global  >   America  >   NYC

Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 14:58:35
Typeface large in Small
Chapter 23

I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value--certainly no large value. When Charles Dudley Warner and I were about to bring out The Gilded Age, the editor of the Daily Graphic persuaded me to let him have an advance copy, he giving me his word of honor that no notice of it should appear in his paper until after the Atlantic Monthly notice should have appeared. This reptile published a review of the book within three days afterward, I could not really complain, because he had only given me his word of honor as security. I ought to have required of him something substantial. I believe his notice did not deal mainly with the merit of the book, or the lack of it, but with my moral attitude toward the public. It was charged that I had used my reputation to play a swindle upon the public--that Mr. Warner had written as much as half of the book, and that I had used my name to float it and give it currency--a currency which it could not have acquired without my name--and that this conduct of mine was a grave fraud upon the people. The Graphic was not an authority upon any subject whatever. It had a sort of distinction in that it was the first and only illustrated daily newspaper that the world had seen; but it was without character, it was poorly and cheaply edited, its opinion of a book or of any other work of art was of no consequence. Everybody knew this, yet all the critics in America, one after the other, copied the Graphic's criticism, merely changing the phraseology, and left me under that charge of dishonest conduct. Even the great Chicago Tribune, the most important journal in the Middle West, was not able to invent anything fresh, but adopted the view of the humble Daily Graphic, dishonesty charge and all. However, let it go. It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.

The spelling is frequently desperate, but it was Susy's, and it shall stand. I love it, and cannot profane it. To me, it is gold. To correct it would alloy it, not refine it. It would spoil it. It would take from it its freedom and flexibility and make it stiff and formal. Even when it is most extravagant I am not shocked. It is Susy's spelling, and she was doing the best she could--and nothing could better it for me.

Villa Quarto(Florence, January, 1904)This villa is situated three or four miles from Florence, and has several names. Some call it the Villa Reale di Quarto, some call it the Villa Principessa, some call it the Villa Granduchessa; this multiplicity of names was an inconvenience to me for the first two or three weeks, for as I had heard the place called by only one name, when letters came for the servants directed to the care of one or the other of the other names, I supposed a mistake had been made and remailed them. It has been explained to me that there is reason for these several names. Its name Quarto it gets from the district which it is in, it being in the four-mile radius from the center of Florence. It is called Reale because the King of Würtemberg occupied it at one time; Principessa and Granduchessa because a Russian daughter of the Imperial house occupied it at another. There is a history of the house somewhere, and some time or other I shall get it and see if there are any details in it which could be of use in this chapter. I should like to see that book, for as an evolutionist I should like to know the beginning of this dwelling and the several stages of its evolution. Baedeker says it was built by Cosimo I, assisted by an architect. I have learned this within the past three minutes, and it wrecks my development scheme. I was surmising that the house began in a small and humble way, and was the production of a poor farmer whose idea of home and comfort it was; that following him a generation or two later came a successor of better rank and larger means who built an addition; that successor after successor added more bricks and more bulk as time dragged on, each in his turn leaving a detail behind him of paint or wallpaper to distinguish his reign from the others; that finally in the last century came the three that precede me, and added their specialties. The King of Würtemberg broke out room enough in the center of the building--about a hundred feet from each end of it--to put in the great staircase, a cheap and showy affair, almost the only wooden thing in the whole edifice, and as comfortable and sane and satisfactory as it is out of character with the rest of the asylum. The Russian princess, who came with native superstitions about cold weather, added the hot-air furnaces in the cellar and the vast green majolica stove in the great hall where the king's staircase is--a stove which I thought might possibly be a church--a nursery church for children, so imposing is it for size and so richly adorned with basso relievos of an ultra-pious sort. It is loaded and fired from a secret place behind the partition against which it is backed. Last of all came Satan also, the present owner of the house, an American product, who added a cheap and stingy arrangement of electric bells, inadequate acetylene gas plant, obsolete waterclosets, perhaps a dozen pieces of machine-made boarding-house furniture, and some fire-auction carpets which blaspheme the standards of color and art all day long, and never quiet down until the darkness comes and pacifies them.However, if the house was built for Cosimo four hundred years ago and with an architect on deck, I suppose I must dismiss those notions about the gradual growth of the house in bulk. Cosimo would want a large house, he would want to build it himself so that he could have it just the way he wanted it. I think he had his will. In the architecture of this barrack there has been no development. There was no architecture in the first place and none has been added, except the king's meretricious staircase, the princess's ecclesiastical stove, and the obsolete water-closets. I am speaking of art-architecture; there is none.There is no more architecture of that breed discoverable in this long stretch of ugly and ornamentless three-storied house front than there is about a rope walk or a bowling alley. The shape and proportions of the house suggest those things, it being two hundred feet long by sixty wide. There is no art-architecture inside the house, there is none outside.We arrive now at practical architecture--the useful, the indispensable, which plans the inside of a house and by wisely placing and distributing the rooms, or by studiedly and ineffectually distributing them, makes the house a convenient and comfortable and satisfactory abiding place or the reverse. The inside of the house is evidence that Cosimo's architect was not in his right mind. And it seems to me that it is not fair and not kind in Baedeker to keep on exposing him and his crime down to this late date. I am nobler than Baedeker, and more humane, and I suppress it. I don't remember what it was, anyway.I shall go into the details of this house, not because I imagine it differs much from any other old-time palace or new-time palace on the continent of Europe, but because every one of its crazy details interests me, and therefore may be expected to interest others of the human race, particularly women. When they read novels they usually skip the weather, but I have noticed that they read with avidity all that a writer says about the furnishings, decorations, conveniences, and general style of a home.The interior of this barrack is so chopped up and systemless that one cannot deal in exact numbers when trying to put its choppings-up into statistics.In the basement or cellar there are as follows:Stalls and boxes for many horses--right under the principal bedchamber. The horses noisily dance to the solicitations of the multitudinous flies all night.Feed stores.Carriage house.Acetylene-gas plant.A vast kitchen. Put out of use years ago.Another kitchen.Coal rooms.Coke rooms.Peat rooms.Wood rooms.3 furnaces.Wine rooms.Various storerooms for all sorts of domestic supplies.Lot of vacant and unclassified rooms.Labyrinth of corridors and passages, affording the stranger an absolute certainty of getting lost.A vast cesspool! It is cleaned out every thirty years.Couple of dark stairways leading up to the ground floor.About twenty divisions, as I count them.This cellar seems to be of the full dimension of the house's foundation--say two hundred feet by sixty.The ground floor, where I am dictating--is cut up into twenty-three rooms, halls, corridors, and so forth. The next floor above contains eighteen divisions of the like sort, one of which is the billiard room and another the great drawing-room.The top story consists of twenty bedrooms and a furnace. Large rooms they necessarily are, for they are arranged ten on a side, and they occupy that whole space of two hundred feet long by sixty wide, except that there is a liberal passage, or hallway, between them. There are good fireplaces up there, and they would make charming bedchambers if handsomely and comfortably furnished and decorated. But there would need to be a lift--not a European lift, with its mere stand-up space and its imperceptible movement, but a roomy and swift American one.These rooms are reached now by the same process by which they were reached in Cosimo's time--by leg power. Their brick floors are bare and unpainted, their walls are bare and painted the favorite European color, which is now and always has been an odious stomach-turning yellow. It is said that these rooms were intended for servants only and that they were meant to accommodate two or three servants apiece. It seems certain that they have not been occupied by any but servants in the last fifty or one hundred years, otherwise they would exhibit some remains of decoration.If, then, they have always been for the use of servants only, where did Cosimo and his family sleep? Where did the King of Würtemberg bestow his dear ones? For below that floor there are not any more than three good bedchambers and five devilish ones. With eighty cut-ups in the house and with but four persons in my family, this large fact is provable: that we can't invite a friend to come and stay a few days with us, because there is not a bedroom unoccupied by ourselves that we could offer him without apologies. In fact, we have no friend whom we love so little and respect so moderately as to be willing to stuff him into one of those vacant cells.Yes--where did the vanished aristocracy sleep? I mean the real aristocracy, not the American successor who required no room to speak of. To go on with my details: this little room where I am dictating these informations on this eighth day of January, 1904, is on the east side of the house. It is level with the ground and one may step from its nine- or ten-feet-high vast door into the terrace garden, which is a great, square, level space surrounded by an ornamental iron railing with vases of flowers distributed here and there along its top. It is a pretty terrace with abundant green grass, with handsome trees, with a great fountain in the middle, and with roses of various tints nodding in the balmy air and flashing back the rays of the January sun. Beyond the railing to the eastward stretches the private park, and through its trees curves the road to the far-off iron gate on the public road, where there is neither porter nor porter's lodge nor any way to communicate with the mansion. Yet from time immemorial the Italian villa has been a fortress hermetically sealed up in high walls of masonry and with entrance guarded by locked iron gates. The gates of Italy have always been locked at nightfall and kept locked the night through. No Italian trusted his contadini neighbors in the old times, and his successor does not trust them now. There are bells and porters for the convenience of outsiders desiring to get in at other villas, but it is not the case with this one, and apparently never has been. Surely it must have happened now and then that these kings and nobilities got caught out after the gates were locked. Then how did they get in? We shall never know. The question cannot be answered. It must take its place with the other unsolved mystery of where the aristocracies slept during those centuries when they occupied this fortress.To return to that glass door. Outside it are exceedingly heavy and coarse Venetian shutters, a fairly good defense against a catapult.These, like the leaves of the glass door, swing open in the French fashion, and I will remark in passing that to my mind the French window is as rational and convenient as the English-American window is the reverse of this. Inside the glass door (three or four inches inside of it) are solid doors made of boards, good and strong and ugly. The shutters, the glass door, and these wooden-door defenses against intrusion of light and thieves are all armed with strong and heavy bolts which are shot up and down by the turning of a handle. These house walls being very thick, these doors and shutters and things do not crowd one another, there is plenty of space between them, and there is room for more in case we should get to feeling afraid. This shuttered glass door, this convenient exit to the terrace and garden, is not the only one on this side of the house from which one can as handily step upon the terrace. There is a procession of them stretching along, door after door, along the east, or rear, front of the house, from its southern end to its northern end--eleven in the procession. Beginning at the south end they afford exit from a parlor; a large bedroom (mine); this little twelve-by-twenty reception room where I am now at work; and a ten-by-twelve ditto, which is in effect the beginning of a corridor forty feet long by twelve wide, with three sets of triple glass doors for exit to the terrace. The corridor empties into a dining room, and the dining room into two large rooms beyond, all with glass-door exits to the terrace. When the doors which connect these seven rooms and the corridor are thrown open the two-hundred-foot stretch of variegated carpeting with its warring and shouting and blaspheming tumult of color makes a fine and almost contenting, receding, and diminishing perspective, and one realizes that if some sane person could have the privilege and the opportunity of burning the existing carpets and instituting harmonies of color in their place, the reformed perspective would be very beautiful. Above each of the eleven glass doors is a duplicate on the next floor--ten feet by six, of glass. And above each of these on the topmost floor is a smaller window--thirty-three good openings for light on this eastern front, the same on the western front, and nine of ampler size on each end of the house. Fifty-six of these eighty-four windows contain double enough glass to equip the average window of an American dwelling, yet the house is by no means correspondingly light. I do not know why; perhaps it is because of the dismal upholstering of the walls.Villa di Quarto is a palace; Cosimo built it for that, his architect intended it for that, it has always been regarded as a palace, and an old resident of Florence told me the other day that it was a good average sample of the Italian palace of the great nobility, and that its grotesqueness and barbarities, incongruities and destitution of conveniences, are to be found in the rest. I am able to believe this because I have seen some of the others.I think there is not a room in this huge confusion of rooms and halls and corridors and cells and waste spaces which does not contain some memento of each of its illustrious occupants, or at least two or three of them.We will examine the parlor at the head of that long perspective which I have been describing. The arched ceiling is beautiful both in shape and in decoration. It is finely and elaborately frescoed. The ceiling is a memento of Cosimo. The doors are draped with heavy pale-blue silk, faintly figured; that is the King of Würtemberg relic. The gleaming-white brass-banded, porcelain pagoda which contains an open fireplace for wood is a relic of the Russian princess and a remembrancer of her native experiences of cold weather. The light-gray wallpaper figured with gold flowers is anybody's--we care not to guess its pedigree. The rest of the room is manifestly a result of the present occupation. The floor is covered with a felt-like filling of strenuous red; one can almost see Pharaoh's host floundering in it. There are four rugs scattered about like islands, violent rugs whose colors swear at one another and at the Red Sea. There is a sofa upholstered in a coarse material, a frenzy of green and blue and blood, a cheap and undeceptive imitation of Florentine embroidery. There is a sofa and two chairs upholstered in pale-green silk, figured; the wood is of three different breeds of American walnut, flimsy, cheap, machine-made. There is a French-walnut sofa upholstered in figured silk of a fiendish crushed-strawberry tint of a faded aspect, and there is an armchair which is a mate to it. There is a plain and naked black-walnut table without a cover to modify its nudity; under it is a large round ottoman covered with the palest of pale-green silk, a sort of glorified mushroom which curses with all its might at the Red Sea and the furious rugs and the crushed-strawberry relics. Against the wall stands a tall glass-fronted bookcase, machine-made--the material, American butternut. It stands near enough to the King of Würtemberg's heavy silken door-drapery to powerfully accent its cheapness and ugliness by contrast. Upon the walls hang three good water-colors, six or eight very bad ones, a pious-looking portrait, and a number of photographs, one of them a picture of a count, who has a manly and intelligent face and looks like a gentleman.The whole literature of this vast house is contained in that fire-auction American bookcase. There are four shelves. The top one is made up of indiscriminate literature of good quality; the next shelf is made up of cloth-covered books devoted to Christian Science and spiritualism--forty thin books; the two remaining shelves contain fifty-four bound volumes of Blackwood, in date running backward from about 1870. This bookcase and its contents were probably imported from America.The room just described must be dignified with that imposing title, library, on account of the presence in it of that butternut bookcase and its indigent contents. It does duty, now, as a private parlor for Mrs. Clemens during those brief and widely separated occasions when she is permitted to leave for an hour the bed to which she has been so long condemned. We are in the extreme south end of the house, if there is any such thing as a south end to a house, where orientation cannot be determined by me, because I am incompetent in all cases where an object does not point directly north or south. This one slants across between, and is therefore a confusion to me. This little private parlor is in one of the two corners of what I call the south end of the house. The sun rises in such a way that all the morning it is pouring its light in through the thirty-three glass doors or windows which pierce the side of the house which looks upon the terrace and garden, as already described; the rest of the day the light floods this south end of the house; as I call it; at noon the sun is directly above Florence yonder in the distance in the plain--directly above those architectural features which have been so familiar to the world in pictures for some centuries: the Duomo, the Campanile, the Tomb of the Medici, and the beautiful tower of the Palazzo Vecchio; above Florence, but not very high above it, for it never climbs quite halfway to the zenith in these winter days; in this position it begins to reveal the secrets of the delicious blue mountains that circle around into the west, for its light discovers, uncovers, and exposes a white snowstorm of villas and cities that you cannot train yourself to have confidence in, they appear and disappear so mysteriously and so as if they might be not villas and cities at all, but the ghosts of perished ones of the remote and dim Etruscan times; and late in the afternoon the sun sinks down behind those mountains somewhere, at no particular time and at no particular place, so far as I can see.This "library," or boudoir, or private parlor, opens into Mrs. Clemens's bedroom, and it and the bedroom together stretch all the way across the south end of the house. The bedroom gets the sun before noon, and is prodigally drenched and deluged with it the rest of the day. One of its windows is particularly well calculated to let in a liberal supply of sunshine, for it contains twelve great panes, each of them more than two feet square. The bedroom is thirty-one feet long by twenty-four wide, and there had been a time when it and the "library" had no partition between, but occupied the whole breadth of the south end of the house in an unbroken stretch. It must have been a ballroom or banqueting room at that time. I suggest this merely because perhaps not even Cosimo would need so much bedroom, whereas it would do very well indeed as a banqueting room because of its proximity to the cooking arrangements, which were not more than two or three hundred yards away, down cellar, a very eligible condition of things indeed in the old times. Monarchs cannot have the conveniences which we plebeians are privileged to luxuriate in--they can't, even to-day. If I were invited to spend a week in Windsor Castle it would gladden me and make me feel proud; but if there was any hint about regular boarders I should let on that I didn't hear. As a palace Windsor Castle is great; great for show, spaciousness, display, grandeur, and all that; but the bedrooms are small, uninviting, and inconvenient, and the arrangements for delivering food from the kitchen to the table are so clumsy and waste so much time, that a meal there probably suggests recent cold storage. This is only conjecture; I did not eat there. In Windsor Castle the courses are brought up by dumb waiter from the profound depth where the vast kitchen is; they are then transferred by rail on a narrow little tramway to the territory where the dinner is to have place. This trolley was still being worked by hand when I was there four years ago; still it was without doubt a great advance upon Windsor Castle transportation of any age before Queen Victoria's. It is startling to reflect that what we call convenience in a dwelling house, and which we regard as necessities, were born so recently that hardly one of them existed in the world when Queen Victoria was born. The valuable part---to my thinking the valuable part--of what we call civilization had no existence when she emerged upon the planet. She sat in her chair in that venerable fortress and saw it grow from its mustard seed to the stupendous tree which it had become before she died. She saw the whole of the new creation, she saw everything that was made, and without her witness was not anything made that was made. A very creditable creation indeed, taking all things into account; since man, quite unassisted, did it all out of his own head. I jump to this conclusion because I think that if Providence had been minded to help him, it would have occurred to Providence to do this some hundred thousand centuries earlier. We are accustomed to seeing the hand of Providence in everything. Accustomed, because if we missed it, or thought we missed it, we had discretion enough not to let on. We are a tactful race. We have been prompt to give Providence the credit of this fine and showy new civilization and we have been quite intemperate in our praises of this great benefaction; we have not been able to keep still over this splendid five-minute attention; we can only keep still about the ages of neglect which preceded it and which it makes so conspicuous. When Providence washes one of his worms into the sea in a tempest, then starves him and freezes him on a plank for thirty-four days, and finally wrecks him again on an uninhabited island, where he lives on shrimps and grasshoppers and other shell-fish for three months, and is at last rescued by some old whisky-soaked, profane, and blasphemous infidel of a tramp captain, and carried home gratis to his friends, the worm forgets that it was Providence that washed him overboard, and only remembers that Providence rescued him. He finds no fault, he has no sarcasms for Providence's crude and slow and labored ingenuities of invention in the matter of life-saving, he sees nothing in these delays and ineffectiveness but food for admiration; to him they seem a marvel, a miracle; and the longer they take and the more ineffective they are, the greater the miracle; meantime he never allows himself to break out in any good hearty unhandicapped thanks for the tough old shipmaster who really saved him, he damns him with faint praise as "the instrument," his rescuer "under Providence."

If we would learn what the human race really is at bottom, we need only observe it in election times. A Hartford clergyman met me in the street and spoke of a new nominee--denounced the nomination, in strong, earnest words--words that were refreshing for their independence, their manliness. He said, "I ought to be proud, perhaps, for this nominee is a relative of mine; on the contrary, I am humiliated and disgusted, for I know him intimately--familiarly--and I know that he is an unscrupulous scoundrel, and always has been." You should have seen this clergyman preside at a political meeting forty days later, and urge, and plead, and gush--and you should have heard him paint the character of this same nominee. You would have supposed he was describing the Cid, and Greatheart, and Sir Galahad, and Bayard the Spotless all rolled into one. Was he sincere? Yes--by that time; and therein lies the pathos of it all, the hopelessness of it all. It shows at what trivial cost of effort a man can teach himself to lie, and learn to believe it, when he perceives, by the general drift, that that is the popular thing to do. Does he believe his lie yet? Oh, probably not; he has no further use for it. It was but a passing incident; he spared to it the moment that was its due, then hastened back to the serious business of his life.

. . . There are certain sweet-smelling sugar-coated lies current in the world which all politic men have apparently tacitly conspired together to support and perpetuate. One of these is, that there is such a thing in the world as independence: independence of thought, independence of opinion, independence of action. Another is, that the world loves to see independence--admires it, applauds it. Another is, that there is such a thing in the world as toleration--in religion, in politics, and such matters; and with it trains that already mentioned auxiliary lie that toleration is admired and applauded. Out of these trunk-lies spring many branch ones: to wit, the lie that not all men are slaves: the lie that men are glad when other men succeed; glad when they prosper; glad to see them reach lofty heights; sorry to see them fall again. And yet other branch lies: to wit, that there is heroism in man; that he is not mainly made up of malice and treachery; that he is sometimes not a coward; that there is something about him that ought to be perpetuated--in heaven, or hell, or somewhere. And these other branch lies, to wit: that conscience, man's moral medicine chest, is not only created by the Creator, but is put into man ready charged with the right and only true and authentic correctives of conduct--and the duplicate chest, with the self-same correctives, unchanged, unmodified, distributed to all nations and all epochs. And yet one other branch lie: to wit, that I am I, and you are you; that we are units, individuals, and have natures of our own, instead of being the tail end of a tapeworm eternity of ancestors extending in linked procession back and back and back--to our source in the monkeys, with this so-called individuality of ours a decayed and rancid mush of inherited instincts and teachings derived, atom by atom, stench by stench, from the entire line of that sorry column, and not so much new and original matter in it as you could balance on a needle point and examine under a microscope. This makes well-nigh fantastic the suggestion that there can be such a thing as a personal, original, and responsible nature in a man, separable from that in him which is not original, and findable in such quantity as to enable the observer to say, This is a man, not a procession.

I knew I had. During that day at Heidelberg, so many ages ago, many charitable people tried furtively to get that young Miss Smith to adopt the prevailing pronunciation of Schloss, by saying Schloss softly and casually every time she said "Slosh," but nobody succeeded in converting her. And I knew perfectly well that this was that same old Smith girl, because there could not be two persons on this planet at one and the same time who could preserve and stick to a mispronunciation like that for nearly a generation.

Yesterday I asked the surgeon (Johnson, living opposite us) if that were so. He said "Yes," that the trouble was cancer of the liver and that there was no help for it in surgery; the case was quite hopeless; the end was not many weeks off. A pitiful case, indeed!


Copyrightchina(cn)ding ding Technical supportding ding
Host BNN News NetworkCo operation BNNCopyright BNN News Network