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I want to go at once and look it over. All the particulars interest me, so many acres of meadow-land, so many of woodland, so many of pasture – the garden, the orchard, the outbuildings, the springs, the creek — I see them all, and am already half in possession.
Even Thoreau felt this attraction, and recorded in his Journal: “I know of no more pleasing employment than to ride about the country with a companion very early in the spring, looking at farms with a view to purchasing, if not paying for them."
Blessed is the man who loves the soil!
THE AMATEUR CHESSMAN1
I used to envy chess-players. Now I play. My method of learning the game was unprincipled. I learned the moves from the encyclopædia, the traditions from “Morphy, On Chess," and the practice from playing with another novice as audacious as I. Later, finding some people who could really play, I clove to them until they taught me all that I could grasp. My ultimate ambition is, I suppose, the masterly playing of the game. Its austere antiquity rebukes the mildest amateur into admiration. I therefore strive, and wistfully aspire. Meanwhile, however, I am enjoying the gay excitement of the unskilled player.
There is nobody like the hardy apprentice for getting pleasure out of chess. We find certain delights which no past-master can know; pleasures exclusively for the novice. Give me an opponent not too haughty for my unworthy steel, one who may perhaps forget to capture an exposed bishop of mine, an opponent who, like me, will know the early poetry of mad adventure and the quiet fatalism of unexpected defeat. With this opponent I will engage to enjoy three things which, to Mr. Morphy, immortality itself shall not restore - three things: a fresh delight in the whimsical personality of the various chessmen; the recklessness of uncertainty and of unforeseen adventure; the unprecedented thrill of checkmating my opponent by accident.
Mr. Morphy, I admit, may perhaps have retained through life a personal appreciation of the characters of the pieces: the conserva
1 By Frances Lester Warner, from "The Point of View” in Scribner's Magazina.
tive habits of the king; the politic, sidelong bishop; the stout little roundhead pawns. But since his forgotten apprenticeship he has not known their many-sided natures. To Mr. Morphy they long since became subject - invariably calculable. With a novice, the men and women of the chess-board regain their individuality and their Old World caprices, their mediæval greatness of heart. Like Aragon and the Plantagenets, they have magnificent leisure for the purposeless and aimless quest. The stiff, kind, circular eyes of my simple boxwood knight stare casually about him as he goes. Irresponsibly he twists among his enemies, now drawing rein in the cross-country path of an angry bishop, now blowing his horn at the very drawbridge of the king. And it is no cheap impunity that he faces in his errant hardihood. My opponent seldom lapses. My knights often die in harness, all unshriven. That risk lends unfailing zest. Most of all, I love my gentle horsemen.
My opponent, too, has her loyalties, quixotic and unshaken. Blindly, one evening, I imperiled my queen. Only the opposing bishop needed to be sacrificed to capture her. The spectators were breathless at her certain fate. But my opponent sets high value upon
her stately bishop. Rather this man saved for defense than risked for such a captive, feminist though she be, and queen. With ecclesiastical dignity the bishop withdrew, and my queen went on her tranquil way.
Of all the men, the king reveals himself least readily. A noncommittal monarch at best. At times imperial and menacing, my king may conquer, with goodly backing from his yeomen and his chivalry. Sometimes, again, like Lear, he is no longer terrible in arms, his royal guard cut down. And at his death he loves always to send urgently for his bishop, who is solacing, though powerless to save.
All this is typical of our second pleasure, the exhilaration of incautious and unpremeditated moves. Inexplicable, for example, this pious return of the outbound bishop at the last battle-cry of the king. At times, however, a move may well be wasted to the end that all may happen decently and in order. My opponent shares with me this respect for ceremony. Together we lament the ruins when a lordly castle falls. Our atrocities are never heartless; we never recriminate.
My opening moves, in general, are characterized by no mean regard for consequences. Let my men rush forth to the edge of the hostile country. Once there, there will be time enough to peer about and reconnoitre and see what we shall see. Meanwhile, the enemy is battering gloriously at my postern-gate, but at least the fight is on! Part of our recklessness in these opening moves consists in our confidential revelations to each other of all our plans and disquieting problems.
“This need n't worry you at present,” I remark, planting my castle on an irrational crag. “I'm only putting it there in case.”
That saves much time. My opponent might otherwise have found it necessary to waste long minutes in trying to fathom the unknowable of my scheme. Without this companionable interchange chess is the most lonely of human experiences. There you sit, a being solitary and unsignaled - a point of thought, a mere center of calculation. You have no partner. All the world is canceled for the time, except, perched opposite you, another hermit intellect implacably estranged and sinister. Oh, no! As yet we discuss our plots.
Poor journeymen players of the royal game! Strange clues to character appear around the friendly chess-board. There is the supposedly neutral observer of the game, who must murmur warnings or lament the ill-judged moves; without him, how would life and chess be simplified? There is the stout-hearted player who refuses to resign though his defeat is demonstrably certain, but continues to jog about the board, eluding actual capture; in life would he resign? There is the player who gives little shrieks at unexpected attacks; the player who explains his mistakes and what he had intended to do instead; the player who makes no sign whether of gloating or of despair. Most striking of all is the behavior of all these when they face the necessity of playing against the handicap of past mistakes; a wrong move may never be retracted by the thoroughbred. No apology, no retracting of the path; we must go on as if the consequences were part of our plan. It lures to allegory, this checkered board, these jousts and far crusades.
Then, on to checkmate, the most perfect type of utter finality, clear-cut and absolute. Shah-mat! Checkmate! The king is
dead. In most conclusions there is something left ragged; something still in abeyance, in reserve. Here, however, is no shading, no balancing of the scales. We win, not by majority, as in cards; success or failure is unanimous. There was one ballot, and that is cast. No matter how ragged the playing that went before, the end of a game of chess is always perfect. It satisfies the spirit. Always at last comes contentment of soul, though it be our king that dies.
The following subjects are suggested as suitable for treatment in informal essays. They can, in many cases, be changed to suit individual experience, can be made either broader or more restricted. Perhaps they will suggest other somewhat similar but more usable subjects.
1. The Pleasures of Selfishness. 2. Wondering if the Other Person Knows More. 3. Pipe and Slippers and Dreams. 4. Middle-aged Kittens. 5. Being "Tough." 6. Early Rising. 7. Scientific Eating. 8. The Joys of the Straphanger. 9. Vicarious Possessions in Shop Windows. 10. Shopping with the Bargain Hunter. 11. New Year's Resolutions. 12. The Gossip of the Waiting-Room
(of a Railroad Station, Doctor's Office, etc.). 13. The Stimulation of Closet Skeletons. 14. Planning Houses. 15. Keeping an Expense Book. 16. The Millinery of the Choir. 17. The Joys of Being Profane before the Consciously Pious. 18. “Darius Greens." 19. Tellers of Dreams. 20. Making the Most of Misfortunes. 21. The Moral Value of Carrying a Cane. 22. Souvenir Hunting. 23. The Person Who Has Always Had “The Same Experience Myself.” 24. Prayer-meeting Courtships. 25. The Exhaustion of Repose. 26. “See the Birdie, Darling!” 27. Politeness to Rich Relatives. 28. “It must be so; I Read it in a Book!"
29. “Anyway,” as Stevenson said, “I did my darndest.”
(or Cornet or Piano or anything else). 33. A Sophomore for Life. 34. Country Auctions. 35. The Virtues of Enviousness. 36. The Melancholy of Old Bachelors. 37. Village “Cut-ups." 38. Early Assurances of Doleful Dying. 39. Failing, to make Money, through Failure to make Money. 40. People who never Did Wrong as Children. 41. "Just Wait till I'm Grown-up!” 42. Philosophers' Toothaches. 43. The Morality of Stubbing One's Toe in the Dark. 44. The Dolefulness of Celebrations. 45. What to Do with Bores. 46. The Young and the Still-young Woman. 47. The Satisfaction of Intolerance. 48. The Struggle to be an “Intellectual.” 49. Church Socials. 50. The Revelations of Food Sales. 61. White-haired Enthusiasm. 52. “I have It in my Card Index.” 63. The Rigors of Shaving. 64. The Right to a “Beauty Box." 55. “Hopelessly Sane." 56. The “Job” After Graduation. 57. The Stupidity of Heaven. 58. The Boon Companions of Hell. 69. People Who Remember When You Were “Only So High!" 60. Being a Gentleman though Rich. 61. Great Men One Might Wish to Have Thrashed. 62. The Awful Servant. 63. Morality When the Thermometer Reads 95°. 64. The Technique of Teas. 65. Dangers of Criticism. 66. Starvation or a New Cook? 67. Superior Profanity. 68. The Logic of the Movies. 69. The “Woman's Page." 70. The Neatness of Men. 71. On Taking Off One's Hate 72. Fashions in Slang. 73. Ambitions at Thirteen.