Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

Autocrat Breakfast Table by Holmes
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Date Created Rights The Boston Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in this collection. For use information, consult Public Services at chm hms. Access Rights Access to the original work depicted requires advance notice.

Autocrat Breakfast Table by Holmes

Contact Public Services at chm hms. A1 Format image. Extent 1 frontispiece. Language English. Type still image. Wise ones are prouder of the title M. They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Who does not know fellows that always have an ill-conditioned fact or two that they lead after them into decent company like so many bull-dogs, ready to let them slip at every ingenious suggestion, or convenient generalization, or pleasant fancy? I allow no facts at this table. Because bread is good and wholesome and necessary and nourishing, shall you thrust a crumb into my windpipe while I am talking?

Do not these muscles of mine represent a hundred loaves of bread? The reader will of course understand the precise amount of seasoning which must be added to it before he adopts it as one of the axioms of his life. The speaker disclaims all responsibility for its abuse in incompetent hands. This business of conversation is a very serious matter. Nobody measures your nervous force as it runs away, nor bandages your brain and marrow after the operation.

There are men of esprit who are excessively exhausting to some people. They are the talkers that have what may be called jerky minds. Their thoughts do not run in the natural order of sequence. They say bright things on all possible subjects, but their zigzags rack you to death. After a jolting half-hour with one of these jerky companions, talking with a dull friend affords great relief.

It is like taking the cat in your lap after holding a squirrel.

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What a comfort a dull but kindly person is, to be sure, at times! A ground-glass shade over a gas-lamp does not bring more solace to our dazzled eyes than such a one to our minds. There never was but one man that I would trust with my latch-key. The men of genius that I fancy most have erectile heads like the cobra-di-capello.

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You remember what they tell of William Pinkney, the great pleader; how in his eloquent paroxysms the veins of his neck would swell and his face flush and his eyes glitter, until he seemed on the verge of apoplexy. The hydraulic arrangements for supplying the brain with blood are only second in importance to its own organization. The bulbous-headed fellows that steam well when they are at work are the men that draw big audiences and give us marrowy books and pictures. A great writer and speaker once told me that he often wrote with his feet in hot water; but for this, all his blood would have run into his head, as the mercury sometimes withdraws into the ball of a thermometer.

If you do, you are mistaken. He must be a poor creature that does not often repeat himself. Why, the truths a man carries about with him are his tools; and do you think a carpenter is bound to use the same plane but once to smooth a knotty board with, or to hang up his hammer after it has driven its first nail? I shall never repeat a conversation, but an idea often. I shall use the same types when I like, but not commonly the same stereotypes.

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A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations. Sometimes, but rarely, one may be caught making the same speech twice over, and yet be held blameless. She pleasantly referred to his many wanderings in his new occupation. The lecturer visited the same place once more for the same purpose.

Another social cup after the lecture, and a second meeting with, the distinguished lady. What horrors, when it flashed over him that he had made this fine speech, word for word, twice over! Yet it was not true; as the lady might perhaps have fairly inferred, that he had embellished his conversation with the Huma daily during that whole interval of years. On the contrary, he had never once thought of the odious fowl until the recurrence of precisely the same circumstances brought up precisely the same idea.

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The talk ran upon mountains. Good in boards. Contact Public Services at chm hms. Create a Want BookSleuth Can't remember the title or the author of a book? Cloth hardcover in tan cloth with black printing and decooration. I won't say, the more intellect, the less capacity for loving; for that would do wrong to the understanding and reason ; — but, on the other hand, that the brain often runs away with the heart's best blood, which gives the world a few pages of wisdom or sentiment or poetry, instead of making one other heart happy, I have no question. Some of the sharpest men in argument are notoriously unsound in judgment.

He ought to have been proud of the accuracy of his mental adjustments. What a satire, by the way, is that machine on the mere mathematician! Sometimes I have been troubled that I had not a deeper intuitive apprehension of the relations of numbers. But the triumph of the ciphering hand-organ has consoled me. I suppose it is about as common as the power of moving the ears voluntarily, which is a moderately rare endowment.

Nature is very wise; but for this encouraging principle how many small talents and little accomplishments would be neglected! Talk about conceit as much as you like, it is to human character what salt is to the ocean; it keeps it sweet, and renders it endurable.

When one has had all his conceit taken out of him, when he has lost all his illusions, his feathers will soon soak through, and he will fly no more. So you admire conceited people, do you? I am afraid you do not study logic at your school, my dear.

The autocrat of the breakfast-table

It does not follow that I wish to be pickled in brine because I like a salt-water plunge at Nahant. I say that conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a centre is to a circle. An arc in the movement of a large intellect docs not sensibly differ from a straight line. Even if it have the third vowel as its centre, it does not soon betray it.

The highest thought, that is, is the most seemingly impersonal; it does not obviously imply any individual centre. Audacious self-esteem, with good ground for it, is always imposing. Even in common people, conceit has the virtue of making them cheerful; the man who thinks his wife, his baby, his house, his horse, his dog, and himself severally unequalled, is almost sure to be a good-humored person, though liable to be tedious at times. Want of ideas, want of words, want of manners, are the principal ones, I suppose you think.

No men can have satisfactory relations with each other until they have agreed on certain ultimata of belief not to be disturbed in ordinary conversation, and unless they have sense enough to trace the secondary questions depending upon these ultimate beliefs to their source. In short, just as a written constitution is essential to the best social order, so a code of finalities is a necessary condition of profitable tally between two persons. Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hand on the strings to stop their vibrations as in twanging them to bring out their music.

Let me lay down the law upon the subject. Life and language are alike sacred.

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Homicide and verbicide —that is, violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning, which is its life—are alike forbidden. It implies utter indifference to or sublime contempt for his remarks, no matter how serious. I speak of total depravity, and one says all that is written on the subject is deep raving. I have committed my self-respect by talking with such a person.

I should like to commit him, but cannot, because he is a nuisance. A pun does not commonly justify a blow in return. But if a blow were given for such cause, and death ensued, the jury would be judges both of the facts and of the pun, and might, if the latter were of an aggravated character, return a verdict of justifiable homicide. Thus, in a case lately decided before Miller, J. Roe replied by asking, When charity was like a top? It was in evidence that Doe preserved a dignified silence. The bound volume was forfeited as a deodand, but not claimed. People that make puns are like wanton boys that put, coppers on the railroad tracks.

They amuse themselves and other children, but their little trick may upset a freight train of conversation for the sake of a battered witticism. I will thank you, B. A highly merited compliment. I wished to refer to two eminent authorities. Now be so good as to listen. The great moralist says: To trifle with the vocabulary which is the vehicle of social intercourse is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence. He who would violate the sanctities of his mother tongue would invade the recesses of the paternal till without remorse, and repeat the banquet of Saturn without an indigestion.

And, once more, listen to the historian. The Bishops were notoriously addicted to them. The Lords Temporal carried them to the verge of license. Majesty itself must have its Royal quibble. Sir Philip Sidney, with his last breath, reproached the soldier who brought him water, for wasting a casque full upon a dying man. A courtier, who saw Othello performed at the Globe Theatre, remarked, that the blackamoor was a brute, and not a man.

The language was corrupted. The infection spread to the national conscience. Political double-dealings naturally grew out of verbal double meanings. The teeth of the new dragon were sown by the Cadmus who introduced the alphabet of equivocation. What was levity in the time of the Tudors grew to regicide and revolution in the age of the Stuarts. Who was that boarder that just whispered something about the Macaulay-flowers of literature?

Do not plead my example. If I have used any such, it has been only as a Spartan father would show up a drunken helot. We have done with them. You can hire logic, in the shape of a lawyer, to prove anything that you want to prove. You can buy treatises to show that Napoleon never lived, and that no battle of Bunker-hill was ever fought.

The great minds are those with a wide span, that couple truths related to, but far removed from, each other. I value a man mainly for his primary relations with truth, as I understand truth, — not for any secondary artifice in handing his ideas. Some of the sharpest men in argument are notoriously unsound in judgment.

I should not trust the counsel of a smart debater, any more than that of a good chess-player. Either may of course advise wisely, but not necessarily because he wrangles or plays well. For his part, common sense was good enough for him. Precisely so, my dear sir, I replied; common sense, as you understand it. We all have to assume a standard of judgment in our own minds, either of things or persons.

I must do one or the other. How many of our most cherished beliefs are like those drinking-glasses of the ancient pattern, that serve us well so long as we keep them in our hand, but spill all if we attempt to set them down! I have sometimes compared conversation to the Italian game of mora , in which one player lifts his hand with so many fingers extended, and the other matches or misses the number, as the case may be with his own.