That seems to be a pleasant and home-like picture from a not very remote period,—less than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many centuries after the fall of Troy. And that was not so very long ago, for Thebes, in the splendid streets of which Homer wandered and sang to the kings when Memphis, whose ruins are older than history, was its younger rival, was twelve centuries old when Paris ran away with Helen.
I am sorry that the original—and you can usually do anything with the “original”—does not bear me out in saying that it was a pleasant picture. I should like to believe that Jehoiakiin—for that was the singular name of the gentleman who sat by his hearthstone—had just received the Memphis “Palimpsest,” fifteen days in advance of the date of its publication, and that his secretary was reading to him that monthly, and cutting its leaves as he read. I should like to have seen it in that year when Thales was learning astronomy in Memphis, and Necho was organizing his campaign against Carchemish. If Jehoiakim took the “Attic Quarterly,” he might have read its comments on the banishment of the Alcmaeonida, and its gibes at Solon for his prohibitory laws, forbidding the sale of unguents, limiting the luxury of dress, and interfering with the sacred rights of mourners to passionately bewail the dead in the Asiatic manner; the same number being enriched with contributions from two rising poets,—a lyric of love by Sappho, and an ode sent by Anacreon from Teos, with an editorial note explaining that the Maces was not responsible for the sentiments of the poem.
But, in fact, the gentleman who sat before the backlog in his winter-house had other things to think of. For Nebuchadnezzar was coming that way with the chariots and horses of Babylon and a great crowd of marauders; and the king had not even the poor choice whether he would be the vassal of the Chaldean or of the Egyptian. To us, this is only a ghostly show of monarchs and conquerors stalking across vast historic spaces. It was no doubt a vulgar enough scene of war and plunder. The great captains of that age went about to harry each other’s territories and spoil each other’s cities very much as we do nowadays, and for similar reasons;—Napoleon the Great in Moscow, Napoleon the Small in Italy, Kaiser William in Paris, Great Scott in Mexico! Men have not changed much.
—The Fire-Tender sat in his winter-garden in the third month; there was a fire on the hearth burning before him. He cut the leaves of “Scribner’s Monthly” with his penknife, and thought of Jehoiakim.
That seems as real as the other. In the garden, which is a room of the house, the tall callas, rooted in the ground, stand about the fountain; the sun, streaming through the glass, illumines the many-hued flowers. I wonder what Jehoiakim did with the mealy-bug on his passion-vine, and if he had any way of removing the scale-bug from his African acacia? One would like to know, too, how he treated the red spider on the Le Marque rose. The record is silent. I do not doubt he had all these insects in his winter-garden, and the aphidae besides; and he could not smoke them out with tobacco, for the world had not yet fallen into its second stage of the knowledge of good and evil by eating the forbidden tobacco-plant.