The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1

Contents:
Author: Charles Dudley Warner

II

When the fire on the hearth has blazed up and then settled into steady radiance, talk begins. There is no place like the chimneycorner for confidences; for picking up the clews of an old friendship; for taking note where one’s self has drifted, by comparing ideas and prejudices with the intimate friend of years ago, whose course in life has lain apart from yours. No stranger puzzles you so much as the once close friend, with whose thinking and associates you have for years been unfamiliar. Life has come to mean this and that to you; you have fallen into certain habits of thought; for you the world has progressed in this or that direction; of certain results you feel very sure; you have fallen into harmony with your surroundings; you meet day after day people interested in the things that interest you; you are not in the least opinionated, it is simply your good fortune to look upon the affairs of the world from the right point of view. When you last saw your friend,—less than a year after you left college,—he was the most sensible and agreeable of men; he had no heterodox notions; he agreed with you; you could even tell what sort of a wife he would select, and if you could do that, you held the key to his life.

Well, Herbert came to visit me the other day from the antipodes. And here he sits by the fireplace. I cannot think of any one I would rather see there, except perhaps Thackery; or, for entertainment, Boswell; or old, Pepys; or one of the people who was left out of the Ark. They were talking one foggy London night at Hazlitt’s about whom they would most like to have seen, when Charles Lamb startled the company by declaring that he would rather have seen Judas Iscariot than any other person who had lived on the earth. For myself, I would rather have seen Lamb himself once, than to have lived with Judas. Herbert, to my great delight, has not changed; I should know him anywhere,—the same serious, contemplative face, with lurking humor at the corners of the mouth,—the same cheery laugh and clear, distinct enunciation as of old. There is nothing so winning as a good voice. To see Herbert again, unchanged in all outward essentials, is not only gratifying, but valuable as a testimony to nature’s success in holding on to a personal identity, through the entire change of matter that has been constantly taking place for so many years. I know very well there is here no part of the Herbert whose hand I had shaken at the Commencement parting; but it is an astonishing reproduction of him,—a material likeness; and now for the spiritual.

Such a wide chance for divergence in the spiritual. It has been such a busy world for twenty years. So many things have been torn up by the roots again that were settled when we left college. There were to be no more wars; democracy was democracy, and progress, the differentiation of the individual, was a mere question of clothes; if you want to be different, go to your tailor; nobody had demonstrated that there is a man-soul and a woman-soul, and that each is in reality only a half-soul,—putting the race, so to speak, upon the half-shell. The social oyster being opened, there appears to be two shells and only one oyster; who shall have it? So many new canons of taste, of criticism, of morality have been set up; there has been such a resurrection of historical reputations for new judgment, and there have been so many discoveries, geographical, archaeological, geological, biological, that the earth is not at all what it was supposed to be; and our philosophers are much more anxious to ascertain where we came from than whither we are going. In this whirl and turmoil of new ideas, nature, which has only the single end of maintaining the physical identity in the body, works on undisturbed, replacing particle for particle, and preserving the likeness more skillfully than a mosaic artist in the Vatican; she has not even her materials sorted and labeled, as the Roman artist has his thousands of bits of color; and man is all the while doing his best to confuse the process, by changing his climate, his diet, all his surroundings, without the least care to remain himself. But the mind?

It is more difficult to get acquainted with Herbert than with an entire stranger, for I have my prepossessions about him, and do not find him in so many places where I expect to find him. He is full of criticism of the authors I admire; he thinks stupid or improper the books I most read; he is skeptical about the "movements" I am interested in; he has formed very different opinions from mine concerning a hundred men and women of the present day; we used to eat from one dish; we could n’t now find anything in common in a dozen; his prejudices (as we call our opinions) are most extraordinary, and not half so reasonable as my prejudices; there are a great many persons and things that I am accustomed to denounce, uncontradicted by anybody, which he defends; his public opinion is not at all my public opinion. I am sorry for him. He appears to have fallen into influences and among a set of people foreign to me. I find that his church has a different steeple on it from my church (which, to say the truth, hasn’t any). It is a pity that such a dear friend and a man of so much promise should have drifted off into such general contrariness. I see Herbert sitting here by the fire, with the old look in his face coming out more and more, but I do not recognize any features of his mind,—except perhaps his contrariness; yes, he was always a little contrary, I think. And finally he surprises me with, "Well, my friend, you seem to have drifted away from your old notions and opinions. We used to agree when we were together, but I sometimes wondered where you would land; for, pardon me, you showed signs of looking at things a little contrary."

I am silent for a good while. I am trying to think who I am. There was a person whom I thought I knew, very fond of Herbert, and agreeing with him in most things. Where has he gone? and, if he is here, where is the Herbert that I knew?

If his intellectual and moral sympathies have all changed, I wonder if his physical tastes remain, like his appearance, the same. There has come over this country within the last generation, as everybody knows, a great wave of condemnation of pie. It has taken the character of a "movement!" though we have had no conventions about it, nor is any one, of any of the several sexes among us, running for president against it. It is safe almost anywhere to denounce pie, yet nearly everybody eats it on occasion. A great many people think it savors of a life abroad to speak with horror of pie, although they were very likely the foremost of the Americans in Paris who used to speak with more enthusiasm of the American pie at Madame Busque’s than of the Venus of Milo. To talk against pie and still eat it is snobbish, of course; but snobbery, being an aspiring failing, is sometimes the prophecy of better things. To affect dislike of pie is something. We have no statistics on the subject, and cannot tell whether it is gaining or losing in the country at large. Its disappearance in select circles is no test. The amount of writing against it is no more test of its desuetude, than the number of religious tracts distributed in a given district is a criterion of its piety. We are apt to assume that certain regions are substantially free of it. Herbert and I, traveling north one summer, fancied that we could draw in New England a sort of diet line, like the sweeping curves on the isothermal charts, which should show at least the leading pie sections. Journeying towards the White Mountains, we concluded that a line passing through Bellows Falls, and bending a little south on either side, would mark northward the region of perpetual pie. In this region pie is to be found at all hours and seasons, and at every meal. I am not sure, however, that pie is not a matter of altitude rather than latitude, as I find that all the hill and country towns of New England are full of those excellent women, the very salt of the housekeeping earth, who would feel ready to sink in mortification through their scoured kitchen floors, if visitors should catch them without a pie in the house. The absence of pie would be more noticed than a scarcity of Bible even. Without it the housekeepers are as distracted as the boarding-house keeper, who declared that if it were not for canned tomato, she should have nothing to fly to. Well, in all this great agitation I find Herbert unmoved, a conservative, even to the under-crust. I dare not ask him if he eats pie at breakfast. There are some tests that the dearest friendship may not apply.

"Will you smoke?" I ask.

"No, I have reformed."

"Yes, of course."

"The fact is, that when we consider the correlation of forces, the apparent sympathy of spirit manifestations with electric conditions, the almost revealed mysteries of what may be called the odic force, and the relation of all these phenomena to the nervous system in man, it is not safe to do anything to the nervous system that will—"

"Hang the nervous system! Herbert, we can agree in one thing: old memories, reveries, friendships, center about that:—is n’t an open wood-fire good?"

"Yes," says Herbert, combatively, "if you don’t sit before it too long."

Contents:

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Charles Dudley Warner, "II," The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1, ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 1 (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed January 17, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KSS4MEDT9RX9KR.

MLA: Warner, Charles Dudley. "II." The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1, edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 1, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 17 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KSS4MEDT9RX9KR.

Harvard: Warner, CD, 'II' in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 1, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KSS4MEDT9RX9KR.