Jubilee Days by William Dean Howells.
I believe I have no good reason for including among these suburban sketches my recollections of the Peace Jubilee, celebrated by a monster musical entertainment at Boston, in June, 1869; and I do not know if it will serve as excuse for their intrusion to say that the exhibition was not urban in character, and that I attended it in a feeling of curiosity and amusement which the Bostonians did not seem to feel, and which I suspect was a strictly suburban if not rural sentiment.
I thought, on that Tuesday morning, as our horse-car drew near the Long Bridge, and we saw the Coliseum spectral through the rain, that Boston was going to show people representing other parts of the country her Notion of weather. I looked forward to a forenoon of clammy warmth, and an afternoon of clammy cold and of east wind, with a misty nightfall soaking men to the bones. But the day really turned out well enough; it was showery, but not shrewish, and it smiled pleasantly at sunset, as if content with the opening ceremonies of the Great Peace Jubilee.
The city, as we entered it, gave due token of excitement, and we felt the celebration even in the air, which had a holiday quality very different from that of ordinary workday air. The crowds filled the decorous streets, and the trim pathways of the Common and the Public Garden, and flowed in an orderly course towards the vast edifice on the Back Bay, presenting the interesting points which always distinguish a crowd come to town from a city crowd. You get so used to the Boston face and the Boston dress, that a coat from New York or a visage from Chicago is at once conspicuous to you; and in these people there was not only this strangeness, but the different oddities that lurk in out-of-way corners of society everywhere had started suddenly into notice. Long-haired men, popularly supposed to have perished with the institution of slavery, appeared before me, and men with various causes and manias looking from their wild eyes confronted each other, let alone such charlatans as had clothed themselves quaintly or grotesquely to add a charm to the virtue of whatever nostrum they peddled. It was, however, for the most part, a remarkably well-dressed crowd; and therein it probably differed more than in any other respect from the crowd which a holiday would have assembled in former times. There was little rusticity to be noted anywhere, and the uncouthness which has already disappeared from the national face seemed to be passing from the national wardrobe. Nearly all the visitors seemed to be Americans, but neither the Yankee type nor the Hoosier was to be found. They were apparently very happy, too; the ancestral solemnity of the race that amuses itself sadly was not to be seen in them, and, if they were not making it a duty to be gay, they were really taking their pleasure in a cheerful spirit.
There was, in fact, something in the sight of the Coliseum, as we approached it, which was a sufficient cause of elation to whoever is buoyed up by the flutter of bright flags, and the movement in and about holiday booths, as I think we all are apt to be. One may not have the stomach of happier days for the swing or the whirligig; he may not drink soda-water intemperately; pop-corn may not tempt him, nor tropical fruits allure; but he beholds them without gloom,–nay, a grin inevitably lights up his countenance at the sight of a great show of these amusements and refreshments. And any Bostonian might have felt proud that morning that his city did not hide the light of her mercantile merit under a bushel, but blazoned it about on the booths and walls in every variety of printed and painted advertisement. To the mere aesthetic observer, these vast placards gave the delight of brilliant color, and blended prettily enough in effect with the flags; and at first glance I received quite as much pleasure from the frescoes that advised me where to buy my summer clothing, as from any bunting I saw.
I had the good fortune on the morning of this first Jubilee day to view the interior of the Coliseum when there was scarcely anybody there,–a trifle of ten thousand singers at one end, and a few thousand other people scattered about over the wide expanses of parquet and galleries. The decorations within, as without, were a pleasure to the eyes that love gayety of color; and the interior was certainly magnificent, with those long lines of white and blue drapery roofing the balconies, the slim, lofty columns festooned with flags and drooping banners, the arms of the States decking the fronts of the galleries, and the arabesques of painted muslin everywhere. I do not know that my taste concerned itself with the decorations, or that I have any taste in such things; but I testify that these tints and draperies gave no small part of the comfort of being where all things conspired for one’s pleasure. The airy amplitude of the building, the perfect order and the perfect freedom of movement, the ease of access and exit, the completeness of the arrangements that in the afternoon gave all of us thirty thousand spectators a chance to behold the great spectacle as well as to hear the music, were felt, I am sure, as personal favors by every one. These minor particulars, in fact, served greatly to assist you in identifying yourself, when the vast hive swarmed with humanity, and you became a mere sentient atom of the mass.
It was rumored in the morning that the ceremonies were to begin with prayer by a hundred ministers, but I missed this striking feature of the exhibition, for I did not arrive in the afternoon till the last speech was being made by a gentleman whom I saw gesticulating effectively, and whom I suppose to have been intelligible to a matter of twenty thousand people in his vicinity, but who was to me, of the remote, outlying thirty thousand, a voice merely. One word only I caught, and I report it here that posterity may know as much as we thirty thousand contemporaries did of
THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH.
. . . . . . . (_sensation_.) . . . . . . .
. . . (_cheers_.). . . . refinement . . . .
. . . . . . (_great applause_.)
I do not know if I shall be able to give an idea of the immensity of this scene; but if such a reader as has the dimensions of the Coliseum accurately fixed in his mind will, in imagination, densely hide all that interminable array of benching in the parquet and the galleries and the slopes at either end of the edifice with human heads, showing here crowns, there occiputs, and yonder faces, he will perhaps have some notion of the spectacle as we beheld it from the northern hill-side. Some thousands of heads nearest were recognizable as attached by the usual neck to the customary human body, but for the rest, we seemed to have entered a world of cherubim. Especially did the multitudinous singers seated far opposite encourage this illusion; and their fluttering fans and handkerchiefs wonderfully mocked the movement of those cravat-like pinions which the fancy attributed to them. They rose or sank at the wave of the director’s baton; and still looked like an innumerable flock of cherubs drifting over some slope of Paradise, or settling upon it,–if cherubs _can_ settle.
The immensity was quite as striking to the mind as to the eye, and an absolute democracy was appreciable in it. Not only did all artificial distinctions cease, but those of nature were practically obliterated, and you felt for once the full meaning of unanimity. No one was at a disadvantage; one was as wise, as good, as handsome as another. In most public assemblages, the foolish eye roves in search of the vanity of female beauty, and rests upon some lovely visage, or pretty figure; but here it seemed to matter nothing whether ladies were well or ill-looking; and one might have been perfectly ascetic without self-denial. A blue eye or a black,–what of it? A mass of blonde or chestnut hair, this sort of walking-dress or that,–you might note the difference casually in a few hundred around you; but a sense of those myriads of other eyes and chignons and walking-dresses absorbed the impression in an instant, and left a dim, strange sense of loss, as if all women had suddenly become Woman. For the time, one would have been preposterously conceited to have felt his littleness in that crowd; you never thought of yourself in an individual capacity at all. It was as if you were a private in an army, or a very ordinary billow of the sea, feeling the battle or the storm, in a collective sort of way, but unable to distinguish your sensations from those of the mass. If a rafter had fallen and crushed you and your unimportant row of people, you could scarcely have regarded it as a personal calamity, but might have found it disagreeable as a shock to that great body of humanity. Recall, then, how astonished you were to be recognized by some one, and to have your hand shaken in your individual character of Smith. “Smith? My dear What’s-your-name, I am for the present the fifty-thousandth part of an enormous emotion!”
It was as difficult to distribute the various facts of the whole effect, as to identify one’s self. I had only a public and general consciousness of the delight given by the harmony of hues in the parquet below; and concerning the orchestra I had at first no distinct impression save of the three hundred and thirty violin-bows held erect like standing wheat at one motion of the director’s wand, and then falling as if with the next he swept them down. Afterwards files of men with horns, and other files of men with drums and cymbals, discovered themselves; while far above all, certain laborious figures pumped or ground with incessant obeisance at the apparatus supplying the organ with wind.
What helped, more than anything else, to restore you your dispersed and wandering individuality was the singing of Parepa-Rosa, as she triumphed over the harmonious rivalry of the orchestra. There was something in the generous amplitude and robust cheerfulness of this great artist that accorded well with the ideal of the occasion; she was in herself a great musical festival; and one felt, as she floated down the stage with her far-spreading white draperies, and swept the audience a colossal courtesy, that here was the embodied genius of the Jubilee. I do not trust myself to speak particularly of her singing, for I have the natural modesty of people who know nothing about music, and I have not at command the phraseology of those who pretend to understand it; but I say that her voice filled the whole edifice with delicious melody, that it soothed and composed and utterly enchanted, that, though two hundred violins accompanied her, the greater sweetness of her note prevailed over all, like a mighty will commanding many. What a sublime ovation for her when a hundred thousand hands thundered their acclaim! A victorious general, an accepted lover, a successful young author,–these know a measure of bliss, I dare say; but in one throb, the singer’s heart, as it leaps in exultation at the loud delight of her applausive thousands, must out-enjoy them all. Let me lay these poor little artificial flowers of rhetoric at the feet of the divine singer, as a faint token of gratitude and eloquent intention.
When Parepa (or Prepper, as I have heard her name popularly pronounced) had sung, the revived consciousness of an individual life rose in rebellion against the oppression of that dominant vastness. In fact, human nature can stand only so much of any one thing. To a certain degree you accept and conceive of facts truthfully, but beyond this a mere fantasticality rules; and having got enough of grandeur, the senses played themselves false. That array of fluttering and tuning people on the southern slope began to look minute, like the myriad heads assembled in the infinitesimal photograph which you view through one of those little half-inch lorgnettes; and you had the satisfaction of knowing that to any lovely infinitesimality yonder you showed no bigger than a carpet-tack. The whole performance now seemed to be worked by those tireless figures pumping at the organ, in obedience to signals from a very alert figure on the platform below. The choral and orchestral thousands sang and piped and played; and at a given point in the _scena_ from Verdi, a hundred fairies in red shirts marched down through the sombre mass of puppets and beat upon as many invisible anvils.
This was the stroke of anti-climax; and the droll sound of those anvils, so far above all the voices and instruments in its pitch, thoroughly disillusioned you and restored you finally to your proper entity and proportions. It was the great error of the great Jubilee, and where almost everything else was noble and impressive,–where the direction was faultless, and the singing and instrumentation as perfectly controlled as if they were the result of one volition,–this anvil-beating was alone ignoble and discordant,–trivial and huge merely. Not even the artillery accompaniment, in which the cannon were made to pronounce words of two syllables, was so bad.
The dimensions of this sketch bear so little proportion to those of the Jubilee, that I must perforce leave most of its features unnoticed; but I wish to express the sense of enjoyment which prevailed (whenever the anvils were not beaten) over every other feeling, even over wonder. To the ear as to the eye it was a delight, and it was an assured success in the popular affections from the performance of the first piece. For my own part, if one pleasurable sensation, besides that received from Parepa’s singing, distinguished itself from the rest, it was that given by the performance of the exquisite Coronation March from Meyerbeer’s “Prophet;” but I say this under protest of the pleasure taken in the choral rendering of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Closely allying themselves to these great raptures were the minor joys of wandering freely about from point to point, of receiving fresh sensations from the varying lights and aspects in which the novel scene presented itself with its strange fascinations, and of noting, half consciously, the incessant movement of the crowd as it revealed itself in changing effects of color. Then the gay tumult of the fifteen minutes of intermission between the parts, when all rose with a _susurrus_ of innumerable silks, and the thousands of pretty singers fluttered about, and gossiped tremulously and delightedly over the glory of the performance, revealing themselves as charming feminine personalities, each with her share in the difficulty and the achievement, each with her pique or pride, and each her something to tell her friend of the conduct, agreeable or displeasing, of some particular him! Even the quick dispersion of the mass at the close was a marvel of orderliness and grace, as the melting and separating parts, falling asunder, radiated from the centre, and flowed and rippled rapidly away, and left the great hall empty and bare at last.
And as you emerged from the building, what bizarre and perverse feeling was that you knew? Something as if all-out-doors were cramped and small, and it were better to return to the freedom and amplitude of the interior?
On the second day, much that was wonderful in a first experience of the festival was gone; but though the novelty had passed away, the cause for wonder was even greater. If on the first day the crowd was immense, it was now something which the imperfect state of the language will not permit me to describe; perhaps _awful_ will serve the purpose as well as any other word now in use. As you looked round, from the centre of the building, on that restless, fanning, fluttering multitude, to right and left and north and south, all comparisons and similitudes abandoned you. If you were to write of the scene, you felt that your effort, at the best, must be a meagre sketch, suggesting something to those who had seen the fact, but conveying no intelligible impression of it to any one else. The galleries swarmed, the vast slopes were packed, in the pampa-like parquet even the aisles were half filled with chairs, while a cloud of placeless wanderers moved ceaselessly on the borders of the mass under the balconies.
When that common-looking, uncommon little man whom we have called to rule over us entered the house, and walked quietly down to his seat in the centre of it, a wild, inarticulate clamor, like no other noise in the world, swelled from every side, till General Grant rose and showed himself, when it grew louder than ever, and then gradully subsided into silence. Then a voice, which might be uttering some mortal alarm, broke repeatedly across the stillness from one of the balconies, and a thousand glasses were leveled in that direction, while everywhere else the mass hushed itself with a mute sense of peril. The capacity of such an assemblage for self-destruction was, in fact, but too evident. From fire, in an edifice of which the sides could be knocked out in a moment, there could have been little danger; the fabric’s strength had been perfectly tested the day before, and its fall was not to be apprehended; but we had ourselves greatly to dread. A panic could have been caused by any mad or wanton person, in which thousands might have been instantly trampled to death; and it seemed long till that foolish voice was stilled, and the house lapsed back into tranquillity, and the enjoyment of the music. In the performance I recall nothing disagreeable, nothing that to my ignorance seemed imperfect, though I leave it to the wise in music to say how far the great concert was a success. I saw a flourish of the director’s wand, and I heard the voices or the instruments, or both, respond, and I knew by my programme that I was enjoying an unprecedented quantity of Haydn or Handel or Meyerbeer or Rossini or Mozart, afforded with an unquestionable precision and promptness; but I own that I liked better to stroll about the three-acre house, and that for me the music was, at best, only one of the joys of the festival.
There was good hearing outside for those that desired to listen to the music, with seats to let in the surrounding tents and booths; and there was unlimited seeing for the mere looker-on. At least fifty thousand people seemed to have come to the Jubilee with no other purpose than to gaze upon the outside of the building. The crowd was incomparably greater than that of the day before; all the main thoroughfares of the city roared with a tide of feet that swept through the side streets, and swelled aimlessly up the places, and eddied there, and poured out again over the pavements. The carriage-ways were packed with every sort of vehicle, with foot-passengers crowded from the sidewalks, and with the fragments of the military parade in honor of the President, with infantry, with straggling cavalrymen, with artillery. All the paths of the Common and the Garden were filled, and near the Coliseum the throngs densified on every side into an almost impenetrable mass, that made the doors of the building difficult to approach and at times inaccessible.
The crowd differed from that of the first day chiefly in size. There were more country faces and country garbs to be seen, though it was still, on the whole, a regular-featured and well-dressed crowd, with still very few but American visages. It seemed to be also a very frugal-minded crowd, and to spend little upon the refreshments and amusements provided for it. In these, oddly enough, there was nothing of the march of mind to be observed; they Were the refreshments and amusements of a former generation. I think it would not be extravagant to say that there were tons of pie for sale in a multitude of booths, with lemonade, soda-water, and ice-cream in proportion; but I doubt if there was a ton of pie sold, and towards the last the venerable pastry was quite covered with dust. Neither did people seem to care much for oranges or bananas or peanuts, or even pop-corn,–five cents a package and a prize in each package. Many booths stood unlet, and in others the pulverous ladies and gentlemen, their proprietors, were in the enjoyment of a leisure which would have been elegant if it had not been forced. There was one shanty, not otherwise distinguished from the rest, in which French soups were declared to be for sale; but these alien pottages seemed to be no more favored than the most poisonous of our national viands. But perhaps they were not French soups, or perhaps the vicinage of the shanty was not such as to impress a belief in their genuineness upon people who like French soups. Let us not be too easily disheartened by the popular neglect of them. If the daring reformer who inscribed French soups upon his sign will reappear ten years hence, we shall all flock to his standard. Slavery is abolished; pie must follow. Doubtless in the year 1900, the managers of a Jubilee would even let the refreshment-rooms within their Coliseum to a cook who would offer the public something not so much worse than the worst that could be found in the vilest shanty restaurant on the ground. At the Jubilee, of which I am writing, the unhappy person who went into the Coliseum rooms to refresh himself was offered for coffee a salty and unctuous wash, in one of those thick cups which are supposed to be proof against the hard usage of “guests” and scullions in humble eating-houses, and which are always so indescribably nicked and cracked, and had pushed towards him a bowl of veteran sugar, and a tin spoon that had never been cleaned in the world, while a young person stood by, and watched him, asking, “Have you paid for that coffee?”
The side-shows and the other amusements seemed to have addressed themselves to the crowd with the same mistaken notion of its character and requirements; though I confess that I witnessed their neglect with regret, whether from a feeling that they were at least harmless, or an unconscious sympathy with any quite idle and unprofitable thing. Those rotary, legless horses, on which children love to ride in a perpetual sickening circle,– the type of all our effort,–were nearly always mounted; but those other whirligigs, or whatever the dreadful circles with their swinging seats are called, were often so empty that they must have been distressing, from their want of balance, to the muscles as well as the spirits of their proprietors. The society of monsters was also generally shunned, and a cow with five legs gave milk from the top of her back to an audience of not more than six persons. The public apathy had visibly wrought upon the temper of the gentleman who lectured upon this gifted animal, and he took inquiries in an ironical manner that contrasted disadvantageously with the philosophical serenity of the person who had a weighing-machine outside, and whom I saw sitting in the chair and weighing himself by the hour, with an expression of profound enjoyment. Perhaps a man of less bulk could not have entered so keenly into that simple pleasure.
There was a large tent on the grounds for dramatical entertainments, with six performances a day, into which I was lured by a profusion of high- colored posters, and some such announcement, as that the beautiful serio- comic danseuse and world-renowned cloggist, Mile. Brown, would appear. About a dozen people were assembled within, and we waited a half-hour beyond the time announced for the curtain to rise, during which the spectacle of a young man in black broadcloth, eating a cocoa-nut with his pen-knife, had a strange and painful fascination. At the end of this half- hour, our number was increased to eighteen, when the orchestra appeared,– a snare-drummer and two buglers. These took their place at the back of the tent; the buglers, who were Germans, blew seriously and industriously at their horns; but the native-born citizen, who played the drum, beat it very much at random, and in the mean time smoked a cigar, while his humorous friend kept time upon his shoulders by striking him there with a cane. How long this might have lasted, I cannot tell; but, after another delay, I suddenly bethought me whether it were not better not to see Mile. Brown, after all? I rose, and stole softly out behind the rhythmic back of the drummer; and the world-renowned cloggist is to me at this moment only a beautiful dream,–an airy shape fashioned upon a hint supplied by the engraver of the posters.
What, then, did the public desire, if it would not smile upon the swings, or monsters, or dramatic amusements that had pleased so long? Was the music, as it floated out from the Coliseum, a sufficient delight? Or did the crowd, averse to the shows provided for it, crave something higher and more intellectual,–like, for example, a course of the Lowell Lectures? Its general expression had changed: it had no longer that entire gayety of the first day, but had taken on something of the sarcastic pathos with which we Americans bear most oppressive and fatiguing things as a good joke. The dust was blown about in clouds; and here and there, sitting upon the vacant steps that led up and down among the booths, were dejected and motionless men and women, passively gathering dust, and apparently awaiting burial under the accumulating sand,–the mute, melancholy sphinxes of the Jubilee, with their unsolved riddle, “Why did we come?” At intervals, the heavens shook out fierce, sudden showers of rain, that scattered the surging masses, and sent them flying impotently hither and thither for shelter where no shelter was, only to gather again, and move aimlessly and comfortlessly to and fro, like a lost child.
So the multitude roared within and without the Coliseum as I turned homeward; and yet I found it wandering with weary feet through the Garden, and the Common, and all the streets, and it dragged its innumerable aching legs with me to the railroad station, and, entering the train, stood up on them,–having paid for the tickets with which the companies professed to sell seats.
How still and cool and fresh it was at our suburban station, when the train, speeding away with a sardonic yell over the misery of the passengers yet standing up in it, left us to walk across the quiet fields and pleasant lanes to Benicia Street, through groups of little idyllic Irish boys playing base-ball, with milch-goats here and there pastorally cropping the herbage!
In this pleasant seclusion I let all Bunker Hill Day thunder by, with its cannons, and processions, and speeches, and patriotic musical uproar, hearing only through my open window the note of the birds singing in a leafy coliseum across the street, and making very fair music without an anvil among them. “Ah, signer!” said one of my doorstep acquaintance, who came next morning and played me Captain Jenks,–the new air he has had added to his instrument,–“never in my life, neither at Torino, nor at Milano, nor even at Genoa, never did I see such a crowd or hear such a noise, as at that Colosseo yesterday. The carriages, the horses, the feet! And the dust, O Dio mio! All those millions of people were as white as so many millers!”
On the afternoon of the fourth day the city looked quite like the mill in which these millers had been grinding; and even those unpromisingly elegant streets of the Back Bay showed mansions powdered with dust enough for sentiment to strike root in, and so soften them with its tender green against the time when they shall be ruinous and sentiment shall swallow them up. The crowd had perceptibly diminished, but it was still great, and on the Common it was allured by a greater variety of recreations and bargains than I had yet seen there. There were, of course, all sorts of useful and instructive amusements,–at least a half-dozen telescopes, and as many galvanic batteries, with numerous patented inventions; and I fancied that most of the peddlers and charlatans addressed themselves to a utilitarian spirit supposed to exist in us. A man that sold whistles capable of reproducing exactly the notes of the mocking-bird and the guinea-pig set forth the durability of the invention. “Now, you see this whistle, gentlemen. It is rubber, all rubber; and rubber, you know, enters into the composition of a great many valuable articles. This whistle, then, is entirely of rubber,–no worthless or flimsy material that drops to pieces the moment you put it to your lips,”–as if it were not utterly desirable that it should. “Now, I’ll give you the mocking-bird, gentlemen, and then I’ll give you the guinea-pig, upon this pure _India_-rubber whistle.” And he did so with a great animation,–this young man with a perfectly intelligent and very handsome face. “Try your strength, and renovate your system!” cried the proprietor of a piston padded at one end and working into a cylinder when you struck it a blow with your fist; and the owners of lung-testing machines called upon you from every side to try their consumption cure; while the galvanic-battery men sat still and mutely appealed with inscriptions attached to their cap-visors declaring that electricity taken from their batteries would rid you of every ache and pain known to suffering humanity. Yet they were themselves as a class in a state of sad physical disrepair, and one of them was the visible prey of rheumatism which he might have sent flying from his joints with a single shock. The only person whom I saw improving his health with the battery was a rosy-faced school-boy, who was taking ten cents’ worth of electricity; and I hope it did not disagree with his pop-corn and soda- water.
Farther on was a picturesque group of street-musicians,–violinists and harpers; a brother and four sisters, by their looks,–who afforded almost the only unpractical amusement to be enjoyed on the Common, though not far from them was a blind old negro, playing upon an accordion, and singing to it in the faintest and thinnest of black voices, who could hardly have profited any listener. No one appeared to mind him, till a jolly Jack-tar with both arms cut off, but dressed in full sailor’s togs, lurched heavily towards him. This mariner had got quite a good effect of sea-legs by some means, and looked rather drunker than a man with both arms ought to be; but he was very affectionate, and, putting his face close to the other’s, at once entered into talk with the blind man, forming with him a picture curiously pathetic and grotesque. He was the only tipsy person I saw during the Jubilee days,–if he was tipsy, for after all they may have been real sea-legs he had on.
If the throng upon the streets was thinner, it was greater in the Coliseum than on the second day; and matters had settled there into regular working order. The limits of individual liberty had been better ascertained; there was no longer any movement in the aisles, but a constant passing to and fro, between the pieces, in the promenades. The house presented, as before, that appearance in which reality forsook it, and it became merely an amazing picture. The audience supported the notion of its unreality by having exactly the character of the former audiences, and impressed you, despite its restlessness and incessant agitation, with the feeling that it had remained there from the first day, and would always continue there; and it was only in wandering upon its borders through the promenades, that you regained possession of facts concerning it. In no other way was its vastness more observable than in the perfect indifference of persons one to another. Each found himself, as it were, in a solitude; and, sequestered in that wilderness of strangers, each was freed of his bashfulness and trepidation. Young people lounged at ease upon the floors, about the windows, on the upper promenades; and in this seclusion I saw such betrayals of tenderness as melt the heart of the traveller on our desolate railway trains,–Fellows moving to and fro or standing, careless of other eyes, with their arms around the waists of their Girls. These were, of course, people who had only attained a certain grade of civilization, and were not characteristic of the crowd, or, indeed, worthy of notice except as expressions of its unconsciousness. I fancied that I saw a number of their class outside listening to the address of the agent of a patent liniment, proclaimed to be an unfailing specific for neuralgia and headache,–if used in the right spirit. “For,” said the orator, “we like to cure people who treat us and our medicine with respect. Folks say, ‘What is there about that man?–some magnetism or electricity.’ And the other day at New Britain, Connecticut, a young man he come up to the carriage, sneering like, and he tried the cure, and it didn’t have the least effect upon him.” There seemed reason in this, and it produced a visible sensation in the Fellows and Girls, who grinned sheepishly at each other.
Why will the young man with long hair force himself at this point into a history, which is striving to devote itself to graver interests? There he stood with the other people, gazing up at the gay line of streamers on the summit of the Coliseum, and taking in the Anvil Chorus with the rest,–a young man well-enough dressed, and of a pretty sensible face, with his long black locks falling from under his cylinder hat, and covering his shoulders. What awful spell was on him, obliging him to make that figure before his fellow-creatures? He had nothing to sell; he was not, apparently, an advertisement of any kind. Was he in the performance of a vow? Was he in his right mind? For shame! a person may wear his hair long if he will. But why not, then, in a top-knot? This young man’s long hair was not in keeping with his frock-coat and his cylinder hat, and he had not at all the excuse of the old gentleman who sold salve in the costume of Washington’s time; one could not take pleasure in him as in the negro advertiser, who paraded the grounds in a costume compounded of a consular _chapeau bras_ and a fox-hunter’s top-boots–the American diplomatic uniform of the future–and offered every one a printed billet; he had not even the attraction of the cabalistic herald of Hunkidori. Who was he? what was he? why was he? The mind played forever around these questions in a maze of hopeless conjecture.
Had all those quacks and peddlers been bawling ever since Tuesday to the same listeners? Had all those swings and whirligigs incessantly performed their rounds? The cow that gave milk from the top of her back, had she never changed her small circle of admirers, or ceased her flow? And the gentleman who sat in the chair of his own balance, how much did he weigh by this time? One could scarcely rid one’s self of the illusion of perpetuity concerning these things, and I could not believe that, if I went back to the Coliseum grounds at any future time, I should not behold all that vast machinery in motion.
It was curious to see, amid this holiday turmoil men pursuing the ordinary business of their lives, and one was strangely rescued and consoled by the spectacle of the Irish hod-carriers, and the bricklayers at work on a first-class swell-front residence in the very heart of the city of tents and booths. Even the locomotive, being associated with quieter days and scenes, appealed, as it whistled to and fro upon the Providence Railroad, to some soft bucolic sentiment in the listener, and sending its note, ordinarily so discordant, across that human uproar, seemed to “babble of green fields.” And at last it wooed us away, and the Jubilee was again swallowed up by night.
There was yet another Jubilee Day, on the morning of which the thousands of public-school children clustered in gauzy pink and white in the place of the mighty chorus, while the Coliseum swarmed once more with people who listened to those shrill, sweet pipes blending in unison; but I leave the reader to imagine what he will about it. A week later, after all was over, I was minded to walk down towards the Coliseum, and behold it in its desertion. The city streets were restored to their wonted summer-afternoon tranquillity; the Public Garden presented its customary phases of two people sitting under a tree and talking intimately together on some theme of common interest,–
“Bees, bees, was it your hydromel?”–
of the swans sailing in full view upon the little lake of half a dozen idlers hanging upon the bridge to look at them; of children gayly dotting the paths here and there; and, to heighten the peacefulness of the effect, a pretty, pale invalid lady sat, half in shade and half in sun, reading in an easy-chair. Far down the broad avenue a single horse-car tinkled slowly; on the steps of one of the mansions charming little girls stood in a picturesque group full of the bright color which abounds in the lovely dresses of this time. As I drew near the Coliseum, I could perceive the desolation which had fallen upon the festival scene; the white tents were gone; the place where the world-renowned cloggist gave her serio-comic dances was as lonely and silent as the site of Carthage; in the middle distance two men were dismantling a motionless whirligig; the hut for the sale of French soups was closed; farther away, a solitary policeman moved gloomily across the deserted spaces, showing his dark-blue figure against the sky. The vast fabric of the Coliseum reared itself, hushed and deserted within and without; and a boy in his shirt-sleeves pressed his nose against one of the painted window-panes in the vain effort to behold the nothing inside. But sadder than this loneliness surrounding the Coliseum, sadder than the festooned and knotted banners that drooped funereally upon its facade, was the fact that some of those luckless refreshment-saloons were still open, displaying viands as little edible now as carnival _confetti_. It was as if the proprietors, in an unavailing remorse, had condemned themselves to spend the rest of their days there, and, slowly consuming their own cake and pop-corn, washed down with their own soda-water and lemonade, to perish of dyspepsia and despair.