at me interrogatively. I nodded in assent. He then slowly traced with his extended finger its downward course. When he had got it below the horizon, ho again asked me with his eyes if I understood? Certainly. He wished me to go somewhere, or do something, when the sun was down. Yes, I understood that! He then, with my pen—which he most politely borrowed —wrote an address on the back of my next Sabbath's sermon. Calling my earnest attention to it, he found I understood from my repeated nods, took up his hat, began another apology in his unknown tongue, but checked himself, shook me cordially by the hand, und left. I heard a kind of strangled cough from him as he descended my steps, and looking out of the window I saw him walking away, bowed with laughter as he went.
Young ministers are specially jealous of their dignity. I felt that mine had been seriously compromised. At one time I had determined not to notice the matter any more, tear up the address, and forget all about it. But no. I had given a kind of dumb promise. Besides, I was really curious to know what my cabalistic visitor wanted with me.
There was no one at home but myself. So, after a solitary cup of tea that night, I sallied out to keep my appointment. It was a clear, moonlight night. I remember it well, for when I had arrived on the street indicated in the address, I stopped and read that address again by the moonlight with ease. Yes, there I was, obedient to the direction, as far as I could make it out. What next? I walked up the street on one side, and down on the other, in vain. I had almost determined to abandon the whole matter in disgust, and return home. At this instant I observed a group of persons enjoying the beautiful night upon their front piazza near by. Crossing over, it occurred to me, as I went, that this might be the very house I was in seareh of, and these individuals were now watching for my arrival. And so, arrived at the gate and attracting the attention of the party, I said,
"I believe I am expected here—am I not?"
I remember as distinctly as if it occurred this morning the profound silence in which my question was received. There were several young ladies on the piazza, and therefore the silence soon broke into a general titter by way of reply. Being young, I was greatly embarrassed. If I only knew any clew by which to indicate the person or the house of which I was in search, I could have asked and received assistance.
"Pardon me, I have got lost," I explained. "Do you know of any one in this neighborhood who is very ill, or who is to be buried?"—although that was preposterous at such an hour.
No, they knew of none such. I remember there was a young lady with particularly merry black eyes, in a pert little apron trimmed with red, who acted as spokeswoman for the party. They all caught the spirit of my situation— seemed deeply interested.
"Do you know, then," I asked as a desperate chance, '' of any one to be married here or any where in this neighborhood to-night?"
My question was received with shouts of laughter—they were just in that temper. As to the black-eyed miss in the coquettish apron, she assured me, with tears of fun in her eyes, that she was sure no one was to be married in their house that night; she "only wished there was!" I thought it was due them—I certainly had nothing else to do, for I did not know where to go —so I leaned upon the gate and recounted in brief the visit I had received, the quandary I was now in. It is always the best plan to be perfectly straightforward and frank in all of one's dealings. It is by far the most direct as well as surest and smoothest road through any difficulty hewever brambly. I found it so in this case. And I will only say that, from this singular beginning, an acquaintance sprang up between myself and this family on their piazza which by no meaus ceased that night. Becoming acquainted with me in this odd manner, the entire family came to my chureh on the eusuing Sabbath for the first time in their lives. And so matters went on until they became first habitual attendants, and finally substantial and working members. By the blessing of God, human nature has a thousand various handles if we are only gentle enough and expert enough to grasp them.
I had hardly finished my narration to the party on the piazza, when I observed a tall gentleman hurrying up the street on the other side. The same person had hurried down it a few moments before, and it occurred to me it might be my friend in seareh of me. With a hurried adieu I hastened across and found it even so. lie seemed greatly pleased to see me. Greatly relieved in mind myself, I willingly accompanied mm. Conversation we did not attempt; wo knew it to be but a mockery.
A few hundred yards and we reached a neat residence. I have learned since how to detect the residence of a foreigner to a certainty by what I saw in this and other like cases. It would seem that foreigners of the poorer class have, in their own country, no homes of their own. They reside rather in rented buildings—
mere tenants. As soon as arrived in this country, such a foreigner becomes possessed of a home of his own, and for the first time in his life. It is to him his own!—a kind of pet, a large toy, a joy and a pride. He is apt to put on altogether too much piazza, and balcony, and cornice, and balustrade. He is too prone to clap a gilt weather-cock, perhaps a small cupola, on top of it. He paints it in hues too many and too warm. Ho fills his yard energetically with enormous pigeon-houses and hen-coops. There is so much winding gravel walk no grass is left. The garden is taken up with arbors and summer-houses, dials and vases. It is all innocent, laudable— yet one can not help smiling as one rides by. It is like playing baby-house.
But my business lay iuside my friend's residence. It was filled with guests—every man, woman, and child evidently a foreigner. After a little silence at my entrance all resumed their conversation, and not a syllable could I catch. I even attempted an easy conversation with a prim lady of about fifty, dressed in a black silk, with a wreath of artificial flowers in her hair, by whose side I was placed; but it was in vain; she only seemed terrified that the attention of the company should be drawn to her, and shook her head in token of being unable to understand; and nothing was left but to look around and wait. There was an excess of paintings upon the wall and ornaments upon the mantle—an overerowding of musical iustruments and furniture generally about the room.
But what was I there to do? There was the company to be sure—but for what purpose? There was a long array of drinking-glasses upon the side-board, but each held a little stack of cigars. Extending along one side of the room was a long table, but whatever was on it was carefully covered with a snowy table-cloth. My friends around me were all waiting painfully for something. The lady in the flowers by my side was in nervous suspeuse. I noticed her thin, long hands actually tremble as they lay in strong contrast upon the lap of her black silk. My only acquaintance present was my visitor. He sat a short distance from me, awkward and uneasy in his fine clothes, anxious for something to begin. He looked at me wistfully. I returned his gaze with the serene calmness of profound ignorance. He looked at me imploringly as the moments rolled by. I became intent in my gaze upon a battle-scene—a vast amount of cannonsmoke, bayonets, and butchery compassed in a little frame upon the wall opposite. I knew nothing on earth to do but wait—and I waited heroically.
Suddenly my host arose. Not in vain had he been at Smolcusko and Borodino. A deed was to be done. No man there besides would lead the van. He would. At one stride he stood before me, drawing up the lady in the black silk and artificial wreath to his side as he did so. As they stood before me, side by side, with waiting eyes, it all flashed upon me. The iustant before I was absolutely ignorant what I was want