THE young man was standing before the glass putting the finishing touches on his toilet. When he cast the last earnest look at the glass, he opened the door and called in the family to admire him. They gazed at him as gravely and seriously as they would examine a painting. All their remarks and suggestions were made with the utmost gravity. When they had finished their adoration he pinned in his button-hole the red carnation he habitually wore and went forth. He was a little legal gentleman who read a great deal of Balzac and took himself as seriously as most of Balzac's characters do. His life had been a series of novellettes, he had adored and spoken his adoration to almost every young lady in his particular set, and after each disappointment he had spent some months in living the life proper for a heart-broken man. He had a small trunk full of old letters and locks of hair. Occasionally, when he thought it was about time for him to be blue, he looked them all over, and he never seemed to see that there was anything laughable in there being so many kinds of hand writing and so many shades of hair. His family took it all just as seriously as he did, and they spent most of their leisure in soothing his heartaches. The only persons who did not take it seriously were the young ladies of his set, who found it quite impossible to do so.
A GREAT deal of useless sympathy, sympathy and useless abuse, has been wasted upon newspaper cynics. In the first place it is useless to waste that on them, for a man who will be a cynic just so many times a week and for so much a column is as tough as a rhinoceros to start with. Sympathy is entirely wasted, for as a rule newspaper cynic sare the happiest, healthiest men alive. They are generally fat, and look about as much like the regulation cynic as Walt Mason does like Byron or Colonel Bixby like Keats . The old time conscious cynic gets pale and thin over it, but the practical newspaper cynic is generally of a very substantial build. Outside of business hours he is one of the jolliest men alive. He keeps his poison carefully corked in his ink bottle and his sting in his pen point. He has reduced cynicism to a fine art, he can make other people feel miserable without feeling at all uncomfortable himself. All the great cynics have been very happy men and have been very fond of Martin Luther's trio. On the other hand, most of the world's sweetest and truest humorists have led exceedingly miserable lives. If a man is a cynic he is so from a business standpoint. He is generally a good liver and thoroughly enjoys the company of the men he laughs at in his work, and when he dies it is generally from too much pastry rather than from a hatred of humanity.
HE WAS a Virginian and a gentleman and for that reason he was on every side and taken in on every hand. He kept a little store down town where he sold very little and was paid for less. Indeed, he had been swindled out of all that he had brought with him from the south, until he had very little left to himself, but his generosity and the wound he had carried in the army of Virginia. His clothes grew very weak and he tried to break himself of the habit of eating. One day a brazen faced woman entered the store and bought a considerable bill of perfumery and cosmetics. While he was wrapping them up she asked him to charge them. He knew perfectly well that she would never pay him a cent and that she had come there to beat him, but to a Virginian a woman is always a woman, and with the grace of a southerner he bowed his gray head and murmured "Certainly, madam," though he had breakfasted but poorly and dinner was one of the uncertainties of the future. The woman went out, thinking what a fool he was. That man had better go back to the south; it does not pay to be a southern gentleman in the hustling northwest.
A FUNERAL train was going toward Wyuka. The hearse was very plain and the driver was not in livery. In the carriage behind the hearse sat a man wearing a tall silk hat. He sat twirling his moustache and looking steadily out of the window. He was her son, that was why he was there. His wife had a nervous headache and could not accompany him. After they had entered the cemetery he hastily drew out a note book and jotted down a few figures, the result of his solemn cogitation. When the hack stopped he got out and stood by the open grave. He thought that it was very cold and that funerals were horrible things and wondered if civilization would never find a way of doing away with them. He thought of the time she had been all in all to him of what she had endured and suffered for him, and then how the greater love had come and gradually the need for her had passed out of his life, and he hated himself that he did not feel more deeply. After it was all over he got back into the carriage telling the driver to drive him to his office.
It is well that the dead sleep soundly, often the pain of living would be nothing to the anguish and disappointment of death. Living we can always make idols for ourselves and worship them, always blind and deceive ourselves, always call neglect thoughtlessness, coldness reserve, but dead we should know even as we are known. Thank God we sleep then.
OVER the drop curtain in the Funke there is a very fair copy of one of the best pictures of Shakespeare that any artist ever painted. It is rather doubtful whether any theatre in the world is quite worthy to hold the picture of the man who consummated literature, but that picture has been almost an inspiration in its way, and as the years passed it came to be beloved by many of us. It has been a comfort, sometimes, to look away for awhile from the things on the stage, which were better left unseen, and to look up at that great face and know that once upon this planet such a man had lived and worked. The picture has been there for years and years, looking down on tragedy, comedy and melodrama alike with that mournful, tender, "father-forgive-them" smile. It was well enough three years ago when the best companies played on the Funke stage, they are all unworthy to come before him, heaven knows! but at least we gave him the best we had. But now, in these days of the Spooners and the Lindseys , it seems as though some one ought to have common decency enough to paint that great face out, and profane his name no more.
UP in the negro church one Christmas the congregation were singing the "Peace on Earth." When the plaintive music stopped an old gray-haired negro in a frock coat and wearing two pairs of glasses arose and began reading the old, old story of the men who were watching their flocks by night and of the babe who was born in the city of David. He became very much excited as he read, and his voice trembled and he unconsciously put the words to measure and chanted them slowly. When he finished he looked up at the ceiling with eager misty eyes as though he could see the light of the heavenly messenger shining in upon him. It is a beautiful story, this of the holiest and purest childhood on earth, beautiful even to those who cannot understand it, as dreams are sweet to men without hope. After all, if we cannot hear the carol and see the heavenly messenger, it is because our ears are deaf and our eyes are blind, not that we turn wilfully away from love or beauty. No one is antagonistic by preference. Almost any of us who doubt would give the little we know or hope to know to go down upon our knees among the lowly and experience a great faith or a great conviction.
A LITTLE girl stood looking at the big dolls in a store window. She was a petite dark child, a little shawl was pinned over her head and she carried a basket on her arm.
"Law me, Riah," she said turning to a wooley headed little chap behind her, "if I jist had one o' dem big dolls wouldn't I be fixed? I hain't like some, always wantin' to be runnin' around, if I jist had a big doll an' some place fer to keep its clo'es, I wouldn't never want to go outside'n de do'."
With a long sigh she turned away and trotted down the street, and something in that wishful glance of hers made one feel like Christmas.
IT IS very fitting that the world should hold its greatest festival because a little child was born, more fitting than most things the world does. In spite of all the things that are that should not be, children continue to be born into the world and to celebrate the birthday of the child who made all childhood sacred. One cannot be wholly a pessimist while this is so. The world has something to be proud of yet. It has perverted all other truth than that of childhood; it has killed all other faith, but the faith of childhood defies it; it has tainted all other love, but the one of the children is still pure enough to give to God. We have begun to realize this in these days. We write great books for children and paint great pictures for them, and great men have given their greatest work to make those first few years of life realize all the happiness of which poets dream. In this age when time means money, civilization unbends business, puts on its best clothes and eats plum pudding and reads story books to the children and pats itself on the back, for after all it can say that all its men are good and all its women noble — till they are ten years old.
IT IS not a very great while till Christmas now. One begins to feel the restlessness and secrecy in the air, and to smell the cedar and see the holly gleaming in the windows. Almost every one I meet has a bundle and is hurrying home to hide it. The toy shops are filled with people buying things for the children they love. It seems to me that I too must be buying and hiding away something for a child I used to love and I wonder what it shall be. It has been a long time since I have seen her, and I do not even know if they keep Christmas in her country, but I must send her something because I am lonely and think of her, and I wish in some way to get near again to the only love I have ever known which was never darkened by pain or misunderstanding. I must get something and hide it away where no one can see. No matter what it is, she will like it, for she is not like other children. They will grow old and forget and cease to love, but her childhood is eternal. Perhaps it will be only a few flowers, and on Christmas eve, when other people are filling the stockings while the children sleep, I will slip out to you, who are asleep too, and I will put the flowers in the snow over your grave, little one, and perhaps their fragrance will creep down to you somehow, and you will dream of other flowers that I gave you in other days down in our own country where we were both happy. Perhaps, too, since they say the stars shine brighter on Christmas night, perhaps through the frozen earth that shuts you from me, the light of those we used to know and name will reach you, and you will remember, and know that I do not forget.
Balzac: Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was a French journalist and writer, and is associated with the Realist movement. During his career, he wrote enough material for 90 novels and novellas that featured more than 2,000 characters and focused on the traditions, atmosphere, and habits of bourgeois France.
Walt Mason: Canadian-born Kansas prose poet, commonly known as "Uncle Walt" (1862-1939), he worked at the Nebraska State Journal at the same time as Cather. He achieved his greatest fame writing for William Allen White's Emporia (KS) Gazette.
Colonel Bixby: Dr. A.L. Bixby (b. 1856) studied at Rush Medical College in Chicago and came to Fullerton, Nebraska, in 1879, where he ran a newspaper. He came to Lincoln and began writing a column and poetry for the Nebraska State Journal about a year before Cather began hers. He published Driftwood: A Modest Collection of Random Rhymes, Written at Odd Times for Odd People in 1895.
Keats: English Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) was apprenticed to a surgeon, but after 1817 he devoted himself to poetry. His first books, Poems (1817) and Endymion (1818), were savagely reviewed in 1818; in the legends of Keats which grew up in the nineteenth century, this was supposed to have broken his spirits, and an unhappy love for Fanny Brawne is supposed to have broken his heart. His greatest poems—"The Eve of St. Agnes," the "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "To a Nightingale"—were written in 1819, while his health was beginning to decline. In late 1820 he went to Italy and died of tuberculosis in Rome the following February.
Martin Luther's: Martin Luther (1483-1546), the center of the Protestant Reformation, was born in a peasant family. He was educated for the law at the University of Erfurt, but suddenly entered an ascetic religious order and became a monk. He became professor of theology at the University of Wittenburg, where his focus was on the practical: how to find salvation. This brought him into the conflict with the prevailing practice of selling indulgences; he nailed his ninety-five theses (topics for debate) to the door of the university church in 1517. The controversies that followed led to a break with the Roman Catholic Church; Luther's sermons and writings were influential in establishing the basic tenets of Protestantism.
trio: Probably the world, the flesh, and the devil, the enemies of the Christian. Although the phrase may not have been original with Luther, it is found in his writings; the Maundy Thursday sermon of 1529 says: "For this reason, because Christ saw all of this, he commanded us to pray and instituted the Sacrament for us to administer often, so that we are protected against the devil, the world, and the flesh." The phrase entered into the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in the Litany.
Sweetest and truest humorists . . . miserable lives: Cather may have been thinking of writers such as Charles Lamb (1775-1834), Oliver Goldsmith (c. 1730-1774), perhaps Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), whom she groups with Goldsmith in a December 16, 1899 column. Lamb's Essays of Elia combine humor and pathos: Lamb suffered from insanity in his youth, and took on the lifelong care of his sister, Mary, who had attacked their father and killed their mother in a fit of insanity in 1796. Goldsmith was ugly, envious, laughed-at, and always desperately in debt, but produced the genial novel, The Vicar of Wakefield and the comedy She Stoops to Conquer. De Quincy, who wrote many serious as well as humorous essays for various journals, was addicted to opium from his youth, as recounted in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and was continually harried by debt—he was imprisoned at least eight times.
Virginian: The poor southern storekeeper anticipates in some ways the protagonist of Cather's early story, "El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional" (1901). In that story Colonel Josiah Bywaters (a surname Cather would use in 1940 in Sapphira and the Slave Girl), from Winchester, though he has sunk all his money in the failed Kansas town of El Dorado, refuses to accept payment from a dying woman and a little girl.
Wyuka: Wyuka cemetery, then just outside of town at 35th and O Streets, is the Nebraska state cemetery and was Lincoln's main cemetery for Protestants; Calvary cemetery, across O Street, is the Roman Catholic cemetery. Wyuka was laid out as a park, with a small lake, and was a favorite picnic ground.
The Funke: The Funke Opera House was built in 1885 by Fred Funke (d. 1890), a Lincoln wholesale cigar, wine, and liquor dealer, on the southwest corner of 12th and O St. Until the Lansing Theatre was built it was the largest and finest theater in town. The first manager was Ed A. Church (d. 1927), followed by Robert McReynolds; Frank Zehrung managed it briefly, from July 1889 to January 1890, when L. M. Crawford took over. Zehrung resumed management in 1894. The building housed shops on the ground floor and offices in parts of the upper floors, as well as the theater itself.
One of the best pictures of Shakespeare: Two images of Shakespeare seem to have the faint smile that Cather describes: the Chandos portrait, which was believed to have been painted by Shakespeare's friend, Richard Burbage, and the Soest (or Zoust) portrait, painted twenty-one years after Shakespeare's death.
Spooners: The Spooners were a family acting troupe that toured the Midwest and played Lincoln regularly (see the review for 25 April 1895). Benjamin Spurgeon Spooner (1852-1899) married Mary (Molly) Gibbs Manson (1855-1940) in 1872; they were from Centerville, Iowa, where their three children, Edna May (b. 1873), Robert K. (b. 1876), and Cecil (b. 1878), were born. Benjamin's brother, Franklin E. Spooner (1860-1943), was also an actor. The stock company moved to New York about 1900; several of its alumni include Maurice Costello (1877-1950), who made his name as a screen lover in early silent films (and was the father of screen actresses Helen and Dolores Costello); J. Warren Kerrigan (1879-1947), one of the most popular silent stars of Westerns from 1911 into the 1920s; and J. Searle Dawley (1878-1949), who directed over 200 films for the Edison company, including Frankenstein (1910) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1912), and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1913) for Famous Players.
the "Peace on Earth": The first stanza of the Christmas carol written by Edmund H. Sears in 1849 goes:It came upon the midnight clear,That glorious song of old,From angels bending near the earth,To touch their harps of gold;"Peace on the earth, good will to men,From Heaven's all gracious King."The world in solemn stillness lay,To hear the angels sing.
the men who were watching their flocks by night: Luke 2.1-17 tells the story of the angels coming to the shepherds in the fields, announcing the birth of the savior. The reference could also be to the well-known Christmas carol by Nahum Tate (1702), with music by George Frederick Handel (1728), based on the passage:While shepherds watched their flocks by night,All seated on the ground,The angel of the Lord came down,And glory shone around,And glory shone around.
city of David: Two biblical cities, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, are known as the "city of David." Bethlehem is credited because it was David's birthplace and early home. Jerusalem was associated with the king as his capital after he took control of the fortress of Mount Zion, which is located on the southwest side of the city. The angel tells the shepherds in Luke 2.11, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."