Not free from some ignominious attendance
upon the opinion of the world is he who too consciously
withdraws his affairs from its judgements. He
is indebted to “the public.” He is
at least indebted to it for the fact that there is,
yonder, without, a public. Lacking this excluded
multitude his fastidiousness would have no subject,
and his singularity no contrast. He would, in
his grosser moods, have nothing to refuse, and nothing,
in his finer, to ignore.
He, at any rate, is one, and the rest
are numerous. They minister to him popular errors.
But if they are nothing else in regard to himself,
they are many. If he must have distinction,
it is there on easy terms — he is one.
Well for him if he does not contract
the heavier debt shouldered by the man who owes to
the unknown, un-named, and uncounted his pleasure in
their conjectured or implicit envy; who conceives the
jealousy they may have covertly to endure, enjoys
it, and thus silently begins and ends within his own
morosity the story of his base advantage.
Vanity has indignity as its underside.
And how shall even the pleasure in beauty be altogether
without it? For since beauty, like other human
things, is comparative, how shall the praise, or the
admiration, thereof be free from (at least) some reference
to the unbeautiful? Or from some allusion to
the less beautiful? Yet this, if inevitable,
is little; it may be negligible. The triumph
of beauty is all but innocent. It is where no
beauty is in question that lurks the unconfessed appeal
to envy. That appeal is not an appeal to admiration — it
lacks what is the genial part of egoism. For
who, except perhaps a recent writer of articles on
society in America, really admires a man for living
in the approved part of Boston?
The vanity of addresses is as frequent
with us as on the western side of the Atlantic.
It is a vanity without that single apology for vanity — gaiety
of heart. The first things that are, in London,
sacrificed to it are the beautiful day and the facing
of the sky. There are some amongst us whose
wives have constrained them to dwell underground for
love of an address. Modern and foolish is that
contempt for daylight. To the simple, day is
beautiful; and “beautiful as day” a happy
Over all colour, flesh, aspect, surface,
manifestation of vitality, dwells one certain dominance.
And if One, vigilant for the dues of His vicegerent,
should ask us whose is the image and superscription?
We reply, The Sun’s.
The London air shortens and clips
those beams, and yet leaves daylight the finest thing
we know. Beauty of artificial lights is in our
streets at night, but their chief beauty is when,
just before night, they adorn the day. The late
daylight honours them when it so easily and sweetly
subdues and overcomes them, giving to the electric
lamp, to the taper, to the hearth fire, and to the
spark, a loveliness not their own.
With the unpublished desire to be
envied, whereto here and there amongst us is sacrificed
the sky, abides the desire for an object of unconfessed
contempt. Both are contrary to that more authentic,
that essential solitariness wherein a few men have
the grace to live, and wherein all men are compelled
to die. Both are unpublished even now, even in
our days, when it costs men so little to manifest
the effrontery of their opinions.
The difference between our worldliness
and the New-worldliness is chiefly that here we are
apt to remove, by a little space, the distinction
brought about by riches, to put it back, to interpose,
between it and our actual life, a generation or two,
an education or two. Obviously, it was riches
that made the class differences, if not now, then a
little time ago. Therefore the New England citizen
should not be reproved by us for anything except his
too great candour. A social guide-book to some
city of the Republic is in my hands. I note
how the very names of streets take a sound of veneration
or of cheerful derision from the writer’s pen.
It is evident that the names are almost enough.
They have an expression. He is like a naif
teller of humorous anecdotes, who cannot keep his own
smiles in order till he have done.
This social writer has scorn, as an
author should, and he wreaks it upon parishes.
He turns me a phrase with the northern end of a town
and makes an epigram of the southern. He caps
a sarcasm with an address.
In truth, we too might write social
guide-books to the same effect, had we the same simplicity.
It is to be thought that we too hold an address,
be it a good one, so closely that if Fortune should
see fit to snatch it from us, she must needs do so
with violence. Such unseemly violence, in this
as in other transactions, is ours in the clinging and
not hers in the taking. For equal is the force
of Fortune, and steady is her grasp, whether she despoil
the great of their noble things or strip the mean of
things ignoble, whether she take from the clutching
or the yielding hand.
Strange are the little traps laid
by the Londoner so as to capture an address by the
hem if he may. You would think a good address
to be of all blessings the most stationary, and one
to be either gained or missed, and no two ways about
it. But not so. You shall see it waylaid
at the angles of squares, with no slight exercise
of skill, delayed, entreated, detained, entangled,
intricately caught, persuaded to round a corner, prolonged
beyond all probability, pursued.
One address there will in the future
be for us, and few will visit there. It will
bear the number of a narrow house. May it avow
its poverty and be poor; for the obscure inhabitant,
in frigid humility, shall have no thought nor no eye
askance upon the multitude.