I publish a thing

July 8, 2016

cover_smallestYears ago, I had a (very brief) career writing for children. Now I’ve self-published a novel on the same subject as a computer game I created. As a computer game, The House at the Edge of Time is a text adventure in which you assemble a time machine. As a novel for children, The House at the Edge of time is an adventure in which two boys use the time machine to find a treasure-hunter lost somewhere in time.

The novel was written almost 25 years ago and failed to find a publisher. While I had great relationships with my publishers, I realized that I don’t want to play in that sandbox any more and decided to be my own publisher. It was surprisingly fun to revise this: I rearranged and reworked and rewrote and just had an amazingly good time. It was fun to create the cover and to decide how the book would look.

The book is widely available: you can get it via iBooks and Overdrive; and it’s available from
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | Amazon | Inktera | Scribd

I hope readers have as much fun reading the book as I had writing and rewriting it. Below is the first chapter, for a little taste. Read the rest of this entry »

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Because it’s December, it’s time to dredge up the most complete version of an old favorite:

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer;
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound!
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
The stump of a pipe he held fast in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl-full of jelly.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)

Bloomer girls, 1852

November 22, 2015

As someone who hasn’t even owned a dress for the last 25 years, I tend to be more charmed than amused by 19th-century attempts at “dress reform.” Those loose trousers under yards of drapery look much more comfortable than the skirts sweeping the ground, the mud, and—as Esther puts it in Bleak House—“all the light objects” in the room.

Yes, all that drapery makes the wearer look like a pantalooned armchair. But the alternative was dragging ten or fifteen yards of fabric through your day. (Which, besides being uncomfortable, could be dangerous: one of the Merry Cousins burned to death when her skirt got too close to a fireplace.)

Francis Woodworth had a different reaction. As a former minister, he was culturally conservative. But when it came time to write about the new style of clothing, he seems to have been remarkably sympathetic, pointing out how practical it would be for walking in the woods. Still, he didn’t really approve.

This piece from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet includes a rather wonderful illustration of what may be a variation of Bloomer dress. Other illustrations I’ve seen feature gathered trousers topped by a knee-length dress that makes even a slender young woman look like a ruffled pumpkin. The clothing here is just as drapy, but the calf-length skirt looks pretty graceful.

Still, it didn’t catch on. It was superceded by the hoop skirt, which—as Harriet Beecher Stowe points out in Household Papers—could require twenty yards of fabric.

Blue jeans are just so much simpler.

(And why was it called “Bloomer dress”? The style became associated with Amelia Bloomer after she adopted it and enthusiastically promoted its use. Even though she dropped the style, the name stuck.)


“The Bloomer Dress” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, October 1852, pp. 110-113)

two women in Bloomer dress

My readers have all heard of the Bloomer costume, no doubt. But probably very few of them have ever seen a lady with the dress on. Have you ever seen one worn, reader? and if you have, what did you think of it? Was it becoming, or otherwise? Presuming most of the boys and girls who read these pages have never seen one, and knowing that there is a great deal of curiosity afloat about the thing, on the part of those who are unacquainted with it, I must present a picture giving an accurate representation of the dress, as it is worn by some of our western ladies.

Now, my friend, what do you think of it? “It looks odd,” you say. So it does; there’s no disputing that. Every new style of dress looks odd. Do you remember when the ladies wore large bonnets? I suppose not. You are hardly old enough. But I remember the time very well, when my mother wore a bonnet of such a monstrous size, that it was about as much as she could do to go through a door, if the great thing flared out to its full width. Now how do you think your mother would look with one of these great umbrellas on her head? Why, you would laugh outright, to see her or any one else walking the streets with such a bonnet on.

I can remember, too, when the men used to wear a hat, the crown of which was small enough to fit the head at the brim, but which was almost twice as large on the top. What a curious-shaped thing it was, the great bell-crowned hat! If it should make its appearance now, in our streets, don’t you think we should all laugh at it, and call the fashion unbecoming and absurd?

But recollect that when the hat was worn, and was considered in the fashion, there was very little or no complaint about the absurdity of it. Nobody laughed at it then. At least, I never heard of any one’s laughing at it. So of the monstrous bonnet. It was fashionable once, and then it seemed becoming enough. The ladies did not laugh at the thing and make fun of it. And so it is with all fashions. They are not generally regarded as so much out of the way, until some other fashion comes along, and then, after a little while, the old one seems odd and queer. Now, as you say, the Bloomer dress looks odd enough. Well, the reason may be because it is so entirely unlike anything else which the ladies wear or have worn.

“There! Uncle Frank likes the Bloomer dress. How he praises it up.”

No, my little friend. You are too fast. I don’t say that I should like to see our ladies generally dressed in this style. I am not prepared to say that. I am not sure that I should be pleased, if I should see all the women and all the little girls about the streets dressed as Mrs. Bloomer recommends. On the whole, though a man ought to be a little diffident about laying down rules for the regulation of the dress worn by the other sex, on the whole, I think, if the ladies should come to me for my opinion, (a thing, by the way, which I have not vanity enough to expect,) I should most likely go against the general use of the Bloomer dress, while I might recommend some change, for the sake of convenience, in the present style of dress.

I can’t help thinking, and must say, that, aside from the appearance of the thing, the Bloomer costume must be very convenient in the country, if one has to ramble about the fields and forests much, and, it seems to me, that a lady must miss a great many of the luxuries of country life, if she does not take such rambles. I have been out with ladies, before now, on a botanical tour, when I could not avoid noticing that their mode of dress was very inconvenient for that kind of business; and at such a time, I don’t know that it would have struck me as at all unbecoming or improper, if those ladies, instead of the ordinary dress, had worn a genuine, out-and-out Bloomer suit, just like the one you see in the picture. However, we men may think what we will about the Bloomer dress, and say what we will about it, I presume that our mothers, and sisters, and wives, and daughters, will take the matter into their own hands, and decide it for themselves. The great majority of them don’t like it. That is clear enough, and it does not appear now as if it would get to be a common mode of dress very soon. Its origin, if there were nothing more, is unfavorable to its popularity. It did not come from Paris, and we in this country, as all the world knows, have set up the Paris dress-makers and milliners for our guides.

September 27, 2015

CHAPTER VI.
WANDERING THOUGHTS.Young Wentworth, after graduating, took a regular course of medicine in Boston, with an average standing. By his uncle’s liberality …

Oh, heck—just read the whole (tedious) thing at merrycoz:  Norwood (with reviews you probably wouldn’t want to get).

Norwood, chapter 5

July 31, 2015

A heroine is born, and one of Beecher’s mouthpieces talks and talks.

NORWOOD;
OR,
VILLAGE LIFE IN NEW ENGLAND.
CHAPTER V.
THE WENTWORTHS.

The night on which Rose Wentworth was born was furnished out with all suitable auguries. It was more nearly morning than night. That was well, to be born as the day was breaking and morning was fresh all on the earth. The dew lay pure on all the ground, and the birds were singing.

The time was late in April, and the resurrection of the vegetable world was going on. If one feels the influence of the seasons upon his natal hour, it was fit that Dr. Wentworth’s first-born should come, not with the wan and waning months of autumn, but in the months of newness, when all things feel the touch of recreative power. The day before had been soft and showery. Southern winds filled the air with moisture and that fragrant smell of soil and the slight balsamic odor of opening buds, which to some sensitive persons is strangely exhilarating, and which stirs the mind with subtle suggestion, and, after the long imprisonment of winter, sets the tremulous imagination into wild delight.

In the afternoon there had been several peals of thunder, which at that early season awakened surprise in all, but which the Doctor accepted as a part of a happy conjunction of natural phenomena significant of his child’s life and fate.

Mother Taft had been waiting at the house for several days. She seemed gently stirred at the sound of thunder. But even thunder could not move her serene nature to more than quiet wonder. Half the children in the village called her Auntie, and grew up with the impression that she was blood kin to them. Her face was young for one of fifty years, white and smooth. Her blue eye never flashed, or glowed, or burned, or pierced, or did any of those violent things to which eyes are addicted. Sad eyes; pitying eyes! For years she had stood a door-keeper for this sad world, and all that came in had begun their life with cries and wails, as if to prophesy their future. Had pity for those born into sorrow and crying at last stamped itself in her very features?

When the thunder broke forth suddenly and rolled away in the distance with softened cadence, Mother Taft moved to the front door. Her walking was of that quiet kind that seems to have no more footsteps in it than has the shadow of a cloud that is gliding along the ground. Dr. Wentworth was coming through the door-yard, noting on every hand the condition of vegetation. The willows had thrown off their silly catkins, and were in leaf; the lilac buds were swollen large; the elm was covered with chocolate-colored blossoms; the pyrus japonica was reddening its clusters of crimson buds; the green-wooded forsythia was pushing yellow flowers; and the soft maple drew bees to its crimson tassels. In the border, peonies were breaking ground; snow-drops and crocuses were in bloom, as also hepaticas. The grass was becoming vividly green, and honeysuckles—especially over the trellis at the front door—were pushing new leaves. Yes, nature was fairly at work! The sap flowed again. Life was ocne more organizing myriads of curious textures and forms with silent forces infinite and almost omnipotent.

The Doctor searched not as one who would take, but only find. When the thunder sounded he bared his head as if he heard some message. His eye brightened with satisfaction, and, as Mother Taft opened the door, he said, softly but solemnly:

“She will hear God’s voice. Flowers live. All things are coming forth. Her time is come. But she must have her crown.”

Calling Pete, a great, black, clumsy-moving fellow, the Doctor said:

“Pete, I want some trailing arbutus; where does it blossom earliest?”

“What?” said Pete, looking perplexed.

“Where can you get the earliest Mayflower?”

“May-flowers—why, on Howlet’s Hill, of course,” said Pete, as if surprised that the Doctor did not know so plain a fact as that.

“Well, Pete, I haven’t been here as long as you have, and don’t know the ins and outs of the fields yet. But bring up the horses and drive me there. Don’t let grass grow under your feet.”

Passing through a pine wood, where no flowers were yet growing, and ascending the hill, through an open wood where hemlock and deciduous trees were mixed, they came near the top to a half cleared space, to the eye brown and barren, except here and there clumps of evergreen kalmias. Pete’s eye was seldom at fault.

“There’s some, Doctor, by that stump; and there’s some beyond, ever so much.” Clearing away the leaves he revealed the sweetest flower that opens to the northern sky. It is content, though lying upon the very ground. It braves the coldest winters. All the summers can not elaborate a perfume so sweet as that which seems to have been born of the very winter. It is like the breath of love. The pure white and pink blossoms, in sweet clusters, lie hidden under leaves, or grass, and often under untimely snows. Blessings on thee! Thou art the fairest, most modest and sweetest-breathed of all our flowers!

Enough for a wreath were soon gathered, and brought home—the fittest emblem wherewith to greet the little damsel.

Near twilight of the next morning, while the air was soft and balmy, and roots were swelling, and buds opening, and blossoms coming forth, and birds singing love-songs in all the trees, was born ROSE WENTWORTH.

Dr. Reuben Wentworth was born in the old town of Norwich, Connecticut, in one of the old pre-revolutionary houses, under the shade of old elms. What with the early colonial history, and the always romantic legends of the Indians, he found the whole region about his birthplace rich in historic incident.

His family originally came from the eastern part of Massachusetts, and to this circumstance, probably, it was owing, that he studied at Harvard University. A respectable student in the regular course, he had the reputation of being very busy with studies outside of the course. He early manifested a strong taste for Natural Science, but was never satisfied with that part which the books contain, but, with an instinct as strong as that which leads an infant to its mother’s breast for food, he turned from the dry descriptions and classifications to the living things themselves. At first, it was almost wholly an instinct, the sensibility of exquisite taste. But to this was added, by gradual unfolding, a rational element, and then a moral sympathy, until he found himself united to the organized system of nature with every part of his being.

This task did not detach him from the love of books, nor of society, nor of art and literature. He had warm sympathy for every thing human, and for all the proper works of man—but under and behind it, was a strong and silent sympathy and alliance with Nature; silent:—for, during all his education, Reuben Wentworth had a vague impression that his tastes, if fully disclosed, would render him liable to the charge of being a dreamer, and a poetical idealist.

The uncle, whose purse had carried him through college, was an old bachelor of fifty years—spry, lean, and chipper—Ebenezer by name. But people are usually overclothed with names; and as men in summer or at work, throw off their superfluous raiment till their arms are bare, so most folks dispense with a portion of their names; and Ebenezer Wentworth passed everywhere as Uncle Eb. He wrote his name Eb. Wentworth—tying them together with a long flourish, as if afraid they would get separated. He used to laugh at people’s names.

“Folks use their children as if they were garret pegs, to hang old clothes on—first a jacket, then a coat, and then another jacket. You have to take them all down to find either one. Our children go trudging all their lives with their load of names, as if they were old Jews returning with an assortment of clothes. People use their children as registers to preserve the names of aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, and so inscribe them with the names of the dead, as if tombstones were not enough.” and so he would run on for an hour, if any one would listen, and even if they did not; for he was a natural talker—talked nearly all the time when awake—no more if men listened to him, no less if they did not. Unlike the race of natural talkers, his conversation contained a great deal of good sense, and of shrewd observation. It was full of whims, too, and ludicrous exaggerations, particularly when any one opposed him. There was no excess and no absurdity which he would ot zealously defend, if some sober and literal man sought logically to corner him. He disputed axioms, refused to admit first principles, laughed at premises, and ran down conclusions, dogmatized and madly asserted, with the merriest and absurdest indifference to all consistency; for which there is no parallel, unless it be that of a very lively horse, in a very large pasture, with a very gouty man trying to catch him.

But this was superficial. At bottom Uncle Eb. was a stern moralist and loyal to the last degree in his conduct to honor and truth.

If you had a pet theory, or an assumptious argument, or a logical brat prigged up with pretentious authority, Uncle Eb. was the most dangerous of men to entrust it with. He was a sore trouble to theologians and a nuisance to theorists. But if you were dying, he was just the man to entrust your estate with. Punctual, exact, sharp, disinterested, but pragmatical, he neither would cheat nor allow cheating. There was no more vaporing, no more wild caracoles of the horse aforesaid, in open fields, but, like the horse in harness, he settled down to his work with edifying sobriety and regularity.

“Well, Reuben, you graduate this summer. What next? What are you going to do? You are pretty well stuffed with trash. It will take several years to forget what you ought not to have learned, and to get rid of the evil effects of foolish instruction. But that will come pretty much of itself. College learning is very much like snow, and the more a man has of it the less can the soil produce. It’s not till practical life melts it that the ground yields anything. Men get over it quicker in some kinds of business than in others. The college sticks longest on ministers and schoolmasters: next, to lawyers; not much to doctors; and none at all to merchants and gentlemen. You can’t afford to be a gentleman, and so you must choose among other callings.”

“Can’t a man, Uncle Eb., be a gentleman in any respectable calling?”

“Oh, dear, no. My gentleman must take all his time to it, spend his life at it, be jealous of everything else. He is a kind of perfect man, a sort of chronometer, for other men to keep time by. One is enough for a whole town. One is enough—two would be a superfluity, and a class of them simply a nuisance. A gentleman should have feeling—but should hide it. People of much sentiment are like fountains, whose overflow keeps a disagreeable puddle about them. He should have knowledge, but not like your educated men of our day whose knowledge sings and crows and cackles with every achievement. His knowledge should be like apples in autumn hanging silently on the bows [sic]—rich, ripe and still. A gentleman should be business-like by instinct. Affairs in his hands come to pass silently and without ado, as nature compasses her results—the vastest range and round of spring work making less noise than one store or shop. I tell you, Reuben, a gentleman is a rare specimen. He requires so much in the making that few are made.”

“But people consider you a gentleman, Uncle Eb.”

“Tut, tut—no ridicule, young man! I am gentlemanly. That’s another thing. I have worked too hard,—showing that I had not enough power. Power works easily. I have fretted too much. Fretting is a perpetual confession of weakness. It says, ‘I want to, and can’t.’ Fretting is like a little dog pawing and whining at a door because he can’t get in. No, no. A gentleman is like a fine piece of statuary, and must not be used, like a caryatide, to hold up porticos or cornices. He must be so fine that he accomplishes more while doing nothing than other men at the start, or he will grow rough in trying to mend matters, and so be like the best of common men, who only succeed in getting ready to live when it is time for them to die.”

“Is not Squire Perkins a gentleman?”

“Good and polite! But not my gentleman. His grain is not fine. His mother was a sailor’s widow, hearty and good-natured, but coarse in substance. All that Judge Perkins can claim is good nature, which is a mere matter of health. Good digestion—you are good-natured; bad digestion—you are morose! One of these days men will call things by their right names. Then they won’t say: he’s of a good disposition; but, he has a good stomach. Half the grace that’s going is nothing but food. Paul said the kingdom was not meat and drink. Very likely not hereafter. But it is here. Good steak and light bread is benevolence. Coffee is inspiration and humor. Good tea is tenderness and sprightliness—facts very humbling of our excellences. But they’re facts. Perkins is a good fellow. But if he was old, had the rheumatism, and was to have his money stolen, he would be as sour as a crab-apple.”

Young Wentworth was amused at his uncle’s crotchets, and loved to oppose him just enough to keep the old gentlem[a]n on the edge of extravagance, without being fairly driven over into absurdity.

“No, Reuben, gentlemen are fore-ordained from all eternity. They can’t be hurried up and put together on order, like a box of shoes for the southern market. A gentleman must see everybody without looking, and know everybody without inquiry, and say just the right thing to everybody without trying to; and, above all, he must make everybody in his presence do the best things they know how to do. That’s the touchstone. I’ve seen men come almost up to it. But then they would let people get angry; they would suffer them to say and do disagreeable things. That will never do. The gentleman is a natural king. He has the intuition of people’s nature, and can tough just the spot in them that is sweetest, and get out of them what they would never have wrought out of themselves. One or two gentlemen are enough for a town. They are steeples, which we put on churches, not on dwelling-houses.”

“Very well, uncle, I will give up being a gentleman. Such a brilliant exception to good and well-bred men I was not born to be. What next?”

“You should never make a clergyman of yourself. You are not bad, but then you’re not good. A man should be born to the pulpit. A musician is one whose brain naturally secretes musical ideas; a poet thinks in blossoms just as naturally as honeysuckles do; an inventor’s head is made to work out mechanical combinations. Men are like trees, each one must put forth the leaf that is created in him. Education is only like good culture—it changes the size but not the sort. The men that ought to preach should be ordained in birth. The laying on of hands can’t make an empty head full, nor a cold heart warm, nor a silent nature vocal. A minister is a genius in moral ideas, as a poet is in beautiful ideas, and an inventor in physical ideas.”

“But are not all men born with moral natures, and may not cultivation develop them?”

“So, many trees have sweet sap besides the maple, but the maple only is so sweet as to be profitable for sugar. Corn-stalks have saccharine matter as well as sugar-cane. But we plant one for grain and the other for sugar, just because it is so easy for one to bear grain, and so hard for it to make sugar; and so easy for the other to yield sugar, and so impossible to give grain. Find out whether a man’s head is fertile in moral ideas. It is not enough that he should know what is right when he sees it. He should see it before it exists. New good, new truth, better justice should suggest itself to him on every side. He is an inventor of better good than men now possess. Your head, Reuben, does not run clear; you think a matter is right if only it is beautiful, with a little touch of wildness in it. Besides, the office of a minister won’t agree with your natural carriage. You would run when you were expected to walk. You have no respect for rules. You would scare every body once a month with some naturalistic notions gathered in your rambling in the fields. Theology, like old Isaac, always puts its nose on its children to see if the smell of the fields is upon them. Isaac blessed Jacob because it was; theology blesses Jacob only when it is not! Natural religion is generally considered as poor stuff. Imported is thought more of than home-made—broadcloth proves better than linsey-woolsey. The church thinks that it will not do to make religion too easy; folks might take it up of themselves. You were not born for a pulpit. Few men are. Pulpits are queer places—candlesticks whose candles won’t burn—learned men, but can’t speak, like deep wells and a pump that won’t fetch water.”

“Ah, uncle, you don’t like ministers, I am afraid. All that I have ever known were capital fellows—manly and sincere. But, as you say, I don’t think I am good enough, and so I promise you upon my honor, that I won’t be a clergyman.”

In early life Uncle Eb. had been deeply wounded in a love affair, and saw his treasure borne off by a young minister. He had never married, and he never quite forgave the profession. But it is only just to say, that while he made cynical speeches about ministers in general, he had conceived the warmest attachment to many clergymen in particular.

“Perhaps you think I’d better be a lawyer?”

“There’s worse things than that. But you would never make your bread at that business. It’s a hot and drastic profession. You will see men chiefly on the selfish side. You will be always making a porridge of somebody’s dirt. Pretty good fellows, lawyers are; but I wonder at it.”

“I declare, uncle, I believe you mean to make a schoolmaster of me.”

“No, sir; a man should never be a schoolmaster. That’s a woman’s business. Be a professor or nothing! Even then it’s a poor business. Who ever heard of a college professor that was not poor? They dry up in pocket like springs after the wood is cut off from the hills. They are apt to get very dry in other ways, too. A man that teaches cannot afford to know too much. A teacher is like a needle. He should be small and sharp. If large, he cannot run easily through the garments to be made. The College President ought to be a great man—a sort of specimen,—something for the boys to remember as a pattern of a man.”

“Well, uncle, as I am not a born gentleman, and can’t make a good minister, am too good to be a lawyer, and must not be a schoolmaster; as I am too fat to be a professor, and not grand enough for a president,—I am afraid I shall have to go to sea for a living; for I am not fit to work, and should sell myself out of house and home, if I was a merchant.”

“There is just one thing left, and a business proper for you; you should be a doctor! You love nature. You love chemistry and botany. You are fond of all curious insearch and occult functions. A doctor, it is true, is everybody’s servant. But you will be left to think and reason, without any master. And the riding, especially in the country, will suit your desultory nature.”

“And, to sum it all up, uncle, you want me to be a doctor, because your father was one, and his father, and your brother, and for fear a link should be missing, you want me to study medicine. That you want it, is enough.”

The velocipede was a precursor to the bicycle and had just been invented when the Connecticut Mirror gave readers this slightly confusing description.  (A photo in the Wikipedia article on the “dandy horse” makes the description a lot clearer.)  What I especially like is the paragraph on how to ride it—something I’ve wondered since I first read about these.  Though other questions linger:  could it really go as fast as a horse? how many people tried one of these things?  (btw, “equilibrio” is an early version of “equilibrium”)

“The Velocipede or Swift Walker” (from Connecticut Mirror [Hartford, Connecticut] 31 May 1819; p. 1, col 4)

This truly original machine was the invention of Baron Charles De Drais, master of the woods and forests of H. R. H. the Grand Duke of Baden. The account given of it by the inventor, of its nature, and properties—is,

1. That on a well-maintained post-road, it will travel up hill as fast as an active man can walk.2. On a plain, even after a heavy rain, it will go six or seven miles an hour, which is as swift as a courier.

3. When roads are dry and firm, it runs on a plain at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour, which is equal to a horse’s gallop.

[4]. On a descent, it equals a horse at full speed.

Its theory is founded on the application of a wheel to the action of a man in walking.

With respect to the economy of power, this invention may be compared to that very ancient one of carriages. As a horse draws, in a well constructed carriage, both the carriage and its load much easier than he could carry the load alone on his back; so a man conducts, by means of the velocipede, his body easier than if he had its whole weight to support on his feet. It is equally incontestible, that the velocipede as it makes but one impression, or rut, may always be directed on the best part of the road.—On a hard road, the rapidity of the velocipede resembles that of an expert skater; as the principle of the two motions are the same. In truth, it runs a considerable distance while the rider is inactive, and with the same rapidity as when his feet are in motion; and in a descent, it will beat the best horses in a great distance, without being exposed to the risks incidental to them, as it is guided by the mere gradual motion of the fingers, and may be instantly stopped by the feet.

It consists of two wheels one behind the other, connected by a porch, on which a saddle is placed, for the seat of the traveller. The front wheel is made to turn on a pivot, and is guided in the same manner as a bath chair. On a cushion in front, the fore-arm is rested; and by this means the instrument and the traveller are kept in equilibrio.

Its management.—The traveller having seated himself on the saddle, his elbows extended, and his body inclined a little forward, must place his arms on the cushion, and preserve his equilibrium by pressing lightly on that side which appears to be rising. The rudder (if it may be so called) must be held by both hands, which are not to rest on the cushion, that they may be at full liberty, as they are essential to the conduct of the machine, as the arms are to the maintenance of the balance of it (attention will soon produce sufficient dexterity for this purpose;) then placing the feet lightly on the ground, long but very slow steps are to be taken, in a right line, at first; taking care to avoid turning the toes out, lest the heels should come in contact with the hind wheel. It is only after having acquired dexterity in the equilibrium and direction of the Velocipede, that the attempt to increase the motion of the feet, or to keep them elevated while it is in rapid motion, ought to be attempted.

The saddle may be raised or lowered, as well as the cushion, at pleasure; and thus suited to the height of various persons.

Norwood, chapter 4

July 17, 2015

[A great example of Beecher lecturing through his characters. (There’s a lot of this.)]

NORWOOD;
OR,
VILLAGE LIFE IN NEW ENGLAND.
CHAPTER IV.
STARTING IN LIFE.After his marriage, ’Biah Cathcart, (as he was familiarly called by his neighbors,) not without much thought and consultation, determined to buy him a farm. After many searchings, and much deliberation, he chose a place of sixty acres, two miles from the goodly town of Norwood. There were, besides, twenty acres of woodland, lying three miles away, mountain lots, as they were called. On the home farm there was an old-fashioned farm-house, of two stories.

But instead of one story additions, in the rear, such as are now built, for kitchen, shed, &c., the rear roof ran from the ridge-pole down nearly to the ground, covering the two stories and the single story with one long slant.

The former occupant had suffered the property to waste. Paint had long since ceased to cover the clapboards on the sides; the roof was patched and cumbered with moss, and the water gutters at the eaves had collected so much of dust and decayed leaves, as to form little patches of soil, out of which grew a fringe of mingled vegetation. Both flowers and weeds, whose seeds had been lodged there by birds, or uplifted by the winds, grew lovingly together, and cast their slender shadows down upon the cornice, like a pencil tracery of arabesques.

It was the day that Dr. Wentworth had been called to see Widow Nance, a mile beyond, that Cathcart took in hand the old house.

“You see, Doctor, that I’ve got a job here. Old Templeton’s liquor bills were so heavy that he couldn’t afford paint or putty.”

“Make a clean job of it, ’Biah. You’ll have to lay these chimney-tops over again; filling and pointing won’t do. I suppose you will shift your flower garden, too, from the roof to the ground.”

“Flower garden?”

“Yes, poor things,” said the Doctor, going to the back eaves and standing upon an old wash-bench, where he could look upon the low roof.

“I wish I had this old mossy roof, or one just like it. I am willing to ride a mile out of my way, any time, to see the moss in Peak’s ravine, and all along the wood on each side of it. How kind of it to creep over decaying things and cover their homeliness with such a cheerful garment! Did you ever think that in the animal kingdom there is no beauty in death. A crow, a dog or a wounded deer dies, and is soon consumed. They seem to have had their time when alive. But vegetation, with fewer privileges in life, has more comeliness after death. Nobody makes shrouds for trees, and so nature takes care of them and hides them under new life—making beauty do sexton’s work, and shroud death with the garments of life. I was over yesterday at the ravine, and found an old tree-trunk, half decayed, on and around which was a garden such as no gardener could make. It lay on the edge of the wood; the streams of the brook had kept its mosses, of which I counted many species, in admirable health and color. Ah, it was like a trunk of emerald! Down on the south side, where the leaves had kept them warm all winter, were blood-root blossoms, white as snow, shooting up in squads, like white troopers mustering for some tournament; and at the upturned roots was a tangle of balckberry vines, as fine in lines as any thing that Raphael ever imitated from the ancients, and a great deal more beautiful. Men’s eyes make finer pictures, when they know how to use them, than any body’s hands can.”

“And so, Doctor, I am to keep this half-acre of a roof, am I, just out of pity to this moss? And what’ll become of us when it rains, with this green old sieve letting through enough rain to dampen every room in the house? I see—you want our custom, Doctor! We should soon have moss growing over us, as it is over old Templeton—though, by-the-bye, he never suffered when on earth from too much water, I’m thinking! Hiram Beers says he wouldn’t touch it when he could get it, and now can’t get it when he wants it. Hiram is very hard on old Templeton. He says the old man was so hot, that flowers ought to start early where his grave is.”

“What a pity that thrift and sentiment can’t compromise matters a little better! It would make any gardener’s reputation if he could plant such a little moss-Eden as this. Well, if you choose to be healthy rather than beautiful, you must have your own way. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Widow Nance, poor thing, is about spent! Save me some of the moss—that great patch yonder, with cherry-stones heaped along its upper edge.”

And with that he carried away his great blue eyes, and white face, wide at the top, but fine and clean cut, though large-featured to the very chin.

“As good sense at the bottom as ever man had,” said Cathcart, as the chaise rolled out from under the elm trees, in front of the yard, “and he needs it all too, or his queer notions would run away with him. Rachel says the Doctor’s face and presence are better than most doctors’ medicine; and they are reviving. I always feel after he’s gone as if there was more in every thing about me than I had any notion of before, though I can’t exactly tell what it is.”

It was about two o’clock when Dr. Wentworth returned, and, not seeing Cathcart, he walked under a ragged cherry-tree, and stood watching with a kind of sober smile the workmen, inspired with the subtle eagerness which the work of destroying is apt to infuse.

The shingles came down in showers. The light ones whirled and glimmered in the sunlight, and shied out hither and thither all over the yard. Those covered with moss came headlong and thumped the ground at his feet.

“Poor thing, do you know me?” raising a moss-loaded shingle thoughtfully, as if it were alive; and he laughed out as if he had been answered by some unexpected cry.

For a rakeful of shingles had sent a flock of hens in sudden scare toward the barn-yard, while the great golden-speckled rooster drew up with magisterial dignity and called out, “Cut-tark-cut, cut, cut?” Receiving no answer, with a low-crooning noise in his throat, he cocked his eye, first at the doctor, then at the house, as much as to say, “Do you know what’s going on here?” And then, letting down his right foot which had been drawn up, in suspense, he pompously moved off to lecture his hens, that were already picking and scratching in the straw, upon the mystery of life.

The doctor drew the now cast-away gutter, and stooping, plucked two or three of the weeds, and putting them under his hat-band, laid down his hat on the well-stone, while he unrolled the ricketty old windlass and sent down the remnants of a bucket for water. It was an old-fashioned well, of mysterious depth. If you looked down its narrow and dark throat, you saw nothing. If you still looked, and dropped a pebble down, a faint light was reflected from the crinkling water far below. For four or five feet at the top, the stones were lined with moss. Up, after long winding, came the bucket, spurting out its contents on every side, and filling the well with a musical splashing sound, reserving hardly enough, at last, to serve for a good drink. “Well, ’Biah, I understand the old proverb—truth is at the bottom of the well. If I was to go down after the water, very likely there is foul air enough down there to put me out like a candle; and if I send a bucket down the greatest part leaks out before I can reach it. Much work and little truth do men get in the wells they dig now-a-days.”

“But come in and see the house.”

“I have seen it too often. Wait till you have lived awhile here and changed every association. I shall see the terrible sight that I witnessed when old Templeton had delirium tremens. He yelled and moaned by turns, saw men and devils after him, and died more horribly than any other creature that I ever saw, and I’ve seen many. Scour your walls, ’Biah.”

Bad as the house was, the grounds were in even worse condition. The barns were utterly dilapidated; the fences were poor; the soil had been fleeced, and scarcely anything that was bad in husbandry had been left untried upon this much-enduring farm.

But this universal deterioration had so depreciated the market value of the place, that Cathcart was enabled to buy it—making a payment of a thousand dollars, and borrowing the rest, with his own time to pay it off. If he had been industrious and frugal before, he was far more so now. What he lacked in capital he must make up for in enterprise.

For a year or two the struggle was close. His wife was his equal in industry and frugality. Her patience was never even ruffled. At four in summer and at five in winter, the light blazed on the hearth, and there were sounds in the barn. After the cattle were foddered, and until daylight, he worked at “closing” boots and shoes, earning thus a small addition to his means. At dark the same labor was resumed. This rigid, methodical industry was cheerfully pursued without intermission for years, and, at length, began to produce its results. One by one each field had been deepened; for Cathcart said: “No farmer owns any deeper than he can plow.”

Little by little the near lots were cleared of stone, which reappeared in stone walls, built with a breadth and accuracy fit for a castle wall, and which at length were carried around the whole farm. The low-lying lots, filled with muck, were drained and reduced to meadows; and acres, which before had been impassable to cattle, except in the driest summer weather, or, when frozen, became solid, and the most productive of all the farm. The number of division fences was greatly reduced, Cathcart believing that far more ground was wasted by fences than any good farmer could afford. The land actually occupied by the fence, the waste each side of it by brambles or weeds, the time consumed in clearing these useless occupants away, if the farmer was neat, Cathcart argued, constituted, in ten years, a heavy tax on industry.

In such a climate, in such a soil, and in such a community, a farm will not pay, unless it be made to move with the accuracy of a machine, and with an economy which reaches to the most minute elements.

Availing himself of Dr. Wentworth’s library, he had read the best works on husbandry, and extracted from them enough to guide his practice to a result far beyond that which was common in the neighborhood. Whoever had, at first, criticized the new-fangled farming, no longer doubted its success, when, at length, the farm was clear of debt, and returning no mean revenue.

Here years rolled on, and Cathcart grew to prosperity and into universal respect. Sons and daughters were born to him; with only two of whom, however, shall we have to do—the youngest two—Barton and Alice, who will in due time take their places in our history.