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- Observations of a Retired Veteran - 6/11 -


we can make no bargain nor compromise about the time and place where our life shall end, let us take the matter into our own hands and so live that it will matter little when or where the end comes. So live that when the summons come,

"Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN VII

I sometimes come to the conclusion that it is in Winter that a Philosopher has his several trials. That is, of course, a married Philosopher. For of the other sort I take no account, seeing that with their mode of life they have little need of Philosophy, unless, indeed, it be esteemed so lowly a remedy as to be put at the beck and call of men for evils they invite to themselves. Philosophy I hold to be a Patent Medicine of the higher sort, which is to be taken only for those afflictions brought us by others, and by which we are enabled to assuage our own misery through inspecting from an elevated plane the folly, or extravagance, or weakness of those who have afflicted us. It is a mental jack-screw by which we wind ourselves up to a height from which we can look down on lacks in others. To lose sight of our own pain after shooting down a flight of steps, in grave pitying contemplation of the stupidity of the chambermaid who left the bar of soap on the first step--that is your true Philosophy. And the man who forgets to rub his back, through pitying her ignorance, is the true philosopher. It is a quality from the gods, and whether exhibited over the minor calamity of soap, or the graver distress to which the married Philosopher too often falls heir, shows its origin in a heavenly calm. To him, I think I have said, this calm has its severe trial in the winter; but now that I think of it again, if I were writing this in the summer, I should say that season was the severest. Indeed, thinking of it still further, I am puzzled to decide on any season that does not bring to him the severest trials of his heavenly serenity. The other night Mrs. Boyzy, as she slipped one of the little stockings off the wooden ball, which has served our children for so many years and so many purposes--from filling out a croquet set, to the braining of their parents--her kindly, and to me still beautiful face, lighting up with a smile, said: "We are having a real gay winter in Staunton, dear." Alas, I knew it well, Between High Teas and Blue Teas, and Ladies' Lunches and Bands of Twenties, I knew it well. I knew it from the number of times that I have had to steal in like a thief in the night, at my own side gate and make my way into a cold set-out in the nursery, while a High Tea was progressing down stairs accompanied by the hum of feminine voices. I knew it from the cold nights I have had to carry our eldest daughter to her club, with the dreary reflection that it was to be still colder later, when young Jones or young Tompkins would have to bring her home; and when Mrs. Boyzy would wake me from my slumber and in dressing gown and slippers I would shiver behind the front door till young Jones and she, after much low murmuring, would separate, and the light of the family would consent to come inside. I knew it. I always know it, 'being a victim of dyspepsia--from the bonbons and other gim-cracks which are served out at my family table after these lunches and teas, and which are persistently served out until, as my wife calls it, they are "finished." Had I not that very evening had served to me a piece of fruit-cake made, I believe, when our eldest girl was in short dresses! I knew it from the short party calls which have rattled like bird-shot against the Boyzy mansion, to the utter wreck of my quiet evenings with Mrs. Boyzy--a woman that I had much rather talk to than all the callers in the world. And all this that I knew so well, was put by that estimable woman under the head of a "real gay winter." Before I could apply the elevating mental jack-screw that raises me above all earthly troubles, I could not help feeling that the inquiry was pretty much like asking a scrambling lobster boiling in the pot, if he was not having a real gay evening? I am afraid I mentioned--some such impression to my wife, for I was soon astonished by finding that I was instrumental in the whole business. "But, my dear," she replied, "we have to do it. Every one does it." We! I was astonished to find that instead of being a victim I had been an accessory, perhaps the chief criminal, in bringing it about. A few questions from the ever-ready partner of my joys soon convinced me that if I had not been a great criminal, it was only through lack of time and opportunity. Did I have any idea of what was due to the position of my family in society? What would become of our children's "prospects"? What sort of life would my family lead--and here the severe inflection of her voice convinced my crime-stricken conscience that nothing but a miracle--and Mrs. Boyzy--could have saved my family from utter social destruction if I had been allowed to have my way. Happily, by this time, Philosophy had come to my aid, and looking through its beautifying and mellowing mist, all was changed. The teas and the lunches and the clubs appeared in the brightest tints; the shivering waits behind the front door changed into evening strolls into tropical gardens; the gray sprinkled hair of my wife changed into the sunny auburn of her youth, and she once more stood in the little church of our old home listening to the words, "For better or for worse." Happy the married Philosopher who wears around his neck with an even temper and an understanding mind, this talisman of happiness devised by far-seeing men of other days--"For better or for worse." Man cannot harm him nor Womankind disappoint him.

* * * * *

I have been sitting up by the bedside of a dying Adjective. It was not through pity that I sat there, but through hate. For I detest an Adjective. It is the father of lies, the author of affectation and the progenitor of all exaggeration. They should be remitted to limbo with all the other crudities of youth. I have listened to the point of exasperation, through an evening, to the absurd use of adjectives by young girls of education and with some claims to good taste. Somehow it sometimes comes to me, that this use of adjectives is the besetting sin of the female conversationalists of this day. Some young fellows unsex themselves so far as to follow the bad example, but the majority of that sex substitute oaths for adjectives, which is a social habit on too low a plane for criticism here. But on all sides in the social conversation of the young people of this day, it seems to be agreed to give good, plain, strong English the go-by and to indulge in the embroidery of adjectives. Tawdry adjectives such as 'beautiful', 'lovely,' 'horrid', 'awful', and the like worn tinsel. I suppose I might venture the assertion without fear of contradiction, that this is the stock in trade in most young girls in qualifying their conversation. The use of that tinsel gives a wholly unreal tone to what is being said and is so pregnant with affectation as to be tiresome. Between slang and adjectives, it is hard to choose, both are so detestable from a woman's lips. The difference is that the adjective insidiously captures the refined mind, while slang only holds captive the coarse mind. In a plain and intended to be truthful statement of any occurrence, the injection of three or four adjectives will change the whole tenor of narration, and give it a vraisemblance of untruth which it is hard for the hearer's mind to erase. As a matter of fact, an adjective ought to be a thought, not a word. A fact should be stated without embroidery, and we should think whether it is beautiful, lovely, and the like. There are many thoughts in the human mind that are not translatable into words. They may have been in some other language long gone, but they are not so in ours. As those words have gone into oblivion, so should the majority of our English adjectives follow them. I have forgotten to tell the patient I have been sitting up with. It is the adjective 'tasty.' Years ago Mrs. Boyzy set her foot down on this word, and as in duty bound, I also set my foot down. Whether our two feet have stamped the unhappy adjective out, or from some other cause that I know not of, its end has certainly come. As in all fierce popular outbreaks against long existing oppression, the weakest and most insignificant of the oppressors are often the first to fall, so this unexaggerative, unaggressive, ill-sounding little adjective is the first to die. Let us hope that an early day be appointed unto the others to follow it.

* * * * *

Have you ever watched a man going down? It is an interesting study, and a unique one, for the reason that no other animal has language by which to express the various stages at which he arrives before dropping out of the Procession of Life. Nor has any animal so many contrivances with which to dodge and play at hide and seek with Death. The earthly affection which abides in man, seems to overmaster all the other emotions--faith, hope, everything,--and he who firmly believes in a future existence is found as frantic in his efforts to delay its coming, as the veriest agnostic. Then faith seems to be a theological treasure of this earth, rather than a treasure of the future. The man with no tie to bind his soul to this planet is as reluctant to leave it as he who has the strongest ties of friendship, love and fatherhood. All mankind seem to have that dread of it which their children have of being put in a dark closet. But I am not going to investigate the mysterious dread of death, or the even more mysterious attachment to life. I am merely recalling to my memory men whom I have seen stagger awhile and then fall out of the line of life. There is no more pathetic sight to me, than a man when he first finds that he is failing. Like a child, he cannot understand it. This strange feeling that he has never had before; that pain that must come from this or that--they are all so new to him. He cannot realize that he is failing, and least of all can he realize the dread truth that it is time for him to fail. To a man's own mind he is always at that mythical stage, his "prime," as long as health lasts. It is piteous to hear his excuses for his failing body--it was this imprudence, it was that cold, it was too much or too little exercise--he cannot understand that it is the herald of the Messenger, and that a little way off through the mist he might see the Messenger himself holding the Lotus flower in his hand. It is more piteous still to see him, like a captured animal, seeking some way of escape through the bars. He must get a horse--it is only exercise he wants; he must have a longer vacation--it is only rest he wants; he must have more society--it is only recreation he needs; he must have less society--it is only quiet he requires. His blindness is inexplicable. He will walk in a garden and point out to you a tree that cannot last longer than such a time; he will point to a worn-out beast of burden that must die at such a time; he knows the death date of everything that springs from earth except himself. In his blind hope he grasps at the worst of straws. No new universal panacea comes out that he does not seize on it, and that he is not sure, for a little while is doing him good. At last he weakens in the struggle and is taken to the rear. The procession of Life moves on; he never joins it again. If all this had happened to only one man, the World would be in tears. As it happens to all men, the World hardly gives it a thought. But to him, that One Man is all the world, and it is hard to get his thoughts away from himself. As the Procession of Life passes on, and the hum of its marching columns grows fainter on his ears, let us hope that there may come to him that unworldly quiet that Death pityingly sends in advance, and amid which Hope steals noiselessly away from the bedside to make room for Faith. And in which he may take the pale flower from the hand of the Messenger, and following him through the dawn of a new birth, see another Hand, holding out to him the purple amaranth of Eternal Life.


Observations of a Retired Veteran - 6/11

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