By Owen Wister
S. Weir Mitchell
With the Affection and Memories of All My Life
To the Reader
You know the great text in Burns, I am sure, where he wishes he could
see himself as others see him. Well, here lies the hitch in many a work
of art: if its maker--poet, painter, or novelist--could but have become
too, for a single day, before he launched it irrevocably
upon the uncertain
ocean of publicity, how much better his boat would
often sail! How many little touches to the rigging he would give, how
many little drops of oil to the engines here and there, the need of
which he had never suspected, but for that trial trip! That's where the
ship-builders and dramatists have the advantage
over us others: they can
dock their productions and tinker
at them. Even to the musician
this useful chance, and Schumann can reform
his B-flat Symphony.
Still, to publish a story in weekly
to its appearance
as a book does sometimes give to the watchful
author an opportunity to
learn, before it is too late, where he has failed in clearness; and it
brings him also, through the mails, some few questions that are pleasant
and proper to answer when his story sets forth united upon its journey
of adventure among gentle readers.
How came my hero by his name?
If you will open a book more valuable
than any I dare hope to write, and
more entertaining too, The Life of Paul Jones, by Mr. Buell, you will
find the real ancestor
of this imaginary
boy, and fall in love with John
Mayrant the First, as did his immortal
captain of the Bon Homme Richard.
He came from South Carolina; and believing his seed and name were
perished there to-day, I gave him a descendant. I have learned
name, until recently, was in existence; I trust it will not seem taken
in vain in these pages.
Whence came such a person as Augustus?
Our happier cities produce many Augustuses, and may they long continue
to do so! If Augustus displeases any one, so much the worse for that
one, not for Augustus. To be sure, he doesn't admire over heartily
the parvenus of steel or oil, whose too sudden money takes them to the
divorce court; he calls them the 'yellow rich'; do you object to that?
Nor does he think that those Americans who prefer their pockets to their
patriotism, are good citizens. He says of such people that 'eternal
vigilance cannot watch liberty and the ticker at the same time.' Do you
object to that? Why, the young man would be perfect, did he but attend
his primaries and vote more regularly,--and who wants a perfect young
What would John Mayrant have done if Hortense had not challenged him as
I have never known, and I fear we might have had a tragedy.
Would the old ladies really have spoken
to Augustus about the love
difficulties of John Mayrant?
I must plead guilty. The old ladies of Kings Port, like American
gentlefolk everywhere, keep family matters sacredly inside the family
circle. But you see, had they not told Augustus, how in the world could
I have told--however, I plead guilty.
Certain passages have been interpreted most surprisingly
feeling against the colored race, that is by no means mine. My only wish
regarding these people, to whom we owe an immeasurable responsibility,
is to see the best that is in them prevail. Discord over this seems on
the wane, and sane views gaining. The issue sits on all our shoulders,
but local variations call for a sliding scale of policy. So admirably
dispassionate a novel as The Elder Brother, by Mr. Jervey, forwards the
understanding of Northerners unfamiliar
with the South, and also that
friendliness between the two places, which is retarded chiefly
Ah, tact should have been one of the cardinal
virtues; and if I didn't
possess a spice of it myself, I should here thank by name certain two
members of the St. Michael family of Kings Port for their patience
this comedy, before ever it saw the light. Tact bids us away from many
pleasures; but it can never efface the memory of kindness.
I: A Word about My Aunt
Like Adam, our first conspicuous
ancestor, I must begin, and lay the
blame upon a woman; I am glad to recognize that I differ
from the father
of my sex in no important particular, being as manlike as most of his
sons. Therefore it is the woman, my Aunt Carola, who must bear the whole
reproach of the folly which I shall forthwithconfess
to you, since she
it was who put it into my head; and, as it was only to make Eve happy
that her husband ever consented to eat the disastrous
apple, so I, save
to please my relative, had never aspired to become a Selected Salic
Scion. I rejoice
now that I did so, that I yielded to her temptation.
Ours is a wide country, and most of us know but our own corner of it,
while, thanks to my Aunt, I have been able to add another corner. This,
among many other enlightenments of navel and education, do I owe her;
she stands on the threshold
of all that is to come; therefore
lacking in deference did I pass her and her Scions by without due
mention,--employing no English but such as fits a theme so stately.
Although she never left the threshold, nor went to Kings Port with me,
nor saw the boy, or the girl, or any part of what befell
them, she knew
quite well who the boy was. When I wrote her about him, she remembered
one of his grandmothers whom she had visited during her own girlhood,
long before the war, both in Kings Port and at the family plantation;
and this old memory led her to express a kindly interest in him. How odd
and far away that interest seems, now that it has been turned to cold
Some other day, perhaps, I may try to tell you much more than I can tell
you here about Aunt Carola and her Colonial Society--that apple which
Eve, in the form of my Aunt, held out to me. Never had I expected to
feel rise in me the appetite
for this particular fruit, though I had
known such hunger
to exist in some of my neighbors. Once a worthy
of my town, at whose dinner-table young men and maidens of fashion sit
constantly, asked me with much sentiment
if I was aware that she was
descended from Boadicea. Why had she never (I asked her) revealed this
to me before? And upon her informing me that she had learned
only that very day, I exclaimed that it was a great distance to have
descended so suddenly. To this, after a look at me, she assented, adding
that she had the good news from the office of The American Almanach de
Gotha, Union Square, New York; and she recommended that publication
to me. There was but a slight fee to pay, a matter of fifty dollars or
upwards, and for this trifling
sum you were furnished with your rightful
coat-of-arms and with papers clearly tracing your family to the Druids,
the Vestal Virgins, and all the best people in the world. Therefore I
felicitated the Boadicean lady upon the illustrious
with whom the Almanach de Gotha had provided her for so small a
consideration, and observed that for myself I supposed
I should continue
to rest content with the thought that in our enlightened Republic every
American was himself a sovereign. But that, said the lady, after giving
me another look, is so different from Boadicea! And to this I perfectly
agreed. Later I had the pleasure to hear in a roundabout
way that she
me one of the most agreeable
young men in society, though
sophisticated. I have not cherished this against her; my gift of humor
puzzles many who can see only my refinement
and my scrupulous attention
Yes, indeed, I counted myself proof against all Boadiceas. But you have
noticed--have you not?--how, whenever
a few people gather together and
style themselves something, and choose a president, and eight or nine
vice-presidents, and a secretary and a treasurer, and a committee on
elections, and then let it be known that almost nobody else is qualified
to belong to it, that there springs up immediately in hundreds and
thousands of breasts a fiery craving
to get into that body? You may
try this experiment in science, law, medicine, art, letters, society,
farming, I care not what, but you will set the same craving
doctors, academicians, and dog breeders all over the earth. Thus, when
my Aunt--the president, herself, mind you!--said to me one day that
she thought, if I proved my qualifications, my name might be favorably
considered by the Selected Salic Scions--I say no more; I blush, though
you cannot see me; when I am tempted, I seem to be human, after all.
At first, to be sure, I met Aunt Carola's suggestion
in the way that I
am too ready to meet many of her remarks; for you must know she once,
and good-will, told my Uncle Andrew (her
husband; she is only my Aunt by marriage) that she had married beneath
her; and she seemed unprepared for his reception
of this candid
statement: Uncle Andrew was unaffectedly merry over it. Ever since then
all of us wait hopefully
every day for what she may do or say next.
She is from old New York, oldest New York; the family manor is still
habitable, near Cold Spring; she was, in her youth, handsome, I am
assured by those whose word I have always trusted; her appearance even
to-day causes people to turn and look; she is not tall in feet and
inches--I have to stoop considerably
when she commands from me the
familiarity of a kiss; but in the quality which we call force, in moral
stature, she must be full eight feet high. When rebuking me, she can
pronounce a single word, my name, "Augustus!" in a tone that renders
further remark needless; and you should see her eye when she says of
certain newcomers in our society, "I don't know them." She can make
her curtsy as appalling
as a natural law; she knows also how to "take
umbrage," which is something that I never knew any one else to take
outside of a book; she is a highly pronounced
and all Methodists vulgar; and once, when she was
talking (as she does frequently) about King James and the English
religion and the English Bible, and I reminded her that the Jews
wrote it, she said with displeasure
that she made no doubt King James
had--"well, seen to it that all foreign matter was expunged"--I give you
her own words. Unless you have moved in our best American society (and
by this I do not at all mean the lower classes with dollars and no
grandfathers, who live in palaces at Newport, and look forward to
every-thing and back to nothing, but those Americans with grandfathers
and no dollars, who live in boarding-houses, and look forward to
nothing and back to everything)--unless you have known this haughty
improving milieu, you have never seen anything like my Aunt Carola.
Of course, with Uncle Andrew's money, she does not live in a
boarding-house; and I shall finish this brief attempt to place her
before you by adding that she can be very kind, very loyal, very
public-spirited, and that I am truly attached to her.
"Upon your mother's side of the family," she said, "of course."
"Me!" I did not have to feign amazement.
My Aunt was silent. "Me descended from a king?"
My Aunt nodded with an indulgent stateliness. "There seems to be the
possibility of it."
"Royal blood in my veins, Aunt?"
"I have said so, Augustus. Why make me repeat it?"
It was now, I fear, that I met Aunt Carola in that unfitting spirit,
that volatile mood, which, as I have said already, her remarks often
rouse in me.
"And from what sovereign
may I hope that I--?"
"If you will consult
a recent admirable
compilation, entitled The
American Almanach de Gotha, you will find that Henry the Seventh--"
"Aunt, I am so much relieved! For I think that I might have hesitated
to trace it back had you said--well--Charles the Second, for example, or
At this point I should have been wise to notice my Aunt's eye; but I did
not, and I continued imprudently:--
"Though why hesitate? I have never heard that there was anybody present
to marry Adam and Eve, and so why should we all make such a to-do
She uttered my name in that quiet but prodigious
tone to which I have
It was I who was now silent.
"Augustus, if you purpose trifling, you may leave the room."
"Oh, Aunt, I beg your pardon. I never meant--"
"I cannot understand what impels you to adopt such a manner to me, when
I am trying
to do something for you."
I hastened to strengthen
my apologies with a manner becoming the
of a king toward a lady of distinction, and my Aunt
was pleased to pass over my recent lapse from respect. She now broached
her favorite topic, which I need scarcely tell you is genealogy,
beginning with her own.
"If your title to royal blood," she said, "were as plain as mine
(through Admiral Bombo, you know), you would not need any careful
She told me a great deal of genealogy, which I spare you; it was not
one family tree, it was a forest of them. It gradually appeared that
of my mother's grandfather
had been a Fanning, and there
kinds of Fannings, right ones and wrong ones; the point for
me was, what kind had mine been? No family record showed this. If it was
Fanning of the Bon Homme Richard variety, or Fanning of the Alamance,
then I was no king's descendant.
"Worthy New England people, I understand," said my Aunt with her nod of
indulgent stateliness, referring to the Bon Homme Richard species, "but
of entirely bourgeois extraction--Paul Jones himself, you know, was
a mere gardener's son--while the Alamance Fanning was one of those
infamous regulators who opposed Governor Tryon. Not through any such
cattle could you be one of us," said my Aunt.
But a dim, distant, hitherto
uncharted Henry Tudor Fanning had fought
in some of the early Indian wars, and the last of his known blood was
reported to have fallen while fighting bravely
at the battle of Cowpens.
In him my hope lay. Records of Tarleton, records of Marion's men, these
were what I must search, and for these I had best go to Kings Port. If I
returned with Kinship proven, then I might be a Selected Salic Scion, a
chosen vessel, a royal seed, one in the most exalted circle
and women upon our coasts. The other qualifications were already mine:
and bellicose upon land and sea--
"--besides having acquired," my Aunt was so good as to say, "sufficient
personal presentability since your life in Paris, of which I had rather
not know too much, Augustus. It is a pity," she repeated, "that you will
have so much research. With my family it was all so satisfactorily
through Kill-devil Bombo--Admiral Bombo's spirited, reckless
You will readilyconceive
that I did not venture
of these Bombos; I worked my eyebrows to express a silent and timeworn
"Go to Kings Port. You need a holiday, at any rate. And I," my Aunt
handsomely finished, "will make the journey a present to you."
made me at once, and sincerely, repentant for my
Charles the Second and Elizabeth. And so, partly
from being tempted by this apple of Eve, and partly
overwork had tired me, but chiefly
for her sake, and not to thwart
the outset her kindly-meant ambitions for me, I kissed the hand of my
Aunt Carola and set forth to Kings Port.
"Come back one of us," was her parting
II: I Vary My Lunch