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- The Potiphar Papers - 24/24 -

tires of this pastoral sweetness, I am too glad to obey your summons. In my younger days when I loved to press the stops of oaten pipes, and--a plaintive swain--fancied every woman what she seemed, and every man my friend,--I should have hailed the prospect of a life in an Arcadia like this. How gladly I should have climbed its Pisgah-peaks of hope, and have looked off into the Future, flowing with milk and honey. I would grieve (if I could) that my sated appetite refuses more,--that I must lay down my crook and play the shepherd no longer. Yet I know well enough that in the perfumed atmosphere of the circle to which I return, I shall recur often, with more than regret, to the humane, polished, intelligent, and simple society I leave behind me,--shall wonder if Miss Minerva Tattle still prattles kindly among the birds and flowers,--if Mrs. Potiphar still leads, by her innate nobility, and not by the accident of wealth, the swarm of gay, and graceful, and brilliant men and women that surround her.

I humbly trust, sable son of midnight, my lord and master, that my present report and summary will be found worthy of that implicit confidence immemorially accorded to diplomatic communications. I could ask for it no other reception.

Your slave,







I am very anxious that you should allow me to receive your son Frederic as a pupil, at my parsonage, here in the country. I have not lived in the city without knowing something about it, despite my cloth, and I am concerned at the peril to which every young man is there exposed. There is a proud philosophy in vogue that everything that _can_ be injured had better be destroyed as rapidly as possible, and put out of the way at once. But I recall a deeper and tenderer wisdom which declared, "A bruised reed will he not break." The world is not made for the prosperous alone, nor for the strong. We may wince at the truth, but we must at length believe it,--that the poor in spirit, and the poor in will, and the poor in success, are appointed as pensioners upon our care.

In my house your son will miss the luxuries of his home, but he will, perhaps, find as cordial a sympathy in his little interests, and as careful a consultation of his desires and aims. He will have pure air, a tranquil landscape, a pleasant society; my books, variously selected, my direction and aid in his studies, and a neighborhood to town that will place its resources within his reach. A city, it seems to me, is mainly valuable as a gallery of opportunities. But a man should not live exclusively in his library, nor among his pictures. Letters and art may well decorate his life. But if they are not subsidiary to the man, and his character, then he is a sadder spectacle than a vain book or a poor picture. The eager whirl of a city tends either to beget a thirst that can only be sated by strong, yet dangerous excitement, or to deafen a man's ear, and harden his heart, to the really noble attractions around him.

It is well to know men. But men are not learned at the billiard table, nor in the barroom, nor by meeting them in an endless round of debauch, nor does a man know the world because he has been to Paris. It is a sad thing for a young man to seek applause by surpassing his companions in that which makes them contemptible. The best men of our own time have little leisure, and the best of other days have committed their better part to books, wherein we may know and love them.

There is nothing more admirable than good society, as there is nothing so fine as a noble man, nor so lovely as a beautiful woman. And to the perfect enjoyment of such society an ease and grace are necessary, which are hardly to be acquired, but are rather, like beauty and talent, the gift of Nature. That ease and grace will certainly run great risk of disappearing, in the embrace of a fashion unchastened by common sense; and it is observable that the sensitive _gaucherie_ of a countryman is more agreeable than the pert composure of a citizen.

I do not deny that your son must lose something, if you accede to my request, but I assuredly believe that he will gain more than he will lose. My profession makes me more dogmatic, probably, than is strictly courteous. But I have observed, in my recent visits to town, that Courtesy, also, is getting puny and unmanly, and that a counterfeit, called Compliment, is often mistaken for it. You will smile, probably at my old-fashioned whims, and regret that I am behind my time. But really, it strikes me, that the ineffectual imitation of an exploded social organization is, at least, two centuries behind my time. The youth who, socially speaking, are termed Young America, represent, in character and conduct, anything but their own time and their own country.

I will not deny that the secret of my interest in your son, is an earlier interest in yourself--a wild dream we dreamed together, so long ago that it seems not to be a part of my life. The companion of those other days I do not recognize in the glittering lady I sometimes see. But in her child I trace the likeness of the girl I knew, and it is to the memory of that girl--whose lovely traits I will still believe are not destroyed, but are somewhere latent in the woman--that I consecrate the task I wish to undertake. I am married, and I am happy. But sometimes through the sweet tranquillity of my life streams the pensive splendor of that long-vanished summer, and I cannot deny the heart that will dream of what might have been.

Madame, I can wish you nothing more sincerely than that as your lot is with the rich in this world, it may be with the poor in the world to come.

Your obedient servant,


The Potiphar Papers - 24/24

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