Puslapio vaizdai

conversation is lacking in any pretense of newness. One need not resent this as an absence of artifice. Nothing is more trying than talk that strains to produce new tricks. It has been proved that small talk, like small change, is indispensable. New forms of ordinary solution would be appalling, and we all understand that when one asks, "What 's new?" he does n't necessarily wish to know. A new way of saying "How are you?" might elicit absolutely disastrous detail. We should, I think, make some allowance for this in estimating the conversation, so-called, that is incidental to purely social adventure. When Rémy de Gourmont declares that talking to some people is "like chewing a blotter," one can't avoid the suspicion that his asperity acquired its edge not merely from a kind of person, but from a kind of situation. "Starting something" in the wrong place or at the wrong time is often as calamitous for the sensitive as starting something with the wrong person. With regard to talk it is clear that, in the average experience, most places and most times may seem to be wrong. When we feel savage, most persons quite naturally come into the same classification. All of which tends to give a thrill to the discovery of rightness. Some one to talk to is the object of an elemental hunger, but this need not mean that the some one would be welcome if his talk were too new. Have n't you experienced the restfulness of trite persons-persons all of whose ideas and expressions have a mellowed oldness, even when they themselves are quite young? You need no alertness whatever. newness will jump into your lap like an impertinent poodle. You can sit back with such persons and enjoy


liberty from the prickly contact of real thought. They are as tranquilizing as a geranium.

The real crisis for any of us is in that moment when the great new idea knocks at the door of the mind. It may be only a tapping. It may have a thunder in it. At first, perhaps, while we are interrogating, it gets only one toe inside the door, so that we cannot slam a rejection. Some people have safety-chains on all their mental doors. The idea may come in the robes of art. Art, "style," are only the clothing, the expression of ideas, and all ideas do not come in the garb of conscious device. The challenge of the new idea may come as when, by the Hibernian tradition, a hat is tossed into a room. "Am I welcome?" Being admitted to contact, the coming of the latest thing, when it is a veritable idea, may represent for you the supreme hour. You may afterward show it the door. You may kick it down-stairs and hope not to be haunted. You may let it stay. How momentous such hospitality may be! How upsetting to one's mental housekeeping! When the latest thing carries not a bit of jargon, a frippery of color, a twist of taffeta, a whimsical dissonance of music, a freak of draftsmanship, a changed slouch in the human figure, a fresh futility in politics, a new wrinkle in religion; when it carries not merely a new inflection, but a new flame, a concept, a revelation, that grows in the warmth of the mind to dominating dimensions, and throws into a changed perspective all notions of living and of destiny, the ultimate test has arrived.

History is littered with tragedies of latest things that were ideas. These may have found their man in a climax

of action, or in a still night when choice meant a lone agony of renunciation. "Obsessed by an idea"-ah, yes. A fanaticism is the other fellow's obsession. Then again, the right idea sometimes lodges with the wrong man, or the other way about. All the bitter platitudes rise up to remind us of the reiterated calamities that have stalked the new idea.

The trouble is that the latest thing often comes too early-too early for its own conduct. conduct. Sometimes the newest thing in thinking looks like the one unpardonable newness. The grotesqueness of recantation, the pathos of all the thought martyrdoms, color the records of human struggle. And in our quaintly self-conscious era it is impossible to give the most meager thought to the subject of new ideas without getting the flash of awkward and heroic figures-of figures cringing or courageous under the stare of the established. There is something droll in our habit of accepting martyrs without feeling implicated. We see Roger Bacon in his cell as a most unfortunate victim of an obsolete stupidity. We are sorry without acquiring any deep suspicion of ourselves. An ethical statute of limitations saves us from chagrin when we hear of the humiliations heaped upon Galileo or Harvey. We find an amelioration in the joke that can accompany the tragedy of invention. "You know," said the British Admiralty to Ericsson, "your boat with its screw propeller seems to go and seems to turn, but you must see that a craft cannot be steered from the point at which its power is applied." And we are still at our old tricks, still early with ridicule or rebuke, still late with honors. Ask the spirits of Lucy Stone and

Susan B. Anthony what it cost them to suggest that women might leave the kitchen for an hour or so every year to go to vote. Or turn to the honored living. Ask Charlotte Perkins Gilman what it cost her in printed misrepresentation to advocate the economic independence of women, or even day nurseries and coöperative housekeeping years too soon.

We are living in an era of latest things in tinsel and in testimony-latest things such as have been happening since the beginning of time. We are being tested as Athens or Syria or Salem was tested. We have abandoned certain systems of torture, retained others, invented a few delicate variations. We still pillory, though without stocks. We still banish, though with a more elaborate collective formula. We have a larger sense of history. We admit with an increasing glibness the book fact of vast progressive change, but we betray the same old disposition to fury when some one suggests that we are not through. The latest thing is right enough if it is amusing; if we can banter about it or buy it or keep our privilege of detachment, if it has a decent propriety in keeping itself separated as a sight or sound. If it assails the allof-us, if it insists, if it demands; if it involves confession, atonement; if it involves root change, it ceases to be merely the latest thing and becomes the latest menace. Art, business, sociology-all know its interruptions. It is the eternal disturber. It is the enemy of all that would "stay put." It checks the yawn of complacency. It jostles the strutting "art form." It frightens the finished. Which is to say that the latest thing is our oldest paradox.


HERE are too many writers and too few cooks." The The dean laughed at her outright. His superior glance placed her. "The trouble with you is that you are a Russian Jewess. You want the impossible."

Sophie Sapinsky's mouth quivered at the corners, and her teeth bit into the lower lip to still its trembling.

"How can you tell what 's possible in me before I had a chance?" she said. "My dear child,"-Dean Lawrence tried to be kind,-"the magazine world is overcrowded with nativeborn writers who do not earn their salt. What chance is there for you, with your immigrant English? You could never get rid of your foreign idiom. Quite frankly, I think you are too old to begin."

"I'm not so old like I look." Sophie heard a voice that seemed to come from somewhere within her speak for her. "I'm only old from the crushed-in things that burn me up. It dies in me, my heart, if I don't give out what 's in me."

"My dear young woman," the dean's broad tolerance broke forth into another laugh,-"you are only one of the many who think that they have something to say that the world is languishing to hear." His easy

§ 1

facetiousness stung her into further vehemence.

"But I'm telling you I ain't everybody." With her fist she struck his desk, oblivious of what she was doing. "I'm smart from myself, not from books. I never had a chance when I was young, so I got to make my chance when I'm 'too old.' I feel I could yet be younger than youth if I could only catch on to the work I love."

"Take my advice. Retain the position that assures you a living. Apply yourself earnestly to it, and you will secure a measure of satisfaction."

The dean turned to the mahogany clock on his desk. Sophie Sapinsky was quick to take the hint. She had taken up too much of his time, but she could not give up without another effort.

"I can't make good at work that chokes me."

"Well, then see the head of the English department," he said, with a gesture of dismissal.

The professor of English greeted Sophie with a tired, lifeless smile that fell like ashes on her heart. A chill went through her as she looked at his bloodless face. But the courage of despair drove her to speak.

"I wasted all my youth slaving for bread, but now I got to do what I

want to do. For me, oh, you can't understand,—but for me, it's a case of life or death. I got to be a writer, and I want to take every course in English and literature from the beginning to the end."

The professor did not laugh at Sophie Sapinsky as the dean had done. He had no life left for laughter. But his cold scrutiny condemned her.

"I know," she pleaded, "I ain't up to those who had a chance to learn from school, but inside me I 'm always thinking from life, just like Emerson. I understand Emerson like he was my own brother. And he says: "Trust yourself. Hold on to the thoughts that fly through your head, and the world has got to listen to you even if you 're a nobody.' Ideas I got plenty. What I want to learn from the college is only the words, the quick language to give out what thinks itself in me just like Emerson."

The preposterous assumption of this ignorant immigrant girl in likening herself to the revered sage of Concord staggered the professor. He coughed.

"Well-er," he paused to get the exact phrase to set her right,-"Emerson, in his philosophy, assumed a tolerant attitude that, unfortunately, the world does not emulate. Perhaps you remember the unhappy outcome of your English entrance examination." Sophie Sapinsky reddened painfully. The wound of her failure was still fresh.

"In order to be eligible for our regular college courses, you would have to spend two or three years in preparation."

Blindly, Sophie turned to go. She reached for the door. The professor's prefunctory good-by fell on deaf ears.

She swung the door open. The president of the college stood before

her. She remembered it was he who had welcomed the extension students on the evening of her first attendance. He moved deferentially aside for her to pass. For one swift instant Sophie looked into kindly eyes. "Could he understand? Should I cry out to him to help me?" flashed through her mind. But before she could say a word he passed and the door had closed.

Sophie stopped in the hall. Had she the courage to wait until he came out. "He's got feelings," her instincts urged her. "He's not an allright-nik, a stone heart like the rest of them."

"Ach!" cried her shattered spirit, "what would he, the head of them all, have to do with me? He would n't even want to stop to listen."

Too crushed to endure another rebuff, she dragged her leaden feet down the stairs and out into the street. All the light went out of her eyes, the strength out of her arms and fingers. She could think or feel nothing but the choked sense of her defeat.

That night she lay awake staring into the darkness. Every nerve within her cried aloud with the gnawing ache of her unlived life. Out of the dim corners the specter of her stunted girlhood rose to mock her-the wasted, poverty-stricken years smothered in the steaming pots of other people's kitchens. "Must I always remain buried alive in the black prison of my dumbness? Can't I never learn to give out what's in me? Must I choke myself in the smoke of my own fire?"

Centuries of suppression, generations of illiterates, clamored in her: "Show them what's in you! If you can't write in college English, write in 'immigrant English.""

""I can't make good at work that chokes me'”

She flung from her the college catalogue. About to trample on it, she stopped. The catalogue had fallen open at the photograph of the president. There looked up at her the one kind face in that heartless college world. The president's eyes gazed once more steadily into hers. Sophie hesitated; but not to be thwarted of her vengeance, she tore out his picture and laid it on the table, then she ripped the catalogue, and stuffed the crumpled pages into the stove. roared up the chimney like the song of the Valkyrie. She threw back her She threw back her head with triumph, and once more her eyes met the president's.


"Let them burn, these dead-heads. Who are they, the bosses of education? What are they that got the say over me if I'm fit to learn or not fit to learn? Dust and ashes, ashes and dust. But you," she picked up the picture, "you still got some life. But if you got life, don't their dry dust choke you?"

The wrestlings of her sleepless night only strengthened her resolve to do the impossible, just because it seemed impossible. "I can tear the stars out of heaven if it wills itself in me," her youth cried in her. "Whether I know

how to write or don't know how to write, I 'll be a writer."

§ 2

She was at the steaming stove of the restaurant at the usual hour the next morning. She stewed the same tzimmas, fried the same blintzee, stuffed the same miltz. But she was no longer the same. Her head was in a whirl with golden dreams of her visionary future.

All at once a scream rent the air. "Koosh! where in hell is your head?" thundered her employer. "The blintzee burning in front of her nose, and she stands there like a yok with her eyes in the air!"

"Excuse me," she mumbled in confusion, setting down the pan. "I was only thinking for a minute."

"Thinking?" His greasy face purpled with rage. "Do I pay you to think or to cook? For what do I give you such wages? What's the world coming to? Pfui! A cook, a greenhorn, a nothing-also me a thinker!" Sophie's eyes flamed.

"Maybe in Smyrna, from where you come, a cook is a nothing. In America everybody is a person."

"Bolshevik!" he yelled. "Look only

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