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Have hunted their victims to gloom and despair; Raise the rich, dainty dress, and the fine broidered skirt, Pick your delicate way through the dampness and dirt.
Grope through the dark dens, climb the rickety stair To the garret, where wretches, the young and the old, Half starved and half naked, lie crouched from the cold; See those skeleton limbs, those frost-bitten feet,
All bleeding and bruised by the stones of the street;
Hear the sharp cry of childhood, the deep groans that swell From the poor dying creature who writhes on the floor; Hear the curses that sound like the echoes of Hell,
As you sicken and shudder and fly from the door; Then home to your wardrobes, and say, if you dare— Spoiled children of fashion-you've nothing to wear!
And Oh! if perchance there should be a sphere
John Townsend Trowbridge
Fred Trover's Little Iron-Clad
DID I never tell you the story? Is it possible? Draw up your chair. Stick of wood, Harry. Smoke?
You've heard of my Uncle Popworth, though. Why, yes! You've seen him-the eminently respectable elderly gentleman who came one day last summer just as you were going; book under his arm, you remember; weed on his hat; dry smile on bland countenance; tall, lank individual in very seedy black. With him my tale begins; for if I had never indulged in an Uncle Popworth I should never have sported an Iron-clad.
Quite right, sir; his arrival was a surprise to me. To know how great a surprise, you must understand why I left city, friends, business, and settled down in this quiet village. It was chiefly, sir, to escape the fascinations of that worthy old gentleman that I bought this place and took refuge here with my wife and little ones. Here we had respite, nepenthe from our memories of Uncle Popworth; here we used to sit down in the evenings and talk of the past with grateful and tranquil emotions, as people speak of awful things endured in days that are no more. To us the height of human happiness was raising green corn and strawberries in a retired neighborhood where uncles were unknown. But, sir, when that Phantom, that Vampire, that Fate, loomed before my vision that day, if you had said, "Trover, I'll give ye sixpence for this neat little box of yours," I should have said, "Done!" with the trifling proviso that you should take my uncle in the bargain.
The matter with him? What, indeed, could invest human flesh with such terrors-what but this? he was-he is-let me shriek it in your ear-a bore-a BORE! of the most malignant type; an intolerable, terrible, unmitigated BORE!
That book under his arm was a volume of his own sermons -nine hundred and ninety-nine octavo pages, Oh Heavens! It wasn't enough for him to preach and repreach those appalling discourses, but then the ruthless man must go and print 'em! When I consider what booksellers-worthy men, no doubt, many of them, deserving well of their kind-he must have talked nearly into a state of syncope before ever he found one to give way, in a moment of weakness, of utter exhaustion and despair, and consent to publish him; and when I reflect what numbers of inoffensive persons, in the quiet walks of life, have been made to suffer the infliction of that Bore's Own Book, I pause, I stand aghast at the inscrutability of Divine Providence.
Don't think me profane, and don't for a moment imagine I underrate the function of the preacher. There's nothing better than a good sermon-one that puts new life into you. But what of a sermon that takes life out of you, instead of a spiritual fountain, a spiritual sponge that absorbs your powers of body and soul, so that the longer you listen the more you are impoverished? A merely poor sermon isn't so bad; you will find, if you are the right kind of a hearer, that it will suggest something better than itself; a good hen will lay to a bit of earthen. But the discourse of your ministerial vampire, fastening by some mystical process upon the hearer who has life of his own-though not every one has that-sucks and sucks and sucks; and he is exhausted while the preacher is refreshed. So it happens that your born bore is never weary of his own boring; he thrives upon it; while he seems to be giving, he is mysteriously taking in-he is drinking your blood.
But you say nobody is obliged to read a sermon. unsophisticated friend! if a man will put his thoughts-or his words, if thoughts are lacking-between covers-spread his banquet, and respectfully invite Public Taste to partake of it, Public Taste being free to decline, then your observation is sound. If an author quietly buries himself in his book -very good! hic jacet: peace to his ashes!
"The times have been, That, when the brains were out, the man would die, And there an end; but now they rise again,"
as Macbeth observes, with some confusion of syntax, excusable in a person of his circumstances. Now, suppose they-or he-the man whose brains are out-goes about with his coffin under his arm, like my worthy uncle, and suppose he blandly, politely, relentlessly insists upon reading to you, out of that octavo sarcophagus, passages which in his opinion prove that he is not only not dead, but immortal? If such a man be a stranger, snub him; if a casual acquaintance, met in an evil hour, there is still hope-doors have locks, and there are two sides to a street, and near-sightedness is a blessing, and (as a last resort) buttons may be sacrificed (you remember Lamb's story of Coleridge) and left in the clutch of the fatal fingers. But one of your own kindred, and very respectable, adding the claim of misfortune to his other claims upon you-pachydermatous to slights, smilingly persuasive, gently persistent—as imperturbable as a ship's wooden figurehead through all the ups and downs of the voyage of life, and as insensible to cold water-in short, an uncle like my uncle, whom there was no getting rid of what the deuce would you do?
Exactly; run away as I did. There was nothing else to be done, unless, indeed, I had throttled the old gentleman; in
which case I am confident that one of our modern model juries would have brought in the popular verdict of justifiable insanity. But, being a peaceable man, I was averse to extreme measures. So I did the next best thing-consulted my wife, and retired to this village.
Then consider the shock to my feelings when I looked up that day and saw the enemy of our peace stalking into our little Paradise with his book under his arm and his carpetbag in his hand!-coming with his sermons and shirts, prepared to stay a week—that is to say a year—that is to say forever, if we would suffer him-and how was he to be hindered by any desperate measures short of burning the house down?
"My dear nephew!" says he, striding toward me with eager steps, as you perhaps remember, smiling his eternally dry, leathery smile-"Nephew Frederick!"—and he held out both hands to me, book in one and bag in t'other-"I am rejoiced! One would almost think you had tried to hide away from your old uncle, for I've been three days hunting you up. And how is Dolly? She ought to be glad to see me, after all the trouble I've had in finding you! And, Nephew Frederick-h'm!—can you lend me three dollars for the hackman? For I don't happen to have Thank you! I should have been saved this if you had only known I was stopping last night at a public house in the next village, for I know how delighted you would have been to drive over and fetch me!"
If you were not already out of hearing, you may have noticed that I made no reply to this affecting speech. The old gentleman has grown quite deaf of late years—an infirmity which was once a source of untold misery to his friends, to whom he was constantly appealing for their opinions, which they were obliged to shout in his ear. But now, happily, the world has about ceased responding to him, and he has almost