Papers of the MS Society (Germ312)

Papers of "The M.S. Society."*

No. I.

An Incident in the Siege of Troy, seen from a modern Observatory.

Sixteen Specials in Priam's Keep
Sat down to their mahogany:
The League, just then, had made busters cheap,
And Hesiod writ his "Theogony,"
A work written to prove "that, if men would be men,
And demand their rights again and again,
They might live like gods, have infinite smokes,
Drink infinite rum, drive infinite mokes,
Which would come from every part of the known
And civilized globe, twice as good as their own,
And, finally, Ilion, the work-shop should be
Of the world -- one vast manufactory!"

From arrow-slits, port-holes, windows, what not,
Their sixteen quarrels the Specials had shot
From sixteen arblasts, their daily task;
Why they'd to do it they didn't ask,
For, after they'd done it, they sat down to dinner;
The sixteen Specials they didn't get thinner;
But kept quite loyal, and every day
Asked no questions but fired away.

Would you like me to tell you the reason why
These sixteen Specials kept letting fly
From eleven till one, as the Chronicle speaks?
They did it, my boys, to annoy the Greeks,
Who kept up a perpetual cannonade
On the walls, and threaten'd an escalade.


* The Editor is requested to state that "M. S." does not here mean Manuscript.

132

The sixteen Specials were so arranged
That the shots they shot were not shots exchanged,
But every shot told on the foe
The Greeks were obliged to draw it mild:
Diomedes -- "A fix," Ulysses -- "No go"
Declared it, the "king of men" cried like a child;
Whilst the Specials, no more than a fine black Tom
I keep to serenade Mary from
The tiles, where he lounges every night,
Knew nor cared what they did, and were perfectly right.

But the fact was thus: one Helenus,
A man much faster than any of us,
More fast than a gent at the top of a "bus,"
More fast than the coming of "Per col. sus."
Which Shakespeare says comes galloping,
(I take his word for anything)
This Helenus had a cure of souls--

He had cured the souls of several Greeks,
Achilles sole or heel, -- the rolls
Of fame (not French) say Paris: -- Speaks
Anatomist Quain thereof. Who seeks
May read the story from z to a;
He has handled and argued it every way;--
A subject on which there's a good deal to say.
His work was ever the best, and still is,
Because of this note on the Tendo Achillis.

This Helenus was a man well bred,

He was up in Electricity,
Fortification, Theology,
_AE_sthetics and Pugilicity;
Celsus and Gregory he'd read;
Knew every "dodge" of glove and fist;
Was a capital curate, (I think I've said)
And Transcendental Anatomist:
Well up in Materia Modica,
Right up in Toxicology,
And Medical Jurisprudence, that sell!
And the dead sell Physiology:
Knew what and how much of any potation
Would get him through any examination:
With credit not small, had passed the Hall
And the College -- -And they couldn't pluck him at all.

133

He'd written on Rail-roads, delivered a lecture
Upon the Electric Telegraph,
Had played at single-stick with Hector,
And written a paper on half-and-half.

With those and other works of note
He was not at all a "people's man,"
Though public, for the works he wrote
Were not that sort the people can
Admire or read; they were Mathematic
The most part, some were Hydrostatic;
But Algebraic, in the main,
And full of a, b, c, and n --
And other letters which perplex --
The last was full of double x!
In fact, such stuff as one may easily
Imagine, didn't go down greasily,
Nor calculated to produce
Such heat as "cooks the public goose,"
And does it of so brown a hue
Men wonder while they relish too.

It therefore was that much alone
He studied; and a room is shown
In a coffee-house, an upper room,
Where none but hungry devils come,
Wherein 'tis said, with animation
He read "Vestiges of Creation."

Accordingly, a month about
After he'd chalked up steak and stout
For the last time, he gave the world
A pamphlet, wherein he unfurled
A tissue of facts which, soon as blown,
Ran like wildfire through the town.
And, first of all, he plainly showed
A capital error in the mode
Of national defences, thus--
"The Greek one thousand miles from us,"
Said he, (for nine hundred and ninety-nine
The citadel stood above the brine
In perpendicular height, allowing
For slope of glacis, thereby showing
An increase of a mile,) "'tis plain
The force that shot and shell would gain,

134

By gravitation, with their own,
Would fire the ground by friction alone;
Which, being once in fusion schooled
Ere cool, as Fire-mist had cooled"
Would gain a motion, which must soon,
Just as the earth detached the moon
And gave her locomotive birth,
Detach some twenty miles of earth,
And send it swinging in the air,
The Devil only could tell where!
Then came the probability
With what increased facility
The Greeks, by this projectile power,
Might land on Ilion's highest tower,
All safe and sound, in battle array,
With howitzers prepared to play,
And muskets to the muzzles rammed;--
Why, the town would be utterly smashed and jammed,
And positively, as the phrase is
Vernacular, be "sent to blazes"!

In the second place, he then would ask,
(And here he took several members to task,
And wondered -- "he really must presume
To wonder "a statesman like -- you know whom--
Who ever evinced the deepest sense
Of a crying sin in any expense,
Should so besotted be, and lost
To the fact that now, at public cost,
Powder was being day by day
Wantonly wasted, blown away);--
Yes, he would ask, "with what intent
But to perch the Greeks on a battlement
From which they might o'erlook the town,
The easier to batter it down,
Which he had proved must be the case
(If it hadn't already taken place):
He called on his readers to fear and dread it,
Whilst he wrote it, -- whilst they read it!"
"How simple! How beautifully simple," said he,
"And obvious was the remedy!
Look back a century or so --
And there was the ancient Norman bow,

135

A weapon (he gave them leave to laugh)
Efficient, better, cheaper by half:
(He knew quite well the age abused it
Because, forsooth, the Normans used it)
These, planted in the citadel,
Would reach the walls say, -- very well;
There, having spent their utmost force,
They'd drop down right, as a matter of course,
A thousand miles! Think -- A thousand miles!
What was the weight for driving piles
To this? He calculated it--
'Twould equal, when both Houses sit,
The weight of the entire building,
Including Members, paint, and gilding;
But, if a speech or the address
From the throne were given, something less, Because, as certain snores aver,
The House is then much heavier.

Now this, though very much a rub like
For Ministers, convinced the public;
And Priam, who liked to hear its brays
To any tune but "the Marseillaise,"
Summoned a Privy Council, where
'Twas shortly settled to confer
On Helenus a sole command
Of Specials. -- He headed that daring band!

And sixteen Specials in Priam's keep
Got up from their mahogany;
They smoked their pipes in silence deep
Till there was such a fog -- any
Attempt to discover the priest in the smother
Had bothered old Airy and Adams and t'other
And -- every son of an English mother.

June, 1848.


No. II

Swift's Dunces.

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the DUNCES are all in confederacy against him." -- Swift.

How shall we know the dunces from the man of genius, who is no doubt our superior in judgment, yet knows himself for a fool-- by the proverb?

136

At least, my dear Doctor, you will let me, with the mass of readers, have clearer wits than the dunces -- then why should I not know what you are as soon as, or sooner than Bavius, &c. -- unless a dunce has a good nose, or a natural instinct for detecting wit.

Now I take it that these people stigmatized as dunces are but men of ill-balanced mental faculties, yet perhaps, in a great degree, superior to the average of minds. For instance, a poet of much merit, but more ambition, has written the "Lampiad," an epic; when he should not have dared beyond the Doric reed: his ambitious pride has prevented the publication of excellent pastorals, therefore the world only knows him for his failure. This, I say, is a likely man to become a detractor; for his good judgment shows the imperfections of most works, his own included; his ambition (an ill-combination of self-conscious worth and spleen) leads him to compare works of the highest repute; the works of contemporaries; and his own. In all cases where success is most difficult, he will be most severe; this naturally leads him to criticise the very best works.

He has himself failed; he sees errors in successful writers; he knows he possesses certain merits, and knows what the perfection of them should be. This is the ground work of envy, which makes a man of parts a comparative fool, and a confederate against "true genius."


No. III.

Mental Scales.

I make out my case thus--

There is an exact balance in the distribution of causes of pleasure and pain: this has been satisfactorily proved in my next paper, upon "Cause and Effect," therefore I shall take it for granted. What, then, is there but the mind to determine its own state of happiness, or misery: just as the motion of the scales depends upon themselves, when two equal weights are put into them. The balance ought to be truly hung; but if the unpleasant scale is heavier, then the motion is in favor of the pleasant scale, and vice versa. Whether the beam stands horizontally, or otherwise, does not matter (that only determines the key): draw a line at right angles to it, then put in your equal weights; if the angle becomes larger on the unpleasant scale's side of the line, happiness is the result, if on the other, misery.

It requires but a slight acquaintance with mechanics to see that he who would be happy should have the unpleasant side heavier. I hate corollaries or we might have a group of them equally applicable to Art and Models.

June, 1848.


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Last modified 12/14/95