Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]

CHARACTERIZATION BY J. G. WHITTIER. 1. If any reader (and at times we fear it is the case with all) needs amusement, and the wholesome alterative of a hearty laugh, we commend him not to Dr. Holmes the physician, but to Dr. Holmes the scholar, the wit, and the humorist; not to the scien

tific medical professor's barbarous Latin, but to his poetical prescriptions, given in choice old Saxon. We have tried them, and are ready to give the doctor certificates of their efficacy.

2. Looking at the matter from the point of theory only, we should say that a physician could not be otherwise than melancholy. A merry doctor! Why, one might as well talk of a laughing death's-head—the cachinnation of a monk's memento mori. This life of ours is sorrowful enough at its best estate. The brightest phase of it is “ sicklied o'er with the pale cast” of the future or the past. But it is the special vocation of the doctor to look only upon the shadow; to turn away from the house of feasting and go down to that of mourning; to breathe day after day the atmosphere of wretchedness; to grow familiar with suffering; to look upon humanity disrobed of its pride and glory, robbed of all its fictitious ornaments—weak, helpless, naked—and undergoing the last fearful metempsychosis from its erect and Godlike image, the living temple of an enshrined divinity, to the loathsome clod and the inanimate dust. His ideas of beauty, the imaginations of his brain, and the affections of his heart, are regulated and modified by the irrepressible associations of his luckless profession. Woman as well as man is to him of the earth, earthy. He sees incipient disease where the uninitiated see only delicacy. A smile reminds him of his dental operations; a blushing cheek, of his hectic patients; pensive melancholy is dyspepsia; sentimentalism, nervousness. Tell him of lovelorn hearts, of the “worm i' the bud," of the mental impalement upon Cupid's arrow, like that of a Giaour upon the spear of a Janizary, and he can only think of lack of exercise, of tight lacing, and slippers in winter.

3. So much for speculation and theory. In practice it is not so bad after all. The grave-digger in Hamlet has his jokes and grim jests; we have known many a jovial sexton; and we have heard clergymen laugh heartily, at small provocation, close on the heel of a cool calculation that the great majority of their fellowcreatures were certain of going straight to perdition. Why, then, should not even the doctor have his fun ? Nay, is it not his duty to be merry, by main force, if necessary ? Solomon, who, from his great knowledge of herbs, must have been no mean practitioner for his day, tells us that “a merry heart doeth good like a

medicine," and universal experience has confirmed the truth of his maxim. Hence it is, doubtless, that we have so many anecdotes of facetious doctors, distributing their pills and jokes together, shaking at the same time the contents of their phials and the sides of their patients. It is merely professional, a trick of the practice, unquestionably, in most cases; but sometimes it is a “natural gift," like that of the “bone setters," and "scrofula strokers,” and “cancer curers,” who carry on a sort of guerilla war with human maladies.

4. Such we know to be the case with Dr. Holmes. He was born for the “ Laughter Cure," as certainly as Preisnitz was for the “Water Cure," and has been quite as successful in his way, while his prescriptions are infinitely more agreeable.

5. It was said of James Smith, of the Rejected Addresses, that “ if he had not been a witty man he would have been a great man.” Hood's humor and drollery kept in the background the pathos and beauty of his soberer productions; and Dr. Holmes, we suspect, might have ranked higher, among a large class of readers, than he now does, had he never written his Ballad of the Oysterman, his Comet, and his September Gale. Such lyrics as La Grisette, The Puritan's Vision, and that unique compound of humor and pathos, The Last Leaf, show that he possesses powerthe power of touching the deeper chords of the heart, and of calling forth tears as well as smiles. Who does not feel the power of this simple picture of the old man, in the last-mentioned poem?

“But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets,

Sad and wan;
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,

• They are gone!'

“The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has pressed

In their bloom ;
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year

On the tomb !".

6. Dr. Holmes has been likened to Thomas Hood; but there is little in common between them, save the power of combining fancy and sentiment with grotesque drollery and humor. Hood, under all his whims and oddities, conceals the vehement intensity of a reformer. The iron of the world's wrongs has entered into his soul. There is an undertone of sorrow in his lyrics. His sarcasm, directed against oppression and bigotry, at times betrays the earnestness of one whose own withers have been wrung. Holmes writes simply for the amusement of himself and his readers. He deals only with the vanities, the foibles, and the minor faults of mankind, good-naturedly and almost sympathizingly suggesting excuses for folly, which he tosses about on the horns of his ridicule. Long may he live to make broader the face of our care-ridden generation, and to realize for himself the truth of the wise man's declaration, that “a merry heart is a continual feast."

• 1.—THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE.
1. Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,

That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day?
And then, of a sudden, it-ah, but stay,
I'll tell you what happened, without delay,–
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, -
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

2. Seventeen hundred and fifty-five;

Georgius Secundus was then alive,-
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.

LITERARY ANALYSIS.-1. one-hoss shay. It will be observed that a number of words and expressions in this piece belong to the Yankee dialect-if dialect we may venture to call it after Mr. Lowell's clever proof that many of these so-called provincialisms are really drawn from the “well of English undefiled.”

2. logical way. In what consists the drollery of the epithet?
4. And ... stay. Point out the example of aposiopesis. (See Def. 39.)

9-17. Seventeen ... shay. Observe the comical effect gained by associating the finishing of the one-horse shay with the occurrence of great historical events. Explain the allusions.-What metaphors in this stanza, and what is their nature?

That was the year when Lisbon town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down;
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on that terrible earthquake day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

3. Now, in building of chaises, I tell you what,

There is always somewhere a weakest spot,-
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel or crossbar or floor or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,-lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,-
Above or below, or within or without,-
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.

30

4. But the Deacon swore (as deacons do,

With an “I dew vum," or an “I tell yeou ")
He would build one shay to beat the taown,
'n' the kaounty 'n' all the kentry raoun’;
It should be so built that it couldn' break daown
“Fur,” said the Deacon, "It's mighty plain
Thut the weakes place mus' stan’ the strain;
’n’ the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,

Is only jest
T'make that place uz strong uz the rest."

[ocr errors]

5. So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn't be split nor bent nor broke, -

LITERARY ANALYSIS.—18-26. Now... out. How is droll emphasis given to the statement that in building chaises “there is always somewhere a weakest spot ?"-doesn't. The poet is too exact a scholar to say don't.

27-36. But ... rest. This stanza affords a goodly study of “Yankee" pronunciation and phraseology. (Pupils will do well to refer to Mr. Lowell's essay introductory to his Biglow Papers.)

37-57. So... dew! The clever handling of details will be observed. Pupils may point out touches that strike them as specially noticeable.

« PreviousContinue »