It is a temptation to a temperate man to become a sot, to hear what talent, what versatility, what genius, is almost always attributed to a moderately bright man who is habitually drunk. Such a mechanic, such a mathematician, such a poet he would be, if he were only sober; and then he is sure to be the most generous, magnanimous, friendly soul, conscientiously honorable, if he were not so conscientiously drunk. I suppose it is now notorious that the most brilliant and promising men have been lost to the world in this way. It is sometimes almost painful to think what a surplus of talent and genius there would be in the world if the habit of intoxication should suddenly cease; and what a slim chance there would be for the plodding people who have always had tolerably good habits. The fear is only mitigated by the observation that the reputation of a person for great talent sometimes ceases with his reformation.
It is believed by some that the maidens who would make the best wives never marry, but remain free to bless the world with their impartial sweetness, and make it generally habitable. This is one of the mysteries of Providence and New England life. It seems a pity, at first sight, that all those who become poor wives have the matrimonial chance, and that they are deprived of the reputation of those who would be good wives were they not set apart for the high and perpetual office of priestesses of society. There is no beauty like that which was spoiled by an accident, no accomplishments—and graces are so to be envied as those that circumstances rudely hindered the development of. All of which shows what a charitable and good-tempered world it is, notwithstanding its reputation for cynicism and detraction.
Nothing is more beautiful than the belief of the faithful wife that her husband has all the talents, and could, if he would, be distinguished in any walk in life; and nothing will be more beautiful—unless this is a very dry time for signs—than the husband’s belief that his wife is capable of taking charge of any of the affairs of this confused planet. There is no woman but thinks that her husband, the green-grocer, could write poetry if he had given his mind to it, or else she thinks small beer of poetry in comparison with an occupation or accomplishment purely vegetable. It is touching to see the look of pride with which the wife turns to her husband from any more brilliant personal presence or display of wit than his, in the perfect confidence that if the world knew what she knows, there would be one more popular idol. How she magnifies his small wit, and dotes upon the self-satisfied look in his face as if it were a sign of wisdom! What a councilor that man would make! What a warrior he would be! There are a great many corporals in their retired homes who did more for the safety and success of our armies in critical moments, in the late war, than any of the “high-cock-a-lorum” commanders. Mrs. Corporal does not envy the reputation of General Sheridan; she knows very well who really won Five Forks, for she has heard the story a hundred times, and will hear it a hundred times more with apparently unabated interest. What a general her husband would have made; and how his talking talent would shine in Congress!