The Professor At the Breakfast Table
The Professor At the Breakfast Table
Back again!-A turtle-which means a tortoise-is fond of his shell; but if you put a live coal on his back, he crawls out of it. So the boys say.
It is a libel on the turtle. He grows to his shell, and his shell is in his body as much as his body is in his shell.-I don't think there is one of our boarders quite so testudineous as I am. Nothing but a combination of motives, more peremptory than the coal on the turtle's back, could have got me to leave the shelter of my carapace; and after memorable interviews, and kindest hospitalities, and grand sights, and huge influx of patriotic pride,-for every American owns all America,-
"Creation's heir,-the world, the world is"
his, if anybody's,-I come back with the feeling which a boned turkey might experience, if, retaining his consciousness, he were allowed to resume his skeleton.
Welcome, O Fighting Gladiator, and Recumbent Cleopatra, and Dying Warrior, whose classic outlines (reproduced in the calcined mineral of Lutetia) crown my loaded shelves! Welcome, ye triumphs of pictorial art (repeated by the magic graver) that look down upon me from the walls of my sacred cell! Vesalius, as Titian drew him, high-fronted, still-eyed, thick-bearded, with signet-ring, as beseems a gentleman, with book and carelessly-held eyeglass, marking him a scholar; thou, too, Jan Kuyper, commonly called Jan Praktiseer, old man of a century and seven years besides, father of twenty sons and two daughters, cut in copper by Houbraken, bought from a portfolio on one of the Paris quais; and ye Three Trees of Rembrandt, black in shadow against the blaze of light; and thou Rosy Cottager of Sir Joshua, roses hinted by the peppery burin of Bartolozzi; ye, too, of lower grades in nature, yet not unlovely for unrenowned, Young Bull of Paulus Potter, and sleeping Cat of Cornelius Visscher; welcome once more to my eyes! The old books look out from the shelves, and I seem to read on their backs something asides their titles,-a kind of solemn greeting. The crimson carpet flushes warm under my feet. The arm-chair hugs me; the swivel-chair spins round with me, as if it were giddy with pleasure; the vast recumbent fauteuil stretches itself out under my weight, as one joyous with food and wine stretches in after-dinner laughter.
The boarders were pleased to say that they were glad to get me back. One of them ventured a compliment, namely,-that I talked as if I believed what I said.-This was apparently considered something unusual, by its being mentioned.
One who means to talk with entire sincerity,-I said,-always feels himself in danger of two things, namely,-an affectation of bluntness, like that of which Cornwall accuses Kent in "Lear," and actual rudeness. What a man wants to do, in talking with a stranger, is to get and to give as much of the best and most real life that belongs to the two talkers as the time will let him. Life is short, and conversation apt to run to mere words. Mr. Hue I think it is, who tells us some very good stories about the way in which two Chinese gentlemen contrive to keep up a long talk without saying a word which has any meaning in it. Something like this is occasionally heard on this side of the Great Wall. The best Chinese talkers I know are some pretty women whom I meet from time to time. Pleasant, airy, complimentary, the little flakes of flattery glimmering in their talk like the bits of gold-leaf in eau-de-vie de Dantzic; their accents flowing on in a soft ripple,-never a wave, and never a calm; words nicely fitted, but never a colored phrase or a highly-flavored epithet; they turn air into syllables so gracefully, that we find meaning for the music they make as we find faces in the coals and fairy palaces in the clouds. There is something very odd, though, about this mechanical talk.
You have sometimes been in a train on the railroad when the engine was detached a long way from the station you were a