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Victorine might have held her own among the fairest of her sex
She needed two things, — two things which are the second birth of women, — the pretty trifles of her sex, and the shy delight of love-letters.
Jack : Poet and Optimist.
For this work you should know your subject well. The description of external and physical features is not intended to be excluded at all. It was said in the last exercise that these things may give a clue to the real character, and when you assume to know that character it will often be the happiest kind of description merely to suggest it by these features. The reader, knowing your purpose in introducing them, will trust to your more intimate knowledge and so not be afraid of misinterpreting them. The characters described are to be real, that is, actually existing, with all their natural virtues and defects, though of course when you are dealing with a well-known person, even in a school essay, nothing can excuse the failure on your part to exercise both charity and courtesy.
The last subject in the list above has been found an excellent one, and many interesting essays are recalled with such titles as “ The Village Factotum,” “The Philosopher of Pine Ridge,” “Uncle Billy,” “Old January,” “Ben the Ubiquitous,” “Garesché, Ord.” Nearly every community can boast of one or more of those characters who, for some striking peculiarity or unusual originality in their natures, are branded as eccentric. The term need not convey reproach - it is by no means always invidious. It simply means that these people, in their personal appearance or in their habits of life, depart unusually far from the standards which the average man recognizes. The greatest genius may do that.
Notice in the following how ingeniously the point of view is taken and how impressive the preliminary description of outward appearance makes the sudden revelation of the real man. A subject of this kind must be treated somewhat like those of the preceding exercise, for such a character cannot, from its very nature, be so intimately known to you as that of your bosom friend.
THE HERMIT IN THE WILLOWS.
I am sure I do not know what there is connected with the science of frog-catching so essentially different from all other sciences, and so very peculiar that only eccentric characters are able to pursue this profession with marked success. Can it be that frogs are themselves eccentric, and so, since “not to sympathize is not to understand,” only “eccentrics
have the power to comprehend the laws which govern them so as to be ever master of their situation? Whatever it is — and it is almost vain to attempt to solve the mystery — the fact remains that the aforementioned class of individuals does excel in the aforementioned vocation, and furthermore, very few who do not belong to that class ever attempt to become professors of that science.
Happening to live in a country where frogs are as plentiful as flies are elsewhere, I have often had the opportunity of meeting some of the peculiar personages who have made the lucrative profession of frog-catching their calling in life. Nor were the feelings awakened by these chance meetings altogether those of pleasure, for, so far as outward appearances were concerned, these oddities ranged all the way from the idiot to the madman. Oh, there was a variety of them ; representatives of nearly all nationalities, and, I am sorry to say, even some of the gentler sex were numbered among them. But by far the most strikingly curious of them all is “ the old hermit in the willows,” as he is generally called ; for no one knows his name.
Nobody who has ever seen the little log hut situated at the very bottom of the ravine which opens into the south end of Lake Merced, and several miles from any other habitation except of beast or bird, would doubt for a moment that no ordinary person dwelt within. Perched upon a slightly elevated island, yet crouching so as to avoid coming in contact with the branches of the lowgrowing willows that surround and almost entirely conceal it, this dingy gray, moss-covered cabin, with its one length of rusty stove-pipe for a chimney, is a picture of utter solitariness.
If you are awestruck by the aspect of the house, how can you describe the feeling that takes possession of you when you see its sole occupant ? man of medium stature, although bent with age and labor, he would not present an altogether mean appearance if respectably dressed. But so few people have ever seen him ; and in his customary attire he is a picture at once ludicrous and pathetic. Coming upon him unawares in his lonely haunt, you would most likely find his costume to consist of a pair of rusty-brown pantaloons, with a huge patch of red flannel on one knee and one of blue drilling on the other ; a red and black checked flannel shirt, patched with calico of various colors.; a gigantic rubber boot on one foot and a low rubber overshoe on the other; and perhaps a hat (though he rarely wears such a thing) which, judging from the number of holes in its crown and broad brim, might at some time previous to the invention of modern targets have been used as a substitute for such. His entire makeup, so to speak, strikes you as ridiculous, and you laugh aloud, thereby attracting his attention. He turns his face toward you and you stop so suddenly in your laughter that you almost choke. Perhaps something very different from suppressed laughter helps to produce that choking sensation, for there is something strangely pathetic in the disappointed gaze of the eyes that meet yours. The grizzly beard and long, matted hair, both of a dirty gray, cannot conceal the fine intelligence of the face; the high, broad forehead and fine blue-gray eyes are still there to tell their tale, and now and then you may catch a glimpse of a mouth that is proud and sensitive, yet full of generosity and affection.
Can it be? Can it be that this hermit is proud, sensitive, generous, affectionate ? Everything about his clothing and his mean habitation seems to say he is not. You are curious ; you would speak to him if
dared. You own to yourself that you are a little afraid of him. Yet your dog trots quietly to his side and pokes her nose up into his face. She is not thrust aside, but gently patted. You are encouraged, and approaching, address him. — Is he fond of dogs ? — Yes, he is. Why does he not keep one? -- It costs too much. You drift from one subject to another, but you find him prepared to discuss all topics. You are beginning to think him a scholar, when two boys come crashing through the willow branches, and before long the old man is solving geometrical problems for them or translating long passages into Latin.
Feeling that you are now intruding, you depart and endeavor to gather some information about the old hermit. From no one, however, can you learn more than that he is poor, lives in the willows alone, and supports himself by catching frogs and selling them in the city. He never rides either to or from the city, and never buys anything but salt and flour, and occasionally gunpowder and shot. He never speaks unless spoken to, and then rarely or never of himself. Surely this is an “eccentric,” yet you respect him, and perhaps even wish he were not. For a long time, perhaps for years after, you will never hear of the willows without hearing of the old hermit and seeing his great blue eyes with their sad, disappointed gaze.
L. M. R.
Subjects: My Hero.
A Dream Incarnate. “ A Knight of the Nineteenth Century.” The Character of Jesus. “ A Perfect Woman, Nobly Planned.”
The painter strives to put on canvas, the sculptor strives to fashion out of marble, his ideal. Why should not the literary artist strive to do the same thing with his pen? No one of them will get nearer to the heart and soul of another person, real or ideal, than their outward manifestations. But note that while the painter and sculptor are limited to color and form, the literary artist has both these and other resources at his command. Words and actions respond more constantly and quickly to the impulses within, and are therefore the more reliable indications of the character behind them. These words and actions the writer may use freely.
Now ideals are not made of nothing. The Venus of Milo is only a combination of the most perfect features which the sculptor found in a dozen or a hundred human beings. It is a sort of composite photograph with all the distinctness of a simple one, because instead of all the features of all the models being taken, only certain ones are taken from each. It is evident that one man's ideal may sometimes be very nearly realized in a single person, though it is perhaps too much to