At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: December 24, 1892


       The chief delight of this Christmas season is that it brings back into the heart the full flavor of childhood. When the shops begin to light up with their Christmas finery, and the sound of sleigh-bells to grow louder and merrier, I smell the perfume of cedar and pine boughs; there comes a sense of old-time winter heartiness into the crisp air; the snow-laden depths of leafless woods and frozen pine forests, plumed and bonnetted with snow, appeal to the imagination and allure the feet as if invested with a sort of human sympathy. I remember a lake with the long, mid-winter road running across its frozen surface marked with young cedars fading into the distance, an infinite dotted line, and I remember the jingling teams that would come by this track on the crystal Christmas mornings, bound for the little rough-cast church on the hill-top above the landing. I remember the rough-voiced farmers, bearded white with hoar frost, and the cheerful, ruddy-faced woman, and the good words they had, and the presents they always brought with them for the person—a turkey, a goose, a side of pork, a couple of bags of oats, some pairs of knitted socks and many another thing. I remember how the lake roared under the moonlit Christmas night, as if all the northern genii were gathered like Merlin's chained fiends at Caemardin under that gleaming band of ice, and all night long the imprisoned waters groaned and struggled, now with reports as of pistols, and now with a thunder, as of a hundred cannon. I remember the yearly expedition into the silent woods, when some luckless young pine, delicately tufted, or beautiful pointed cedar was cut and pruned for the Christmas tree. Every Canadian who has spent a boyhood in the country where the northern lakes are remembers these things and many more at Christmas; his heart warms to the like dreamers about him; he thinks well of his country and of the people who have made it; and the old words repeat themselves upon his tongue with an especial tenderness, "Peace on earth and good-will toward men."
       Let us thank God that this old Christmas custom and Christmas heart-opening have been so firmly rooted in the affections of mankind that neither any destruction of creed nor alteration of polity can affect it. So long as the figure of Jesus Christ through every change in the fashion of faith shall stand as the representative of whatever there is in human nature of pure and patient, and pitiful and divine, the recurrence of His day shall produce a certain tender heart-awakening in every one who has not become so callous as to be no longer human. For so long a time have the noblest spirit of religion, and let it be also well remembered the noblest spirit of art, consecrated the associations of this day that the susceptibility to its kindly influence is stronger than the rooted habits of our lives. The most careless man, if he be still human, remembers the friendships and good deeds of the past, and feels impelled to do something to bring the glow of happiness to those whose spirits have once been in touch with his. The rich man who has brooded all year over his money-bags now, perhaps for the first time, remembers the poor, and knows that Christ's day has brought no better gift to him than the rare and saving consciousness of a few generous acts. But nothing is so touching at this season as the innumerable deeds of loving kindness and self-sacrifice which are done among the poor themselves. How much better thoughts we have of our brother men when we consider the multitudes of poor human hands all over Christendom who are brooding and contriving with their scanty time and their scanty means how they may give some joyous surprise to each of those whom they love. Truly our life would be more barren than it is were it not for the new warmth infused into it by this annual heart-revival.

       The founder of Christianity said:—"Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you." This teaching is nearly 2,000 years old in Christianity; and what are the ethics of human society to-day? I do not mean as expressed from pulpits and public platforms, but as lived in the practical lives of men. Society expects men to be happy under the most unlucky conditions, and those who dare to "kick against the pricks" are scowled out of its precincts as pessimists of the gloomiest order. But in the race of this there is to-day, in the year 1892, too much misery in the world to be ignored, except by the wantonly brutal. And, sad to say, it is owing in a large part to a portion of our humanity which is in many respects unworthy of the name.
       Who can go into one of our large cities and see the terrible instances of human misery and degradation; such scenes as those depicted by Jacob Rils in "How the Other Half Lives," in Scribner's Magazine a short time ago; such truthful pictures as these of lower life in a city like New York make us despair of our civilisation as less satisfactory than many of the more ancient attempts—who can go into such scenes and not feel what a hell this world is after all? I can fancy some delicately-nurtured lady saying:—"Horrid! Don't speak of it. Can't you write of something pleasant?" But, madam, while amid your ease and splendor you are glutting some brute of a dog with bon-bons, thousands of your own kind, who have just as much right to earth's good things as you have, are dying by inches for want of the commonest necessaries of life. I have walked the streets of New York, where you will find miles of misery, and have seen enough in one block to populate a good-sized lazarhouse. But, at the same time, I have seen many a carriage pass by, the cost of which alone would have materially relieved these poor wretches. I do not need to inform Canadians as to their own cities and towns, and even country places. In any Canadian city you will see more money put into one church spire alone than would relieve the poor of that church for many a long winter's day. I do not advocate the pauperising of the poor; but I would ask, who make the poor? If the people of any section had been practising the ethics of the founder of the religion they profess to venerate, instead of looking merely each to his own selfish interests for these many years back, would we really have such a state of things to-day? And is human society of to-day one whit better in this respect than (or even as good as) that of 2,000 years ago? Everywhere around us we see either a far too abundant wealth, as exhibited in glaring extravagance, glitter and show, or on the other hand a rapidly increasing community of degradation and despair. We hear a good deal about public charity, when there is no greater farce on earth. It, at the best, means men making a pretence at relieving, in a small way, what they have the power to wipe out of existence if they only want to. Hypocrisy winks at fraud, because hyprocrisy is but fraud on a smaller scale. Hypocrisy to-day means nothing more than that everybody who has even the smallest finger in the common bag intends to keep it there at no matter whose expense. Now, this is all very well if we admit that man is, after all, but a two-legged animal, who preys on his species and believes in the creed that "might is right." But how about a condition of society which, doing this, pretends to the highest ethical ideals, and would brand as outcast anyone who would dare assail those ideals as impracticable? There is no doubt but that the growing evil of to-day is the ever-widening rift between the rich and the poor. And I, for one, claim that poverty, in its extreme sense, has no right to exist on this earth if men are only even commonly human. Burns, who himself had felt its sting, reached the truth when he sang,

       "Man's inhumanity to man
       Makes countless thousands mourn."

       But poverty is beginning to be felt to-day, not only by the shiftless and dissolute, but there are thousands who are beginning to suffer who have no right to suffer. There are thousands of men and women in this land to-day who would be glad to be in possession of even the bare necessaries of life and keep out of debt—who are trying to work honorably for their bread and cannot get it; while thousands of families, on the other hand, are living in worldly extravagance, with far more even of life's luxuries than they can properly enjoy. It is a queer dispensation of providence, when a young man, the son of a man who has made a fortune, as we well know how many fortunes are made to-day, without any more creditable ambition than to indulge his own vices, or at best be a passably negative atom in society, can afford to spend on his worthless pleasures and personal adornment perhaps ten times as much as would, if possessed by many a struggling young artisan or scholar, enable him to not alone attain his ideals, but contribute to the general advancement and refinement of the whole country as well. This condition of things is getting worse and worse every year, till those who suffer are about sick of old platitudes. Anyone who has studied our general life can see where the blame lies. The fact is, there are all grades of the standard of success, from square honesty to plain stealing or robbery, and all tacitly admit that all these grades are practised in business life. And it is here that the real basis of the happiness of the national life is laid, and not in the church or the school. Religion without ethics and knowledge without humanity or honesty are the same thing, and they breed hyprocrites and rascals. The millionaire who died lately in New York is a good sample of the extreme grade spoken of—a man who set himself to work to "fleece" others, even his personal friends. And the best we can say for him is that he never acknowledged any religious profession or belief. While this dreadful condition of things continues to increase year by year, as is acknowledged on all sides, the advent of such a season as Christmas, with its pretence of human hope, joy and brotherly love, must come as a sort of ironical mockery to the thoughtful and sincere man. Society may raise new spires to heaven, Christmas bells may peal their sweetness on the wintry air, but while beneath their very shadows and within echo of their voice this insistent human hell raises its mute misery to the skies, man is no better than, nor even as good as, the heathenism he claims to despise, and his religion is but an empty failure. My plea is not for miserable charity, the most contemptible insult offered by society to society on earth, but my cry is for justice, simple justice, which is the one thing needful. It is in this spirit that I quote the following lines, which are merely inserted because of the cause they advocate, that of the downtrodden of every age, the galley slaves of the centuries:—

              The Galley Slaves.

Beaten, embittered and baffled and broken
       Under the hate of the heat and the storm,
Daily we toil on, receiving no token
       Of life where its loves and its victories swarm.

Burdened by buffetings long oceans over
       Dreaming no harbor to love as our own
Weak with no moanings for friendship or lover,
       Unloving, unknowing, unloved and unknown.

Ours but to toil and for others the glory
       Ours but to sweat, but for others the prize,
Ours but to fall with our bare bosom gory,
       To pass with the hopeless, and look in our eyes.

Who will care, who will note, when the strife is all ended,
       And the wild smoke of battle blows out from the wreck,
If the victory won be sufficiently splendid,
       For the poor galley slave who lies dead on the deck?

Who will reck 'mid the shouts when the battle's brute Nero
       Is crowned with the nimbus of carnage and might
If the toller between decks was more than whole hero
       Who fought with no glory to strengthen his sight?

We drive to the rock-surfs to give others warning,
       We sleep in the battle that others may win;
Blind helots of darkness we build up the morning,
       That others may enter and triumph therein.

Dreaming no happiness, glory or splendor,
       Bound to the chain and the oar from our birth,
Knowing no voice of love winning and tender,
       Poor, wretched outcasts and devils of earth.

We are the slaves of all climes and ages,
       Paying with anguish the price of our breath;
Brothers, we toil on and win for our wages
       Human brutality, misery—then death.

       It was Christmas eve—a real old-fashioned Christmas eve, with a storm and frost on the window panes and rime on the latch of the door. But there was a fire in the hearth, and the odor of suppressed cooking pervaded the house. There were guests around the fire and children at their feet staring at the coals. They had had three songs, and some one cried out, "Now, let's have something for the children, this is their night." "True words," said a stranger, who an hour before had been blown in by the storm. He had got the ice melted out of his long red beard, thick enough for birds to nest in, and his voice had a hearty ring in it that made the children laugh unreasonably, for they had been rather frightened by his strange face. "True words," he said, "for Christmas is the children's time, and will be forever, and so I'll give them a jingle." Whereat all the children gathered about his knees, for they knew by the sound of his voice that he was a friend of theirs. "I must explain," he commenced, "that when I was a boy I used to move about all over Ontario, and when I came to live in a new place I had to make new friends. Sometimes the lads used to guy me and call out, 'Say, what's your name?' and when they were as rude as that I would rejoin, 'It's Pudding and Tame, if you ask me again I'll tell you the same.'" The children commenced to laugh, for they had often said it themselves. "So here goes for the rhyme," continued the stranger:—

              Pudding and Tame.

There was once a boy who lived back of the church,
Whom fortune had cruelly left in the lurch,
For his back was weak and his lungs were poor,
And his legs were not very good, to be sure.
He never could go, he could only stay,
When the boys would play in the parson's hay;
He could only clutch his bit of a crutch,
And when they would cry, "Hye! hye!
What's your name? What's your name?"
He would shout for an answer, "It's Pudding and Tame!
Pudding and Tame! Pudding and Tame!
If you'll ask me again I'll tell you the same."
And when the breath was out of his lung,
He would make ugly faces and stick out his tongue.

The boys didn't mean him to take it that way;
But when they went over to ask him to play
He flew into a very bad temper indeed;
Could he have reached any stones he'd have flung them,
And could he have changed to a snake he'd have stung them.

They thought it was really too bad to be lame,
To have such a temper and such an odd name;
So they thought to read the parson's books
For a cure for odd names and cross looks;
But search as they would the learned crew,
No book would tell them what to do;
And when at last they were quite at a loss,
One boy said, "Let's try him with pudding and sauce."

So they went to the parson's sister-in-law,
Who had a wonderful way with pastry,
She was the best cook that ever you saw,
For puddings and sauces and tastry,
(Tho' Newton's was astronomical,
Her genius was gastronomical.)
In fact, it was said,
She made several puddings
Out of her head.

She made a big pudding all stuffed full of meal,
With suet all through it, and plenty of peel,
Just the sort of a thing to make a rat squeal
With delight if he found it while out on a steal.
And the sauce—well, I'm quite at a loss
To tell you the things that went into that sauce;
But when it was finished it really did seem
Like something delicious one tastes in a dream.
It was winter—it may have been New Year's day;
When the pudding was done as brown as a bun
Each boy took his sister to look at the fun,
And they carried the platter along with a run;
Ten little lads each as fine as a whistle,
Ten little maids as sweet as a thistle;
Each one carried the weight (he or she, as the case may be) was able,
And they plumped it down on the lame boy's table.

At first he looked madder than any adder,
To bunched up his fists and curled in his wrists,
Have his eyes a squeeze as if he would sneeze;
His knees went up to his chin,
His lips shot out, his lips shot in;
And just as they thought he was going to be cross,
He drew in his breath and got wind of the sauce;
In a moment his faces were smiled away
From as wild as March to as mild as May;
He turned in a jiffy; well, then, maybe,
He grew as sweet as an April baby.

He took of the pudding a very large slice,
And he poured on of sauce rather more than would swim it;
Excuse him, his manners were not very nice,
He never knew sauce, so could not know the limit.
And the children took hands and danced in a ring,

And the only thing they could remember to sing
Was, "What's your name? What's your name?"
And the boy looked up with a smile on his face,
And said, "Pudding and Tame, just Pudding and Tame."

He left the pudding and joined in the ring,
And one half the children continued to sing,
"What's your name? What's your name?"
And the other half answered, "It's Pudding and Tame."

So they got to be very good friends, you see,
And all sat under the parson's tree.
Every one there had a Christian name,
And the boy that was lame they called "Pudding and Tame,"
Until at last they got tired of that
And shortened it into P-A-T PAT.