Treasure Trove

Here are some passages from great writing, or prescient thinking, that have stayed with me for years and years ... in reverse order of my first having encountered them.

Gabrielle Hamilton, "The Grown-Ups' Table," The New York Times Magazine, October 29, 2017

Wesley Cecil, "Humanism and the Humane Arts: How to Live the Ideals of Secular Humanism," Free Inquiry, June/July 2010

In a recent article in the Times Sunday Magazine, Gabrielle Hamilton offers us an essay that serves as both paen and obituary to the dinner party. The very best kind of dinner party is like a performance piece, I think, a collaboration where the guests contribute to build a shared experience. Hamilton suggests it is a dying art.

But just when I could finally afford to buy my first 13-quart heavy enamel Le Creuset lidded pot, and invite people to dinner around a real table — not a Salvation Army jobbie — guests started coming to dinner with their phones, the glow of those screens as lethal to the conversation as empty seats had been. People passed them back and forth to show photos meant to illustrate things that they used to describe verbally. We stopped looking at one another across the table and started crowding in on one another staring together at a tiny hand-held screen someone was holding up in explanation of a trip to India, the fog from a morning run. Quickly our vocabularies shrank. Instead of summoning words, people tapped on images. People stopped finishing their sentences. And in startlingly short order, they could no longer describe with language the places they had been; the way they had felt in the dark night; the powerful weight of the tropical winds and the humidity of their recent vacations, the dirt road they got lost on, the woman who brought milk and bread and butter and yogurt to their pensione. There were fewer well-told stories at the dinner table, fewer compelling twists and pauses, fewer meandering conversations among the group, until there were almost no more wire Champagne cages gently twisted into the shapes of animals. We had our hands full with our phones.

I appreciated Hamilton's article, but what I most appreciated was that it reminded me of Wesley Cecil's essay in Free Inquiry, which I had read years before. The link above will require you to subscribe to the magazine before you can view the article. Maybe you should—as you can see, it's for a very good cause.

On the other hand, Cecil is a professor at Peninsula College, in Washington state, and has a lecture series on the same theme. Whether the lecture series inspired the essay, or vice versa, I do not know. But the two are different enough that they're both worth the time of a very busy person.

I won't try to sum up the essay. I could never do it justice. I'll just let the man speak for himself.

Historically, the humanities have flourished in a specific, perhaps even peculiar, environment. During times when a great many persons cultivated lives receptive to reason, letters, and the plastic arts, our greatest cultural traditions have prospered. From ancient Greece to Renaissance Florence to the Bloomsbury Group, some of the activities most closely associated with the greatest efflorescence of the humanities emerged. Among them are letter writing, conversation, frequenting salons and cafés, walking, and engaging in creative activities. These pursuits have provided the soil in which the humanities flourish. This essay argues that when we cultivate them individually, our lives grow richer; when we cultivate them collectively, our civilization blossoms. [...]

The Art of the Letter

E-mail is not a replacement for the letter. Letter writing requires a series of skills and a mindset absent from e-mail. To compose a letter one must first compose oneself, and herein is much of the of the letter’s magic: the hand must be steadied, the mind quieted, thoughts focused. Then one can begin to write. Because one wishes to avoid errors of all kinds, both mechanical and stylistic, and since one can cross out but not erase, a care is required that is absent from the composition of e-mail. A certain tension and excitement comes into play when one has written three-quarters of a page of fine prose. A dead sentence, a poorly chosen word, an inapt phrase threatens to undo one’s work. In its very facility, e-mail presents no challenge to which one can rise and thus robs the writer of the sense of fulfillment that accompanies the completion of a fine epistle. One is not pressed to do one’s best, hence, the uniformly dismal quality of e-mail prose even when the sender is known to be a writer of style. [...]

Writing letters is both simple and, given our cultural predilections, nearly painful. Fine stationery is easy to obtain; attractive stamps, though not a specialty of the U.S. Postal Service, can be bought; pens are no great expense. However, all of this takes a bit of thought, a little reflection. And then, when all the elements are gathered, one must pause. While I have heard resistance to letter writing based on the time it takes to write a letter, I think it is really the time is takes to prepare oneself for writing a letter that causes people to balk. A pleasant, short note can be created in a few minutes; putting oneself in a pleasant, note-writing frame of mind is another matter. It is that moment of quiet in the mind that is both rare and necessary for letter writing and the cultivation of the arts more generally. The hurly-burly of contemporary society precludes this mindful quiet and renders us nearly incapable of a simple, pleasant, and enriching practice. [...]

The Art of Conversation

Consider next the conversation. Reading the diaries, letters, or memoirs of previous generations, one finds that conversation was considered an art. One’s capacity for talk was considered an important social grace and a means of creative self-expression. Unfortunately, this skill has waned. Jacques Barzun noted the precipitous decline in the quality of conversation in America more than sixty years ago. It is not that people are not talking: the annoying intrusiveness of cell-phone users indicates that people cannot be stopped from talking. Rather, it is the quality of the talk that has declined. A conversation in the classical sense is a shared pursuit of truth through dialogue. Ideas, feelings, and experiences are developed through conversation. The requirements for a fulfilling conversation are modest: some shared outlook, openness, a willingness to listen and to learn, and a sense of ease. Unfortunately, all of these elements are in short supply in a culture that presses social conformity, egoism, and competition through a medium—television—that stresses mental passivity.

We have, in fact, lost the notion that conversation is a social grace that needs nurturing. The mere capacity for speaking has come to be mistaken for the rare capacity for conversing. The distinction between the two is subtle but profound. To converse, one must have something to contribute, requiring the faculties of observation and reflection. Observation, in this sense, is the noticing and remembering of significant details—whether these are details of color, mood, or an equation will vary with context. Reflection is the capacity to form these details into a communicable form. This requires one to consider the significance of the thing noticed, how it might be expressed best, and how it is likely to be received. Then, when one speaks, one has something to share. Sharing is the goal of conversation, not informing, convincing, or cajoling. Conversation is the shared exploration of the human experience in all its manifold guises. When all the elements are in place, the opportunity is created to exteriorize one’s own feelings and reflections, subtle moods and flashing insights, and blend them with the same from others. Cooperatively, something greater than one’s own capacity to think, feel, and imagine is brought into being, which can enrich all participants. Like a string quartet, conversation allows for an effect to be created that is substantially different from, and often superior to, the capacity of any individual. Again, our societies’ predilection for speed and shock betrays us. We have nearly lost the capacity for wonder, subtlety, and self-reflection necessary for conversation. Our culture has substituted argument and communication for the much subtler art of building small worlds through language, attentiveness, and a harmonizing of souls.

The Art of Salon and Café

It follows from the consideration of the art of conversation that the exploration of ideas through dialogue needs a setting. Historically, the most influential settings have been salons and cafés. Like letter writing, the literature of salons and cafés is extensive. Conversation is greatly aided by a convivial atmosphere, and providing that atmosphere is the function of the café or salon— which one may oversimplify by seeing them as, respectively, the public and private settings of conversation. Quality salons and cafés are no small matter. Though they are likely a necessity for a humane existence, both are threatened with extinction. For while broadly honored in memory, the tradition of the salon and café as centers of intellectual life has slowly faded.

The goal of a salon is to provide a setting that makes guests feel sufficiently at ease to express themselves well and freely. The current norm for entertaining leans toward too many people, too much noise, too many drinks, and an environment hostile toward in-depth conversation. Curiously, one is thrust into a social environment and encouraged to “talk,” yet the constant stir of people, uncomfortable physical environment, and the often oppressively loud music conspire, whatever the merits of the company, to quell any opportunity for discussion. This recurrent problem, familiar to most anyone who attends social gatherings, highlights the importance of the host or hostess, who works to create the requisite physical and psychological environment. He or she must choose guests who will, in the sum of their persons, enrich the experience of each guest as an individual. Those so provided must be comfortable without being cloying, interesting without being overwhelming. The setting must make the guests feel as if they, not the home of the host, are important. Refreshments or a light repast should soothe but not stupefy with richness or excess. Interruptions from phones, television, and distracting noises should be minimized. All of these elements must be achieved with effortless grace so that guests do not feel the host or hostess straining—and hence feel strained themselves. These are subtle yet simple requirements that have become scarce in an age that values neither the simple nor the subtle. A few hours of easy conversation in a pleasant social gathering is a rare thing of great value that deserves to be more assiduously cultivated, lest we lose a proven aid to intellectual and artistic growth.

The café is a related, yet quite different, sort of social gathering. I use café in its broadest sense to indicate wine bars, teahouses, and coffeehouses used as gathering places for conversation. Sometimes seen as a more democratic version of the private and often exclusive salon culture, anyone familiar with history cannot but note the importance of café society in movements as diverse as Vienna’s music culture, Budapest’s mathematical triumphs, and San Francisco’s Beat poets. Precisely how much of a contribution cafés have made to the artistic, political, and scientific achievements of humankind is hard to measure—but the close association of the café, in all its incarnations, with many of our finest cultural achievements is beyond question.

The Art of the Walk

Perhaps the most overlooked contributor to a humane life is walking. From the wandering poet-monks of China, to Aristotle’s peripatetic academy, to Einstein’s and Schrödinger’s daily strolls, walking has been cited as salutary to reflection, creativity, and thought by a truly astonishing collection of artists, writers, scientists, and philosophers. This should not surprise; bipedalism is as distinctly human as language. [...]

Walking gives our experiences immediacy and a human scale. Our senses are engaged and our bodies active. Yet, as one walks the mind seems often to clear, allowing images, thoughts, and emotions to rise with a particular clarity. Walking has been esteemed for this seemingly contradictory combination of physical stimulation and mental acuity. When shared, walking also serves as a spur to conversation.

The Art of the Creative

Creativity is innate, yet the horrifying uniformity of American suburbs speaks to the millions of souls in whom the desire to create, to express oneself and one’s feelings, has been almost completely obliterated. How does this happen when children are presented with an infinite variety of art-related courses; when young people have bands, writing classes, and drama clubs; and colleges are filled with thousands of art students? A major reason is due to the consistent pressure to succeed and thence to follow the modes of the successful in all things. This pervasive pressure produces our suburban deserts in the midst of an unparalleled opportunity to be creative. Subtly yet powerfully, we receive the message that spending time in ways that do not advance one’s opportunity to make money is foolish. Creative pursuits thus take time away from more remunerative activities and, simultaneously, open one up to suspicion. Idiosyncrasies are seen as career liabilities, an odd-style house or strange garden as possible roadblocks to promotion. The normal citizen locked into the pursuit of success represses a rich imaginative, and hence aesthetic, life.

Leon Wieseltier: "The Tolstoy Bailout" (The New Republic, March 18, 2009)

'In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth." So The New York Times announced this week, in a report that made a grim country feel grimmer. "Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term 'humanities'—which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy, and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest." The complaint against the humanities is that they are impractical. This is true. They will not change the world. They will change only the experience, and the understanding, and the evaluation, of the world. Since interpretation is the distinctively human activity, instruction in the traditions of interpretation should hardly be controversial—except in a society that mistakes practice for a philosophy. It is worth remembering, then, that the crisis in which we find ourselves was the work of practical men. The securitization of mortgages was not conceived by a head in the clouds. No poet cost anybody their house. No historian cost anybody their job. Not even the most pampered of professors ever squandered $87,000 of someone else's money on a little rug. The creativity of bankers is a luxury that we can no longer afford. [...] Regression analysis will not get us through the long night. We need to know more about the human heart than the study of consumer behavior can teach. These are the hours when the old Penguin paperbacks must stand us in good stead. It was for now that we read them then.

Iris Murdoch: Swimming in the Thames by Night (Under the Net)

We looked at each other and smiled in the darkness. He turned to the river and began edging awkwardly down, his body diminishing into the black water. The night air touched my body with a touch which was neither warm nor cold, only very soft and unexpected. My blood buzzed behind my skin with a nervous beat. Then without a sound Lefty had followed Finn. The water took my ankles in a cold clasp. As I went down I could see from the corner of my eye Dave crouched above me like a monument. Then the water was about my neck and I shot out into the open river.

The sky opened out above me like an unfurled banner, cascading with stars and blanched by the moon. The black hulls of barges darkened the water behind me and murky towers and pinnacles rose indistinctly on the other bank. I swam well out into the river. It seemed enormously wide; and as I looked up and down stream I could see on one side the dark pools under Blackfriars Bridge, and on the other the pillars of Southwark Bridge glistening under the moon. The whole expanse of water was running with light. It was like swimming in quicksilver. I looked about for Finn and Lefty, and soon saw their heads bobbing not far away. They came towards me and for a while we swam together. We had caught the tide beautifully upon the turn and there was not the least hint of a current.

I was easily the best swimmer of the three. Finn swims strongly but awkwardly, wasting his power in unnecessary movements and rolling too much from side to side. Lefty swam with neatness but without vigour. I guessed that he would soon tire. I swim excellently, giving myself to the water, and I have an effortless crawl which I can keep up indefinitely. Swimming has natural affinities with Judo. Both arts depend up one's willingness to surrender a rigid and nervous attachment to the upright position. Both bring muscles into play throughout the whole body. Both demand, over an exceptionally wide area of bodily activity, the elimination of superfluous motion. Both resemble the dynamism of water which runs through many channels to find its own level. In fact, however, once one has learnt to control one's body and overcome the primeval fear of falling which is so deep in the human consciousness, there are few physical arts and graces which are not thereby laid open to one, or at any rate made much easier of access. I am, for instance, a good dancer and a very creditable tennis player. If it were possible for anything to console me for my lack of height, these things would console me.

Now the other two had gone back to the step. I swam to one of the barges, and clung on to the cable for a while, throwing my head back to scan a panorama of blue-black sky and black and silver water, and stilling my body until the silence entered me with a rush... (p. 106-107)

Primo Levi: "Carbon" (The Periodic Table, translated by Raymond Rosenthal)

The reader, at this point, will have realized for some time now that this is not a chemical treatise: my presumption does not reach so far—"ma voix est foible, et même un peu profane." Nor is it an autobiography, save in the partial and symbolic limits in which every piece of writing is autobiographical, indeed every human work; but it is in some fashion a history.

It is—or would have liked to be—a micro-history, the history of a trade and its defeats, victories, and miseries, such as everyone wants to tell when he feels close to concluding the arc of his career, and art ceases to be long. Having reached this point in life, what chemist, facing the Periodic Table, or the monumental indices of Beilstein or Landolt, does not perceive scattered among them the sad tatters, or trophies, of his own professional past? He only has to leaf through any treatise and memories rise up in bunches: there is among us he who has tied his destiny, indelibly, to bromine or to propylene, or the -NCO group, or glutamic acid; and every chemistry student, faced by almost any treatise, should be aware that on one of those pages, perhaps in a single line, formula, or word, his future is written in indecipherable characters, which, however, will become clear "afterward": after success, error, or guilt, victory or defeat. Every no longer young chemist, turning again to the verhängnisvoll page in that same treatise, is struck again by love or disgust, delights or despairs.

So it happens, therefore, that every element says something to someone (something different to each) like the mountain valleys or beaches visited in youth. One must perhaps make an exception for carbon, because it says everything to everyone, that is, it is not specific, in the same way that Adam is not specific as an ancestor—unless one discovers today (why not?) the chemist-stylite who has dedicated his life to graphite or the diamond. And yet it is exactly to this carbon that I have an old debt, contracted during what for me were decisive days. To carbon, the element of life, my first literary dream was turned, insistently dreamed in an hour and a place when my life was not worth much: yes, I wanted to tell the story of an atom of carbon.

Is it right to speak of a "particular" atom of carbon? For the chemist there exist some doubts, because until 1970 he did not have the techniques permitting him to see, or in any event isolate, a single atom; no doubts exist for the narrator, who therefore sets out to narrate.

P. G. Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

It is not too much to say that I was piqued to the tonsils.

I mean to say, one does not court praise. The adulation of the multitude means very little to one. But, all the same, when one has taken the trouble to whack out a highly juicy scheme to benefit an in-the-soup friend in his hour of travail, it's pretty foul to find him giving the credit to one's personal attendant, particularly if that personal attendant is a man who goes about the place not packing mess-jackets.

But after I had been splashing about in the porcelain for a bit, composure began to return. I have always found that in moments of heart-bowed-downness there is nothing that calms the bruised spirit like a good go at the soap and water. I don't say I actually sang in the tub, but there were times when it was a mere spin of the coin whether I would do so or not.

The spiritual anguish induced by that tactless speech had become noticeably lessened.

The discovery of a toy duck in the soap dish, presumably the property of some former juvenile visitor, contributed not a little to this new and happier frame of mind. What with one thing and another, I hadn't played with toy ducks in my bath for years, and I found the novel experience most invigorating. For the benefit of those interested, I may mention that if you shove the thing under the surface with the sponge and then let it go, it shoots out of the water in a manner calculated to divert the most careworn. Ten minutes of this and I was enabled to return to the bedchamber much more the old merry Bertram.

Jeeves was there, laying out the dinner disguise. He greeted the young master with his customary suavity. (Chapter 9)

Katherine Mansfield: "At the Bay"

Stanley Loses his Walking Stick

Stanley pushed back his chair and got up.

"Would you get me those shoes, mother? And, Beryl, if you've finished, I wish you'd cut down to the gate and stop the coach. Run in to your mother, Isabel, and ask her where my bowler hat's been put. Wait a minute - have you children been playing with my stick?"

"No, father!"

"But I put it here." Stanley began to bluster. "I remember distinctly putting it in this corner. Now, who's had it? There's no time to lose. Look sharp! The stick's got to be found."

Even Alice, the servant-girl, was drawn into the chase. "You haven't been using it to poke the kitchen fire with by any chance?"

Stanley dashed into the bedroom where Linda was lying. "Most extraordinary thing. I can't keep a single possession to myself. They've made away with my stick, now!"

"Stick, dear? What stick?" Linda's vagueness on these occasions could not be real, Stanley decided. Would nobody sympathize with him?

"Coach! Coach, Stanley!" Beryl's voice cried from the gate.

Stanley waved his arm to Linda. "No time to say good-bye!" he cried. And he meant that as a punishment to her.

He snatched his bowler hat, dashed out of the house, and swung down the garden path. Yes, the coach was there waiting, and Beryl, leaning over the open gate, was laughing up at somebody or other just as if nothing had happened. The heartlessness of women! The way they took it for granted it was your job to slave away for them while they didn't even take the trouble to see that your walking-stick wasn't lost. Kelly trailed his whip across the horses.

"Good-bye, Stanley," called Beryl, sweetly and gaily. It was easy enough to say good-bye! And there she stood, idle, shading her eyes with her hand. The worst of it was Stanley had to shout good-bye too, for the sake of appearances. Then he saw her turn, give a little skip and run back to the house. She was glad to be rid of him!

Yes, she was thankful. Into the living-room she ran and called "He's gone!" Linda cried from her room: "Beryl! Has Stanley gone?" Old Mrs. Fairfield appeared, carrying the boy in his little flannel coatee.



Oh, the relief, the difference it made to have the man out of the house. Their very voices were changed as they called to one another; they sounded warm and loving and as if they shared a secret. Beryl went over to the table. "Have another cup of tea, mother. It's still hot." She wanted, somehow, to celebrate the fact that they could do what they liked now. There was no man to disturb them; the whole perfect day was theirs.

"No, thank you, child," said old Mrs. Fairfield, but the way at that moment she tossed the boy up and said "a-goos-a-goos-a-ga!" to him meant that she felt the same. The little girls ran into the paddock like chickens let out of a coop.

Even Alice, the servant-girl, washing up the dishes in the kitchen, caught the infection and used the precious tank water in a perfectly reckless fashion.

"Oh, these men!" said she, and she plunged the teapot into the bowl and held it under the water even after it had stopped bubbling, as if it too was a man and drowning was too good for them.

The Amis's, Père and Fils, on the Hangover (and the lack thereof)

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad. (p. 60)

Martin Amis, Money

Having used the bathroom, and sparingly, I sauntered naked down the stairs. [...] I sat on the sofa and massaged my face. I felt strange—uncoupled, uncanny. For a good few minutes I thought I must be seriously ill, unprecedentedly, terminally so. My symptoms included a spectral clarity of vision, numbness of head and springiness of limb, and a weird watery taste in the root of my mouth. Whoops, here it comes, I thought, the lung thing, the heart deal, the brain gimmick. Then I realised what was up. No hangover. So this is what morning is. It's not unprecedented. I remember now. (p. 289)

Martin Amis, Money

John Self and Selina

'I've just gone off sex,' said Selina this morning, as she finished the tea I'd fondly brought her.

'So?' I asked her.

'God, be nice. Use your imagination. It'll pass. I've just gone off sex.'

Then what do you think is the point of you? I wanted to say. But I didn't. I resisted the temptation. I looked into the proud drama of her face, the valves and orbits of her throat, the wetlook runnels of her hair, the breasts, heavier than ever, solidly mounted on the ribcage, the naked slopes of the belly, the sudden flaring of the hips, a smell of sleep.

'Then what do you think is the point of you?'

'You,' she said, 'are unreal.' (p. 226)

John Self and Martina

Oh me, my alas and alack. Oh crappy day. What a scream, eh, what a riot? Life is a wag and a funster. Life is the life of the party. It scintillates. I've heard this joke before, of course. It is an old one. I've had my share of bonk-famines, no-shows and squidge-gimmicks, shoe-horners and sneeze-jobs, twang-strikes and heft-outs. But I've never heard the joke in its long version, in its serial form. I could raise my rope for Butch Beausoleil. I could raise my rope for Selina Street and a snob of a whore on Third Avenue. This old rope of mine has seen action with all shapes and sizes, with the good and the bad and the ugly. But I can't raise my rope for Martina Twain, no sir. It seems she just isn't good enough for this old rope of mine.

'It doesn't matter,' she said last night, for the twentieth time. I lay there, a sixteen-stone teardrop, blinking, smarting, all made of salt. 'Oh yeah?' I croaked. She embraced me and in her hot whisper she said everything that was humanly sayable. 'Oh yeah?' I croaked again. I can't even make it as an animal any more. Even as an animal I'm all washed up. 'Jesus,' I said. 'What do I think is the point of me?' (p. 298-299)

Rabelais: "How Gargantua the Giant Gave Paris its Name" (Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book 1, translated by J. M. Cohen)

Some days after they had finished their refreshment, Gargantua went to see the sights of the town, and everyone stared at him in great wonder. For the Parisians are such simpletons, such gapers, and such feckless idiots that a buffoon, a peddler of indulgences, a mule with bells on its collar, or a fiddler at a crossroad will draw a greater crowd than a good preacher of the Gospel.

The people so pestered him, in fact, that he was compelled to take a rest on the towers of Notre-Dame; and when from there he saw so many, pressing all around him, he said in a clear voice:

'I think these clodhoppers want me to pay for my kind reception and offer them a solarium. They are quite justified, and I am going to give them some wine, to buy my welcome. But only in sport, par ris.'

Then, with a smile, he undid his magnificent codpiece and, bringing out his john-thomas, pissed on them so fiercely that he drowned two hundred and sixty thousand, four hundred and eighteen persons, not counting the women and small children.

A number of them, however, were quick enough on their feet to escape this piss-flood: and when they reached the top of the hill above the University, sweating, coughing, spitting, and out of breath, they began to swear and curse, some in a fury and others in sport (par ris). 'Carymary, Carymara! My holy tart, we've been drenched in sport! We've been drenched par ris.'

Hence it was that the city was ever afterwards called Paris. (from Ch. 17)

Karl Popper: Definition of Rationalism (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Pt. 2)

We could then say that rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience. It is fundamentally an attitude of admitting that 'I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth'. It is an attitude which does not lightly give up hope that by such means as argument and careful observation, people may reach some kind of agreement on many problems of importance; and that, even where their demands and their interests clash, it is often possible to argue about the various demands and proposals, and to reach—perhaps by arbitration—a compromise which, because of its equity, is acceptable to most, if not to all. In short, the rationalist attitude, or, as I may perhaps label it, the 'attitude of reasonableness', is very similar to the scientific attitude, to the belief that in the search for truth we need co-operation, and that, with the help of argument, we can in time attain something like objectivity (p. 225).

John Irving: A European Communist's View of American Literature (The Hotel New Hampshire)

"You know," Fehlgeburt would tell me, "the single ingredient in American literature that distinguishes it from other literatures of the world is a kind of giddy, illogical hopefulness. It is quite technically sophisticated while remaining ideologically naive." (Ch. 9, p. 277)

Fehlgeburt is not the kind of character who should serve as a role model, but I think he has something here. Moreover, I would say he'd be even righter if he'd applied his observation to American cinema. With apologies to Irving, what I would have liked him to say is: "The single ingredient in American cinema that distinguishes it from other cinemas of the world is that is technically sophisticated while remaining otherwise naive."

Italo Calvino: "The Aquatic Uncle" (Cosmicomics, translated by William Weaver)

The first vertebrates who, in the Carboniferous period, abandoned aquatic life for terrestrial descended from the osseous, pulmonate fish whose fins were capable of rotation beneath their bodies and thus could be used as paws on Earth.

By then it was clear that the water period was coming to an end—old Qwffq recalled—those who decided to make the great move were growing more and more numerous, there wasn't a family that didn't have some loved one up on dry land, and everybody told fabulous tales of the things that could be done there, and they called back to their relatives to join them. There was no holding the young fish; they slapped their fins on the muddy banks to see if they would work as paws, as the more talented ones had already discovered. But just at that time the differences among us were becoming accentuated: there might be a family that had been living on land, say, for several generations, whose young people acted in a way that wasn't even amphibious but almost reptilian already; and there were others who lingered, still living like fish, those who, in fact, became even more fishy than they had been before.

Lewis Nordan, "Sugar Among the Chickens" (first published in The All-Girl Football Team, reprinted in Sugar Among the Freaks)

I first encountered this story in Harper's, back in the spring of 1984 or so, and it has never left me. Two decades later I looked for it in my local library system, to no avail, but the search was propitious to the extent that it led me to Nordan's Music of the Swamp. Finally, completely by accident, in 2016 I found Sugar Among the Freaks in a used bookstore in Pittsburgh, and there, much to my delight, on page 179, I found this story's opening paragraphs.

I had been fishing for an hour and still hadn’t caught anything. I was fishing for chickens. Mama wouldn’t let me walk to the town pond by myself. What else was I going to fish for?

I looked back over my shoulder through the torn-out screened door and tried to see Mama in there. I said, “Mama.” I was using the voice that says you’re being real good and not fishing for chickens.

Mama said, “You better not be fishing for chickens, Sugar Mecklin, you going to get switched.” She’s got this ability.

(Spoiler alert: don't read on if you haven't read the story and there's any chance you'll take my advice and find it as soon as you possibly can.) That's a very fine set of opening paragraphs, but what has stayed with me over the years even more comes at the end. It happens after Nordan has succinctly, and expertly, given us a sense of who this family is and where they stand—geographically, economically, psychologically.

I understand, at last, what the rooster is going to do. He is going to catch the bait in the air, like a dog catching a Frisbee. I can't believe what I am watching. The rooster has positioned itself, flat-footed, with its mouth open, its head cocked to one side. Until this moment I have not believed I would catch the rooster. I have meant to catch it, but the habit of fishing for it is all I have thought about for a long time. And now, in the presence of an emotion something like awe, I understand that the rooster is about to catch me. [...]

I heard the rooster set its wings like a hawk about to land on a fence post. The rooster landed on my head. It didn't fall off. I thought it might, but it did not. It clung to my scalp by its fierce toenails. I clubbed at the gate with my useless hands. The bird stood on my head, and its wings kept up their motion and clatter. I could not appreciate the mauling I was receiving by the wings for the fire the feet had lit in my brain. I tried to climb the gate, but my feet had turned to stumps. [...]

I motioned for [my parents] to stay where they were. They saw that I knew what I was doing. Something had changed in me. I was not running now. The rooster was still riding my head. I walked, purposeful, like a heavy bear through the chickenyard.

And yet my steps were not heavy. My life was not ruined. I could bear this pain forever. In a year no one would notice the chicken but myself. Then even I would not notice. My mama had believed that spending your life in the place of your birth, absorbing its small particulars into your blood, was ruination. I looked at my parents beside the gate. My daddy held my mama in his arms as they looked at me. My daddy had gotten the gate open now but again I held up my hand and stopped him. I knew now what I could give them. It was a picture of myself that I would live the rest of my life to prove true: they watched their son wearing this living crowing rooster like a crown.

They were proud of me. I knew they were. They were frightened also but pride was mainly what I saw in their faces as I kept them from helping me. They believed that my life would not be ruined. They believed that a man who has worn a chicken on his head—worn it proudly, as I was beginning to do—would never be a fool to geography or marriage or alcohol.

I stood tall in the chickenyard. My parents looked at me from the gate and I felt their love and pride touch me. They believed that a man and his wife with such a son could not be ruined either, not yet, not forever.

Marvin Mudrick: Maybe Over No, Yes Over Maybe (Nobody Here But Us Chickens)

I write about the [historical and fictional] people in this book from the angle (with the bias) of certain at least theoretical choices of my own: either over neither, both over either/or, live-and-let-live over stand-or-die, high spirits over low, energy over apathy, wit over dullness, jokes over homilies, good humor over jokes, good nature over bad, feeling over sentiment, truth over poetry, consciousness over explanations, tragedy over pathos, comedy over tragedy, entertainment over art, private over public, generosity over meanness, charity over murder, love over charity, irreplaceable over interchangeable, divergence over concurrence, principle over interest, people over principle. (from the Preface)

Voltaire, Chapter XXX ("Conclusion")—the final chapter of Candide

I first came across these lines in a French Rapid Reading and Translating course taken sophomore year in college. I didn't pay much attention to them. Three months, two months, even one month ago, they would never have made it to this page. Recent events, however, have brought this passage to mind, and now I can't shake it from my thoughts.

Pangloss disait quelquefois à Candide : – Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles; car enfin si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de mademoiselle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis (put) à l’Inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru (crossed) l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons (sheep) du bon pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas (would not eat) ici des cédrats confits (preserved citron) et des pistaches.

– Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin. (Palmeri & Milligan: French for Reading Knowledge, p. 81)

Although I understood the literal meaning of the words, I didn't really get what was being said. How could I? The passage had been completely taken out of context.

Then I read an English translation of the entire book, and realized these lines occur at the very end.

"Grandeur," said Pangloss, "is extremely dangerous according to the testimony of philosophers. For, in short, Eglon, King of Moab, was assassinated by Ehud; Absalom was hung by his hair, and pierced with three darts; King Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was killed by Baasa; King Ela by Zimri; Ahaziah by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the Kings Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity. You know how perished Crœsus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Cæsar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II. of England, Edward II., Henry VI., Richard III., Mary Stuart, Charles I., the three Henrys of France, the Emperor Henry IV.! You know—"

"I know also," said Candide, "that we must cultivate our garden."

"You are right," said Pangloss, "for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle."

"Let us work," said Martin, "without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable."

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:

"There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden." (translation by Anonymous, possibly Philip Littell)

Still I didn't get it. Not really.

Then, senior year, I read the entire book in French. Even then, I couldn't honestly say that I understood what Voltaire was driving at with that ending of his. Had he simply become bored with the novel, and thus tacked on the first way to end it that came to mind?

Now, many years later, it is three days after November 8th, 2016—and now finally the passage is beginning to mean something to me.

During this conversation news had spread that two viziers of the bench and the mufti (two cabinet ministers and a judge, per John Butt) had been strangled in Constantinople, and several of their friends impaled. This catastrophe made a great stir everywhere for some hours. On their way back to the farm Pangloss, Candide, and Martin met a kindly old man who was taking the air at his door beneath an arbour of orange-trees. Pangloss, who was as curious as he was prone to philosophizing, asked him the name of the mufti who had just been strangled.

'I have no idea,' replied the fellow, 'and I never have known what any mufti or vizier was called. What you have just told me means absolutely nothing to me. I have no doubt that in general those who get involved in public affairs do sometimes come to a sad end and that they deserve it. But I never enquire what's going on in Constantinople. I am content to send my fruit for sale there from the garden I cultivate.

Having said this, he invited the strangers into his house. His two daughters and two sons offered them several kinds of sorbet which they had made themselves, some kaimak sharpened with the zest of candied citron, some oranges, lemons, limes, pineapple, and pistachio nuts, and some Mocha coffee which had not been blended with that awful coffee from Batavia and the islands. After which the two daughters of this good Muslim perfumed the beards of Candide, Pangloss, and Martin.

'You must have a vast and magnificent property,' said Candide to the Turk.

'I have but twenty acres,' replied the Turk. 'I cultivate them with my children. Work keeps us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty.'

Candide, on his way back to his farm, thought long and hard about what the Turk had said, and commented to Pangloss and Martin:

'That kind old man seems to me to have made a life for himself which is much preferable to that of those six kings with whom we had the honour of having supper.'

'High rank can be very dangerous,' said Pangloss; 'all the philosophers say so. For the fact is, Eglon, King of the Moabites, was slain by Ehud; Absalom was hanged by the hair on his head and had three darts thrust through his heart; King Nadab, son of Jeroboam, was smitten by Baasha; King Elah by Zimri; Joram by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; and Kings Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah entered into captivity. You know what sort of deaths befell Croesus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Caesar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II of England, Edward II, Henry VI, Richard III, Mary Stuart, Charles I, France's three Henris, and the Emperor Henri IV? You know . . .'

'I also know', said Candide, 'that we must cultivate our garden.'

'You're right,' said Pangloss; 'for when man was placed in the garden of Eden, he was placed there ut operaretur eum—that he might work—which proves that man was not born to rest.'

'Let's get down to work and stop all this philosophizing,' said Martin. 'It's the only way to make life bearable.'

The little society all fell in with this laudable plan. Each began to exercise his talents. Their small amount of land produced a great deal. Cunegonde was in truth very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry-cook. Paquette embroidered. The old woman took care of the linen. Everyone made themselves useful, including Brother Giroflee; he was a very fine carpenter, and even became quite the gentleman. And sometimes Pangloss would say to Candide:

'All events form a chain in the best of all possible worlds. For in the end, if you had not been given a good kick up the backside and chased out of a beautiful castle for loving Miss Cunegonde, and if you hadn't been subjected to the Inquisition, and if you hadn't wandered about America on foot, and if you hadn't dealt the Baron a good blow with your sword, and if you hadn't lost all your sheep from that fine country of Eldorado, you wouldn't be here now eating candied citron and pistachio nuts.'

'That is well put,' replied Candide, 'but we must cultivate our garden.' (Translation by Roger Pearw)

"But we must cultivate our garden," is too literal; I daresay, even lazy. It doesn't even sound like English. On this rereading, my first thought was to put it as, "but we must tend to the garden." John Butt and the Penguin Classics have, "'That's true enough,' said Candide; 'but we must go and work in the garden.'" Which is pretty good, too... And yet, there's something about the "let us cultivate our garden," rather than "we must cultivate our garden," in the first translation above, which I rather like.

So let me humbly suggest the following:

"Right you are," said Candide. "But let's go work in the garden."

All of which is besides the point. The point is this: in these troubled times, the thought of turning to my garden, turning away from the goings-on of ministers and judges, is very, very appealing.

Alfred Hitchcock: "Ahem! If I May Have a Moment" (Introduction to Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories that Scared Even Me)

I hope no one will construe the title of this tome as a challenge. It is—in case you were so eager to get to the stories that you didn't notice—Stories that Scared Even Me. This is meant as a simple statement of fact, not as a summons for you to cry in ringing tones that some of the stories didn't scare you. Why the word Even is in there I don't know. I proposed to call the book, in a simple and dignified manner, Stories that Scared Me. I was overruled. It seems that Stories that Scared Even Me has more swing to it. And this is, obviously, the day of the swinger.

Don Marquis, archy and mehitabel

		Freddy the Rat Perishes

     listen to me there have
     been some doings here since last
     i wrote there has been a battle
     behind that rusty typewriter cover
     in the corner
     you remember freddy the rat well
     freddy is no more but
     he died game the other
     day a stranger with a lot of
     legs came into our
     little circle a tough looking kid
     he was with a bad eye

     who are you said a thousand legs
     if i bite you once
     said the stranger you won t ask
     again he he little poison tongue said
     the thousand legs who gave you hydrophobia
     i got it by biting myself said
     the stranger i m bad keep away
     from me where i step a weed dies
     if i was to walk on your forehead it would
     raise measles and if
     you give me any lip i ll do it

     they mixed it then
     and the thousand legs succumbed
     well we found out this fellow
     was a tarantula he had come up from
     south america in a bunch of bananas
     for days he bossed us life
     was not worth living he would stand in
     the middle of the floor and taunt
     us ha ha he would say where i
     step a weed dies do
     you want any of my game i was
     raised on red pepper and blood i am
     so hot if you scratch me i will light
     like a match you better
     dodge me when i m feeling mean and
     i don t feel any other way i was nursed
     on a tabasco bottle if i was to slap
     your wrist in kindness you
     would boil over like job and heaven
     help you if i get angry give me
     room i feel a wicked spell coming on

     last night he made a break at freddy
     the rat keep your distance
     little one said freddy i m not
     feeling well myself somebody poisoned some
     cheese for me im as full of
     death as a drug store i
     feel that i am going to die anyhow
     come on little torpedo don t stop
     to visit and search then they
     went at it and both are no more please
     throw a late edition on the floor i want to
     keep up with china we dropped freddy
     off the fire escape into the alley with
     military honors


Edna St. Vincent Millay

		Conscientious Objector

	I shall die, but
	that is all that I shall do for Death.
	I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
	I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
	He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
	business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
	But I will not hold the bridle
	while he clinches the girth.
	And he may mount by himself:
	I will not give him a leg up.

	Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
	I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
	With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
	the black boy hides in the swamp.
	I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
	I am not on his pay-roll.

	I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
	nor of my enemies either.
	Though he promise me much,
	I will not map him the route to any man's door.
	Am I a spy in the land of the living,
	that I should deliver men to Death?
	Brother, the password and the plans of our city
	are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Mark Twain: The Mysterious Stranger

The World in Miniature

He ate nothing himself, but sat and chatted, and did one curious thing after another to amuse us. He made a tiny toy squirrel out of clay, and it ran up a tree and sat on a limb overhead and barked down at us. Then he made a dog that was not much larger than a mouse, and it treed the squirrel and danced about the tree, excited and barking, and was as alive as any dog could be. It frightened the squirrel from tree to tree and followed it up until both were out of sight in the forest. He made birds out of clay and set them free, and they flew away, singing.

At last I made bold to ask him to tell us who he was.

"An angel," he said, quite simply, and set another bird free and clapped his hands and made it fly away.

A kind of awe fell upon us when we heard him say that, and we were afraid again; but he said we need not be troubled, there was no occasion for us to be afraid of an angel, and he liked us, anyway. He went on chatting as simply and unaffectedly as ever; and while he talked he made a crowd of little men and women the size of your finger, and they went diligently to work and cleared and leveled off a space a couple of yards square in the grass and began to build a cunning little castle in it, the women mixing the mortar and carrying it up the scaffoldings in pails on their heads, just as our work-women have always done, and the men laying the courses of masonry—five hundred of these toy people swarming briskly about and working diligently and wiping the sweat off their faces as natural as life. In the absorbing interest of watching those five hundred little people make the castle grow step by step and course by course, and take shape and symmetry, that feeling and awe soon passed away and we were quite comfortable and at home again. We asked if we might make some people, and he said yes, and told Seppi to make some cannon for the walls, and told Nikolaus to make some halberdiers, with breastplates and greaves and helmets, and I was to make some cavalry, with horses, and in allotting these tasks he called us by our names, but did not say how he knew them. Then Seppi asked him what his own name was, and he said, tranquilly, "Satan," and held out a chip and caught a little woman on it who was falling from the scaffolding and put her back where she belonged, and said, "She is an idiot to step backward like that and not notice what she is about."

It caught us suddenly, that name did, and our work dropped out of our hands and broke to pieces—a cannon, a halberdier, and a horse. Satan laughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, "Nothing, only it seemed a strange name for an angel." He asked why.

"Because it's—it's—well, it's his name, you know."

"Yes—he is my uncle."

He said it placidly, but it took our breath for a moment and made our hearts beat. He did not seem to notice that, but mended our halberdiers and things with a touch, handing them to us finished, and said, "Don't you remember?—he was an angel himself, once."

"Yes—it's true," said Seppi; "I didn't think of that."

"Before the Fall he was blameless."

"Yes," said Nikolaus, "he was without sin."

"It is a good family—ours," said Satan; "there is not a better. He is the only member of it that has ever sinned."

I should not be able to make any one understand how exciting it all was. You know that kind of quiver that trembles around through you when you are seeing something so strange and enchanting and wonderful that it is just a fearful joy to be alive and look at it; and you know how you gaze, and your lips turn dry and your breath comes short, but you wouldn't be anywhere but there, not for the world. I was bursting to ask one question—I had it on my tongue's end and could hardly hold it back—but I was ashamed to ask it; it might be a rudeness. Satan set an ox down that he had been making, and smiled up at me and said:

"It wouldn't be a rudeness, and I should forgive it if it was. Have I seen him? Millions of times. From the time that I was a little child a thousand years old I was his second favorite among the nursery angels of our blood and lineage—to use a human phrase—yes, from that time until the Fall, eight thousand years, measured as you count time."


"Yes." He turned to Seppi, and went on as if answering something that was in Seppi's mind: "Why, naturally I look like a boy, for that is what I am. With us what you call time is a spacious thing; it takes a long stretch of it to grow an angel to full age." There was a question in my mind, and he turned to me and answered it, "I am sixteen thousand years old—counting as you count." Then he turned to Nikolaus and said: "No, the Fall did not affect me nor the rest of the relationship. It was only he that I was named for who ate of the fruit of the tree and then beguiled the man and the woman with it. We others are still ignorant of sin; we are not able to commit it; we are without blemish, and shall abide in that estate always. We—" Two of the little workmen were quarreling, and in buzzing little bumblebee voices they were cursing and swearing at each other; now came blows and blood; then they locked themselves together in a life-and-death struggle. Satan reached out his hand and crushed the life out of them with his fingers, threw them away, wiped the red from his fingers on his handkerchief, and went on talking where he had left off: "We cannot do wrong; neither have we any disposition to do it, for we do not know what it is."

It seemed a strange speech, in the circumstances, but we barely noticed that, we were so shocked and grieved at the wanton murder he had committed—for murder it was, that was its true name, and it was without palliation or excuse, for the men had not wronged him in any way. It made us miserable, for we loved him, and had thought him so noble and so beautiful and gracious, and had honestly believed he was an angel; and to have him do this cruel thing—ah, it lowered him so, and we had had such pride in him. He went right on talking, just as if nothing had happened, telling about his travels, and the interesting things he had seen in the big worlds of our solar system and of other solar systems far away in the remotenesses of space, and about the customs of the immortals that inhabit them, somehow fascinating us, enchanting us, charming us in spite of the pitiful scene that was now under our eyes, for the wives of the little dead men had found the crushed and shapeless bodies and were crying over them, and sobbing and lamenting, and a priest was kneeling there with his hands crossed upon his breast, praying; and crowds and crowds of pitying friends were massed about them, reverently uncovered, with their bare heads bowed, and many with the tears running down—a scene which Satan paid no attention to until the small noise of the weeping and praying began to annoy him, then he reached out and took the heavy board seat out of our swing and brought it down and mashed all those people into the earth just as if they had been flies, and went on talking just the same. An angel, and kill a priest! An angel who did not know how to do wrong, and yet destroys in cold blood hundreds of helpless poor men and women who had never done him any harm! It made us sick to see that awful deed, and to think that none of those poor creatures was prepared except the priest, for none of them had ever heard a mass or seen a church. And we were witnesses; we had seen these murders done and it was our duty to tell, and let the law take its course.

But he went on talking right along, and worked his enchantments upon us again with that fatal music of his voice. He made us forget everything; we could only listen to him, and love him, and be his slaves, to do with us as he would. He made us drunk with the joy of being with him, and of looking into the heaven of his eyes, and of feeling the ecstasy that thrilled along our veins from the touch of his hand. (From Chapter 2)

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Joining Satan in Hell

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog. (From Ch. XXXI)

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Huckleberry's Footwear

Huckleberry came and went, at his own free will. He slept on doorsteps in fine weather and in empty hogsheads in wet; he did not have to go to school or to church, or call any being master or obey anybody; he could go fishing or swimming when and where he chose, and stay as long as it suited him; nobody forbade him to fight; he could sit up as late as he pleased; he was always the first boy that went barefoot in the spring and the last to resume leather in the fall; he never had to wash, nor put on clean clothes; he could swear wonderfully. In a word, everything that goes to make life precious that boy had. So thought every harassed, hampered, respectable boy in St. Petersburg.

Tom hailed the romantic outcast:

"Hello, Huckleberry!"

"Hello yourself, and see how you like it."

"What's that you got?"

"Dead cat."

"Lemme see him, Huck. My, he's pretty stiff. Where'd you get him?"

"Bought him off'n a boy."

"What did you give?"

"I give a blue ticket and a bladder that I got at the slaughter-house." (From Chapter VI)