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To Every Man His Own Plum, etc.
“The Gentler View,” Harper’s Weekly (November 27, 1909) : 27
link (hathitrust)   /   link (University of Michigan, google)

      There is something very well regulated about the way in which we attract the thing meant for us from a confused heap of things meant for other people. It is much like the ticklish game of Jackstraws, that delicate extraction of one straw which filled us with inflated vanity long ago. One feels so safe in the executive ability shown by Providence. She never gives us the wrong present from her loaded Christmas tree.
      Two similes and a dash of gratitude having failed to express the idea which is at present greatly inconveniencing the writer, a fresh start must be made.
      One is continually struck by the sureness with which musicians draw music from a pell-mell incident, playwriters’ drama, poets’ phrases, and in all probability tumblers’ comedy for a new turn. The side of us most markedly developed seems to act as a strong magnet for the particle of companion steel contained in a runaway, a novel, or a morning in the park. Until, with every one bringing away the bit he needed most, we stand aghast at the varied richness apparently contained in an affair of small moment. And there is no bungling. The Punch and Judy show in the Luxembourg Gardens, with its enticing rattle of drums calling the youngsters to their seats, each weighed down with the responsibility of not losing his penny, the grown-ups forming a lenient circle in the rear, a blue haze caught in the clipped trees, rolling hoops chased down vistas by French ruffled children, never by any chance does the scene or the marionettes give the writer an idea for a picture or a painter a plan for an essay. There is no need of running about trying to match the thing you have extracted to a mind that will be able to use it. That has already been done without any one’s being consulted, which shows the deft self-sufficiency of those managing. And every one has, rather to her amazement, the thing best suited to her. No need of grabbing, just a good-mannered, quite waiting, and the perfect give handed out with a mutual bon and courtesy. Criticism is out of the question and we ask with delighted, bashful smirks. “But how ever could Providence know that I wasn’t a landscape gardener?”
      We work out the plan in a perverted way, however, which shows us ungallantly disregardful of a good start. Having found the thing most nearly related to us, we refuse to find anything else, and if it be according to us badly done, then we are churlish dolts who by our behavior declare ourselves unworthy of the gift received in the first place. So many examples of this are floating about that one is put to it to make a choice. The soldier who condemned a military play because the strips were too wide on the trousers of the stage colonel, the surgeon who snubbed a Rembrandt for failing to show a gland whose absence no one else had noticed, the champion chess-player who objected to his daughter’s fiancé on the ground that he could not be much of a fellow as he was unable to play the sacred game — here we have three people pecking excitedly at something beside the mark, trying to capsize a ship which, if allowed to sail, its sheets filled with our vigorously blowing admiration, might resolve its cargo into parts, ours proving the very inspiration we needed.

      Though we are perpetually doubtful about heaven’s characteristics, and in dark moments fearful as to its existing at all in the form we like it, we continue to revise it in accordance with our changing tastes. It is no longer a simple question of believing in heaven, but a hotly contended argument as to whether you shall come to my heaven or I shall go to yours. The excessively musical place that used to be popular some time ago has been almost universally discarded, as that would not be heaven to the majority, but would instead closely fit their conception of the other terminus. We have had so much music since that heaven was planned, what with Sunday concerts and serious symphonies obtruding into every quiet home, that nothing would induce us to enter such a place. As for leisure, its second inducement, we were long ago taught that that was quite immoral, and though we forgive the ignorance of people who thought they would like it, we are glad to feel that we know better. Leisure always gets one into mischief, and even though they stipulated that only the very good should have it, still, leisure, music, and pretty women — ah, they were brave saints to trust themselve sin such a milieu!
      But we have changed all that. It is still, and this goes without saying, the things we cannot get here that we assure ourselves of there. First of all every one is to talk of himself, with an angel apiece to listen. That is why they have to be angels, and, just because they are what they are, the huge unlikelihood of such a heaven is removed. No one will be fat and there will be no stairs to climb. How absurd the idea of the golden stairs was. Golden or not, they would extract one’s breath by way of one’s toes, and one would arrive in heaven without a word to say for onself. There would be opera once in a while, but in the dark, and one would go in a bathrobe with a sofa under one’s arm. Families would be rented out for occasions, like folding chairs for musicals, and the people one loved would all like one another. Epigrams would come when they were wanted and not ten minutes later. There would be no such thing as distance, so one could go anywhere for the afternoon. Every one would see how much nicer you were than you appeared to be, and every one would be as nice as he seemed. No one would have bad noses and no one would discuss at length whether he had better take an umbrella.
      Of course we shall have bodies, only not the limited kind we have now. Bodies are half the fun. It would be ridiculous to be without them. But they shall be bodies that can not be injured by a tiny piece of lead entering unexpectedly in a hurry. It has always seemed so ill-humored, their stopping for a little thing like that. Some kind of patient digester will be arranged for, and if one’s heart stops work now and then, which is only what ours all do, it shall not be counted against it, and no serious results shall follow such a natural oversight. One's body will be left at home altogether while visiting picture-galleries, but this favoritism will be balanced by not taking one’s soul to dinner-parties, unless, of course, there are rumors of conversation being in store for us. Our ears will work separately, and so will our eyes. Using two when one will do is such a waste.
      In fact, instead of heaven’s being very different from earth, it will be the same idea with improvements. This is such a splendid start that it must not be discarded. Heaven must be made very attractive so that all ghosts will stay there. They cannot be blamed for wanting to come back to this adorable place, but it would be a little nicer for us if they didn’t. Every one shall have a heaven of her own, and, even thought it may differ from ours, no one shall tell her it does not exist, because it does. That is the most heavenly thing about heaven.

  1. “runaway”
    source : OED : link

13 November 2022