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Page 319


After the first of January, Penrose became a member
of the firm of Dunn, Deering & Co., whose tall iron warehouse
on Chambers Street is known to everybody. Having
very properly determined to master the details of the business
at the start, he was so constantly occupied that I saw
little of him for two or three months thereafter. Mr. and
Mrs. Shanks lingered still a few weeks before returning to
Philadelphia, but their time was mostly devoted to up-town
balls, which I had no wish to attend, although Matilda offered
herself as godmother of my social baptism. My days
and the greater part of my nights were appropriated, and
by no means unpleasantly, to my business duties. Little
by little, I found my style increasing in point and fluency,
and the subjects assigned to my pen began to present themselves
in a compact, coherent form. I was proud enough
not to accept an increase of salary without endeavoring to
render adequate service, and thus the exertions I made rewarded

In my case, Schiller's “Occupation, which never wearies
— which slowly creates, and destroys nothing,” was a helping
and protecting principle, — how helpful, indeed, I was
yet to learn. I had been wounded too deeply to wear a
painless scar; the old smart came back, from time to time,
to torment me, — but my life was much more cheerful than
I could have anticipated. My affections still lacked an
object, constantly putting forth tendrilled shoots to wither
in the air, but my intellectual ambition began to revive,
though in a soberer form. I had still force enough to control


Page 320
the luxurious cravings of my physical nature, — the
thirst for all the enjoyments of sense, which increased with
my maturing blood. When I coveted wealth, I was aware
that it was not alone for the sake of leisure for study and
opportunities of culture; it was for the wine as well as the
bread of Life. I saw that velvet made a pleasanter seat
than wood; that pheasants tasted better than pork; that a
box at the opera was preferable to leaning out of a garret-window
and listening to Casta diva played on a hand-organ,
— in short, that indulgence of every kind was more agreeable
than abstinence.

I know that many good people will draw down their
brows and shake their heads when they read this confession.
But I beg them to remember that I am not preaching,
nor even moralizing; I am simply stating the facts of
my life. Nay, the fact, I am sure, of most lives; for, although
I do not claim to be better, I steadfastly protest
against being considered worse, than the average of men.
Therefore, you good people, whose lips overflow with professions
of duty towards your fellow-beings, and the beauty
of self-denial, and the sin of indulgence, look, I pray you,
into your own hearts, whether there be no root of the old
weed remaining, — whether some natural appetite do not,
now and then, still send up a green shoot which it costs
you some trouble to cut off, — before weighing my youth in
your balance. It is no part of my plan to make of myself
an immaculate hero of romance. I fear, alas! that I am
not a hero in any sense. I have touched neither the deeps
nor the heights: I have only looked down into the one and
up towards the other, in lesser vibrations on either side of
that noteless middle line which most men travel from birth
to death.

My affection for Swansford kept alive in my heart a faint
but vital faith in the existence of genuine emotions. I saw
him once a week, for we had agreed to spend our Sunday
afternoons together, alternately, in each other's rooms. He


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still disposed of an occasional song, as I of a story, but his
great work was not completed, — had not been touched for
months, he informed me. He was subject to fits of profound
dejection, which, I suspected, proceeded from a physical
cause. He was decidedly paler and thinner than when
I first made his acquaintance. The drudgery of his lessons
frequently rendered him impatient and irritable, and he
was anxious to procure a situation as organist, which would
yield enough to support him in his humble way. I wanted
to bring him together with Penrose, in the hope that the
latter might be able to assist him, but feared to propose a
meeting to two such diverse characters, and, up to this
time, accident had not favored my plan.

The Friday evening receptions of Mrs. Yorkton — I beg
pardon, Adeliza Choate — continued to be given, but I did
not often attend them. I had been fortunate enough to
obtain entrance to the literary soirées of another lady whom
I will not name, but whose tact, true refinement of character,
and admirable culture drew around her all that was
best in letters and in the arts. In her salons I saw the possessors
of honored and illustrious names; I heard books
and pictures discussed with the calm discrimination of intelligent
criticism; the petty vanities and jealousies I had
hitherto encountered might still exist, but they had no
voice; and I soon perceived the difference between those
who aspire and those who achieve. Art, I saw, has its own
peculiar microcosm, — its born nobles, its plodding, conscientious,
respectable middle-class, and its clamorous, fighting
rabble. To whatever class I might belong, I could not shut
my eyes to the existing degrees, and much of my respect
for the coarse assertion of Smithers, the petulant conceit
of Danforth, and the extravagant inspiration of the once
adored Adeliza evaporated in the contrast.

To Brandagee all these circles seemed to be open; yet
I could not help noticing that he preferred those where his
superior experience made him at once an authority and a


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fear. The rollicking devil in him was impatient of restraint,
and he had too much tact to let it loose at inopportune times
and places. I sometimes met him in those delightful rooms
which no author or artist who lived in New York at that
time can have forgotten, and was not surprised to see that,
even in his subdued character, he still inspired a covetable
interest. He now came to the Wonder office but seldom.
He could never be relied upon to have his articles ready
at the appointed time, and there had been some quarrel
between him and Mr. Clarendon, in consequence of which
he transferred his services to the Avenger. I had become
such a zealous disciple of the former paper that I looked
upon this transfer as almost involving a sacrifice of principle.
Mr. Clarendon, however, seemed to care little about
it, for he did not scruple still to send to Brandagee for an
article on some special subject.

He had at one time a scheme for publishing a small
fashionable daily, to be devoted to the opera and the drama,
artistic and literary criticism, the turf, dress, and other
kindred subjects; the type and paper to be of the utmost
elegance, and the contents to rival in epigrammatic brilliancy,
boldness, and impertinence the best productions of
the Parisian feuilletonistes. Had the wealth of many of
the New York families been any index of their culture, the
scheme might have succeeded, but it was too hazardous to
entrap any publisher of sufficient means. He then determined
to repeat the attempt in a less ambitious form, — a
weekly paper instead of a daily, — which would involve
little preliminary expense, and might be easily dropped if
it failed to meet expectations. It was to be called “The City
” and to bear the familiar quotation from Shakspeare
as its device. I had heard Brandagee discuss the plan
with Mr. Withering (who decidedly objected to it, very
much preferring a Quarterly Review), and had promised,
incidentally, to contribute a sketch for the first number,
if it should ever make its appearance.


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Towards the close of winter, — I think it was in February,
— I met Brandagee one evening, as he was issuing
from the Smithsonian, cigar in mouth, as usual.

“Ha!” he exclaimed; “I was this moment thinking of
you. You have nothing to do at this hour, — come around
with me to the Ichneumon. We are going to talk over
The Oracle. Babcock has as good as promised to undertake
the publication.”

“Indeed?” said I. “When will you begin?”

“The first number ought to appear within ten or twelve
days. That will leave me three weeks of the opera season,
— long enough to make a sensation, and have the paper
talked about. Notoriety is the life of a new undertaking of
this kind. I can count on six pens already, including yours
and my own. In fact, I could do the whole work alone on a
pinch; though I don't profess to be equal to Souville. You
never heard of Thersite Souville, I dare say: he wrote the
whole of Gargantua, — just such a paper as I intend to
make my Oracle, — editorials, criticisms, gossip and feuilleton;
and everybody supposed that the best intellect in Paris
was employed upon it, regardless of expense. He was up
to any style, but he always changed his beverage with his
pen. For the manner of Sue, he drank hot punch; for
Dumas, cider mousseux; Gautier or De Musset, absinthe;
Paul de Kock, Strasburg beer, — and so on. It was a great
speculation for his publisher, who cleared a hundred and
fifty thousand francs a year, one third of which was Souville's
share. If he had not been so vain as to blab the
secret, he might have kept it up to this day. Come on;
you 'll find all my coadjutors at the Ichneumon.”

“Where is the Ichneumon,” I asked, “and what is it?”

“Not know it! You are a green Bohemian. Close at
hand, in Crosby Street. The name is my suggestion, and
I 'm rather proud of it. When the landlord — Miles, who
used to be bar-tender at the `Court of Appeals' — took
his new place, he was puzzled to get a title, as all the


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classic epithets, Shades, Pewter Mugs, Banks, Houses of
Commons, Nightingales, Badgers, and Dolphins, were appropriated
by others. I offered to give him a stunning name,
in consideration of occasional free drinks. I first hit on the
Ornithorhynchus paradoxus, which was capital; but Miles
was fool enough to think that nobody could ever pronounce
or remember it. Then I gave him the Ichneumon, with
which he was satisfied, — he, as well as all Crosby Street,
calls it `Ike Newman.' I 've persuaded him to give us a
backroom, and keep a bed up-stairs for any fellow who is
boozy or belated. We shall make a classic place of it,
and if the Oracle once fairly open its mouth, the crocodiles
must look out for their eggs!”

We reached the house, almost before he had done speaking.
It was an old-fashioned brick dwelling, the lower story
of which had been altered to suit the requirements of the
times. An octagonal lantern, on the front glass of which
an animal “very like a weasel” was painted, hung over
the door, and through the large adjoining window there
was a spectral vision of a bar somewhere in the shadowy
depths of the house.

The landlord was leaning over the counter, talking to a
group of flashy gents, as we entered. He had the unmistakable
succulent flesh and formless mouth of an Englishman,
but with his hair closely cropped behind, and the back
of his neck shaved in a straight line around from ear to
ear, like a Bowery boy.

“Miles,” said Brandagee, “another of us, — Mr. Godfrey.”

“Y'r most obedient — 'ope to see you often,” said Miles,
rising to an erect posture and giving me his hand.

“Anybody in the Cave, Miles?”

“There 's three gents, Mr. Brandagee, — Smithers, for
one, the painter chap, and the heavy gent.”

“Come on, then, Godfrey,” said Brandagee, laughing.
“It 's Ponder and Smears. I 'll bet a thousand ducats Ponder


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wants to help us out, but, between you and me, his
didactics would be a millstone around our necks. I 'll manage
him. This is the way to the Cave — of Trophonius,
you understand.”

He entered a narrow passage on the right of the bar,
pushed open with his foot a door at the further end, and
we found ourselves in a room of tolerable size, with a dense
blue atmosphere which threatened to eclipse the two sickly
gas-lights. Smithers had untied his scarlet cravat, and,
with head thrown back over the top of his arm-chair, suffered
his huge meerschaum pipe, lazily held between his
teeth, to dangle against his hairy throat. Mr. S. Mears
was drawing his portrait in a condition of classic nudity, on
the margin of a newspaper, with the end of a burnt match.
Mr. Ponder, on the other side of the table, was talking, and
evidently in as heavy a style as he wrote. Both the latter
were smoking. All three started up briskly in their seats
at our entrance.

“Ouf!” puffed Brandagee, with an expiration of delight.
“Well done! This reminds me of the salon des nuages, as
Frédéric Soulié called it, in the rear of the Cafe Doré. We
used to hire two or three of the servants to smoke in it for
an hour before our arrival. It was a special close communion
of our own, and there was competition to get admitted,
though few could stand the test. Cherubini had to leave
in a quarter of an hour, and as for Delacroix, I never saw
a sicker man. Let us improve this atmosphere before the
others come. Here, Godfrey, is a claro; don 't be afraid, —
you must commence some day.”

I lighted the cigar, and made a feint of smoking it. But
I never could acquire any liking for the habit, and my associates,
after finding that I always spoiled an entire cigar
in the process of burning half an inch, finally ceased to
waste any more upon me.

“Well, Godfrey,” said Brandagee, turning to me, “since
you are to be one of us, we 'll take your initiation fee.”


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“What shall it be?” I asked.

“Oh, we won't be hard upon you. Beer through the
evening, with a modest bowl of punch as a stirrup-cup.”

He rang a bell as he spoke, and we were all presently
supplied with corpulent mugs. There were two other arrivals,
— one a reporter of the Avenger, the other a young
gentleman who had a clerkship in the Custom-House and
wrote for the magazines. I found myself more at home in
this company than at Mrs. Yorkton's. Though there was
rather a repellant absence of sentiment, there was, at least,
nothing of the mock article. Nobody attempted to play a
part, knowing the absurdity of wearing a mask behind the
curtain, and suspecting how soon it would be torn off, if attempted.
Thus the conversation, if occasionally coarse, if
unnecessarily profane, if scoffing and depreciative of much
that I knew to be good and noble, was always lively, racy,
and entertaining. I surmised that my associates were not
the best of men; but then, on the other hand, they were
not bores.

The plan of the Oracle was first discussed. Each one,
I perceived, was quite willing to dictate the best possible
programme; but Brandagee steadily kept before them the
fact that he was the originator of the idea, and would resent
dictation, while he was willing to receive suggestions. Besides,
Babcock, the publisher, had not yet fully committed
himself, and it all might end in smoke. His own specialty
of musical and dramatic criticism was an understood matter;
Mears was to undertake the art notices (“he paints
badly, and therefore he is tolerably sure to write well,”
Brandagee whispered to me); the Avenger reporter was
selected to prepare the city gossip, while to the clerk and
myself was allotted the writing of short, lively stories or
sketches of character for the first page. There now only
remained Smithers and Ponder to be disposed of. The
former of these informed us that he was willing to contribute
passages from his “Edda of the Present,” an heroic,


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muscular poem, in irregular metre; and the latter thought
that an essay on “The Influence of Literature upon National
Character” would be an indispensable feature of the
new journal.

“Not in the first number,” replied Brandagee; “that
must be all foam and sparkle. I don't contemplate many
heavy articles at any time. It might do for Vienna. When
my old friend Grillparzer founded his light Sonntagsblatt,
— something like the Oracle in form, — he began with articles
on Hegel's Philosophy, the Cretan-Doric dialect, the
religion of the Ostiaks and a biography of Paracelsus. Locality
makes all the difference in the world. We are nearer
the latitude of Paris than any other capital, and there, if
anything new has a didactic smell, the public won't touch

“But the national feeling” — commenced Mr. Ponder.

“Very well for the rural districts; I don't find much of
it here. We are cosmopolitan, which is better. If I were
beginning in Boston I would give you eight columns — four
for the Pilgrim Fathers, and four for a description of the
Common, as viewed from Bunker Hill Monument; or if it
were Philadelphia, you should write a solid article, setting
forth the commercial decline of New York, — but here we
care for nothing which does not bring a sensation with it.
We are not provincial, not national, not jealous of our
neighbors; we live, enjoy, and pay roundly in order to be
diverted. The Oracle must be smart, pert, hinting what
may not properly be said outright, never behind with the
current scandal, and brilliantly, not stupidly, impudent.
With these qualities it can't fail to be a success. It will
be a tongue which hundreds of people would pay well to
keep from wagging.”

“The devil!” exclaimed Mears; “do you mean to make
a black-mail concern of it?”

“Don't be so quick on the trigger, young man! I merely
referred to the power which we should hold. A thing may


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be bid for, but you are not obliged to sell it. In the way
of advertising, however, there would be great and certain
profits; we might enter into competition with Napoleon B.
Quigg, or Gouraud's medicated epic. There are scores of
retail dry-goods merchants who would give fifty dollars a
piece to have their establishments mentioned in a novel or
a play. I have a grand scheme for raising the wind, but
I won't disclose it to you just now.”

Our mugs were replenished, and Brandagee, who seemed
to be in the mood for a harangue, went on again.

“There 's plenty of money in the world,” he said, “if it
were only in the right hands. Of all forms of Superstition
which exist, that concerning money is the most absurd.
It is looked upon as something sacred, — something above
intellect, humanity, or religion. Yet it is an empty form
— a means of transfer, being nothing in itself — like the
red flame, which is no substance, only representing the
change of one substance into another. You never really
possess it until you spend it. What is it to knowledge, to
the results of experience, or the insight of genius? But
you come to me for advice or information which cannot be
bought in the market, — the value of which gold cannot
represent; I give it and you go your way. Then I borrow
a hundred dollars from your useless surplus; you oblige me
to sign a note payable in so many days, and consider me
dishonored if I fail to meet it! Why should I not take of
your matter as freely as you of my spirit? Why should
this meanest of substances be elevated to such mysterious
reverence? They only who turn it to the enrichment of
their lives — who use it as a gardener does manure, for the
sake of the flowers — have the abstract right to possess it.
Jenkins has a million, but never buys a book or a picture,
does n't know the taste of Burgundy, and can't tell `Yankee
Doodle' from `Il mio tesoro' — does that money belong
to him? No, indeed, — it is mine, ours, everybody's who
understands how to set it in motion and bring the joy and
the beauty of life bubbling up to the surface!”


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“Bravo!” cried the others, evidently more than half inclined
to be of the same way of thinking. I did not suppose
that Brandagee was entirely in earnest, but I was fascinated
by the novelty of his views, and unable, at the time,
to detect wherein they were unsound.

“Do you know, fellows,” he continued, “that our lives
are far more in accordance with the pervading spirit of
Christianity than those of the men who devote themselves
to earning and hoarding? We are expressly commanded
to take no thought for the morrow. There is nowhere in
the Bible a commendation of economy, of practical talent,
even of industry in a secular sense. It was so understood
in the early ages of Christianity, and the devotees who
adopted lazy contemplation as a profession never starved to
death. Perhaps they lived better than the contemporary
men of business. I don't mean that their ways would suit
us, but then they lived out their own idea, and that 's all we
can do. Work, and the worry that comes with it, are relics
of paganism. The stupid masses always were, and will be,
pagans, and it was meant that they should labor in order to
give leisure to what little intelligence there is in the world.
If they are stiff-necked and rebellious, I hold that there is
no particular harm in using our superior cunning to obtain
what justly belongs to us. Suppose they make an outcry?
Of course they look at the subject from their, which is the
lower, the pagan point of view. Pagans, you are aware,
have no rights which elected Christians are bound to respect.”

Brandagee had trenched, before he was aware of it, on
the favorite hobby of Smithers. The latter began to puff
furiously at his meerschaum, now and then snorting the
smoke from his nostrils in long blue lines.

“It 's a bit of adroit sophistry!” he exclaimed. “These
pagans, as you call them, with their strong bones, their
knotted muscles, their thick cerebellums and their cast-iron
stomachs, are the very men who understand how to use life.


Page 330
They could soon crush out your scanty breed of forced and
over-refined Epicureans, if they cared to do it: you should
be glad that they suffer you to exist. What you call work
is only the sportive overplus of their colossal energy. If
they did not keep alive the blood of the race, which you
are trying all the while to exhaust, there would soon be,
not only an end of Art and Literature, but an end of Man
on this planet!”

“Smithers,” said Brandagee, coolly, “if you would take
a little more of the blood that circulates in your big body
and send it in the direction of your brains, you would see
that you have not come within a mile of meeting my assertion.
I take you as my living verification. You like work
no better than the rest of us, and you mix with your stevedores
and sailors and 'longshoremen only to exploit them
in your `Edda.' I have often seen you, sitting on a pierhead
with your pipe in your mouth, but I don't believe that
`the sportive overplus of your colossal energy' ever incited
you to handle a single bale or barrel. I don't object to
your hobby: it 's a good one to ride, so far as the public is
concerned, but we, here in the Cave, understand each other,
I take it.”

Smithers began to grow red about the gills, and would
have resented the insinuation, but for the opportune arrival
of Miles, bearing a curiously-shaped vessel of some steaming
liquid and fresh glasses. The interest which these
objects excited absorbed the subject of debate. Mears
threw himself into a statuesque attitude and exclaimed in a
Delphic voice, “The offering is accepted;” while Brandagee
chanted, —

“Fill the cup and fill the can,
Have a rouse before the morn,”
and all shoved their glasses together under the nose of the

“Here, Godfrey,” said Brandagee, striking his glass
against mine, “welcome and acceptance from the mystic


Page 331
brotherhood! Here you have your money, as I was explaining:
it has taken form at last, instead of lying, as a
dry idea, in the pocket. I hold that we have the right to
seize on shadows wherever we find them, for the sake of
converting them into substance. Hence, if a man thinks I
am taking away his shadow, in the Peter Schlemihl sense,
let him apply the law of similia similibus, and parting with
another shadow shall give him peace of mind. This you,
Smears, would call levying black-mail. But you artists
always take the gross, material view of things, —it belongs
to you. The senses of Color and Form are not intellectual
qualities. Never mind, I mean no disparagement. The
value of mind is that it teaches us how to make the right
use of matter; so we all come back to the same starting-point.”

The conversation now became general and noisy, and I
will not undertake to report it further. In fact, I have but
an indistinct recollection of what followed, except that
some time after midnight we parted affectionately at the
corner of Spring Street and Broadway. The next morning
I arose heavy in head, but light in purse, — so much
lighter that I suspect the punch-bowl was filled more than
once in the course of the evening.

Various impediments prevented The Oracle from appearing
before the close of the opera season, and the plan
was therefore suspended until the next fall. But the Cave
of Trophonius still existed, under the guardianship of the
Ichneumon, and I often seized an hour to enjoy forgetfulness
of the present, in the lawless recklessness of the
utterance to which it was dedicated.