Such memories throng in the mind of the commuter as he surveys the dark form of his furnace, standing cold and dusty in the warm spring weather, and he cleans and drains it for the summer vacation. He remembers the lusty shout of winter winds, the clean and silver nakedness of January weather, the shining glow of the golden coals, the comfortable rustling and chuckle of the boiler when alive with a strong urgency of steam, the soft thud and click of the pipes when the pressure was rising before breakfast. And he meditates that these matters, though often the cause of grumbles at the time, were a part of that satisfying reality that makes life in the outposts a more honest thing than the artificial convenience of great apartment houses. The commuter, no less than the seaman, has fidelities of his own; and faithful, strict obedience to hard necessary formulae favours the combined humility and self-respect that makes human virtue. The commuter is often a figure both tragic and absurd; but he has a rubric and discipline of his own. And when you see him grotesquely hasting for the 5:27 train, his inner impulse may be no less honourable than that of the ship’s officer ascending the bridge for his watch under a dark speckle of open sky.
BY THE FIREPLACE
We were contemplating our fireplace, in which, some of the hearth-bricks are rather irregularly disposed; and we said to ourself, perhaps the brick-layer who built this noble fireplace worked like Ben Jonson, with a trowel in one hand and a copy of Horace in the other. That suggested to us that we had not read any Ben Jonson for a very long time: so we turned to “Every Man in His Humour” and “The Alchemist.” Part of Jonson’s notice “To the Reader” preceding “The Alchemist” struck us as equally valid as regards poetry to-day:
Thou wert never more fair in the way to be cozened, than in this age, in poetry; wherein ... antics to run away from nature, and be afraid of her, is the only point of art that tickles the spectators ... For they commend writers, as they do fencers or wrestlers; who if they come in robustuously, and put for it with a great deal of violence, are received for the braver fellows.... I deny not, but that these men, who always seek to do more than enough, may some time happen on some thing that is good, and great; but very seldom ... I give thee this warning, that there is a great difference between those, that utter all they can, however unfitly; and those that use election and a mean. For it is only the disease of the unskilful, to think rude things greater than polished; or scattered more numerous than composed.
Ben Jonson’s perpetual allusions to tobacco always remind one of the odd circumstance that of two such cronies as he and Will Shakespeare, one should have mentioned tobacco continually, the other not at all. Undoubtedly Ben smoked a particularly foul old pipe and was forever talking about it, spouting his rank strangling “Cuban ebolition” across the table; and Will, probably rather nice in his personal habits, grew disgusted with the habit.