The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table


- What should decide one, in choosing a summer residence? -Constitution, first of all.How much snow could you melt in an hour, if you were planted in a hogshead of it? Comfort is essential to enjoyment.All sensitive people should remember that persons in easy circumstances suffer much more cold in summer -that is, the warm half of the year - than in winter, or the other half.You must cut your climate to your constitution, as much as your clothing to your shape.After this, consult your taste and convenient.But if you would be happy in Berkshire, you must carry mountains in your brain; and if you would enjoy Nahant, you must have an ocean in your soul.Nature plays at dominos with you; you must match her piece, or she will never give it up to you.

- The schoolmistress said, in a rather mischievous way, that she was afraid some minds or souls would be a little crowded, if they took in the Rocky Mountains or the Atlantic.

Have you ever read the little book called "The Stars and the Earth?" - said I.- Have you seen the Declaration of Independence photographed in a surface that a fly's foot would cover? The forms or conditions of Time and Space, as Kant will tell you, are nothing in themselves, - only our way of looking at things.You are right, I think, however, in recognizing the category of Space as being quite as applicable to minds as to the outer world.Every man of reflection is vaguely conscious of an imperfectly-defined circle which is drawn about his intellect.He has a perfectly clear sense that the fragments of his intellectual circle include the curves of many other minds of which he is cognizant.He often recognizes these as manifestly concentric with his own, but of less radius.

On the other hand, when we find a portion of an are on the outside of our own, we say it INTERSECTS ours, but are very slow to confess or to see that it CIRCUMSCRIBES it.Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.After looking at the Alps, I felt that my mind had been stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity, and fitted so loosely on my old ideas of space that Ihad to spread these to fit it.

- If I thought I should ever see the Alps! - said the schoolmistress.

Perhaps you will, some time or other, - I said.

It is not very likely, - she answered.- I have had one or two opportunities, but I had rather be anything than governess in a rich family.

[Proud, too, you little soft-voiced woman! Well, I can't say Ilike you any the worse for it.How long will school-keeping take to kill you? Is it possible the poor thing works with her needle, too? I don't like those marks on the side of her forefinger.

TABLEAU.Chamouni.Mont Blanc in full view.Figures in the foreground; two of them standing apart; one of them a gentleman of - oh, - ah, - yes! the other a lady in a white cashmere, leaning on his shoulder.- The ingenuous reader will understand that this was an internal, private, personal, subjective diorama, seen for one instant on the background of my own consciousness, and abolished into black nonentity by the first question which recalled me to actual life, as suddenly as if one of those iron shop-blinds (which I always pass at dusk with a shiver, expecting to stumble over some poor but honest shop-boy's head, just taken off by its sudden and unexpected descent, and left outside upon the sidewalk) had come down in front of it "by the run."]

- Should you like to hear what moderate wishes life brings one to at last? I used to be very ambitious, - wasteful, extravagant, and luxurious in all my fancies.Read too much in the "Arabian Nights." Must have the lamp, - couldn't do without the ring.

Exercise every morning on the brazen horse.Plump down into castles as full of little milk-white princesses as a nest is of young sparrows.All love me dearly at once.- Charming idea of life, but too high-colored for the reality.I have outgrown all this; my tastes have become exceedingly primitive, - almost, perhaps, ascetic.We carry happiness into our condition, but must not hope to find it there.I think you will be willing to hear some lines which embody the subdued and limited desires of my maturity.


"Man wants but little here below."

LITTLE I ask, my wants are few;

I only wish a hut of stone, (A VERY PLAIN brown stone will do,)That I may call my own; -

And close at hand is such a one, In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;

Three courses are as good as ten; -

If Nature can subsist on three, Thank heaven for three.Amen!

I always thought cold victual nice; -

My CHOICE would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land; -

Give me a mortgage here and there, -

Some good bank-stock, - some note of hand, Or trifling railroad share; -I only ask that Fortune send A LITTLE more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know, And titles are but empty names; -I would, PERHAPS, be Plenipo, -

But only near St.James; -

I'm very sure I should not care To fill our Gubernator's chair.

Jewels are baubles; 'tis a sin To care for such unfruitful things; -One good-sized diamond in a pin, -

Some, NOT SO LARGE, in rings, -

A ruby and a pearl, or so, Will do for me; - I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;

(Good, heavy silks are never dear;) -

I own perhaps I MIGHT desire Some shawls of true cashmere, -Some marrowy crapes of China silk, Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive So fast that folks must stop and stare An easy gait - two, forty-five -Suits me; I do not care; -

Perhaps, for just a SINGLE SPURT, Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own Titians and Raphaels three or four, -I love so much their style and tone, -

One Turner, and no more, -

(A landscape, - foreground golden dirt The sunshine painted with a squirt.)Of books but few, - some fifty score For daily use, and bound for wear;The rest upon an upper floor; -

Some LITTLE luxury THERE

Of red morocco's gilded gleam, And vellum rich as country cream.

Oliver Wendell Holmes