« PreviousContinue »
horse-racing is the most public way of gambling, and with all its immense attractions to the sense and the feelings,—to which I plead very susceptible,—the disguise is too thin that covers it, and everybody knows what it means. Its supporters are the Southern gentry,—fine fellows, no doubt, but not republicans exactly, as we understand the term,-a few Northern millionnaires more or less thoroughly millioned, who do not represent the real people, and the mob of sporting men, the best of whom are commonly idlers, and the worst very bad neighbors to have near one in a crowd, or to meet in a dark alley. In England, on the other hand, with its aristocratic institutions, racing is a natural growth enough; the passion for it spreads downwards through all classes, from the Queen to the costermonger. London is like a shelled corn-cob on the Derby day, and there is not a clerk who could raise the money to hire a saddle with an old hack under it that can sit down on his office-stool the next day without wincing.
Now just compare the racer with the trotter for a moment. The racer is incidentally useful, but essen. tially something to bet upon, as much as the thimble-rigger's “ little joker.” The trotter is essentially and daily useful, and only incidentally a tool for sporting men.
What better reason do you want for the fact that the racer is most cultivated and reaches his greatest perfection in England, and that the trotting horses
of America beat the world? And why she old wo nave expected that the pick-if it was the pick-of our few and far-between racing stables should beat the pick of England and France ? Throw over the fallacious time-test, and there was nothing to show for it but a natural kind of patriotic feeling, which we all have, with a thoroughly provincial conceit, which some of us must plead guilty to.
We may beat yet. As an American, I hope we shall. As a moralist and occasional sermonizer, I am not so anxious about it. Wherever the trotting horse goes, he carries in his train brisk omnibuses, lively bakers' carts, and therefore hot rolls, the jolly butcher's wagon, the cheerful gig, the wholesome afternoon drive with wife and child,—all the forms of moral excellence, except truth, which does not agree with any kind of horse-flesh. The racer brings with him gambling, cursing, swearing, drinking, the eating of oysters, and a distaste for mob-caps and the middle-aged virtues.
And by the way, let me beg you not to call a trotting match a race, and not to speak of a “thoroughbred “ blooded” horse, unless he has been recently phlebotomized. I consent to your saying 5 blood horse,” if you like. Also, if, next year, we send out Posterior and Posterioress, the winners of the great national four-mile race in 7 183, and they happen to get beaten, pay your bets, and behave like men and gentlemen about it, if you know how.
(I felt a great deal better after blowing off the ill. temper condensed in the above paragraph. To brag little,—to show well,—to crow gently, if in luck, to pay up, to own up, and to shut up, if beaten, are the virtues of a sporting man, and I can't say that I think we have shown them in any great perfection of late.]
-Apropos of horses. Do you know how im. portant good jockeying is to authors ? Judicious management; letting the public see your animal just enough, and not too much; holding him up hard when the market is too ful of him ; letting him out at just the right buying intervals; always gently feeling his mouth; never slacking and never jerking the rein ;—this is what I mean by jockeying.
-When an author has a number of books out a cunning hand will keep them all spinning, as Sig. nor Blitz does his dinner-plates ; fetching each one up, as it begins to “ wabble,” by an advertisement, a puff, or a quotation.
-Whenever the extracts from a living writer begin to multiply fast in the papers, without obvious reason, there is a new book or a new edition coming. The extracts are ground-bait.
-Literary life is full of curious phenomena. I don't know that there is anything more noticeable than what we may call conventional reputations. There is a tacit understanding in every community of men of letters that they will not disturb the pop
ular fallacy respecting this or that electro-gilded ce lebrity. There are various reasons for this forbear ance: one is old; one is rich ; one is good-natured , one is such a favorite with the pit that it would not be safe to hiss him from the manager's box. The venerable augurs of the literary or scientific temple may smile faintly when one of the tribe is mentioned; but the farce is in general kept up as well as the Chinese comic scene of entreating and imploring a man to stay with you, with the implied compact between you that he shall by no means think of doing it. A poor wretch he must be who would wantonly sit down on one of these bandbox reputations. A Prince-Rupert's-drop, which is a tear of unannealed glass, lasts indefinitely, if you keep it from meddling hands; but break its tail off, and it explodes and resolves itself into powder. These celebrities I speak of are the Prince-Rupert's-drops of the learned and polite world. See how the papers treat them!
What an array of pleasant kaleidoscopic phrases, which can be arranged in ever so inany charming patterns, is at their service! How kind the “ Critical Notices ”—where small author. ship comes to pick up chips of praise, fragrant, sug. ary, and sappy-always are to them! Well, life would be nothing without paper-credit and other fictions; so let them pass current. Don't steal their chips; don't puncture their swimming-bladders ; don't come down on their pasteboard boxes; don't break
the ends of their brittle and unstable reputations, you fellows who all feel sure that your names will be household words a thousand years from now.
“ A thousand years is a good while," said the old gentleman who sits opposite, thoughtfully.
-Where have I been for the last three or four days ? Down at the Island, deer-shooting.—How many did I bag? I brought home one buck shot. The Island is where? No matter. It is the most splendid domain that any man looks upon in these latitudes. Blue sea around it, and running up into its heart, so that the little boat slumbers like a baby in lap, while the tall ships are stripping naked to fight the hurricane outside, and storm-stay-sails banging and flying in ribbons. Trees, in stretches of miles; beeches, oaks, most numerous ;—many of them hung with moss, looking like bearded Druids; some coiled in the clasp of huge, dark-stemmed grape-vines. Open patches where the sun gets in and goes to sleep, and the winds come so finely sifted that they are as soft as swan's down. Rocks scattered about,-Stonehenge-like monoliths. Freshwater lakes ; one of them, Mary's lake, crystal-clear; full of flashing pickerel lying under the lily-pads like tigers in the jungle. Six pounds of ditto killed one morning for breakfast. Ego fecit.
The divinity-stadent looked as if he would like to question my Latin. No, sir, I said,—you need not trouble yourself. There is a higher law in grammar